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Too Cold Outside (For Angels to Fly)

Chapter Text

[IMAGE: A man holding a newspaper does a double-take as he walks past
a red English telephone booth with a snowman in it. Ben Ben is in the background.]

How early was too early to show up for your first day at a new job?

Draco pondered this question as he sat at a small wooden table in the corner of the enormous Manor kitchen, nibbling on a piece of cold toast slathered with slowly congealing butter.

Did the answer change when the job was at the Ministry of Magic, for a department that had once tried to send Draco to Azkaban, in a country where he'd been universally reviled before he'd fucked off to Italy ten years ago? His stomach churned, and he threw the toast down onto his plate next to its uneaten brethren. He was too nervous to even keep down a single slice of toast—not a good sign.

Draco was beginning to reevaluate his decision to return to England.

It had been just over ten years since he'd left in disgrace, right after the horrifying circus of the post-war trials. He'd somehow managed to get off with little more than a slap on the wrist, likely due to Potter's unexpected testimony on his behalf. But his father had been sentenced to Azkaban, his mother exiled from Britain, and their entire family had been fined a truly astronomical sum in reparations—which, given how much money was in the Malfoy coffers, was really saying something. They'd managed to keep the Manor—for all the good that did them—but their home had been all but gutted, its contents sold to help make up the debt they owed society.

Draco had been welcome to stay in Britain, but he thought it best if he cut his losses. With little money, even less family, and most of his friends dead or already abroad, what more was there to keep him here?

Not to mention the teensy, tiny—almost inconsequential, really—revelation that Draco was not, in fact, one of those pure-blood wizards his family had fought so hard to make the ruling class.

He was a Veela.

He'd manifested on his seventeenth birthday, which had been a horrifying revelation for all affected parties—Draco included—given they were in the middle of a war and his family propagated the ideology that Magical Creatures were inferior and should be either subjugated or exterminated. He and his parents had miraculously managed to keep Draco's nature a secret from Voldemort and the rest of the world throughout the duration of the war, but Draco's luck hadn't held much longer than that. His arrest and subsequent holding, pending a formal trial, had been one stressor too many, and his frayed temper had snapped, sending him into full-on Veela Fury right in the middle of the Ministry.

As if he didn't already have enough strikes against him.

There'd been no avoiding official registry with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures after that, and given that the Creature, Being, & Spirit Registry was a matter of public record, it was no surprise when, not even a week later, the Prophet had been trumpeting the news of Draco's affliction throughout the country. It was just another reason for the public to view him with suspicion and disgust, and most seemed to hold the view that it served him right: Draco Malfoy, the pure-blood bigot whose blood wasn't so pure after all.

Draco didn't blame them. He'd been telling himself the same thing the moment his wings had burst from his back in an explosion of agony and shame.

So Draco had left Britain and never looked back, accompanying his mother to Italy and, in a truly bizarre turn of events, eventually working for the Italian Ministry as an Auror. Italy's warmer climate was perfectly suited to Veela, and Sicily—where they'd settled—boasted a robust population. Draco wouldn't say anti-Veela bias was non-existent, but the discrimination was certainly less prevelant than in Britain, and the restrictions on Beings holding government jobs was significantly less stringent. More importantly, the Malfoy name didn't have quite the black stain in Italy as it had back home, and without that cloud hanging over him, Draco found himself free, for the first time in his life, to be whatever and whoever he wanted, unencumbered by familial or societal expectations. Certainly his mother still had her opinions, but exile and the separation from Lucius had diminished her, and Draco found it much easier to stand up for his convictions, to stand true to the person he wanted to become.

He'd blossomed in Italy. Even his mother had thought so, telling Draco on her deathbed that it had been her greatest joy in life to finally see Draco settled and happy after all they'd put him through. Draco wasn't quite sure he'd have gone so far as to say he was happy, but he was content at least, and he was hardly going to argue semantics with his dying mother. She, too, had found a measure of peace in Italy, even if the separation from Lucius, the love of her life, had slowly drained her of her will to live—Lucius's death in Azkaban last year had been the final nail in her coffin. Given Narcissa's exile, she'd not even been allowed to return to Britain to attend his funeral and give him a final goodbye, and it seemed to Draco that she'd instead chosen to hasten her own demise so that they could be reunited in the afterlife. There was a part of Draco that resented her for that, for so deeply loving such a flawed man, and for refusing to fight and stay alive, not even for her only son. And now Draco was all alone in the world. An Orphan.

Without his mother Draco had been adrift. Perhaps that was why he'd decided to come home at last, to face the demons of his past in the hopes that closure would allow him to fully move on. He wouldn't have been able to afford to return without a secured position, unwilling to take the gamble that a Malfoy would be able to find decent employment in a country that despised him. It had come as a shock when the British Ministry of Magic reached out to him first, practically begging Draco to come and work for them in a truly surreal turn of events.

Apparently they were piloting a new programme, a collaboration between their Auror Department and the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, with the idea of pairing a human wizard from the Auror Department with a Magical Being trained in law enforcement procedures. They hoped that not only would this foster a greater trust and understanding of Magical Creatures within wizarding Britain, but that it would aid in the solving of Magical Creature-related crimes, which historically had one of the lowest solve-rates within the Auror Department. It was all very lofty and aspirational, but the Ministry had run into several issues when it came to filling the inaugural Magical Being role. In Draco's opinion it was hardly a surprise really, given that Beings had been prohibited from serving in any sort of law enforcement capacity in Britain—or at least they had when Draco had left ten years ago. Given the rampant discrimination, most Beings regarded the magical government to be generally untrustworthy, relying instead on their own discreet governing bodies to police disputes within their communities.

Draco, apparently, was the perfect candidate, even with his incredibly checkered past, and the British Ministry had pursued him doggedly with the desperate hope that he'd agree to sign on. Not only was he a Magical Being and a British citizen, but he also had an extensive background in magical law enforcement that would significantly reduce the time needed to officially launch the programme. Of course, his knowledge was based on Italian protocols, but the Ministry assured him that it was a matter of semantics, and had no doubt that he’d pick up the British way of doing things quickly.

Draco had been wary. The idea of returning to Britain had some appeal, he couldn't deny that. But to work for the Ministry of Magic as an Auror? With a partner, who'd presumably know exactly who Draco was and what he and his family had done during the war? Draco couldn't see how that would end well. Draco had been concerned that it might actually put the programme in jeopardy, having him as their test case, but apparently he was all but their last hope. It was possible they'd need to abandon the project entirely if they weren't able to recruit a Magical Being by the end of the year, finally giving a plausible reason as to why they seemed so bloody keen to recruit Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater, to their cause. Still, it was nice to be wanted—needed—and he did feel a particular yearning to return home. So Draco had said yes, reluctantly, and had been told to report to the Ministry of Magic at nine AM sharp on Monday the first of December.

The idea was that he'd spend the first month getting acquainted with his new partner and learning protocol and procedure before the real work began in the new year. It was supposed to be a relatively relaxed first few weeks to ease him and his partner into their new roles, but now, sitting at his table with the large clock on the wall tick-tick-ticking loudly in the silence of the kitchen, Draco felt anything but relaxed. He still had no idea who his partner would be—it wasn't only Magical Beings who'd been hesitant to sign on—and he had no clue what kind of reception to expect. He couldn't imagine it would be positive, no matter what the overly cheerful recruiter had said.

The clock chimed once, indicating it was half past eight, and Draco stood, deciding it was now within an acceptable time-frame to head into work. The Manor had been disconnected from the Floo Network when they'd left Britain and Draco had yet to reconnect it, which meant he'd need the extra time to get through to the Ministry via one of the visitors' entrances. He was already dressed and ready to go, and he paused only to put on his heavy winter cloak and grab his leather satchel before Disapparating.

He appeared at one of the Apparition Points in Muggle London, the location tucked out of sight from the bustling thoroughfare beneath heavy wards. He shivered, the winter air even colder than he'd been anticipating—had winter always been so cold in England?—and he took a moment while he was still hidden away from the Muggles to reinforce the Warming Charms on his cloak before stepping out onto the bustling street.

He'd been out in Muggle London rarely as a boy, and though he'd become quite familiar with Muggles while in Italy, it was still strange being surrounded by so many of them now. This was his country, the place where he grew up, and yet, it wasn't. The world around him was so unfamiliar. It felt almost impossible that, throughout his entire childhood, this whole other city had been just out of sight. He couldn't help but pity his father for his ignorance and prejudice, for his closed-off mind that had prevented him from seeing the beauty of this foreign world. That had prevented Draco from seeing it. But he was here now, and if he spent too much longer appreciating the sight of briskly walking Muggles on their way to work, Draco would be late.

Draco remained alert as he walked, eyeing the street signs so he wouldn't miss his turn. He'd never used this entrance before, and he hoped his liaison at the Ministry had given him all the information he needed. He was looking for a red telephone booth, and though he knew it wasn't on this particular street, it didn't stop him from scrutinising each box he passed, doing a double-take when he passed a booth that… yes, that was definitely a snowman inside the box, which surely wasn't normal… was it? For all that he was more accustomed to Muggles now, Draco didn't think he'd ever understand them. He shook his head, but kept on walking. He had no time for such nonsense today.

He finally found the street he was looking for and turned onto a dingy side road containing several shabby offices, a pub that looked more East End boozer than smart drinking establishment, and a wall covered with neon-coloured graffiti. Draco took all this in with a wrinkle of his nose before catching sight of the bright red phone booth with an Out of Order sign on the front, and he quickly made his way into the cramped space. He picked up the phone and took out a piece of parchment, dialing 6-2-4-4-2 as instructed. The moment he'd pressed the final '2', a friendly voice welcomed him, the sound seeming to come not from the phone but from the air around him.

"Please state your name and business."

"Draco Malfoy. I'm here for my first day of work in the Auror Department."

As he finished speaking, a silver badge popped out of the coin dispenser on the phone with the words "Draco Malfoy, New Employee" written in block letters. The moment Draco picked up the badge, the telephone booth dropped right through the pavement and began to travel through the earth. It was a disconcerting experience, but Draco had expected something of the like, knowing that the Ministry was well-below ground, so he affixed his badge to his robes and settled in for the ride.

Less than a minute later, Draco was stepping into the Ministry Atrium where he was hit by a wave of nostalgia. It was mostly bad, but there were good memories, too. He'd loved coming to the Ministry with his father as a boy, being greeted like a prince and watching people fawn over the powerful Lucius Malfoy. Then again, even those had been tainted by the war and the knowledge that Draco had eventually gained. Now, he couldn't help but wonder what self-serving agenda his father had been furthering on each of those once-treasured visits.

