A shriek pierces through the voices chattering all around him but he is one of the few whose attention drifts in the direction of the sharp noise. It had been, after all, not a shriek of terror or pain but that of joy and laughter, an expected sound on a playground crawling with toddlers and children. His eyes find the child who'd made the noise—a boy, maybe a little over two years old, maybe a little under two feet tall, bundled tightly in winter wear—and he watches as the child chases nothing, half-waddling, half-running to follow some unknown adventure over the woodchips. A woman stands at the edge of the boxed area, smiling, laughing, calling out encouragingly—the mother.
He's never felt particularly paternal before, has never truly considered having and raising a child of his own, but as he slowly eats his lunch with cold-numbed fingers, eyes taking in the child's sudden stumble and subsequent wail, Draco thinks, I want one.
"Damn. I'm with Malfoy."
Draco pauses only a step away from being seen by the occupants of the cubicle—Potter's cubicle, but that hadn't been Potter's voice. Potter didn't have a huffy voice like that anymore, not since they were schoolboys. It's rude to eavesdrop, he knows, but his feet stay planted where they are like they have a mind of their own; they may as well have as they receive no contrary cue from him. He decides to listen.
"Malfoy's not so bad," comes Potter's deeper tones, placating almost. Potter is one to keep the peace.
A scoff of disbelief and the other voice says, "Have you worked with him lately? It's like he's, I don't know, tapped in the head or somethin'."
Draco blinks, not sure he understands the intention of that statement. He has a good education, good skills; he's more than handy in a wand fight now. What else could be expected of him? He glances at the assignment folder in his hand, stares at it, as Potter responds, "He's gotten a bit… quiet, yeah, but he's still excellent at what he does. With him you'll definitely be finished by the weekend."
"Yeah, but he—"
"Trust me, mate," Weasley's rougher voice jumps in, "Thank your lucky stars he doesn't talk much anymore. You can't imagine what the git was like back at Hogwarts."
"I was only a couple years behind you," the unknown voice grumbles. At the same time, Potter sighs and says admonishingly, "Ron. Auror unity, remember? We're a team."
Rather than be ruffled by these comments, Draco calmly opens the assignment folder, tuning out the voices even as they continue to bicker about him, their owners failing to hear him shuffling about not three feet away—his actions are so muted now, what with Curse-Breaker and Auror training both. The assignment is a standard one, just another cursed, antique artifact. He's a lot of knowledge on subjects like these. The Aurors had recruited him from his initial job the Department of Mysteries for that reason specifically.
Reading over the parchment, his eyes fall on his assigned partner.
Oh, him. Draco neutrally recalls the large, stocky blond that had been in his year of Auror training, an enthusiastic, eager-to-please young man that had excellent casting skill. Now that he remembers the man, it is easy to connect his voice with that of the one coming from Potter's cubicle.
Sometimes, nowadays, it's difficult to memorize names and faces.
Closing the folder, Draco ultimately loses his little interest in the goings-on of Potter's cubicle and casually strides past, not even noticing when the voices within first pause and then continue much more softly as he does.
"Why did you let him talk to you like that?" Potter wearily asks as they exit a dilapidated apothecary. The summer heat isn't bad in Bridlington, a bit too cool for Draco actually, but the humidity in the air is strong, the salty smell of sea water and the stench of fish from the nearby fish mart almost overwhelming. Potter scrunches his nose against them, a light sheen of sweat on his brow; Bridlington isn't cool enough for him.
Draco stares at Potter until dark eyebrows draw together in uncomfortable confusion. He answers just as Potter is about to speak again, "How did he talk to me?"
Potter's confusion grows, evident in his disbelieving expression, and the grainy sand under his boots scrapes against the stone steps as he turns to face Draco, the sleeve of his crimson robes brushing against Draco's own.
"What do you mean, how did he—" Potter starts but cuts himself off and frowns at Draco for a long time. Finally, he says, "You're… different. You—" Another calculating stare, then he continues, "You used to not be like this. You would have gotten angry before, being snarked at like that."
Somehow, Draco knows that Potter is right. He is different, though he rarely thinks about that anymore. The shop owner's immediate harsh words upon hearing his surname had indeed caused a small stirring deep within him, a strange twinge, but a stronger, calmer something else had snuffed out the stirring before it evolved into anything, before it evolved into anger or jealousy or whatever it would have become when faced with additional accolades toward Potter and condemnations toward himself. Had the war even touched Bridlington? Draco wasn't sure the owner had a right to jump on the Hate bandwagon but what was there to do about it? He shrugs uncaringly.
"It doesn't matter. Things change," he says to Potter and then glances at the sky. The entire day had been overhung with clouds but it seems darker now and Draco realizes how late it is. "Are you hungry?"
Potter doesn't appear as though he wants to drop the original subject so easily, still frowning away like a portrait with an unsightly blemish, but he eventually nods and moves away from the apothecary front, placing a hand on the small of Draco's back to encourage him along as well. "Yeah. Let's just grab something quick and take it back to the hotel. We can organize our notes and follow any leads tomorrow morning."
Three young children race past them on bicycles, shouting taunts at one another as they weave down the street. Draco watches them until Potter tugs him in a different direction.
Oh, that's right, he recalls, I need a child.
