Auror raids were always some measure of unpredictable, regardless of how much planning had gone into them or how much intel had been gathered beforehand. And even the simplest and most carefully planned of them all still had an unfortunate tendency to tip over into a complete clusterfuck with little to no warning (often at the very moment one dared think to oneself how smoothly things were going). And so even though this particular raid was supposed to be one of the easiest that Draco had ever been sent on—so easy, in fact, that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had organized a field team of only four Aurors—Draco still kept his guard up, remained alert for even the smallest hint of danger. Was poised and ready to act at the first sign of trouble.
But despite his precautions, when it did go wrong, it happened far too quickly for him to intervene.
Two of the wizards they were after had dropped their wands and put their hands in the air as soon as the Aurors came bursting into the cramped basement that was being used as the headquarters for a small-scale illegal potion brewing operation. The third wizard, however, panicked and flung out a haphazard Confringo! and good Merlin, there was very little in this world that Draco hated more than incompetent criminals who started flinging Blasting Curses around all willy-nilly at the first sign of Aurors.
He and his partner reacted as one; Draco contained the explosion with a tight Shield Charm and Harry disarmed the wizard with a neat Expelliarmus. Harry twirled his captured wand between his fingers before tucking it into his thigh holster, and glanced over his shoulder to share a pleased grin with Draco before he started over toward the wizard to restrain him and pat him down. That one was Leo Calder, as small and thin and ginger in real life as he’d been in the photograph that got passed around at the briefing Draco had sat through just a couple of hours ago, and he’d frozen like a rabbit the moment his wand had wrenched itself out of his hand.
“Bloody weird when you do that,” Weasley muttered as his partner, Junior Auror Park, bound up the other two wizards—John and Joseph Jenkins, who weren’t twins but looked so alike that Draco couldn’t quite tell them apart in the dim light—with heavy Incarcerous spells. “Like you share a brain.”
Harry and Draco exchanged another look, and Harry shrugged. “Well, we’ve been partners for what, five years now?”
“Six next June,” Draco said.
Harry shrugged again. “We work well together,” he said, casting a strong Incarcerous around Leo.
“Still bloody weird,” Weasley muttered again as he retrieved the Jenkins’ wands from where they’d been dropped on the floor.
Draco let go of the Shield Charm, releasing a slight haze of smoke and the nose-crinkling smell of burnt ozone, and kept his wand out and ready, alert for the slightest indication of further trouble. Weasley cast a bright Lumos to illume the dim room, chasing back the shadows to reveal a basement-cum-potions lab so cluttered and messy and filthy that Draco half-expected Professor Snape to rise up from the dead and start assigning detentions. The floor was dusty and scattered with debris, and cobwebs spanned between the rafters. There were stacks of splintery wooden crates piled up against the far wall, two huge bookcases with their shelves sagging under stacks of empty jars and vials and haphazard piles of ingredients. More ingredients littered the large worktable in the center of the room, the surface of which was stained and dirty and stacked with teetering towers of books and messy piles of parchment. One heap of parchment sat perilously close to the flames that burned steadily beneath three enormous cauldrons, each filled with a different potion, which were all crammed right next to each other in the middle of the table. As Draco watched, the middle cauldon bubbled and spat, speckling some of its brew into its neighbor, whose cerulean potion hissed and fizzled violently and edged closer to cobalt.
A flick of Draco’s wand extinguished the flames beneath the cauldrons, and his low opinion of these bumbling louts dropped even further. It was no wonder they hadn’t expanded their business much beyond this one little corner of Knockturn; they hadn’t managed to master even the most basic protocols of lab safety. Careless brewing led to exploding cauldrons, and, judging from the messy spatter of old potions crusted on the rafters above the work table, Draco marveled that they were able to turn a profit at all with the sheer number of Galleons they must waste on potion ingredients.
“Come on, now. You’re all right,” Potter was saying to Leo, who was trembling violently within his magical bonds, looking utterly terrified and very very young. He was only a couple of years out of Hogwarts, and, with his round cheeks and teary eyes, Draco could see exactly where this was going.
Most of the time, Harry’s bottomless capacity to believe that even the most hardened of criminals was capable of redemption was something that Draco found more than a little baffling, but in this case even Draco’s heartstrings gave a tug. He understood better than most just how easy it was to fuck up your life when you were that young.
“You tell ‘em one bloody word…” one of the Jenkins brothers said gruffly, and Leo trembled harder, blinking rapidly to keep from crying.
Harry sighed and turned to Weasley, making eye contact as he jerked his chin toward the stairs. Weasley nodded, and then he and Park hustled the Jenkins brothers over to the stairs and up out of the basement. Heavy footfalls thumped overhead as Weasley and Park escorted their charges to the Apparition Point outside.
“There, now—” Harry began as the front door fell shut behind them, echoing through the empty upstairs of the building.
“Am I going to Azkaban?” Leo asked, voice thick and wavering.
Harry hesitated, and Draco could see him weighing it up in his mind, how to comfort the boy without lying to him outright. Most likely Leo would spend a few nights in holding at the Ministry before he was paroled, and that would certainly be Harry and Draco’s recommendation for him. But although the Aurors involved in his case could make suggestions, ultimately it was the Wizengamot who’d be deciding his sentence.
“I’m going to do my best to make sure you don’t,” Harry said. “We’re going to take you down to the Ministry and ask you a few questions. If you cooperate and come quietly, I’ll advocate for you at your trial—”
There was a dry scrape as one of the wooden crates in the corner shifted, and a prickle of unease crawled up the back of Draco’s neck.
“Potter,” he said, soft and urgent. His skin buzzed with the staticky hum of loose magic building up, and Draco could feel the hair on his arms and the back of his neck standing on end.
Harry broke off when a soft tinkling of glass came from the bookcases. The empty vials stacked there were vibrating gently. One rolled slowly to the edge of the shelf and tipped over the edge, smashing across the floor. The empty jars stacked on the shelf above them began to vibrate as well, clattering together, and two more vials shattered against the floorboards. The worktable began to shake, and the crates in the corner shifted again, sending the topmost one tumbling to the ground.
Draco was lifting his wand to knock the boy out before his accidental magic could do any more damage, but before he could cast the spell, the flames beneath the cauldrons blazed to life, licking up over the iron rims and dancing over the top of the bubbling potions. The cauldron on the left exploded with a dull boom at the first touch of flame, spattering sizzling magenta across the room, and Draco’s quick Protego saved them all from getting doused. A stack of parchments had caught fire, and Draco put that out, and fought to lower the roaring flames before they could spread further or set off the other cauldrons.
“Shit,” Harry said, sparing half a glance at Draco to see that he didn’t need help. “Leo, you need to calm down. Come on, now. Deep breath, mate.”
“Sorry, sorry!” Leo said desperately. “I can’t help—”
The rattling reached a crescendo and the jars and vials on the shelves exploded into a sparkling shower of glass. Harry cast a strong Protego! around himself and Leo, and then with no further warning, a surge of accidental magic struck the huge worktable in the center of the room, flipping it end over end like it’d been kicked by an invisible giant. Draco Disapparated out of harm’s way, reappearing behind Leo with his wand at the ready.
“Stupefy!” he shouted, and Leo dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
The air went still and calm, and the room went suddenly, mercifully, silent.
“Fuck,” Harry said, and the quiet edge to his voice made Draco’s heart leap up into his throat even before he turned around and saw Harry.
When the table had overturned, everything on it had gone flying. Including the cauldrons. From the splash patterns on the floor, Draco guessed that it had rebounded off the inside of Harry’s Shield Charm, dousing him from head to toe in cobalt blue in the process.
“Fuck,” Draco agreed, and his heart seized when he saw Harry grimace and spit onto the floor. Oh, fuck indeed if he’d managed to get it in his mouth.
He left Leo lying in a senseless heap and was at Harry’s side in an instant. He yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it over to Harry, who immediately began wiping the thick blue potion from his face and hands. Draco, meanwhile, cast strong protective charms over his own hands before he set to work methodically unbuttoning Harry’s Auror robes.
“Are you hurt?” he asked, and fuck this would be easier if they could just Vanish Harry’s contaminated clothing. But an unknown potion plus accidental magic was a recipe for potential disaster if they added more magic to the mix. The potion didn’t seem to be having any ill effects on Harry yet, but Draco couldn’t risk the magic in a Vanishing spell potentially acting as a catalyst.
“Not badly,” Harry said, leaning away from Draco to spit more blue-tinged saliva onto the floor. He grimaced, coughed, and spat again. “Ugh. No, the cauldron missed me, thank Merlin. Minor burns, it feels like. I think I swallowed some of it. Got it up my nose and in my eyes, too.”
Draco focused on his task instead of worrying about what that potion might do to Harry. It didn’t seem to have had any immediate effects, which was a good sign. It didn’t mean he was out of the Forbidden Forest yet, but the consequences of ingesting a mis-brewed potion tended to be sudden and disastrous. If it hadn’t done anything yet, there was a good chance Harry was safe. Still, they wouldn’t take any chances.
He finished with the buttons, and Harry shrugged his shoulders, letting the robes fall to the floor with a sodden splat. His tee-shirt wasn’t soaked through as his robes had been, but it was still stained blue in patches, damp enough that it had to go.
“Figures,” Harry muttered as he finished wiping at his face as best he could and tossed the handkerchief aside. “First time in months I’ve got a man taking my clothes off, and here we are.”
It was so unexpected that it startled Draco into a laugh, and little more of his worry slipped away. Harry making light of the situation meant that he’d already chalked this up to the usual sort of misfortune that followed him around like a particularly devoted puppy. It meant that he still wasn’t feeling any ill effects from the potion, and that meant that he (probably) was going to come out of this just fine.
“Well I’ll admit, this isn’t quite the way I ever pictured getting you undressed,” he said wryly as he grabbed the hem of Harry’s shirt and yanked it up and off him, Harry hunching down to help get it over his head. It took his glasses with it, and they clattered to the ground. Draco gently kicked them aside so they wouldn’t get accidentally stepped on, and did his best to keep from staring at Harry’s tattoos.
Harry snorted as he blinked a few times. His eyes seemed bigger without his glasses, and very green, and Draco’s stomach gave a funny little tug as Harry smirked at him. “Think about taking my clothes off that often, do you?” he asked as he kicked off his boots and started undoing the fly of his trousers.
“Oh, all the time,” Draco said as sarcastically as he could manage.
Stepping back, Draco snatched up Harry’s discarded tee-shirt and used it to roughly towel the worst of the potion from Harry’s hair. He was careful to keep his eyes on his hands, on what he was doing, away from the images inked over both of Harry’s arms from elbow to shoulder. He especially didn’t look further down to see the rest.
