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The Paradox of Active Surrender

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Harry stifles a yawn as he walks down the street. His boots press into the thin layer of snow that had settled over the pavement during the night, and Harry pulls his cloak more snugly around his neck.

“It’s too bloody early,” Harry mutters, his breath coming out in vaporous puffs.

Susan gives a noncommittal grunt from beside him, though Harry knows she’s running on as little sleep as he is. They had been out at all hours the night before running down a fugitive. The Dark wizard hadn’t gone quietly, and it had been a battle for both of them to bring him down—an exhausting but satisfying ending to months of hunting.

It was already technically morning by the time Harry had got home to sleep the night before. When the call came in that they were needed at a crime scene in Horsa’s Rest, it was before sunrise, and Harry felt as if he’d only just laid his head on his pillow.

The early morning sky over Gravesend is a hazy orange, covered in a dense layer of clouds threatening to rain and turn what little snow there is to slush. Hidden behind the overcast sky, the dawning sun provides no warmth and only faint light which has turned the snowscape a uniform and bleak grey.

“Should be up here,” Susan says and gestures to a side street.

Normally they would Floo into Horsa’s Rest, rather than take the street entrance, but none of the shops are open yet. They turn down the side street, eying the stone walls and stopping when they come upon an old relief of a hippocampus rearing out of ocean waves.

Harry shifts his gaze up and down the alley, but it’s rarely trafficked and at this time of morning it’s dead quiet. Susan taps her wand to the edge of the sculpture and casts, “Aguamenti.”

The water spills from her wand, travelling through the lines of waves in the relief until it’s all outlined in the rippling train of water. The carving comes to life, the waves rolling and crashing and the hippocampus diving below them and rearing back up out of the water. The sculpture stills and goes lifeless, and the stones beside it melt away to form a narrow passageway.

Harry follows Susan through the entrance, which closes and leaves them in near pitch black but for a faint blue light at the end of the tunnel. The passage goes on for a while, and the further they go the more the air becomes chill and damp.

Upon exiting, the tunnel opens up to reveal a wide market. Magical shops of all sort line the street on either side, divided by a wide split in the middle which opens up to show the Thames rushing beneath them.

Harry and Susan press forward into the river district, and Harry’s gaze catches on the only other person out at this hour, an older wizard further up the street from them. He seems not to notice their presence, hunched against the cold and moving briskly on his way.

“I think it’s down Havering?” Susan says, squinting at the street signs.

“Yeah,” Harry agrees, looking away from the wizard to help get their bearings. “Think it’s on the other side.”

Susan hums and leads them across one of the bridges, over the roar of the river to the other side of the thoroughfare. After a minute of walking, they find Havering Street and follow that before coming to an unnamed side street where they can see three wizards. Based on their navy coloured robes, Harry picks them out as the two responding officers from Magical Law Enforcement Patrol and a civilian.

“ ‘Bout time you lot showed up,” Officer Bryant says on their approach. Harry furrows his brow. He’s never been fond of Bryant or his partner, Peterson, standing several feet away talking to a tall wizard who has his back turned to them.

“Floos are closed this early,” Susan points out dryly. She’s never much liked them either and Harry knows she isn’t any more keen to deal with them on this frigid January morning than Harry is. “We were told there’s a body,” she says, moving straight to the point.

“Down there,” Bryant says, jerking his thumb over his shoulder, presumably, to the alley behind him. “We sent the second vic, a Charles Goodwin, to St Mungo’s. Peterson’s talking to our witness.”

Harry narrows his eyes at Bryant, then looks past him to the wizard talking to Peterson. His arms are crossed defensively, and he is almost pressed to the building next to him. Peterson is leaning into his space with a hard expression on his face and speaking in an unfriendly tone that rankles Harry.

Bryant turns and moves toward his partner. Harry and Susan follow, walking up to Peterson and the witness. His hair is an almost white blond that reminds Harry of—

“Malfoy?” Harry blurts as the wizard turns and locks eyes with him, all forward momentum halting at the sight of him.

“Potter,” Malfoy breathes, looking as surprised as Harry feels. His lips part and he stares at Harry wide-eyed for a moment, then his eyes dart to Susan and he regains his composure. “Bones.” He greets her with a tight nod, which she returns.

It’s been years since Harry last set eyes on Malfoy and he does a cursory once over, taking in the way his features have matured, just as sharp but less cartoonish now that he’s grown into them. His pale hair is a bit longer than Harry remembers, parted and waving to his left in a natural way that looks too effortless to actually be effortless.

Malfoy’s nose and cheeks are flushed pink from the cold, and his hands are tucked tightly under his arms. He’s wrapped in a cream wool scarf and thick, black winter robes that stretch over broad shoulders and flow down a lean frame.

Susan seems to be doing her own assessment of Malfoy, and when Harry shifts his gaze to her, she looks up at him. They share a meaningful glance. Years of working together has created a finely tuned understanding between them of how they think and act together.

“We’ll take it from here. Give us your report by the end of the day,” Harry dismisses the officers. Usually there would be a ‘please’ in there, but not this morning, and not for Peterson or Bryant.

Peterson clicks his tongue irritably but closes his notepad and tucks it and his quill into one of the pouches hanging from his belt.

“And we’ll take any evidence you collected,” Susan adds. Bryant doesn’t look happy about it, but he pulls a labelled vial and a wand from his robes and hands them to Harry.

“Wand belonged to the dead guy,” Bryant grunts and then they both turn to leave.

“Aurors,” Peterson mutters contemptuously, loud enough that he knows Harry and Susan will hear him. The crack of their Disapparation echoes up the empty, snow-covered street.

Harry turns his attention back to Malfoy and he notes how some of the tension has left his posture. Malfoy is eyeing Susan curiously, but his gaze snaps to Harry when he addresses him.

“Didn’t know you were back,” Harry comments, sliding his hands into his pockets to warm them.

“Should I have made an announcement in the papers?” Malfoy shoots back irritably and hugs his arms more tightly to his chest.

Harry shakes his head and answers calmly, “Just surprised to see you here.”

“Well, here I am,” Malfoy says impatiently. “The other officers already took my statement. Can I go? I’m getting rather tired of standing out in the cold, repeating myself.”

“Not yet,” Susan tells him. “We’d rather hear from you what happened. You witnessed the event?”

Malfoy’s gaze shifts to Susan and he sighs shortly through his nose. “No, I didn’t. I was walking down the street and saw movement from the alley. Charles was dragging himself—”

“Charles?” Susan asks.

“The—the victim. The one that’s alive,” Malfoy clarifies, glancing from Susan to Harry.

Harry nods and prompts him to continue. “He was dragging himself?”

“Yes, dragging himself from the alley.”

“Was he injured?” Harry asks.

“No. I don’t know, not that I could see. He’s a cripple, he’d lost his prosthetic leg in the fight,” Malfoy explains brusquely. “He saw me and called for help. When I saw the body, I called you lot and then the two oafs—excuse me, the two officers showed up. That’s all I know.”

“And you didn’t see anything else?”

“No. Exactly what I said,” Malfoy answers. “May I go now?”

Harry glances to Susan, and she gives a minute shake of her head. He purses his lips, but he knows she’s right and they can’t let Malfoy go without interviewing him more thoroughly.

“It’d be better if we could get an official statement from you now, while it’s fresh,” Harry says. Malfoy opens his mouth to argue, but Harry presses on over him. “I know you’ve been stuck out here in the cold, but if you’ll give us a moment, we can do it in the Ministry over a hot cup of tea, alright?”

Malfoy watches Harry warily for a moment, looking between him and Susan, and then answers, “Fine. But be quick about it, would you?”

“Sure thing, Malfoy,” Harry says with an amused smile.

Harry and Susan move past Malfoy toward the alley. In the alley they come across Dennis taking photos of the crime scene. Dennis looks up from his camera and grins when he sees Harry.

“Hiya, Harry,” he says.

“Hey, Dennis,” Harry says with a more reserved smile. “You done here?”

Dennis glances around the scene, then nods. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Great, send us the photos as soon as you’ve finished processing them,” he says.

Dennis hesitates, glancing between Harry and Susan, then he nods and Disapparates.

Harry looks down the alley at the male body twisted and lying face-up on the pavement, then glances down the alley and around the area while Susan moves forward to get a closer look.

The street is still eerily devoid of people, everything a hazy blue from the snow and the dim light through the overcast sky. His gaze moves down and follows the footprints in the snow, tracking a pair that come up the street and into the alley from the opposite direction they had. They look like they originate from the building on the corner of the street with a bright pink sign that reads, ‘The Siren’s Song,’ and Harry takes them as belonging to the victims.

As Malfoy said, there is one long track that looks like someone dragged themself through the snow. Three more pairs of footprints move through the crime scene, probably the officers and Dennis, though the snow is the most disturbed and hardest to read in the area around the body. The last set of footprints comes from the other side of the street in a long, running stride, which must be Malfoy.

Susan is next to the body, running her wand over it with the usual forensic spells. Harry notes the victim to be a skinny, white, brunet male who is probably in his thirties. His clothing is cheap and worn, and his features are weathered in way that gives the impression that he’s lived a rough life. From the pained expression frozen on the victim’s face and the way his appendages are curled inward, the cause of death is easy enough to guess without forensic charms.

Harry can feel Malfoy’s presence behind him, and he glances over his shoulder to find Malfoy staring at the body with a hollow expression. Harry watches his Adam’s apple bob, then his eyes flick over to Harry and his mouth tightens minutely.

“He was Cruciated,” Malfoy says quietly with a short nod toward the body. “Tortured to death.”

Susan looks up from her work and eyes Malfoy suspiciously. “Thought you said you didn’t see what happened.”

“I didn’t,” Malfoy snaps defensively. He darts another glance to Harry and furrows his brow. “It’s a very distinct looking death. Not the kind one would forget easily.”

Susan doesn’t look happy with his answer, but it’s true, and Harry is not surprised that it’s something Malfoy is familiar with.

Harry moves into the alley and Susan continues her work analyzing the corpse. There are scorch marks around a damaged area of one of the walls, and Harry inspects it a moment before drawing his wand. He points it at the damaged area and casts, “Resono Incantato.”

The mark glows a faint orange at first, which then shifts and billows outward explosively—most likely a Confringo. The glow extends out from the wall like a tail, showing the trajectory of the spell that originates from their dead victim.

The ground near him is covered in hundreds of shards of wood, and Harry crouches down to get a better look. He reaches into his robe to his evidence pouch and pulls out the vial Bryant handed him. It has several wood shards in it and is labelled, ‘Unidentified wood near dead vic.’

Harry squints at them, then puts the vial away again to test them later. He glances over to Susan, who is still analysing the corpse.

The body is glowing a sickly yellow from Susan’s Resono, the colour seeming to ooze and bubble out of it, confirming that their victim was Cruciated. A string of yellow tendrils curl out from the aura, creeping to where Harry is standing.

Harry frowns and hums, looks down at the ground to the track of their victim dragging himself out of the alley, which starts right about where the Crucio originates.

“Our other victim?” Harry says, and Susan nods at him.

“He was Imperiused,” Malfoy supplies from the entrance of the alley, frowning and crossing his arms over his chest.

Susan looks to Malfoy, then back at Harry and says, “Like the others.”

“Except not quite,” Harry says with a nod toward the body. “No bodies at any of the other robberies.”

“Maybe they’re escalating?” Susan looks thoughtfully at the body, then around at the scene. “Should have got the full story before sending Bryant and Peterson off.”

“I’d rather read it in their report than have to talk to them before my morning coffee,” Harry mutters, and Susan snorts and shakes her head, but it’s an agreeable sort of way.

He waves away the echoes of the spells with a Deletrius and moves next to the body, crouching down to rifle through the pockets of their victim’s robes. Susan watches, and when Harry comes up empty-handed, he shakes his head at her.

“Robbed then? Nothing on him, no jewelry, not even a Knut, like the others,” Susan says and Harry nods. “Bryant and Peterson didn’t have any of his personal effects?”

Harry shakes his head then gestures at the victim. “His robes are open too. He would have been buttoned up in this weather.”

“The officers might have done that, searching him.”

“Maybe,” Harry says. He turns back to look at Malfoy and asks him, “Were his clothes like this when you found him?”

Malfoy blinks and looks from Harry to the body. “I—I don’t know, maybe? I think so.”

Susan frowns and Harry hums, looking back to the body. “Well, we’ll check the photos,” he says. “What time did it start snowing? You remember?”

“Hmm, about four?” Susan answers thoughtfully, scrunching her brow. “Half past, actually. It started right after we left the office.”

“Yeah,” Harry says, nodding slowly. It sounds about right. “His robes are wet, so they were out sometime while it was snowing. After four, before dawn. Looks like they came from the strip club down the street, maybe they left around closing?”

Susan nods in agreement. “Smells like he was drinking. Let’s take a look.”

Harry and Susan stand and leave the alley, following the pair of tracks down the block to the entrance of the strip club.

“Tracks are pretty clear, mustn't have snowed for long after they left,” Susan comments.

Harry looks at the sign posted next to the door declaring their hours. “Opens at nine, closes at six in the morning.”

He tries the door, but it’s locked as expected and no lights are on inside. They’ll have to come back later to question the employees.

Back up the street, Malfoy is still standing next to the alley with his arms crossed, looking more peevish than ever. Harry looks down at Susan and meets her gaze. Susan frowns at him, and Harry raises an eyebrow. She huffs and rolls her eyes.

“I took the last one,” Harry reminds her. Neither of them like delivering bodies to the morgue, so they’ve taken to switching off who has that duty.

“Yeah, yeah,” Susan mutters. “Dealing with the coroner might be preferable to dealing with Malfoy anyway.”

Harry snorts out a laugh, and they head back toward Malfoy and the crime scene. Before getting there, Susan tells him, “Don’t start without me.”

Harry nods and she moves back into the alley, drawing her wand and conjuring a body bag that encloses the corpse in itself. She grabs the handle of the bag and Disapparates with a loud crack that echoes through the alley.

Once she’s gone, Harry puts up a ward and conjures a warning sign at the entrance of the alley to keep people out.

“Are you done?” Malfoy asks impatiently. “Or are you going for a peep show while you’re here?” He jerks his chin toward the strip club.

“Nah, I’ll come back for that later,” he jokes dryly and Malfoy rolls his eyes so hard Harry wonders that he doesn’t hurt himself doing it. A warm feeling of nostalgia curls in his chest at the sight, and Harry is briefly thrown back to eighth year and the many times he’d deliberately said something irreverent to get this reaction out of Malfoy.

Harry wonders if it shows in his expression, because the tense lines in Malfoy’s face ease as he watches him.

“Side-Along?” Harry asks and holds out his arm in offering.

Malfoy looks down at it and frowns, but then he puts a hand on Harry’s forearm and says, “Fine.”

Harry moves his hand over his thigh and summons his wand to it from his thigh holster. He imagines the Apparition point at the Ministry clearly in his mind, and then Apparates them there.

The familiar, tight, nearly-unbearable sensation of Apparition lasts barely a few seconds, with Harry feeling like he’s fused to Malfoy where they’re touching, before they appear in one of the Apparition booths in the Ministry.

The booth is slightly too small for two grown wizards to be Apparating in together, and Malfoy bumps into Harry’s shoulder and jostles him. “Sorry,” he mutters.

The door to the landing booth slides open, but Harry stops Malfoy from exiting by gripping his wrist when Malfoy tries to walk past.

“You need a visitor’s badge,” he says and gestures at the button next to the door.

Malfoy makes an irritated noise, but he pushes the button and the booth is filled with a tinny female voice.

“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and the purpose of your visit.”

“Draco Malfoy,” Malfoy says, hesitating and glancing at Harry before finishing, “Witness interview.”

“Thank you, visitor,” the monotone voice responds. “Please take the badge and attach it to your robes.”

The badge falls down into the dispenser with a metallic clank. Malfoy picks it up and fumbles with it a moment before he gets it on his robes.

Once Malfoy is situated, Harry moves out of the booth and into the Atrium. Malfoy takes a few quick strides to catch up. Floos flare to life on either side of them with witches and wizards starting to filter in to work.

As Malfoy keeps stride beside him, Harry sends a curious look his way. He watches how Malfoy’s eyes rove over the entrance floor of the Ministry, catching on the new fountain which had replaced the Magic is Might monument after the War.

The fountain has a wizard, a witch, a goblin, a house-elf, and a centaur standing in a ring back-to-back, protecting a pair of Muggles in the centre. It had been put up as a symbol of magical beings standing together equally and protecting Muggles. Harry wonders if this is the first time Malfoy has seen it—if this is the first time he has been in the Ministry since the trials.

Malfoy’s brows furrow thoughtfully as he takes it in, and then his gaze moves away and zeroes in on the security checkpoint they’re heading for at the far end of the Atrium.

“I’ll have to take your wand while you’re here,” Harry tells him. Malfoy’s eyes snap to his and his mouth pinches in a frown. “Standard protocol.”

Malfoy’s expression is calculating. “And I take it you’ll be testing it for any Unforgivables recently cast? Like a Crucio? Or an Imperio?” he asks. “Even though I was the one who reported the crime?”

“Even so,” Harry says with a nod. “You were found with a victim murdered by Dark Arts. You know we have to. It’s—”

“Standard protocol, I know,” Malfoy cuts him off.

As they approach the security checkpoint, the bored looking security officer perks up from her slouched position and greets Harry with a friendly smile. “Good morning, Auror Potter.”

Harry casts around for her name and comes up with it before his pause gets awkward. “Good morning, Samantha.”

“Escorting a visitor?” she asks, eyes cutting over to Malfoy.

Harry nods, then looks at Malfoy and jerks his chin in gesture. Malfoy steps up to the security witch, and she waves a thin golden rod over Malfoy’s front and back. When she finishes with that, she sets the Dark Detector aside.

“Wand, please,” she requests politely.

Malfoy pulls his wand from his robe and hands it to her. Harry notices the moment Samantha reads the name on Malfoy’s visitor’s badge. Her expression shifts from open to distrustful and her eyes drop to Malfoy’s arm. She’s not looking to the wand held out in his left hand, but at his covered forearm.

It all happens in the span of a breath, and then Samantha takes Malfoy’s wand and sets it on the wand measuring device, which looks like a single silver scale on top of a small wooden box. The box whirs and vibrates, then a piece of paper drops out of a thin slot at the bottom.

“Twelve and a half inches, Dwarf Beech, horned serpent horn, and it’s been active for five years?” Samantha asks cooly.

Harry turns a surprised look on Malfoy, but Malfoy ignores him. “Correct,” he answers her, holding her eye contact defiantly.

The security witch looks to Harry and he says, “I’ll be taking charge of his wand.”

She nods and hands the wand over to him, then impales the wand’s identification slip onto a brass spike on her desk.

Malfoy’s expression is the same lofty and unbothered one he wore walking down the halls of Hogwarts in their eighth year. Harry carefully tucks Malfoy’s wand away into one of his evidence pouches, then tilts his head in gesture and they head to the lift.

“You don’t use the Hawthorn wand anymore?” Harry asks curiously.

“No,” Malfoy answers curtly. Harry watches him, the obvious question written in his expression, until Malfoy gives in and explains, “I outgrew it. It doesn’t suit me anymore.”

Harry hums a curious note. As they wait for the lift, he lets his eyes run the length of Malfoy’s form and take in how he has changed from the boy Harry once knew. The ride up to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is a silent one.

Harry casually exchanges greetings with his co-workers as he walks through the department, heading to the interview rooms on the far side. Malfoy appears to be ignoring the many pairs of eyes staring at him and walks beside Harry with his nose tilted up imperiously.

“Make yourself comfortable, I’ll just grab that tea for you,” Harry says after leading him into Interview Room Three. “How do you like it?”

Malfoy looks at the cheap, uncomfortable chairs in the room disdainfully. “Do you have any Matcha?”

Harry has to pause and think, trying to imagine the hodge podge mix of teas stuffed in the pantry of the break room. “Probably not,” he eventually answers.

“Rooibos then?” Malfoy asks, and Harry nods. “No sugar, splash of milk.”

“Sure,” he says and leaves Malfoy in the interview room, shutting the door behind him. Rather than the break room, Harry heads for the Auror Department and into his and Susan’s office. He hangs up his cloak, then checks his inbox for Peterson and Bryant’s report, and he isn’t surprised to see it hasn’t come in yet. Harry glances at the few messages that are in his inbox, but there’s nothing too pressing.

Harry collapses into his desk chair and leans back as far as it’ll go. He pushes his glasses up and rubs his hands over his eyes, then down his face. Stubble scrapes under his palms, and he only then realises that he’d forgot to shave in the morning rush. Now that he thinks about it, Harry realises he didn’t shave yesterday either.

With a loud yawn, Harry stretches his arms up, then threads his fingers together and cups the back of his head in his hands. He closes his eyes and starts to relax, letting his mind wander over the case and Malfoy as he waits for Susan to get back from the morgue. Harry can’t help thinking how strange it is to see him now after all this time with no contact, and at a crime scene of all places.

It’s odd. The whole thing is odd, really. It looks like another hit in a string of robberies he and Susan have spent the last three months investigating, but it’s also different. And Malfoy’s presence isn’t just strange, it’s suspicious. Harry knows that’s what Susan is thinking, and what Peterson and Bryant thought. Still, it irks him to think about Malfoy doing the right thing by reporting a crime and then getting blamed for it because of his history.

Malfoy’s sudden return to England is not something Harry had been anticipating, especially after his mysterious disappearance during eighth year. He appears to be in good shape, but Harry can’t stop the flood of questions, chief among them being—where has Malfoy been for the last eight years, and what has he been up to?

The door to their office bangs open and Harry cracks an eye to watch Susan storm in. She rips her cloak off and throws it onto the coat rack, glaring all the while. It’s been at least thirty minutes since Susan left with the body, and Harry knows she spent the majority of that time stuck in a conversation with their overly-chatty coroner, trying to escape from him.

“That's it!” she snaps, spinning to face Harry and throwing her hands up in frustration. “I’m getting him a damn kneazle!”

“Uh-huh,” Harry says skeptically, fighting a smile. He’s lost count of how many times she’s already made this threat.

“I really am this time! It’ll be—it’ll be a late Christmas present,” she says with a determined frown.

“Isn’t he Muslim?” Harry asks, dropping his arms and sitting up in his chair.

“Right—for Eid, then,” she says impatiently.

“Think you missed that one too.”

Susan groans irritably and looks heavenward in her exasperation. “Well then it’ll be a, ‘If I have to listen to one more word about autolysis I’m going to puke’ kneazle.”

“He’s probably lonely down there,” Harry says.

“Hence the kneazle. Maybe if he has company, he wouldn’t talk everyone’s ears off all the time,” Susan says. “If he wasn’t such a nice guy, I’d just tell him to put a sock in it.”

“But those puppy dog eyes.” Harry knows only too well how easily their excitable and extroverted coroner can reel a person into a long conversation they never wanted to be a part of in the first place.

“Those puppy dog eyes,” Susan agrees with a knowing nod. She puts her hands on her hips, inhales deeply and then sighs. After a moment, she levels a look at Harry and furrows her brow. “Malfoy’s not what I expected.”

“Me neither,” Harry says with a shake of his head.

Susan pauses then says, “Coffee?”

“Coffee.” Harry gets up and follows her to the break room. Luckily, someone has already put the pot on and it doesn’t take long before Harry is finally having his first sip of morning coffee. Susan seems just as relieved to get the much needed shot of caffeine.

Once he’s downed the cup, Harry checks the kettle and finds it already filled with hot water. He digs through the tea pantry, finds a box of Rooibos, and then makes Malfoy a cup.

Susan follows Harry to Interview Room Three and once they enter, Malfoy’s head snaps up and he watches them with an annoyed expression.

“Took you long enough,” Malfoy says, accepting the tea from Harry and hesitantly sipping at it.

“Good?” Harry asks.

Malfoy frowns but says, “Fine. Can we get this over with?”

“You’ve some place to be?” Susan asks and sits down at the table across from Malfoy. She pulls out a roll of parchment and a quill.

“Don’t we all?” Malfoy asks with a raised eyebrow.

Susan leans back in her chair and doesn’t answer. Harry steps back from the table. He crosses his arms and leans against the wall, letting her lead the interview for now.

Malfoy glances between them, then huffs. “I have work to do.”

“Where do you work?” Susan asks, flattening the parchment over the table and then setting the end of her self-inking quill to it, ready to take notes.

“I have my own workshop,” Malfoy says, leaning back and crossing his arms. “Is this relevant?”

“We just want to know what happened,” Harry says placatingly.

Malfoy’s gaze slides to him and he frowns. “Then ask me about what happened.”

“Alright, then walk us through it,” Susan prompts him.

Malfoy looks back to Susan. “As I said before, I was walking down the street when I saw one of your victims, the one that’s still breathing obviously, crawling out of the alley.”

“What time was that at?” she asks.

“Twilight,” Malfoy responds initially, then pauses and thinks about it. “Half past seven, about.”

“Okay, go on.” She nods.

Malfoy reaches forward to pick up his tea and take a sip before continuing. “So, the wizard is pulling himself out of the alley, he spots me and starts shouting for help. I run over to him, and I ask him...something. I don’t know. What’s happened? Are you hurt? Things like that. He tells me he was Imperiused, his friend needs help. He doesn’t know if his friend is alive or dead. I go to check on him, and…”

Malfoy pauses and his expression becomes distant. Harry notes that his tone and his hands are steady, and this is the first outward sign of being bothered by it all.

Malfoy swallows and continues, “He was definitely dead.”

“You checked him?” Susan clarifies.

“No,” Malfoy says and shakes his head shortly. “No. It was obvious. The—his position and the stillness of him. It was clear he was already dead. I backed off, checked on Charles—the one who was still alive. He was laying in the snow, crying. I helped him up, but he said his prosthetic leg got destroyed in the fight.”

“Did he say anything else to you?” Susan asks.

“Yeah,” Malfoy says and nods, glancing between her and Harry. “He said he killed his friend. That’s when I called you lot.”

“And, to your recollection, did he say anything after that?”

“Of course, he was blubbering all sorts of things—Oh Merlin, what have I done? I didn’t mean to; I wasn’t in control; why did he fight back? He told me whoever Imperiused him wanted all their money and valuables. He said earlier that night they’d won big at gambling and had a lot of money on them.”

Susan glances to Harry and they share a brief look.

“And his friend fought him when he tried to take it?” she asks.

Malfoy shrugs. “I suppose. I don’t know. That’s what it sounded like.”

“Anything else?”

“Like what?” Malfoy shoots back at her impatiently.

“Did he say or do anything else? Did you do anything else?” she responds evenly.

“I don’t know, he kept repeating more of the same. I just sat with him until the officers arrived,” Malfoy says. He pauses, then adds, “I guess I healed a goosebump he had on his head. He said he’d fallen and the blow had knocked him out of the curse.”

Susan hums acknowledgement and scribbles notes on her parchment. When she’s finished, she looks back to Malfoy and says, “Okay, so you say you found them at dawn—”

“Before dawn, seven thirty,” Malfoy corrects her.

“Right, before dawn,” she says, marking it on the paper.

“You were across the street from them?” Harry asks, moving forward and sitting at the table next to Susan.

Malfoy watches him with a furrowed brow and answers, “Yes.”

“You didn’t hear any screaming or anything to indicate what was going on before then?” Harry asks.

Malfoy glances between Susan and Harry, then shakes his head. “No, I didn’t hear anything.”

“But you must have been nearby when it was happening,” Harry says. “Had you been in one of the shops?”

“No, I wasn’t in any of those shops.”

“Because they were all closed at that time,” Harry agrees with a nod. “Unless you had also come from the strip club?”

Malfoy’s mouth drops open, and he stares at Harry in shock. Harry quirks an eyebrow at him as if to say, ‘Well?’

“I don’t know what it is you think you’re implying, but I most certainly was not in that place or any such establishment,” Malfoy fumes, his tone and expression openly offended and all Harry reads in it is truth. “And you bloody well know I wouldn’t have been.”

“Why’s that?” Susan jumps in, shooting Harry a curious look.

“Because I’m gay, Bones. Ask your partner, he knows.”

Susan tilts her head at him in question, but Harry waves her off—he’ll explain later. “Relax Malfoy, I’m not trying to imply anything. You’re a smart man, and you know how this looks. We’re trying to understand exactly what happened.”

“I’ve told you what happened,” Malfoy snaps.

“I know, and we appreciate your cooperation helping us figure this out,” Harry says in a calm and amiable tone. “I just want to know what you were doing there.”

“I was taking a walk,” Malfoy says.

“A walk?” Susan asks, her hand stilling briefly over the parchment.

“Yes, a walk,” Malfoy repeats irritably. “I like to go for walks in the morning. Is that a crime? Are you going to arrest me for that?”

“No,” Harry says. “It’s just a strange place for a walk. Not really a good part of town. That street is only known for its nightlife.”

“Well I didn’t know that,” Malfoy says defensively, crossing his arms over his chest. “I was merely exploring the area.”

“Exploring? You’re not familiar with it?” Harry asks.

“No.”

“But you’re staying nearby?”

“Yes,” Malfoy answers tersely. “I have a property just off the river, on the outskirts of the town.”

“How long have you been there?” Harry presses.

Malfoy glances down at the parchment Susan is taking notes on before looking back at Harry and saying, “About six weeks.”

“And you moved from…?”

Malfoy gives Harry an annoyed look, sitting forward and unfolding his arms to put a hand out palm-up. “Is this really relevant?”

Susan looks up from her parchment and says, “It’s all helpful, Malfoy. If you would.”

He looks at her and sighs, running his tongue over his bottom lip. “France,” he eventually answers.

It’s the same vague answer he’d given Harry after leaving Hogwarts, and Harry is as disappointed in his answer now as he was then. “Why did you move back to England?”

Malfoy’s eyes snap back to Harry and he says, “Because I thought it was time. Because I thought maybe I could walk through the streets again without being ostracized or berated or unjustly accused of crimes I didn’t commit.” His tone becomes more heated by the second and he’s looking at Harry in pure righteous fury.

Harry holds up his hands placatingly. “We’re not accusing you of anything, Malfoy. We’re just trying to get the facts.”

“What facts?” Malfoy spits. “I’ve already told you everything I know. Several times. Now you’re just fishing.”

“We do the same with anyone associated with an Unforgivable. Especially a murder,” Harry explains. “I know you can understand why we have to get all the details possible. Your honesty now will go a long way toward clearing your name.”

“I didn’t know I needed to clear my name,” Malfoy says with a shake of his head. “But I should have known the moment I called the Ministry that you would try to pin this on me. Once a snake, always a snake, right? Well, I’m not going to Azkaban for something I didn’t do. I reported the bloody crime!”

“We know,” Harry says, keeping a calm and level tone even in the face of Malfoy’s wroth. “We’re just trying to understand what happened and you are our only witness—the only person who can help us figure this out. Please, Malfoy.”

Malfoy watches Harry for a long moment, his brow scrunched and his sharp gaze assessing. Finally, he releases a short sigh through his nose and waves a hand in assent. “Fine, just—let’s get this over with. What do you want to know?”

“Do you know either of the victims?” Susan jumps back into the line of questioning.

“No,” Malfoy answers curtly.

“You’ve never met either of them before?” Harry reiterates.

“No.” Malfoy says again more firmly.

“So, you were taking a walk this morning when you found them both,” Susan prompts him.

“Yes, I was taking a walk—”

“From which direction did you come?” Harry cuts in, and Malfoy shoots him a glare.

“From the East side,” he says, and Susan writes it down. “I was walking up the street, heading West. I saw the one crawling out of the alley, calling for help.”

“What time was this?” Susan asks.

“About seven thirty in the morning, before dawn,” Malfoy says again, his tone strained with impatience. “I ran to help. The one in alley was dead already. The cripple was distraught. I helped him up, calmed him down, healed his goosebump and called the police. That’s it.”

The room goes silent for a moment except for the scratch of Susan’s quill on the parchment, and then she stops and looks up at Malfoy. “And that was the last spell you cast?”

“Yes,” Malfoy says and nods.

Susan looks to Harry, and he reaches under his robes to get Malfoy’s wand from his evidence pouch.

“And we can test your wand and see that this is the last spell you used?” she asks after Harry holds up the wand in question.

“By all means,” Malfoy drawls and waves a hand magnanimously.

Harry draws his own wand from his thigh holster and then puts it tip-to-tip with Malfoy’s wand. “Prior Incantato,” he casts clearly and gently pulls his wand away from Malfoy’s, drawing out his last spell.

A thread of green magic is pulled from Malfoy’s wand, then it disconnects from Harry’s wand and spreads out to form a convex bowl. It shifts to a richer, bluer shade of green, almost aquamarine as it forms into the shape of a human forehead with a large bump on it. The magic drops and ripples over the goosebump, which then shrinks and dissipates completely.

“Deletrius,” Harry murmurs and sweeps away the ghost of Malfoy’s last spell.

“Satisfied?” Malfoy asks, crossing his arms and sitting back in his chair. His gaze sweeps back and forth between them.

Harry and Susan both look at each other to confirm that they’re both finished.

Susan looks back to Malfoy and says, “Would you be willing to submit your memory into evidence to assist in our investigation?”

Malfoy’s eyebrows both go up and he looks between them as if appalled by the question. “Really?” he asks. “After you’ve already interrogated me?”

“It would be helpful,” Harry says. “Unless you’ve got something to hide.”

Malfoy narrows his eyes at Harry, his lip twitching like he wants to curl it up into a sneer but he’s fighting the urge. “Fine,” he says and holds out a hand expectantly.

Harry reaches down into his evidence pouch, pulling out an empty vial and handing it to Malfoy. Malfoy takes it and holds out his hand again, and Harry gives him his wand.

Malfoy unstoppers the vial, holding it ready in his right hand with his wand in his left. He closes his eyes and then touches the tip of his wand to his temple, slowly drawing the memory out. The wispy, silver strings stretch out and then break off and flutter down, hanging off the end of Malfoy’s wand. He guides the memory gently down into the vial, then pushes the cork back into the top.

Harry takes the memory and Malfoy’s wand from him. He taps his own wand to the vial to conjure a label on it, and then he tucks them both away safely into one of his pouches.

Malfoy watches Harry, then glances to Susan and says, “Is that it then? Anything else? Maybe a bit of torture while you’re at it? Or are we going straight to the wrongful arrest?”

“You’re not under arrest, Malfoy,” Susan tells him and stands up, collecting her scroll and quill. “We’ll contact you if we need to speak to you again on this matter. Thank you for coming down and giving us your cooperation.”

“Didn’t have much of a choice, now did I?” Malfoy says waspishly.

Susan’s mouth thins, but she doesn’t say anything back. She starts to leave the room and Harry moves to follow her.

“Potter, may I have a word?” Malfoy asks, freezing Harry in place half out of his seat.

Susan looks back at him and Harry catches her gaze, then he nods at her and sits back down. “Sure, Malfoy.”

Malfoy watches Susan leave and close the door behind her, and then he turns a glare on Harry.

“You’re an arsehole, you know that?” Malfoy spits, and Harry’s brows draw up in surprise. “Witness statement, my arse. That was nothing short of an interrogation.”

Harry fights down a smile. “You were at a crime scene where Unforgivables were cast. What did you expect?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe a little human decency?” Malfoy asks sarcastically. “Maybe not being railroaded because of my history?”

“You’re not being railroaded,” Harry says and Malfoy scoffs. “You’re not. We would treat anyone with the same level of suspicion. It’s standard protocol.”

Malfoy rolls his eyes. “Really? Those questions were all standard protocol? None of them were you taking a jab at me?”

“It’s all important to the case and establishing your innocence,” Harry answers evenly.

“Of course,” Malfoy drawls, sounding the opposite of convinced. His mouth pinches and he looks down at the table as his fingers tap out a nervous rhythm on it. After a moment he glances up to Harray and says uncertainly, “I thought we’d moved beyond the petty fighting in eighth year, Potter. I thought we’d—I thought we were friends.”

Harry hesitates, reading the unusual display of insecurity in Malfoy’s skittish body language and the way his eyes dart between Harry’s.

“We were,” he agrees with a nod. “But it’s been a long time, Malfoy. If you want me to remain on this case, I have to be objective. I can’t treat you with favouritism. And I do want to remain on the case.”

Malfoy’s brow scrunches as he watches Harry and considers his words.

“Do you want someone like Peterson or Bryant investigating this? Because I don’t,” Harry says. “I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m probably the only person here that does.”

Malfoy is quiet a moment, and then the corner of his mouth tips up in a small smile. “Should you be telling me that?”

Harry shrugs and grins. “Probably not.”

Malfoy snorts and shakes his head.

“Are you innocent?” Harry asks him.

“Of course,” Malfoy huffs.

“Did you answer all our questions honestly?”

Malfoy hesitates for a split-second before he answers, “Yes.”

Harry hums, not entirely believing that. “Then you have nothing to worry about,” he says with a shrug. He pauses for a moment, then adds, “Unless you’d like to tell me now what you were really doing out there.”

Malfoy’s smile turns sharp. “I thought the interview was over.”

Harry eyes Malfoy a moment, giving him one last opportunity to explain, then he pushes away from the table and stands up. “Yeah, it is. We’ll be in touch.”

“Actually, Potter. One more thing,” Malfoy says, and Harry looks down at him. “Terrible circumstances though they may be, I’m glad I bumped into you. I was actually planning to contact you.”

“Yeah?” Harry asks, his interest peaked. He had wondered and maybe hoped that if Malfoy ever returned to England he would reach out. He’d always felt that their friendship in eighth year warranted at least a, ‘Hello, I’m not dead.’

“Yes,” Malfoy says crisply. “I would like to arrange a meeting at the Bonds and Vows Office to repay that little life debt you have on me.”

Harry furrows his brow. “Life debt?”

“Yes, naturally. You know, the Fiendfyre incident in sixth year?” Malfoy explains unnecessarily.

Harry sighs quietly through his nose. “Of course I know what you mean, Malfoy. Don’t worry about it. You don’t owe me anything.”

“No, I want to pay it back,” Malfoy says firmly. “How does Friday at six sound? Or perhaps lunchtime would work better? It won’t take long. Can you take a break at noon?”

“Er,” Harry says uncertainty. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Perfect.” Malfoy claps his hands together and stands. “I’ll meet you there at the office. You know the way? Level Seven.”

Aside from his disappointment, Harry isn’t sure if he should be spending time with the wizard who is at best a witness in his case, and at worst their number one suspect. Especially for something so unnecessary. Harry saved Malfoy’s life that day because it was the right thing to do, not because he was expecting any sort of compensation from him.

“Look, Malfoy, you don’t owe me anything for that. It wasn’t—”

“Oh, I know, Potter. And I’m sure you’d love to lord it over me the rest of our lives,” Malfoy drawls.

“I really wouldn’t,” Harry cuts in.

“Good. Then we’ll just take care of it on Friday,” Malfoy says. “Noon, sharp.”

Harry gives a short sigh and shoves his hands in his pockets. “Fine, I’ll be there.”

Malfoy gives a pleased smile, then turns and leaves the interview room. Harry follows after him, and as soon as they step out, he feels like everyone in the department is staring at them. He glances over and sees that Susan is among them, watching them from the doorway to the Auror division. Harry holds up his pointer finger, asking her to give him another minute.

Harry catches up with Malfoy at the lift. They wait in silence for a moment, and then Harry breaks it.

“Are you back for good, then?”

Malfoy looks over at him, hesitating and saying, “That’s the plan. Unless you decide to throw me in Azkaban instead.”

Harry smiles. “It’s still on the table.”

Malfoy clicks his tongue irritably and bumps his shoulder against Harry’s. Harry fights back a grin. It’s almost ridiculous how easily the familiar gesture takes him right back to eighth year, and Harry has to tamp down the urge to bump him back.

When they get past security, Harry returns Malfoy’s wand to him.

Malfoy scrutinises it for damage, then he looks at Harry and says, “Well, I’d like to say it’s been a pleasure, Potter, but it really hasn’t. I’ll see you Friday.”

“Sure, Malfoy,” Harry says with a small nod, and Malfoy turns on his heel and stalks away. Harry tracks him to the Apparition booths and watches until he disappears.

When he gets back to his office, Harry shuts the door behind him, goes to his desk and drops into his chair. His and Susan’s desks are pressed together, facing each other, and she watches him from her own desk.

Harry stretches and yawns, feeling the weight of his exhaustion come down on him as soon as he’s off his feet.

“What was that about?” Susan asks him.

Harry peeks one eye open to see her watching him. He rubs a hand over his stubble and says, “Nothin’. Just Malfoy reminding me I’m an arsehole.”

Susan snorts. “He’s not wrong.”

Harry makes a hurt noise and throws a hand over his heart. “Betrayed by my own partner.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I know better than most what an arse you can be,” she says and Harry can’t fight down the grin stretching across his face.

Susan smiles and shakes her head, and then after a moment her expression turns serious.

“Is that really all he wanted?” she asks.

Harry shrugs. “Mostly. He’s not happy about how his witness statement turned into an interrogation.”

“What did he expect?” Susan huffs.

“That’s what I said. Guess he was expecting me to be friendlier, because of our history.”

Susan furrows her brow. “Is there something going on between you two?”

“No, of course not,” Harry scoffs.

“Malfoy seemed to suggest otherwise,” she says and raises an eyebrow at him. “What did he mean about you knowing he’s gay?”

“He came out to me as gay in eighth year, and then I had my big bi realisation. We bonded over it.”

“You mean like…?” Susan makes vulgar gesture.

“No!” Harry snaps, and he laughs at the expression Susan is making. “I was dating Ginny then, anyway.”

“Really? All I remember is you breaking up with her that year,” Susan says meaningfully.

“She broke up with me,” Harry corrects her.

“Because you were shagging Malfoy?”

“No, goddamnit Sue,” Harry says and laughs. “And you call me an arse.”

She wiggles her eyebrows at him suggestively.

“We never fucked, swear to Merlin,” Harry says and crosses his heart for good measure.

Susan smirks and hums. “Did you want to?”

Harry pauses, caught off guard by the question. “I don’t know… Not really?”

“You don’t know?” she asks skeptically.

“No, I was still messed up over Ginny, and confused with my sexuality,” Harry says and shakes his head. “I was a kid. I didn’t know what I wanted.”

“And now?” Susan asks, her tone and expression more serious.

Harry levels a flat look at her. “We’ve had no contact for eight years. There’s nothing there.”

Susan regards him carefully for a long moment, and then she nods and flips her dark blonde plait over her shoulder and pushes up her glasses. “Alright. How do you feel about his interview?”

Harry hums thoughtfully and switches gears back to the case. “He read as honest to me. Mostly, anyway.”

“He was consistent with the details,” Susan says with a nod. “But taking a walk? In that neighbourhood? Before dawn?”

“Yeah, it’s a weak excuse. Still, I don’t know that it implicates him.”

“You don’t think it looks suspicious?” she asks.

“A bit, sure, but I don’t know that it’s enough to make him a suspect,” Harry says, then narrows his eyes at Susan. “You don’t agree?

She shakes her head. “I think he looks very suspicious right now. A man like him just happened to stumble across a crime scene like that?”

“A man like him?” Harry echoes incredulously.

“Yeah, a man like him. You know his history, Harry. Better than most,” she argues.

“You’re right, I do. I know what he did during the war was under duress, and I know hasn’t been involved in that since,” Harry says defensively.

“Do you? I thought you said you haven’t had contact with him in eight years?” Susan points out and leans forward to plant her elbows on her desk. “You don’t know where he’s been or what he’s been up to all this time. Now he shows up in London, at a crime scene, and won’t explain why?”

Harry sighs irritably, but he knows she’s right. “So you think he did it, then?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure as hell going to be looking at him with a critical eye,” Susan says.

Harry frowns, but gestures at her to continue. He takes off his glasses and tries to wipe them clean with his shirt as he listens.

“He may be telling the truth, but I think he’s omitting things,” she begins slowly, eyes drifting away from Harry as she thinks. “He didn’t seem shaken at all by that scene; the most emotion he showed when he thought he was being mistreated. Regardless of what he did after the war, we know he has cast Unforgivables before—that he’s capable of it.”

“That’s circumstantial,” Harry says, sliding his glasses back on. “And he could have any number of reasons for not telling us why he was in the area.”

“For a murder case? Of someone who’d been Cruciated to death?” Susan asks incredulously. “I don’t know about you, Harry, but if I was found with a body like that, I’d tell the investigators anything they wanted to know to clear my name. Especially if I had a history like him.”

“That’s the thing, though,” Harry says. “His history with the Death Eaters is precisely why he is nervous to work with us. It makes him look bad and he knows it. Did you notice his tell? He was more concerned about being arrested because we wouldn’t believe him than anything else.”

“Of course I noticed. His only concern was with getting sent to Azkaban. He’s selfish. He doesn’t give a shit about the victims or helping solve this case.”

“Yeah, it’s selfish, but he still came and spoke with us, even after being harassed by Peterson and Bryant. He didn’t have to do that. He could have clammed up, called a solicitor, refused to come here,” Harry reasons.

“Because he trusted you,” Susan points out. “I don’t think he really cares about the victims or the outcome of the case. His demeanor was strangely unaffected, he has a history of violence, and I think he’s hiding something. Pair that with the fact that this is Draco Malfoy, an ex-Death Eater, a man who had Voldemort living in his house, and yeah I think he looks really suspicious.”

“He was a kid. That was out of his control,” Harry says in a hard tone and throws his hand out in a frustrated gesture. “None of that means he’s our guy. You’re putting him in a box because of the War.”

A muscle in Susan’s jaw flexes as she sets her expression stubbornly. “It’s enough to make him a suspect. When do we not consider a suspect’s history?” Susan argues in an equally firm tone, meeting Harry’s hard gaze with her own challenging glare. “Why are you trying so hard to defend him?”

“Because I’m don’t think judging him by his actions in the War is the same as judging someone by their criminal history, and I want to make sure we don’t get focused on him for the wrong reasons,” Harry asserts. “I want to make sure we’re looking at the evidence, and not at his Dark Mark.”

Susan narrows her eyes at him. “Except you want him to be innocent because you’re friends. If evidence comes out against him, will you be able to look at it objectively? Or do you think you should recuse yourself because of your personal relationship with him?”

Harry scowls. “I already told you there is no relationship. So, no, I don’t think I should leave this case. In fact, I think it’s a good idea for me to stay on specifically to make sure this case is investigated objectively. Death Eater or not, he still has rights and I’m going to see that they don’t get trampled on because of his history,” Harry says hotly. He raises his eyebrow at her pointedly and asks, “Can you be objective while investigating a Death Eater, or do you need to recuse yourself?”

They stare each other down. Susan’s face is turning red in anger, and she’s glowering at him so thunderously that Harry thinks it’s a wonder she hasn’t set his hair on fire with a bout of wild magic.

Susan lost almost her entire family to Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and he knows how seriously she takes her duty in upholding the law and serving the people justly. He knows it’s a low blow, but Harry isn’t happy about having his motives called into question when he has always dedicated himself to protecting the innocent and seeing that justice is served, whatever form that may take.

“My only interest is to get to the truth, so our victims can see justice,” she says tersely, her fists clenched on the desk in front of her.

“And that’s exactly what I want,” Harry counters.

“Good,” Susan snaps.

“Good,” Harry echoes.

They watch each other for a moment longer as the tension slowly dies down between them.

Harry breaks eye contact first to look at his watch.

“To St Mungo’s?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Susan says and nods, and they both get up to leave.

Chapter Text

Susan gives a crisp knock on the door before she opens it and walks in. Harry follows after her and shuts the door behind them.

The sterile smell of the hospital sticks in Harry’s nose uncomfortably, reminding him how much he dislikes visiting hospitals. The room is spartan and painted a flat white, with one window on the far side letting in a small square of sunlight.

As they turn the corner into the room, the smell of rotting flesh hits Harry like a brick to the face, erasing any trace of the sterile hospital smell, and for the first time Harry wishes to have it back.

Susan’s step falters. She glances back at Harry, and they share a horrified look. Harry swallows and tries not to gag.

The room has two hospital beds in it, one which is hidden from view by a blue privacy curtain, and the other open with a man lying on it. The man looks young, with black hair and light skin. He’s watching Harry and Susan curiously.

“Aurors?” he asks them in a nasally voice, due to the large cotton swabs stuck up his nose.

Susan nods and steps closer to his bed. “I’m Auror Bones, and this is Auror Potter. Are you Charles Goodwin?”

The man’s eyes jump to Harry, looking first at his forehead and then taking him in with wide eyes. “Oh, wow,” he says, pushing himself up on his hands to sit up in the bed. “Yeah, that’s me. Guess I should have expected Aurors.”

Harry glances over to the covered patient bed, wincing at the pungent odor coming from it. He summons his wand to his hand from its holster and casts a Muffliato.

Charles is watching him with a sympathetic wince. “They told me they would move me half an hour ago,” he tells them, speaking in a low tone despite the Muffling Charm.

Harry clears his throat and tries to focus his attention on their victim. “Were you injured?” he asks.

“Yeah, it’s not bad though. When—when Rus blew up my leg, it did a bit of damage,” he says, voice catching.

Charles reaches down and touches his right leg, and though it’s under the blanket, Harry can see where the shape of it ends above his knee. He notes with interest that Charles’ right arm is a wooden prosthetic too, going all the up way up into the sleeve of his hospital gown.

“The Healers already took care of it. I’m waiting for Healer Monroe,” Charles explains. “He does prosthetics.”

“Okay. Well, if it’s alright, we’d like to speak with you about what happened this morning,” Susan says.

He frowns but nods. “Yeah, sure.”

“Can you recount the event for us?” she asks, pulling a roll of parchment and a quill from one of the pouches on her belt.

Charles looks between Susan and Harry, his brow furrowing slightly, but then he sighs and slumps back into his bed. He rubs a hand over his mouth and looks off to the corner of the room. “Yeah, er, so. Rus and I went out to pub to have a little fun—”

“Where at? And can you give us his full name, please?” Susan interrupts gently.

“Oh, yeah. His name was Russell Turner. We went to The Shipyard,” Charles says, eyes snapping back to Susan. He watches her write the information down, then he shifts his gaze and continues, “It…it was his birthday. So we went out to celebrate. Rus wanted to gamble, and they had a couple tables, Quadrille, Wizard’s Dice, and they do Murtlap racing.

“Rus did pretty good at Wizard’s Dice, decided to bet it all on the racing,” Charles says in his nasally tone with a shake of his head. “He was always kind of impulsive like that, you know? But he lucked out, won big. We were pretty drunk by that point, Rus was riding the high of his win, he wanted to go down to the strip club and ‘enjoy the spoils’.”

“What time was this at?” Harry asks.

Charles glances up at him, then his expression twists in thought. “I think four? About when the pub was closing,” he says.

“And you went straight to The Siren’s Song from there?” Harry asks.

“Yeah,” Charles answers, then glances at Harry and hesitates to see if he has more questions. Harry gestures at him to continue, and he does. “Rus went a little crazy, rented out the VIP area, bought bottles of champagne and lap dances from a bunch of the girls for both of us. He was dancing with them, throwing money, just having a good time.”

Charles goes quiet, eyes drifting to the window as he frowns and chews his lip. Harry glances at Susan, but they both wait his silence out.

“He was always like that, you know?” Charles says eventually, his voice tight, and turns back to look between Harry and Susan. “Money came and went for him all the time, he partied when he had it, shared with his friends, then the next week he’d be couch surfacing without even two Knuts to rub together.”

Harry is not surprised, based on the general appearance of him, but looking at Charles he wouldn’t think to put him in the same category. Charles looks better off, his hair is cut and neatly styled, his teeth are straight and white, and his prosthetic arm looks high-quality and well cared for. Harry would bet that it’s made out of an expensive enchanted wood.

Charles’ fingers dig into the blanket in his lap, and he’s staring down at his hands as his face is twisted in grief. Harry and Susan are quiet, giving him a moment to collect himself, and Harry watches what he can see of his expression from the way his face is angled down.

When Charles takes a deep breath and swallows, Susan asks him, “When did you leave the club?”

Charles looks up at her, the lines in his youthful face deeply set, but his eyes are clear. “At closing,” he answers. “They had to practically kick us out. Rus didn’t want to leave. He was completely bladdered.”

“So at seven, then?” she questions.

“Yeah, think it was about then,” he says with a slow nod.

“And after that?” Susan prompts him to continue.

Charles sets his jaw in a deep frown, his eyes moving from Susan to Harry appraisingly. He licks his lips, then says, “We left the club and headed to the alley, Rus wanted to get breakfast and said he knew a place not far off that would be opening soon. So we went to the alley, Rus was leading, and I just…” Charles pauses to swallow and shakes his head. “I just lost control. Someone hit me with an Imperio, and I couldn’t do anything.”

“Did you see anyone? Was there anyone else on the street or in the alley?” Harry asks, but Charles is already shaking his head. “Anyone who might have left the club at the same time?”

“No, I—I didn’t see anyone. I don’t know. It just happened so fast. I didn’t see.”

“What was it telling you to do?” Susan quickly tries to redirect him.

“It—it wanted me to rob him, to ask him for all his things,” Charles says, glancing between Harry and Susan. “Money, jewelry. All of it. Rus laughed, thought I was joking, but then he got mad when I drew my wand. And then he—well I think I yelled at him, told him to give me all his money. He drew on me and nearly hit me with a Blasting Curse. Then I—it told me to hurt him, and just…the rage I felt…”

Charles pauses, his frown deepening as he stares down at his lap. “I Cruciated him. He was…he was screaming, and writhing and… And I couldn’t stop. Not for a while. Then uhm, the Imperio, it had me stop and go through his robes, take his money pouch and his rings. He was still hurting, but he managed to cast at me again. Blew my fucking leg off. My wooden one, anyway. I stumbled back and caught myself on the wall, then I—it had me Crucio him again. And it just went on and on, and he screamed and he screamed, until he stopped.”

Charles’ eyes are glazed over with the memory, his face now strangely blank, and Harry gets the sense that he’s disassociated himself from the action of it.

After a long moment, Charles’ eyes clear and he rubs a hand over his mouth and takes a deep breath. “After that? I, uhm, I don’t know. It tried to make me walk, pull me somewhere, but with my leg gone, I slipped and hit my head. I—I might have blacked out, I’m not sure. When I came to, I was, well I was me again, and I knew I needed to get help.”