Potter pulls uselessly against the chain around his ankle for another few minutes before finally collapsing back against the wall beside Draco. He glances over and gives a small smile that doesn't quite reach his bruised eyes.
"I have to admit," he rasps, "I didn't see this coming."
Draco nods in agreement and then lifts his disinterested stare to the grate that allowed drainage from the road above to drip in—charmed so no one can see them down here, no one can hear them. The underground flood tunnel is like a cylindrical dungeon, with a small amount of water trickling through the center over their already soaked boots. He isn't as injured as Potter, only a couple of scratches here and there, maybe a bruise or two, but he also hadn't put up quite the fight that Potter had against their attackers. He simply hadn't felt like it, knowing that there were more assailants than the pair of them could handle, though Potter had done surprisingly well being both physically disadvantaged and using wild, wandless magic. Draco might have even felt an impressed twinge afterwards, but he isn't positive on that. Certain feelings, sometimes, are difficult to remember now.
"We shouldn't have left our wands in the room," Potter sighs, voice scratchy and rough. He closes his eyes and lightly bangs his already injured head on the stone as though to punish himself. "Even if it was just to grab breakfast from the lobby, we shouldn't have left our wands—constant vigilance and all that."
"We couldn't have known they had been tipped off and were waiting for us," Draco answers indifferently.
"Robards will chew our heads off when we get back."
"Most likely. If we get back."
Potter looks at Draco then, but his expression is unreadable.
They sit in silence for a long while before the wards containing them to the small area waver, the vibrations in magic echoing off the curved walls. Potter leaps to his feet defensively, having to bend awkwardly in the small tunnel, and Draco passively rises next to him. It's not that he is resigned or doesn't care, but it's hard to bother with concern or fear. Three cloaked men step through the wards, their bodies awkwardly bent as well and their faces half-hidden by their hoods. Still, Draco thinks they look familiar even with the shadows cast by the thick fabric and the dim light. Perhaps he'd seen their pictures in his files on the potion smuggling ring he and Potter were to be finding—well, had found, that is, if being captured by the smugglers in turn still counted.
One of the men grins maliciously at them and says, "We have decided on satisfying deaths for a Hero and a blood traitor."
Potter scowls through his bloodied face. "You're adding a lot of charges to your already long list—"
"Spare me the threats," the man answers snidely and the two flanking him snicker as though he's told a joke. It vaguely reminds Draco of Crabbe and Goyle. Huh. He hasn't thought about them in a long time.
The man continues, "By the time the Auror Department discovers what remains of the two of you down here, we'll be long gone." He grins again, this time showing snaggly teeth. "They'll never even know we were here."
"Your combined charges at the moment warrant a maximum of five years in Azkaban," Draco informs them tonelessly. "However, should you add double homicide—"
"What're you on about? Shut it!" the man snarls, throwing back his hood and glowering at Draco. An ugly scar climbs one side of his head, etching a path through the short hair on his scalp. Draco is again hit with a small twinge that he should remember this man. "A deserter like you deserves worse than death for taking up with his lot," the man jerks his head at Potter, "and I've wanted him dead for more than a decade now."
"Get over it, Rowle," Potter says, voice hard and low in the way that Draco has come to recognize as fury. He dimly wonders if Potter will try attacking them again, but is mostly preoccupied with remembering Thorfinn Rowle, former Death Eater.
So Draco had recalled the man's face not from the smugglers' files but rather from service under Voldemort. He and Potter hadn't found the smugglers after all then.
"Been tailin' you for a long time, Potter," Rowle adds, digging around in his cloak before pulling out two small vials. He smirks. "Lucks on our side that just the Malfoy brat was with you this time, but I'd've liked to have that Weasley, too."
Rowle nods to the two other men who have only chuckled darkly through the exchange and they both lift their wands. Potter immediately lunges but a spell hits him in the chest and causes him to fall back with a cry. A spell hits Draco as well and he stumbles into the wall behind him, head spinning, limbs heavy, and eyes cloudy—a numbing spell, he thinks. He hears a warble of words coming from Rowle but it takes a moment for them to make any sense to him as one of the men manipulates his body into a kneeling position.
"—and'll transform your minds to those of beasts," Rowle says, grinning wildly as he approaches Draco. He lifts one of the vials, uncorked, to Draco's lips, though Draco weakly lifts a hand to push it away. It's a sad attempt and, undeterred, Rowle grabs Draco by the chin to force his mouth open and pours in the contents. The potion first tastes of smelly quidditch shoes and then troll dung. Draco tries to spit it out but Rowle's hand moves over his mouth and nose both, forcing him to swallow or asphyxiate.
When he's released, Draco collapses on the damp floor of the tunnel, choking, gasping, and stomach burning. The fire spreads outward to the tips of his fingers, down to his toes, and up behind his eyes. He distantly hears Potter putting up a better struggle than he had. The end result is the same; soon Potter is down and gasping with pain next to him. There is a sharp clang! as the chains on their ankles disappear.
"I rather think I'd enjoy watching how this plays out," Rowle mocks but one of the men behind him makes a distressed noise and he scowls and snaps, "But I haven't managed to elude capture for six years by staying in one place too long. Have fun ripping one another to shreds. I heard the eyes are ususally the first targets. Good luck with that."
The wards waver as Rowle and the two lackeys pass through again, their harsh laughter fading with each vibration.
