Draco affected an air of bland professionalism as he crossed his arms and leaned against the tree. The snow crunched under his boots and his black cloak, emblazoned with the Ministry's crest, contrasted sharply with the white world all around him.
"You know," he spoke up, after a tense three minutes of silence. "There's no shame in asking for help."
"I know," Potter replied, with the same brand of bland nonchalance. "And if I needed any, I would ask for it."
Draco's eyes narrowed speculatively. "I see." His voice was flat and devoid of emotion. It was a handy skill in his line of work as the Head of the DMLE's Sub-Department of Rescue and Retrieval. Aurors, as a rule, were a touchy bunch and they didn't really like it when they ended up in sticky situations. Draco had found that the easiest way to clean up after them (and get them back to HQ or Saint Mungo's in one piece) was to pretend that nothing was wrong in the first place.
That being said, Potter was sorely testing his patience.
"So, I presume that this…" Draco paused and struggled for the appropriate word, "…positioning is deliberate."
Potter scoffed. Unfortunately, this resulted in him swinging threateningly and almost knocking into the tree trunk.
Oh yes, about that. Potter was stuck. Upside down. In a tree with his right foot caught between two strategically positioned branches. He'd also lost his wand because why the hell not, and now…now he was stubbornly refusing to admit that he needed help getting down.
Draco pinched the bridge of his nose.
Sometimes he questioned his life choices, he really did.
"As a matter of fact, it is," Potter insisted confidently, the stubborn jackass. "All part of my carefully constructed plan. Official Auror business and what not, you see. So, feel free to leave at your leisure, Malfoy. I'm sure you'd rather be somewhere you're actually needed."
As much as he would like to, Draco refused to crack first. He was one of the best in his field and Potter was not going to ruin his sterling record.
"Of course," he said flatly. "My mistake. Clearly, everything is under control here, Auror Potter."
"That's right. Have a nice…"
"So walk me through it," Draco drawled. "Let me in on this carefully constructed plan of yours."
Potter floundered momentarily. His cheeks flushed a faint red. Draco surmised at least part of it was thanks to the blood rushing straight to his head.
"Well," Potter flubbed, scrubbing his hair nervously. He dislodged his glasses and they fell to the snow dusted ground. Potter treated this new development the same way he did common sense—by resolutely ignoring it. "I'm luring the smugglers into a false sense of security," he announced after a moment's deliberation.
"Is that so?" Draco deadpanned.
"It's so," Potter retorted. He sounded very proud of piecing a coherent story together. In his defence, he was functioning at sixty percent of his optimal mental capacity— which for Potter wasn't much. "The smugglers will find me incapacitated, they'll lower their guard and that's when I'll strike. See? Carefully constructed."
Draco nodded along. If the situation wasn't so utterly ridiculous, Potter's dogged commitment to this charade would have impressed him.
"Potter," he tried, making sure to keep his expression as blank as was humanly possible. "That mission ended hours ago. Weasley and Thomas Apparated to the recon site when you didn't make it. They apprehended the smugglers and returned to HQ twenty minutes ago. Meanwhile, you suffered a minor bout of Splinching during a routine Apparition which caused you to end up here. Like this. The Head Auror assigned your case to me and asked me to bring you in for a medical examination. Therefore, once again, I'm respectfully requesting permission to help you down from this tree so we can get on with the rest of our lives."
Admittedly, he'd started grinding his teeth halfway through that monologue. Nevertheless, Draco was proud that he'd at least managed to keep it civil.
Potter however, had no such qualms.
"I don't Splinch," he snapped indignantly.
"Potter, it's nothing to be ashamed of," Draco placated hastily. An offended Auror was an uncooperative Auror. "It's completely normal, happens to the best of us. One out of three wizards experience…"
"I don't need your statistics!" Potter burst out. He struggled a bit, which caused him to knock his head into the tree trunk. Draco winced in sympathy, which only made Potter tetchier. "I told you I'm fine! Why don't you just go away?"
"Because you're hanging from a tree like a possum in remedial training!" Draco yelled back. "Why are you like this? Why can't you take a helping hand when it's offered to you just once?"
"Malfoy, I already said…"
Draco gave up. He threw his arms in the air and admitted defeat. "I don't have time for this. You win! Have it your way, Potter. I'll just head back to HQ and tell them you have it all under control. No help needed here! Oh no, you're doing just fine by yourself. Like always!"
"Thank you!" Potter sulked.
Draco sneered and started to walk away. Why did he even come here? His day and his perfect record were ruined in one swoop, and of course it was thanks to Potter. Why did Draco even bother with the prat? Potter was stupid and ungrateful and stubborn and stupid. And if he wanted to hang in a tree for the rest of the day, he was welcome to it! Draco was absolutely done with…
Draco stopped, in spite of his better judgement. He didn't turn around though. He wasn't going to give Potter the satisfaction.
"What?" he snapped.
When Potter spoke up again, his voice was barely a mumble. "I may have…exaggerated. Before. About the…carefully constructed plan."
Draco's shoulders sagged. Merlin, finally. "You don't say," he drawled. Thankful as he was that the end was in sight, he was not going to let Potter off the hook that easy.
"What I'm saying is," Potter coughed, "it won't be…entirely inaccurate to say that I could maybe possibly benefit from some…minor form of assistance."
