Harry wrinkled his nose at the overpowering smell of cat. Make that cats, plural. More cats than one human should be allowed to possess. The house was decorated in early-British Old Woman, with doilies covering every paisley surface that wasn't already covered in felines.
"You say she has a son?" Draco asked dubiously, and looked down in distaste at a tabby that rubbed against his right leg. Harry readied his wand, in case his partner decided to give the animal a kick. The blond Auror restrained himself with visible effort.
"Yes. Apparently she turned into a cat lady later in life."
Harry looked around, hoping for a clue this time. There had been a rash of kidnappings recently—family members of the wealthy. Though all of the victims had been recovered—sans ransoms—the statuses of the families (as well as the collective loss of wealth) was beginning to put pressure on the Ministry. Even though Potter and Malfoy were normally assigned darker cases, such as murders or the use of Unforgivables, Scrimgeour had finally buckled to pressure and assigned them. No doubt he secretly hoped they would fail, and blight the name of Harry Potter.
"See any clues?" he asked Draco hopefully.
"Beneath this feline army?" the blond drawled. Harry grinned. Most days it still surprised him that he'd grown to like the pointy-faced git. Their first four months as partners had been sheer hell, of course. They had fought nonstop, been suspended several times, threatened to quit (much to Scrimgeour's delight), and had generally worked to rid one another of the other's presence—until the night of Fenrir Greyback's capture. Harry had, astoundingly, found himself disarmed and about to have his throat torn open by the werewolf when Draco (although he was still Malfoy, then) had hexed Greyback insensible. Draco had crowed for weeks about saving Harry Potter's life. He had given interviews to every paper in the wizarding world. He had even created and worn an ostentatious badge that read, "I saved Harry Potter."
Harry had wanted to gnash his teeth in frustration, but the fact remained that Draco really had saved his life. Harry had finally broken down one evening and thanked the bastard. The shocked look on the blond's face had nearly been worth the torture of working with him. Oddly, that moment had changed things between them. They had settled into a decent working relationship that had grown, at least on Harry's part, into an affection rivaled only by that he felt toward Ron and Hermione.
"I suppose we should get rid of these cats," Harry said.
"Excellent," said Draco, brandishing his wand. "I'll send them to Greenland."
Harry choked back a laugh, and put his hand on Draco's wrist. "Stop it, you evil git. I'll call Jack in the Magical Creature Regulation Department. Some of the cats might be part Kneazle, but we'll let them sort it out."
"Jack who?" Draco asked sharply, causing Harry to give him an odd look. "One of your special friends?"
"Shut up," Harry said with a snort, although he wondered at Draco's tone. The blond sounded almost jealous. He added teasingly, "You know you're the only man for me, Malfoy. Your… oily Slytherinness… it turns me on."
Draco smirked. "In your dreams, Potter. And I have never been, nor shall ever be, oily. Fine, call your boyfriend, but I'm at least confining the creatures to a single room." Draco Levitated the cats and floated them into a nearby bedchamber, counting aloud as he did so.
"Seventeen," said Harry when Draco finished. "Is that all? I felt sure there were more."
"Seventeen, so far," Draco said dryly. "The fat one looked about to erupt in kittens at any moment."
"Let's get out of here before that happens, eh?"
"That's the first good idea you've had in… well, ever."
Harry socked him.
Harry sat at his desk, scribbling their findings, or lack thereof, onto parchment while Draco perched in his usual spot—on the corner of Harry's desk with his feet propped on the seat of a nearby chair. The blond had found a package of stale popcorn atop Harry's cabinet and was eating it with a grimace of distaste.
"You know, Potter, that is the most hideous poster on the planet."
Harry glanced at the poster behind his chair. It showed cavorting white dolphins leaping through blue waves while a fluttering banner overhead announced, "SEE THE ALBINO DOLPHINS AT THE AQUARIUM OF AQUATIC MAGIC!" The creatures noticed Harry's attention and chattered happily. The poster had been on the wall when Harry had moved in, and he had never cared enough to remove it. When he sat at his desk, he couldn't see it, anyway.
"You've mentioned that two dozen times, Malfoy."
"Six dozen times," Draco corrected.
"Maybe you're spending too much time in my office," Harry suggested. Draco ignored that.
"Hurry up with that, Potter. I'm starving. I shall perish if I don't find decent sustenance soon."
"You could help me write this report, you know," Harry grumbled. "And don't eat that popcorn. It's been there for a week."
"Malfoys don't write. We dictate. No wonder this tastes awful." He flung the package away, toward the not-so-general vicinity of the rubbish bin. "Do you have any chocolate?"
"No," Harry lied. Draco fixed him with a look. Damn it, how the hell did he do that, anyway? Harry sighed and handed Draco a chocolate frog he'd been saving. Malfoy crowed as he unwrapped the confection. Harry fought back a grin and shook his head. The blond was not adorable, he told himself. Aloud he asked, "What day is today?"
Draco snorted and shifted around slightly. He began to rip pages from the tear-off calendar on Harry's desk while munching happily on the chocolate.
"Honestly, Potter, how hard is it to tear the pages off?"
Harry didn't know, as he had never done it. Draco always tore the pages off for him. If Draco was absent, the page stayed frozen on whatever date Draco had last sat upon Harry's desk, as if time itself held its breath waiting for the blond to return. The thought disturbed Harry for a moment, but before he could pursue it, Kingsley Shacklebolt stuck his head in the door.
