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Here Without You

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"All right, Harry?" Parvati asked, leaning in and lowering her voice so that only Harry could hear.

They were sat next to each other at a large table that was crowded around with various members of the Irish Magical Resistance. He and Parvati were in Ireland on loan from the Auror Department in London, both of them having volunteered to help fight against Dark Lady Foley who'd been wreaking havoc in the country for years, and who had recently overthrown the Irish Ministry. It was a different time, a different place, with different people, but looking around this table always filled Harry with a pang as he recalled the Order meetings at Grimmauld Place. It felt like a lifetime ago, though it had only been seven years since the end of that war. Being an adult at the table now, it was hard not to cringe as he remembered how difficult he'd been back then, filled with the righteous anger only a teenager could truly manage. He now knew from experience that these strategy sessions were not nearly as exciting as he'd imagined them to be back when he'd been barred from attending them.

"Harry?" Parvati prompted when he didn't respond, her tone more concerned as she gave him a gentle nudge that pulled him from his musings.

"Oh, yeah, I'm fine," Harry muttered. She gave him a sceptical glance that sent a pang right through him. He and Parvati had grown quite close over their years working together as Aurors, and closer still since they'd both come over to Ireland, but she wasn't Ron or Hermione. Her gentle concern, while touching, mostly just served to make Harry miss his best mates all the more. It didn't feel right, fighting a war without them by his side. He knew why they couldn't come, given Rose was still just a baby and Hermione was pregnant again with their second child—he would have stopped them himself if either had tried to volunteer. But this was the longest he'd ever gone without seeing either of them in person, and he missed them.

Of course, missing them always led to him thinking about the other people he missed, which inevitably led to him thinking of Draco, whom he missed most of all. His heart clenched painfully with longing, and he quickly focused back on Parvati.

"I'm just antsy I suppose," he continued. "The last week has been pretty quiet—that always makes me wary."

"Quiet isn't necessarily a bad thing, you know."

"Yeah, I know," Harry said, though these days he wasn't quite sure he agreed with that sentiment. Quiet just left room for him to think, to miss the people who weren't with him and the life he had before the call of duty brought him hundreds of miles away. "I'm feeling a little frustrated, that’s all. Besides, it makes me nervous when Lady Foley goes quiet. Every time that's happened over the last six months it's been right before something massive and awful, like when she attacked the Howling Hellebore concert because they'd been so vocally critical of her war crimes."

Parvati winced, her expression bleak. Her sister was a massive Howling Hellebore fan and went to a lot of their concerts. Harry remembered how panicked she'd been when they got news of the attack, terrified Padma might have been there, which she thankfully hadn't been.

"I know," she said with a sigh. "I've been pressing Fathi about it, but you know how he gets. Not one to be proactive, him."

She looked reprovingly at their de facto head strategist, Fathi Ayad, a handsome man in his forties, with glossy black hair, warm brown skin, and a sharp, eagle-eyed gaze that missed nothing. He'd been head of the Irish Auror Department before Lady Foley had taken over more than a year ago and promptly charged him—and several other of her high-ranking detractors—with treason. He'd only just escaped with his life, and he and several others started working full time to bring her down. From what Harry had seen over the past six months, Fathi seemed like a good man trying his best, but he was worn thin and growing weary. Harry didn't think Parvati was being entirely fair—no doubt Fathi understood an attack was coming but without solid intel there wasn't much he could do, and they didn't have the manpower to monitor all possible targets. Explaining that to Parvati wouldn't do much good though; Fathi and Parvati had been like oil and water from the start.

"He's doing the best he can, Parvati," Harry said wearily. They'd had this argument before, and Harry wasn't keen on being accused of taking his "side", not when they were all on the same side.

Parvati sighed. "Yeah, I know," she said grudgingly. "And we haven't heard from Kelly in over a week. He was supposed to check in three days ago." She gnawed on her lip, her expression filled with worry. Kelly was an undercover agent they'd placed in Lady Foley's ranks months ago. He was a thorough bloke, and a double-agent missing a check-in was never a good sign.

