Draco’s been Harry’s partner for three months when they catch their first human trafficking case.
Someone’s been grabbing girls out of Eastern Europe, dosing them to the gills with lust potion, and moving them to South America through London. They track the bastards to a basement in Knockturn Alley, dusty and dark and cramped. Harry refuses to wait for backup, as usual, but today Draco’s not inclined to argue. Some of the girls are as young as ten.
They go in hot, wands fizzing. There are only five guys guarding the place, so it’s over in a matter of seconds. The last man hits the floor with a heavy thud, and Harry’s already stepping over him, moving into the hallway beyond. Draco maintains his position by the staircase, in case one of the guards managed to shoot off a patronus. He calls out a warning against traps, but Harry only offers him a tight yeah from the hallway.
The pinprick white light of her wand falls across a door. She blasts the lock open savagely. A puff of smoke rises around her face. She pushes open the door, and disappears inside. There’s a tense moment of silence, and then Harry reappears, carrying a tiny girl in her arms. There are two more trailing behind her, holding hands. They’re dirty, and gaunt, eyes dazed. As they pass, Draco says, “Maybe we ought to wait for— “
“No,” Harry cuts him off. “I’m not making them stay down here one second longer.”
Normally, Draco would argue the side of caution and protocol. But there’s something in Harry’s eyes that warns him he shouldn’t, so he just follows her out, wand at the ready, since her hands are occupied. Backup arrives, and Draco takes the verbal beating from Kingsley, as usual, for Harry’s reckless behavior. As the emergency mediwitches apparate away with the girls, Draco turns to look for Harry. This is normally when they’d go find some greasy food in celebration.
But she’s nowehere to be seen. He wanders back into the basement, somehow knowing already. Harry’s standing in front of the open door to the room where the girls were locked away. It’s barely more than a closet, just large enough to fit the dirty cot. Draco hovers at her shoulder. She keeps staring at the room, forehead creased. Draco’s getting better at reading her expressions, but this is one he still doesn’t know, haunted and flat.
“The girls are off to St. Mungo’s,” he says quietly. “Bastards are off to Azkaban.”
Harry doesn’t acknowledge his presence. Her hair is a mess, and greasy, piled into a knot on top of her head. Her glasses have a crack in them from a raid yesterday that they haven’t had a moment to fix. Neither of them have had a shower or a wink of sleep since this all started. This isn’t exhaustion, though. This is something different. “Harry?” Draco prods.
She blinks, as if hearing him for the first time, and breathes in sharply through her nose. The place is musky, sharp with body odor. “They were locked in there for nearly a month,” she says. There’s a note of something in her voice that Draco’s never heard before. Not since school, at least. “I can’t even… It must have been horrible.”
Her eyes find his for a moment, shining, like a child’s eyes. Her expression goes straight to the core of him, and he doesn’t know why. “It’s over now,” he offers, unsure what to say.
Harry smiles ruefully and looks away. “Not really,” she says. “Not for them.”
Draco’s just getting in the swing of knowing how to talk to her on good days, getting used to the snappish back and forth without the vitriol. This is… not a good day. “Right,” he tries. “Well, they’ve got families to go back to. They’ll be alright.”
Harry nods. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.” She steps away from the door, finally. “I’ve got a hankering for fish and chips.”
One of the hallmarks of Harriet James Potter’s character, Draco has found, is a complete inability to talk about herself.
Oh, she’ll tell you what she likes to eat, and how stupid it is she has to wear a dress to fundraisers, and what terrible idiots she thinks the current candidates for Minister are. But if you want to know anything important about her, you have to be very patient and very observant. Draco, thankfully, is both.
He’s also become a much more… forthcoming person than he was in school. His entire harem of dirty secrets are a matter of public record ever since his Wizengamot hearings, and he’s discovered since then that refusing to talk about his past garners much more suspicion from his peers than laying things honestly out on the table. Draco’s still a private person, but he says what he means, these days. He doesn’t hide behind barbs.