"Potter, I need to see you. Green Conference Room, ten minutes. Malfoy, don't you have an office?"
Draco swiveled his head to look at Harry in feigned surprise. "Do I?"
Harry gestured with a thumb. "Down the hall. That room where you store your stolen office supplies."
Draco sniffed with patrician snobbery. "I thought that was a storage closet."
"Maybe you should seek out your 'storage closet' and attempt to do some of the work we pay you for?" Kingsley sighed. "Never mind. Just come to the damned meeting with Potter. He'll tell you all about it, anyway."
Draco looked at Harry smugly. Harry should have felt guilty, but it was true. Even if he and Malfoy were assigned to different cases, Harry always sought out the Slytherin. He had very few secrets from Draco. In truth, he admired Malfoy's twisted mind, and used him for advice on nearly everything. Plus he just liked talking to the git. Not that he would ever to admit any of those things. Malfoy dropped gracefully off the desk.
"You have chocolate on your face," Harry commented.
"Lick it off for me?" Draco asked seductively, leaning close as Harry stood up and rounded the desk.
"Of course, darling." Harry obligingly leaned forward and trailed his tongue over the edge of Malfoy's mouth, leaving as much saliva as possible in place of the chocolate. Draco shoved him away with a cry of horror as Harry laughed loudly.
"Gryffindor halfwit!" he bellowed and wiped his mouth with a sleeve. He followed Harry out, muttering.
Draco got even by shoving Harry into the nearest open office and spelling the door shut before hitting it with a complex locking spell. Perforce, Harry arrived late at the meeting with Shacklebolt. He muttered something about the loo, and shot Draco a vengeful look. Malfoy winked at him and grinned.
"All right," Kingsley said. "Esmeralda Eastgate's son refuses to pay her ransom. This has not happened with any of the previous kidnap victims."
"Refuses to pay?" Harry asked blankly.
"He's something of a shiftless bastard," Kingsley said.
"Want me to change his mind?" Draco offered and caused a greenish light to slither from the tip of his wand ominously. It was a sign of how serious the case had become that Kingsley did not snarl at Malfoy. He almost seemed to consider it.
"I'll pay it," Harry said. Identical looks of horror met his gaze.
"No, you will not," Draco said as Kingsley shook his head.
"No, Potter," Kingsley said. "Eastgate is not your problem. We should have some funds in the—"
"We don't," Harry cut in. "We depleted the Unforeseen Emergency Fund when Bones and Levenger were stuck in Montreal."
Shacklebolt swore, apparently not appreciating that little reminder.
"I have the money," Harry said and shrugged.
"Which you will not waste on a fossilized cat collector whose ass-hat son—"
"Draco," Harry snapped, "It's my money."
"And you are obviously too stupid to be trusted with it. I've told you before, if you let me have access to your account for six months—"
'"I'll be richer than Midas.' Forget it, Draco. I have more Galleons now than I will ever need."
Draco looked at Kingsley pleadingly. "You heard him. Can I have him declared incompetent? A stint with the Mind Healers at St. Mungo's can only do him good."
Kingsley buried his face in his hands. Harry sent a whispered Stinging Hex at Draco's arse. The blond yelped and rubbed his wounded posterior while shooting a glare at Harry.
Shacklebolt spoke wearily. "Potter, do what you want. Use your funds, steal the funds, fake the funds, I don't care. Just get to that damned ransom drop and find the bastard committing these crimes. Also, if a single word of this conversation gets back to Scrimgeour, I swear I'll have you two scrubbing toilets in Antarctica for the next six months."
"It's good to know we can count on you, boss," Draco said reverently and Kingsley stalked out without a word.
Harry grinned at Draco, victorious. He stopped grinning with a hiss of pain when they entered the corridor, since Draco had pinched him sharply.
"Did you just pinch my arse?" Harry demanded.
"That was for the Stinging Hex. But you do have a very pinchable arse, Potter," Draco purred. "I thought it would be a bit firmer, actually, but it's rather…" Harry felt a hand squeeze his arse cheek, and he spun on Malfoy in astonishment. "Soft," Draco finished with a grin.
"You thought it would be firmer? How often do you think about my arse, Malfoy?"
Draco cast a Stinking Cloud on Harry's head, and by the time he fought free of it, Malfoy had gone, although the blond's laugh still rang in the corridor.
Harry was bored. They were extraordinarily early for the ransom drop, but it was better than sitting around the office doing paperwork. Well, maybe, Harry amended. They were currently in a Buddhist Temple, pretending to be faithful worshipers kneeling before the huge, smiling statue of Buddha. Actually, Harry was pretending to be a faithful worshiper. Malfoy was pretending to be a pain in the arse, and doing a fine job of it. He hissed at Harry.
"This is really going to screw up my rating," Draco muttered for the sixth time. Harry decided he'd better acknowledge the irritating prat and get it over with.
"What rating?" he asked out of the corner of his mouth and bowed low again.
Malfoy prostrated himself next to Harry, following the lead of the faithful. "My APL rating, you pleb! It's currently 158.23, and if it's not straight at 160 by my next review… well, I'll hurt someone. I will."
