Author's Notes: Thanks and love to my beta readers, Plumeria, Verdant and Frances Potter! Thanks also to John le Carré, from whom I borrowed the concepts of the nameless Head Auror (Control) and the Lumos squad (Toby Esterhase's lamplighters). This fic was written for H/D Holidays on Livejournal, where the recipient (enchanted_jae) wanted "Harry and Draco as Aurors working closely together". It's one of my favourite fandom clichés - I love reading Auror stories but had never written one before – I hope you'll enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, or even half.
Do you curse where you come from
Do you swear in the night
Will it mean much to you
If I treat you right
Nick Drake, Hazey Jane I
The cottage is a happy house; Harry knows it from the moment he tumbles out of the fireplace. He slips on the polished floor and hits his elbow on a table leg, but it doesn't detract from the first impression. There is something quietly radiating from the walls, a warmth, an atmosphere, like years of happy memories stored in layer upon layer in their structure. The cottage is pretty, too, with dark ceiling beams, whitewashed walls, creaking floorboards and ornate fireplaces, and beautifully situated, perched on top of a cliff overlooking the sea in one direction and its twin cottage, surrounded by trees and shrubbery, in the other.
But if that cottage has ever been a happy one, it must have been a very long time ago.
Harry absent-mindedly rubs the sore spot on his elbow while he looks at the other cottage, frowning. He can sense something emanating from it, a magic that isn't dark in itself but definitely not used for anything good – fear, hate, imprisonment; it's like the taste of blood in his mouth.
He turns around to the other view. Even through the closed windows he can hear the crash of waves at the foot of the cliff and the cries of soaring seabirds, the sounds so profoundly soothing and comforting that he stands mesmerised for far too long before finally giving himself a mental shake. Just do what you came for, Harry.
Anti-Apparition wards – check. Charms to make the house look uninhabited – check. Supplies of food, blankets and firewood – check. Enhanced Omnioculars – check.
And that should be all they need. Harry pulls up two chairs to the window facing the neighbouring cottage, looks around one last time and nods to himself. Taking a pinch of gritty powder he steps into the fireplace and Floos back to the Ministry, immediately sealing off the cottage's Floo node behind him.
His desk is a mess, as always – the Auror job involves far more paperwork than he had ever imagined. Sighing, he shuffles through a pile of parchment for his case notebook, finding it near the bottom. He rubs a hand over his face and begins to read, but his mind wanders, returning to yesterday's meeting with his boss, the nameless Head Auror they only know as NN.
NN sticks his wispy grey head round his office door when Harry passes by in the corridor. "Ah, Mr Potter. I'd like to see you for a moment."
Harry catches himself up so quickly his coffee nearly splashes over the rim of the cup. "Yes, sir."
Sitting down in NN's visitor's chair and smoothing out his robes, he smiles to himself. Many Aurors find NN intimidating but Harry never has. The piercing gaze over half-moon glasses always remind him of Dumbledore, and although NN's eyes are brown, not blue, they hold the same mix of wisdom, kindness and sharpness.
"You've been an Auror for three years now, Potter, as well as having rather… extensive experience with dark wizards before that." There is a hint of a glitter in the stern eyes. "Considering this background, I hope you don't mind being paired with a beginner for your next assignment. Just got his Auror badge."
Harry's eyes widen. On this case? Muggle refugees sold to wizards as slaves – this isn't for a rookie. If it had been illegal plants or irregular-sized brooms perhaps, but not people.
"Yes, yes, I can see what you're thinking." NN waves a hand dismissively. "But it's not for the action, you understand – and besides, I hear he's good. I kept getting favourable reports from his internships. His partners described him as committed and, quote, 'not bad at all', which is praise indeed of someone in training."
"A rookie." Harry leans back in the chair with a sigh. "So what are we doing next?"
"I'm afraid you may not find it terribly stimulating, but you've had a couple of very taxing assignments lately, Potter, so you deserve something a little easier. As you've heard, we're going to be monitoring all the suspected ports and connection points in preparation for the final raid. For the next few weeks we'll have people at the points in Mousehole, Langton Herring, Little-in-Sight and Mawnan Smith as well as the possible one in Exeter and the central in Penzance. You'll all be lying low, just watching, unless there are signs of anything major happening. At this stage, we need to find out about schedules, habits, patterns to be able to optimise the co-ordinated operation when it's time. So, there it is – Mawnan Smith is all yours, Potter. You'll keep an eye on comings and goings and report back here every day, and that's all. It'll relax you a little and give your partner an opportunity to learn."
So NN wants to rest him up without giving him time off; fine. Harry only wishes it wouldn't involve being bored to death. "Night-time watch, then, I suppose?"
"I'm afraid so, Potter, as all movement seems to take place at night."
"A few weeks?"
"As long as we need, really, but two or three weeks is my estimate. You're on watch five nights a week and then two nights off. Split the watch between you, sleep in shifts – arrange it any way that suits you, as long as you get the work done."
Working nights – it'll be like constant Apparition-lag for weeks. Great.
"The Lumos squad is setting things up as we speak. You should go there and check everything later. Here's the Floo code."
Harry memorises the code and leaves NN's office suppressing a sigh.
It's almost noon when Harry wakes up in his bed at Grimmauld Place with a feeling of impending doom. Doom in the form of boredom, he thinks, groaning into the pillow. Surveillance is one of his least favourite tasks, and watching a cottage for weeks in the company of a rookie…? Sweet Merlin.
The shower is hot and wonderful and he stays under it for a long time, turning his face up to the warm spray but finishing off cold to wake up. He feels a little less bleary-eyed afterwards, but still so tired his bones ache. Another twenty-four hours of sleep and he might begin to feel human again. Might.
"You look terrible," he tells his image in the bathroom mirror as he cleans his teeth. If it had been a friend looking like this he'd have told them to take a holiday. "So why don't you?" he asks himself rhetorically.
The image looks back at him with disillusioned eyes, toothpaste foaming at the corners of its mouth.
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get going," the mirror tells him in a no-nonsense voice.
Harry rinses his mouth, sighs, and leaves for the Ministry.
It's true that his latest cases have been physically and mentally strenuous, Harry thinks as he collects his notebook along with some other material from his desk, but he really does dislike surveillance. It's attention-demanding and mind-numbingly boring at the same time, only to be endured with a good partner at his side to chat to, someone observant, someone who knows what he is doing. Even if this new partner happens to be nice he is still new to the game, so the best Harry can hope for is one out of two.
He is early but decides not to wait.
"I'll leave the Floo node open for half an hour," he tells NN, "so you can just send my partner along when he gets in."
"Mawnan Smith, is it?" he hears Dean's voice behind him at the Floo hub. "I'm off to Mousehole. It'll be riveting, I'm sure."
Harry laughs. "Good luck with staying awake."
Dean grins and disappears in a flare of bright green. Grabbing a handful of powder, Harry steps into his own fireplace.
Arriving at the cottage in the same headlong fashion as last time, sliding over the floor until he bumps into something, he is once again struck by the warm tranquility of the place. This house has a history of good magic, happy memories, love… he can feel it. Like he imagines Godric's Hollow must have felt once. He wouldn't mind having a place like this of his own some day, he thinks. Maybe he should talk to NN to find out who owns it.
But first they have to remove the horrors from the other cottage.
Harry makes tea and stands by the window with his steaming mug. The other house is sitting in its lush surroundings where the leaves are beginning to turn; the white walls are tinted pink by the setting sun. So deceptively peaceful.
He crosses the room to watch the sea, alight with the golden fire of the sun. Below him, rough steps hewn out of the rock lead steeply down to a small, crescent-shaped sandy beach, embraced and sheltered by arms of jutting rock on both sides. Very private, very secluded. The perfect place to come in by boat at night. A narrow path winds from the top of the steps past the south-east corner of the cottage where Harry is standing and disappears into a clump of trees before emerging in front of the twin cottage. Strange that they chose the house further inland, Harry thought, but maybe the quiet, harmonious happiness of this one made them choke.
A noise behind him announces the arrival of his partner and he turns around to greet the man who is removing soot from his clothes, but the words die on his lips. With the mug cradled between his hands and his mouth stupidly half-open, he stares at the unmistakable head of silvery blond hair.
His new partner is Draco Malfoy.
"You," he says. It comes out like an accusation, like verbal spit.
Malfoy finishes tidying himself up and meets Harry's eyes calmly and with a hint of defiance.
"How very observant of you, Potter," he murmurs. "Thanks for the warm welcome."
So this is what comes of staying out of the Auror buddy programme, Harry thinks. You miss the juicy news as well as the important information. Why has no one seen fit to tell him that Malfoy had been accepted for Auror training? Hermione must have known, for instance. Or Dean – they're both active in the buddy programme. But not a sound from either of them. What are friends for, if not to share the gossip?
Malfoy, an Auror – it's just too absurd. Last time Harry saw him, he and his mother were standing before the Wizengamot, tense and pale. Harry testified in their favour and then did his best to shrug the whole thing off and forget. He went on to do his final year at Hogwarts, but Malfoy didn't return. None of the Slytherins did.
"There's tea in the kitchen," he says when he is capable of speech again. It strikes him as an odd first sentence to direct at someone he has despised for most of his life and never once had a civilised conversation with.
"Thanks." Malfoy throws his cloak over the back of a chair and heads for the kitchen.
The skin prickles on the back of Harry's neck and down his spine, and he finds that his hands are trembling as a quick succession of memories come tumbling through his mind. Malfoy stamping on his face on the Hogwarts Express… Malfoy running errands for Umbridge… Malfoy as a child, being scared in the Forbidden Forest… Malfoy's sooty, pinched face in the burning Room of Requirement as he cradled Goyle's inert body… and Malfoy's arms hard around Harry's waist on the broom.
"I didn't know you were an Auror," he says stupidly when Malfoy returns.
"No. I never saw you around during training. A lot of other Aurors, but not you."
So he noticed that, Harry thinks with a strange surge of satisfaction.
"I opted out of the buddy programme after a few months," he replies. "Must have been the year before you were accepted."
Oh, damn, why did I say that? He can't very well tell Malfoy how the Aurors in training were star-struck by Harry's presence and behaved rather like insane fans, fawning over him and almost fighting over who got to have the Golden Boy as a buddy. The memory still makes him cringe, and he'd only sound like a stuck-up, self-important prat telling Malfoy. Better improvise something. "Why did I opt out? Well, I… I guess I'm not very good at teaching. Or at being supportive."