He’d caught glimpses of them when they’d showered and changed clothes in the locker room at the Ministry after Physical Training Days, of course—the delicate garlands of flowers that swept in gentle curves beneath Harry’s collarbones were particularly difficult to miss, as colorful as they were, although he’d never been close enough before now to see that they were twined not around branches, as he’d assumed, but a pair of antlers—and even as curious as he was, Draco forced himself to avert his eyes from the rest. It seemed rude to stare at them like this, when Harry hadn’t chosen to reveal them to him. The Prophet especially was fascinated with them, going on about the glimpses they managed to catch in photographs and speculating wildly about how many more there were—and where exactly the rest might be. Harry was always in a particularly grumpy mood on the days those articles ran.
“This is the happiest day of my life,” Draco added, perfectly deadpan and just a beat too late.
“Mine too,” Harry said, matching his deadpan tone exactly. “In fact, when I woke up this morning, I thought to myself, ‘Goodness, Harry! I hope you get drenched with an unknown potion so that your partner is forced to take all your clothes off! That’ll be a lovely new adventure!’” Fly undone, he yanked his trousers and pants down his hips. “That won’t be awkward at all!”
Draco looked away to give Harry a bit of privacy, and started working open the buttons of his own robe. “Dreams really do come true,” he said, and smiled to himself when he heard Harry snicker.
“Just another day in the life of the Chosen One,” Harry said. Then, “What are you doing?”
Draco didn’t pause with the buttons, though he made the mistake of looking up to give Harry a flat look. His eyes were immediately drawn to the images on Harry’s skin and, oh, he was fairly certain that the phoenix tattoo on Harry’s side was a new one. He could feel his cheeks going pink as he resolutely forced himself to look Harry in the eyes and not follow the path where the phoenix’s long tail curved down over Harry’s hipbone, not quite hidden where Harry held his blue-stained pants bunched in front of his bits. He could see dark curls of hair at his groin, and quickly averted his eyes.
“Do you want to show up at St Mungo’s starkers?” Draco asked, looking back down at his buttons, working the last ones open. He yanking off his robes, leaving himself in his shirtsleeves and trousers.
Harry grimaced. “No,” he said, accepting the robes that Draco held out to him. “Thanks.”
While he dragged them on, Draco fiddled with his Emergency Portkey, a very small pewter picture frame missing the glass and the backing. It gave a pulse of magic, letting him know it was ready and counting down.
“Nine,” said Draco, trying to push it into Harry’s hands. “Eight, seven.”
“Wait! For the love of shit, Malfoy,” Harry said, frantically fastening buttons. He’d missed one around his thigh and was doing the rest up crooked. “I’m not ready—”
“Six, five, Potter take it or it’s leaving without you!”
“—the whole point of you giving me your robes was so I didn’t show up at St Mungo’s with my dick out!”
Harry snatched the Portkey out of Draco’s hands barely an instant before it whisked him away.
“Merlin, that man is going to be the death of me,” Draco said, sagging under the sudden wash of relief that swept through him.
Leo, still unconscious, didn’t respond.
Draco took a moment to savor the knowledge that Harry was in good hands with the St Mungo’s Healers and, more importantly, he was their problem now. What happened to him next was no longer Draco’s responsibility and, although Draco was still worried and knew that he would be until he saw for himself that Harry was safe and sound, the fact that it was no longer his responsibility was enough to make him weak-kneed with relief.
“Right,” Draco sighed, straightening and glancing over at Leo’s unconscious form. “Let’s get you to the Ministry so that MLEP can come in here and process the site.” He looked around at the wreckage around him, and added, “And good luck to them sorting out this mess.”
He found a large paper bag near the bookshelf and dumped the dried caterpillars it contained onto the floor. He charmed it Impermeable, then collected Harry’s discarded clothes and shoes and tucked them away inside. It took a bit of digging, but Draco found a jar that was miraculously unbroken, and put Harry’s glasses inside it to keep them safe before he put them in the bag, too. He’d deliver everything to St Mungo’s after he dropped off Leo at the Ministry. They had a whole Decontamination protocol they’d run Harry’s things through before they returned them to him, and it was best to let the professionals handle it, he thought. Then, dropping the Barrier Charms from his hands, he took up his wand, tucked the paper bag securely under his arm, cast a Mobilicorpus on Leo and set off for the Apparition Point.
- - - - -
After leaving a still-unconscious Leo with a very distraught young clerk down in Booking (for some reason they always acted like it was the end of the world when they were brought an unconscious suspect; really, you’d think they’d be used to it by now) Draco set off in search of Weasley. He found him exactly where he thought he’d be: in the small break room down by the Interview Rooms, making tea, just as he always did before he had to do an interrogation.
“Potter’s in St Mungo’s,” Draco said by way of greeting.
Weasley startled and spun around to gawp at him, blinking, and sloshed milk over the side of the mug of tea he was pouring it into. “What? Again? How? I left you alone for five bloody minutes.”
“Don’t worry, he seemed fine when I sent him off with the Portkey,” Draco said, cleaning up the spilt milk with a swish of his wand. “Calder panicked and his magic went accidental, sent one of the cauldrons flying and Potter took a bit of a bath. There didn’t appear to be any ill effects from the potion, but he had some minor burns. Hopefully that’ll be the worst of it once they check him over.”
“Merlin, Harry,” Weasley sighed, rolling his eyes dramatically ceilingward, then glanced over at Draco. “Booking has nearly finished processing the Jenkinses and we’ve got Interview Rooms Three and Four reserved. Are you taking over for Harry?”
Draco shook his head. “Let Park assist. She hasn’t been in on an interrogation yet, has she?”
Weasley nodded. “No, not yet,” he said, then made a face. “I’ve been tied up with the Overbourne case and Robards didn’t want to take any risks with them getting off so it was Senior Aurors only on all of the interrogations and most of the fieldwork. She was observing but…” He shrugged. “You know how it is.”
They shared a sympathetic look at that, because it’d been years ago now, but not so long that they couldn’t remember exactly how it’d felt to be a freshly-promoted Junior Auror, ready and eager to jump straight in and do some real Auror work, only to be shunted aside over and over as their Senior partners were assigned cases deemed ‘too important’ to risk letting someone inexperienced get involved in them and possibly fuck everything up. Draco had spent his first three months as a Junior Auror sorting through old case records and making about a dozen trips a day down to Filing while his Senior partner got to do all the fun parts of the investigation. It’d been agonizing at the time.
“Anyhow, yeah,” Weasley went on, turning back to his tea. “This case is open-and-shut, it’ll be a good one for her to get her feet wet on. You’re going over to St Mungo’s to check on him?”
Draco nodded back. “I’m going to take care of the incident report first, that should give the Healers enough time to put him through decontamination and testing, and get him into a room. They’ll want to keep him overnight for observation, I’d imagine, and,” He checked his pocket watch, “it’s still early enough for visiting hours.” And he could bring his incident report to get signed, confirming that Harry had sought appropriate medical treatment in a timely manner; that’d save Draco a trip back over there later.
“Tell him I’ll be by as soon as we wrap up the interrogations,” Weasley said. “I’ll smuggle in dinner from that Thai place he likes.”
Draco snorted. “If you want to risk the wrath of Mediwitch Marigold, be my guest. That woman terrifies me.”
Weasley shrugged and gave Draco a bland look. “Well I am married to Hermione. And you have met my family, haven’t you?” He shrugged again.
That was fair enough. Any of Weasley’s family—by blood or by marriage—were all people that Draco preferred not to cross, though none of them terrified him quite as much as Mediwitch Marigold did. Or Molly Weasley, come to think of it. Which probably went a long way in explaining Weasley’s remarkably blase attitude toward people who tended to shout a lot. If Draco had grown up on the wrong side of Molly’s lectures, he supposed that Mediwitch Marigold would hold no fear for him either. Merlin, he still remembered that Howler that Weasley had been sent back in their second year.
But Draco hadn’t grown up with Molly, and Mediwitch Marigold had this intensely disapproving stare that made him feel about five years old and two inches tall, so Draco did his best to keep himself firmly on her good side.
“Well,” Draco sniffed. “Pardon me if I don’t see any reason to invite trouble unnecessarily.”
Weasley laughed aloud at that. “I hate to break it to you, mate, but you’ve got the wrong partner if you’re looking to avoid trouble.”
“Trade you, then,” Draco said sullenly, because he should be so lucky. Even if they could have somehow got Robards to sign off on it, Weasley would never agree. He seemed to enjoy mocking Draco from the relatively drama-free partnership he’d settled into with Park far too much to give it up. Park, unlike Harry, didn’t have a frustratingly Gryffindor-ish tendency to fling herself into danger like the arms of a long-lost lover at the slightest provocation, often without waiting for proper back-up.
“Not a chance,” Weasley said cheerfully. “He gives me enough grey hair as your partner, and besides, Ji-eun stress bakes.”
Draco couldn’t help his scowl at that. Park always kept a portion for herself and then brought most of it into the DMLE to get rid of it—my arse certainly doesn’t need all of these biscuits, she said wryly, even though privately Draco didn’t think there was anything wrong with her arse in the first place—and Weasley always got first pick simply by virtue of being her partner. The rest got put in the break room where the other Aurors fought over it like a pack of vultures, and Draco, who’d made the unfortunate decision teach an 8am Trainee-level course in Detecting & Disarming Traps and Cursed Objects, never seemed to arrive in time to get any. Sometimes Harry managed to save something for Draco. More often, Harry meant to save something for Draco and then ended up eating it himself.
Weasley smiled at Draco, looking terribly smug for someone who was in serious danger of getting his bollocks hexed off.
“Fuck off,” Draco grumbled.
Weasley looked impossibly smugger. “I’m going to tell Harry that you’d be willing to trade him away for unlimited access to biscuits and scones.”
“First of all,” Draco said, “you and I both know that Potter would trade me for biscuits and scones in an instant if the opportunity presented itself, so he hasn’t got any room to be offended by that. He’d probably applaud my fine judgment, in fact. Secondly, he’s your friend, isn’t he?”
“He is my friend, yes. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s really nice having a partner who’s aware that rules exist,” Ron said.
“Potter is aware that rules exist,” Draco muttered. “I just can’t get him to care.”
“Exactly,” Weasley said, clapping him companionably on the shoulder. “My point exactly. And it’s someone else’s turn to deal with him.” Shaking his head, he muttered to himself as he finished pouring the milk, “Let’s follow the spiders, Ron. Let’s take a flying car to Hogwarts, Ron. Let’s climb aboard this dragon, Ron, and fly away with it, that won’t arse off the Goblins and get us banned from Gringotts for life.”
Draco narrowed his eyes. “He said the flying car was your brilliant idea.”
“Might’ve been,” Weasley said easily, putting the milk away. “And even if it wasn’t, I’m willing to take that one. At least the car didn’t breathe fire, unlike the dragon, so I think I’m still ahead. Has he ever told you about the time he jumped off the top of Tower Bridge in pursuit of a suspect?”