He briskly made his way through security, submitting his new wand for inspection. His old wand hadn't been working well for him even before Potter had snatched it away during the war, as Draco's Veela inheritance had fundamentally altered his magical core. After clearing the routine wand inspection he continued to the Being Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures on Level 4.

Though he was technically an Auror, both the DMLE and the DRCMC had joint supervision over him and his partner. Draco suspected the inevitable power struggle would lead to a lot of future headaches. Draco, as the token Magical Being, unofficially fell more under the purview of the DRCMC, while his partner would no doubt fall under the DMLE. Draco didn't particularly care about the reporting structure at this point, and anything that would ensure that Draco didn't have to walk alone into the Auror Department for the first time since he'd been led through it bound up in an Incarcerous was A-OK in his book.

He was greeted at the door by a cheerful, curvy witch who looked as if she'd only just left Hogwarts. Certainly the enthusiasm in her greeting indicated she hadn't worked in government long and wasn't all that familiar with Draco's past actions.

"You must be Draco Malfoy! Welcome to the Being Division. I can't tell you how thrilled we all were when Julep told us you'd agreed to take on this role in our pilot programme. The department has been working on this plan for ages, and we were really starting to lose all hope of it ever getting off the ground. And then you appeared, just like an angel from heaven!"

Draco raised a single brow, unsure if he should be amused or insulted by the angel comment. She flushed.

"Oh, I am so sorry, I wasn't even thinking about how that would sound! You must get that all the time, being a Veela."

Draco flashed her a tight smile. "Once or twice." Her expression twisted with guilt, but he waved her off before she could start apologising more profusely. "I believe I'm supposed to be meeting with Julep now"—Draco looked down at the nameplate on the front desk—"Miriam?"

She beamed at him. "Yes, yes you are! She's been so looking forward to meeting you properly. You can go straight in." She gestured to a closed door behind her and to the left. "Your future partner and Head Auror Robards are already there."

The nerves that had somewhat managed to settle came back full force as he gave Miriam a shaky smile. He'd not expected to be confronted with his new partner so soon. He'd thought he'd have more time to prepare. Then again, prepare for what? There was no way to prepare for meeting with a stranger that in all likelihood, hated Draco already, a stranger that would probably, at some point, hold Draco's life in his hands, given the work they were to do together.

There was nothing for it but to soldier on. Draco could do this. He'd certainly had to overcome harder things in his lifetime. Nothing in that room could be worse than living with Voldemort, the world's most accomplished Legilimens, while trying to keep the fact that he was a Veela a secret.

Squaring his shoulders, he walked up to the door and gave it a firm rap, opening it confidently when a woman's voice called out, "Come in!"

Draco walked into the room and stopped dead in his tracks when he locked eyes with his new partner, who was looking every bit as shocked as Draco.

Apparently nobody had told Harry Bloody Potter who his new partner was, either.

Chapter Text

[IMAGE: View of Hogwarts at night with first year students crossing the lake in boats.]

Harry waited at the Hogwarts gate for Hermione, looking down the lane and across the Great Lake towards the castle in the distance. The turrets gleamed in the winter sunlight and a pang of nostalgia went through Harry. He remembered how impressive and mysterious the castle had appeared the first time he'd seen it, looming large in the darkness as he'd sailed across the Great Lake with Hagrid and the other first years. It had been his home, the first one he could truly remember, and though he'd not had reason to return often in the ten years since he'd left, there was a part of him that would always see it that way.


Harry was a little jealous of Hermione, whose position on the Hogwarts Board of Governors gave her plenty of reasons to visit, as they had that morning. He scowled. As boring as the thought of serving on the Hogwarts Board sounded to him, it certainly couldn't be worse than his newest assignment.

"Oh, sorry I'm late!" Hermione said breathlessly as she rushed down the pathway to meet Harry. "Ron just owled and said he got us a table at the Three Broomsticks."

Harry snorted and fell into step with Hermione as they made their way towards Hogsmeade. "What're the chances he'll have waited for us before ordering?

Hermione slanted him a sideways glance, an amused smile tugging at the corner of her lips. "My husband has many wonderful qualities, but patience where food is concerned is not one of them."

"Well, he ought to know our orders by now, so hopefully he'll have put them all in," Harry said with feeling. "I'm starving, and I don't know about you, but I've got to get back to the Ministry in"—Harry looked down at his watch and grimaced—"forty-five minutes."

Hermione made a face: half guilty, half sympathetic.

"I am sorry about the delay. Smith called an emergency meeting of the Governors and demanded we all meet him down here at once, as if most of us don't have careers! Apparently his son—a bloody seventh year—had a run-in with one of the plants in Sprout's advanced Herbology class and was trying to make it out as if Sprout was negligent. Sprout! Thankfully, the rest of the board was in agreement that Smith's kid is clearly a tosser who needs to pay more attention to his professors and dismissed the grievance. Gross misuse of the Board's time, the whole thing was ridiculous." She shook her head angrily, bushy curls whipping furiously around her face and she took a deep breath. "Merlin, it gave me horrible flashbacks to Draco Malfoy and poor Buckbeak!"

Harry's stomach roiled and he clenched his jaw at the mention of Malfoy. He'd not yet shared the good news about his new Auror partner. "Funny you should mention Malfoy."

Hermione turned to him, a look of curiosity on her face. "Oh?"

Harry nodded tersely. "I'll tell you at lunch. Ron'll want to hear, too."

"All right," Hermione said agreeably, though Harry could tell she was dying to know what he had to say. They'd just entered the village and were approaching the Three Broomsticks when Hermione did a funny little hop and looked over at Harry, her face animated. "Oh! And you have to tell us all about your new assignment! I'm so glad they found a Being to partner you with and didn't have to scrap the programme. I think it could be really useful. I'm assuming you met them yesterday? What are they like."

Harry scowled, and Hermione started, her expression wilting. "That bad?"

"We'll see." He held open the door to the pub, sighing in pleasure as a blast of warm air smelling of meat pies and ale greeted them. Harry's stomach grumbled.

It was lunch hour so the pub was packed, but thankfully Ron had snagged them their favourite corner table, and they acknowledged his waving hand with waves of their own as they made their way over to him.

"S'bout time!" Ron said fervently. There were three steaming Butterbeers on the table, and Harry grabbed his gratefully. "I know you've both got to get back to work, so I went ahead and ordered your usuals. Food should be out soon."

"You," Hermione said emphatically, leaning over to grab Ron's cheeks and smack a loud kiss on his lips, "are my favourite husband."

Ron grinned. "Still got top spot? Excellent. I was worried I'd fallen behind in the rankings after last week's laundry debacle." Hermione gave him a severe look, and Ron looked a little sheepish. "Too soon?"

"Too soon," she confirmed with a sigh. Harry winced into his mug of Butterbeer—the laundry debacle had led to Ron sleeping in one of Harry's guest rooms for three days and had been miserable for all of them.

Hermione turned towards Harry, thankfully not lingering on the memories of that recent domestic. "Anyway, Harry has some news to share. Something about Malfoy, and then I want to hear how yesterday went."

"Oo, right, you were supposed to meet your new partner, yeah?" Ron asked. "The Magical Being? What are they? Vampire? Werewolf? Centaur? Mermaid?"

"Technically, neither Centuars nor Mermaids are considered Magical Beings," Hermione replied. "They refused to be in the same classification with what they consider to be "Dark Creatures" such as Hags and Vampires."

Ron made a face. "Can't really blame them there."

"How would a Mermaid even come in to work at the Ministry?" Harry mused

"Magic?" Ron suggested.

Hermione sighed again and Harry laughed, though he quickly sobered. He wished he had been partnered with a Mermaid, even if they were bloody terrifying.

"No, it's worse than that," Harry said heavily. "It's Malfoy."

Ron choked on his mouthful of Butterbeer, and Hermione's eyes went wide as she said, in a tone that made it clear it should have been obvious, "How did I manage to forget that Malfoy is a Veela?"

"Well he fucked right off after the trials, didn't he?" Ron said, whisking away the Butterbeer from his face and the table with his wand. "I don't think he's been back to England at all in the last ten years."

"I wonder why he decided to return," Hermione said thoughtfully. "And why on earth would the Ministry hire him as an Auror?"

Harry made a face. "Well, you know how difficult it's been for them to find a Being willing to sign on to the programme. Magical Creatures just don't trust the Ministry, and I can't really blame them. We've only just lifted the ban preventing Beings from becoming Aurors in the first place, and we've yet to actually take a single applicant."

Hermione made a disgusted sound. She'd worked for several years in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures before taking a job over at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. She had played a critical role in getting the outdated ban lifted in the first place.

"Apparently Malfoy's been in Italy this whole time, working, if you can believe it, as an Auror for their Ministry. The DRCMC was facing a lot of pressure to fill the spot or risk their programme being scrapped, so when they found Malfoy, I guess they were pretty desperate. An English-born Magical Creature who's already been working in law enforcement? Not even the Dark Mark was enough to stop them going after him like a Seeker for the Snitch."

"Shit," Ron said, and they all burst into laughter. He'd always had a way of getting right to the heart of the matter.

Madam Rosmerta bustled over then with steak and ale pies for Ron and Harry, and a vegetable soup with a hunk of crusty baguette for Hermione. The four of them exchanged pleasantries for a moment before Rosemerta went off to look after the rest of her patrons, and he, Ron, & Hermione all dug into their lunches.

"So how was it, seeing Malfoy again? Is he any different?" Hermione asked after they'd made a good dent in their meals.

"Weird," Harry said. He wasn't sure how else he could describe it, the surreality of being confronted with his childhood nemesis after ten years. Malfoy had grown up, filled out, and Harry's second thought upon seeing him—the first being, holy shit, that's Draco Malfoy!—was that Malfoy looked good, like somebody Harry wouldn't mind going home with if he'd been a stranger at a bar. Which had so deeply horrified Harry that he'd temporarily blacked out, and had missed most of their initial meeting. Of course, he'd spent the rest of the day with Malfoy, and this morning, too. He'd be spending the rest of all his work days with Malfoy.

Because they were partners.

Harry barely resisted banging his head on the table.

"Whoa, mate, slow down," Ron said during a rare break between bites of pie. "Don't overwhelm us with information."

Harry let out a weary laugh. "I don't know. We've mostly been in a load of meetings about the goals of the programme and our roles, so we've not had much of a chance to talk. He looks about the same—more grown-up, like all of us, I suppose. He seems…" Harry trailed off, not sure how to put into words the strange sense of solidness and maturity that seemed to emanate from Malfoy. It was unsettling, and Harry didn't entirely trust it, but he couldn't deny that there was something about this older Draco Malfoy that made Harry think he might not be a completely horrible person. "He's been perfectly civil so far, and I can't imagine the Ministry didn't do some digging into his background before hiring him, which means he was probably a pretty decent Auror over in Italy."

