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One year ago

It was all Neville’s fault.

No, really, that was the excuse Draco was going to use. It had started off innocently enough.

“You’re in love with him.”

Draco wanted to ignore it, wanted to lie or pretend in general but it was all so new, so fresh, and he wanted to confide in someone other than his nightmares.

“More than I thought I would be.” More than he deserved, more than he wanted.

Low voices and loud laughter could be heard but it was typical for the Three Broomsticks. Harry had already gone home and when he left, he took the happy atmosphere with him.

“Are you going to tell him?”

“No,” Draco frowned at his hands, unable to look Neville in the eyes. “You know why I can’t.”

“Draco, that was only a year—”

“Neville, I crushed him. He never said it, but he didn’t have to.”

He tried to shut out the memories, but it was impossible. The shuttered expression on Harry’s face was something he’d never forget.

“He’s not over you and if you weren’t so stupid, you’d see that.”

Draco rolled his eyes as he downed a double shot of Firewhisky. Merlin knew he needed it.

“You deserve to be happy and we both know he makes you happy.”

He said nothing, unsure if it was because part of him wanted to believe Neville or if he just didn’t have anything good to refute it with.

“If you won’t tell him for your own happiness, then tell him to get it over with, so you stop wondering. Make a plan, you’re good at those.”’

Plan. He was good at those, made him the best Auror the Ministry had—Harry could shove it.

“I’ll just wing it.”

Neville grimaced and Draco hated the lack of confidence in his abilities. “Erm, that’s not a plan. What happens if it fails?”

“Ah,” Draco said with a slight slur as he sat up straighter. “That’s why it’s so brilliant. If I fail, I’ll just scratch off a letter and start over.”

“Letter?” Neville leaned forward, one brow arched and a peculiar frown curling his lips downward.

“You know, like Plan A or Plan B. I’ll just keep going down the alphabet till I finally ask Harry out.”

“That’s a horrible plan.”

“It’s the only one I have.”

“You’ll fail.”

“You’ll be there to pick up the pieces.”

Neville’s eyes softened as he scooted closer and placed his head on Draco’s shoulder. “Yeah, I will.”

Sometimes, the best thing Draco ever did was become friends with Neville.

“I still think the plan is as stupid as you.”

Or maybe not.

==

Present

The sound of low voices and scratching quills was a calming background noise as Draco looked over a new application. He knew it was past the time he should have gone home, but there was always a surplus of things to be done—and it wasn’t like there was anyone waiting for him at home anyway.

A loud sigh had him rolling his eyes. It was the fifth sigh in the past 15 minutes, and he refused to acknowledge it.

Draco huffed in annoyance when he realised the applicant wasn’t even remotely qualified to be an Auror trainee. Why bother applying in the first place? He took off his reading glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose when another sigh had him half wanting to laugh and half wanting to scream.

“Potter, whatever it is, spit it out or else your reluctance will cause us to remain here even longer.”

“You act like you being a workaholic is my fault.”

“Is it not?” He asked, not bothering to look up from the pile of papers on his desk. One day he’d get caught up, it just might take a year or two.

“Why do you blame me for everything?”

“If something goes wrong, nine times out of ten, it’s your doing.”

The scoff that followed an offended gasp caused Draco to chuckle.

“What is it you want?” Draco asked as he glanced up and watched Harry frown at an open folder.

“Something isn’t right, and I can’t figure it out.”

“And?” Draco prompted when Harry said nothing. It was a game of theirs, one Harry always lost. If his help was to be offered, Draco wanted it plainly said, the more pleading the better.

Harry’s fists tightened briefly before he lightly glared over the top of the folder. “And it would be nice of you to help.”

“I’m not nice.”

Harry snorted harshly, so harshly that Draco almost took offence.

“Whew, I needed that,” Harry chuckled as he wiped at his eyes. “You nice, what a concept.”

“Are you done?” Draco drawled as the chuckles continued. Honestly, he wasn’t sure why he bothered humouring him at all.

The folder was placed on the desk as Harry leaned forward, a smile curved his lips and his eyes were soft, far softer than Draco wanted directed at him.

“Perhaps I need a new pair of eyes.”

“Your partner should still be here.”

Harry looked away, fingers tense before they relaxed, and Draco knew his tells, he had been Harry’s Auror partner for five years before he took over as Head of Human Resources for their department.

“They are too new.”

“I didn’t know three years as an Auror was too new.”

Harry’s jaw clenched and Draco hated that this is what it all boiled down to. They always argued about partners. Harry didn’t want one after he switched jobs but that was non-negotiable. All Aurors needed one and it didn’t matter how special Harry thought he was, a partner was required.

“I don’t like her.”

“You didn’t like me in the beginning and look how we turned out.”

Harry glanced up briefly, forehead wrinkled and a small frown on his face.

“And how did we turn out?”

“Friends,” Draco whispered, and no matter how much he loved being Harry’s friend, part of his heart ached at the restrictive title, hated that they weren’t more.

“I don’t want to be her friend.”

Stubborn. Harry was so fucking stubborn, and Draco hated it. That was the one quality he wished Gryffindors didn’t have, no matter how much they argued that they didn’t. Couldn’t patience have been up there with valour?

“Then don’t be her friend, but at least respect her enough professionally. She’s your partner.”

“For now.”

Draco closed his eyes. Harry had gone through four partners in the year since Draco left active duty.

“Alright,” he began, not wanting to argue. “What is it you can’t figure out?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Harry said as he shut the folder and put it in a filing cabinet. “I’ll look at it in the morning.”

“Are you sure? I have the time.”

“No, you don’t,” Harry murmured softly. “You were supposed to have gone home two hours ago.”

“I’ll make time, for you.” He’d do anything for Harry, his time was minimal.

Harry turned to him, smile back on his face and it was Draco’s favourite thing to see.

“Thank you, but I’ll be alright. If I’m still having trouble, I’ll ask you about it later.”

Part of him wanted to point out that he should be telling his partner that instead, but Draco was selfish and wanted to be the person Harry relied on.

“Alright.”

He watched Harry clean his desk, watched him gather his cloak and wondered how long he was going to only watch, how long he was going to stay on the sidelines. He bit his lip as he tried to think of how to voice what he had been trying to say for months, but as Harry turned to smile at him again, he knew it wouldn’t happen.

“Do you want to go to the Three Broomsticks for a pint?” It was the usual invitation, nothing out of the ordinary for their friendship and that was the problem. Draco didn’t want regular anymore, he wanted dates and romance, wanted to see Harry’s smile and know it was for him, wanted to see Harry and know that he was his.

He wanted Harry.

“Sure,” Harry said, eyes crinkling at the corner. “I need to unwind anyway. We’ll meet at 8? The usual?”

“Yeah,” he whispered as Harry turned to leave. “The usual.”

It wasn’t until the door closed that Draco covered his face with his hands and groaned. Why was it so hard? They had been friends for so long, it should’ve been easy. But nothing was ever easy when it came to Harry.

Draco pulled out parchment, a spare envelope and on the cover, he wrote,

Plan M

With a sigh, Draco began writing.

 

One would think after 12 failed attempts, I’d have some kind of solution. Have some kind of process for the crushing sensation of disappointment. Ironic, considering the amount of times you have told me what a disappointment I am.

I should be used to it, shouldn’t I?

We were talking, as we usually do and the opportunity was there, the chance right in front of me. All I had to do was ask him out. It would have been followed by explanations and hopefully smiles, but at least it would have happened. And yet, I didn’t. I took the coward’s route, the safe option.

Learned that from you.

I don’t know why I bother anymore. Is it love? It that the driving factor? Or am I deluding myself and have just lost it? Sometimes, because I am an apparent masochist, I wonder what you would say about it all, and I have to laugh.

Nothing about this is what you would ever approve of, and that makes me wonder if that’s part of what drives me to keep going. Spite. But that’s an ugly reason for love, isn’t it? Nothing about Harry is ugly and I don’t want to taint that.

Perhaps it’s self-worth. Merlin knows you took that away from me. At least until I realised that what you think is absolute rubbish and that only I have that power. Learning to love who I am has been a tough challenge and I’d like to think I’ve almost reached my destination, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a never-ending path and I’ve only just begun.

