Author: envy_venis
Recipient: noeon
Title: Hidden in the Depths
Pairing: Harry/Draco
Summary: Sometimes we know exactly what we're looking for, even if it isn't quite clear how to reach it.
Rating: NC17
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): None really. Humor!fic, and my first (probably rather weak) attempt at Auror/actiony type stuff. Nothing terribly warning-worthy, but at one point, my beta did comment "there's a lot of cock in this sequence" O.o
Epilogue compliant? Nope
Word Count: about 8,000 (this chapter. 21k in all)
Author's Notes: Written for the 2011 HD_Holidays exchange on LJ. I'll be posting this here in 3 chapters (need time to go through and re-format for FFn and edit a couple things), 1 per day.

Many thank yous to my awesome beta, Princess Evilpants, aka: bookjunkie1975, who played frankenfic ping-pong with me over the last few days of writing this, and to noeon for the great prompty-type things (and for having similar likes and dislikes to my own). Tons of schmoozles to the mods for all the work they do (and shite they put up with) to continue this fandom tradition.


~oOo~

The room is dark but for the subtle glow of the orbs floating through the air around the bastion. Harry sees no movement, but as he crouches down in the shadows, he's certain he hears a soft shudder of breath close by. Maintaining his low profile, he inches to the side, carefully slipping behind a low barricade.

There, just around the partition nearest him, he sees a soft glint of light gleaming off of pale blond hair. He peeks over the top of the stone barricade, wand aimed at his opponent.

"Expelliarmus!"

"Diffinido!" the other man shouts over Harry's spell.

Harry feels a tingle of magic as Malfoy's spell rebounds off the barrier of the Shield Charm just across Harry's right shoulder. Had he not been protected, it most certainly would have been a messy hit; one of which would have cost him his hold on his own wand. Regardless of not actually being able to penetrate his defences, the force of the spell still knocks Harry onto his arse, causing him to tip back and hit his head against the stone floor.

"Mother fuck, Malfoy!" Harry rubs at his injury as he rights himself.

The lights brighten, illuminating the training grounds as Draco approaches.

"I told you, you can't keep using such juvenile defences. You aren't a child anymore, Potter," he says as he reaches out a hand and pulls Harry to his feet. "This is exactly why they won't put us out on the field anymore, you realise?"

"Bollocks," Harry says, still rubbing at the back of his head. "It's because of your ridiculous temper and take-no-prisoners attitude." As he swishes his wand, removing their Shield Charms, Harry wonders—not for the first time—why the protection only works for magical attacks and not the physical ones.

"You're gormless. It's because of how soft you are; always trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. People are bad, Potter. The sooner you accept that, the sooner we'll be off our arses and back into the field."

Harry scowls. He's certain he'd be perfectly fine with using brutal force in the field when necessary, but he can't seem to convince himself to actually try and hurt Draco. Even with Shield Charms in place, Harry has been known to get a few good hits through on his training partners. Not deliberately, of course, but somehow, after his defeat of Voldemort, Harry's magic had grown stronger than what he had been accustomed to.

He considers hitting Malfoy with an innocent Stinging Jinx just to show him how gormless he is, but just as the thought crosses his mind, a booming voice interrupts them.

"All right, you two love birds," Flanning calls from across the yard. "That's enough bickering. You'd think you were married."

Harry's stomach does a little flip-flop at the words of their commanding Auror. It isn't something he says to them often, but Harry finds his heart racing with even the smallest implication that he and Draco are a couple. Perhaps if he hadn't been silently pining after his partner for two years now, he would find it just as humorous as the rest of the Auror department does. Nervously, Harry chances a glance at Draco whose expression is entirely unchanging.

"What's the bloody point of all this training?" Draco asks, though Harry is certain it's a rhetorical question. "All we're ever assigned to are Ministry surveillance and Improper Use of Magic."

"Watch the tone, Auror Malfoy," Flanning warns as he approaches them. "Or insubordination will earn you desk duty for the rest of your life. Part of your job is to remain fit and ready for action at any given moment."

Harry watches the short exchange silently. He can't help but wonder why Malfoy hasn't requested a new partner if he truly believes that Harry is the reason they rarely leave their office.

When Flanning has nothing more to say, he dismisses them to head back to the Ministry.

"Disgusting," Draco says when they enter their office. He wipes sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. "I'm hitting the showers. It's not often we have reason to use the Ministry changing room anymore."

Harry's mouth goes dry and he swallows hard as Draco begins to unbutton his shirt.

"I think I'll wait until I get home," he replies.

"Suit yourself." Draco shrugs out of his shirt and turns to drape it over a chair, the tight muscles of his back and shoulders shifting as he moves about. "I'm sure I can manage to cover for you if you want to leave a little early," he says.

Harry is thankful beyond measure for the opportunity to remove himself from temptation.

He Apparates home to take his shower and get ready for a typical night out at Bimini Road. It's the familiar routine which keeps him grounded and sane. Every Friday night, he and his friends meet up at their favourite pub in Diagon Alley to drink away the aggravation of the previous workweek. When he first joined the Auror team at the Ministry, Harry would spend the greater part of his days out and about, chasing criminals and rounding up offenders. A shower was necessary to wash away the sweat and grime of a hard day's work. Now, it was simply a means of unwinding, sluicing off a day of menial paperwork, monitoring, and letter sending.