"But do you think you'll really be able to work with him?" Hermione asked, her expression troubled. "I mean, he's not just some standard colleague you can ignore. He's your Auror partner."

"Yeah, which means you're going to have to be able to trust him with your life," Ron added, looking grave. Ron had only lasted a year in Auror Training before he'd realised he wasn't cut out for that life and quit to join George at the joke shop. Despite Harry's reassurances that he didn't mind and only wanted Ron to be happy, Ron felt guilty for abandoning Harry, and was always the first to worry about Harry's safety. Harry hoped never to be seriously injured on the job, mostly because he knew how much Ron would blame himself if anything were ever to happen to Harry.

Still, he couldn't just chalk this up to Ron being over-protective. Harry had been asking himself those very questions, had barely slept a wink at all last night as he tried to figure out what he should do.

"I know. I talked to Robards about it yesterday after work. He'd not too thrilled about it either, but he said Malfoy's cleared all their tests and checks. He understands my concerns though, and he says he'll back me, whatever I decide to do."

"And do you know what that is?"

Harry smiled wryly. "Not a bloody clue. Part of me wants to call the whole thing off right now—I mean, what are they thinking, pairing me with Malfoy? But…"

"But if you do, you'll basically be putting the nail in the coffin of the whole project," Hermione finished for him, her eyes sympathetic. She'd been one of the people who'd initially proposed the concept for the programme, when she was still with the DRCMC nearly eight years ago, and it had taken that long for the idea to finally gain some traction. If they were forced to cancel it now, they might not get another chance.

"Exactly. And I believe in the programme, and I think it could do a lot of good. I think about all the discrimination Remus went through, and the fact that Teddy, even though he's not even a Werewolf, is still treated with suspicion for being Remus's son. And Remus was a bloody war hero—not every Magical Creature or child of a Magical Creature has that privilege."

"It's not fair."

"No, it isn't. And if I can help change that…" Harry ran a hand through his hair and slumped in his seat. "Honestly, we're supposed to be using this whole month to train and bond as partners. Give Malfoy a chance to learn our protocols, etcetera, without the added stress of working actual cases. So I’m guessing I've got a month to get to know this new Malfoy and decide if he's grown into the kind of person I can trust to have my back."

Ron nodded solemnly. "The fact that he's been working as an Auror is promising at least?" he said dubiously, as if not entirely believing his own words.

"Yeah, assuming he was one of the good ones," Harry said bitterly. "I can name a handful of Aurors in our own department that definitely don't deserve to wear the badge."

Hermione's jaw clenched as she nodded her agreement. Part of her work in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had been to overhaul their recruitment, vetting, and training process, and well as beef up the protocols for the Department of Internal Affairs. She wasn't well-liked by the Aurors, particularly the older ones who'd been quite happy with the way things had been running for years, corruption and all. But the work she was doing was important—necessary—to implement the kind of measures that made the Auror Department somewhere Harry could be proud to work.

"Well," she said briskly, "In order to be hired, he'd have had to go through the new measures we've implemented in the last few years, including extensive psychological screening."

"So at least he's not a complete sociopath," Ron said with a grin.

"Or he's smart enough to fool the tests," Harry countered glumly.

Hermione gave him a sharp look. "He is not. Malfoy might be intelligent, but he's not that intelligent, and he was never all that good at masking his emotions back at school. I doubt ten years managed to transform him that much."

Ron gave her an incredulous look. "It was enough to transform him into a bloody bird!"

"Ron! That's offensive. He's not a bird, he's a Veela. I don't care how much we dislike him, there's no need to put down an entire species."

Ron winced and nodded. "Sorry, you're right. You know I've nothing against Veela."

She gave him an arch look. "Yes, you're rather fond of them, if I remember correctly. Perhaps we better keep you away from Malfoy lest you promise him our first-born child."

Ron's eyes widened in horror, and Harry and Hermione both burst into laughter.

"Yeah, you're right," Harry said as their chuckles died down. "I'm going to really try and give this an honest effort, do my best to treat him the way I would any other partner."

Ron snorted. "Good luck with that mate." Even Hermione, for all her encouragement, seemed skeptical.

Harry waved them off. "I said I'd try. It's not like I can just forget everything that happened when we were kids, but a lot can change in ten years. I know we all did." They all shared a commiserating glance as Harry continued, "I'll just have to hope Malfoy has, too."

Chapter Text

[IMAGE: Hogwarts envelope with red seal.]

Draco followed Potter around the Auror Department, doing his best to listen to Potter's matter-of-fact explanations about the three separate boxes where one submitted completed case reports, the proper procedure for filing and requesting logged evidence, and the various other minutiae that were necessary to keep the Auror Department running. It was incredibly boring, but Draco knew it was also crucially important, even more so for him, because he had a feeling the rest of the DMLE wouldn't be cutting him any slack. If he made so much as a single mistake, no doubt it would be found out, and Draco would be reprimanded.

He'd not even been on the job three days and already he was exhausted. It was as if the air itself—so much colder than the Italian weather he'd become accustomed to—was sapping his strength. Draco was keen to blame his newfound fatigue on the constant barrage of animosity emanating from his new colleagues, but he was worried there was more to it than that. He'd spent a lot of time with the Sicilian Veela community, learning about his new biology and how to control his strange new abilities, and the Matriarca had mentioned that, given their more avian characteristics, Veela often did not do well in cold climates, particularly if they did not have a Mate to draw strength from. Draco hadn't paid that bit of information all that much mind—Veela were obsessed with mating and Mates, and viewed Draco's refusal to find one of his own tantamount to sacrilege. He'd assumed, at the time, that this bit of folklore was just another one of their many attempts to convince Draco to find a Mate, but perhaps there'd been some glimmer of truth to the Matriarch's warning.

Draco scowled. He wasn't going to let a little cold weather defeat him, just like he wasn't going to be cowed by the clear disdain flashing in the eyes of the various Aurors they passed as Potter led them towards their office. Potter, at least, was trying hard to be civil and give Draco a chance, even though it was clear said civility took a lot of effort on his part. Some little piece of Draco couldn't help but find it amusing, though mostly he was just grateful, which annoyed him more than anything. It wasn't comfortable, feeling even further in Potter's debt, but if anybody here had a right to hate Draco it was Potter, and the fact that he was giving this partnership a fair shot told Draco he was mightily desperate for this programme to succeed. So every time Draco felt himself regressing in Potter's presence, the urge to prod and snap nearly overwhelming, he reminded himself that if Potter was able to act like a mature adult, then Draco could, too.

"So I think that's pretty much everything," Potter said as he opened the door to their office. "I know it's a lot to remember, so just ask if you need a refresher on anything."

Draco followed him in robotically, still disconcerted by Potter's apparent neutrality, and sat down at his desk. It was neat and devoid of any personal effects, contrasting sharply with Potter's desk, which was a riot of parchment, bitten-off quills, various baubles, and picture frames filled with smiling, laughing faces. It made Draco's chest ache, the sight of Potter surrounded, as he'd always seemed to be, by friends and a family of sorts, while Draco hadn't ever felt so alone. On the wall behind Potter was what appeared to be a framed Hogwarts envelope, like the kind that had held the Hogwarts Acceptance Letter sent out to eleven-year-old witches and wizards across the country every summer. Draco wondered if it was Potter's original letter, if he'd kept it all these years the way Draco had kept his, in the emerald green lacquer and gold-gilt box where he'd kept all his treasures as a child. Another pang went through him as he wondered what had become of that box full of useless memorabilia and knick-knacks. No doubt it had been emptied and sold off with the rest of Manor's contents.

Draco told himself it was no great loss, that they were just things, things he hadn't even thought about in years, meaningless clutter when what really mattered were the memories. He knew it was true, but it didn't stop him from feeling their loss, even more keenly than the far more ostentatious and expensive items that had been auctioned off after the war. But what use did Draco have for fourteen grand dining room sets when it was only him at mealtimes? The little table he'd set up in the corner of the kitchen was just fine, and he imagined it would continue to be so until he managed to properly put the Manor up for sale. That, too, put his insides through the ringer, the very thought anathema to him—but what else could he do? It was too much work to maintain for just one wizard, and one with very little money to his name, at that.

His mother had managed to set aside enough Galleons in a personal account to see herself and Draco quite comfortably settled in Sicily, at one of the few properties that had been purchased under her maiden name and thus not subject to the Ministry's reparations. But even with Draco's Auror salary—and the very generous increase he'd managed to negotiate for his newest role—the money was beginning to run out, the cost of the Manor's upkeep a considerable drain on his resources. It was painful, the thought of parting with such a large part of his family's history, the place where his ancestors had loved and fought, had been married and birthed heirs and were even buried. But it was also the place where they'd plotted and schemed, where they'd cast Dark Magic and tortured Muggles to death, where the Dark Lord had been revered and come back into power. Perhaps it was better if such a place didn't stay in the hands of a Malfoy. Perhaps with a different family, it could support a brighter legacy.

"Malfoy? Are you all right?"

Draco blinked, his gaze focusing on Potter sitting across from him, looking at Draco with something like concern. It surprised a small smile out of Draco.

"Yes, sorry, I got lost in my head for a minute. You were saying?"

Potter gave him an inscrutable look, and then shrugged. "I was talking about lunch. Wednesdays are the best days to eat in the Ministry cafeteria because they do a Sunday Roast." Draco raised an eyebrow, and Potter let out a small chuckle. "Yeah, I know, but they can hardly do it on Sunday, can they? Anyway, it's really good if you like roast dinners." He paused, an awkward expression crossing his face before he continued tentatively, "Do you, erm, eat meat?"

"What?" That had not been a question Draco had been expecting.

Potter looked uncomfortable. "It's just, well, I don't actually know much about Veela, except that you look right terrifying when you're narked off. Kind of… bird-like, so I wasn't sure if…"

It was clear Potter didn't want to accidentally offend Draco—which in and of itself was astounding—and had no idea if he was breaking some kind of taboo by referring to Draco's nature. Draco couldn't help it, he burst into laughter.

"And what?" Draco said between great gasps of breath. "You thought I might eat only lettuce and seeds like some kind Parakeet?"

Potter somehow looked both disgruntled and sheepish. "Well l don't know, do I?! Plenty of people are vegetarians."

"Plenty of people, yes, but I'd wager not a single Veela. We're technically omnivores, though our avian-influenced biology is more similar to carnivorous raptors than any other type of bird. Like most other Magical Beings, a Veela's diet is meat-heavy, generally more so than the average wizard."

Potter looked thoughtful upon hearing this. "Really? Most Beings are carnivores?"