“You didn’t think to cast anything to get help?” Harry asks.

Charles shakes his head. “No, my wand wasn’t in my hand at that point, I wasn’t sure where it had got to when I fell. All I could think was to get out of the alley and try to call for help to anyone I saw. And I got lucky, I guess. When I looked up I saw that man, Draco, running toward me—”

“He was already running toward you?” Susan asks sharply, darting a glance at Harry. “You didn’t call him over before then?”

Harry frowns. He can see the wheels spinning for Susan, and he’s also wondering about the inconsistency in Malfoy’s story. It’s a small detail, but still a red flag. Did Malfoy lie again, or was it a mistake?

“Er, no. I think he’d already seen me and was running over. I tried to tell him what happened, and when he saw Rus, he called for the Patrol officers,” Charles says slowly, looking curiously from Susan to Harry.

“Did he say anything or do anything?” Susan presses.

“Um,” Charles intones and chews his lip as he thinks. “Yeah, I think he asked if I was hurt. He wanted to know what happened. He… I’d hit my head when I fell, I think he healed that.”

“Anything else that you can remember?” she questions.

“I—I don’t know, I don’t think so, it was all sort of a blur. I wasn’t really—” Charles breaks off at the sound of the door to the room opening.

They all turn and watch as a Healer enters the patient room, a pair of crutches tucked under his arm. He makes a face and nearly gags as the scent hits him. The Healer looks toward the patient bed hidden behind the privacy curtain, then swallows and turns his attention over to them. He straightens his posture and steps forward.

“Good Morning, Mr Goodwin, I’m—oh,” the Healer stops and presses a finger on and off his ear experimentally, then gives them a questioning look.

“Was there anything else?” Charles asks them.

“Yes,” Harry says quickly. “Russell. Does he have any family that need to be informed?”

Charles frowns and shakes his head. “No. No family.”

Susan and Harry share a look, then Susan tucks her parchment and quill away and says, “I think that’s good for now, but we will want to speak with you again soon, once you’re checked out of here. We’ll be in contact.”

“Okay, that’s fine,” Charles says anxiously, clearly eager to be done with the interview and out of his putrid smelling room.

With a wave of his wand, Harry takes down the Muffling Charm, and he and Susan turn and leave the room. They both suck in deep lungfuls of clean air when they’re well away from the horrid smell.

Susan is almost bent double, hands on her hips, and she looks up at Harry with a grimace. “Oh my gods.”

“It’s so bad,” Harry groans, leaning one hand against the nearest wall and pushing down the urge to puke. “That stench could kill a flock of birds.”

“That stench nearly killed me,” Susan cracks and Harry laughs.

Once they’re both settled in back at the office, Harry sends Susan a questioning look over their desks and says, “What do you think? You think it’s another hit by our Mindtaker?”

Susan rolls her eyes. “I hate that name,” she says, and Harry nods his agreement.

As soon as the Prophet got word of a serial robber who was Imperiusing victims to steal for them then erasing their memories, they had named the thief the Mindtaker, because they were robbing people of their money and their minds.

Susan shakes her head in frustration, then says, “Maybe. Some things are different, but there are some similarities. Imperiusing someone to rob for them, plus taking their victim of money and valuables. Do you think it’s him?”

“Maybe. It was early morning, before most of the shops were open, so the same timeframe. But the Mindtaker typically hits businesses, not individuals,” Harry says slowly and in a thoughtful tone.

“Mostly, but he has done it before, with two of the victims. It’s possible it’s a copycat, but I don’t know… I don’t think that’s as likely,” Susan says, squinting and running her hand down her blonde plait repeatedly as she thinks it over.

“Yeah. And Gravesend isn’t that far off from where a few of the other robberies took place, so it’s in the right area,” Harry puts in. He leans an elbow on his desk and rubs his knuckles over his prickly chin, then adds slowly, “It is strange though, that this one has a murder. None of the others were violent.”

“It’s possible he’s escalating? Or it was provoked by desperation?” Susan suggests. “Charles did say that Russell fought back, and that he felt a lot of anger through the curse.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Harry says dubiously, his fingers tapping out a rhythm on the edge of his desk.

Susan watches him for a moment, then asks, “What are you thinking?”

Harry shrugs and furrows his brow. “I don’t know. It’s just a lot of anger. And I don’t know that we’ve seen that before from the Mindtaker,” he says. “It’s such a personal way to kill someone. Tortured to death. You don’t see that very often.”

“Yeah, it would have to be someone with a lot of anger to do that,” Susan agrees. “Still, I think there’s too many similarities to not treat it as another Mindtaker.”

“I agree,” Harry says with a short nod. “Evidence?”

Susan nods, and Harry pulls the wand and vial from his evidence pouch that Bryant gave him this morning. First, he takes the wand and performs a Prior Incantato on it, and what comes out is the echo of a Blasting Curse blowing up a wooden leg, which Susan documents in her notes.

Next, Harry unstoppers the vial with wood shards in it. He circles his wand around it and draws the shards out of the vial. Harry casts several charms to analyse the material, finding that it is enchanted willow, consistent as a material commonly used for prosthetics.

That done, Harry conjures an evidence box and puts the vials and the wand in it. He has to search around the mess on his desk for a minute before he finds his quill and marks the box for date, case, and contents.

“Have the photos come in yet?” Harry asks.

“Nope, not in my inbox,” Susan says after a glance at her inbox. “You know he’ll send them to you anyway. Dennis worships you.”

Harry snorts and shakes his head. “I know, but I haven’t seen them yet. I’m going to run this over to Evidence.”

Susan makes a note of acknowledgement as Harry leaves the office, walking out of the Auror department and down the hall to Evidence. He logs the box in for their case, then stops by the break room for a cup of coffee. He makes one for Susan too, and sets it on her desk after returning.

“Thanks,” she mutters, reading over her parchment of notes on the case so far.

Harry sits at his desk and sips his coffee. Susan puts down the parchment and picks her cup up, taking a long drink from it and then setting it back down. She levels a look at Harry.

“I know,” Harry says, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “Malfoy’s version of events is slightly different than the victim’s.”

“That doesn’t give you pause?” she asks, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Of course is does. It already seems like he’s hiding why he was there. How and when he approached our vic is probably affected by that. But it’s a small detail,” he says and takes another sip of his coffee.

“Small doesn’t mean unimportant—”

“I know, Sue,” Harry cuts her off and sets his coffee down sharply. She purses her lips and narrows her eyes at him. “I’m not defending him. You’re right, it doesn’t match up. It might mean nothing, it might mean something. We don’t know, is all I’m saying.”

Susan regards him critically for a second, then she nods. “Let’s have a look at his memory.”

Harry digs the vial out of his evidence pouch as Susan stands and gets their Pensieve off its shelf. She sets it down on her desk, and Harry stands and moves next to her. He unstoppers the vial and pours the memory into the Pensieve. It swirls in silvery strands around the basin until it settles into a clear image of the scene.


Harry and Susan dip down and fall into the memory, landing on the snow-covered street, jumping right into the memory. Malfoy is already running, pushing right past them up the street to the entrance of the alley.

“Help! Please!” Charles calls down the street to him, laying in the snow chest down and propping himself up on his arms. Harry and Susan jog to catch up with Malfoy.

Harry notes how Malfoy’s wand is in hand when he drops to a knee next to the victim and says, “What’s happened? Are you hurt?”

Harry looks over Charles’ form, and it looks as both of them described, crawling through the snow with his right leg missing, the end of his trousers there torn and bloodied. Harry glances up and around. There’s no one else on the street, and the sky is a dark, pre-dawn blue.

“I—I don’t know—my friend—please help,” Charles is saying halting around tears, one of his hands gripping at Malfoy’s wrist. “Please help him, I don’t know if he’s—I think he’s—I—I was Imperiused.”

Harry shifts his focus onto Malfoy’s face, watching his expression of concern as he asks, “Where is he? Where’s your friend?”

“In the—” Charles breaks off with a choked sob and sniffles and swallows before he can speak again. “—In the alley.”

Malfoy’s head lifts and he looks to the alley, but he doesn’t have the right angle to see into it yet and it’s a hazy white inside the memory. As Malfoy stands and walks around Charles into the entrance of the alley, the scene fills in like watercolour paint spreading across a page.

The alley takes shape, and in it lies Russell. Malfoy barely takes a step in before he stops, looking down at the corpse ahead of him. Susan moves closer to examine it, while Harry shifts his gaze to Malfoy, watching the horror and disgust twist his expression and a shiver rack its way up his spine.

After a moment, Malfoy collects himself and sets his face grimly. His gaze sweeps down the alley, then he turns and looks up and down the street. Harry follows his gaze, but the alley and the street are empty.

Malfoy looks down to Charles, who is still laying in the snow, his body shaking as he cries. Malfoy moves to him, crouching beside him and putting an arm around his back.

“Come, let’s get you up out of the snow” Malfoy says, pulling at the man.

“R-Rus?” Charles asks, looking at Malfoy as he pushes up on his hands and twists his body around to a sitting position. Malfoy helps him up onto his one leg, and Charles leans some of his weight against the brick behind him.

Susan comes back to Harry, standing next to him and watching with him as Malfoy’s expression pinches and he shakes his head. “I’m sorry.”

Charles’ eyes close tightly and he hunches in on himself, his shoulders racked with more sobs. “I didn’t mean to,” he says hoarsely.

“I know, I’m sure you didn’t,” Malfoy says reassuringly and rubs a hand over his back.

“I didn’t—I was Imperiused,” Charles chokes out. “Oh Merlin. What have I done? I killed—I killed him.”

Malfoy’s eyes widen in shock, and his hand stills briefly. “I—” he starts and then breaks off, brow furrowing.

“I didn’t mean to,” Charles wails. “I didn’t mean to.”

“Of course not,” Malfoy murmurs and continues rubbing his back with his right hand. He licks his lips and swallows, glancing back at the alley. Harry watches his indecision curiously, reading the nervous way Malfoy’s eyes dart around in thought before he sets his jaw and lifts his wand.

The wand tip glows a bright red, sending an emergency signal, which Harry knows will be sent to the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol, where the emergency receiver at dispatch will print out the address in a red card, indicating a death at this location.

“I was Imperiused, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t,” Charles is still muttering in distress. “They wanted all the money we’d won, but—but Rus wouldn’t—he fought me.”

“Of course, of course,” Malfoy is murmuring lowly. “Are you hurt? It looks like you hit your head.”

“I—I don’t know, I guess.” Charles seems somewhat surprised by the shift if the conversation. “I fell, and it—the curse broke, when I hit my head on the pavement, it broke me out of the Imperius.”

“Is it painful? May I heal it?” Malfoy asks, lifting his wand. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”

“I—yeah, okay. I don’t think so,” Charles says uncertainty.

Malfoy brings his wand to the goose egg on Charles’ forehead and casts a nonverbal spell that makes it disappear within seconds.

“Did you see who—?” Malfoy begins to ask, but the crack of Apparition shatters the still winter morning and Malfoy’s head jerks in the direction of it.

Harry and Susan both look down the street to see Peterson and Bryant making their way toward Malfoy and Charles, and then the memory swims and Harry feels himself being lifted out of it.

They both come out of the Pensieve and straighten, and Harry puts a hand on the desk to keep his balance as he reorients. He takes a breath, then looks to Susan.

“Again?” she asks, and Harry nods.

They look to the memory in the Pensieve, and then dip down back into it. They watch it four times over, moving around inside and looking at every possible angle of it. It doesn’t feel tampered with, as far as Harry can tell, but they both note how the memory begins as Malfoy is already running to Charles.

“He could have called out to Malfoy before he began running, we don’t know since we can’t see,” Harry says as they discuss it afterward, still standing next to the Pensieve.

“Yeah, or he was already running to him before he came out of the alley because Malfoy was the one who Imperiused him,” Susan argues. “We don’t know because he conveniently starts the memory after he’s already running. We still don’t know what he was doing there or how his attention was drawn to Charles.”

“I know. I’m not disagreeing with that, I’m just saying that we don’t know.”

“And it’s suspicious,” Susan presses.

“I agree,” Harry says hotly, frowning at her. “I’m not arguing with you that it’s suspicious. It’s suspicious. I know it’s suspicious. You don’t need to point it out to me, I’ve been working this job just as long as you, and I am capable of recognising suspicious behaviour.”

“I’m just making sure you’re not making excuses for him,” Susan says and crosses her arms over her chest, meeting his stubborn gaze with her own.

“And I’m making sure you’re not condemning him based on a single suspicion,” Harry counters.

“I’m not,” she snaps.

“Good. Then we’re on the same page.”

They eye each other for a moment longer, before Susan breaks eye contact to pick up the Pensieve and put it away.

Harry uncrosses his arms, setting a hand on his desk and tapping his fingers against it.

When Susan turns back to him, Harry says, “Lunch?”

She nods, and they turn to leave the office. “LEON,” she says.

“Again?” Harry groans. “We’ve already had it twice this week.”

“I took the body, I get to pick lunch,” Susan singsongs.

“Fine,” Harry grumbles.

After lunch, Harry and Susan spend the afternoon checking on the details of the version of the events as Malfoy described them and as he showed in his memory.

Harry goes through the dispatch notes, finding Malfoy’s and seeing that it matches his description and his memory. The red card reads the time as 7:23, lists the description of the wand the call came from, which matches Malfoy’s wand, and has the address that he called from. Harry tucks it into the file he starts for the case.

Susan checks with the Department of Magical Transportation and gets the log from the Portkey Office, finding the record of Malfoy’s entrance into England at the end of November, which matches Malfoy’s story. She tells Harry and makes note of the fact that the record shows him having traveled here from the French Ministry of Magic with Pansy Parkinson. Harry makes a copy of the record and slips it into the casefile.

Not long after, Peterson and Bryant’s report appears in Harry’s inbox, and he reads through it. It matches what they know of the case, giving the same story that Malfoy and Charles had given them already. Harry is irritated to note how they list Malfoy as a suspect in the report, citing his suspicious behaviour and criminal background, but he puts the report into the file.

When the photos from Dennis arrive in Susan’s inbox, they spend some time carefully going over them, comparing them to how the scene looked to them this morning and how it looks in Malfoy’s memory. It mostly seems unchanged across the board, and as Harry had noted, Russell’s robes were undone in the front as if someone had gone through them before patrol had arrived on scene.

They both bottle their memories of the crime scene this morning, and of the interviews today, label them, and shelve them in the storage next to the Pensieve with the rest of their Mindtaker memories.

By the time they finish looking at everything and writing up the report of what they have so far, it’s past five and half the office has already gone home.

Harry shakes the cramp out of his hand from writing out the day’s report and tucks it into the casefile. He looks across their desks to Susan as she’s clearing out her inbox.

“Dinner?” he asks, causing her to look up.

She nods and says, “Then strip club?”

“Yep, and the pub,” Harry agrees and stands.

They argue on the way down to the Atrium where to eat, but they settle on finding a place in Horsa’s Rest so they can walk down to the pub and then the strip club when they’re finished.

One of the nicer pubs on the main street is open and they sit and eat and discuss the case. Neither drinks since they’re still on duty.

After eating, they hit up the pub Charles told them he and Russell had visited before going to the stripclub. They talk to the bartender and the manager, both of whom remember Russell because of his big win in the Murtlap racing.

When they get to the stripclub it’s not open yet, but it’s close enough to opening that the manager is there and lets them in. Like the rest of the businesses on this street, the place feels seedy to Harry. It reeks of stale beer and sweat, and the floor has a sticky texture that makes Harry cringe internally.

The manager strikes Harry as someone with a past criminal record with the way he looks and speaks to them—suspicious and guarded, while also respectful and polite but in a way that seems practiced, like he’s handling them.

They question him in his office about Charles and Russell, and the manager confirms that their victims had been at the club the night before, and though he doesn’t remember exactly when they came in, he remembers they had left at closing because Russell hadn’t wanted to leave, and he’d given the bouncer some trouble.

By the time they finish speaking to the manager, most of the girls have come in to get ready for their shifts and Harry and Susan split up to interview them. Several of the girls confirm partying with Charles and Russell the night before, matching Charles’ description of how the night had gone—of them ordering multiple bottles of champagne and Russell flashing a lot of money and practically throwing it at the girls. They mostly agree about the pair having come in around four or five in the morning, but none of them saw or heard anything of them after they’d left the club.

After they leave, Susan and Harry compare notes and agree that all the witnesses corroborated what Charles said happened. That done, they both head to their respective homes for the night.

It’s nearly eleven when Harry walks into Grimmauld Place. He still counts it as a win, since it’s the first time he’s been home before midnight all week.

Harry hangs his cloak and then trudges up the dimly lit stairs to the master bedroom, starting to peel off his uniform as he goes. He starts with his thigh harness, unbuckling it from his belt and hanging it over the banister on the second landing. He summons his wand from it, unwilling to sleep without it, and then pushes his suspenders off his shoulders as he keeps moving up the stairs.

By the time he gets into his room, which is shadowed and musty smelling, he’s got his shirt undone and he flings it into the pile of laundry overflowing from the hamper in the corner. He sets his wand on the bedside table, then undoes his belt and trousers, letting them drop and stepping out of them.

The springs in his bed squeak as Harry sits on the edge of the bed, peeling off his socks and tossing them aside. He takes off his glasses and sets them next to his wand, then shoves the blankets back and crawls under the covers, letting out a sigh as his head sinks into the pillow.

As Harry lies in bed trying to sleep, the days events play through his head and the image of Malfoy seems stuck behind his eyelids. He thinks about the slow friendship they had started to build in eighth year and the years of silence between then and now. He thinks about the case and the strangeness of Malfoy’s involvement. He replays his memory in his mind, looking for Malfoy’s guilt and looking for Malfoy’s innocence.

Harry’s body is exhausted from the long week, but his mind keeps him awake, reviewing the arguments he’d had with Susan over Malfoy. They’ve been partners so long and they’ve always worked together so well that it’s rare for them to fight. Susan’s strong sense of justice usually pairs well with Harry’s passion for helping people.

He doesn’t like arguing with her, and he doesn’t want someone like Malfoy to come between them. After all, what’s a few months of childhood friendship compared to eight years of partnership? It’s an easy choice, but something about seeing Malfoy getting cornered and interrogated by Peterson this morning had set off Harry’s instinct to protect.

Harry knows it’s happening, he’s been at this long enough to recognise these feelings in himself, but on the other hand he can’t shake the shadow of suspicion from his mind. Harry knows Malfoy is hiding something, and the urge to figure out what Malfoy is up to burns in him as bright as ever. Harry doesn’t know how it’s going to turn out, but he knows he needs to prepare himself for the possibility of arresting Malfoy.

Eventually, after tossing and turning in the bed and rolling thoughts of Malfoy through his mind over and over, Harry manages to fall asleep, lulled by the familiar groaning of the pipes and creaking of wood in the old house.

Harry wakes up the next morning after a surprisingly long night of sleep without getting an early call into work. He gets out of bed and is able to go through his morning routine without rushing, and it almost feels like it’s the start of his day off, except that he dresses in his Auror uniform after his shower. He takes the time to make himself a decent breakfast, piling the dishes in the sink and making a mental note to take care of the growing stack later.

“G’morning,” Susan greets him when he makes it into the office right before nine.

“Morning,” Harry returns, taking a seat at his desk and setting down the cup of coffee he’d picked up at the café in the Atrium.

“Did you sleep in?” Susan asks, and Harry turns a curious look on her. She rubs her chin pointedly.

Harry brings a hand up to feel his jaw and stubble scrapes across his palm. “Oh,” Harry says, frowning briefly. “No, I just forgot. Guess I was more concerned with having breakfast for the first time this week.”

Susan laughs and shakes her head. “Where do you want to start today?” she asks, switching gears.

“Hmm.” Harry glances from his empty inbox to the stack of case files on his desk. “I think we should keep working the case from yesterday, while it’s fresh. And if it is one of the Mindtaker’s, it’s the best lead we have.”

“Agreed,” she says with a nod. “Charles should be out of St Mungo’s now, I think we should talk to him again today, try to get more details.”

“I’ll send a letter,” Harry says. He takes out a sheaf of parchment and scribbles out a quick letter asking Charles if they can visit him today to speak further about the case, then he marks it for the owlery, sticks it in his outbox and watches it disappear. Someone in the Communications Office will owl it out in the next few minutes and send in his reply when it comes.

In the meantime, Harry opens the casefile and reviews what they know so far. He stands and marks the new robbery location on the map on their wall, while Susan writes in Charles and Russell’s names onto the victim board next to the map.

The Mindtaker is the biggest active case they’re working on currently. With the assumption that yesterday’s attack was the latest in the string of serial Imperius robberies, Harry and Susan discuss the case. They compare Russell and Charles to the previous victims, talk about location and time, and speculate on what it means if the Mindtaker has moved up to murder.

It doesn’t take long for Charles’ response to appear in Harry’s inbox, and Harry reads over it then sets the letter down.

“He says he’s free now if we want to come talk to him. He’s out of St Mungo’s, at his home.”

“Let’s go,” Susan says.

They head down to the fireplaces and ride the Floo to Charles’ house, stepping out into a cosy living room. Charles is already waiting for them on the couch with a tea service laid out on the coffee table in front of him.

“Aurors,” Charles greets them and gestures to the chairs across from him.

Harry and Susan take a seat, exchanging niceties and accepting tea when offered. Harry holds the teacup in his lap but doesn’t drink from it. Susan sets her tea down and pulls out parchment and a quill to take notes of the interview.

“Thank you for meeting with us again so soon, Charles,” Harry says, crossing one leg over the other. “We want you to know we’re working on finding who did this to you, and any more details we can get from you about the events would go a long way toward helping the case.”

“Sure, of course,” Charles says with a small nod, looking from Harry to Susan and back. “What would you like to know?”

“We can only imagine how difficult this has been for you, but if you could please go over the events again for us,” Susan says.

“Erm, sure,” Charles says, frowning slightly, but recounting once more for them what he can remember of the attack, while Susan takes notes and Harry listens and watches him curiously.

“And when you left the club, you didn’t see anyone else in the street?” Susan clarifies after he finishes.

“Yeah, no. I don’t think so,” Charles says. “Not that I remember.”

“Was anyone else in the club when you left? Any other customers?” Harry asks.

Charles chews his lip as he thinks. “No, I don’t think so. It seemed like we were the last ones there. Of course, I was pretty drunk, but I feel like the staff was getting anxious for us to jog on since everyone else had left.”

“And there wasn’t anyone in the alley?” Harry asks.

“No, I didn’t see anyone.”

“When exactly did the curse hit you?”

Charles shifts in his seat and chews his lip. “I think right then, right after we turned into the alley. It must’ve—yeah, we were a couple steps in when it happened,” he says with a nod.

Susan glances up from her writing to ask, “And what exactly was the voice telling you to do?”

“To tell Rus to give me all his money and valuables,” Charles answers.

“And when he didn’t?” Harry presses, noting Charles generally calm demeanor and tone, except for small hints of anxiousness, like the way he’s tapping his fingers on his right knee, wood clicking against the wood.

“He became angry,” Charles starts to say.

“He?” Susan cuts in.

Charles pauses and looks at her, then looks off and furrows his brow in thought. “Or she, I guess. The voice sounded male.”

Susan nods and jots it down. Harry glances at her, then looks back as Charles is sipping his tea, the cup trembling slightly in his grasp.

“He became angry,” Harry prompts.

Charles swallows and nods, setting his tea cup back down with a clatter. “It felt angry. Desperate. Wanted me to get the money no matter what. It wanted me to hurt him.”

“The voice wanted you to Crucio him?” Harry asks.

“Yeah,” Charles says, his gaze jumping back up to meet Harry’s. “It felt good. Satisfying.”

Harry holds Charles gaze for a second longer, then he glances to Susan when he hears her quill stop. They share a brief look, and Harry frowns slightly. He knows with an Imperius you impart your will on another person, but he’s never seen an Imperiused victim use a Crucio before, it’s a rare situation. Harry makes a mental note to research later to see if it’s happened before.

“And afterward?” Harry returns to questioning him. “You went through his robes? Took all his valuables?”

Charles nods. “Took everything I knew he had.”

“Were you told to bring it somewhere?” Harry asks.

Charles squints and his eyes shift around the room in thought. “I guess it must have. I don’t remember. The voice told me to leave the alley, but trying to walk without my leg was near impossible and I fell.”

“That’s when you hit your head?”

“Yeah,” Charles says.

“Then you pulled yourself out of the alley looking for help?” Harry presses. When Charles nods, Harry continues, “And after you hit your head you didn’t black out or anything? Did you lose any time? Do you have any blank spots in your memory?”

Charles hesitates and blinks, then looks away and scrunches his brow in thought. “I—I don’t know. Maybe?”

“Do you still have Russell’s things that you took?” Harry asks, and Charles looks back at him with a frown.

“I—no. I don’t think so.”

Susan looks up from her parchment and says, “Can you check for us?”

“Yeah, sure,” Charles says, glancing over at her and standing up. “My robes are upstairs, I’ll go have a look.”

Susan nods once at him, then he leaves the room and Harry can hear stairs creaking and his footfalls on the floor above them. Harry sets his undrunk tea down on the table and looks to Susan.

“Strange,” he says, and she frowns and nods.

Normally the Imperiused victims have their memories wiped of the entire incident. Harry supposes it’s possible that the perpetrator ran off after making Charles kill Russell, or maybe he ran when he saw Malfoy approach the scene. He might not have had time to collect the stolen items and wipe Charles’ memory. Sill, Harry can’t shake the feeling that there is something off about this crime.

While waiting, Harry looks around the room. The house they’re in seems fairly nice, old but well-kept. Most of the furnishings are outdated but the space is clean. The mantle above the fireplace has trophies, trinkets and photos. The bookshelves in the room are well-stocked, and there are many family photos hanging around the walls. Harry notes that they all appear to be of Charles and his parents, with no sign of a partner or children.

When Charles comes back into the room, Susan and Harry both turn curious looks on him. He shakes his head and returns to his seat. “No, I don’t have any of it,” he says.

Harry and Susan glance at each other, then Susan writes it down while she asks, “Can you describe what was stolen?”

“Um, sure,” he says. “It was a coin pouch, I’m not sure how much was left in it after the club. Maybe a couple hundred Galleons? And he wore a necklace, an amber amulet on a silver chain.”

“You don’t remember what happened to any of it?” Harry asks, and Charles shakes his head again. “What did you do with it after you took it from him initially?”

“Put it in my pocket,” Charles says and shrugs. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not here. Maybe it fell out in St Mungo’s when I was changing? Or in the alley? I don’t know.”

“Okay. What can you tell us about Russell?” Harry asks, changing course. “You said he doesn’t have any family? What about other friends? A partner? Anyone he’s close to?”

“No, no one especially close. He had some friends at his work,” Charles offers.

“Where was that?” Susan asks him.

“The recovery clinic at the South end of Diagon,” Charles says, glancing between them. “On Horizon Street, you know the one?”

“Sure,” Harry says with a nod. “What did he do? How long did he work there?”

“He’d been there two years, after getting sober. He used to be a potions addict, but he’d really pulled his life together,” Charles says, the line between his brows deepening with a frown. “He wanted to help others with their recovery. He cooked, mainly, but he helped around the place as much as possible.”

“Anyone there he was particularly close to?”

Charles shakes his head and shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think he was friendly with all the staff.”

“Okay. And what about enemies?” Harry asks. “Do you know anyone who might have wanted to hurt him?”

Charles huffs an amused laugh, looking from Harry to Susan and then back. “Of course. He wasn’t a saint. I mean, I don’t know anyone specifically, but I know he ran with some tough crowds before.”

“He never mentioned anyone specifically?” Harry asks, but Charles shakes his head.

“Not that I can remember.”

“Do you mind if I ask how you became friends with him?”

Charles frowns and looks away, then he sighs and says, “Through the clinic. I had a problem with pain potions, after—” He pointedly knocks the wooden knuckles of his prosthetic hand against his wooden knee, and Harry nods in understanding.

He looks over to Susan and when she’s finished writing she looks up to him. He’s done with his line of questioning and silently asks through unspoken understanding if there’s anything else she wants to add.

“Is there anything else you can remember of that night that might help us identify your attacker?” Susan asks. “Any detail at all?”

Charles is quiet as he thinks it over, his brow furrowing and his gaze moving around the room. After a while he shrugs and shakes his head. “Not that I can think of.”

“Okay, well if you do remember anything, please tell us,” she says and stands.

Harry stands from his chair and says, “We would also like to ask if you’d be willing to submit your memory of the event into evidence.”

“Oh,” Charles says and stands, gaze moving from Susan to Harry. “Yeah. I’ll owl it in?”

Harry hesitates, then says, “Sure, that’ll work. Thank you again for speaking with us, we appreciate how hard this must be to go through again.”

Charles gives a tight smile. “Thank you.”

“We’ll keep you apprised of any important developments in your case,” Susan tells him, and then she and Harry turn leave through the Floo.

“Either we got lucky with a scene where the Mindtaker made several mistakes, or we’re dealing with a copycat,” Susan says on the lift ride up to their office.

“Yeah, feels different,” Harry agrees. “If he didn’t take his memories, what happened to the stolen goods? And if he took them, but erased that from Charles’ memory, why didn’t he take the rest of his memory like normal?”

“Yeah, it’s weird,” Susan says and shakes her head. As the lift opens to their floor, they exit together and head into the Auror division. “I guess he could have been interrupted.”

“By Malfoy?” Harry poses, but that still doesn’t make much sense to him. “We didn’t see anyone else in his memory though.”

“What we have of it, anyway. Maybe that’s what he’s hiding, he knows who the Mindtaker is. He saw him, but doesn’t want to report it because he has a connection to them?”

“Maybe,” Harry says dubiously.

“Or Malfoy is our perpetrator, and he erased Charles’ memories of him taking the stolen goods from him. Pretended to be a good samaritan,” she speculates.

“Seems too convoluted,” Harry says with a shake of his head, opening the door to their office and stepping in.

“I don’t know,” Susan responds dubiously. “We’ve seen it before—killers insinuating themselves into the investigation.”

Harry hums and rubs his fingers up and down his stubbled chin. “Did Charles’ attitude seem strange to you?”

“What? How calm he was?” Susan asks, and Harry nods. “I guess a little. But it just happened, he’s probably still in shock or denial. He didn’t seem happy. And we all deal with grief in different ways.”

Harry makes a vaguely agreeable note. He heads to the cupboard by the Pensieve and pulls out an empty vial, then he summons his wand to his hand and pulls the memory of Charles’ second interview from his mind. He labels the vial and tucks it away with the rest of their memories, and Susan follows suit.

“I think we should talk to Malfoy again, see if he knows about the stolen items,” Susan says after bottling her memory and shutting the cupboard. “But you should write the letter.”

“Yeah, but let’s check with St Mungo’s and the alley first,” Harry says, moving to his desk and rifling through the drawers for a clean sheet of parchment. When he finds one, he jots a quick message to Malfoy and sticks it in his outbox.

Susan grabs her winter cloak from the coat rack and throws it over her shoulders. Harry follows suit, grabbing his own cloak and buttoning it up as they leave the office.

They Floo into St Mungo’s first, tracking down the Healers that dealt with Charles and seeing if they had seen the stolen goods, then they do a thorough check of the room Charles had been in, but they come up empty.

When they get to the crime scene, Susan takes down the warding over it and they scour the alley and the street near the entrance to it while trying to still keep the scene intact. By now the rain has turned what snow was there before into slush and ice, and Harry spends some time melting it away, but they don’t find so much as a single Knut.

During the search, an owl swoops overhead and drops a letter to Harry. Harry barely manages to snatch the fluttering paper out of the air before it can land in a puddle, and he glares up to the Ministry owl which is already flying away.

Harry unties and unravels the scroll, huffing out a quiet laugh as he reads.

Potter,

Your handwriting is atrocious. Next time you want to schedule an appointment with me you might consider making an effort to write more legibly.

Assuming I’ve interpreted your scrawl correctly, you wish to speak with me about the case? I don’t have time to go to the Ministry today, but you may visit me at my residence within the hour if you keep it short. The Floo is not connected, come by foot.

D.L. Malfoy

Estuary Estate, Horsa’s Rest, London

“What’d he say?” Susan asks, casting a curious look to Harry.

He glances up from the letter at her and says, “He’s criticising my handwriting.”

She snorts a laugh. “This is why I take the notes.”

Harry shakes his head, but he’s smiling. “He says he’s not coming to the Ministry, but we can talk to him at his house.”

“Hm, fine,” Susan says, glancing around the alley and sighing. “I don’t think any of what Charles stole is here.”

“Agreed,” Harry says, and they leave the crime scene and put the wards back up. “He’s put his address as Estuary Estate. Any idea where that is?”

Susan furrows her brow and squints at the letter as Harry holds it out to her. “Probably on the other side of town. I think there’s some old properties beyond the potion shop?”

Neither of them are especially familiar with the little town, and they wander over the bridge and around the market until they find a small road past the shops. It has an old sign with several properties listed, one of them being Estuary Estate. As they head down the road, they pass a few residences, and the further they go the more spread the houses are, and the more the town gives way to vegetation.

Eventually they come upon a weathered sign for Estuary Estate next to an open metal gate that is rusted and covered in brown vines. They head up the drive leading them onto the property. It’s a long, winding lane that takes them across several acres of property surrounded by trees and hedges.

When the estate comes into view, it’s an old, dark building that looks as weathered as the sign for it. Harry can tell the property had been tended once, but it looks as if it hasn’t been landscaped in an age. The grass is overgrown, the hedges are tall and untidy, and vines crawl unchecked across the house. Being the middle of winter, most of the trees and vegetation is dead and brown, with not much snow to cover it because of the recent rain. The whole of it has an eerie quality to it that has Harry suppressing a shiver.

As the drive approaches the house, it circles around and in the middle is a long, shallow pool built of stone with a short stone balustrade around it that is covered in moss and dead vines. The water is murky, and its surface is covered in leaf litter.

The lane takes them to a stone path which leads up to the front door of the estate, and Harry and Susan follow it in silence, though they exchange a loaded glance. Harry can’t help but wonder why Malfoy would choose to live here, in a decrepit property. He knows that Malfoy Manor was seized after the trials and now sits abandoned, gutted by the post-War investigations and waiting for the slow cogs of bureaucracy to decide its fate, but he also knows that the Malfoys are still wealthy and own several properties. He could have just as easily bought a new manor that doesn’t look like something straight out of Most Haunted.

As Harry and Susan approach the large double doors at the front of the manse, movement in the corner of his eye catches Harry’s attention and he turns to see Malfoy walking toward them from the side of the building. Harry bumps Susans arm to get her attention, then turns to meet Malfoy.

Malfoy is in a dark, heavy apron, and he’s pulling off gloves which appear to be made of dragonhide. His hair is mussed, and once his hand is free, he combs his fingers through it in a self-conscious gesture, smoothing it into a tidier state.

“Potter, Bones,” he greets them both upon approach.

“Malfoy,” they say in tandem and nod, and Malfoy glances between them with an amused smirk.

“You got here fast,” he comments.

“Did we catch you at a bad time?” Susan asks, nodding at his attire.

Malfoy looks to her and says, “No, but I am working.”

“What kind of work are you doing?” Harry asks curiously, trailing his gaze down Malfoy’s protective gear.

“Crafting,” Malfoy says.

Harry wonders if he could possibly be more vague, but he doesn’t press the issue. He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks around at the weathered manor. “How long have you been here?”

Malfoy levels an irritated look at him. “Six weeks. As I already told you. Is there a point to this visit, or did you just come to gawk?”

Harry turns his gaze back to Malfoy. “Just curious. Seems like a strange choice.”

Malfoy quirks an eyebrow up at him. “That’s a rather rude thing to say about my home.” Harry shrugs and smirks, and Malfoy rolls his eyes and says dryly, “I’m renovating.”

Susan clears her throat and they both look at her. “We came to speak to you about the case.”

“I assumed as much,” Malfoy snarks, and Susan narrows her eyes at him.

“The murder victim was robbed after his death. He’s missing money and a necklace. Do you know what happened to them?”

Malfoy snorts derisively. “Are you serious? First you practically accuse me of committing the murder I reported to you, and now you accuse me of stealing from a dead man?”

“Did you?” Susan asks, raising an eyebrow at him expectantly, and he glares at her.

“No. I didn’t.” He crosses his arms over his chest, looking between Susan and Harry. “Is that all?”

Susan gives Harry a look, so he says, “Would you consent to us searching your property for the missing items?”

Malfoy makes an offended noise and stares at Harry for a moment, then he glances at Susan but his gaze lands back on Harry. “No,” he says firmly.

Harry sighs quietly through his nose, watching Malfoy for a moment, but his stubborn expression doesn’t ease. “Malfoy, I promise it’ll be painless and better this way. If you can just let us take a quick look around, show us that you don’t have the stolen property, then we’ll be out of your hair.”

“No,” he repeats, setting his jaw.

Harry is about to try and appeal to him again, but the sound of footsteps draws his attention away. Susan and Harry both turn their heads to watch as Millicent Bulstrode strides up to the walkway to them, heels clicking sharply against the stone. She’s smartly dressed in a dark mauve pantsuit and matching robe that billows out behind her.

“What’s she doing here?” Susan mutters and scowls.

“I owled her,” Malfoy says with a smirk. “I thought it prudent to have my solicitor present if Aurors were going to interrogate me again.”

“Malfoy, this really isn’t necessary—” Harry begins to say.

“Oh, really? After last time?” Malfoy cuts him off. “I think it is.”

“Draco,” Millicent says on approach, “you didn’t say anything stupid, did you?”

Malfoy snorts and exchanges kisses with her on the cheek.

Millicent turns a sharp eye on Harry and Susan and says, “Potter, Bones.”

“That’s Auror, to you,” Susan snaps and glares up at her.

“Of course, Auror Bones,” Millicent drawls, meeting Susan’s eyes steadily. “Care to tell me what you want with my client?”

“They want to search the property for items stolen off the dead man,” Malfoy answers before either of them has a chance to.

Millicent raises an eyebrow and puts a hand on her hip. “Got a warrant?”

“No,” Harry answers quickly, before Susan can respond. “We were hoping for your client’s cooperation, that we could take a quick look around without having to involve the Wizengamot.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you were,” Millicent scoffs. “I’m sure you were hoping to conveniently ‘find’ these supposedly stolen goods.”

“I can’t believe you would call our morals into question, considering the clients you like to defend,” Susan says scathingly, her eyes cutting briefly to Malfoy.

“Please. We all know how easy it is for you plant evidence, and considering the history of your department? My clients are the ones most in need of protection,” she asserts.

Harry puts a hand on Susan’s arm and she cuts a sharp look at him. He shakes his head minutely, and her mouth pinches in frustration, but she doesn’t argue further.

“Anything else?” Millicent asks, a wide, innocent smile spreading across her square face.

“No,” Harry answers calmly.

“Good. Then don’t come back unless you have a warrant,” she says. “Good luck getting the Chief Warlock to sign off on one.”

Harry squeezes Susan’s arm gently. He can feel the waves of anger rolling off of her, and he doesn’t want her to explode.

“We’ll be in touch,” Harry says to Millicent, then looks to Malfoy and nods.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Potter,” Malfoy says before Harry Disapparates.

Harry and Susan land in the Ministry with a crack, and Susan marches out of the Apparition booth. Harry jogs to catch up to her rapid pace.

“I can’t believe he hired that snake to defend him,” Susan rants, clearing the Atrium in no time and punching the button for the lift with an unnecessary amount of force.

Harry takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. “I know you don’t like her, but let’s keep our cool.” Susan laughs harshly. “He has the right to a solicitor.”

“Yeah, and I’m sure you’re jumping for joy that that prat hired her,” Susan spits.

Harry narrows his eyes at her. “That’s not fair,” he says in a hard tone.

Susan clenches her jaw, not meeting Harry’s gaze for a few seconds. Harry folds his arms over his chest, and she darts a glance to him, then sighs in frustration and throws her hands up. “Okay! I know. I’m sorry,” she apologises. “She just gets on my nerves. I can’t believe she would accuse us of planting evidence. And she’s always so fucking smug.”

“I know,” Harry says, following Susan out of the lift when it opens on their floor. “I know you don’t like her, but it’s his right to have a solicitor present.”

“I know, I know,” Susan sighs, throwing open the door to their office and tearing off her cloak. She chucks it at the coat rack and then goes to her desk and drops into her chair.

Harry takes off his cloak and hangs it up more calmly, moving to his desk and perching on the side of it. He watches Susan as she scrubs her hands down her face, then glares around the room in thought.

“You should talk to him,” she says, looking up at Harry with a small frown. “Tell him that he’s only making himself look more suspicious by hiding behind a solicitor. If he’s innocent he shouldn’t have anything to hide.”

Harry hums and runs his fingers through his hair as he thinks it over, then finally shakes his head. “I don’t think it’d do any good.”

“Well then we’re at a dead end with the stolen items,” she says.

“I know,” Harry agrees.

Susan furrows her brow and looks at Harry questioningly. “What did Malfoy mean? He said he’d see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, we’re meeting at lunch at the Culture and Traditions Department.”

Susan’s mouth twists in confusion. “What? Why?”

“Nothing,” Harry says and shakes his head. “Just some nonsense about our life debt.”

“You have a life debt with Malfoy?” she asks, her eyebrows raising in surprise.

“Yeah, you know, from the War.” Harry waves a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it tomorrow.”

“I hope so, Harry. You don’t want to be tied to a man like that,” Susan says.

Harry frowns at her.

She rolls her eyes and says, “Cool your tits. I mean because he’s our only suspect in a murder case right now. Just take care of it quickly. Now let’s get lunch.”

It’s finally Harry’s turn to choose where they go for lunch, so he pushes aside her comments and takes them to a sandwich shop in Diagon.

After they finish eating, Harry and Susan head down to the recovery clinic Charles mentioned and talk to the employees there. The information they give them isn’t any more helpful than what Charles said. None of them know Russell before he got sober, so none of them know any old friends or enemies he might have had before. The most they get is that Russell could be impulsive, and he had his ups and downs, but he was always a fun guy to be around and none of his co-workers had any problems with him.

When Harry and Susan return to the office, they spend the rest of the afternoon throwing around thoughts and theories, reviewing the notes and evidence they have so far, and watching their memories of the interviews and Malfoy’s memory. Nothing new comes of it, and all they’re left with is a lot of speculation and an even more confusing case than they started with.

Chapter Text

Harry remembers to shave the next morning, having got a decent night’s rest for the second time this week, and he arrives at work with a clean face.

Harry drinks his morning coffee at his desk, reading through the case file for the umpteenth time and looking for anything he might have missed. He starts to think about researching the effects of Imperiused victims being compelled to use a Cruciatus Curse when his thoughts get interrupted by Susan flinging open the door to their office and striding in.

“So last night in bed, I was thinking,” Susan begins without preamble.

“Yeah?” Harry plays along.

“Yeah. I was thinking about the case, and thinking about Malfoy and that house, and how strange it is that he’s living there. So, this morning I decided to look it up,” Susan says, brandishing the file in her hand.

Harry raises his eyebrows and holds out his hand for the file, interest piqued. “Anything good?”

Susan hands it to him and Harry flips it open, perusing it as she says, “Apparently it’s been in the Malfoy estate for generations, but it hasn’t been used since 1749, after Romulus Malfoy, the last occupant, died mysteriously. Romulus didn’t have any direct descendants, he was more of the eccentric uncle type, so when he died, ownership of the estate went to Brutus Malfoy, his brother who was known at the time for being outspoken against Muggles and anyone who associated with them.”

Harry hums a note of mild interest, flipping through old newspaper clippings and Ministry documentation. “And?”

Susan perches on the edge of Harry’s desk and says, “And Brutus never did anything with the property, he held the title, but he didn’t live in it and none of his children did either, so it’s been abandoned since Romulus’ death. Apparently, Romulus was into the Dark Arts big time. He was the black sheep of the family, and you know if someone is the black sheep of a family like the Malfoys, then they have to be pretty extreme.”

“Yeah,” Harry snorts, skimming an article about Muggles going missing in the Gravesend area.

“It’s hard to find anything solid, because you also know with a family like that, they’re going to cover up anything incriminating and anything that could potentially tarnish their reputation. But from what I could find it sounds like he had his hands in all sorts of Dark Arts practices—ancient blood rituals, creating new spells and testing them on Muggles, crafting cursed rings and pendants and selling them to Muggle-borns, and who knows what else that got covered up. He was a craftsman and mostly worked with metals, which was also strange for a Malfoy considering that by that time most of them were politicians and entrepreneurs.”

“Okay,” Harry says, setting the file down on his desk and looking up at her. “And what’s this got to do with the case?”

“Well you agree it’s already a weird place for Malfoy to take up residence, right?” she asks, and Harry nods. “Don’t you think it’s doubly weird that he would specifically choose a place that was occupied by what was probably one of the darkest wizards in his family? Who knows what Dark spells and objects he might find in there, if it’s been closed up and untouched all these years.”

Harry frowns and looks away from her as he thinks it over. He did already feel that it was a strange choice for someone like Malfoy, considering the unkempt state of the property. Knowing about the dark history makes it an even more questionable.

“And think about what he was wearing when we saw him,” Susan points out. “Dragonhide gloves and a blacksmith’s apron? And he said he was working, but I checked with the town records and he hasn’t registered any new business since arriving here.”

“So you think he’s found some of Romulus’ old crafting plans and is making Dark objects?” Harry asks, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“Yeah, possibly. I think it’s strange that he’s living there specifically, and strange that he appears to have picked up a similar line of work as his Dark wizard ancestor, on top of the fact that he wouldn’t let us search the property.”

Harry rubs a hand up and down his jaw, then he says, “Yeah, I think together it all looks a bit suspicious. But it’s not that odd that he wouldn’t let us search his home, especially since he’s had trouble with law enforcement before, and we know he couldn’t have returned to Malfoy Manor. How many properties do the Malfoys have here?”

“Three,” Susan answers immediately. “With Malfoy Manor they had four. The three left are the one he’s in, a nice beach home in Brighton, and a mansion in Caerphilly. Those two have both been kept up and are in much better shape that Estuary Estate.”

“Hm, weird,” Harry comments. “But not illegal.”

Susan rolls her eyes. “Of course not. But the fact that he specifically chose the home of a Dark wizard? And that he’s taken up the same trade?”

“Maybe,” Harry says. “We don’t actually know what he was doing. He could have been making something for the house—he said he was renovating.”

“What are the odds that Draco Malfoy, a former Death Eater, known to have a history with Dark Arts, picked up a trade job? The kind of job Malfoys look down on, and moved into the home of a Dark wizard for completely innocent reasons?” Susan asks flatly. “And now he shows up on a murder case involving Dark Arts? Harry.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s suspicious,” Harry says, shaking his head.

It could be a few innocent coincidences, but through his years working in law enforcement Harry has learned that there’s no such thing. Malfoy has been off his radar for so long and Harry can only wonder what he’s been up to but trying to piece it together now is forming a picture that Harry’s not so sure he likes.

“If he is practicing Dark Arts, why would he draw our attention by reporting a crime?” Harry asks, thoughtfully rubbing at his lower lip. “You’d think he’d want to keep off law enforcement’s radar as much as possible.”

“Because he’s always been a smug bastard that thinks he’s above the law?” Susan suggests. “Maybe he thought he’d just report it and that’d be it. Seems like he felt that way, considering his surprise when we started treating him like a suspect.”

“Hmm, yeah, I guess. Still, we can’t arrest him for choosing an odd house to live in.”

“Of course not. It’s not hard evidence, but I think it’s indicative of his potential to practice Dark Arts.”

Harry winces, but nods slowly in agreement. “Yeah. It’s a red flag.”

“Mhm,” Susan hums, self-satisfied. “Now I want to find out what the hell he was doing in France all these years.”

“You’re running with this then? The Malfoy angle?” he asks, looking up at her.

“What else have we got?” She puts her hands out, palm up. “Are you with me on this?”

“Of course.” Harry already wanted to know what Malfoy has been doing these long years, but now he’s doubly curious.

Harry and Susan spend the rest of the morning working with the Department of International Magical Cooperation to contact the French Ministry and try to get access to their records. They spend a long time cutting through red tape until noon rolls around. Harry gets caught up in the work and doesn’t notice the time until it’s ten after twelve.

“Fuck, I was supposed to meet Malfoy ten minutes ago,” Harry tells Susan. “Let me know what you find.”

She barely has time to agree before Harry hurries out of the Department to the lift and rides it two floors down. When Harry exits the lift, he turns left into the Department of Magical Traditions and Culture, following signs in the hallway to the Office of Magical Bonds and Vows.

Harry turns into the office and finds Malfoy already there waiting for him, sat in one of the chairs in the reception room with his arms crossed over his chest. He has one leg crossed over the other, and his foot is bouncing in the air.

When Harry approaches, Malfoy’s head snaps up and he glares at him crossly. “I knew you’d be late, Potter.”

“Not sure why you’re so annoyed then,” Harry says unapologetically.

Malfoy rolls his eyes and stands. “Silly me, I was hoping you’d at least make an effort to be on time.”

“And that was your first mistake,” Harry says with a small smirk.

Malfoy tuts and waves dismissively. “Come along, Potter.”

Harry follows after him as Malfoy leads them into the office, which opens up into a large space filled with shelves upon shelves of books and scrolls, and smells of leather and parchment. Harry scans the area, noting the far wall which ends in enchanted windows, and the tops of arched doorways on the right and left walls that he can just see over the tops of the bookshelves. This office is only one relatively small section of the entire Wizarding Archive which sprawls like a maze through this level of the Ministry.

They approach an empty desk set in front of the bookshelves and Malfoy sharply rings the bell on it. A nameplate on the desk read the name Earl Lancaster.

As the seconds tick by, Harry idly drums his fingers against his thigh as they wait for someone to come along. He looks down at Malfoy’s black leather boots, shiny and pristine and suited to the marbled floor they’re tapping an irritated rhythm onto.

While they wait, Harry lets his gaze slowly meander up Malfoy’s form, taking in the thick wool robes that are a dark grey with white stitching. They’re as immaculate as Malfoy’s shoes, looking high quality and clean. Malfoy’s hands are clean, and his fingernails are neatly trimmed, and as Harry’s observing them, Malfoy crosses his arms and tucks them away.

Harry’s gaze moves up to meet Malfoy’s. His mouth is pinched and there’s a deep line set between his brows as he gives Harry an annoyed look.

When Harry doesn’t respond immediately, Malfoy snaps, “What?”

Harry shrugs and shakes his head coolly. “Nothin’.”

Malfoy’s frown deepens, and he looks away from Harry and rings the bell on the desk again, twice.

Harry tries to imagine Malfoy working at a forge, crafting Dark objects or even making anything at all. The imagine seems so contrary to the man in front of him, and he’s having a hard time reconciling the two. Malfoy looks the same as he ever did, clean-cut and well-to-do, not a scrape or hint of dirt to suggest that he’d done anything he would consider uncivilised.

Seeing him like this, as a grown man wearing the same haughty posture Lucius used to walk around with, makes it easier for Harry to imagine Malfoy using Dark Arts again. He wants to give Malfoy the benefit of the doubt, but after his conversation with Susan this morning, more doubt has crept into his mind about what he thinks he knows about Malfoy.

Malfoy shifts his weight from one foot to the other, not meeting Harry’s gaze but appearing uncomfortable under the weight of it. He reaches to ring the bell again, when movement nearby catches both their attention. An old wizard in light blue robes with white hair, a short beard, and rectangular spectacles walks out of the stacks of books toward the desk.

“Finally,” Malfoy mutters under his breath as the wizard approaches, then he speaks louder to the wizard, “Malfoy and Potter, appointment for noon.”

The wizard looks up at Malfoy, then his gaze slides to Harry and makes the familiar movement up his face to the scar on his forehead. After a second, he looks back to Malfoy and says, “It’s after noon.”

Malfoy purses his lips and Harry watches a muscle jump in his jaw. “We know. Potter—Auror Potter ran late because of his very important work, so I’m sure you’d be willing to excuse our tardiness.”

Harry clenches his jaw and bites his tongue. He hates it when people use his name to get something, even small things.

The wizard, presumably Earl, hums and frowns, looking back to Harry for a moment before sitting down at the desk and saying, “Alright. And the purpose of your visit?”

“We’re here to address the Potter-Malfoy Life Debt, forged in May of ‘98,” Malfoy says impatiently.

“Life debts,” Earl mumbles to himself as he slides a large rolodex on the desk nearer to himself and starts flipping through it. “Ninety-eight… Ninety-eight… Ah.”

The old wizard takes a card from the rolodex, then stands and walks away into the stacks without explanation. Harry can feel the waves of irritation rolling off of Malfoy, and he fights down a grin as they wait for Earl to return.

After a couple minutes of silence, he shuffles back to the desk with a large ledger under his arm. The heavy book lands with a loud slap onto the desk, and then he sits down and opens it up. He begins to flip through the pages slowly.

After long minutes, Earl stops and says, “May of 1998. You said the Potter-Malfoy Life Debt?”

“That’s correct,” Malfoy says impatiently, and Harry’s eyes drop to Malfoy’s hand as he reaches into his robes for something. “I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, as direct beneficiary of the selfless heroism of Harry James Potter in the face of great danger on the night of May the second of 1998, am here to acknowledge this bond and officially offer—”

“That’s odd,” Earl says, interrupting Malfoy’s declarations.

Malfoy’s mouth is open and he blinks a couple times, looking so offended at the interruption that Harry has to press his lips together to keep from laughing. Malfoy’s mouth snaps shut with an audible click and he tuts. “What is odd?”

The old record keeper looks up from the ledger, peering up at them above his reading glasses. “We have no record of any such bond.”

Malfoy’s mouth drops back open. “What? I—but no, there must be some mistake,” Malfoy sputters, throwing his hands out in frustration. “We have a life debt!”

“Well, if you do, we don’t have a record of it,” Earl answers calmly, sitting back in this chair and folding his hands over his lap.

Malfoy opens his mouth and sucks in a breath, like he’s about to start arguing, but then he stills and turns an incredulous look on Harry.

“Potter,” he begins slowly, “did you not report our life debt?”

Harry’s mouth twists in confusion and he looks from Malfoy to Earl and back. “What do you mean?”

“Gods!” Malfoy cries and his hands shoot up in exasperation. He turns away from Harry, shaking his head, and then turns back dramatically and plants his hands on his hips. “You didn’t register our life debt?”