He thinks there must be some degree of truth in what Draco said. It wasn't until a botched raid of an illegal potions lab that Flanning had stopped assigning them to field duty. Harry had seen no sense in hurting any of the wizards involved, and had nearly got himself and his partner killed because of that. He likes to think that he's learned his lesson since then, though. After six excruciatingly long days at St Mungo's watching Draco recover from a hex that Harry could have easily countered by taking down the perpetrator, he's certain his reaction would be much different now.

.

.

.

The warmth that greets Harry as he steps out of the cold air of Diagon Alley is so pleasant, it's almost a relief to his overwrought muscles. William Arbius, Bimini's barman-slash-owner, greets Harry with a cheerful "Hullo" and a slap on the back as he enters. The smell of stale smoke and Ogden's Best permeates the air, bringing a sense of familiar comfort to Harry.

"Yer late," the man says, waving his wand to uncap a bottle before passing it to Harry. "Y'friends've already been here for a bit." He nods in the direction of their usual table; Dean, Seamus, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Pansy and Draco, all laughing and raising their glasses into the air. "Not causin' much of a bovver yet."

"No worries, Arbius. I'll keep an eye on them."

"Ah, yer a good man 'Arry." He smiles brightly before turning his attention back to his previous task. The old barman knows they won't cause trouble—they never do—but it's his strange, roundabout way of reminding Harry that he knows who he is and what it is he does between the hours of 9 and 5.

Harry's eye catches sight of Garin Lynch sitting at the other end of the bar. Dark hair falls over his eyes as he tilts his head to catch the words of his companion, and Harry notes that he's actually a really good looking man; something he's never really bothered to notice before. Lynch had been the co-owner of The Winking Kelpie, another pub that Harry and his friends had frequented before it closed its doors and they'd found Bimini. He's much older than Harry—possibly early forties, Harry imagines—but, sadly, that isn't the reason he had turned down the man's repeated offers of a date last year.

Harry turns his attention to his group of friends, eyes immediately and unintentionally landing on Draco.

Exuding the typical authority that even off-duty Aurors do, Harry holds his head high, scanning the crowd as he makes his way across the room. It isn't until he's within earshot of his friends that his confidence seems to falter, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment or restrained desire, he can't tell which. Draco's eyes are closed now, head tilted back, his lips slightly parted as he lets out the most incredibly sexy groan. Harry's cock stirs in his trousers and he immediately slides into the only open seat at the table, praying that no one noticed his arousal. All eyes are on Draco, though, thankfully.

At the sound of intrusion, Draco's eyes slide open, falling on Harry. A slow smile spreads across his face and Harry feels his cheeks growing hot as he quickly diverts his gaze.

"That's it?" Pansy ask, eyebrows drawn down as she waits for Draco to respond.

He simply shrugs one shoulder and gestures for her to get on with it.

Pansy sets her glass down, clears her throat, tilts her head back, and makes the same noise that Draco did moments before. It has decidedly less of an effect on Harry, though still makes him noticeably uncomfortable as he shifts in his seat. When she finishes mimicking Draco's groan, Pansy adds her own sexual gasp-and-moan to the end of her demonstration.

Catcalls and whistles sound from all around their table and Harry quickly decides he needs to drink much faster to catch up to all of his friends. Thankfully, the rest of the pub is busy enough that Arbius can't hear them from his place behind the bar.

Even Hermione seems to be in on the game. Harry is in utter shock when she begins to copy the noises of the two before her, gripping the edge of the table with her eyes closed and adding yet another uninhibited cry of mock pleasure to the end.

Ron's eyes grow wide as he watches his wife. She smiles, cheeks slightly flushed, as the group claps and shout their approval. It isn't a new game, but Harry thinks his friends must be absolutely pissed to be playing it so early in the evening.

Ron grabs his glass of whiskey, takes a deep breath as if to steel himself for his turn, but rather than copying the noises of the players before him, he simply throws back his drink in one swallow, slides his chair out and takes Hermione's hand.

"I lose," he declares. "Time for us to go."

Hermione laughs as he pulls her to her feet, wrapping his arm around her waist and nuzzling briefly against her neck.

"Good night," she calls back over her shoulder as Ron leads her out the door.

"It's an unfair game, anyway," Dean says. "Malfoy has it the easiest since he doesn't have to remember the noises made before him."

"We can start anywhere you'd like and I'd still win," Draco challenges.

"Sure, he's probably used to the practise," Seamus says from his place across the table. "All that shower wanking he does since no one has standards low enough to fuck him."

Draco smiles. "Or maybe my standards are just so high that my hand is the only one good enough for me."

Harry's attention immediately snaps to Draco's hands. Strong fingers grip his glass as his thumb slides up, catching a drop of condensation. Lucky bastards, those hands.