Draco shook his head. "Not exclusively, but the majority of us do consume a lot of meat." He held up his hands, ticking off as he spoke, "Werewolves, Veela, Goblins, Giants. Vampires exclusively rely on blood, of course, and"—Draco's nose wrinkled—"Hags, historically, have a particular fondness for children. Mermaids eat primarily fish, so I guess they could be considered pescatarians, though of course, they're technically classified as Beasts, not Beings. The only one I'm not entirely sure of are house-elves, though I do know they eat far more food than you'd think, given their size."

"Must be something to do with the additional magical energy needed to sustain a Magical Being as compared to a wizard," Potter mused. It surprised Draco, but it shouldn't have. He was so used to thinking of Potter as an oaf who got by on sheer luck, but he knew that hadn't ever been the case. Potter certainly wouldn't have been so successful as an Auror if he wasn't good at his job. Draco would have to remember not to underestimate him and let old prejudices undermine what they were trying to build together.

"Yes, that's the running theory," Draco replied. "For me, as a Veela, I've maintained my abilities as a wizard—though my magical core was irrevocably altered by the transformation—but I now also possess abilities different from what a wizard would be capable of, and my biology has also been altered to something… not entirely human. My taste buds have not only changed, but I also expend more energy at rest than I did before and require a greater amount of sustenance."

Potter appeared fascinated, and ridiculously, Draco's cheeks began to warm under his steady regard. Nobody had ever looked at Draco like that before, like he was the most interesting thing in the room, like his very existence was miraculous. He couldn't help but preen a bit under the regard, a peacock ruffling its vibrant plumage. It was a good thing his wings didn't manifest, because there would have been no hiding his embarrassing reaction. Damn, Potter looked good when he wasn't sneering or, as had been the case over the past few days, doing his best to keep his expression bland and banal.

Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the look was gone, replaced by something shocked and uncomfortable, as if Potter had just realised it was Draco he was looking at like that. Potter glanced down at his watch and made some excuse, scurrying out of the room like he was being chased by a Nundu. Draco sighed.

Still. It was progress.

Chapter Text

[IMAGE: An town square at dusk.]

Harry glanced over at the clock on the wall. It was four o'clock, which meant he only had to sit through one more hour of this training session. It was the latest in a series of trainings (more like lectures) put together to give him and Draco an overview of the various Magical Creatures they might come across in their work. Today's topic was Vampires, and Harry hadn't realised it was possible to make such a (literally) blood-thirsty Being sound so unbelievably dull. It didn't help that the gentleman providing the information could have given old Professor Binns a run for his money when it came to a dry and monotone delivery. Malfoy didn't seem to be faring much better, though Harry had a feeling that was as much from the fact that Malfoy more likely already had a greater understanding of Vampires than their instructor, rather than from the truly mind-numbing quality of the delivery.

Harry was so terrifically bored that when Robards's personal assistant, Iona, rushed breathlessly into the room, urgently demanding his and Malfoy's immediate presence, he was grateful for the interruption, even though he knew her request couldn't signify anything good.

He and Malfoy followed Iona at a brisk clip towards the Head Auror Office, exchanging wary and anticipatory glances that proved they both had the same suspicions. It probably should have surprised Harry how easily they seemed to fall in sync, but he was too filled with curiosity as to what awaited them in Robards's office.

"Potter, Malfoy, thank you for joining us," Robards greeted them as the walked inside, Iona closing the door behind them. Julep, Robards's counterpart in the DRCMC, was present as well. Harry exchanged another loaded glance with Malfoy as Robards continued, "Apologies for interrupting your training, but we're afraid we'll be calling you into the field a little sooner than anticipated."

"There's a case?" Harry asked.

"One involving Magical Creatures, I'm assuming," Malfoy added.

"Correct on both counts," Robards said gravely with Julep standing tense and inscrutable beside him. "A body has just been found in Hogsmeade, the third one in a month. All three victims appear to have been mauled to death."

Malfoy frowned. "Werewolf?" he said, before immediately shaking his head. "No, the full moon's not until next Thursday."

Robards hesitated before continuing. "In addition to the deep lacerations which appear to be the result of some kind of claw or talon, each victim had a number of deep punctures, conical in shape." He grimaced as he added significantly, "There were also extensive burns."

Malfoy blanched, but quickly got his expression under control, clearly having already figured out what kind of Creature were after.

Harry wasn't quite so quick. "Which means…?"

"Veela," Malfoy said grimly. "Conical puncture wounds are likely from the beak, and Veela manifest fireballs when we're angry."

Harry's eyes went wide. He thought back to the one time he'd seen full-blooded Veela back at the Quidditch World Cup, remembering the furious bird-like faces as they'd hurled balls of fire at the taunting leprechauns.

"Right," he said, still stunned. What were the odds that they'd not only be called out early on a case, but that their case would deal with the very Being Malfoy was the most familiar with?

"So you can see why we thought it best to put you on the case now," Julep said. "Given that you both have been working as Aurors prior to your new roles, we've decided you have the requisite experience to temporarily forgo the rest of your planned training. This is precisely the kind of case the two of you have been brought together to solve."

Harry nodded grimly, though he couldn't entirely suppress the flicker of excitement at the prospect of going back out into the field, even if it was with Malfoy. He supposed Malfoy hadn't been so bad thus far, and there was no better way to test their compatibility as partners then to actually work a case together.

Malfoy seemed to be of a similar mind, his eyes glinting with excitement as he straightened and looked intently at Robards. "You said a third body was just found? Is the crime scene still active?"

Robards nodded. "Yes. Magiforensics is already on the scene. When I left, they were just finishing up their Magical Signature Sweep so that the rest of the team could start their investigation. If you don't have any more questions, I've got a Portkey here for you both." He held up a white-feathered quill. "I already informed everyone on scene that the two of you will likely be taking lead, so they'll be expecting you.

Malfoy turned towards Harry, his lips quirked into a wry smile. "Shall we?"

Harry nodded, an inappropriate giddiness fluttering in his chest. "Ready when you are."

Their Portkey unceremoniously dropped them next to a still and silent fountain in a town square on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. Malfoy had, of course, managed to land on his feet, and was steady enough to reach out and grab hold of Harry's arm before Harry toppled over onto the hard pavement. Harry shot him a grateful look, a little shocked by the strength of Malfoy's grip as he helped right Harry. Then again, he was a Magical Being, and increased strength and stamina were often one of the perks. He didn't know why the thought sent a pleasant shiver rolling throughout his body.

He glanced around the square, which was surprisingly empty given the hour. Dusk was just starting to fall and the lamps began to flicker on around them, illuminating the streets lined with shops and townhouses. It appeared to be a perfectly normal, if overly quiet, neighbourhood, and Harry wasn't entirely certain why the Portkey had dropped them off here. Perhaps it hadn't been correctly calibrated.

Malfoy gave him a nudge and nodded towards an alleyway perpendicular to the silent fountain. The alleyway had been cordoned off with the familiar blue-and-white-tinged transparent magical barrier used exclusively to denote a crime scene. Bobbing lights spilled onto the pavement at the mouth of the alleyway from where the various Magiforensics Specialists were no doubt hard at work cataloguing everything they came across.

Harry and Malfoy made their way to the alley, the Auror badges pinned to their robes allowing them to pass unencumbered through the barrier. The moment they crossed it, they were hit with the sound of chattering specialists, muttered charmwork, and the hum of diagnostic spells. Cho Chang came over, clapping a hand on Harry's arm in greeting.

"I thought you were on days," Harry said with a grin that made it clear he was more than happy to see her. There were two primary Magiforensic teams, and though they were both excellent, he much preferred working with Cho to Adrian Pucey.

She grinned back at him. "Technically, it's still day," she said with a wink. "Pucey's going to have a fit, but when I heard they were assigning this one to you for your fancy programme's inaugural case… well, I thought you should have the best."

He laughed. "So good of you to think of me." Next to him, Malfoy cleared his throat, and Harry winced. "Right, this is my new partner, Draco Malfoy." Harry was certain Cho knew exactly who Malfoy was, but wasn't sure if Malfoy could say the same. He thought it best not to mention their school connection, regardless. "Malfoy, this is Cho Chang, one of our Crime Scene Team Leaders. She'll be the one coordinating all the evidence collection for us."

Cho gave Malfoy a measured look before nodding at him. It wasn't a friendly greeting, but it wasn't a snub, either.

"A pleasure, Ms Chang," Draco said smoothly. "What can you tell us about our victim and the crime scene?"

Cho snapped to attention, all business. "Based on a visual match to the identification card in the victim's wallet, our body belongs to Justin Folksworth, a twenty-four-year-old wizard who lived in the area. We ran his name through the Ministry's persons registry and found an infraction for insufficient Silencing Charms during quiet hours last June—apparently he and his roommate were throwing quite the party and the neighbours complained. Otherwise, no other run-ins with the law, and we've got him listed as a bartender working in one of the new nightclubs that've sprung up in Hogsmeade in the last several years." Cho wrinkled her nose to show what she thought of that. Harry couldn't help but agree—he associated Hogsmeade with Hogwarts and childhood, and the thought of a modern, noisy nightclub in the magical town seemed discordant to him, but what did he know?

"Has his family been notified?" Harry asked.

Cho shook her head. "No. The initial Aurors on the scene decided to wait for you to make that call."

Harry tried not to make a face. Technically that was protocol, but telling friends and family about the death of their loved ones was one of the worst parts of Harry's job. "Fair enough. Have you got anything useful from the scene?"

It was Cho's turn to try and not make a face, though she wasn't entirely successful. "Magical Signature Trace has already swept the entire alleyway, and there wasn't a speck of wizarding magic to be found, so that won't be of much use to us."

Malfoy nodded. "That's consistent with the working assumption that we're dealing with a Veela attack. That much loss of control would indicate that they were past the ability to utilise traditional wizarding magic, if they possessed any in the first place. Unfortunately, wizards have allowed their anti-Creature bias to limit research on identifying unique markers related to the innate magic of Creatures, so a Magical Signature Trace would likely be useless."

Cho gave Malfoy a thoughtful look, likely surprised by his respectful demeanour and the breadth of knowledge. Harry couldn't help but appreciate it himself, though there was one part… "Wait, did you say some Veela might not possess regular wizarding magic?"

Draco made a face implying that wasn't quite accurate, pausing for a moment as if to think of how best to explain it. "Not precisely. Veela, like all Magical Creatures, are essentially made of magic. Veela are born or manifested—never turned like Vampire or Werewolves—but a Muggle without access to magic would never manifest as a Veela. Because Veela do possess the ability to harness magic, they are perfectly capable of casting traditional spells, but unless they were raised as wizards and given a formal magical education as I had, their "wizarding" magic will likely remain rudimentary, similar to the accidental magic we all cast as children. Magic is a skill, just like anything else, and it needs to be practised and honed. Many Veela, particularly those born into Veela communities, never attend wizarding schools. They learn basic magical control, and will generally have better control of their Veela-specific skills and magic compared to those who are not raised by Veela, but they don't practise magic the way that you or I do."

