Prompt Number: 33
Gift for: tangybreath
Title: Trust Exercises
Pairing(s): Harry/Draco, RW/PP.
Summary: The Auror Reorientation Programme (ARP) is a requirement for all Auror staff during the usual biennial reshuffling of departmental human resources. The stated goal of ARP is to build trust between two individuals, thus ensuring better partner pairings and promoting higher safety standards and maximized levels of efficiency. Harry has missed the last few rounds of ARP due to one thing or another, but now it looms before him, a spectre. Ron's already working with good old Ernie and is fine with it, the ungrateful git, but Harry's just learnt he's been re-partnered with… Draco Malfoy?
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): Epilogue, what epilogue? Harry, Ron and Draco are Aurors in good standing and all are in their mid-twenties. This tale is episodic chronologically and partially epistolary. Alcoholic beverages are consumed on-screen. Ex-Slytherins are heavily implied to be shagging or being shagged by ex-Gryffindors, mostly off-screen but not always.
Epilogue compliant? NO. That would be a decided 'no'. Epilogue & JKR interview canon disregarded. (Hah!)
Word Count: 19,500
Author's Notes: Many thanks to my betas, the lovely L and C and L again. Without you this would've been much less palatable. Apologies in advance to my lovely prompter, as any further errors are mine own entirely and this may not quite be the fic my poor, dear prompter desired. Apologies to the readers, as this fic was intended to be half the size it is now. And apologies to the wonderful Mods, who extended me an extension whilst I wibbled.
This is purely idiotic, this maintaining constant contact. Just so as you're aware I'm aware. Let's keep these notes short and simple, please, and try to push on through. Far as I'm concerned we've no time to spare for this rubbish. Should think we know one another well enough by now without it, right? But you know how it is.
"But Roooon!"Harry drawled the word into an irritating, penetrating, whiney assault, dragging one single syllable into many warbling nasal notes and all the way out to the vanishing point on the horizon of bloody-headed irksomeness. "Ron. Ron, Ron, Roooonnnn."
He poked his best mate in the ribs for good measure, but sharp. Sufficient for Ron to shift his arse away from Harry and offer him up a filthy look for meting out a measure of his shabby mood.
"Whaaaat, Harry?" Ron whined in return, red brows winging skywards to indicate he was really only teasing. "What d'you want of me now?"
"Rooonnnn…I."Harry halted, cutting himself off. "I just. Hmm." He didn't quite know, really, what it was he wanted. It wasn't that Harry was in a snit so much as, well, he was an irritably befuddled soul at the moment and was consequently taking it out on someone who'd be willing to deal. He didn't get it; he didn't.
"I just don't."Hands were flapped, liquid sloshed unnecessarily, spilling over in a tiny spray."Don't."
"Yeah?" Ron ducked and covered immediately, like a good little Auror. Not a drop stuck him. "Don't what? Harry?"
Harry knew he was being petulant, pissy as a spoilt little tyke in a sweets shop, denied all the pretty Frogs. And likely all the Leaky could hear him tossing his mini-tantrum, even packed to the gills with after-hours Ministry types boozing and schmoozing and completely awash with the spillover of Diagon Alley's happy Friday shopper-quaffers as it was. The ambient audial pollution registered just short of 'insane' and like a huge lot of sardines they were, or so Harry decided as he gazed about. All of them, especially the Ministry ones: a shoal of vermillion and grey uniforms, interspersed with the deep purple of the DOM legion and the light blue of Games. Then there were the shop girls in their short skirts and the random tourists in their out-of-date robes, providing variety. Harry felt a bit of freak, moaning at Ron in the midst of an ad hoc party.
It wasn't like him to be this way, but, Merlin's bollocks, he'd just been landed in a bit of a sticky wicket by his superiors, hadn't he? He rather felt he deserved a little bout of doubt and self-pity, and wasn't Ron the best at yanking him out of same?
Come Monday, it'd be Malfoy, and then what?
If he peered hard enough, green eyes dodging through the roiling masses, he could even spy one Draco Malfoy. He was suitably attired in his elegant Auror scarlet, a few tables away and over, companionably downing cold ones with his old Housemates Zabini and Nott. For some reason Harry found this sight to be both irritating and intriguing.
Malfoy, hmm. Always with the Malfoy. Harry sighed heavily into his pint. It was Friday after work and Harry wasn't as happy as he could be for a 'Friday after work', so the obvious thing was to rag away on Ron and stomp on his last nerve. Right?