Draco gasps against the burning, hearing Potter do the same, each of them fighting the potion boiling within. Venganza del Lobo—Wolf's Revenge—is Draco's best guess: the vegeance of a Spanish alchemist on those who had shunned lycanthropy. His human body won't change, he knows, but his mind has already begun deteriorating to that of a vicious animal. He can hear it in his head, can almost feel it pushing against his consciousness with snarls and growls and taking control of his senses, telling him to fight, to devour the other presence between the wards.
There can only be one of us!
Get rid of the other!
Tear him to pieces!
An inhuman growl sounds and Potter crouches only a few feet away, eyes feral and lips drawn back over human teeth in an animal snarl. Then Potter winces and struggles to speak.
"Mal… foy… Run!" is all he manages before his eyes fog and he lunges at Draco.
Draco dodges the first lunge but Potter is on him in no time, one hand ripping out fine strands of hair as Potter jerks his head back, the other coming to wrap around his throat, clenching. He throws an arm up to push Potter off but gets bitten instead, the hand in his hair moving to scratch deeply close to his eye. The beast within Draco roars in frustration, still battling on the edge of his mind.
Potter is stronger, Draco numbly tells the invasive haze, his body going limp as he lets Potter wrap both hands around his throat without a fight.
I can't win.
What reason do I have to fight?
A memory of a two-year-old boy laughing on a playground flashes to the forefront of Draco's thoughts, bringing with it an aching twinge that seems to open a door to his mind, the potion flooding in and fogging it so that he is forced take a mental step aside.
He does so calmly; he's about to die anyway.
Potter lifts him a few inches off the curved wall by his neck and then slams him back down with a snarl, green eyes terrifyingly ferocious yet entirely unfocused. He's pinned to the floor again, vision dotting as the hands at his throat tighten further, and the beast in his mind howls in anger, its delayed control weak. Still, it manages to bend a knee and get a leg between him and Potter despite the awkward position. His booted foot presses forcefully against Potter's sternum.
With a agonizing yelp, Potter releases his grip and scrambles back, slipping in the water and slime of the tunnel as he fumbles at his chest. Draco suspects Potter's xyphoid process has been snapped, but it's not enough. He has only time to take a few gasps of air when Potter's glare settles on him again.
I can't win, he repeats, his voice merely a whisper in his own head.
The potion's beast snarls in response as he's again slammed against the wall under Potter's resumed attack, hands returning to scratching and tearing their way toward his throat.
I can't win.
Fine, the animal voice growls back. Then submit.
Submit to him.
Good for breeding.
Submit to him and you will not be killed in turn.
Dazedly, Draco agrees, Just like animals.
He feels himself go slack under Potter, the fight leaving his body as it had left his mind. Strangely, his mind seems to fog even more, as though he's willingly allowing the beast to have more control—as though the twinging, those strange emotions he no longer recognizes locked down deep somewhere, agree with the potion's chosen course of action. Dimly, Draco thinks it is probably an ideal time to battle the potion's effects, to escape, yet he can't muster the strength to do so.
Potter's animal appears at first confused when Draco locks their eyes, but the clouding bloodlust swiftly changes to the understanding of a different kind of lust when he arches so that their bodies touch sensually against one another.
Breed me, the animal demands. It sounds so loud in Draco's ears that he wonders if he had in fact said it out loud. He receives his answer soon enough as Potter quickly, roughly, flips him onto his stomach and begins tearing at his clothes, snarling dominance all the while. Potter's blunt nails continue to scratch carelessly into his skin, the simple muggle shirt and trousers he'd worn that morning made short work of. Potter manages to get the shirt over his head, but it's still tangled about his arms, binding him—he doesn't fight it, letting Potter have all the control as the man begins biting viciously at his neck and shoulders, marking him.
Draco obediently lifts his hips, drawing his knees under himself, when Potter tugs at his waist, yanking his trousers down his thighs. Somewhere, behind the beast and those strange emotions invading his mind, he thinks, This is going to hurt, as Potter settles behind him, heavy, hot, and hard.
And he is correct, of course, because the only thing that has prepared him for Potter's brutal penetration and violent thrusting is his willingness toward the act, and that doesn't count for much. He can feel the sharp tears, blood running down his thighs and he grunts and gasps at Potter's force, bracing his shirt-bound arms as best he can. The skin on his knees opens and bleeds as he is steadily rocked against the wet floor. Potter's fingers and nails digging into the soft flesh of his waist release him for but a second before the large hands relocate to wrap under him, clenching his thighs, muscled arms locking against the jut of his hips so that his entire lower half is conquered by Potter.
It hurts, like he's being torn apart, and Draco grinds his teeth against the pain. Then the beast is returning with its fog, guiding him to focus on the fluctuating power between them—the physical connection of their bodies a bridge for their individual magics. Potter's probes at Draco's, somehow both hesitant and demanding in its confusion between Potter and Potter's beast, and the fog encourages Draco's own magic to be accommodating, to be pliant and agreeable. He feels the snap when their magics meld, like a crack of static electricity. Briefly, there is an uncertainty of who will take the newly formed collection of joined power, and then the magic rushes to settle within Draco, as if answering some call. He feels his body tingling as the miniscule womb forms, the magic encouraging his organs to begin the inconceivably slow shift to make room for the expected growth and new parts.
