Title: Said the Tortoise to the Hare
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Summary: Let others fling themselves at Harry; let them confirm his bad opinion of them and slobber down his sleeve with their adoration. Draco knew that the best way to win Harry Potter's heart was to be his friend first, and go so slowly he wouldn't even realize you were doing it.
Pairings: Eventual Harry/Draco, past Harry/Ginny, one-sided Harry/others.
Warnings: EWE, profanity, (slash) sex, mentions of het.
Author's Notes: The title comes from the fable of the hare and the tortoise, and, of course, what the tortoise says is, "Slow and steady wins the race." This will be a very short story, three chapters only.
Said the Tortoise to the Hare
The door slammed.
Draco raised an eyebrow and leaned back in his seat. He had to admit, the door slamming was nothing unusual when Harry was in a temper, but Harry's stomping up and down next to it, swearing and kicking the wall, was. Draco waited until the wall had a dent or two—he'd never liked that particular color of paint—before he asked innocently, "Something you want to talk about?"
"Yes." Harry flung himself into the chair behind his own desk so violently that the wood trembled and creaked. Draco had a silent betting pool going with himself about when the chair would finally break. But apparently it wasn't today, because Harry leaned forwards and tapped his fingers on the desk hard enough to break his nails instead of falling down and disappearing. "Ginny broke up with me."
Draco froze, his fingers clenching tightly enough to nearly break his quill.
But it wouldn't do to show either the sharp interest or the sudden hunger that flared in his chest, so he recovered in a moment—too short a time for someone like Harry to notice—and said smoothly, "I'm sorry to hear that. What happened?"
"She said I was spending too much time away from her." This was to be a day of swift movement, apparently, because Harry jumped over his desk and paced up and down again, waving his arms. Somewhat to Draco's disappointment, he was too distant from the wall to kick it this time. "As if she didn't know that would happen sometimes when I signed up to be an Auror! She agreed to it! She knew it!"
"And as if she doesn't spend a lot of time away from you, too, with the way her Quidditch team travels," Draco murmured.
"Exactly!" Harry spun and pointed a finger at him. Draco had to duck his head to hide a smile; he was reminded of a musician he'd seen performing on the telly when Harry dragged him into a Muggle section of London to find a birthday gift for Granger. "But when I brought that up, what do you think she said?"
"Well, obviously, she didn't fall at your feet and dissolve in repentant tears." Draco leaned back and tried not to show how much he was enjoying this.
"Well, no. Obviously." Harry stopped pacing and raised an eyebrow at him. "Now if only you could apply those sophisticated observation skills to the cases we're on as well as my love life."
But your love life is infinitely more interesting to me, Draco would never say. He raised an eyebrow back. "You're incapable of doing anything more complicated than using your eyes, Potter. I would never deprive you of the pleasure."
Harry snorted, but his face was bright with something other than anger now. Draco smiled back, all he would show of the lazy coil of enjoyment unfolding in his belly. I can offer him something Weasley never could. Their conversations weren't witty.
"But allow me to become a bit more sophisticated." Draco clasped his hands together in front of him and lowered his voice to the dignified monotone his father used to use when he wanted to impress political contacts at the Ministry. "You are more offended than upset. You have, perhaps, been looking for some deepening of your relationship with Weasley that was never going to come. You are angry that she broke up with you before you could do it to her."
Harry sighed and draped himself over his desk this time. He was the most restless person Draco had ever met. Ordinarily, that would have bothered Draco, who'd been raised in an atmosphere of sedate stillness for the most part. But Harry's motion was a way of showing off how beautiful he was, how fit and how quick. Draco liked other people to look at and admire someone he wanted, whilst enjoying the view himself; he just didn't like them to touch. "Yeah, you're probably right about that. I am upset, but I'm not firing curses at the walls the way I would have if we'd broken up a year ago. There was something missing." He flopped his head sideways and smiled wearily at Draco. "It's strange how well you know me."