Harry scanned the temple once more, but allowed part of his mind to attune to Malfoy's words. APL rating? He gave Draco one of the looks that Draco hated. In fact, Draco called it "Idiot Gryffindor Look Number Eight." It had the usual effect of making Draco glare at him hotly.
"Potter, I swear. Your Auror Performance Level, you bloody imbecile! Your level is currently 158.67, probably due to the fact that Shacklebolt liked your Christmas gift better than mine last year, but I shall rise above. Fear not."
"Draco, have I mentioned yet today that you are completely insane?" Harry murmured.
"How can you not care about your APL score, Potter? The number affects your salary increase, you know."
Harry stared at the blond. Sometimes Malfoy was completely unfathomable. Harry found himself grinning like an idiot from the sheer incomprehensibility of the man.
"Draco, you make more from interest in one week than you make during a month as an Auror. I know damn well you do this job only for fun. Why the hell are you obsessing over some stupid rating?"
Draco rolled his eyes and tossed his head slightly, causing a lock of silver-blond hair to tumble down over his forehead. Harry reached over and tucked it back under the black hood. They were supposed to be faithful Buddhists, most of which did not have hair of shining platinum. Draco seemed nonplussed by Harry's action, as he actually stopped ranting.
It was a momentary respite. When Harry's hand retreated, Malfoy snapped, "It's the principal of the thing, Potter." Malfoy was quiet for nearly two whole minutes after that, until he finally broke with a borderline whine. "Potter, I'm hungry. Do you have any food?"
Harry thought about slamming his head into the marble floor beneath the thin woven rug he knelt on. "Malfoy, I'll buy you a seven course meal if you just shut the fuck up until this ransom is picked up. Okay?"
There was no response. Harry looked over curiously, to see Draco locking his lips with an imaginary key and tossing it over his shoulder. His expression was earnestly hopeful. Harry had to bite his lips—hard—to keep from laughing. His shoulders shook with silent chuckles, and he couldn't meet the grey eyes. Damn it, but the Slytherin bastard was annoying. Cute, though. Sometimes he was very fucking cute. Although he probably should not be thinking of his deadly Auror partner as cute.
A hand reached out and touched his wrist. It felt strangely warm, especially on top of Harry's contemplation of cuteness. Harry looked at Draco quickly, but the Slytherin's eyes were on the Buddha. Harry snapped his gaze in that direction, instantly businesslike. Draco squeezed his wrist once more and let go. A line of monks had filed in from one side of the room, approaching the statue.
"This is it," Harry murmured.
"Which one?" Draco asked. Harry tried to slide his wand out surreptitiously. The plan was to cast a Tracking Spell on anyone with a magical signature—the one nice thing about the drop being at a Muggle Temple. There should only be one person in the group with a magical aura. However, there were too many Muggles to cast the spell properly. If he cast a Detection Spell, the resulting glow would cause mass panic among the Muggles.
Draco, of course, did not care. "Magus Detectus!" he hissed, one second before Harry's hand shot out to stop him. One of the monks was instantly surrounded by a purplish glow. "Got him!" Draco bellowed and leaped to his feet. The monk looked around in panic, just as the others began to react. Most stared in frozen shock at the glowing monk and the man leaping from the floor to attack. A few cried out and backed away, or stumbled.
"Petrificus Totalus!" Harry bellowed, scrambling to his feet after Draco. The pretend monk ducked the spell and dove for the statue. Draco was hot on his heels, although his fake prayer robes slowed his progress. The ransom money was tucked in behind Buddha's right foot, and it was obvious the kidnaper was going to get there first. Fuck! They were going to have to send in Obliviators to alter the memories of everyone in the damned temple. Kingsley was going to crap wildebeest.
Harry winced. Draco was frothing mad. The man had snatched the money and Disapparated seconds before Draco would have caught him. Now the Muggles were running around like panicked sheep, and Harry had to call Shacklebolt after magically locking the doors to keep the Buddhists corralled. Harry feared that Malfoy's shrieked invectives were frightening the Muggles even more than the scene they had witnessed.
He gripped Draco's shoulders tightly and gave him a bit of a shake.
"Malfoy, calm down! I spelled one of the ransom Galleons."
"That fucking, fucking, fuck—! What?"
Harry smiled. "I spelled one of the Galleons. I have a matching coin that's a Portkey. It will take me straight to the ransom. And our kidnaper."
Malfoy's smile was a wonder to behold. Harry felt his heart take a curious detour from its usual rhythm. His hands grew suddenly clammy on Draco's shoulders. The feeling was magnified when Draco said softly, "I could kiss you, Potter."
Harry nearly choked. He fought the blush that threatened to overtake his face and fled to the familiar safety of humor. "In your dreams, Malfoy," he said teasingly.
"What are we waiting for?" Draco demanded, shattering the spell.
"Obliviators. We can't just leave these Muggles here—"
Draco Dispparated them. Harry glared at the Slytherin and tried to assess his surroundings. They were on a city rooftop, apparently.
"Malfoy, goddamn it! Where the hell are we?"
"It doesn't matter. Get the damn coin out and Portkey us. Now, Potter! Now, now now! Our APL ratings hang in the balance!"
"We're going to be so fired for this," said Harry, but dug out pouch containing the Portkey. He made sure Malfoy had a tight grip on his arm, and shook the Portkey Galleon into his hand. The sickening sensation of spinning through space took him.
