Title: Breathing January
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Rough sex, angst, Weasley-bashing, ignores the epilogue.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, past Harry/Ginny.
Summary: After his divorce, Harry rescues and is rescued.
Author's Notes: This story assumes that Draco did not marry, although Harry and Ginny did. Also, a lot of people, including Harry, act like assholes in this fic.
"Still a Death Eater!"
The voices rasped on Harry's nerves, stabbed into his ears. He'd been grinding his teeth since he got off the lift, and hoping that the corridor would take him away from instead of towards the voices, but no such luck. Now he rounded the corner and saw them, and his muscles jerked into twitching bundles.
Four or five Aurors-Harry was too irritated to look and see for certain-surrounded a single figure in clean and pressed robes. The figure had his wand out, but the others didn't. Harry knew why they hadn't drawn; it was obvious. That way, no one could blame them if their victim hexed someone. They could claim that they had been only making innocent conversation and he had taken his unjustifiable anger out on them. Harry had seen that tactic used again and again by Dudley's friends who refused to pick up stones unless Dudley told them to.
But it was sort of different this time, because the figure in the center of the ring was Draco Malfoy and the people who surrounded him were Aurors Harry knew and normally liked.
Not that anything was "normal" anymore, not since the divorce.
And Harry would normally have walked right by, ignoring the situation. Not his problem, not his territory. Malfoy had undoubtedly said or did something that brought it on. Or would. Just showing his Dark Mark was enough sometimes. The bad feelings since the war had been buried, not healed.
But something about those voices, or the memories they roused of his primary school playground, or just the jeering and the taunting, made Harry spin around and abruptly snarl, "Stop it!"
The taunters turned and stared at him, jaws dropped. Harry sneered at them. Normally he thought they looked more handsome than Malfoy, especially the women like Hepzibah Renders, a tall and lithe redhead he had fantasized about even when he and Ginny-well, lots of times-but now, they looked small and sludgy and unimportant next to Malfoy's rigid, pale mask of a face.
"What?" Renders asked, glancing back and forth between him and Malfoy as though she expected Harry to have suddenly grown a Dark Mark on his arm.
"I said stop." Harry stalked closer to them, his hand hovering above his own wand. They exchanged nervous looks, and Harry smiled. No one would believe that Malfoy hadn't started a fight, but similarly, no one would believe that Harry Potter, the paragon of all that was good and true, had attacked for no reason. They would be the ones to suffer if they pressed on.
"Why?" Renders asked, raising her own hand in challenge. "Because you've ignored us when we picked on him before."
Harry couldn't actually remember seeing this kind of coordinated taunting before, but he didn't say so. He met Malfoy's gaze. Malfoy stood very still, his eyes slate-grey. Had they really been that color in school? Harry couldn't remember, and he didn't care.
"I want you to stop," he said, looking back at Renders. "That's all that matters."
"No, it's not," another woman said, a frown marring her face. "You have to tell us why. There's no reason for Harry Potter to suddenly defend Draco Malfoy like this, out of the blue."
Harry stared at her until she stared at her feet, and then shook his head. "I'm on edge for other reasons," he said crisply. "Your words are bothering me. Shut up." And he turned away, meanly glad that they were all gaping at him. He didn't think Malfoy was among those gaping, but it didn't matter.
Their voices had stopped, and he was a bit more relaxed as he went to his office, dropped off the armful of files he was carrying, and then went for a cuppa.
"I didn't need your help."
Malfoy's voice, behind him. Harry didn't bother turning around or reaching for his wand. This corridor was too public. "I know," he answered.
Silence, so taut and puzzled that Harry wondered if someone else had come around the corner and was standing beside Malfoy in such a way as to add to his emotions. But when he turned around with the cup in his hand, Malfoy was still alone, his arms folded, his intent gaze drilling into Harry as though he could force him to his answer his questions.
Harry gave him a tired glare back. He had been up late the night before, signing divorce papers, receiving owls, and trying to deal with his own memories of Ginny and their rows. He didn't know what answers Malfoy hoped to find in him, but Harry could only offer his weariness.
Perhaps Malfoy sensed that, because he spun on one heel and stalked away, movements stiff. Harry swallowed half his tea at a gulp and went away for a long day of dealing with paperwork.
"Give it back."
The voice scraped along Harry's nerves as he got off the lift the next morning. But it wasn't shrill like the teasing voices had been yesterday. Instead, the owner sounded deadly serious, and that made Harry cock his head and walk a bit faster.
"Why should I?" That was someone trying to sound bored, but with an undertone of eagerness. Harry had heard voices like that from Dark wizards right before they tried to curse him. "I know exactly what you'll do if you have it. And I know what you'll do if I break it."
Someone has a wand, Harry deduced.
"Don't," the first voice said, and then stopped, its owner apparently furious with himself for having shown as much emotion as he did.
Malfoy's wand. Harry's steps quickened until he was running.
He rounded the corner and found Renders dangling the wand above her head, smiling sweetly at Malfoy. He stood there with his hands clenched behind his back, his eyes trained on the place where Renders's fingers pinched the wand. He must know, as Harry did, as most trained Aurors did, what a flick of her wrist could do to the ultimately frail wood. Aurors had broken criminals' wands before rather than let them use them against fellow Aurors.
Renders seemed to have counted on no one finding her before she could break it, or caring if she did. Harry grinned ferociously; this was exactly the kind of distraction he had needed to drag him out of his useless musings about Ginny.
"Expelliarmus!" he roared, and both Renders's wand and Malfoy's came bouncing out of her hands and soared over to him. Harry snatched them neatly, studied them just one moment to be sure he wasn't mixing them up, and then tossed the hawthorn wand back to Malfoy. He caught it, staring all the while at Harry, as if he and not Renders was the dangerous one.