When Malfoy opens his mouth to reply, Harry says quickly: "I'm more interested in asking you why. Why does the son of a dyed-in-the-wool Death Eater become an Auror? Isn't that taking things a little too far in terms of glossing things over? We all know where your sympathies lie anyway."
The unfairness of this as well as the contempt in his own voice surprises him – he honestly didn't know he still harboured so much bitterness towards Malfoy. Being an annoying, malicious git at school is hardly a capital offence, and Malfoy must have changed or he wouldn't be here. But Harry fights an urge to grab Malfoy by the collar and throw him out.
Malfoy's voice cuts through his thoughts: "For Merlin's sake, Potter, use your few brain cells. Why do you think I became an Auror?"
Harry's contempt has sparked Malfoy's, like an Incendio to dry wood. They glare at each other and for a moment they might have been back at Hogwarts, facing each other in a corridor.
"Oh, I don't know," Harry says caustically, the sixteen-year-old in him rising to the surface, "to suck up, perhaps? Like when you joined the Inquisitorial Squad?"
For a moment, the look on Malfoy's face makes him prepare to ward off a hex, but then Malfoy relaxes his shoulders and takes a deep breath. After all, he must be used to comments like this. He must have heard much worse.
"First of all," he says, meeting Harry's eyes, "you didn't give me the real reason why you left the buddy programme. It wasn't that you can't teach. People are still talking about Dumbledore's Army, you know, and what a great job you did there." Malfoy places his tea mug on the table and stands squarely, as though bracing himself, willing himself to be calm. "If we're going to work together, Potter, we might as well get this out of the way. As for the Inquisitorial Squad, and a lot of other things I said and did at school, I was an idiot and I apologise for it. Not that it makes any difference now, but I'm sorry. I…" When Malfoy sucks in another breath and even blushes a little, something moves in Harry, an eruption of anger that scares him, making his stomach clench.
"Save your breath," he snaps. "I don't want to hear it. I don't want your apologies."
Malfoy flinches, a flash of emotion crossing his face to be replaced by a mask, like a shutter coming down. "Fine," he says stiffly. "I don't need to justify myself to you."
Without another word, he picks up his tea mug and takes it to the kitchen.
The first night is uneventful and they sit through the first couple of hours together in tense, frosty silence. When Harry gets up from his chair to go to bed, Malfoy asks acidly: "Are you sure you'll be able to sleep when I'm in the house?"
Harry freezes mid-stretch. "Do I have reason not to?"
Malfoy looks back at him coldly. "I leave that to your own judgement."
Harry does sleep. In fact, he sleeps like the dead, which is testimony to his exhaustion more than to his opinion of Malfoy. Anyway, if Malfoy was accepted for Auror training it means he has been thoroughly vetted by reliable people, and there should be no reason to doubt his loyalty. Harry doesn't expect to be murdered in his sleep, exactly, but he still takes certain precautions, such as five different, complex locking spells on his bedroom door and an intricate net of wards. Not that he is over-cautious or anything.
In the small hours he takes over from Malfoy as agreed and sits by the window yawning, watching nothing, watching darkness, thinking about last night. It occurs to him that Malfoy is actually behaving better than he is, but he pushes the thought away.
Dawn rises, misty and sweet, signalling the end of their first night's watch, but Harry doesn't want to go back to bed. He makes coffee and takes it outside; there is a bench along the wall by the back door, facing the sea. After casting a heating charm against the chilly, autumnal air, he sits watching the tide roll in while seagulls circle against the pearly sky, glinting like specks of gold in the morning light.
"I can't sleep."
The sound of Malfoy's voice makes Harry jump, sloshing coffee on his trousers. Malfoy is standing in the doorway in pyjama bottoms and t-shirt, looking strangely vulnerable and defenceless with his feet and arms bare and the pale hair softly mussed. This is an Auror and the son of a Death Eater, Harry feels the need to remind himself. Defenceless is the last thing he is. The thought only makes him more edgy and he swallows too big a mouthful of coffee too fast, causing him to cough until his eyeballs are about to burst.
"There's coffee," he manages when he can breathe again.
Malfoy, who has watched him with equal parts concern and disgust, actually laughs. "Thanks. You made it look so appetising."
When he returns with a coffee cup he has pulled on a wool jumper and a pair of thick socks, and the sleepiness is gone from his eyes. As he sits down Harry fights an impulse to scoot to the other end of the bench and Malfoy senses it, giving Harry a sidelong glance: "I may be a Slytherin, but I don't bite."
"If you were a snake, I could talk to you," Harry mutters.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees Malfoy's hand with the cup stop halfway to his mouth, but only for the briefest of moments.
"We need to do something about those chairs," Malfoy says instead.
"The ones by the window. So spartan. Are we supposed to suffer for our art or something? If we keep sitting on those things for hours on end we'll get baboon arses."
Harry barely avoids getting coffee up his nose, suppressing a snort. "What did you expect, Malfoy – a chaise-longue? We need to stay awake."
"Let's get armchairs. I'll charm them to shake us if they sense us falling asleep. This is going to be excruciating anyway; let's at least be comfortable."
"You're right about the excruciating bit," Harry mutters.
Malfoy might have been saying "Indeed" under his breath, but Harry isn't sure.
They sit together in silence, drinking coffee, watching the sun disperse the morning mists. It could even have been a companionable silence if it had been someone other than Malfoy. Harry can't relax, and it isn't that he doesn't trust Malfoy; there is something else, like an energy, electric. Like there will be sparks if they happen to touch.
But they won't touch. Not if Harry can help it.
He straightens his back and massages his left shoulder, grimacing. On his last assignment he broke his left arm and sprained his shoulder, and though the Healer who attended him afterwards put the arm right, he didn't quite succeed with the shoulder. The joint still aches dully from time to time; sometimes there's even a sharp pain that sets Harry's teeth on edge and makes him tetchy.
When they go inside to get something to eat, Harry can't help thinking this is one of the strangest things he has ever done, sitting at this heavy, scrubbed wood table in a picturesque cottage by the sea, quietly having breakfast with Draco Malfoy.
Nothing much happens that week. On the third night at 2:55 am, a man Apparates in front of the cottage and enters it quickly. About forty minutes later he reappears and Disapparates. He doesn't bring anything or anyone that they can see, but they duly report their meagre information back to headquarters by Firetalk.
Their days and nights settle into a kind of quiet rhythm: Harry goes to bed early while Malfoy takes the first watch, Harry joins him between two and four as this is the most difficult time to stay awake, then Malfoy goes to bed and Harry keeps watch until dawn.
They adjust the Anti-Apparition wards to recognise their magical signatures and allow them to come and go. When Malfoy wakes up, he Apparates down to the beach to go for a run, and later in the day Harry does the same thing. To give them something to do in the evenings before the first watch, Harry fetches his chess set from Grimmauld Place. So far, he has lost every game to Malfoy.
Annoyingly enough, when their first days off arrive, Harry's thoughts just won't let go of Malfoy. The image of sharp grey eyes and blond hair falling in soft layers around a pale face persists at the back of his mind and refuses to leave even when he is asleep. Malfoy visits his dreams, whispering inaudibly, lips moving, eyes laughing.
It isn't only pathetic, it's improbable, unbelievable, but it's happened – one week, and he has adjusted amazingly to Malfoy's presence, even reluctantly enjoying it. Mostly, he thinks, it's because there's no need for pretence. Malfoy knows, he was there, and he isn't impressed by Harry being who he is. Even the fact that Malfoy is a rookie doesn't bother Harry any more – if something happens, Malfoy will probably react correctly by instinct. Harry is far from sure what he bases that assumption on, but he feels it, the way his intuition has always told him things.
On his first night off he gets well and truly drunk to erase the image of Malfoy's (he grudgingly has to admit) beautiful face, and wakes up with such a throbbing, pulsing, nauseous headache that he has to send Kreacher for a hangover potion. Pathetic doesn't begin to describe it.
After a quick visit to Bill and Fleur at Shell Cottage, leaving three velvety, dark-blue anemones in a jam jar by Dobby's grave, Harry returns to Mawnan Smith, much less reluctantly than a week ago – a thought that doesn't bear dwelling on.
Malfoy is there already, checking the Omnioculars. He turns around at the sound of Harry Apparating and nods.
"What did you do on your days off?" Malfoy asks a little later, sprawling on the couch.
"Nothing much," Harry replies, shrugging. He is sprawling as well, but in an armchair, well out of reach of any accidental touch. "Got pissed. Embarrassingly so, actually. Went to see Bill Weasley and visited Dobby's grave."
Too late, he thinks a fraction of a second later. Shouldn't have mentioned Dobby.
Malfoy looks at him blankly. "Our house-elf? That you set free?"
"The very same."
After a moment of silence Malfoy begins to laugh. "Merlin, but Father was livid!"
Harry tries not to look at the mesmerising curve of marble-white neck as Malfoy throws his head back. "I believe that was the idea. A small way of paying him back."
It takes Harry a second to realise that Malfoy doesn't know the story, doesn't know about Tom Riddle's diary or how it came into Ginny's possession. "Okay, I'll tell you a fairytale."
And it almost feels like one, like the boy in the story isn't Harry but someone else, a lifetime ago, David and Goliath, fighting basilisks, acting on impulse. He isn't sure he has ever had such a captive audience. Malfoy sits up, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, eyes fixed on Harry's face, not asking, not interrupting, but he is an active listener hanging on every word.
"I never knew that," he says when Harry has finished, sounding a little dazed. "I didn't know about T-... Tom Riddle." It seems to require an effort, getting the name across his lips. "Or that you killed the basilisk. Sweet Merlin. How old were you? Twelve?"
There is an odd look in his eyes, a glimpse of reluctant awe that makes Harry uncomfortable. He doesn't want admiration, particularly not from Malfoy.
"Yes. But it was mostly luck. And I had help."
"From the phoenix. How did it know where to find you?"
Harry smiles at that, smiles into Malfoy's puzzled eyes. "Magic, Malfoy. Pure Gryffindor magic."
Then he grimaces, rolling his aching shoulder. It's doing him no good sitting still like this.
"Shoulder bothering you?"