"Ron. Mate." Right. Harry thumped a fist on the tabletop to ensure Ron was in fact paying enough attention to him. Though if course he'd been the one to let his attention wander…not that Ron wasn't used to him popping off mentally every now again. "I just don't see why."
"Regulations, mate." Ron was the voice of utter reason incarnate, bless him; humongously tall as compared to his friend, ginger-clashing-scarlet-robed and very stolidly planted before his beer, as he took to his Friday pints with great seriousness, always. He was also quick on the uptake; he knew immediately to what Harry referred. "Told you this before; will tell you again: regulations. Standard operating procedure."
"Sod that," Harry rejoined, sniffing. "Fucking ARP."
Ron was generally considered the less impulsive one of the two of them, four years or so into the daily business of Auroring. Harry knew it arose from Ron's cohabiting with and (by direct implication) regularly shagging one Pansy Parkinson. Who was a tarty Witch of the first order but also a brilliant strategist, as even Harry had been forced to admit. Harry absolutely refused to play her at Snap or canasta, Risk or bridge, much less Ron's preferred Wizarding chess or the bloody board game version of Quidditch that was all the rage lately. Not again, at least. Not. Ever. Again. He'd been eating conjured beans for weeks after one weekend's endless bout of double-dare strip poker, every spare sickle of his salary owed in chits to Parkinson and his pants held hostage.
Funny, but Parkinson had never given him back his pants. And funnier still, but it happened that Parkinson had something to do with the damnable ARP. Curiouser and curiouser, life was.
Harry snorted, eloquently.
"Suggest you cope," Ron advised him kindly but sternly. Harry scowled. "I have. Ern's alright enough as a partner. We manage."
"Well, thanks. Thanks a sodding bunch, Ron."
Harry pouted sourly into his pint. Ron's sexual peccadilloes with Parkinson aside, he was still Harry's spiritual port in a storm, so to speak. Just no longer his trusty work mate thanks to the nosy, interfering auspices of ARP. This fact pricked at some small part of Harry which felt green-eyed jealousy, so he lounged back in his seat and passed a jot more of his pervasively nasty feeling on over.
"Nice to know you're well over me," he observed snidely, reaching for a beer pretzel and, upon closer examination, dropping it abruptly with a moue of horror. He knew Tom wasn't much for his basic house-holding charms but still—mouldy bar snacks? "Already on to fresher fields, aren't we? Whoring your charms out to the likes of Ernie."
"Been over you." Ron cracked a faint smile and ignored the slight to his newest Auror partner. "Long, long ago. Distant galaxy, far away." He shrugged nonchalantly under Harry's suddenly keen eye. " Er, thought you knew?"
"Oh—oh, well, no. Knew?" Harry tilted his head in bemusement, flushing. "That ancient load of bollocks, Ron? Stuff that, then." He snorted, resettling his bum in his seat uneasily and shoving the pretzel bowl along down to Ron. Happened to glance Malfoy's way again in passing. "That was what? Fourth year? Fifth? A billion years ago? Whatever; didn't last long enough to even notice. At least I don't think I did." He essayed an uncertain laugh, unsure as to whether his friend was actually still feeling angry…or just recalling the feel of being angry. With him—at him. "Notice. Er, then."
"I noticed you not noticing, mate," Ron retorted with a soothing smile. "Didn't much like it, either. Was…insulting."
"Huh," Harry rolled his tense shoulders under his half-unbuttoned robes, his eyes drifting back instantly to Malfoy at the word 'insulting'. He uttered a short, sharp bark of laughter at nothing in particular, but especially not Ron. Ron might've been a—
"Silly git. Thought you'd forgotten the whole fiasco by now. Should've done."
"Hah, not likely!" Ron laughed companionably enough, his broad chest vibrating with the easy rolling rumble Harry enjoyed most of all his friend's many ways of laughing: the deep rich one his adult physique had given rise to, thankfully years beyond the gawky stage of crack-toned, huffing, high-pitch boy-giggles and gargling snorts. He smiled at the very sound of it, heart lightening. He'd miss that, come Monday.
How was it Malfoy laughed again? Come to think, had he ever heard Malfoy laughing naturally?