Well, Harry didn't think even Malfoy would curse in the back someone who had just rescued him, which left Harry free to deal with Renders. He turned to her and found her giving him a stare of steady hate, her arms folded in front of her as if that would defend her from a hex.
"Picking on a fellow Auror who was explicitly cleared by the Wizengamot before he joined the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," Harry purred at her. "What would Robards say, I wonder?"
"You don't know what he did," Renders answered in a voice as quiet as his own, but without the false gaiety. "What his family did to my family, what his father did to mine in the first war."
Harry studied her. "You would have been a child at the time," he said. "Or not born. You would never have known your father."
Render's eyes widened, an odd look of mingled fury and betrayal coming into them. "Why would you side with him over that?" she demanded. "You know what it's like to have your family taken away from you, when you're too young to remember them. You killed the one who did that."
"I killed Voldemort, yes," Harry agreed, purely for the pleasure of seeing her flinch. "And if you wanted to go after Lucius Malfoy, I'd be cheering you on. But not him. You don't attack him. He hasn't done anything to you, and it's how these stupid fucking blood feuds get started, for someone who didn't suffer directly to go after someone who didn't attack directly. Do you really want his son to attack your daughter someday?"
Renders looked around as if searching for help, but she had chosen an isolated corridor and an early time in the morning, no doubt on purpose. If there was no one around to see her torment Malfoy, there was also no one who would help her when someone unexpectedly took her fun away. She faced Harry again. "I'm going to remember this, Potter," she said.
"So will I," Harry said. "Bother Malfoy again, and I'll use the Prisoner's Mind curse on you."
Renders actually backed a step away from him. "No," she whispered. "You can't-you wouldn't."
"Wouldn't I?" Harry fixed his gaze on her and just waited. With his popularity and the sympathy he was receiving from the Department-well, most of the Department-over his divorce, it was highly unlikely that anyone would believe Renders if she told this story. Harry had once despised that fact, but he had discovered now that he wasn't above using it to his advantage if he wanted to.
That made him wince, because it made him resemble some of the pictures Ginny had painted of him too much for comfort. But the wince was internal, which meant no one else could see it, which meant it didn't matter.
"You can't," Renders said, but she kept her eyes on the floor. "Why would you want to? Why would you do that for someone like Malfoy?"
"Because you're acting wrong," Harry said. "And petty. And stupid. And Aurors are supposed to police themselves and be a model and an example of pure-blood-Muggleborn integration for the wizarding community, which means we need to forget these small feuds and not start any more of them. Pity you're not as committed to that ideal as the rest of us." He tossed her wand at her.
She reached out for it, keeping one eye on him, and then turned and scurried around the corner, robes flapping about her ankles. Harry hummed under his breath, ready to walk on.
Hooked fingers caught his shoulder. Arms scrabbled near him, and Malfoy hissed into his ear, "Why would you do something like that, for someone like me?"
"I didn't do it for you," Harry said, tilting his head back long enough to confirm that, yes, Malfoy's breath was sour and musty before he pulled away. "I would have done it for anyone who was in that situation."
"But it was me," Malfoy said, and let him go. Harry turned in time to see Malfoy studying him with a gaunt expression on his face, without defenses. But what had the defenses that had formerly occupied the space in his eyes been? Against what? Harry didn't know.
"Yes," Harry said. "This time. It might not be next time." And he turned and walked off.
Malfoy waited until he was at the corner to call after him, "Someone else might ask what you hope to gain, from saving him multiple times, and warn you that some prices aren't worth incurring. I'm selfish enough not to."
Harry turned at the corner, because he wanted to watch Malfoy's face change when he called, "And that's what I like about you!"
He didn't see the shock or outrage he had expected. Instead, Malfoy stiffened his legs and spine and inclined his head in a single, proud nod.
Harry raised his eyebrows, shrugged, and walked on. Not even a nasty encounter with Ron a few minutes later could immediately destroy his good mood.
What made it hard was that there were so many memories in his flat.
He and Ginny had made love for the first time here, and afterwards, she'd let her head fall onto that pillow on the couch and moaned that she would never move again. Her toes had flexed in exhausted little patterns. Harry had lain down beside her and kissed her on the mouth, long, lazy, slow-at least until she turned her head and bit down on his lip with sharp white teeth.
In the kitchen, he could see Ginny holding up a single egg, her eyes shining. She hadn't had to say anything to make them both break out laughing. The first morning they'd spent together as an officially married couple, Ginny had tried to cook eggs for Harry in a fit of enthusiasm. Harry had been woken up by her shouts of alarm, only to find that the egg yolks had somehow expanded like a bubble bath and pushed Ginny into a wall of the kitchen, trapping her.
Jokes, sensations, glances, certain words that made Harry turn red or have to excuse himself from the table at the Weasley house...those were the things about the marriage that Harry missed the most. And they had all turned into arguments at the end, arguments over the stupidest, tiniest things.
Harry knew that divorcing had been the right thing to do. But he would have liked it better if he and Ginny could have been amiable and friendly with all their in-jokes one day, and smoothly divorced the next. It would still have been a severing, but at least it would mean that he didn't stand a chance of corrupting the old memories with bitterness.
"I heard that Malfoy wants to be Minister someday."
The words behind Harry made him practically prick his ears. He slowed his stride and then ducked into a small side corridor. He didn't think the gossip-mongers could have recognized him, or they wouldn't have talked about it with him so near. By now, word of what he had done to Renders on the first day-though not the second, since she had decided not to talk about that-had spread around the Ministry.