Harry nodded, and though all he wanted to do at that moment was demand Draco tell him more, —he was a much more compelling teacher than their Vampire instructor earlier that day—he knew it wasn't the time. But, if their killer really was a Veela, and it seemed increasingly likely that they were, then the more Harry knew about them, the better.

He could ask Draco more questions later, but in the meantime he turned to Cho. "What else have you got for us?"

"As soon as we were cleared to use magic, we started taking photos and sweeping the alley for evidence. Based on the scene, we believe that the victim died here—there was no evidence that the body was moved post-mortem. We've been Charming and tagging anything that might be relevant, but I'll be honest, it's not a lot, which is consistent with the last two crime scenes. I don't know if the person we're looking for is lucky, skilled, or if it has something to do with the fact that they might be a Veela, but the scenes have all been as clean as a brand new cauldron."

"Brilliant," Harry said with a sigh.

Cho gave him a commiserating smile. "If there's anything here, we'll find it. I'm just not sure if there is." She ran a hand through her cropped hair and rubbed tiredly at the nape of her neck. "Anyway, we're nearly done now. As soon as we've finished, we'll get back to the lab and start running blood samples and evidence through some of our more sensitive and time-consuming diagnostic spells. I'll get you that information as soon as we have it." She jerked her head towards the back of the alley, where a slim figure was kneeling next to what must have been the body of the victim. "In the meantime, Penelope is examining the body now. She can tell you more about her opinion regarding the time and cause of death."

"Great, thanks, Cho," Harry said, flashing her another warm smile. They'd grown close over the past few years of working together, certainly closer than they'd ever been during their brief and tepid romance at Hogwarts. He was glad his awkward handling of their "relationship" hadn't put her off him forever, as she was a coworker who managed to be brilliant, efficient, and genuinely enjoyable to be around—a magical trifecta he'd come to realise was sadly rare to find in a colleague.

"Yes, thank you Ms Chang. We look forward to reading through your findings," Malfoy added.

Cho didn't seem to know whether that was some kind of snide remark or if Malfoy was being genuine, but before she was able to decide on a reaction, Malfoy had taken off towards Penelope. Harry gave Cho a shrug and a what can you do? smile, and trailed after him.

"Hello, Harry," Penelope said as they approached, though she didn't tear her gaze away from where she was using a delicate spell to lift the victim's head off the pavement in order to examine the blood pooling beneath it.

"Hello Penelope," Harry replied. "Malfoy, this is Healer Penelope Clearwater, our resident Magical Medical Examiner and Coroner. Penelope, this is Draco Malfoy, my new Auror Partner."

"Yes, a Veela, correct?" Penelope said absently.

Malfoy frowned, clearly unsure how to react to the straight-forward remark, but that was just Penelope's way, especially when she was working. Harry waited for her to finish with whatever observations she was cataloging, taking a small bit of pleasure in the way Malfoy squirmed with impatience beside him, though he'd clearly decided to take Harry's lead.

Harry took the time to observe the body himself. Justin Folksworth appeared to be in his late twenties to early thirties, with dark hair, light skin, and a muscular build. The clothes he wore appeared to be nice—date clothes, Harry guessed, though perhaps the man was just a sharp dresser. It looked as if he had some sort of facial hair, but between the rather extensive burns and the gaping hole in his cheek, it was difficult to be certain.

Mauled to death did seem to be an accurate description of what had occurred. The deep rents and slashes in the victim's clothes and flesh were in sets of three—from the Veela's bird-like talons, Harry assumed—and his entire body was covered in burns and singe marks. There were also a number of fist-size holes covering the man's torso in addition to the one on his face, including one right over his heart. When Robards had mentioned conical punctures, Harry had not imagined them being quite so large, though he supposed Veela beaks were much bigger than a regular birds'.

He looked over at Malfoy, who was staring at the body with barely concealed horror. Harry wondered if perhaps Malfoy wasn't cut out for Auror work, if the sight of a mutilated body so discomitted him. Then again, a person should be horrified by what had been done here, and Harry imagined it must hit closer to home for Malfoy, being a Veela himself.

"Right," Penelope said suddenly, pressing up onto her feet and looking directly at Harry. "Obviously I'll need to do a complete examination before I can rule on an official cause of death, but based on the injuries, blood flow, and my preliminary magical scans, I'd say this"—Penelope gestured with her wand to the gaping hole stabbing straight down into the man's heart—"was the killing blow. The other wounds appear to have been inflicted both peri- and post-mortem."

"That's a lot of rage," Harry said.

"I can't opine on that," Penelope said primly.

"Right, of course not," Harry replied. "That's our job."

He slanted a glance over at Malfoy who was looking thoughtful and troubled as he asked, "Any estimate on time of death?"

"Again, I won't know for sure until I'm in my lab and can cast a more thorough set of spells, but I'd say sometime last night, likely between…" She trailed off, clearly doing some mental calculations. "Between six PM and four AM would be my guess."

Harry made a face. "That's quite the range."

Penelope flashed him an unimpressed look. "And I'll be able to narrow that down for you considerably once I get him in my lab, but I'm unwilling to speculate on a more specific window until I have the chance to conduct a complete autopsy and am able to analyse the results."

A small smile danced across Malfoys lips, and Harry wondered if perhaps Magical Medical Examiners were the same across the world, always unwilling to commit to a theory or observation unless they had an arsenal of evidence to back them up.

"I've got a few things I want to confirm with Chang, and then I'll be coordinating the removal of the body back to my lab," Penelope told them, tucking her wand away in the holster on her thigh. Her entire body shimmered from the specialised Barrier Spell meant to prevent contamination, and she gave them a brisk nod. "If you want to look things over, now's your chance."

Harry nodded, and she was off, leaving him and Malfoy alone with the body, shimmering specialists flitting around in their periphery like fireflies.

"You all right, Malfoy?" he asked, realising that Malfoy was shivering violently.

"Yes," he said. Harry could tell he was going for brusque, but his chattering teeth rather ruined the effect. Malfoy made a face, clearly annoyed at his body for betraying him. "Just a little chilly out, it's nothing."

Harry had assumed the shivering was some reaction to seeing the body, but now that he was properly looking, Harry thought it really must be from the cold. Malfoy's fair complexion seemed to have a faint blue cast, though Harry couldn't be sure if that was from the chill or just from the Lumos Maxima that hung above them, illuminating the alleyway. It was cold out, no doubt, but their Auror robes had charms woven into the fabric to help regulate their temperature in any weather, and Harry himself felt perfectly comfortable. But perhaps Malfoy's robes didn't have the charms, or maybe he just was more sensitive to the cold—he had spent the last ten years in Italy, after all—or maybe the charms weren't able to function properly given they were cast with a wizard in mind and Draco was a Veela.

Whatever the reason, Malfoy wouldn't be much use as an investigator if he was too focused on his comfort, or lack thereof. At least, that was the reason Harry gave himself for why he cast an extra-strength Warming Charm Malfoy's way. It certainly wasn't for the expression of pleasure that rippled across Malfoy's face at the sudden warmth, the surprised and shyly grateful look he shot Harry's way when he realised who'd cast the Charm.

"Right," Harry said briskly, discomfited by the thrill that had gone through him at the sight of Malfoy's beautiful face softening with contentment. "Shall we take a proper look at the scene?"

Malfoy quirked a half-smile at him. "Lead the way."

Chapter Text

[IMAGE: A snowy street of shops seen through fuzzy, snow-speckled glass.]

A storm had hit overnight, blanketing Hogsmeade, and most of the UK for that matter, in a thick layer of snow. Draco could appreciate its beauty, even as he shivered beneath his Auror cloak while he and Potter visited the shops near the crime scene, trying to determine if anybody had seen anything. He'd had to continuously refresh his Warming Charms, and he wasn't sure if it was because his strength in casting them was growing weaker or that his body was just burning through them more quickly given the excessive chill. He wasn't built for this kind of cold—quite literally—and he was starting to think he'd need to find a long-term solution if he were to stay in England. It wasn't even noon and already he was beginning to flag, the energy he was utilising to keep his body functioning far exceeding what he was able to replenish. There was, of course, one solution he knew of, but he refused to even consider it.

He'd freeze first.

Unfortunately, that was beginning to look like a very real possibility, as Potter dragged them out once more into the snow.

"I looked into the surrounding businesses, and it looks like this café is open late. It would have closed around nine o'clock the night of the murder," Potter said as they made their way towards a cheerful-looking shop. The sign hanging above the door said Witch's Brew in a lurid purple font next to tiny renderings of a pointed hat and a gently steaming mug.

"Near time of death," Draco said thoughtfully. "Perhaps one of the customers or employees saw something."

Potter grimaced. They hadn't had much luck with anybody they'd questioned so far. "And if not, at least we can get a cuppa and warm up."

Draco nodded vehemently, already looking forward to a hot beverage. He was going to get the largest, sugariest item on the menu. Frankly, he needed the calories.

They started their morning interviewing the victim's flatmate, who seemed more upset over having to work out a way to cover half the rent than the death of his friend. Still, he had an iron-clad alibi, and no apparent reason to want Justin dead, so they'd eventually said their goodbyes and ticked him off the list. From there they'd walked from business to flat to business, hoping somebody would have something useful to tell them, but so far, nothing.

Hot air gusted over them in a shimmering wave of pleasure as Potter pressed open the door to the café, a bright bell tingling overhead. Draco's body gave an involuntary shudder of enjoyment, and he only just managed to stop himself from letting out an indecent moan. Fuck, that felt nice. Potter gave him a strange glance but Draco ignored it, too busy soaking in the balmy temperature and the fragrant scent of sugar and espresso. Potter immediately shed his robes, and sweat began to bead on his temples as if the shop was sweltering. Perhaps that was why he'd had that glint in his eyes as he'd looked at Draco, as Draco's robes were staying firmly on. He'd not felt so comfortable in ages.

There were a few customers in line and, as Draco and Potter weren't in any particular rush to leave the café, they joined the queue. Draco looked out one of the large front windows as they waited, taking in the street through the snow-flecked glass. There were a few spruce trees dotting the pavement, their dark-green boughs laden with heavy snow. Awnings and rooftops were similarly encumbered, and the streets were carpeted in a pristine crystalline snow marred by the occasional dirt-speckled footprint and the treds from the wheels of carts and cars as people went about their day. Despite spending many a weekend in Hogsmeade as a schoolboy, this was an area of town he'd never had cause to visit. This was a neighbourhood for residents and it was odd, seeing a place he thought he'd known so well in such a different light. Then again, Draco had plenty of experience with having his notions and ideas being turned on their head; one would think he'd be used to it by now.