“What the fuck,” Draco said, blinking. “When did he—no, no. I don’t want to know about it. I’m happier not knowing the details.”
“You probably are. He about gave me a heart attack,” Weasley said, shaking his head. “I’ve been partnered with Ji-eun for almost three months and she hasn’t jumped off a single bridge in that whole time. I deserve this. That’s all I’m saying.”
Draco opened his mouth. Shut his mouth. Then opened his mouth again and took a slow breath before he said, “I’m not certain I truly want the answer to this. But the way you phrased that begs the question, exactly how many… bridge incidents were there?”
“Four,” Weasley said, and Draco was right; he hadn’t wanted to know the answer. “Well. Three bridges and a viaduct.”
“Merlin, Potter,” Draco sighed. “Where did you even… A viaduct?”
“That was a good one,” Weasley said, nodding. “That one involved a train.”
Draco nearly gave into the urge to stick his fingers in his ears, because he didn’t want to know.
Luckily for him, Park came hurrying into the room just then, a couple of file folders clutched in her hands. “They’re ready for you,” she said, holding out the folders to Weasley, then frowned. “Where’s Potter?”
“St Mungo’s,” Weasley said, taking one of the folders and using it to nudge the other one back toward her. “And Malfoy’s got an incident report to take care of, so you’ll be doing the interrogation with me. All right?”
“Fine by me,” Park said, tucking her folder under her arm. “Is Potter all right?”
“Yeah,” Weasley said with a bit of a sigh, glancing over at Draco.
“Calder’s magic went accidental,” Draco explained for the second time. “Sent the cauldrons flying and Potter ended up taking a bit of a bath.” At the look on Park’s face, he hastened to add, “He seemed fine when he went to St Mungo’s, but better safe than sorry with that sort of thing.”
Park nodded, still grimacing. The Accidental Potion and Plant Poisoning class was one that tended to make quite an impression on Trainees. That class involved lots of photographs, and at least one person ended up puking each time it was taught.
“He’ll be fine. It’ll take more than this to keep our Harry down,” Weasley said as he handed her one of the mugs of tea he’d prepared, then toasted her with his own mug before taking a sip, slurping obnoxiously because he knew Draco hated when he did that. And for all of Weasley’s big talk, Draco would bet anything he wouldn’t dare do that in front of his mother. “Now, I was thinking we’d go after Leo Calder first, he’s definitely the one most likely to take a deal of the three of them. He can give us information that we’ll use to flip the other two…”
Rolling his eyes, Draco left them to go over the particulars of the case one last time before they went into the interrogation. He made his way down to Filing to pick up copies of the forms he’d need to submit for the incident report, then headed up to the Auror Office.
This late on a Friday afternoon, most of the cubicles were empty. A handful of Aurors occupied one of the larger rooms along the left side of the Office that they used for briefings, and Draco heard the soft murmur of conversation coming from a cubicle somewhere to his right, but he didn’t actually encounter anyone else as he made his way down to his own cubicle near the back.
A sudden lightness fluttered in his chest as he walked down the broad aisle that split the room in two, and Draco bit back a smile. Sometimes it struck him anew just how lucky he was to belong here. He hadn’t felt like that at first, especially during his first year here, where he made the long walks to and from his cubicle with his chin up and his spine stiff, wary and half-braced for mistrustful looks or suspicious murmurs from his colleagues as he passed by. How he’d received them, more often than not.
But now, he knew that had he been seen by anyone else, they’d give him a distracted nod, maybe a friendly wave if they caught sight of him and weren’t too deeply caught up in their own casework. He was one of them, now, no matter how long it’d taken him to earn his place.
He’d fought hard to belong here, fought hard to be accepted into Auror Training, and then fought harder to be accepted by his peers and superiors. Working through his own prejudices and reevaluating all his previously-held beliefs had been a long and uphill walk all on its own, but having to prove it to everyone around him was another sort of painful entirely, involving a great deal of well-owed apologies and even more swallowing his pride.
Even now, all these years later, there were still a handful of people who didn’t really believe that he’d changed. Who saw his last name and the Mark on his arm and assumed that he was just biding his time, that he was only working here in pursuit of some sinister ulterior motive.
In truth, his reasons for joining the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in the first place had been somewhat selfish. At the time he’d been desperate to balance the scales, as it were, and do something to make up for his actions during the war, and what better way than by joining the DMLE to finish dismantling the very organization he’d been part of? And it certainly didn’t hurt that members of the DMLE were respected more than ever before.
He’d considered Magical Law Enforcement Patrol—their training program was less than a year, as opposed to the rigorous three years that Auror Trainees went through, so even though being a Patrolman wasn’t quite as impressive as being an Auror, he’d be able to get to work sooner—but ultimately both his ambition and his vanity won out. The Aurors wore smart navy blue uniforms with flashy gold buttons. MLEP wore silver-trimmed vermilion, and Draco looked ghastly in vermilion.
It came as no small surprise to him when he realized, shortly after making Junior Auror, that he genuinely loved his work. It gave him direction and purpose, and for the first time in his life, he was doing good. Real, tangible, quantifiable good.
Sighing a little to himself, Draco passed through the narrow doorway of his cubicle and rounded the pair of desks that sat pushed front-to-front in the middle of the small space. He dropped the thick sheaf of parchment on his desk, and for a moment he considered putting on the spare set of Auror robes he kept here, but decided against it. It was after hours now, so instead he rolled his sleeves up to mid-forearm, loosened the top button of his shirt, and sat down.
Normally his cubicle felt as comfortable and familiar to him as his own flat. Moreso, even, because while his flat was where Draco kept his things and ate and slept, this was where Draco lived. Just being here was enough to set him in what Harry laughingly called ‘work-mode.’ And Draco supposed that was true, but he embraced it. Outside of the Auror Office, his thoughts scattered in a thousand different directions: what errands he needed to run and when was the last time he’d eaten and had the milk expired yet and whether he’d Floo-called his mother recently. But in here, his thoughts centered, focusing on his currently-assigned case and the rest of it simply… dropped away.
But this evening, without Harry occupying the desk opposite Draco’s, he couldn’t concentrate on his work no matter how many times he sternly told himself that Harry would be just fine. He struggled through the first two pages of the incident report, then sighed, took off his reading glasses, set his quill aside and stoppered his ink bottle, and stood. It took only a couple of minutes to pack up his things into his leather satchel. Slinging it over his shoulder, he rounded the desks to Harry’s side of the cubicle, and huffed a sigh.
The top of Harry’s desk was a jumbled mess of paperwork and quills, notepads and crumpled memos, all dotted with the little brightly-colored squares of paper that Harry called ‘Posted Notes.’ There were several half-empty bottles of Extra Energy Elixir scattered around, a teetering stack of empty teacups on the far corner, and a pair of thick woolen gloves peeked out from beneath a pile of file folders, despite the fact that it was May. Half a dozen picture frames jutted up from the chaos, mostly of Harry’s friends from Hogwarts photographed in twos and threes, but also one of the entire Weasley family with all their assorted spouses and offspring waving enthusiastically from their photo within a large gold frame, and then a smaller silver frame off to the side of a somewhat-younger Harry and Draco, looking exhausted and happy, leaning against each other in the dim corner of a pub.
It’d been right after they’d cracked a kidnapping case and had gone out to celebrate with the other Aurors who’d worked it. It’d been the first case he and Harry had worked as partners, and they were both strangely exhilarated that, what they’d gone into expecting to be a complete disaster, had instead been like slotting together two puzzle pieces. They were each outstandingly capable Aurors in their own right, but together they were brilliant.
Draco didn’t even remember who’d taken their photograph that night—he’d been awake for almost 60 hours at that point, and the celebratory shots of Firewhisky certainly hadn’t helped his recollection—but he remembered very clearly looking over at Harry sometime between Firewhisky #2 and Firewhisky #3, and the thought popping into his head, apropos of nothing and clear as a bell, that they were going to be in each other’s lives for a very long time to come.
Even now, exactly as it had back then, the thought set off a warm fluttering through the bottom of Draco’s stomach. That didn’t stop him, of course, from poking fun at Harry. Draco thought it was entirely ridiculous of him to keep that photograph of them on his desk when Draco was quite literally right in front of him. Harry mostly rolled his eyes and ignored him in response.
Draco smiled as his photo-self laughed, eyes squeezing shut and his face going pink, and photo-Harry grinned and flung his arm around photo-Draco’s shoulders.
Yeah, that had been a good night. Draco straightened the frame. He really needed to remember to get Harry to make him a copy of that photo one day, though he’d keep it in an album like a normal person.
Still smiling, Draco turned his attention to the desk. He knew that Harry kept a spare pair of glasses in his desk somewhere. He twirled his wand around his fingers, debating what to do, then decided to risk an Accio. He kept the spell gentle, just in case, feeding it just enough magic to take effect, and sure enough, heard something rattling around in the second drawer down. Even narrowing his search thus far, it still took Draco nearly a minute of digging around to locate them, and then another minute of trying to rearrange everything so the drawer could shut again. He had no idea why Harry, with his love of rule-breaking, didn’t simply enlarge his desk drawers with Undetectable Extension Charms.
Then again, Draco was a little afraid of just how much junk Harry would manage to cram into all that extra space if he did. Better not, then. At least Draco used his illicitly-Charmed drawers for sensible things like filing cabinets and extensive stockpiles of sweets.
Finally able to wrangle the drawer shut again, Draco slipped Harry’s glasses safely into his pocket, though he probably didn’t need to handle them this delicately. These were the same clunky black frames Harry had worn for years at Hogwarts, and they’d undoubtedly been through much worse. Still, Draco couldn’t help but be careful as he tucked them away. Harry’s glasses safely stowed, Draco then took the time to roll his sleeves back down and button them at the wrists before he gathered up his satchel and the paper bag with Harry’s contaminated clothing in it, and went downstairs to Floo over to St Mungo’s.
The lobby was relatively quiet when he stepped out of the Floo. Nodding to the Welcome Witch, he stopped by Administration where he filled out a short form to request a new Emergency Portkey, and was given a dented silver bell.
“You haven’t got anything a bit less… jingly?” he asked without much hope.
The witch behind the desk arched an eyebrow. “That’s the only one I’ve got that’s any sort of portable,” she said. “Though if you’d like this instead…” Reaching down into the cupboard beside her she hauled out a flat iron with a scuffed wooden handle and dropped it on the desk with a loud bang! “I’ve also got a serving tray, two croquet mallets, and a French horn.”
“Ah, no,” Draco said, raising his jingle bell and giving it a little shake as he backed away. “On second thought, this is perfectly fine.”
He slipped it back into his pocket where it tinkled merrily with every step he took. Wonderful. He cast a strong Muffling Spell on his trouser pocket and thankfully that did the trick.