"Maddy," Harry calls, flagging down the waitress. "I'm going to need something stronger for the night." He chugs his beer and hands the empty bottle to the girl.

.

.

.

"Are you kidding me?" Dean squints one eye, swaying slightly as he tries to focus on the conversation at hand.

Harry leans back in his chair, the effects of the alcohol causing a sleepy relaxation to settle over him. "They've got Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumbass on that smuggling case. They may as well close it now, save the Ministry a few galleons," he says. "There's a reason those two are usually kept on flight patrol."

It's come to the portion of the night where they're all sufficiently wasted enough to complain about their respective jobs without adding undue stress. "Venting," Pansy calls it, though she usually doesn't have much to say about her own job as a financial advisor.

"I don't understand," Ginny puts in, leaning against Dean's shoulder as she sets her drink on the table, nearly missing the edge. "Why haven't they just given the case to you two?"

"They don't want Harry getting his nails dirty," Draco says without looking up from his drink.

Harry narrows a glance at his partner. "Don't start this again," he warns.

"What?" Draco asks, eyes wide with mock innocence. "You're the Golden Boy. The Poster Child for Magical Law Enforcement. That's precisely how they want your image to remain. All across the wizarding world, when parents are putting their children to bed at night, they're thanking their lucky stars they have you looking out for them."

"Naff off, Malfoy," Harry says before throwing back the remains of his Firewhiskey. If he wasn't terrified of the idea of not seeing Draco every day, he would damn well put in a request for a new partner himself. He can't stand the idea of eight hour's worth of deskwork without the occasional stolen glance at his partner, though.

"You might be right," Pansy says. "I think the Ministry is afraid to put Harry out on the field because they need his face in top form to scare off the crooks and troublemakers."

"Oh, now my face is scary, is it?"

"It's your eyebrows," Seamus pipes in, sloshing his lager over the rim of his mug as he leans heavily on the table.

"My eyebrows?" Harry asks in confusion, barely resisting the urge to reach up and touch the accused offenders.

"Yes. You've angry eyebrows, like. Very intimidating, those," Seamus slurs.

Harry notes with amusement that the more alcohol consumed by Seamus, the more prominent his accent becomes until most of the group can hardly understand him at all. Nevertheless, they all seem to comprehend his words just fine, laughing at his statement while Harry tries his best not to pout like a child. His eyebrows are just fine, thank you very much.

"Maggie!" Seamus calls as the scantily dressed waitress approaches. "Just the girl I've been waiting for. One more pint o' the old Arthur, please." He smiles crookedly.

"It's Maddy, but as long as you tip well, you can call me anything you like," she replies before sauntering away.

"I think she likes you," Draco says as he watches her walk away. "If I'd called her the wrong name, she would have backhanded me."

Harry gazes at Draco, watching the smooth column of his throat as he swallows down his Ogden's. "That's because you project arseholeism," he says. "People can see that from a mile away."

Draco holds up his hand acquiescently. "Years of practice."

"Here, here!" Ginny raises her glass.

Seamus sighs wistfully and goes on as if the other part of the conversation hadn't happened at all. "Ah, Maggie's grand. A bit of a slapper, like. Might be good for a quick shift. Sure, I think she's got a spot for Harry. Like eh, boiy."

"Oh shit," Dean says when the laughter of the group finally subsides. "Seamus is bladdered. That's our cue to leave before he catches on to the fact he's surrounded by British blokes. Besides, his mum still doesn't approve of him playing with Harry Potter. Bad influence and all. Might be the eyebrows. Better get him home before she gets her knickers in a twist."

"You leave me mam's knickers outta this."

The group of friends say their "good-byes" and alcohol induced "I love yous" before finally separating, Ginny and Dean on either side of Seamus, arms laced through one another, and Pansy, looking far less drunk than the rest, heading in the opposite direction out the front door. Harry and Draco sit silently, neither quite ready to call it a night just yet.

"Ten galleons says we'll get some sort of threesome story out of Seamus next week," Draco says with a mischievous smile.

"Not a chance. S'no way Ginny would share Dean with anyone. Trust me." Harry leans forward, gazing into the bottom of his empty glass.

"Hmm," Draco says pensively. Harry looks up to meet his gaze. "Trust you? Sounds like you're quite certain," he says. "Is it safe to assume that you've tried, then?"

Harry shrugs, picking at the edge of his napkin. He knows that alcohol has the tendency to loosen the tongue, but he's certain this is a conversation he shouldn't be having with his Auror partner, no matter how drunk they each are.

Auror partner,Harry reminds himself. Auror partner and best friend whom you might just be a little bit in love with, so sharing details of past sexual experiences while pissed is out of the question.

"Bimini Road," Harry says, by way of diversion. Absentmindedly, he traces his finger over the embossed lettering on the napkin. "Do you know what that is?"

Draco laughs, leaning a bit closer to Harry. "Of course I do," he says, his eyes sparkling with amusement as he stares at Harry. "It's a pub we've come to nearly every week for two years now."

"Looks like the drunk Irishman left," Maddy says, setting a pint down in front of Harry. "All yours now, love. Enjoy."