Harry raises an eyebrow and slides his hands into his pockets. “Was I supposed to?” he asks.

Malfoy exhales a long, dramatic sigh. He closes his eyes and brings a hand up to rub at his temple. “Of course you were supposed to,” he admonishes and levels an unimpressed look at Harry.

“Didn’t realise it was expected,” Harry says with a shrug. “Why didn’t you register it?”

“Because it’s tradition for the Catalyst to recognise the bond!” Malfoy snaps and throws his hands out angrily.

Harry sets his jaw and meets Malfoy’s gaze steadily. He takes a breath and focuses on tamping down the anger flaring in his chest and the desire to lash out. It’s taken years for Harry to learn this level of self-control; he’s always been hot-headed and being around Malfoy makes it rise to the surface.

“Malfoy,” he begins carefully, “if I had known it was such a big deal to you, I would have done it.”

Something in his tone gives Malfoy pause, and he swallows and eyes Harry. “It’s not that it’s a big deal to me, it’s just—it’s just what you do,” Malfoy says, glancing to the old wizard as if for backup. Earl nods and Malfoy looks back to Harry. “It’s—it’s how it is. It’s what you do.”

“The Ministry has been keeping track of life debts for the last two centuries, since the Myerscough-Blythe incident of 1814,” the record keeper says sagely.

Harry looks at the old wizard and back to Malfoy, who is nodding as if this is common knowledge. He knows life debts are deep and important magic—Harry learned this when he created a bond with Peter Pettigrew and it later saved his life—but he had no idea the Ministry kept track of them, or that there was so much pomp and circumstance regarding their handling.

“Okay, I didn’t know,” Harry says. “I don’t keep track of old wizarding traditions.”

“Fine. It’s fine. We’ll register it now,” Malfoy sighs and gestures impatiently toward Earl.

The record keeper starts rifling through the drawers in his desk. After a moment he pulls out a thick roll of parchment, unrolls it enough to read a bit of it, and sets it down on the desk. He moves the ledger aside and unrolls the parchment fully, pressing it to try and keep it flat over the surface, then he picks up the quill resting in an inkpot on the desk, taps the edge of it on the rim of the inkpot to get rid of excess ink, and looks up to Harry.

“Name?” he asks.

“Harry Potter.”

“Full name, please,” Earl corrects him.

“Harry James Potter,” Harry says and clenches his fists in his pockets. He hates dealing with unnecessarily tedious customs.

“And what sort of bond are you here to register today?” the record keeper asks despite already knowing, as if he’s following a script.

Harry furrows his brow slightly and says, “Life debt.”

The scratching of the feather quill against parchment fills the spaces between questions in the otherwise silent room.

“Are you the Catalyst or the Beneficiary?” Earl asks without looking up from the scroll.

“The Catalyst,” Harry answers uncertainty, cutting a glance to Malfoy who nods sharply.

“And who is the Beneficiary?”

“Draco Lucius Malfoy,” Harry answers.

“And are both parties of the bond still living?” The old record keeper asks in a monotone voice, like he knows the answer, but he still has to check all the boxes.

Harry gives Malfoy a dryly sarcastic look, and Malfoy rolls his eyes and fights the smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

“Yep, both alive and standing right here,” Harry snarks.

Earl doesn’t flinch or even look up as Harry’s cold professionalism starts to slip. “And the bond is still active?”

“As far as I know.” Harry shrugs.

The answer finally gets Earl to look up at him, squinting at Harry over his spectacles. “Is that a yes or a no?”

“Yes,” Malfoy cuts in. “The bond is still active.”

Earl’s gaze moves to Malfoy briefly, then he looks back to his parchment and writes down the answer.

“When and where was the bond formed?” the record keeper continues.

“Second of May, 1998,” Harry answers easily—it’s a date he’d never forget. “Hogwarts.”

“And the circumstances which forged the bond?” Earl asks.

“Er.” Harry reaches a hand up to scratch his chin and glances at Malfoy as he thinks about how to answer. “I pulled Malfoy out of Fiendfyre.”

The record keeper hums and seems to accept this answer as he writes it onto the scroll. Harry shifts his weight from one foot the other as Earl keeps writing and goes quiet. He idly wonders how much longer this is going to take, and if he’ll have time to grab a sandwich from the café in the Atrium afterward.

Eventually Earl turns the scroll around toward them and pushes it across the desk. “Please check that the details of the bond are correct, and if they are, then sign at the bottom,” he says, and Harry takes up the quill and glances over the scroll. “Your bond will be processed and catalogued by end of day, after which time if the Beneficiary would like—”

“Susan calling for you, Harry,” a gruff, disembodied voice comes from his robes.

Harry reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out the compact mirror, an ancient silver thing with an intricate engraving of a raven framed in acanthus and the words Toujours Pur. He flips it open to the familiar, old face of his enchanted mirror, Giselle.

“Put her through,” Harry says with a nod, and the silvery feminine face melts away to reveal a picture of Susan, looking up at her from a low angle, and Harry can tell that she’s moving by the way the reflection of her is shifting about. “Sue?”

“Harry, get back here,” she says urgently. “Mulciber’s been located, the whole department is mobilising.”

Harry snaps the compact closed and shoves it back in his pocket as he turns and starts to leave.

“Rude!” Giselle’s muffled voice comes from under his cloak.

“Potter!” Malfoy exclaims at the same time, and Harry stops mid-stride and makes an annoyed noise at the back of his throat. He turns back sharply, marches to the desk and scribbles his signature onto the scroll with the quill he hadn’t realised was still in his hand.

“I gotta go,” he says and throws the quill down onto parchment, barely noting Malfoy’s annoyed expression as he makes a quick exit.

Mulciber has been in their top ten Undesirables list since he fled after the Battle of Hogwarts, and this arrest is a long time coming. Most of the Death Eaters are either jailed or dead, so it’s always a big deal when one is found. Mulciber has a particularly violent streak, and Harry knows this is probably going to be a difficult standoff.

Susan meets him at the lift and describes the situation. When a couple of the Patrol officers went out on an assault call in Hythe, they were surprised to find it was actually Mulciber causing the disturbance. At the sight of Magical Law Enforcement, Mulciber had fled into a nearby church with a hostage.

By the time Harry and Susan get on scene, most of the Department is surrounding the church, with more law enforcement filtering in by the minute. Anti-Apparition wards have been set up over the church, Patrol is establishing and holding the perimeter, while the Hit Wizards assess the situation and start to formulate a plan.

Aurors help the Hit Wards in scoping out the building, while the department head makes contact with Mulciber to begin negotiations. It’s a long and arduous process, trying to keep Mulciber pacified and feeling like he’s getting what he wants, while not giving him what he wants and slowly wearing him down.

Negotiations drag on for hours, as the best outcome is to convince Mulciber to surrender peacefully, leaving the hostage unharmed and allowing them to take him into custody without putting him or any law enforcement in danger. Even against the entire department, a single wizard like Mulciber could do a lot of damage.

At some point in the evening, Patrol and those dealing with negotiations have food delivered to them, but Harry and Susan are set up next to the church watching one of the exits, waiting to jump in if curses start to fly or if the call comes through to do so. Being so near the danger means they don’t get any food delivered to them, and Harry’s stomach grumbles as he tries to wait and keep focused in the long hours of the standoff.

Finally, right after one in the morning, Mulciber reaches his breaking point. The green flashes of curses are seen from inside, and the Hit Wizards are given the signal to move in. Aurors follow close behind, buying real estate as they move inside the building and secure each room. Harry and Susan end up in the nave with the Hit Wizard, where they find the hostage deceased and Mulciber bleeding out, having attempted to take his own life rather than go to Azkaban.

Mulciber is taken into custody and rushed to St Mungos, and the rest of the night is spent cleaning up the crime scene, informing the victim’s family, and guarding Mulciber. With the hostage situation over, the Hit Wizards leave for the night, and Aurors take over the handling of Mulciber.

Harry, Susan, Williamson and Corner get tasked with escorting Mulciber to the hospital and keeping watch as the Healers work on him. The curse Mulciber used on himself isn’t known, as none of them saw what it was, and the Healers struggle to stem the bleeding. At three in the morning Mulciber succumbs to the curse.

Harry and Susan have to take charge of the body and track down Mulciber’s last living relatives and do a death notification. It’s never an easy thing to do, and in a way it’s harder because of who Mulciber was and the fact that his relatives are not the nicest people either. Harry and Susan get strong language and threats of lawsuits thrown at them, but it’s part of the job. Regardless of what sort of person Mulciber was, they have to process his case the same way they would anyone else’s.

By the time they finish writing up their reports, it’s almost six in the morning. Harry is exhausted, hungry, and on his last leg after having to remain calm and professional while getting called a crooked pig and several more colourful epithets. It’s been a long night.

When Harry finally makes it home, he bypasses the kitchen and trudges straight upstairs to his room. He peels off his uniform and dumps it in the steadily growing pile of laundry in the corner, sets his glasses and wand next to the bed, and climbs under the sheets.

Harry is so tired that his mind doesn’t even have time to keep him up processing the nights events before he slips into a deep sleep.

When Harry wakes up five hours later, he hardly feels like he slept at all. It seems as if he only just shut his eyes a moment ago, and his body is heavy with fatigue. The one redeeming factor of the situation is that it’s Saturday, and Harry doesn’t have to go into the office unless he’s called in.

Harry tries to make the most of it and sleep in, but once he’s awake his mind starts to whirl with thoughts of last night. He can’t help replaying the events, and he feels heavy with self-doubt. What happened last night is the worst outcome that can happen in those situations. While Harry knows that many people were involved, and it wasn’t his sole responsibility, whenever anyone ends up dead in these kinds of situations, Harry feels responsible to some degree.

Harry had always been determined to become an Auror because he believed he could help people, and whenever a situation like last night arises his mind swims with ‘what ifs’. He also knows that when tragedies happen, he is the first person people look to. People expect Harry to be the hero and be able to save everyone, regardless of circumstances. In some ways Harry loves working in law enforcement, but in other ways his job feels like a Sisyphean task.

Eventually, Harry concedes that he has no chance of falling back asleep and he gets out of bed. He downs his first morning coffee and cooks a big breakfast to appease his rumbling stomach.

As Harry eats his eggs, his mind wanders to Malfoy and their life debt. He doesn’t know much about life debts beyond the basic concept, and he starts thinking that if he’s bonded to Malfoy, he should probably figure out exactly what that means, and what Malfoy’s intentions are for registering it and trying to repay him somehow. Especially if Malfoy is dabbling in Dark Arts.

When it comes to his friends, Harry is loyal to a fault, but as an Auror he knows that it can give him a blind spot where they’re concerned. He’s always trusted his gut instincts when reading people and situations, but loyalty and friendship throw those instincts off. Harry’s not sure if he would still consider Malfoy a friend, but the thought of having to arrest Malfoy for Dark Arts makes his chest feel tight with apprehension. He wants to believe Malfoy, but he can’t trust his own instincts around him.

It doesn’t help that Harry has always thought that if they saw each other again, it would be as friends. He never imagined having Malfoy at the other end of the table during an interrogation. Still, Harry knows that he needs to try and put his personal feelings aside to be impartial. He might doubt his ability to be completely impartial, but he trusts others even less. It isn’t a good time to be a witch or a wizard who was associated with Voldemort, or even associated with Purebloods.

People like to claim an equal and better society arose from the ashes of the war, that the magical beings have united as equals in the protection of society and Muggles against Dark forces—as the fountain in the Ministry depicts—but the truth is that things haven’t actually changed that much.

Racism against other magical beings is as prevalent now as it was before. Anti-Muggle beliefs may have diminished, but Anti-Traditionalist parties have risen in their place, like the arm of a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. Purebloods and any witches or wizards associated with them have become the target of new waves of violence. Azkaban is fuller than ever, more magic folk are living on the streets after having had their wand snapped Post-war, drug use is up, and violent crimes are up.

The Ministry likes to turn a blind eye and pretend it isn’t happening in their new world, but the society is still scarred by the war. As an Auror, Harry is exposed to the shadow of their society nearly every day. He sees good people doing bad things in the name of fighting Dark Arts, and he sees criminals and the most at-risk populations getting hit the worst by new legislation.

Early in his career he didn’t question it, and he thought anything that kept their streets clean was a good policy. Now he has a better perspective of the shades of grey that exist. Now he sees fugitives willing to kill themselves rather than face the consequences of being marked a Dark wizard.

Harry puts a hand through his hair and lets out a long sigh. Maybe a few years ago he would have tried to find another solution to last night’s standoff. Maybe he would have got his Invisibility Cloak and tried to solve the situation himself. Harry knows better than to act as a one-man army now, and he had to learn that lesson the hard way. He knows things are better when regulation is followed, when he depends on his partner and his fellow officers to work together as a team. Even when the results are tragic. It’s the job. But still, Harry can’t stop the what if’s going around his brain, and the deaths last night weigh heavily on his heart.

Harry picks up his coffee and drains it. He stands and takes his dishes to the sink, which clack as he stacks them on top of the other dirty dishes already built up there. With a quick Accio, Harry’s wand flies from the table into his hand, and he waves it at the dishes with a muttered cleaning charm. The dishes float up over the sink, which steadily begins to fill with water, and the sponge next to the sink comes to life, dipping itself in the soapy water and going to work on the dishes one by one.

With one chore down, Harry considers tackling the others he’s been putting off dealing with, but the thought of spending his day off cleaning is not an appealing one. Instead, Harry decides to go to the Ministry and put off the chores in favour of other important things.

With a quick trip to his bedroom, Harry changes into plain-clothes and Floos into the Ministry. He doesn’t need to put in any work, but the life debt has been nagging at him and he’d rather keep his mind occupied and distracted from thoughts of last night.

Harry spends his morning in the Archives of the Ministry, going through any books he can find about bonds and life debts. What he discovers is fairly consistently agreed upon throughout the books, that life debts are formed in the most dire of situations, when one witch or wizards puts themselves in mortal danger to save another witch or wizard from certain death.

The bond is formed naturally, with no incantion needed as is the case with other bonds, and is thought to be one of the oldest, and deepest forms of magic that exist. Day-to-day life is not affected by the bond but should the Catalyst of the bond ever be in mortal peril, the Beneficiary of the bond will feel an innate desire to protect their Catalyst.

This urge can be fought and denied without too negative of an effect on the Beneficiary, but if the Beneficiary is ever the one to endanger their Catalyst or bring about their death, the Beneficiary will be cursed to live in great pain and misfortune for the rest of their days. Typically, the Beneficiary will not live long after such an event.

Many of the books give examples of known life debts between certain witches and wizards throughout the ages, talking about how the life debt formed and was repaid, or in the worst of circumstances, led to the unfortunate and untimely deaths of those bonded. In one of the books, Harry finds detailed records of how life debts have been repaid over the years. In years past, witches and wizards believed they had to save the life of the Catalyst in order to end the bond and there are many amusing and horrifying stories of how such witches and wizards attempted to create the right conditions to dissolve the bond.

The common practice now to dissolve the bond is for the Beneficiary to impart part of their magical essence in some fashion to their Catalyst, gifting them with extra power and life force. The idea of that makes a cold shiver crawl down Harry’s spine. He already had part of another person in him for most of his life, and he’ll never fully recover from that. Harry knows he will always carry a lingering darkness in him, as anyone who is cursed by such dark magic must.

After that, Harry decides to put the books away. He doesn’t know how Malfoy plans on paying him back, but now he feels even less at-ease than he felt before reading about them. He thought Malfoy would simply pay him off with money or something to that effect, he hadn’t realised he would have to accept a piece of Malfoy’s magical core into himself to dissolve the bond. He’d rather leave it be. As long as Malfoy doesn’t try to kill him, and it doesn’t affect their day-to-day life, why should they bother dissolving the bond?

After Harry puts the last book on bonds away, he turns his gaze toward the exit and bites his lip. A cup of coffee and a sandwich might be nice, except it’s a little early for lunch. Part of Harry wants to stay and research the Imperius Curse, but another part of Harry is itching to leave the Archive.

The library is huge and goes on for longer than Harry has ever explored, with rows upon rows bookshelves reaching all the way up to a tall ceiling. The space is lit with dim orbs of light floating above, and it smells musty with old parchment and ink.

The Archive is so quiet he could hear a pin drop, and extended silence has always grated on Harry’s nerves. The low visibility of the long shelves and endless rows sets his nerves on edge, he can’t help himself from looking up from the books every few seconds down the row to check for signs of anyone else in the space, but he never runs into anyone. He knows the Archivists are about, and surely he’s not the only person visiting to research, but Harry rarely sees anyone else and it makes him feel ill at ease, like someone could attack him at any moment without warning.

Harry takes a breath and wipes the sweat from his palms on his jumper. He talks himself down and reminds himself that he’s safe here. As much as the space bothers him, and as much as it reminds him of the Hall of Mysteries, he knows the likelihood of being attacked in the Ministry is low.

Harry weaves his way through the stacks and eventually finds the section on Unforgivable Curses. He pulls out any he can find which contain records of incidents with Imperio, and he grabs a few on Crucio as well before he makes his way to one of the front desks to check them out. He’d rather take them elsewhere than try to stay and read them in the distracting silence of the Archive.

Back in his office, Harry feels much more at east with the hustle and bustle of the Auror Department right outside his open door. Beyond the Auror Department, Harry can distantly hear the even busier Department of Magical Law Enforcement Patrol right next to them and he lets out a relaxed sigh.

Harry leans back in his chair and pulls the first book into his lap, a heavy, leather-covered tome that creaks as he opens it. He flips through the vellum pages and scans over the descriptions of various Imperius victims throughout the years. Looking for such a specific thing, a victim forced to Crucio someone while under an Imperius, means that he goes through the records fairly quickly. His eyes dart over the descriptions, and without seeing a Crucio mentioned he moves to the next.

Even skimming the records, it takes a long time to make it through the entire tome, and at the end he only has seen three potentially similar cases. The records he finds aren’t more than a vague summary of events, and Harry makes note of them on a scrap of parchment to research further. Maybe another book will have a more in-depth record of events, but at least now he knows it’s possible and has happened before.

Harry moves onto the next tome and spends the next hour scouring it as well but coming up empty handed. He sets the book aside, then stretches and yawns. Looking over the stack of books left to go through, Harry decides coffee is in order and he leaves the office to go to the break room.

The coffee pot is empty, and Harry starts a new pot. As he waits, he leans his butt against the counter, pushes up his glasses and rubs his tired eyes.

“Hey, Harry.” The greeting makes Harry stop rubbing at his eyes and set his glasses straight.

“Oh, hey Daphne,” Harry says when he sees who joined him in the break room.

“You got the coffee going?” she asks, glancing over the coffee maker.

“Yep.” He nods.

“Perfect,” she says and sets her mug on the counter, pulling the sugar jar to her and spooning an excessive amount of it into her mug. “You get called in for something?”

“No, just doing a bit of research,” he answers.

She hums and gives him a sympathetic expression.

The coffee pot burbles next to Harry on the counter, slowly starting to fill drop by drop.

“What about you?” Harry asks conversationally to fill the silence. He’s got to know Greengrass the way anyone knows a co-worker, but, being in different departments, they’re not particularly close and don’t ever converse much beyond work. “End of a night shift? Or just starting?”

“Just starting, got another ten hours to look forward to,” she says and raises a fist in feigned excitement.

Harry chuckles and shakes his head in sympathy. He taps his fingers against his thigh and watches the coffee dripping slowly into the pot. As the awkward silence descends, Harry turns his thoughts back to his case and thinks about the fact that he’ll probably have to go back to the Archive to see if he can find books that specifically talk about the cases he marked down. He hopes he can find something that matches the strange circumstances of this case and how their victim died. Harry starts thinking that maybe he should also research instances of deaths by Crucio, since that isn’t an especially common occurrence either.

“Hey, Daphne?” Harry asks as a thought hits him.

“Yeah?” she asks, looking up from her fingernails, which she’d been picking the polish off of idly.

“Ever heard of a Russell Turner?”

Daphne’s eyebrows move up and her expression lights with surprise and recognition. “Yeah, I know him. He’s a frequent flyer,” she says, then glances away and frowns thoughtfully. “Or, well, he used to be. I guess I haven’t seen him in a year or so, now that I think about it. Why do you ask?”

“He showed up dead on Wednesday, murdered,” Harry says.

“Ah,” she says lightly. “You know who did it?”

Harry shakes his head. “Not exactly. Haven’t found much yet, but it was a pretty violent death—personal, maybe. Apparently, he got clean and left his life of crime a couple years back. We’ve been at a loss to find old associates or enemies. Do you remember anyone he had problems with? Or anyone who’d maybe take offense at him cutting them out of his life?”

Daphne hums and screws up her face in thought. “Maybe,” she says eventually. “It’s been a while though. I’ll pull his file for you, that’d probably help more than I could.”

“Great, thanks,” Harry says, and she nods. When the coffee finally finishes filtering, Harry and Daphne top off their mugs and Harry follows her out to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement Patrol.

It takes a couple minutes of rifling through their many file cabinets, but eventually Daphne finds the right file and hands it over to Harry. It’s thick, as Harry expected it to be based on Russell’s description. He thanks Daphne and returns to his office.

Harry drops into his chair and flips the file open, somewhat glad for the distraction from research. He scans through the pages of his criminal file, which started at sixteen when he was expelled from Hogwarts for cursing a Muggle-born student and sending her to the infirmary. The records lead him through years of charges for drug possession, drug dealing, burglaries, and assaults.

When Harry gets to 1998, his heart drops.

Known to have worked with Death Eaters as a Snatcher from January of ‘98 to May of ‘98. Arrested and charged in July of same year for 9 counts of kidnapping, 4 counts…

Harry shuts the file and leans back in his chair, his eyes darting around the maps and posters and notes decorating their office as his mind whirrs.

“Fuck,” Harry mutters, closing his eyes and covering his face with his hands. He takes in a deep breath, then releases it slowly and drops his hands.

Harry flips the file open and reads through the charges once more, just to be sure, then he gets up and tosses the file on his desk and pulls Giselle from his inner pocket.

Harry flips the Magic Mirror open and says, “Call Susan.”

Giselle’s tiny face in the compact yawns and then blinks up at him. She raises an eyebrow and Harry rolls his eyes.

“Giselle,” he tries again, “I need to speak with Susan. Please.”

“As you wish,” she responds and her silvery face melts away as the image in the mirror ripples and turns blank. After a few seconds, Susan’s face appears in the mirror. Her hair is loose and her face unpainted, and Harry wonders if he woke her up.

“This better be good if you’re calling me in after last night,” she says crossly.

“Yeah, I need you to come in to the office,” he says with a wince.

Her eyes narrow, but the image of her bounces around as she gets up. “Why? What happened?”

“I found something, with our case.”

“What? And why are you in the office?” she asks.

“I couldn’t sleep, so I was doing research. Just get here,” Harry says, and she tuts at him. “There’ll be coffee waiting for you.”

“There had better be,” she says and sets her Magic Mirror down on her bedside table, giving Harry a view of the ceiling in her room before the connection cuts.

“Thank you, Giselle,” Harry remembers to say before he closes the compact and tucks it away.

He gets up and grabs Susan’s mug from her desk, then goes to the break room and tops it off with black coffee for her. The coffee is still hot and steaming when Susan strides into their office and stops short of their desks, hair plaited and in her Auror uniform.

She picks up the coffee, downs half of it, then plants a hand on her hip and says, “Well? What did you find?”

Harry pushes Russell’s open file toward her. “Russell Turner’s criminal file.”

“Hm. From Patrol?” she guesses and picks it up, scanning over the page.

Harry nods and watches her, and he can tell the moment she sees it. Her eyes stop, and then rapidly reading through the same line.

“I knew that bastard was lying,” she hisses and tosses the file back onto the desk. She looks down at Harry, holding his gaze for a moment, as she thinks it over. “It’s not enough to arrest him.”

“Yeah, it’s not. But it’s enough to bring him in and question him again.”

Susan groans and moves around her desk to flop down into her chair. “Means we’re going to have to contact his solicitor.”

“Yep.” Harry watches the way Susan frowns before taking another drink from her coffee. “I could do it, if you want.”

“No, it’s fine, I’ll write her,” she mutters, setting down her mug and digging a fresh sheet of parchment out of her desk.

She writes out a quick message and sends it to the Owlery. They don’t have to wait long for the response to appear in Susan’s inbox, informing them that Millicent and her client will be there within the hour.

While they wait, Harry peruses through some more of the books on Unforgivables, but he finds it hard to concentrate. Susan cleans out her inbox, which contains the autopsy report from Amin and she spends a few minutes reading through it.

“COD is cardiac arrest, consistent with death by Crucio,” she tells Harry idly. “Nothing much else. System was clean of drugs. No surprises here.”

Harry hums his acknowledgement and continues to try to research until finally getting a message from Security alerting them to their visitors. Harry takes over one of the interview rooms while Susan goes and gets them.

Harry prepares himself mentally, as much as one can for an interrogation, until Susan leads Millicent and Malfoy into the room. He watches with a neutral expression as Malfoy’s gaze catches his, and he gives Harry a questioning expression.

“Have a seat please,” Harry says and gestures to the metal table in the middle of the room.

Harry and Susan sit across from Malfoy and Millicent, and once they’re settled Millicent looks from Susan to Harry and raises an expectant eyebrow.

“Well? Care to tell us why we’re here?” she asks impatiently

Harry sets a file on the table and opens it, then spreads out the three crime scene photos in it. All of them are of Russell and Harry watches Malfoy’s expression curiously as he looks down at them. Malfoy’s expression tightens slightly as his eyes rove over the pictures, then he leans back, looks up at Harry, and makes an impatient gesture with one hand.

“We want to follow up with you on this murder you reported,” Susan says to Malfoy, ignoring Millicent and the way she scowls at the obvious dismissal.

“I already told you everything I know,” Malfoy says impatiently, shifting his gaze to Susan. “I gave you my memory. What more do you want?”

“We want to know about him,” Susan says and taps a finger against one of the photos. “Do you know anything about him?”

Malfoy scoffs and throws his hands up incredulously. “I’ve already told you I don’t know anything about him.”

“You don’t know his name?” Susan asks.

“I—” Malfoy shrugs helplessly and glances at Millicent. She’s glaring suspiciously at Susan but turns a look on Malfoy and nods.

“The other one said it, I guess. He called him… Ross? Maybe,” Malfoy says dubiously, then furrows his brow and corrects himself, “No, Rus, I think it was.”

“So, you’ve never met him before this last Wednesday when you stumbled over his body?” Susan presses.

Malfoy glances at Harry and takes in his blank expression with a small frown before answering, “No, should I have?”

“His full name is Russell Turner. He was a Snatcher in the War,” Susan says, and Malfoy’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. His gaze drops to the photos on the table, he pulls one closer to himself and his brows furrow as he examines it.

Harry tilts his head slightly and takes in Malfoy’s response carefully. He doesn’t read anything but genuine surprise in Malfoy’s expression, but he always was a good actor. Harry’s instinct still wants to believe his impression of Malfoy’s innocence, but the lies and inconsistencies keep piling up in his testimony and Harry isn’t sure whether he can trust his gut on this one.

“I’m sure you would have met in the war, seeing as he delivered nine people to your house,” Susan continues in a bland tone.

Malfoy’s expression seems confused and then frustrated when he looks back up to Harry and Susan. “I didn’t recognise him—” he cuts off when Millicent lays a hand over his forearm.

“Are you charging my client with anything?” she asks sharply.

Susan glares at her, then answers shortly, “No. But seeing as your client lied about knowing our murdered victim, we’d like to—”

“No,” Millicent cuts her off brusquely. “We’re leaving. Owl me if you have anything more substantial, otherwise, don’t bother wasting our time like this again.”

Harry watches Millicent stand and walk out of the interview room with Malfoy following after. Malfoy tosses one last look back at Harry, his face set in a deep frown, before the door closes behind him.

Susan huffs out an annoyed sound and turns to Harry. “It’s going to be a lot harder to get answers out of Malfoy with that viper around.”

Harry hums a non-committal tone and she frowns at him.

“You don’t think he did it?” she asks, and Harry shakes his head. “He lied about knowing the victim. You said yourself that the death seems very personal. What’s the likelihood of him being killed by someone he didn’t know?”

Harry shrugs. “Not high, but he was killed by someone he knows, Charles.”

“He was Imperiused, it’s not as if he wanted to kill his friend,” Susan scoffs.

Harry gives her a skeptical expression and she rolls her eyes. “What else do we have? I know it looks bad, I honestly don’t know what to think about Malfoy anymore. He keeps lying to us, but… I don’t know, why would he kill him? Even if he did know him, it’s not much of a connection. What’s the motive?”

“Maybe Russell was blackmailing him. Maybe he hates him. Maybe he hurt him. Who knows? It could be a million different reasons, but we’re beyond coincidence here.”

“Yeah, I know. If it is a coincidence, it’s a big one. But we’re not getting anything more out of Malfoy. Now we have the vic’s file, and I think we should go back to looking for any enemies he had,” Harry reasons. “Look at how thick it is. Guy had to have enemies.”

Susan crosses her arms and looks at him skeptically. “Harry, you know Malfoy is our biggest lead. We should be chasing that.”

“I know, but what else have we got? Malfoy’s not talking. We have a connection, we have Malfoy at the scene, we know he’s lying to us, but we don’t have motive. The clinic he worked at was a dead-end. Charles got us nowhere. Assuming the vic was killed by someone he knows, his history is the best chance of finding that person,” Harry says, tucking the photos back into the file and standing up.

Susan thinks it over, then nods. “Yeah, okay. You’re right.”

“Did you just tell me I’m right? Gonna save that one for my Pensieve,” he teases her as she follows him out of the interview room.

“Yeah, I’ll give you something to stick in your Pensieve,” Susan says and flips him off.

Harry laughs. “Yes please, Merlin knows it’s been too long.”

Susan punches Harry’s shoulder and they grin at each other.

Back in the office, Susan takes the early half of Russell’s records, and Harry takes the latter half and they both start to go through his records looking for any old associates and building a list of people to question. By the time they finish it they have a long list of acquaintances, old friends, potential enemies, and victims.

The file isn’t a full record of names and actions, so Harry and Susan go downstairs to the Wizengamot’s records to find the full documents of victim’s names and to check how many of the names on their list are in Azkaban or dead.

As Harry is scanning through listing of Azkaban inmates and marking which of Russell’s associates they’ll need to plan a trip to Azkaban to speak to, Harry gets distracted when Susan makes a quiet gasp next to him.

“Oh,” she says softly, stilling next to him. Harry turns and looks at and the way she’s staring down at the page.

“What?” he asks, furrowing his brow. He leans over her to look at the document she has in her hand, which appears to be the court record from July of 1998 of Russell’s charges from the war.

Susan turns toward him and holds the document up, pointing at the list of Russell’s victims when he was acting as a Snatcher. Among the names is Charles Goodwin.

Harry turns his gaze to Susan and they share a meaningful look.

“What do you think the chances are that Charles forgot who Russell is?” Harry asks.

Susan shakes her head. “Slim to none,” she says, turning her eyes back to the document and scanning it briefly before adding, “Especially since Russell is the one who injured him so badly, he had to have his right arm and leg amputated to remove the cursed flesh.”

Harry huffs a sigh out of his nose and shakes his head. He’d had a weird feeling about Charles this whole time with how calm he was about it all. And what he’d said about Crucioing Russell—that it felt good, that he enjoyed it—Harry had been wondering if it was possible for the caster of an Imperio to impart feelings onto their victim.

“He never did send us his memory of the event, did he?” Harry asks, and Susan shakes her head. “Alright, let’s go get him.”

Harry and Susan head downstairs and Disapparate out of the Ministry onto the street in front of Charles’ house. Being out of uniform, Harry has his wand tucked in his coat rather than his thigh holster as usual, and he takes it out as they approach the house.

Harry walks up to the door, while Susan moves around the side and peers into a couple of the windows. She looks to him and nods, and Harry knocks on the door. A moment later, Charles answers it. His hands are empty, and Harry can’t see a wand anywhere visible on him.

“Auror Potter,” he says, and Harry watches the way his eyes drop down to the wand in Harry’s hand. When he looks back up, he looks grim, but unsurprised.

“Mr Goodwin,” Harry greets in return, as Susan takes his side, her wand in hand as well.

“I wondered how long it would take you,” Charles says in a light, conversational tone. He moves to put his hands in his pockets and Harry raises his wand.

“Hands out of your pockets,” he directs him. “Hold them up and open, please.”

Charles slowly lifts his hands out of his pockets, spreading his fingers and turning them palm-out toward Harry and Susan. “I’m unarmed,” he says calmly. “My wand is on the coffee table in the living room.” He tilts his head in a small gesture toward the living room.

“Are you alone in the house?” Harry asks.

“Yes,” Charles says with a nod. Susan steps inside, moving around Charles and poking around a few of the rooms to confirm this before coming back with Charles’ wand in hand.

“You never gave us your memory of the incident,” Harry says lightly.

“Slipped my mind,” he says with a small shrug.

“And if we looked at it now?” Harry asks, and Charles’ lips thin.

“You know, when someone is hit with Dark Magic it lingers on them, weeks, even months after the fact,” Susan says. “If we test you for Dark Magic, is it going to show us that you were cursed by an Imperio?”

Charles gives a quiet, resigned laugh. “You know, I never thought I’d get away with it. Took you awhile to figure it out. Guess that Death Eater did me a favour. He really threw you off, didn’t he?”

Harry gives him a tight smile. It’s true, after all, and he’s not exactly proud of that fact. If Malfoy hadn’t been involved, he probably would have looked at Charles sooner, but they treated him as a victim, as they would have with any other case.

Susan casts a spell to reveal any echo of Dark Magic lingering on Charles, but nothing appears.

“Pretending it was another one of the Imperio robberies was a cover?” Harry guesses.

“Seemed an easy excuse,” Charles says with a shrug.

“And you pretended to be his friend to get close to him? How long had you been planning this?” Susan asks.

Charles huffs and shakes his head. “First time I saw him at the clinic, and he didn’t even recognise me. Fucking bastard,” he spits. “He tortured me, took my leg and my wand arm. His Death Eater friends killed my parents. I spent years in rehabilitation having to learn how to do every-fucking-thing all over again. The Healers tried to cut me off of the pain potions, but they don’t fucking understand. They still hurt, even after all this time, I can feel them.” He dips his head down pointedly toward his right arm and leg.

Harry and Susan glance at each other, neither looking particularly happy. Susan lets out a small sigh and says, “Charles Goodwin, by law of the Ministry of Magic I’m placing you under arrest for the murder of Russell Turner.”

Susan waves her wand and casts a Binding spell on him, which snaps his hands behind him, and Harry searches his person for any weapons or drugs before they Apparate him to the Ministry.

They process him and put him in one of the holding cells in Level Ten at the bottom of the Ministry, under the Department of Mysteries. The space is dank and dungeon-like, and Harry has never been fond of it.

Locking Charles up there leaves a bad taste in Harry’s mouth. Charles was a victim of Russell, all those years ago, but while Harry understands the desire for revenge, he still has to uphold the law, regardless of who breaks it. Sometimes good people do bad things, and sometimes victims aren’t sympathetic.

“Merlin,” Susan breathes as she drops into her seat back in their office. Harry sighs and nods. “I didn’t expect that.”

Harry hums noncommittally, and Susan glances at him, and then the stacks of books on Imperio around his desk.

“Perhaps you did?” she says, gesturing at the books.

Harry shrugs and says, “Well. I dunno. I got a weird vibe from him.”

Susan rolls her eyes. “A weird vibe from the completely sympathetic, disabled victim, but no weird vibes from the ex-Death Eater?”

He huffs out a laugh. “My gut works in mysterious ways.”

“Or you just ate a bad kebab last night,” she teases him, and he makes an offended noise. After a moment, Susan takes on a more serious tone and says, “But seriously, Harry. Be careful with him. Maybe he wasn’t involved in this case, but he’s lied to us multiple times and you don’t know that he can be trusted.”

Harry frowns but gives a small nod. “I know.” He’s glad that he was right about Malfoy’s innocence, but he’s still left with more questions than answers about why Malfoy is here and what he’s up to.

“Did you take care of your life debt with him?” she asks.

“No,” Harry says with a shake of his head. “We spent the whole time registering it and then you called me away.”

“You didn’t register it before? Didn’t it happen during the war?” Susan asks incredulously, and Harry shrugs and shakes his head. She huffs and rolls her eyes. “Better to get it taken care of soon rather than later.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry says and waves his hand dismissively. He chooses not to tell her that he spent the morning researching them and is still concerned by how Malfoy might choose to repay the life debt.

A knock on their door draws their attention before it swings open and Millicent strides in. She’s wearing an impressive cream suit and dark blue robe combination with intricate black stitching and heeled boots. The style accentuates her already impressive stature, with her long legs and broad shoulders, and Harry briefly wonders why she chooses to wear high heels when she already towers over others.

Like Malfoy, Millicent grew into her features, and even her square, jutting jaw doesn’t seem so out of place anymore when framed by black shoulder-length hair, high cheekbones, and dark eyes. It all comes together to create the picture of a strong and fierce witch.

She smirks at them, looking first at Harry and then to Susan and rests a hand on her hip. “I heard you arrested someone for Mr Turner’s murder?” she asks smugly.

“We did,” Harry answers quickly before Susan can. He can see the way Susan is glaring at Millicent and clenching her jaw.

“So, I can inform my client that he’s no longer a suspect in your witch hunt?” she asks, eyes sliding to Harry.

Harry nods. “You can.”

“Perfect. Great to see another example of our Law Enforcement working in such an unbiased manner,” she snarks. Her gaze moves to Susan briefly, and she winks at her before turning on her heel and leaving the office.

Susan clenches and unclenches her fists, glaring at Millicent’s retreating form. After a second, she jumps up from her chair and says to Harry, “You’ve got the paperwork for this, right?”

“What? Why me?” Harry asks, but Susan is already striding out of the office, cloak in hand.

“You’re the one who called me in on a Saturday!” she says over her shoulder.

“Sue!” Harry calls after her, but she’s already gone. He huffs, but he grabs the casefile.

Harry spends the next little while writing out the arrest report. Before heading out, he decides to clean out his inbox since it’s getting overrun. Harry has a lot of his mail rerouted to his work inbox, so it can go through Ministry security. He still is famous in their society and gets all sorts of fanmail, most of it harmless, but occasionally something dangerous gets sent.

Harry separates the work reports and notifications from the letters, reading them first and filing them away appropriately. Afterward he scans through the fanmail as usual. Most of the time it’s people thanking him and telling him how wonderful he is and this and that, but occasionally something comes through that’s worth keeping.

One such letter appears in his inbox today, and after Harry tears it open and reads it, he stops and frowns at it.

STAY AWAY FROM MALFOY

Harry looks at the other side of it, but there’s nothing else written on it, and it seems to be standard parchment. He reads it again, and the heavy, capitalised scrawl seems intentionally threatening and aggressive. It prickles at his senses uneasily. As he usually does when this happens, Harry drops the letter into the bottom drawer of his desk. He always holds onto the ones that read as threatening.

The next day Harry sleeps in as long as possible, trying to catch up on sleep while he can. He spends much of his day cleaning his house and dealing with the chores he’s been putting off for weeks. When six o’clock rolls around, Harry makes his way to the Burrow for Sunday dinner with the family. Susan has already begged off, asking him to apologise to the family that she won’t make it this week.

Molly is glad to see that he is able to come today, since sometimes he gets called in on the weekends and doesn’t make it. She tuts at his unshaven face and worries over his weight and complexion, asking if he’s eating enough and fretting over his dangerous and high-stress job. It’s the same thing she says nearly every weekend, but Harry never tires of feeling mothered.

During dinner Arthur asks him how work is going, if anything interesting has happened. For a brief second Harry considers telling them about Mulciber and the standoff, but then thinks better of it. He doesn’t want to bother his family with such dark news, and he doesn’t want to make them worry more than they already do. Instead, he tells them that he got a good arrest and closed a case yesterday.

After dinner, Harry pulls Ron and Hermione aside to ask them if they have life debts with Goyle.

Ron gives him a confused look, darting a glance to Hermione. “Of course not,” he answers. “We took care of that ages ago. Why?”

“Oh,” Harry says and rubs a hand over the back of his neck. “Malfoy wants to repay his life debt to me somehow.”

“Wait, you still have a life debt with Malfoy?” Ron asks incredulously. “Mate. I thought you’d taken care of that years back.”

Harry shrugs. “I didn’t realise it was this big thing. Malfoy wanted to repay it this week, but I guess we needed to register it first.”

“You didn’t even register the bond?” Ron asks, his tone going even higher.

“How was I to know?” Harry says defensively. “I saved him because—because he didn’t deserve to die. I didn’t know there were all these traditions and ceremony.”

“It’s powerful and ancient magic, Harry,” Hermione explains. “The magical community takes them very seriously. It’s the power of life and death. By saving Malfoy’s life, you’ve bound him to you.”

“What’s the big deal? It’s been nine years, hasn’t seemed to have any effect on us yet,” Harry reasons.

“Sure, and of course I know you would never take advantage of the bond,” Hermione begins slowly, “but there are people who have in the past. I’m surprised Malfoy let it last this long.”

“Well, he did fuck off to France and disappeared for eight years,” Harry mutters.

“I guess,” Hermione agrees hesitantly. “Is that what he wanted to contact you for, then? He mentioned needing to speak with you.”

Harry furrows his brow and regards Hermione with some surprise. “You’ve met with Malfoy since he’s been back?” She hums an affirmative note, and Harry asks, “When? Why?”

“Oh, the week he arrived. At his house. Just work,” Hermione says lightly.

Harry assesses her casual expression, feeling like there’s more to the story, but he doesn’t press. It was likely for work.

Hermione works in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and has done a lot of important and progressive work to provide better protection and oversight of magical creatures. A large part of her job is making regular house visits to check on domestic beings and beasts that are used as labor to make sure they’re being treated well. Harry would bet that Malfoy has a House-elf. He probably needs one, considering the state of his house.

“Honestly Harry, don’t be worried. It’s a simple matter these days to dissolve a life debt,” she assures him.

“How did Goyle pay you back?” Harry asks, turning his attention back to his many questions on Life Debts and asking them all the questions he can think of about the process.

Even after spending an evening talking with Ron and Hermione about it, the idea of accepting a part of Malfoy’s ‘essence’ still doesn’t sit quite right with him.

Chapter Text

The following Monday Harry arrives at work somewhat better rested than usual and ready to get back to it, even with the disrupted weekend they had.

He and Susan remove Charles and Russell from their Mindtaker board, and while he’s glad they were able to close this case, that also means they’re back to where they were with the Mindtaker case with no leads, and now they’ve lost nearly a week of investigating on it.

They spend much of the day drinking too much coffee and pouring over their files, looking for anything they might have missed or that they can look deeper into. It’s a slow and tedious process, and the hours tick by sluggishly. The only interesting event is when a note appears in his inbox from Malfoy requesting another appointment with Harry to repay the life debt. Harry writes out a note confirming his availability, and then takes the time to walk it up to the Owlery himself to stretch his legs.

As fast as last week moved, this week moves as slowly, but Harry has found that that’s often how this job works. Either he’s spinning his wheels for days or weeks on end with no movement, or suddenly the whole town is on fire and he can barely move fast enough to keep up with it all.

Wednesday comes as a blessed relief, not because they make any interesting progress with the case, but because he knows he has a meeting with Malfoy at the end of the workday. Malfoy had specifically requested to meet after six o’clock, citing his hope that it meant Harry wouldn’t go rushing off to be a hero midway through their appointment again.

The day passes in much the same tedium as the rest of the week has been, and when six o’clock rolls around Harry jumps out of his seat with barely wave to Susan on his way out. He makes it to the Office of Magical Bonds and Vows barely two minutes past and by the look on Malfoy’s face, he’s surprised to see Harry arrive so promptly this time.

“You know, I made the appointment for 6:15 to account for your tardiness,” Malfoy says with a small frown, and Harry laughs.

“So, now you’re mad that I’m early this time?” he says with a shake of his head.

Malfoy looks like he has to fight down a smile to maintain his irritated image. He tuts and says, “Well I suppose we’ll see if they can see us.”

They venture into the office, and the space is again empty and silent. Harry’s gaze roves over what he can see around the bookshelves but there doesn’t seem to be anyone about. Earl’s desk is empty, and Malfoy rings the bell on it twice.

Almost immediately the sound of a pair of footsteps comes from somewhere on their far right, though the high stone ceiling creates an echo that makes it hard to pin the direction down exactly. Harry rubs the goosebumps on his arm idly, hating the way he can’t see who is coming and where they are because of the way the shelves are arranged but suppressing the uneasy feeling that it brings.

A loud snap comes from the same direction as the footsteps get louder, and Harry narrows his eyes and discreetly shifts the right side of his robes open, so he can get his hand near his wand on his thigh holster.

Pansy Parkinson turns the corner closely followed by Blaise Zabini and Harry’s blinks in surprise, then moves his hand away from his wand.

“Parkinson?” he asks. Harry knew she’d returned to England with Malfoy, as she showed up on his travel log, but he didn’t expect to see her in the Ministry.

“Potter,” she says back to him and blows a bright pink bubble of bubblegum. It pops with a snap and she licks it off her lips and keeps chewing.

Blaise is watching him curiously with the same faintly smug smile he always wears.

“Zabini, heard you had a nice season,” Harry comments with a nod to Blaise.

He’s less surprised to see him back in London, since the Quidditch season ended a little over three months back. Ginny only recently got back in town from a holiday she took after the season ended, and Harry is excited to catch up with her this weekend and maybe play a bit higher level of Quidditch, so long as he doesn’t get called in to work.

“Thanks,” Blaise accepts the praise without greeting Harry back, which irks him.

“Heard the Harpies slaughtered Puddlemere,” Harry says casually and slides his hands into his pockets.

Blaise hums a neutral note and says in a bland tone, “The Magpies have already offered me a rather lucrative contract for next season if I switch teams. We’ll see if I stay on Puddlemere, depends if they can pay me what they know I’m worth.”

What an arse, Harry thinks and barely contains an eyeroll. He switches focus to Pansy, not wanting to engage with Blaise further. “What are you doing here?” he asks her.

“Work,” she says, blowing another bubble and holding up a large book, as if that explains everything.

“And I’m here to save her from dying of boredom,” Blaise says, and Harry gives him a tight-lipped smile.

“Where’s Earl?” Pansy asks.

“I don’t know,” Malfoy huffs and slams his hand down on the bell. “I rang for him ages ago. I’m not sure if he can even hear this damn thing.”

Right after Malfoy says that, Harry hears the soft shuffling of approaching footsteps, and not long after the old records keeper emerges from the stacks. He looks around at the four of them with a somewhat confused expression and takes the seat at his desk.

Earl pushes his spectacles up the bridge of his nose and looks from Malfoy to Harry. “Yes?”

“We have an appointment?” Malfoy says tightly. “Malfoy and Potter, appointment for 6:15.”

“You’re early,” Earl says, moving his gaze to Malfoy.

Malfoy’s expression tightens with barely concealed impatience and Harry presses his lips together to hold in a laugh, feeling an amusing sense of deja vu.

“Are we interrupting another appointment?” Malfoy asks and gestures widely to the open space—empty, save for them.

“No,” the record keeper says.

“Then perhaps you’d be willing to see us a little earlier?” Malfoy suggests.

Earl moves his gaze slowly between Malfoy and Harry. “I suppose,” he eventually answers. He looks to Pansy and Blaise, and his thick white brows lower in confusion. “Ms Parkinson, shouldn’t you be working?”

“Yeah,” she answers blandly, not even bothering to hide the fact that she’s chewing gum in a library. “I am.”

Earl watches her with a deep frown for a moment before turning his attention back to Malfoy. “What is the purpose of your visit?”

“The Potter-Malfoy Life Debt, formed in the May of 1998, registered last week,” Malfoy answers immediately.

“Life debt,” Earl echoes and nods to himself. He goes through the same process he did before, looking through his rolodex of book listings to find the address of the right book.

When he finds it, the record keeper takes the card from the rolodex, stands and walks into the stacks.

While they wait for Earl to find the correct book and bring it back, Harry looks back to Pansy and Blaise, who are still standing to the side of the desk, watching all this happen. He wonders if they plan to stay and watch the whole process, and he wonders why they would. Maybe Malfoy asked them to be here.

Harry drums his fingers against his thigh through his pocket and turns his gaze to Malfoy. Malfoy has his arms crosses, and he glances to Harry, then looks away and chews his lip impatiently. Harry wonders if Malfoy is cross with him about the case. He’s actually surprised he hasn’t got an earful of it yet.

Pansy starts an idle conversation with Blaise about some fashion trend Harry has never heard of before, and he tunes them out.

Eventually Earl shuffles his way back out of the bookshelves to his desk with the same large ledger he brought out last week. He flips through the pages, muttering the year to himself under his breath until he finds the right one.

“Potter-Malfoy Life Debt, May of 1998,” Earl says, peering up at Malfoy over his spectacles.

“That’s correct,” Malfoy answers and unfolds his arms.

“Who is the Catalyst and who is the Beneficiary?”

Malfoy gestures at Harry to answer, so Harry says, “I am the Catalyst.”

“And I am the Beneficiary,” Malfoy follows after him.

Earl hums and asks, “And you’ve come to make an offering equal to your life to dissolve the bond between you?”

“Yes,” Malfoy answers.

Earl nods and draws his wand. He lifts the wand into the air, weaving it between Harry and Malfoy, and begins chanting a spell Harry is unfamiliar with. After a moment, a green thread of magic draws itself out of Harry’s chest and winds its way over to Malfoy, twining around his arm and up around his chest. As it goes, the thread gets thicker and stronger, wrapping around Harry’s chest and arm and winding around Malfoy similarly, ending in the centre of Malfoy’s chest.

Harry blinks and stares at the magic in amazement. The idea of them being bonded is much different than seeing the bond itself, and Harry only now feels the weight of the magic connecting them. At first the glowing green strings reminds him of an Avada Kedavara, but the longer he looks, the more he sees how wrong he is and how different they are. This green is vibrant and feels alive, nothing like the dark, sickly feel of a Killing Curse.

The hair on his arms raises into goosebumps and Harry suppresses a shiver.

“A strong bond indeed,” Early murmurs to himself and write something in the ledge. “Now if the Catalyst is ready, the Beneficiary can make his offering and we will see if it satisfies the bond.”

Malfoy nods, and Harry’s gaze follows his hand as Malfoy reaches into his pocket and pulls out a black, velvet cloth. Malfoy turns to Harry, dips into a shallow bow and says, “I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, as direct beneficiary of the selfless heroism of Harry James Potter in the face of great danger on the night of May the second of 1998, am here to acknowledge this bond and officially offer repayment in the form of this ring.”

Harry’s brows furrow as Malfoy unfolds the cloth to reveal a wide, bright silver ring with an intricate diamond shaped designs carved into it and a a garnet set in the centre.

“A gift I have crafted myself and woven enchantments and my own essence into its creation, that it might protect you and repay you your sacrifice,” Malfoy finishes and holds the ring out to Harry, sat on the plush velvet and shining exquisitely.

“Does the Catalyst accept this offering?” Earl asks evenly, looking up at Harry with his quill poised to record the answer.

The ring is stunningly gorgeous, and Harry is having a hard time believing that Malfoy could make such a thing. Potions was the only subject Malfoy had ever shown much of an interest in that Harry had seen, and while sometimes that can be messy, it’s nowhere near the level of work as crafting metal. Smithing is hot, uncomfortable and exhaustive work. It doesn’t seem at all suited to a man like Malfoy.

Beyond the ring reminding Harry of Voldemort’s Horcrux, and wondering how exactly Malfoy imbued it with his magical essence, the whole situation feels weird. Malfoy is offering him a ring in a ceremonious and traditional way, with a Ministry witness and two of his friends here to see if Harry accepts his proposal. Harry’s mouth twists in a frown and he shifts his weight from one leg to the other. Malfoy’s head is ducked in a partial bow, which feels a bit too close to kneeling for Harry’s taste.

He looks over to Blaise and Pansy curiously to see their reactions. Blaise looks as bored and unimpressed as he usually does, but Pansy’s face catches Harry’s attention. She’s looking at the ring with her mouth pinched and brows drawn in a somewhat confused expression. Harry watches the way her eyes dart to Malfoy in question, then jump to Harry when she realises he’s watching her. She hugs the book to her chest and starts chewing her gum again, as if she had never stopped.

Harry looks back to the ring and the top of Malfoy’s pale head. He knows the silence has stretched on too long and now it’s awkward. Partly he feels like he should say yes to end it, but his gut tells him the opposite, and Harry trusts his instincts.

“Er,” Harry begins awkwardly, reaching a hand up to rub at the back of his neck. “No.”

“What!” Malfoy snaps up with a furious expression, “What are you playing at?”

Harry winces and shrugs.

“The Catalyst has refused the offering,” Earl says robotically in the same unconcerned tone, like he’s reading lines from a script. “Does the Beneficiary have anything else to offer at this time?”

“I—!” Malfoy begins heatedly, hands thrown in the air in frustration with the ring gripped in his left fist. He pauses and takes a breath, pursing his lips and lowering his hands. “No,” he snaps, his tone calmer but his face still red with anger.

“Very well,” Earl says and waves his wand to end the spell making their bond visible, and the green strands fade away. He drops his quill back into its inkwell and closes the ledger. “Please schedule a future appointment if and when you’d like a witness to another offering.”

Malfoy cuts a glare to Harry, which makes him feel a bit bad, but in the end Harry believes he’s done the right thing.

The clinking of coins draws Harry’s attention to Pansy and Blaise. Pansy is counting coins in her palm with a smirk on her face and Blaise is closing his coin pouch with an annoyed expression. He frowns at them and the obvious fact they must have been betting on what Harry would do.

“Potter,” Malfoy snaps, grabbing Harry’s attention. “I want to speak with you.”

Harry sighs quietly, but he figured Malfoy would give him an ear bashing for his decision. “Alright,” he agrees.

“Not here,” he says sharply, shoving the ring and cloth back into his pocket. “I need—tea, yes, I need tea for this.”

“Okay,” Harry says slowly. “There’s the café in the Atrium—”

“No, I know a better one,” Malfoy interrupts him then turns and strides out of the office at a smart pace.

