Title: A Contest of Equals
Word Count: 5000
Challenge (Recipient, keywords, and dialogue):
Recipient: Fionafawkes on LJ
Keywords: cheese sauce, cuppa, advert
Dialogue: "Yes sir!"
Summary: Draco has the most brilliant idea to get back at Potter ever. He should really get that assumption looked at. Yes, this is pretty much crack.
Beta Acknowledgement: None due to time issues
Author's Notes: I hope this uses the prompts in a way somewhat consistent with what you envisioned, fionafawkes! I wasn't entirely sure about the definition of cheese sauce intended, so I went with what I Googled.
A Contest of Equals
Draco spent a long moment looking slowly around the office of the Head Auror. There was dust on the high shelves. That didn't matter; they could be cleaned. Someone had scarred the mahogany desk with a knife, but Draco knew several useful variants of the Reparo spell that he'd just happened to study the week before. And, most childish of all, he could sense several charms to call mice. Draco rolled his eyes, waved his wand, and banished them.
"Congratulations, Mr. Malfoy," said a slightly breathless voice behind him. Draco turned around and saw Ursula Harding, a young Auror, standing in the doorway, her arms full of the files he had demanded she fetch. Unlike certain other people, she had decided not to be a sore loser over the fact that Draco had become Head Auror. And her loyalty would be rewarded, in another year or two. "Where would you like me to put these?"
"The top shelf," Draco said, and watched in some amusement as Harding struggled to get the files to the shelf before she remembered she was a witch and waved her wand. The folders settled comfortably into place, and she turned to him with a smile that promptly dissolved when Draco added, "Now find me a secretary."
"A secretary, sir?" Harding wrung her pale blue robe—on the edge of regulation colors for Aurors—between her hands, frowning. "I don't think Rogerson ever had a secretary—"
"But I'm not Rogerson," Draco said, sneering a little. Some incompetence was expected in the Ministry, but one didn't let other people catch one at it. To be sacked for it was inexcusable. Draco had no pity for the former Head of the Auror Department whatsoever. "I intend to actually do work here, and that means I need someone to handle the less essential tasks for me. Fetching tea, for example." He fixed Harding with a stern eye. "Unless you would rather that the Head of the Auror Department loses whatever brilliant ideas he's come up with because he has to fetch himself a cuppa?"
"I never meant that, sir," Harding said, bowing her head and flushing. "I could put an advert in the Prophet—"
And then Draco had one of the most brilliant ideas he'd ever experienced. Perhaps it paled next to his plan for becoming Head Auror, but since that involved flattering the right people and showing an unprecedented enthusiasm for paperwork, it could never be as truly brilliant as an idea that would get him what he most wanted with a minimum of effort.
"No," he murmured. "No, I don't think so. After all, I want to show that I'm going to change the Auror Department, and that includes showing consequences for the disregard of rules and the refusal to do work. Who has the lowest solve rate in the department, currently?"
Harding blinked, but she had a talent for statistics in addition to flattery and obedience. "Potter, sir," she said. "He's fallen because he keeps turning aside to help hapless innocents instead of solving the case. Last week it was helping some Muggle child tied to an altar instead of chasing the Dark wizard who'd tied her there." Her voice held clear disapproval. Draco smiled. Yes, he could use Harding, a witch with a real sense of what was important.
"So." He folded his fingers. "Inform Potter that he's to be my secretary. Maybe a few weeks of running errands and checking up on paperwork will teach him the present Head of the Auror Department isn't inclined to indulge a celebrity."
Harding gave him a lopsided smile. "A few weeks, sir?"
Yes, Harding was a valuable acquisition. Draco nodded. "Make that months."
Draco sat at his desk, humming under his breath. The office looked as clean as it ever had, and considerably better than a week ago, when it had still boasted Rogerson's childish Quidditch posters and paraphernalia. Draco didn't know what the man had been thinking. On the job and in front of the right people, one kept all unprofessional interests out of sight. If Rogerson had remembered that, he wouldn't have been sacked for helping to set up Quidditch cheats and get certain players headed for Azkaban out of the cells.