Harry leans forward, inspecting the thick, dark liquid within. "Besides that, I mean," he says finally. "There's a limestone structure that stretches out into the Atlantic Ocean. Some people believe it to be the path to Atlantis."

"Mmm, yes, that as well." Draco says, nodding in confirmation as he licks the remnants of alcohol from his bottom lip. Harry finds it difficult to tear his eyes away from Draco's mouth, but somehow manages.

"You knew that?"

"Of course. What sort of self-respecting pure-blood doesn't know the tales of The Lost City?"

Harry had never heard any stories of Atlantis, but he reasons that none are likely to be Dursley-approved tales, and Hogwarts never had much of an offering in geography classes.

"Arbius told me once that he spent a great deal of his life searching for Atlantis." Harry gestures towards a large piece of driftwood displayed on the wall. On it are the words, "Enjoy the path, for the destination is only the final part of the journey."

Harry has often wished he himself could take that advice. How much more fulfilling would his own life be if only he took the time to enjoy what was all around him at this very moment. He watches as Draco slides his finger teasingly around the rim of his glass before bringing it up to his mouth and sucking the flavour off.

Harry suppresses a groan, but only just. Perhaps a change of partners at work wouldn't be such a bad thing for him. After all, even if he was no longer able to watch Draco throughout the day, it would free him up to ask him out finally, which Harry had wanted to do for quite some time now.

"It's possible," Draco says, breaking through Harry's silent rumination. "To actually do both, don't you think? Enjoy the journey andthe destination?"

"I suppose," replies Harry, before taking a sip of the bitter, syrupy liquid that Maddy had just delivered.

"I think people—both Muggle and wizards alike—are so caught up with proving themselves right that they sometimes miss the obvious."

Harry wonders if they're still talking about The Lost City at all.

"Perhaps people are so thick that they can't imagine that path leading them anywhere but exactly to the destination they've imagined. Either Atlantis, or an empty sandbank in the bottom of the ocean."

"So, you think you know how to find it?"

"Of course I do. It's a combination of spellwork and magical capabilities, just as it is to get into Diagon Alley from the back of The Leaky."

"And no one else has come to this same conclusion as you, why?"

Draco leans back in his chair, a knowing smile playing on his lips. "Plenty of people have, but would you want to share it with the world if you found it?"

The colour of his eyes seem more blue than grey on nights like these, and whether it's the copious amounts of alcohol consumed by each of them, or the fact that Harry is probably staring a little more intently than usual, he doesn't know.

"Have you been there?" Harry asks, forcing his attention once again to the conversation at hand.

"No. It takes magic far greater than I'm capable of to access the gateway. One day," Draco shrugs, "maybe."

They sit in a state of silence for a good long while before Draco speaks again. "Come on, Harry. I'll take you home."

Don't offer unless you mean it,Harry thinks.

"Of course I mean it." Or perhaps it wasn'tjust a thought. "What, you think I'd leave you here with Maddy on the prowl? She's been eyeing you all night, waiting to separate you from the herd like an injured gazelle."

Draco stands, tossing what looks like far too many galleons down on the table as he watches Harry watching him.

.

.

.

Harry thinks as they walk down the rain-dampened street together, that he's doing a rather good job of maintaining a sensible distance from Draco, despite his drunken state. They carry on an easy flow of conversation as they walk, Draco doing most of the talking, Harry trying to focus on the topic of discussion rather than the way Draco licks his lips and smiles at him, or the way he laughs when he recounts a particularly humorous moment between himself and the guys at work. And, though his fingers seem to be aching to reach out and touch Draco, he's doing a smash-up job of controlling them, too.

Harry smiles with drunken pride before it quickly melts into a frown. He doesn't wantto have to control himself. He wantsto be able to lace his fingers together with Draco's, press warm palms together and enjoy the feel of his skin against Harry's.

"Potter." Draco snaps his fingers in front of Harry's eyes. "Are you even listening to me?"

"What?" Harry rubs a hand down his face. "Of course I am."

"What was I talking about, then?"

Shit.

Harry frantically searches his thoughts, trying to pick out key points of their conversation. "Err…you were saying that…Jenson has a…bloodline that goes back to…and…with the right combination of limestone–"

"All right, stop it before you hurt yourself. What I was saying is that your drunken ramblings about Atlantis got me thinking about a case I was reading up on. Jenson's case, as a matter of fact, so I will give you a point for that one. We'll talk more about this later, though, Harry," Draco says, coming to a halt in front of the building. He squeezes Harry's shoulder gently. "Think you can make it the rest of the way?"

Harry turns to look at the ominous, looming steps leading up to the building's entrance.

"I dunno," he replies. "Looks iffy."

Draco's eyes narrow. "You're a big baby, Potter." He loops his arm through Harry's and hauls him up the steps. Harry laughs as Draco opens the door and pulls him inside.

.

.

.

Monday morning comes all too soon. Reluctantly, Harry drags himself out of bed and stumbles blindly to the loo. Another day of work he hates in a building he'd rather never see again, surrounded by people who are either overly friendly with him, or determined to prove themselves better. It isn't as if he needs the money, and if it weren't for Draco, Harry would just quit. He knows they'd still see each other on Friday nights at Bimini Road, but he isn't sure that's enough anymore.