"Yeah. It's nothing, I sprained it on my last assignment and it hasn't healed well. That Healer, I'll ask NN to take him off the list. Madam Pomfrey would have done it much better."
Malfoy Accios a small, brown glass jar and hands it to Harry, who turns it over suspiciously before unscrewing the top. It contains a pale yellow, pleasantly fragrant salve.
"My Potions grades back at school weren't only due to Snape being Head of Slytherin, you know."
"What is it?"
"Relax, I'm not trying to poison you. Beeswax, calendula oil, lavender, and spearmint. A heating charm to help penetrate the muscle, followed by a cooling charm to reinforce the effect of the mint. Very straightforward, nothing harmful. I find it helps all kinds of minor joint or muscle pain."
"Sorry," Harry mutters, raising the jar to his nose again. The fragrance is soothing. "By the way, Malfoy, I've been meaning to say… that first evening, when you apologised…"
He stalls, embarrassed, and Malfoy waits.
"Thanks," Harry finally says. "I appreciate it. And I'm sorry for being a prat about it."
Malfoy only nods, thankfully not making a big production of it like he would have done at school. Harry removes his t-shirt, dips a finger into the glass jar and gingerly rubs the salve onto his aching shoulder. He can't quite reach properly but would rather die than ask for assistance. Malfoy half turns away to sit very straight with his eyes fixed on the view, hands in his lap. The rigid position looks odd after his relaxed sprawl and intense listening pose from earlier, like he is restraining himself. From what? Is there something weird about the salve after all?
But Harry feels nothing but a gentle heat spreading over his skin and working its way into the sore joint, the mint and lavender fresh and sweet in his nostrils. When the pain disperses, the relief is so intense he can't hold back a moan, and the cool sensation replacing the heat makes him hiss with surprise and pleasure. Over on the couch, Malfoy closes his eyes.
Harry exhales. "This is good stuff, Malfoy."
He pulls his t-shirt back on and Malfoy relaxes and turns to face him, looking relieved. "I told you so."
A loud, metallic voice from the fireplace makes them both jump. "Request to Floo in. Granger, Hermione, Second Level Auror."
"Granted," Harry says automatically, and a coughing Hermione stumbles out of the fireplace.
"That thing needs cleaning," she states briskly and charms soot off her cloak. "Hello, Harry!"
She hugs him and turns to Malfoy, who is watching her coolly with the tiniest of smirks.
"Well, well, if there isn't a Mudblood in the house," he drawls, sounding so much like the old, detestable Malfoy that Harry feels his hackles rising. "What brings you here, Granger?"
"I'm here to enlighten uninformed pure-bloods, stuck in the 18th century," she throws back at him.
Harry just stares when Malfoy takes both her hands and leans down to kiss her on the cheek, and the softness in her eyes when she smiles up at him before releasing his hands would have made Ron very jealous, had he seen it. Even Harry feels a sting of something, not jealousy perhaps, but something.
Damn you, he thinks, and he doesn't mean Hermione.
"Hannah and I had the watch on your days off," Hermione is saying, "and I thought it would be nice to report to you in person. As well as make sure you haven't killed each other."
"Not yet," says Malfoy smoothly, "but Potter keeps expecting me to sneak up on him from behind with a strangling charm. And he secures his room with five hundred spells when he goes to bed."
Harry blushes. He had no idea Malfoy has noticed his nightly spellwork. "What? I don't – "
"Really, Harry!" There's reproach in Hermione's voice. "Sometimes you're just ridiculous."
Harry glares at Malfoy who only lifts an eyebrow, but the effect on Harry is alarming. His stomach fills with a thousand fluttering butterflies in an instant, and when they sit down to take Hermione's report all he can think of is Malfoy's sleeves pushed up to his elbows, showing off wiry forearms and slender but powerful wrists.
"Both nights at around three in the morning," Hermione says, "a man Apparated in front of the house. He went inside very quickly and came back out about forty minutes later, and Disapparated. As far as we could tell, he didn't bring anything either into the house or out of it."
Malfoy and Harry exchange a glance.
"Exactly the same thing happened last week as well," Malfoy says. "Apparated, entered, came back out empty-handed, Disapparated."
"No one's come up from the beach?" Hermione asks.
"No. We placed a detection charm on the steps, a sensor with a Homenum revelio attached so it won't register birds or animals, but there's been nothing."
"From what we've seen so far, there doesn't seem to be any real ward protection at any of the points," says Hermione. "When there are people locked up there, it's always Muggles, so a simple Alohomora is more than sufficient. There are probably anti-Apparition wards, though, since all Apparition seems to take place outside the houses."
"Locked only with an Alohomora," Harry muses. "That's reckless. They must be feeling very secure, very sure no one knows about them."
"And let's keep it that way," says Hermione sternly. "I know you, Harry – you're itching to investigate, aren't you? Well, don't. This is too important. We want to catch them red-handed, and we want as many of them as possible."
Harry can't help rolling his eyes. Sometimes Hermione is exactly like she was at thirteen.
"We know, Hermione. We won't."
The look she gives him is brimming with skepticism. "Really, now. You didn't happen to bring your… the… um, IC?"
"No, I didn't. Scout's honour, Hermione. Go and check at Grimmauld Place if you like."
When their conversation derails into banter of the school days type Malfoy excuses himself and disappears upstairs, and Harry turns to Hermione, furious.
"Why didn't you tell me Malfoy was in Auror training?" he hisses. "You knew all along, didn't you? I thought I'd pass out when I saw the git Floo in here a week ago! I must have looked like a complete idiot, standing there gaping."
"Probably," she says dryly. "Yes, I knew. I was his buddy."
"His buddy? You knew about it for two years and never told me?"
"I didn't tell you because I thought you'd explode! But Harry, he's changed. I reacted like you did at first, but now I'm convinced it's genuine – yes, really, Harry. And he's a good Auror. Everyone who's worked with him says so. You know, I never thought I'd say this, but I really like Malfoy. And besides…" She leans forward and gives Harry a mischievous, delighted smile. "Besides, you have to admit he's gorgeous."
When Harry jumps and leans back as if to get away from her, she laughs. "Like I said, I know you, Harry! And right now you're trying so hard to deny even to yourself that he's gorgeous there'll be steam coming out of your ears in a minute."
Reluctantly, Harry smiles. "Yeah, yeah, okay, you're right as always. He is gorgeous." When she grins triumphantly at him he continues, serious now: "But when he kissed you before, I did wonder what Ron would think. He'd have been so jealous if he'd seen that, Hermione, and I can't help thinking he'd be right to. You're not… getting too fond of Malfoy or anything, are you?"
Hermione's face softens as she reaches out to touch his hand. "Ron has no reason to be jealous, Harry. I promise. I do like Malfoy very much, but it's not like that at all. And moreover…" Her smile returns. "Malfoy isn't interested in me one bit. He…"
She hastily swallows the rest of the sentence as Malfoy comes down the stairs, and Harry can't stop himself following the tall, lean figure with his eyes. You have to admit he's gorgeous.
Hermione gets up from the sofa and kisses first Harry, then Malfoy.
"See you next week then," she says. "And do try not to kill each other before then."
"I'm finding it increasingly difficult to… hold back," Malfoy says smoothly, catching Harry's gaze and holding it a fraction too long.
Hermione's laugh echoes in the chimney as she disappears in green flames. Harry's heart is pounding nervously in his throat and he looks down at his hands, wondering whether that was really intended as a double entendre or if Harry's thoughts have been tainted by Hermione's views on Malfoy's looks.
"Malfoy," he hears himself say in a low voice, glancing up, "you remember the first night here, when you said I didn't give you the true reason I opted out of the buddy programme?"
Malfoy's blond hair is gleaming under the lamp and Harry looks away.
"You were right. I wasn't telling you the truth, because the truth makes me sound like a prat. Even more of a prat."
He is taken aback by his own words, rattled by his sudden urge to confide in Malfoy, and Malfoy looks surprised too, as well as slightly pleased.
"Go on, then. I always enjoy hearing you make a prat of yourself."
Harry rolls his eyes but finds he can tell Malfoy fairly easily, making it into a humorous anecdote although it wasn't funny in the least at the time.
"Do you still get that a lot?" Malfoy asks when he has finished. "People throwing themselves at your feet, I mean."
He doesn't even sound sarcastic, damn him.
"No, and I really didn't expect it there. I mean, as an Auror in training, you're there to learn to handle all kinds of situations, not just dangerous ones, not just catching dark wizards but generally handling people. I never thought they'd behave like that. I was… underwhelmed."
He gives Malfoy a strained smile, half expecting a sneering reply along the lines of "oh, it must be so hard to be a hero". But Malfoy only shrugs.
"That's just the way people are, I suppose. Aurors or not."
"But not you?" Harry bites his tongue the moment the words have rolled off it. What the fuck was that supposed to mean?
"Me?" Malfoy looks surprised. "Well... I… it's not the same thing. I was at school with you. I know you."
And then he blushes deeply, a wave of blood rising under the pale skin.
"Tea?" he says quickly and a little too lightly, getting to his feet and turning away. "I could murder a cup."
Harry stares at the retreating back, wondering what that was all about.
When he goes to bed that evening, he shuts the door to his room but leaves it unlocked, without spells or wards.
Nothing happens during the night, outside the cottage or in it.
It's half past two in the morning and the nearly full moon floods the room with silver. The white walls of the cottage opposite reflect the moonlight, transforming the house into a faintly shimmering isle floating in the surrounding darkness. Tonight, it's like they're watching a ghost, a dream, a silvery memory in a Pensieve. A strong, salty breeze is coming in from the sea, seeping in through every crack in the walls and making the room chilly. Harry's shoulder aches viciously; he rubs it irritably without effect.
"Is there more of that miracle salve of yours?" he asks, his tone nasty as though it's all Malfoy's fault.
"In my room."
Harry decides he needs to stretch and doesn't Accio the jar. Instead he stomps upstairs and into Malfoy's room where he stops and looks around in the blue light from his Lumos spell, acutely aware of being in private territory. There are clothes over the back of a chair and a pair of running shoes under it, a couple of books by the bedside table next to the jar of calendula salve, a pair of pyjamas thrown across the foot of the bed. No other personal things. The bed is unmade and Harry resists an impulse to reach down and touch the bedclothes, bring them up to his face to smell Malfoy on them. Angry with himself, he snatches up the jar and runs back downstairs.