An elbow nudged at Draco's side, bringing him back to the present, and he turned towards the register with a smile, immediately deducing that they were up.

"Hello," Potter was saying with a friendly smile. He peered at the barista's name tag. "Nice to meet you, Mariangela."

"Just Mari's fine," she interrupted before he could continue. She made a face. "Manager made me use my full name."

"All right, Mari. I'm Auror Potter, and this is my partner, Auror Malfoy. Do you have a few minutes to answer some questions for us?"

The girl looked at them warily. She couldn't have been older than twenty, pretty and fine-boned, with pale skin and straight black hair that Draco thought must be dyed because her eyebrows and lashes were pale as the snow falling outside. He didn't recognise her, but there was a heavy ring on her finger that bore a marked resemblance to his own family ring, the one he kept in a box at the back of his sock drawer; unable to part with it, but unable to look at it, either. Draco couldn't make out the crest but he'd bet she was a pure-blood, and likely one of the sacred twenty-eight. What she was doing working in a coffee shop was beyond Draco, but then again, a lot of the old families were hit hard with reparations. He'd not been back to England since the trials, and he wondered how many of the pure-blood elite had been reduced to working service jobs. Draco wasn't sure if the thought should fill him with glee or pity, but all he really felt with indifferent. They'd made their beds; nobody knew that better than he.

"Is this about the body they found yesterday?" the girl asked, her eyes wide as they darted towards the direction of the alley where the body had been found. She looked exhausted, dark purple circles staining the skin beneath her eyes, visible even through the thin layer of makeup she'd tried to conceal them with. Draco remembered all too well the sleepless nights he'd spent in the Manor, knowing that the Dark Lord was under the same roof. He imagined this girl must be terrified, aware that somebody had been murdered within spitting distance of the place where she worked every day.

"You heard about that?" Potter asked. Draco suppressed a snort while Mari gave him a disbelieving look.

"This is a small town, Auror Potter. I doubt there's a soul in Hogsmeade who hasn't heard of it."

Potter chuckled, and the sound rolled right down Draco's spine, warming him just as thoroughly as the shop had. His cheeks flushed, and if Potter noticed, Draco hoped he put it down to the toasty temperature.

"True enough. Were you working at all the day before yesterday?"

She nodded, wary once more. "Wednesday? Yes, two to ten. I closed"

"I thought the shop closed at nine?" Potter asked.

Mari appeared to be trying very hard not to roll her eyes. "For customers, yeah. But then there are all the closing tasks. It doesn't always take the full hour, but we were pretty busy Wednesday night and I was working by myself, so I didn't have time to clean and prep for the morning shift until after we closed for business. Didn't get out until five to."

Draco nodded. Before he'd been accepted into the Italian Auror programme, he'd worked a variety of odd jobs at coffee shops and restaurants. To say it had been an eye-opening experience for him would be putting it lightly. It was utterly bizarre to think that he had more experience in this area than Potter. Despite Potter's more modest upbringing, Draco was fairly certain his work as an Auror was the first and only job he'd ever had. Of course, attempting to overthrow a Dark Lord as a teenager didn't exactly leave a lot of time for a weekend job waiting tables.

"You said the shop was especially busy on Wednesday? Any idea as to why?" Draco asked

"It's been busy in the evenings all week, really," Mari said, pushing a lock of inky black hair behind one pale ear. "There's a big Christmas market a few blocks away, closer to the main square. It's open eleven to eleven throughout December. We've been getting a lot of people on their way to or from the market this past week."

"Right, that makes sense. Must be good for sales."

Mari wrinkled her nose. "Yeah, my boss is happy. But it also means we have to deal with a lot more people than we usually do, and they're not all sober."

Draco gave her a commiserating glance. He'd not had to deal with too many drunkards, per se, but a lot of people under the Veela Allure certainly acted as if they were sloshed. The Allure had been the first thing he'd learned to control but it hadn't happened easily, and he'd fended off more than his fair share of unwanted advances.

"That can't be easy," he said gently. Mari shrugged, but the tightness around her eyes and mouth belied her apparent indifference. "Did you experience that at all on Wednesday? Were there any customers who made you feel uncomfortable, or that stood out to you somehow?"

Her brow furrowed. "Do you think the killer might have come in here?"

"We don't know," Potter said, his voice soothing. "That's what we're trying to find out. If there was anything unusual about that night, anything that wasn't quite ordinary, we'd love to hear about it."

Nothing seemed to have particularly stuck in Mari's mind, not even when they showed her a picture of the victim. She'd shrugged and said that he was a regular, but couldn't recall one way or another if he'd come in that night, and after several more minutes of conversation, it was clear that she didn't have anything new to tell them. They ordered their coffees—a regular flat white for Potter and a caramel white chocolate mocha for Draco, in the largest size they had.

Potter took his coffee from Mari in exchange for his card—Draco really needed to remember to put in an order for some of his own, a process that would no doubt take years—and a promise to send him an owl if she remembered anything else. Draco took his drink and asked a final question.

"Do you know if there are any Veela that frequent the area regularly? Have any ever come to the shop?"

Her lips curled with something like disgust before she caught herself and schooled her expression. Distrust and suspicion sparked in her gaze as she seemed to fully take in Draco for the first time. She would have been young when the papers splashed Draco's status all over the country, but Draco's question must have stirred some long-buried recollection, because it was clear she knew exactly what Draco was now. Knew, and didn't particularly care for it.

Draco wasn't surprised. If she was a pure-blood, as he suspected, she'd likely have been raised with a similar disdain for Magical Creatures as Draco had been. The more things change…

"Not that I'm aware of," she said curtly. "They mostly stick to their own communities, and when they do come to town, they don't generally have a reason to visit the more residential neighbourhoods."

"Right," Draco said, flashing her a tight smile despite the sudden chill in her demeanour. "Thank you again for your help."

She nodded sharply before turning her back and picking up a rag to clean an already pristine bit of machinery. Draco sighed.

"What was that all about?" Potter asked as they stepped out onto the street. The icy air hit Draco like a physical blow, and he only just managed to stop himself from keeling over on the pavement. He fumbled for his wand, casting a forceful Warming Charm that left him winded, before taking a generous gulp of his coffee, relishing the scalding of his tongue as it warmed him.

"She doesn't appear to be a fan of Veela. Most people aren't. It's always interesting to see which puts people off: my name, or my status." Draco snorted inelegantly. "Usually it's both."

Potter looked like he wasn't quite sure what to say to that, and Draco couldn't blame him. Hadn't Draco treated people and Creatures just as terribly as a child, for similarly baseless reasons? He couldn't fault the people who thought the discrimination he faced now was just desserts, even if it wore at him, a constant tide grinding him down into dust.

"Anyway," Draco began, keen to change the subject. "As I suspected, we won't learn much about the local Veela population unless we go to the source."

"Which we're doing first thing Monday, right?" Potter asked. "I still think we should have gone today."

"Yes, and that's why you've been paired with a Being partner who understands them better than you do," Draco said primly. "Wizarding police showing up to an Aerie unannounced and with no notice would be taken as a sign of aggression. Best case scenario, we'd have immediately lost all possible goodwill and made the investigation that much harder for ourselves. Worst case, we'd have incited an incident. Besides, we had to interview the roommate this morning, and we're supposed to be visiting Justin's parents again this evening." The victim's parents had come in first thing that morning to identify the body and had been too distraught to speak with Harry and Draco further. They were planning to visit them later this afternoon after Justin's parents had a little more time to grieve and compose themselves.

Potter grumbled, but seemed to respect the wisdom of Draco's words. "So an Aerie is the proper term for a group of Veela?"

"Technically it means a 'lofty nest'; though Veela are found in many places, we do have a fondness for high ground. Generally, the word is used to identify a community of Veela. You'd think that Veela would be solitary Beings, more like birds of prey, but we actually need and crave companionship, which is why most Veela live in Aeries. There's usually a single Matriarch that the other Veela defer to, though she by no means dictates their entire lives. She acts like a governor of sorts."

Once again, Potters gaze had that ravenous, rapturous quality that told Draco he was hanging on to every one of Draco's words. It was heady, being the focus of all of Potter's attention, knowing that he was the reason Potter's pretty green eyes were sparkling with fascination.

Draco cleared his throat, knowing he'd be flushing if he wasn't so damned cold. "I wrote to the Matriarch of the only Aerie in the UK, up in the Scottish Highlands, Aingeal Tine, to let her know that we'd be calling on Monday."

"Aingeal Tine?"

Draco snorted a laugh. "Angel of Fire in Gaelic. Whoever founded the Aerie clearly had a sense of humour."

Potter's lips twitched into a smile. "Will having you there be more of a help or a hindrance?"

Draco beat back the instinctive urge to bristle. It was a good question. "I'm not sure. I'll be able to understand their customs and pick up their idiosyncrasies better than you given my background, and they might be more willing to talk with another Veela, especially we're all but accusing one of them of being the killer." He shrugged. "On the other hand, the local Veela have no cause to love a Malfoy, and Aeries do tend to be a little wary of outsiders, particularly ones with… no allegiances of their own."

"Because you don't belong to an Aerie?" Potter asked.

Draco nodded. It was true, but it wasn't the whole truth.

"It's also winter, and a large portion of their Aerie won't even be there, which might put them on edge and make them feel more vulnerable, so that's something we'll need to be aware of as well."

"What? Why won't they be there?"

"Veela... don't do well with the cold. Like many birds, Veela tend to migrate to warmer climates for the winter."

Potter's eyes widened. "Seriously?"

Draco couldn't help but smile. "Seriously. That's one of the reasons why I was so surprised by a Veela attack. There aren't that many Veela in the UK to begin with, and there are even less right now. The few that would have elected to stay are the ones that can withstand the cold. And if they can do that, then that generally means they've got a stabilising bond, which would make the loss of control we've seen with these murders highly unlikely."

"But not impossible."

"No, Potter, not impossible."

Potter looked slantways at him, seeming to hesitate before saying carefully, "Don't you think that we've moved past last names, Draco?"

That hadn't been what Draco had been expecting, and his step momentarily faltered. He'd never thought he'd earn the right to Potter's first name, and it felt strangely intimate as he said, tentatively, "I suppose we have, Harry."

Harry beamed, and Draco stumbled again, only managing to right himself by grabbing hold of one of Harry's firm biceps. He forcibly pulled his hand away and did not squeeze the hard muscle.