The tea shop on the fifth floor was his best bet for a quiet place to work through his incident report, though once he was in the lift he couldn’t quite resist stopping by Potions and Plant Poisoning on the third floor. Though he knew that Harry very likely wasn’t through testing and decontamination yet, he wanted to check for himself.
“Hello, Celestine,” Draco said, frowning and looking back over his shoulder to check the floor number. Celestine manned the desk in Spell Damage where, sadly, she and Draco saw rather a lot of each other thanks to Harry.
“No, you’re in the right place,” Celestine said, smothering a laugh. “I’m covering a shift. I suppose you’re after information on Mr Potter?”
“If you don’t mind,” Draco said.
Celestine smiled brightly. “You know I’m not supposed to give out any patient information to anyone but family. But… if you come back in, oh, about twenty minutes I’m sure I’ll be able to tell you more.”
Twenty minutes put Harry still in decontamination, exactly as Draco had expected. “Thanks. Oh,” He hefted his bag. “These are the things Potter was wearing when he was exposed, is there somewhere I should take them?”
“Just set them down there,” Celestine said, pointing to the floor beside her desk. “I’ll get someone to take care of them.”
“Thank you,” Draco said, putting the bag down where she’d indicated. “See you in twenty, then.”
He left her to her work and headed up to the tea shop where he worked his way through a cup of Earl Grey with lavender and meticulously filled in all fourteen interminable pages of the incident report.
According to his pocket watch, he’d taken nearly thirty minutes to get it finished. Even though Harry was almost certainly finished by now, Draco still took his time packing up his things, and stopped by the gift shop before he headed to the lifts. By now it was practically tradition that he never showed up in Harry’s room empty-handed. Also, as much as he complained about Harry getting himself injured all the time, it was actually Draco who’d most recently been a patient here (taking a Stunning Spell directly to the throat tended to interfere with one’s breathing, it turned out) and he needed to find something that would get Harry back for the hideous yellow dressing gown he’d brought for Draco to wear while he recovered. And, damn him, Draco actually had worn it, and in fact still wore it at home, because as ugly as it was, it was also fuzzy and warm and as soft as a Puffskein.
Draco frowned to himself as he paced through the small gift shop. As always, he found it exceedingly difficult to choose the right get-well gift to bring to Harry. He didn’t want to turn up empty-handed, but it was always a struggle to pick out something that properly conveyed, “I’m glad you’re all right and wish you a speedy recovery, but I also resent you forcing me to visit you in St Mungo’s AGAIN and I wish you’d stop doing foolish things that get you landed in here, this is the third bloody time this year you stupid tosser.”
Well. At least Harry hadn’t done anything wonderfully brave and foolish to earn himself a stay in St Mungo’s this time. If anything, this time Draco was forced to put a large part of the blame on himself for not simply Stupefy-ing Leo Calder to begin with. Not that finding a gift that properly conveyed, “I’m glad you’re all right and wish you a speedy recovery, but I also resent you for forcing me to visit you in St Mungo’s AGAIN even though this time it is sort of my fault you’re here, dreadfully sorry about that, mate,” would be any easier.
After ten minutes of pacing around the gift shop, Draco left with a cheerful bunch of pink and yellow peonies in a glass vase, a handful of Chocolate Frogs (because Harry was still missing Ptolemy from his collection), and a thick pair of the ugliest socks he could find. He’d been torn between them and a pair of hideously pink slippers, but he thought Harry would appreciate the socks more.
Then, with his purchases and paperwork firmly in hand, he took the lifts back down to the third floor.
“Room 327,” Celestine said without looking up from her filing as he approached her desk.
Draco felt lighter upon hearing the room number; 327 was about what he’d expect from a moderately-full floor. A higher number meant a secure ward, where they kept the dangerously troublesome patients, those who were contagious or whose affliction posed a significant danger to others. Draco knew that (unofficially) it was also where they stashed any patient who was a massive pain in the arse. But 327 was a good number. As he’d expected, they were likely only keeping Harry overnight for observation, and Draco needn’t have worried.
“Thank you,” he said, then plucked a pink peony from his vase and offered it to her.
Celestine rolled her eyes, but she took it and tucked it into the bunch of daisies that decorated a corner of her desk. Draco left her to her paperwork and followed the sign for rooms 301-330. Each door was marked with its number in shiny silver. Draco passed a Mediwizard pushing a trolley, skirted an older witch talking quietly to a Healer, and counted the doors as he passed: 321, 323, 325…
And there it was, 327. Harry’s door was left open a few inches, so Draco didn’t bother trying to free up a hand so he could knock, just pushed it open and walked inside—
—and stopped short when he caught sight of Harry propped up in the narrow hospital bed, because it turned out that the potion had had an effect after all.
Draco hadn’t realized just how much Potter had changed since Hogwarts until right his very minute with the evidence quite literally staring him in the face. The Harry Potter that Draco was used to seeing still had that same untidy mop of black hair, those same startlingly green eyes, but he’d filled out a bit since then, especially through the shoulders. His face was a little rounder these days, his cheeks and jawline a little softer.
But now he was thinner, almost unhealthily so, and the thin scar over his right cheekbone where he’d caught a nasty Diffindo several years ago looked strangely out of place on his much younger face.
“If you’re going to gawk at me, at least hand over those socks,” Harry said. “My feet are bloody freezing.”
Draco moved forward, half-dazed. “Potter, you’re…”
“Seventeen or eighteen, is the current guess,” Harry said, his mouth twisting wryly. “The magic in the Portkey somehow acted as a catalyst and the deaging started as soon as I got here. And thank god they managed to stop it when they did. Socks, please.”
Draco nearly dropped the vase of peonies as he juggled his armload to hand the socks over, and Harry pulled them onto his feet right away without so much as batting an eye at the fact they were shockingly yellow with big green and pink polka dots. Draco busied himself with setting the flowers on the little table beside Harry’s bed and piling the handful of Chocolate Frogs beside it. He pulled out Harry’s glasses from his pocket and offered them as soon as Harry was done with his socks.
“Oh, brilliant,” Harry said, taking them and putting them on straightaway. “I had a Sight Correcting Charm on for a bit, but it made my eyes itch something awful so I’ve mostly just been squinting at everything. Ah.” He smiled broadly at Draco. “There you are.”
“And there you are,” Draco said, sounding a bit faint. He very carefully sat down in the visitor’s chair.
With his old glasses on, Harry’s image was well and truly complete. If it weren’t for the colorful tattoos peeking from the loose collar and short sleeves of his hospital gown, Draco would swear blind that this was Harry Potter circa 1998.
A terrible thought occurred to him then, and Draco blinked. “You’re still you, aren’t you? I mean, the potion hasn’t affected your memory, has it?”
Harry snorted. “Malfoy, come on. Do you honestly think we’d be sitting here having such a wonderfully civil conversation if it had?”
“No,” Draco said. “I suppose we wouldn’t.”
“Not least because I would have been completely stunned by Draco Malfoy walking into my hospital room with a bouquet of flowers,” Harry said, grinning. “The obvious conclusion’s totally wrong, but, well. It does rather look that way, doesn’t it? With no context, I mean. I imagine I’d have been helplessly shocked and confused.”
“I imagine you would have been,” Draco said. He hadn’t been privy to any of it at the time—even after they were partnered and discovered how exceptionally well they worked together, it still took a couple of years for their professional relationship to slip sideways into friendship—but Draco knew that Harry Potter’s Great Bisexual Awakening, as Weasley referred to it, hadn’t happened until he was in his early 20s.
“Then I probably would have hexed you,” Harry went on, nodding almost to himself. “Or, I’d have wanted to. They’ve still got my wand in decontamination.”
“I brought in the rest of your things,” Draco said, unholstering his own wand and setting it on the table within easy reach without taking his eyes off Harry. “Your glasses and your robes, to go through decontamination as well. I’m not certain how long it’ll take but… I’m sorry, I’m staring. I’m trying not to stare but you’re…”
Harry shrugged, the collar of his gown shifting as he moved, and Draco caught a glimpse of a narrow curve of dark violet petals. “It’s fine,” he said. “It is weird, isn’t it? I think I spent about ten minutes looking at myself in the mirror.”
“It’s not permanent, is it?” Draco asked. It shouldn’t be; potions usually weren’t. “They’ll be able to get you back to yourself?”
“Well, that’s where it gets a bit complicated,” Harry said, grimacing. “Their initial testing says that this isn’t any of the known deaging potions. They’re going to send a Healer to the Ministry to try to find out more from the evidence we collected, but, well. You saw the state of their lab.”
Draco thought of how the three cauldrons had been so close that their rims actually touched, and how he’d seen the cobalt potion Harry got doused with contaminated by its bubbling neighbor. He thought of the haphazardly-piled ingredients mingling together on the worktable, and he thought of the stack of parchments nearly close enough to the open flame to catch fire, and how all of it had been exposed to a blast of accidental magic. Deaging potions were one of the trickier formulas to get right, and the odds of anyone who kept their potion lab in such a dangerous state of mismanagement somehow developing a new deaging potion weren’t particularly heartening. The odds of them trying to brew one thing and then accidentally coming up with a new formula for a deaging potion, on the other hand…
“Well,” Draco said, leaning back in his chair. Merlin, Harry was lucky that all it had done was deage him a bit. “That certainly does complicate things.”
“So they’ll probably have to try to reverse engineer it before they can figure out a cure,” Harry said. “They’re optimistic about getting it done, but not so optimistic about getting it done quickly. My Healer says I’m looking at maybe a few weeks, if I’m lucky. A couple of months if I’m not.”
That was about what Draco had expected to hear, but having Harry confirm it was still enormously disappointing. Draco would likely be assigned a temporary partner in the meantime, and he didn’t want another partner. It didn’t matter that it’d only be for a few weeks. He hoped it would only be for a few weeks.
“Exactly,” Harry muttered, nodding along with whatever face Draco had just inadvertently made, and reached for a Chocolate Frog. His sleeve rode up to reveal a little bit more of his tattoo. Draco averted his eyes.
“You can look, you know,” Harry said. The packaging of the Chocolate Frog crinkled as he opened it up.
Harry shrugged. He looked fairly amused. “I can see you trying not to stare at my arms, and I don’t mind. You can look. Just, you know. Don’t sell my photographs to the Prophet or anything. But I don’t mind if you see.”
Harry’s left arm was inked with a random assortment of items that, presumably, held some sort of meaning for him. Draco recognized a few of them, a Golden Snitch and a baby dragon and snowy owl with wings spread wide, but others were a mystery. He could make out a winged key, a few chess pieces, and a mismatched pair of socks, one green and one blue, both patterned with tiny seashells, and the rest were hidden by his sleeve. But it was Harry’s right arm that really held Draco’s attention. His other tattoos were static, but this one was Wizarding. Trailing sets of footprints marched across his skin, criss-crossing over each other before slowly vanishing in an ever-shifting pattern. It was mesmerizing.