The two Aurors passed him, whispering eagerly to one another like schoolboys. Harry didn't hesitate long before he cast a Disillusionment Charm over himself and followed.
It might be nothing, he told himself. It probably was. Just because he hadn't heard mention of Malfoy's name for the last few days didn't mean that it didn't happen all the time. And this could be the innocent discussion it seemed, not a prelude to a plot against Malfoy.
But he followed anyway, and was rewarded when the Auror on the left, a seedy fellow with the last name of Crow, leaned forwards and whispered, "How far has he gone?"
"As far as soliciting contributions." The other bloke was Tirand, whom his underlings tended to call Tyrant behind his back. He bobbed his head up and down, his teeth gleaming dully as he smiled. "And telling people that he intends to start the campaign soon."
Crow whistled between his teeth. "I think we should slow him down, don't you? After all, there're plenty of misguided souls around who might vote for him, but we should hardly allow him to win."
Tirand nodded, and they lapsed into softer discussion of how it might be done. Harry cast a Charm that would sharpen his hearing, and listened to the whole thing. He had no idea how correct their suspicions were; once again, he hadn't heard of Malfoy doing anything like that, but he'd been rather occupied by his own affairs lately.
But he wanted to remember it.
When he returned to his home that evening, he distilled the memory into a potion that the Aurors had all been taught to brew. Like a Pensieve, it contained true images of what a person had seen and heard, but it wasn't as sharp as a Pensieve, and the person whose head it had come from could still access the memory. Harry was pants at brewing the potion himself, but he kept a supply about.
Then he sent a post-owl to Malfoy with the vial dangling from its claws.
What he chose to do about it was his own affair, of course, but Harry found any thought of Malfoy seeing it amusing.
"I received your package, Potter."
If Malfoy had been trying to scare him, it didn't work. Harry had had yet another row with Ron, who didn't seem to understand that there could be fault on both sides in a divorce, rather than Ginny being, or Harry making himself out to be, a perfect saint. So Harry just glared wearily at Malfoy, standing in his office doorway, and snapped, "Either come in or leave, but do one of them," before he turned back to his files.
A pause, and then the door shut. Malfoy stepped up to his desk and stood there, his hands on the edge, rubbing the fine grain of the wood between his fingers. Harry leaned back and stared at him. "What do you want?" he asked.
Malfoy turned his head, and his eyes flashed. "I should be the one asking you that question," he said. "Who interferes in my affairs like this without having an interest in them?"
Harry snorted. "You make it sound like I did something other than send a memory to you, to do what you saw fit with it."
"I'm interested in the reason behind you sending that memory." Malfoy's fingers clenched down harder on the edge of his desk. Harry wondered if he imagined he could break it. The desk had stood up to harder things before this, including curses from captured criminals who had managed to conceal a training wand on them. "Tell me what it was."
"I was in the right place to overhear the conversation," Harry said.
"No more than that?" Malfoy's nostrils flared delicately, and he leaned even closer. Harry leaned back to put some corresponding distance between them. He had the impression that Malfoy would thank him for it when he returned to sanity.
"No more than that," Harry said. "Honestly, Malfoy, what were you expecting me to say? That I suddenly learned how great a bloke you were and how I'm sorry for making shitty assumptions all these years? That makes no sense. And you would laugh at me if I had done something like that."
Malfoy abruptly relaxed and chuckled. "Yes," he said. "I would have."
Harry shook his head. "I'm not the one being confusing here. Did you have any other questions or not? Because I should get back to work." He gestured to the report he was writing.
Malfoy studied him in silence for a few minutes more. Harry found that he was surprisingly comfortable being evaluated by those stern grey eyes. He just leaned back, folded his hands over his stomach, and stared evenly, and a smile gradually formed on Malfoy's mouth. Eventually he turned away and started towards the door, and Harry bent his head back to his report.
"A word of warning, Potter." Malfoy was standing with one hand on the edge of the open door, and his voice was deep enough to make Harry glance up, wondering as he went what Malfoy thought he was doing. Malfoy's eyes shone. "If you keep doing things that benefit someone else, no matter your reasons, you shouldn't be surprised when they do things that benefit you back."
And then he was gone. Harry raised his eyebrows, and then dismissed the words. As a threat went, it wasn't one of Malfoy's better ones.
"I can't believe this."
Harry's voice shook with disgust, and he closed his eyes, striving to calm himself with a deep breath. He had promised himself that he would show no emotion. Well, that promise was blown apart right away.
"It's the truth." But Ginny's voice was sullen, and Harry knew that, if he opened his eyes, he would see her in the fire with her arms folded and her head turned the opposite way, glaring at nothing. He didn't open his eyes.
"It's not. You never even hinted that-"
"You think it's the kind of thing I could hint at and stay married to you?" And now she would have turned her head and be focused on him, voice rich with all the accents of self-justification. Harry still didn't open his eyes. "At that point, I was still committed to making the marriage work."
Harry finally did open his eyes, but he looked not at her but the Daily Prophet in his right hand, the one that bore the article Ginny had "contributed" to on the front page. It talked "frankly" about his inadequacies in bed and the way that he often left Ginny unsatisfied, how he went through strange periods of putting work ahead of sex, how he didn't know enough about touching a woman-not surprising, since Ginny had been his first. The article didn't actually state that, but that was only because Ginny had never known.
In retrospect, keeping something like that from your wife should probably have been a warning sign, Harry.
Harry shook his head and concentrated on his ex-wife, finally. "This is low," he said. "You know I wouldn't do something like that against you."
