They'd joked about it before. Many times, in fact. Harry remembered back in third—fourth?—year, desperately scrambling to finish a paper he'd forgotten about as Hermione stood overhead, chiding him relentlessly.
"Honestly, Harry! Sleeping in and missing breakfast, forgetting deadlines—the year's barely started!" He knew without looking that her arms were crossed and her foot was tapping; he was far more preoccupied with swallowing down a few bites of his muffin as his quill raced across the page. “At this rate, you'll need a personal assistant by the time we're studying for N.E.W.T.s!"
As they’d obviously been a bit too busy to take their N.E.W.T.s, her premonition hadn't come to pass. Nevertheless, it was not for nothing that he peered out now from behind a pillar, ten years later, cautiously eyeing the applicants seated in the lobby of Finnigan & Thomas, LLP.
A door on the far end opened, and a willowy brunette slipped out. Harry could hear Seamus call out “Next!" as the brunette nearly collapsed into his seat, and an older lady strode forward, stiletto heels clicking impressively across the marble flooring. Harry's eardrums buzzed unpleasantly with each click, and he grimaced, silently praying that she didn't make it to the final round.
The plan had ultimately been Luna's idea. While that would ordinarily be an immediate cause for alarm, the strangest thing about her plan had actually been just how not strange it was. She'd simply blinked up at him three weeks ago when he'd dashed in late for lunch (again), shirt on inside out and jacket half-buttoned (sadly not uncommon), Hermione and Ron rolling their eyes (they were used to it), and suggested he hire an assistant.
Harry'd laughed it off, of course, but to his surprise she'd persisted.
"Why not? You have the money and the schedule, and that's who they're there to help," she pointed out, stirring her quince juice with her wand. “Just list the position anonymously, pick a selection, and have a friend sit in your place for the interviews. You can always step out at the end to see how they react to you and who maintains some poise."
Harry looked to Hermione for help—only to find The Gleam in her eyes. The I’m-formulating-a-plan-and-you-will-obey-me-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you Gleam.
And that was that.
Lost in his nervous tension as he very carefully didn't think about the piles of work waiting for him in his office or at home, Harry nearly jumped out of his skin when the door swung open again and the ear-splitting click-clack of the heels returned. A moment later, the fake coin in his pocket warmed up, and he took a deep breath.
Straightening out his shirt self-consciously, he picked up the stack of papers and folders resting at his feet and stepped out from his hiding place. He did his best to look harried, and honestly, it wasn’t much of a stretch. It only took seconds for him to feel the prickly sensation of being stared at as he made his way across the lobby.
Sure enough, the demanding heels approached him shortly, their threatening noise echoing across the open space. “Mr. Potter! Mr. Potter, would you like help with that?” the woman called out as her steps quickened. The rustling sound in her general direction indicated to Harry that the other applicants were beginning to move as well, and he knew that Seamus was now watching from the doorway to his office.
He lifted his head long enough to cast her a wan look. “I’m all right, thanks,” he replied, ducking his head. The willowy man and a shorter, doe-eyed lass hesitated reluctantly before sitting back down, although the girl rose once before uncertainly lowering herself again.
Click-Clack ignored him altogether as she finally reached him, putting a hand on his arm and leaning too far into his space before eagerly taking half of the papers from his arms. “Nonsense! Here, allow me. I’m an expert at this sort of thing.”
“At carrying paper?” he asked wryly before he could stop himself. Luckily, Click-Clack didn’t seem to hear him as she began walking, not seeming to mind that she had no idea where his destination was. Harry sighed.
A fourth applicant approached then. The handsome, broad-shouldered fellow flashed Click-Clack a charming smile and took advantage of her startled stumble to steal the papers from her hands. “Let me get that for you—a lady shouldn’t be burdened so,” he purred in a way that instantly made Harry feel nauseous. He desperately hoped Seamus had written him off as well. When the man looked straight at Harry and shifted his body language to something obviously meant to be sensual, it was all Harry could do to keep from giving up on the entire façade and bolting.
There was a reason he never did undercover work. (Well, aside from the whole matter of being recognizable.) He’d always been a rubbish actor when it came to hiding his disdain.
Prince Uncharming’s boldness seemed to give the remaining three applicants courage enough to rise as well, clearly wanting to join in and make their own pitch but afraid to take the final step. Only Willow and Doe remained seated. Harry’s gut twisted unpleasantly at the idea of working with nearly any of these people on such a personal level—both the overbearing and the spinelessly passive candidates.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” an unexpectedly familiar voice snapped from Harry’s other side. All heads turned to find one Draco Malfoy leaning against a shelf impatiently, three books in his arms. Behind him, Dean Thomas tried not to laugh. “The man’s been slaying dark lords since he was in nappies; I think he can manage dead trees.”
“Malfoy,” Harry greeted, startled out of the show. “What are you doing here?”
“Not putting on a ridiculous charade,” Malfoy scoffed, ignoring the light warning shove that Dean gave him. He huffed at him. “What? If these fools can’t see through this entire awful act, they wouldn’t last anyway. Potter’s always smashed right through obstacles.”
Realising that Dean must’ve told him what was going on, Harry groaned and rubbed his face. There was no way the applicants wouldn’t have heard that.
Still, he was intrigued in spite of himself. While he and Malfoy hadn’t exactly gotten chummy after the war, he’d kept tabs on his old rival and had been pleased to see the blond keep himself out of trouble. He’d even remained in England after his parents fled for one of their ancillary estates in Toulouse. While reports of some scandal or another popped up periodically about his personal life, he seemed to be behaving in the eyes of the law.
“What have you been up to?” Harry asked, glancing at Dean again curiously. “I wasn’t aware you and Dean were in touch.”
Malfoy lifted up the top book in his stack, which showed something about… chimneys? Then again, why was he even surprised? It was an architecture firm. “The blasted fireplace at the Manor’s acting up again, and my father can’t be arsed to get it looked at. It’s hideous anyway, so I thought I’d give it a new look while fixing it.” He rolled his eyes. “I half-think he did it on purpose just to avoid coming and attending to his affairs.”
Harry took a moment to digest this. “You’re… fixing it? Not having it fixed?”
Malfoy laughed at that, but it was without real rancor. “You know what they say. If you want something done right you must do it yourself.” His eyes flickered toward Seamus and the applicants who were standing around in varying states of confusion, before returning to Harry and raising an eyebrow.
Ignoring the silent accusation there, Harry rolled his eyes. “Forgive me; I’ve never known you to like getting your hands dirty. I figured you would’ve hired some posh designer to come do it for you.”
A look Harry couldn’t quite interpret flashed through Malfoy’s eyes, there for just a moment before the mirth retreated and his expression slid to zero. His posture changed subtly, straightening before he drew away from the shelf. “Yes, well, it’s been quite some time since you’ve known me at all,” Malfoy reminded him as he brushed past. “Thank you for the books, Thomas.”
Not sure what he’d said wrong, Harry blinked after him but squashed the urge to pursue it. Malfoy had a point; what did they know about each other anymore?
“See you around, Malfoy.”