"Morning, Potter. You're looking well." Flanning has an uncharacteristic twinkle in his aged blue eyes that immediately sets Harry's nerves on edge.

The commanding Auror has never been what one might call a "morning person," and most people would do well to stay clear of him until after he's got plenty of coffee in his system. The bright, chipper demeanour and cheerful greeting are nothing short of confusing to Harry but, in the interest of starting the day off on a good note, he plays along anyway.

"Thank you, sir," he says, self-consciously flattening down his hair. "So do you."

"Ah, well, your partner's helped to set the morning right," he replies.

Harry looks at him questioningly, but doesn't bother asking the man to explain. He's learned over the years that Draco is quite full of odd little tricks and surprises, none of which ever fail to entertain.

Pushing open their office door, Harry is greeted with the warm, welcoming aroma of freshly brewed coffee. He's delighted to see that a steaming cup full rests beside a stack of daily paperwork on his own desk. He can't help but smile himself.

Draco, while always making a point of complaining about the way Harry takes his coffee, prepares it flawlessly for him when he so chooses. If nothing else, there's at least that to look forward to here at work, Harry thinks.

Sliding out his chair, he takes a seat, pretending not to notice the papers and files piled high waiting for him, and focuses instead on the mug of thick, dark liquid. He has to suppress a moan of pleasure as he takes his first generous sip. The coffee is bitter with an underlying hint of spice that instantly warms Harry. He smiles contentedly.

"I've defiled your coffee with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, just the way you like," Draco says as he steps into the office, his own coffee in one hand and a thin file gripped in the other. Ignoring his own desk on the other side of the office, he sits himself at Harry's in the chair across from him.

"Mmm…thank you. It's perfect. And, did you also slip something into Flanning's? He's in an unusually good mood this morning." The wicked smile that spreads across Draco's lips sends an unsettling tingle up Harry's spine. "Oh lord, Draco. You did, didn't you?"

"Lord Draco," his partner muses in response as he stares off at nothing. "Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?" He smiles at Harry before tossing the file onto the desktop in front of him.

"What did you do?" Harry asks sternly. He recognises the name on the front of the file. It's the burglary case that Jenson had been working on last week.

"Relax, do-gooder. It was nothing illegal."

Harry arches an eyebrow. "Immoral?"

There's a short pause before Draco replies. "Questionably." He weaves his fingers together behind his head and leans back in his chair.

Harry sighs, shakes his head, and flips the file open.

"Apparently Flanning has a bit of a weakness for Muggle pastries. Something your weasel introduced me to called doughnuts."

Draco pronounces the last word carefully and Harry can't help the laugh that escapes him. A department full of Aurors gathered around a box of doughnuts would be a comical sight. He remembers his uncle watching a television programme that depicted Muggle police officers to be all too fond of the sweets.

"I brought a box in just to butter him up a bit. The kind with the colourful spriggles on top."

"Sprinkles," Harry corrects pointlessly.

"Anyway, it worked. We're to take over Jenson's case now. And, fortunately for both of us, I did a bit of poking around last Wednesday while I was bored to tears."

"You mean the Wednesday that I was nearly out of my mind filing appeals with the Obliviation squad, approving Apparition licences, and staying at my desk well after six pm licking envelopes? That Wednesday?"

"There's a spell for that, you realise?"

Harry gapes at his partner, caught between wanting to punch him and snog the smirk right off his beautiful face.

"The envelope licking, I mean. Useful charm, that. Good for other things as well."

"Draco," Harry interrupts, trying his hardest not to focus on the licking of other things, be it a charm or not. "Did it cross your mind that I could have used your help that day?"

Looking up at him through long lashes, Draco smiles sheepishly, causing Harry's heart to flutter. "Can I offer you a spriggled pastry as consolation?"

"Just tell me about this case and let's get on with it."

Draco sits forward, resting his forearms on the desk and lacing his fingers together. "All right. It's a pretty simple case—or, at least it shouldbe. There've been a small series of burglaries circling around higher end wizarding households. None of the reported missing items are thought to be linked in any way: an old vase from one home, an heirloom goblet from another. Delores Umbridge claims to be short a pair of silk knickers, but I think it's in the Ministry's best interest to leave that one alone."

Ignoring Draco's comment about Umbridge, Harry's mind immediately starts to work in overdrive, weighing in worst-case scenarios. "It isn't some copycat trying to make Horcruxes, is it?"

"Harry," Draco admonishes. "I'm sure it isn't wise to eliminate the possibility, but very few people know about those, let alone how to create them. And, as far as we know, there's only one man—if you can even call him that—who was twisted in darkness enough to even consider doing such a thing. No. I don't think it's anything that extreme."

"Have we recovered any of the nicked items? Being sold on the streets or anything? Maybe we could do a trace of magical signature on them."