"Losing access to Lady Foley's inner circle will be a blow," Harry said grimly, reaching the same conclusion that Parvati had; Kelly was likely already dead. Parvati frowned at Harry's somewhat heartless assessment of the situation—yes, it would be tragic for Kelly's friends and family if he'd been murdered, but Harry was neither a friend nor family, and he'd lost enough people in his life to have learned the ability to compartmentalise when he needed to. "I know Byrne has been making the rounds through the underground duelling circuits, trying to get noticed by Foley and her followers, but until then…"

"More waiting," Parvati said, giving Harry a commiserating pat on the shoulder.

Merlin, how he hated the waiting.

Harry sighed and attempted to tune back in to the conversation around him, only to realise everybody was leaving. The majority of the resistance members had their own homes and lives to manage, keeping their participation in the resistance under wraps—it was only Fathi, Harry, Parvati, and the increasing number of people who Foley had attempted to arrest or kill who stayed under Fathi's manor protections full-time. Luckily the house was massive—and Unplottable—so there was plenty of space for those that were there, and room for more as Lady Foley drove others underground. But they couldn't hide behind Fathi's wards forever, and Harry was itching for a proper fight. Unlike Voldemort, there were no Horcruxes that prevented her from dying for good, and no mystic prophecy foretelling her downfall could only come at the hands of a teenager. All they needed was to work out her movements in advance so they could attack when she was least expecting it.

He yawned, the long day catching up to him, and Parvati huffed a gentle laugh. The two were nothing alike, but Draco used to laugh just like that when Harry was exhausted at the end of the day before ushering him off to bed. Godric, what Harry wouldn't give to be home right now in the flat they shared, crawling into bed with him right at that moment.

"It looks like we're done here for the day, Harry. You should go to your room and get some rest." She paused before continuing more carefully. "It doesn't seem like you've been sleeping well. You know you can always take some Dreamless—"

"I'm fine," Harry snapped, guilt prickling at him immediately at Parvati's hurt expression. He softened his tone as he continued, "Sorry, but I'm all right, really. You know that stuff's addictive, and I don't like the way it knocks me out." For every nightmare Harry had, there was an amazing dream to balance it out, dreams of home, of his friends, of the man he'd left behind. They were the closest Harry had to the real thing, and he wasn't giving that up.

"All right," she said, clearly still concerned but deciding not to push. "If you say so."

"I do," Harry replied firmly before giving her a smile, showing there were no hard feelings. "But you're right, I should probably go to bed. I'd like to turn in early, but I owe Draco a letter. I'll go to sleep after that."

Parvati's expression grew pained, and she opened her mouth as if to say something before seeming to think better of it. Good. He knew people had plenty of reasons to dislike Draco for his role in the second war with Voldemort, and they had every right to their anger. But the war had ended seven year ago, and he and Harry had been together for several years—plenty of time for his friends to get used to the idea. It wasn't like Parvati to hold a grudge, and she'd seemed to get on with him well enough the few times Harry had brought him to their Auror Department get-togethers, but perhaps being in the midst of this war was stirring up bad memories of the last one she'd been involved in.

"Tell him—" She broke off and cleared her throat, looking away and blinking rapidly, as if she'd caught something in her eye. When she turned back to face him there was a bright, brittle smile on her face. "Tell him I say hello, will you?"

Harry nodded, giving her a genuine smile in return. She was clearly remembering Draco wasn't the same boy he'd been when he'd made all the wrong choices. He appreciated her trying.

"I will. I'm sure he'll be glad to hear from you." He stood, giving Fathi a nod to indicate he was heading up to bed.

"Good night, Parvati."

Parvati looked strangely sad and forlorn as she glanced away. "Goodnight, Harry."

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Dearest Draco,

I can't believe I've already been here for six months. How is it that every day seems to drag on for an eternity, and yet the months have flown by? Maybe it's the monotony of everything that causes the seconds to last for an age while the weeks all blur together. Not that we haven't seen our share of action. I don't want to seem like I'm complaining about the slow times, not when excitement here comes at such a high cost. But you know how much I hate sitting still and waiting, though I know we're not just standing around twiddling our thumbs. Just because every day doesn't involve a new strike-team or us launching a rescue mission, it doesn't mean we're sitting on our arses and making no progress. But Merlin, I don't know if I was cut out for all this strategy and research. It makes me wish Ron and Hermione were here, and not just because I miss them. With 'Mione's love of research and Ron's head for strategy, they'd be more suited to these tasks than I am. Then again, being here reminds me a lot of that year of Horcrux hunting, all this hurry up and wait, and none of us held up well under that strain. Though, thankfully, the food here is much better and heartier than Hermione's cooking… not that I'd ever tell her that! Still, as much as I miss them and their support, I'm glad they're not here dealing with the horrors of war once more. They're much better off back at home with their family, doing what they can back in Britain.