"So you must be pretty stable then, given that you're here alone in the winter?" Harry said. His tone was casual, but Draco couldn't help but feel he was being scrutinised.

Draco looked straight ahead and hummed noncommittally, hoping that would be answer enough.

He could sense Harry staring hard at him for a long moment, but thankfully he let it go… for now.

Draco had a feeling he wasn't off the hook just yet.

Chapter Text

[IMAGE: A plate of decorated gingerbread men biscuits.]

Harry sighed as he took in the disaster that was the Grimmauld Place kitchen. Every flat surface was covered with mixing bowls and measuring cups, the cupboards and counters dotted with splashes of batter and coated in a dusting of flour and icing sugar. Dean, Ginny, and Hermione were at the large kitchen table, which was laden with plates piled high with biscuits, while Neville and Ron stood arguing vociferously by the hob on whose family recipe for mince pies was superior. It was an argument they had every year, the two of them having agreed (by force) to alternate which of them got to make the pies each Christmas. This year was Neville's turn, a fact he took a little too much pleasure in while Ron sulkily made his mum's not-quite-as-famous-but-still-amazing family recipe for bourbon biscuits instead.

Every December, Luna threw a "cookie" exchange party where every guest would show up with a different batch of biscuits or sweets so that everybody could take a few of everything and go home with a delicious variety. Apparently she'd heard of the idea while travelling through America looking for the Great Jumping Jackalope or whatever it was she'd been searching for at the time, and had immediately decided to implement the custom upon returning to England. What it meant was that each year half the guests inevitably put off their baking until the day of the party, and since Harry's house had the biggest kitchen, they'd all show up bright and early the day-of with ingredients and wine, the lot of them getting sloshed while they argued over who got to make what. Inevitably, they all showed up to Luna's half-pissed and already full to the gills with all the biscuits they'd had to eat to make sure they got the recipe right.

Harry's simple shortbread stars were already out of the oven and arranged as artfully as he could manage on a large serving plate, so he joined the others at the table, gratefully taking the large glass of red wine Hermione passed him. Her cheeks were bright red, a sure sign she was well and truly sozzled. She was not a talented baker, a fact she refused to accept with any amount of grace, and every year she attempted a biscuit that was well beyond her meagre abilities. This year it was florentines, the lot of which sat on the plate in front of her in a lumpy, misshapen mess.

"How're you doing?" he asked her, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice.

"Fine," she answered glumly as she doggedly continued in her attempt to coat the bottom of her Florentines with the bowl of melted chocolate in front of her. The problem she was having was that it wasn't exactly clear which side was the bottom—Harry was pretty sure at least one side ought to be flat, but he certainly wasn't going to point that out to Hermione. "At least I'm not the only one this year having problems," she said.

She nodded across the table to where Dean was struggling with one of his gingerbread men. Dean, being their resident artist, always brought beautifully decorated gingerbread men to the party. He brought them in a box instead of on a plate, because he infused the icing with magic that animated the cookies, much like chocolate frogs. Usually he waited until after he'd finished decorating them to activate the spell, but apparently something had gone wrong with this batch because the second he'd begun icing the first biscuit, the little gingerbread man leapt up and began to sprint across the table.

Ginny was doubled-over in laughter, and Harry joined her as Dean tried to capture the wiley biscuit, which had leapt off the table and was leading Dean on a merry chase around the kitchen. Even Hermione couldn't help but crack a smile—at least her biscuits were stationary—as she cast a Stupefy at the gingerbread man, bringing him to a sudden stop.

"All right, mate?" Ron asked with a wide smile, clapping a hand on Dean's shoulder as Dean viciously bit the head off the gingerbread man with a little too much relish.

"Suppose I'm going to need to remake the icing, then," Dean said with a sigh between bites, Vanishing the brightly coloured icing from the collection of bowls on the table.

"There's more icing sugar in the bottom cupboard in the far corner," Harry told him. "Food colouring's in there, too."

"Cheers, mate," Dean said, before joining Neville in the kitchen to collect the necessary ingredients.

"Here's to making something dead-easy," Ginny said grandly, clinking her glass with Harry's. She'd made cornflake cakes as she did every year, which weren't particularly beautiful—nor technically biscuits—but they tasted amazing and required minimal effort to throw together. While neither she nor Harry were terrible in the kitchen, they didn't particularly enjoy baking, either, and they preferred to stick with the easy, tasty classics.

Ron settled in one of the empty chairs with his tray of dark brown shortbread and a bowl of chocolate buttercream and began to assemble his bourbon biscuits. Hermione glared at the perfect little rectangles—Ron was an excellent baker.

"So, Harry," she said, likely trying to distract herself from the mess of her own biscuits. "How was your first week with Malfoy?"

"Wait, what?" Ginny interrupted before Harry had a chance to speak. "You're working with Malfoy? As in, Draco Malfoy?"

"Do we know any others?" Harry sighed, wondering how many times he was going to have to suffer through a variation on the same conversation. Perhaps he should make a formal announcement at Luna's party tonight, just to get the awkwardness out of the way. "I started that pilot programme, the one pairing me with a Magical Being, and…"

"And Malfoy's a Veela." Her face screwed up in sympathy. "But he's not been in England for ages. I wonder why he decided to come back."

Harry couldn't blame Ginny for being curious about Malfoy's return—Harry had been wondering about that himself. He knew Lucius had died in Azkaban, and as far as Harry knew, most of the Slytherins Draco had associated with back at Hogwarts had left the country in the wake of the war. Narcissa Malfoy had been exiled, and Harry assumed Draco had left with his mother. There didn't seem to be anything left for Malfoy in Britain except for the long-empty Manor, and Harry wondered what had precipitated his sudden return.

"He came back just for me," Harry said with a dramatic flutter of his lashes, ignoring the sudden flip of his belly at the thought.

Ron snorted. "Lucky you."

"I heard you've been assigned a proper case," Hermione said, her voice tight with concern. "You were supposed to have all month to determine whether you could even work together!"

"Trust me, I know," Harry said. "It's not like we had much of a choice. We could hardly have said no to Robards and Julep when they said they wanted us to lead the investigation."

"I suppose not," Hermione said with a sigh. "But I don't like it."

"What's the case?" Ginny asked.

Harry shot her a look. She was fascinated by his work and was always trying to find out information about his cases, despite the fact that she was well aware she didn't have the clearance for it. She grinned at him, unrepentant.

"We're still trying to figure that out," Harry said. "We only just got it Thursday afternoon."

Ginny rolled her eyes at his obvious evasion, but thankfully Ron chimed in before she could push for more. "I know it's still new, but how has it been with Malfoy? Especially now that you're actually working together for real."

Harry hesitated, unsure how to put his feelings on their strange new partnership into words. The fact that Malfoy had already become Draco, the easy way they seemed to fall perfectly in sync while evaluating the crime scene and questioning potential witnesses, Harry's utter fascination with Veela abilities and culture, and the way Draco shared that information with him so willingly, all of it was a jumbled mess in his head; the person Harry was getting to know now was so different from the boy he remembered. True, Harry knew Draco wasn't sharing everything, that there were a few secrets he was holding back, but for some reason, Harry didn't immediately suspect the worst despite Draco's evasiveness. Even Draco Malfoy had a right to some measure of privacy. Harry wanted to know what he was keeping to himself, not because he didn't trust Draco, but because he wanted Draco to trust him. Although he'd certainly not forgotten the atrocities Draco had committed as a teenager, Harry was increasingly sure that Draco really had changed, that he'd grown into somebody Harry thought he might actually trust to have his back.

Harry knew it was too soon to trust somebody like Draco Malfoy, that he needed to be cautious. But Harry had long since learned to believe his gut, and his instincts were telling him that he could put his faith in Draco.

Sometimes, the world really was strange.

Harry shrugged. "Draco's been all right, actually. He's got loads of knowledge that I think is going to come in handy on this case, and so far our investigative styles seem to mesh well together. He seems…" Harry trailed off and took a gulp of wine. "Well, he seems different. Better. I think maybe this might actually work."

"Really?" Ron asked, clearly skeptical. His expression was so similar to Ginny's it almost made Harry laugh.

"Yeah, I know. Nobody's more surprised than me. And who knows, maybe it's all one terrific act, but…"

"You don't think it is," Hermione finished softly. She seemed thoughtful and pensive, though no less cautious.

Harry's cheeks warmed and he shook his head. "No, I don't. My gut is telling me I can trust him." Ginny opened her mouth, clearly keen to protest that, but Harry held up a hand. "I'm not saying I'm giving him the keys to my Gringotts vault, I'm not an idiot. But I'm going to give this an honest try."

"Mate…" Ron began, sounding reluctant but determined. "How do you know this isn't some kind of Veela Allure?" He flushed and cleared his throat, darting a glance at Hermione, who looked amused. "I mean, I was willing to do some pretty barmy things while I was under it, and trusting Malfoy does seem pretty mad."

"That's not how the Allure works," Harry said. He paused. "At least, I'm pretty sure it's not. I'm not like, offering to buy him a boat and prostrating myself at his feet or anything." Though he had been spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about how handsome Malfoy was. Harry didn't think that was the Allure, though—he was pretty sure it was just Malfoy, bloody stupidly handsome wanker that he was.

"I think Harry's right," Hermioned said almost reluctantly, as if she'd have preferred to blame Harry's sudden willingness to trust Malfoy on magic. She brightened. "I'll do some research."

"And I'll ask Fleur," Ron added.

Harry rolled his eyes but didn't bother protesting. He knew they just wanted to make sure he was safe, and if Draco was somehow controlling him with Allure, he wanted to know. Harry was fairly certain that wasn't the case, but he'd be stupid not to check.

"Did you call him Draco?" Ginny asked, her eyes narrowed at Harry as she swirled the last of her wine around her glass.

Harry hoped his cheeks weren't as red as they felt. "We are working together. It seemed silly to keep calling him Malfoy if I'm trying to build a partnership with him."

Ginny looked like she had opinions on this—she had opinions on most everything—but luckily Harry was saved by Dean calling for her from the kitchen.

"Ginny, my love! Light of my life! My flame-haired goddess of—"

"Oh, what have you done?" Ginny called back, fondness overwhelming the exasperation in her voice as she got up to find out what Dean needed from her.

Harry watched as Dean pulled her in for a hug, pressing a loud kiss to her cheek as she laughed. Harry turned away, his chest aching. It wasn't that he was in love with Ginny anymore, not for a long, long time, but he couldn't pretend he didn't want what she had with Dean, the trust and love and intimacy. Harry and Ginny had had it for a short while, but they'd quickly realised they weren't meant to be together, not like that. It had been over eight years since they'd gone their separate ways, and Harry hadn't had a single meaningful relationship since. He'd tried, but none of the women—or men, for that matter—had lasted very long, despite Harry's best efforts.