The Portkey deposited them in a trash-filled, deserted alley. Harry's eyes searched every nook and cranny as he held his wand ready. Malfoy was far less hopeful. To his credit, he held his tongue, probably sensing that Harry was in the mood to hex someone's bits off.
A short search produced the Galleon, gleaming atop the lid of a battered metal rubbish bin. Draco tossed the coin in the air and caught it before tucking it into a pocket.
"So. We're dealing with a smarter than average criminal," Draco said instead of insulting Harry's plan. Harry tried not to feel grateful, but he was.
"He's smart enough to detect a magical tracking spell and Port, at any rate. I suppose we'd better go break the news to Kingsley.
"I'll let you tell him," Draco said.
"You're too generous."
"You know it, Potter."
Kingsley's rage was tempered only by the fact that Mrs. Eastgate had been released unharmed. After their reaming, Harry offered to take Draco out for his seven-course meal so that they could lick their wounds together.
Harry was already pissed by the fourth course. He thought Draco wasn't far behind. They had both been drinking far more than eating.
"I saw his face, Potter," Draco muttered for the sixth time while picking at the food on his plate. Harry could not remember what the dish was called.
"Yes, darling, but you didn't recognize him."
Draco scowled. "Don't patronize me, Potter."
Harry grinned. When drunk, Malfoy tended to leap on whatever emotion struck his fancy. It was usually an entertaining ride, if it didn't lead to hexes or blows.
"Of course not," Harry said seriously. "At least you'll know him if you see him again."
"Quite right," Draco said and jabbed the air with his fork. Harry refrained from smiling, barely.
"Did you go home?" Harry asked suddenly. After the meeting with Kingsley, Harry had Flooed home, showered, and changed into jeans and a decent green shirt, before meeting Draco at the restaurant. He had nearly worn red, because it annoyed his partner, but Malfoy was already in a snit. No sense waving a flag before the bull, as it were.
Normally Draco dressed to the nines whenever they went out, mostly to show what an "uncouth plebian" Harry was in comparison, but tonight he seemed to have merely shucked his Auror robes and combed his hair. Of course, he still looked better than Harry.
"No," Draco admitted. "I had an errand to run."
Harry was immediately suspicious. He knew Draco far too well not to suspect that innocent tone, but he also knew wild Thestrals couldn't draw the truth out of the Slytherin. He let it drop. For now.
By the time they left the restaurant, they could barely walk. Harry propped Malfoy up with an arm around his shoulders, but found himself leaning on his partner for balance.
Draco chuckled at him. "Some Chosen One," Draco said. "You can't even hold your liquor."
"You should talk," Harry said with a sneer. "What sort of Slytherin gets sodding drunk after… nine measly drinks?"
"Ten, Potter. Ten drinks. And I am not drunk," Draco announced. After which he promptly tripped, and brought them both crashing to the sidewalk. Harry cursed when his knee slammed into the sidewalk. Draco giggled harder and clung to Harry's neck.
"Ah… did ickle Potter get a boo-boo?" Draco asked, making no effort to help them to their feet. "Want me to kiss it better?"
Draco's voice was a husky rasp in Harry's ear, and he tried to pretend it didn't send a jolt of want shooting straight to his groin.
"You can kiss something, Malfoy," he snapped harshly, "But it's not my knee."
He used all his strength to force himself to his feet, dragging the blond with him. Somehow, Malfoy ended up half-wrapped around him. Their hips were pressed together, and Draco's left arm curled around Harry's back to grip his shoulder. The other was wrapped around Harry's waist in the front, and Malfoy's head was tucked under Harry's jaw.
Harry kept his right arm around Malfoy's shoulders, and wondered if he could reach the wand in his back pocket with his left hand. Maybe with a Summoning Charm, but he sucked at using Accio with his left hand.
Draco's breath was hot against the base of Harry's throat. He needed to get the Slytherin home as soon as possible, before Draco discovered things Harry was just beginning to discover about himself.
"We can't Apparate," Harry said. "I don't think I could safely Apparate us across the street."
"I trust you, Potter," Draco murmured, tickling Harry's neck with his lips and waking up even more body parts that Harry preferred remain asleep. Harry chuckled.
"Do you trust me enough to take a Muggle cab?"
"Not on your life, Potter."
"Then it's the Knight Bus for us."
Draco moaned. "Oh god, no. I'll vomit. And Malfoys don't vomit."
"How do you propose we get home?"
Malfoy gripped him more tightly and sighed heavily. "Don't care. Just take me home."
God, he knew it wasn't what Malfoy meant, but Harry would love to take him home. Take him home and prop him in the center of Harry's bed and… It occurred to him he had no idea where Malfoy lived in London.
"Malfoy, what's your address? You're not falling asleep on me, are you?"
"Falling asleep," Draco repeated, which went nowhere as far as answering the question.
Harry hailed a cab, and managed to maneuver his drunken partner inside. As soon as the taxi began to move, Draco snuggled back against Harry again. The driver grinned at them in the mirror.
"I'm Ariel," she said. "You two boyfriends?" Her tone was friendly and slightly amused. Harry shifted Draco a bit, because the Auror's hand was uncomfortably close to Harry's waistband. The movement backfired when Malfoy's hand dropped to Harry's thigh instead.