Malfoy didn’t look back.
“—listening? Harry? HARRY.”
Jumping in his seat, Harry caught the quill that had flown out of his hand. “Merlin, sorry—what was that?” he asked, feeling more than a little frazzled. He wasn’t sure if he’d been falling asleep or spacing out this time, but given that they were meeting because of him—and he’d already been twenty minutes late—he felt terrible enough as it was without her tearing into him.
Hermione and Seamus exchanged exasperated looks before the former spoke again. “Harry. It’s been two months. We’ve had three rounds of interviews, and you haven’t liked a single one of them, even ones we think would work fine. And now you're dozing at the helm?”
He smiled tiredly. “Sorry, just… late night, you know?” That was putting it mildly. A third of his department (including Ron) was down and out with a ridiculous bout of swine flu that had been brought back by two Aurors who’d had a mission in Russia and come into contact with a nest of infected Nogtails. That meant everyone else was even more overworked than usual.
Hermione sighed and pulled back the CV that she’d apparently shoved under his nose at some point. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to fix,” she reminded him, replacing the CV with the sandwich he’d barely touched.
“Sorry, mate,” Seamus said. “But your excuses for rejecting some of these candidates are getting pretty thin.”
Harry winced. “I—sorry, sorry. I just…” He hesitated, trying to find the right words for why he was so dissatisfied. “Even if they look fine on paper, there’s just something… lacking. I can’t put my finger on it, only there’s…” Pausing again, he frowned and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I feel like I’d expend more energy reassuring them than just doing the work myself. As soon as they meet me they’re all so… there’s always… I just can’t—”
“—trust them?” Hermione supplied when he floundered for the right word, eyes sympathetic. “I know, Harry. But that’s something that will pass with time. A potential new employer is always nerve-wracking, even if you weren’t well-known. You can’t really expect them to act comfortable with you from the start. And really, if it doesn’t work out, you can always let them go and find someone else.”
“I’d hate to use up more of your time, though. Both of you,” Harry added, shooting Seamus a grateful look as well. For obvious reasons, Hermione and Ron couldn’t run the interviews; that would tip people off just as much as Harry himself. Seamus was a godsend for volunteering.
Snorting, Seamus waved him off. “Don’t worry yourself there. Malfoy’s taken to this whole—”
“Malfoy?” Harry interrupted, sitting up abruptly and suddenly wide awake. “I thought he just borrowed some books to fix his Floo?”
Seamus gave him a stern look for the interruption. “As I was trying to say, Malfoy’s taken to his house renovation project surprisingly beautifully, well past the chimney business. He’s come back a few times to learn some tricks of the trade, and he’s even been a good hand on the Fuller project.”
“The restoration plan that Landon cocked up?” Harry asked, having some recollection of Seamus’s frustration with his newest employee comparing a blueprint against a very outdated set of building codes and wasting weeks of work. He didn’t notice Hermione nudge the sandwich even closer, but that put it within his immediate range so he picked it up and took a bite without thinking.
“Right on. Malfoy reviewed the design against Southwark’s current regulations when he came to return the books and sort of stuck around. He’s been helping coordinate the demolition of the Edgecombe estate.”
“He probably loves having the excuse to yell at people,” Hermione laughed.
Seamus winked. “I’ll bet he does. But you know—I never thought I’d say this, but he’s been an unexpected blessing. If you two didn’t have the history you do, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw him at you,” he teased Harry.
As soon as the words were out of Seamus’s mouth, Harry felt something slide into place. He was distantly aware of his expression doing something funny, but he was more focused on the idea that was now firmly rooted at the front of his brain. Hermione’s “Oh, no” barely registered as he chewed on the possibility. His half-eaten sandwich lay forgotten again on his plate.
Why not? Harry’s biggest problem with the applicants had been the way they’d yielded so quickly to him (or ingratiated themselves as Click-Clack and Prince Uncharming had, but that was a whole different problem). They fluttered nearby hopefully but ultimately backed down, afraid to contradict him. His schedule was far too busy and required too much last-minute adaptability for that sort of passive temperament to last long.
Yet Malfoy had never been known to yield to him, even when they were children. Hadn’t Malfoy himself commented that Harry just blew through anything in his way? He obviously had the time on his hands if he was helping out at Finnigan & Thomas, and he was organised enough for Seamus and Dean to entrust him with a client contract. If he was as clever and adaptable as Harry remembered from their school days…
“Harry!” Hermione snapped in the sort of tone that said she’d been calling his name repeatedly. He shook his head to clear it and blinked at her disbelieving expression before turning his head.
Seamus stared at him with a nearly identical expression. “You can’t be serious!”
“You’re serious,” Malfoy deadpanned.
Harry grinned. “Why not?”
Malfoy scoffed. “Why not? Why would I?”
To be honest, Harry had been quite surprised when Malfoy agreed to his owl requesting to meet at a cafe just outside of London. The response had been reluctant, even in writing, so he knew it was probably curiosity more than anything else that drove the blond, but that was hardly a deterrent.
His grin faded to a more serious look as he leaned forward, pushing his cup of coffee out of the way. “Malfoy. Draco,” he amended, impulsively deciding that it was ridiculous to still be on a last-name basis with someone he’d known for two-thirds of his life. “Your old circle’s all expatriated, and there haven’t been so much as whispers of a new one. Your family is abroad. You’re unmarried, and as far as anyone has heard, not even dating.”
“What on earth is the relevance—”
“You’ve been volunteering for Dean and Seamus, and taking on projects that put you in the middle of large groups of people.”
Malfoy’s expression went from disbelief to irritation, and Harry rushed on before he decided to leave.
“You’re bored. Aren’t you? Isn’t that what it comes down to?” When Malfoy went back to disbelief, Harry shook his head and scooted closer still so that he was pressed right up against the table. “Admit it. Nothing interesting’s going on these days. You stay out of politics, you have too much money to need a job, you were renovating your fireplace by hand, for God’s sake—come on, it’s obvious. You need something to do, and I need less to do.”
Malfoy huffed, but didn’t disagree. “And why would I willingly fill my time with helping you?”
Harry grinned again, having figured that would come up. “Well, for one thing, my life’s never boring.” It was true; in fact, he’d just gotten back from an unexpected assignment in Belarus two hours before their meeting and had been afraid of missing it altogether. “For another, I’m failing badly enough at managing anything outside of work to be asking you for help, and you’ve always loved seeing me fail. This way, you can laugh at me whenever you want.”
Dropping his head, Malfoy rubbed his temple. “You do realise playing off of people’s inclinations is supposed to be subtle manipulation, don’t you? Not bluntly announced in place of tradable goods or services?”
“Generally. In this case, I was hoping openly sharing a vulnerability would make you more inclined to take advantage of it,” Harry admitted. “Come on. What can it hurt to try? If we hate it, we call it off and I look elsewhere.”
The other man didn’t respond, but he didn’t run away, either. Harry let him have his silence to think, remembering his coffee and sipping at it.
After a few long, torturous minutes, Malfoy let out an explosive sigh. “Fine. On a few conditions,” he added as Harry opened his mouth to speak. “One: do not interfere with my methods. If you want me to make your life easier, you won’t do it by making my processes harder.”