I used to think Slytherins weren’t brave. You certainly aren’t and I know I’m not. But Severus was, despite his faults and the choices he made, he was brave, far braver than I ever was. I wonder if I had even just a sliver of that braveness what I could accomplish.

I suppose I have accomplished many things without bravery. Harry would say I’m brave, I know he would, but I like to think it was spite that drove me. You told me I had to be a politician, so I refused. You told me I had to marry into a respectable family by the time I was 25 and I refused. You told me I couldn’t be an Auror and yet, here I am. You told me I wouldn’t amount to anything without you, and I proved you wrong.

I will always prove you wrong.

One day, I’ll get the courage to ask Harry out, but until then, you’ll just have to hear about all of my failed attempts. We both know I only write to you because you aren’t allowed to respond. I guess it’s still my own form of revenge.

With much loathing,

Draco, your charming son

Draco let out a low whistle and the office owl flew down from her perch as he folded the letter into the envelope.

“I know the letter doesn’t have the destination, but you’re a smart bird, aren’t you?”

The light grey owl Harry named Treacle Tart hooted softly.

“Azkaban, cell 1020,” he whispered before he watched Treacle Tart fly out of the room and into the evening light.

What he told his father was true. He’d get the courage to ask Harry out, eventually.

After all, there was always another letter in the alphabet.

 

---

Plan A, 11 Months ago

“I can’t believe you got us tickets,” Harry whispered, voice full of such wonder that it was endearing, and Draco hated it, hated how it made him fall that much more in love.

“It wasn’t easy.” Merlin, it had been a bitch. “Almost used my father’s connections.”

Harry’s head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. “What did you do?”

“I said almost!” Draco lifted his nose in the air in a snub as he watched the players zoom around the Quidditch pitch in a pregame ritual. “It’s the finals, tickets were sold out in minutes and we had that case in Edinburgh, so I missed out.”

“Mhm.”

Draco knew that tone, it was the tone Harry used on suspects that tested his patience.

“I just offered a few people some money and they graciously sold me their tickets.” When he was met with suspicious silence, Draco pursed his lips. “I didn’t do anything bad.”

“I know you didn’t.”

“It was just a touch of shadiness.”

“It wouldn’t be you if it wasn’t.”

The small smile on Harry’s face made his own lips stretch and it was as if they were connected and it made Draco’s stomach flutter.

Loud cheers and laughter startled Draco and he looked around and noticed that they had been projected on the scoreboard by magical Omnioculars, it was a modified version of a Muggle tradition, at least that’s what it appeared to be.

“Kiss. Kiss. Kiss,” The crowd cheered, and Draco’s breath left him in a whoosh.

Before he could even look over, Harry was already shaking his head.

“No, we are just friends.” His hands were moving with his head and Draco’s heart sunk. The firm denial and panic on Harry’s face hurt.

The crowd booed before the Omnioculars moved onto a different pair. Silence stretched between them, but Draco did nothing to counter it, not when his eyes stung, and his mood had vanished. He should have been clearer when he invited Harry, but it had been obvious to him that it was a date.

“That could have been awkward,” Harry laughed, and Draco wished he could hate him, wished his heart didn’t ache, but more importantly, he wished he wasn’t in love.

What was the point?

The match began but Draco paid it no mind, he wasn’t in the mood and he honestly didn’t care what happened in the game. Neville would say it was just a slip-up, that it would go better next time, but Draco worried that it would always turn out the same.

One letter down, twenty-five more to go.

==

Present

Hogwarts was always beautiful but no matter how many times he returned, Draco could never feel the same wonder he once held as a child. As he looked out the window and watched a few students play with the Giant Squid, part of him wanted that youthful innocence back—if he had ever had it to begin with.

“Oh good, you’re still here.”

Draco rolled his eyes but didn’t bother to turn around.

“Longbottom, perhaps I didn’t come to you on purpose.”

“Oh please, you adore me.”

His lips quirked and he hated that Neville had that affect on him. For years, Draco came to Hogwarts to speak to the students who showed an interest in becoming an Auror, and each time he had run into Neville. Their original awkwardness melted into a friendship over the years and he was thankful for that.

“You didn’t come to me because you know what I’ll say.”

Draco tensed before he forced himself to relax. Neville was kind, but ruthless in his observations; he would have made a great Slytherin.

“How many has it been? What letter are you on now? X? Y? Z?”

“You really think me that pathetic?” Draco opened his hands, palms upward as he turned around. Neville never pitied him, but the sadness on his face was a close second, and he hated it.

“No, I think you are stupid.”

Draco snorted, unable to help himself. “Some friend you are.”

A tsk left Neville as he invaded Draco’s personal space and pulled him into a hug.

“Stupidity isn’t something you have ever embodied, so I don’t know why you are starting now.”

“Easy for you to say,” Draco contradicted. “Greg told you he wanted to marry you after you made that homemade custard on your first date. You didn’t have to wonder if your heart was going to be shattered.”

The frown on Neville’s face was a reprimand and of course it made Draco feel bad, it always did.

“Harry loves you.”

“He used to.”

And that was why he knew his plans would always fail. It all came back to that, didn’t it? “He loved me, and I turned him down.”

“You didn’t feel the same, and there is nothing wrong with that, you know this,” Neville whispered, and it didn’t matter that he was right, Draco couldn’t help but feel the way he did.

Over two years ago, Harry confessed to having feelings for him, and back then, it was unwelcome. They were friends and that was all Draco saw them as. He had cared for Harry, would have given anything to see him happy, but that was where the feelings ended. Friendship was enough for him.

At least until it wasn’t.

By the time his own feelings changed, it was too late, Harry had moved on.

“I’m trying to tell him.”

“Are you though? Because I have to wonder if you are.”

“That’s not fair,” Draco mumbled as he put space between them before he folded his arms across his chest.

“Do you know how horrible I feel every time I try to tell him? It takes me weeks to work up the courage, just for the plan to fail and then I go home crushed.”

Neville sighed, eyes expressive in a way Draco wished they weren’t.

“Draco, I know you. Deep down, you don’t want to ask him. I can’t figure out if it’s self-preservation or if you are just scared.”

“I hear cowardice runs in the family.”

“That’s codswallop and you know it.”

Anger had replaced the sadness in Neville’s eyes, and he didn’t know if it was better or worse.

“I’m scared,” Draco whispered, the admission not as hard as he thought it would be. “I am trying but it’s not enough. Not enough in the same way that I never have been. I don’t want to hurt him again, and we both know that I did.”

“When have you ever let being afraid stop you?” Neville asked, hands on his hips. “Even when you are wrong, you put all of yourself into it.”

Draco fiddled with his sleeve, unable to meet Neville’s eyes.

“If he turns me down then the illusion of the plan is gone, and so is the hope. Each time I fail, I just start over and move on to the next letter. But there is always another plan.”

“And when you run out of letters, what then? What letter are you even on?”

“Q.” He winced when Neville let out a low whistle.

“That’s 17 attempts. You’ve tried to ask Harry out 17 times and failed.”

“Yes,” Draco glared at the ground. “Thank you for pointing that out, as if I wasn’t already aware.”

“I’m sorry.”

That drew Draco’s attention. Neville had moved closer and the lack of outward emotions was the only reason he let himself be pulled into another hug.

“I don’t mean to be harsh. I just worry about you. Every time you fail it’s like another piece of you has disappeared and I hate seeing it. I just want you to be happy.”

“I know.” Draco melted into the hug. “I know it’s all stupid, and I’m working on it. I just haven’t gotten there yet, but I will.”

“Alright,” whispered Neville. “I’ll be here for you no matter what, okay?”

He didn’t need the words, Draco had already known that. It was nice having someone there, even when they called him out on his shite.

“I know.” And he did.

Eventually, Draco would get to the end, whether it was the end of the alphabet or the end of his own self-sabotage, he wasn’t sure.

He just hoped Harry would be there too.

==

Plan E, Seven Months ago

It was Valentine’s Day, Draco hated the holiday. It wasn’t the gifts, the money or the way companies targeted people. What he hated the most about Valentine’s Day was the judgement that it put on everyone. If one was single, then it was exclusionary. If one was in a relationship then it wasn’t enough, the gift wasn’t enough, and more was the answer to being a great partner.

It was gross.

So why had he felt the need to get Harry something?

“What are you doing?”