As though realizing that the intention behind their coupling is complete, Potter's thrusts become erratic and then he stiffens, sinking his teeth into the junction of Draco's shoulder and neck one last time as he comes.
Draco's heart pounds in his ears, his jaw is sore from being clenched, his arms aching from being uncomfortably bound, the scratches and bites from Potter sting and burn. Yet nothing hurts as much as his throbbing backside, but he's careful to wait until Potter pulls out and flops down next to him before he dares to move. A glance shows the man-beast to have fallen into some post-coital snooze, shirt discarded and trousers pushed down his thighs so that his cock hangs out, glistening with Draco's blood.
Draco grips the wall for support as he eases into a standing position, legs shaking terribly. He unbinds his arms from the shirt and, trembling and wincing, uses it to wipe up most of the blood before attempting to pull up his trousers. He gasps and nearly falls over from the sharp pain that shoots through him as he bends to grab them from where they have fallen around his ankles. He locates Potter's shirt nearby and stiffly tugs it on, but the bite marks still show because Potter has a broader build and the neckline of the large shirt hangs to one side. It's not that he is ashamed, that he wants to hide the marks—he doesn't much care, to be honest—but he knows Potter well enough to predict the man's remorse.
He can already feel the beast in his mind fading, the twinges returning to their locked nothingness, and knows that Potter's is likely doing the same, the short-life of the potion having run its course. Just before it disappears completely, Draco hears the beast whisper, You will have your child.
He blinks down at Potter.
They were supposed to have killed one another by now.
"Fuck, Malfoy, truly. I'm so sorry."
Draco studies Potter's pained expression for a moment and then his eyes drop to Potter's burned and bloodied hands—the result of wandlessly removing the wards. He waves his own mostly unharmed hand unconcernedly. "What's done is done. We had no control, and it could have been worse." At Potter's confusedly aghast look, he adds, "You could have killed me."
Potter cringes, sharply looking away, and they continue their slow trek back into Bridlington—slow due to Draco's pace but he tries not to delay them too much. It had been morning when Rowle and his cronies grabbed them, but now the sun has already set and only a few streetlamps light their path, the sound of ocean waves crashing on shore in the distance filling the silence. Rowle had taken them a good distance from the fishing port, but Draco doesn't doubt that the area is crawling with Aurors by now. After all, when neither the number one Auror nor his former-Death-Eater assignment partner perform the routine check-in, something must be wrong.
Draco manages a few steps before he realizes that Potter has stopped. He turns back but Potter is staring downward and wearing a nervously pale expression.
"I think…" Potter begins, voice rough from the growls and snarls, but he swallows, briefly closes his eyes, and starts over. "I think we need to get checked out immediately. As soon as we get back. I mean, of course we are, but not just for..." He waves vaguely at the obvious wounds they share. "I… I don't remember much, I was too far gone in that potion, but I feel like I was trying to, maybe…" He hesitates again and finally meets Draco's eyes as he touches his lower abdomen fearfully. "I don't think there were any protection charms to prevent our magics combining. Either one of us could be…"
Draco nods in understanding and assures, "As soon as we are cleared to leave, I will go to my private Healer."
This doesn't appear to relieve Potter in the slightest, but he nods anyway and they start walking again, both shivering against the cold night air in their poorly clothed states.
Potter may have been fighting the pull of the beast so hard that he barely remembered what had transpired, but Draco had been awake enough to know exactly what had nested inside of him. Now returned to his right mind, he thinks he should do as Potter says and immediately go to a Healer to have the bundle of magic removed. If left alone, it could evolve into a living being.
The Manor is empty when Draco finally arrives home the next morning, weary from a night of answering questions—questions that were almost accusatory in nature because of his connection with Rowle. Potter had been most infuriated by them, even going so far as to having thrown a chair and demanding why the victim of an attack, an Auror, was being treated like a suspect. In all truthfulness, Draco hadn't minded and simply answered with the same neutrality that he approached all things now.
The only point at which he broke that neutrality was when it came time to describe their actions under the influence of the potion. One look at Potter's miserable expression and he found himself lying, stating that they had merely fought each other a bit before passing out—the blotchy, finger-shaped red and purple bruises on his neck a rather telling indication of who would have won if given more time. Potter had appeared briefly shocked by his lie but had stutteringly gone along with the story, giving Draco a curiously sympathetic look as though he didn't understand that Draco was lying for him rather than out of self-preservation.
The Manor is empty—no Father because he's been Kissed, no Mother because she's been murdered under the pretense of revenge, no house-elves because Granger's Magical Creature Amendments took them away, however reluctant they were to leave. Draco is accustomed to the silence that graces the dusty hallways. His boots clack loudly on the marble floors in his usual route through the vacant home. He only uses the same four rooms now—bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, library—and only knows the halls between them.
It has been so long since he went anywhere else in the Manor that he doesn't really remember what the rest of the place looks like.
A bath, a nap, and then he can go see his personal Healer to have the magic bundle removed. Or maybe he'd go tomorrow. He has two days to rest before they expect him back in his cubicle. Two days is plenty of time. It would take at least two weeks for the magic to settle and begin to grow.
He'll get it taken care of before then.
Oh, Draco thinks, I'd forgotten about that.