The chilly air makes him shudder, raising goosebumps all over his skin as he removes his jumper and t-shirt to rub the salve on his aching shoulder. He can't reach properly and groans with the effort, stretching and grimacing.
"Do you need help?" Malfoy asks.
His face is pearly white in the moonlight, ghostly, unearthly, his eyes dark smudges. A graveyard angel come to life, dangerous and downright beautiful. The thought of Malfoy's fingers against his bare skin sends a shiver down Harry's back, and it's not from the cold.
He silently hands Malfoy the jar and Malfoy moves to stand behind his chair, the floorboards creaking a little under his feet. He's so close Harry can feel his body warmth. Harry closes his eyes, and not seeing sharpens all his other senses. He notices small things, notices contrasts – the rough upholstery against his naked back, the chilly air in the room and the warmth of their bodies, the rushing noise of the wind mingling with the sound of their breathing. He bites his lip in anticipation of touch, and when the touch comes it jolts him, making him swallow a gasp. The salve is cool at first but quickly warms up under Malfoy's hand. The not too gentle fingers rub circles over the aching joint and the pain subsides, relief flooding him.
"Merlin, Potter, you're really tense," Malfoy says behind him, pressing a fingertip into the trapezius muscle. "It doesn't do your shoulder any good." He presses the other trapezius as though poking at meat to see whether it's done. "It's almost as bad on this side. Probably a vicious circle – you're tense, it makes your shoulder worse, the pain makes you even more tense, and so on. I'll rub on some salve here as well and try to loosen up your muscles a bit – if that's okay?"
"Yeah," Harry says, sounding strangled.
"Just tell me if it hurts."
A wonderful, slow heat penetrates his sore muscles as Malfoy's thumbs dig into them, kneading, pressing, rubbing hard. It's equal parts pain and pleasure, or pain that is pleasure, he can't distinguish. Harry closes his eyes and presses his lips together as Malfoy finds a particularly tender spot, smiling inwardly at the absurdity of getting a neck rub from Draco Malfoy. How on earth did this happen? In any case, Malfoy is good at this. Better than good. The feel of his hands is marvellous, fingers warm and firm over Harry's clavicle for support, thumbs working on the hard muscle, spreading a tingling warmth, and Harry is embarrassed to admit to himself that the touch is turning him on. Ungentle as it is, it sends sparkling, electric currents through his body, gathering in his lower belly as heat.
Then Malfoy rubs his thumbs up the back of Harry's neck to the hairline and down again, once, twice, three times. Harry gives a small moan under his breath, trying in vain to ignore the fact that he's getting hard. Thank god at least it's too dark in here for Malfoy to see it. He sucks in air between his teeth as Malfoy uses his knuckles on the muscle, and then the strong thumbs are there again, rubbing up and down the back of his neck. A shuddering sigh of pleasure escapes him and Malfoy halts his movements for just a second, a breath, a heartbeat.
When he continues, the touch is softer, his thumbs applying less pressure but still stroking the back of Harry's neck, fingertips sliding up to rest lightly against the sides of the neck. Harry is achingly hard now, breathing fast as his whole body responds to the warm hands on his cool skin, practically vibrating under Malfoy's touch. He'd like to turn around and pull Malfoy's head down for a kiss, wondering if he's insane, what's got into him. He feels Malfoy's breath on his skin, as if he's leaning down, and Harry squeezes his eyes shut, focusing completely on that ghost of a breath and half expecting Malfoy's lips to touch the nape of his neck. Wanting them to.
"Harry…" Malfoy says in a near-whisper.
When Harry draws a breath to reply, two things happen almost at once: the sensor alarm at the top of the cliff steps goes off, and two men Apparate in front of the moonlit cottage. Malfoy's hands abruptly leave Harry's neck to snatch up the Omnioculars and Harry pulls his clothes back on, swearing.
The two men appear to be waiting, and presently a group of people appears on the path, emerging from the trees. There are mostly women but a few children as well, all held tightly together by some sort of restraining or binding charm. A tall man behind the group ushers them on at a pace that makes them stumble. They're pushed roughly into the cottage and the door closes behind them. A faint light shines from inside, but it's not enough to show what's happening.
"Oh God," Harry mumbles, aware that he's shaking. "Of course there have to be kids." Nothing makes him see red like children exploited by adults, and this is even worse – Muggle women and children helpless in the hands of wizards. "The fucking bastards. Let me go in this second and kill them."
"I'll join you," Malfoy replies. "With pleasure."
Harry's fingers clench around his wand and for a moment he ponders actually doing it. But they can't, they'd risk the entire operation – they'd get these three wizards but let all the others slip through their fingers. Not worth it, but oh, it's tempting. "Firetalk, Malfoy," he orders instead. "Report to NN, see what he wants us to do."
Malfoy is on his feet at once, but before he reaches the fireplace NN's head pops up in the flames.
"Big shipments coming in tonight, at all points," he says tensely. "Have yours arrived?"
"Just did, a couple of minutes ago. Women and children."
NN actually swears, making the fire hiss and spit angry sparks. He's trying not to show it but he's more upset than Harry has ever seen him. "We haven't prepared properly but we need to strike now, tonight, before it gets light, before they leave. I'm sending Abbott and Granger over to you. They'll bring a coin; wait for the signal and then get your arses in there, quick as you can. There'll be Apparition wards but nothing else, just open the door with an Alohomora, same thing with all these places. Bring them here, to Level Four. The Muggles will need to go to St Mungo's for Obliviation; I'll arrange transport."
Only seconds after NN has disappeared, Hannah and Hermione come stumbling out of the fireplace. The air is thick with apprehension and grim concentration, their wands are at the ready and Hermione is clutching the coin in her hand. It's her own old notification system for Dumbledore's Army, adjusted for the Auror squads.
"Disarm first, then get to the prisoners," Harry says, mostly for Malfoy's benefit as he is the least experienced, but he's addressing everyone, including himself. "Not that you don't know that, but it's easy to lose your head once you're in and there are frightened and perhaps hurt people who need your help. Easy to do things in the wrong order when your compassion tries to set the priorities for you. So – disarm first. Let's go outside very quietly and wait."
They move quickly under a cloak of instant darkness that Hermione provides, and before they're even halfway to the other cottage, the coin lights up and spins.
They burst in through the door, spreading in a fan and quickly assessing the interior of the cottage. The room is filled with cages from floor to ceiling, hands stretched out through the bars. There are far more prisoners than the group just arrived; they must have been here a while. People are screaming and crying, and the stench of fear, magic and too many human bodies in a confined space is staggering. Malfoy stuns one of the wizards, Hannah another, but the third sends up a screen of blue flames and runs for the back of the room and the stairs to the attic.
Harry and Hermione are halfway across the room when an Incendio from the top of the stairs sets one of the cages on fire. The curtains catch fire, another spell comes flashing from the top of the stairs, and Hannah is burning like a torch. Her screams and those from the women in the cage, whose clothes have caught light, are inhuman. Malfoy is frantically throwing Aguamenti charms at the cage and Hermione at Hannah; the fire in the cage dies but not the flames licking at Hannah.
"Finite Incantatem!" Harry shouts, without effect.
He tries a flame-freezer but Hannah is still screaming. Meeting Malfoy's eyes across the room he feels they're back in the Fiendfyre with flames roaring around them. Then Malfoy takes a deep breath and hisses a spell Harry has never heard before. The flames die down around Hannah, leaving her in a slumped, charred heap.
Harry runs for the stairs, but the wizard is aiming at Malfoy this time.
Malfoy, occupied with Hannah, goes down like a Muggle bowling pin, writhing on the floor and gasping with pain. Fury erupts in Harry like a volcano.
The spell sends him in a flying leap to the top of the stairs, turning a somersault mid-air and landing behind the tall man, his anger giving the Petrificus enough force to send the man flying, knocking his head against a ceiling beam before he falls to the floor stiff as a board. Harry drops to his knees beside him.
"You deserve a well-placed Cruciatus," he hisses, pressing the tip of his wand against the man's throat. "Or should I just blow your head clean off?"
There's a hand on his shoulder, pulling him back. "Don't, Potter," Malfoy is gasping. He can't stand up straight, but at least he's up off the floor. "Not… worth it. Help me get them… to Level Four. Granger's taking Abbott to St Mungo's."
Harry gets to his feet, looks down at the man and fights an urge to spit in his face, or stamp on it like Malfoy did to Harry a hundred years ago.
"An Incarcerous on that one over in the corner, and we'll take these two first," he says. "You okay, Malfoy? Recovered enough to Side-Along someone?"
When they return from the Ministry, Hermione is back from St Mungo's, in the process of opening cages and handing out blankets to the shocked prisoners. Some of them are crying, others are just staring blankly ahead of them. Several of the children seem to be in shock.
"Are you coping?" Harry asks in Hermione's ear. "How's Hannah?"
"It'll take time, but they say she'll be okay." Hermione is pale but collected. "Physically, at least. Eventually." She swallows and turns to the woman beside her to heal a burn on her arm.
"I'll take the last one to the Ministry," Harry says.
Malfoy's too weak after the Cruciatus to make a second journey and Harry doesn't want him to splinch himself.
When he returns to the cottage, the Muggles are huddled in quiet groups with blankets over their shoulders while Hermione is working through them, healing their injuries one by one. In one of the smaller cages at the back, a woman is cowering in the far corner, shaking with fear and refusing to come out, regarding the bars that held her prisoner as protection against the unknown. Her ebony face is barely visible in the dark. Malfoy is on the floor, speaking to her in French, keeping his voice low, not touching her or trying to force her out of the cage. House points to you, Malfoy.
Harry quietly helps heal bruises and burns while keeping an eye on Malfoy and the woman. After a while she begins to speak to him in a hushed, hurried voice, and a little later allows herself to be coaxed out of the cage. When Malfoy wraps a blanket around her she collapses against his shoulder and begins to cry. He holds her, his face a mask.
When the Lumos squad arrives with transport, a flying, Thestral-drawn carriage, Hermione ushers the Muggles in to take them to St Mungo's, and Harry and Malfoy are left in the empty, charred room with its dull echoes of magic and emotion, its stench of fire and fear. Malfoy is even paler than usual with a streak of soot down his cheek.