"Bloody pain in my fine freaking freckled arse, Harry," Ron carried on talking next to Harry in a musing sort of way, shaking his head mock-sorrowfully. "You were all that and more. Just think on it: poor innocent barely adolescent me mooning 'round something bloody awful over a sawed-off little twat like you. You, a half-mental blighter with a bloody price on his head and more than a bit stuck on my own sister. Imagine! Merlin, Harry, don't remind me of any of it, please, mate. Don't think I've ever hated you quite so much as I did back then. Not even for TriWizard—or Hermione."
"Oi! Not my fault, Ron." Harry tossed his chin amiably, diverted. They'd been down this road before now and it'd been a smidge rocky in spots but well past, all the same. Dead issues, these childish fancies, these passing crushes, only of use now for pulling a bloke's pigtails, for fun. Harry felt he could stand a little fun; he was in a rare chomper of a mood, wasn't he? "It wasn't me who did it to you," he insisted when Ron slewed his red head about and made a funny face at him, beetling his brows threateningly. "It was you. Had not a clue, did I? Very clueless I was, back then."
"You're damn right you were," Ron nodded peaceably, his eyebrows happy again. Then fondly quirked, soon after. "'Clueless' just about describes it. More like thick. Little berk."
Harry mulled over the word, decided it had suited him, once. Maybe still, if the ARP thing was such a hurdle.
"Right, okay, thick, if you want. Well…here's to, anyway. Bygones, yeah?" He raised his pint up high. "And, uh, er, Ron, I still say cheers to a certain beneficial cluelessness on my part, alright? Can't tell me as it's always a bad thing, me acting the idiot. Saved us both a deal of trouble, didn't it?"
"Acting, was it? Fuck, fine. Salut, Harry." Ron nodded, chortled cheerily and downed half his drink with a certain degree of ferociously intent vehemence. Smacked his lips a few times and methodically chomped up a questionable pretzel. Harry watched him; clearly Ron was thinking.
"Hmm," Ron blinked at the pretzel bowl and then stuck out his tongue. "Ew, right? I can't believe I just ate that."
Harry laughed, great gulping giggles rising up through his ennui and his nagging discontent, wiping them away for the moment. "Who's the idiot now, Ron?"
"Erm," Ron carried on with the topic, apparently undeterred by his exposure to botulism."It did, yes, though you're not exactly a prize idiot, Harry. More like just…well. Can't describe it, really, what you are. You're you, Harry."
"I'm...me," Harry echoed blankly. And then grinned at his glass, amused. "Very good, Ron. Yes, yes, I am."
His friend's blue eyes flickered round the room for a moment before returning to settle on Harry's fading grin. "Yeah, well, for all your faults and fancies, you're you."He shook his fiery head briefly and his handsome features smoothed into their usual mild-mannered mien. "And that's alright with me, I think. Generally."
"Gosh, gee, thanks, Ron."
"Sod off," his friend snorted cheerily. "Erm, ah. You know what, though? Harry?"
"Was a good thing, really—what happened? Or what didn't ever happen, more like. Purged it out of my system for ever more, I'd say, thank bleeding Merlin. And all the good little fairies." He sipped, nursing it for a second, swallowing slowly. Harry stared at him, blinking and waiting. Ron raised his chin at a challenging angle, winking slyly as he did. "Just think. I would've never moved on to our dear Hermione if it hadn't been for you being such a total dickwad. And if I'd not shagged our Hermione and gotten all that 'shag-your-best-friends' nonsense over with, then I'd not have fallen in with Pansy when Hermione up and dumped me. And it's all due to you, mate. Sodding catalyst, you are."
"Yep." Harry grinned, relieved, his foul mood completely forgotten for the moment. "Good that way, aren't I? Useful."
"Very. My hero."
They bumped fists in cheery bonhomie. Bumped glasses next and jigged down their beers like wet-behind-the-ears pub rowdies instead of staid, sober seniors and trusted Ministry employees. Tom, being the benign and excellent Wizarding barkeep he was, had another round set up before them in a twinkling.
"Cheers to cluelessness," Ron grinned. "All 'round. Good on you, thick thing. Saved my life, I think. In a way. Even then."
"Hear, hear. What you said." A significant look from Harry to Tom had Malfoy's glass topped up as well.
Drink was steadily consumed for a bit, in a nice quiet pocket of silence. It contrasted well with the frenetic social bustle about them. That bustle seemed to particularly include Draco Malfoy, who was yukking it up at some remark his mate Zabini must've made, all brilliant white teeth and ice-blond hair tumbling over a pleasantly flushed forehead. Zabini was still as fit as ever was, of course, and the blue of Games garb well suited his dark looks.
