Title: Still Pools and Starlight
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: DH SPOILERS, ignores epilogue. Language and sex.
Pairings:Harry/Draco (past Harry/others), Ron/Hermione.
Summary: When centaurs kidnap a Hogwarts student, Auror Potter is tapped to find her. He understands that. What he doesn't understand is why he's been assigned astronomer Draco Malfoy, of all people, as a temporary partner.
Word Count: 16,000.
Author's Notes:Written in partial fulfillment of silverariel's request for a one-shot, involving the following elements: the "have to work together and develop a mutual respect and then fall in love" type of plot; Harry and/or Draco in an unusual job, something that isn't clichéd; one or both of them completely out of their usual element, which forces them to rely on each other when they usually wouldn't.
Still Pools and Starlight
"I want to know what you did to drive Fletcher away."
"Who says I did anything?" Harry lifted his gaze from the paperwork on his desk to smile innocently at Ron. "Except that lying bitch Fletcher, of course, which is just like her."
"Very funny, Harry. In that totally unfunny kind of way." Ron folded his arms and glared. Harry wondered idly if he was remembering the ending of their own ill-fated partnership, more than seven years ago now. "I want to know what you did. Experienced Aurors don't normally come back to the Department with tears pouring down their cheeks."
"Experienced Aurors also don't try to snog me in the middle of cases where we're working strictly on a professional footing."
At least that made Ron's mouth drop open a gratifying distance. Harry nodded solemnly and looked down to sign a copy of the report he'd already turned in to Beauchamp, the new Head Auror. This was the copy that would go into the Ministry Archives. Harry wondered what the Archivists did with all the old reports, files on dead criminals and closed cases, and other bits of paper that no one needed anymore. Probably used them to wipe their bums.
"She didn't," Ron breathed at last.
Harry leaned back and folded his arms behind his head. He and Ron were still good friends, despite the disaster their partnership had been. That wasn't Ron's fault, really. No one partnered well with Harry, and that was exactly the way he liked it. Lonely, sometimes, but free. "Oh, yes, she did. We'd just about finished securing Mundungus's confession and the last of those diamonds he took, and I noticed she was blushing. I assumed it was because Mundungus is a distant relative of hers, and she was just embarrassed. But she disabused me of that notion. She started to spout the usual nonsense. About how I was a hero, a real hero, unlike all the pretenders in the Ministry. Et bloody cetera. I tried to thank her politely and end it there—you know that's happened before, and most of the time it's nothing—"
Ron rolled his eyes expressively.
"But it went on further. She said that I was also a real gentleman—"
"Doesn't keep up with the reports in the Daily Prophet, does she?" Ron inquired in a stage whisper.
"—And she could count on me still respecting her after this, even if I didn't feel the same way. But I think she must have assumed I did feel the same way, from her reaction afterwards. She lunged at me and kissed me. I tried to push her off politely, but she had her mouth fastened on mine like some kind of bloody vampire. I had to hit her in the face to get her to back away. And then it was wails and complaints and accusations of leading her on." Harry gave a long, gusty sigh. "And a resignation as my partner when we got back to the Ministry, of course."
Ron narrowed his eyes. "That pious expression doesn't fool me. You're happy she's gone."
"Yes, I suppose I am. I just work better alone." Harry cocked his head at his best friend and sat up. "Now, I was informed that Beauchamp had a new case waiting for me. Best get to it."
Ron nodded. "And you'll come over to the house tonight? Hermione is disappointed you didn't show up the last three times you promised to come for dinner, you know."
Harry spread his hands. "I can't help it if I'm working all the time, and if I do the work so well that then they want to give me more.It's a vicious cycle."
"You're a workaholic, Harry."
"And you've been watching Muggle telly again." Harry pointed a quill at Ron. "Reassure me that Hermione won't have Ginny or some 'perfect young witch' waiting there to ambush me, and I'll come."
Red ran like fire up the sides of Ron's face—not so different, Harry thought, from the look on Aurora Fletcher's face when she realized that he really wasn't going to fall down in the dust of Mundungus's hovel and beg her to marry him. "She did mention something about how Ginny recently broke up with Dean," he muttered.