Harry, though. Harry hides behind brilliant smiles and split knuckles and a gung-ho approach to crime fighting. Draco thought he knew her back in school, but he’s since come to realize that he really, really didn’t. She’s good— he doesn’t need to know the more sordid details of her past to know that. But sometimes her smile gets sad around the edges, and he’ll say, “You alright?” and she’ll say, “Yeah, fine, why?”
She’s a good liar. She’s had practice. Maybe liar isn’t really the right word. But as much as the press clamors for details of the life of the Chosen One, the Girl Who Lived, they never find anything more than Hogwarts quidditch matches and OWL marks and what sort of ice cream she orders at Fortescue’s. There are some bits about the war that Draco knows that few other people do, just by merit of his having been present, but.
Harry’s a puzzle. She’s never going to tell him the answer. He’ll have to figure it out for himself.
They work well together, as partners. They left most of the animosity at the gates of Hogwarts, and they share a deep commitment to justice. Draco’s still got a mean streak a mile wide, but he only ever points his wand at criminals, so it works out fine.
As Draco understands it, not even Ron Weasley had been able to keep up with Harry as a partner. His assignment was sort of a last ditch attempt, as it were, to stick her with someone who would keep her in line. He does that on occasion, but he also spends a lot of time doing stupid shit right alongside her. The same qualities that made her an infuriating, obsessive teenager have made her an aggressively effective auror, one of the best.
Along with the rest of the golden Gryffindors, and Loony Lovegood, Harry spends a lot of time being paraded around fundraisers for the Ministry. As soon as she gets used to Draco being around, she starts dragging him along. It’s a scene he’s familiar with, the schmoozing and the champagne and the icy smiles telling polite lies. More often than not, he finds himself rescuing Harry, who is godawful at having any sort of tact, and spriting her away for a brisk firewhiskey.
Draco likes working with her. She’s extraordinarily competent. She’s adaptable. She keeps her head on straight in tight situations, more used to being in danger than being safe. She’s got a bad habit of cracking jokes over dead bodies, and he’s got a bad habit of laughing at them. She’s fearless— or rather, she paints herself as fearless. Really, she’s got a few, worryingly specific fears: tight spaces, forests, snakes, and curtains.
The first three he figures out through observation. There’s always a moment of hesitation before she takes them head on. The last, he learns about during a very odd conversation with Ron Weasley. “Look, mate,” Ron says to him, three drinks in at the Leaky Cauldron, “just don’t leave windows open, alright? The curtains blowing around— they really get her.”
Don’t ask why, Ron tells him. Maybe those thick-skulled Weasleys can just sit by and not ask questions, but Draco’s a bit more naturally inquisitive. Especially when it comes to Harry. But he never leaves windows open, not even in his flat.
Draco— he gets rather attached to her. Since his father got locked up and his mother fled to France, he hasn’t had much in the way of meaningful relationships. It’s only been a few years, so it’s not as if he’s lived a lifetime of solitude, but still. It’s nice to have someone again, even if she is someone who comes round at two in the morning with Chinese and a cold case she couldn’t put down, someone who doesn’t understand the value of self-preservation.
The first time she ends up in St. Mungo’s, he spends seven hours in the waiting room with his heart in his throat. He hasn’t felt dread like this in a long time— it’s the sort of numb helpless anger that blots out everything else, the throbbing gash on his forehead and the ache in his bones from the three story fall into the freezing Thames. Harry’d already been unconscious when they hit the water, spells flashing in the air above them, and he’d had to swim her limp body to shore, because there was no way he was going to let her drown without him. By the time the mediwizard comes out to him— and to all the Weasleys— his brain has gone offline.
He waits for all the Weasleys to shuffle through, standing in the hall. To them, this plays out like a familiar ritual. The last ones to go are Ron and rather pregnant Hermione Granger, the latter of whom appears to give Harry a rather stern talking-to before retreating. Hermione stops to look at Draco in the hall. “Thank you,” she says. “For getting her out alive, I mean. She tends not to plan for that part when she’s rushing headlong into things.”