One also had to conceal one's revenge, particularly in the Ministry. Or one could be daring and clever—which words would never fit Rogerson even if the man took several correspondence courses in those very subjects—and hide one's revenge out in the open, so subtly that no one could prove its true nature.
Smiling, Draco rang the small silver bell on his desk. It would ring a similar bell in the isolated cubicle Potter had been forced to take at the end of the corridor. If Potter attempted to ignore the summons, the bell would ring again, and this time sound inside his head as well as outside it. Draco had been proud of himself for locating that spell in one of his ancestors' books, and improving it with a Permanency Charm so Potter couldn't remove it as long as he stayed in that office.
Perhaps he would try to ignore it at first. Draco hoped so. The chime would increase in volume each time, and then—
Someone knocked very politely on the door of his office. Draco glanced up. It must be Harding with the latest set of cases. He was looking forwards to making sure Weasley, newly partnered with a trainee, got the most politically tricky one. "Enter!"
Potter opened the door, stepped into the office, and smiled at him. "Good morning, sir. What can I get you today?"
Draco's mouth did not fall open, because Draco's mouth did not do things like that without his express permission. He did swallow, and then he said quietly, "Potter. You understand your position here as my secretary?"
"I'd imagine that it involves doing what you require." Potter's face didn't change; if anything, his smile might have grown a little broader. Draco scanned frantically for some trace of arrogance or resentment in those green eyes, but Potter only looked calmly back at him. "What is that this morning, sir?"
Draco came very near to losing his voice. For the moment, he simply clutched the edge of his chair, which Potter couldn't see beneath the desk, and cleared his throat. "A cuppa would be very nice."
"Yes, sir!" Potter stood still, and Draco wondered if he could censure him for disobedience. But Potter said a moment later, "How would you like me to make that, sir?"
"What?" Draco said, and he was certain—certain—that he saw a gleam of amusement in Potter's eyes for just a moment. Before he could chase and track it, however, Potter was speaking in an entirely sober tone.
"Arguments over how to make tea are rife in the Auror Department, sir," he said. "Ron and I disagree on it every second week, which is about as long as one of us can tolerate the tea the other makes. So I simply wanted to make sure that I was brewing it to your specifications, instead of against them."
Draco rose to his feet and waved his wand, spelling the door shut. Potter watched him with faint curiosity. Draco stalked a few steps closer, paused, and cast a silencing charm at the door, too. Finally reassured that no one could overhear them, he snarled, "I know what you're doing, Potter, and I won't stand for it."
Potter frowned. "I don't understand, sir. Stand for what? I thought this was what secretaries did."
Draco ground his back teeth together to keep away the scream, and then stopped, because he would not let Potter be responsible for wearing his enamel away. "You won't get away with irritating me," he said.
"But what's irritating you?" Potter continued to frown. "I'm being polite."
Yes, he was. And he didn't even look as if he were secretly laughing. Draco had to fight to keep his hands from bunching into fists.
"You had better do exactly what you're told," he snapped, and then reeled off his mother's most complicated tea recipe. Potter only listened, nodding now and then, and left without a backwards glance.
Draco's cuppa was twenty minutes in the brewing, but it was the best one he had ever tasted.
Draco resisted the urge to ring his bell again. It had only been two minutes since the first ring, and it might take Potter that long to walk down the corridor from his cubicle to Draco's office. Ringing again might make Draco seem impatient, and he was not.
Not even if I have thought of a request that Potter won't be able to fulfill. He forced himself to sit back and to spread a boring file in front of him, through which he read slowly. Feet on the desk were not appropriate, even in one's own home.
The door opened three minutes later. Potter stepped in with that same polite smile and waited for orders.
Maybe someone cast Imperius on him, Draco thought. God knows he was never this obedient in school. But more likely, he's only acting this way to irritate me. Well, I won't let him win.