"Um… no," Harry said. "We're partners." He flushed and added quickly, "Work partners."
She giggled. "Well, he seems to like you."
Harry laughed, remembering the countless times Malfoy had professed to hate him.
"Do you like me, Draco?" he asked teasingly, not expecting an answer, because the blond head lay heavily against his shoulder, and Malfoy's breathing was deep and even. If he wasn't asleep, he soon would be.
"I love you, Harry," Draco mumbled, causing Harry to leap half out of his skin. Draco made a petulant sound and lifted the hand from Harry's thigh to fasten on his shirt. "Hold still," the Slytherin added. "'M comfy."
Harry's eyes met Ariel's in the mirror and she winked. "I'm never wrong. Where to?"
Harry realized Draco had not supplied an address. It was possible Draco returned to Malfoy Manor every night. All of their interaction had either been at work, or out and about. It seemed their personal lives had been an unspoken taboo. Harry gave the driver the address to his flat, hoping Draco wouldn't mind spending the night at his place.
Ariel pulled the cab forward, and straight into a traffic jam. "Ah hell," she said. "Looks like a bleedin' accident. Hope you lads aren't in a hurry."
Harry shook his head and tightened his arm around Draco's shoulder when the Slytherin began to slide downward. Draco sat up with a snap and looked at Harry through wide silver eyes. He looked suddenly lucid.
"Where the hell are we, Potter?"
"Stuck in traffic. Could be awhile. I'll wake you when we get there, if you want to sleep."
Draco grinned lazily. "I'm not tired." He leaned forward and fastened his mouth onto Harry's neck. He sucked gently, starting a fire in Harry's abdomen that he tried desperately to quench.
"What… what are you doing?" Harry asked.
"God, you taste even better than I thought you would," Draco said huskily, and latched onto another spot. Harry was too transfixed to move. A hand lifted and curved over Harry's jaw before inexorably coaxing Harry's mouth into position.
Draco's kiss felt like a Portkey into a river of molten lava. It flowed into Harry's veins like a torrent. Harry succumbed to the heat for a moment. God, he hadn't known he could feel this way. He'd been drunk before, and he'd been kissed before, and both at once, but it had been nothing like this. Draco's tongue stirred the flames until Harry thought he might explode. Explosion became even more imminent when he discovered Draco's hand caressing his bare chest. He had not even noticed Malfoy unbuttoning his shirt.
"Oh god, Draco, you have to stop," he said raggedly, wrenching his mouth away to draw in precious air.
"Why?" Draco murmured against the side of his mouth.
"Why?" Ariel echoed. Harry's eyes linked with hers in the mirror. He had completely forgotten her. She laughed. "Go for it, blondie, your friend looks like he needs it."
Draco hadn't even paused. Harry noted absently that the blond had his wand in hand. Draco's shirt was open, and the Slytherin shifted his position until he knelt on the floor between Harry's legs. Draco levered himself upward until their bare torsos touched. Harry did not know if Draco cast a spell or used his hands, but suddenly Harry's cock was free of the confining cloth, and Draco's hand gripped it, nearly sending Harry straight over the edge.
Draco took Harry's hand and guided it downward. Harry held his breath when the Slytherin moved Harry's hand until it wrapped around Draco's erection. Harry moaned softly, feeling both awed and terrified until Draco kissed him again. The blond's hand stroked Harry, sliding and twisting in gorgeous perfection.
Harry could hardly think at all, but he wanted more than anything to bring Draco to completion. There was something astoundingly brilliant about the moment—Draco's kiss, Draco's warm skin on his, the rhythmic rocking of the cab as Ariel threaded it through traffic, and their hands bumping together, knuckles scraping as their movements became more frenzied.
Draco's mouth left Harry's and parked itself near Harry's left ear, where it panted liquid heat into Harry's ear.
"Come for me, Harry," Draco breathed.
"You first," Harry countered, applying his own steam to the center of Draco's ear.
"Pot, kettle," Harry said and came, gasping at the strength of it. An instant later, he felt Draco's fluid mingle with his own, spilling over their hands and heated flesh.
"I need a cold shower," Ariel said and swerved back onto the road after narrowly avoiding a parked car. Draco whispered a spell, cleaning them both, and then promptly curled up on Harry's chest and went to sleep.
Harry managed to straighten their clothes, with a little unobtrusive help from his wand, and Ariel helped him carry the sleeping blond up the stairs to his flat. A Weightlessness Spell was more assistance than Ariel rushing ahead opening gates and doors, but the cab driver did not need to know that.
He paid Ariel and sent her on her way with a large tip, even though she insisted she should be the one paying them. He placed Draco in his own bed and removed most of the Slytherin's clothing. The sight of the blond Auror sprawled peacefully on Harry's bed was both humbling and heart-stoppingly erotic. He felt a crushing sadness, knowing that tomorrow everything would be different. His natural pessimism expected the worst.
Harry turned to leave, meaning to sleep on the couch, but a hand shot out and latched onto his wrist. He bent down to hear Draco's whispered words.
"Stay with me."
Damn it. Despite knowing it was the worst possible course of action, Harry donned his pyjamas and climbed into bed with Draco Malfoy, who promptly wrapped himself around Harry and fell into a drunken slumber.