Harry suddenly recalled he'd been irate, earlier. Over ARP, was it?
"…Yeah," he mumbled. "But, well. Roooon."
He propped his chin on one curled first meditatively. His eyes strayed to Malfoy again, but a tad balefully. He instantly switched to gazing blankly at an unsuspecting Tom when he realized he was glaring. Malfoy sent him a puzzled glance which Harry placidly ignored. He'd be dealing with Malfoy soon enough, wouldn't he? No point in dwelling on it; what had he and Ron been speaking of about just now? No—before now?
"Hmnh?" Ron grunted. "Eh, Harry?" Funnily, he didn't seem to know either. Harry scowled at him. "Well, what?"
Harry cast his thoughts like a gossamer net, hoping to recapture some sense of where he'd been going, conversationally.
"Huh. When you think about it, really think about it, Ron, it's more good on Hermione for telling you to your face you were a total twat and should sod off and find someone else to play your little games with. Our Hermione's a good girl, wants a decent man in her life, 'specially after that debacle with Corner."
"Tell me about it," Ron sighed. "Bloody Corner. Should've gutted him when we'd the chance. What I'd do to Corner would land me Azkaban right smart, I'll tell-"
"S'not unreasonable of her," Harry continued doggedly, talking over his friend's muttering. "Imagine how miserable you'd both be now if she hadn't dumped you? Worse than Corner, even."
"Oh god yes!" Ron's blue eyes opened wide, before he rolled them meaningfully in the direction of the unseen heavens. His happy face returned swiftly, like the swallows to Capistrano. "Like I said before, Harry—all the little fairies, yeah? It's a blooming miracle is what. How that all worked out. Someone's been looking after yours truly, I swear, all this time. And maybe you as well."
"Well, yeah. We'd not have suited at all, you and me," Ron shrugged philosophically. "Or me and her. Hell, you and her. And m'sister. Better off friends is all I'm saying here."
"Drink to that," Harry agreed, momentarily diverted. They did, promptly. "Very true," he continued, wiping his wet mouth with his sleeve in a decided gesture. "Friends are friends and lovers, lovers. And can be no other reason Parkinson's not outright murdered you in your sleep yet, Ron, than the last bit. She must care something fierce for you, poor muddled bint."
"'Zactly so," Ron hummed sweetly. "And thank my bleeding stars and garters for muddled women. To Hermione, then! And my own sweet Pansy."
He raised his latest pint. Harry followed, choking slightly over the sweet in conjunction with the Pansy but manfully keeping his gob shut. They both poured another down in mutual admiring gratitude for the absent Hermione's good sense and the also absent Parkinson's strange affection for the second youngest Weasley child. By the bar, Tom discreetly lifted his wand, instantly replacing their empties. And Malfoy's, too, at Harry's significant little nod.
"Hum…that's brill, that. Beer is." Ron smacked his lips, licking froth away. "Putting them down tonight, aren't you?"
"Hmm." Harry hummed, eyes on Malfoy. Again, sod it. "I guess so, yeah. In the mood for it."
"But, anyhow, Harry, as I was saying," Ron twisted round to face Harry, his expression earnest. "This ARP thingummy with Malfoy you're pitching a fit over? Grin and bear it, that's my best advice. Old Ironsides wants us all 'fresh', remember? Fresh and lemon-scented, attitude-wise, ready to take on all comers. So, yeah, do your bit and belt up like the rest of us do, alright? Make some nice with the bloke, chat him up a little. Be easier, won't it? In the long run. You rubbing along with him."
"I know," Harry sighed. Sucked down the remainder of his pint and signaled Tom for two more with a crook of the finger. Plus one, of course. No point in being rude y stopping now, halfway through a great tie-on. And Malfoy looked to be enjoying himself. Not that Harry cared, really, because he didn't. Much. "I really do know, Ron. And it's not him. It's just that it's—"
"Him, being Malfoy. I know, but he's not half-bad a'tall, see? For a toffee-nosed bugger, that is. And he covered Michaelson's back on the Rudolph case like a bloody starship trooper—"
"Yeah, I heard about that."