Harry rolled his eyes. "I don't see why you keep trying to trap me into settling down. I'm twenty-nine. Hardly someone who requires a spouse just to mop up the drool from my chin and change my nappies."
"We want to see you happy. Isn't that what friends are for?"
Softening, Harry got up from the desk and slung an arm around Ron's shoulders. At times like this, he really did have to remember that it was his sarcastic tongue that had driven Ron away from their partnership in the first place, as well as the long and often spectacular arguments they'd had about Harry's habit of Body-Binding Ron to keep him out of danger and then leaping into said danger feet first. "Yeah, I'm sorry. But I am happy. Really."
"I wish it was the kind of happiness I had with Hermione," Ron said.
Harry chose to diplomatically ignore this remark, because remarking on the implausibility of that would just induce Ron to bring up his parents' marriage, and Bill and Fleur, and George and Angelina, for counterexamples, and they'd be here for an hour. "It's not that, but I think it's close," he said. "I enjoy working. And, to be honest, women don't do much for me. Never have."
Ron flushed. "Hermione thinks that you might, er, prefer blokes sometimes—"
Harry laughed in spite of himself. "I've tried it a time or two. But they don't do anything for me that witches don't. Most of them are just too in awe of who I am—that doesn't vary by sex, you know—and the rest—" He shrugged, unable to convey the extreme lack of excitement, passion, danger, he'd felt in all those situations. Ron would probably think he was mad. To him, love was something deep, peace-building, settled and calm. "I know some people have low sex drives. Maybe I'm one of them."
"I am not discussing this with you," Ron said flatly. "I'll give Hermione your regrets for tonight, but we expect to see you soon. Maybe when you're finished with this latest case?"
Harry nodded, and watched his friend leave with a fond smile before he ambled towards the Head's office. He hoped that Beauchamp wouldn't insist he take a new partner before he tackled the next case. But then, Beauchamp was more intelligent than most candidates for the Head Auror position. He'd rather have results than perfect conformation to the rules of the Department, which meant Harry would have at least two or three cases of working by himself, in blissful freedom, before Beauchamp succumbed to pressure from above and tried to saddle him again.
It makes more sense anyway, Harry reasoned. That way, the crazy tendency to risk my life that they all complain about can't put anyone else at risk.
And it made things more pleasant for him, tonight. Nothing to give a sense of danger like leaping alone into trouble with no backup.
Harry grinned and quickened his stride, wondering what he would be looking at—theft, or kidnapping, or murder. Maybe something like the tracking of the killer who called herself the Lynx, which had resulted in fifteen corpses, seven Auror teams trying to figure out who had done it, and a mad midnight dash that had resulted in an equally mad duel, when Harry guessed right about where she'd strike next.
He'd worked alone that time, too.
Deplore him as they liked, the other Aurors had to admit he got results.
Draco spread the star-charts before him and stared at them for a long moment. Then he sighed and closed his eyes. Of course, the charts were still waiting for him when he looked again.
That was one reason he had begun to study the stars. When the currents of magic and politics and personality veered too abruptly for him to keep up, he could always count on their steadiness and purity to rescue and reassure him.
And he had learned to accept the consequences of his decisions, too, at least more easily than he had at the end of the war. He had heard of the brewing trouble with the centaurs and taken the opportunity to leverage himself into it, so he could claim prestige if he succeeded, and more knowledge even if he didn't. The centaurs were the best astronomers in the magical world, more open and more sensitive to the heavenly influences than the most skilled wizard, and long-experienced in patterns that astronomers like Draco had yet to learn. Draco had been working patiently towards a rapport with them for years. They would be more likely to trust him now than an utterly uninvolved bystander, and he might be able to prevent a full-blown political crisis from breaking out between the Forbidden Forest herd and the Ministry of Magic.