Harry sighs and moves to catch up.

“Good luck Potter,” Pansy calls after him in a singsong voice.

Malfoy Apparates them near a nice café on the main road in Horsa’s Rest, next to the river. He leads the way inside and pauses briefly to take in the room. It’s a fairly small shop in an old brick building with wide windows, a handful of circular tables, and a glass counter with pastries on display. There’s one small hallway in the back leading to bathrooms and what looks to be probably a back office, with only the one entrance.

Malfoy spots an empty table in the corner of the café and heads toward it. Harry follows behind him, and as they near the table he can tell by Malfoy’s trajectory that he’s going to take the seat in the corner.

“Malfoy,” Harry says quickly, grabbing the opposite chair and pulling it out. When Malfoy turns to look at him, Harry gestures to the seat.

Malfoy hesitates and gives Harry a strange look before he accepts the seat and Harry helps push him in.

“Thank you, Potter,” Malfoy says slowly, still eyeing him as if Harry’s grown a second head. “That’s oddly chivalrous of you.”

“Sure,” he says with a small nod and takes the corner seat, internally sighing in relief. Harry hates sitting with his back to a door. From this chair Harry has a wall to his back, a wall to his left, and a clear view of the entrance and the whole café.

A waitress moves toward their table to take their order.

“Hi, Draco,” she greets Malfoy familiarly. “Cup of Matcha for you?”

“Yes, thank you,” Malfoy says with a small smile and a nod.

“And for your friend—” She turns her eyes on Harry and he can see the exact moment she recognises him. “—Potter, Harry Potter! Oh, it’s such a pleasure.” She fumbles with her quill and pad for a moment before getting her right hand free and throws it out to him.

Harry forces a smile and accepts her handshake. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Mary!” she exclaims. “Mary Elizabeth Green.”

Harry holds in a laugh and says, “It’s nice to meet you, Mary Elizabeth Green.”

“Oh, I—thank you,” she says, looking flushed and flustered. She’s still shaking his hand.

“Just a coffee for me,” Harry says, and that finally breaks her out of her daze.

“Right! Of course, right away,” she says, dropping his hand and fumbling again to get her quill and pad of paper in hand to write down his order.

Harry sighs quietly through his nose after she leaves and glances around the café. Everyone is staring at them now and it sets his teeth on edge. He knows he’s famous and he’s used to being recognised, but he hates having his presence announced.

“You must love that, Potter,” Malfoy drawls and rolls his eyes. “Perhaps I shouldn’t take you anywhere if you’re going to draw a crowd.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Harry says. “And maybe I shouldn’t be seen fraternising with a suspect in my murder case.”

Malfoy narrows his eyes at Harry. “Millie said you arrested someone.”

“Yeah, we did. The case is closed,” Harry says, leaning back in his chair and looking away from Malfoy around the café. Thankfully the rest of the patrons have returned to their own business and aren’t staring at him anymore.

The waitress bustles over with Malfoy’s tea and Harry’s coffee, nearly tipping it over and spilling the coffee in his lap in her haste to get it to him. He darts a hand out and catches it before it tips too far and lets out a relieved sigh.

“I’m so sorry!” she apologises quickly, reaching to help. “I’m so sorry!”

“It’s fine, it’s fine, thank you.” Harry waves her off.

She nods, clutching her hands to her chest and continues to stare at him.

Harry clears his throat awkwardly and says, “Thank you Mary, we’re good.”

“Oh! Of course, right,” she blushes and looks to Malfoy then back to Harry. “Please let me know if there’s anything else I can get you.”

Harry nods and she leaves them alone again. Malfoy scoffs and shakes his head before taking a sip of his tea. He sets it back on its saucer with a click and then levels a determined look at Harry.

“Potter, I don’t think you really understand how this life debt works,” he begins. “Otherwise you would have accepted my offering.”

“Oh, yeah?” Harry says with a mildly curious tone.

“Yes. I’ve put a lot of time and work into making this ring for you, and for you to outright refuse is insulting,” Malfoy continues imperiously. “You told me you would accept my repayment—”

“No, I don’t think I did,” Harry cuts him off. “I told you I’d go this appointment, I never agreed to accepting something I know nothing about.”

“I told you what it is! It is a ring I crafted, imbued with me and my enchantments to protect you,” Malfoy snaps. “This is how the process works.”

“Did you?” Harry raises an eyebrow.

Malfoy frowns. “I did tell you. When we were there, in the office and I made the offering.”

“No, I mean, did you make it?” Harry clarifies.

Malfoy’s mouth drops open in offense. “Of course I made it! You think I’m lying? I crafted that ring from scratch!” he says hotly, then puts out his hands and counts off on his fingers, “I smelted it, I cast it, I shaped it, I carved it, I polished it, I enchanted it. I designed the bloody thing just for you!”

“I didn’t know you could do any of those things. Where did you learn that?” Harry asks curiously.

“I learned from—” Malfoy breaks off and glares at Harry. “Don’t change the subject, Potter. You have insulted and humiliated me, and I demand an explanation.”

Harry shrugs and says, “Felt weird.”

“Felt weird?” Malfoy echoes incredulously.

The bell over the door to the café rings and draws Harry’s gaze. The wizard who enters stomps the snow off his feet on the entrance rug and moves toward the counter. He’s dressed in thickly layered robes with his hands hidden in his pockets, and Harry watches him. He hates the winter months when everyone has their hands hidden and their body wrapped in thick layers of clothing, making them harder to read.

“Are you listening to me, Potter?” Malfoy snaps, and Harry glances at him.

“Yes, I’m listening,” Harry answers as he watches the new wizard shed his cloak and greet the waitress.

“You could at least look at me while I’m talking to you.”

Harry’s gaze jumps back to Malfoy and he frowns. “I am listening. You’re upset because I turned you down when you proposed to me with a fancy ring you made just for me, in a ceremonious way in front of your friends and a witness.”

Malfoy blushes and his eyes widen when he realises what Harry is implying, then he looks angry. He leans forward and hisses under his breath, “I wasn’t proposing marriage to you!”

Harry hums and scratches at his stubbled chin. “Yeah, well, that’s kind of what it felt like.”

“I’m trying to end the bond between us, Potter! Not form a new one.”

“Yeah, that’s another thing I don’t really get,” Harry says. “How is a ring supposed to repay a life debt?”

Malfoy sighs and goes on to explain as if talking to a child, “As I’ve said before, I enchanted the ring with many protective spells—”

“So, the ring is supposed to save my life then? Not you?” Harry asks. “Just want to clarify, since I don’t understand how these life debt things work.”

Malfoy narrows his eyes at Harry’s sarcasm. “I suppose technically, if you want to view it that way. But I’ve put considerable effort into its creation.”

“I don’t know,” Harry says with a shrug, watching the wizard at the counter take a cup of tea and a sandwich to a table at the other end of the café. “Still seems cheap to me.”

“Well, I’m not going to throw myself in front of a curse for you, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Malfoy snarls. “I don’t know why you think this isn’t good enough for you, Potter. Being gifted anything with a wizard’s essence is standard practice to satisfy the bond and has been for tens of years. On top of that I’m trying to give you a very useful, and beautiful, accessory which I think you would find quite helpful, considering your career choice.”

Harry sips at his coffee, looking at Malfoy over the mug. He swallows, shrugs and says, “I’m not really a big fan of those protective objects. Maybe it’ll protect me from a hex, but what about my partner?” Harry asks, and Malfoy rolls his eyes. “I can’t control it if that hex ricochets off a shield from your ring.”

“Of course you would be more worried about your partner than yourself. Shall I make a ring for her too?” Malfoy snarks.

“And another thing,” Harry continues, ignoring Malfoy’s comment, “what exactly do you mean by your essence?”

Malfoy looks a bit startled by the question. He furrows his brows and watches Harry a moment before he answers haltingly, “Well it’s—I mean it’s standard. It’s what dissolves the Life Bond, because the magical essence of a Witch or Wizard is their most precious possession. It gives us our magic, our long life spans.”

“And that’s what you’ve put in that ring?” Harry asks. “Part of your magical essence?”

Malfoy hesitates, going fish-mouthed for a moment in his surprise. “I—I mean, of course. It’s…it’s standard,” he answers weakly.

Harry frowns and regards Malfoy critically. Did Malfoy just lie to him? That wouldn’t make sense, if he is trying to dissolve the bond and this is supposed to be the most common way to do so. Either way, Harry isn’t keen to accept such an object. “Well, I already refused it.”

“You can still accept it,” Malfoy argues immediately.

Harry supposes he could but being around Malfoy has always brought out his stubborn side. He doesn’t trust it and he doesn’t want to accept it now that he’s already turned it down. “You can do better,” he answers with a small smirk, wondering if he can still trigger Malfoy’s competitive nature.

“I can’t believe you,” Malfoy says in an appalled tone. “First you treat me like a lowly criminal, dragging me into the Ministry for these absurd interrogations—” Malfoy begins ranting, but Harry cuts him off.

“You lied about knowing the victim,” he points out.

“I didn’t lie!” Malfoy snaps defensively. “I genuinely didn’t remember him. It’s been years, he looks different, and…” He trails off, then after a moment admits quietly, “And I tried to avoid those people when they came to the Manor. I never liked interacting with them.”

Harry watches Malfoy as he takes a long drink of his tea and avoids Harry’s gaze. “Even so,” he says eventually, “it looked suspicious and I still had to investigate the case. You didn’t do yourself any favours either—lying about why you were out there, moving into that estate with a history of Dark Arts.”

“You looked into my house too?” he asks incredulously, and Harry shrugs. Malfoy rolls his eyes and mutters, “Of course you did.”

Harry asks, “Why did you move there?”

Malfoy narrows his eyes at Harry suspiciously. “Depends. Are you asking as an Auror?”

“No, just curious,” Harry says casually.

“It’s a lovely little place. Full of potential,” Malfoy answers sardonically.

Harry snorts and takes a drink from his coffee. He doesn’t bother to push the subject further, knowing he’s not likely to get a real answer from Malfoy.

“Who did you arrest for that, anyway?” Malfoy asks curiously after a short lull in the conversation.

“I can’t discuss the details of the case with you,” Harry answers automatically.

Malfoy tuts, but he seems to accept the answer and sits back, drinking his tea. Harry lets his eyes rove across the café again, taking in the customers and staff. When he looks back to Malfoy, he finds that Malfoy is watching him.

“You’re different now,” he comments thoughtfully. “Calmer. Less…volatile.”

“Yeah, well,” Harry begins lightly, “I was a bit of a mess after the war.”

“I imagine being a Horcrux would do that to a person.”

Harry snorts out a laugh and nods. “Yeah, suppose so. Guess I’m better at managing my temper now. Have to be, anyway, for this job. Can’t be going off half-cocked all the time.”

Malfoy hums. “I would hope so,” he says and pauses. “You still think Auror was the right career choice for you?”

“Yeah, I do,” Harry answers easily. “It’s tough at times, but I enjoy it. I enjoy helping people.”

“You always had to be the hero,” Malfoy teases and shakes his head.

Harry gives him a small smile, then sips at his coffee. “What about you? Thought you were planning on traveling the world. Now you make jewelry?”

“I don’t only make jewelry,” Malfoy says and rolls his eyes. “I mainly work with metal, but I craft all sorts of things.”

“Where did you learn that from?” Harry asks curiously. Somehow, they’ve shifted the conversation from Malfoy being cross with Harry, to something closer to the conversations they used to have during their eighth year and Harry feels fondly nostalgic about it.

“France,” Malfoy answers coyly, and Harry gives him an unimpressed look. Malfoy smirks, then after a moment he looks down at the table, rubbing at a dent in it idly with one long finger as he says, “I spent time with a druid there. They taught me.”

“Oh,” Harry says with a look of surprise. Druids are rather rare these days, and as far as Harry knows they are fairly secretive. “Were you…did you spend most of your time there?”

“I—yes,” Malfoy says haltingly, and Harry furrows his brow. “It’s a long apprenticeship.”

Harry hums curiously. “That’s what kept you there?”

He drains the rest of his coffee and sets the mug down. Harry looks around the café, then a flash outside the window catches his eye and he glares at the sight of a camera. He knows he can’t do anything about them, and Harry just hopes they’re not with The Daily Prophet.

“Yes,” Malfoy answers, unaware of the paparazzi behind him. “I came back when my mentor and I both felt it was the right time.”

“But you left originally because of some...family emergency?” Harry asks, trying to recall exactly what McGonagall had told him years back.

“Yes,” Malfoy answers simply. When Harry looks back at him, he holds his eye contact for a moment, but Malfoy seems set on not explaining further, and Harry lets it go.

Harry runs a finger over the rim of his coffee mug and says hesitantly, “For a while I thought maybe you’d left because of me.”

“What? Why?” Malfoy asks in surprise, and Harry raises a pointed eyebrow at him. Malfoy huffs out a laugh and rolls his eyes. “Please. You thought I’d leave the country because you tried to kiss me?”

Harry chuckles sheepishly and scrubs a hand over his stubble. “I was a kid and you left like, right after. I didn’t know what to think,” he says, then adds, “and you never owled.”

“You didn’t either,” Malfoy counters immediately, and Harry shrugs.

“Did you ever get your Animagus, by the way?” he asks curiously.

Malfoy hesitates. “Erm, no,” he says, looking down at the table and shaking his head. He clears his throat then looks back to Harry. “Well, anyway. You sure you still want to be a stubborn prick and refuse my offer?”

Harry smirks and nods.

“Very well then, I’ll see you next Wednesday, same time?”

“Sure,” Harry answers.

“I’ll try to appease your discerning taste,” Malfoy drawls sarcastically.

He stands, and Harry watches as he reaches into his robes to get at his coin pouch, and then he pulls out a few Sickles and plants them on the table next to his teacup.

“I’ll see you then,” Malfoy says.

“Sure,” Harry agrees. “See you then.”

Malfoy turns and leaves the café, and Harry watches him. After a moment, he digs out his own coin purse, pays for his coffee, then Apparates home.

The rest of the week passes similarly, with little to no movement on their case. By the time Saturday comes, Harry is ready for a more exciting weekend. With Ginny recently back from holiday, she’s invited them all to get together and celebrate at the pub for the Harpie’s successful Quidditch season, even if it did end three months ago.

“Harry, you’re a famous wizard going to a nice pub to meet your Quidditch star friend,” Susan argues from the large, oval mirror next to Harry’s wardrobe. “You can’t just go in jeans and a jumper.”

“I’m already famous, why do I need to dress fancy?” Harry groans, but he’s already pulling the green jumper off over his head.

“You know there’s going to be paparazzi. And because no one’s going to fuck you if you look like a tramp. You do want to get laid, don’t you?” she asks pointedly.

“Yeah,” Harry admits with a sigh, struggling out of his jeans and almost tripping as they catch on his foot.

Famous or not, Harry’s love life doesn’t see much action. Mostly he’s married to his work, which makes it difficult to maintain a relationship, but it would be nice to have a good hard shag every once in a while.

“Then stop wearing Muggle clothes with holes in them. This is why we took you shopping, remember? Now, put on that sage number that makes your arse look good.”

Harry looks to the mirror and frowns at Susan. She’s in a lacey purple bra and matching panties, with a towel wrapped around her head, and she’s rubbing some sort of skincare product on her face. Working in close quarters on many field missions over the years has erased nearly all modesty between them. “I thought you said it brought out my eyes.”

“It does bring out your eyes,” she says, glancing to him in the enchanted mirror, then looking back to the face mirror on her vanity desk. “It also brings out your arse.”

Harry huffs out a laugh and looks in his wardrobe, pushing aside a few sets of his Auror uniform, formal robes, and his old school robes before getting to the outfits he’d bought several months back with Susan.

He slides on the black trousers over his pants which fit snugly around his arse, then he pulls the cream long sleeve shirt over his head and does up the five buttons at the top of it up to the collar around his neck. Harry slides the final piece off the hanger, which looks a bit like a waistcoat but is more like a doublet with its thick, sage coloured material, pointed shoulders, tapering waist, and fine embroidery around the edges.

Harry slides it on over his arms and latches the fancy silver clasps down the middle of it, then he turns to his mirror and lifts his arms. “Well?” he prompts. “Do I look like a modern, 14th century man?”

Susan finishes applying her eyeliner before she stops and looks him up and down. “No, you look like a modern and fashionable 21st century wizard,” she pronounces, then twirls her finger, gesturing for him to spin around. Harry does, and when he turns all the way back, Susan is smirking. “Makes your shoulders and chest look good too.”

“Perfect, now the paparazzi can photograph me looking hot and fashionable as I go home alone,” Harry deadpans.

Susan chuckles and returns to doing her makeup. “You aren’t going to get any D with an attitude like that,” she singsongs.

“Or V!” Harry adds defensively.

“Maybe, if you weren’t so awkward with women,” Susan says and laughs, having to stop applying eyeshadow as her body shakes with it. “Remember the Ministry Christmas party? With—oh what was her name? Christine? Kristen?”

“Christina. And we don’t speak of that incident. Besides, I’m awkward with everyone, thank you very much,” Harry corrects her haughtily, picking up his glasses and sliding them on. Susan laughs in the background.

He grabs one of the doors to his wardrobe and tilts it further open so he can look at himself in the long mirror on the inside of the door. He turns and looks at how the trousers hug his arse, and he has to admit that Susan’s right.

Harry puts a hand through his damp, unruly hair, trying to get one of the waves to sit a different way, but it’s no use. He scrubs a hand down his chin, feeling the stubble scraping against his palm.

“Think I should shave?” Harry asks with a glance to his enchanted mirror. Susan has taken her hair out of the towel and is waving her wand in circles down it, drying it and creating big, perfect waves in her naturally straight hair, and Harry envies her the ease with which her hair behaves.

She pauses and glances up at him, humming thoughtfully and then shaking her head. “No, it looks good on you. I’ve told you you should grow it out,” she says. “Maybe tidy it a bit though.”

Harry makes an agreeable note and turns back to the regular mirror in his wardrobe. He nonverbally Accios his wand to his hand from his nightstand and directs a Shaving Charm around his neck and the edges of his beard. When he’s finished, he tilts his head left then right, observing his work.

“And wear the nice boots, not your scuffed-up Auror ones,” Susan reminds him.

Harry grumbles an agreement and pulls the boots out of his wardrobe. He sits on the edge of his bed to slide them on over his trousers, tucking his trousers in them better and then going to close his wardrobe.

“You nearly finished? I don’t want to be the only one there,” Harry grouses.

“Yeah, yeah,” she says, getting up from her vanity and walking to the clothes she’s already laid out on her bed.

As she bends over to pull on a tight pair of black trousers, Harry can see the long, red scar cutting its way down her back. He turns away as she finishes dressing in a grey, pleated blouse and tucks it into her trousers.

While Harry is putting on his belt and buckling his thigh holster on, Susan reminds him, “Don’t forget your cloak.”

“What? Why?” he asks and glances up at her. “It’s going to be stuffy in the pub.”

“It’s January, Harry. Put on a cloak.” she says flatly as she pulls on her own deep blue jacket which has an attached cape. It buttons over her chest, then opens and extends down to her knees with intricate, silver embroidery around the edges.

“Fine,” Harry grumbles. “See you there.”

“Yeah,” Susan agrees and taps her wand against her enchanted mirror, ending the connection. The image of Susan disappears in ripples over the silvery surface and forms into Giselle’s unhappy face.

“Thank you, Giselle,” Harry remembers to thank her before hastily leaving his room. He doesn’t want to wait around for another ear-bashing from his mirror about communicating with a lady in such a scandalous state.

Harry thumps down the stairs to the coat rack in the entry hall, and he has to dig under a few cloaks before he finds the nice black one with the silver cloak pin. He throws it over his shoulders, slips his arms in the armholes, and pins it in place under his neck. It has a high collar worthy of a Disney villain, and Harry always feels a little silly in it, even if it is considered fashionable in the magical community.

Harry Floos into the pub and is greeted with a warm atmosphere and the low buzz of conversation. With a cursory look around the space, Harry spots a few of his friends at the other end of the pub, stood chatting. He’s also surprised to see Pansy, Millicent, and Theo Nott at another, and he hesitates a moment after spotting them, but then brushes it off. They’re in a popular Magical pub on a Saturday, it’s not surprising that he might see some of the Slytherins around occasionally.

The pub is active but not full yet, and Harry moves first to the bar to order a pint before it gets too busy. As soon as he has a beer in hand, he turns to see Susan stepping out of the Floo. She flicks her wand down at her trousers above her tall, leather boots to vanish any soot from them.

As she looks around, Susan spots Harry at the bar and starts moving toward him. Her steps falter a moment when she notices Pansy and Millicent in the corner. Harry watches curiously as Millicent looks to Susan and tracks her as she strides over to Harry.

“You really don’t like her, do you?” Harry asks, trying to recall when and why exactly that happened, but he doesn’t remember.

“Nope,” Susan says, popping the ‘p’. She catches the bartender’s attention and orders a pint from her. “Doesn’t look like Ginny’s here yet,” she comments after turning back to Harry.

“Of course she’s late to her own party,” Harry huffs and unclasps the pin on his cloak, sliding it off and throwing it over his arm. It’s already too hot for him in the pub to be wearing a cloak. “Told you we’d be too early.”

“Come on, it’s fine,” Susan says, taking her glass from the bartender then slipping her arm around Harry’s waist and leading them over to the space Neville, Luna, George, Angelina, and Lee are occupying.

“Hey guys,” Harry greets them and stands next to Neville. Susan stays next to him, holding him around his waist, and Harry throws an arm over her shoulders.

“You look beautiful, Harry,” Luna tells him.

“Thanks, Luna,” Harry says. “You look radiant.” She’s in green leggings and bright yellow sundress with turtles and cabbages patterned on it, despite the season.

“Doesn’t his arse look great?” Susan asks everyone.

“It’s true, we were all just saying behind his back what a nice arse he has,” George says, and Harry smiles sheepishly but laughs with the rest of them.

“You’re welcome,” Susan says and gives a little bow which receives applause, most loudly from George and Lee.

Harry laughs and waves them off, and they soon return to a heated debate about Quidditch.

A minute later the Floo flares to life in the corner of the pub, and Harry glances at it, wondering if it’ll be Ginny or Ron and Hermione, but when it’s Malfoy that steps out Harry does a double take.

Malfoy is dressed smartly in fashionable robes that are an elegant yet simple design. They’re a dark grey wool with a high collared shirt and a flowing cloak that drapes down his long, lean frame.

Malfoy spots his friends and starts moving toward them. As if feeling his gaze, Malfoy turns and meets Harry’s eyes. He pauses briefly, then looks away and moves on to his friends.

Harry wonders how Malfoy is feeling after the article came out about them in the Prophet. Of course, after they were spotted in the café, that photo had been on the front page the next day. The article had speculated on their relationship, and even had quotes from various unnamed sources about their short-lived friendship after the War.

The morning it printed, Harry got a slew of fanmail warning him away from Malfoy or asking why he would associate with such a person. Harry had vanished most of it, and he wonders if Malfoy had received any hate mail.

“How’s Hogwarts?” Harry asks Neville, turning his thoughts and attention away from Malfoy.

“Good,” Neville answers. “The Fanged Geraniums are coming in beautifully in the greenhouse, and so far, we haven’t had any major incidents since the hols.”

Harry laughs, remembering fondly the many incidents in Herbology during his years at Hogwarts. “Good to hear,” he says. “You still like it then, teaching?” Neville had taken over as the Herbology teacher five years ago after apprenticing under Professor Sprout for four years.

“Love it,” he answers immediately with a grin. “Living at Hogwarts is a dream. I have the freedom to do my research, I have wonderful facilities to work in, and I love teaching the students and seeing them grow.”

“That’s great, Nev,” Harry says. For a little while Harry had considered teaching instead of law enforcement, and he wonders how different his life would be if he’d gone that path instead.

Neville leans a little closer to Harry and says in a low voice, “But you know what the worst bit is? The parents.”

Harry laughs. “I can imagine.”

“No, you can’t,” Neville says with wide eyes and shakes his head. “They’re horrible. I mean, not all of them. But some of them. There’s one that owls constantly. Tries to micromanage everything. Honestly, makes me feel a bit bad for the student.”

Harry grimaces and takes a sip of his beer. “Yeah, I think I’d rather tangle with criminals day-to-day than have to deal with angry parents.”

Neville nods and says sagely, “Definitely the safer choice.”

The Floo flares to life again and out steps Ginny dressed in thick, layered robes of fall colours—yellows, and oranges, and reds. She spots their group and waves. George turns and points at her with a faux shocked expression, and she goes running through the pub and jumps into his arms. George twirls her around a few times before letting her back on her feet. He says something that Harry doesn’t catch, and Ginny throws her head back and laughs.

Her pale skin is somewhat darker than Harry remembers, and it’s covered more thickly in freckles from all the sun exposure she must have had traveling around South America these last three months.

Behind her, the Floo flares again and out steps Blaise. Harry watches him a moment as Blaise looks around the pub, spotting them, and then the table the Slytherins are at and moving toward the latter.

“Hey everyone!” Ginny says with a wide grin to the group at large and gets a chorus of greetings in return. “As you all know, I’ve had a spectacular year of Quidditch, and the Harpies won the British and Irish League!”

Their group erupts in whoops and cheers and Harry claps and whistles.

“You all know I’ve brought you here to celebrate, but I also have more news to announce while I have you all together,” Ginny continues and then looks around the pub.

“Five Galleons says she’s pregnant,” Pansy says, catching their attention as the group of Slytherins approaches.

“It’s worse,” Malfoy drawls. “They’re engaged.”

Blaise sidles up to Ginny and puts an arm around her shoulders, and she puts an arm on his waist. Ginny glares briefly at Pansy and Malfoy before says, “No, hell no. Blaise and I are dating. We’ve been dating a while now, we went on holiday together and we figure it’s serious enough to let you all know before you see it in the papers.”

“Welcome to the family,” George says ambiably, reaching into his pocket and drawing out a candy. “Would you like a toffee?”

“Don’t you dare,” Angelina hisses and snatches the candy out of his hand.

Ginny tries to glare at George, but it’s ruined by her laughing. “I’ve arranged this little get together so you can all get to know Blaise and his friends. You’ll probably be seeing a lot more of him, so you’re not allowed to be an arse.”

“I already get enough of that from her—oof!” Blaise cuts off with a grunt as Ginny whacks him in the stomach.

Harry frowns at Blaise. Ginny is family to him and he’s not crazy about the idea of her being with such an arrogant prick, but he knows she’s a grown woman and she can date who she wants. Harry shakes his head and huffs out a quiet laugh when he thinks about how Ron will react.

“Wait, where’s my brother?” Ginny says, looking around and also realising that Ron is missing from the group.

“Present!” George answers and raises his hand.

“No, the tall one,” Ginny laughs and shakes her head.

“He’s down there,” George answers, throwing a thumb over his shoulder toward Harry.

Ginny looks at Harry and laughs again. “No, the ginger one.”

“Think he’s in Shell Cottage with his lovely wife,” George says as the Floo flares to life at the other end of the pub, and out step Ron and Hermione.

“No, the freckled one,” Ginny continues.

“The daft one is behind you,” Malfoy cuts into their exchange dryly.

The Slytherins are stood off to the side by Blaise, looking somewhat uncomfortable instead of joining their group.

“Sorry guys, the babysitter was running late,” Ron says on approach, shaking his head.

Ginny lets go of Blaise so she can turn and wrap Ron in a big hug. Ron looks surprised, as if he didn’t recognise the back of Ginny as Ginny. Perhaps because she was hanging off a man, Harry suspects.

Once he’s over the initial shock, Ron squeezes her back tightly and easily lifts her off her feet. After he sets her down, they’re both grinning. Ginny takes a step back and takes Blaise’s hand.

“So, Ron, Hermione, you missed the announcement,” Ginny begins.

“What’s going on?” Ron asks, his expression twisted suspiciously as he looks at Blaise and down at their joined hands.

“Well, we brought you all here to let you know that Blaise and are going together,” Ginny explains. “We’ve been going out a while, he was with me when I was traveling in South America, and I’d like you to get know each other. So be nice.” Ginny drops her tone to emphasise the last point.

Ron hums an unimpressed note and frowns at Blaise. “So, you’re dating my sister?” he says and extends his hand.

Blaise accepts it and they shake hands, and the moment stretches on and they keep shaking hands.

“My baby sister. My only sister,” Ron says, and Harry can see Ron tightening his grip more and more.

Ginny thumps Ron several times on his back, and Harry can tell by the way he winces that she’s putting a fair bit of weight behind each slap. “Thanks bro, I knew I could count on you to be nice,” she says and Ron finally drops Blaise’s hand.

“It’s great to see you, Ginny,” Hermione says, giving her a hug. “We’re happy you’re happy.”

“Yep, that’s what I want. For my sister to be happy,” Ron says pointedly at Blaise.

“And I am,” Ginny emphasises. “I’m bringing Blaise ‘round for dinner tomorrow, so I want you all to break the ice now, and I’ll tell mum and dad then.”

“Fine,” Ron grunts.

Ginny claps her hands together and looks around at the group. “Now, mingle! I’m going to get some social lubrication for everyone.”

Ginny walks off to the bar, and no one in the group moves to mingle. Ron is still glaring at Blaise.

“Come on, Ronniekins,” George says and claps a hand on Ron’s shoulder, turning him away from Blaise and toward the bar. “I’m sure our beloved sister will need help carrying those drinks.”

Neville is the first to move, and he walks over to Malfoy and says, “Hey Draco, nice to see you again.”

“Longbottom,” Malfoy says and accepts his hand in a short handshake. Neville starts up a conversation with him about some sort of plant Harry knows nothing about, and he doesn’t try to follow. The pub is getting more crowded and louder and it’s getting harder to hear over the din.

Harry catches Millicent frowning at him and Susan, but Susan isn’t watching her, instead she’s sipping at her beer and listening to a conversation Luna started with Hermione about Billywigs.

Ron, George and Ginny come back a few minutes later with a round of red shots which are on fire and pass them around. Harry is offered one as usual, but he puts a hand up and shakes his head. Daphne and Astoria show up and join the group soon after, and Harry and Susan talk to Daphne for a while about work.

The celebration starts moving after that. Paparazzi show and take photos through the window, but Harry tries to ignore them. One tries to get into the pub, but he’s chased off by the bouncer. George ropes Theo into a game of Wizard’s Darts, and Harry challenges the winner. Malfoy wanders over at some point, and when Harry beats Theo, Malfoy berates him for letting a Gryffindor beat him.

“Maybe you’d like to challenge me then? Defend your house’s honour?” Harry goads him.

“I don’t know, Potter, I haven’t played Wizard’s Darts in a long time,” Malfoy says hesitantly, but Harry can tell by the look in his eye that he’s got him.

“I’ll go easy on you,” Harry assures him. He hands half the darts to Malfoy and says, “You can start first.”

“How generous of you,” Malfoy drawls, taking the darts. He lines himself up in front of the dartboard, then he shoots the dart out and expertly hits the bullseye.

Harry’s mouth drops. Malfoy glances at him with a small smirk, and Harry snaps his mouth closed. Malfoy lines up his next shot and his hand snaps out, releasing the dart in another near-perfect strike.

“Haven’t played in a long time, huh?” Harry asks.

“Years,” Malfoy says and smiles innocently.

Harry huffs and shakes his head. He lines up a shot, and the first one is alright. It’s not a ringer, and it doesn’t land close enough to the centre to knock one of Malfoy’s off, but his next shot is a near-bullseye that’s close enough to Malfoy’s first dart that it leans over and kicks Malfoy’s dart off the board.

On his next round, Malfoy gets another bullseye and one that kicks Harry’s better shot off the board. They go back and forth like that through the seven rounds of the game until they’re out of darts. Malfoy has practically cleared the board of Harry’s darts, and Harry shakes his head at him.

“Beginner’s luck,” Malfoy says with a casual shrug.

“Sure, let’s call it that,” Harry says, fighting a smile as he sets down his beer to clean up the darts.

Malfoy joins him, pulling his darts from the board and setting them in the box underneath it. Harry tosses the rest in the box and shuts it.

He looks up at Malfoy, stood fairly close now. Malfoy still has a bit a smug smile on his face, but he looks away from Harry to look around at the pub for the rest of his friends. He picks up the martini he set down on the counter by Harry’s beer, and lifts it to take a drink.

Harry slides his hands into his pockets and asks, “Have you got any threats in the post since that article on Thursday?”

Malfoy’s hand pauses midway to his mouth and he snaps his gaze back to Harry. He lowers his martini and furrows his brows. “Merlin, Potter. You sure know how to ruin a good time, don’t you?”

Harry huffs out a laugh and shrugs. “Have you?”

“No, it’s fine,” Malfoy says dismissively, but doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes when he does. He sips at his martini and asks, “What’s with the negativity? Shouldn’t you be happy? Your ex-girlfriend brought you here to celebrate the fact she’s shagging someone else. Cheers!”

Malfoy lifts his martini to Harry, and Harry snorts but he clinks his pint against Malfoy’s glass. Harry takes a sip of his beer where Malfoy shoots the rest of his drink.

“You’re nursing that like you don’t want to get drunk,” Malfoy observes.

“Harry never really gets drunk anymore,” Hermione says as she, Luna, and Angelina approach them.

“Why not?” Malfoy asks curiously, and glances at Harry with a small frown.

Harry shrugs. “I’m always on call,” he answers and moves out of the way as Luna and Angelina set up to play Wizard’s Darts.

“But it’s the weekend,” Malfoy says and cocks his head to the side. “Can’t other Aurors respond? Why does it have to be you?”

“There’s not that many of us,” Harry points out.

“There’s enough,” Malfoy argues and eyes Harry speculatively.

“I don’t think I’ve seen Harry drunk in a few years,” Hermione says offhandedly, taking a sip from her cocktail.

“Not like you can talk,” Harry shoots back to her.

“Well, with the kids now, it makes it harder,” she says with a shrug.

Harry had been ecstatic to be the cool uncle for Ron and Hermione’s children, but he hadn’t anticipated how much it would change their friendship. They would always be his best friends, and he will always love them, but for a while it was hard after he realised how much their lives were diverging. Ron and Hermione became preoccupied with parenting and everything that encompasses, and they started begging off many of the things they used to do together.

Harry doesn’t hold it against them, and he’s happy for them, but sometimes it makes him feel disconnected from the people who used to ground him. Harry puts in his time with his godchildren, but at the end of the day he’s not a father and he doesn’t relate to them on the same level. They’re making memories together that Harry isn’t a part of anymore.

In a way it makes him feel like he’s been left behind. Harry is twenty-six going on twenty-seven, and, while he knows he’s still young, he can feel the years slipping by. He has a good career, but sometimes he wishes he had someone to share his life with in a more intimate way. On the other hand, when his friends and family start in asking if he’s ever going to settle down, it frustrates Harry because he feels like he doesn’t need to get married to be happy—he can be happy with himself.

With the distance he feels from Ron and Hermione, Harry is grateful to have Susan in his life. While they butt heads at times, Susan is a great friend and the best partner Harry could ask for. He’s glad to have someone he can relate to and share things with, since they both understand the pressures of their career and they’re both in similar situations with their love lives.

Harry looks around the pub unconsciously seeking out Susan. It’s natural for him to check where she is and make sure she’s still in sight. He spots her stood on the opposite end of the pub talking to Millicent. Harry narrows his eyes and watches them for a moment, making sure she’s alright. By their posture and hand gestures, they aren’t having the most pleasant conversation.

“Your partner’s been drinking,” Malfoy points out and follows Harry’s eyes across the room to Susan and Millicent. “Saw her shoot three Flaming Erumpets not thirty minutes ago.”

Harry shrugs and sips at his beer.

“So, you can get drunk, you just choose not to. Maybe you’re covering the fact that you can’t hold your liquor. It’s alright, Potter. I suppose we all get old and drab at some point. You’ve just peaked earlier than most,” Malfoy drawls in a bored and unconcerned tone.

Harry furrows his brow. He knows Malfoy is trying to rile him up, and it’s working. “I am not old and drab.”

“Oh, really?” Malfoy asks skeptically with a small smirk. “You’re here questioning me if I’ve received any threats, acting as if you’re still on duty, and not out to pub on a Saturday night to celebrate with friends. Can’t you turn it off and have a little fun?”

“Of course I can,” Harry says indignantly.

“Then prove it,” Malfoy challenges him. “Take a shot with me. Loosen up. Have a little fun.”

“Fine,” Harry answers, gesturing widely for Malfoy to lead the way.

Malfoy takes them to the bar and orders two Flaming Erumpets. He raises his eyebrow in a taunt as he lifts his own burning shot, and Harry raises his. They shoot them at the same time and Harry slams the shot glass down onto the bar and exhales a sharp breath. The alcohol burns its way down his throat and erupts in his stomach in a hot and tingly sensation, like if Exploding Bonbons were made of chilis.

Malfoy shakes out his head and whistles, while Harry grabs his beer to chase away the burning in his throat. He can feel the effects of the shot almost immediately, sending a tingling sensation skittering across his face and down his fingertips.

“There,” Harry says and coughs. He’d almost forgot how bad shots were.

“Harry!” Harry hears Ginny right before he feels her wrap her arms around his neck and hug him from behind.

“Hey,” he says and grins. When she lets go, he turns and gives her a proper hug. “Congratulations on winning the cup!”

“Thank you!” she says and pulls back. Her face is flushed red from drinking and dancing. “Where’ve you been?”

“Playing darts,” Harry says and jerks his thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of the dartboard.

“Mm,” she hums, then looks to Malfoy stood next to them. “Malfoy, are you having a good time?”

“Sure, spending an evening surrounded by Gryffindors and all the people who hate me most. What’s not to like?”

“Yeah,” Ginny agrees with a put-on sympathetic smile. “Probably shouldn’t have been a racist, bullying piece of shit all those years in school, hm?”

“I suppose not. But then you must believe we villainous Slytherins aren’t completely incapable of redemption, seeing as you’ve slithered into bed with one,” Malfoy says and tips his head in the direction of Blaise, who’s laughing with Pansy about something further down the bar. “He never was much for scrawny gingers, but I suppose that trophy of yours would make anyone seem more attractive. Until the next comes along.”

Harry purses his lips and widens his eyes at Malfoy reprovingly. Malfoy glances at him and rolls his eyes. Harry feels as if he’s back in eighth year, trying to keep his friends and Malfoy from tearing into each other because Malfoy refused to ever stop being Malfoy.

“Good to see some things never change,” Ginny says. Harry can tell by the way she’s clenching her jaw and squeezing painfully at his side that she’s really making an effort not to fight back and cause trouble with the friend of her new boyfriend.

Harry clears his throat and digs her fingers out of his side. Ginny looks to him and loosens her hold when she realises what she’s doing. She lets out a breath and then looks down Harry’s form as if just noticing him.

“You clean up nice,” she says to change the subject and rubs a hand over his stubbled chin. “Like the beard. You looking to pull tonight?”

Harry smiles and gives a small shrug. “Maybe.”

Ginny grins and winks. “I’m sure you’ll manage it.”

“Malfoy,” she says and turns back to him. “You coming to the game tomorrow?”

He gives a tight-lipped smile. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t play anymore.”

“Shame,” she says. “I’ve missed seeing Harry trounce you at Quidditch.”

“Guess you’ll have to manage without,” Malfoy says dryly.

Ginny pats Harry on the back then moves on to talk to someone else.

“You should come tomorrow,” Harry says and takes a sip of his beer.

Malfoy shakes his head. “I haven’t played in years.”

“Like how you haven’t played Wizard’s Darts in years?” Harry asks with a raised brow.

Malfoy looks over at him with a sly smile, then looks down at the bar as he rubs at one of the water rings. “No, I really haven’t. I’m sure I’d be no competition for you.”

“It’s like riding a bicycle,” Harry says, but Malfoy shakes his head. “You wouldn’t have to play if you don’t want. You could just come and watch, lots of them do. And we all get lunch after.”

“Hm, maybe,” Malfoy answers dubiously.

“I think I recognise him from somewhere!” Harry looks up and spots George several feet away, looking and pointing at Harry. George continues in a stage whisper, “Isn’t he famous?”

“Merlin’s beard! I think you’re right!” Ginny stage whispers even louder than George, “He’s that really important wizard!”

“Oh my God,” Harry groans and covers his face, which is turning hot with embarrassment.

“Wow, Potter, really?” Malfoy drawls, and when Harry uncovers his face and looks up at him, Malfoy’s expression is intensely judgemental. “You use your fame for easy sex?”

“No!” he snaps. “No, they’re just being arseholes.”

Harry glares at George and Ginny, and George gives him a big, exaggerated wink and a thumbs up. Harry can’t help but break into laughter.

“It’s not going to work anyway—” Harry begins, but he’s cut off when the bartender sets a new beer in front of him.

“From that bloke,” the bartender tells him and gestures to a wizard sat on the other end of the bar.

“Oh,” Harry says, looking to the beer, then back to the wizard. He’s rather lush, if Harry’s being honest. Dark hair and olive skin, and he looks like he could swim the Channel.

Harry glances to Malfoy, who is also looking at the man hitting on Harry. Malfoy hums, looks to Harry, then he turns his wrist over and looks at the watch.

“I should get going, enjoy the drink, Potter,” Malfoy says and digs in his coin purse to pay off his tab. “Who knows, maybe you’ll prove me wrong and have some fun.”

“You don’t have to leave,” Harry says with a frown.

“No, I need to go anyway,” Malfoy says and drops a couple Galleons onto the bar. “Have a good night.”

“Okay, g’night, Malfoy,” Harry says and watches as Malfoy turns and walks off toward the Floo.

Harry looks back to the drink and the man that sent it to him, then he hesitantly picks it up and tips it to him. The man stands and walks around the bar over to Harry, and as he gets closer Harry eyes the way his robes pull over his large shoulders and biceps. The wizard could probably pick Harry up and fuck him against a wall, and Harry’s cock twitches at the thought. He swallows and surreptitiously readjusts himself before the wizard approaches him.

“Hi,” the man says with a wide, kind smile. “I’m Ben.”

Harry shakes his hand. “Harry,” he answers automatically, and Ben laughs like he’s told a joke. Harry laughs as well and pretends like he was intentionally being witty.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare your friend off,” Ben begins hesitantly.

“No, it’s alright,” Harry says and waves away his concern. “He had to leave anyway.”

“Good,” Ben says and smiles again. He bites his lip in a small, nervous gesture and then says, “Sorry, I don’t mean to be so forward, but when your friends pointed you out…”

Harry chuckles nervously and rubs at the back of his neck. “Yeah, they’re mental, don’t mind them.”

“Well, I’m glad they did, I’ve been hoping to meet you,” Ben says.

“Oh?” Harry starts to feel his hope deflating. It’s a major turn-off when someone wants to get with him because he’s Harry Potter.

“Yeah,” Ben continues with an excited smile. “I’ve always wanted to thank you for the work you did on the Colne case. My niece was one of the kids affected, and without you I don’t think she’d be alive today.”

“Oh,” Harry says in surprise. “Well, you don’t have to thank me for that. I was just doing my job.”

“No, you went above and beyond. If anyone else had had that case none of those children would have survived,” Ben gushes. “I read everything I could about it and was so fascinated with your process, it was brilliant.”

“Thank you,” Harry says and cards his fingers through his hair. His cheeks are hot with embarrassment, but for once it’s a nice sort of embarrassment.

Harry and Ben spend the next hour talking and Harry is surprised by how much he enjoys it. He’s usually awkward with strangers and wary of potential threats, but he feels loose and tingly from the alcohol he’s had, and he reads nothing but openness and sincerity in Ben’s words and body language.

When Ben shyly asks, “Would you maybe like to come to mine?” Harry agrees easily. He looks around the pub before heading out with Ben, and says goodbye to the few friends he sees, but he doesn’t spot Susan and figures she must have left already.

Ben Apparates them into his flat and he and Harry are almost immediately all over each other. They kiss and start pulling off clothing as Ben guides them to his room. When they get there, Ben strips off the rest of his clothes and gets on the bed.

Harry takes a second to admire him. He’s a proper unit, and Harry wants to feel the weight of those muscles pushing him into the matress.

Ben turns over and pushes up on his knees. “Want you to fuck me,” he says.

“You don’t want to top?” Harry asks in surprise, his hands pausing in unzipping his trousers.

Ben looks at Harry over his shoulder and pushes his arse up. “No, I’ve always wanted to get fucked by a powerful Auror. Please, Harry.”

Harry sighs internally. He was hoping to get fucked tonight, but this happens more often than he’d like. Still, Ben is a good-looking man and Harry feels comfortable with him, and he’s not going to pass up the opportunity to release some of his pent-up sexual tension.

Afterward, Ben tells him to owl, and Harry agrees while gathering his clothes and trying to pull them on without tripping. They both know it’s an empty promise. It’s late when Harry finally makes it home, and he falls into bed and crashes.

Chapter Text

“Alright, now let’s have a fair match today,” Angelina says and eyes Seamus. “No wayward Bludgers.”

“Only intentional bludgeonings,” George says, shouldering his bat and grinning at Blaise.

Harry finishes counting out his last stretch and pushes himself up onto his feet. It snowed last night, so the field is wet and muddy, but the sky is clear and it’s not terribly windy. The weather is about as good as it gets for a late January game.

Harry brushes the snow off his butt as he looks around at the rickety old stands. Branbury Park isn’t the nicest or the newest Quidditch pitch, but it’s easily accessible to everyone in their group, it’s a full pitch with Anti-Muggle wards, and they can usually rent it out for a morning every fortnight or so without much issue.

Hermione’s dark, bushy hair is easy to spot, and he recognises Luna by her brightly coloured dress. Harry’s eyes catch on the blond head of hair next to Luna, and it takes him a second to realise that it’s Malfoy. He expected Neville, but Neville is on the other side of him. Harry smiles and then his attention is caught by Angelina releasing the Snitch.

“Good luck, Harry,” Cho says with a small smile. He turns his attention away from the Snitch zipping away into the distance and onto her.

“You too, let’s hope one of us can get it this time,” Harry says. They only have a few hours to play before they need to get lunch and then people have to leave and do other things in their life, and sometimes the have to end before the Snitch is caught.

“Take position!” Angelina calls to them.

Harry mounts his broom and kicks off from the ground, feeling the familiar sense of excitement rush through him as the ground drops out behind him and he knows he’s about to play his favourite game.

The players all fly up into position, and Angelina aims her wand down at the box of Quidditch balls. With a flick of her wand, the Bludgers come bursting out and fly up into the air, and with another flick she sends the Quaffle up between the two teams.

Ginny and Blaise dive for the Quaffle at the same time and nearly crash getting to it. Harry floats higher out of the way and starts a loop around the field, trying to catch sight of the Snitch while keeping one eye on Cho.

Other than dodging a few Bludgers, mostly from Seamus, the first hour of the game passes quietly for Harry, and he’s able to watch most of the action while circling the pitch and watching for the Snitch.

Harry is sitting back on his broom, trying to rub some warmth into his hands when movement in the corner of his eye catches his attention. Harry looks to the stands and sees Malfoy waving and pointing beneath him. He looks down and sure enough, the Golden Snitch catches the sun and glints almost directly beneath him, near the ground.

Harry gets his hands on his broom and tips it forward, immediately diving headlong toward the Snitch. To his right, Harry can see Cho moving in fast after the Snitch, and he urges his broom to give him as much speed as possible.

The ground is coming up fast, and Harry is near perpendicular to it when the Snitch turns and zips to his left near the base of one of the stands. Harry pulls up out of the dive before he hits the snow and rolls sharply on his broom to kick the tail out to his right and swing into perfect position to chase down the Snitch.

With her straight shot to the Snitch, Cho didn’t lose any of the speed Harry did and she pushes ahead of him on his left. Harry presses his body to his broom and urges it faster, squinting against the wind whipping across his face.

Harry’s focus turns completely on the Snitch as they chase it down. The stands and the rest of the game melt away and all he sees is the goal ahead of him.

The Snitch zigs left, which puts Cho closer to it and she reaches out for it, but she’s not quite close enough yet. As it’s nearing her fingertips, the Snitch zags right in front of Harry and Cho jerks her broom to keep on it, but she’s turning in front of Harry and it’s as if he sees the moment happening in slow-motion.

Harry knows as soon as she turns that they’re going to crash. He pushes down on his broom to try and duck underneath her, but they’re moving so fast and it happens too quick to avoid. Their brooms catch on each other and send them into a spin.

Harry hits the ground hard, landing on his shoulder then bouncing and hitting down on his back. It knocks the wind out of him and he has to take a minute to fight the instinctual panic of feeling like he can’t breathe, before he sits up and looks for Cho.

She’s a couple feet away from him, groaning but pushing up on her knees. Harry lost his glasses in the crash, but he can see the golden colour of the Snitch clutched in her hand, and Harry’s first thought is one of disappointment.

“Are you alright?” Harry asks her.

“Fuck—I think I broke my wrist,” Cho says, holding up her left wrist, which is definitely bending in the wrong place. She looks over to Harry, and then her eyes widen. “Oh, Harry! Are you okay?”

Harry blinks and follows her line of sight to his shoulder, where it’s clearly popped out of its socket, and his clavicle has broken. The pain doesn’t hit him until he sees it.

“Oh,” he says, then grimaces as he tries to shift his arm to get at his wand. As the teams descend over them, Harry assures them, “I’m okay, we’re okay.”

Susan jumps off her broom and drops to Harry’s side, drawing her wand and efficiently getting his shoulder back in place. He groans and grits his teeth when she sets his clavicle and mends the broken bone.

“Does anything else hurt?” she asks and starts poking and prodding at him. Behind her, Alicia is seeing to Cho’s wrist.

“No, I’m fine,” Harry says and brushes off her prodding. She stands and offers a hand, which Harry takes and pulls himself up. Ron comes up and hands Harry his glasses, cleaned and repaired, and Harry thanks him and slides them on.

Harry’s Quidditch leathers are covered in mud, but he’s more concerned with his broom. It fell several feet away from him and he jogs to it and picks it up, checking that it wasn’t damaged too badly in the crash. It appears to be in fairly good condition, and Harry lets out a relieved sigh.

“I’m so sorry, Harry!” Cho cries. “I didn’t know you were that close behind me! I thought I had the lead on you.”

“No problem,” Harry waves her off and smiles. “It was a great catch. Good game.” Despite the fuss everyone is making, injuries are so common in their games that it probably wouldn’t be one of their games without one.

Cho appears to be alright and already fully healed by Alicia. Harry shoulders his broom and everyone starts heading toward the locker rooms by the entrance to the pitch to change. They all start chattering about the crash and the game, and Harry compliments Dean on a great score he’d seen him make.

“Potter!” Malfoy’s voice cuts sharply across the wide pitch, and Harry stops and turns to look at him.

“What?” Harry calls back. Malfoy looks like he’s breathing heavily, and Harry wonders if he ran down the many flights of stairs to the bottom of the stands.

Malfoy angrily gestures him over, and Harry furrows his brow but he hands his broom off to Susan, then leaves the group and heads toward Malfoy. He glances back and sees that Susan is stopped to watch him, but he waves her on.

As Harry approaches, he can see that Malfoy looks pale as well as out of breath, and Harry frowns. “Hey, Malfoy, are you—?”

“Of all the selfish, reckless things!” Malfoy growls and grabs Harry’s Quidditch robes to pull him in and then shove him into the wall of the stand. Harry grunts as his bruised back hits the wall, and he’s so surprised by the act he doesn’t react to it at first.

“What?” Harry asks, bewildered. He pushes Malfoy’s hands off his chest so he can get off the wall. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about you nearly killing yourself for a bloody game! It’s bad enough you’re an Auror and your life is already at risk everyday, but now you spend your weekends nearly flattening yourself on a Quidditch pitch?” Malfoy rages, throwing his hands up angrily.

“Malfoy, I don’t know what you’re on about.”

“The life debt, Potter! The life debt! The one you told me I could repay and then refused my offering this week. Ringing any bells?” he hisses. “Do you have any idea of the pain I feel every time you have a near-death experience?”

Harry frowns and drops his gaze to run up and down Malfoy’s form. He’s shaking and pale and does look a bit like he’s been through hell. “I didn’t know it was painful for you. Everything said you would just get an urge—”

“Yes, an urge to save you, which when resisted causes unspeakable pain! And I must resist it, lest I jump off a fucking Quidditch stand or try to Apparate to you a continent over and splinch myself,” Malfoy explains scornfully. “If you had just accepted my damn offer, I wouldn’t still be dealing with this every time the most reckless, foolhardy, self-sacrificing man on the planet decides to do something stupid!”

Harry furrows his brow and sets his jaw. He feels the rush of anger wash through him, but he clenches his fists and fights it down so he can stay calm. “Would you?” he asks skeptically. “Would it actually have dissolved the bond?”

Malfoy groans in frustration and gestures angrily as he says, “Yes! As I’ve explained many times already, the ring I crafted for you was woven with protective spells, and—”

“And part of your magical core?” Harry asks, folding his arms over his chest.

“Y-yes,” Malfoy hesitates over the answer and Harry narrows his eyes at him.

“Don’t lie to me, you’re not very good at it,” Harry says and Malfoy sneers at him. “You’ve been sketchy every time I’ve mentioned that. And I saw the way Pansy looked at the ring. What’s wrong with it?”

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Malfoy scoffs. “I’m not—I’m not trying to hurt you, if that’s what you think.”

“But you crafted it? In a workshop built by your Dark wizard ancestor who used to craft Dark objects in the same place?” Harry asks.

Malfoy’s jaw drops open at Harry’s implication. “I’m not trying to trick you into wearing some cursed object! You know I stopped after the War, you know I wouldn’t go back to the Dark Arts!”

Harry sighs and shakes his head. “I haven’t seen you in nearly a decade. I don’t think I can say I know anything about you anymore.”

Malfoy’s expression looks wounded for a moment before it sets into resolve. “Well if I’m so bloody bad at lying then listen to me. I’m telling you honestly that I am not trying to harm you, all I want is to dissolve my life debt to you.”

“Yeah, and that’s where I’m confused, Malfoy. If giving up part of your core to me is supposed to dissolve the bond, if that’s the standard practice, then why are you saying that’s what you’re doing when you’re not actually doing it?” Harry asks and throws a hand out in confusion.