When Harry awoke, he reached out for the memory of a warm body next to his, but his hand encountered nothing. He sat up, feeling a devastating sense of disappointment that magnified his hangover-induced headache. Draco was gone.
Harry swung his feet off the bed and groped for his glasses. The room came into focus and he stared blearily at the wall, wondering how to salvage the brilliance of the previous night that had apparently turned to dust.
Fuck, Malfoy had probably already talked to Kingsley and requested a transfer.
As if called by his thoughts, Malfoy appeared with a crack of Apparition. Harry gaped at him, and took in Draco's disheveled appearance with surprise. He wore the same clothes he'd worn the previous night. Harry forgot that the instant he met Malfoy's stricken eyes.
"Harry, he's taken her," Draco said crazily. He stepped forward and Harry leaped to his feet when Draco staggered. He caught the Slytherin's shoulders. "The bastard took my mother."
"Oh god, Draco." Without thinking, Harry pulled the blond into an embrace, half-expecting a blow or a snarl of rage. To his surprise, Draco relaxed against him with a small sigh.
"I'm going to get him, Potter. He will rue the day he decided to fuck with the Malfoys."
"We'll get him, Draco. I swear it. Let's go see Kingsley."
Draco nodded and went into the living room while Harry dressed. He wondered if Draco remembered anything of the night before, and fervently hoped not.
When Harry exited the bedroom, Draco said, "I went out this morning to get us some breakfast, since you seem to have a pathetic amount of food on hand. I got Father's owl before I reached the bakery. You ready?"
Harry blinked for a moment at Draco's words, especially the "us", but nodded. Malfoy stepped close to him and cupped Harry's jaw in one hand. He placed a searching, almost possessive kiss on Harry's lips. Harry's knees nearly buckled when Draco pulled away.
"We have much to discuss," Draco promised. "As soon as we kill this man."
"Right," Harry said breathlessly, but he felt a thousand times better. "Shall we?"
Once again, they waited at the ransom drop. The clues at Malfoy Manor had been sparse and perplexing. Narcissa Malfoy had been taken in the garden while drinking her morning tea. Both Draco and Lucius had been incensed, but admitted that the kidnapper had to be someone they knew. The wards around Malfoy Manor prevented entry by all but those personally granted admission.
Which included about a dozen missing Death Eaters and countless ex-Voldemort supporters, Harry thought dryly, but managed not to mention that.
"He knows us," Draco said suddenly.
Harry turned his head slightly. Draco was right behind him, and their shoulders nearly touched. Harry tried not to lean into the blond, but it wasn't easy. They had returned to their usual camaraderie with an ease that amazed Harry. At the moment, they were both hidden beneath Harry's invisibility cloak. Their feet were visible, but from where they stood, no one passing would see them.
"He knows us?" Harry repeated blankly.
"Look where we are."
Harry looked. The sign for the Aquarium of Aquatic Magic blinked at him from across the street, including a fluttering banner emblazoned with albino dolphins.
"Coincidence?" Draco asked in a steely voice.
"No," Harry said. "Not considering Narcissa's capture. I'll bet he recognized you at the Temple. This is a motivated by revenge."
"I did not recognize him, though, and I looked right at him."
Harry turned to look at Draco, whose face was closer than expected. Harry felt stunned for a moment at the feeling evoked by the handsome face, as if Draco had stolen his very breath. He concentrated on what he wanted to say, and managed to speak.
"I've been thinking about that. I think he used Polyjuice."
He felt the breath huff out of him in reality as Draco's arms surrounded him and squeezed. His partner chuckled into his ear, sending a shiver of delight down Harry's spine.
"That's brilliant, Potter. I should have thought of that. I've been going crazy trying to pin down his identity."
Harry chuckled and started to make a snide comment, but Draco nibbled on the soft flesh beneath Harry's ear, sending a jagged spike of lust careening happily through him. He leaned back gently and slid a hand over one of Draco's clenched around his waist. Harry had no idea what was happening between them, but he was more than willing to follow wherever Draco chose to lead.
Harry made in unintelligible sound as Draco's teeth scraped over his throat.
"Don't get sidetracked, Potter," Draco murmured.
"You're sidetracking me!" Harry hissed, and Draco chuckled.
"Sorry," the Slytherin said, but his voice sounded anything but apologetic—it was thick with seductive promise. Questions tumbled through Harry's mind, but they remained unvoiced when a group of teenagers approached. Draco, back to business, released Harry and stepped back a pace. Harry knew Malfoy's wand was out and ready.
The drop point for the ransom this time seemed to have been lifted directly from Muggle television. The street they stood on was in a lesser-used section of wizarding London, filled with warehouses and a dotting of tourist attractions such as the Aquarium, and several kitschy shops and waterfront cafes.
The Malfoy ransom had been placed into a valise and tucked into a trash bag on the curb, indistinguishable from a scattering of other trash bags but for a smear of blue paint on the front—specifically demanded by the kidnapper as an identifying mark.
Harry had been somewhat surprised that Muggle garbage trucks collected trash in wizarding areas, but wizards found it easier than trying to dispose of their own garbage. The Muggle sanitation workers did not seem to notice or care about the oddities they encountered. Trash was trash, generally.
The teens passed by, laughing and pushing at each other. Harry relaxed slightly and cast a Tempus Charm.
"He's late," Harry murmured.
"He knows we're watching."