Draco jumped in surprise as he tried to hide the potted plant behind him, but it was too bulky, and it knocked over a file cabinet that shouted in fright and spit out all of the files in its panic.

“Oh no,” Harry sighed. “I’ll be here for hours calming Lottie.” The file cabinet was shaking, and it let out a ‘eek’ every time Draco looked at it.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare Lottie, I was just trying to leave this for you.” He gently placed the plant on the desk. Wild colourful leaves were the first thing that caught people’s attention, but Draco rather liked the long billowy stem, it didn’t conform and changed shape daily.

“Oh?” Harry leaned over the desk until his face was nearly touching the leaves.

“Don’t do that,” Draco pulled Harry back. “It’s an Alihotsy plant. The leaves are used in laughing potions. If you inhale too much it’ll affect your mood.”

Harry looked bemused as he eyed the plant. “Why did you get it then?”

“Alihotsy plants can lift moods. I figured with what we do, any little thing would help.”

When Harry looked at him, there was a smile in his eyes, and it took Draco’s breath away. Merlin, he was so arse over tits for him.

“Any special occasion?”

Draco looked down at his shoes and his ears felt hot.

“Today is Valentine’s Day.”

When the silence that followed stretched too long, Draco glanced up to see an indecipherable look in Harry’s eyes.

“A great day to get friends gifts too.”

And there it was, wasn’t it? What it always came back to.

“Um, yeah, friends.”

Draco cleared his throat as he refused to look at Harry. “I’ve got to run some things by the Wizengamot, I’ll see you later.”

“Draco.”

There was something in his voice and it scared Draco. It wasn’t understanding or frustration, but it held a touch of regret and that wasn’t good. Regret meant knowledge and he wasn’t ready to be turned down, his heart was too vulnerable.

“Goodbye.”

Delusion was comfort in the illusion of hope.

 

==

Present

The lack of a crowd was unnerving, and Draco didn’t like it. He looked around the Hog’s Head with a slight sneer. The Three Broomsticks was where he liked to go but it was a packed house due to the latest Quidditch match.

“I know it’s gone downhill since Aberforth retired, but it’s not a bad place,” Harry said with a way too cheery tone. What he was cheery about on a Thursday evening was beyond him.

“I hate to break it to you, but it’s always been a bad place.”

A hard nudge to his elbow caused his Firewhisky to spill over the rim of the glass and down the sleeves of his robes—his very expensive robes.

“Oi!” He barked as he pulled out his wand to dry the fabric. “I thought you liked my honesty.”

One side of Harry’s lips quirked, and he tried hard to not find it attractive.

“Among other things.”

“Oh?” Draco prompted when Harry looked away. “Like what?”

“You just want me to stroke your ego.”

That wasn’t all he wanted, but it was a good start.

“Come on,” he refused to beg but the demand wasn’t as firm as he’d have liked it to have been. “What else do you like about me?”

Harry grinned as he looked back and Draco wished he wasn’t so beautiful, it wasn’t fair, it really wasn’t.

“Everything.”

It was said with a whisper that was quite breathy and it caused his heart to race. Was it an admission? It sounded like one. Or was it just a friendly comment? It wasn’t something Draco would ever say to his friends, that’s for sure.

With a deep breath Draco decided it was safe to return the sentiment.

“You know that goes both ways, right?”

“What, that you like everything about yourself too?”

Draco shoved Harry hard and tried not to feel disappointed when all he got was a laugh in return.

“I mean it,” he whispered. “I like everything about you too.”

The silence that followed was uncomfortable. It was hard to tell if it was because he was projecting or if it truly was uncomfortable.

“That’s why we are such good friends, we care.”

Draco closed his eyes as he tried to keep his emotions in. It was so hard to love someone and not know where he stood. Harry referred to them as friends and he knew it was because that’s what the line had been drawn at years ago.

Was it unfair to change his mind? To fall in love after that. The line was still there and to him it was blurred beyond recognition, but he had no idea what it was like to Harry.

“Yeah,” Draco said, tone just as void of emotions as he wished he was. “Friends.”

“Are you okay?”

The concern was sweet and on a normal day he might have liked it. But having Harry care was so hard. Every action meant something to Draco, and he wanted it to have the same meaning, wanted it to be because Harry cared for him the same way he cared.

“Draco?”

“I don’t know.” He could feel Harry staring, knew the concern would double if he let Harry in, but he couldn’t.

“I don’t know if I’m okay.” He was tired of lying, tired of keeping a façade at all times.

“What’s wrong?”

Draco looked up and wished he hadn’t, seeing such sincere worry directed at him was difficult to cope with. Having someone care so much was hard to get used to.

“How do you find courage if there was never any to begin with?”

“I—” Harry’s brows furrowed, and he lifted a hand as if he wanted to comfort him before it fell to the table.

“Ah,” Draco said with faux realisation. “I forgot that you are the epitome of courage, the poster child for Gryffindors.”

“Deflection isn’t a shield, you know.”

It was Draco’s turn to furrow his brows as he tilted his head to the side and frowned.

“What are you on about?”

“You hide behind sneers and a dry humour hoping no one looks deeper.”

“I’m offended that you think my humour is dry.”

Harry narrowed his eyes and Draco fell silent. It wasn’t often he was on the receiving end of a look like that.

“If you thought for one second that I was going to agree with you in thinking that you lack courage, then you have gone mad. Are you forgetting just who was by your side during every mission we faced?”

“That’s because it was my job.”

“No,” Harry shook his head. “You are brave and that’s not something that is a by-product of being an Auror.”

“There’s a difference in being a brave Auror and being brave in general,” Draco argued. “I’m not talking about walking into a meeting knowing it could be a trap or having to takedown potion smugglers who have rigged the cauldrons.”

“Then what are you talking about?”

There was only open curiosity on Harry’s face, but it still twisted his stomach and made him nervous.

“I’m talking about being brave when the chance of a broken heart is the outcome.”

Harry’s face shuttered briefly, and it caused Draco to sit up straighter.

“I don’t think there is a bravery for that. When you put so much of yourself in someone else’s hands, no amount of courage can equal the end result. But it’s worth it to try.”

“Even if it ends in heartbreak? How could that be worth it?”

“Because it’s an answer.” Harry’s hand clenched around his bottle and Draco focussed on that, it was easier than looking into his eyes.

“It’s better than wondering, better than hoping.”

“Hope is good,” Draco argued, lip worried between his teeth as he placed his drink down. “Hope can be the only driving factor keeping someone going.”

“Hope can also be denial if allowed.”

There was a finality there, and Draco knew Harry was speaking from personal experience. Had Harry once had hope for them? Had he once hoped they would be together with the same hope Draco now had?

Every time he remembered the tears in Harry’s eyes the day he turned him down, he wanted to cry himself. Was it cruel to find love in Harry after hurting him?

“Denial doesn’t hurt though,” Draco mumbled. “Heartbreak does.”

A sigh left Harry and it sounded annoyed, only he wasn’t sure why.

“You can’t move on if you never get an answer. Denial might not hurt, but it’s not healthy either.”

When Draco said nothing, a warm hand was placed on top of his own and it made him flinch in surprise.

“Draco, I’m not sure what exactly you’re going through, but you can talk to me about it if you want.”

It was an opening. He could admit it all to Harry and have the long-awaited conversation or he could continue to live in denial.

“I’m no stranger to heartbreak,” Harry continued, a sadness to his voice that caused guilt to crash through Draco.

Everything became too much. Harry’s touch was too much, the conversation was too much, his emotions were too much, and he couldn’t take it. Draco stood up rapidly causing his stool to tip over backwards and the only other patron to look over.

“Whoa.” Harry stood up too, but Draco stepped back as he shook his head.

“I’m sorry,” Draco whispered, and his voice cracked. “I never wanted to hurt you, never hurt you.”

“Draco.” Harry looked at the ceiling as he exhaled through pursed lips. “I didn’t say that to make you feel bad, I was just letting you know that I get it.”

“But you don’t.” Draco closed his eyes and his shoulders shook. “I just—It’s not—I’m sorry.” He pulled out enough Galleons to cover both of their drinks and turned to leave.

“Please don’t leave, not like this.”

And Draco knew that Harry meant again, didn’t want him to leave again. Sometimes he wondered if his biggest mistake was turning Harry down, but one can’t force feelings and he honestly had none back then.