“That’s fair,” Harry agreed.
“Two: if I catch you trying to get around my efforts, there will be repercussions, and you will not like them. Three: I want a paid contract drawn up. This isn’t me volunteering out of boredom or altruism; this is you seeking to hire me.”
Harry shrugged. “I have more money than I’ll ever need, and you certainly don’t need a sizable income. As long as the rates are reasonable, I was planning to pay you anyway.”
“And cover any expenses this costs me,” Malfoy added firmly. Harry rolled his eyes; that was a given. Even so, Malfoy gazed disturbingly unblinkingly at him until he nodded.
They stared at each other, Malfoy still wary and Harry trying not to act giddy. It felt nice to finally have an answer to the problem, and if it meant being able to catch up with an old classmate who was once such a constant part of his life—even if the nature of their relationship had been purely antagonistic then—even better.
Before he could work up the words to ask what the other man had been up to and draw him into further conversation, Malfoy pulled out a quill, scrawled a name down on a napkin, passed it to Harry, and stood. “Have the contract sent to our family's solicitor and we can negotiate a start date.”
“Wait—” Harry stood as well, nearly knocking over his coffee as he did. “Where are you rushing off to?”
Malfoy sighed at him again. “Really, Potter? Where do you think? I do have affairs of my own to attend to, particularly if I’m going to be spending considerable time handling yours in the near future instead.”
Oh. That made sense.
He waved good-bye, but like before, Malfoy was already walking away without looking back.
Malfoy’s first day came three weeks later and was spent in Stuttgart.
Harry was standing in the middle of his hotel room, fighting with a tie when the door to the adjoining room opened and Malfoy walked in.
The blond stared at him for a moment before shaking his head. “What are you doing to yourself?” he grumbled as he dropped his briefcase to the side of the door and marched over. Behind him, a bellhop carried in two more bags before making his exit.
Harry looked at him helplessly as Malfoy swatted his hands away and began untying the tangled mess of his now-crumpled tie. “Shacklebolt said to use a—an eldritch knot? I can barely tie a basic four-in-hand,” he complained, distracted enough by the tie to not dwell on how this was the closest they’d been since he’d flown Malfoy out of the Fiendfyre. He was, however, startled to find that the blond had outgrown him sometime in the last ten years—although given Lucius Malfoy’s imposing stature and his wife’s height even without her heels, he wasn’t sure why he was surprised.
A yank of the tie jerked his thoughts back on track. “I hate these things. Always feel like I’m choking.”
“You wore a tie all through school,” Malfoy reminded waspishly as he smoothed out the silk tie before deftly working it into an Eldredge knot with quick, experienced motions.
“Yeah, and the only time it looked halfway decent was when Hermione’d re-tie it at breakfast,” Harry confessed. “I was just about to go ask a concierge for help if you didn’t get here in time.”
“You gave me not even three hours notice of the change of plans!”
“I only had three hours notice!”
“Ugh.” Malfoy gave the completed knot a sharp tug to tighten it, ignoring Harry’s strangled protest. Giving it a firm pat, he shoved the Auror away lightly. “You remember all of the important dignitaries? Notes, if you’re giving a speech? Which eating utensils to use, and when?”
“Yes, no speech, and I never had cause to learn,” Harry grumbled.
“Ugh,” Malfoy repeated. “When we get back, I’m taking over your calendar.”
“Please do,” Harry half-pleaded, unable to keep track of the number of times he’d accidentally double or triple-booked himself or mis-scheduled an engagement.
Malfoy glanced at the clock quickly before scowling. “All right, you’ve got to go. Silverware—outside in. If asked to dance, don't decline. Basic box step: left, right, slide, right, left, slide. The current Junior Assistant to the French minister is pregnant, so for god's sake don't offer her wine. There will definitely be an open dance after dinner and speeches; don't leave before the first song, or you'll seem eager to flee."
"I am eager to flee," Harry protested.
“Yes, but don’t advertise it,” Malfoy snapped grumpily. “Now go mingle, while I sort our return Portkeys and work through your mail.”
“How did you get my mail?” Harry asked, bewildered, as he dragged on his jacket.
Malfoy shot him a Look before fixing a fold in the back of his collar. “How do you think? You’re very lucky Granger has bullied you around as long as she has.”
Harry grinned, both at Malfoy’s exasperation and at the knowledge that Hermione was still trying to coordinate his life. He clapped him amicably on the arm. “Yes, but now I’ve got you to bully me around instead.”
“Go before I hex your shoes to tap dance,” Malfoy threatened, making to reach for his wand. Harry laughed and pretended to duck as he scampered out the door.
It wasn’t until they returned to London the next day that Harry realised just how readily and seamlessly Malfoy had fit himself back into his life. Granted, there hadn’t been much time for fussing and arguing and negotiating boundaries in Germany, but even so, he’d expected at least a little awkwardness after not talking for so long.
Then again, what sort of awkwardness was there to be had? They’d known each other since they were eleven, had already seen the worst of each other as children, and apparently even strolled in the same circles these days, judging by Dean and Seamus.
Really, there was nowhere to go but up.
The first year went by so quickly and so easily that Harry soon forgot what hell his life had become before he’d dragged Draco—because he was definitely Draco by this point—back into it.
He was still as busy as ever, of course; he probably always would be. But it helped to know that the dozens of owls he received daily at both his office and home were now being sorted by Draco rather than collecting dust. It helped that his travel and hospitality arrangements were always booked promptly. It helped that he wasn’t expected to be in two places at once due to distracted scheduling. It helped both him and everyone he worked with enormously that he consistently had lunch breaks blocked off on his work calendar in solid black, with a Howler to follow if he didn’t respond to Draco’s nagging Protean Charm.
(Apparently, much of his short temper and stress on busy days could largely be attributed to too much caffeine and too little food. Who knew?)
But it was the personal efforts that helped even more than the professional ones.
For the first time ever, his loved ones were ensured a dinner and gift for their birthdays.
A hot cuppa appeared at his elbow whenever he worked from home and neared his breaking point.
He got a haircut on a routine basis.
His outfits for anything more formal than work were always selected for him, and always matched.
Kreacher stopped crying about empty pantries.
Damaged items around the house were getting replaced or repaired.
He was poked and prodded awake if he fell asleep at his desk or on the couch and hauled off to bed.
He never ran out of his favourite brands of scotches and stouts.
The rusted silverware was polished or replaced.
There were plants in the house. Live plants, even; he felt brighter just looking at them.
He could think out loud about data analyses or reports that were bugging him and have a voice that answered back. Sarcastically, yes, and mockingly more often than not; still, Draco had some good ideas and a different perspective that came in handy on many occasions.
He could talk about particularly disturbing dreams and have Draco dissect them so thoroughly and so condescendingly with gratuitous pseudo-psychology that Harry was in tears from laughter by the end.
He could realize he needed a specific book or folder and actually find them instantly because Draco had reorganised the entire damn library.