It happened so quickly Harry nearly missed it. A robed figure popped into existence nearly atop the ransom.
"Got him!" Harry whispered and Disapparated. He blipped across the street and latched onto the man a mere instant before the kidnapper winked out, dragging Harry with him.
The man struggled to throw Harry off with a shout of rage and a wildly tossed curse, but the unexpected addition of Apparating with Harry seemed to have put him off-kilter. "You idiot! You could have Splinched us both!" the man yelled.
Harry did not wait around to hear more. A shouted Stunner caught the man, who collapsed. Harry straightened and took in his surroundings. They were on a rugged stretch of coastline that could have belonged anywhere on the eastern coast. He barely had time to register it when Draco appeared, nearly knocking him over. The Portkey Galleon was in his hand—its twin was in Harry's pocket.
Draco reached down and clenched his fists around the man's robes. He lifted the fellow roughly and peered into his face.
"Not the same. I think your Polyjuice theory is correct."
"Where should we take him?" Harry asked, and was sorry he had when Draco's lips curled to expose a feral grin.
It was a bad idea. Harry knew it was a bad idea. It was such a bad idea that they would probably be fired the instant Scrimgeour got word of it. But the bastard had kidnapped Narcissa Malfoy. Harry could no more deny Draco the opportunity to question the man than he could have denied him air.
The man was in decidedly dire straits when he awoke. His eyes widened at the sight of Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, and Lucius Malfoy standing before him. If he had any intelligence, he should foresee a veritable trilogy of pain.
"How long?" Draco asked.
"Should be any time now," Harry replied.
A few silent moments later, the man's frightened features melted and changed, until Theodore Nott sat bound in the chair.
"Theo?" Draco snarled. "You kidnapped Mother?"
Nott shook his head, looking properly terrified.
"No, not me, Draco, not me!"
"Who then?" Malfoy demanded and grabbed Nott's robes in an enraged fist.
Lucius cut in, sounding a dozen times more deadly than Draco.
"Where is my wife?"
Nott began to babble incoherently, and Draco released him. Nott found his voice. "Potter—save me! Don't let them kill me! You're an Auror, you help people!"
"Potter, Theo here sounds thirsty. He can barely speak. Will you get him a glass of water?" Draco asked calmly.
Harry scowled as Nott shook his head wildly in an obvious plea to keep Harry from leaving. Harry leaned close to Draco.
"He'd better be alive and in one piece, when I return." He stepped away. "Water," he said and fixed a warning glare on Lucius, as well. "Right."
Harry walked through the door and leaned against the wall. He ignored the screams emanating from the room. After a few moments, he requested a glass of water from a steely-eyed house-elf hovering nearby. The creature had been watching Harry, most likely to prevent him from sullying any pureblood artifacts with his tainted blood.
Harry took the glass when the surly house-elf returned, but he thought it would be a good idea to check it for poison content prior to allowing it to be ingested.
Harry walked back into the room to find Draco leaning against the desk. Lucius was gone, and Nott's head lolled against his chest.
"Is he dead?" Harry asked in alarm.
Draco made a scoffing noise. "Really, Potter, what do you take me for?"
"Unscrupulous and terrifying," Harry said instantly.
Malfoy looked pleased. "Right you are, Potter."
"Where is your father?"
"He went to fetch Mother, of course." Draco turned and began to rummage in the desk. Harry sighed and considered various methods of torture to get his partner to fill him in. Draco found what he was looking for with a happy cry and looked at Harry. He grinned at Harry's long-suffering expression.
"Oh, all right," he said and began to unwrap a crinkly package. "Yes, Nott was the kidnapper. He was also working alone. Apparently, the little shite was doing it simply for monetary gain. He never had much as a child. Theo came from pureblood stock, but his ancestors never could handle their funds. They always lived well beyond their means."
"But why you? I thought he was your friend," Harry said.
Draco popped the sweet into his mouth and his expression transformed into one of sheer delight. Whatever it was, it was too large to speak around, so after a moment Draco reached a thumb and finger into his mouth and withdrew it. A large jawbreaker.
"Theo was always jealous of the Malfoy fortune. It was obvious in school—Theo never really liked any of us. We just thought he was a loner."
Draco sucked on the confection a bit more, and then took it out again. "When I nearly caught him at the Temple, he decided to get revenge. As an added bonus, he got to make you look bad, just because you're Harry Potter, you know."
The jawbreaker returned to the blond's mouth and Draco sucked the sugar from his thumb and fingertip for a moment. Watching him made Harry think very inappropriate thoughts, and his mind flashed back to their Muggle cab ride. The room was suddenly too warm.
"Where did he take your mum? Is she okay?" he asked quickly to cover the rising color in his cheeks. He shut his eyes when Draco removed the sweet.
"Locked in a room of his house. He always treated his victims well, so I'm not terribly worried for her. Of course, if a single hair on her head is harmed, my father will do some very illegal things to Theo."
Harry hoped to hell Narcissa Malfoy was not harmed, because otherwise Harry would be forced to protect Nott from both male Malfoys… or all three Malfoys, more likely.
"You shouldn't eat so many sweets," Harry said inanely. "It can't be good for you."
Draco walked over until he stood uncomfortably close. The jawbreaker was in his fingers.