“I’m sorry.” He hoped it was broad enough to cover everything, even the broken heart.

The sorrow in his voice wasn’t nearly as strong as the sorrow inside him as he walked away among the yells for him to come back. He walked away from Harry, only this time, it was his own fault.

Another letter down, but he wasn’t sure it was even worth it to continue.

==

Plan I, Four Months ago

 

It was hot, far hotter than Draco anticipated but he wasn’t going to cave and do another cooling charm, not after having already done three—Harry had only done one and Draco didn’t think his ego could take it.

“I still can’t believe you suggested hiking. When have we ever done that?”

Draco huffed and he hoped it came off as indignation and not because he was out of breath. Merlin, he needed to work out more. As tedious as hiking was, at least the view was pretty. The trail was filled with flowers, and the few animals he had spotted were a better sight than his own flushed face, that was for sure.

“Neville said you had picked up physical activities lately.”

Harry turned till he was walking sideways, a less than attractive gait but still endearing.

“Yeah, but I think he meant duelling. I’ve recently started volunteering at the Youth Duelling Association on my days off. Teaching kids how to protect themselves will help in the long run.”

“What?” Draco said, mouth parted, and eyes narrowed. He was going to kill Neville. “I willingly came outside for no reason?”

What started as a low chuckle quickly grew into loud guffaws that echoed around the clearing that they were passing through and Draco wondered if he pushed Harry off the cliff, whether anyone would truly miss him.

“I mean, it’s kind of nice, isn’t it?” Harry asked, mirth shining just as bright as his eyes.

Kind of nice.

Draco’s shoulders slumped and he felt like apparating home.

“I don’t enjoy hiking, but it beats sitting at home.”

Yeah, that didn’t make him feel any better.

“Why did you want to do something I’d enjoy? You know I don’t mind what we normally do.”

Harry’s attention was on him solely and Draco debated about whether or not to tell him that he was going to walk into an upcoming tree, but as with everything, Harry meant too much and he gently grabbed Harry’s hand and pulled.

Instead of Harry looking towards the tree, he was instead eyeing their clasped hands.

“I felt like being nice,” Draco whispered as he came to a standstill and slowly let go of Harry’s hand, far too slowly but he knew it would go unnoticed.

“That’s unlike you.”

“Yeah, well…” Draco folded his fingers together and wouldn’t meet Harry’s eyes. “I felt like it.”

“Any particular reason?”

The tone was light, but it made Draco nervous. He looked up through his lashes and hated how intently Harry was already staring. Couldn’t he be polite and look away? Wasn’t that social etiquette when someone is clearly uncomfortable? Not that Draco ever followed social etiquette, but still.

“Yes.”

A fond smile graced Harry’s lips as they began walking again.

“Do I get to know?”

That was the big question, wasn’t it?

“Not yet.”

As disappointing as another failure was, it was progress. He could have lied, could have denied it all and pretended to not know, but he didn’t.

That had to count for something, right?

 

==

Present

Draco yawned for the fifth time in the span of a few minutes, but he couldn’t help it. It was early, way too early to be awake but he was, and unfortunately, he was working too.

Low murmurs from a few of the overnight Aurors drifted over but he was too distracted by the case Harry was having a hard time on. He knew that he didn’t need to look at it, Harry had only mentioned having issues once, but the case was still open, and no progress had been made.

For the most part, the case read like a typical illegal Portkey ring, but Harry had pulled the finance records of all involved and had circled a few transactions that he deemed questionable. At first glance, Draco could see why it caught Harry’s attention, they were massive amounts of money being sent to businesses with no record of any services given in return.

It wasn’t until he looked at the transactions Harry deemed regular that Draco sat up straighter.

“Sparks!” His voice rang out among the quiet room and the low conversations came to a standstill.

“Sir?”

Draco looked up to see her already standing in front of him with a hesitant smile on her face. Despite Harry’s lack of enthusiasm, Sparks really was a good Auror.

“Did you look over the finance records for the Hitchens case?”

“Yes, but neither Harry nor I have found any connections. We got the Wizengamot to give us the go ahead to pull all of their records, but Harry wanted to wait until we had something concrete or it would tip them off that we were looking into it.”

“Do it.”

Sparks bit her lip and Draco was curious to see if she’d stand up to him. Harry needed a partner who had gumption, someone who wouldn’t let him make all of the decisions, someone who was quick to shoot down stupid ideas—and he was positive that if Harry gave her a chance, she would prove to be a good partner.

“Harry said—”

“I know, and I promise you he won’t be mad.”

Indecision was so transparent the longer he looked at her and it was almost amusing. He was considering doing it himself but before he could, she pulled out her wand and a standard department paper memo flew out of the tip and zoomed out of the room.

“If you’re wrong…” Sparks trailed off as she placed her hands on the desk and leaned forward, eyes narrowed in an attempt to be intimidating.

“I’m not.”

She stood up straighter, brows raised before her arms folded. “You know something, don’t you?”

“Where’s Harry?” A quick glance towards the clock showed that he was already late. He didn’t bother answering her question, she’d find out eventually.

“It was his turn to do the weekly Azkaban patrol. There have been rumours of guards being too rough, so it’ll take him longer than normal for interviews, he said something about talking to some of the inmates too.”

Draco hummed as he looked back down at the paper. He didn’t really want to wait long, he’d already been at work far longer than he should have, but it was Harry’s case.

“Would you like to wait for him with me?”

Sparks’ smile was too bright, too kind and too open for his liking, but she was company and that was all he could ask for. Perhaps not as good as Harry but it was company, nonetheless.

==

 

Azkaban was a daunting place. No matter how many times Harry visited, he’d never get used to it. The atmosphere was the worst part. It wasn’t the Dementors, it wasn’t the guards—it was the sense of defeat that got to him the most. It was as if Azkaban was the end of the road and that mentality always saddened him.

There was life after Azkaban for those who got out, many chances to change who they were and seeing the defeat made the patrols nearly unbearable.

“Here you go, sir.” The thick Russian accent was unfamiliar, but it had been several weeks since it was his turn for prison patrol.

Harry arched his brows at the thin paperwork before he narrowed his eyes at the guard. The man’s uniform had the name, Pashkov sewn in.

“Are you new?”

Spluttering preceded a flush before Pashkov stood up straighter and frowned. “Yes, but I was transferred on a Ministry exchange program.”

“What prison did you work at prior?” Harry asked as he examined the parchments. Disappointment filled him at the very vague information provided.

“White Shark.”

Harry let out a low whistle as he eyed Pashkov who seemed proud. “White Shark. The same White Shark that abuses the inmates. That White Shark?”

“We would never,” Pashkov snarled, indignation apparent in his pinched brows and scrunched up nose.

“The guards at White Shark patrol with Cockatrice. Which you know in confined spaces, Cockatrice become territorial and shoot poisoned spikes out of their tail.”

Pashkov rocked on the soles of his feet as he licked his lips and his eyes shifted around the room.

“Not only that, but Cockatrice crow every half hour at a magnified volume. You think those prisoners are getting any kind of sleep there? That’s just one of the many things White Shark is known for.”

Harry didn’t bring up that the prisoners in solitary confinement are forced to sleep in cells that have a permanent lumos shining in their eyes and no means of covering their face, didn’t bring up that before the Cockatrice were introduced, rabid dogs used to terrorize the prisoners.

“Azkaban has no place for those methods. For every Dementor there is a human guard, one that is required to monitor their wellbeing, not diminish it.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Bullshit,” Harry clenched the parchment tightly before making a copy with his wand. “The paperwork you gave me is useless. You wrote that they are all alive and accounted for. Wow, you have eyes then. I need more than that, I need to know that they are okay and not just physically.”

“’Tis too much work.”

“Get used to it,” Harry said, tone serious as he sent a Patronus to the warden. “I’m going to do my patrol and if there is a single sign that you have harmed the inmates, you will find out just how cosy the cells are for yourself.”

Pashkov took a step forward, head shaking and hands tense. “Are you threatening me? How dare—”

“What’s going on?”

Harry held out the papers towards Crooks, the warden, without taking his eyes off Pashkov. “I know that Azkaban is doing better in recent years but clearly, not enough.”

“That’s not fair.”