"And then also Ernie's, these last two years," Ron went on, nodding seriously. "Fact is, Ernie's got only all good things to say about him. Beats my bloody ear off sometimes, the chatterbox; all starry-eyed gaga and whatnot. One man Malfoy fan club walking, Ern is. But, yeah. Give him a bit of break, Harry. He's…well, from all I hear, he deserves it. He's a damned fine Auror."
"No, Ron," Harry shook his head. "It's not even that. Malfoy's fine; I've no problem with Malfoy, not now—not even a little bit, yeah? That's—well, that's totally ancient history, yeah? Eons ago, in fact—a billion bloody centuries gone and let's keep it that way, shall we, right? Right?"
"Yeah, okay. Right."
"It's…It's only…" Harry huffed. "We've not much in common, you know? Never had, really. He's like…he's him and I'm—well, I'm me, Ron. Like you said, I'm me. Can't even think what to say to him, not a bit. It's as though—it's." He waved a hand at the madding crowd, chatting each other up, doing their social best to be fascinating people for one another. "Whatever are we supposed to talk about during those long stakeouts—peacock breeding? Genealogy? I don't think."
"Nawww," Ron stretched his arms out to their widest extent, rolling his head on his neck to crack out a few kinks. "Rubbishing, genealogy is. Goes on forever, just ask my Mum. And for fuck's sake, Harry! Don't even want to think about peacocks. Bloody birds. Painful." He sighed, took up his latest lager in a business-like fashion and matched Harry's current sipping level in one long swallow."No, no. Not how you go about it, Harry; not a bit of it. Talk to Malfoy 'bout Seeking or something. Quidditch, mate. Everyone can speak Quidditch; everyone does, mostly. Certainly the Blond One. He's great guns for it, old Ern says. Rabid, worse even than Pansy."
"Great."Harry huffed unhappily. "Fucking fantastic." He peered through his mostly empty pint glass at the tavern scene beyond, sighting metaphorically down the long path to a likely very dull future, at least at work. The slightly distorted amber-hued view of Malfoy calmly demolishing his gift drink was not reassuring. Seeking, again? "Booor-ing, Ron. Dull."
"What?" Ron prompted, bright-eyed and sitting up to attention. "Problem?"
"Yes, problem," Harry snorted his burgeoning annoyance. He'd found a whole new subject to be irritable over, which suited him just fine. A man was allowed to be not all sweetness and light sometimes. "Quidditch, is it? Rather think I've had enough of Quidditch from you, best pal o' mine. And your pretty sister. And your sexy Slytherin squeeze."
"Oi! My ears, Harry—my poor ears! Blasphemy!" Ron cast away his glass to clutch his head, shaking it, grimacing madly. "Enough of Quidditch, Harry? Never! And she's not my 'squeeze', mate, she's my 'lover'. Just ask her, she'll tell you."
"Lover? Ugh!"Harry grimaced just as horribly right back.
"What?" Ron demanded, waggling his eyebrows. " S'more elegant, she says. Kind of agree with her, yeah? It's a nice word, really, 'lover'. Better than 'fuck-toy'."
"Oh, shut your gob, Ron," Harry grumped, looking anywhere but at his friend and definitely not at Malfoy. "It's not that, either, alright? Like I care who it is you're shagging, eh? I'm just…look here, I happen to be a mite sick of the Quidditch, alright? It's dreadful when you never play anymore, is all. That's it. Can't even stand to listen to it on the wireless these days; have better things to waste my time over. Rather read a book, man."
"Poor lad," Ron pulled a face at him. "Sick of Quidditch, you say? Completely deranged and so very young ." He patted Harry's hand solicitously. "Too sodding famous to be made into the social pariah he should be, but yet…somehow scarred for life. An undesirable in our midst. Well, well. Whatever shall we do with you, Harry?"
"Very funny, dickface," Harry growled. "Shut it."
Ron sniggered."Oh—hey? Does the Ministry know you're impaired? That you've gone recently mental? I'd think some counseling would be more in order than sending you back out in the field with poor Malfoy. Pity the man, I do. He's in for it."
"Freaking wanker," Harry riposted. "I am not mental, twat, I am buggered. Shut your flapping trap about my failing mental faculties and help me, alright? I have to say something to him, come Monday. We'll have to talk, Ron, we're to be partners and there's more to life than casework and stakeouts. What on earth about?"
He reached out a disgruntled hand and pinched Ron's earlobe, hard.
"Ow! Oi, Harry! That stung, mate!"
Harry glared."So? Take this seriously, Ron. I am."