“Yeah,” said Harry, rubbing at where a set of footprints looped over the crook of his elbow and slowly faded. “I like this one best, too.” He tossed aside the card (Dumbledore) and reached for another Chocolate Frog.
Draco wanted to ask about the tattoos. He’d always been curious what they meant, because Harry didn’t seem the sort of person who’d get something permanently inked on his skin simply because he thought it was pretty. But being allowed to look at all was more than he’d expected. It seemed rude to ask for more beyond that.
“Bugger,” Harry muttered, tossing the second card aside and stuffing the wriggling frog in his mouth. “Me again.”
Draco snorted as he leaned over to steal the card, and tucked it into his pocket. The real Harry Potter rolled his eyes and swallowed his mouthful of chocolate.
“I’m almost afraid to ask what you’re doing with all of those,” he said.
“Papering my walls,” Draco said, smirking. “I’ve got the dining room all finished and am nearly done with the kitchen.”
“Ugh,” Harry said, ripping open the last Chocolate Frog. “Don’t even joke about that. That’s really creepy.”
Draco thought about it for a moment, entire walls papered with little two-inch pentagons in an endless pattern of Harry Potters, and Harry was right; that would be fairly creepy. And that was exactly why he was saving up enough cards to cover every available surface of his cubicle, including the floor and all of the furniture. Weasley was in on it, and had recruited all of his siblings to help out as well, and between them they’d very nearly saved up enough. Draco couldn’t wait.
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not really putting them up on your walls, are you?”
Draco gave him an incredibly bland smile. “Never you mind about that.”
Harry continued to eye him suspiciously, then sighed and returned his attention to the Chocolate Frog in his hands. He fished the card out of the packaging and sighed. “Another Merlin. I’ve only got about a thousand of him already.”
“Papering your own walls with him, are you?”
“Oh yes,” Harry said dryly, tossing the card aside. “You’re only at the kitchen, but wait until you get the bathroom done. That’s the real thrill.”
“Ugh,” Draco said, getting an unfortunate mental image of it, dozens of little eyes peering down at him while he showered or used the toilet. “That’s creepy. Don’t even joke about it.”
Harry smirked, because he was an arsehole. “You started it.” He stuffed the Chocolate Frog into his mouth, and then looked forlornly at the pile of empty wrappers on the table. Draco had only brought a few, because Harry had a tendency to munch distractedly on whatever was nearby and it was nearly time for supper.
“Weasley’s stopping by later,” Draco told him. “He’s bringing you Thai.”
That perked Harry right up. “Brilliant,” he said. “I haven’t had Thai in ages.”
Draco snorted. “You had Thai last Thursday.”
“Ages,” Harry repeated. “I hope he brings me massaman curry. Did he say what he was going to bring me?”
“Sorry,” Draco said. “Only that he was bringing you Thai.”
Harry made a thoughtful little humming sound. Then he asked, “He’s taking care of the interrogations, I assume?”
Draco nodded. “Park’s assisting.”
“Good,” Harry said. He fiddled with the Chocolate Frog wrapper in his hands, then tossed it onto the table with the others. He picked up Draco’s wand and Vanished the lot of them. “It’s about time she got in on an interrogation. This case is going to be open-and-shut, so I was going to offer to let her step in for me, so I guess it worked out all right.”
“Aside from the bit where you’re in St Mungo’s again, you mean?”
Harry shrugged. “Aside from that,” he allowed, twirling Draco’s wand around his fingers, and Draco was hit with a strange gutpunch of memory, of the end of the war, the Battle of Hogwarts, seeing his own wand in Harry’s hand and how he wielded it as easily as he did his own. How Draco’s wand had clearly taken to his magic like a duck to water, casting for Harry without the slightest hesitation, without the even the smallest stutter showing in his spellwork.
This wasn’t the first time Harry had borrowed Draco’s wand in recent memory, but it had never affected Draco quite like this before. It was different now, seeing him handle it now while looking so young, and good Merlin was he young. He’d been so bloody young when he’d saved them all.
There was a brief tap at the door just then, and when Harry called out, the Mediwitch came bustling in. Draco relaxed a fraction when he saw that it wasn’t Mediwitch Marigold, which was silly because she worked upstairs in Spell Damage so of course she wouldn’t be taking care of Harry this time. He didn’t recognize this one, but she certainly seemed to know him. Gave him a slow, disapproving look, then didn’t give him a second glance as she briskly got on with taking Harry’s vitals while Draco sat by as still and silent as a statue.
“Ugh,” Harry said, flopping back against the pillows after she left again. He tapped Draco’s wand idly against his thigh, setting off little puffs of silvery sparks. “I can’t wait to get out of here.”
Another two idle taps, another two puffs of sparks. Harry didn’t even seem aware he was doing it, and Draco didn’t know whether his wand in Harry’s hand felt so familiar that Harry couldn’t help channeling little wisps of magic through it, or if it was his wand reacting to Harry, recognizing him as its old master and reaching out for his magic, eager to do his bidding. Both thoughts made Draco’s stomach feel strangely shivery.
Draco reached over and took his wand back, then cast a quick Tempus as pretence. “They’ll discharge you tomorrow morning, so only fifteen hours and twelve minutes more,” he said.
“Ugh,” Harry said again, dropping his head back and clasping his hands dramatically to his eyes. “That’s fifteen hours and twelve minutes too long.”
The sleeves of his hospital gown slid up a little higher, pooling around the thin curve of his bicep, revealing more of the footprints tattoo.
“Shall I Transfigure that bed into a fainting couch for you?” Draco asked. He couldn’t quite see Harry’s other arm, couldn’t tell whether that sleeve had shifted as well and had revealed any other images. “So that you can do all your moaning and swooning properly?”
Harry dropped his hands. His fingers had left a smudge on the right lens of his glasses. “I reckon you’d know all about moaning and swooning properly.”
Rolling his eyes, Draco aimed a mild Polishing Charm at Harry’s glasses, then another at his ear just to make Harry yelp and flinch away from it.
“Bastard,” Harry said, scowling and rubbing at his ear. “If I had my wand—”
“But you don’t,” Draco said smugly even though Harry would almost certainly make him pay for that once he did have his wand again. The last time Draco had blatantly poked fun at Harry, in retaliation Harry had Transfigured each and every one of Draco’s quills into a flock of brightly-colored parakeets. They’d all come bursting out in a big flapping, squawking cloud as soon as Draco opened up his desk drawer, and it’d taken him half the morning to collect them again, and of course his favorite golden pheasant feather quill was the very last one he found and un-Transfigured. To this day, Harry denied having any hand in it, but Draco knew better.
Another tap at the door, and the Mediwitch came bustling back in with a little trolley loaded up with Harry’s dinner. Harry was polite enough as she got him situated, but made a face at his plate as soon as she’d left the room again. St Mungo’s meals weren’t bad, per se, but they were tremendously bland, and this one—plain baked chicken and rice with a pile of limp-looking veg on the side—was no exception.
Harry picked at it as he and Draco talked about work, speculating how soon they’d have to appear before the Wizengamot to wrap up their case, and what they might be assigned to next. Harry still had every intention of advocating for Leo Calder, and now that Draco could see with his own two eyes that Harry would be just fine, his own sympathy had returned. Accidental magic could happen to the best of them, and considering that he’d landed the Boy Who Lived in St Mungo’s, Harry’s support would be more important than ever.
Another brisk knock at the door, and Draco fell immediately silent, expecting the Mediwitch back again, or the Healer stopping by on their evening rounds.
Instead, Weasley walked in, paper bag of takeaway cradled in one arm bold as brass. He stopped short when he caught sight of Harry, gaping.
“Harry, you—” He blinked rapidly. The paper bag tilted dangerously in his grasp. “How the bloody hell did you—”
“Oh, shut up,” Harry grumbled, sounding every bit the petulant teenager he currently looked like. He folded his arms over his chest, which completed the image of petulant teenager perfectly, and Draco had to bite his tongue to keep from snickering. “And quit staring. I didn’t stare at you when you were dumb enough to eat that banana cream nougat George gave you and then had to walk around with a monkey’s face for an hour, did I?”
“You did, though,” Ron said. “You stared a lot.”
“And then left bananas on his desk for an entire month,” Draco put in helpfully, and Harry scowled at him.
“Not helping,” he said.
Draco shrugged and aimed his wand at the doorway and put up a Barrier Charm to prevent the mouthwatering scent of spices from drifting out into the hall. His stomach gave a low grumble, and Draco regretted not thinking to ask Weasley to pick him up something as well.
“Joke’s on you,” Weasley said, finally managing to shut the door after himself. “I took all those bananas home and Mum turned them into banana bread, and I didn’t share it with anyone except for Ji-eun.” He came over and nudged the vase of peonies out of the way so he could start unloading shiny foil containers from his bag. “Sorry. Just unexpected to see you looking… Do you feel any different? Memories all where they should be? Magic’s working properly?”
“Yeah, the change is superficial only, as best they can tell,” Harry said, letting go of his scowl in favor of reaching eagerly for the packet of spring rolls. Weasley pulled up the other chair and started opening up containers, getting them organized.
Draco scooted over to give him more space. His stomach gave another grumble, and he folded his arms tightly over his middle.
“Did you owl Hermione?” Harry asked through a mouthful.
“Of course I did. She’s tied up at work still, you know she had that committee meeting on revising the travel restrictions on werewolves?” Weasley handed Harry a plastic fork and a foil container. “She’ll stop by after she gets through, she said. Malfoy, there’s plenty here if you want some. I got extra.”
“No, no. Thank you, but I’ll just be off. Things to do, you know,” he said briskly, standing, then, “Oh,” Draco paused and dug around in his satchel, and pulled out the stack of paperwork. “Potter, get your Healer to sign this, will you? I’ve already filled it in.”
Harry looked at the stack of completed paperwork like Draco had just handed him a brand new racing broom instead of a fourteen-page form. “Thanks, Malfoy.” He set it very carefully aside and then went back to shoveling himself full of Thai.
“Don’t mention it,” Draco said. “Good evening, Weasley. Potter, let me know when you’re released tomorrow?”
Harry, his mouth currently occupied by an inadvisably large mouthful of curry, gave him a little salute with his plastic fork. Draco nodded back, and slipped out of the room. He waved to Celestine on his way past, took the lifts down to the ground floor, and bypassed the Floo in favor of the front door.
It was a gorgeous evening out, so Draco decided to walk part of the way back to his flat. And if he decided to stop off for takeaway Thai, well. That was between him and himself.
- - - - -
The following morning, Draco finished teaching his class, and stopped by the break room for a cup of tea before he went to his cubicle and settled into the day’s work. He bitterly eyed the platter of crumbs as he waited for his water to boil—raspberry scones, read the small handwritten card beside it—then made his tea and took it down the hall to the Auror Office.