Ginny's shoulders tightened. "I've wanted to say something like this for years," she said. "I don't think you had anything you wanted to say that you didn't actually say. You called me a sneak, a thief for taking money you said I could have, a bitch, a bitch in heat, a-"
"You didn't specifically ask for that money-"
And then Harry reined himself in with a huge sigh that probably sounded childish to Ginny, but that mattered less than simply ending the row. This was the kind of thing that they were divorcing each other over, and Harry refused to let it go further than it'd gone so far.
"Fine," he said through gritted teeth. "Whatever. Live in your fantasy world where this doesn't increase the number of Howlers I get and my fights with your family. Say anything you like about me, since you will anyway. Just get out of my life."
He shut down the Floo connection before she could say more, and then sat there, staring at it, watching the continuous darkness, silence, and emptiness of the hearth.
"I'm sorry, Harry."
Robards had a weak voice in moments of sympathy, or helpless pain. Harry closed his eyes and nodded, once.
"I understand, sir," he said, and then cleared his throat so he could force more strength into his own voice. "Not your fault. Who will my new partner be?"
"We-don't have one for you, yet," Robards said, looking away from Harry while he shuffled through the papers on his desk. "You see, Auror Potter, the Aurors without partners at the moment are also the ones you've angered by defending Auror Malfoy."
Yeah, that did come back to bite me, didn't it?
Harry rubbed a hand across his forehead, pressing down hard enough that he could feel the contours of the scar. It was stupid, but he needed that confirmation, for just a moment, that he wasn't a complete fuck-up, that something in his life had occasionally gone right.
"All right," he said. "So I'm on desk dusty for a while. Are R-Auror Weasley's things already out of the office, sir?"
Robards sighed and nodded. "Yes, Auror Potter, they are. Feel free to go to your office without fear."
Harry bit back the sarcastic response that he really wanted to make to that, and did so. He'd thought to ask Robards how long it would take to find him a new partner, but he knew the Head Auror wouldn't be able to answer that, and he couldn't deal with another inconclusive answer right now.
The people he passed kept their eyes away from him, or watched him go with muffled giggles and snickers. Harry ignored them as best he could, although he felt his neck and ears flush pink. Yes, fine, let them act that way. It would only last until the next big scandal came along. Harry could live with it.
Just like he could live without Ginny. Just like he could live without the Weasleys, come to that.
But it still hurt. They had been the first ones in the wizarding world who really accepted him and believed in him. Ron had been his first friend. Harry knew that most people going through a divorce at least had their own family to fall back on, or other friends. He didn't have that, and Ron's demanding not to be his partner anymore because of this made every breath he drew feel cold and spiked.
Winter itself in my lungs, Harry thought, and then dismissed the melodramatic thought with a shake of his head. At least this would be a good time to catch up on all those reports that he'd missed filing and put himself in Robards's good books by writing some of the memos that never seemed to get written, he told himself with fake cheer.
Malfoy was standing outside his office. Harry came to a stop, frowning at him. As far as he knew, Malfoy should have had no reason to be here. It had been days since Harry sent him the vial with the memory of Crow and Tirand's conversation, and whatever Malfoy had decided to do, the consequences should have played themselves out by now.
"Yeah?" Harry asked. "What do you want?" His voice was sullen, and Malfoy raised his eyebrows.
"Something wrong, Potter?" he asked, all but purring.
"No," Harry said gruffly, and started to step past him. Malfoy put out an arm to bar his passage. Harry reached for his wand, but Malfoy's other hand was spider-quick, closing on his wrist and holding it prisoner.
Harry crouched, then spun towards him, using a stiff-armed gesture that should have forced Malfoy to release him. Nothing happened, except that Malfoy turned along with him and snarled into his face.
"I know that trick, Potter," he said. "I'm an Auror, too. Or did you forget?" His voice had darkened, as though he suspected that Harry was taunting him somehow. Harry didn't know why, and didn't care.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Just like I am, and just like Ron is. You deserve to be treated like everyone else. And I would treat anyone who tried to strongarm me when I'd helped him in the same way." He kicked out, low, and connected with Malfoy's shin. Malfoy released his arm, but kept the tight grip on his wrist.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Harry finally snarled, his temper breaking out despite his promise to himself that he was going to hold it back. "Do you really think I want to listen to you right now, when you've just come to gloat and taunt me about that article, because you never change? I've lost my wife and I've lost my partner and I've lost my best friend, and I've had it up to here with people who think I owe them something, Malfoy." He calculated the distance between his face and Malfoy's, to see how easily he could smash his head into the bastard's nose.
Malfoy's face lost its dark sheen at once, and he stepped away with his free hand raised in front of him, fingers spread, as if he wanted it to serve as a shield. He kept hold of Harry with the other, though.
"That's not what I came for," Malfoy said softly. "I came to pay my debts. I wanted to let you know that Weasley's not going to have the chance to embarrass you with comparisons for a while."
Harry blinked, wondered which Weasley he meant, decided it was Ginny, and then said, "You cast that charm that sews people's mouths shut?"
Malfoy shook his head, his laughter deep and mocking. "What good would that do? She could still write down things that condemned you. No, Potter, think of the substance of her article, and try again." He leaned towards Harry, eyes so bright that Harry smiled back helplessly, although he had begun to suspect what Malfoy had done to Ginny and it was horrid.
"You-you couldn't have," he said.
"Oh, most of the time it's harmless," Malfoy said, waving his free hand again. "She'll be able to live normally as long as she doesn't try to have sex. Then, let's say, that unfortunate opening will just close itself up for a while."
Harry laughed in spite of himself, shaking his head. "But if she finds out you did this, or her family does, that could lead to more trouble for you. You really shouldn't have done it."