"What will happen to her?" he asks numbly. "She had run from her husband and just arrived in France when they picked her up. If she's sent back to him he'll kill her."
Malfoy has connected with her; he sees her as his charge. A dangerous thing to do. This job is like walking a tightrope – don't look down. Don't care too much. Malfoy knows this; they all do, in theory. And they still fall from time to time, all of them.
"You always want to save everyone, Potter, don't you?"
Harry meets Malfoy's eyes, dark in the pale face. He has nothing to say, and there's no need, because Malfoy answers his own question.
"You always did, I can see that now. And I'm just beginning to learn." He takes a shaky breath. "What it costs not to be able to."
Harry shakes his head. This won't take them anywhere. Practical work is the only relief there is. He looks around the cottage, at the sooty walls, blackened cages, a heap of blankets... The debris of an assignment closed.
"Have you got pictures of everything?" he asks, and Malfoy nods. "Then let's clean up and get out of here."
When they've Vanished the cages and Scourgified the remnants of the fire they return to their own cottage, reeling with exhaustion. Malfoy's pallor has taken on a greenish hue. Mumbling something inaudible he runs up the stairs to the bathroom, and Harry hears him being sick.
When he slowly comes down the stairs a little later, his vulnerability and exhaustion touches something deep within Harry, a tenderness, a protective instinct that he'd be able to quench if he weren't so exhausted himself. Irritation with his own weakness prompts him to lace his comment with venom.
"A bit much for you, all this, Malfoy? Not what you expected when you became an Auror?"
Malfoy looks at him, still with that horrible darkness in his eyes. "No, Potter" he says, his lips stiff like they're cold, "this is exactly why I became an Auror." He closes his eyes. "I'm too tired to Apparate home. I'll sleep here and leave tomorrow."
He stumbles back up the stairs and Harry stares after him, ashamed of his own cheap reaction, desperately wanting to apologise but not knowing how to.
Instead he goes outside to sit on the bench by the back door and breathe, try to wind down after a night filled with extremes. He watches the moon, translucent in the first light of dawn, watches the angry waves and casts a charm as protection from the icy wind.
The chilly air is slowly clearing his head. He sorts through the images from the cottage, stares at them and then wipes them out, turns his back on all thoughts of the Muggles being Obliviated at St Mungo's. And when all that is gone, he's left with images and memories of Malfoy. Malfoy's hands touching his bare skin, thumbs sliding up the back of his neck. Malfoy writhing in agony on the floor. Malfoy's low voice in French, coaxing the frightened woman. The pain in his eyes later.
These memories he can't wipe out, doesn't want to wipe out.
When he passes Malfoy's room on the way to his own the door is open, and he is compelled to stop for a minute. Malfoy is on his back on the bed, on top of the blankets fully dressed and with one foot still on the floor, like he was asleep before he even landed on the bed. The pale light turns his face into a marble sculpture and glints metallically on the blond hair. If it hadn't been for his chest rising and falling, he could have been an artefact, he could have been dead. Something grabs hold of Harry, powerful enough to make him choke. Anger, attraction, tenderness, love, he doesn't know, maybe all of those, but it's wild and furious and fills him utterly. Immobile on the threshold he rides out the emotional storm before he fetches a blanket and gently places it over Malfoy, who doesn't stir.
"About yesterday," Malfoy says as they're packing and cleaning the next day. "The way I reacted. Thanks for not saying anything about rookie nerves."
Harry, feeling guilty, makes a noncommittal noise and charms a sponge to wash up their breakfast things.
"It just came back to me… things from the war."
"You don't have to explain."
"I want to. I'm not making excuses. I'm just trying to sort it out in my own mind."
Harry nods and Malfoy continues, his gaze far away: "V- The Dark Lord… held prisoners at the Manor. As you know."
"Yes, I have first-hand experience," Harry mutters, pointing his wand at the clean cups sending them soaring into a cupboard.
"You remember Professor Burbage, from Hogwarts? During a Death Eater… meeting, The Dark Lord had her hanging upside down over the table for his amusement. I had never seen my parents so frightened before. They hated him; I could tell. They wanted to get away. They just wanted it all to end. I don't think they had really understood until then what it would be like, for us all, if he would truly rise to power – Father had only enjoyed his own little power games on a much smaller scale. Seeing Father so frightened was... it was… and I just sat there feeling sick, doing nothing. The Dark Lord killed her and fed her to the snake."
Harry looks intently at Malfoy but he is levitating the armchairs back to their place, his face turned away.
"I see," Harry mumbles. He doesn't know what else to say.
"Are we done?" Malfoy asks, his back turned.
"I think so. The Lumos squad will come and remove the wards and stuff later. Malfoy, are you sure you're okay?"
A deep breath, and he turns around to face Harry, a flicker of a smile across his face. "Yeah. Thanks."
"Let's go back to headquarters. Oh, and Malfoy, just one more thing."
"Last night," Harry points out, half smiling, heart pounding, "you called me Harry."
Malfoy starts violently and tries to look like he didn't. "Trust you to notice irrelevant things, Potter," he says with something of the old sneer in his voice, and then he Disapparates, but not quickly enough for Harry to miss his very pink face.
Harry stands in the middle of the room grinning. The cottage is filled with light; it's smiling with him. A sunbeam falls across the floor almost all the way to his feet, a few gold and red leaves come whirling past the window, and the sky is so blue it looks unreal.
Oh, no, Malfoy, you're not getting away that easily.
"So, how did it go, working together?" NN asks from behind his desk, looking at them over the rim of his spectacles.
It's like being called into Dumbledore's office.
Malfoy is waiting for Harry to speak first, and Harry clears his throat. He wants to give NN a positive report without giving too much away.
"Not bad at all, sir," he says cautiously, throwing Malfoy a glance. "He's good, for a rookie."
Out of the corner of his eye he sees Malfoy trying not to smile.
"Excellent," NN replies. "So you're not opposed to partnering with Mr Malfoy on other occasions?"
"Malfoy, what about you? Do you agree?"
"Yes, sir," Malfoy says a little stiffly. "I thought we worked well together." Then his tone softens. "It's hard not to feel safe next to Potter."
Warmth spreads in Harry's chest and he bites his lip, watching NN smile.
"I understand the sentiment, Malfoy, but Potter is known to be a... should we call it a trouble magnet? Not everyone would agree with you. Some would say staying close to Potter increases your personal risk."
"Yes, sir," Malfoy says, and unlikely as it is, he seems to be repressing a chuckle.
"Anyway," NN adds, "I'm glad to hear it and I can only conclude that Miss Granger has a good psychological eye."
"Oh, Hermione," Harry breathes, rolling his eyes.
NN rises from his chair to mark the end of the meeting, aligning a stack of parchment with the edge of his desk. "The afternoon's all yours, gentlemen, as well as the next two days. I expect you back here on Thursday, rested and alert."
"Thank you, sir."
On the way back to their desks they run into Dennis Creevey and another young Auror named Trevelyan, who stop to congratulate them on a job well done. Creevey gushes to Harry as usual, ignoring Malfoy, while Trevelyan is more restrained. Malfoy seems interested in him; studying him with a puzzled frown.
"I remember you from somewhere," he says slowly. "Haven't we met before?"
Trevelyan looks at him blankly. "No, I don't think so."
Malfoy seems unconvinced, but shrugs. "Perhaps you just remind me of someone."
They stare at each other, faintly hostile like wary dogs. Harry looks from one to the other. An introduction seems in order.
"Malfoy, you remember Creevey from Hogwarts, and this is Trevelyan. Malfoy is new." He notices Trevelyan's expression shift, and adds: "You know the name of Malfoy, of course."
"Of course," Trevelyan replies, his lip curling. "As I'm sure all Muggle-borns do."
"And we need no comments of that kind. Clean slate."
"Of course," Trevelyan repeats, mechanically.
Malfoy watches the two younger Aurors disappear around the corner. "Odd."
"See you on Thursday, then," he says to Malfoy when they're back at their desks, collecting their things. "Get as much rest as you can. Take something if you can't sleep."
Malfoy nods, still frowning. "See you, Potter."
Harry walks towards the Floo hub, yawning. He's looking forward to two whole days of doing nothing, but he has something else to do today before he can go home. First he has to go and see a man about a house.
Rubbing at his scar out of habit (it never hurts these days), Harry sighs and leans back in his desk chair, looking up at the ceiling. It's a dark, wet November afternoon and the sun hasn't been in evidence for weeks. It's getting him down. So is their current case, three murders with what seems like the same perpetrator, but no connection has been established between the victims. A dry little crack from the next desk makes Harry jump. Malfoy has broken his quill clean off again; it's the third in an hour.
"You seem determined to clear the entire stationery room of quills," Harry comments, but Malfoy is staring ahead of him with a furrow between the blond eyebrows.
"Something is really bothering me about this case," he says, throwing the bits into the wastepaper basket.
"Three people are dead," Harry says sarcastically, "so you should be bothered."
Malfoy isn't listening. "Something's nagging at me. Like when you know you know the answer to something."
Harry sighs again, leaning his chin in his hand and staring at the names on the parchment.
Within the course of four weeks, these three men have been found naked and dead on their dining tables, laid out like grotesque centrepieces among crystal and china on a dramatic tablecloth of red velvet.
"The names sound familiar," Malfoy is muttering. "Like I've heard them mentioned in connection with each other before."
"They're not on our list of known Death Eaters," Harry says, shuffling through a desk drawer for a bag of Honeyduke's sweets that he knows he's stashed somewhere. His shoulder is aching unpleasantly.
"Just because it's me it doesn't mean they have to be Death Eaters," Malfoy replies. "Anyway, I've finished the report from the draper's about the velvet. I'm going home."
"See you tomorrow," Harry says absent-mindedly, staring at the names until the letters are crawling around like insects on the page. He has no idea where to go next.
Draco tosses and turns in his bed, now and then drifting off into some kind of semi-awake state where his thoughts turn into weird, twisted half-dreams, with Harry Potter claiming a prominent place. The latter is nothing new. Potter has been visiting Draco's dreams ever since they were eleven, taking on all kinds of shapes and roles – menacing, punishing, mocking, taunting; rescuer, protector and, with increasing frequency, lover. And it's in this capacity that he visits Draco tonight, in the floating state between waking and sleeping; Potter's mouth covering Draco's, Potter's hands mapping out the topography of Draco's body.