Draco had to bite his tongue. Of course he wasn't about to reveal his hopes for Harry yet; Harry had just broken up with his girlfriend of six years, for Merlin's sake, and he'd resent the pressure. But it would have been such a perfect opportunity to say, Not strange at all, when you consider how much more you're worth looking at than anyone else. He did have to mourn the stillbirth of a line like that.
"Not strange," he allowed himself to say, and then smiled as Harry stood and reached for his cloak. "Now you're going to go down to the Leaky Cauldron and get pissed," he added, in the same monotone as before.
"Yeah." Harry hesitated an instant before he opened the door.
Draco doubted he noticed the hesitation, but Draco did, and knew what it meant, as he knew so much about Harry. Harry was wondering if he should leave Draco with all the casework, useless though he'd be on it with his emotions in turmoil like this, and he was also wondering if he should ask Draco to come with him.
But Draco had no intention of going. Harry wanted to be alone right now, to sit in the back of the Cauldron and drink and scowl; he'd hex anyone who asked him too many questions. It was what he'd done every single time he had a fight with his friends or his girlfriend.
And Draco wouldn't give Harry anything to resent him about. Not now, not when the vague hopes he'd nourished for a long time suddenly had their best chance of growing.
"Go," he said, and waved a hand at Harry. "Someone's already heard through the walls, anyway, thin as they are, and the report's probably on its way to Kingsley."
Harry snorted bitterly. "But no one else would be given time off from work just because of a problem like this," he muttered. "I wish they would treat me the same as everyone else."
Is a gyrfalcon treated the same as a kestrel? But Draco knew Harry wouldn't understand the reference; he'd never learned falconry, the poor sod. "You've done a good run of work lately," he said. "I'm sure Kingsley can forgive your being out of the office when Ernest Whistlebone is also out of it."
Harry shuddered. "Ugh, that was a nasty case, wasn't it?"
Draco nodded; Whistlebone had been an Auror, and had managed to shrug off the blame for his gruesome murders quite handily to others. It had taken his colleagues longer to catch on than it should have. But he didn't like the cloud coming over Harry's face. He would make a short jump to thinking that he should have caught Whistlebone faster, and then he would start thinking that there might be cases like that amongst his current load, and then he would stay here and bottle up his feelings for Weasley instead of brooding them out cleanly. And then he might start thinking he should go back to her.
No, that wouldn't do at all.
"I can promise you we have nothing else as nasty right now," he said. "I've looked through them all."
He took some trouble to sound prissily virtuous, and was rewarded when Harry laughed, that deep laugh that made his eyes crinkle at the corners and almost shut. Draco sighed as he half-hardened. More than once he'd had cause to be grateful for long Auror robes as well as solid Auror desks.
"Yes, you would have, berk." Harry strode quickly back across the room to brush a hand over Draco's shoulder, the way he often did to Ron Weasley, too. Draco struggled to keep his eyes from falling half-shut. "Well, right then. I'm off."
And he bounced out of the room and slammed the door behind him.
Draco cast a Tempus charm that would give him two minutes, and then leaned back in the chair, folded his hands behind his head, and grinned at the ceiling.
Oh, yes, he wanted Harry. But he'd long since accepted that Harry would probably marry the She-Weasley, and so he kept the longing to an acceptable minimum and dated other people. Why should he pine hopelessly?
Draco doubted he could be blamed for encouraging Harry's natural inclinations, and the She-Weasley's natural inclinations if it came to that, to keep them apart. He certainly couldn't be blamed for not using the tactics of all the hopeless star-chasers who would throw themselves at Harry when they heard he was single.
He would win Harry in the only possible way, the only way that would make it permanent: by being an understanding and sympathetic friend. Really, if Ron Weasley and Granger hadn't been so interested in each other, Draco thought that one of them would have won Harry long since. Friendship was where all his deepest bonds started.
And Draco had utterly no intention of letting someone like Harry go. Why should he? He deserved the best.
The Tempus charm chirped, and Draco returned to work. Part of the reason he and Harry had become friends at all was that he maintained his share of the case load.