But enough of how much I miss my friends! I know you understand, but this is your letter so, naturally, it should be all about you. Of course I miss you, too. I miss you most of all, you know that don't you? (Just don't tell Ron and 'Mione) It's this steady ache in my chest, so constant that six months in and I'm almost used to it now. Almost.

Every once in a while, though, I'll see something or hear something that reminds me of you and it sets the ache throbbing all over again. I found this stone in the gardens yesterday that was the exact colour of your eyes, and I nearly dropped to my knees with the force of missing you. Brought down by a bloody rock! It's sitting on my bedside table now, the last thing I see before I close my eyes, and the first thing I see when I open them again. Terribly sappy of me, I know, but I hope you'll forgive me the indulgence. Without you here to poke fun at my gooey tendencies, I'm afraid they've been running rampant. Next thing you know I'll be composing you a poem to send in my next letter. (Kidding! … probably. What rhymes with "stone-grey eyes"? Asking for a friend.)

Merlin, what I wouldn't give to have you here with me… But no, I'm glad you're not here. This is no place for you to be. No place for anybody to be. What I really want is for us to be together somewhere else, somewhere far away where we would be safe and happy and together.

Soon. I've got to have hope that it'll be soon.

Fathi seems to think we're closing in. I'm getting used to the way things work over here now, but it's still strange reporting to somebody other than Robards—their management styles are very different, but Fathi's not a bad chap to work for. Not that you'd know it if you asked Parvati. As nice as it's been having somebody I know here with me, it's a bit trying the way her and Fathi are constantly going at it. Thank god he's not the type who can't handle when subordinates talk back because Parvati is certainly committed to keeping him on his toes! All they do is bicker and argue and snap at one another. She says he's a stubborn, arrogant arse who refuses to take sound advice from her just because she's a woman. He says she's overly self-important and thinks all her thoughts and ideas are superior because she's British and thinks they all need saving.

So, you know, things are going great on the war front.

Actually, for all their arguing, I think they both really admire and respect one another. I don't believe either of them would bother expending all that energy fighting if they didn't really care about the other's opinions. And Fathi's under a lot of pressure, what with being the bloke who's pretty much responsible for doing whatever it takes to stop Lady Foley's bloody reign of terror.

Am I terrible for feeling relieved that this time it's not me?

Then again, it's not like Fathi has some prophecy telling him he's the Chosen One. He's here because he loves his country and his people, and he knows that it's right. It's not that I felt any differently, but it's nice to have the choice. And to not be a teenager this time around, though in some ways it's bleaker now, being older and having a greater understanding of what's really at stake. Even if when we succeed, it's only half the battle. Arguably the easy half, though it doesn't feel like it now. But I know you're well aware of how long it's taken to rebuild in Britain after the second war with Voldemort. Our own Ministry is still cleaning up the aftermath of Voldemort's mess, and we didn't have the same issues that Muggle Ireland has to make things more complex.

Fathi's a good man, but he's proud. He's grateful for our aid, but I know he resents it, too. I can't blame him—our countries don't exactly have the best history with one another—and honestly, I'd expected it to be worse. Parvati and I are outsiders, here for the "glory" of battle before fucking off back home when it's done, leaving Fathi and the rest to clean up the mess. We're more than just bodies on the ground, though. Both Parvati and I have years of Auror experience, and we did live through and fight in our own war, however young we might have been at the time. I think sometimes Fathi forgets that our youth doesn't mean we don't have valuable insight, but he does listen to us and we've been put to good use. It's all a balancing act, wanting to be useful without coming across like we think we know best. I'm not here to be anybody's Saviour. I just want to help.