On the other hand, there was always the chance that the centaurs really had done what rumors suggested they had done. The disappearance of Hogwarts's new Astronomy Professor, a centaur, from his position was certainly suspicious. In that case, Draco needed the protection of the Ministry's best Auror.
And that was Harry Potter.
So Draco took up the star charts and Apparated directly from his drawing room to the long, skinny tower that capped his home. He could have walked the steps—normally he did, to put himself into a meditative mood—but it was already the afternoon of the day Potter was supposed to receive the case. Draco would meet him tomorrow. He had to know what to expect before then.
The tower seemed to sway beneath his boots as he landed. Draco took a deep breath, told himself that was an illusion, and then turned around and glanced up at the dome arching overhead. No matter the time of day, it was enchanted to show a dark night sky with the relevant constellations and planets.
Draco narrowed his eyes. He'd last been reading a star chart that used a birthday in late April—the chart of the kidnapped Hogwarts student. He needed to reset the thing.
"The thirty-first of July, 1980," he said aloud.
The constellations above him blurred and shifted as the stars obediently changed their positions, rippling to reflect the patterns that would have shone in the season and year of Potter's birth. Draco smiled in appreciation, drawing a breath of air as sweet as summer wind to him. He had spent nearly the entire small inheritance Lucius had "gifted" him with in order to create this spell, but the results were too often wonderful for him to regret it.
The stars settled. Draco drew out the charts and laid them carefully on the floor, glancing up now and then and moving them again, so that the enchanted light from above fell directly on the paper.
At last he felt the hum of magic catching, and moved out of the way. The charts and the stars together cast a series of complicated reflections in midair, near Draco's eye-height, a series of symbols and shapes and trajectories that he could read as a trained astronomer. Unlike the nonsense the Muggles called astrology, wizarding astronomy, as properly practiced, could not read the future. But it could reveal important things about a person's past and the contours of his personality in the present, which doubled as an extremely educated estimate. Draco hadn't had enough time to discover the precise hour of Potter's birth, to his regret; it would have made the reckoning even more accurate.
But he had this.
"Let's see how much you've changed since I last knew you, Potter," he murmured, and sank himself into the meditative trance that he'd once used when brewing potions, his mind speeding among the luminous arches and volleys of the man he'd be meeting tomorrow.
"This looks serious," said Harry with a frown as he accepted the folder from Beauchamp. His giddiness in the corridors had faded away, as it usually did when he came face-to-face with reminders of the victims. He flicked open the folder and mentally flinched as he saw a wizarding photograph of a young girl with knobby wrists sticking out from the sleeves of an oversized Hogwarts robe. She had red hair and brown eyes, reminding him sharply of Ginny at eleven. A smiling man and woman leaned in from behind and hugged her, then waved madly to the camera.
"It is," said Beauchamp. He was a large man who always looked as if he should have become a Quidditch Beater instead of Head Auror. He spoke as Harry continued looking through the file, though he must have known his best Auror would locate the information almost as soon as he spoke it. "Her name's Lydia Siddons. First-year, Hufflepuff, halfblood. She's gone missing inside the Forbidden Forest." He paused impressively, just long enough that Harry reluctantly looked at him instead of the words on the parchment. "And the Astronomy Professor vanished at the same time."
Harry frowned, some memory of Hermione exultantly waving the Daily Prophet coming to him. "Hang on. Isn't the Astronomy Professor a centaur?"
That was it, he remembered, even before Beauchamp nodded. That was what Hermione had been so excited about. The Hogwarts Board of Governors and the parents had finally been forced to accept a magical creature teacher as a full professor.
"Yes. Name of Magus." The Head Auror leaned forwards. "Since he left no explanation, there's speculation that he kidnapped her. He may simply have gone in pursuit, but…" He left the words dangling.
Harry nodded grimly. He didn't need Beauchamp to tell him how precarious the situation between wizards and centaurs was at the moment (which was undoubtedly why Beauchamp wasn't telling him). Part of Kingsley Shacklebolt's mandate to clean up the Ministry involved treating magical creatures more equally where possible. He hadn't managed to convince anyone to free house-elves or to give goblins wands yet, but he had successfully reached out to centaurs. They were the test case, with thousands of eyes on their behavior at all times. If Lydia Siddons wasn't recovered unharmed, or even if she was and it turned out that Professor Magus had kidnapped her, then the delicate politics surrounding the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures would go south fast.