If Draco’s brain were functional, he’d probably ask if Granger honestly thought he’d leave Harry to drown. As it is, he settles with, “I’m her partner. That’s what I’m here for.”
Harry smiles when she sees him, a soft, fond thing, and she might still be high on painkiller potions, but that smile dissolves something tight and unmovable in his chest. He sits on the edge of the bed, and smooths her hair out of her face. It’s a tangled mess, and her glasses are crooked on her face, she’s got blood drying on her chin, and a bandage wrapped all the way up one arm that he knows goes all the way around her torso, but she’s maybe the most gorgeous thing he’s ever seen.
“Let’s not do that again,” he murmurs.
“Wasn’t my fault,” says Harry. She paws at his hand, and he gives it. Squeezes. “Been a while since I had to fight with swords. Last time, I was… twelve? Maybe seventeen. I don’t think that one counts, though. It was mostly Ron.”
Draco tries not to let the idea of a twelve year old Harry having to fight someone with a sword worry him too much. He fails.
One of the biggest surprises is this: Harry Potter is lonely.
She doesn’t tell him, obviously. But she spends an inordinate amount of time with him, on and off the job. He thought she’d practically live her life surrounded by Weasleys and admirers, but instead, she lives it with him.
She brings him around to Weasley family dinner, a few times, and at the end of the table crammed between Percy’s girlfriend and some French woman, Draco understands with sudden, painful clarity. Harry isn’t Harry, here— she’s only part of Harry. She makes small talk, tells stories of their successes, smiles and eats and laughs. With this Harry, everything is okay. Life is peachy, she’s got no complaints. It’s the same way Draco used to be around his parents, not wanting to burden them with his grievances. Harry’s not about to ruin the Weasley family’s good spirits with honesty.
Thinking back, Draco knows she existed on the periphery at Hogwarts, too. She interacted with the other students, she had many loyal acquaintances, but— contrary to what Draco thought when he was a moody teenager— she wasn’t friends with the entire student body. In fact, quite a few more people vehemently hated her than vehemently loved her. Setting aside her disciples, he could count her friends on one hand.
She doesn’t do dating. Like Draco, she’s married to the job. He remembers her having a few boyfriends in school, one of the Weasley twins and some Asian Ravenclaw whose name he can’t remember. She’s certainly got no lack of men after her— not to mention women, and veelas, and the odd goblin. One evening, she leaves him— leaves work early for dinner with Justin Finch-Fletchley, and returns only an hour later, while Draco’s gathering his things to go home for the evening. “He wanted to run for Minister,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Thought it would be easier with the Girl Who Lived on his arm.”
She doesn’t sound hurt, or surprised. It’s somehow worse than if she had.
Over a tall glass of firewhiskey, still in one of the sparkly dresses from a gala, contacts in and glasses absent, she tells him, “I’m not a person, to them.” It’s an odd moment of honesty, and Draco doesn’t dare speak, for fear of shattering the moment. “All those people at the gala— At best, I’m a myth, and worst, I’m just a tool. Something they can use to get ahead or raise money or— “ she snorts, hiccups. It’s terribly unladylike. Draco’s mother would be appalled. Draco is besotted. “Or defeat Voldemort.”
That’s an odd segue. Draco still doesn’t say anything, but when Harry drains the last of her firewhiskey, he slides his over to her. She transfers over without noticing. “I was a tool to Dumbledore,” she says, morosely. “A defective one, but. You know.”
She downs the rest of his firewhiskey in one go, and doesn’t offer any more. Draco decides to push his luck. “What do you mean, a defective one?”
Harry does that snorting thing again, but this time it sounds like it hurts. “I wasn’t s’posed to make it,” she says. “I was s’posed to die.” She pauses, thoughtful. “Hold on. Maybe I wasn’t defective. Actually did die there for a minute, so— maybe that counts.”
Draco makes a soft, involuntary sound, but Harry’s drunk enough that she doesn’t hear.