Best of all, he could get home from a long day’s work and have someone other than Kreacher at home to greet him.
It surprised exactly nobody when one year and one week into their business arrangement, Harry invited Draco to move in. Draco’d already been living in a flat in London for the better part of the last decade, as the Manor was so impractically far from everything, even with the Floo Network. Now that he was spending most of his waking hours at 12 Grimmauld Place, it only made sense.
Still, he’d made a point of keeping his private life private while employed under Harry. He took periodic personal days and declined to share what he used them for. He never provided Harry with names of friends or acquaintances. He never spoke of any personal hobbies. Harry didn’t catch him so much as reading a book that wasn’t just plucked from the sitting room’s bookshelves.
So it surprised exactly everybody when Draco said yes.
For the most part, their lives didn’t change much.
They’d already been spending most of their waking hours in some form of communication or another, so having Draco living there wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable. Draco was visibly around more on Saturdays and Sundays, but he’d been dropping by most weekends anyway ever since starting the job. He had a private bathroom and sitting room in his suite, so their belongings really only intermingled when it came to one thing.
They usually had breakfast together now, whereas it was only sporadic dinners before. Draco was always washed and dressed by then, but he seemed to take great pleasure in taking the piss out of Harry for his bear-like morning demeanor and his ruffled bedhead. His insults were always accompanied by an amused smirk and a nice, big mug of piping hot coffee with a splash of cream, though, so Harry couldn’t bring himself to mind.
(Especially not when he’d wandered downstairs earlier than usual one morning to find Draco stirring in the cream himself and humming quietly. He knew Draco delegated most household chores to Kreacher, but apparently tea and coffee were too sacred to offload. Harry’s stomach had reacted inexplicably oddly, but he never was in tip-top shape that early on a weekday, so he’d dismissed it. And if his morning coffee tasted even better after that, well, Draco’d probably just switched to a better brand.)
Sometimes if Hermione dropped by to visit, Draco would join them for a cup of tea before taking his leave (never when Ron came with her; those two still couldn’t stand each other). Draco’s favourite mug joined Harry’s in the kitchen, and his selection of teas sat on the counter near Harry’s coffee. A container of almond milk shared a shelf with Harry’s whole milk and pumpkin juice. An assortment of fruits that Harry’d never seen or heard of before occupied a hanging basket by the cooler. There was wine.
Four months after moving in together, Harry entered his home office after work to find a written request from Draco for two weeks of leave. After changing out of his robes into a more comfortable t-shirt and jeans, he carried the request down with him to the dinner table, where Draco was already seated waiting for him.
“Off to visit your parents?” he asked lightly. It was strangely difficult to keep his voice steady. He sank into his usual chair, and his right leg began bouncing with restless energy.
Draco peered at him over the brim of his cup. “Something like that.”
“Oh?” Harry began slathering his fish with butter, smiling at the way Draco crinkled his nose up in distaste at the quantity.
When it became clear that Draco wasn’t going to continue on his own after a few minutes, Harry swallowed his bite and tried again. “You know, I wouldn’t mind hearing about what you get up to when you’re not around. You know basically everything about my life,” he pointed out unnecessarily with a chuckle.
Draco glanced up at him, then back down. “It’s my job to know everything about your life,” he reasoned back, neatly cutting into his asparagus.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Right. Because we never concerned ourselves with each other’s affairs before now?” he scoffed. “Come on—you’re not usually so tight-lipped. Are you planning to travel?” When Draco rolled his eyes and ignored him, he nudged him under the table with his foot. “Hey… Draco, what’s wrong?”
Breathing out impatiently, Draco set down his utensils. “If you must know, my parents are trying to arrange a betrothal.”
The fish suddenly tasted like sawdust in Harry’s mouth. His stomach felt peculiar again, but in a very different and altogether unpleasant way. “You’re… oh. I didn’t—I had no idea you wanted to…”
“I don’t,” Draco interrupted Harry’s floundering for words. “The duration of the trip is to attempt to dissuade them before meeting my intended. Trust me; I have no desire for marriage at this point in my life.”
Harry was torn.
On the one hand, he was relieved. If Draco didn’t want to get married, that would be one less thing pulling him away from Harry’s life, and he really couldn’t imagine going back to the way things were before. On the other hand, it was… strangely sad. Disappointing? No, it couldn’t be disappointment making his chest ache. Perhaps he had pneumonia; that affected the chest region, right?
He probably just wanted the best for Draco. No, of course he wanted the best for Draco.
“Are you happy?” he blurted out.
Draco blinked at him.
Clearing his throat, Harry set down his own utensils before he dropped them or flailed and stabbed the table. “I mean, here—working, living like this.” With me. Professionally speaking. “I’d hate to be holding you back from… whatever. You know. A relationship, a career, your family. You’re obviously capable of much more than this.” But please don’t go.
Picking up his cup again, Draco took a sip of tea as he mulled over the idea. Whether he had never considered the idea before or whether he was selecting the right words, Harry wasn’t sure, but he was sure that the way the blond’s teeth balanced at the edge of the porcelain like that was slowly driving him spare. Why were they so white?
“I’m reasonably content,” Draco decided as the knots in Harry’s shoulders developed knots of their own. “‘Happy’ might be a stretch, but I’m not sure—anyway.” He shook his head. “That’s not your concern. I’m fine. This works.”
“No, not ‘anyway’,” Harry protested. “What is it? You’re not sure of what?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Draco replied firmly. “Do I have your consent or not?”
“My—what?” Getting a completely inappropriate mental image with that for God knew what reason, Harry fought back the flush that he could feel creeping up his neck and shook his head. “What f—Oh. For the—yeah. Yes, of course you can go, Merlin! You don’t need my approval.” Harry laughed. “It’s your family. I’m not really in a position to keep you away.”
“Aren’t you?” Draco peered at him with a perfectly neutral look, but Harry knew him well enough by now to read some sort of calculation going on behind his eyes. After a moment, he slowly smiled. “You are my employer. That means you’re in precisely the position to keep me away.”
Well, yes, he supposed so. But Harry didn’t consider himself that sort of employer. He hoped Draco didn’t think of him that way. He also hoped that Draco realized they had far too much history to stand on ceremony like that. Why would he think that Harry would ever—
Harry’s brain stuttered to a stop.
Draco didn’t want to go. And it was within Harry’s power to stop him. It really was, wasn’t it? At his word, Draco would tell his family—his “intended”—that he couldn’t make it. It would probably not be good for his engagement, but he obviously didn’t want to go through with it anyway. And Draco would do it, just like that.
He felt something slide into place again. Wiping his mouth absently with his napkin, he lowered his hands to his lap. “The… the twenty-third, was it? You know, there’s that conference in Vienna happening on the twenty-eighth. I’m honestly not sure I’ll be able to spare you then. And Parvati’s getting married the next weekend, right? It wouldn’t do to miss that; she specifically included both of us in the invitation. So maybe… if it could just be… postponed a bit?”
Draco’s amusement was more obvious now. “How long is ‘a bit’?”