"Good morning, Potter," he said, with a smile that Potter would have distrusted if he had any brains at all. But he didn't. The brilliance of Draco's plans was absolutely beyond him; he would have injured his mind trying to make them up. "I'd like you to fetch me some cheese sauce for lunch today."
He waited for Potter to blink and ask what he meant by cheese sauce. He waited for Potter to ask how he wanted the cheese sauce, as he asked about the tea every day. He waited for Potter to ask where he should go to get it.
Instead, Potter just nodded and said, "Yes, sir. What time will you eat lunch?"
Draco's back stiffened. He didn't pick up the papers in the file and tear them apart, but his fingers twitched, which was too near for his comfort. He finally said, his mouth heavy and stiff, "At noon. The same time I eat lunch every day. You're to have the cheese sauce to me by then. Hot, mind you."
Potter nodded gravely. "Of course, sir," he said. "Who would want to eat cold cheese sauce?" And then he stepped out of the office and quietly shut the door behind him.
Draco wanted to open the door and shout after him, "You don't have any idea what cheese sauce is!" He wanted it so much that he was actually on his feet and halfway to the door before he recalled himself. He promptly sat down on the edge of his desk and ran his hands over his flushed face, then forced himself to count backwards by prime numbers from one hundred thirteen. The amount of concentration the task required got his mind off Potter for a few minutes, and by the time it came back, Draco was quietly, coldly determined.
No matter what happens at noon, I'll voice no complaint. I'll graciously accept whatever Potter brings me in the way of cheese sauce. But that will be only on the surface. I'll find some reason to sack him, and I'll dress up the reason in clever words. Potter's never been good with those. He won't be able to refute me.
Relaxing, Draco resumed his chair and once again started to read the file, this time with enough focus to concentrate past its boring factor. One never knew when one might find a political advantage in these cases, precisely because everyone else would ignore them.
"Here you are, sir."
Potter came parading in with a honest-to-Merlin silver platter balanced on his arm, loaded with fresh, crisp slices of various vegetables, bits of fruit, Muggle crisps, and tiny biscuits artistically arranged around a simmering bowl in the center. The bowl was bright yellow with cheese sauce. Draco knew it without even looking. He tightened his hands into fists on his knees and fought to keep from breathing noisily.
"I wasn't sure what you wanted with the cheese sauce, so I brought everything the shop had," Potter said as he laid the platter in the middle of Draco's desk. Draco had left papers lying everywhere; Potter neatly avoided all of them, and with a minimum of effort. "They did have small slices of meat as well, but the shopkeeper said they weren't usually sold with the cheese sauce. I can go back and fetch them if you want me to, though."
Draco stared at him. Potter looked back, his eyes brilliant and helpful, but his smile slight and shy.
Draco looked at the platter. There was nothing to fault Potter for. Even if the food had been shop-bought instead of prepared with Potter's own two hands, it was flawless. Draco reached out, picked up a delicately carved piece of carrot, and bit into it. It tasted fresh and sharp. He dipped it in the cheese sauce, and the flavor redoubled, with the added sting of cheddar.
"Get out," Draco said, when he removed the carrot from his mouth. He wouldn't get to sack Potter today, but neither did he think he could stand looking at his face for one more moment.
Potter blinked, then said, "Yes, sir," and turned around to leave. He had reached the door before Draco decided he would take a risk. No one else was in the office, or near it—his wards on the door would have warned him if someone was—and everyone in the Department was busy snickering about Potter's newly-acquired "status" in any case. Draco would not lose face if he asked the question.
"Why are you acting this way?" he demanded.
Potter looked at him over his shoulder, blinking very fast, as if he were hiding amusement. Once again, though, when Draco could actually meet his eyes, he saw no traces of the emotion. "I don't know what you mean, sir," Potter said, with that meek little tone that drove Draco mad.
"As if you like being a servant," Draco said. "As if you don't mind at all that I made you my secretary."
"Oh." Potter shrugged. "Well, the way I look at it, I've always been a servant of the public in any case, haven't I? Becoming a secretary isn't so very different from being an Auror. And my solve rates were slipping, anyway. It was probably time for a short holiday from one kind of work and a stint at something else."