Next to him, Ron and Hermione had managed to slip into their own little world, their concerns about Draco momentarily forgotten as Ron gallantly tried to make Hermione feel better about her abysmal biscuits. Everywhere he looked, he was surrounded by happy couples, and he knew Luna's party that night wouldn't be much better. Of their friends, the only other single people were Seamus (who'd made it clear he was thrilled to be playing the field and that monogamy and long-term relationships weren't for him) and Lavender (who'd happily stopped chasing after men when she'd realised there was nothing wrong with not being interested in sex at all).

For Harry it was different, because he did feel sexual attraction and he did want a serious, monogamous relationship. He wanted somebody to come home to at night and share stories of their day. He wanted somebody who'd laugh and shriek when he pressed his eternally cold feet against their shins in bed. He wanted somebody to have ill-advised shower sex with—the kind where reality fell short of fantasy but you didn't even mind the Bludger-sized bruise you got on your forehead from banging into the porcelain tiles, because you were too busy giggling and groping and rubbing off together on the floor, wrapped in a shower curtain.

Harry maybe had some very specific fantasies, but that was besides the point.

Harry wanted it so badly it was a constant ache right below his sternum. He wondered if he'd ever find someone, or if he'd died and saved the world only to spend the rest of his life alone. Even with all the friends in his life and the fullness they gave his existence, sometimes Harry couldn't help but feel the absence of a partner.

He was lonely.

Unbidden, an image of Draco standing on a snowy street corner in Hogsmeade flashed through his mind, Draco wrapped in his maroon Auror robes as his sharp eyes scanned their surroundings, the delicate snowflakes catching in his fine blond hair as the wind ruffled it around his face. Harry wondered what Draco was doing now, if he had any plans for the weekend; Harry hadn't thought to ask. Was Draco lonely, too? Harry didn't see how he couldn't be, being back in England without any friends or family. Didn't Draco say Veela were social creatures? Harry certainly remembered Draco loving the attention back at Hogwarts, always surrounded by people, be they friends or underlings—Harry wasn't entirely sure which term was more accurate. Still, he wondered how Draco was faring now that he'd returned, if he was doing all right, if he was getting what he needed.

Harry shivered in the toasty warm kitchen and firmly did his best to put all thoughts of Draco from his mind. It wasn't any of his business. Just because they were working together, and Harry thought Draco might not be a cowardly, intolerant terror anymore, it didn't mean they were friends. It certainly didn't mean Harry had any kind of responsibility for Draco's well-being.

Harry ignored the teensy, tiny little seed that was beginning to sprout in the back of his mind. The one that said that while Harry didn't currently have any reason to care about Draco's happiness, he might like to change that.

Chapter Text

[IMAGE: A glass dragon figurine.]

Draco had timed his arrival back in England for the weekend before he was due to start at the Ministry, giving himself just enough time to open up the few rooms he'd be using at the Manor and to buy any items or furniture he needed that were absent. He'd not wanted to have too much time to himself, had needed to stay busy lest unwelcome thoughts and memories try to encroach on his consciousness. Work, as anticipated, was a welcome distraction, even more so now that they had a proper case to investigate, but the weekend had loomed, inevitable and imposing.

He'd spent most of Saturday poring over the case files, familiarising himself in particular with the two prior victims and crime scenes that he'd been unable to see in person. Draco now knew the information backwards and forwards, and it was times like this where he almost resented his photographic memory, as there was now little to occupy his Sunday other than to finally start the process he'd been eager to put off as long as possible.

And so, fortified with strong tea and a full English breakfast, Draco set out to take stock of the state of the Manor.

His footsteps echoed through the large, empty foyer, the heels of his boots clicking on the imported Italian tile. It was eerie, walking through the cold, dead space, still and silent as a Mausoleum. Better, Draco supposed, than the malevolent, sinister energy his home had hummed with during the war, when Lord Voldemort was calling the shots. But there was a time, if Draco rifled far enough back through his memories, where the Manor had buzzed with a lighter kind of life. Or at least, that was how it had seemed to Draco as a child. Many people would have seen the Manor's pristine and polished surfaces, its gleaming untouchable opulence, as cold and remote.

To Draco, it had simply been home.

December had always been his favourite time of year as a boy, a time when Malfoy Manor bustled with even more life and energy than usual. His mother had spared no expense with the decorations, and not a single room had escaped her critical eye. It took a full week to complete the Manor's transformation into a winter wonderland, with Narcissa directing the house-elves to bring that year's vision to life. Fragrant wreaths were hung on every door, fresh garland wrapped around every bannister, and fairy lights winked and twinkled brightly around every window. It was a masterpiece, more resplendent even than Hogwarts in Draco's biased opinion, and he'd never once lost his wonder for it.

His parents had always had a large social circle of the like-minded, pure-blood elite, and throughout the month of December it seemed as if there was a party every night at some manor house or another—though, of course, the Malfoy Manor ball on Christmas Eve was the most grand of all. If the host of that evening's festivities had children near Draco's age he was allowed to accompany his parents to the party, and the month of December was filled with friendship, sweets, and sleepovers.

He and Pansy would always sneak away, no matter which house they were at, to watch the adults dance and drink the night away in the opulently decorated ballrooms. They'd pilfer sweets and fancy cheese from the magically refilling platters and hide under expensive tablecloths, admiring the guests' sparkling dress robes and trying to follow along with conversations that went far above their heads. It had been a great game of theirs, talking about how their Christmas balls would be the grandest of them all when they were grown and married, how Pansy would have dress robes made entirely of fairy lights, and Draco would magnanimously allow the children to drink as much hot chocolate as they liked.

Draco's smile faltered—he'd not even realised he had been smiling. The memory was a happy one, so he wasn't quite sure why his eyes had begun to sting with the threat of tears. Perhaps it was the dust he'd stirred by running his hand absently along a window sill. Perhaps it was because he'd not seen or heard from Pansy in nearly ten years, not since the goodbye letter she'd sent him before fleeing England after the war. Perhaps it was because he wasn't quite sure how to feel about the happy, spoiled boy he'd been in that memory.

There was a part of Draco that envied him his innocence, a part of Draco that hated him for his blissful ignorance. Worst of all, there was a part of Draco that ached at the loss of the future that boy had held as inevitable. He hadn't known then how many people had suffered so that his family could live the way that they did, had no clue of the price he'd be asked to pay, the misery he'd be expected to condone and perpetuate to ensure his family retained their status. Draco wouldn't go back, even if he could, wouldn't trade the knowledge he'd gained and the growth he'd worked so hard for, but sometimes… sometimes he missed the glitz and the parties and the status of it all, even if he knew that lifestyle had never been as innocent as it had seemed when he was small.

Draco tried to give himself some grace. It was Christmastime, after all, a time meant to be spent with family and friends, and for the first time in his life, Draco was completely and utterly alone. Even during that awful, horrible Christmas during the war, Draco had still had his mother and father who, deeply flawed as they were, had never once made Draco doubt that they loved him, not even when he'd sprouted wings and a beak.

But they were gone now, as were the few friends he'd had as a child, either dead like his parents or gone abroad to escape the post-war loathing as Draco had done. He could have tried to keep in touch but it had been too painful, and then it had been too long, and now… now they were just memories. He'd made friends in Italy, of course, some of them quite dear, but they were far away and, in the end, none of those relationships had been strong enough to hold him there. He was adrift, untethered, which, for a Veela, was a dangerous thing to be. There was a small, analytical part of him that wondered if his fate would be the same as the mysterious Veela murderer they were hunting. If his isolation would lead him to snap one day.

Had it been a mistake to come back?

There wasn't anything here for him, not really, just ghosts and memories that cut him like a thousand Diffendos, and a Manor that Draco hated yet couldn't bear to part with.

He came to one of the many parlours his mother had used for entertaining, noting with surprise a large wooden display cabinet against the far wall. Its glass-paned doors hung crookedly open, and Draco made his way towards it, remembering the menagerie of glass figurines his mother had kept there. Draco supposed her prized collection was gone now, sold off in parts, but he was shocked to make out a dusty, shadowy object in the far back corner of the middle shelf. He carefully Banished the dust and Summoned the object, and his eyes prickled as he stared down at the delicate glass dragon that settled into his hand.

He couldn't have been more than four or five when his mother had first shown him her collection, taking special care to point out this very figurine. It had been a gift, she'd said, from his father, to commemorate the birth of their son— of Draco, their own little dragon. He'd puffed up with pride and pleasure when she'd said that someday all those beautiful objects would pass on to him; that one day, he'd have a son of his own to bequeath them to.

His hand tightened around the delicate creature, its glass spines digging into his palms. Nothing had worked out the way his parents had planned. Not their spectacular fall from grace, the loss of their money, freedom, and legacy. Not their sole pure-blood progeny, who manifested as a Veela, turning out not to be so pure, after all. Not that same son realising that he much preferred the company of men over women, and being unwilling to keep that part of himself locked away in the closet 'where it belonged'. There'd be no more Malfoy heirs—what was there to inherit, anyway, besides infamy and disgrace?

Of course, his Veela nature didn't much care about the fact that Draco was set against procreating and unwilling to saddle some unsuspecting wizard with his extensive baggage. The English winter chill had begun to settle into his bones, and try as he might to ignore it, he could tell it was beginning to take a toll on his magic. Without a Mate to draw strength from, Draco's body was working overtime, and he was starting to worry he wouldn't be able to sustain himself on his own for much longer. The longer his magic strained itself, the more the control would begin to slip on his emotional stability, as well. Veela were passionate and volatile. They felt things deeply, which could be as much of a curse as a boon. The Sicilian Matriarca had explained to him the importance of mating for Veela, that it was balance. The bond provided a tether, allowing the Veela to draw strength from their Mate when their emotions threatened to get the best of them. To Draco, it seemed archaic. He didn't care if he was no longer entirely human, that didn't mean he was some beast ruled entirely by emotion. He was done relying on others for his physical and emotional well-being—he'd spent his entire childhood doing that, and look where it got him? No, Draco was determined to make his own choices, to rely on himself alone, and if that meant he had to work a little harder to master his emotions, so be it.

It had been easier to feel that way in Sicily, when the warm Italian sun had allowed Draco the luxury of expending all his energy on his emotional control. The years of practise served him well now, but for the first time, Draco wasn't sure how long it could hold. But how could find himself a Mate, in England of all places, where being both a Malfoy and a Veela would all but guarantee his rejection?

No, the only thing to do would be to move forward. Draco knew he was prone to catastrophising—surely his control wasn't so tenuous as all that. It would be fine. Everything would be fine.

In the meantime, he'd return to his room, and throw a few more logs on the fire.