He’d planned on a long day of catching up on paperwork while the higher-ups sorted out a temporary partner for him. But when he walked into his cubicle, he found Harry sitting at his desk, calmly sorting through a stack of case files.
Draco stopped so suddenly that he very nearly sloshed tea over his fingers. “What are you doing here?”
“I work here,” Harry said without looking up.
“Yes, but.” Draco stared at him. This was still Harry, it shouldn’t disconcert him as it did to see him sitting at his desk. But he just looked so bloody young. His Auror uniform fit him a little loosely, giving the faint impression of a child playing dress-up. “You’re still.” He waved one hand vaguely in Harry’s direction.
Harry sighed. “Yes, I’m still.” He waved one hand in a mocking approximation of the gesture Draco had just made at him. “But the antidote is going to take St Mungo’s a while to get sorted, and I’ve already spoken to Robards. There’s nothing wrong with my memory and my magic’s perfectly fine. There’s no reason why I can’t keep working in the meantime.”
“Yes, but,” Draco said again.
“Oh, shut up,” Harry told him. “And sit down. I’ve saved you a scone.”
“Oh, well, if you’ve saved me a scone,” Draco muttered. From the scattering of crumbs on the plate, it looked like Harry had saved him two scones and then eaten one of them. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and frankly Draco counted himself lucky that Harry had left him the one.
“Your uniform’s too big,” he said, and picked up his scone and took a bite. He indulged in a brief but vivid fantasy of murdering Weasley and then putting in for a transfer to be Park’s new partner. Merlin, this was a good scone.
“Doesn’t bother me,” Harry said.
“Well I’m bothered,” Draco said, swallowing and setting down his scone. “I’m the one who’s stuck looking at you all day.”
“So fix it, if it bothers you so much,” Harry told him. “You know I’m pants at tailoring charms, and I didn’t want to risk fucking up all my uniforms when I’m only going to need them this way for a few weeks.”
“They gave you an estimate on the antidote? Stand up, please.”
Harry gave him a grudging look and stood up, back straight and arms held stiffly by his sides, chin up as if he were facing a firing squad. “Yeah, MLEP retrieved a journal from the lab that had potion recipes written down in it, and the Healers matched them up with the samples of potions they were able to recover. They haven’t got it worked out quite yet, but they’re optimistic it’ll only be a few weeks before they can get an antidote brewed.”
While he talked, Draco flicked his wand in small, measured motions, taking in Harry’s robes a little bit here, a little bit there, until they fit him properly. And of course, Harry being Harry, gave him a big grin and said, “Thanks, Malfoy!” and then promptly took them off and draped them over the back of his chair before he settled down at his desk again in just his jeans and his Holyhead Harpies tee-shirt which had been worn and washed so many times that the lettering had begun to fade. Harry gave a little wriggle in his seat, getting comfortable, and returned his attention to the stack of file folders he was working through. Draco huffed and went back to his side of the desk and took another bite of his scone.
“It really is unfair,” Draco mused aloud as he contemplated his scone, “Weasley’s got Park, and I’m stuck with you.”
“You know just what to say to win over a boy’s heart, don’t you,” Harry said without looking up from his file folders.
Draco pulled a face at him, even though he was being very pointedly ignored. He indulged in a bit of sulking as he finished up his scone, but mostly ended up sneaking glances across the desks at Harry. His tee-shirt, which had already been somewhat stretched-out from years of use, was even looser on his thin frame, looking very close to the sort of shirts he used to wear back in school. With some minor changes to the setting, Harry looked like he was taken straight out of Draco’s Hogwarts memories, bent over a stack of parchments in the library, laboring over homework or studying hard for an exam. Something about it made Draco’s stomach give a persistent little tug, and he looked away.
He finished off the last bite of his scone and then, feeling only a moderately ashamed to be engaging in behavior that his mother would call horribly uncouth, he picked up the little plate, wet the tip of his finger, and then used it to pick up the final crumbs.
Across the desks, Harry reached his arms over his head as he stretched back in his chair, his tee-shirt riding up high enough to reveal a taut stretch of stomach and a swoop of startlingly scarlet feathers that curved around the jut of his hipbone and disappeared down into his trousers. Draco fumbled the plate and it clattered off the very edge of his desk and smashed on the floor. The Transfiguration came undone on impact in a small fizzle of magic, leaving Draco with a scattering of shredded Posted Note bits where there ought to be glass.
“All right over there?” Harry asked, and thank Merlin, he’d put his arms back down.
“Somewhere, right now, right this very minute,” Draco said, staring down at the hot pink bits of paper sprinkled across the floor, “McGonagall is cringing and doesn’t know why.”
Harry looked puzzled. “What?”
“I’m going to owl her and tell her that her favorite student is besmirching her honor by going about, casting sloppy Transfiguration spells. For shame, Potter.” There, now. This was better. His heart was beginning to slow, though his face still felt hot. He was sure his cheeks were as noticeably pink as the shredded paper on the floor. He hoped that Harry would assume he was embarrassed over the mess he’d made.
“Yeah, no,” Harry said, tipping his chair back on two legs and tucking his hands behind his head and, bloody hell, his tee-shirt rode up again. “I wasn’t even close to her favorite student. Hell, I wasn’t even her favorite Gryffindor. That’d be Dean; I think he was the only one of us who never gave her any headaches.”
“Really?” Draco asked, keeping his eyes steadfastly on Harry’s face. “I would’ve guessed Granger was her favorite.”
Harry laughed aloud and mercifully dropped the chair back onto all fours and put his hands down again. “Hermione, you think Hermione—oh my god, Hermione was nothing but headaches. Remember that campaign she ran in fourth year, trying to liberate all the Hogwarts house-elves whether they wanted to be liberated or not?”
“Oh, right,” Draco said. He’d been mostly preoccupied at the time by what, in retrospect, had been a blindingly obvious and fairly embarrassing crush on Viktor Krum, not to mention how much effort it took starting nasty rumors about Harry, and making all those Potter Stinks badges had been enormously time-consuming… but Draco vaguely recalled Granger trying to badger everyone into taking the flyers and badges she made, and then she'd spent several months of their fifth year with knitting needles constantly in hand, churning out stacks upon stacks of vaguely-misshapen hats. “P.U.K.E., wasn’t it?”
“S.P.E.W.,” Harry corrected, laughing. “I think I’ve still got some of the badges, actually.” His eyebrows quirked somewhere between amused and baffled. “What would P.U.K.E. even stand for?”
“Prevention for Unjust Somethingsomething of Elves? I don’t know,” Draco said.
“I’m almost impressed you were able to come up with something that quickly. Really, Unjust Somethingsomething? So close, Malfoy.”
Draco swished his wand and sent the torn-up bits of Posted Note fluttering over to Harry. One of them, one that’d come from the sticky strip, pasted itself to his glasses. “Couldn’t think of anything that began with K. We could go with Cruelty, if you’re willing to get a bit creative with the spelling.”
“Hermione would never,” Harry said, peeling the sticky bit of paper off his glasses and Vanishing it with a snap of his fingers, and Draco’s heart missed a beat. “Satiric misspellings drive her up the wall.”
This ridiculous reaction to Harry’s casual displays of Wandless magic, quite frankly, baffled him. It wasn’t anything that dozens of other witches and wizards couldn’t also do. All Aurors had at least a rudimentary grasp of Wandless, and the bare minimum of being able to cast a wandless Accio was one of the requirements for promotion to Junior Auror. But something about the way that Harry barely seemed to think about it made Draco’s breath catch.
“Oh,” Draco said, several beats too late.
Harry was giving him a funny look, and Draco cleared his throat.
“Sorry. I was just in shock that you knew the word for it. Satiric misspellings,” Draco said, shaking his head slowly and with great exaggeration. “Potter, you never cease to amaze me.”
“Please,” Harry rolled his eyes. “Believe it or not, I know loads of names for things.”
“I’d expect you would; you’ve been friends with Granger for nearly two decades now, haven’t you?”
“I do learn things on my own, you know,” Harry said. “But yeah, okay. Fair enough. That one I did learn from Hermione.”
Draco snorted at that, and the corner of Harry’s mouth ticked up in a small smile, and Draco let it go. Harry returned his attention to his stack of folders, and Draco started working his way through a stack of forms he’d been putting off dealing with. Filing had been sending him increasingly nasty memos about them, and he was sort of afraid that the next one might actually be a Howler. They’d done that to Auror Talbott, and the poor man had yet to live down the teasing from the other Aurors. And since Draco didn’t have any active cases at the moment, he figured he’d best get these forms submitted and avoid finding out for himself whether he was next on their Howler list.
He and Harry worked quietly until lunchtime, and then joined Weasley and Park for fish and chips, because it was Friday and Friday was fish and chips day. On their way back into the Auror Office, they were accosted by a small flock of memos, one for each of them, summoning them into Robards’ office at their earliest convenience. They headed straight there, where they were rewarded for their swift apprehension of the Jenkins brothers and Leo Calder by being assigned the new case that their previous one had brought to light.
Robards handed them each a copy of the case file, and went into a quick initial briefing of the evidence they’d collected so far. Among the evidence collected from the lab they’d been working out of was a Floo address for their supplier of potion ingredients. Weasley and Harry exchanged amused looks at whatever Draco’s face did when Robards announced that one, which only made Draco roll his eyes. Nothing exasperated him more than inept criminals, merciful Merlin. Why on earth would they write that down?
Harry shifted in his seat, slid his foot toward Draco and stepped on his toes. Draco wiped the frown off his face, sat up straight, and tuned back into the briefing.
But of course, the address was protected by a password and the Department of Magical Transportation didn’t have anything on file for them. Still, it meant that there was another supplier of illegal ingredients out there that they needed to track down. There wasn’t all that much information as of yet, and most of these sorts of cases started off exactly the same.
“Hooray,” Park said, perfectly deadpan, as they all filed out of Robards’ office. “Paperwork.”
“Paperwork,” Draco agreed, raising his case file. Park raised hers and tapped it against his, like clinking glasses.
“Aurorwork’s not all wandfights and chasing after bad guys,” Weasley said determinedly, and Draco wondered whether he was saying it for Park’s benefit, or if he was reminding himself.
“Or jumping off bridges?” Draco added, watching Harry’s face carefully.
“That only happened twice,” Harry said, making a face like he’d sucked on a lemon slice.
“Four times,” Weasley corrected.
“Four times,” Harry said. “And it was years ago.”
“Two years ago,” Weasley said.
Draco blinked. “Wait, what? No, I was his partner two years ago.” He looked between Harry and Weasley. “When did he jump off a bridge two years ago?”
“You were laid up in St Mungo’s, remember? When you went after that arsehole who kept smuggling Nifflers into Gringotts and you had to go alone because Harry’s banned, and then the arsehole dropped a mine cart on you?”