"I don't know what they all want from me!"
Draco muffled a laugh in his sleeve as he looked at Harry's dismayed expression. Yes, he had a right to be dismayed when his desk was crowded with roses, the torn remains of singing cards, a sickly-looking yellow mess that had come from a gift of sweets melted in the mail, and a white ball of ruffled feathers, but his words were ridiculous. "You know what they want," he said.
Harry grunted and tore open another envelope. The card inside warbled three notes before he crumpled it and threw it against the wall. "I've only been away from Ginny for a week," he muttered, tearing a hand through his hair. "Can't they give me any peace?"
They would if they were wise. Draco flicked his wand to banish the sickly yellow mess, and Harry smiled at him. He could have done it himself, but he appreciated the gesture.
Draco smiled back, and turned away before the look could become too long and lingering. He would never forgive himself if he ruined his own chances, the way all these idiots were ruining theirs.
"I don't know what to do," Harry said. "I don't want to set up those wards that keep all the letters away from me, because Charlie and Bill owl me sometimes, and I haven't figured out a way to limit the magic to specific post-owls, and anyway I think Ron's going to be getting a new bird soon—"
Draco snorted. "You could have figured out the spells if you really wanted to," he said. "You're hoping to hear from Weasley."
"Of course," Harry blustered, opening his eyes, which he had closed in a fit of weariness. "I hear from Ron all the time, and I just told you, his new bird—"
"I meant his sister, and you know it." Draco leaned threateningly towards him.
Harry's eyes darted to his cards, but he was no good at making up a lie on the spot, or really pretending to be interested in something he wasn't, and he had enough respect for Draco's intelligence not to try. He sighed. "Am I that transparent?"
"You want her back," Draco said, knowing he had to tread carefully with his next few words. His object was to comfort Harry and to find out how much of a problem the She-Weasley was likely to be in the future, and he had to make those two motives work together. "That's only natural. But I think you have to face up to the truth: is it likely that she'll come back? Or are you setting yourself up for more pain?"
Very well done, Draco, he thought, as Harry ran a hand through his hair again. This gets him to talk about it—that purges some of the pain—but it also tells you the truth. Harry will never be less than honest.
"I don't think she'll come back, no," Harry said lowly. "Last week, she told me that she'd been angry for a long time. But she didn't think she could tell me about it, because we did agree at the beginning of the relationship that I'd have to spend a lot of time in Auror training and then Auror work. She tried to figure out how she could keep that agreement going and soothe her own unhappiness at the same time, and then she figured out she couldn't. And being happy was more important to her."
Draco nodded, content. He had no need to hear Harry speak bitter words against the She-Weasley. He just wanted to make absolutely sure that Harry wouldn't drift back to her once he was Draco's.
"And being happy should be more important to you, too," he said, firmly catching Harry's eye for a moment. "So don't wait for her if you don't think she'll come back."
Harry smiled. Then he looked back at the clutter on his desk and sighed. "I'd be happy enough to do that," he muttered, "but how am I supposed to know who would make me happy, when so many people behave like this?" One of the singing cards twitched and recited some line about "Harry Potter being smooth as an otter." Harry incinerated the thing with a grim look on his face. "I've never been sure when people were pleasant to me because they liked me and when they were pleasant to me because of this bloody scar." He scratched at his forehead for a moment. Draco took the chance to roll his eyes. He thought Harry's insistence on keeping his fringe long enough to hide the scar plebian. People would stare at him even if he lacked it; why not stop hiding it and make it mean something? "And there's no way of knowing who might get tired of me and go to the papers in the future.
"I wonder if that's why I stayed with Ginny for so long," he added suddenly, and folded his hands on his belly to scowl at them. "She was familiar. I trusted her not to betray me. She had family who wouldn't try to use me, either. That—that was more important than happiness to me, for a long time."