"No," Draco snapped in spite of himself.
"That is the real reason," said Potter, and went on looking at him curiously, as if he wondered what reason Draco had to doubt him.
Draco sighed undetectably through his nose. Saying part of his thoughts aloud had been unnecessary, but he could continue in his head. No, you don't get to sound so reasonable. You should swear at me and proclaim that you'll have your old job back if it kills you. You should do anything you possibly can to irritate me and get yourself sacked. At least you'd have the satisfaction of being free from me, and knowing that you acted like a Gryffindor.
Then another brilliant insight occurred to Draco. Maybe Potter wanted to be sacked. But he wanted it to happen in such a fashion that no one would blame him. That would explain why he had acted like he had, as if he didn't care about his job, with the rest of the Aurors looking at him pityingly. And it would explain why he was subtly goading Draco. If he had done it openly, then most people would have nodded their heads in understanding when Draco sacked him. On the other hand, if he acted polite and civil, then a few frowns would come Draco's way.
Draco did not want to see those frowns. And nothing in the world would induce him to give Potter the satisfaction.
"Dismissed," he said, and Potter left the office, and Draco turned to enjoy his delicious lunch. He didn't answer Harding's knock until he was good and ready.
And he absolutely forbade himself to indulge any other speculation about what kinds of lunches Potter might prepare when he was in his own home. There had to be a reason he'd bought this one at a shop. Obviously he was rubbish at cooking.
Draco tapped his fingers together, cheerful beyond what words could express. He had sent Potter for a glass of water fifteen minutes ago, and the idiot hadn't returned yet. Obviously this was his first gesture of rebellion. His patience with his own plan must be wearing thin, and now Draco could sack him.
The door opened.
Draco looked up, expecting anyone from Potter, panting and flushed and still expecting Draco to excuse him, to Harding, with word of a terrible flood in which Potter had been involved. But it was Potter with a glass of water that he carried over and placed gently on Draco's desk. He looked no more flushed than usual, though a small, rueful smile played along his lips.
"Well?" Draco demanded.
"Oh, sorry, sir," said Potter at once, and he looked contrite, but he still didn't color in the way Draco would have thought acceptable. "I was bringing the glass back when I passed Ron, and he spat into it. And the same thing happened with the next three glasses of water I fetched." He shrugged. "I tried taking different routes, but he always found me and spat into the water again. Once he tried to distracting me with a conversation about Quidditch and then spitting into it. But I couldn't let the Head of the Auror Department drink befouled water, could I? I like to think I'm better than that."
Draco cast a subtle charm at the water glass. The charm came back with the information that this was a perfectly ordinary glass, filled with sweet, cool water. Any trace of saliva would have shown up, and Potter had indeed fetched it from a source of running water. Conjured liquid never had the purity that the charm detected.
Draco closed his eyes. He had the beginnings of a headache. "Dismissed," he said.
Potter left as quietly as always.
Draco flattened himself to the corridor wall, and then sighed. He knew no one could see through his Disillusionment Charm; he had got full marks for Sneaking and Hiding during Auror training. But he was still cautious. Following the Chosen One was not an easy proposition, and Potter had taken a twisting path through the Ministry to his former partner's office with a casual ease that suggested he often did this sort of thing to throw admirers or enemies off the trail.
But Draco thought himself safe now. For one thing, he was around the corner from Potter and Weasley; for another, they were in Weasley's office, and Weasley had never shown the same mastery of magic, not even protective magic, as Potter had.
"So how long are you going to keep this up, mate?" Weasley sounded resigned. Peering quickly around the corner, Draco was grateful to see him slouched against his desk, his arms folded and his stare on Potter. At least someone was as dissatisfied with the way Potter had handled his duties as Draco was.
Not his secretarial duties, of course; Potter performed those with more aplomb as Draco had expected. But his duties to be a Gryffindor and a satisfactory rival. What was he thinking?