"Worried about my health, Potter?" he asked teasingly. Harry's eyes moved away from Nott and locked with Draco's. Harry was close enough to smell the sweetness of Malfoy's breath, and knew a kiss would taste like pure sugar. Draco leaned forward slightly, and Harry felt himself sway toward the blond. A loud pop halted him.
Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy stood nearby. Narcissa stalked forward and snatched Nott by the hair to drag his head back. Nott's eyelids fluttered slightly. Narcissa shook him roughly.
"You wretched little beast!" she cried. "How dare you abuse our hospitality this way?"
"That's the other thing. Theo has been here before, and therefore did not trigger the outer wards," Draco commented.
"We had better get him to the Ministry before anything… fatal… happens to him," Harry said, eyeing Narcissa carefully.
"Sorry, Mother, we have to take him into custody. Aurors, you know," Draco said in an apologetic tone. Lucius seemed to wince at the term. Narcissa glared at Harry, as though it were his fault that their son had a career, instead of living a decadent life of leisure. She released Nott, whose head slumped again, although Harry could tell he was awake.
Harry cast an Immobilizing Charm to keep Nott from trying anything.
"See you at the office," Harry said quietly to Draco. He untied Nott and Apparated the kidnapper to the Ministry.
Harry had nearly finished his report when Malfoy sauntered into his office. Harry glared at him.
"Nice of you to show up and help me with the paperwork," he complained.
Draco snorted and perched on Harry's desk.
"Posh, Potter. You know I don't sully myself with paperwork. I was comforting Mother after her harrowing experience."
Harry gaped at him in disbelief. Malfoy laughed and made a face. "All right, she's fine. I just did not feel like seeing Shacklebolt."
Harry set his quill aside and sanded the report. "Yes, thank you for leaving me to face him alone, partner."
Draco rolled his eyes. "How bad could it be, Potter? We caught the kidnapper, recovered my mother, managed not to kill—or even badly hurt—Theo, and most of the ransom money should be returned—"
"Speaking of ransom money, it seems that Mrs. Eastgate's horrible son surprisingly repaid my account for her ransom. You wouldn't happen to know anything about his change of heart, would you?"
"I may have had a talk with him," Draco admitted noncommittally with a shrug. He seemed to find a spot on the ceiling fascinating. Harry felt a rush of warmth that surprised him. Draco had gone to see Eastgate's son before the incident in the cab.
Malfoy's hand was splayed on the desk, propping him up. Harry covered it with his own hand. The silver eyes flew to his, and Harry saw surprise reflected there.
"Thanks," Harry said with a soft smile.
Draco twisted and leaned forward. He wrapped his free hand in the hair at the nape of Harry's neck, and levered him into a hungry kiss. Harry's eyes slid shut, and he lost himself in sensation. Draco still tasted of sugar from the jawbreaker, but the sweetness beneath was even better.
"This is crazy," Harry murmured when Draco pulled away. He tried to retain a grip on reality.
"This makes perfect sense, Potter. Who else will ever put up with your stupid propensity to rush headlong into danger? Who else can deal with the ridiculous hours you keep? Who else can protect you?" Before Harry could speak, Draco continued, "And who else can handle my temper tantrums, and not be bothered by my obvious superiority?"
Harry opened his mouth, but Malfoy kissed him again and stringing coherent words together became impossible. Draco drew back slightly and Harry tried to get his breathing under control. Malfoy's eyes were pools of silver.
"Besides, I love you, you stupid git."
Harry gaped at him incredulously, but was saved from speaking by the sound of a cough from the doorway.
"I love Potter, too," Kingsley said dryly. "So try to bring him back in one piece tomorrow, Malfoy." He sent a couple of files winging to the unoccupied corner of Harry's desk.
Draco smiled wickedly when Kingsley disappeared.
"You see? I have permission from the boss to have my way with you," Draco said happily.
"No shagging in the office," Kingsley's voice called from down the hall.
Draco sent a spell that slammed the door shut. Another spell locked it. Harry picked up the files and opened them curiously. Draco snatched them and sent them spinning across the room. Papers slid out in a confetti stream to litter the floor. Harry sighed.
"And here I thought you wanted to know your APL score," Harry said.
Draco Summoned the flying papers immediately. "APL? Where?" He held the stack in one hand and began to fling one piece of parchment after another onto the floor, searching for one page in particular.
"Boring case, boring case, results of potion analysis, Potter's evaluation, boring case, ahah! Draco Malfoy's evaluation." He held up the paper triumphantly.
Harry Summoned the remaining papers and tried to put them into a semblance of order.
"Hah, look at this, Potter! Beat that, Super Auror!"
He brandished the page under Harry's nose and crowed.
"160! What did I tell you? I knew I would succeed. Don't feel bad if you were only able to maintain you pathetic 158.67, Potter. We need to celebrate."
"Draco," Harry said nervously, setting the papers aside. "We shouldn't—"
"Oh yes we should, Potter, we really should," Malfoy said in a tone like silk on mink. He dragged Harry out of the chair by his tie and kissed him again. "I suggest we go to my place and get started."
Harry allowed himself to be wrapped in Draco's embrace. Before they Disapparated, Harry glanced at his evaluation, which rested atop the stack of papers. He smiled. It read APL Score 162 - Extra points awarded for having Draco Malfoy as a partner.
Harry wouldn't have traded Malfoy for anything.