“It doesn’t—well, it does have a part of me...but just because it’s not from my core, it doesn’t, well,” Malfoy tries to explain haltingly, “you don’t understand, my magical core, it’s—it’s what I am, it’s—”

“It’s the most valuable thing to a Pureblood,” Harry finishes for him. “I get it, Malfoy. Having magic is the cornerstone everything you are and giving up even the tiniest fraction of that probably terrifies you. The ridiculous part is that I don’t even fucking want it.”

Malfoy opens his mouth to argue, but Harry isn’t finished yet and talks over him.

“You say I don’t understand, but I think I do. I understand that you want to get rid of this life debt in the cheapest, easiest way you can. And you know what? Fine. That’s your prerogative, but don’t you fucking blame me for it. If I had known it hurt you like this, I would have tried to help a lot sooner, but you knew what my plans were, you knew I was going into law enforcement, and you didn’t once bring it up to me before. You left. You fucked off for eight years without a word, so whatever suffering you’ve had, well I’m sorry for that but it’s your own goddamn fault.”

Malfoy’s nose flares as he glowers at Harry. He doesn’t give any retort, so Harry takes a step closer to emphasise his final point.

“Try shoving me like that again and your arse is going on the ground, understand me?” he asks lowly. Harry spent enough of his childhood getting pushed around, and he won’t take it now from anyone in any form.

Malfoy purses his lips and rolls his tongue over his teeth in a petulant manner. He drops his gaze and finally hisses, “Yes.”

Harry exhales a long sigh and shakes his head. “Christ,” he mutters. “Why do you have to be such an arsehole?”

Malfoy’s gaze jumps up to Harry’s and he glares at him insolently but remains silent. Harry pauses, then turns and heads toward the locker rooms. The crack of Malfoy’s Disapparition sounds behind him and echoes across the empty, snow-covered pitch.

At the Burrow that night, Arthur and Molly take the news of Ginny going with Blaise much better than her brothers. They welcome him into their home like anyone else, and dinner goes by in its typical rowdy fashion. Blaise manages to hold his own against George’s pranks and Ron’s interrogation. Harry and Susan sit back and watch the show.

Susan joins Harry at the Burrow most Sundays. She was enfolded into their family as easily as Harry was, and he knows how much she appreciates it, since, between the First and Second Wars, her entire family had been murdered by Voldemort.

After dinner, Hermione volunteers herself and Harry to do the dishes. Harry gives her a curious look but learns soon after everyone has left the kitchen why she volunteered them.

“Harry, I thought you were going to resolve your life debt with Malfoy?” she asks in a hushed tone, and glances over her shoulder toward the living room where the family is congregated to chat and spend time together.

“I am,” Harry answers slowly and Harry raises a questioning eyebrow at her.

“But you haven’t yet? Malfoy said you didn’t accept his offering,” she says.

Harry sighs and shakes his head. “No, I didn’t,” he answers flatly as he turns on the tap to fill it with hot, soapy water.

“Why? You should have seen him at the match,” she says and grimaces. “He looked awful.”

“I know, and I feel badly for it. You know I would cut the bond right now if I could,” Harry says as he pushes up his sleeves, drops some of the plates into the sink and starts to scrub one of them.

“But?” she asks, her eyes jumping between Harry’s as she tries to read his expression and understand what he’s thinking. “Is it because you don’t want to accept his magic?”

Harry shrugs and says, “Well, I do think that’s weird. I mean, I already spent most of my life with a piece of another wizard in me, and we all saw how well that turned out, but—”

“It’s not the same though, Harry,” Hermione insists. “It’s not at all like a Horcrux. It’s an exchange of magical energy, it’s just pure...pure power and life. Malfoy gives it to you from his core but it doesn’t transmit any of Malfoy into you like a Horcrux would.”

Harry hums curiously. The way she describes it does help make it sound not nearly as bad as Harry was thinking. “Still, it doesn’t matter, because that’s not what he offered me,” Harry says. Hermione makes a questioning note and Harry explains, “He offered me a ring he’d made. Said it had a part of him but not his magical essence, and that he’d put protective spells on it.”

“Oh,” Hermione says and pauses. Her eyes shift around the kitchen as she thinks it through, and then she nods slowly. “I suppose that might work, depending on the enchantments. Why did you turn it down? Wouldn’t that be useful to you?”

“No, they’re too unpredictable. And unreliable. Not good for the situations I’m dealing with,” Harry says and hands another clean plate to Hermione, and she starts drying it.

Harry pauses a moment, then adds quietly, “And honestly? I can’t help but feel that… Well of course I don’t want him to suffer because of me, but now I feel like the only reason he even cares is because of the effect it has on him. Like this ring, whether it dissolves the bond or not, it’d probably stop him hurting when I’m in danger, right? If something he made and gave me is shielding me from curses.”

“Right,” Hermione agrees with a nod.

“But what happens when that curse rebounds and hits Susan? Or a civilian?” Harry asks. “Great, Malfoy’s not hurting, but now his protective enchantments have put others at risk, and I can’t abide that, not even to break this stupid bond.”

Hermione looks about to say something, but she stops when Blaise walks in carrying leftovers from the table. He puts them in the fridge, then turns and eyes Harry and Hermione.

“Little friendly advice for you, Potter?” he says, but doesn’t wait for Harry’s answer before he continues, “I’ve been dealing with Pureblood culture much longer than you now, I’m sure, and I know that they take these sorts of bonds very seriously. It would be in your best interest to absolve him, and soon.”

To Harry’s ear that sounds like a thinly-veiled threat, on top of which he’s getting really tired of everyone blaming him for not dissolving the life debt yet, and he levels a hard look at Blaise. “Then why’s he allowed it to go on this long already?” Harry asks flatly.

“You’d have to ask him,” Blaise says dismissively. “Just know that Purebloods, and Malfoys in particular, never much like owing anything to anyone. Even if the gift isn’t right, it’s very unusual and insulting for the Catalyst of a life debt to not accept the Beneficiary’s offer. Traditionally, they would accept each offering until the life debt is dissolved.”

Harry clenches his jaw and forces himself not to argue further, knowing it won’t do any good with a person like Blaise. “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind,” Harry says dryly.

Harry turns back to the sink to keep washing the dishes, but he can feel Blaise lingering. Harry looks back at him and says, “What?”

Blaise eyes him with a curious expression. “Just wondering if you’re going to threaten me too if I ever hurt Ginny,” he says blandly. “The rest have already come up with some rather creative ones.”

While he thinks it over, Harry lifts his arm and itches his nose on it, since his hands are wet. He shrugs says, “I mean, I would, but if you hurt her, you’ll have her to deal with, and she’s more frightening than any threat I can make.”

Blaise watches Harry a moment, then makes an agreeable note. Harry can see Hermione fighting a smile as she dries the dishes Harry passes to her.

“Well, let me know if you need more advice dealing with these Purebloods,” Blaise offers. “They’re not the easiest sort to be around. And I should know, I shared a dorm with them for seven years.”

“Thanks, Blaise,” Harry says, mildly surprised by the offer, even if it does still come out sounding as arrogant as usual.

On Monday Harry and Susan get called to assist with a raid of a known Dark Arts coven. The lead-up is as anxiety ridden as ever. Harry always feels the calm before the storm is the worst part, because after they break in and move into the building occupied by the coven, Harry’s training and experience kicks in and it’s merely a normal, if somewhat exciting, day for him. Harry and Susan work as a pair as the Aurors spread out and take control of the building.

At one point, Harry and Susan get locked into a duel with three of the coven members, but they work in tandem and with years of practice behind them. They dispatch the Dark practitioners soon enough and come out relatively unscathed.

After the scene has been fully secured, and all the Dark coven have been taken into custody, Harry idly wonders what constitutes a life-threatening situation to his bond with Malfoy, and if he spent this morning fighting the urge to protect Harry. It’s not something Harry can control, so he puts it out of his mind and keeps working.

Harry and Susan spend the rest of the day processing the scene and all the illegal Dark Arts paraphernalia found there. They spend Tuesday and Wednesday assisting on the same case with interrogations, evidence processing, and following up on all the new information that comes up in the investigation.

At the end of Wednesday, Harry finds himself in the Office of Magical Bonds and Vows with Malfoy once more.

The bond is visible between them, Earl is at his desk with his quill ready to record Harry’s answer, and Malfoy bows and reaches into his pocket to draw out his new offering.

“I, Draco Lucius Malfoy,” he begins in the same formal fashion as before, “as the beneficiary of the selfless heroism of Harry James Potter in the face of great danger on the night of May the second of 1998, am here to acknowledge this bond and officially offer repayment, in the form of this wand.”

Malfoy draws a wand from his robes that is a dark wood, thin and elegant with a handle that spirals gracefully into a tight twist at the end.

“I have crafted you this most powerful wand in the tradition of the Druids, with vine wood and—”

“No,” Harry turns it down flat.

Malfoy snaps up with an offended noise. “Potter! At least let me finish before you insult me!”

Harry puts his hands out palm-up. “I don’t want another wand.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t accept it!” Malfoy rages and gestures angrily.

“Why? I’d never use it. It’d sit in my closet collecting dust. How could that dissolve the bond?” Harry reasons. Malfoy clenches his jaw and glowers at Harry, and Harry can see the vein pulsing in his neck.

“The Catalyst has refused the offering,” Earl says in his matter-of-fact, monotone voice as if there’s no argument happening right in front of him. “Does the Beneficiary have anything else to offer at this time?”

“No,” Malfoy says through gritted teeth.

Earl ends his spell and the green ties of the bond become invisible once more. “Please schedule a future appointment if and when you’d like a witness to another offering.”

“I know the process!” Malfoy snaps, then he sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose, clearly trying to compose himself. “Potter…”

“You need tea?” Harry guesses.

Malfoy scrubs a hand down his face and nods. “Yes,” he says. “Tea, and some way to convince you to accept my offering.”

“Well, I can get you the first,” Harry offers with an amused tone.

Malfoy fights down a small smile, then huffs and waves Harry on. “Alright, fine,” he agrees.

They go to the café they went to before, and the same waitress takes their order while looking flustered and pleased to see Harry Potter again.

Malfoy shakes his head and rolls his eyes. “Ridiculous,” he mutters, watching the retreating form of their waitress and then looking back to Harry. “I suppose it must be easy for you, especially as a bisexual. Doubles your chances.”

“Erm, no, not really,” Harry says, tapping his fingers idly against his thigh. “I’m just as awkward with people as I ever was.”

“That bloke bought you a drink at the pub,” Malfoy points out.

“Sure, but that’s not really—that’s not typical,” Harry says and runs a hand through his hair, moving his eyes away from Malfoy to scan over the people in the café.

Malfoy hums a skeptical note, like he doesn’t believe Harry. “Honestly, Potter, I’m surprised you’re not married with three children already,” Malfoy drawls. “You always seemed the type.”

“Why?” Harry asks and cocks his head to the side. Malfoy merely shrugs. “Well, I’m married to my work, if that counts.”

“It doesn’t,” Malfoy says and gives him a judgement look.

A moment later, the waitress returns with their drinks. Malfoy takes a grateful sip from his tea and exhales a slow breath. He looks over his cup at Harry, then sets it down with a click and purses his lips.

Malfoy watches Harry a moment in silence, then he licks his lips and says hesitantly, “Potter, I don’t understand why you won’t accept my offerings. Are you…are you punishing me for something? For—” Malfoy rolls his eyes. “—for being rude to your friends? Or—Merlin, I don’t know.”

“I’m not punishing you,” Harry says and shakes his head. “I just don’t want or need a new wand. I like my wand.”

“Then take it as a backup in case your wand breaks, or you lose it, or something,” Malfoy argues.

“But would that dissolve the bond? Taking your wand and letting it sit in my closet for years?” Harry asks and quirks his eyebrow up pointedly.

“No, most likely not,” Malfoy concedes with a sigh and scrubs a hand down his face. “Just use it for a week at work or—”

“I’m not taking an unfamiliar wand into a duel, Malfoy. Sorry,” Harry says frankly.

“Still not trying to get you killed,” Malfoy sasses him impatiently.

“Still not going to accept it,” Harry echoes back.

Malfoy groans and leans back in his chair. “You’re impossible,” he mutters and shakes his head.

Harry watches Malfoy silently for a minute. The last thing Harry wants is to hurt him by prolonging their bond, and while the idea of accepting the magical essence of someone else still makes his hair stand on end, Harry trusts what Hermione told him about it.

Harry licks his lips and clears his throat. “Look, Malfoy, I’m really not trying to keep you on the hook with this,” he begins slowly, turning his mug around and around in his hands. “I’ll accept a bit of your magical essence, if that’s what it takes to dissolve the bond right now.”

Malfoy looks up at him in surprise. He blinks, then looks away and chews on his lip in thought. After a moment, Malfoy rubs a hand over his mouth and shakes his head. “I don’t know, Potter. I…I’d rather not,” he says and furrows his brow, glaring down into his teacup.

Harry shifts his eyes around Malfoy’s face and down to his hands fiddling with his teacup, reading what he can in his body language. “Okay, well, I offered,” he says with a dismissive shrug and takes a drink from his coffee.

They fall into silence and sip at their drinks for a few minutes. Harry doesn’t know where he stands with Malfoy anymore. He doesn’t know if they’re friends, or enemies, or maybe somewhat-friendly acquaintances. He doesn’t know if he can, or should, trust Malfoy. While his gut isn’t warning him away, his Auror-trained mind is noting every red flag and every suspicious comment. In the end, Harry still wants to believe that there’s good in him.

“You really don’t play Quidditch anymore?” Harry asks to break the silence.

“No,” Malfoy answers with a short shake of his head.

“Because you’ve quit playing, or you haven’t had the chance to?” Harry prods.

“I guess because I haven’t had the chance to,” Malfoy answers reluctantly and runs a fingertip around and around the rim of his cup. “My apprenticeship wasn’t really—it was hard to do normal things. We weren’t exactly near any bustling towns. Quite the opposite, actually. My mentor lives alone in the mountains, far removed civilisation. It was just me and them for years.”

Harry hums in understanding, then asks curiously, “How did you decide to do that? Studying with a Druid?”

Malfoy shrugs. “It wasn’t planned. It sort of…fell into my lap.”

Harry waits a moment to see if Malfoy will explain further, but he doesn’t. “How long was your apprenticeship?”

Malfoy’s eyes shift around as he thinks about it, then he answers, “Five years, about.”

“And you studied crafting? Wandlore?”

Malfoy’s hand stops moving around his cup and his gaze jumps up to Harry’s. He glares at him suspiciously and asks, “Why all the questions?”

Harry huffs in exasperation and drops back in his chair, throwing his hands up. “Just making conversation. Sorry, I assumed you didn’t bring me here just to berate me about not taking your wand.”

“Well, sorry if I don’t trust the motives of an Auror,” Malfoy snaps back.

“Spoken like a true criminal,” Harry says dryly.

Malfoy narrows his eyes further at Harry, and he looks half a second away from storming out of the café.

Harry sighs and pushes up his glasses to rub at his eyes. “Look, it’s been a long day, I don’t want to fight,” Harry says, righting his glasses and putting his hands up in surrender. “I was just curious.”

“And if you find out in the process that I’ve been crafting the most heinous of Dart Objects?” Malfoy asks with a raised eyebrow.

Harry levels an unimpressed look at Malfoy. “Is that rhetorical?”

Malfoy rolls his eyes and lifts his teacup to take a sip. He sets the cup down, swallows and licks his lips, watching his tea for a moment before answering, “Yes. Metalworking, mostly. I did study Wandlore too, but I love working over a forge most. The Druids are known for their craftsmanship, mostly with wands, but they work with all natural materials. And seeing as the few of them left live as recluses, they make and grow most of what they need to survive.”

Harry hums an interested note and asks, “How did you end up there?”

Malfoy glances up from his tea to give Harry a tight smile. “It’s a long story. Perhaps I’ll tell you another time.”

“Alright,” Harry says easily. Malfoy has been so testy about the subject that he knows pushing for more information won’t do any good.

“What about you?” Malfoy asks, changing the subject. “I know you’d thought about teaching, or going professional with Quidditch instead of the Aurors.”

Harry shrugs. “Yeah, I thought about it. In the end, I decided that I wanted to help people, and joining the Aurors seemed a better way to do that,” he says. “Plus, it’s already irritating enough dealing with the press and the paparazzi. Being a Quidditch star probably would have made it even worse.”

“Bold of you to assume you would have made that good of a Quidditch player,” Malfoy drawls and raises a cheeky eyebrow at him.

Harry smirks back at him. “You know I was that good, seeing as I kicked your arse more than a few times.”

Malfoy tuts and says, “Only because I was too busy teasing you. If I’d been paying more attention to the game than your ghastly hair, I would have won.”

“So, you’re saying you could beat me if you were focusing on the game instead of being a git?” Harry asks and huffs out a laugh. “Alright. Let’s test it out then, play with us next game.”

Malfoy holds up a hand and shakes his head. “No, I shouldn’t, I haven’t played in so long,” he says. “I’ll only end up embarrassing you in front of all your friends when I win.”

“Fine, a Seeker’s game then. This weekend, just you and me,” Harry challenges him.

Malfoy’s expression twists in indecision. “I don’t know...I’ve seen how reckless you are on a broom, and I’d rather you avoid life-threatening situations until this bond is dissolved.”

“Well, if I fall off my broom, you’ll be there to catch me. Then you won’t have to worry about the life debt anymore,” Harry reasons.

Malfoy chews on his lip for a moment, then sighs and concedes, “Fine.”

“Saturday?” Harry asks, and Malfoy nods. “I might be able to book a session at Branbury, but this late in the week…”

“We can play on my property,” Malfoy offers. “There’s plenty of space and it’s already warded from prying Muggle eyes.”

“Okay,” Harry agrees in mild surprise. “I’ll come around noon?”

Malfoy nods and says, “That works.”

When the waitress comes to check on them, Harry and Malfoy order refills and stay a bit longer, chatting about work, Ginny and Blaise, and the party last weekend. Eventually Malfoy begs off, citing other important business.

The rest of the workweek passes in a haze. Harry and Susan are kept busy with the new case and spend all their time connecting the Dark coven to other witches and wizards and dismantling the illegal smuggling and potions operations they had running throughout England and Scotland.

Harry is so busy he doesn’t bother to clear his inbox of the rush of fanmail that had come in since the article in the Prophet about their weekend celebration and Ginny and Blaise officially coming out as a couple.

Most of the letters are nonsense condolences about and vilification of Ginny dating another man. Harry loves and cares about her, but they’re way beyond being romantically interested in each other.

He vanishes the letters, irritated all over again about the article Witch Weekly had written last off-season about Harry and Ginny stoking the flames of their old teenage love with accompanying photos of them being, ‘coupley’ on a romantic skiing trip in the Alps. They conveniently left off the part where it was a family trip, and all of the Weasleys and Susan were there with him, not just Ginny.

As Harry works his way through the pile of fanmail, he stops when he comes across another threatening letter like the last, written again in the same bold strokes as the last.

MALFOY IS A TREACHEROUS SNAKE

DON’T TRUST HIM, STAY AWAY

It’s near the bottom of the pile, and Harry wonders how long it was sat in his inbox. Probably since Monday, maybe Tuesday, he reasons. As before, there’s nothing else on the parchment. Harry reads over the message once more, frowning at it a moment, and then he drops it into his bottom drawer with the rest of his concerning letters.

Harry Apparates to the entrance of Malfoy’s property, outside the wards, then shoulders his broom and walks through the rusted, vine-covered gate and heads up the winding drive to the house.

It snowed a fair bit last night, and his boots crunch in the snow, leaving a path of footprints behind him. The sky is overcast, and there’s a cold wind cutting through his cloak, whipping it around him.

The weather isn’t the best for flying, but Harry is undeterred; he still loves Quidditch and will play given any opportunity. With his work, and with how hard it can be to schedule around everyone’s schedule, Harry doesn’t get to play as often as he would like. The thought of being able to play a Seeker’s game with his old rival has Harry nearly giddy in a way he hasn’t been in a long time.

Harry skips up the steps to the house, passes another small gate and strides up to the grand, double doors that are nearly twice as tall as he is. He grabs the large, iron knocker, which is freezing cold in his hand, and bangs it against the door three times.

Harry rubs his hand against his leg to try to warm it up and waits. He moves his broom over to the other shoulder and shifts his weight from one leg to the other. After long seconds have passed, Harry knocks again and steps back.

When a full minute has gone by with no answer, Harry backs up a few more steps and trails his gaze over the old manor. He doesn’t see any movement or light in any of the windows that aren’t covered by curtains. He looks further up and doesn’t see smoke from any of the many chimneys dotting the roof, either.

Harry turns slowly in place, sliding his gaze around the property, down the drive and then back around to the manor. His eyes catch on a small pillar of smoke at the far side of the house—the same direction Malfoy had come from when Harry and Susan visited him before, Harry realises.

Harry walks around the house and finds a small, grey, circular stone building that almost reminds him of Hagrid’s hut. It has four chimneys around the roof and a copper cupola at the top, with one of the chimneys going through the middle of the cupola.

The smoke Harry spotted is coming from one of the chimneys, and Harry approaches the building curiously. The entrance is an open doorway, and Harry steps into the threshold and into a warm and fully equipped workshop. It has a large hearth with an anvil in front of it and two different forges. The walls are lined with various tongs, hammers, and other smithing equipment. Next to the hearth is a tall shelf filled with all sorts of materials imaginable—potions, herbs, jars of various substances, gems, and ingots.

The ceiling is vaulted, and the floor has an intricate Celtic-looking mosaic circling around an arching design with a four-pronged star in the centre of the shop. There’s a rack with carving tools on the wall, and under it is a large work table which curves along the wall of the shop. This is where he finds Malfoy, angled away from Harry and working on something. He’s wearing the same thick, leather apron and dragonhide gloves Harry saw him in before, but this time with the addition of a dark welding mask.

Several long, curved pieces of metal are arranged on the work table, and Malfoy has his wand drawn, directing it over the material and creating a shower of sparks.

Curious, and not wanting to interrupt him, Harry leans one shoulder against the stone doorway and watches unnoticed as Malfoy works. He appears to be welding the pieces together, going from one to the next and only pausing occasionally to check that they look right and shift them about.

Under the apron, Malfoy is wearing a tan, long-sleeved cotton shirt with a sweat mark on his back. It stretches over his broad shoulders and biceps, showing them off in a way Harry hadn’t noticed under his robes before. Malfoy had always been thin in school, and Harry hadn’t expected the change in his physique. It makes sense, considering all the hours he must spend working at the anvil.

Harry bites his bottom lip as he soaks in Malfoy’s form, but then he stops himself when he realises that he’s ogling Draco Malfoy. Malfoy has always been somewhat attractive, in his pointy, prickish way, but Harry had never leered at him before, and he thinks Malfoy probably wouldn’t appreciate it. Harry has no idea where they stand or even where he wants to stand with him.

Harry diverts his gaze and looks instead around to the workshop, directing his thoughts to the tools and materials arranged around the space. He spends a moment looking over the shelf of ingredients, unconsciously cataloguing that while he recognises several rare objects, he doesn’t see anything dark or illegal at first glance.

Eventually, Malfoy takes a step back from his work, lifts his welding mask up and wipes his cheek on his sleeve. He starts to pick up the piece he’s been working on right as Harry clears his throat.

Malfoy starts and drops the metal design with a clatter, whipping around toward Harry with his wand in hand.

“Christ, Potter!” Malfoy curses after spotting him. “Don’t sneak up on me like that. Announce yourself.”

“I thought I just did,” Harry says and tries to fight down an amused smile.

Malfoy rolls his eyes. He takes his dragon-hide gloves off and drops them on his work table, then he reaches up and pulls the welding mask off and sets it next to his gloves.

His hair comes away tousled, and Malfoy lifts a hand to card his fingers through it. He has a smudge of ash on his cheek, and Harry swallows down the weird rush of attraction he feels at seeing Malfoy in tradesman clothes, looking messy and disheveled from labour.

“Is it noon already?” Malfoy asks, pushing his sleeve back and turning his wrist over to look at his watch. “Sorry, got stuck in and lost track of time.”

“No problem,” Harry says easily. He’s glad he got the opportunity to see Malfoy’s workshop—it’s far less menacing than its history makes it sound. “You ready to play?”

“Erm, yeah. Let me just—” Malfoy pauses and flicks his wand to his work table, and all the tools that are scattered around it go flying back to their respective homes on the wall. “Let me just get changed and grab my broom,” he finishes.

“Sure,” Harry says and watches as Malfoy unties the apron around his back, lifts it off over his head, and hangs it on a hook by the door. Harry steps out of the doorway and out of Malfoy’s way as he leaves the workshop.

“Merlin’s tits,” Malfoy mutters when the cold wind hits him. He shivers and folds his arms over his chest and glances at Harry. “Give me a minute, I’ll be right out.”

Harry nods and Malfoy hurries to a side door on the house not far from the workshop. Once he’s gone, Harry looks to the workshop. He sets his broom down, leaning it next to the entryway and steps back into the workshop, giving in to his curiosity.

Harry circles the space slowly, looking over the forges and the tools along the wall. There’s a box of parchment tucked untidily in it, and Harry brushes his finger over the top, spreading the papers apart and flipping through them. They’re all different crafting and smithing designs with drawings, notes and runes scrawled across them. Harry turns away, walking to the shelf filled with various ingredients and materials, and he takes a moment to scan through them.

There are a few ingredients he recognises as regulated by the Ministry, but nothing outright illegal or dark. One of the shelves has several half-finished pieces of jewelry, rings and pendants and cloak pins, as well as other objects Harry isn’t sure what they’re going to be when they’re finished.

After another minute of looking around, Harry turns and leaves the workshop. He looks around, but doesn’t see Malfoy yet, so he picks up his broom and wanders away from the house, gazing around the property and trying to determine where would be best to play. Around and behind the house there are a lot of trees that could get in the way, but it’s clearer over the drive.

Eventually, Malfoy returns with a broom in hand and bundled up against the cold. He’s wearing a thick, cream sweater with a matching scarf, and a pair of black leather gloves and a black wool cloak. He’s washed the ash from his face and looks like he made an effort to fix his hair, though the wind is already starting to muss it.

“Ready?” Harry asks, and Malfoy nods. “Over the drive, maybe?”

Malfoy takes a look around, then agrees, “I think that’s best. Let’s warm up.”

Harry watches as Malfoy mounts his broom and lifts gently into the air, gliding up over the trees to the drive almost languidly. Harry wonders if this is Malfoy’s attempt to downplay his riding skill, or if he is as out of practice as he says.

Harry mounts his own broom and lifts up into the air. When he gets to a comfortable height, he stretches his arms up, rolls his shoulders and twists his trunk to loosen up. Malfoy is flying slow circles over the treetops and Harry comes up beside him.

“Admiring the view, Malfoy?” he asks and smirks. “Thought you wanted to warm up, not take a leisurely tour of the grounds.”

“I’ve told you, Potter,” Malfoy says haughtily, “it’s been a long time since I’ve flown. I’m merely reacquainting myself with the dynamics of it.”

Harry chuckles. “Alright, well, enjoy your stroll.” He peels away from Malfoy and soars up further into the air. He takes a moment to look over the hidden Magical town on the Thames, and out over the river and the surrounding Muggle city, and then he dives back down. His stomach drops as he dips into the nosedive, and he lets it get his heart going.

Harry pulls up long before he needs to and searches out Malfoy, but he looks undisturbed by the potentially dangerous move. Harry pushes on and does several drills of rolls, spins, dives, and turns to prepare his mind and body for a game, but also for the fun of it.

When he feels ready to play, Harry looks around for Malfoy and spots him a short distance off curving up into the air in an elegant spiral. He’s moving faster than he was before, and Harry watches him for a moment to get a feel for his opponent.

Malfoy dips down, swoops up, dips again, and then levels out. He doesn’t go for a real dive, or a quick launch, his turns are all smooth and he isn’t doing any extreme exercises. There’s a certain careful, unhurried feel to the way Malfoy is riding that makes Harry wonder if he should take it easy on him.

Harry makes his way over to Malfoy and calls out to him, “Ready for a game?”

Malfoy looks to him and nods, and they both circle down to the ground. Once they touch down Harry strides over to Malfoy and pulls a Snitch from one of the pouches on his thigh harness.

The wings unwrap from the golden ball and flutter in Harry’s grip. Harry looks at Malfoy, gets a nod from him, and then he releases the ball. It immediately zips up over their heads, hovers in place for half a second, and then darts away. Harry follows it as long as he can, counting down the thirty seconds to wait.

When they’re up, Harry and Malfoy mount their brooms and soar up into the air. Harry glides over to where he last saw the Snitch and scans the area for it. With the sky dull and overcast as it is, it’ll be harder to spot without the telltale glint of sunlight.

The Snitch has clearly moved on, and Harry drifts higher and circles out wider and wider around the area, scanning for any hint of it. He pauses briefly in his search when he notices Malfoy sat a short distance above him, floating leisurely in place. His arms are crossed, hugging himself against the cold with his scarf pulled tight around his face.

Harry drifts up to him and taunts, “What’s the matter, Malfoy? Is it a little too nippy for you? Perhaps you’d like a Warming Charm?”

“No, thank you. I’ve already got one,” Malfoy informs him loftily, keeping his gaze down and moving over the property.

Harry chuckles and flies away, dipping lower and doing circuits around the long drive. Twenty minutes go by without either of them spotting the Snitch, and Harry starts wondering if this is going to turn into one of the day-long games that happen occasionally. Everytime he checks on Malfoy, he’s still sat in the same spot above the drive, watching out for the Snitch but not actively flying.

It’s so different from his previous play style, and Harry wonders if the change is from not flying since his Hogwarts days.

Harry glides over to Malfoy, who glances at him then looks back to the game. “Still doing alright up here?” Harry asks in an amused tone.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Malfoy answers shortly.

“You sure? You’d probably be warmer if you flew around a bit,” Harry suggests with a small smirk. “It’s alright if you’re too scared to fly, we can do something—”

Before Harry can finish his sentence, Malfoy grabs onto his broom and dives down sharply, and Harry swears and jerks his broom down to follow him.

Harry tries to catch up, but Malfoy has too much of a lead and all he can do is watch as Malfoy swoops down on the Snitch and snatches it out of the air lightning-fast, like a hawk diving at its prey.

Malfoy lifts out of the speedy dive with a graceful sweep and circles just above the ground, sending an arc of snow flying out after him as he decelerates into a smooth stop.

As Harry drops down by him, Malfoy holds up the Snitch and smirks at him. “I’m sorry, what were you saying, Potter?” he asks innocently, and Harry huffs out a laugh. “I didn’t quite catch all of it, because I was too busy catching the Snitch.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry mutters. “Lucky break.”

“Now I see how easy it was for you to win all those years, Potter,” Malfoy continues smugly. “Feel free to keep taunting me, I rather like beating you.”

“Arse,” Harry says, but he’s grinning. “And here I was trying to be nice and offer you an out since you looked so cold.”

“Being nice won’t help you win you the game,” Malfoy chides.

“Alright, let’s play another,” Harry says and hops off his broom with a crunch into the snow. “I promise I won’t play nice this time.”

Malfoy swings off of his broom and lands next to Harry. He holds up the Snitch, and Harry nods to indicate he’s ready. Malfoy releases the Snitch and they wait thirty seconds before hopping back on their brooms and getting back in the air.

Harry circles the area he saw the Snitch in last, then widens his radius until he’s patrolling the whole length of the drive. He keeps one eye on Malfoy, who seems to be playing the same watch and wait strategy as before.

This time, Harry doesn’t talk to Malfoy. He focuses on the game and keeps his eyes peeled for the Snitch. Malfoy seems cold but content up in his perch, and Harry supposes he can see some advantage to the strategy, but it has its disadvantages too. Being mobile gives Harry more visibility and more opportunity to run the Snitch down if he happens across it.

Ten minutes later, his advantage comes into play when he spots the Snitch on one end of the drive and is much closer to it than Malfoy. The Snitch gives him a good chase, but Harry hunts it down and catches it before Malfoy can get close enough to be any real competition.

They release the Snitch for another game on Malfoy’s insistence, despite the wind picking up. The third game stretches on much longer than the first two. Harry sticks to his strategy of watching Malfoy while circling the area hunting for the Snitch, and Malfoy sticks to his strategy of a high vantage in the centre.

A half hour passes, and then an hour. The sky darkens and the temperature drops, and before they know it, it starts snowing. At first it comes slowly, and then the storm picks up and it starts snowing harder. Between the wind and the snow, their visibility drops significantly and Harry’s not sure they could or should finish the game.

Harry flies up to Malfoy, who is pale and shaking from the cold, even wrapped up in his thick winter cloak as he is. “Maybe we should call it,” Harry tells him. “I don’t know if we’ll find the Snitch in this weather, and it’s only getting worse.”

“Never took you for a quitter, Potter,” Malfoy taunts him. “We’ve played in worse.”

Of course, Malfoy knows the right thing to say to trigger Harry’s competitive nature, and before he knows it, Harry is back to hunting for the Snitch. As he circles the area, he squints against the snow blowing in his face and has to hold tight to his broom to keep it under control.

Another ten minutes slip by without any sightings, and Harry is starting to wonder why he let Malfoy egg him into continuing the game. Harry’s face is frozen cold, and he can barely feel his hands. He refreshes a Warming Charm on himself, but in this frigid weather they aren’t lasting long. Harry squints up into the sky, looking for Malfoy. He can just make his outline out through the snow, and he aims a Warming Charm up at him as well.

As Harry is tucking his wand back in its holster, movement catches his eye and when Harry squints at it, he catches a flash of gold. Before he’s even consciously made the decision to, Harry shoots forward after the Snitch. It dives down and weaves around several trees on the property.

Harry leans over his broom and urges it faster, gaining slowly on the Snitch and unwilling to lose the first and probably only chance he’ll have to catch it before the weather puts an end to their game. In the corner of his eye, Harry can see Malfoy coming up on him fast, and for a while they fly neck-in-neck after the Snitch in a loop behind the house, twisting and turning, and dodging around trees.

Malfoy is fast and agile, but his movements seem clumsier since their first game. The cold is probably slowing down his reactions, like it is for Harry. The Snitch breaks out of the copse of trees around the house and zips straight down the drive, giving them a clear shot at it. They’re both gaining on it, nearly close enough to catch it, but then it zips to the right in front of Harry and Harry swerves and snatches it out of the air before it can pass him.

Harry pulls his broom to a quick stop and grins as he holds the Snitch out for Malfoy to see.

Malfoy winds down to a slower stop, circling around Harry. He rolls his eyes and says, “Yes, yes, nicely caught, Potter. Let’s get inside before my fingers fall off.”

Harry tucks the Snitch away and follows Malfoy as he flies around the side of the house, then slips off his broom and ducks through the same small door by his workshop that he used earlier.

Harry hops off his broom and hurries after. He shuts the door hard behind him and exhales a relieved sigh at finally getting out of the storm and into a warm building. Harry turns and finds that he’s in a small, stone hallways, and he sees Malfoy’s back retreating through it. He stomps the snow off his feet on the mat and then follows after Malfoy.

The short hallway opens into a large kitchen, complete with two fireplaces, two sinks, a large cooler, three ovens, countless cupboards and a large island in the middle. The walls are the same dark stone the rest of the estate is built with, but the island in the middle is made of an enormous slab of walnut.

Malfoy has his wand out and is already in the process of lighting both fireplaces. Once they’re lit, he tucks his wand away, steps closer and holds his hands out in front of him to warm them up. Malfoy has already taken off his cloak and gloves and dumped them on the kitchen island.

Harry unfastens his cloak and lays it next to Malfoy’s, then he moves to stand next to him in front of the fires.

“Perhaps we should have consulted the forecast before planning an outdoor activity,” Malfoy comments dryly, but his sarcasm is made somewhat less effective by his teeth chattering.

Harry snorts and runs a hand over his wet hair. “It was supposed to rain, but nothing this bad,” he says and warms his hands over the fire.

“The Seer writing the weather column is a charlatan,” Malfoy asserts disdainfully.

“The whole rag is a load of codswallop,” Harry says of The Daily Prophet.

“What? You aren’t actually heartbroken over your childhood love’s new romance with a hot Quidditch star?” Malfoy asks in mock surprise.

Harry chuckles and shakes his head. “Well, I don’t mind the Quidditch star bit so much as that it’s Blaise. He’s kind of an arse.”

Malfoy shrugs and says, “He’s not so bad, once you get past his ego.”

“Huh. Sounds like someone else I know.” Harry smirks at Malfoy and nudges him with his elbow.

Malfoy gives him an unimpressed look. “Says Harry Potter, with the biggest ego of all.”

Harry scoffs in offense and puts a hand over his heart. “How dare you. I am not egotistical at all. I am the kindest, funniest, smartest and most humble person you will ever know.”

Malfoy hides a laugh behind his hand and then smacks Harry lightly on the shoulder. They fall silent a minute, warming themselves by the fire. Eventually Harry breaks the silence.

“You flew well, for someone who hasn’t ridden in years,” he comments and looks over at him with a suspicious expression.

“Like riding a bicycle,” Malfoy parrots with a small smile, then he hums curiously. “I’ve never actually ridden a bicycle. I’ve seen them in textbooks. Is it like flying?”

“Oh, er, I’m not sure. I’ve never ridden one either,” Harry admits. In truth, Harry doesn’t even know how to ride a bicycle. He never had anyone to teach him.

“You haven’t?” Malfoy asks in astonishment, turning a surprised look on Harry. “Weren’t you raised Muggle?”

“Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean I had a bicycle,” Harry says.

“I thought all Muggles had them,” Malfoy says, looking genuinely confused. “Bicycles, and automobiles, and aeroplanes.”

Malfoy looks so serious about it, and Harry bursts into laughter. “No, no, definitely not,” he says with a grin and a shake of his head. “They’re expensive. Many of them have bicycles, and cars too, but very few Muggles own planes. Mostly they’re owned commercially.”

“Commercially?” Malfoy asks and cocks his head to the side.

“Yeah,” Harry answers, “by big businesses. Delta, and British Airways, and Air France, and a bunch of others.”

“But Muggles use them to travel, don’t they?” Malfoy asks, still looking baffled.

“Yeah, they do. Most people buy a ticket through an airline and ride one of those aeroplanes,” Harry says. “Not everyone owns one, only the very rich can afford them. They’re huge and expensive.”

“Huge?” Malfoy asks and furrows his brow. “They’re not that big.”

“Well, yeah, I suppose some are relatively small, but many are quite large,” Harry explains, but it only makes Malfoy look more confused. “They carry tens of passengers and are flying thousands of feet in the air, they have to be big.”

“Pull the other one,” Malfoy says and shakes his head.

“I’m not joking, they really are enormous. Some of them are two stories high and can carry hundreds of passengers.”

Malfoy waves him off. “You’re not fooling me, Potter. I’ve seen your Muggle aeroplanes, they aren’t that big.”

“You’ve seen them?” Harry asks and cocks his head. “Where? In the air?”

“Of course in the air. They’re always flying about, making a racket,” Malfoy gripes.

Harry laughs. “Malfoy, you know they’re much bigger up close, right? They’re very, very high up, and the farther away something is, the smaller it looks.”

“I know that!” Malfoy snaps defensively. “But there’s no way they’re as high up as you’re saying.”

An amused grin spreads across Harry’s face at seeing how serious Malfoy is about this. “You know, I think I should take you to an airport sometime.”

“Fine,” Malfoy agrees confidently. “Then you can see just how wrong you are.”

Harry chuckles and nods. “Sure, Malfoy.”

Malfoy unwraps his scarf, turns and tosses it onto his cloak. Colour has returned to his cheeks and he stopped shivering a few minutes ago. Harry feels pleasantly warm, and he looks to Malfoy and wonders if he should leave now that they aren’t half-frozen. Clearly, they’re not going to play any more Quidditch today.

Malfoy leaves the fires and walks into the pantry in the corner. “Are you hungry?” he asks as he looks around at the shelves of food.

“Oh, er,” Harry begins awkwardly. He puts his hands in his pockets and walks nearer to the pantry, watching Malfoy rifle around. “Yeah, I guess I could eat.”

“Sandwiches?” Malfoy offers, pulling out a loaf of bread and a block of cheese.

“Sure,” Harry says with a nod and gets out of the way as Malfoy walks past him to the kitchen island.

“Ham and cheese?” Malfoy asks with a glance to Harry, and Harry nods again. He goes back into the pantry and brings out a tomato. “I like mine grilled with tomatoes.”

“Sounds great,” Harry says and watches as Malfoy gets ham from the cooler and starts to lay out everything for their sandwiches. “Do you want any help?”

“No, it’s fine,” Malfoy says and waves him off.

Harry goes and sits on the large stone ledge in front of one of the hearths. Malfoy draws his wand, slicing the tomato and cheese with quick Diffindos. He flicks his wand over the ingredients and they all levitate into the air and layer themselves into two perfect ham and cheese sandwiches.

“How often do you play Quidditch these days?” Malfoy asks conversationally as he turns to the stove and taps it with his wand to light one of the hobs.

“As much as I can,” Harry answers. “Twice, maybe three times a month at most, but sometimes work gets in the way, and I only get to play once every month or so.”

Malfoy hums in mild interest and waves a pan onto the hob, then directs the sandwiches into it. “You’re still pretty quick on a broom,” he comments and turns to Harry while he waits for the sandwiches to cook. “But you don’t have your Firebolt anymore?”

“No, it broke,” Harry says with a tight smile.

“Ah, that’s right, I’d forgot.” Malfoy tuts and shakes his head sympathetically. “Shame. It was a beautiful broom.”

Harry nods and says simply, “Yeah.”

Malfoy turns back to the stove and flips the sandwiches with a wave of his wand.

“You don’t have a house-elf?” Harry asks curiously.

“Nope,” Malfoy answers as he draws two plates from one of the cupboards.

Harry hums in thought but doesn’t ask about it further. He assumed he would. He would think that Malfoy would need the extra help to get a house like this cleaned up. He knows well enough from cleaning Grimmauld Place what a chore it can be.

When the sandwiches are finished, Malfoy directs them onto the plates. He waves one of the plates to Harry, which glides smoothly into his lap, turns off the hob, flicks the pan into one of the sinks, and then picks up his own plate and joins Harry in front of the fireplace.

Harry is somewhat surprised when Malfoy sits right next to him, bumping their knees and shoulders together.

As they eat, they chat some more about Quidditch. Malfoy has apparently missed out on years of watching it, and he gets Harry to catch him up on how all the teams have done over the last while.

When they finish eating, it’s still storming outside, but where Harry expects Malfoy to kick him out regardless, he’s surprised when Malfoy offers to play Exploding Snap to wait it out. He pulls out a bottle of wine as well, and they drink and play game after game. Malfoy beats him in the classic game more times than he’d like to admit. He’s incredibly fast on the draw, and Harry accuses him of cheating somehow, but then Harry beats him when they play with Bavarian rules, so it evens out.

It feels almost as if they’re back at Hogwarts during their eighth year—sneaking alcohol into the dorms, playing games and talking late into the night.

Spending time with Malfoy and seeing that he hasn’t changed much from the smart and funny, sometimes nice and always rude person he knew him to be settles something in Harry’s chest, something that had been nagging at him since Malfoy’s return.

At the end of the night, after they’ve polished off the bottle and Harry is yawning and ready for bed, he decides it’s time to head home. The storm has long since finished, but they got so caught up in their games they hardly noticed.

“Do you have any Floo powder about?” Harry asks when he doesn’t see any of it on either of the mantles.

“Oh, no, the Floo’s not connected,” Malfoy says, pausing in putting the cards away to look up at Harry. “You’ll have to Apparate. Are you alright to Apparate?”

Harry furrows his brow and at Malfoy. “It’s still not hooked up?” he asks. “Why? Are they giving you a hard time at the Floo Network Authority?”

Malfoy huffs and waves a dismissive hand. “No, nothing like that,” he says. “Don’t worry, you don’t need to play the hero and defend my honour from a disgruntled office worker.”

Harry huffs out a laugh, but he watches Malfoy a moment longer as he gathers up the rest of the cards and tucks them into their box.

“You’re okay to Apparate?” Malfoy asks again as he gets up from the hearth and stretches.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Harry says, and he moves to the kitchen island and picks up his cloak.

Malfoy regards him for a moment, as if judging his level of intoxication, and then he nods. “Alright. I’m afraid you’ll have to walk out past the gate to get out from under the wards.”

“It’s fine,” Harry says and jerks his chin toward the window. “Finally stopped snowing at least.”

Malfoy looks out the window and hums. “So it did,” he says, then looks back to Harry. “Well, you know the way out. Good night, Potter.”

“G’night, Malfoy,” Harry returns and watches him turn and leave the kitchen. He slides on his gloves and flips his hood up, then he heads down the short hallway out the servant’s entrance and treks through the snow down the long drive. Once he passes the gate, Harry Disapparates.

Chapter Text

Come Monday, there’s little work left to do on the Dark Arts coven they were dealing with the previous week, and Harry and Susan switch focus back to the Mindtaker case. There haven’t been any new developments, and Harry hates feeling like he’s hit a wall with a case. He hates feeling like he has to wait for someone else to get robbed before he can do his job.

“You seen Duck lately?” Harry asks Susan while they’re on their lunch break.

She chews and swallows down her falafel before answering, “No. Saw him the last time you did. He’s probably holed up somewhere in Knockturn, flying high as a kite since his last paycheck.”

Harry frowns and hums in agreement. “He said he was going to ask around about the Mindtaker.”

Susan runs her tongue over her teeth to clean them and nods. “Yeah. Might be worth hunting him down.”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees. “We’re not getting anywhere anyway.”

After they finish eating, Harry sends a letter to Duck, asking if he’ll meet them sometime soon. They spend the rest of the day as usual, trying to work their case as much as they can. Come Tuesday with no word from Duck, Harry and Susan head over to Knockturn and hit all of his usual spots and every drug den they know of. They don’t find their informant, but they do catch and arrest a couple drug dealers.

They spend the rest of their day interrogating the drug dealers, looking for information to find and shut down their supplier. They seem fairly low on the ladder, but Harry and Susan end up with a couple leads that they track down to the potions supplier. They call in a couple more Aurors to join them and raid the place. It’s a small illegal potions operation, but it takes nearly all night and Harry doesn’t get home until after midnight.

On Wednesday morning, Harry and Susan get called out to what looks to be a new Mindtaker robbery just after four in the morning. They spend the entire day processing the scene, interviewing the victims and witnesses. Harry gets caught up in it and only just remembers to owl Malfoy to let him know he won’t make it to their appointment and asks if they can meet Friday instead. Not long after, Malfoy responds with a rude note that makes Harry laugh and has Susan side-eyeing him.

Harry rubs the back of his neck, feeling awkward and guilty. Malfoy is bowed in front of him, holding out a cloak pin in his left hand. His right is clenched so hard at his side that his knuckles are white. Pansy is stood off to the side, wearing a wicked smile like she already knows Harry’s answer before he says it.

Harry feels like an arse, he knows he has to give his answer and the silence has gone on too long, but he feels badly because he and Malfoy had barely started to get along again.

With a sigh, Harry rubs a hand down his face and says, “No.”

Instead of snapping up and yelling at Harry as he has before, Malfoy straightens slowly and glares at Harry with a cold fury.

“The Catalyst has refused the offering,” Earl says blandly as he writes Harry’s answer into the ledger. “Does the Beneficiary have another offering at this time?”

“No,” Malfoy says curtly.

With a wave of Earl’s wand, the green strings of the bond fade away. He closes the ledger and says, “Please schedule a future appointment if and when you’d like a witness to another offering.”

“I don’t know what the point would be, seeing as Potter is unwilling to accept any offer I put to him,” Malfoy says coldly.

“Sorry, but I don’t want a cloak pin, or anything really, that has those sort of enchantments. I appreciate your work, and I see why you’d think increasing my spell power could be helpful, but it’s unpredictable and therefore unsafe,” Harry says with a wince. “Plus I don’t need it.”

Malfoy cries out in frustration and throws his hands in the air. He paces in a circle and then rounds on Harry and hisses, “Then what the hell do you want!”

Harry chews his lip and thinks it over for a second. “Nothing, really,” he says ruefully.

“Of course, the man who has everything,” Malfoy snarks and rolls his eyes.

“I don’t,” Harry counters, furrowing his brow. “But I can’t use any of the things you’re offering me! Just—hell, I don’t know, just give me a pair of sunglasses!”

Malfoy looks unamused. “Sunglasses?” he asks dryly. “Really?”

“Yeah, I’d accept them,” Harry says.

“Potter. It’s February. When are you going to wear sunglasses?”

Harry shrugs, and Malfoy groans in frustration. Pansy giggles and chews her gum loudly, grinning and looking between the two of them as they argue.

“Thank you for the support, Pansy, once again,” Malfoy snipes at her, then he turns and walks out of the office. Harry joins him, and they both head to the café without having to ask.

They sit at their usual table in the corner, and Harry takes the chair where he can have his back to the wall and his eyes on the door. Malfoy orders Matcha and Harry orders a coffee.

Malfoy is silent for the first few minutes, and it is a bit unnerving for Harry. He’s usually so loud when he’s angry, and to have him be quiet instead makes Harry worry that he’s pushed him too far.

One long finger traces around the rim of his teacup, circling it again and again as Malfoy stares into it. Eventually he sighs and looks up at Harry.

“I don’t know why I thought it would easy to dissolve this bond,” Malfoy says. “Nothing is ever easy with you.”

“Sorry,” Harry says with a small smile. “You know I’d help you if I could, but you’re not exactly helping yourself.”

“I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to do,” Malfoy says and shakes his head. “Your job is the most dangerous thing you do, but you don’t want anything that will help you defensively or offensively there.”

Harry considers offering to take a bit of Malfoy’s essence again, to satisfy the bond the way most do, apparently, but he doesn’t. Part of him is wary of why Malfoy won’t do it, but another part is relieved to not have another piece of someone’s magic in him.

“I might just have to jump in front of a curse to do it,” Malfoy says, and Harry can’t quite tell if he’s joking or not.

“We’ll figure something out,” Harry offers.

Malfoy looks up and stares at him for a moment, then he pushes his tea away and says, “I think I need something a little stronger than this.”

Harry huffs out a laugh that he hides behind his hands because he still feels guilty that he’s made Malfoy so upset, but he can’t help laughing at how dramatic Malfoy is being. After he collects himself, Harry drops his hands and nods, grinning. “Alright.”

“I think there’s a bar down the road,” Malfoy says as he stands and drops a few coins on the table.

“No, no more magic pubs and paparazzi,” Harry says quickly. “I know a place.”

He throws a few Sickles on the table for his drink and tip, then leads the way out of the café.

“A Muggle place?” Malfoy asks him, and Harry nods. “But...what would I order there? What sort of drinks do they have?”

“I dunno. Order a whisky, or a martini, or a gin and tonic,” Harry suggests and pushes out the front door of the café, holding it open for Malfoy. “They have all the same stuff. Mostly.”

Malfoy frowns and looks a bit skeptical, but he takes Harry’s arm when he offers it, and Harry Apparates them to an alley near his favourite bar in Kensington.

The pavement is wet and slushy, and the February night air is chill and windy. The sun has already set, but the streets are busy with cars rushing by and groups of Muggles about. The neon signs of the shops reflect on the wet streets, and the city is loud with the mix of traffic, conversations, and music.

Instead of letting go of Harry’s arm, Malfoy grips it tighter in the face of such commotion. His eyes are wide as they come out of the alley and he looks around at the busy street. Harry wonders if Malfoy has ever been anywhere Muggle outside of King’s Cross.

“Potter, shouldn’t you get out of your uniform?” Malfoy asks as Harry guides them down the street. “Perhaps I should change first, I’m not wearing my Muggle clothes.”

“Nah, it’s fine,” Harry says. He stops at a pub named The Sandman and leads them inside. “You have Muggle clothes?” he asks as an afterthought.

“Of course,” Malfoy says, looking around the busy pub at the all the Muggles inside the warm, wood-paneled space.

The ceiling is painted red, there’s a long, curving bar, many round tables scattered around the room, and large wooden columns that have counters built around them with stools underneath. Music plays from speakers overhead and the bar is clamorous with the added noise of people chatting and playing pool.

“Every wizard should have Muggle clothes, for when we have to go out into the Muggle world,” Malfoy says absently as his eyes roam over the pub.

“What sort of Muggle clothes do you have?” Harry asks, guiding them to the bar and taking a seat.

Malfoy looks down at the stool next to Harry’s, frowning and brushing it off. He hesitantly releases Harry’s arm and sits down. “Er, they’re, well they’re very large. I thought it was a mistake, but the tailor told me that’s how the Muggles wear them.”

The bartender comes over to take their order before Harry can ask Malfoy more questions. He orders a pint for himself, and Malfoy requests a gin and tonic.

“Potter,” Malfoy hisses to him as the bartender turns away, “I don’t have any Muggle money.”

“It’s fine, I’m buying,” Harry says with a dismissive wave. “Gotta make up somehow for breaking your spirit.”

The bartender turns back and sets Malfoy’s gin and tonic in front of him. While he pours Harry’s beer, Malfoy carefully tastes his drink and then gives it a surprised and approving look.

“What does your Muggle outfit look like?” Harry asks as the bartender hands him his pint. Harry mumbles his thanks and digs out a few notes to pay with.

“It’s a red outfit with a hat of some sort,” Malfoy answers. “A cap, I think he called it.”

“A baseball cap?” Harry asks.

“Yes, I believe that’s it,” Malfoy says and nods. “I was told they made me look like two renowned Muggle musicians.”

“Oh, yeah? Who’s that?” Harry asks, fighting down a grin and taking a sip of his beer.

“Em and Em,” Malfoy says, tilting his nose up and looking very proud.

Harry nearly spits out his drink and he has to put a hand over his mouth as he bursts into laughter, then starts coughing as his beer goes down the wrong tube.

When he looks up, Malfoy is wearing an unimpressed expression. “What?” he asks hotly.

“Nothing,” Harry croaks and waves him off, but he can’t stop grinning. He clears his throat and pounds his chest a couple times. Malfoy is eyeing him dubiously, but Harry shakes his head and says, “I’m sure you look great in it.”

“I’m told it’s very fashionable,” Malfoy says and Harry fights down another round of laughter.