He sighs and looks again at his reflection in the mirror, running his hand slowly over the small swell of his lower abdomen. He had been of the intention to visit the Healer before the thing took root, but the Auror Department had kept him busy—so much so that he had been confused when his perfectly fitted robes began to feel tighter about the waist, tugging at his body when he twisted or leaned. How long had it been, for that matter? Did he still have time to visit the Healer?
Twenty minutes later, fully dressed in his not-as-well-fitted-anymore Auror robes, finds Draco in the library, thumbing through a simple Healing text—an outdated text at that, but he suspects that even the old-fashioned basic indicator spells will work fine. He discovers the spell he wants and practices the wand movement briefly before whispering the incantation and lightly tapping his front. The tip of his wand glows a vibrant cyan and he glances again at the text to check the color.
It may be a bit too late then.
Had it really already been three months?
Well, nothing to be done, he decides, and flips back to the table of contents of the text, now looking for another spell. It turns out to be a tad more difficult than the first but he manages to get it right on his third try and this time the tip of his wand glows red.
Red for a boy, green for a girl
A boy. He is bearing the son of Harry Potter.
Well, not that unexpected as he and Potter have highly compatible magics and they had participated in an un-protectively-charmed magical binding together, aided by the physical connection of sexual intercourse, but he had never expected for such an ordeal to occur with Potter in the first place, so he allows himself a small amount of surprise at his current situation. Although, of all the men and women whose magic would make up the other half of his child's genetic code, Potter truly wasn't that bad. A half-Potter will work just fine, in fact. The man did bring power and decent looks to the table.
Sighing again, Draco closes the Healing text and levitates it back to its dusty place on the shelf. He'll have to grab a quick breakfast in order to make it to work on time. On that thought, he decides it would likely be best if he put in for some time off—even a stray jinx could cause damage to an unborn child.
Later, as he walks down the gravel drive toward the gate at the edge of the wards, needing to be beyond them in order to apparate to the Ministry, Draco thinks, I should probably come up with a name soon.
The curses are flying overhead and Draco belatedly realizes that he's really not supposed to be here. It is amazing how fast one day had turned into two, then three, then a week, then a month. Robards had been slightly tricky to speak to lately as well, but he supposes he could have tried harder. It seems like he always remembers his growing child when he is on assignments, or when he dresses in the morning (he'd had to have his robes loosened, too), but never when he is sitting in his cubicle, staring at the wall and listening objectively to the whispered gossip of the office, despite that recently he has felt a strange sort of heaviness due to the increased extra weight.
Heavy with child, his mind supplies and the twinge that had been dormant for a while makes itself known again.
Draco reclines against the brick wall and rolls his head to one side to watch Potter deflect and counter as many curses and hexes as possible. This is their first assignment together since the disaster in Bridlington—sort of, that is. Their respective partnerships had been combined as their separate cases became connected. Draco with Holcombe again and Potter with Statton. What would Potter say, Draco wonders, if informed of his son?
The small twinge again—except, no, it had felt different this time.
Draco hesitantly rests his hand on his lower stomach, recklessly oblivious to the wand fight occurring around him as his attention shifts to the swell that is his child, all noises fading out till all he hears is a pleasant hum as if he is encased in a warm bubble shielding him from sights and sounds beyond a two foot radius. A moment passes, then another, and then he again feels what he mistook for the strange twinge that plagues him from time to time. This… He recalls reading about this in the Healing text—
The feeling is just as the text said—like a small butterfly trapped inside his body, gently fluttering its wings. Draco lets out a short laugh, not entirely sure what to make of the feeling and as he wonders about it he feels the twinge again, this time alongside the flutter and stronger, like it's trying to tell him something—
A hard body slams into Draco, yanking him from the unaware bubble, and he finds himself jerked by the front of his robes and spun before being shoved into another wall, the larger body covering his own protectively as bits of brick explode over them.
"What the fuck were you doing?" Potter yells, drawing back to stare at Draco incredulously. Draco blinks, trying to remember where he had been before he'd felt the flutter. Potter gives him a small but none too gentle shake. "Malfoy!"
There is a hoarse wailing nearby and Draco's eyes are drawn to it. Statton is on the ground, holding a bloodied Holcombe, shouting at Holcombe to shut up and stop exacerbating the wound, but Holcombe continues to howl in pain. His eyes wildly search out Draco and he snarls through pain-laced words, "You were supposed to have my back you freak!”
Potter sidesteps into Draco's line of sight again, still looking livid and still clenching Draco's biceps hard enough to bruise. "You almost got Holcombe killed—you almost got yourself killed! What were you doing?"
Draco blinks, bewildered in the onslaught cacophony of sudden noise.
Robards drops a heavy folder on his desk carelessly, scowling at Draco with wide-eyed, appalled outrage.
Draco stares calmly back.
Robards starts to speak, stops, licks his lips, shakes his head, clenches his jaw, and tries again only to repeat the process over once more. After a few more tries, he finally grits out, "Six months."
Draco blinks slowly, uncomprehendingly.
"Six months," Robards repeats but this time adds, "You're on six month leave, half-pay."
"Oh," Draco says, nodding in understanding. "Okay."