"It shouldn't be." Draco stood and crossed behind Harry's desk, letting his hand brush fleetingly against Harry's shoulder. It was as much comfort as he ever gave, and as much as Harry needed now, he thought, watching the way the scowl faded from his face. "And as for someone who makes you happy, well, you'll just have to look, won't you? As hard as I understand that is for you." He scooped up the white bundle of feathers, which was hopping determinedly towards the edge of the desk, and held it to his face. It promptly tried to bite his nose. Draco smiled when he recognized the curved beak of a raptor. "In the meantime, I'll take this gift you're obviously unfit to appreciate off your hands."
"What is the thing?" Harry stood and peered over Draco's shoulder, his breath on the nape of Draco's neck. Draco smiled again. Let him think it's for the bird.
The bird hissed at Harry and hopped across Draco's palm, trying to grip the side of his fingers so it could bite Harry's hair. Draco deftly turned his hands away. "A hawk of some kind," he said. "I don't know enough about them to recognize one so young." He raised an eyebrow when the feathers shifted and he found black spots under the white upper layer. "But I should be able to find out soon."
"You're welcome to it, then." Harry snatched his fingers back from the chick's next lunge. "I don't know what the bloody hell it is, and I don't want to find out." He snatched his cloak off the chair. "I think I need another drink at the Leaky again. You coming?"
Draco watched him narrowly for a moment. Harry's eyes were larger than usual, and he didn't even look doubtfully at the bird, as if he'd considered Draco wouldn't be able to leave the office whilst holding it. His left hand made a small beseeching motion and then fell still.
I'd be a fool to stay here when he does want me to come. Draco drew his wand and conjured a cage for the bird, then Summoned one of his house-elves, Tibby, to fetch different bits of meat for it. Less than a minute later, he had his own cloak on and was accompanying Harry down the corridor.
"Thanks," Harry said. "I just—it tastes better when I have someone along."
Draco smiled at the obvious lie, but kept his eyes straight ahead.
"Oi, Malfoy! I want to ask you something."
Draco blinked and turned his head. Weasley was scrambling wildly towards the lift he was in, which had just started to close. With a sigh, Draco reached out, placed a hand between the doors, and held them open. Weasley popped in a moment later with a gulp of air and a nod, and then stood there mopping his forehead whilst the lift rose towards the first floor.
"The question, Weasley?" Draco prompted, when they had ridden past three floors in silence. He leaned his shoulder on the wall and did his very best to look bored, although he suspected that he was about to hear some advice about Harry or some information about the She-Weasel.
"Yeah," said Weasley, apparently starting out of a trance of watching his sweat fall to the floor. Draco managed to keep from rolling his eyes. Why Harry had become friends with this git, he didn't know, but he supposed Harry needed simple as well as complex sides of his nature stimulated. "I want to know what you're doing with Harry."
"So many things," said Draco in a considering voice, and Weasley took a step back from him. "Working as his partner. Co-signing reports. Discussing the movements of criminals. Saying—"
"I know that!" Weasley burst out irritably. "What I want to know is what you've been saying to him that makes him reluctant to get back together with Ginny. We're all waiting for it, but each time he looks vaguely uncomfortable and backs away." He took a threatening step nearer; Draco managed to keep from rolling his eyes about that, but only by thinking about Harry sprawled on the desk with his legs held open and his breath coming in soft pants. "And I know it has something to do with you, because he looks uncomfortable each time he comes home from the office."
Harry had told Draco he'd moved back in with Weasley a fortnight ago. Draco sighed. None so blind as those who will not see the blessings they have received. He would be more polite if he lived with Harry; he would be so happy that he couldn't help being more polite. "As it happens, I've been letting him take off from work and go to drink at the Leaky Cauldron, because that's what he needs," Draco said. "Sometimes I help. And when Harry feels like it, we make fun of the people who send him gifts." He smiled a bit. The white hawk, whom he'd named Gamaliel, was the only non-ridiculous thing to come out of that flood of artifacts smeared with the smell of desperation. "I haven't said he should continue dating your sister or that he should stop. I just commiserate with him."