"None of them have turned up anywhere. Unless you have Umbridge's knickers in your drawer, there." Draco raises his eyebrows and smiles slyly. "In all seriousness, though, no. And the families aren't all that concerned with recovering them, either. Ridiculous, really. As far as I know, these things date back thousands of years. The real mystery these people are concerned with is how they're going missing. Jensen has been in and out of every one of these homes searching for weaknesses in their wards, but everything seems solid."

"Floo networks?"

"All closed off but one, and the trace on that only went back to their own daughter's flat in London."

"Not much to go off of then, eh?" Harry says as he continues to look over the case file in front of him. Draco's eyes fall on the page Harry is studying.

"Four stolen items: A Byzanium-marbled vase, adamantite crested goblet, a pendant made of solid Orichalcum, and a Naquadah staff."

"Okay, I'm going to stop you right there," Harry says, leaning away from the file as if the words on the page are physically painful to look at. "I only understood about six of the words you just said."

"Good." Draco passes Harry a small slip of parchment listing the items he just named. "Look them up."

"You're giving me homework?"

Rolling his eyes, Draco shakes his head. "It isn't homework, Harry. It's just a…project. I think you might find it interesting. Besides, even if this case isn't spectacular or terribly in-depth, at least it'll get us out of the office. Maybe you won't hate your job so much anymore once we're out and about and actually doing something productive."

Harry doubts very much that even a week or two away from the confines of their office would help to renew the enthusiasm he once had for his job, but he's willing to give it a go.

"If you flip to the fourth sheet there," Draco leans closer, taking the parchment from Harry's hand and turning it over, "you'll see a graph I've constructed of what I assume is the pattern this person is going by. Four manors in all, so far." The marks on the parchment seem to form an open-sided triangle.

Draco points to a large red dot on the map. "This is the estate of Gilman Upchurch, the first residency to be burglarised. The second," his finger traces along the green line of Baxley Avenue, coming to a halt midway down, "is the home of the Yardleys, Fannon and Kareena." As Draco's finger taps the dot, it sparks to life on the page, flashing the name of the wizarding family that resides there, and also a time and date.

"Is that when it happened?" Harry gestures towards the small blinking numbers.

"Yes. Five days after the first," Draco replies. "And here," he taps the next dot down the road, "Four days after the last one. It's all happened in four and five day intervals, which means the person responsible is acting very quickly."

Harry nods in understanding before tapping the final dot on the map. Red numbers flash 9 o'clock PM, followed by yesterday's date.

"I think that's why Flanning decided to let us have the case," Draco says, responding to Harry's unasked question. "There have already been four of these break-ins in less than a month, and Jenson isn't anywhere near solving this on his own."

"And you are?" Harry asks. He'd never admit it to his partner, but he does admire his passion and determination.

"Well, we've at least got a pattern, don't we? Simple cognitive thinking concludes where and when the next one will occur." Draco's finger traces along an imaginary line, coming to a halt on a blue dot labelled Edith Dunroe.

"And I suppose if the burglar really is deliberately trying to form a triangle on the map, it seems it'll be one of the last two as well."

Draco nods. "Precisely. And here's the really interesting part. That conversation we had at Bimini the other night got me thinking."

"Oh no."

"Shut it. Anyway, it got me thinking about a few key points Jenson had mentioned about this case. It may sound a bit absurd to you, but bear with me."

Harry takes another drink of his coffee and waits. He's certain that the warmth spreading through him is due more to the enthusiasm and excitement of his partner than the hot beverage in his mug.

"All of these households that have been burglarised are ancient, pure-blood wizarding families. In fact, if you were to chart their history, each one of the bloodlines can be traced directly back to the very first witch known in history; Zephaniah, the witch of Endor. I'm told she's mentioned in the Muggle book of… superior opinion, or speculation, or… something like that."

"The Bible?" Harry asks with interest.

"Yes, that. But, she's also said to be the very first witch to occupy Atlantis, and the reason the city was later destroyed."

Harry snorts into his coffee, earning a cool glare of disproval from his partner. "You can't be serious," he says nonetheless. "You think this case is somehow linked to the legends of Atlantis?"

"It certainly isn't too farfetched. If you knew the things I know, I'm sure you'd agree."

"I'm sorry, Draco," Harry says, wiping his mouth of any stray drops of coffee. "I find that very hard to swallow."

Somehow, Draco's eyes manage to narrow even further. "I'll give you something hard to swallow," he murmurs, and Harry snorts with undignified laughter once again.

"Laugh it up, poster boy. You know my favourite thing in the world is telling you 'I told you so'."

"All right," Harry says when he finally has his laughter under control. "What exactly are we supposed to do, then? Set up a lookout spot outside the Dunroe manor?"

"Not good enough. See, we've no solid reason to believe it isn't one of these higher end families doing it themselves as some strange ploy for attention. You know how they've been since the dust settled after the war. Everyone is so anxious to clear their own names that there's no saying what extent they would go to. If they've got the sympathetic eyes of the Ministry on them, it could only help to cushion their reputation."

"Someone inside, then?" Harry asks, not entirely sure he's following, but enjoying the sound of Draco's voice nonetheless.

"Most likely."

"Well," he says, looking up from the sheet of parchment. "Then where do you suggest we start?"