He looked at Crooks who hadn’t even bothered to look at the report. “We’ve gotten word that the inmates haven’t been treated well and I’m beginning to understand why.”

Crooks’ eyes were narrowed as she folded her arms across her chest, papers crinkling in the process.

“We have complied with every Ministry Act and have been courteous with the MLE and their unnecessary patrols.”

“As the Lead Auror for the MLE, I see your ‘courtesy’ and will be back with a Wizengamot Court Order. Every, and I do mean every, inmate’s file better be up to date and if their weekly evaluation has not been done, you will be held accountable.”

Crooks lips were pursed, and her hands were clenched tightly. “Is that a threat?”

“No,” Harry shook his head as he took a step forward. “It’s the law and I will uphold that to the best of my ability.” If that meant extra patrols in Azkaban, then so be it.

She said nothing, and it didn’t surprise him, but it was disappointing.

“Word to the wise,” Harry began in a quiet whisper as he locked eyes with Pashkov. “Vet your employees better or we will do it for you.”

The silence in the room was deafening as Harry walked out and part of him wanted one of them to say something, but that was the reckless part, the one that Draco always said was itching for a fight.

As Harry began his patrol, he noticed that most patients were asleep. Which was odd considering the time. It wasn’t until he stopped in front of the first inmate awake that it made sense.

“Potter.”

“Malfoy.”

Harry could see the bags under Lucius’ eyes, could see lines on his face that hadn’t been there the last time he patrolled. He pulled out his wand and noticed a slight wince from Lucius. Foreboding filled him as he cast a simple vitals check.

“You are severely sleep deprived.”

“It’s Azkaban.”

“Don’t do either of us the disservice by lying to me.”

Lucius sat up on his dingy cot, one hand searching for something Harry couldn’t see as he sighed.

“What do you want from me? You want me to tell you that the guards are negligent? That at times I might prefer a Dementor? That the pain they inflict is nothing that we don’t deserve? I don’t know what to tell you.”

“You have to know that it’s not okay,” said Harry as he tried to understand the revenge mentality that the guards had. Azkaban was the punishment, there was never a need to take it further.

“Nothing in life ever is,” Lucius mumbled as he pulled out stacks of envelopes from underneath the cot’s mattress. “I knew what the sentence would entail, Potter, no need to worry about us.”

That wasn’t the point and Harry hoped that somewhere inside of Lucius that he knew that too. But he knew that Lucius wouldn’t be the domino to kickstart his investigation. He’d need someone with less pride.

“I have something that might interest you.”

“I’m not offering anything in return.”

“Oh, you will,” Lucius countered, eyes hard in a way that concerned Harry. He wasn’t scared of him, never had been and that wouldn’t change, but the confidence Lucius had was alarming.

“It concerns my son.”

Harry’s grip on his wand tightened on instinct before he made a show of putting it away and held out his hand.

“He writes to me.” The lack of an explanation was a foresight and Harry was reminded of why he didn’t like talking to Lucius.

“And?” Harry waved his still empty hand expectantly.

One side of Lucius’ lips curled upward, and Harry really wanted to hex him.

“When I was imprisoned, the warden revoked my privileges to reply to letters. I could receive them, but not write back.”

“That’s illegal,” Harry interrupted, a frown in place and the urge to hex Lucius shifted to an urge to hex Crooks. “What if your lawyer sends you a letter? You have the right to counsel and the warden can’t take that away from you.”

Lucius lifted his free hand as he shrugged lightly. “I’ve gotten used to it.”

But it shouldn’t be that way, and he wanted to say that, but Harry knew that Lucius wouldn’t want to hear it.

“Draco writes to me knowing I can’t write back. Insults me too, charming of him.”

Harry hummed curiously, he wanted to ask what kind of insults because he was definitely proud of Draco for that, but Lucius kept going.

“The subject of his letters is always you.”

“Me?”

Lucius shook his head, face amused as if he knew a secret that Harry didn’t. Pretentious, as always.

“He says you loved him.”

Past tense. Did Draco really think of it the same? Harry didn’t want to think about his feelings, not after the last time he saw Draco at the Hog’s Head and certainly not around Lucius.

“I don’t think you got over him as easily as Draco thinks,” Lucius continued, an intensity in his eyes that Harry didn’t like.

“No,” Harry agreed, eyes on the letters. “I didn’t.”

“I think that you still love him.”

Harry closed his eyes as he tried to block it all out, but his mind repeated the day he confessed to Draco over and over. He couldn’t escape the pain of it all, couldn’t shake the sorrow in Draco’s eyes when he was rejected.

“Part of me always will.”

“Just part of you?”

Harry glared at Lucius as he placed his hands on the bars of the cell. “What do you want? For me to tell you that I still love him? To tell you that I both hate and love every time we are together? Hate that my heart won’t accept what my mind has? He doesn’t love me the same, and that’s okay, he doesn’t have to.”

Draco didn’t owe him a damn thing, and that included his heart. Harry’s emotions were his own and something he’d eventually get figured out.

Lucius held out the stack of envelopes as he said, “Don’t hurt him. As you can see, Azkaban is already my reality, I have nothing to lose.”

The threat was minimal, there was very little Lucius could do to him, but it wasn’t as if Harry would ever hurt Draco willingly.

With an extended hand and a torn mind, Harry was passed the envelopes. Was it an invasion of privacy? Lucius was the owner of the letters and could do whatever he wished with them, but it wasn’t like Draco wanted Harry to see them, for if he had, he would have sent them to him.

“Quit being noble and read the bloody things.”

Harry huffed before he flipped through the letters.

“Why do they all have a letter of the alphabet on them?” He asked as he reached the end which appeared to be incomplete since T was the last one.

Lucius was quiet and he wondered if it was a lack of impatience or just indifference. Harry chose to start with A, that would hopefully add more context than the other ones. With a worried heart, he began to read.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never known that, but you did, said it enough. You used to tell me how I’d get nowhere in life if it wasn’t by your design or your plan. If you knew the sheer amount of pleasure I get out of doing the complete opposite of your bloody plans, well, it’s probably a good thing you’re in Azkaban.

But I’m not talking about careers or a pre-planned course of my life. I’m talking about love, a love that I’m so undecided on.

Over a year ago, Harry told me that he loved me. He set up a romantic gazebo and there was a picnic. It was soft and so sweet, but it filled me with dread. He’s the most important person in my life outside of the few friends I have. At the time, I considered him one of those friends and I did not feel the same, not even remotely.

I could tell how nervous he was. I’ve seen him fight illegal Chimera poachers, takedown Dark Wizards as if they were a mere Doxy and even watched him tackle spells that would have broken a normal person.

He’s strong, he’s brave and he’s courageous.

And yet, he was scared… of me. Or rather what my reaction would be. I wish I could say that my reaction was what he wanted but it wasn’t. I broke his heart, father, and I hate that. I didn’t love him and if I had tried to back then, I don’t think it would have ended well for either of us. He didn’t deserve that.

I hate that I hurt him. I never wanted to, that wasn’t my intention. Harry deserves the world, deserves a partner who will cherish him.

That wasn’t me, I wasn’t that person for him.

Despite everything, we remained friends and at times I think our friendship got stronger, but it honestly could just be me projecting to hide the fear that I might have ruined it all. At first, things were awkward, it was hard being around each other because all I wanted to do was apologise but I knew that I didn’t have to, because how could I be apologetic of my own feelings? I couldn’t force what wasn’t there.

Life moved on, I certainly did, and I think that Harry did too. But somewhere along the way, things changed for me.

I never had a defining moment where everything clicked. I never had an epiphany, it all happened slowly. I started to look at his everyday actions differently, like the way he runs his hands through his hair as if it were a compulsion. Instead of being exasperated, I grew fond. He does a morning run when he feels like it, I can always tell when because his trainers are muddy on those days. I used to hate those mornings, the mud would get everywhere but now I look forward to it because of the grin he gives me—it’s mischievous and I love that look on him.

I fell in love with the simple actions before I ever fell in love with the rest of him. It was as if I had to love each little thing that made up who he is. Oh, he still does plenty that annoys me and sometimes I think his fashion is less chic and more cheap but there is so much to him that most people don’t realise.

Weasley once told me that when he sees Harry, he sees a best mate, someone to rely on, someone who had always been there for him, and someone who was family.