Weasley frowned in perplexity, probably because his brain was not translating "commiserate" with enough speed, and then took another step away and scraped his foot against the floor of the lift like a bull. "If I find out that you're lying, Malfoy…"
"You could always ask Harry," Draco suggested, as they reached the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and the doors popped open. "Unless you think your best friend would lie to you."
"He's always been unreasonable where you're concerned," Weasley muttered, stepping out of the lift.
"Well, then, ask your sister what she's doing to get Harry back," Draco said, slipping an annoyed tone into his voice that he was far from feeling. This should produce some information. "Maybe he doesn't feel welcome trying to chase a woman who broke up with him."
Weasley folded his arms and tossed a frown over his shoulder. "She's not doing anything," he snapped. "She's too confident that Harry will come back to her, so she's reveling in her freedom and making sure Harry 'accidentally' meets her dates."
Draco swallowed victorious laughter. Either she's not interested in him any more, or she's too confident to notice when someone does start winning his heart. Either way is excellent news. "All right, then," he said mildly. "Talk to her, and not me." He brushed past Weasley, heading for the office.
Weasley spat some more meaningless comments at his back, but Draco didn't see the need to turn around. He opened the office door and shut it behind him quickly. Harry wasn't there yet, and Draco didn't want anyone else to see the enormous shark-eating smile that covered his face.
The She-Weasel has six years with him and no rival—supposedly. I have three years and a great deal more determination and cleverness than she does. Let us see which one wins.
At moments like this, with the light of curses blazing around them and Harry ducking and weaving and rolling like an acrobat, Draco was reminded of why he'd fallen in love with Harry.
Draco raised a Shield Charm, then dropped it and countered with a shield of sparking electricity as a Dark curse that ate common defensive charms dropped over him. Then he leaned around the bolts of lightning in front of him and aimed a curse at his attacker's heart that would cause it to stutter. The attacker moaned and fell to the ground, where Draco Stupefied and Body-Bound him.
Harry was practically doing a war-dance between three Dark witches, smugglers who had been bringing in live magical creatures with the intention of cutting them up into potions ingredients. With three wands aimed at him, he should have been cut or singed by something, but only the edges of his hair smoked. His wand jabbed out again and again and again, and two of the witches went flying and the third one screamed and staggered backwards with an enormous bleeding wound in her arm.
He had fallen in love with Harry because he could fight like this, leaping into battle and submerging himself as if nothing mattered more, and then still walk away from it and be a normal bloke outside. He had the sanest response to fighting Draco had ever seen. Be alive and focused while you're doing it; don't think about it when you're not.
Draco leaped over a Cutting Curse aimed at his knees, and cast the Blasting Curse in return. The man he hit fell to the ground with a sound of splintering bones and lay still.
Perhaps he would not have fallen in love with Harry during Auror training, when, by all accounts, Harry had moaned through his teeth and spent a lot of time sulking alone and otherwise thrashed through his contest with post-war trauma. And perhaps some people would say that he wasn't healthy now, that one should be an integrated being instead of a divided one and the same in battle as outside it.
The wizard he had just downed was trying to get back to his feet. Draco cast Impedimenta, Stupefy, and Expelliarmus in quick succession.
But Draco wouldn't say that. He knew what Harry was like, the depth of the light shining through him and the brilliance of the shadows. He would accept that aliveness, that unique sanity.
Harry spun in one more circle. Five spells left his wand, all of them different; Draco counted a Body-Bind and a Disarming Charm, but couldn't identify the others so quickly. Not that it mattered, because their enemies fell over and lay still, and that was the important step.
Harry came to a stop, panting, and tossed him a smile.
For a smile like that, Draco was willing to wait out months—years if he had to. He had already waited two months, and Harry hadn't dated anyone else, nor had the flood of stupid gifts slowed.
But there was no harm in a bit of encouragement, so Draco made his own smile back slow and contented. Harry stared for the briefest of moments, and then turned quickly away, a tinge of pink on his cheeks.
Draco hummed under his breath as they began packing up the fallen wizards.