She sleeps on his couch that night, and he spends all night sitting on the coffee table, watching her breathe, wishing he’d had the guts to kill Albus Dumbledore himself.
She doesn’t have an owl, and refuses to buy one. Draco asks her why, one day, and she spills hot coffee on his lap, completely on purpose. It’s the only fight they ever have that lasts more than an hour. It’s Kingsley, oddly enough, who tells him the strange story, which involves seven different Harry decoys, and someone called Mundungus.
Draco’s flat sort of becomes Harry’s flat, too. He goes by her place one time, and one time only, to make sure she’s alive after the first St. Mungo’s incident. She’s living out of her dead godfather’s house, awful and dark, with a shrill old woman ghoul and a grumpy house elf. Just stepping over the threshhold makes Draco feel miserable, so he takes her still-packed overnight bag and marches her straight back to his. He makes her soup, and she grouses, but she eats it. A month later, she brings home something called a “television,” and makes him watch some sport called “football.” He hates it.
But. He was savagely lonely before she came along, too. So, on the whole, he counts himself lucky.
Draco’s been in love with Harry for the better part of a year when her uncle dies.
Based on his patchwork understanding of Harry’s childhood, she was never very fond of her family. For the most part, she avoids any mention of them, but she still has a strange sense of obligation. So when she comes to Draco and asks him to go with her to the funeral, every muscle in her body so tense it’s fit to snap, he says yes. Of course he says yes. They apparate to a spot under a bridge a few blocks away from the graveyard. It’s raining. The service is short, the coffin large, the attendants plain-looking. Afterwards, a birdlike woman who Harry calls Aunt Petunia comes up to them, and asks them over for tea.
Harry, never one to say no to something she doesn’t want to do, agrees. Her tension bleeds over to Draco, and he finds himself stiff-backed, a split second away from apparating them both out of there as they sit down at Petunia’s kitchen table. Their robes are still wet, and the drip, drip, drip of water droplets on the floor occupies Draco’s mind.
Petunia and Harry make small talk. Harry asks about her cousin, Dudley, and that pretty much takes up the next hour of conversation, as Petunia prattles on with pride about Dudley’s law degree. The bird woman shows no interest whatsoever in Harry’s life, and Draco grows tenser every time he glances over at Harry, at the stiff smile on her face.
After what feels like forever, Petunia stands. “Well, I’m sure you have places to be,” she smooths down her ugly perm. “I’ll see you out.”
“I know the way,” Harry says, standing with far less grace. Petunia titters, yes, of course, and then Harry is finally, finally leading them out of there, out of this stuffy, insincere house, through the narrow front hallway, except— she stops. Draco nearly runs into her back.
Harry’s staring at a small door under the stairs. It must lead to a cupboard of some sort. Draco opens his mouth to hurry her up, but closes it again. She has that look in her eye— for a moment, he can’t place it, but then, suddenly he can. It’s the look from the basement in Knockturn Alley, the look she gave the room with the cot and the girls. Something cold settles in his stomach. He wants to reach for her, but before he can, she reaches for the cupboard door, and pulls it open.
She finds the chain for the light without looking. A single bare bulb illuminates a tiny space, barely four feet high and three feet across. There’s a shelf, and on the shelf, there’s a toy knight. Harry picks it up, still like she’s not really seeing. Like she’s somewhere else.
“Harry,” he says, softly. His hand lands on her elbow, her robes still soaking wet under his fingers. “Are you— “
“Yeah, fine,” she says, before he can even finish his sentence. She puts the toy knight back on the shelf, with a few more from what looks like a tacky chess set. “Just reminiscing. You know that nostalgic feeling you get, standing in your childhood bedroom.”
It takes a few, horrified moments for Draco to realize what she’s said. By the time his brain catches up with bedroom and the cupboard in front of him and childhood and a fear of tight spaces, Harry’s already out the front door. He takes off after her at a run, but he doesn’t catch up to her until they’re at the apparation point under the bridge. Harry has an uncanny ability to move much faster when she’s running away from him.