But it's not a pleasant dream; there are disturbing elements. Ghost-like creatures keep floating in and out of it, reminiscent of Draco's mad Aunt Bella; their cackling laughter echoing between prison-like walls. There is someone else present, too; someone with blazing blue eyes, watching from the corner of the room, eyes wide in shock and hate…
And suddenly Draco sits up in bed, clutching at the eiderdown and gasping.
Those bright blue eyes… That girl in the Muggle house, years and years ago, watching from the corner, white heart-shaped face framed by black hair, eyes wide with horror.
So startlingly like…
Trevelyan. Draco knew he'd heard the name before, seen those eyes somewhere. They must be brother and sister.
Draco can see it clearly now, things he thought he'd forgotten. The Dark Lord, Yaxley, Dolohov, devouring the beautiful Muggle woman with their eyes, making her dance for them, the right way up at first and of her own accord, hanging upside down and on their command later on. There's Lucius and Draco, sick and trembling, watching in horror, drowning in their own silence, the silence of cowards. And three other men. Reed, Markham, Fosberry. All of them watching the woman die. Laughing and slapping each other's backs, leaving the girl with her dead mother. Forgetting her the minute they leave.
Although not really forgetting. Only pushing things down into the deepest, darkest dungeons of memory. Draco's dream, a fugitive from the prison of his mind.
The name of Malfoy is the only one left on that list. Trevelyan's list.
Draco is out of bed before he can draw another breath, running to Narcissa's bedroom, opening the door urgently but quietly. She's asleep, undisturbed. Nothing has touched her. Nothing will, if Draco has any say in it. Maybe she is safe anyway. So far, the murderer hasn't touched the families and Narcissa wasn't present, but Draco isn't taking any risks.
There's no time to secure the perimeter around the Manor. There's a chain of ancient wards ringing it, many of them weakened with the passing of centuries but some of them still functional. The new ones are easily forced if you're an Auror, but there's no time, no time... Draco hastily secures his mother's room with as many protective charms, wards and spells as he can think of, knowing Trevelyan will know each and every one of them, but there are so many it will take him a while to unravel the tangle. Whispering, hissing flames of blue and green, shot through with gold, are snaking and sliding around Narcissa's room as Draco whispers and mumbles the spells, forging a shield. It's not enough to satisfy him, not enough for Narcissa to be safe and secure, and she is the only one left for Draco to protect.
Dark magic, Draco thinks wildly, anything to detain Trevelyan... It's an easy choice. He has nothing to lose. If he loses her, he might just as well lose everything. Nothing will mean anything anyway. Almost nothing, a voice says at the back of his mind, a pair of green eyes dancing before him. Draco whispers a spell, and a black streak slithers through the blue and green whorls and flames like a silent snake, a coarse black seam with ugly stitches, a dark, tight-lipped smile of triumph.
"There," Draco mumbles with grim satisfaction. "That'll keep you busy."
For a moment he wants to laugh. Then he wants to cry. He does neither. Instead, he runs to the ballroom and steps into the enormous fireplace, grabs a handful of Floo powder and says very clearly: "Twelve Grimmauld Place."
Harry is woken up by an urgent Floo request from Malfoy, Draco, Third Level Auror.
Foggy with sleep and rubbing at his eyes, he grants it, pulling on his pyjama top and staggering down to the sitting room. There are still two buttons undone when Malfoy slides out of the fireplace in a pair of green silk pyjamas, coughing.
"Merlin, Potter, when was the last time you had that thing cleaned?"
"Uh," Harry replies intelligently. "Never been done, probably. Or not since one of your ancestors had it done. But I assume you didn't come here to criticise my housekeeping."
Malfoy is very pale underneath the soot. "Potter," he says, reaching out as if to clutch at Harry's arm but thinking better of it, "I know who it is. The red velvet murderer. I think it's two people, and one of them is one of us. It's an Auror."
Harry is suddenly very much awake and shouts for Kreacher to make them tea. "An Auror," he says slowly. "That's… quite an accusation, Malfoy. Are you sure?"
"Positive. It's Trevelyan. That's what was niggling at me before. Trevelyan and his sister."
Kreacher appears at Harry's elbow with a tea tray, his eyes goggling at the sight of a descendant of the Black family standing by the fireplace.
"Oh, Mr Malfoy, sir! Have some tea, Kreacher begs you."
"Thank you," Malfoy says, looking as if tea is beyond comprehension, taking the delicate china cup like an alien object he is unsure what to do with.
Harry drinks his tea scaldingly hot while listening to Malfoy, whose tale is short but convincing. A little too convincing, perhaps. Too neatly put together. Eager for promotion? Or are there more sinister motives?
"I'm sure I'd make a beautiful corpse," Malfoy finishes, trying to sound airy and making it all the way to the word corpse, "but I really don't want to end my days on tacky red velvet on top of our dining table. So undignified and perverse."
Harry laughs, like a dog barking.
"I want to talk to NN," Malfoy says. "But I wanted to come here first. He listens to you."
Harry gives him a hard look. "Can't it wait until tomorrow?"
"My mother…" Malfoy says, looking down. "I need help."
A few minutes later, they're hovering in a tar-smelling chimney while a metallic voice announces their request at NN's residence.
"Granted," comes NN's voice, raspy with sleep, and they stumble out into a cosy living room where NN is standing in the middle of the floor in a blue flannel nightgown and matching nightcap with a tassel, a white cat in his arms. In the background, NN's rotund wife is hovering in night attire, carrying a lit candle.
"What brings you here with such urgency?" NN asks.
Both he and the cat watch Malfoy all through his story, and when Malfoy has finished, the cat struggles free from NN's arms and leaps onto Malfoy's shoulder.
"Trevelyan," NN says thoughtfully. "This is a very serious charge, but you seem certain."
"Yes, sir. And since I'm the only person left on that list, I'd very much like some extra security at the Manor. I can take care of myself but I'd like assistance in protecting my mother. I'm not sure whether she is at risk but I'd rather not take the chance."
NN looks at him piercingly while the cat makes himself comfortable on Malfoy's shoulder, rubs its head against his cheek, kneading the green silk with its paws and completely ruining it with its claws. Malfoy seems not to notice.
"All right," NN says, "come to the Ministry with me right away, both of you."
He spins around quickly, emerging from the spin fully dressed.
At Auror headquarters, NN officially assigns Harry the task of assisting Malfoy at the Manor and provides them with coins to summon reinforcement.
"I assume we can expect the attack fairly soon," he says. "I'll have people on call – I'll get Granger and Creevey in, possibly some others, so please adjust the wards so they can Apparate in."
When they're about to leave, Malfoy takes a deep breath like he's about to say something requiring courage: "I have another thing to ask, sir."
"Could I have a… a dose of Veritaserum?"
NN gives him a long, sharp look and finally seems satisfied with what he finds, nodding slowly. "All right, Malfoy. Should I make that two doses?"
Malfoy looks surprised. "Well… perhaps. Yes. Thank you, sir."
"Veritaserum, Malfoy?" Harry bursts out when they're back at Grimmauld Place for Harry to get dressed and collect some clothes and a toothbrush. "What are you up to? Whatever made NN give it to you?"
"I think he realised why I wanted it," Malfoy says in a low voice, fiddling with a candleholder on the coffee table, a present from Molly Weasley. His hair is falling into his eyes leaving his face in shadow.
For a moment, Harry isn't sure whether he wants to shake Malfoy or kiss him. When he looks like that, and particularly wearing those pyjamas with ripped threads at the shoulder from the cat's claws, it's all Harry can do to keep his eyes and hands off him.
"It's illegal," he bursts out, sounding like Hermione, "and with good reason – you can't use Veritaserum on suspects unless you're..."
"Don't be so bloody thick, Potter!" Malfoy interrupts impatiently. "It's not intended for them. It's for me."
When Harry stares at him, even less sure whether he wants to punch him or hold him, Malfoy continues: "It's obvious you don't trust me, and we have to trust each other if we're to work together, especially on this. So I want you to give me Veritaserum and question me. Anything… anything you like. Although I'd appreciate it if you kept to questions related to this case."
Anger flares up in Harry, licking along his veins. "No Auror is allowed to feed people Veritaserum unless they've been charged with something, and then only in an interview room with other Aurors present, as you're perfectly aware." His blood is boiling but there's ice in his voice. "If I used it on you, here, in my capacity as an Auror, I'd be suspended. Is that what you want?"
"God, Potter," Malfoy says, infuriated, "stop putting spokes in the wheel! I suppose you've missed that part, but we're actually in a hurry here. Stop fucking around – do you want them caught or not? I'm not wearing my Auror robes or badge, neither are you, and if you like, we can sign a binding contract. We're here in your sitting room on a social occasion, I'm visiting you not as an Auror but as myself, Draco Malfoy, and you are not receiving me as an Auror but just as Harry Potter. Now give me the fucking Veritaserum!"
Harry takes the phial without a word, still white-hot with anger, empties it in half a glass of water and watches Malfoy swallow it unceremoniously.
"Sit," Harry orders and points to an armchair. "You'll be feeling weak."
"I know, you idiot!"
"I'm going to pack some shirts. I'll be back in a minute to see what you have to say."
Harry's hands are shaking and his heart pounds as he hastily shoves some clothes and his Invisibility Cloak into a small drawstring bag Hermione has charmed for him to hold a whole roomful of things. Malfoy is waiting out there with Veritaserum pumping through his veins, and Harry can ask him anything, anything at all, and he will answer truthfully. The possibilities are practically unlimited.
"Are you the red velvet murderer?" he asks brusquely when he returns to the sitting room.
"No." The answer comes promptly.
"Are you involved in the murders in any way?"
"No, not in any other sense than that I'm sure I'm on the murderer's list. If Father hadn't already been in Azkaban, he'd have been on it, too."
"Were you telling the truth about Trevelyan and the girl, and the events that evening in the Muggle house?"
"You're sure it's Trevelyan we're looking for?"
"Him or the girl, or him and the girl."
"You seem very concerned about your mother, but so far the killer hasn't touched the victims' families. Are you sure she wasn't involved in any way? Was she present?"
"I'm sure. She wasn't there."
"Is this a nice, quick way to get promoted and clear the name of Malfoy once and for all?"