Forever? Harry smiled in what he hoped was an innocent way, but which Hermione and Ron would probably call slightly manic. “Oh, let’s just… leave that open for now. We’ll get back to them when our schedules clear up. If you’d like, I’ll write up an apology for your parents and explain that you’re simply indispensable right now.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Draco sipped at his tea before setting the cup down. “I’ll draw up the paperwork for you to review and sign. Surely even my parents should understand that work comes first.”
Harry frowned down at his plate as his stomach twisted uneasily again. “That’ll do. And would you mind setting me up a quick appointment with Healer Brocklehurst? I don’t want to be a hypochondriac, but I’ve been feeling slightly off.”
“Probably because you are slightly off,” Draco scoffed, although it was accompanied by a quirked eyebrow. But the insult meant things were back to normal, so Harry only grinned wryly in response.
Three months later, the Malfoys tried again.
With insincerest apologies, Harry assigned Draco to a massive research project on the decreasing population of dragons in northern Europe (and the increasing supply of draconic goods in stores) as Harry went after a black market poaching ring.
(The Malfoys sent back a letter expressing their displeasure at canceling the meeting and requesting that Harry let Draco know as soon as he could be freed up.)
A week later, the Malfoys asked for an update and provided a set of alternative dates.
Unfortunately, those dates happened to coincide with another conference, a trip to New Zealand, the deadline for submitting personal reimbursement requests at the Ministry, and Teddy’s birthday party, all which were Draco’s responsibilities to organise.
(The Malfoys did not reply.)
Two months later, Lucius sent Draco a date, time, and place for him to show up.
Draco replied half in English, a quarter in Yiddish, and a quarter in Ukrainian that he was scheduled for a language proficiency exam that particular day to serve as an official licensed interpreter for Harry and the Ministry and it could not be missed.
(Lucius did not reply. Narcissa corrected his Ukrainian prepositional case.)
One month later, Lucius owled Harry directly to request some leave on Draco’s behalf, insisting that the betrothal could not be put off longer without causing considerable strain to their relationship with the Greengrasses.
Harry replied from Kiev that he was welcome to take his inconveniently hectic schedule up with Minister Shacklebolt.
(Lucius did not reply. Narcissa sent along a tin of delicious biscuits.)
It was three months before Lucius tried again, and this time, he did so by simply showing up at 12 Grimmauld Place on a Sunday morning with Astoria Greengrass in tow.
Harry opened the door. “Ah.”
“Mr. Potter,” Lucius drawled.
“Mr. Potter,” Astoria greeted with a polite curtsy.
“Please, call me Harry,” Harry said to Astoria with what he hoped was a polite smile, but which Hermione and Ron would probably call slightly constipated. “Come in. I’m afraid we weren’t expecting you…”
“Given that advanced expectations haven’t been appropriately observed, we felt there was little other choice,” Lucius commented coldly.
This time, Harry’s smile was probably closer to deranged. “Little choice other than showing up at your son’s employer’s own home during private time?”
“Than showing up at what is apparently now my son’s home during his private time,” Lucius corrected acerbically, pushing past Harry roughly on his way in.
Not wanting to cause a scene in front of Draco or Astoria, Harry gritted his teeth and tolerated it. He turned to a guilty-looking Astoria and tried for the constipated smile again. “Good evening, Miss Greengrass. Do come in.”
“I’m terribly sorry for this,” she whispered as she brushed past him, cheeks pink. “My family didn’t think this would be a good idea, but Lord Malfoy…”
“There’s no need for you to apologize on anyone’s behalf,” Harry assured her, going against his instincts to shout, You’re right; it was a terrible idea! Get out, both of you! “I’m unfortunately very familiar with the ways of Mr. Malfoy.”
He led her into the parlour where Draco sat stiffly in his armchair and Lucius stood by the couch. The latter glanced over long enough to gesture for Astoria to have a seat before flicking his cane in Harry’s general direction. “If we could have a few moments alone…”
“With all due respect, father—” Draco began.
“Silence, boy,” Lucius interrupted. “Mr. Potter, you are dismissed.”
Harry narrowed his eyes, ready to throw the older man out of the house for his tone. He could remember a younger Draco all too clearly: darting adoringly after his father, racing to keep up with his long legs, hovering just behind him as he took his cues from the patriarch’s behaviour. The last thing he wanted was for Draco to be reduced to such self-deprecating passivity again.
To his surprise, he needn’t have worried.
“No,” Draco retorted, setting his wine glass down firmly on the coffee table. “This is Harry’s home, not ours—not yours. You will mind your manners here.”
An angry flush began to fill Lucius’s cheeks. “You forget yourself, son,” he warned, tone sharp as a knife. “Your mother and I are trying to do what’s best for you.”
“Hardly.” Draco rose to his feet, facing the uninvited guests. “If you want to come back to England, then come back. You don’t need a wedding to do it. And I’ve told you time and time again, I’m not marrying any of the poor women you drag over.”
“And pray tell, what will you do with the rest of your life?” Lucius demanded. “Stand around in the great saviour’s shadow, picking up after him? You’ll just feed the rumours that you’re queer—”
“Because I am!”
Astoria’s startled hiccup broke the dead silence a few tense moments later.
Harry was dimly aware of Draco and Lucius beginning to argue in furiously hushed tones as Astoria edged her way to the side of the couch to escape the crossfire. He found it difficult to focus on the fight, however, when his mind insisted on replaying Draco’s declaration on a loop.
He came back to himself when a finger gently pushed his jaw shut. He stared down at Astoria, who watched him with a curious expression. The sound rushing back to his ears let him know without needing to look that the Malfoys were still at it, although they’d apparently moved to the far side of the room to bicker more discreetly.
“Was it really that much of a surprise?” she asked.
“Was it not?” Harry croaked back.
The young woman smiled cautiously. “Well, the direct confirmation was a bit of a shock… but no, there have been whispers for a while now,” she admitted. “He hasn’t been seen with any women since Pansy Parkinson back in school, although he goes to visit Blaise Zabini in Brighton fairly often. Being wealthy, handsome, and unattached at almost thirty is bound to raise questions.” She hesitated before adding, “And when the gossip circles learned he’d gone to work for you…”
“What? What do I have to do with anything?” There definitely weren’t any rumours about his own romantic inclinations that Harry was aware of; Hermione surely would have told him if there were.
Astoria gave him a Look. “You haven’t been seen with women since Miss Ginevra, either. Admittedly, the whole world knows how busy you are, but once journalists began placing you with the openly queer Misters Thomas and Finnigan—and then Draco unexpectedly went to work for and live with you despite your history—well...”
“We’re just friends!”
Harry realised how loudly he’d projected when he took in the silence. Lifting his head, he saw Draco staring at him with a carefully blank expression as Lucius sneered. Harry’d forgotten how much he hated that Malfoy Sneer until seeing it right then; it wasn’t a look Draco wore much these days unless the paparazzi were being particularly persistent.
He smiled awkwardly at Draco and offered a stiff shrug.
Draco rolled his eyes before turning back to his father. “No. I’ve told you time and time again, no. No matter how many girls you bring over, which family they’re a part of, or how beneficial the match might be, the answer is going to remain no. I won’t make them live that lie.”