In the past, when I used to see Harry, I saw warmth and a friend unlike any I’ve ever had. Someone I didn’t have to question motives or loopholes. I didn’t have to look over my shoulder or cash in favours. I used to look at him and see a kinship, two people who had shitty lives but could not only coexist near each other but enjoy it.

Now when I look at him all I see is a home. Something that I thought I had but my home was bare and hollow. My home was filled with order and little personality. My home was restricting instead of welcoming. But now, that home is a goofy smile and kind eyes. My home is messy hair and a horrible sense of humour.

Harry is my home and I don’t know what to do about it.

I love him and I’m scared. It’s a year too late and I think I’ve missed my chance. I don’t want to hurt him like that again, but I also don’t want to be hurt. If I go to him and he rejects me, I don’t think I could take it. It would be karma, a justified one. I’m strong, but not as strong as he is.

Can a heart even break when it was too small to begin with?

I’ve never loved someone like this, and I think it’s because I’ve never known love like this. Being told that Harry loved me was daunting. Love is huge, powerful and if Dumbledore’s madness was to be taken seriously, then love is magical too.

I had nothing to reciprocate back then but now that I do, I fear it’s not enough of an offering. Is my love just as magical? Do I put faith in that? Or is faith in anything foolish? You taught me that.

But I’m tired of considering your words when I do something.

Neville says I should tell him, that the worst that could happen is a rejection. But I don’t know if our friendship could handle another rejection. That’s selfish to say, considering I rejected him, but we barely remained friends the first time.

I want to tell him because not speaking up is making all of these feelings fester and build up. It got so bad that I almost told him I loved him when we were on a mission. He was fighting a Kappa while I restrained a thief we had been hunting for months. I was focussed on him, so much so that the thief got away.

I told Harry that the binding spell wasn’t as strong as I thought. It was the first time I ever lied to him. I realised that my emotions were getting in the way of my duties. So, after we captured the thief, I took a desk job and I don’t regret it. Life as an Auror is great but I would have burned out in the long run. I like what I do as the department’s HR. I like recruiting people and I like handling the inner office work.

But as much as I like my job, Harry hated that I left. He fights constantly with his new partners and I don’t know why. Even when we first became partners, he wasn’t like that. Oh, we fought, but he wasn’t as closed off as he is with them.

I know that switching jobs hurt him and that’s all I ever seem to be doing. I want to fix that, fix us and fix everything, but I don’t know how. I came up with a plan. Neville says it’s stupid but so are kids and he works with them.

I call it Plan Alphabet. Every attempt at telling him how I feel is a new plan with a new letter. Today, was Plan A. I took him to a Quidditch game, but he thought it was as friends. I guess I didn’t make it clear that I meant it as a date, but I’m not sure how much clearer I could have been. It took me weeks to muck up the courage, my hands were shaking, and my heart was beating so fast.

When he said yes, I thought that Plan A was going to be the only letter, but I have a feeling it’s just the beginning. I hope I don’t make it to Plan Z because otherwise, that might be a sign to give up.

I don’t know if you’ll read this, I’m not sure I care. I had to listen to your speeches, your rules, your orders and the way you’d drone on about how little I mattered. So, the least you can do, is put up with this. You can’t write back, and as much as it’s an infringement on your rights, I don’t care.

You are the only outlet I have, the only place that these letters can go. If they bother you after this one, then just throw them away or block the carrier.

With much loathing,

Draco, your charming son

 

Harry wasn’t sure if his heart was breaking again or reforming. He walked backwards until his back hit the wall and he slid down to the floor, eyes on the letter.

All he had wanted was for his feelings to have been returned, and to take his friendship with Draco further. Draco had hurt him, but it wasn’t something to have felt guilty for. He had known even as his heart broke that Draco couldn’t force his feelings and Harry never would have wanted that.

‘Harry is my home’

Harry’s thumb moved over the words gently. A home. Merlin, he certainly never had that as a kid. Home had never been a place for him. Home was the Weasleys, Hogwarts, friends, those he cared for, those he loved.

His home was Draco too.

Back then, he had been so in love and so stupidly blind to so much. It was obvious that Draco hadn’t felt the same, but he had hoped, and that hope was baseless in the end. But the heart and the mind don’t always see eye to eye and he never quite mastered how to erase hope altogether.

Even now, almost two years later, his heart still beat fast when they locked eyes, and when Draco laughs—really laughs, nose scrunched up and eyes crinkled at the corner—Harry can’t help but love him just a little bit more. But it was always with a disassociation. To move on, he needed to know that Draco never felt the same. So, he instilled that in his mind over and over.

Every time Draco’s touch lingered, he repeated the rejection words in his head. Every time Draco’s smile turned flirty, he remembered the sorrow in grey eyes as his heart broke. Every attempt of Draco’s plan had been countered with the bruises of a broken heart.

Harry saw all of this, he did, but he thought it wasn’t real because Draco’s love had never been a thing. If he had put stock into any of it, then he never would have been able to move on.

“I’m so stupid,” Harry whispered. The signs had been there, of course they had been. His own pain had blinded him to what he wanted.

But was that still what he wanted? What if Draco changed his mind again? What if he gave into hope just for it to slip away again?

“I always thought so.”

Harry ignored Lucius, not willing to think about why he had given him the letters in the first place. What did he get out of it? Clearly there was no love between father and son.

“But the question is are you going to remain stupid? There is no lost time between you but there will be if you do nothing.”

He wanted to tell him to shut up, but the words wouldn’t escape his mind. Lucius was right. There wasn’t lost time since they had never been on the same page. Harry now knew what Draco was feeling, the words were so clearly written. There were 19 more letters that he hadn’t opened, and he wasn’t sure his heart could take any of them.

Love. Was it as magical as Dumbledore said? Harry had never quite bought into that and when his heart had been shattered, it certainly hadn’t felt magical. Loving Draco, however, was something special and even at his lowest, he never regretted it, couldn’t regret it.

Would he regret it if he let it go? Would Draco continue with his plans or would he give up? Would Harry watch on the sidelines or go to him? Back then the decision had been out of his hands but right now, it was all up to him. The ball was in his court and it was his words that would either be the end or the beginning of their next step.

Harry stood up quickly, decision in mind as he gathered the letters. Draco normally spent Tuesdays working overnight and if he hurried, he might catch him.

“Wait!”

When Harry turned around, Lucius was standing in his cell, one hand gripping the bars tightly and the other one holding out a folded parchment.

“Will you give this to Draco?”

He didn’t have to think about it as he put the letter with the others. There was a vulnerability in Lucius’ eyes and his tone was far softer than Harry had ever heard.

“Thank you,” Harry whispered. He still wasn’t sure what it was that Lucius got out of it but questioning it would have to wait.

“Take care of him.”

A small laugh left Harry as he shook his head. “I know this might be a hard concept for you, but I promise you, Draco can and will look after himself.”

Lucius searched Harry’s face and it was a bit unnerving.

“No matter what happens, I’ll be next to him and will care for him but not of him. It’s something he values more so than others and it’s an ideal that we both share.”

“Thank you.”

Harry tried really hard not show his surprise but by the way Lucius folded his arms, he wasn’t so sure he succeeded. Surely, that was the first time in Lucius’ life that gratitude had ever been uttered, right?

“I can see why he likes you.”

That was an opening Harry wasn’t going to go towards. Nope. He wasn’t touching that, not when Lucius had a smile on his face—surely that was another first.

“You are both stubborn and idiotic.”

“At least one of those was a compliment.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Well, now it’s awkward,” Harry mumbled, and Lucius snorted.

Lucius moved his hands in a shooing gesture and Harry could take it as the push that it was.

“I’m going to go confess my love to your son for the second time.”

When Lucius’ lips curled slightly, he took it as a win. “You do that.”

“And,” Harry took a deep breath, his eyes already stinging. “I think we’re going to be really happy.”

Nothing was said but there was something in Lucius’ eyes and Harry wasn’t sure if it was understanding or acceptance, but whatever it was, it was exactly what he needed.

As Harry walked away from Lucius and outside of Azkaban altogether, he sent a Patronus for another Auror to take over the patrols.

He may not have a plan like Draco’s, no letters and no alphabet, but he had sincerity and hopefully that was enough.