Malfoy blinked. Then he said, "There's no way she could find out. She'll probably think you did it, if anyone. But Potter." He moved closer, eyes bright, tongue darting. "I didn't know that you cared."
"You have the right to be treated like everyone else," Harry answered, bracing his shoulders on the doorway so he would stand up straight instead of arching away from Malfoy like he wanted to. The great git wasn't going to accuse him of cowardice. "But there are things other people could recover from being accused of, even tried for, that your reputation couldn't. So, yeah, I don't want you to get in trouble."
Malfoy touched Harry's throat and collarbone with quick, cold, smooth fingers. His expression was abstracted, but Harry couldn't read much in it, or in those touches.
"That makes a difference," he murmured. "I'll have to think about whether this pays my debts, given the difference." And he turned and strode away from Harry with his legs moving so quickly that he was the whole length of the corridor away before Harry thought to blink and say something.
"Er, thanks, Malfoy," he called after him, uncertain. "I appreciate the intent, if not the action."
"That's the way it is with you, Potter," Malfoy replied, and then vanished around the corner, leaving Harry to roll his eyes and unlock the office door.
For some reason, seeing Ron's empty half of the office didn't hit him like he knew it should have. He knew a large part of that came from what Malfoy had just told him, although he still didn't understand why it should be that way.
Shaking his head, Harry settled down to the pile of reports in front of him and tried to think only of those for a while.
"Harry! I know you're there. Let me in."
Harry sighed and opened the door of his flat. No mistaking Hermione's voice, even if he'd been able to pretend that her knock was someone else's and therefore worth ignoring.
And no mistaking the way that she bustled past him, turned around in the middle of his drawing room, planted her hands on her hips, and said, "Were you the one who cast that spell on Ginny?"
Harry looked at her without answering. Hermione's eyes were red, as though she'd spent some time weeping. Harry wondered whether the tears were for him, Ginny, Ron, or just the way this divorce was tearing their friendship apart.
"Well?" Hermione demanded, even her hair bristling.
Harry sighed again and leaned back against the cabinet behind him, a cabinet that Ginny had chosen. Harry had kept it because it was still beautiful, made of a polished dark brown wood that had a black sheen in certain lights, and because Ginny hadn't asked for it back. Like me, Harry thought, and then shook his head and moved on from the burst of self-pity.
"Believe what you want," he answered. "It sounds like you've already made up your mind whose side you're on, anyway."
Hermione blinked and gave him a strange look. "You're both my friends, Harry, and if Ginny is my sister-in-law, you were my brother-in-law. I haven't picked a side, even though you might think I have." Her voice was hurt, or in that wavery territory known as "preparing to be hurt."
"Hermione," Harry said softly. "This is the first time you've contacted me since the divorce proceedings began. I think that's pretty clear."
Hermione flushed and stared at the ground. Harry watched her, and listened while she murmured in a tiny voice, "It's just hard, you know? With everyone so bad, and everything one says making it worse."
Harry nodded. He did know. It was one reason he had resisted the idea of divorce so long, even when their rows escalated to the point of using magic, because it had seemed that what came after marriage would be so much worse.
Hermione straightened up and fixed him with the kind of look that she once would have used to scold him or Ron for not doing homework. "But casting that spell took things to a level that no one could ignore. Why did you do that, Harry? Or why did you hire someone to do it for you? You must know that it would only make things worse."
Harry shook his head. "I'm not going to discuss it. Like I said, you can believe that I did it if you want to." He turned away, reaching for the drink that he had set down on top of the cabinet. He had worried at first that he was drinking so often since the beginning of the divorce that he might turn into an alcoholic, but it had been easier to keep tabs on himself in the last few days. Somehow, the memeory of Malfoy's cool, critical eyes would intrude into his head every time he thought about having more than two glasses of Firewhisky.
"You need to tell us the countercurse," Hermione said, clamping her hand on his wrist.
Harry turned and stared at her coolly. "Sure. The moment that Ginny tells me the countercurse to all those Howlers I've got about how I'm such a terrible lover."
Hermione backed away, flinching. "Harry," she whispered. "I didn't know that she was going to do that. And if you could see how hurt she's been, how hurt all the Weasleys have been by this-" She fell silent in the face of Harry's stare, and shrugged weakly. "I'm sorry. It's just," she said finally.
"I know," Harry said. "You're entitled to choose sides if you want to. Just don't expect me to be on the same one."
"It's not about sides," Hermione said, flushing deeply enough that Harry was sure his words had stung her. "You're not at war. It's about trying to bring you back together peaceably and reasonably."
Harry laughed so harshly that he frightened himself, and shut his mouth with a click. "You're never scheming to get me and Gin back together?"
Hermione shook her head. "I didn't mean that. It's just that Ginny is part of the family, so she'll be at the Weasley family dinners and so on. And we want you there, too. But you can't be unless you can get along."
"Has anyone told that to her?" Harry snarled.
Hermione wouldn't meet his eyes. "She's so young," she whispered. "And hurt."
"So am I," Harry said. "Not as young as she is, but a year isn't much difference."
"It can be in this situation." Hermione sighed. "Look, Harry, I understand why you feel the way you do, but you weren't exactly a perfect saint in your marriage either. If you could understand that, admit that, then I think Ginny would understand and admit the same thing."
Harry snorted. "But she's made it perfectly clear that she doesn't care what I think. So what would admitting all the things I did wrong prove? Just that I listen to you?"
"It might keep your friendship with Ron intact," Hermione said, staring desperately at him now. "And with me."