“For three days,” Draco burst out, rounding on Harry. “I was in St Mungo’s for three days and you jumped off a bloody bridge and didn’t tell me?”
“Two bridges, actually,” Park put in. She shrugged when Draco turned his incredulous stare onto her. “I’ve heard the stories.”
“Well, it was bridge and a viaduct,” Weasley said.
Harry was scowling at Weasley. “You said you wouldn’t tell him about the viaduct.”
Weasley shrugged. “I said I wouldn’t tell him while he was in St Mungo’s. Regrowing bones is painful enough, Ron, he doesn’t need to be worrying about me while he does it. Well, his bones are all regrown now. I kept up my end of the deal.”
“It’s a good story,” Park added. “I heard about it when I was still a trainee.”
“Not helping,” Harry told her.
“What on earth,” Draco said. “I’m gone for three days, and you jump off… What on earth, Potter, why.”
“You’re, erm, a mitigating influence?” Harry tried. “And you weren’t around?”
Park was overcome by sudden coughing fit. “Mitigating influence,” she managed to get out, and then her laughter grew too much to be covered up by fake coughing.
Weasley was nodding along like she’d said something wonderfully insightful. “She’s got a point, you know. The only reason Harry doesn’t get into nearly as much trouble as your partner because half the time you beat him to it.”
“That’s simply not true,” Draco said, glancing over at Harry.
“My arse it isn’t,” Harry told him.
Draco frowned. “Look, when I put myself in dangerous situations, it’s a calculated risk—”
“Oh, so it’s a calculated risk when you do it, but when I do it it’s unconscionably reckless, Potter, are you trying to finish what the Dark Lord started?”
“I don’t sound like that.”
“Good Merlin, you’re like a lemming, aren’t you, Potter? Have you ever seen a dangerous situation you didn’t feel the need to jump into headfirst?”
“For the last time, I don’t sound like—! That doesn’t even make sense, lemmings are bloody stupid, not enormous gits with hero complexes a mile wide.”
“You sniff out danger like a niffler sniffs out gold, don’t you, Potter? Oh, and speaking of nifflers—”
“Oh don’t you start on about the bloody minecarts again.”
“I will start on about the minecarts if I bloody well want to!”
“Oh good Merlin,” Weasley sighed to Park. “Let’s go, they’re going to be at it for a while and I don’t want to be around when people start getting annoyed by the shouting. Did you know that one time Miriam from down in Filing hexed Harry a pair of mountain goat horns when they were mid-argument?”
“No!” said Park, looking delighted.
“Yeah, told him that if he and Malfoy were going to butt heads they might as well do it properly,” Weasley said.
“She got Malfoy too?” Park asked, looking even more delighted.
“No, sadly,” Weasley said. “He ran off as soon as Harry got hexed, and Miriam couldn’t catch him. You know she’s got that bum knee.”
“It was a tactical retreat!” Draco shouted down the hall after them.
“Oh my god, don’t pretend like you even know what a tactical retreat is,” Harry told him. “Like that time you faced down a pack of transformed werewolves?”
“No!” Draco rounded on him. “You don’t get to lecture me about the werewolves! You jump off bridges!”
“You fought a duel in a speeding minecart!” Harry shot back. “And then got another minecart dropped on top of you!”
“I was in pursuit of a suspect, and I don’t see what that’s got to do with—”
“You know how much difference there is between pursuing a suspect on minecart tracks and a viaduct?” Harry asked, then held his thumb and forefinger pinched together and thrust his hand into Draco’s face. “About this much.”
Draco slapped his hand away, and for a split second he thought Harry was actually going to punch him. The way he stopped, startled, and flinched backward a moment later told Draco that yeah, he’d very nearly just got punched. For a long moment they just stared at each other, then Harry visibly deflated. Draco forced himself relax, taking a deep breath and willfully letting go of his anger.
“You’re still reckless,” he said after a moment.
“Yeah, well,” Harry said, smiling faintly. “So are you.” They stood there awkwardly for a moment, then Harry said, “I reckon we ought to get down to Filing, pick up those records before Ron and Ji-eun take all the easy ones for themselves.”
“They were probably given all the easy ones,” Draco grumbled as he and Harry turned and started for the lifts. “You know that Miriam hates us.”
Harry grinned at him at that, looking young and happy in a way that he hadn’t ever looked at Hogwarts, when he’d had a prophecy hanging over his head and a Dark Lord eager to see him dead. And a sudden zap of panic went through Draco when he thought of what impossible, insurmountable odds Harry had had to overcome to have made it through all of that alive, to have made it this far in his life. Because by all rights, he shouldn’t have.
Draco thought of the night about a year ago. A hostage situation had gone bad, and a fifteen-year-old wizard had died. Harry and Draco had gone back to Draco’s flat after they’d been released from their debriefing, and together they worked their way through most of a bottle of Firewhisky.
“He’s all right, you know,” Harry had said, very earnestly, slurring only a little. It was very late, and the grandfather clock in the entryway had just struck two, the echoes still fading from the air as he spoke. “I’ve been dead before. It’s nice. Peaceful.”
Draco had been suitably horrified. He’d been told how his mother had lied for Harry, had told the Dark Lord that he was dead when he wasn’t.
“No, no,” Harry said, reaching over and laying his hand heavily across Draco’s thigh. “No, she did. I was alive again by then. It didn’t stick for very long.”
“Good,” Draco breathed, putting his hand over Harry’s. “Good, I’m glad. I’m very glad you’re here, you know.”
And Harry had smiled. “I’m glad I’m here too.”
Somehow, they ended up holding hands, and it was a comfort, feeling Harry’s fingers clasped between his own, warm and solid and so wonderfully real. Harry moved closer, and they’d eventually fallen asleep there, just like that, and Draco had woken up very early the next morning, neck stiff and Harry slumped over and pressed warm against his side. They were still very loosely holding hands. The pale grey light of the not-quite sunrise made him look very young and peaceful and all Draco could think of was, You were dead, and then, You’re here, thank Merlin, you’re still here.
Then, as it did now, the very idea of living in a world that didn’t have Harry Potter somewhere in it felt like drowning.
And as much as Draco made light of it sometimes, rolling his eyes with Weasley and saying, ‘What, again?’ when Harry ended up in St Mungo’s, and his tradition of buying Harry get-well flowers and ugly socks, deep down it sort of terrified Draco how little regard for his own life Harry seemed to have. And yeah, being an Auror was a dangerous job, Draco knew that, but there were risks and then there were risks. And there was no risk Harry saw as too great if there was even the smallest chance he could spare someone else from getting hurt.
Draco both loved and hated that about him.
“Well, we’d best not keep Miriam waiting,” Draco said, returning Harry’s smile.
They went down to Filing and, pausing just outside the door, played a quick round of Stone-Cloak-Wand to determine who had to face Miriam, which Draco won easily because Harry almost always opened with Stone. But it turned out to not matter much because Miriam wasn’t there. Cecil was working the reception desk today and he (much to Harry’s dismay) practically fell over himself to help the Boy Who Lived. Draco stood back and did his best to keep from laughing while Harry sent him pleading looks whenever Cecil’s back was turned.
It only took a few minutes to get them sorted. Weasley and Park had already taken their half, and after signing a few forms acknowledging receival of the records and agreeing to return those forms to filing in the same condition in which they had left on pain of death (it actually said that, on pain of death, buried deep in the fine print on page three) Draco and Harry were soon on their way, each carrying a sturdy cardboard box packed with parchment.
“I thought it would make me feel better to know that Ron’s suffering through this right along with us,” Harry said glumly as they waited for the lift. “But it really doesn’t.”
Draco glanced over to reply and his gaze caught on the way the tendons on Harry’s wrists and forearms stood out from holding up the heavy box. Shifting his own box to balance on his hip, Draco fumbled for a his wand and cast a Lightening Charm on Harry’s, then on his own.
“Thanks, Malfoy,” Harry said, rolling his shoulders a little. The lift dinged and the doors slid open.
“Don’t mention it,” Draco said, and followed him out, down the hall and back to work.
- - - - -
Draco hated potion supplier cases. And unfortunately they tended to assign him to more of them than not. He had the fourth highest marks in Potions in the entire department, but that had fuck-all to do with tracking down illegal ingredient sales. Most illegal ingredients were obtained from either legitimate apothecarists or from licensed suppliers who sold a percentage of their wares on the side, sans paperwork, for an increased price. It was a tidy business, once they had it running. And the only way to catch them at it was to sort through stacks upon stacks of records.
What they were looking for here was anything that didn’t quite match up. Greenhouses who took in enough supplies for big yields but each season turned out low numbers of their crops. Recently they’d caught an apothecarist who purchased regular orders of dozens of unicorn horns and routinely reported a high percentage of them Damaged and Destroyed, but was instead selling them under the table. Sometimes both apothecarists and suppliers would create fake clients, producing long and twisting paper trails that ultimately led to nowhere. Tracking shipments of jars and vials, that was a good one. Both suppliers and apothecaries who bought more jars than they used in their reported sales usually indicated that they had something illegal going on, some under-the-table business where all those extra jars and vials were going.
It was endless, uninteresting, tedious work, and there were a subset of clerks down in Filing whose job it was to analyze this sort of data and passed on their reports to the appropriate department. But the Jenkins brothers weren’t getting their potion ingredients from any of the known channels, which meant that this had got flagged as a priority case, which meant that Draco got to spend his Friday afternoon reading through innumerable files, scanning through cramped columns of numbers and rechecking all the arithmetic, and idly wishing he’d used the Malfoy fortune to become a man of leisure, just as his parents had intended for him to do.
“That’s it,” Draco said, slapping his file folder shut. He pulled off his glasses and dropped them onto his desk and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. “I’m done.”
Harry snorted and closed his own folder. “How about we break for dinner and finish up at home? Maybe a change of scenery will do us good.”
Draco lowered his hands and frowned consideringly. As much as he very much didn’t want to keep working, at least doing it in the comfort of his own home would, as Harry had said, be a nice change of scenery. “Mine or yours?”
“Yours?” Harry asked. “Kreacher’s been… difficult, since the deaging potion.”
“Difficult?” Draco echoed, but Harry only grimaced and shook his head, and Draco let it go.
They packed up their things, taking a couple generous handfuls of folders to work through tonight and leaving the rest here for tomorrow. Draco didn’t particularly mind working weekends, especially on a non-urgent case like this. He’d get to have a bit of a lie-in tomorrow, at least, and that was the best part of Saturdays anyhow.
“Curry?” Harry asked hopefully as they took off their Auror robes. Harry pulled on his grey canvas jacket and buttoned it halfway.
“Italian,” Draco countered, buttoning up his black wool jumper and debated whether he’d need a Warming Charm or not. Harry always wanted to do curry. If they ate curry one more time, Draco was going to have it coming out of his eyeballs.