"It's imperative that we get her back as soon as possible," Beauchamp continued. "Her parents are firm on the subject of Lydia not being a child to run away on her own. She's always been timid and rather frightened of both regular animals and magical creatures, in fact. Interviews with the professors at Hogwarts confirm that. She could barely enter Professor Magus's classroom at first, she was so petrified. It's extremely unlikely that she's just gone exploring or even that she could have been lured or tempted into the Forest."
"No other child is missing?" Harry asked. He well remembered how some of his friends—and some of his enemies—had tempted him into risks he wouldn't have taken otherwise. He really had to thank them, since otherwise he would never have discovered his own taste for danger. But for someone as young as Lydia, probably desperate to fit in, friends might have pulled her into a dangerous situation not of her own choosing.
Beauchamp shook his head. "No. You'll need to get started on this tomorrow morning at the latest, Potter. If we can show the good people of Great Britain—" only that slight inflection hinted at Beauchamp's bitterness over his failed political career, and only someone used to him could have told it was there "—that we have our best Auror on the case, then they're more likely to relax, not panic, and let us do what we need to." He leaned forwards over the desk, even though, Harry thought with irritation, he didn't have to emphasize how serious the case was that way. "But the more time you take to find the girl, Potter, the less control we have over the public reaction. Go in and come out again as quickly as you can. Preferably with Lydia."
Harry waited a moment, but there was no mention of a partner. He couldn't contain his smile as he nodded. "Understood, sir." This was exactly the kind of case he liked: dangers of more than one kind, wild territory, and the chance to rescue or save someone else who really needed his help.
He'd just started to turn away when Beauchamp cleared his throat ostentatiously. Harry narrowed his eyes at the wall, but made sure his expression was pleasant, calm, and unremarkable when he glanced over his shoulder.
"You'll be working with a partner on this one," Beauchamp began. He held up a warning hand when Harry's face contorted into a snarl. "Absolutely nothing I can do about it, Potter. The public needs to be reassured we're doing all we can, and this person has gained some notoriety as someone who understands centaurs. As well as they can be understood," Beauchamp added, with a little snort. He had never had much faith in the project to reach out to the centaurs at all, Harry knew.
Harry relaxed a little. At least this partner wasn't another Auror. That was something. "Who is he?"
"A respected astronomer." Beauchamp let his eyelids fall slightly, giving him the look of a sleepy cat. "Draco Malfoy."
Draco felt his eyebrows climbing higher and higher as he consulted the series of slowly turning shapes in front of him.
My, my. Potter had changed superficially over the years, but in the most important ways, he hadn't changed at all. He had simply grown deeper and deeper in his more Gryffindor traits.
Draco sucked thoughtfully on his tongue. Would this be a successful partnership after all?
But it had to be. Draco had never come near the deeper secrets of the centaurs because, while he had diplomacy, tact, and an interest in the stars, he didn't have other skills that they demanded for their trust: courage, undivided strength of heart, a willingness to trust in return. From the shimmer of his birth stars, Potter had all of those, and they had increased since he was in school. The Ministry's best Auror was also the one uniquely situated to a scenario like this, though Draco imagined the Ministry had sent him for rather different reasons than Draco wanted him along.
The most worrying thing was a long, thin, shimmering snake of light, rather like a bad representation of the Milky Way, that ran from behind a triangle signaling Potter had learned how to hold his tongue in some situations. Draco studied it, narrowing his eyes. It seemed to travel straight through his mind without triggering recognition, which signaled a gap in his knowledge.
Except there were no gaps in his knowledge, at least not of human astronomy.