There it was, then. What he had feared. Losing his friends. Harry took a long moment to lick his dry lips, look at the wall instead of Hermione, and answer carefully.
"This is the early stages," he said. "We're not even officially divorced yet. It makes sense that you would feel you had to choose sides and that Ron's taking it so hard he's stopped being my partner. But if you try to force me to agree with you right now, or act as though what's happening right now is what will always happen, then you are the only ones making that decision. I'm going to hold back. Maybe Ron can talk more easily to me later, when he's not as angry. Maybe you can, too. But I'm not going to do anything in a panic because I'm afraid of losing you. Either say that I was perfect or that she had a right to do what she's done."
Hermione stared at him with very wide eyes. Then she flushed again. Harry didn't think it was anger; it looked more like shame, that she wasn't the one to give that speech.
"It's just, you both did things wrong," she muttered.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Which doesn't mean that I have to be happy about that article."
"It was just revenge."
Harry sneered. "Then why worry so much about the spell on her? That was just revenge, too."
"But that was cruel," Hermione said, meeting his gaze again.
Harry rolled his eyes. "So she's allowed to be cruel but I'm not? Because if you tell me that article was a measured and reasonable response to the situation, Hermione, then I'm going to throw you out of my house, and fuck losing your friendship." He was breathing hard, he realized, although he hadn't reached for his wand. He was already showing more restraint than he had realized he could.
"I just-" Hermione held out one hand towards him, yearning. "I wish you could see how she sees the situation. I wish the both of you could get back together and it could be just like it was."
Harry held back the instinctive response he wanted to make. It wouldn't further his hope of keeping Ron and Hermione's friendship in the long run.
"Everyone wishes that," he said instead. "But it's not going to happen, and in the end, it's not going to come back because you're indulging anything that Ginny wants to do or say. If you feel like you have to make a choice between us and you choose her, okay. But then don't come around here looking for absolution."
"You're the one who's forcing me to make the choice!" Hermione cried angrily.
Harry sneered at her again. "Really? Think, Hermione." He wanted to add, "You used to be so good at that," but he restrained himself.
Hermione turned her head away and held herself there, trembling, for a moment. Then she said in a soft voice, "You're right. This isn't a good time to argue about this, and I'm going away so that everyone can think about this and maybe we can come to some sort of agreement that doesn't harm our friendship."
Harry held in a snort and merely nodded. He once again felt as though he was breathing winter while he held the door open for Hermione: the cold striking into his lungs, growing icicles around the inside of his chest, making him tremble with longing and rage and sadness that he could barely define.
He wished nothing had changed between him and Ginny. He wished everything was over. He wished that his argument with Hermione hadn't repeated the pattern of his arguments with Ron, except with more shouting and less wand-waving.
As he leaned out the door to watch Hermione walk away, a movement in the shadows at the end of his street caught his eye. Harry snapped to alert at once, wondering if it was someone who had come to threaten him, but then the figure shifted-deliberately, he thought-to the side, and light flashed on white-blond hair.
And then the face. It was Malfoy, his wand lifted towards Hermione's back and his eyebrows lifted in a questioning way.
Harry bit his lip to stifle a smile and gravely shook his head. Malfoy nodded and melted the opposite way from Hermione.
Harry shut his door and leaned back against it, closing his eyes. There were lots of things about himself he had discovered and wasn't particularly proud of in the last few weeks, and the snickering glee he took in the curse Malfoy had cast on Ginny was one of those.
On the other hand, the feeling of someone being on his side was exactly what he had needed right now.
"Oh, this is too good."
Harry started hurrying when he heard that, even though he had no reason to think that Malfoy was the target of this particular claim. It was right outside his office, and he didn't think many people would be stupid enough to taunt Malfoy there after Harry had publicly defended him.
On the other hand, he didn't recognize the voice, and he saw why when he came around the corner. It was a trainee who confronted Malfoy, who watched him as though he was a fly.
"You're bent?" demanded the trainee. "Is that why you've taken to hanging around Potter?"
Harry blinked a bit. He hadn't known that.
But he also didn't see why it mattered, or why the trainee had made the connection in the first place. It was probably a rumor he'd heard from someone else, who had egged him on to confront Malfoy because they knew what would happen if another Auror tried.
"I highly doubt it," Harry called out, which made the trainee spin around so fast he nearly tripped on his own robe. "I think Malfoy probably intended to booby-trap the door to my office so that I would get a pie in the face when I walked through it. At best," he added, thinking of all the things that Malfoy could do with a trap like that if he wanted.
Malfoy's face was cold and glinting. He stared at Harry as if he had never seen him before, as if he had never cursed Ginny for him. Harry didn't know why, and he didn't think it was his duty to find out. He shrugged at Malfoy and focused on the trainee, who stared at him with a gaping mouth.
"If you really believe that, how can you be so calm about him?" the trainee finally burst out. He had tangled black hair that reminded Harry of himself, but he didn't know that he had ever been as young as those blank, shining eyes suggested. "I would never be calm around someone trying to trap my door!"
Harry rolled his eyes. The joke had failed, and he'd probably started another rumor on top of it. "I didn't mean that literally. Go away now, child, the grownups are talking."
As he had known it would, that insult made the boy straighten up and puff out his chest. "I'm not a child," he said. "I've seen a lot of the world, and I know that Malfoy was trying to get close to you because he's bent and hopes you are, too."
Harry had to laugh at that one. "Marriage ending right now?" he asked. "Front-page article on the Daily Prophet a few days ago? I'm bent?"
The trainee faltered, his eyes blank and uncertain again as they darted between Harry and Malfoy. "She could have left you because you were bent," he muttered, but his voice lacked conviction.