His answer seems to irritate Robards and the man glares at him harder. "Okay? Malfoy, do you fully understand what occurred today?" He doesn't give Draco time to answer and plows on, "I should fire you! The sort of daydreaming you showed today could have resulted in the deaths of your fellow Aurors, not to mention your own death! That wasn't even a rookie mistake! That was a pathetic M.L.E. dropout mistake! I should fire you!"
Robards slams his hands on his oak desk in a show of anger, shoving a stack of parchment off one side, before kicking his chair out of the way and turning to face the wall. Draco sits politely quiet through the display and waits for Robards to continue. The man is right, after all. His inattention had been ridiculously foolish.
"But I'm not going to fire you because when you've got your head in the game you're good," Robards sighs after long minutes and turns back to face Draco, "I am putting you on a half-year's leave in the hopes that you fix whatever it is that's had you distracted. I should never have given you assignments in the first place, not when something's been so obviously wrong."
Draco nods again. "In Bridlington—"
"Since before Bridlington," Robards snaps, simmering fury showing through his assumed calm. "You've not been right for a while."
"Oh," Draco says, wondering. He dimly recalls Potter mentioning that he is "different." Had he really changed so much?
Robards straightens his chair from the floor and drops into it wearily. "Six months starting today and I am recommending a Mind Healer. If you're still a fuck-up in six months, you can permanently kiss your position in the department goodbye. Got that? Get outta here."
The floor silences immediately when Draco steps out of Robards's private office—a clear indication that he is the current favorite topic up for discussion—and all eyes follow him—some discreet, other blatantly staring—as he walks to his cubicle. There isn't much there for him to grab; he hadn't decorated the small square with pictures of family or friends or with hobby work like the others. Merely a few Wanted posters, some notes—things that can be left behind.
There is a small, sharp intake of breath behind him as he gathers his few personal items, and he turns to find Potter standing at his cubicle opening, still smudged with ash and dust from the wand fight.
"He fired you?" Potter demands, appearing on the verge of stomping away to Robards's office.
"No," Draco assures him, "I am on leave."
"Oh." A rampage of confused and varying emotions pass over Potter's face. "For how long?"
"Six months," Draco answers and waits for Potter to say something else but continues gathering up his things when no more words are forthcoming.
When he moves to leave the cubicle, Potter grabs his arm like before, only much gentler this time, almost hesitant.
"I'm sorry," Potter murmurs, cheeks lightly reddening. "About before—for shouting. And for…" He soothingly runs a hand over Draco's arm where he'd bruised earlier and Draco feels the responding flutter of their child and, strangely enough, a responding twinge to the touch. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I was upset and— I was upset and worried."
He firmly meets Draco's eyes, his own trying to convey his apology, and the twinge increases, as though a tiny flower is blooming in Draco's chest.
Not entirely sure what is happening within his body but enjoying the tickling sensation all the same, Draco gives Potter a small smile. "I understand. It's fine. I'll see you in six months."
Potter's hand falls back at his side and he swallows before roughly saying, "Yeah. Six months."
On the lifts, Draco hasn't lost the small smile and he decides to name his son James Lucius instead of Lucius James, because Potter deserves that honor for saving Draco and child both.
A Ministry owl taps on the library window, a small piece of parchment tied to its leg. Draco sets his book aside—an up-to-date text with pregnancy advice—and uses the arms of the wingback chair to ease himself into a standing position. He's not all that large—most babies born to wizards were usually smaller than those born to witches, or so his readings have informed him—but he is still awkward with the additional weight, especially since the additional weight enjoyed rolling and twisting and generally making him uncomfortable. Plus, lately, his hips have felt as though they're falling out place every so often.
The owl watches him impatiently as he waddles over and it holds out its leg immediately when he opens the window. As soon as Draco has the note, it shoves off the sill, the burst of air from its great wings blowing the note out of Draco's hands so that it flutters to the floor. With a sigh, Draco takes hold of the window sill and slowly begins his squat—the trick he's learned as of late when needing something below waist level.
The note is short and to the point:
Found Rowle and the others. Life sentences.
Thought you would want to know…
Hope you're doing well,
Draco smiles a little—then James kicks and pushes on his bladder.
It begins as a more-insistent-than-usual lower back pain and light cramping while he eats his morning toast, then later the cramping worsens to a similarity of bad gas. He realizes that it must be the beginnings of labor but he would like to finish reading the book on parenting advice and it's not as though James were going to be born within the next hour, thus he takes to the library for most of the morning, only concluding the book a little before noon. The cramps have increased in both intensity and frequency by this point so he decides it would be a good idea to head to St. Mungo's after he finishes lunch.
His water unexpectedly breaks in the St. Mungo's lobby—unexpectedly in that he hadn't expected it quite so soon—and the mediwitches shout at him in rushed irritation for not having come in sooner. They have him on a bed with surprising speed and the Healer hurries into the room, demandingly holding his hands up for the mediwitch to place the cleansing, protective charms on them and hastily saying to Draco, "Hold it—don't have that baby yet! Don't have that baby yet!"
Draco breathes as the books told him to and calmly nods, but really, it is not that he's trying to push, just his body naturally taking over and doing the work for him.
"You are the calmest, quietest birther I have ever seen," the Healer says in awe while he finishes cleaning up, but Draco doesn't hear him, too busy with studying the tiny "human" the mediwitch has forced into his arms.