“Mhm,” he hums and nods, barely keeping it together. He’s starting to regret not letting Malfoy get changed into his Muggle clothes.

Malfoy scoffs and takes a drink from his cup, then he turns and looks around the pub. His eyes linger for a long moment on the telly behind the bar and eventually slide away to gaze around at the people. When he turns back to Harry, his eyes drop to the pint in front of him which Harry has hardly touched yet.

“Are you going to nurse that all night? We came here to get drunk,” Malfoy says and tuts.

“You came here to get drunk,” Harry corrects him.

“I’m not going to be the only one drunk, that’s boring. Pull your britches up and have a real drink, Potter,” Malfoy tells him. When Harry hesitates, Malfoy rolls his eyes. “You’ve done your duty for the day, and the week, now relax. It’s okay to have fun, you don’t need to be a stick-in-the-arse Auror all the time, you know.”

“Alright, alright,” Harry agrees and waves the bartender down. “Two shots of tequila.”

The bartender slides over a salt shaker, pours the shots out, and sets lime wedges on top. Harry pushes one closer to Malfoy, then he licks the muscle of his left hand, shakes some salt onto it, and passes the shaker to Malfoy.

Malfoy is watching him curiously with his brow furrowed.

“Go on. Thought we’re both getting drunk tonight?” Harry says and gestures to the salt.

Malfoy slowly follows his lead, licking the back of his right hand and shaking some of the salt on it.

Harry winks at him, then licks the salt off his hand, shoots the tequila back and then bites into his lime wedge. Malfoy watches him do this, and then follows suit.

“Blergh.” Malfoy makes a face and shakes his head out.

Harry laughs, but he pulled the same face after his shot too.

“Never had tequila before?” Harry guesses.

“No,” Malfoy says with a frown and then picks up his gin and tonic to chase the taste away.

“It’s great for two things,” Harry tells him. “Getting fucked up, and getting pregnant.”

Malfoy throws his head back and laughs. “Should I be worried?” he asks with a grin.

“Dunno, maybe,” Harry says. “Can you get pregnant?”

Malfoy raises an eyebrow at him, but he’s still smiling. “Does that mean you’re going to try?”

Harry laughs and shakes his head. He’ll admit that Malfoy looks good in the soft lighting, laughing and smiling easily, but Harry is not nearly drunk enough to hit on him.

Harry catches the bartender’s attention and orders two more shots for them, which they down in similar fashion and Harry’s face starts feeling hot and tingly from the effects of the alcohol.

A woman bumps him as she tries to get to the bar next to him, and Harry turns and says, “Sorry.”

“Sorry,” she apologises almost at the same time. She’s got a friend next to her, and they both eye Harry up and down. “Are you a cosplayer?” she leans in and asks loudly over the din.

“Yeah, we’re wizards!” Harry answers with a grin. Malfoy starts choking, and whacks Harry in the side. When Harry glances at him, Malfoy widens his eyes in alarm and silent warning.

“Cool,” she answers, eyeing Malfoy a moment before glancing to her friend. She looks back at Harry and asks, “You guys want a drink?”

Harry smiles but shakes his head. He throws an arm over Malfoy’s shoulders and leans into him. “Thanks, but we’re gay.”

“Oh, alright,” she says, smiles at them, and then turns to get the bartender’s attention.

“What are you doing, Potter?” Malfoy hisses in his ear, and Harry pulls away from him. “You just broke the Statute of Secrecy! You’re going to get us arrested!”

“No, we’re not. Relax, Malfoy,” Harry waves him off.

“I’m not going to Azkaban because you can’t hold your liquor,” Malfoy tells him with an unamused glare. “I’m going to tell them it was all your doing.”

“You’re not going to Azkaban,” Harry tells him. “They think we’re in costumes.”

“Costumes?” Malfoy echoes in confusion. “You just outed us to them!”

Harry laughs. “As gay maybe, not as wizards. Muggles think wizards are fantasy and they dress up as witches and wizards for fun.”

Malfoy furrows his brow and stares at Harry, looking like he’s trying to decide whether Harry is pulling his leg or not. After a moment he hums, then looks at Harry curiously and asks, “I thought you were bi?”

“Yeah, I am,” Harry answers.

“But you told them that you’re gay,” he points out. “Do you not want to date a Muggle?”

“No, it’s not that,” Harry says and shakes his head. “Muggle, magic folk, doesn’t matter to me. I just, I dunno. I’m here with you, and I didn’t think you’d be interested in them flirting with you.”

“No, definitely not,” Malfoy agrees quickly.

“Well, alright then,” Harry says, and he orders them another round of shots.

After that, their intoxication level takes a noticeable turn. At first, Malfoy starts out curiously asking about various Muggle devices, but after another shot it turns into a long argument about how electricity works. The fifth shot leads them back into their argument about Muggle transportation and aeroplanes.

“Alright, come on,” Harry says, stumbling a bit as he tries to get off his stool.

“What? Where're we going?” Malfoy asks. “Potter! I’m not finished arguing with you!”

“Come on, come on,” Harry says, walking backwards and waving at Malfoy to follow him out. He bumps into someone else and quickly turns and apologises.

“What are you doing?” Malfoy asks him and giggles, then teeters as he steps off his stool.

Harry grabs at his arm to help steady him, then uses it to pull Malfoy out of the bar. “Come on. Told you. I’m taking you to the airport. Gonna show you how wrong you are.”

“Fine by me, Potter,” Malfoy says, letting Harry lead him along and only stumbling a little. “I’d love to see your face when you realise how wrong you are.”

Harry takes them to the curb and looks down the street for a taxi. He waves one down and then opens the door and gestures Malfoy in.

Malfoy stares at him like he’s grown a second head. “Are you mental?” he asks incredulously. “I’m not getting in that Muggle contraption!”

“Come on, Malfoy, it’s fine,” Harry says and waves him in. “It’s cultural immersion! You can learn about all the Muggle things you’ve been arguing with me about for the last hour.”

Malfoy frowns, but he slowly climbs into the taxi.

“Budge over,” Harry tells him and clambers in after him.

“Where to?” the driver asks and looks back at them.

“Heathrow Airport,” Harry answers.

The driver nods, checks his blind and pulls them into traffic. Malfoy falls back against his seat from the momentum, and his eyes widen in shock. He reaches for his wand and Harry grabs his wrist to stop him.

“Woah, woah, woah!” Harry says and laughs. “It’s alright, relax. We’re perfectly safe.”

“This is the opposite of perfectly safe!” Malfoy snaps and almost falls onto Harry when the driver takes a sharp corner.

Harry helps Malfoy right himself, laughing all the while, and Malfoy latches onto Harry’s arm with both hands. “Oh, Merlin. I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Malfoy mutters. “How does it even work? Are there safety measures?”

“Well…” Harry begins uncertainly, and Malfoy gives him a horrified look. Harry holds up his free hand and says, “It’s fine, we’re fine. We’re totally fine. Trust me.”

Malfoy watches him another moment, then swallows and looks around at the car. He keeps his nervous hold on Harry the whole drive, but he watches the driver and looks over the console and various parts of the car with a wary curiosity.

He spends some of the drive watching the other cars out the window, and then turns to Harry and says, “They’re flying so close together. Do they never hit each other?”

“Er, well, sometimes, yeah,” Harry admits, and Malfoy’s eyes widen and he presses himself more into Harry and farther from the window. “But it’s alright, they’re equipped with airbags and seatbelts,” he adds to try and ease Malfoy’s fear. He doesn’t mention how they don’t actually wear seatbelts in a taxi.

“Which airline?” the driver asks as they approach the airport.

“Er,” Harry intones uncertainty as he thinks about it. “Oh! Take us to the long stay parking.”

“You want to go to the long stay parking?” the driver asks in confusion.

“Yeah,” Harry says, pausing a second to try and come up with a good excuse. “We’re, er, helping a friend.”

The driver grunts an indifferent note and steers them to the entrance of one of the long stay parking lots and pulls over. Harry digs out a few notes and passes them to the driver. He opens his door and climbs out of the car, closely followed by Malfoy.

“See? That wasn’t so bad,” Harry tells him.

“Never again, Potter,” Malfoy says, and he looks so deadly serious that Harry can’t help but laugh.

“Come on,” Harry says and guides them into the parking lot. He looks around surreptitiously, but the lot is mostly empty. There’s only a couple walking at the other end of the parking lot with their backs turned to Harry and Malfoy, so Harry pushes one side of his robe open and digs around in his supply pouch. It has an Extension Charm on it and it takes him a minute to find what he’s looking for.

“What are you doing, Potter?” Malfoy hisses at him as Harry starts drawing the invisibility cloak from his pouch.

“Okay, so,” Harry begins and looks at Malfoy, “we might get arrested for this.”

“What!” Malfoy barks, and his voice echoes across the empty lot. Malfoy licks his lips and glances around, then drops his voice to a whisper and says, “What the hell are you getting me into, Potter?”

“Fun,” Harry says and grins. “Isn’t this what you wanted?”

Malfoy bites his bottom lip, and Harry can see him fighting a smile before he gives in, “Oh, alright.”

“It’ll be worth it, I swear,” Harry promises, then he steps close to Malfoy and pulls on his robe. “Come on, come here.”

“What? Potter—” Malfoy begins, and cuts off when Harry throws the cloak over them. Malfoy lifts his hand, pulling up the fabric with it and looks at it. “Is this…?”

“Yep,” Harry says and grins.

“Why are we using your invisibility cloak?” Malfoy asks dubiously.

“Thought you didn’t want to get arrested?” Harry asks pointedly. “Stay close, it’s not meant for two.”

Their feet are already poking out the bottom, but Harry figures that it’s dark and no one is around so it’ll be alright as long as they don’t set off any alarms. Harry leads them to the end of the parking lot, where a fence blocks them from the runway area. They stumble several times and Malfoy grabs onto the back of Harry’s cloak to try and keep his feet. Harry thinks it’s a miracle they make it without falling.

Harry grabs Malfoy’s hand, focuses on the other side of the fence, and Apparates them.

“Oh Merlin,” Malfoy says when they appear on the other side. “I can’t believe you did that. How drunk are you? Did you splinch us? Have I been splinched?”

Harry laughs and turns to give Malfoy a once over. “We’re fine, you’re fine, come on,” Harry says and tugs at his wrist. They stumble through the grassy patch nearer to the runway and then Harry stops.

“See them?” Harry says, pulling Malfoy close and pointing to the planes parked along the terminals across the way from them.

“Oh,” Malfoy says in surprise. He’s silent a moment as he blinks and gazes at all of them. “Well, they’re not that—”

“Look, look!” Harry says and points up the runway, where one of the planes is turning onto the end of the strip and preparing to take off. “Here it comes.”

Malfoy watches in silence as the plane starts moving down the runway, and Harry grips at the invisibility cloak to hold it in place. The plane builds up speed, and then starts tipping upward. It passes them in a rush, swirling the cloak around them rapidly. Malfoy watches it, open-mouthed as it takes off into the air.

Harry watches Malfoy as Malfoy watches the plane flying away. Long seconds pass in silence as he stares at it in disbelief.

“What.” Malfoy finally says, then looks at Harry in shock. “What?”

Harry merely grins at him.

“Oh gods, they’re huge!” he effuses and Harry nods. “They’re enormous! They’re—how in the world—I don’t even—”

Malfoy cuts off, blinking and shaking his head in disbelief. Harry bites his lip and tries to hold in a laugh.

“I want to see another,” Malfoy declares. “Will there be another?”

“Yeah. Look there, that one’s getting ready,” Harry says and points out a plane that’s taxiing to the runway.

They wait in silence as the plane ambles around, and then starts coming down the runway. Malfoy gapes at it as it soars past them.

“Gods,” he mutters under his breath, watching it fly off into the sky. “How many Muggles do you think are in there?”

Harry hums and shrugs. “Dunno. Maybe a hundred.”

“A hundred people,” Malfoy echoes in wonderment. He turns his gaze back toward the other end of the runway and waits for the next plane.

They watch three more pass in silence, and Malfoy looks as amazed by every one. Harry can tell that he’s getting cold by the way he starts shivering, and he puts a Warming Charm over them.

“Hey, come on, I’ve got an idea,” Harry says, taking Malfoy’s hand and pulling him away.

“But I want to watch,” Malfoy complains.

“We will, we’re not leaving yet,” Harry says.

He keeps hold of Malfoy with one hand and clutches the invisibility cloak with the other as he leads them down to the end of the runway. When Harry turns to stand in the grass at the end of the runway, Malfoy resists him.

“It’s alright,” Harry says, looking back at him.

Malfoy chews his lip in concern and looks down the runway where another plane is gearing up to take off. Slowly, he gives in to Harry’s gentle pressure and follows him out beyond the end of the runway.

Harry stops and casts a Warming Charm around the area, then he sits down in the grass and tugs at Malfoy’s hand to get him to follow him down. Malfoy hesitantly drops next to him, and Harry pulls at the invisibility cloak and shifts it around to cover them as he lays back in the grass. Malfoy follows him down, laying next to Harry and pressing against him shoulder to hip.

Harry puts a hand behind his head and smiles up at the sky as he waits. The rumble of the airplane signals its approach and Harry can hear Malfoy’s excited utterances.

“Oh Merlin,” he mutters nervously. “Oh Merlin, Morgana, and Arthur.”

Malfoy gasps as the plane flies over them, and Harry watches his astonished reaction with a warm smile.

“I can’t believe we’ve done this,” Malfoy says and looks at Harry. “How do they do it? How do the Muggles get their machines to fly?”

Harry shrugs. “I don’t really know the particulars. The engines power them and give them momentum, and then...it’s like, aerodynamics? Air pressure and such that gets it into the air and keeps it up.”

Malfoy frowns and furrows his brow in thought. He looks back to the sky and watches as the next plane flies over them.

Harry keeps a Warming Charm active on them to hold off the winter chill, especially as Malfoy seems so sensitive to it, and they stay in the grass and watch the planes go by overhead. Harry’s not sure how much time passes, but he feels a lot more sober by the time Malfoy checks his watch.

“Well? What d’you think?” Harry asks him.

Malfoy turns his head toward Harry and deadpans, “Muggles are terrifying.”

Harry laughs. His stomach rumbles, and he’s sure Malfoy must be just as starved. “Want to get a kebab?” he asks.

Malfoy gives a small smile, then he nods and says, “Sure.”

Harry holds the invisibility cloak up as they sit up and then pull each other to standing, trying to keep it over them as best he can.

“Think I’m sober enough to Apparate us there,” Harry says. “Unless you’d like to take a taxi back?”

“No, no thank you. Apparition sounds lovely,” Malfoy says and Harry laughs.

Harry takes his hand and Apparates them near his favourite late night kebab stand. When he pulls the cloak off of them, Malfoy’s hair is a mess and Harry teases him for it. Malfoy irritably tries to smooth it back to normalcy. Harry buys them a couple kebabs and they find a bench to sit and eat in relative silence.

After he finishes his food, Malfoy watches Harry, and Harry turns his head to give him a questioning look. Malfoy hums curiously, looking at him a moment longer, then he reaches out and pulls Harry’s glasses off.

Harry blinks at Malfoy’s newly blurry form, and watches as Malfoy holds his glasses up and turns them this way and that, inspecting them.

“You’re still wearing the same frames after all these years?” he asks incredulously, and Harry shrugs.

“Never saw a reason to replace them,” he says and bites the last piece of lamb off his kebab.

Malfoy looks at them a moment longer, then he slides them on his own face and looks around. “Your eyesight is terrible,” he says, and looks at Harry. “How in world have you survived this long?”

Harry chews, swallows, and says, “With glasses.”

Malfoy snorts out a laugh and takes Harry’s glasses off. He inspects them a moment longer, then draws his wand and taps it against them.

“Hey!” Harry says and grabs for them.

“I cleaned them for you. You’re welcome,” he drawls and lets Harry take them back.

Harry gives Malfoy a suspicious look, but when he puts his glasses on, they seem fine.

In the corner of his eye, Harry sees Malfoy moving, and he turns to see him checking his watch again.

“Thank you for tonight, it was fun,” Malfoy says hesitantly and looks to Harry. “Perhaps you haven’t become a boring old codger just yet.”

Harry snorts and shakes his head, but he’s smiling and agrees easily, “It was fun.”

Malfoy smiles back, and then fights his expression into something more serious. “I’m still cross with you.”

Harry shrugs and says easily, “What else is new?”

Malfoy huffs and rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling again. Soon they say good night and Apparate to their respective homes.

Harry wakes up hungover the next morning, but he chugs water and downs a Restorative Potion, so he can drag himself out of the house to pick up Teddy and take him sledding like he promised. He spends most of the afternoon playing with his godson, and then he drops him home and takes Rose and Hugo to a movie so that Ron and Hermione can have a date night.

On Sunday, Harry sleeps in and spends a lazy day at home until he goes for dinner at the Burrow. It’s not until Molly asks him why he looks so happy that Harry realises how much he’s been smiling all weekend. He brushes the question off because he doesn’t want to tell anyone he was recalling his time with Malfoy, but it gets Harry thinking. It’s startling to recognise how much fun he had with Malfoy, and that he hasn’t had that much fun or felt this happy in a long while.

Back at work, Harry and Susan are at another dead end with their Mindtaker case, and they keep searching the streets for their informant, until they get handed a double homicide and have to switch gears.

Early in the week, Harry gets a letter from Malfoy requesting to meet on Friday rather than Wednesday, since Harry so rudely interrupted their schedule last week, and he needs more time to work on the next offering.

By Friday, Harry is overworked and exhausted from chasing their new case, but he’s excited to see what Malfoy has come up with this time, and to maybe console him over drinks again if it doesn’t go well.

When Harry makes it down to the Office of Magical Bonds and Vows, Malfoy is already waiting for him as usual. Harry knows he’s made it to the appointment right before 6:15, and when Malfoy pointedly checks his watch, the look he gives Harry is one of subdued approval.

Malfoy stands crisply and smooths his robes, nodding at Harry and greeting him, “Potter.”

“Malfoy,” Harry says back, gesturing for Malfoy to lead the way.

Malfoy has a small smile on his face as he heads through the office into the archive.

To their surprise, Earl is at his desk, ready and waiting for them this time. Harry glances around the space, but he doesn’t spot Pansy or anyone else around, and he feels some measure of relief at not having an audience. This whole ordeal is already awkward enough.

Malfoy goes through the usual process, declaring which bond they’re here to address, and Earl reveals the ties of the bond between them. Once ready, Malfoy turns to face Harry and gives him a hesitant smile. Harry watches as Malfoy swallows almost nervously, then bends in a shallow bow and reaches into his robes for his offering.

“I, Draco Lucius Malfoy,” he begins formally in the same tradition as always, and holds out a long, small box with celtic carvings in the warm, reddish wood, “as direct beneficiary of the selfless heroism of Harry James Potter in the face of great danger on the night of May the second of 1998, am here to acknowledge this bond and officially offer repayment in the form of this enchanted pair of eyeglasses.”

Malfoy opens the box to reveal the glasses. They have round-rimmed frame, much like Harry’s current pair, but are silver and more delicately designed. Harry’s mouth tips open in surprise.

“I have handcrafted this offering and woven enchantments into it, that it might help to you see the path before you and any enemies who try to obscure the way,” Malfoy finishes.

“Does the Catalyst accept this offering?” Earl asks mildly and looks to Harry.

Harry can’t take his eyes from the pair of glasses, feeling shock and wonder that Malfoy would listen to a trivial idea Harry had thrown out and turn it into something beautiful and practical. “I—yeah, okay,” he answers after a pause.

When Malfoy doesn’t immediately jump up, and instead stays in position, Harry hesitantly reaches out and takes the box from him. Once he has it, Malfoy straightens, and the look of pure joy on his face has Harry catching his breath.

“The Catalyst has accepted the offering,” Earl says, seemingly oblivious to the exchange going on between Harry and Malfoy. He looks up at the bond between them and says, “No apparent change to the bond.”

Malfoy breaks eye contact with Harry, glancing at Earl and fighting down his smile, but he doesn’t seem that perturbed that his offering didn’t break the bond. Earl’s quill scratches this information into the ledger, and then he looks up to Malfoy.

“Does the Beneficiary have anything else to offer at this time?” he asks.

“No,” Malfoy answers.

“Please schedule a future appointment if you’d like to record a change in the bond or if you want to make another offering,” Earl says, closes the ledger and gets up to put the tome away.

Harry glances at Malfoy when he turns back to him, then he carefully pulls the glasses from their case and tucks the box into his pocket. He unfolds the glasses and moves them this way and that to inspect them.

Malfoy takes a step closer to him, biting his lip as he watches Harry look them over. “They’re water repellant,” he explains after a moment with a nod to the glasses. “So you won’t have to worry about bad weather, or them fogging up. Dirt and oil repellent too, so you can’t leave your grubby fingerprints all over the glass.”

“That—that sounds very useful, Malfoy,” Harry says in wonder; he can’t imagine not having to clean his glasses all the time. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Malfoy says and rolls his eyes. “You’re the one who finally accepted my offering.”

Harry chuckles at that and shrugs.

“If I may?” Malfoy asks and puts out his hand, and Harry gives him the glasses. Malfoy accepts them, takes out his wand and taps the frame with it while saying clearly, “Umbra.”

Almost instantly, the glass darkens and turns them into a pair of sunglasses.

“Your sunglasses, as requested,” Malfoy says and looks to Harry with a little smirk, and Harry laughs. “Lucidus,” he says and taps the glasses again to turn them transparent.

A thought occurs to Harry, and he asks, “How do you know my prescription?”

“What?” Malfoy asks and makes a confused expression.

Harry furrows his brow, worrying now that he might not be able to use the gift he’s just accepted. “My prescription,” he says again. “The kind of glasses I need to see.”

“Oh, no. Have you been wearing Muggle glasses all this time?” Malfoy asks with some incredulity. “These are wizarding glasses, Potter. You don’t need to worry about that—they’re charmed to adjust to your needs.”

Harry hums curiously and takes the glasses back when Malfoy holds them out to him. He turns them in his hands, then squints and rubs his thumb over a small design carved next to the hinge on the temples.

“It’s a shield knot. A Druidic symbol of protection,” he tells him. Harry frowns a little, and Malfoy hurries to explain, “It’s not a protection charm, it won’t literally shield you and ricochet hexes onto your partner, as you’re so worried about. It’s just a general blessing of protection.”

Harry nods his appreciation of that and says, “Good. There’s nothing else? No other crazy charms I’m going to have to worry about?”

“No, no, nothing that should interfere with your work or endanger anyone else,” Malfoy says quickly. “There’s charms to keep them from breaking easily and keep them from falling off as you’re running about.”

Harry’s first thought is how useful that will be in Quidditch. His glasses had fallen off mid-game a couple months back when he’d done a Sloth Grip Roll to avoid a Bludger. He’d lost sight of the Snitch and subsequently lost the match.

“I tried to keep them fairly simple—elegant. I know you’re not into fancy embellishments,” Malfoy adds, and when Harry looks up to him, Malfoy is biting his lip and fiddling with the hem of his robes.

“Yeah, I’m not,” he confirms, surprised that Malfoy cared enough to notice, and oddly touched at how nervous he seems about presenting his gift to Harry. “I’m not sure how they’re going to dissolve the life debt, though.”

“It’s fine,” Malfoy says with a dismissive wave. “It may weaken the bond some, the more you use them, but I’ve learned this isn’t going to be the easiest bond to break. So, it’s a starting point.”

Harry hums and nods, then he takes off his glasses, folds them and hooks him in his shirt. He slides on the new glasses, then blinks as the glass warps and his vision focuses in and out a few times before the glass settles and he can see clearly once more.

“How’s the fit?” Malfoy asks, and steps close in front of Harry, reaching up and feeling the length of the temples behind Harry’s ears. “I wasn’t entirely sure…” he trails off as he inspects how the frames sit on Harry’s face.

Harry swallows and stands still, letting Malfoy prod at him. “Feels fine,” he says.

“Nothing is poking or pressing anywhere uncomfortably?” he asks, then he makes eye contact with Harry and stills, as if just realising how close they are to one another.

“Nope, feels great,” Harry answers casually. “Barely feels like I’m wearing anything.”

“Perfect, good,” Malfoy says and steps away. “They should. I’ve made them—well, I’ve tried to make them that way.”

“And I think you’ve succeeded,” Harry agrees stiffly.

“I tried a few different frames too, but in the end, I think the round ones suit you best, absurd as they may be,” Malfoy says, looking them over on Harry once more with a decisive nod.

“Thanks, Malfoy,” Harry says with as much sarcasm as he can muster.

“No need to thank me, Potter,” Malfoy says flippantly. “I’m just grateful you finally came to your senses and accepted an offering. I’ve put a lot of work into these, you know.”

“I’m grateful you finally offered me something I can use,” he returns and gets an eye roll for it.

“I was starting to think you just liked hearing me call you a hero every week,” Malfoy drawls, and he slips a finger under one of Harry’s suspenders, tugging it back and letting it go.

“Oi,” Harry barks after it snaps against his chest, and he rubs at the stinging spot. Malfoy smirks and turns to leave the office, and Harry automatically moves to keep pace with him. It almost feels like Malfoy is flirting with him, and Harry has to bite down on a smile. “And here I was thinking you just liked calling me a hero.”

Malfoy rolls his eyes. “It’s part of the ceremony, Potter. If at all possible, I try not to inflate your head any bigger than it already is,” he says, and Harry huffs out a laugh.

As they head into the lift, Harry worries for a moment if they’re still going to get a drink if he didn’t reject the offering this time, but Malfoy ends his worrying soon enough.

“Tea?” he asks as he punches the button for the Atrium, and Harry smiles and nods.

As they head down, Harry says, “We could get a taxi there if you’d like.” A grin spreads over his face when Malfoy scoffs and immediately shuts the idea down.

“Absolutely not,” Malfoy snaps and sticks his nose up imperiously.

They Apparate outside the café, and Malfoy holds the door for Harry. Their normal table is taken, and after a quick scan of the room, Harry heads toward a different table where he can sit with his back to the wall. He shifts his chair so it’ll be positioned right, and then takes a seat. Malfoy gives him a strange look but moves his own chair to sit opposite of Harry.

“You know, once when I was a child, I was hit by one of those automobiles,” Malfoy begins thoughtfully.

“Really?” Harry asks in surprise. “Were you badly hurt?”

“No, well, perhaps I’m not phrasing it correctly. The vehicle didn’t hit me, but rather I hit it,” he explains, and Harry lifts a confused eyebrow at him. “I was playing outside and went beyond the gate because it was a rainy day and all the worms had come to the surface and were on the road. I was collecting them, so I could put them in Pansy’s soup when she came to visit that night.”

“Glad to know you’ve always been a git,” Harry says, shaking his head and chuckling.

“She deserved it,” Malfoy says indignantly. “The last time I’d gone to her house, she put Chizpurfles in my hair!”

Harry laughs at the image that creates. “Gods, you two must have been horrible children.”

“I’ve no idea what you mean. I was a perfect angel,” Malfoy says, and Harry snorts out another laugh.

“I’m sure you were,” he says sarcastically.

The waitress comes by for their order, and they both get their usual. When she’s gone, Malfoy continues his story.

“So anyway, I was out collecting worms, and when I felt I’d gathered enough, I turned to run back home before my parents could notice that I’d left the property. I wasn’t supposed to go beyond the fence, you see. But right then a Muggle vehicle was passing by and I ran right into the side of it,” Malfoy says and slaps his hands together demonstratively.

“The Muggle jumped out of his car and started in asking if I was alright. I was fine, but I could see my parents running down the drive towards us. I was terrified Father would be cross with me for playing outside the gate, so I started crying my eyes out. The Muggle was very upset, thinking that he’d hurt me, but when Father came down and saw the scene, he was furious,” Malfoy says, and then he has to fight down a laugh to keep talking. “He transfigured the Muggle’s car into a rhino, and it chased him all the way down the street.”

Harry frowns and furrows his brow as Malfoy laughs at the memory. “Was the Muggle hurt?” he asks.

“Hm?” Malfoy says and looks up at him, smiling in mirth, and he waves a dismissive hand. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t believe so.”

“That’s…not a very good story, Malfoy,” Harry says with a small sigh.

“What? Why not?” he asks and gives Harry a confused and offended look.

“Because your father traumatised and potentially hurt a person?” Harry says scornfully.

“Well, I’m sure the Muggle was Obliviated afterward,” Malfoy argues.

“That doesn’t make it okay,” Harry snaps back. “How would you like if I set a rhino on you? Would you be okay with that as long as I Obliviated you after?”

Malfoy glares at him and sets his jaw stubbornly. He looks away from Harry and tongues over his top row of teeth irritably, but after a moment he releases a short sigh and concedes, “Fine, you’re right. It wasn’t a nice thing to do, Muggle or not.”

Harry snorts and shakes his head. “Maybe there’s hope for you yet,” he says dryly, and Malfoy sticks his tongue out at him. It’s so childish and unexpected that Harry smiles despite himself.

Their drinks arrive, and Harry burns his tongue on the first sip, but he’s glad for the momentary distraction.

“How are the renovations coming?” he asks eventually to change the subject.

“Oh, fine,” Malfoy says. “Slow but moving forward.”

“I’m surprised you don’t have a house-elf to speed things along,” Harry comments.

Malfoy shrugs. “I could probably use the help, but I don’t really want a house-elf.”

Harry hums and sips at his coffee thoughtfully. After a moment he sets the mug down and says, “I could help, if you’d like.”

When Harry looks up from his coffee, Malfoy is frowning at him warily. “Why?” he asks.

“It’s what friends do, isn’t it?” Harry says with a shrug. “Help each other out.”

Malfoy regards him carefully for a moment, then says hesitantly, “The estate is…well, it’s not—I don’t know how comfortable I’d be letting an Auror wander about in it. You know its history. It wasn’t cleaned out after Romulus died. The estate was boarded up and left as it was for centuries. I’ll be honest that I don’t know what all is in there, and I don’t particularly feel like being arrested when you stumble upon some Dark object that isn’t mine.”

“Come on, you honestly think I’d arrest you for finding some dusty old Dark artifact that clearly hasn’t been touched in an age?” Harry asks in amusement.

Malfoy purses his lips and gives a small shrug, running a long finger around the edge of his teacup. “I don’t really know what to think,” he says lightly and glances over to Harry.

Harry sobers and gives a small nod. He knows Malfoy is right to be suspicious, Harry has struggled to trust him since he’s been back. “I wouldn’t. If you’re worried about handling something Dark, owl me and I’ll help get rid of it, no questions asked,” he says and holds Malfoy’s gaze steadily, then he quirks up a small smile and tacks on, “Unless I find a body.”

Malfoy snorts out a laugh and his face breaks into a small smile. He’s quiet for a moment, then he says, “It’s amusing you know, you offering to help an ex-Death Eater handle Dark artifacts.”

Harry hums and then says with a rueful smile, “You and I both know you were recruited because of your father, not because of your prowess with the Dark Arts.”

Malfoy rubs his lips together and hums a neutral note, then he picks up his tea and takes a drink of it.

“I’m serious, Malfoy,” Harry continues after a moment. “This is what I do, and what I’m trained for. I’ve been dealing with the Dark Arts professionally for eight years almost. I will help, if you ask.”

Malfoy looks back to Harry, reading his face silently and then giving a small nod. “Okay,” he says. “Thank you.”

“ ‘Course,” Harry says easily and sips at his coffee. He lets his eyes rove over the café and the people as they fall into a short silence.

After a minute, Malfoy comments lightly, “The weather is supposed to be nicer tomorrow.”

Harry looks back at him and smiles. “Seeker’s game?” he asks.

“If you’re ready to be beaten,” Malfoy says with a smug smile.

“Dream on, Malfoy,” Harry says gamely and grins.

Malfoy beats him in the first game, and Harry gives him a two-fingered salute as Malfoy crows over his victory. Harry beats him to the second Snitch because he finds it near the edge of the property, and Malfoy is still employing his wait and watch tactic.

On the third game, the Snitch comes into view barely ten minutes into the game right below Malfoy, and they both dive for it at the same time. Neither of them pull out of their game of chicken, and they end up crashing into a heap on the ground.

Harry rolls off Malfoy with a groan and sits up. They weren’t too far off the ground when they collided, so it’s not the worst crash Harry has had, but he’ll be bruised tomorrow.

“Are you alright?” Harry asks him, concern flooding his body as Malfoy turns over and rubs his shoulder with a wince.

Malfoy blinks up at him, then asks, “Are your glasses okay?”

“What?” Harry asks incredulously.

“Are they still on? Did they take damage?” he reaches up and touches the frame of Harry’s glasses as if to test their condition.

“Yeah, they’re fine, still here,” Harry assures him, blinking and sitting still for Malfoy.

“Glad to see they’re working,” Malfoy groans and drops his hand, and Harry releases a relieved laugh.

“You’re ridiculous,” Harry says and shakes his head.

“Those charms were a lot of work, you know,” Malfoy informs him from the ground.

Harry laughs and pushes himself to standing, then offers a hand down to Malfoy. “I’m sure they were. Come on, let’s find the damn Snitch and get out of the cold,” he says. It’s a sunny day, but it’s windy and it’s still the middle of February.

“Oh, you mean this?” Malfoy asks, holding up the Snitch triumphantly.

“Arsehole,” Harry says and snatches it from Malfoy’s hand. He deactivates it and tucks it into his pocket. “Have you had that the whole time?”

“Of course,” Malfoy says, taking Harry’s hand when he offers it again and getting on his feet. “I caught it fair and square, pinched it right between my hip and the ground.” He rubs at said hip with a quiet groan.

“Landing on the Snitch isn’t a catch,” Harry laughs.

“Is too, I touched it first,” Malfoy argues.

Harry shakes his head, then looks around for his broom and finds it a few feet off. He picks it up and inspects it for damage. A couple of the twigs are bent, and Harry makes a mental note to trim them later.

After he shoulders his broom, he turns back to Malfoy who’s picked up his own broom and tilts his head in gesture toward the house. Harry falls into step with him as they walk up the drive and go around the side, through the servant’s entrance into the kitchen.

Harry leans his broom against the wall and takes off his cloak, dumping it on the island same as Malfoy. With a flick of his wand, Malfoy gets the fireplaces lit. They warm themselves by the fire as they argue the validity of Malfoy’s last catch, going back and forth citing various games throughout Quidditch history with unusual Snitch catches.

Malfoy heats up some soup for them, which they eat side-by-side in a comfortable silence. After Malfoy reaches the bottom of his bowl and the silence stretches on, Harry starts to get the feeling that Malfoy is working up the courage to say something. He keeps scraping his spoon over the bowl and licking off what little of the soup catches on the edge of it, all while tapping his foot erratically against the stone floor.

Harry sets down his bowl and leans back on his hands, watching Malfoy openly. Malfoy bites his lip and glances over at him, then he looks away to his bowl and scrapes his spoon around it again.

“Are you…” Malfoy begins hesitantly, then he looks up at Harry and finally asks, “Do you have any other engagements tonight?”

“No, not really. Not unless I get called in,” Harry says with a casual shrug. “Just laundry.”

Malfoy hums and taps his foot some more. “So there is a space here that…I think it’s cursed, and maybe you can help me with it?” His inflection goes up at the end, making it sound more like a question than a statement.

“Of course,” Harry answers easily. “You want me to look at it now?”

“Well, since you’re already here…”

“Sure,” Harry says and gets up.

Malfoy sets his bowl aside and stands, gesturing for Harry to follow him out of the kitchen. They pass by a dining room with a long table, connected to a conservatory at the far end through large glass doors, which is filled with a variety of exotic looking plants. Malfoy leads them through a living room, which is furnished with lavish, antique-looking items, then into an entry hall with a grand staircase sweeping up the middle and an immense chandelier overhead.

Malfoy takes them straight past the staircase into another living room, and Harry’s not sure what the point of multiple living rooms is, or what the difference might be between the two, but then, this is why he doesn’t live in a mansion. There is one noticeable difference between the rooms, and that’s their state. It’s clear that Malfoy has put time into cleaning and restoring the other rooms, because they’re much tidier than this one.

The furniture and paintings are all covered with white sheets. The rugs and other visible items are nearly grey with accumulated dust, the walls are cracked, and the wallpaper is peeling.

Malfoy turns and leads them through the room to the end near what look like a covered desk and bookshelves pressed against the far wall. He stops and glances at Harry, then takes out his wand and casts, “Revelio.”

A section of the wall melts away, revealing a small landing and stone steps leading down into darkness. Harry summons his wand to his hand and lights it, and Malfoy steps back out of his way as Harry moves forward and directs his light down the stairwell.

The space is noticeably more chill and damp, and the feeling Harry gets from it has the hair on the back of his neck standing up. He suppresses a shiver and glances at Malfoy.

“I believe it leads to a dungeon. It’s the only entrance I’ve found to it so far,” Malfoy says. “I think there might be a cellar door around back, but there’s a rather large Venomous Tentacula in the way that I haven’t been keen to tangle with.”

Harry hums his acknowledgement and reaches into one of his pouches, digging around for his Secrecy Sensor.

“I’ve only been down the once, after I discovered it,” Malfoy continues with a nervous glance down the stairs and folds his arms over his chest. “There’s a locked door at the bottom, pretty sure it’s rife with curses. I didn’t want to mess about with it, but it…it makes me uneasy, having it here, underneath me. I’ve no idea what could be down there.”

“So you want to open it up and find out?” Harry asks with a wry smile. His hand finally lands on his Secrecy Sensor in his extended pouch and he pulls it out.

Malfoy chuckles and shrugs. “I think I’d rather know than not?”

Harry nods and starts to head down the stairs. A cold chill creeps over him and his heart starts to beat faster as he descends.

“Please be careful, Potter,” Malfoy tells him.

Harry looks back at him with a small smile. “Thanks, Malfoy. It’s nice to know you care.”

“I only mean that if you end up dead in my house, I’ll probably get lynched, so,” Malfoy says dryly, “do be careful.”

Harry laughs and shakes his head. It eases his tension briefly, but by the time Harry gets to the bottom of the stairwell his nerves are alight. The cold sensation of Dark Magic oozing from the old bronze door trips all of his warning flags and gets his adrenaline going. The deep-seated, animal instinct to run when confronted with Dark Magic never goes away, but years of training, stress inoculation, and rational thought keep Harry in place.

The Secrecy Sensor in his off-hand is vibrating and has been since Harry took it out, but its frequency is increased in front of the door. Harry moves it back and forth over the door in a slow, methodical manner, and notes the places where it seems most active.

The door is definitely rigged with curses, as Malfoy had guessed. Harry estimates it has four on it, one on the ring pull door handle, one on the hinges which surely activates when the door opens, one just inside on the floor, and the last is less distinct, but Harry’s gut tells him it’s there.

Based on what Susan told him, and the research Harry did after, he would bet that this is where Romulus performed his experiments on Muggles. There’s no solid evidence to support this, but after years of working around Dark Arts, Harry knows the feeling a place takes on when it’s touched by such suffering. Even with centuries of disuse, some darkness can’t be easily erased.

“You sure you want to open this up, Malfoy?” Harry asks, his voice echoing in the narrow space. “I doubt it’ll be a pretty sight.”

Harry doesn’t see Malfoy at the top of the stairs, and when a couple of seconds go by without a response, Harry’s gut twists in dread.

“Malfoy?” he calls up the stairs. Harry didn’t think Malfoy would lead him into a trap, but his mind starts to race with the possibilities, thinking of what a nasty position he’s put himself in. No one but Malfoy knows that he’s here. If he gets trapped, Sue might think to check Malfoy’s house, but the likelihood of her finding him is so low—

“Yes, sorry,” Malfoy says, and he steps into view at the top of the landing. “Thought you might like more light to work with.”

Harry has one foot on the bottom step, and he stops himself from racing up them at the sight of Malfoy’s return. Malfoy has his wand in his left hand and a lantern in the other. He flicks his wand at the latern and lights a small, orange flame inside it, then he waves his wand again and sends the lantern levitating down the steps to Harry. It stops above him and hovers in place, illuminating the space better than his Lumos had.

“Thanks,” Harry says, watching the way Malfoy tucks his wand away, crosses his arms and hovers at the top of the stairs. “You don’t want to join me?” he asks.

“I’d prefer to keep a respectable distance,” Malfoy says and puts a hand up. “I’d rather not get blown up if you set something off.”

“Suit yourself,” Harry says and turns back to the door, rationalising with himself that Malfoy didn’t lure him here to kill him.

Harry puts his Secrecy Senor away and casts a host of detection and revealing spells over the door, slowly trying to get the curses to give off an echo which Harry can recognise them by. The one on the ring pull is a Flagrante Curse that Harry gets to reveal itself first, and he takes it apart without too much trouble.

The one set to the door hinges gives him more trouble, but eventually Harry gets it to show itself in the winding purple ropes of a Constrictor Curse. It’s not as popular of a curse these days, and Harry’s experience with it is limited. He takes more time carefully unravelling it, worrying that it might have some connection to the as yet unidentified curse on the door.

By the time Harry finishes breaking the second curse, he’s sweating, his heart is racing, and his nerves are shot from the long amount of intense focus it required. Harry takes a step back from the door and wipes the sweat from his forehead on his sleeve. He runs a hand up and down his prickly beard as he thinks about how to approach the next.

“Tea?” Malfoy asks, breaking into his thoughts. He’s sat on the top step, watching Harry.

Harry looks up, and then he exhales a long breath and nods. “Yeah.”

He trudges up the stairs, and Malfoy stands and moves out of the way. As soon as he leaves the dank stairwell, Harry feels lighter. The cold chill that had settled over him begins to ease. Malfoy obscurs the stairwell entrance and leads them back to the kitchen.

“Any preference?” Malfoy asks as he heads into the pantry.

“Whatever you’ve got,” Harry says, and then quickly amends, “Not Earl Grey.”

As Malfoy prepares the tea, Harry stands by the fire and warms himself up. Malfoy hands him a teacup a few minutes later, and they sit close together in front of the hearth.

“Two of the curses are broken, but I think there’s still two left,” Harry tells him and blows on his tea. “I don’t think they’ll be as easy to break. They don’t feel familiar. Maybe even ones your ancestor invented himself.”

Malfoy nods and sips at his tea. They sit in silence for a minute, and Harry lets the tea warm him from the inside out.

“I like to think my curse-breaking skills are fairly decent, I actually rather enjoyed that part of Auror training, but you might want to consider hiring a professional Curse-Breaker,” Harry suggests.

“You don’t think you can do it?” Malfoy asks in surprise. “Thought you said you were some hot-shot with Dark Arts.”

Harry bumps Malfoy’s shoulder, and Malfoy makes an annoyed sound as he almost spills his tea. “I’ve a good working knowledge on current curses, but I’m not a specialist in ancient ones.”

“Then what good are you?”

Harry snorts. “Well I’ve already broken two of the curses, but I can put them back if you don’t like my work.”

Malfoy gives Harry an annoyed look, and Harry smirks at him. Malfoy sips at his tea, then eventually he says, “I’d rather not bring in outside help.”

Harry looks at him curiously. “You mean you won’t hire a Curse-Breaker if I can’t figure it out?” Malfoy nods, and Harry furrows his brow. “Why not?”

“Potter, if you’d seen half of what I’ve already cleaned out of this house, you’d understand why I wouldn’t want to bring in someone I don’t know or trust,” Malfoy tells him plainly.

“You’ve been doing all the renovations yourself?” Harry asks in surprise.

“Of course,” Malfoy answers, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, but Harry can’t help but stare at him. It’s a lot of hard work—work that Harry never would have expected Malfoy to do, especially by himself.

After a moment Harry blinks and looks away, shaking off the shock. He sets his tea down, then he reaches into his first aid pouch and withdraws a small chocolate bar. He opens it, breaks it in half and hands one half to Malfoy.

“Oh, thanks,” Malfoy says, accepting the chocolate.

Harry bites off a square and chews slowly. He lets the chocolate melt in his mouth and further settle the unease of spending time around Dark Magic.

Once all the tea and chocolate are gone, Harry stands and stretches. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get much else done on that door today,” he says. “I can come back tomorrow to work more on it, if you’d like.”

“Alright,” Malfoy agrees easily. “Thank you, Potter.”

Harry hums and nods, and the he adds with a small frown, “Don’t touch it until I find out exactly what it’s spelled with.”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Malfoy says and rolls his eyes.

Harry smiles a little, then picks his cloak up from the island and throws it over his shoulders. “I’ll come about midmorning?” he suggests as he pins his cloak in place.

“That works,” Malfoy says. “I’ll probably be working, so announce yourself.”

“Sure, Malfoy. I’ll see you then,” Harry says and grabs his broom on the way out.

“See you tomorrow, Potter.”

“Why did you move here?” Harry asks curiously as he tries another spell on the door to no effect.

Malfoy is sat at the top of the stairs, watching Harry as he works. “Location, mainly,” he says after a thoughtful pause. “The house is on a ley-line, and there’s a lot of strong energy to draw from. Energy that helps me focus the power in my forges and in my work. Plus, the workshop is already set up with some very nice equipment.”

“Thought ley-line magic was kind of out of date,” Harry comments absently, frowning at the door and delicately waving his wand across it. He can feel the energy of the curse reaching out at catching on his wand, he can feel it reacting to his magic, but he can’t get it to show itself.

“It’s true, not many wizarding folk use it these days,” Malfoy agrees. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Druids still use them in their practices. They’re useful in elemental magics.”

Harry makes a note to show he’s listening, while most of his focus is on the door. He scrubs a hand through his hair and huffs out a sigh at how stubborn the curse is being. Harry starts casting at it again, and Malfoy goes quiet as he works. He puts another hour into trying to break the curse, before calling it a day.

“This curse is tricky,” Harry says as he heads up the stairwell toward Malfoy. “Definitely not one I’ve worked with before. It’s obscure, or maybe unique. I’d like to do some research before I keep poking at it more.”

“Okay,” Malfoy says as they head to the kitchen.

He breaks out a new box of Honeydukes chocolate truffles and makes a pot of tea for them. They eat and drink, and warm up by the fire in relative silence.

“I’ve been collecting some of the more...unsavory tomes I’ve found in the library here,” Malfoy says hesitantly after his teacup is empty. “You can take them, if you’d like. Perhaps they’d help.”

Harry looks at Malfoy curiously. “You’ve been collecting them?”

“Setting them aside, to get rid of,” Malfoy explains. “To burn or vanish or—I don’t know. I thought the Ministry’s archive might benefit from having them, but I had no idea how to donate them without getting myself arrested.”

Harry laughs at that and nods. “Sure, I’ll take them off your hands.”

With a promise to return shortly, Malfoy gets up and leaves the kitchen. Harry leaves the hearth to pour himself another cup of tea from the pot, but he stops when he notices a small stack of mail on the counter.

Harry hesitates, glancing behind him to the door Malfoy left through, and then he reaches out and gently pushes the stack, spreading the letters out and glancing through them. Harry doesn’t particularly want to be nosy, but he noticed the way Malfoy deflected him when he tried to ask if he’s been receiving threats, and Harry wants to know if he should be worried.

A piece of parchment with bold writing catches his eye, and Harry slides the other letter aside to read it.

GO BACK TO WHATEVER HOLE YOU SLITHERED OUT OF

It looks like the same type of paper and handwriting of the threats Harry has been receiving, and Harry frowns and clenches his jaw.

He straightens the letters back into a tidy stack and continues on to the teapot to refill his cup. When he’s sitting down at the hearth, Malfoy walks back into the room with a large trunk floating in after him.

“Here they are,” he says and waves his wand at the trunk, causing it to drop softly to the ground. “Hopefully something in there can help. Don’t get yourself cursed handling them.”

Harry chuckles and thanks him, and Malfoy refills his teacup and joins Harry. They talk idly for a little while longer, speculating about the curse, until it’s time for Harry to leave.

“I’ve got to get going, dinner with the family,” Harry says and stands.

“Family?” Malfoy asks, his expression twisting in confusion.

“Yeah, the Weasleys.”

“Oh,” Malfoy says, but he stills looks somewhat confused. “But…you didn’t marry the Weaslette?” Harry raises an eyebrow at him, and Malfoy rolls his eyes and amends, “Ginny.”

“I don’t need to marry into them to be family,” he says and picks up his cloak.

“Isn’t that the definition of how family and marriage works?” Malfoy asks and crosses his arms over his chest.

“Nope,” Harry says easily, popping the ‘p’ as he puts on his cloak and pins it in place around his neck. When he looks up, Malfoy is looking at him quizzically, but Harry figures he can puzzle it out on his own. “I can try to come again this week sometime after work, if you’d like.”

Malfoy’s brow is still furrowed, and his arms are still crossed. He pauses a moment before answering, “Sure. Just owl beforehand.”

Harry hums in acknowledgement and waves his wand at the trunk to levitate it. He is about to head out when a thought occurs to him. “Actually,” he says, “do you have a magic mirror?”

“Yes,” Malfoy answers slowly, “I do.”

“Can I introduce my mirror to yours?” he asks.

“You want to be able to call me by magic mirror?” Malfoy asks dubiously.

“I don’t have an owl,” Harry says and shrugs. He knows it’s considered a more personal means of communicating, especially by traditional Purebloods, but it’s so much more convenient.

Malfoy regards him carefully for a moment in silence, and then concedes, “I suppose…”

Malfoy leads him to a large, gilded mirror in the living room, and Harry takes out his compact to introduce them.

The mirror ripples and a sharp, displeased looking face forms in it. It looks down to Harry’s mirror and says curtly, “Giselle.”

“Tatius,” Giselle answers, just as tersley.

“You already know each other?” Harry asks in surprise.

“Of course. We have served the Malfoy and Black families for many centuries,” Malfoy’s magic mirror explains impatiently. With a sharp nod, the mirror ripples and clears.

“I don’t think our mirrors much like each other,” Harry says, and Malfoy huffs out a laugh and shakes his head.

“That’s the Black family mirror?” Malfoy asks curiously, as Harry tucks the compact away.

Harry hums and nods. “Came with the house.”

“I forgot you were living there,” Malfoy comments.

“Free house,” Harry says with a shrug and a smirk, and Malfoy rolls his eyes at him.

Harry leaves soon after that, and when he goes to Sunday dinner, he’s glad to see Bill has made it this week. Harry sits next to him and picks his brain about curse-breaking, particularly about ancient curses, which Bill is well-versed in. Susan side-eyes him at the dinner table when he mentions that he’s helping Malfoy, but she doesn’t ask him about it.

Bill offers to lend a hand with the work, but Harry turns him down. He doesn’t think Malfoy would agree to that, and there’s a small, stubborn part of Harry that wants to be the one to break the curses himself.

Harry and Susan have a busy week at work with their new homicide case, and on Monday Harry gets home too late and too tired to go to Malfoy’s house, but he does take some time to sort through the books Malfoy gave him.

Tuesday night sees him home late again, and Harry ends his day flipping through several of the books and reading over the curses they describe.

Armed with new ideas from Bill and his research, Harry contacts Malfoy through his magic mirror when he gets off work on Wednesday to see if he can come over. It takes a bit of begging to get Giselle to engage with Malfoy’s mirror, but eventually she connects them. He can tell by what Malfoy is wearing and what he can see behind him in the mirror that Malfoy is working in his workshop when he calls.

By the time he makes it to Malfoy’s house, the sun is already down, and the sky is dark. He finds Malfoy still in his workshop, sat at his work table bent over a ring. His wand is lit, and his welding mask is on his head but tipped up.

“Hope that’s not for me,” Harry says from the doorway, and Malfoy glances over at him with a small frown. He has a smudge on one cheek, and he’s wearing an instrument over one eye that looks like an adjustable jeweler’s loupe with multiple lenses, and Harry’s smile widens at the sight.

“Of course not,” Malfoy says and turns back to his work. “I learned my lesson the first time. Harry Potter is marriage-phobic. Don’t give him anything even tangentially resembling marriage traditions.”

“I’m not marriage-phobic,” Harry argues.

“Mhm,” Malfoy murmurs, sounding distinctly unconvinced. “Just give me a minute to finish this.”

Harry grunts and steps into the warm workshop, looking curiously at the parchment on the table next to Malfoy which is of a design of the ring he’s working on and is covered in notes and drawings. Movement in the corner of his eye draws Harry’s attention to the lit fireplace. As he spots the small grey bodies of ashwinders circling the fire, Harry walks over to them.

“Hi,” Harry hisses. In his periphery he sees Malfoy jump, and Harry glances to him.

“Hello,” the snakes echo back almost in chorus, and Harry looks back at them. They have their heads raised and are watching him intently with glowing, coal-red eyes.

Harry hasn’t spoken in Parseltongue in a long time, and he focuses on the forms of the snakes as he asks, “How are you?”

“Potter,” Malfoy snaps, and Harry turns to see Malfoy glaring at him, his cheeks red in the heat of the workshop. “Don’t bother them, they’re working.”

“Sorry,” Harry says to him apologetically, and Malfoy shivers and holds up a hand.

“Just—just go ahead without me, I won’t be much longer,” Malfoy stammers and waves him out. “You know the way.”

Harry nods, giving Malfoy a backwards glance as he leaves the workshop. He wonders if it’s hard for Malfoy to hear Parseltongue. The war surely left him with some not-so-pleasant memories of it.

When Harry gets back to the door, he clears his mind of all other thoughts and trains his focus to the work in front of him. He tries some of the revealing spells Bill taught him on on the weekend, and to his relief he finally gets the curse on the door to show itself. It splinters and crackles in an angry film of red magic over the door.

It looks like a Bone Breaker Curse, one that Harry was reading about last night. If he’d activated it, it would have worked its way through his body, shattering his bones fracture by fracture, piercing his organs and causing him to bleed internally until an inevitable and painful death. Harry is glad this particular curse had gone out of style by the 18th century.

Now that he can see the curse, and he knows what he’s working with, Harry delicately pulls at the threads of the spell, unravelling it slowly and methodically. He doesn’t even notice that Malfoy has joined him until the curse finally breaks and dissipates some uncertain amount of time later.

“One more down,” Harry tells him and wipes the sweat from his brow. He steps back from the door, releases a heavy sigh and cards his fingers through his hair. Malfoy nods, and Harry looks back to the door. He squints at it and raises his wand to cast.

“Potter,” Malfoy stops him. “Perhaps you’d like a break? Eat something?”

“Oh,” Harry says and looks up the stairwell at him. He is rather hungry, now that he’s been made aware of it. He turns and starts to head up the stairs. “Sure. What time is it?