For the love of Salazar, it was like pulling teeth. Draco refused to so much as turn around until Potter said it.
"I'm not sure what you're getting at, Auror Potter."
Potter huffed in annoyance. There was a spell of stubborn silence. Draco pursed his lips and started to walk away again and…
"Okay, okay!" Potter squawked. "You win!"
Draco smirked. "Say the magic words, Scarhead."
"Ugh, fine. Malfoy, could you give me a hand?"
Not even close. Draco turned around and obediently offered up a rousing round of applause.
"Oh, ha ha!" Potter groused. "Seriously, can you help me down from this blighted tree? The world's going pink at the edges and my tongue feels fuzzy."
There. Was that really so hard?
Draco suppressed a snicker and jogged over, positioning himself below Potter's dangling form.
"Okay," he said, palming his wand. "Stay still, alright? I'm going to cast a Severing Charm on that branch. If you move, I might get your leg so I strongly suggest that you don't."
"Wait. Did you say a…"
"Hang on, I'll have you down in a minute."
"But I'm going to land right on…"
"Potter, quiet. I need to concentrate."
"Malfoy, I really don't think you've thought this through…"
The last thing Draco saw before he crumpled in a heap of Auror robes and snow was a wide eyed, screaming Potter heading straight for him.
"…and that's how he sprained his wrist," a sheepish Potter finished.
He caught Draco's smouldering glare and hunched his shoulders like a guilty school boy.
The matronly Mediwitch was silent all through his expression, but her stern look never wavered. "Let me see if I understand this," she said, with the air of a woman who was quite sure she wouldn't. "Mr Malfoy was sent to rescue you from a Splinching incident."
"I don't Spli…yeah, that's about it."
"And yet," the Mediwitch continued, "you're perfectly fine and he sprained his wrist."
Draco couldn't keep his silence any longer. "I did not sprain my wrist," he snapped. "He sprained my wrist!"
Potter, inexplicably, still seemed ready to defend his indefensible actions. "I didn't mean to fall on top of you," he argued weakly. "I did try to warn you."
Draco's eye twitched dangerously. "Excuse me," he hissed dangerously. "I'm not sure I heard you."
Potter swallowed audibly. "I said I'm sorry for spraining your wrist."
Draco gave him a dark glare and turned away. He couldn't even look at Potter right now, that's how mad he was.
"Well, it could have been worse," the Mediwitch said, flicking her wand and wrapping up Draco's newly formed case file. This was his very first injury on the job, it would seem. Perhaps he should bake a cake to mark the occasion.
And then shove it right in Potter's stupid face.
"So, can you give him a Potion or something to fix it?" Potter asked the Mediwitch pleadingly.
She raised an eyebrow. "I could, but perhaps there's a lesson to be learned here."
"What?" Potter bleated.
"What?!" Draco barked.
The Mediwitch was undeterred. "Letting the sprain heal the Muggle way should reinforce the dangers of acting carelessly in the field. I'm sure Mr Malfoy would appreciate the opportunity to convalesce, and you, Auror Potter, may use the time to think about allowing people to do their jobs. Good day, gentlemen, and thank you for your service."
She left with a brisk nod, leaving two gaping young men in her wake.
Potter recovered first. He coughed and scuffed his shoe against the floor.
"So, uh…I guess you're off work for a bit?"
Draco sneered and held his useless, wrapped up hand up. "Two whole weeks, thanks to you," he snapped. "My perfect record is ruined! Are you happy now?"
Potter, to his credit, looked guilty. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "Is there anything I can do?"
Draco had half a mind to issue a scathing retort and send Potter packing. It was on the tip of his tongue too. But Potter looked woeful and guilty and very much like a sorry Crup. He shone those big green eyes at Draco imploringly, and damn him, it worked.
"It's fine," Draco groused. "I'll just have to get used to doing things left handed for a while."
Potter squared his shoulders. "Well, you won't do it alone," he announced firmly. "I'm here to help in any way you need me."
"What?" Draco blinked in surprise. He wasn't expecting…well, this. In fact, he really didn't know how to respond to Potter's declaration at all. "I…Potter, that's good of you but I really don't…"
"What?" Potter cut in. A half-smile hinted at his lips. "You really don't need the help?"
Draco stared at him in stunned silence, before letting out a reluctant laugh. "I walked into that one."
"Look," Potter murmured, shifting closer. "You rescued me, despite…well, despite all my efforts to dissuade you. The least I can do is return the favour. Believe me, Malfoy." Potter's grin widened and his eyes sparked with sudden mischief. "I'm not going to let this go."
Draco raised an eyebrow. "And if I refuse?" he challenged.
Potter chuckled. He leaned in, lips hovering over Draco's ear. "Oh, you're too smart for that," he whispered, and the low purr of his voice made Draco shiver. "Things are going to be a lot…harder with that sprained wrist. All I'm saying is, if you need a ...'helping hand', I'm at your service."
Draco's cheeks flushed at the lurid thought. For a moment, the world went a bit pink around the edges and his tongue felt fuzzy. So, this is what hanging in a tree for two hours felt like. Interesting…Draco rather thought he could get used to it.
"You know what, Potter?" he whispered back. "I think I'm feeling a touch helpless after all. And I could really use some Auror assistance."