Draco reaches into the inner pocket of his jacket, pulling out a powder blue envelope and tossing it down on top of the file. It's charmed to show glittering snowflakes slowly dancing down the front. In the centre, elegant silver script reads: Mr H. Potter

Harry furrows his brow in confusion. "What is this?"

"A very conveniently timed invitation to a Christmas party at Mrs Thorpe's manor."

Harry picks the envelope up, turning it over in his hand. "You opened my mail?" He isn't exactly sure how upset he should be over this.

"Only because I knew what it was. Seems quite a few important people at the Ministry have been invited. Though, not many Aurors. An owl was here waiting for you when I came in this morning."

"Was that before or after you weaselled the case away from Jenson, then?" Harry asks, sliding the card out and reading the information. Mrs Thorpe's Christmas party will be held on Saturday, December 22. The very day Draco suspects the next burglary will occur.

"Before. I already knew I wanted the case—that we could handle it rather quickly—but when I saw that, I knew it was the perfect window. Honestly, Harry," Draco says, and Harry can't help but flinch at the Hermione-like tone of his voice. "All the important people will be there. Even if nothing exciting ends up happening, we'll still be able to eliminate a few possible suspects."

Harry stares silently at the letter, watching distractedly as tiny balls of festive glitter burst about the page. When he fails to respond, Draco continues.

"Look, Harry, if I show up alone, there's going to be outrage. None of these snooty bastards want to see a former Death Eater in their homes—even if said Death Eater was pardoned—let alone for holiday festivities. You, on the other hand–"

"Oh, so now my 'Poster Child' face is worth something to you, is it?" Harry cuts in, feeling only slightly insulted, but determined to play it up.

Raking his fingers through his hair, Draco tilts his head back a bit, continuing to stare down his nose at Harry. It gives him the uneasy feeling of being on the wrong end of an interrogation from Auror Malfoy. Harry shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

"Fine," he replies before Malfoy even has to say anything else. "Fine, I'll go."

Draco's smile is blinding, causing Harry's heart to miss a beat and he thinks that whatever it is he's just agreed to is definitely worth it to see that.

"Fantastic," Draco says, snatching the file back. "Be ready at 6, then. I'll pick you up. Remember, Harry, you're an invited guest. You'll have to put a smile on and act happy to be there. And, since it's a Christmas party, I suppose we'll both have to be rather cheery and festive."

Harry sighs, resting his forehead in his hands. He reasons that, if he can help his partner solve this one case, perhaps he really wouldfeel better about his job. Maybe he wouldn't feel like such an utter failure. Most importantly, though, perhaps he'll finally find the courage to tell Malfoy how he feels about him.

.

.

.

It's snowing when Harry leaves the office, large flecks drifting gently on the breeze in the dim light of the streetlamps. He ducks down into his scarf, refusing, despite the cold, to Apparate home. A nice long walk will help to clear his mind a bit, he's certain. Harry knows that something drastic needs to be done in his life, and soon. He needs to find the happiness that he was so certain was there, just out of reach, so many years ago.

An Auror, he thinks, rolling his eyes. It had seemed like a good goal while he was still in school. What does a sixteen year old boy know of what he wants out of life, though? Sure, Harry was forced to grow up a lot faster than most people, but his life had always been a bit…off. From the very beginning he was destined to be different, never knowing exactly what "normal" felt like.

And who would have known that the life he had planned for himself and Ginny would be the exact opposite of what he actually wanted? He's grateful that she's still a good friend, and even more grateful that she was so understanding when he finally told her that he wasn't really interested in her like that anymore.

Harry's mind wanders off on a tangent until he's finally drawn out of his musings by the sight of a brightly painted blue door. He isn't even entirely sure how he ended up here, but sometimes his body seems to know where he needs to go before his mind actually has the time to catch up.

"You look like hell, mate," Ron says by way of greeting. He steps aside, inviting Harry into the house. "'Mione's in the sitting room. If you want to head in there, I'll go grab us some drinks."

"Thanks," Harry responds, slowly shuffling down the hall.

He had hoped that he felt more miserable than he actually looked, but he's never really been good at hiding things from his friends. Straightening his shoulders, he steps into the sitting room and greets Hermione. She smiles up at him before turning her attention back to the stacks of paperwork spread out on the floor around her.

Harry knows better than to interrupt her while she's working, and from the open book of Magical Medics in her lap, he knows that's exactly what she's doing. Hermione loves her job. She loves putting her skills to use every day, researching unknown maladies and coming up with new combinations of magic to cure illnesses. She's good at her job, and Harry often wonders if there's anything he'd actually be good at if he weren't so miserable all the time.

"Here you go, Harry," Ron says, passing Harry a beer and flopping down unceremoniously onto the couch beside him. "Looks like you need that."

"You've no idea," replies Harry, before taking a healthy gulp.

"Rough day?"

Rough life, Harry thinks. Full of bullshit self-sacrifice and doing everything that's expected of him. He wonders when it is that he'll find his breaking point. "Something like that."

"I guess life at the Ministry isn't all we thought it was cracked up to be, eh?"