==

 

Nervous. He was nervous, something that didn’t happen often. When he was a trainee, they were all told that nerves were a tool, something to use to remain grounded in tough situations but all of that flew out the window the moment he walked into the office.

“I still don’t really understand,” Sparks’ said as Harry walked to Draco’s desk. “How do you know?”

“It’s actually—oh, Harry!”

Draco’s polite smile melted into a soft grin and it always made his breath catch. Merlin, he was so in love.

“You’re back early,” Sparks mumbled as she looked at her watch.

He ignored her, as he usually did, but did nod in her direction. It was progress.

“I came across some things at Azkaban and—”

“I bet.”

Harry eyed Draco closely. The tone had been so confident, did he know that Lucius had given him the letters? He looked around the desk until he recognized familiar handwriting.

“Is that the Hitchens case?”

When Draco arched a brow, Harry rolled his eyes. It was a challenge in a way, and it reminded him of too many memories when they were partners. Part of him missed that and he always would but Draco was happy as HR and it was about time he stopped living in the past.

“I don’t remember the case being assigned to you,” Harry continued when Draco said nothing. “Always nosy, I see nothing has changed.”

“You said he wouldn’t be mad,” Sparks whispered, and Draco snorted loudly.

“He’s not.”

Sparks looked between them with a small frown and he knew she didn’t get it, didn’t get him but that was what he had resigned her to by pushing her away—it wasn’t her fault.

When Sparks bit her lip, eyes still glancing back and forth, he could tell she was unsure, so he sent her a wink. She blinked in surprise and he knew he’d have to do better, to be a better partner going forward.

“What did you find?” Harry asked. There were several folders on Draco’s desk and a lot of it looked like records and transactions.

Draco sat up straighter, eyes bright and Harry knew that look. It was excitement, it was a rush of enthusiasm and it meant that it had been solved. In the beginning, he had hated that look. It had meant that Draco had figured it out before him, but it quickly grew to be one of his favourite things to see. Draco excited about anything was his favourite—he was his favourite.

There was a rustling of papers before Draco placed a piece of parchment on top of the mess on his desk.

“I took a look at the transactions in the case. You circled a few of them.”

“Yeah, they were suspicious.”

Draco’s eyes crinkled and Harry wanted to groan, that meant he had been wrong.

“Yes, and no,” Draco said, a quill in one hand as he underlined several transactions that hadn’t been circled. “These are the suspicious ones.”

“They are lawyer fees, that’s not unheard of for a business to have a lawyer on retainer.”

“T. Lets & B. Did. Odd name for a law firm, don’t you think?”

Harry shrugged as he squinted down at the paper. “I’ve heard weirder, we are wizards after all.”

“It’s an acronym.”

“For what?” Sparks asked as she picked up the paper.

“The Last Enemy that Shall be Destroyed is Death.”

Harry’s stomach clenched and he placed a hand on the desk to brace himself.

“I don’t get it,” Sparks said, and she looked between them again. “What’s that?”

“It’s the motto that Death Eaters used,” Harry whispered, eyes on Draco.

“The law firm doesn’t exist,” Draco said quietly as he began pulling out other papers. “It’s a way to launder the money from the illegal Portkey ring and clean it. Lawyers pull in a lot of money and no one would have looked twice.”

“And Hitchens? He planned all of that?” Sparks asked.

“No,” Harry and Draco said in unison.

“No way Hitchens planned that,” Harry said. He had interviewed the guy and Hitchens was a complete and utter moron. “Someone else is the mastermind.”

“I haven’t gotten that far,” Draco mumbled. “Some of the charges you circled are fake too, but I did find a Gringotts wire transfer.”

“That’s not so odd.”

“It is when the account the money went to is a prison.”

“Azkaban? Why would he send money to Azkaban?” Sparks said, a curious glint in her voice.

“No,” Draco argued. “Not Azkaban. Which makes it even weirder. As far as I can tell, it’s a prison in Russia.”

“Russia.” Harry closed his eyes and tried to breathe through his nose slowly as to not get worked up. “It wouldn’t happen to have been White Shark, would it?”

“How did you know?”

“Fuck,” Harry slammed his hands on the desk, adding to the mess on Draco’s desk. “I knew something was off about the guy, but I didn’t think it would have been connected to Hitchens.”

“Harry.”

“There was no correlation,” Harry continued, ignoring Draco completely. “He’s gone by now. No way he stuck around after you pulled all the records, there had to have been plans set up to be on the lookout.”

“Harry,” Draco’s voice was a little shaky, but Harry was on a roll.

“I don’t think Pashkov is the mastermind, there has to be someone higher than him, someone with more brains.”

“Who’s Pashkov?” Sparks asked as she began to fill out Wizengamot papers, he assumed it was to notify them that there would be an arrest.

“A guard. Said he was a Ministry exchange transfer. Which is odd, there hasn’t been one of those in years and you’d think it would be departments not Azkaban. I don’t—”

“Harry.”

Harry turned his head so fast he heard a pop as his neck cracked a little. Draco’s eyes were wide, his chest was heaving and he was focussed on Harry’s hand, the one that was resting on top of the letters Lucius gave him.

“Where did you get those?”

When Draco looked up, all Harry could see was panic. A look that he had never seen on him.

“Lucius gave them to me.”

Draco closed his eyes tightly and Harry wanted to reach out and comfort him but didn’t think it would be wise.

“Did you read them?” Draco whispered, eyes still closed, and his bottom lip quivered in a way that made Harry’s heart ache.

“Just the first one.” He watched the way Draco’s shoulders slumped and he wondered if apologisng would make up for it, but it wasn’t until Draco’s eyes opened and he could see how glassy they were that he did reach out.

“Hey, it’s okay.”

“No, it’s not,” Draco flinched when Harry’s fingers touched his cheek. “I was trying to tell you.”

“I know.”

“I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“I know.”

“This is awkward,” Sparks said as she stood up, face apologetic. “I’m just going to—” She bundled all the paperwork and moved to her own desk, which was only a few feet over and could probably still hear them.

Draco swatted Harry’s fingers when he tried to touch him again.

“Draco,” Harry began before he stopped. Talking about it in theory had seemed easy but now that it was a reality, he wasn’t sure he could do it.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Draco whispered so quietly that Harry only heard part of it. “I’ve been dealing with this for a while and I’ll get over it, get over you.”

Get over you.

Years. Years of loving Draco only to have to shelve his feelings when it was unwanted. Getting over his own emotions had been so hard and it was something that he never completely mastered, and it wasn’t something he wanted to do again.

“What if I don’t want you to?”

Draco blinked rapidly and he wasn’t sure if it was the question or an attempt to keep his eyes dry. “What?”

“What if I don’t want you to get over me?”

“Harry.”

“You said I was your home,” Harry picked up the first letter and held it to his chest. “I want to be your home.”

“You can’t still love me the same.”

Harry shook his head as he tentatively reached out. He sighed a little when Draco let him cup his cheek.

“I don’t love you like I did two years ago, and I imagine I won’t love you the same two years from now.”

“What does that mean?” Draco croaked before he nuzzled Harry’s palm.

“My emotions changed as needed, they evolved and that’s what was supposed to happen. I loved you before you knew, loved you when you knew and loved you after I wasn’t meant to. It’s changed and it will continue to change.”

Draco licked his lips, gaze focussed on Harry’s arm and wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“In what way do you love me now?”

Harry cupped Draco’s other cheek and watched the way pretty eyes widened.

“I love you in a way that sometimes feels like too much. It’s vast and deep and that’s scary but it’s there and it’s comforting. I love you in a way that feels like an enhancer; I’m already whole, already complete but loving you makes me more aware of all the good things. I don’t just love you, I’m in love with you.”

He leaned forward till he was half on the desk so that he could press their foreheads together.

“I only read the first letter, but I saw enough to know that you are in love with me too.”

“I am,” Draco said in a rush, almost as if he couldn’t not say it. “I tried not to.”

“So did I,” Harry said with a little laugh. “Didn’t work well for me.”

“Nor me.”

Harry rubbed his nose against Draco’s and relished the breathy chuckle he got in return. “Your father said something to me, and I think you need to hear it.”

The look of disgust on Draco’s face caused him to snort.