Of course, that was what Draco had followed Potter to find out, so he calmed his thoughts and listened eagerly as Potter chuckled. Then he blew a comma of dark hair away from his face, and Draco frowned. Something had changed about that face, but he didn't know what. If anything, Potter looked more rested that he had during the war.
"As long as it takes me to get the reaction I want from him," Potter said calmly.
Draco felt his mouth drop open. Of course, he recovered at once, and since he was under a Disillusionment Charm, no one had seen it anyway, but he disliked the vulnerability it implied.
He disliked the implications of Potter's statement still more, though. Potter was planning to turn his plan back on him and work to get a reaction out of him that Draco wouldn't give of his own free will! Of all the nerve! It had been Draco's brilliant plan in the first place! Potter had no right to interrupt it!
Weasley shook his head, slowly, tragically, as though Potter had just presented him with some plan to reform the She-Weasel, whom Draco was utterly certain Potter had left because she was a whore. There was not much evidence of this, but Draco was good at reading between the lines. "I don't think he'll give it to you at this rate, Harry. I mean, it's been two weeks, and all he does is fume and glare at you and then pretend not to fume and glare at you."
Draco blinked for a moment, wondering how Weasley could have known that. Then he realized Potter must have told him. He glared harder at Potter than ever, and for a moment regretted he wasn't here for legitimate reasons and couldn't rant at Potter for being an idiot. How dare he tell Weasley something that should have remained between the Head of the Auror Department and his secretary?
"I'll give it a little while still," Potter said, and rubbed the back of his neck.
"What if he sacks you instead?"
Draco's mouth dropped open again, but this time it was only because he was trying to suck in a breath; he was absolutely certain that was it. Potter didn't want to be sacked? Why was he trying to take advantage of Draco's brilliant plan, then? What did he want?
"Then he sacks me," Potter said. "And then I'll be able to take what I want without waiting around for him to make the first move."
Draco thought he had already heard enough. He ducked back around the corner, cast a spell that would muffle his footsteps just in case, and then headed back to his office, frantically revising his assumptions in his head.
Potter did not want to be sacked. He had come to work as Draco's secretary for an ulterior motive, however. And Draco's fuming and glaring wasn't enough, and neither was Draco's polite, well-bred acceptance of Potter's services.
What could he want?
Draco halted between one step and another, which caused him to sag rather heavily against the wall of the corridor. But he shook his head and caught his balance before he fell, and anyway, no one was about to see.
Of course. The fuming and glaring were not enough because Potter wanted Draco to lose his temper. He wanted a spectacular tantrum that would destroy the way Draco had climbed up the ranks to become the Head of the Auror Department, and cause the other Aurors to whisper about how immature their superior was.
Draco smirked. He knew he was smirking, and he didn't care, because his face was currently invisible. He had his reaction all planned out, now. When Potter came into the office tomorrow, he would be on the receiving end of a gesture he had never expected and could not have planned on.
It was a brilliant plan. It would distress Potter to no end, conceal Draco's real anger, and demonstrate Draco's sophistication and superior breeding. Best of all, there was no way Potter could use it against Draco. It was perfect.
"Close the door behind you, Potter," Draco said, without looking up from the paperwork strewn about his desk. "It's time we had a serious talk."
He knew Potter was probably standing there with his mouth open, wondering why Draco's desk had white candles, and a white rose, and two cups of tea, on it. He would wonder why Draco wanted him around if he had a lover coming soon. But a moment later, Draco heard the small click of the door in response to his wishes.
He smirked into the paperwork. Potter would wish he hadn't been so obedient when he saw the consequences of it.
"Sit down," Draco said.
A pause. Potter would have seen the chair drawn up in front of the desk, too, but there was no way he would have thought it for him. A soft scrape, and then Potter sat down. Draco imagined he could hear nervous fingers drumming against tensed thighs.
Draco looked up slowly, seductively, letting his eyes sweep a languid trail from Potter's chest to his face. Potter was staring at him with his lips slightly parted, his gaze so direct it might have hurt if Draco hadn't braced himself.