But back to Fathi and Parvati… you know, something tells me there's more to their bickering than just a personality clash. He might be a good deal older than us, but he's quite fit (though nothing on YOU, of course!) and they're both single. I could be way off track (I never was good at this kind of thing, as you well know) but I do wonder how much of their back and forth is them pulling pigtails. And if they'll ever act on it. They're both consummate professionals, but war tends to send proprietary right out the window. Life's too short to not grasp onto every bit of happiness you can get.

Perhaps I'm reading into Fathi and Parvati's sniping because it reminds me so much of us when we first got together. How fascinated I was by this new person you'd become, how desperately I wanted to get to know you… and you, with your prickles and your spikes, rebuffing me at every turn! But I wore you down eventually, didn't I? I'm so glad you said yes, Draco. I hope you are, too, even with all this distance between us.

It won't be forever, I promise. Some day soon I'll hold you in my arms again. I'll bury my nose in your silky hair and breath in the intoxicating scent of your shampoo. (I still can't smell almond oil without getting hard, which was very awkward when Fathi's sister brought us an almond cake last week…) But enough talk about that, this isn't one of those kind of letters. Although… it could be, if you would like that? You've always been the one with the filthy silver tongue, but I could certainly try. God knows my imagination (and my hand) have been getting a healthy workout these past six months. I've got fantasies to spare—I look forward to making them a reality when we're together again.

I'd apologise for the long letter, but you've always been a fast reader—I'm sure you've made quick work of it. But it's getting late here and I've got an early start tomorrow, so I should probably get to bed. I'll say goodnight, and send this off with all my love. I'll write to you again, soon.

Love,

Harry

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"All right, what seems to be the pro—you."

Harry grinned at his Healer, clearly much happier to see Malfoy than Malfoy was to see Harry.

"Yup, me."

Malfoy scowled and looked down at the chart in his hand. He was clearly in the middle of a busy shift, his blond hair slightly messy and his cheeks rosy as he read over the admittance form he obviously hadn't had a chance to look over before coming in. If he had, then he wouldn't have been so surprised. Then again, if he had, he might have tried to pass off the case to a fellow Healer, which would have been a waste of a perfectly good broken arm/valid excuse to see Malfoy.

As a dedicated (or reckless, if you listened to Hermione) Auror, Harry managed to find his way to St Mungo's just about once a week. It wasn't Harry's favourite part of the job, getting injured, but it had certainly become a whole lot more interesting once Malfoy had been assigned as his Healer a few months ago. Harry had lost track of Malfoy in the aftermath of the war, a fact that bothered him more than it should have. Though in all his vague wonderings of what Malfoy was up to, Harry had certainly never guessed that Malfoy was abroad training to become a Healer. The second Harry saw him again after all these years, his obsession had reignited with a passion. Malfoy being a Healer was so at odds with the selfish, cowardly teenager Harry had known him as, he couldn't help his fascination.

Ever since, he'd made it a point of specially requesting Malfoy whenever he ended up in St Mungo's, and since Malfoy seemed to all but live at the hospital (and since Harry was the Harry Potter) he tended to get his wish. Much to Malfoy's obvious dismay.

"All right," Malfoy said with a sigh. "Let's get this over with so you can stop stalking me, at least for today."

"I'm not stalking you!" Harry protested, perhaps a little too emphatically judging by Malfoy's dubiously raised eyebrows. "It's not my fault I've got a dangerous profession."

"And yet somehow the rest of your colleagues manage to go entire months without gracing my examination room," Malfoy said with a sniff as he looked down at Harry's chart. "It says here you believe your arm is broken?"

Harry nodded, gingerly holding out his throbbing arm. Malfoy stepped forward, pressing his cool fingers against the inflamed skin before casting a complex series of diagnostic spells that made Harry's stomach clench. Not from the spells themselves, but from the casual display of skill as Draco whizzed through the complicated wandwork. He frowned for a moment, then nodded.

"Yes, looks like a fractured ulna. It's a clean break, so I should be able to mend it without too much time or difficulty."

Harry barely heard a word he said, too captivated by watching Malfoy work. He'd always had a bit of a thing (okay, a massive thing) for competence—not to mention lithe physiques and fluency in snark and sarcasm—and getting to see first-hand how good Malfoy was at his job made Harry's heart race.