“Harry,” he calls out. “Come here.”
Harry, being Harry, does not come here. She strides as far away from him as far as she can get, and turns back to him. “What do you want?” she asks.
What a daft question. What does Draco want? He wants her, obviously. He wants her to smile more, and tell him her secrets, and stop jumping off buildings after criminals when she doesn’t have a broom. Accio broom isn’t always going to work, after all. He wants— he wants to know, “Why did we come back here?”
Harry frowns. “They were my family. They are my family, still. I have to show up— “
“They abused you— “
Harry scoffs. “It wasn’t abuse,” she says. “It was just the way things were. It was fine, I’m fine.”
Draco cannot comprehend the aboslute insanity of what’s just come out of Harry’s mouth. He steps towards her, and opens his mouth to say something he probably shouldn’t, because he’s shocked and angry, but before he can, Harry says, “I shouldn’t have brought you,” steps back into the rain, and apparates away with a crack.
The rain continues to pour. Draco stands alone under that bridge for a long time, shivering. He wants to go after her, but he doesn’t want to fight any more. Not like this, not with actual hurt in her voice. So he just stands, and shivers, and casts a warming charm, and— pieces start to fit into place.
Harry, who is always, always “fine.”
Harry, who spent the first eleven years of her life knowing no one would listen if she asked for help. Harry, who went straight from being nobody to being the savior of the wizarding world. Harry, the myth, the one girl who survived what no one else could, who saved us all, who no one ever bothered saving in return. Harry, who looked surprised to see him on the doorstep of Number 12, Grimmauld Place. Harry, who never takes leave, who shows up for work the day after busting open a human trafficking case. Harry, who never slows down, who never lets anyone know she’s tired except, maybe, Draco.
Harry, who has always been fine because that’s what people expected her to be. Because that’s just the way things are. Because she has always, always gotten the shit kicked out of her, and gotten right back up to do it again.
“Fuck,” Draco says, to no one, and apparates.
Harry is in his kitchen, thank Merlin. She’s clumsily and furiously making a cup of tea, even though they’ve just had some. She always makes tea when she’s trying to restore normalcy. Draco gets a flash of her expression when Petunia served them, and wonders if that was a role reversal. He hovers in the doorway to the kitchen— she must have heard him apparate in, but she doesn’t turn.
“Harry,” he says. She clatters the kettle on the stove, and turns to him. She’s glaring, through rainwater-spotted glasses. “You’re not fine.”
Harry bites her lip, shakes her head, and turns away from him again, paces across the kitchen. Still running away. “Okay,” she snaps, voice watery. “Yeah, okay, I’m not bloody fine, going back was a terrible decision. Is that what you want to hear?”
“No,” Draco says. “It’s what I want you to hear.”
Harry turns a very, very tired gaze on him. Draco has a sudden urge to bundle her into bed and never let her leave. At least until she’s thoroughly warm, and thoroughly rested. “Draco,” she says, “I don’t speak crazy blond wanker. What are you talking about?”
“You don’t have to be fine,” Draco says. “I don’t need the savior of the wizarding world, I don’t need the Girl Who Lived. I just need Harry. However you come, whatever you are. You’re my partner. And I— “ He meets her eyes, and they cut right to the core of him, still. “I love you. All of you.”
For a long moment, neither of them move.
Then Harry makes a soft noise, and the next thing he knows she’s across the kitchen and in his arms, and she’s kissing him. Her arms are tight around his neck, so he squeezes her waist, wraps her close against him. They’re both sopping wet, and she’s freezing, she’s always been shit at warming charms, so when their lips part for a moment, he murmurs one.
Harry’s fingers dig into the wet collar of his shirt. He may not know everything about her, yet, but Draco thinks that he knows her. She’s his partner. He’d know her blind, deaf, and wandless. He can figure out the finer points later. He has time. He’s not going anywhere.
The kettle squeals on the stove. Draco has never cared less about a cup of tea in his entire life.