And if he hadn't been thinking of how mad the dim Gryffindor would go when the full brilliance of Draco's plan dawned on him.
"There are—things one sometimes wishes to say," Draco began, meditatively. He reached down and rearranged the white rose, subtly pushing it closer to Potter. "But one is prevented from doing so by outside circumstances. Or it wouldn't be a good idea because of—other reasons." He looked up at Potter, his lashes veiling his eyes. "Do you know what I mean?"
"Yes," Potter whispered. His throat sounded dry. With fear, Draco hoped.
"But then one gathers one's courage, and one makes changes," Draco said. "I started thinking. I said to myself, I've already made changes in the Auror Department, which is entirely proper, given I'm the new Head. Why shouldn't I go further, and make other changes? Particularly ones I want to make."
Draco laid enough stress on the word want to make a brain-damaged Mudblood child take notice, but Potter just kept staring at him. Draco concealed his disappointment. That would only make his rage when the real moment came all the better.
"And this is one of those changes," Draco said softly, and rose in his chair, and leaned across the desk, and kissed Potter.
For a moment, nothing happened. Potter sat with his lips slightly parted beneath Draco's, an encouragement for Draco to slip his tongue into his mouth. He was in shock yet, Draco thought complacently. He would react in a moment. He would certainly shove Draco away when Draco tasted him, and—
And then two things happened at once, as if to make up for the moment beforehand when nothing had.
Draco got his first full taste of Potter's mouth, and found himself surprised and more than a little disconcerted at how good it was. There was supposed to be no possible chance that he could want something his rival possessed, Potter's tears and hateful looks excepted. And this—this was a taste that Draco could see himself seeking out on his own if—
And Potter's arms closed around him in a hard clasp and hauled him over the desk.
Draco gasped and opened his mouth further, which proved to be the wrong move. He got more of Potter's taste, and Potter got more of his, and by the way Potter was holding him still and gripping his face and licking Draco's lips with murmured endearments, that wasn't going to end any time soon.
Potter finally broke the kiss and whispered into Draco's ear. Draco was too stunned to protest the intimacy, or the embarrassment of his position, draped over Potter's lap like some half-taught prostitute dragged from Knockturn Alley.
"I've wanted you," Potter whispered. "But we worked together, and it wouldn't have been tolerated by the people who think it's their duty to watch out for such things." He gave the word "duty" a depth of scorn that further sent Draco spinning into a sense of unreality. "Besides, you'd probably think it was a tactic to undermine your ladder-climbing. And then you became the Head of the Auror Department, and I had no idea how to approach you.
"But you made me your secretary." Potter's hold tightened. "Fate remembered that it owes me a favor, I think. I thought I'd be as polite as possible, and eventually you'd see that I really can make you happy. Or else you'd get irritated and sack me, and at least I could approach you outside the regulations of the Department then.
"I'm so glad it was the first one."
Draco opened his mouth. He was going to say so many things. He was going to scold Potter for his gullibility. He was going to explain the real state of things in a calm, bright voice, and then Potter would be embarrassed for the rest of his life. He was—
He had his mouth open under Potter's again, and his hand tangled in Potter's hair, dragging his head down.
Draco did not quite know what was happening. It seemed his hand and his mouth had a brilliant plan they hadn't told the rest of him about.
Eventually, Draco realized the truth. He had been secretly attracted to Harry, even as Harry had been attracted to him. He simply hadn't realized it; his notions of reality wouldn't allow such a disgusting idea to surface completely. He needed to maneuver Harry and himself into a position where they couldn't help but recognize it. That was why he had asked Harry to be his secretary in the first place, not some misguided notion of revenge.
Harry smiled at him when Draco spoke such words, and combed his hair back with two fingers, whilst his other fingers went under Draco's chin to tilt his head into a better position for kissing. Draco knew that meant he agreed, and admired the brilliance of Draco's plan.
And that was all Draco had ever really wanted.