James is—well—ugly, with a pinched, red face, only a small tuft of black hair on a head too big for its body, a crackly sounding pitched cry, and bulbously swollen eyes that appear to be the same watery blue of every newborn—but Draco decides that he'll do.
The knocks echo through the empty halls all the way to Draco's bedroom. He pauses for a moment to listen for more but then determines that it must have been his imagination and continues to ease James into a tiny robe that has tiny bear ears on its tiny hood—Draco had not known wizarding wear this small existed before having James.
As he exits the bedroom with James garbling over his shoulder, intent on getting them some breakfast, the knocks sound again.
Huh, Draco thinks, and changes directions. When was the last time he'd had a visitor? Who did he know that would even visit? Pansy? Hadn't she moved to Italy with her rich husband three years ago? Blaise? Hadn't he been the rich husband? Milly? Did she even know where he lived? Greg? No, certainly not.
Potter is the one standing on the doorstep, as it turns out, and he starts talking as soon as Draco opens the door.
"Robards said you sent in your papers rather than coming back! Why would you qui—" Potter cuts off when the slobbering bundle in Draco's arms coos. He cocks his head in confusion. "Is that—What, why—That's a baby."
Draco looks down at James—who is squinting his small eyes against the brightness of the outdoors—and then back Potter. "Yes. It is."
"Why do you have a baby?" Potter asks nervously, still staring at James as if expecting a trick.
"Because I got pregnant," Draco answers indifferently and Potter's eyes are firmly back on his again.
"Preg—?" Potter mouths the word over and over again before sputtering, "Wha… When?"
Draco feels the twinge in his chest, though he is more accustomed to it now because, for some reason, it twinges every time he looks down at James, but it seems out of place now, while he's talking to Potter. "When we were in Bridlington."
Potter stares, face frozen in shock, at Draco for a long time—to the point that James begins to get restless and squirm with hunger that has not yet been satisfied and Draco has to break eye contact to maneuver the upset infant into a more comfortable position.
"Malfoy," Potter finally says, slowly, eyes drifting down to James, "That's… Am I the father?"
"Yes, you are."
Potter studies James for a brief moment and then spins on his toe and strides toward the gate without another word.
This time, the twinge in Draco's chest feels more prickly than pleasant.
Potter returns within 30 minutes and doesn't even bother to wait for Draco to answer the door, just knocks sharply and then steps inside the Manor, yelling, "Malfoy! Malfoy!"
Draco sighs and carries baby and bottle from the kitchen, not wanting to interrupt James's suckling. It seems like he fed James not too long ago, but he supposes that had been before the sun was up and James does always manage to drink more than Draco ever expects him to.
Potter darts out of a room Draco doesn't remember, halfway through another shout of Draco's surname, when he catches sight of them. The man appears absolutely livid, Draco notes, but in a composed sort of way. He strides right up to Draco and gestures at the drinking James. "That's my—you had a boy! You were pregnant and you had a boy!"
"Yes," Draco says, "I did."
"That's my son," Potter breathes, glaring.
"Yes," Draco agrees.
"That's my son and you named him James Lucius."
Potter licks his lips and gestures to a nearby dusty half-table with dusty candlesticks, commanding, "Put him down for a moment."
Draco blinks. "Why?"
"Because I want to punch you and I can't do that if you're holding a baby," Potter explains, and the corners of Draco's mouth oddly tug up into a smile. Potter lets out a gust of a sigh and turns away, only to immediately turn back. The smile drops from Draco's face; Potter looks wretchedly in pain. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Should I have?" Draco asks, confused.
"Yes!" Potter reaches out, stops, jerks his arms back—runs a hand through his hair. "Yes. You should have told me."
"Oh. I apologize."
"Malfoy," Potter sighs exasperatedly. He steps away so that he can fall back against the nearby wall, scrubbing his hands over his eyes. He keeps them there even as he quietly asks, "Why did you decide to get pregnant?"
Draco understands what Potter means—why hadn't he had the magic removed before it became a child. He shrugs, jostling James in his arms and the baby makes a disgruntled noise. "I don't know. I had wanted one, a child, and then there was that potion. You were going to kill me or instead I could get a child from you. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Afterwards, I simply forgot to go to the Healer."
Potter's hands drop away and he looks at Draco in surprise. "You… forgot?"
Draco shrugs again and nods. Potter watches him as he sets the now empty bottle aside and eases James over the waiting towel on his shoulder, patting lightly until the baby burps and, luckily, there's no burp-up this time (Draco has found the foamy milk and spit combo to be less than appealing).
"May I hold him?" Potter asks, voice soft. He's overly careful and a tad stiff when Draco hands over James, like he's terrified of doing harm. He rubs his thumb over James's pink cheek, looking oddly both mystified and adoring.
"You'll have to work with me on this. I'm not going to ignore that I have a child. I want to help, Draco," he says, and there is something in his eyes when he looks up that makes Draco curiously think he's talking about helping with more than just James.
But Draco doesn't know what else there is that needs help.
"What are you doing?" Draco asks, bouncing James lightly in his arms and observing from the doorway as Potter shrinks the cradle and the suitcases full of his and James's clothes. He has no recollection of packing these.
James is more responsive now, can actually make faces and normal human noises, and his eyes have taken on a distinctly grey hue. Draco smiles down at the child when it garble-giggles.