Harry stepped towards him and lowered his voice. "Why would it matter even if it was true? You have some sort of problem with people who're gay? You think they all want your narrow little arse?"
There were plenty of people in the Ministry that particular tactic wouldn't have worked on, but they weren't trainees. With a pathetic whimper, this one turned and fled. Harry laughed, paused when he heard no humor in his laughter, and shrugged as he started to unlock his office door.
"You defended me."
Harry paused and glanced over his shoulder. Malfoy stood behind him, eyes heavy-lidded, arms folded as if he needed to shield himself from something Harry had done. "Er, yes," Harry said. "I thought I'd done that before and you took it more coolly than this."
Malfoy shook his head, apparently shaking off the rules of behavior that made sense along with everything else, and leaned back on the wall. "I had something to speak to you about, but I think it'll wait."
Harry nodded. "Fine. Can you take that spell off Ginny?"
Malfoy pulled himself up straight in an instant, his face harder than ever. "What, Potter? Feeling sorry for the little wife?"
"No," Harry said. "It's just going to make my life harder than it's worth, with Hermione and probably Ron questioning me about it."
"Oh," Malfoy said, appeared to consider that, and then nodded. Then he turned away.
Harry watched him go, but shook his head and finally stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. There was paperwork waiting for him.
And several hovering Howlers, all of which began to smoke when he approached. Harry raised his wand and cast the special charm he had perfected that burned them all to ashes before they could begin berating him for what a terrible husband he was because he couldn't satisfy his wife sexually.
He had a peaceful morning after that, if not a satisfying one.
Someone grabbed Harry's shoulder and spun him around as he came out of the Ministry that evening. Harry had already dropped his free hand to his wand. His first thought was that the trainee was related to powerful people, who had sent "friends" along to Harry to make sure that he understood the situation.
No. Instead, it was Ron standing there, face flushed. Harry stared at him and didn't take his hand off his wand.
"Why did you take the curse off Ginny?" Ron demanded.
Harry refrained from rolling his eyes. It was hard. Apparently I'm going to be blamed for cursing Ginny and for not cursing her. "Because of this," he snapped, waving a hand between them. "Because Hermione came and yelled at me about it, and now you're coming and yelling at me about it."
Ron sneered. "As if you care about her anymore." His grip on Harry tightened and shifted more towards his throat.
Harry kicked out precisely in an Auror movement they had both learned, and hit Ron's left shin. Ron hadn't thought to defend himself from that angle, and let Harry go with a yelp. Harry slid along the wall to put more distance between them. He could have run out of the alley, but he didn't want to give Ron the satisfaction.
"You don't care about her," Ron whispered from the new distance, his eyes too bright.
Like Malfoy's, Harry thought. "I don't care about her the way I used to," he said. "But this still hurts so fucking much, Ron, and you have no idea." He swallowed, tasting winter again. "To lose my whole life, to have my friends turn against me, because of her. Yeah, I care."
"It's not just because of her," Ron said, and clenched his fists. Harry kept one eye out, but he didn't come nearer, just bared his teeth. "If you hadn't said all that shit she told to us about her, then this could have been an amicable divorce."
"No, it couldn't," Harry said. "We're both too bitter. Yeah, I was wrong-"
"You don't sound sorry."
"You wouldn't believe me if I did." Harry shook his head. He was already tired of this discussion, his anger cooling into boredom. He and Ron said all the same things over and over again, and he thought that his only hope of recovering his friendship with Ron in time was the same as for his friendship with Hermione: to stay at a distance until they had started to get bored with it, too. "Look, it doesn't matter. Think what you like. I'll be at home when you make up your mind."
He Apparated without giving Ron a chance to say what was clearly on his mind. He knew what it would be: the same assertions of Ginny's innocence and Harry's wrongdoing, and how he should never have done that.
And yeah, Harry thought as he landed outside his front door, I'm not exactly proud of myself. I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry.
But no one would believe him if he said that, and he didn't want to say it to Ginny and start some new round of accusations that would all be centered on the idea that he should never have said those things if he was only going to be sorry for them. Harry shook his head and started towards the kitchen.
He blinked when he saw the meal waiting there for him. Soft bread steamed from a basket in the center of the table, with a small dish of bright butter beside it. Next to that was a bowl of soup that bubbled with delicious meaty smells, causing Harry to lick his lips, and then a salad thick with what looked like tomatoes and delicately shaped pieces of egg. A glass of wine stood far to the side, with a note clipped to the rim.
Harry took it off, after first casting a few spells that should hopefully disarm any waiting hexes. The note was in a hand so elegant he had to turn his head to the side and squint.
Thought you might like this after a long day of chewing over stale accusations. My house-elves brought it on my command. -DM.
Harry smiled slightly. The meal was all Malfoy, down to the reassurance that he hadn't come through Harry's wards.
Harry had to admit that both his stomach and his temper were feeling a lot better by the time he went to bed.
Harry leaned against the wall of the lift and closed his eyes. Bloody reporters.
The Prophet seemed to have hired a new group of them specifically to keep track of Harry. There had been a crowd waiting outside his house this morning, and another in the Ministry's Atrium. Some of them, either bolder or stupider than the rest, had gone so far as to grab his arm and bawl their questions into his ears. Auror policy forbade Harry from using his more powerful spells on people who were only annoying and not Dark, but there was no law saying he couldn't twist free and duck into a lift.
But all that had taken more time than it should have, and he was gloomy as he stepped out of the lift and wandered through the early-morning stillness of the corridors to his office. At the moment, it felt as though the harassment and clatter of the divorce would never end.