"Definitely not. For me, at least," Harry says. "Some people enjoy their jobs." His mind wanders back to the conversation with Malfoy, the way his eyes seemed to sparkle as he smiled at Harry when he had finally agreed to go to Mrs Thorpe's stupid Christmas party. If ever there was a good time to tell his friend about the fact that he's miserable in his job and pining over his partner, Harry thinks that now might be it. Hermione knows how Harry feels about Malfoy. Not because he told her, but because very little slips by her. He hasn't ever felt it necessary to shove the fact that he's gay under Ron's nose, though. But he's certain his friend knows, even without the aided ease of admission on his part.

"What's bothering you?" Ron asks, and Harry can't help the tiny smile that tugs at the corners of his lips. His friend's concern for him is endearing, and Harry is very thankful to have such amazing people in his life.

He takes a breath to steel himself. Honesty is always the best policy, after all. "I hate my job," he begins, "and, what makes it worse is that, I'm pretty sure I'm in love with Malfoy." The last part is spoken so quickly that, even to Harry, it seem to blend together into one long word.

Hermione looks up, wide-eyed and mouth agape. Ron sputters into his beer.

"You're what?"he asks, disbelief and utter confusion lacing his tone.

Harry nods, casting a small, steady smile at Hermione before turning back to Ron. "Yeah. I'm sure you noticed I don't date girls, right?"

Ron's mouth opens and shuts several times as if the words are lodged in his throat, too deep to retrieve.

"Close your mouth, Ronald. You look ridiculous," says Hermione before re-submerging herself into her work as if nothing at all is different. And Harry supposes that, really, nothing is. All he's done is put words to a suspicion that he knows his friends have all shared, at least among themselves.

Nevertheless, Harry is flooded with guilt. Ron has been his best mate since they were eleven. To have kept such a profound secret from him for so long feels more than just wrong. It feels like betrayal. He wishes Ron would say something—anything. After another long moment of silence, Harry decides he'll have to find his own voice to continue, rather than waiting for Ron to speak.

"I hope you aren't too disappointed," Harry says quietly.

Another long moment passes before Ron finally responds. "You… that's… you can't be serious."

A biting pain stabs through Harry's heart at the realisation that his friend will not be as accepting as he had secretly hoped. "I'm afraid I am," Harry replies.

"But… you workwith him. He's your partner."

Hermione huffs, but Harry simply nods.

"I think you're missing the main point, Ron," Hermione says unhelpfully.

"No, really. That'll completely ruin your career."

Harry isn't exactly sure what to say next. He'd expected that Ron would be shocked by the fact that Harry is gay, but he didn't really consider that his friend might be concerned about his work life at all.

"I…"

"Out of curiosity, does this mean you're gay because Malfoy is, or is that just a convenient coincidence?"

"Coincidence. I promise." Harry responds, knowing that Ron doesn't really want a drawn out explanation of how he realised he much preferred cock while he was with Ginny, of all people.

"Come on, Harry. I don't care if it's Malfoy or any other bloke. Or a girl,for that matter. You can't just go dipping your quill in the company inkpot, mate."

Harry's dumfounded expression turns to a glare. "First of all, my quill hasn't been dipped in anything in… longer than I care to acknowledge. Secondly, are you implying that Malfoy is property of the Ministry, or that … everyone's been… dipping… things?"

"You two are terrible at metaphors," Hermione interrupts, not bothering this time to look up from the parchment she's studying. "I think I'll write with a pencil from now on. Please stop before I vomit."

"What are you going to do?" Ron asks, ignoring his wife.

Running a hand up the back of his head, Harry shrugs. "I don't really know. I was sort of hoping the two of you would have some profound, useful advice for me. I mean, it's been slowly eating at me for way too long now."

"Well, Harry," Hermione slams her book shut finally, "my professional opinion on the matter is that you need to let him know. See if he feels the same way and then deal with the logistics of it."

"Your professional opinion?" Ron scoffs.

Hermione casts him a stern warning glare, but continues to address Harry.

"You know what they say about repeating the same patterns, Harry. You'll never get new results if you don't try something different. Take a risk."

"Objection," Ron says, rather boldly. "Remember last summer when you wanted me to paint the house? I used magic, and you insisted it wasn't coming out the proper colour. Each time I tried it, the shade was different–"

"And wrong."

"You made me climb up the ridiculous Muggle death steps–"

"Ladder."

"And my arse still hurts from falling off," Ron tells her, absentmindedly shifting on the couch as if his bottom really is still sore. "Anyway, mate, point is, sometimes you do get different results from the same patterns. And other times, you change things and… well, fall on your arse."

"Thanks, Ron," Harry replies. "I'll definitely take that into consideration. Off topic: what do you two know about the Lost City of Atlantis?"


Thank you for reading. Comments are greatly appreciated. Like...I'm talking a filthy, nearly illegal amount of appreciation.

To see other fics submitted for the 2011 hd holidays exchange, go stalk the reveals list at http:/hd-holidays(dot)livejournal(dot)com/225367(dot)html#cutid1 (replace (dot)s with actual .)