“After nine,” Malfoy says, and Harry raises his eyebrows in surprise.

“Have a seat by the fire,” Malfoy tells him when they get to the kitchen, pressing a hand gently to his back and then smoothing it down his arm as he passes by Harry.

Harry watches him a second, then takes a seat at the hearth as directed. Malfoy levitates a new box of chocolates and waves them over to Harry. He plucks them out of the air with a small smile and opens them up. The box is a mix of various chocolates, and Harry chooses one at random that turns out to have coconut in the middle.

“Pass me a Chocoball?” Malfoy asks as he pulls two teacups from the cupboard.

Harry levitates one over to him, but instead of grabbing it out of the air, Malfoy opens his mouth for it. Harry directs it into his mouth, and Malfoy bites down with a satisfied hum.

Harry chews his lip as he watches Malfoy moving around the kitchen, preparing his tea as he likes it and levitating it to him, and then lighting the hob and cooking a pasta dish for them. He doesn’t mean to stare, but Malfoy doesn’t seem to notice, and there’s something captivating about seeing him doing such mundane tasks. He’s still in his plain work clothes and the smudge of ash is still on his cheek. It’s so endearing and antithetical to the spoiled boy Harry knew growing up, and he has to hide a smile behind his teacup as his chest fills with warmth and his heart beats that much faster.

Malfoy is far from perfect, Harry knows this well enough. But like he did in eighth year, Harry can see him trying and growing. Harry saw that there was still good in him in the war, he saw his internal battle afterward, even had long conversations and arguments with him about it. He saw his development through eighth year, and now that Malfoy is finally back, Harry realises that he still wants to see more. He’s never been able to look away from Malfoy, and Harry’s not entirely sure what that means, but he knows that he doesn’t want to look away.

Malfoy looks over at Harry with a small smile, and Harry returns it easily. He pops a truffle into his mouth and then floats another over to Malfoy while he’s cooking. Soon enough, Malfoy is bringing over two pasta bowls and sits next to him in front of the fire. They eat and bump shoulders in companionable silence.

After they’re finished, Malfoy suggests that it’s too late to continue working and he can come back and do more later.

“If I can’t make it tomorrow night, then maybe we’ll just plan on coming here after our appointment on Friday?” Harry asks him as he gets bundled up in his cloak.

“Sure,” Malfoy says with warm smile and a nod. “Good night, Harry.”

Harry’s hands go still in the process of pinning his cloak in place, and he looks over to Malfoy in surprise.

He blinks, and then slowly finishes fastening his cloak around his neck. “Yeah,” he breathes. “Good night…Draco.”

Malfoy’s lips tip up a little higher, and Harry hesitates, then turns to leave. He looks back to find Malfoy still watching him until he steps out of view.

“Draco,” Harry murmurs out loud after walking into his dark home. The name feels alien on his tongue, but not unpleasant. “Draco.”

Chapter Text

On Friday morning Harry and Susan have a meeting with Robards to discuss their cases. The Mindtaker case is moving too slowly and has too much public attention right now, and Robards suggests it’s time for Harry to get on the Wireless, reveal a little bit of information they haven’t shared with the public yet, and ask for anyone who knows anything to send in a tip.

Harry hates when he has to do this. He knows they can get useful tips out of it, but it’s always a mountain of work to process and a lot of the responses they get are people only wanting to get involved because of Harry and not because they know anything. Harry tries to argue this point again for the umptienth time in his career, but to no effect. Robards insists people are more willing to come forward if they think it’ll help out Harry Potter. He’s usually right about it too, but it doesn’t mean Harry hates it any less.

Harry and Susan take a trip to the main radio station in Diagon and get on the Wireless to ask the public for any information they might have about the case. By the time they get back to their office at the Ministry, their inboxes are already being flooded with messages.

They spend all day sorting through the tips, trying to first weed out the ones that are obviously fake from the ones that might be worthwhile.

When ten o’clock rolls around, Susan begs off and tells Harry to go home as well, that they can sort through more of the tips tomorrow. Harry says he will, but as he keeps working, he loses track of time and before he knows it, it’s after midnight.

Harry leans back in his chair and stretches his arms above his head with a groan. The tips had finally slowed to a trickle, and then stopped coming altogether a few hours ago, and Harry has been able to make a good dent sorting through the massive stacks they have. A large portion of it is rubbish fanmail that Harry was able to get rid of quickly, and he thinks he could get through all of it with another hour.

The Auror office is fairly quiet at this time of night, unless they have an active situation going on, but as Harry leaves the Auror department and heads through the main area of the DMLE, he passes through Patrol, which is active and busy at all hours. He nods to a couple of the officers as he passes them on his way to the break room.

“…clearly this little prick is having me on, so know what I do then?” Harry frowns as he walks into a conversation between Peterson and Bryant, but chooses to ignore them and head for the coffee. “Took him for a nice little starlight tour of Galloway,” Peterson continues, not noticing Harry behind him, and Bryant laughs. Harry freezes at the words. “Maybe now that Death Eater piece of shit will stay gone.”

“What the fuck did you just say?” Harry growls, and Peterson and Bryant turn to him in surprise. Peterson clamps his jaw shut and Harry gets in his face and grabs him by the collar. “I asked you a question, officer.”

“Nothing,” Peterson spits.

“Ease off, Potter,” Bryant says and grabs at Harry’s arm to pull him off Peterson.

Harry shoves him away and points a finger at him. “Stay out of this or I’m booking you as an accomplice,” he snarls, then he grabs at Peterson and jerks him by his collar. “Who did you take?”

Peterson sneers at him, but he answers, “Your Death Eater buddy, the Malfoy boy.”

Harry grinds his teeth and twists his fists tighter into his uniform. Peterson grabs at his wrists, trying ineffectively to pull him off.

“He a fucking menace. He needed to be dealt with and it didn’t happen because he’s buddies with the star Auror,” Peterson says.

“He wasn’t arrested because he was innocent!”

“Well now he’s robbed a Herbologist ‘cause you didn’t see fit to put him away!” Peterson argues. “Smashed up his greenhouse, stole his rare plants. If I tried to arrest him, you’d let him out the next morning. How else are we going to punish him if he thinks he’s above the law?”

“So you’re response is to go around the law and kill him?” Harry rages.

“I didn’t kill him!” Peterson snaps back.

“You abandoned him to the elements!”

“Well he’s a wizard, ain’t he?” Peterson argues.

“Does he have his wand?” Harry grits out between clenched teeth. It’s taking every ounce of Harry’s self control to not beat Peterson bloody.

Peterson hesitates, and glances to Bryant.

“Does he!” Harry repeats louder and shakes Peterson.

“Christ, Potter. They said you had a temper,” Bryant scoffs next to them, but he seems hesitant to jump in between them again. Harry ignores him and stares Peterson down.

“No,” he finally admits, and Harry battles down the rage swirling around his chest.

“It’s the middle of fucking winter,” Harry bites out. “He could die from exposure. Do you get that?”

For the first time, Harry sees a bit of fear and realisation dawning in Peterson’s eyes. “He’s a Death Eater,” he tries to argue weakly.

“He’s a human being!” Harry explodes. “Just because you don’t like him doesn’t mean you get to play judge, jury, and executioner!”

Harry shoves Peterson away, draws his wand and points it at him. “Incarcerous,” he casts and binds Peterson’s hands behind his back. “I’m taking you into custody.”

“For what!” Peterson demands and tries to back away from Harry, but Harry grabs him by the arm and yanks him forward, pushing him out of the break room.

“Potter, you can’t do this,” Bryant says and takes a step forward, Harry cuts a furious look at him that has him stopping in his tracks.

“Yes, I bloody well can,” Harry growls. “Henry Peterson, you’re under arrest for attempted murder, abduction, abuse of power, and any other fucking charge I can pin on you.”

Peterson clenches his jaw and fumes silently as Harry perp walks him out of the department. A crowd had gathered at the sound of their fight, but the officers part and make way for them. Harry stops by his office to grab his cloak, then takes them out to the lift.

“You better hope he’s alive, or I’ll not just make sure you end up in prison for the rest of your miserable life—I’ll personally see that you get the Kiss,” Harry hisses as he shoves him into the lift and smashes the button for Level Ten.

“I wasn’t trying to kill him,” Peterson says, his tone rising in panic. “I just wanted to teach him a lesson.”

“Tell me exactly where you took him,” Harry orders, ignoring his excuses.

“Galloway Forest Park. North side of Loch Trool, by Bruce’s Stone,” Peterson answers quickly and gives Harry a distressed look. “Come on, Potter, he’s a Death Eater! I’m not gonna lose my job over him.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Harry snaps as the lift rumbles to a stop at Level Ten, and Harry drags Peterson out of the lift and toward the holding cells.

He tries to beg more, but Harry doesn’t have time for it. He pushes him forward and hands him over to the booking officer. As soon as he can, Harry rushes back out to the Atrium and to one of the Apparition booths, glad for having taken a short vacation with the family a few years back to Galloway.

Harry Apparates to Bruce’s Stone and sweeps his gaze over the area. “Draco!” he calls out and waits a few seconds but doesn’t hear a response. Harry runs down the run road toward the loch, where he knows there are a few small buildings. Maybe Draco tried to hole up there.

“Draco!” he calls again and again as he searches the area, but he doesn’t get any response. It’s pitch black outside and difficult to make out much more beyond the road in front of him.

When he gets to Glentrool Lodge, Harry calls out again for Draco, but still doesn’t hear anything. He casts a Homenum Revelio around the area, but it doesn’t detect any human presence.

Harry curses, then Apparates back to Bruce’s Stone and heads up the road in the other direction. If he was smart, Draco would have stuck to the roads in hopes of finding shelter for the night, and Harry works based off this theory. He slowly makes his way around the loch, following the roads, calling out to Draco and casting Human-presence-revealing Spells as he goes in case Draco is unconscious or otherwise unable to answer him.

The night is windy and already cold, but a couple hours in it starts raining, reducing Harry’s vision further and dropping the temperature to freezing. He hopes to find some sign of life anyway, but he sees and hears nothing but the storm raging around him. At times he feels as if he’s being watched, but he sees no one and his spells reveal not another soul in any of the forest or hills surrounding the loch.

Each hour that slips by with no sign of Draco’s whereabouts fills Harry’s stomach more and more with dread. When he’s made it all the way around the loch, Harry slowly starts exploring other roads connected to it, moving further and further out, but occasionally returning to Bruce’s Stone as it was the last place Draco was supposed to be.

Harry searches all night without rest, oscillating between fury at Peterson, concern for Draco’s safety, and the creeping fear that he might not find him.

When the sun breaks over the hills, Harry takes a moment to hide his face in his hands and let the sorrow sweep over him. He doesn’t know what else to do. He thought he would be able to find Draco easily, but he could be anywhere. He could be perfectly safe, he could be in danger, or he could be dead. Harry doesn’t know, and it’s killing him.

He’s exhausted and wet and cold, and for one moment he lets all of his fear and doubt wash through his body. He allows himself to feel it, and then he pushes it back down and strengthens his resolve.

Harry tells himself that he will make one more loop of the loch, and then he will check Draco’s home and any other likely spots he might have gone to if he managed to find a way out of the park.

Harry Apparates back to Bruce’s stone, lifts his hands to cup his mouth and calls out hoarsely, “Draco!”

A small noise like a whimper behind him has Harry swinging around to see Draco. The relief that surges through Harry is a whole-body experience that nearly has his knees buckling.

“H-Harry,” Draco stutters, and Harry races up to him. He’s shivering uncontrollably, and his face is pale as a ghost.

“Oh gods, oh gods,” Harry mutters, putting his hands over Draco’s cheeks. His skin is like ice beneath his fingers. “You’re freezing.”

Harry rips his cloak off and throws it over Draco’s shoulders, pulling it up around his neck and then rubbing at his arms. Draco’s teeth chatter as he leans into Harry.

“We need to get you warm,” Harry says, wrapping his arms around Draco and pulling him against his chest. “I’m going to Apparate you home, okay?”

He can feel Draco’s head nodding against his neck, and then Harry Disapparates. He puts one of Draco’s arms around his shoulders and walks him all the way up the drive, through the small servant’s entrance, and into the kitchen of his house.

Harry sets Draco at the edge of the hearth, then draws his wand and quickly lights both fireplaces. He sets a Warming Charm over Draco for good measure, then starts the kettle boiling.

“Blankets,” Harry mutters then turns to Draco. “Where do keep your blankets?”

Draco lifts a trembling hand and points to the doorway leading out of the kitchen. “L-living room.”

Harry hurries out of the kitchen, past the dining room and into the living room. His gaze sweeps the room, then he grabs a couple blankets he finds folded over the couches and rushes back to Draco.

“We need to get your wet clothes off and get you wrapped up,” Harry says, sliding his cloak off of Draco’s shoulders and starting to unbutton his robes.

Draco lifts his hand and puts it over Harry’s to stop him. “Just f-f-fucking v-vanish them,” he stutters out.

Harry’s mouth tips open in surprise, then he swallows and draws his wand, carefully vanishing away Draco’s robes piece by piece with uttered Evanesco’s until all that’s left are his pants. Harry leaves those in place, then grabs one of the blankets and throws it around Draco’s shoulders.

With the other blanket, Harry rubs Draco’s hair dry, and then folds it around him. Harry rubs his hands quickly up and down Draco’s arms, trying to generate heat, and then he kneels in front of him. Harry takes Draco’s hands in his, rubbing warmth into them and leaning in to blow a hot breath over his freezing cold fingers. He does this a few times until Draco starts to feel less like an ice cube.

When Harry looks up at Draco, he finds that’s he’s looking down at Harry with a soft smile.

Harry swallows, biting his lip and then saying quietly, “I was so worried for you.”

“I know,” Draco murmurs, and he’s looking at Harry with such affection that it feels as if his chest is constricting and he can’t quite breathe.

In a spur of the moment impulse, Harry pushes up taller on his knees and presses his lips to Draco’s. They’re cold against his, but then Draco leans in and presses them more firmly to Harry’s, and Harry doesn’t mind.

After a moment, Harry breaks off with a quiet gasp. They stare at each other for a moment, and Harry tries to read what he can in Draco’s expression, darting his gaze between Draco’s pale eyes.

“Please tell me I haven’t read the situation wrong again,” Harry asks anxiously, and Draco lets out a short laugh.

“You haven’t,” he says fondly, and he grabs onto Harry’s suspenders and reels him into another kiss.

Harry goes readily, cupping Draco’s jaw as he tilts his head and meets him in another kiss. It starts slow and chaste, and then Draco tips open his mouth, and Harry follows. Draco’s lips are cold, but his tongue is warm as he swirls it against Harry’s and kisses him thoroughly.

The kettle starts whistling, and Harry breaks off from the kiss with a start. He pauses a moment, blinking up at Draco, then he smiles and chuckles, and Draco laughs with him.

Harry gets up and fixes the tea. “Take it slow,” Harry tells him as he hands Draco a steaming cup.

Draco hums and accepts the tea, then he blows on it. Harry sits close next to him and rubs a hand up and down his back.

“Do you need anything?” Harry asks, watching as Draco takes a careful sip of his tea.

Draco swallows and lowers the cup and says, “My wand?”

“Of course,” Harry says. “I’ll get that back to you. Peterson took it?”

Draco nods and looks to Harry with a frown. “He better not have damaged it. I crafted it with some very rare materials.”

“You made your wand?” Harry asks.

“Of course. It was one of the first things my mentor taught me to do,” Draco says, and looks off thoughtfully. “My Hawthorn wand was rejecting me. I needed a wand that would respond to me.”

Harry hums, thinking back to the first time he’d seen the wand going through security at the Ministry. “It’s Beech?” he asks curiously.

“Dwarf Beech,” Draco corrects him. “Completely different and difficult to come by.”

Harry nods and goes quiet, sitting with Draco as he slowly sips his tea. Colour returns to his skin tone, and after a while he stops shivering altogether.

Eventually, Draco turns his head to meet Harry’s gaze. He licks his lips and says quietly, “Thank you, Harry.”

Harry shakes his head and gives him a small smile. “You don’t need to thank me.”

Draco snorts out a quiet laugh. “I hope you’re not trying to butter me up in hopes of keeping me from suing the pants off Peterson, and your department, and the whole Ministry while I’m at it.”

“No, of course not,” Harry huffs. “You’d be right to do so, and I’ll happily testify for you about Peterson’s gross misconduct. I’ve already tossed his arse in a jail cell, and as soon as I get back to the office, I’m going to see to it that he’s fired. When I’m done, he won’t be able to get so much as a job cleaning toilets in the Ministry, if he ever even sees the outside of a cell again,” he spits vehemently.

Draco’s eyes widen in surprise, and then he smiles warmly. “I’ll be happy to see it,” he says and yawns.

“We should get you into bed,” Harry says and helps Malfoy to his feet.

Harry puts an arm around Draco’s back and walks him out of the kitchen, then up the grand staircase to a bedroom on the second floor, despite Draco’s protests that, “I’m not an invalid, Potter.”

Harry gets him tucked into his large, four poster bed and asks, “Do you need anything? Maybe a Pepperup Potion would be a good idea.”

“Gods, no. If I take one of those, I’ll be bouncing off the walls,” Draco scoffs. “I’d rather sleep, and then I’ll be fine.”

“Alright,” Harry says and nods, smoothing the covers over Draco.

“Though a Warming Charm wouldn’t go awry,” Draco says, and Harry draws his wand and casts one over the bed.

“Better?” Harry asks.

“Almost,” Draco says, and he reaches up and hooks a finger in Harry’s shirt, pulling him down into a short but sweet kiss. “There, I think that’s all I should require.”

Harry smiles and straightens. “I’ll be back later to check on you and let you know what’s going on with Peterson,” he says.

Draco hums and shuts his eyes, murmuring an, “Alright.”

Harry waves his wand to shut the curtains and turn off the lights as he leaves the room, then softly closes the door behind him. As soon as it clicks in place, Harry feels the weight of his exhaustion pressing down on him. He lets out a long sigh, then pushes up his glasses and rubs at his eyes, pushing the fatigue away because he knows he still has work to do.

Harry heads down the hall and back down the staircase to the main floor. On his way to the kitchen to collect his cloak, the glint of sunlight at the other end of the dining room catches his eye. The glass doors to the conservatory are open, and Harry slows to a stop.

The room is filled with plants, and the Auror in Harry can’t help hearing Peterson’s voice in his head, telling him that Draco had stolen from a Herbologist. Harry doesn’t believe Draco would do something like that, not now, but in the back of his mind he knows there are things Draco is keeping from him.

Harry glances behind him, but the house is still and silent. He swallows, then slowly turns and walks to the entrance of the conservatory. It’s old and large, expanding a short distance beyond the dining room, and early morning sunlight fills the glass room. If there was any furniture in it before, it’s all been moved out by Draco, as the space is setup as a greenhouse.

Rows of various plants occupy the space, and Harry recognises a few but not all of them. Harry walks a little way into the space, gazing at the plants, and to a large tree at the end of the conservatory. The space makes him feel uneasy, like he’s being watched, and the hair on the back of his neck raises.

Harry does a last sweep of the conservatory, but there’s nothing but him and the plants, and he turns and leaves.

“Of course, Potter,” Robards assures him. “This level of corruption will not be tolerated from our officers. Peterson will be suspended, pending a formal investigation into his actions. If what you’re saying is true, his employment will absolutely be terminated, and charges will likely be filed. What was the name of the victim?”

“Draco Malfoy,” Harry answers.

“Oh,” Robards says and pauses. Harry grinds his teeth at the immediate change in attitude. “Well, he’s still due his rights,” Robards continues. “Why did you say Peterson took him?”

“He said he was teaching him a lesson.”

“For what?” Robards asks, his expression turning suspicious.

Harry purses his lips, pausing a moment before saying, “He said Malfoy robbed a Herbologist.”

“Did he?”

“I really don’t think he would—” Harry begins.

“You think?” Robards cuts him off. “Or you know?”

Harry clenches and unclenches his fists at his sides. “Think.”

Robards hums and sits back in his chair, and Harry can see the wheels spinning in his mind. He knows he’s considering how bad it looks for the DMLE to arrest and charge one of their own—one corrupt officer makes the entire department look bad.

“What exactly did you say Peterson did?” Robards asks.

“He took a man’s wand, abducted him, and left him in the middle of the Scottish mountains in freezing temperatures to die,” Harry snarls, barely keeping a lid on his anger.

Robards narrows his eyes at Harry. “Watch your tone, Potter. I understand that this is a charged situation, but if Malfoy has broken the law, he still has to account for that.”

“He’s just suffered a trauma, and at our hands!” Harry argues.

“And if that’s true, Peterson will be disciplined accordingly—”

“Disciplined?” Harry parrots incredulously.

“—and Malfoy can pursue charges against him, if he wishes,” Robards presses on over Harry with a sharp look. “But we are still tasked to uphold the law and arrest those who break it.”

“I can’t believe this,” Harry scoffs, planting his hands on his hips and shaking his head.

“Bring Bryant in here,” Robards says.

Harry holds Robard’s gaze for a full ten seconds before he finally turns and marches out of the office. “Bryant!” he shouts, and every officer in the department turns their head to look at him. Harry locks eyes with Bryant and makes a sharp gesture for him to follow.

Harry walks back into Robards’ office and crosses his arms over his chest, and Bryant enters soon after, shutting the door behind him. He looks nervously from Harry to Robards.

“Were you with Peterson when he took Mr Malfoy?” Robards asks him, and Bryant quickly shakes his head.

“No sir, I was on the call with him, but I stayed with Mr Schmidt to inventory his stolen plants,” Bryant explains. “Peterson said he’d take care of Malfoy.”

“And this Schmidt is the Herbologist who was robbed?” Robards asks, and Bryant nods. “He witnessed Malfoy robbing him?”

“He said it was him, yeah,” Bryant answers hesitantly, darting a glance to Harry. “It was enough to warrant bringing him in.”

Robards releases a long sigh and leans back in his chair, looking from Bryant to Harry and back. “Fine. Go pick him up.”

“Not Bryant,” Harry says immediately and steps forward. “I want this case.”

“There’s no instance of Dark Arts, it’s not an Auror case,” Robards points out.

“Death Eaters are our purview,” Harry counters.

Robards pauses and frowns, then says, “You and Bones already have a double homicide and the Mindtaker on your plate.”

“And his partner is down in a jail cell,” Harry argues, jerking his thumb toward Bryant.

Robards furrows his brow and regards Harry critically for a moment. “You’re friends with the Malfoy boy, aren’t you?” he asks.

Harry clenches his jaw, but answers, “Yes.”

“Can you be objective on this?” Robards asks, and Harry nods. Robards taps his fingers on his desk irritably, then he sighs and throws a hand up. “Fine, but if I have to field another allegation of misconduct because of this, I don’t care how many Dark Lords you’ve killed, you’ll be out of a job.”

“Understood.” Harry turns on his heel and strides out of the office.

When Harry gets into his office, he slams the door behind him and collapses into his chair. He plants his elbows on his desk and covers his face with his hands.

That is how Susan finds him ten minutes later when she gets into the office.

“Harry?” she asks in a concerned tone, and he sighs and looks up at her. “What’s happened?”

Harry drops his hands onto his desk and leans back in his chair, shaking his head. “A lot.”

“Are you okay?” she asks, walking closer and looking him over.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Harry says and waves away her concern. “It’s about Draco. Someone accused him of stealing, Peterson and Bryant took the call, and Peterson decided to take him on a starlight tour.”

Susan’s jaw drops open. “What happened? How did you find out?”

“Pure fucking luck,” Harry spits. “Walked in on him bragging about it. Arsehole. He said if he’d brought him in instead, I would have just released him, that he had to find another way to teach him a lesson.”

Susan lets out an aggravated sigh and shakes her head. “Prick,” she mutters. “What happened to Malfoy?”

“He’s…” Harry begins and then closes his eyes and pauses. “He’s home now, he’s fine. I spent all fucking night running around Galloway trying to find him. He was borderline hypothermic when I found him.”

“All night?” Susan asks and her expression twists in confusion. “Why didn’t you call me? I would have helped.”

“Would you have?” Harry bites out, turning a glare on her. “You haven’t exactly been his biggest advocate.”

“Of course I would have! I may not like him, but that doesn’t mean I’d let him freeze to death!” Susan says hotly. “Are you seriously questioning that?”

Harry sighs and scrubs a hand down his face. “Sorry. I know you wouldn’t. I’m just so bloody tired,” he says. Tired physically, and tired of feeling like everyone is against him and looking for the first opportunity to jump Draco. “I don’t know why I didn’t call you. I just—I panicked.”

Susan regards him quietly, furrowing her brow and cocking her head to the side. “You never panic,” she eventually says, and Harry shrugs. “Is there something going on between you and Malfoy?”

Harry’s gaze jumps up to hers, and he hesitates a moment before lying, “No.”

“You said you’ve been going to his house a lot,” she says, narrowing her eyes.

“Yeah, to help him with a project,” Harry explains. “We’re friends.”

Susan is quiet for a moment longer, then she nods and says, “Okay.”

“So,” Harry begins hesitantly, rubbing a hand up and down his stubble beard. “We need to bring Draco in.”

Susan’s face twists in confusion and she puts a hand out palm-up. “What? Why? And why us?”

Harry sighs. “Because Robards is convinced there’s still grounds to bring him in for the accusation of theft,” he explains. “And because I convinced him to give us the case.”

“Harry,” Susan chastises him. “Why? You’re friends with him.”

“I know, Sue, but after what happened I don’t trust anyone else to investigate this.”

“Harry…” Susan begins and trails off, putting a hand over her forehead and pausing for a long moment. “We’ve been partners for nearly eight years now, and you know I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re my brother, so please don’t make me choose between my loyalty to you and my moral obligation as an officer of the law. You know I will have to report any misconduct, even if it’s you.”

“I know, I know you will,” Harry says, looking at her meaningfully. “And I’ve always admired and appreciated your integrity.”

Susan bites her lip, her gaze falling a moment, and then she nods. She glances at her inbox, which is towering with a new rush of tips that have come in this morning, then sighs and gestures to the door. “Let’s go get him.”

Harry’s chest is a tight coil of nerves, pulling tighter and tighter with every step that brings him closer to Draco. The manor looms ahead of them, and Harry knows this is not going to go well. Draco is going to be furious with him.

When they get to the large double doors at the front of the house, Susan hesitates, glances at Harry, and then bangs one of the large knockers. It takes a few minutes before one of the doors is pulled open with a rusty creaking sound.

Draco appears in the doorway, and his face lights with a smile when he sees Harry. Harry’s gut twists at the sight of it, and he tucks his hands in his pockets.

“Harry,” Draco begins and steps forward, then his eyes land on Susan and his smile falters. His brows drop in confusion, and he glances at Harry questioningly.

“Malfoy, we have to take you into custody,” Susan tells him.

“What?” Draco blurts, and his gaze jumps from Susan to Harry and back. “You must be joking.”

“We’re not,” Susan says.

“For what?” Draco spits with a thunderous expression.

“Allegations of the theft of several rare and regulated magical plants,” she answers.

Draco shakes his head in disbelief, and he turns his gaze on Harry. “Harry,” he says imploringly, and Harry winces.

“I’m sorry, Draco,” he says. “We have to.”

Hurt flashes in Draco’s expression, and Harry drops his gaze, unable to hold his eye contact any longer.

Susan lifts her wand, and Draco quickly puts up a hand, gesturing at her to stop.

“Please, I’ll come willing,” he says tightly. “I’ve had enough of being bound lately.”

Susan glances at Harry, and he gives her a short nod. “Okay, let’s go,” she says and waves him forward.

The trip is a silent one until they get to the holding cells, and Draco asks for his solicitor. On their way out, Harry asks the booking officer for Peterson’s personal effects. He finds Draco’s wand and Peterson’s notebook, and he takes both of them.

When they get back to the office, Harry writes a letter for Millicent and sends it out to the Owlery. In his inbox he already has a report from Bryant about the case and for once feels grateful to him.

Harry pulls the report out of the increasing stack of tips and mail coming in, and he reads through it. He and Susan go over the information and write a letter to the Herbologist, a Stephen Schmidt, informing him that his case has changed hands and requesting to meet with him to speak about it.

When they don’t get an answer immediately from either Millicent or their victim, Harry and Susan work on getting a warrant for Draco’s house. Harry hates having to write out the request, citing his knowledge of Draco’s greenhouse, but it has to be done, and he hopes ultimately it will help to prove Draco’s innocence. It takes a while, but eventually they get a member of the Wizengamot to sign off on the warrant.

They send a copy of the warrant to Millicent, then head to Draco’s house and execute the search warrant. They start in the conservatory and take inventory of all the plants present, but they don’t seize anything.

They give the rest of the house a perfunctory look, but there are no other plants outside the conservatory. Many of the rooms look as if they haven’t been cleaned out since Draco moved in, and Harry convinces Susan that it’s not worth digging into such areas. He doesn’t know what they would find, and Harry doesn’t want to stumble upon anything Dark and have to report it.

Before leaving, they split up to do a sweep of the grounds. There are a couple sheds they have to break into, but one is a broomshed and the other has gardening tools. They take a wide berth around the Venomous Tentacula that Draco had mentioned before, Susan circling West around the house while Harry goes around the East side with the workshop.

Harry glances briefly at the workshop but doesn’t intend to give it much thought since he’s seen inside it a few times now. The round-structured stone building with its four chimneys sprouting from the roof is a familiar sight. Harry pokes his head in and takes a quick look around, but it’s the same as ever—tools lining the walls, shelves filled with an array of crafting materials, the workbench scattered with designs and a half-finished project—though both of the forges and the fireplace are cold and unlit.

Harry turns and starts to walk away, but then he stops when a thought occurs to him. Turning around, Harry looks up at the roof of the workshop and counts out the four chimneys. He furrows his brow, then walks back into the workshop and looks around. It has one fireplace and two forges, all of which have only one chimney attached to them.

The fourth and seemingly detached chimney is right in the middle of the workshop, going up through the cupola. It strikes Harry as strange, though he supposes it could be used for ventilation. Although, that seems unnecessary since there’s already a cupola.

Harry frowns and circles the workshop, looking up at the chimney and then down to the circular design on the floor right at the centre of the workshop. He summons his wand from its holster and casts a Revelio.

A fourth forge appears as if from thin air, made of a dark cast iron. The hair on Harry’s arms raise as he looks over the runes carved into the thick, black metal. It’s Dark, Harry knows it even before he casts detection spells over it.

It’s reasonable to assume that such a forge was put it place by Draco’s Dark ancestor, it certainly doesn’t look new, but Harry can’t shake the feeling of wrongness at seeing it here—at knowing it was here all this time under his nose, and that Draco never mentioned it.

With a wave of his wand, Harry swings open the door to the forge with a creak and he peers inside. What he hopes to find is an empty, dusty forge, but instead there’s evidence of ash from a fire recently lit. He flicks the door closed on the forge.

Harry chews his lip, glances over his shoulder out the workshop, then he conceals the forge and leaves.

“Find anything?” Susan asks as she hangs a notice of their search of the property to Draco’s front door.

“No,” he lies. “Let’s grab something to eat, I’m starved.”

They grab a late lunch on the way back to the office, and even though it’s nearly the end of the day by the time they get back, they still haven’t heard back from the Herbologist or Millicent. They go through their notes and look over Bryant’s report and discuss the case.

When Harry and Susan are deciding whether they should go to the greenhouse to look at the crime scene or wait for Millicent so they can interview Draco, Millicent comes striding into their office.

“My client is ready for his interview, let’s get this over with,” Millicent says brusquely, and Harry and Susan both stand, but Millicent looks at Harry and says sharply, “Not you.”

Harry blinks, glances at Susan, and then looks at Millicent quizzically.

“Only her,” Millicent says with a nod toward Susan. “He’s not going to talk to you.”

Harry frowns, but nods and sits back at his desk, watching as Susan follows Millicent out of their office with a backward look at Harry.

Harry closes his eyes and sighs, fighting down the sensation of his intestines tying themselves up in knots. He knew Draco was going to be angry. He just needs to focus, investigate the case, and prove Draco’s innocence as soon as possible.

Harry takes a moment to collect himself, and then he gets up. He grabs the list of stolen plants from Bryant’s report and heads down to the Archive. Harry finds a book on magical plants with pictures that he can use to identify the ones he saw in Draco’s conservatory, and he flips through it, finding each of the plants and studying their appearance.

All four of the stolen plants are ones that Draco has. It doesn’t look good, but it could be a coincidence. Draco said that he works with all sorts of natural materials in his craft, including plants. He probably keeps magic plants specifically for that.

When he gets back to his office, Harry paces the room until Susan returns. It feels like it takes an age before she finally walks back into their office.

Susan takes one look at Harry and puts her hands up to stop him before he can flood her with questions. “He says he’s innocent, but he doesn’t have an alibi. He knows the vic, they don’t live very far from each other, just a few streets away. Malfoy says he went to his greenhouse two months ago, after he moved here, to see what plants he had for sale. They had a conversation about varieties of aconite, but he didn’t buy anything, and he hasn’t been back since.”

“Okay,” Harry says and nods. “Anything else?”

“He says he brought all of the plants with him from France, that the Portkey Office has a record of of it all because they screened him pretty heavily when he came through.”

Harry glances at his watch and frowns. “They’ll be closed now. We won’t be able to get that record until tomorrow.”

“Yep. What have you found?” Susan asks him as she moves to her desk and takes a seat.

Harry hesitates, licks his lips, and then answers, “I looked up the plants Bryant listed as stolen.”

“And?” Susan prompts him when he pauses.

“And they match with plants Draco has at his house,” he says.

Susan raises her brows in interest. “Do you think they’re the stolen ones?”

Harry frowns and shakes his head. “I know I’m biased, but no. I see that it doesn’t look good, but if he stole them, why would he leave them sitting out in the open like that? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Yeah, that is strange…” Susan agrees. “Criminals do a lot of strange things. Stupid things. But Malfoy isn’t stupid.”

“Unless he thought he wouldn’t be caught?” Harry says dubiously.

Susan hums. “Maybe. I think we need to go talk to this Stephen. Has he responded?”

“No,” Harry says with a shake of his head.

“Odd,” Susan says with a frown. “Well, we can at least take a look at the crime scene.”

Harry nods, and they head out to Horsa’s Rest. Neither of them has been to the nursery before, and it takes them a bit before they find the right place. The greenhouse is on the same property as his residence, and they try to knock on the door first to see if he’s home, but they get no answer.

The crime scene is exactly as Bryant described it in his report. There are obvious spots where plants are missing, and other plants have been knocked over, broken and stepped on. Harry and Susan move through the crime scene as usual, but there’s little to be gleaned from it. They try knocking at the Herbologist’s house once more before heading back to the Ministry.

Back in the office, Susan argues that until they can talk to their victim, there isn’t much more that they can do on the case and they already have a mountain of work that they can’t keep putting off. Harry doesn’t like it, but he knows she’s right.

He tries to focus on sorting the new tips that have come in about the Mindtaker, but Harry can’t stop yawning. Once he’s not moving around anymore, the fatigue hits him hard.

“Harry, you look exhausted. Did you not get any sleep at all last night?” Susan eventually asks when he starts nodding off at his desk. Harry shakes his head, and she tuts at him. “Take a nap, or better yet, go home. You can barely keep your eyes open.”

Harry shakes his head. “I don’t want to go home yet, I’m fine.”

“Then take a nap,” she says again in a stern tone that brooks no argument.

Harry frowns, but he knows it’s a lost cause. “Wake me if you hear from the vic?”

“Of course,” she says.

Harry pulls down the cot they keep tucked in the corner of the office for such occasions and lies down. It’s not the most comfortable thing to sleep on, but Harry falls asleep almost as soon as his eyes close.

“Harry? Harry?”

Harry snaps awake when he feels someone shaking him, and he looks up at Susan blearily. “Yeah? What?” he groans.

“Malfoy is asking for you,” she says.

Harry blinks and rubs at his face, then he sits up. “He’s asking for me?”

“Yep,” Susan says.

Harry stretches and groans, then he picks up his glasses and puts them on. “How long was I asleep for?”

“Few hours.”

Harry sighs and pushes himself to standing. It’s not nearly enough sleep, and he almost feels more tired now than before his nap. Harry tries to rub the exhaustion from his eyes, and then he heads downstairs to the holding cells.

Once there, one of the guards directs Harry to the interview room where Draco is waiting for him.

“Draco,” Harry says when he enters.

Draco’s eyes snap to him, and then he watches the guard until the door is closed behind him.

“Draco, I’m so sorry—” Harry starts, but Draco cuts him off with a sharp hand gesture.

“Am I going to be staying here overnight?” Draco asks flatly, looking at Harry with a hard expression.

“Most likely, but I’m trying—”

“Then I need to ask you a favour,” Draco talks over him, and Harry frowns but nods. “I need you to get me my medicine.”

“Okay, of course,” Harry says immediately. “I can arrange that. I’ll get one of the Ministry’s Healers in here for the exam, and—”

“No,” Draco says sharply and looks down at the table he’s sat at. “They can’t prescribe what I need. It’s a unique remedy, something I make myself.”

“Oh,” Harry says and looks away. His stomach drops with disappointment, and he rubs at the back of his neck. He closes his eyes tightly and sighs. “I…I can’t do that.”

When he looks up, Draco is glaring at him. “Why not?” he snaps.

“I want to, believe me I do,” Harry says, taking a step closer, but Draco scoffs. “I can’t bring you anything not authorised. I barely got this case reassigned to me, everything I do will be looked at through a magnifying lens.”

Draco folds his arms over his chest and glares at the table in front of him, his mouth pinched in fury. Harry can see that he’s shivering slightly, and he’s not surprised. The holding cells are built in thick, cold stone at the lowest level of their underground structure.

“Draco, I’m so sorry, but—”

“Fuck you, and fuck your apologies,” Draco snarls, turning a cold glare on him. “Get out, Potter.”

Hearing Draco spit out his last name with such venom feels like having ice water shot into his veins. Harry clenches and unclenches his fists. Part of him wants to stay and argue, to try to get Draco to see why has to do this, but he knows it would be pointless.

Harry swallows hard, then turns and leaves.

“What did Malfoy want?” Susan asks him when he returns.

Harry shakes his head and drops into his chair. “He wanted me to bring him some kind of medicine. Something he makes himself.”

“Did you do it?” Susan asks, and Harry gives her an annoyed look.

“No, of course not. I wouldn’t be able to, anyway,” he says. “I barely convinced Robards to assign us this case. He’ll have my job if he finds out I’m sneaking outside substances to Draco.”

She nods and says, “Yeah, he wouldn’t be happy.”

“It’s wrong,” Harry mutters.

“You know it has to work like that. No outside drugs. They could have anything in them.”

“Well maybe the system is fucking broken,” Harry says bitterly. “It’s medicine. He asked me for medicine, Sue, and I had to say no. The look he gave me…”

Susan comes around Harry’s desk and holds a hand out to him. Harry sighs, then takes her hand and lets her pull him to standing.

“Come on,” she says and wraps an arm around his waist. “Let’s get you home. There’s nothing more we can do here, and you need to shower and get a solid eight hours of sleep.”

Harry frowns. He wants to argue, but he’s too tired to. He puts an arm around her shoulders and walks with her down to the Atrium, where they part ways.

As Harry starts to ascend the stairs up to his room, he falters and then stops. The complete and total wrongness of the situation hits him, and Harry can’t leave it. Even with as tired as he is, Harry knows he won’t be able to sleep leaving things like this. He turns around and leaves his house.

It’s dark outside, the sun has set already, but Harry doesn’t care about being rude. He bangs on the Herbologist’s door and gives him a solid five minutes before accepting that he isn’t home.

Harry moves on and knocks at the neighbor’s doors instead. He apologises for the late hour and asks if they know where the Stephen might be, and if they saw anything of the theft in his nursery. He talks to three neighbors before he gets anything useful. They didn’t see the burglary, but they point him in the direction of Stephen’s ex-wife.

Harry is disappointed to learn that the ex-wife hasn’t seen Stephen, but she gives him the names of a few pubs she’s known him to go to. He jots them down, but the most important idea he gets from her comes from her hair. She has a curly black hair that reminds Harry of Hermione, which reminds him that Hermione has been to Draco’s house before and could potentially confirm whether the plants he saw there are new or were there before the burglary.

Harry ends up interrupting them in the middle of dinner. He apologises, gives Rose and Hugo both a kiss on the head, and accepts a plate of spagbol because Ron kept insisting after finding out that Harry hasn’t eaten yet, before he manages to pull Hermione away.

Hermione is hesitant, but after explaining the whole situation, she tells him that she was in the conservatory and gives him her memory of it. She expresses concern for him, but Harry waves her off, hands her his untouched plate of food and leaves.

Before heading back to the Ministry, Harry pops by the three pubs Stephen’s ex-wife said he frequented. Harry hasn’t seen the man before, but he has a description of him and uses that knowledge as he looks and asks around the pubs. When he’s searched all three with no sign of the Herbologist, Harry heads back to the Ministry.

Harry pulls out the Pensieve, drops his own memory of Draco’s conservatory into it, and then Hermione’s. Harry uses his memory to start mapping out the plants to compare them to Hermione’s memory, but he can barely keep his eyes open. At some point during the process, he nods off on his desk.

Harry wakes with a start and looks around the room in confusion. He straightens his glasses and tries to blink away his drowsiness. He’s not sure what woke him up, but a glance at the clock tells him that it’s gone seven in the morning, and he realises that he must have fallen asleep in the middle of working.

Harry pushes up his glasses to rub at his eyes, then he stretches and yawns. He gets up and walks out of the office, making a quick trip to the loo before going to the break room for a mug of coffee.

When Harry gets back to the office, he sits at his desk and pulls the parchment he was working on before he fell asleep closer to himself. His handwriting is less legible than usual, and even he is having a hard time reading it. With a sigh, Harry shoves the parchment away from himself and takes a sip of coffee.

He glances at his inbox, and then does a double take at the letter sat on top waiting for him. Harry sets his coffee down and grabs for the letter, unrolling it and reading the message. It’s from the Herbologist, and Harry jumps up and pulls his compact out.

“Call Susan,” Harry orders, and his mirror gives him a distinctly unimpressed look. “Please, Call Susan.”

“Harry?” Susan says after they’re connected, her voice hoarse from sleep. She’s blinking blearily at him in the mirror, clearly still in bed and not wearing her glasses.

“Sue, our vic contacted us. Let’s go interview him.”

She frowns at him in the mirror, and glances away to check her clock. “It’s seven thirty on a Saturday, what are you doing in the office?”

“Working our case,” Harry snaps. “Stay home if you like, but I’m going to go interview him.”

“No. Christ,” Susan mutters, rubbing a hand over her face. “Just—just hold on and I’ll join you.”

“Meet me at the Herbologist’s place in ten,” Harry says and shuts his mirror. He ignores the offended noise Giselle makes as he pockets her and paces around the office until it’s time to head to the nursery.

Harry ends up waiting a few minutes before Susan Apparates up the street and walks toward him.

“Did you get any sleep last night?” she asks with frown. “Or did you go straight back to the office after I sent you home?”

“Went back,” Harry admits. “Got some sleep though.”

“Harry,” Susan scolds him.

“I’m fine,” he says and waves her concern away as he leads them up to the Herbologist’s door and knocks.

Susan doesn’t look happy, but she doesn’t have time to say anything more before the door opens up.

“Hello,” Stephen greets them, looking from Harry to Susan. His eyes linger over Harry’s scar for a moment.

“Stephen Schmidt?” Harry asks, and Stephen nods. “May we come in? We’d like to talk to you about the recently burglary in your nursery.”

“Of course,” he says and moves aside, gesturing them in. “I was surprised when I got your letter.”

“Why’s that?” Susan asks as she pulls out her quill and parchment. He leads them into the living room and they sit down on a pair of couches.

“Didn’t think Aurors cared to investigate a simple burglary,” Stephen says, crossing his arms over his chest.

Harry frowns briefly. “Usually people are glad to hear we’ve taken on their case—that the Ministry is taking them seriously,” Harry says curiously.

“Well, sure, of course,” Stephen backpedals.

“Can you tell us what happened?” Susan asks him.

“Yeah, sure,” Stephen says and sighs. “Thursday evening after I closed up my shop, I went inside my house, started making dinner—”

“When was this?” Susan asks.

“Er, about seven, I guess,” he says and watches her write his answer before continuing, “I heard a crashing sound from the nursery, when I went out to check, I found some of my plants had been knocked over, and four of them were missing.”

“You didn’t see it happen?” Harry asks and furrows his brow.

“No, whoever had done it was gone by the time I got out there.”

“So you never saw who did it?” he presses, and Stephen shakes his head. “Okay, well now I’m a little confused, because the responding officers told us that you accused Draco Malfoy of stealing your plants.”

“I didn’t say it was him, just said it might be,” Stephen says with a frown, glancing between Harry and Susan.

“Might be?” Susan echoes and raises an eyebrow. “Why did you think that?”

Stephen shrugs and shakes his head. “I don’t know. When they were questioning me about it, they asked if it might be the Death Eater, so I said yeah, might be. He’d been ‘round the nursery, I knew he lived nearby,” Stephen says and shrugs. “So, I said it was possible.”

“But you don’t think it was him?” Susan asks. Harry clenches his fists and has to bite his tongue to keep from cursing him out.

“No, I don’t know. Isn’t that your job to figure it out?” Stephen says defensively.

Susan narrows her eyes at him and asks evenly, “Do you know who stole from you, Mr Schmidt?”

“I—of course not,” he stutters.

“We tried contacting you several times last night,” Harry says. “Where were you?”

Stephen looks at Harry nervously, then says, “I was at the pub.”

“Which one?” Susan asks.

“The Green Hog,” he answers, looking to Susan.

“How long were you there for?” Harry asks, and Stephen’s gaze jumps back to him.

“I—I dunno, I guess six in the evening to closing time?”

Harry hums and nods his head, then he says slowly, “That’s interesting, because I was there last night, and I didn’t see you. The bartender said he hadn’t seen you either.”

“Mr Schmidt, we’re going to need you to be honest with us now,” Susan says firmly. “We don’t take kindly to people wasting our time.”

Stephen closes his eyes tightly and releases a long sigh. He scrubs his hands down his face and leans forward, putting his elbows on his knees. “Alright. Okay. Look, I...I do know who did it. It wasn’t the Death Eater.”

“Why didn’t you tell that to Patrol?” Harry asks, fighting to keep his tone even.

“Because—because I didn’t want him to get in trouble.”

“Who?” Susan presses.

Stephen shakes his head, then says, “My son. He’s just—he’s just acting out. He’s having a hard time with the divorce. I didn’t want him arrested.”

“Then why did you report the burglary?” Susan asks.

“I didn’t,” Stephen says irritably. “One of the neighbors did.”

“Regardless, the officers wouldn’t have arrested your son unless you wanted to press charges against him,” Harry says through gritted teeth. “By accusing someone else you put him in serious danger. And he’s been sitting in cell all night.”

Stephen looks up at Harry wide-eyed. “I didn’t mean to. That’s not what I wanted.”

“We need you to write out a formal statement rescinding your earlier accusation,” Harry says, pulling a fresh roll of parchment and a quill from one of his pouches and holding them out to Stephen expectantly. Stephen swallows and nods, taking them.

Harry taps his fingers against his thigh impatiently as he waits for Stephen to finish. When he does, Harry takes the parchment, reads it over, then gives him a flat thanks and leaves.

Susan follows closely behind him after he Apparates into the Ministry and heads straight for the holding cells.

While Susan stops to fill out Draco’s release form, Harry heads down the row of cells. He stops in front of Draco’s, pulls out his wand and casts the charm to unlock it. After pulling the door open and moving into the room, Harry stops dead.

“What the fuck,” he mutters, turning around in the empty cell. He ducks down and looks under the cot, but there’s no sign of Draco.

Harry strides out of the cell toward the interview rooms, thinking that maybe he’s talking to Millicent in one of them. Harry looks into each of them, but they’re all empty.

“What’s going on?” Susan asks as she approaches him.

“His cell is empty,” Harry tells her urgently.

“What?” Susan scrunches up her face in confusion and moves down the jail block to Draco’s cell. When she finds it empty, she turns a quizzical look on Harry. “Where could he have gone?”

“How would I know? I—” Harry cuts off when he sees movement under the sheet on the cot. Susan furrows her brow and then follows his gaze to the bed.

Harry moves forward slowly, then he reaches out, grabs the sheet and pulls it off the cot. A large snake is curled in a ball in the middle of the mattress.

“Snake!” Susan shouts, jumping back and drawing her wand.

“Wait!” Harry shoots out his hand and grabs her wrist before she can hex it.

The snake curls in tighter around itself at the commotion. It has a flat, triangular head with a thick, brown and orange striped body, and a skinny tail.

“Draco?” Harry asks and takes a step forward. He focuses on its form to speak in Parseltongue, “Is that you?”

The snake starts to puff out its body defensively as Harry gets closer.

“Fuck off,” it hisses at him, and Harry laughs.

“Yeah, it’s Draco,” Harry tells Susan and glances back at her.

She looks between Harry and the snake with a concerned frown. “Well tell him to transform back to human.”

“Draco, can you transform back for me?” Harry asks him.

“No,” is the curt response.

“Please, Draco. We’re here to release you, the charges are being dropped,” Harry says and carefully sits on the edge of the bed.

“Can’t,” Draco hisses, watching his movements with sharp eyes. “Fucking told you.”

“Told me what?” Harry asks and gives him a confused look.

“Need my treatment.”

“Treatment?” Harry cocks his head to the side. “To transform? You can’t do it on your own?”

“I’m not an Animagus, Potter,” he hisses.

“What? Then what are you?”

Draco is silent for a long moment. His tongue slides out and tastes the air, and then he answers, “Cursed.”

Harry blinks and pauses, then looks to Susan and says, “He says he’s cursed. He can’t transform back. I guess it’s what he needed his medicine for.”

Susan frowns and looks down at Draco. “What do you want to do then?”

Harry chews his lip and shrugs. “Well, he’s still free to go. I guess he’ll need to be taken home, if he can’t change back,” Harry says, and Susan gives a nod, though she doesn’t look about to volunteer.

“Draco,” Harry says, and looks back down to him, “can I take you home?”

Draco doesn’t answer, but he raises his head and looks up at Harry. He slides his tongue in and out, tasting the air around him.

“You’re free to go, and I can get you your treatment,” he explains. “Is it with your belongings here?”

“No. That thug took it,” Draco hisses. “I have more at home.”

“Can I take you there?”

After another moment of Draco watching him warily and flicking his tongue out, he slowly moves forward and uncoils. Harry puts his hand down, and Draco slithers onto it. His scales are smooth and cool to the touch, and Harry is certain he’s a venomous variety, but he’s not worried about being bit.

Draco moves up Harry’s arm, and Harry slides his other hand under his tail to support him. He’s heavier than Harry expected, almost entirely muscle and nearly three feet in length.

There’s an interesting pattern over his head and neck that differs from the rest of his consistently striped body, and Harry squints and tilts his head. It takes him a second to recognise that the patterning in his scales is his Dark Mark, with the skull on the back of his head and the twisting snake in an infinity pattern below it.

Draco flicks his tongue out at Harry’s chest, smelling him, and then he slides forward and noses under Harry’s cloak. Harry pulls back a little in surprise, and Draco looks up at him.

“Cold,” he hisses.

“Oh, shit, of course,” Harry says and shifts Draco onto one hand, so he can pull open the side of his cloak and guide Draco into the inner pocket there.

Harry had only just saved Draco from hypothermia not two days ago, and now he’s gone and stuck him in a cold, damp dungeon. He didn’t think he could feel worse about the situation than he already did, but he does. Harry wonders how much of his time here Draco spent as a snake—as a cold-blooded animal unable to regulate his temperature.

Draco slides off Harry’s hand, his head disappearing into the pocket, followed by much of his body before his head pokes out again. He’s too large to fit entirely in the pocket, and his head and tail hang out of it.

Harry closes his cloak and puts a hand over Draco on the outside of it, then he looks at Susan. “I’m going to take him home.”

“Okay,” Susan says and nods. “I guess I’ll write up the report and close the case.”

“In my bedroom,” Draco hisses from his pocket once they get to his house, and Harry trudges up the staircase to the second floor where Draco’s room is. “The cabinet, second drawer.”

Harry follows his directions to a tall, windowed cabinet on one side of the room, opening it and pulling open the second drawer. The drawer is filled with strange oblong objects about the size of a pound coin, coloured a luminescent aquamarine.

Harry picks one up and looks at it curiously. At first glance he might think it’s a gem, but it’s opaque with a soft texture.

Draco pokes his head out of Harry’s cloak and says, “Put me down.”

“Right, sorry,” Harry takes a knee and tips open his cloak, holding out a hand for Draco to slither onto and guiding him down to the floor. Once there, Harry sets the object next to him and takes a step back.

Draco slithers closer to the object and bites into it, working his jaw and teeth to move it into his mouth and down his throat. The process takes a few minutes, and then in a blink Draco shudders and shifts up into a man. He winces and makes a small noise, like it’s a painful process.

Draco glances at Harry, then turns and slides the medicine drawer shut. Harry swallows and feels like he’s stuck in place. He has so many things he wants to say, to explain, to apologise for, and now so many more things he wants to ask Draco.

“Leave,” Draco says as he carefully closes the cabinet with his back to Harry.

“Draco—”

“Haven’t you had your fun yet?” Draco snarls and whirls on Harry. “Aren’t you finished jerking me about? I said leave!” When Harry hesitates, Draco yells, “Get out!”

Harry puts up his hands in surrender, then carefully reaches into his evidence pouch, draws out Draco’s wand and holds it out to him.

Draco snatches the wand from him, and Harry turns and walks out of the house, his stomach twisted up in knots.

The next morning Harry wakes up too early after a night of tossing and turning. Instead of getting up, Harry stays and lays in bed, wanting to get back to sleep, but unable to as his mind swirls with thoughts of Draco.

He wants to be able to apologise to him properly and explain why he had to arrest him. He wants to explain that he was never messing him about, and that he has genuinely been enjoying spending time with him. Harry hadn’t even realised how much it meant to him until he thought he’d lost him again.