Malfoy stares at him. "No, and you can be such an arse, Potter."
"A trap, then, to get Aurors to the Manor?"
"No. I'm an Auror too, remember?"
They're both breathing hard, glaring at each other. Harry's heartbeat is deafening. He wonders that the sound isn't reverberating around the room.
"Malfoy," he says slowly, shoving his hands in his pockets to stop them trembling, "do you hate me?"
"No," Malfoy replies flatly.
"You don't wish me dead?"
"No!" The answer comes so vehemently that they both jump, staring at each other for a good ten seconds before Harry continues.
"You don't want to see me injured or hurt?"
"No," Malfoy whispers. "No. I want to… I want to protect you."
A slow, deep blush crawls up his neck from under the green silk collar, and Harry's face is hot, like he has asked something inappropriate. He clears his throat, waiting for Malfoy to say something, but he doesn't. After a silence, Harry says:
"I'll take my own dose of Veritaserum, then. It's only fair, after all – I suppose that's what NN meant by giving you the second one."
"Yes, I think so."
Harry empties the second phial into half a glass of water and knocks it back. It doesn't taste of much, only leaves a faint aftertaste of ink at the back of the tongue. He shudders, and when his knees get shaky he sits down facing Malfoy, who leans forward with his elbows on his knees, watching Harry intently and managing to look impressive even in pyjamas. I wouldn't want to face him in the interview room, Harry thinks.
"Do you trust me?" Malfoy asks.
"I do now," Harry replies reluctantly.
"Do you believe my story about Trevelyan?"
"I believe you believe it. And it sounds plausible to me."
"Will you do your best to protect my mother?"
"Of course I will!" Harry replies, incensed. "I'm an Auror, this is my assignment and I'll carry it out to the best of my ability."
Malfoy rolls his eyes. "Always so righteous, Potter. Ever get tired of it?"
"I don't think of myself as righteous, Malfoy."
They glare at each other.
"Do you still hate me?"
"I never did."
That halts Malfoy in his tracks. His mouth opens without a sound and then closes again.
"I detested you," Harry says, unable to stop himself. "I despised you. You annoyed the hell out of me. But I didn't hate you."
"And… and now?"
Harry doesn't want to answer that question, wants to stop his words, but the Veritaserum in his blood forces them out of his mouth. "I don't know."
Oh god, what a relief. I'm glad I stopped at that.
"What does that mean?" Malfoy is sitting on the edge of his chair, a red spot flaring on each cheekbone.
"I… it means I'm confused. I'm not sure what I think. But I don't dislike you, if that's what you're asking. I don't want to see you hurt. I…"
Shut up now, Harry, for God's and Merlin's sake, shut up. You've answered the question truthfully. Enough.
Malfoy leans back in his chair, exhaling.
"I'm not sure how much this exercise was worth," he says, "but I hope you feel easier now. I trust you, Potter, but then I always have. I don't believe you'd enter on a personal vendetta, killing off unregistered Death Eaters or sympathizers. You killed the Dark Lord; you would have no desire to kill further. Am I right?"
"Yes," Harry says with feeling. "I have no desire to kill. Except just for a second when I saw those Muggle children with the wizards in Mawnan Smith."
There's a small smile at the corners of Malfoy's mouth, and Harry thinks of NN's white cat, wants to be a cat so he can press himself against Malfoy, rub his head against the smooth cheek, kiss the temple where blue veins are visible beneath the translucent skin. Veritaserum is ruthless; he can't lie to himself. Yes, he is confused about Malfoy. Part of him still flares up in anger at the slightest provocation, but another part wants to open up, let go, let the pent up emotion come gushing out, kiss Malfoy, fuck him, hold him, adore those cloud-grey eyes and the curl of his lip.
"Let's go then, if you're ready," Malfoy says.
Sunrise steeps the sky in red and gold as they step out of the fireplace at Malfoy Manor, paints the ballroom in Gryffindor colours, glitters and dances in the magnificent chandeliers like laughter made visible. The last time Harry was here, he was brought by Snatchers and thrown in the dungeons; now he's here to deal with the aftermath of war. There's logic in that somewhere; a symmetry.
They scan the house and grounds for signs of intruders or interference, finding nothing, so they set to work on a network of wards, spells, charms and alarms around the perimeter. Trevelyan will no doubt know all of them but he's going to have to work for what he wants. The park around the Manor looks stark and stern with bare trees stretching gnarled, inky black branches towards the sky.
"There, that'll do for now," Malfoy says. "I need to go and remove the locks from my mother's bedroom. She'll be awake soon."
"Bet she'll be charmed by my presence."
"She'll prefer you to Trevelyan."
They give each other a tense smile. When Malfoy's gone, Harry adjusts the wards to allow himself to pass in and out of the area, but not Malfoy. If he's to protect Malfoy, he wants him to stay put and not go wandering about.
He walks around the impressive manor house, looking at it thoughtfully. It's beautiful, not a fairytale castle like Hogwarts but a graceful, well-proportioned building with clean, classical lines. Not unlike Malfoy himself.
Harry smiles, adrenaline hot in his veins. Whatever is going to happen will happen fairly soon, he can sense it. Perhaps tonight. He wonders if Malfoy has the same kind of premonition.
He goes inside, stopping in the dim hall to let his eyes wander along the rows of pale, haughty Malfoys looking down their long noses at him from portraits on the wall.
Malfoy comes down the stairs, making a grand entrance like the hero of a romance novel or a Muggle film from the fifties. The pale November sun filtering in through a high window behind him sends sparks off the blond hair, like a halo, and Harry is suddenly breathless, blinded, thinking only that he can't let the murderer succeed. He is not just an Auror on an assignment like he suggested to Malfoy before. He wants Malfoy to live and breathe and fly and smile and turn those beautiful eyes on Harry, like he is doing right now.
"Malfoy," Harry says, "it's you the murderer wants. When he comes – or she – I want you to get out and stay away. Do you hear me? Get the hell out and let me handle it. I know you'll want to help, to fight, but don't try to be a hero. Don't."
Malfoy is looking at him, his face unreadable. "You didn't stay away."
"When the Dark Lord wanted to kill you. You walked right up to him and let yourself be killed. And you're telling me not to try to be a hero?"
"I had no choice!" Harry shouts. "That was different! I was meant to die! I had to, I had to die to save others! You'll save no one if you die. You'll only destroy your mother's life, and… and..."
In the short time since Malfoy came sliding out of that fireplace at Mawnan Smith, he has become important to Harry. So many of those Harry loved have died, most of them right in front of his eyes, and if it happens again he won't be able to bear it. He wonders for a second whether there is still some Veritaserum in his blood.
"And what, Potter?"
"And I'd miss you. Don't be stupid about this, Malfoy. Don't risk your life."
"You're risking yours."
"It's not me they want to kill."
"They'll try to, to get to me, to get away."
"It's a risk of the trade, Malfoy. I'll pull rank if I have to. It's an order. Stay away."
Malfoy laughs then, looking ethereal and unreal with the pale light from the landing window glinting on his hair in the dark hall.
"If it weren't so unlikely, Potter, I'd say you care about me."
"Don't be so fucking stupid!" Harry hisses. "Of course I care!"
There must be some Veritaserum still. They stare at each other, breathing fast, and Malfoy is about to say something when his mother comes down the stairs, looking regal in grey silk.
"Mr Potter," she says coolly holding out a slim, elegant hand. Harry takes it, feeling clumsy. "Thank you for your help. Come and have breakfast with us."
When they follow her along the hall, Harry thinks for a second that he can feel Malfoy's hand touch his shoulder, but he isn't sure.
Dusk is falling softly over the park when the first alarm goes off. The perimeter wards have been broken. They're on their feet at once and Malfoy swallows hard, clutching his wand.
"It's the north wall," he says. "Let them come closer so we can see where they intend to get into the house."
"Malfoy." Harry's voice is hard. "Once we've located them I want you to stay away."
The kitchen door alarm goes off next. Harry activates his coin as they run through the hall and along a narrow, dark passage.
"They'll be coming through there," Malfoy breathes.
"Fine. Now go, get upstairs and stay there. Go!"
The kitchen door is ajar and Harry throws on the Invisibility Cloak before slipping through. They're standing by the door, Trevelyan and a young woman startlingly like him, getting their bearings, discussing in hasty whispers where to go next. The kitchen is large and cavernous with pots and pans on hooks along the wall, bunches of herbs hanging from the rafters, a big butcher's block in the middle of the room and an enormous fireplace, probably built to roast an ox in. Harry points his wand, throws the Cloak off and quickly disarms the girl, stunning her, but Trevelyan is too fast. Harry dodges a curse that clangs against a copper pot on the wall, spitting sparks. Trevelyan ducks behind the butcher's block and Harry's stunning spell bounces against the range. He has to duck in his turn, and while he does, Trevelyan escapes into the passage.
When Hermione and Dennis Creevey Apparate into the kitchen the next moment, Harry shouts "Take the girl!" over his shoulder as he runs after Trevelyan.
The chandelier in the passage has been lit, casting a pale sickly light over Malfoy and Trevelyan, facing each other like duellers.
"Stu-" Harry begins, but Trevelyan is quick as a mongoose, warding off the spell.
"Disapparate, Malfoy!" Harry shouts, bombarding Trevelyan with silent spells, but he's created a temporary shield that Harry needs to break.
Instead of Disapparating, Malfoy runs along the passage and into the hall like he wants Trevelyan to follow. And he does, sideways, keeping the shield alive as he goes.
"For Merlin's sake, Trevelyan!" Harry shouts. "You've already lost! We've taken your sister, we're four against one, just hand yourself over!"
They catch up with Malfoy in the ballroom, Trevelyan's Avada Kedavra shooting widely off the mark and shattering the floor-to-ceiling eighteenth century mirror between the windows. A horrible, blood-curdling scream rises from it as the shards fall tinkling to the floor. They dance around each other, curses and hexes blazing through the room, Harry shouting to Malfoy to get the fuck out of there. A Cruciatus from Trevelyan singes his arm as there's a plop and Narcissa Malfoy is standing by the fireplace, magic flaring around her like an aura. Harry almost laughs despite the pain; he should have known better than to think she'd stay away.