Lucius’s glare hardened. “Then I strongly suggest you not return to the Manor until you’ve changed your mind or there’s a funeral. Miss Greengrass, we are done here.”
Turning sharply, he clicked across the floor and swooshed out the door. Astoria looked back at Draco with a sympathetic look before following suit.
The two remaining men didn’t move until they heard the sound of the front door slam shut. Harry looked at Draco, who looked at the floor. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Draco lifted his head to meet Harry’s nervous gaze. “No, I most certainly do not.”
Unable to completely hide his relief, Harry nodded.
(That would be the last they heard from Lucius Malfoy for three years.)
Their lives went back to normal after the unannounced visit.
In their case, normal meant spontaneous intercontinental chases after bad guys, researching obscure facts and lore, picking up the basics and random technical jargon of three more languages, diplomatic conferences, rubbing elbows with Europe’s elites, and many, many hours spent recovering in various infirmary beds at St. Mungo’s.
But it also meant coming home after a long day’s/week’s/month’s/quarter’s work to rest in front of the fire with glasses of obscenely expensive scotch, so it was well worth it.
And then Draco got sick.
“Do you want more tea? Hot water? I can make some ginger tea,” Harry offered as he tried to replace the damp cloth on Draco’s forehead.
Draco swatted at his hands in exasperation. “That’s dowhere glose do gold yed. Berlid, stob fussig.”
“Are you sure? It won’t take but a minute while I check on the s—”
“Stob,” Draco repeated tetchily. “I do’t wad dea, add I do’t wad your awful adempt at soub. I wad do sleep.”
“But you shouldn’t fall asleep for twenty-four hours, or you might not—”
“That’s for gongussions, you great blonker!”
Harry took the opportunity of having his hands free from the flannel to adjust Draco’s blankets for the thirteenth time in the last hour, tucking him in so securely that a vampire would have considered a coffin to be a ten-room mansion in comparison. “Are you warm enough? Should I cast a warming charm? Do you need another pillow?”
Sighing in a very put upon fashion, Draco rubbed his eyes. “I wad you do shud up.”
“Is it your head? Does your head hurt?” Harry began rooting through the phials of healing potions on the nightstand. “I think Healer Petrovna mentioned sound sensitivity being a symptom of—”
“I’b dot sensitive do sou’d, I’b tryi’g do sleep!”
“You sound terrible. I think you might be burning up again,” Harry fretted, chewing on the inside of his cheek anxiously as he stood. “I should call Healer Petrovna again.”
Groaning, Draco dragged the flannel down over the rest of his face. “Just led be die.”
Instantly alarmed, Harry hovered over him and flailed a bit. “You feel like dying? Is it that bad? Merlin, I need to get you to an emergency r—”
“DOE.” Yanking the flannel off, Draco shoved himself groggily upright. “Doe, I do’t deed a bloody emergedsy roob. For fug’s sake, Harry, go Firegall Herbiode and led ‘er dalk sobe sense indo you.”
Feeling wretched, Harry obligingly stood and slunk out the door, only looking back four times to check on Draco.
He spent a few minutes fluttering around the house before finally Firecalling Hermione at her office. When her head appeared in the flames, the look on her face quickly went from confused to concerned. “Harry? Harry! What’s wrong? You look awful! Why aren’t you at work?”
“Draco’s ill,” Harry admitted miserably. “And I’m not helping at all. He threw me out of the room when I tried to take care of him, and he won’t go to the hospital. He says it’s just a cold, but he sounds so horrible right now...”
Concern fading to exasperation, Hermione shook her head. “Harry, if he says it’s just a cold, it’s probably just a cold. Everybody sounds terrible stuffed up. Just let him get some rest and fix him some soup when he wakes up.”
“I’m making soup, but he keeps insulting it.”
“That’s because your soup tastes awful,” Hermione told him bluntly, smiling. “But it’s about the hydration and nutrients more than the flavour. If he’s sick enough for you to stay home to look after him, he probably won’t taste a thing.”
“What do I do while he’s sleeping?” Harry asked pitifully.
Hermione sighed. “You’ve never taken care of someone with a cold, have you?” she asked affectionately. “When they’re getting some rest, you get some rest. Go catch up on paperwork or get some sleep yourself.”
“What if he needs me?”
“Kip outside his door, then.”
“What if he steps out and trips over me?”
“Oh, Merlin, I was joking. Please do not kip outside his door,” Hermione groaned. “Go make yourself some tea and find a book to read. Look in on him in an hour or two and check his temperature. If it goes above 39, let me know and I’ll walk you through breaking the fever. 40, and he needs a hospital. I’ll stop by after work tonight to make sure he isn’t actually dying. All right?”
Harry chewed on his lip. “Is that okay? Will Ron be all right alone with Rose?” The couple had just had their first child, and Ron had gone on paternity leave while Hermione, much to the relief of her underlings, went back to work.
“He’s been alone with Rose every weekday for the last month, so I certainly hope he’s all right with her,” Hermione drawled. “Yes, love, I’ll be by. Don’t break yourself stressing out over this.”
Good old Hermione.
They ended the Firecall, and Harry went to go fix himself some tea.
He grabbed a book, and on second thought, a file he needed to review for work.
He then curled up on the carpet just to the side of the door, opened the book, and promptly fell asleep.
He woke up two hours later when Draco, on his way to the bathroom, tripped over him with a stream of curses.
The blond locked him out of the bathroom while he did his business, marched him down to the kitchen when he was done, and forced a Calming Draught into him while he tended to the mess on the stove—once Harry’s forgotten attempt at soup, but now just a charred pot with the bottom burnt out and a cloud of dark smoke.
There was something to be said for fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
(Needless to say, Harry invested in both shortly thereafter.)
Two days later, Draco’s up-and-down fevers finally broke, and another four days later, he was right as rain.
Of course, by this point Harry had worried himself sick.
(Luckily, Draco was much better at taking care of him than the other way around—but that surprised no one.)
The three-year anniversary of their arrangement started with Draco going to the store to pick up some milk and bread.
It ended with both of them blindfolded in a dungeon in Budapest.
(They never spoke of it again.)
It was four and a half years into their arrangement that everything changed.
A short reconnaissance mission for Harry and Neville Longbottom had turned into being captured, relocated, and held prisoner. Luckily, their captors hadn’t been the torturing types, preoccupied as they were with their experiments on an airborne lycanthropy-inducing toxin.
Unluckily, they hadn’t been the hospitable type, either.
By the time backup arrived and broke them out three days later, they were both verging on unconsciousness from hunger and dehydration. They were Apparated directly to the hospital, where they were allowed to pass out under the watchful eye of St. Mungo’s best healers.
When Harry woke up, he was immediately conscious of three things without opening his eyes:
1. His mouth tasted terrible and felt horrifically dry.
2. His left arm was tangled in the catheter of an IV.
3. Draco was holding his hand.
He knew the second because a myoclonic twitch upon waking had jerked the needle, sending a shot of pain out from the entry point.
He knew the third because… he just did.