“He said there was no lost time between us, and he was right. We’ve never been on the same path in regard to our feelings, and that’s okay. I don’t want you to feel guilty over not liking me sooner, and I don’t want you to think that you deserve pain if I hadn’t felt the same.”

Draco’s eyes focussed on Harry’s nose as he bit his lip.

“Self-deprecation is kind of my thing.” It was a weak attempt at a joke, but it was the truth, and Harry had always known that.

When Harry said nothing, Draco glanced up, forehead wrinkled. “I’ll work on it.”

“You deserve love, Draco,” Harry said, voice firm but kind. “You deserve to be happy. You deserve so much more than you know.”

Love wasn’t something that was deserved, it wasn’t something that only certain people were entitled to, and Harry knew that Draco was aware of that.

“So do you.”

Harry smiled and for the first time in a long time, his heart was as happy as the rest of him. He could have gone his whole life as Draco’s friend and been satisfied, but there would have always been a little piece of him that wondered.

Only now, now he didn’t have to wonder.

“I’m going to love you,” Harry whispered. “I’m going to love you so much.”

“Do it,” Draco challenged a bright smile on his face and Harry wanted to kiss him, so he did.

Cheers erupted as their lips pressed together and he hated that their office was so nosy. Someone whooped in the background and Harry had a suspicion that it was Sparks.

“I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” Draco said between kisses and Harry never wanted it to stop.

“Me too.” It had always been just a daydream or a fantasy but none of it had matched up to the reality. None of his dreams felt as real as the warmth of Draco’s lips against his own.

“I’m going to read the rest of the letters later, and I’m sure I’ll cry,” Harry said with a laugh. “But I want to know everything and see how far your romantic heart went.”

“The letters weren’t romantic.”

“They are to me,” Harry whispered as he placed a stray lock of Draco’s hair behind his ear. “In a depressing sort of way.”

“That’s an oxymoron.”

“Some could say the same about us,” Harry said before he pressed his lips against Draco’s. His back was starting to hurt and one of his feet began to slip, but he wasn’t going to stop, not when he finally was able to snog Draco.

“I love you,” Draco mumbled, and Harry could feel the words against his lips. “And it’s been a hell of a battle admitting it.”

“I love you too.” And he knew that he always would.

Loving Draco had never been easy, never been what he thought it would, but it was exactly as it should have been, and he wouldn’t change a single thing about it.

It wasn’t until the noise calmed down as their co-workers went back to work and his lips were a little numb, that he remembered the letter he was supposed to deliver.

“No,” Draco whined when Harry stood up, his hand was outstretched as if to pull Harry back to him.

Harry plucked the letter from the pile on the desk and set it on Draco’s palm. “Your father wanted me to give you this.”

“Well that killed the mood.”

A laugh left Harry before he picked up Draco’s hand and kissed the back of it. “That’s okay, I have a case to solve and a guard to arrest.”

“Woe is me, the life of an Auror.”

“Exactly.”

He stepped away from Draco’s desk to give him privacy and locked eyes with Sparks. She had a small smile on her face and he never really noticed how kind it was before.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he stopped in front of her desk. “I never gave you a chance and that’s on me.”

Sparks shrugged her shoulders in an attempt to seem uncaring, but it was a ruse and he could tell.

“I would like to start over,” he continued a bit awkwardly. “I’m Harry. I’m the Lead Auror for the MLE. I have a really nice partner, far nicer than I deserve and I sometimes make stupid mistakes.”

“Like what?” Sparks murmured, eyes on his face but not quite his eyes.

“Like not making my partner feel welcome or appreciated. I can be an arse at times and you never should’ve had to know that first hand.”

“It’s okay.”

“It’s not,” argued Harry. “But I’d like to make up for that. I want to not just be your partner, but I want to be a team and I think that we can do that.”

When she looked at him, really looked at him, Harry relaxed. Her eyes were kind and so was her smile.

“I’d like that.”

Sparks stuck her hand out. “Nice to meet you Harry, I’m Jessie.” And when they shook hands, it really did feel like a new beginning.

It wasn’t until Harry put the letters away and was about to set back out to Azkaban that a shout of his name stopped him.

“Yeah?”

Draco was staring down at the Lucius’ letter, but Harry couldn’t tell if he was angry or sad, it seemed like a mixture.

“You’re heading out?”

“I have to check up on the guard.” He was still suspicious about the warden too, didn’t trust her at all.

“Oh,” Jessie exclaimed in a hurry as she straightened up her desk. “I’ll go with you.”

“He’ll need your help.”

“Huh?” Harry frowned. He didn’t need Jessie’s help, but he’d like the company.

“Azkaban is missing an inmate.”

“Huh?” He repeated, still confused. Sometimes, Draco liked to be vague on purpose and it drove him crazy.

The letter was shoved into Harry’s hands before Draco kicked the leg of his desk, hard.

Draco,

I had to.

Never forget that I love you.

With much loathing,

Lucius, your charming father.

-T. Lets & B. Did

“Son of a bitch,” Harry swore, and to think that he had been nice to Lucius.

“We’re not going to find him,” Draco warned. “Who knows how long he’s been sitting on this breakout. He’s been in Azkaban for a decade. Why now?”

“Maybe because you stopped being an Auror,” Harry said as he looked up from the letter for the first time. “He knew you’d have gone after him.”

“But how would he—” Draco slammed his hand on the desk. “I told him. The stupid letters. I don’t even know what other things I said that might be useful to him.”

“Hey,” Harry handed the letter to Jessie before he pulled Draco into a hug. “We’ll find him, okay? He’s not going to get away with any of it. Jessie and I will catch him.”

“No.”

“Huh?” Harry was getting tired of saying that.

Draco pulled away from the hug enough to peer up at Harry. “I want on the case.”

“Draco, I don’t know if that’s a good—”

When his eyes narrowed, Harry put up his hands. It wasn’t his decision to make, the captain would have to, but Harry knew that Draco would get his way in the end. He always did.

“We’ll find him, together.”

“Together,” Draco repeated slowly before he melted back into the hug, his head on Harry’s shoulder. “Just like old times.”

No, it would be old and new, that much Harry would make sure. Draco was his home, and he was going to do everything in his power to keep it that way. He didn’t just want together, he wanted tomorrow too.

The future, their future, together.

 

-Fin

==

 

Half an Epilogue, Sneak Peek at a future instalment

 

It was all Jessie’s fault, and that was the story Harry was sticking to.

“It’s a stupid plan.”

They were in a cramped Muggle car as they waited for Draco to finish whatever lead he had been tracking.

“How? It’s romantic and sweet.”

“It’s unoriginal. Draco did it first.”

“Which is why it’s romantic.”

Jessie's nose was wrinkled, and Harry almost wished they weren’t friends.

“Just ask him, you know he’ll say yes.”

“Ah, yes, because you suddenly know divination,” Harry did his best attempt at a sneer.

“Maybe I do,” The smirk was reminiscent Draco and he didn’t like that they were friends either.

“Oh, wise one, all-knowing seer, tell me if my plan will work.”

“Probably, he’s whipped for you.”

Harry stuck his tongue out just to watch her try not to laugh.

“I still think it’s a stupid plan.”

“It’s brilliant,” Harry countered. “I will copy Plan Alphabet until I eventually get the nerve to ask him to move in with me.”

“Imitation isn’t always flattery you thief.”

“You are no fun.” Harry pressed the lever on the seat to move the back down to get away from her, only he didn’t count on the cheap car to give out halfway and barely move at all.

“Don’t,” he warned when she started to snort.

“You can be an idiot sometimes.”

“Don’t call him that.”

Harry sat up in a hurry to see Draco’s face in the open window.

“Yeah,” he said, half mocking as warm lips brushed his cheek.

“Only I can call him an idiot.”

When they both started to laugh, Harry considered whether to throw them both away and find new friends.

“What’s he up to now?” Draco asked as he pulled open the back seat door and slid in.

“Something stupid that will probably work,” Jessie mumbled as she started the car.

“That’s Harry for you.”

His tone was fond, overly fond and made Harry blush a little. In the rearview mirror, Harry could see that Draco had a small smile on his face and he was so far gone for him—so in love that it was sickening.

Perhaps Jessie was right, but Harry didn’t think so. In the end, it didn’t really matter what his plan was or how it happened, the important thing was them and their relationship.

The rest would come together, as it always did.