A bright gold rope emerges from her wand and lashes towards Trevelyan the same moment Harry casts a Patronus and Hermione enters the room. The stag gallops toward Trevelyan, radiantly white, blinding him. The look on his face says he knows he's lost but refuses to give up just yet. He points his wand at the chandelier shouting a spell, and Harry acts on instinct, without knowing what the spell does. As the prisms of the chandelier turn themselves into thin, vicious glass daggers and come flying through the air, Harry throws himself at Malfoy, knocking him heavily to the floor while he casts a shield charm between them and the daggers, but he isn't quite quick enough. Malfoy has a nasty cut across the cheekbone and two daggers have dug themselves deep into Harry's back and one into his side as he turned. They lie on the floor panting, with Malfoy's face three inches from Harry's. Still half blinded by the Patronus, Trevelyan tries to block a storm of spells from Narcissa Malfoy, and Hermione throws a well-aimed Incarcerous at him. Then there's silence except for the glass daggers shattering against the shield.
Harry's vision is swimming, the walls and floor of the ballroom billowing and floating around him, and he realises dimly that the daggers must have been cursed. Malfoy is looking up at him, trying to push him off to get up, looking panicked, his shirt darkening with blood that is not his own.
"Potter! We need to get you to St Mungo's!"
"You idiot," Harry mumbles, but his tongue doesn't quite obey him. "Should've run. Could've died."
"Potter!" Malfoy is shaking him but he only manages a weak smile before darkness swallows him.
The room is very bright and there's someone in white robes beside him, a woman with long blonde hair. She has no wings so she can't be an angel, and presumably this means he isn't dead, unless he's gone somewhere other than the place where there are angels. His head is aching abominably and there's a vile taste in his mouth. The room spins when he turns his head.
"Oh, Mr Potter, you're awake!" the woman exclaims. "Excellent. Can you speak?"
"Uuh," Harry says, thinking he'll throw up if he tries to go on.
"Ah, you have a voice at least. Not feeling too good, I suppose? You're a little green. This'll make it better."
She presses a fingertip to his temple and mumbles a quick spell, and the nausea subsides. She must be a Healer.
"We had to remove some pretty nasty cursework from your body, as well as a couple of glass daggers," she explains cheerfully. "You'll be a little sore for the next twelve hours or so, but you'll be right as rain tomorrow!"
'A little sore' is an understatement, Harry notes as he moves arms and legs experimentally. He feels like he's been run over by the Hogwarts Express.
"You've been out like a light for five hours," the Healer continues. "Mr Malfoy sat with you until about fifteen minutes ago – I had to send him home to get some rest. He's had curses removed, too, but the dagger only grazed him so it was quick work."
Harry relaxes against the pillows and would have smiled if it hadn't hurt so much. Draco is all right, the red velvet murderers have been caught, and all is well with the world. Within seconds, Harry is asleep.
When Harry returns to Grimmauld Place the next day there's an owl waiting for him, impatiently tapping its claws on the desk.
"Kreacher tried to send it away, Master Potter," Kreacher says with a murderous glance at the owl, "but it refused to leave. Wants a reply."
Harry opens the letter to find an invitation for dinner from Narcissa Malfoy. Smiling, he dips a quill into the inkwell and scratches down a hasty reply, folding it and sealing it with red wax.
"There you go, sorry it took me so long," he says apologetically to the owl.
It gives him a reproachful look and takes off.
Dinner at Malfoy Manor… He needs to find something nice to wear, but first there's something else he has to do.
"A pleasure to do business with you, Mr Potter," the rodent-like estate agent simpers. "Now I just need your signature here and here, and it's all yours."
Harry signs, straightens his back and takes a deep breath. "Can I go there now?"
A rodent smile. "Straight away, Mr Potter, if you wish."
Mr Potter does. He turns around on the spot and Apparates.
The cottage is bare and clean, filled with sea light and air. A happy house. A very happy owner.
It's easy to imagine the cottage on New Year's Eve, filled with laughing guests and music, ice clinking in glasses, the stars cold and clear over the sea. If he can get someone to fix it up for him really quickly...
But now it's time to visit one of the presumptive guests. A very special one.
Narcissa Malfoy holds out her hands to Harry and lets him kiss her on both cheeks.
"Mr Potter, we seem to have reason to thank you yet again," she says.
When her mouth twists he wonders whether she's disgusted by his touch, until he realises she's trying not to cry. An impulse makes him hug her and she clings to him for a second before pulling back, her eyes bright with tears.
"The Malfoys and I seem destined to keep saving each other's lives," he smiles at her. "And it's Harry. Please."
For the second time in three days he is seated at a table with mother and son Malfoy. The food is excellent and the wine no less so, and Harry is finding it increasingly difficult to look away from Draco, who seems to have the same problem regarding Harry.
They have coffee and brandy by the fire in the library and Harry is pleasantly relaxed while being acutely aware of Draco's every move. The cut on Draco's cheekbone is still there, an angry red gash on the pale skin. Harry wonders why he hasn't healed it. When Draco refills Harry's snifter for him and their eyes meet, Harry very nearly drops the glass on the hearth. When Narcissa excuses herself to go to bed early, he can't help wondering whether she's being discreet.
They get up to say good night to her. When she has disappeared up the stairs Harry turns to go back to his armchair, but Draco catches him lightly by the wrist, making sparks of heat shoot up his arm.
Firelight dances over Draco's face and his eyes are searching Harry's. It looks like he wants to say something else but nothing passes his lips. Without letting his eyes leave Draco's, Harry walks him slowly backwards until Draco's back is pressed to the wall by the fireplace, the heat from the flames lapping at their sides. Harry places his hands against the wall on either side of Draco's head and they just keep looking at each other like they're unsure what to do next, but Harry's body is very sure of what it wants.
The kiss has to happen and when it does it's very gentle. Harry closes his eyes and focuses on Draco's tongue sliding into his mouth, the warmth of Draco's hands on his waist.
When he pulls back, Draco's face is flushed and his eyes heavy, lips glistening from the kiss. The top button of his shirt is open and Harry watches the flutter of the pulse between the points of collarbone, like a moth trapped underneath the skin.
"Will you regret this tomorrow?" he asks under his breath. "Wish it hadn't happened?"
There's a ghost of a laugh from Draco.
"I don't think so," he breathes before he pulls Harry back in for another kiss, much less gentle.
Harry pushes his fingers into the soft blond hair and Draco untucks Harry's shirt, both of them gasping as his fingers touch bare skin. The strange sense of unreality and clarity that Harry felt with Draco the first morning in the cottage still sits with him. A sense that they're one step outside the border of reality, in a world with its own inherent logic, a dream winding its way towards an inevitable end that is also a beginning. A beginning of something that can be made perfect. When Draco rubbed calendula salve onto Harry's shoulder it was a might be, an uncertainty, but there's nothing uncertain about this.
Draco pushes Harry's shirt off his shoulders and looks at him in the firelight, running his hands over him like a sculptor, and Harry is pleased to be coming to life under Draco's hands.
When his tongue follows the curve of the white neck from ear to collarbone, Draco throws his head back and makes a small sound at the back of his throat, and Harry's only coherent thought is that he wants more. More of the smooth skin, more of Draco's hands and mouth, more of this feeling that Draco really badly wants him.
His fingers slide in under the shirt collar, buttons slipping out of their holes one by one, Harry's mouth following his fingers down the jagged, silvery scar he made in their sixth year, until the shirt falls off, soft as a whisper.
"God, Draco," Harry mumbles with his lips against the pale skin. "You're beautiful."
Draco laughs above him, breathless and triumphant, and pulls him up for a kiss while his hands unfasten Harry's trousers to free his cock. Harry gasps, pushing helplessly into Draco's fist as it closes around him, rocking into the rhythm and realising he's not going to last long. Panting open-mouthed against Draco's neck, he closes his eyes and only feels the long, clever fingers working him until he clutches at Draco's hips and comes in a shudder.
They stay like that for a moment while Harry catches his breath and the room comes back into focus around him. Since his knees are going to give out anyway, he lets himself drop to the floor, opening Draco's trousers and smiling at the gasps above him. God, what a sight, Draco Malfoy's cock flushed and hard against his ivory stomach. Harry opens his mouth to let his tongue slide along the underside as Draco's fingers weave into his hair. Taking him in and increasing the pressure, Harry listens to the sighs and moans above him.
Then Draco is trying to push him away, gasping "No, I'm going to come," but Harry doesn't want to be pushed away. He wants to stay right where he is, one hand holding Draco's hip, the thumb stroking the hipbone, while the other hand cups his balls. He wants to hear the back of Draco's head hit the wall with a thud as his own mouth is flooded, like this, oh, just like this.
He sits back to look up at Draco, who is looking back at him with glassy eyes.
"Merlin, Harry, what was that," he says weakly when he's caught his breath. "What are we, seventeen? Neither of us lasted a bloody minute."
Harry laughs, his heart warm and luminescent like the flames dancing in the fireplace. "Unimpressive. But you realise what that means?"
"It means we need practice. A lot of practice."
Draco reaches down and pulls Harry to his feet, smiling, breathing a kiss against his mouth. "Well, Potter, I'm game if you are."
Drifting out of deep sleep into a soft, grey dawn, Harry doesn't know for a moment where he is, looking around the strange room with its dark, heavy four-poster curtains and green silk panelling, but then Draco stirs next to him and mumbles something in his sleep.
Draco Malfoy. Naked, sated, beautiful; entangled in creased sheets after the best night of Harry's life.
When Harry had defeated Voldemort, he was at a loss what to do with his life. He had done what he was supposed to do, mission accomplished, and had no idea where to go next. He had talked to people, therapists, advisors, and they had all said the same thing – that everything he'd do from then on would seem anticlimactic.
Not exactly, Harry thinks with a smile, running a finger down Draco's arm. But I suppose it depends on your definition of climax.
Draco's eyes flutter open and Harry is rewarded with a soft, sleepy smile and a hand hooked around the back of his neck, pulling him in for a kiss.
A little later, propped up on his elbow, he frowns at the ugly cut on Draco's cheekbone.
"Why haven't you healed that?"
Draco blushes. "I wanted to… look at it. I wanted to see it and think of you."
"But I'm here now."
A smile. "I've noticed."
"So it's served its purpose?"
Draco nods and Harry focuses, whispers a spell and leans down to touch the broken skin very gently with his lips.
When he pulls back, the cut is gone.