It wasn’t because he had any experience with the sensation. He and Draco had certainly never held hands. He didn’t think he’d ever so much as gotten a pat on the back or a squeeze on the shoulder; it was pretty safe to say the last time Draco’s hands had been on his skin had been to shove him into a wall back in their school days.
It wasn’t because he could smell Draco’s expensive cologne. In fact, it was strange that the familiar scent was missing; however, the lack could probably be explained by being in an enforced sterile environment.
It wasn’t because Draco said anything to indicate his presence. By the sound of the steady, deep breaths and the gentle crinkling of the bedsheets in time to each inhale and exhale, the blond was actually asleep.
Harry opened his eyes long enough to squint blearily in Draco’s general direction. The fuzzy flash of pale blond resting on the bed beside his hip confirmed what he already knew.
A rush of heat filled his chest. He wanted to smile, but his mouth was still immobile. He wanted to touch Draco, but his fingers wouldn’t so much as twitch. He wanted to curl closer, wrap himself up in the rival-turned-enemy-turned-acquaintance-turned-assistant-turned-absolutely, immeasurably irreplaceable other man, but his limbs wouldn’t respond.
His heart, on the other hand, had no problem moving. It began to pound, and the last thing Harry was awake of was the high beeping of a monitor going off as he succumbed to the sudden burst of expended energy and slipped back into unconsciousness.
The next time Harry woke up, his mouth still tasted terrible and his left arm was even more tangled in the catheter, but it was Ron seated in the chair beside him, and they were definitely not holding hands.
“Hey, mate,” the redhead greeted somberly, sounding exhausted. “You and Neville gave us a damn scare there.”
Sorry, Harry tried to say, but the best he could manage was to unstick his dry lips.
Taking the cue, Ron reached over for the cup of water resting nearby and offered it to Harry through a straw.
When Harry had sipped enough to be able to control his tongue again, he rasped, “Neville?”
“He’s fine. Woke up before you, actually, and is already back on solid foods.”
That was good. “What happened?”
Ron gave a short laugh. “What do you think? You and Neville missed two check-ins, so Savage sent a ground team to investigate. You’d already been moved by then.”
“Three days.” Letting out a shuddered breath, Ron dropped his head. “Would’ve been longer, too, if it weren’t for Malfoy. I hate to say it, but you and ‘Mione are right. He’s almost tolerable now.”
Lurching upright as well as he could when still groggy from sedatives, Harry only focused on one part of the response. “Draco? What happened? Where is he? Is he okay? What—”
“Oy, calm down there!” Alarmed, Ron pushed him back down into the narrow bed. “Merlin, your boyfriend’s fine. Healer Popescu sent him home to get some sleep. They had to keep you under a few days to treat some spell damage, and the git’s been here ever since half an hour after you were brought in. He was about to need a hospital himself if he didn’t get some rest.”
Once it seemed like Harry was going to stay calm and not pull out his IV, Ron sat back down and continued to debrief him. “When you were gone longer than planned, Malfoy Firecalled the office and found out you were missing. He dug through your files and apparently saw something you both missed before—and Shacklebolt’s going to have a talk with you about sharing classified information with civilians,” he warned ruefully.
Harry gave him the best I don’t bloody care about Shacklebolt; tell me about Draco look he could manage under the circumstances.
Ron returned it with a Hold your Thestrals; I’m getting there one.
“He found a connection between the Roaming Wolves group and those missing persons cases Dawlish has been breaking his back over. Stormed into the department like the spoiled git he is, invaded Dawlish’s office, took over his filing cabinet, and spent six hours cross-referencing documents before narrowing down your location to three places. Retrieval teams were sent to each location, and we managed to bust out twenty-four other missing civilian prisoners in the process, most of them a lot worse off than you and Neville. Without Malfoy…” He trailed off, looking uneasy.
“Draco won’t get in trouble, will he?” Harry rasped.
Ron grimaced. “He got back the wizarding world’s Golden Boy. What do you think?” he grumbled, feeding him more water. “Hermione said the papers for giving him Level 4 clearance is already in the works. It just needs two more signatures before Malfoy can be called in, briefed, and walked through orientation. You can imagine the fits going around the Ministry at the idea of giving an ex-Death Eater any sort of clearance.”
“My missions are above Level 4,” Harry pointed out in exasperation.
Ron coughed. “Not Auror Level 4. Not Associated Civilian, either.”
Harry thought about it for a moment, then jerked upright again before Ron pushed him back down. “Shacklebolt’s making him a consultant?”
Sighing, Ron nodded. “He recognized a pattern within hours mostly based off of your notes and only your passing mention of Dawlish’s case. Yeah, Shacklebolt wants him on contract. I still hate his stupid arse—”
“No, you don’t,” Harry snorted. True, Ron and Draco still passive-aggressively snarked at and insulted each other anytime they were in the same room (“Are you capable of passing the salt, Weasley, or should I ask your better half to levitate it over?” “I’m surprised you can touch salt without getting exorcised, Malfoy.”), but by this point it had lost all heat and just seemed to be how they communicated.
“—but I have to hand it to him, he’s good. A few of us have been talking, and even I wouldn’t mind having him on our roster full-time so long as he was, you know… located across the building. Or maybe in a different one. In another country.”
Harry must have done something telling with his face, because after a moment Ron backpedaled. “Aw, hell, Harry, I didn’t mean it. Don’t look at me like that. Come on, just because I’m not all chummy with him—”
“No, it wasn’t—I know the two of you don’t—it’s just…” Harry trailed off.
Ron ran a hand through his hair in weary frustration. “Oh. This is about you two ‘not’ being in a relationship, right? You know he’s not going to—fuck it, I’m not equipped to manage that conversation. I’ll go get ‘Mione.”
Harry stared after him blankly as he left, wondering what that was all about. Ron’s meaning was somewhere at the tip of his brain, but the more he tried to think about it, the more he felt a rising anxiousness until he pushed it away.
Hermione would figure it out. In the meantime, another nap sounded nice…
In the end, he didn’t get to talk to Hermione about it. The next few times he woke up, he was with Healers or alone. Draco went in and out, sometimes dropping by to curse him out for being an idiot, other times passing him information about Hermione or Kreacher or the house or his assignments, and often just sitting quietly with him as the minutes ticked by.
It was strange how silence with Draco seemed to pass the time so much more quickly than silence alone.
They didn’t talk about what happened. Draco didn’t bring it up, so Harry didn’t, either.
Honestly, Harry didn’t really want to talk about it. He was proud of Draco, of course—how could he not be?—but talking about what happened made him think about too many things that he preferred to avoid.
Like those days locked up in the dark, damp cold with Neville, trying to find a way out until the loss of energy left them simply huddled together for warmth and praying that help would arrive. There’d been no natural light or regular rotation of guard to mark the passing of time.
Like the idea of Draco sitting alone at home, wondering where he was, possibly—probably, if his takeover of the case indicated anything—in pieces with worry.
Like Draco becoming a part of all of this—cases about kidnappings and murders and Dark Arts all over again.