At last, by revolving shapes in his mind and visualizing different compositions of the ones he already knew, he realized what it was. He had indeed seen this trait before, but in those cases, it was only a small strand. This was an extended passion for danger, a love of risk—close to a death wish, though given Potter's luck and love of idealism above his own life, Draco supposed he thought of it simply as a willingness to dare what others were too much cowards to attempt.
Draco frowned and tapped his index finger against his mouth. He needed Potter firmly behind him when they met the centaurs, not contemplating what foolish heroics he would perform to rescue the girl. What could cause that?
A smile spread across his lips as he realized that Potter, being bull-headed, would lower his head and charge at the first target in front of him, and be reluctant to abandon that one for another, no matter how tempting. What Draco needed to do was give him a challenge, one that would catch his attention immediately.
And I think I can do that quite happily.
Harry waited for the git in his own office, which, for a reason he would never know, Beauchamp had insisted was the proper place for such an unpleasant duty. Harry had already considered and rejected half-a-dozen pleas for clemency, for the ability to work free and Malfoy-less. Beauchamp had used the most effective of his many argumentative techniques on Harry yesterday: he had shut his mouth and glared at him. Nothing Harry said moved him. Now and then he would point at the picture of Lydia Siddons, as though reminding Harry she came closer to death each moment he spent complaining instead of acquainting himself with the facts of the case.
So Harry awaited the bastard.
He had also rejected half-a-dozen plans to trap the chair in which the prat would sit with jokes from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. That would make the inevitable rupture between them his fault, and Harry would not have it said that he had let petty personal animosity get in the way when there was a little girl's life at stake.
But of all people—Malfoy. And an astronomer. Harry supposed he hadn't had much choice; he had heard that the Wizengamot had prohibited all members of the Malfoy family from using many spells after the war, mitigating circumstances on account of age or not.
Harry had met astronomers before, though, both as victims and as suspects. They were always people who conceived of themselves as lofty, impersonal, inhuman intellects, capable of peering into Harry's mind and reading his thoughts better than any Legilimens. Harry was of the opinion that a collective punch on the nose would improve the lot of them.
And they were refined, too. Their offices, or observatories, or star-gazing towers, were always organized with a cleanliness that bordered on psychopathic. Harry considered a bit of healthy clutter the sign of a mind that could breathe freely. And it would be worse in a forest, where Malfoy would probably whinge every time his precious robe scraped over a twig.
The door opened. Harry didn't bother to change the attitude he was lounging in—boots on the desk, hands folded behind his neck—but simply turned his head.
Malfoy stood in the door like an alabaster statue, looking at Harry. His face had no expression, though Harry would have expected at least a sneer. Sure enough, he wore dark purple robes with silver trimming and runes scrolled up and down the sides that were no doubt symbolic of something. He had his hands folded in the sleeves. He made no movement and offered no sound. Harry crushed the impulse to crumple a piece of parchment and throw it at his face, as a test of whether he would blink.
"Malfoy," he said briefly.
"Careful to guard your tongue, Potter?" One of Malfoy's eyebrows rose—just one. And, sure enough, his voice was that mincing little astronomer'svoice, pecking and picking its way along as if the air of Harry's office weren't good enough for it. "That's not the report I heard. Haven't you lost partners because you couldn't stop talking? Haven't you worried innocent men and women into tears when you treated them as Dark witches and wizards for not telling you the truth immediately?"
"That happenedonce!" Harry barked, sitting upright. "Just once—"
He caught his breath, astonished at himself. Since when did he let Malfoy creep under his skin without at least a token attempt to ignore him? And they were supposed to be adults now.
"Luckily for you, we don't have to talk much," he retorted instead, standing. "You should have all the information you need in that." He nodded to the thick file hovering behind Malfoy. Bastard was too good to carry his own parchment instead of using magic, of course.
"Luckily for me?"
Harry threw him a look of utter loathing. Malfoy glanced away and, just audibly, withdrew his hands from his sleeves to cast a cleaning spell on his robe. Harry's teeth clicked with the effort of not saying something.