Harry frowned. “Thai?”
“Nice try, Potter, that’s still curry.”
“They’ve got other things besides curry,” Harry said. “They’ve got noodles. And that chicken-on-a-stick thing you like, erm.” He snapped his fingers. “Satay! You like that.”
Draco sighed, almost tempted. He really did like chicken satay. “What about that place by Weasley’s flat that does doner kebabs?”
“Ooh,” Harry said, his gaze going momentarily distant. “Yeah, okay. I could do that.”
Draco bit back a smile. He could usually tempt Harry away from curry with anything involving lamb. He really was too easy sometimes. Draco smirked to himself as he folded up his robes and tucked them into his satchel, then packed away the folders he’d set aside, his notes, as well as his half-used-up bottle of ink and his favorite quill. Harry was already waiting by the doorway of their cubicle by the time he had everything gathered up, and together they walked down to the Apparition Point.
“Glamour me?” Harry asked when they reached it. “It’d be a bit hard to explain why I suddenly look ten years younger, yeah?”
Draco snorted, and took out his wand. “Glasses too?” he asked as he cast the spell.
“Nah, these are fine.”
Since Harry had given in on the whole curry thing, Draco didn’t complain as Harry cast strong Disillusionment Charms over them and then Apparated them right onto the pavement in front of the restaurant instead of Apparating into a conveniently deserted alleyway and then walking down, as they should have done. But Harry had mastered the art of dropping his Disillusionment Charms with perfect timing just as he walked through a door, and so far no Muggles had managed to spot him at it.
A heavy copper bell on a frayed red cord jangled pleasantly as they stepped inside, and Draco’s mouth watered at the warm smell of sizzling lamb. He hadn’t thought much of this place when Harry had first dragged him here. It was a narrow little space tucked between a nightclub and one of those trendy little coffee shops Muggles always seemed to flock to, marked only by a large white sign that read Doner Kebabs in big red letters. It was too small inside for any tables and chairs, and the linoleum floor was yellowed and scuffed and starting to peel up around the skirting boards. A long counter ran the length of the place, effectively cutting the space in two. The kitchen area was crammed with huge stainless steel appliances, and a little later tonight the empty customer area would be packed with Muggles. There were a lot of nightclubs in this area, and drunk people were hungry.
They’d gone after a late night at the Ministry, that very first time, and Draco had very nearly turned around and walked right back out. It’d been within the first year he and Harry had been partnered, and Draco’s previous partner had been a pureblood. So while he’d decided by that time that Muggles were all right in theory, he still hadn’t been entirely sold on them in practice.
Draco hadn’t wanted to get close to all the loudly-chattering, skimpily-dressed Muggles. He hadn’t wanted to talk to the harried girl behind the till, and he certainly hadn’t wanted to eat anything prepared by the sweaty man bent over a hot grill in the kitchen. But he’d made himself go through with it, and the food had been fantastic.
The smile Harry had given him after they’d stepped back outside had been pretty nice, too.
The girl behind the counter had grown into a woman since then, and they’d been back often enough over the years that she recognized them right away and greeted them cheerfully. There were no other customers in the shop this early in the evening and they stepped right up to the counter.
“Your usual?” she asked Harry, who’d reached her first.
“Please,” Harry said, reaching into the back pocket of his trousers.
“Make that two,” Draco said, stepping up beside him and pulling out his coinpurse.
“Malfoy, no, c’mon,” Harry said. He already had his wallet in hand.
Draco elbowed him out of the way. “You got it last time.”
“No, I’m pretty sure you got it last time,” Harry said, trying to elbow him back, but Draco gave him a light shove and Harry didn’t try again.
“So you can get it next time. Thank you,” Draco said, smiling at the woman as she took the money he offered to her.
“Sorry,” she told Harry, laughing.
Grumbling to himself, Harry tucked his wallet back into the rear pocket of his trousers. “Next time,” he muttered ominously, and Draco snorted.
Their food was ready quickly, and in no time at all they were stepping back out onto the pavement, white boxes in hand.
“Hey,” Harry said, and he had that slow smile on his face he always got right before he suggested doing something that they really ought to arrest themselves for. “Fancy eating somewhere a little different tonight?”
“How different?” Draco asked warily.
Harry didn’t answer, but his smile turned brighter, a little more mischievous.
And Draco sighed, slipping his hand around Harry’s elbow and holding on tight. “Very well. Do with me what you will.”
“Dangerous words, Malfoy. Ready?” Harry asked, and waited for Draco’s nod before he Side-Alonged him away.
They reappeared in a park. Draco didn’t know where they were, though it had to be somewhere not too far outside of London, since they’d made it in a single jump. But there wasn’t any sign of the city out here, and the air had that quiet, open sort of feel to it that only came when you were far away from a big city. There were about half a dozen Muggles in sight, but none within earshot, and Draco looked around while Harry stripped off the Disillusionment Charms from them and then undid the Glamour Draco had cast on his face. Then Draco followed Harry along the path and over to a small stone bridge over a trickling creek so small that they wouldn’t even need the bridge to step across it.
Harry hopped up on the low stone wall and grinned at Draco. “Nice, yeah?”
He looked so pleased with himself, quietly smug like he’d just got away with something he shouldn’t have, and this must have been what he’d looked like back at Hogwarts, right before he and his friends embarked on another exciting Gryffindor adventure. A little stab of jealousy went through him at that, but Draco set it easily aside. It’d been a long time since he could justify even the slightest hint of envy over Granger and Weasley’s command of Harry’s time and attention. And it was silly of him to waste his time being jealous of their past history, when Draco was sitting here in the warm late-evening sunlight with Harry, right now in the present.
“You’re looking at me oddly,” Harry said.
“Sorry,” Draco said, then gave an awkward little shrug, because telling Harry how glad he was just to be here with him felt like too much to admit to. “I was just thinking, the way you smiled when you asked me to do something different… This must be how you have looked back at Hogwarts when you and Weasley and Granger had one of your adventures.”
“Not really,” Harry said. He nudged his glasses back into place where they’d begun to slip down his nose. “Usually our adventures involved a lot more panic and, you know, threat of death. That sort of thing.” He looked away, squinting toward the setting sun. “Not much cause for smiling.”
“I know that,” Draco said, and he did know. Even if Harry hadn’t told him bits and pieces over the years, he still had his own store of experience to draw from. “There was a war on, I know how it was. But, people were always talking about you, weren’t they, and all the grand adventures you had. There must have been some part of it that wasn’t life or death. There must have been some part of it that was fun.”
“Well,” Harry said thoughtfully as he popped his box open. “Smuggling a baby dragon out of the school was pretty fun. I mean, not at the time. At the time it was…” His expression shifted. “...well, it felt like the most important thing I’d ever done. God, my heart was pounding.” He shook his head a little, and his expression shifted a little more. “I had no idea what was going to come next.”
They fell into silence. Draco sat down beside him and opened his box and unwrapped his plastic fork from its crinkly plastic sleeve. The sound of it seemed to jolt Harry from whatever memory he’d got himself lost in. He stripped the plastic off his own fork and dug into his own dinner.
“God I’m starving,” he muttered to himself before he shoved a heaping forkful of rice into his mouth. He chewed, swallowed, and speared a piece of lamb. “I’d forgotten how awful this is, to be always hungry.” He made a wry face, and then stuffed the lamb into his mouth and followed it up with another huge forkful of rice before he’d even finished chewing.
Draco waited cautiously to see if he’d say more, uncertain whether Harry meant being trapped in a body with a teenaged metabolism and a lot of growing left to do, or whether someone had actually starved him at some point (and Draco had by now put together enough bits and pieces about Harry’s life with the Dursleys to know that that might be a very real possibility). Or maybe Harry meant both. Knowing Harry, it could very well be both. He had this disconcerting habit of blithely mentioning the various horrors of his past without so much as batting an eyelash, but always framed in such a way that Draco sometimes wasn’t sure whether he wasn’t talking about something innocuous. Sometimes he dressed them up in his characteristic dry humor and that sort of not-quite-sarcasm he seemed to favor and said it like he wasn’t serious at all. Draco had spent about six months honestly believing that the whole Gringotts dragon thing was a joke until he finally found out that no, it really had happened and Harry really did get banned for it, and he, along with Weasley and Granger, had been doing their banking at a Wizarding credit union up in Glasgow since the end of the war.
“Dreadfully inconvenient,” Harry had said about it when the topic had finally come to light one night while they were out at a pub, and shrugged in a what-can-you-do sort of way. Which was ridiculous, because the very obvious answer to that was not steal a great bloody dragon.
“There were extenuating circumstances,” Granger had said, and Weasley had nodded and added, “You had to have been there.”
And Draco had looked between the three of them, and then sighed, and then gulped down the rest of his drink without another word.
Speaking of drinks, they’d entirely forgot to bring any. Draco glanced around and, seeing no Muggles anywhere near them, Conjured a couple of drinking glasses and filled each of them with an Aguamenti. He handed one to Harry.
Harry looked over at him and smiled. “Thanks, Malfoy.” He had a little dab of yogurt sauce at the corner of his mouth.
“You’ve got a little,” Draco said, and gestured to the corner of his own mouth.
Harry licked it away. “Got it?”
“Yeah,” Draco said, looking quickly away from him.
But he couldn’t help watching from the corner of his eye as Harry speared the last bite of salad, scooped up the final forkful of rice, and then closed up his box and set it aside with a contented sigh.
“That was perfect,” he said.
“I’m surprised you didn’t make yourself sick, eating so fast,” Draco said. He still had nearly half of his dinner left.
“Really,” Draco went on. “I had a crup when I was a child that would do that. Scarf her supper, and then puke everywhere. Mother hated it.”
“Well, I like to think I’ve got more brains than a crup,” Harry said, eyeing Draco’s food.
Draco handed him a wedge of pita with a dramatic sigh. “I like to think so too, but time and time again you prove me wrong.”
“I will push you off this bridge, so help me,” Harry said.
Draco smirked at him. “I thought jumping off bridges was your routine.”
Harry laughed at that, and something deep inside Draco’s chest snapped painfully into place.
“Yeah, well,” Harry said with a careless shrug, and took a huge bite of pita, and Draco tried to remember how to breathe.
It felt like the world had moved beneath him. Or stopped moving beneath him and for the very first time in his life he was standing still. And somehow Harry was oblivious to it, calmly eating his bread as if this were any other evening, as if today were nothing different than any other evening they’d ever spent together.
Draco looked at him, at the way the breeze ruffled his hair, the way the rose-warm light of the setting sun cast his hair vaguely auburn, at the angle of his jaw, the curve of his fingers and his bitten-down nails and the way his mouth looked so unbearably soft and pink. Harry swung his feet idly as he sat, his heels drumming against the stone wall one-two, one-two, and Draco thought to himself,