Like Ron’s words about Draco joining the Ministry full-time, and what it might mean, and how things would change, if he had case analyses to fill his time and he didn’t need Harry to break up his boredom anymore and if Harry would have to go back to managing his own time and floundering before conferences and forgetting birthday presents and making his own meals and eating alone and not waking up to Draco alert and dressed and fucking perfect, pouring hot coffee and greeting him with a faint smile and playful mockery for his disheveled early morning shuffling and hustling him off to bed at night when he stayed up pouring over files and…
God. How was he going to get by without him? When had he become so utterly necessary?
In the time-honoured tradition of British men everywhere, Harry handled his turmoil the best way he knew how: with a stiff upper lip.
Harry was great at pushing his emotional needs into a box and burying it in his closet. It was a habit born of necessity from growing up with the Dursleys. It was then strengthened in his Hogwarts years by both the public’s watchful eye and having one best friend who had the emotional depth of a teaspoon and another who intuited everything without needing to be told. Finally, it was cemented by being an Auror and frequently needing to deal with terrible situations.
Draco was also great at pushing his emotional needs into a box, given how despite their three-and-a-half years of living together (and four-and-a-half years of working together, and, oh, eighteen years of knowing each other) Harry still knew very little about the people in his life and where he disappeared to when he took leave and what he did when he wasn’t assisting Harry.
Their story could have gone on for another ten years of silently brooding angst, or it could have ended there with Draco joining the Ministry and walking out of Harry’s personal life and into his professional one.
Fortunately, the reason Draco fit into Harry’s life so well was because he got things done and didn’t tolerate nonsense, and that was still true now.
“Sit,” Draco demanded when Harry returned home from his first day back at work.
Harry blinked, then obediently went where Draco pointed and sat down at the dining room table. He could smell food, but the table was bare of the usual dinner settings.
Draco disappeared into the kitchen, then returned with two half-filled tumblers. He placed one in front of Harry, who took a gulp on reflex before choking. “Merlin, you couldn’t have added some water?” he coughed out.
Draco gave him an unimpressed look before taking three sips, each longer than the last. Setting the glass down again, he took a deep breath. “All right. I can’t fix the problem if I don’t know what it is. What’s bothering you?”
Harry quickly swallowed down the rest of his gin. Draco politely waited for him to finish.
Pushing away the empty glass, Harry took a deep breath. “Ron said Shacklebolt wants you on as a consultant.”
“Ron may have mentioned that there are members of the Auror department who are considering you in a full-time capacity.”
Draco hesitated before nodding.
Harry’s heart sank. It took him a few fumbling moments to speak again. “Are you going to take it?”
Draco took another drink before moving his glass and what was left of his gin to the side and clasping his hands on the table. “I’m considering it.”
Harry stood up. He couldn’t deal with this conversation right now. “Right. Well, then.”
He didn’t get more than two steps before Draco caught his wrist, and—oh.
“Harry,” Draco said firmly. A shiver ran up Harry’s spine at the determination in his voice. “Sit down. We need to talk about this.”
His words broke Harry out of the distracted trance that the contact had put him in. “We really, really don’t. You want to leave, and that’s your prerogative. I don’t see why—”
“I seem to recall that not interfering with my processes is a stipulation of my contract with—”
Harry yanked his arm out of Draco’s grasp. “If you’re walking away anyway, what does the damn contract matter?” he demanded as he whirled around. “Just go, then! What is there to talk about?”
“The fact that the only one who keeps talking about me leaving is you!” Draco snapped, voice rising.
Opening his mouth to shout back, Harry stopped short.
Draco sighed and stood. He closed his eyes for a moment, collecting himself, before speaking again in a more even tone that was clearly costing him a lot. “You went missing for three days, and I couldn’t do anything about it from here.”
“You did quite—”
“Shut up and let me finish.”
Harry shut up.
“On an ordinary assignment, I’d know where you were and what you were doing, given that I would have done half the research and planning for you along the way, but I’d have no access to know your status until you come home in various states of injured and exhausted. And I am so, so tired of that. The only reason I was allowed into Dawlish’s office in the first place was because they were distracted with you and Longbottom, and I didn’t give them enough time to gather their wits and throw me out. If I joined your department, I would be able to monitor you every step of the way and make sure you made it home in one piece.”
“I don’t need you monitoring me on missions,” Harry protested. The look on Draco’s face said he strongly disagreed, but Harry rushed on, speaking quickly in hopes of creating an impenetrable wall of words to keep him from leaving. “We have people to do that, and they’re good people. Yes, sometimes—a lot of times—something goes wrong, but we’re trained to adapt to it, and they’re trained to help get us through. I need you here, at home with me, more than I need you there.”
“And I’m trying to tell you that you can have it both ways!”
For a second time, Harry stopped short.
Draco reached back to pick up his glass and toss back the rest of his gin. Setting it back down and sliding it away, he stepped forward until he was directly in front of Harry.
Harry, whose heart was racing and hands were sweating and jaw was hanging open.
Like Astoria’d done a couple of years before, Draco reached up to gently shut his jaw. Unlike with Astoria, the touch tingled and made Harry’s breath catch.
Unlike Astoria, Draco didn’t pull away.
“I knew I was in trouble the moment I agreed to be your assistant. You’ve always been in my head one way or another; being around you, caring for you, was only guaranteed to cement that. For me, you were inevitable.
“But I can’t sit around and wait at home like some damn housewife, wondering where you are and if you’re in trouble. You have no idea how important it is to me that you’re all right, and how important it is that I be able to take care of you, in any and every capacity.
“There are things we can’t be as long as I’m legally your employee, Harry,” Draco finished quietly. “I’d really like to be able to be those things.”
A whimper followed the blow of that statement, and before Harry could realise it had come from himself, his hands were gripping the front of Draco’s shirt and yanking him down.
The kiss had embarrassingly little finesse, and downright hurt from the crash of noses and teeth. Harry tasted blood and knew that one of them had split their lip. Aside from a brief moment of hope that the blood was his own—because as evidenced from the time Draco’d been down with the flu Harry could not stand him being hurt—Harry couldn’t be bothered to pay it any attention.
Not when he was breathing the same air as Draco.
Not when there were teeth tugging at his lip, and then Draco was sucking on it.
Not when there were hands on his waist, long, graceful fingers pulling him closer.
Not when one of those hands moved to the back of his head and ran through his hair and grabbed a fistful of the shaggy black locks and tugged, and Merlin—
Before things could get really interesting, Draco drew back. Harry dragged him in for another kiss, but Draco didn’t let this one get nearly as heated before stopping them again.
He pressed their foreheads together and tucked his hands at the small of Harry’s back, though, and that was quite all right.
“Harry James Potter,” Draco began, smiling as Harry shivered. “I hereby formally submit my resignation from my post as your personal assistant. Please consult my solicitor regarding any early contract termination penalties.”
“Draco Lucius Malfoy,” Harry returned, grinning brightly. “I accept your resignation and waive all penalties so long as present living arrangements are maintained.”
“I accept this clause,” Draco replied with a deliciously soft huff of laughter.
Harry was powerless to resist leaning up to taste it.