"I'm impressed you waited for me," Malfoy commented in a flat drawl that sounded a little more like the voice of the snide schoolboy Harry remembered. "Would have thought you'd be out there already, letting Gryffindor stup—excuse me, instincts, guide you in the hunt."
Harry sucked in so much breath his chest hurt. He stalked forwards until he was a few inches away from Malfoy. He trembled with the force of his—of his focus, really. He had encountered people he loathed more than Malfoy, such as every murderer who had ever walked the earth, every parent who had ever abused a child, and Voldemort. Malfoy was far down the list of his enemies.
But he had never encountered anyone else who could cause him to lose the wider spread of his attention and narrow his vision to pinpoint just one thing. All that mattered right now was making Malfoy understand and prevent him from sabotaging the mission. A centaur could have trotted into the office just then, and Harry would still have put him off in lieu of making Malfoy know this first.
"We have a little girl to save," he whispered, his breath coming out in hot gusts across Malfoy's face that were meant to intimidate. "If you prevent me from doing it, or hinder me in just one way, I will trim your tongue from your mouth."
Draco was stunned by how much he was enjoying this.
It was easy to insult Potter. It had always been easy to insult Potter. But he had expected the pleasure to dim a bit in the years since they had seen each other. He needed Potter to cooperate with him, after all, and was only doing this to distract him from charging into the Forbidden Forest like a suicidal fool. This was a positive duty to further his knowledge. So, like all things not directly involving the study of astronomy in the last few years, Draco had expected to find it tedious.
Instead, he was near to panting with the pleasure. Potter glittering with danger and the promise of vengeance was a wondrous thing. It was all Draco could do to keep from reaching out and slapping Potter, or clenching a hand in his hair and tugging his face near, just to see what would happen.
Hold back, he counseled himself, advice he hadn't needed in eleven years. You'll stand a better chance with him if you make yourself intriguing later as well as now.
Later? Now? Draco gave his head a minute shake, as his mind wavered back from the sudden point of certainty into his more usual doubts and half-judgments. He needed Potter for the venture into the Forbidden Forest. Certainly not for anything else. If he was thinking of an enduring friendship, then he was not thinking.
Potter seemed to have taken his headshake for an answer to his demand. His eyes narrowed, and he leaned close enough that Draco could actually smell his breath now, instead of just feeling it. Mints; he must have used a spell. No one's breath smelled like that naturally. "You'll oppose me, then?"
"In personal matters? Always." Draco summoned up a languid smile. He had no trouble in calling it, only in keeping it from sharpening with appreciation as he eyed the messy tangle of Potter's hair and the flash of his eyes. "In this? No. I wish her rescued. If the centaurs are accused of killing her, or even of letting her come to harm, it does irreparable damage to my relationship with them."
Potter rolled his eyes and moved backwards. "Your relationship with them. Of course. I reckon it's too much to expect, that you'd care about her safety because she's human, or even about the wider political cause of the centaurs."
"I care about politics in more ways than you can understand," Draco said calmly. "Mine are the politics of the mind. If the centaurs share their knowledge of astronomy with us, you have no idea what spells we could develop, what advances in magic might occur. The last full sharing of magic across species occurred when Hogwarts was founded, do you realize that? Slytherin—"
"I have no interest in hearing you vindicate your House." Potter flung him a sideways look and raised a lip, just enough to expose one of his eyeteeth. "As if you could, in any case."
Draco accepted that jibe with a bow. "I believe you were the one who said we had a little girl to save?"
The green eyes on him were so brilliant with fury that Draco was tempted to purr. Instead, Potter jerked a nod at him and then flung open the door. "After you," he murmured, with a courtesy Draco didn't believe in for a moment.
On the other hand, it would have been stupid to refuse. Draco swept ahead of Potter, turning the implied mockery into an honor.
The Goosing Charm caught him on the arse, so neatly that Draco felt a certain sullen admiration even as he jumped. He turned back to find Potter sliding his wand into his sleeve, with an expression of innocence no better than the courtesy had been.
"Entertaining as it is to watch you find invisible fleas in the Ministry, Malfoy, don't you think we should get going?"