"Are you feeling all right?" Malfoy asked, his expression creased with concern. "Your heart rate is elevated. Is it the pain?"

Harry flushed and shook his head. "I'm okay. You said you can fix it?"

Malfoy gave him a suspicious look but nodded. "Yes. I can do it now if you're ready?"

"Go for it."

This was always Harry's favourite part, when he not only got to watch Draco work his literal magic, but got to feel it as well, feel the tingly tendrils of it wrapping around Harry's body and mending him up. Who was this Draco Malfoy who spent his days and nights tirelessly working to help others? Harry wanted to get to know him, wanted to find out if it was all just a ruse to restore his family name, or if he'd actually had a change of heart, if he genuinely wished to make amends for the horrible choices he'd made as a child.

"All right," Draco said several minutes later as he finished casting the spell. The lone bead of sweat dripping down his forehead was the only sign of the effort he'd just expended in healing Harry with his magic. "You should be all set."

Harry laughed. "No pun intended?"

Malfoy looked at him like he was a few Gobstones shy of a full set. "I beg your pardon?"

"Nevermind," Harry said, flushing. "Muggle thing."

"Oh, right," Malfoy replied awkwardly. "Well, I have more patients to see. I trust you can find your way out?"

"Wait!" Harry called before Malfoy could leave. Malfoy heaved a heavy sigh before turning around with the air of somebody greatly put upon as Harry continued, "What are you doing this Friday?"

"Not that again."

Harry beamed at him. "You didn't think you were going to get off that easy, did you?"

Malfoy rolled his eyes, but Harry saw the hint of a smile he was doing his level best to suppress. "I hoped you might have finally got the hint, but I suppose that was naïve of me."

Harry nodded. "Yes, you're much smarter than that. So smart, in fact, that you'll see the wisdom in finally agreeing to go out with me. This Friday at eight?"

Malfoy's lips twitched as he arranged his expression into something suitably disappointed. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I'm working that night. In fact, I'm working every night for the foreseeable future. Too bad."

"Oh, I don't mind, I can come here. Even overworked Healers get breaks—I asked your supervisor—accommodating bloke Healer Chen. I can bring you dinner, do you like Indian? I know this place that makes an unreal Butter Chicken. Melts in your mouth."

Malfoy sighed. "Why on earth are you so determined to date me? Have you forgotten the fact that we don't actually get on? Childhood rivals? Opposite sides of a war? Hero and villain? Does any of this ring any bells?"

"I didn't get on with the person you were when we were back at Hogwarts, but I know full well people can change," Harry said. He wasn't sure yet whether or not Malfoy had changed, or if he'd just become a much better actor, but he found himself hoping it was the former. "I'm not asking you to marry me, I just want one date. If it's awful, then we don't have to go on another, and I'll even stop pestering you about it."

Malfoy's expression grew thoughtful. "That part does have some appeal."

"Come on, say yes," Harry wheedled with a coaxing smile. "Just one date. It can’t hurt."

Honestly, Harry wasn't entirely sure why he was pushing quite so hard. It wasn't like him to chase somebody—frankly, he didn't usually have to, and he wasn't the type who got off on not being wanted. Normally a person's disinterest would have been enough to cool Harry's ardour, but none of Harry's usual rules ever seemed to apply to Malfoy. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about him, and a part of Harry hoped this date would be enough to get Malfoy out of his system. Either it would be amazing and they would keep seeing each other (an outcome even Harry had his doubts about) or spending time with Malfoy would be enough to show Harry that he hadn't changed all that much after all, and Harry would be able to move past this obsession.

"Consult request for Healer Malfoy, room 42904," said a smooth, feminine voice from the Healer's pin on Malfoy's robes. Malfoy frowned.

"I'm sorry, I really must be going," Malfoy said, turning to leave the room.

"Was that a yes to this Friday?" Harry shouted down the corridor after him, ignoring the curious stares of the patients and Healers walking down the halls.

"I'll think about it," Malfoy shouted back over his shoulder before disappearing around a corner.

Harry grinned. It wasn't a no.

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