Potter glances over, tucking the shrunken items into a pocket.
"Why don't you come stay with me for a while?" he asks belatedly, clearly having been the one to do the packing. "So I can see you two longer that a couple of hours every few evenings. My place is nice. You'll like it."
"He seems to be making every decision for us then, doesn't he?" Draco says to James with a light scoff. When he looks up again, Potter is staring at him in amused surprise. "What?"
Potter grins and shakes his head. "Nothing."
Draco hears the floo whoosh from the kitchen, soon followed by Potter's usual call of, "I'm back!" and a second later the man himself appears in the doorway.
"Oh, are you trying him with baby food?" Potter asks, walking over and bending to first give James a kiss on top of the head and then Draco a kiss on the temple—a strange habit he seems to have begun, giving them kisses before he leaves for work and as soon as he returns home. Draco is used to it by now.
"Only a little," Draco says, tipping the small amount of apple sauce into James's mouth. Most of it ends up spit out on James's chin.
Potter disappears, probably to lose his work boots and Auror robes, but his muffled voice drifts in, "What do you want for dinner?"
"Something with lots of vegetables," Draco calls back, and grins slyly to himself when he hears Potter's overdone, exasperated sigh.
Potter doesn't like vegetables.
And his son clearly doesn't like fruit.
"I'm glad it's the weekend tomorrow," Potter sighs and rocks James in his arms once more before setting the baby in the crib.
Draco only hums in response, still toweling his hair dry (drying charms were so terribly damaging to the roots and he has no desire to go bald). He is supposed to have already been moved into the guest bedroom by now, but Potter never has gotten around to setting it up so they still share the master bedroom and bath. Draco doesn't mind; it's oddly nice having someone else so close by when James wakes up fussy in the night.
Draco thinks about this as he leaves the bathroom, flipping the light off so that the bedroom falls into almost darkness—a full moon is in the sky beyond the window and the sunlight reflecting off of it floods the room with an eerie-like shadow. Potter lies on the edge of the bed, legs dangling over the side, feet nearly touching the floor, and he is wearing to bed the same thing that he always does: flannel pajama bottoms that are too long—he trips on them all the time. He looks handsome with the moonlight washed over him and Draco feels another twinge bloom its tiny flower, but this one is recognizable, this one he remembers.
Potter sits up when Draco slowly approaches the bed, mumbling sleepily, "Time for bed?"
Instead of answering, Draco leans forward and kisses him.
Draco doesn't remember the Auror robes having quite so many clasps on them but he had never been in a hurry to remove them so he figures it is possible his memory has flaws. He doesn't bother to unclasp all eight, just does the first four and then he begins to shove the robes off Potter's shoulders. Potter laughs into their kiss and shakes out of the sleeves to grab his waist and walk him backwards toward the couch. They fall onto it gracelessly and Potter sits up for a second to loosen and toe off the heavy Auror boots before swooping down for another kiss and reaching for the buttons on Draco's own robes.
"Wait, wait," Draco breathes. "James is watching!"
Potter lifts his head to look at the baby mouthing on a toy in the nearby playpen, staring at them, and says, "He's six months old. He won't remember."
"Potter!" Draco gasps, scandalized, but Potter laughs and kisses him. Draco allows it for a few more moments, allows a bit more disrobing, and then he pushes at Potter's shoulders again, panting, "Wait."
"I can put up a screen ward if you'd like, so he can't see us," Potter offers with an arched brow.
"No that's not—I mean, yes, please do, but that's not why I…" Draco trails off, swallowing nervously and then biting his lip. It had seemed like a perfectly normal, logical idea when he'd been by himself with James earlier, but now his chest feels fluttery, sort of like a giant version of the twinges.
"What?" Potter asks, concerned. "What's the matter?"
"I… I was thinking…" Draco begins slowly, waiting for Potter's encouraging nod before continuing. "I was thinking that, perhaps, James would want… Maybe he'd want a sibling…"
Potter's eyes widen.
"It is only that," Draco hurries to explain, "I don't want him to be," he chokes a little, "lonely."
His voice has cracked on the word and his breath starts coming in harder pants even though they're simply lying on the couch, neither moving, but the twinge is clenching and it's so weird because this nervous feeling seems familiar but so foreign at the same time.
"I don't want him to be lonely," he says again, and Potter finally moves, even if only to brush the hair from his face and to cup his cheek, and those green eyes are so compassionate and understanding that the words are tumbling out of his mouth before he even knows what they are, his whole body trembling as the twinge bursts painfully. "I was lonely, so lonely. I was so lonely."
"I know," Potter murmurs, hugging him close and gently kissing his eyes, his cheeks, his lips—even as they kept repeating the same phrase.
His fingers dig into Potter's shoulders as he hugs the man close, whispering desperately, "I want another one."
"As many as you want," Potter agrees. "We make a good-looking baby."
The tip of Draco's wand has split into two distinct red glows.
"What does that mean then?" Potter asks, sipping his morning tea.
"Boys," Draco answers with a small smirk.
Potter slowly lowers the cup. "As in, more than one?"
Draco rolls his eyes and gestures to the twin glows. "Two, obviously."
"Oh," Potter says, eyeing his tea thoughtfully. "We'll need a bigger house, I suppose."