Oh, you know perfectly well it will.
Harry shut his eyes and inhaled hard, holding the breath for a count of twenty. He felt a bit better when he released it, and was able to go along to his office thinking mostly about paperwork rather than when he would be out in the field again.
A light step behind him as he opened his door was the only warning he got before one arm curved around his waist and one around his shoulders and spun him around.
Harry didn't have access to his wand since his right hand was pinned at his side, but he had his legs free. He had tensed up to kick before he saw Malfoy's face above him, cold and intent, and faltered, blinking.
It lasted long enough for Malfoy to get his mouth in place, and then he was kissing Harry with a ferocity that made Harry wonder if something else had happened, something that had irritated Malfoy enough to make him consider this drastic action.
Then there was just heat, and Harry putting his hands up to dig into Malfoy's hair and drag them down, fingers scratching Malfoy's scalp. It felt good to do that, to touch someone else, to mess Malfoy up, to screw his tongue into Malfoy's mouth with a motion that weakened his own knees.
Malfoy pushed them through the opening office door and shoved Harry back on the desk. Harry let his legs fall open and laughed when he saw Malfoy staring at him with bright pink lips and bright eyes and bright hands already going to the buttons of his robes. Malfoy kicked the door shut behind him.
It was riotous. It was mad, when Harry had never been with someone other than Ginny.
It was fun, and Harry decided that he wouldn't worry any more about what had happened to cause it as he started taking his own robes off. Malfoy flashed him a sharp grin of approval and bent to remove his boots.
"Going to fuck you," Malfoy said casually, apparently telling the floor and his clothes.
"Good," Harry said fervently, and Malfoy nodded at him.
"Didn't expect to find you so enthusiastic," he said, as he ducked his head through the collar of his shirt.
"But it's a good thing I am?" Harry had got rid of his robes by now, and his boots. He had already bent down to start tugging his trousers off when Malfoy was there, grasping his hand, kissing him so hard that Harry tasted copper.
"Very good," Malfoy breathed against his lips, and bit him. As Harry arched towards him, looping his arms around Malfoy's back, Malfoy pushed his trousers and pants down in one smooth motion to his knees, so that he more or less trapped them.
Harry didn't really object, not when Malfoy Summoned the tube of lubricant that Ron had kept in the office and hadn't taken with him when he left. Because then one of Malfoy's fingers traveled between his legs, back and up his arse, and then inside him, and he had never dreamed of a sensation like that.
"Brilliant," he sighed, spreading his legs further despite the protesting creak of cloth around his knees. He wished he could reach down and move them aside, but Malfoy's finger twisted, and sparks shot up his spine, and strangeness became pleasure, and he dropped flat back against the desk.
Malfoy scraped his teeth down his shoulder and maneuvered Harry further onto his back, then added another finger. Harry could hardly keep his eyes open at that point, and couldn't speak. His grunts and rocking hips should do the trick.
"Could be on your stomach," Malfoy grumbled into his ear, and then bit his ear. Harry liked this apparent compulsion he had to taste everything.
"Don't want to be," Harry said back, and Malfoy nodded and conjured a pillow under his arse. It could have been a block of wood, and Harry wouldn't have cared. He lifted his hips again, and then Malfoy had himself in hand, a long, smooth, pale purple cock that made Harry clench.
Inside him, it felt much longer and much broader. Harry huffed and whuffed at the ceiling, his eyes crossing, his legs kicking out so that his knee nearly removed some of Malfoy's teeth. Malfoy bit him there, too, for good measure, and slung Harry's legs higher, over his shoulders. His fingernails sliced and scratched at slivers of skin.
His cock never stopped pressing inside. Soon enough Harry was lying back, staring at a mingled vision of Malfoy's face and the ceiling, and swearing, because it was good.
"Move," he muttered, retrieving his voice from wherever it had gone.
Malfoy smiled and launched into motion, steady, back and forth and in and out. Harry had never known directions like that could give him so much pleasure. He clasped his legs around Malfoy's neck, ready to squeeze if he stopped.
He didn't, and Harry's body swelled and shone, slickened and split. He grunted and quivered. Malfoy's hands slipped once and then came back to position before Harry's legs could slip in response. Once, Harry felt one of them on his hip. He turned his head in response, trying to bite, but his mouth was a long way from the hand, which soon enough returned to his thigh.
Malfoy's hair flew and rustled. His eyes fluttered open, shut, open, shut, not quite in rhythm with his thrusts. His teeth snapped and clicked, and now and then his tongue poked through them.
Harry reached out and gripped the edges of the desk. "Yes," he said, a moment before he came as though someone had reached into him to draw it out. Soft splashes and plops came to his ear as he struck his chest and the desk and Malfoy's cheek. That last part made him laugh and clamp down.
Malfoy froze, taking in a deep breath he held. His body quivered, too. When he fell over Harry's chest, Harry couldn't say that he'd felt Malfoy come, but the obvious signs of it satisfied him, nonetheless.
They stayed there for a while. Harry wasn't worried about someone coming in and interrupting them. It's good to be a pariah.
Malfoy turned his head aside into Harry's ear and whispered, "You know that they won't like this."
"Why should I care?" Harry asked, lazy, brave.
Malfoy paused. Then he said, "You might. More than you know right now."
"Hmmm," Harry said. His eyes were drifting shut. "My life's different now. I've moved on. If they care too much, then I'll tell them to be different, too."
Malfoy chuckled in his ear then, sharp and delighted. Harry opened his eyes and smiled at him. His breath was warm in his lungs.
"Why don't we do that again?" he asked, and rolled Malfoy over on top of the pile of sloppy paperwork.