Harry doesn’t know exactly what he feels for Draco, everything was still so new and delicate between them, but it was fun and exciting. Harry had started looking forward to his time with Draco more than anything else in the routine his life has become. And kissing him… Kissing Draco was terrifying. It was unexpected, but good. Very good.

It’s been a long time since Harry has considered being with anyone in anything more than a one-off, but somehow Draco was different. Harry had imagined exposing Draco to more of Muggle culture and expanding his worldview. He’d imagined going flying together over the countryside. He’d imagined spending long nights talking and arguing with him about nothing and everything. Draco matches him in so many ways—in wit, and passion, and interests—and it’s mad how easily they get on when they try.

Harry wants something with Draco, friendship or more, but he’d managed to bugger it all up, like he always does.

Maybe it was never meant to be. As much fun as they had together, they still struggled to trust each other. Even now, Harry can’t be sure if he completely trusts Draco. He said he hasn’t been crafting Dark objects, and yet Harry found a Dark forge hidden in his workshop that showed signs of recent use.

Maybe it’s better for Harry to let this go. Maybe, however much they try, they’ll never be able to fully reconcile.

Harry flips his pillow over to the cold side, rolls over and curls up. He closes his eyes and spends a few hours trying to get back to sleep, but he can’t. Eventually his bladder forces him out of bed.

Harry eats breakfast at one in the afternoon in his boxers, and then he passes much of the day watching junk television. In the early afternoon, boredom and curiosity drive him to the Ministry’s Archive, where Harry does a bit of research on snakes.

It doesn’t take long of searching through venomous snakes to recognise which one Draco is. Acanthophis antarcticus, commonly known as the Death Adder.

Subtle, Harry thinks and rolls his eyes.

He reads a little bit about them, about their highly neurotoxic venom, and some of their behaviours. He’s interested to note that they have what’s considered to be the fastest strike of all snakes, and they are ambush predators that hide under leaf litter and draw prey in with caudal luring.

After reading what he can about Death Adders, Harry moves on to the Restricted Dark Arts section of the Archive and does some light research on animal curses. He does find a few instances of witches and wizards that were cursed into various reptiles, but almost all were reversible.

Based on how sensitive Draco seemed to be about his condition, and the fact that he created his own temporary treatment to it, Harry thinks that maybe it’s a little more complicated than that.

A thought occurs to him, and Harry moves on to the Animagus section. The process of becoming an Animagus is difficult and dangerous. It can be interrupted or ruined easily, and the effects can be permanent. Harry flips through many pages and pictures of the Animagus process gone wrong, where people get stuck as an animal-human hybrid.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with Draco, and Harry keeps reading until he gets to examples of people transforming successfully but getting stuck in their animal form for a period. That doesn’t seem quite right either. Eventually Harry finds a book that talks of instances where witches and wizards were accidentally or intentionally transfigured into an animal during the process of becoming an Animagus, and it permanently stuck them in that form.

Harry wonders if this is what happened to Draco. Is this why he disappeared all those years ago? Did someone tamper with his Animagus potion, or otherwise transfigure him into a Death Adder before he could complete the process?

It would make sense. Harry sits back and tries to process this. He tries to imagine what that might have been like. How long was he stuck as a snake? Was it permanent? Is he looking to find a solution now, better than the treatment he’s already created?

It might explain why Draco never wrote to him after he left. Perhaps he hadn’t been physically able to.

After letting that soak in for several long minutes, Harry gets up and navigates through the maze of bookshelves until he finds the section on Druids. He reads a bit about them and discovers that not only are they good at working with natural elements as Draco had told him, but Druids were known as the first shapeshifters.

They pioneered Animagus transformation and are experts in the process. They used their close connection to the Earth and its magic to connect with other creatures around them.

If nothing else, that cements the idea for Harry that whatever happened to Draco occurred during his Animagus training. If something went wrong for him during that process, then it would follow that he would go to a supposed Animagus expert for help. It’s too much of a coincidence for any other explanation.

When dinner time rolls around, Harry almost considers making an excuse not to go, but in the end, he decides to go and he’s glad for it.

Being around his family and friends reminds Harry that he has other important things in his life. If this is the end of his friendship with Draco—the end of everything between them—then it will be okay. Harry would hate it, but he’ll still have his family, his friends, and his career.

Harry is enjoying listening to George tease Ginny about dating Blaise, when the conversation unexpectedly gets turned on him.

“Well what about Harry?” Ginny asks, and elbows him. “How come I’m the only one having the piss taken when he’s the one dating the bloody Prince of Slytherin himself.”

“Language,” Molly says from the other end of the table.

“Sorry, mum,” Ginny responds automatically.

“What? What about me?” Harry asks, looking up at her from the pile of potatoes he’d been pushing around his plate.

“Got yourself your own Slytherin, haven’t you? About time too,” Ginny looks past Harry to Susan and tells her, “It was inevitable, you know. They never could leave each other alone. Soon as he started ditching me in eighth year to spend time with Malfoy, I knew. You think him having his big bi realisation after befriending Malfoy was a coincidence? Yeah, right.” She snorts and bumps Harry playfully.

“Malfoy and I aren’t going together,” Harry says and furrows his brow.

“Sure, Harry, we all read the article this morning,” Ginny says and smirks.

“What article?”

After dinner, Molly pulls Harry aside and hands him this morning’s Daily Prophet. Harry reads through the article, which features a photo of Draco and Harry sitting together at the café. Draco is smiling, his lips moving with a story passing through them, and Harry is laughing and almost in tears by the end of it.

The article is mainly a sensationalist piece of trash, but it does have quotes from anonymous sources inside the café confirming sightings of them spending long hours together at the café talking, claiming they that appeared to be dating.

It goes on to talk about the recent allegations of theft, of Harry inappropriately taking over the investigation and then releasing Draco from the Ministry’s custody almost immediately afterward. Harry is furious by the end of it, and Molly lays a calming hand on his forearm.

“Anyone who knows you knows you wouldn’t abuse your position to get him released,” she tells him. “The people who matter know.”

Harry nods, but he still can’t help the anger that comes with knowing lies about him are floating around the country through The Daily Prophet.

“And if you are dating Draco, or if you want to, that’s okay too,” she adds. “You know we’ve had our fair share of trouble from that family, but I trust your judgement. And if he makes you happy, that’s all I want. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you.”

Harry swallows and nods, fighting the tight sensation of his throat closing. He puts an arm around Molly’s shoulders and pulls her in a half-hug, kissing her forehead and murmuring, “Thank you, but we’re not.”

“That’s okay too, I’m just glad you have someone who can make you laugh like that,” she says and nods toward the paper.

Harry sighs and shakes his head. “I don’t think I do anymore. I think I—” Harry breaks off and swallows hard, fighting to keep his voice even. “—I think I’ve mucked it up.”

“Tell me, dear,” she says softly, rubbing a hand over his back.

Harry chews his lip a moment, then he looks down at her and it all comes pouring out—the first case, the life debt, the Seeker’s games, the starlight tour, the kiss, and arresting him after. The only thing Harry leaves out is Draco’s curse. He doesn’t understand it, and he doesn’t think Draco would want him to go blabbing about it to anyone else.

Molly tuts and smiles at him. “You boys are so stubborn. Give him some time to cool off. If you are friends, he’ll hear you out when he’s ready.”

Harry nods and thanks her. He’s not sure if he believes it. He knows Draco can be extremely hard headed, and that he’s at his most stubborn and most dangerous point when he’s feeling vulnerable, but talking to Molly does help him to feel better about the situation.

Harry and Molly join everyone else in the living room after that to chat and spend time together while digesting dinner. Ginny tells him they’re planning another pub night for next weekend, and Harry wonders if he’ll see Draco there and get a chance to talk to him.

Chapter Text

Harry moves through the work week on autopilot. He tries to focus, and he tries to get excited about the work that he normally loves, but it’s long and grueling work of sorting through and following up on a stack of tips that are all either fake or worthless.

Robards chews him out for the public backlash of his relationship with Draco from the Prophet questioning his professionalism and their department’s choice to put him on the case. But between the Herbologist’s signed statement, the Portkey Office’s documentation of the magical plants Draco brought into the country, and Hermione’s memory that all back up his possession of such plants long before the burglary was committed, his dismissal of the charges and subsequent release of Draco is airtight, and Harry receives little more than an ear bashing for it.

At one point, Harry tries to send Draco a letter to apologise and ask for a chance to talk, but Draco sends it back unopened.

The one bright spark in his week is the vindication of hearing about Draco’s case against Peterson. Millicent is a vicious and unrepentant attorney.

“Hey, Harry,” Daphne greets Harry when he’s in the break room for his fourth—or is it the fifth?—cup of coffee for the day.

“Hey, Daphne,” he says and looks up to give her a short nod, and then he turns back to dumping sugar into his coffee mug.

“So, this thing with Malfoy. Pretty crazy, huh?” she asks conversationally as she pours herself a cup of coffee.

“Yeah,” Harry scoffs and shakes his head. “Always thought Peterson was a right prick, never thought he’d go that far though.”

“Oh,” Daphne says, and the surprise in her tone gets Harry to look up at her. “I meant—have you not heard?”

Harry furrows his brow and turns toward her. “Heard what?”

“About the vandalism?” she asks, and when Harry gives her a confused look she explains, “Someone graffitied his house, after…after that article about you two in the Prophet came out.”

Harry clenches his jaw and then consciously relaxes it. “Is it your case?” he asks, and she nods. “Can I see the file?”

Daphne hesitates for a moment, and then nods again. She leads him out of the break room to her desk, and hands him the casefile.

Harry sets his coffee down and flips through it. He stops on a photo that shows the outside of the house, where painted in large, bold letters it reads, ‘THE ONLY GOOD SNAKE IS A DEAD SNAKE.’ The plain lettering makes it hard to tell, but it seems consistent with the other threats Harry has been getting. A thought occurs to Harry as he reads the message, and he chews his thumbnail.

“Was there any other damage?” Harry asks.

“Nope, just the graffiti,” she says.

“Any idea who did it?” he asks, and she shakes her head. “Okay, thanks.”

Harry hands back the file and goes to his office. He digs out his stack of concerning fanmail from the bottom drawer of his desk and flips through them, pulling out all the threats to Draco that he’s got. The most recent one which he’d got on Tuesday is on the top of the stack.

MALFOY HAS TRICKED YOU

THE SNAKE WILL BURN

“Where’s my coffee?”

“Huh?” Harry glances up from the letters to Susan, who’s sitting opposite him at her desk, looking at him expectantly. “Oh. I forgot it. I—er, I need to run an errand.”

“An errand?” Susan echoes in confusion.

“Yeah,” Harry says as he pulls out all the threats he’s received and casts Doubling Charms to duplicate them.

Susan watches Harry for a moment, then asks, “Are you going to see Malfoy?”

Harry hesitates and looks up at her. “Yeah,” he answers, rolling up the copied threats and putting away the originals. “I won’t be long, just—a half hour, at most.”

Susan sighs, but she doesn’t try to stop him as he leaves.

Harry Apparates outside of Draco’s property, and he spends the whole walk up the drive battling his nerves and practicing what he’s going to say. On approach, Harry can see that someone has tried to clean the graffiti from the house, but there’s still a ghost of it stained in the stone walls.

A column of smoke is rising from the East side of the house, from Draco’s workshop. Harry walks around the side of the house, then takes a deep breath and moves forward to enter the workshop.

The heat hits him first when he steps into the doorway, and then Harry registers the sight of Draco with the bright white and orange flames of Fiendfyre coiling around him in the shape of a snake. An immediate rush of fear and adrenaline surge through his body at the sight of it.

Harry doesn’t think, he reacts automatically. In the blink of an eye, his wand is in his hand and the counter curse is falling from his lips.

The cursed flame diminishes and is snuffed out entirely as Harry focuses his spell at it. A silvery substance falls from the air in front of Draco and lands at his feet.

Harry lowers his wand and releases a relieved sigh as soon as the fire is out. He takes a step forward and starts to ask, “Are you alright—?”

“What the fuck, Potter!” Draco whirls on him, snapping up his welding mask and pinning him with a furious stare. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Saving you,” Harry answers, taken aback by the aggressive response.

“You weren’t saving me from anything, I had it under control!” Draco argues, and gestures down to the metal substance on the floor. “You’ve ruined the piece I’ve spent days refining! Do you have any idea how rare and valuable those materials are?”

Harry glances down to the silvery puddle and frowns. “Well what are you doing messing about with Fiendfyre?” he points out angrily. “You could have killed yourself!”

“Who cares!” Draco yells. “This bloody life debt is going to kill me anyway!”

“I care!” Harry shouts back.

Draco’s expression flashes with surprise, and then it hardens once more, and he clenches his jaw. “I neither need nor want your concern.”

“Well that’s just too fucking bad,” Harry snaps and matches his glare. “Why the hell would you ever use Fiendfyre?”

“I’ll use it if that’s what it takes to end this fucking bond and finally cut ties with you,” Draco snarls, and Harry purses his lips and pushes down the way his chest tightens at hearing those words. “Isn’t this what you want? Simply making you an enchanted ring isn’t good enough for Harry bloody Potter. No, I have to put myself in real danger or it’s a cheap cop out!”

“This isn’t what I wanted,” Harry says and shakes his head.

“I know. You don’t want anything,” Draco spits venomously. “What are you even doing here?”

Harry sighs and drops his gaze. He takes a breath and focuses on calming himself and pushing the anger down. He didn’t come here to fight with Draco, it’s the last thing he wants to do.

“There are things I want,” Harry says, looking back to Draco and holding his gaze. Draco’s glare falters and he looks conflicted. “I came hoping to get the chance to talk to you about a few things. I know you’re angry with me, and I’m sorry for showing up like this when I know you don’t want to see me, but I heard about your house being vandalised, and I—”

Draco scoffs loudly, shaking his head and turning away from Harry for a moment. When he turns back, he looks angry and resentful. “Of course. I should have fucking known that you’re here as an Auror. Well? What do you want this time? Here to search my house? Interrogate me? Have you found something new to charge me with?”

“What? No, of course not,” Harry says quickly and shakes his head.

“Then what? Another pretense of being my friend so you can investigate me?”

“It was never a pretense,” Harry argues hotly. “We were friends, and I cared about you. I still do.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Potter,” Draco snarls.

“I’m not!” Harry snaps.

“Would you have arrested Weasley?” Draco asks pointedly. “If it were him instead of me?”

“What?” Harry asks, confused by the abrupt turn in the conversation.

“Would you,” Draco repeats slowly, enunciating clearly, “have arrested Weasley?”

“I—” Harry begins then cuts off with a confused frown. He licks his lips and takes a breath to answer, but he’s not sure how.

“See?” Draco says with a sneer. “You wouldn’t have. You wouldn’t have used his trust as an excuse to search his home. You wouldn’t have arrested him without asking whether he’d done it or not. You would have trusted him.”

Harry releases a long sigh and scrubs a hand down his face. He shakes his head and says, “It’s not that simple. I was ordered to bring you in, and sometimes the best way to protect your friends is to follow the rules. I had to do it.”

“Had to?” Draco echoes incredulously. “You’ve never once followed the rules in your whole fucking life. If there’s one thing I learned about you through all those years is that you are blindly, inanely devoted to those you call friends. Everything becomes secondary to protecting them, even your own life.”

“Draco, I tried,” Harry argues and throws his hands out in frustration. “Robards wouldn’t listen and the only thing I could do was make sure it was my case so that what happened with Peterson wouldn’t happen again, and so I could find the proof to release you as soon as possible. I did it to protect you!”

“Well I don’t need your protection!” Draco yells at him. “I didn’t at Hogwarts and I don’t now!”

Harry purses his lips and releases a slow sigh through his nose.

Draco swallows and shakes his head. “I don’t know why you ever bothered pretending to befriend me in eighth year.”

“I wasn’t pretending,” Harry says. “You know I followed you at first because I thought you were up to no good.” Draco snorts and rolls his eyes. “But then I saw you. I saw you fighting tooth and nail to find your place after the war. I saw a kid who’d had the rug pulled out from under him, who saw his mistakes and was trying to be better. I admired you.”

“No, you pitied me. You looked at me and saw a project,” Draco spits. “You wanted to change me—to show the world how Saint Potter can redeem a Death Eater.”

“That’s not what I wanted,” Harry argues hotly.

“You know what I saw when I looked at you?” Draco hisses, his lips curling up into a sneer. “I saw opportunity. I saw an idealistic fool trying to mend a broken bridge. I used you. I pretended to be your friend to repair my image. After all, what better way to make the world think I’m rehabilitated than to convince the Saviour of the Wizarding World of it?”

Harry’s blood boils and he clenches his hands into fists at his side, fighting down the hurt and anger swelling up in his chest. “That’s not true,” he grits out between clenched teeth.

“Isn’t it?” Draco asks and raises an eyebrow. He looks so fucking cocky and certain of himself. “You became my number one advocate, after all. And you made it so easy for me. All I had to do was listen to you whining about your overbearing girlfriend and your friends abandoning you to snog each other, and then create some sob story about coming to grips with my sexuality and a desire to be free of the shackles of my poor, oppressive, Pureblood heritage.”

Draco puts his hands over his heart and makes a melodramatic, ‘oh woe is me,’ face, and Harry suppresses the urge to clock him for it.

His teeth ache with how hard he’s biting down on them. He stares Draco down, but Draco meets his glare unflinchingly. Harry wants to believe it’s a lie. He wants to see some sign of deceit in him, but he doesn’t. Draco is telling the truth.

“Someone has been sending me letters threatening you,” Harry says tightly, reaching into his pocket to draw out the copies. “Based on the content, I’d bet they know about your curse, so you might want to think about who’s aware of it. Maybe the perpetrator?”

Draco’s glare finally breaks, and he looks down to the letters in Harry’s hands with interest.

“Seems like the same person who tagged your house, which means they’re escalating. Thought you’d like to know.”

Harry tosses the letters at Draco, and he fumbles to catch them as they come apart and flutter to the ground. Draco narrows his eyes at Harry in annoyance.

“Call me when you’re done playing the wounded victim,” Harry says, then he turns and leaves the estate.

When he gets back to work, Susan questions his bad mood, but he waves her off and focuses his energy on working the case. As soon as he gets home, Harry grabs his broom, Apparates to the middle of nowhere, and spends hours in the air flying furiously to work out his anger.

Come Saturday, Harry tries to beg off going to the pub, but Ginny convinces him, citing the fact that she only has a couple months until the Quidditch season starts again and she’ll hardly see him once it does.

When Harry spots Draco, they make brief eye contact and then spend the rest of the night avoiding each other. Harry sticks by Susan and doesn’t drink. In contrast, Draco drinks a lot and seems to be having a grand time chatting up his friends.

Ginny sees the way Harry has been looking at Draco and gives him a weird look, but he brushes her off with a short shake of his head. Harry tries to focus on a conversation George and Hermione are having about the legality of a new product idea, but it’s all background noise to his inner turmoil.

Susan walks off to get another drink from the bar, and Harry feels strangely alone without her next to him. Even surrounded by friends he’s known most of his life, Harry can’t help but look around at each of them and wonder how well he knows them. He barely sees any of them except for Sunday dinners, and that’s more of a mandated family tradition than a concerted effort to stay connected.

Harry can’t remember the last time he sat down and had a meaningful conversation with Ron or Hermione. They always talk about work or the kids but never anything deeper, and Harry misses the days where they could talk about nothing for hours.

Harry thought that he was good at reading people, but if Draco’s friendship with him in eighth year was all a ruse, then how can Harry know if any of his friendships are real?

He swallows down the knot forming in his throat, then downs the last bit of water in his glass. Across the table, Daphne looks at Harry and furrows her brows in concern. ‘Are you okay?’ she mouths at him, and Harry nods and gives her a thumbs up.

Harry stands and looks around the pub for Susan. He’s put in his time for the night and thinks it’s probably best to go home so he doesn’t bring down the rest of the group.

As his gaze scans the room, his eyes catch on Draco, stood leaning against the wall, crowded by a handsome bloke. They’re chatting and laughing in a flirtatious way, though Harry can tell by Draco’s swaying and sweeping gestures that he’s quite drunk.

Harry grits his teeth and looks away, searching the rest of the pub for Susan but not finding her. With a sigh, Harry takes his cloak from the coat rack and swings it over his shoulders. He slips out the back door where the smokers go, so he can make a quiet exit and avoid the paparazzi out front, but he gets waylaid by the sound of an argument.

“…hadn’t done, you would have regretted it for the rest of your life!”

Curious, Harry turns and walks along the side of the pub toward the alley beside it.

“It was still my decision to make!”

Harry turns the corner to see Millicent and Susan facing each other. Susan has her arms crossed defensively. Millicent has a lit cigarette between her fingers, the ember glowing brightly in the dark alley, followed by a stream of smoke as she waves her hands in a frustrated gesture.

“But you weren’t making a decision! You were just sitting on it, letting him get away with it,” Millicent argues.

“And that somehow makes it okay for you to—” Susan cuts off when Harry steps forward. Both of them turn to look at him. Susan’s mouth pinches and Millicent glares at him.

“Sue?” Harry asks, taking another cautious step toward them.

Susan sighs and gives a dismissive gesture. “I’m fine, Harry.”

Millicent throws her cigarette on the ground and twists it under her heel. “No thanks to you,” she mutters and stalks past Harry.

Harry frowns and watches her go, then turns a questioning look on Susan. “What was that about?”

Susan cards her fingers through her hair and shakes her head.

“Sue?” he asks, stepping up to her and putting a hand on her shoulder. She swallows hard and he can see the way she’s fighting to keep herself composed. He pulls her into a hug, and she wraps her arms around his back and buries her face in his chest.

It’s unusual to see Susan cry. In eight years, Harry can count on two hands the amount of times he’s seen it happen, so he’s rather worried when he hears her snuffling. He rubs her back and murmurs reassurances to her.

Her chest expands on a deep breath, and then she pulls away and pushes up her glasses to rub the wetness from her eyes.

“What’s going on?” Harry asks, pulling away a little to look down at her. “Has she hurt you?”

“No, not—not like you’re thinking,” Susan answers and shakes her head.

Harry frowns, but he waits for her to answer if she wants to.

Susan releases a long, ragged sigh, then she swallows and says, “Way back, after the incident with Desmond?” she glances up to him, and Harry furrows his brow but nods. “When I reported you… I didn’t actually submit the report.”

“What?” Harry asks, shaking his head in confusion.

“When I was in St Mungo’s and after I went home and was recuperating… I was so angry with you, Harry. I was so angry you’d broken rank and gone off on your maverick routine.”

“I know—” Harry begins, but Susan puts a hand up to stop him.

“Let me finish,” she says, and Harry nods. “We’ve talked about this a lot before. I know you know that I’m not angry with you any longer, and I understand why you did it. I don’t hold it against you. But after it happened, I didn’t know what to do. You were my partner, my brother, and I felt betrayed.”

She pauses, and Harry gives another nod to show he’s listening. “At the time...I never told you this, but at the time I was dating Millicent,” she says, and Harry’s mouth drops open in surprise.

“You never said—you never mentioned her,” Harry stutters out.

Susan rubs her arm and sighs. “I know, I know. I—I wanted to tell you, but it was still sort of new, and we were figuring out how it worked, and I just—I guess I was worried what you’d think.”

Harry hesitates, then asks quietly, “Did you like her? Were you happy?”

Susan chews on her lip and worries the hem of her top. “Yes. Really happy. She’s—she’s smart, and funny, and…and the sex was good. Really good,” she says, and Harry laughs. Susan smiles briefly up at him, then licks her lips and continues, “She took care of me after I got out of the hospital…and she listened to me ranting when I was still angry at you. She was upset about what happened and urged me to report you for misconduct. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and we fought about it. I had the report written, but I just…couldn’t turn it in. She found it and sent it in without asking me.”

“Oh,” Harry says and stills. Shock washes over him as everything he’d thought about that moment is turned on its head.

“Yeah, oh,” she says and glares down at her boots. “She did it behind my back because she knew I wasn’t going to. And… Well, anyway, I broke up with her because of it. It’s what we were arguing about.”

“Sue,” Harry says and rubs a hand up and down her shoulder. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay, Harry. It’s not your fault,” she says and puts a hand over his, looking up at him with a sad smile. “She moved to Glasgow not longer after and I haven’t really seen her since. It’s just all this stuff with Malfoy that’s brought it back to the surface.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it was already done. We weren’t together, and regardless of which of us sent the report in, the results were the same,” she says. “And I—I felt guilty. You almost lost your job. I almost lost you as a partner because of it.”

“No,” Harry says quickly and shakes his head. “I almost lost you as a partner. I was the reckless idiot who left you behind and went charging off on my own, thinking I could—I dunno, that I could save the day if I went around proper procedure, and you almost died. Reporting me was the right thing to do.”

It had been a dark time for Harry, made worse by the prospect that he might lose the career he’d devoted himself to. In the end, he’d only had to ride a desk for a few months before he was allowed back in the field, a veritable slap on the wrist. It was nothing compared to the guilt he’d felt over nearly getting his partner killed.

Harry still remembers the shock he’d felt when he learned Susan had requested to stay partners with him—the mixture of relief and anxiety. Now that choice makes a little bit more sense to him, but he’ll never stop being amazed that she could trust him enough to stay partners.

Susan chews her lip and gives a small nod. Harry pulls her into another hug, and Susan embraces him readily.

“Fuck. I’m so sorry,” Harry murmurs against her head.

“It’s not your fault, Harry,” Susan assures him. “Regardless of the situation, regardless of her intentions, she went behind my back. She didn’t trust me to make my own decision. Whatever the context, the results would have been the same.”

Harry nods in understanding but he still feels the weight of guilt. Regardless of Millicent’s actions, Harry was still the one to trigger the chain of events. He left his partner unprotected and she got hurt. Harry knows how strongly Susan feels about her job and upholding the law, and he made her question her duty and her morals. If that wasn’t bad enough, she lost someone she cared about over it. She sacrificed a lot for his mistake.

It’s an event that is years behind them, one which Harry doesn’t think much on these days, but now all the guilt comes flooding back, worse than before.

“Come on, let’s get a drink,” Susan says and pulls away from him. Harry nods, and she loops her arm in his as they walk back to the pub.

“You don’t want to get out of here? Maybe curl up with a romcom and some popcorn?” he suggests, and Susan laughs.

“Drink first, then movie and ice cream,” she says, leading them into the pub and over to the bar.

She orders them two whiskys and shoots half of hers after it’s set down in front of her. The glass smacks down on the counter with a clack and Susan exhales sharply. Harry takes a deep drink from his, though not as much as Susan.

“Merlin,” Susan mutters, and Harry looks up at her to see her gazing across the pub. “Take a look at Malfoy.”

Harry follows her line of sight to the dance floor and spots Draco easily for his stark, bright hair in the dim space. He’s dancing up against the bloke Harry saw him talking to earlier, and it’s fairly clear from the loose and obscene way he’s dancing that he’s well past drunk at this point. He even has a drink in one hand that’s sloshing over the edges.

“He is bladdered,” Susan says and shakes her head in disbelief.

Harry frowns and turns back to his whisky. He takes a sip of it and mutters, “At least he’s having a good time.”

“He probably won’t be too happy tomorrow,” Susan says, still turned on her stool to watch Draco. “Gods, that’s borderline pornagraphic. Think we should arrest him?”

Harry turns a glare on her and she gives him a small smirk.

“Sorry. Too soon?”

Harry snorts and gives a wry smile. He tries to focus on drinking his whisky and commiserating with Susan, but he can’t help but look over at Draco now and again. Draco is beyond intoxicated, and Harry doesn’t much like the hungry way his dance partner is leering at him.

Harry is surprised that none of Draco’s friends have stepped in, but Millicent is gone, Blaise is entrenched in a pissing match with Ginny over Wizard’s Darts, and Pansy looks to be in a deep conversation with Luna.

None of the other Slytherins are within sight, and Harry frowns and looks back at the dance floor. His stomach drops out when he doesn’t see Draco. He stands and casts his gaze around the room, then he spots Draco and the bloke heading toward the fireplace.

Harry takes a step, then hesitates and glances back at Susan. He doesn’t want to abandon her, but he’s worried for Draco.

“Go!” Susan urges him and waves him on, having seen the situation too. “I’m fine, go stop him!”

Harry turns and pushes his way through the crowded pub. He gets to the Floo just as the wizard is starting to step forward into it with Draco, and Harry grabs at his collar and yanks him back.

“What the fuck!” the guy swears as he stumbles and Draco, who’s draped over him and dependant on him to stay upright, nearly loses his footing.

Harry steps between them and the Floo, and the wizard scowls at him.

“Get out of the way,” he orders. He looks tipsy, but nowhere near Draco’s level of intoxication.

“Make me,” Harry says, moving his hand over his wand holster, ready to draw.

“Fuck off, Potter,” Draco slurs and waves a hand at Harry to move.

The wizard’s eyes widen and dart up to Harry’s forehead, and his expression immediately turns to one of horror. His gaze drops to where Harry’s hand is positioned over his wand, and he holds both his hands up.

“Sorry, I didn’t realise—I don’t want any trouble,” he says quickly. He takes Draco’s arm off of his shoulders and retreats.

Draco stumbles with the abrupt lack of support, and Harry grabs his arm to steady him.

“Goddamnit, Potter,” Draco swears and yanks himself out of Harry’s grip. He stumbles backwards into someone else and makes them spill their drink.

“Sorry, sorry, I’ve got him,” Harry apologises to them and grabs at Draco.

“What d’you think you’re doing?” Draco spits and tries to pull away, but Harry keeps a stronger grip on him this time.

“I’m taking you home,” Harry says firmly and leads them toward the back door.

Draco curses him out the whole way, but he stops fighting against him.

Once outside the pub, Harry Apparates them outside Estuary Estate. On landing, Draco stumbles, and then he gags and puts a hand over his mouth. Harry lets him go as Draco takes a step, drops to his knees and pukes.

“M’fine,” Draco tries to argue when Harry helps him back onto his feet.

“No, you’re not. Stop being a prat and let me get you home,” Harry says, and Draco grumbles under his breath, but he lets Harry support him on the long walk up the drive to the house.

Getting Draco up the steps without breaking their necks is another challenge, but eventually they make it up to Draco’s bedroom and Harry gets him on the bed. Draco seems only to happy to let go of Harry and flop down onto it.

Harry conjures a glass and fills it with water. “Drink this,” he says and holds it out to Draco.

“Fuck you,” Draco says and smack the cup out of his hand.

Harry watches the water soak into the rug with a sigh. “You know what? Fine. Enjoy the hangover tomorrow. I’m just trying to help, you know.”

“Oh yes, thank you, Potter,” Draco slurs sardonically. “My hero. Well done protecting my chasi—chastity.”

“You’re bladdered, you can’t consent to shit right now,” Harry tells him.

Draco flips him off. Harry sighs and grabs Draco’s ankle to pull off his shoes, but Draco kicks at him and Harry drops his foot.

“Damnit, Draco, I’m trying to help you!” he snaps.

“Don’t need your—” Draco hiccups. “—don’t need your help.”

Harry plants his hands on his hips and meets Draco’s stubborn glare. He shakes his head, then picks the glass up off the floor, refills it and sets it on the nightstand. Harry waves his wand to put out the lights in the room and turns to leave.

“Stop tryin’ to save me,” Draco murmurs behind him, and Harry hesitates and glances back at him, but Draco has turned his back to him.

Harry frowns, then leaves the house. He Aparrates to Susan’s and they spend the rest of the night eating ice cream and watching romcoms.

The sound of tapping on his window wakes Harry the next morning. He rubs at his eyes and sits up a little, so he can squint across the room at the window. An owl is waiting for him, pecking at the glass irately, its feathers wet and ruffled from the rain storm raging outside.

Harry flops back onto his bed with a groan. The pecking intensifies, and he drags himself out of bed. It’s still dark outside, and a glance at the clock tells him it’s nearly six in the morning.

Harry and Susan had stayed up and talked long into the night about Millicent and Draco. It was a relief to unload some of the thoughts burdening him, and Harry was happy to hear about Susan’s past relationship with Millicent. Harry can tell Susan still likes Millicent, despite their issues, and Harry encouraged her to talk to her and try to work things out, which Susan turned right around on him about Draco.

The problem is Harry doesn’t exactly know how he feels about Draco right now, and Draco clearly doesn’t want to talk to him.

When Harry opens the window, the hawk owl flutters past him and buffets him with a face full of wet feathers on its way it. It lands on one of the posts of his bed, then turns and sticks its leg out to him. Based on the purple band on its leg and its brusque manner, it’s one of the owls from the Owl Post in Diagon.

Harry unties the letter from its leg and rolls it up. He jumps back when the owl shakes itself out and sprays Harry with water. He sends it a glare, but the owl ignores him as it waits for him to read the letter. It’s from his informant, requesting to meet, and he scribbles a quick reply and ties it to the owl’s leg. The owl takes off out the window without waiting for a treat.

Harry sighs and scrubs his hands over his face, trying to rub away the fatigue.

“Giselle, will you connect me with Susan, please?” he asks his magic mirror on the wall.

She nods at him and disappears for a couple minutes. When she returns, she has a sour look on her face and says primply, “Ms. Bones requests that you…”

“Fuck myself?” Harry supplies and fights down a smile.

“Indeed,” she answers and purses her lips.

“Call her again, please?” Harry says, and Giselle doesn’t look happy, but she complies.

“Fuckin’ hell, Harry,” Susan grumbles when her tired face appears in the mirror. She’s lying in bed, squinting at him without her glasses on, and her face is marked with wrinkles from her pillow. “You left three fucking hours ago. What?”

“Duck just owled me,” he says, and she groans and buries her face in her pillow. “I’m going to go talk to him. Want to come?”

“No,” she growls. “Tell him we’ll meet later, when it’s not the arsecrack of dawn.”

“I already told him I’d meet him at the Turkey and Waffle,” Harry says, and Susan groans and rolls over.

“Well have fun, don’t call me unless it’s an emergency,” she says, her voice muffled by her pillow.

Harry shakes his head, then ends the call and moves to get ready. He showers and dresses quickly, then Apparates nearby the 24-hour Muggle restaurant.

When he walks in, Harry gives the restaurant a quick sweep. He spots Duck already at a table and moves to join him.

Duck is a small, weedy guy with dark, buzzed hair, brown eyes, and pale skin. He’s not much older than Harry, but he looks like ten miles of bad road.

“Hey Harry, got your letter,” Duck says in a chipper way that should be illegal at this time of morning.

“The one I sent a month ago?” Harry asks with an amused smile as he sits at the booth across from.

“Yeah, you know, been busy,” Duck says, scratching at his head and bouncing his leg under the table.

Harry nods knowingly but doesn’t press it. He knows Duck is a potion addict, but there’s little he can do. He wants to help and has offered help on several occasions, but in the end it’s up to Duck what choices he makes. Harry tries not to judge.

Harry flags down a waiter. “Coffee, and keep it coming,” he orders.

“Anything else?” the waiter asks.

“Er, toast I guess, and whatever he wants,” Harry says and gestures to Duck.

Unsurprisingly, Duck orders half the menu, but Harry doesn’t mind. They chat about nothing while Duck eats, and Harry tries to wake up. Eventually Harry brings it around to the case.

“You mentioned you might have something useful to tell me?” Harry prompts him. “About the Mindtaker?”

Duck nods as he wipes his mouth, then he tosses his napkin down and leans back in his chair. He groans and rubs at his full stomach, then says, “Yeah I’ve heard some things.”

“Like?”

“Like that this Mindtaker is working with those anti-trads,” Duck says, and Harry hums in interest. None of the people or shops he knows of were Pureblood, but he makes a mental note to check when he gets to the office.

“You sure?” Harry asks.

“Just telling you what I heard,” Duck says and shrugs. “That’s not all though. I’ve heard that if you was one of them that had family killed and things stolen in the war, this guy will reclaim it for you, from whatever person or shop it ended up at.”

“Guy? It’s a man?” Harry asks.

“That’s what everybody’s saying.”

Harry frowns. “What kinds of things?”

“Priceless things.”

“Family heirlooms?” Harry suggests thoughtfully.

“Sure,” Duck says with a nod.

Harry sits back and hums. He takes a sip of his coffee as he thinks it over. None of the robberies were only money; they all had items stolen as well. He’ll have to go back over the case and review all of the items, but he does know a few of the shops sold antique or used items.

“Do you know how people are contacting the Mindtaker? How they’re hiring him?” Harry asks after a long pause.

Duck shakes his head. “Nah, didn’t trust me with that information. I’ll keep my ear to the ground, see if I can find out.”

“Thanks,” Harry says with a nod.

Harry spends his Sunday in the office reviewing every robbery committed by the Mindtaker and making a list of all the items stolen that could be considered personal. He considers calling Susan in, but it’s not an emergency and he thinks she’d probably prefer to enjoy her day off.

When dinner time rolls around, Harry tells her to pass on the message that he won’t make it to dinner. Partly Harry wants to keep working, but mostly he’s not in the mood for company. Though it might make him feel better to be around his family, Harry isn’t feeling social.

When they get into work on Monday, Harry explains what Duck told him and the new board he put up on their wall, breaking down all of the robberies by items stolen.

Susan looks over all the work Harry did yesterday, puts her hands on her hips, and sighs.

“Harry, you need to slow down,” she says and frowns at him. “How much sleep did you get last night? Or this week? Or the last month?”

Harry makes a face and puts a hand out, palm-up.

“I know you’re upset about things with Malfoy, but this isn’t healthy, you need to rest,” she says.

“You know this is the job. Sometimes it requires a lot of overtime,” Harry says defensively.

“Yes, but not at your expense. You can’t do the job effectively if you run yourself ragged,” she argues.

“Sue, this is the first solid lead we’ve had on this case in months,” Harry points out. “I’m fine. I promise.”

Susan regards him silently for a moment, then sighs and shakes her head. “Fine, but after this I’m going to lock you in your room and chain you to your bed until you are fully rested.”

“Kinky,” Harry says and wiggles his eyebrows at her. She snorts and smacks his shoulder lightly.

Harry and Susan spend the day going around to each of the shops and re-interviewing them about the stolen goods, focusing on anything that seems antique or personal, and trying to find records of the purchases.

At the end of the day, Susan stands over Harry’s desk and stares him down.

“Okay, okay,” Harry says. He drops his quill and put his hands up in surrender. “I’ll go home, I promise.”

“I know you will, because I’m going to follow you home,” she tells him, and Harry tries to look indignant, but his laugh ruins the effect.

“Fine. Let me clean out my inbox, then we’ll go,” he promises.

Susan crosses her arms over her chest and taps her foot as Harry quickly sorts through his mail. He stops abruptly when he finds a letter addressed in Draco’s familiar script.

Harry hesitates, then unrolls the parchment and reads over it.

“Malfoy?” Susan asks curiously.

Harry hums and nods. “It’s just another appointment for the life debt. And a bill.”

“A bill?” she asks and raises an eyebrow, but Harry waves the question off.

The bill for, ‘damaging priceless materials,’ is outrageously high. Harry sets it aside to look up these supposedly priceless materials later. He writes out a quick reply to the appointment request and sends it off.

“Alright, let’s go home, then,” Harry says and stands.

They grab their cloaks, and Susan links arms with Harry and rides the Floo home with him. Harry makes them dinner and they chat about Quidditch. When Harry tries to bring up the case, Susan pointedly redirects them to other topics.

While somewhat annoyed at the thought that Susan feels like he needs to be babysat, mostly Harry is glad for the company. She keeps his mind occupied and off of stressful things like work and Draco, and Harry thinks that maybe she needs the company too.

Harry checks his watch, then stretches and exhales a deep sigh. Susan glances up at him from across their desks.

“Going to see Malfoy?” she asks, and Harry nods. “I guess I’ll grab a sandwich from Barney’s. What do you want? Usual?”

“Sure, thanks,” Harry says and gets up.

He runs a hand through his hair nervously as he leaves the Auror department, and he almost walks straight into Dennis when he turns the corner.

“Sorry, Harry!” Dennis says, as he stumbles and tries to counterbalance the stack of files swaying dangerously in his arms.

Harry grabs at the stack, holding it still and helping Dennis right them. He lets go cautiously once they seem balanced and says, “Sorry, I wasn’t watching where I was going. Do you need a hand?”

Dennis smiles brightly at him over the files. In all the years seeing each other around the office, Dennis’ worship of Harry has calmed some, but he’s always so eager to interact with Harry that it still makes him a bit uncomfortable.

“Thanks, Harry! I think I’ve got it, but me and a couple of the guys were going to get lunch in a few. Want to join us?”

“Er, thanks, Dennis, but I can’t,” Harry says and starts to edge around him.

“Oh. Got plans?” he asks in disappointment.

“Yeah, I’ve got to see Malfoy, and he’ll probably chew me out if I’m late, so,” Harry trails off and jerks his thumb over his shoulder. Dennis frowns and nods, and Harry walks around him.

He hurries out of the DMLE to the lift and rides it down to Level Seven. When he walks into the Office of Magical Bonds and Vows, Draco looks pointedly down to his watch and gives Harry a displeased look. Harry glances to his own watch and frowns when he sees that he’s two minutes late.

Draco stands and leads them into the office and to the empty front desk. He hits the call bell with a little more force than is necessary and crosses his arms over his chest.

Harry sighs quietly and slides his hands into his pockets.

Barely ten seconds go by before Draco is ringing the bell again, and Harry shakes his head and says, “Relax. He’ll be along.”

“Don’t tell me to relax,” Draco snaps. “I’ve better things to do than stand about waiting for some old codger just so I can be insulted by Harry Potter once more.”

“Why make the appointment if you don’t even want to do this?” Harry asks with a frustrated gesture.

“Because I have to, Potter,” Draco says and turns a hard gaze on him. “The sooner I can get a meddlesome fool like you out of my life, the better.”

“Meddlesome?” Harry echoes incredulously. “Really?”

“Your intervention on Saturday was, once again, unnecessary.”

“Well, sorry. I wasn’t keen to find you dead in a ditch the next morning,” Harry snarks.

“Yes, because everyone is out to get me,” Draco snaps and rolls his eyes. “Better to remain a virgin my whole life than to ever risk a sexual encounter.”

Harry blinks and stills. He wasn’t expecting that. He glances at Draco, who is determinedly not looking at Harry. His cheeks are flushed a light pink, and he angrily dings the bell three times in quick succession.

Harry swallows, realising that he’s been quiet a moment too long and says, “That bloke was. You were drunk off your arse and he seemed quite happy to take advantage of that. I wasn’t about to stand by and let you be assaulted.”

“Oh, really?” Draco drawls. “Would it have upset you, Potter? Would you have felt responsible for not saving me once again?”

“Yes,” Harry answers simply, and Draco rolls his eyes.

“Not every bad thing that happens in this world is your fault,” Draco says.

“It is if I have the chance to stop it and don’t,” Harry argues.

Draco looks at Harry and shakes his head in disbelief. “How exceptionally egotistical of you. Bad things happen all the time and you think you bear the responsibility for them? It’s not your job to stop every crime.”

“Actually, it kind of is,” Harry says and gestures sarcastically at his uniform. “Auror. Remember?”

Draco raises a skeptical eyebrow. “Aurors don’t stop crime, you pick up the mess after it’s already happened,” Draco snarks. “You’re not society’s superhero. You’re its maid.”

“Hm, guess I must have imagined saving your arse on Saturday then,” Harry says in feigned confusion and taps at his bottom lip. “Must have dreamt up saving your arse a lot of times.”

“You’re unbelievable,” Draco hisses and shakes his head, ringing the bell again and looking around the archive impatiently.

“Are you mad because I didn’t let some guy assault you, or are you mad because it was me that stopped him?” Harry asks angrily, but Draco purses his lips and doesn’t answer. “You didn’t seem to mind when I pulled you out of Galloway, shaking like a leaf and nearly frozen solid.”

Draco clenches his jaw and taps his foot impatiently, looking around the stacks and ignoring Harry.

Harry’s never handled being ignored by Draco very well. It irks him and makes him want to keep prodding until he gets a response. “How does that work, anyway?” Harry asks. “Are you more sensitive to the cold now because of the whole snake thing, or—?”

Draco pins him with a glare and hisses quietly, “Shut your mouth, Potter.”

Harry smirks and opens his mouth to reply, but Earl shuffles out of the stacks and Harry lets it go. At least he managed to rile Draco.

“Malfoy and Potter, appointment for noon,” Draco says impatiently, before Earl has even sat at his desk.

Earl looks at him with a small frown, then carefully takes a seat at his desk. He looks from Draco to Harry then back. “You’re late.”

Draco’s eye twitches in irritation and he snaps, “We know. Auror Potter is so very sorry for his tardiness, but since it appears that you have no other appointment at the moment, he was hoping you could still squeeze us in.”

Earl looks between them again, then sighs and nods. “What is the purpose of your visit?”

“The Potter-Malfoy Life Debt, same as it has been the last four times.”

“There’s no need to be snippy with me, young man,” Earl admonishes him. “Perhaps if you are in such a rush you should have made more of an effort to be on time.”

Harry raises his eyebrows, then turns a smile on Draco. Draco is grinding his teeth.

Earl opens his ledger and slowly finds their place in it. “Who is the Catalyst and who is the Beneficiary?” he eventually asks.

“I am the Catalyst,” Harry answers calmly.

“I am the Beneficiary,” Draco says quickly.

“You’ve come to make an offering equal to your life to dissolve the bond between you?”

“Yes,” Draco answers.

Earl nods and draws his wand. He casts the spell to reveal the ties of the bond between them, and waves Draco on.

Draco turns to Harry and ducks into a shallow bow. He draws the same velvet cloth from his pocket as always, and says, “I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, as beneficiary of the selfless heroism of Harry James Potter in the face of mortal danger on the night of May the second of 1998, have come here to acknowledge this life debt and offer repayment in the form of this ring.”

Harry frowns as Draco tips the cloth open to reveal a dark grey ring, so dark it’s nearly black. Red veins cut through it jaggedly, like ore veins in a rock, and one on end the band juts up into three points, almost like the outline of a mountain range.

“I have crafted this gift by my own hand and offer it to you that its enchantments may stave off the worst of curses and knit together any wounds you might incur.”

Draco offers the ring out to Harry, gleaming red and silver as it catches the glowing lights overhead.

“Does the Catalyst accept the offering?” Earl asks and looks up at Harry with his quill poised to record the answer.

Harry taps his fingers against his leg, then he sighs and says, “Sure.”

He takes the ring from Draco, though he knows the fact that it’s a ring is probably Draco’s way of taking a jab at him. The weight of it in his palm is surprising—it feels much heavier than Harry would have expected for the thin loop.

Draco straightens and looks at Harry indifferently.

“The Catalyst has accepted the offering,” Earl says evenly, and lifts his eyes to examine their bond. “No apparent change to the bond.”

His quill scratches across the ledger as he writes in this information.

“Does the Beneficiary have anything else to offer at this time?” he asks.

“No,” Draco says curtly.

“Please schedule a future appointment to report a change in the bond or make another offering,” Earl says. He stands, picks up the ledger, and shuffles off between the bookshelves.

“I told you I didn’t want any of this defensive stuff,” Harry says with a frown as he inspects the ring more closely.

“It’s not defensive,” Draco snaps. “It’s a healing ring. It won’t affect your partner or any other person you hold so dear. If you are injured or cursed, put it on and it will keep you from dying.”

Harry looks up at Draco with a small frown, and Draco sneers at him.

“I know, it’s a cop out. The ring is doing all the work,” Draco snarks. “Well, next time you’re gravely injured if you still feel it’s too cheap, feel free to die.”

Draco turns on his heel and walks out of the office, and Harry bites down on the hurt clenching around his chest and stomach. He swears under his breath, pockets the ring, and runs to catch up with him.

“Draco,” he calls.

Draco doesn’t stop until he gets to the lift and punches the button.

“Draco, please,” Harry says and moves in front of him. “I’m sorry. I was an arse, but I don’t want to fight. You just—you make it so bloody hard sometimes.”

Draco’s mouth is pinched, and he looks distinctly unimpressed with Harry.

“Can we just talk, please?”

“Why? Do you have some other crime you’d like to pin on me?” Draco asks waspishly.

“I was never trying to pin anything on you,” Harry argues urgently. “I know you—you’re mad and you feel vulnerable and exposed because of what happened, and you’re lashing out because you think you need to protect yourself. I know the only reason you said all that shit about using me was because you knew it would hurt me.”

“If you already know everything, then why bother talking to me about it?”

The lift doors open and Draco steps around Harry to walk in. Harry looks at him imploringly, but Draco hits the button for the Atrium and avoids his eye contact until the lift closes.

Harry groans and scrubs his hands through his hair, pulling at it in frustration.

When he gets back to the office, Susan tries to ask him about what happened, but Harry waves her off. He’s conflicted and frustrated and he needs time to process. Right now, all Harry wants to do is work the case and keep his mind off everything else.

He eats his lunch quickly and then they go out to talk to another one of the shopkeepers who was robbed. It’s a long and frustrating process. The shopkeeper is angry with how long it’s taken since they were robbed and that nothing seems to have been done about it in all this time. Harry has a difficult time staying calm when they’re being accused of not doing their jobs properly.

They interview two more people before they head back to the Ministry, working their way backwards through all the victims.

“That’s the last of them, right?” Harry asks irritably as they walk into their office.

“Yeah, he was the first to be robbed,” Susan says as she tacks a few notes under the shops on their board.

“Not much of a pattern, and any of them could be personal items,” Harry says as he looks over the board. “Watches, necklaces, rings, cloak pins, glasses, spellbooks, silverware. They’re all normal things you’d find in anyone’s house.”

“Sure,” Susan says, squinting at the board and reading over some of the notes. “Some of them had personal markings on them. Initials and messages. I think we should focus on those first. They’ll be easiest to track.”

Harry hums in agreement, leaning closer and reading over her shoulder.

“Maybe this one,” Susan says, tapping her finger on one of the notes pinned to the board. “The ring with the family crest.”

“Yeah,” Harry says and nods. “It’s a place to start, anyway. To the Archives?”

“It’s almost end of day—”

A letter folded into an origami crane swoops into their office and lands on Susan’s desk. She looks at it, glances at Harry, and moves to pick it up.

Harry waits as she reads through the letter, watching the way she frowns and chews her lip.

“From Millicent?” Harry guesses when she looks up at him.

“Yeah,” Susan says. “She wants to meet. Try to talk through things.”

“You should go,” Harry tells her and slips his hands into his pockets. He can feel the ring sitting heavily there and he fiddles with it.

She furrows her brow in thought. “If I leave, you have to go home too.”

Harry laughs. “I promise,” he says. “No more all-nighters. Go talk to her.”

Susan narrows her eyes and regards him suspiciously. After a moment she nods. She grabs her cloak from the coat rack and throws it around her shoulders, then she looks back at Harry and asks, “You coming?”

“I’m going to do a couple more things before I head home,” Harry says. When Susan frowns, he motions a cross over his heart and says, “Promise.”

“Alright, just don’t stay too late.”

“I won’t,” Harry says and waves her off. “Good luck.”

After Susan leaves, Harry pulls the ring out of his pocket and looks down at it. It feels strange to him. He can sense the magic woven into it, familiar and alien at once, and he’s not sure what to think of it.

If it can do what Draco says it can, then surely it will come in handy at some point. Harry wonders if it is a form of Druid magic that gives it its healing properties. Seems like the kind of object Madame Pomfrey would get good use out of.

Harry makes a mental note do a few tests on it later, and he tucks the ring back into his pocket. He turns back to their board outlining the case and all the stolen goods. He stares at it for a long time, reading through all the objects and trying to create a list of the best ones to try to research first.

The only things Harry and Susan know for certain is that the perpetrator is good with an Imperio, and masterful with an Obliviate. Even the Healers had been unable to restore any of the memories taken after the robberies, which left them looking at what was stolen, and trying to work back from there.

Other than the obvious motivation of taking money, they’d been left clueless as to motive for a long time. But if Duck’s insight is correct, and the items stolen have a personal connection to someone, then Harry is sure they’ll be able to finally make sense of things and start putting the pieces together.

He works his way backwards through the timeline, ending at the first robbery. Harry and Susan had spent a lot of time looking at this one in particular, hoping that if their perp was going to make a mistake it would be on their first hit. Nothing had ever panned out, as the robberies were virtually untraceable after the victims were Obliviated.

The first robbery had happened at a small antiques shop in Hogsmeade. The big-ticket item that was stolen was a pendant which had been kept in the safe. Harry and Susan had focused almost solely on it because of its worth and how it seemed too deliberate to go through the trouble of taking it from a safe.

It makes sense that they would go to such lengths to reclaim it if it’s a personal item lost during the war. But Harry starts to wonder if maybe it wasn’t the target. He reads through the list of other objects—napkin rings, a bracelet, and a camera. None of which are worth nearly as much as the pendant.

Harry tosses the idea of the napkin rings almost immediately. The bracelet seems like a possibility, though by its description it’s a simple silver thing, worth little. The camera isn’t worth much either. By its description, it’s an old model, well worn, and—Harry stops and blinks at the description. He reads it over a few times.

It’s a Muggle camera, adapted for use around magic.

Harry knows of only one such camera, and it belonged to a boy who had died in the War. A personal effect of a loved one who was murdered by Death Eaters.

Harry jumps up and leaves their office. He heads to the dark room where all the crime scene photographs get processed, wand in hand, and enters cautiously. A careful look around tells Harry that it’s empty, Dennis has already gone home for the night.

“Have you seen Dennis?” Harry asks the first officer he passes on his way through the department, but the officer shakes his head.

Harry looks around the department and spots Daphne at her desk.

“Hey Daphne!” he calls to her and hurries to her desk. “Have you seen Dennis about?”

She looks thoughtful for a moment, then shakes her head. “No, I think he usually leaves before I’m on shift.”

Harry hums and frowns. He looks around the room, chewing on his lip and furrowing his brow in thought.

“Are you okay?” she asks and tips her head to one side curiously.

“Uhm, yeah, no. I’m fine, I’m alright, thanks. Call me if you see him?” he asks.

“Sure, Harry,” she says, watching him warily.

Harry nods and walks away. He asks a couple more officers, but they all tell him they haven’t seen him in a while. Harry goes back to the office to grab his cloak, and he hesitates when thinking about calling Susan. He goes back and forth on it, then decides not to.

Harry has already caused enough trouble for her lately, and he was the reason Susan and Millicent broke up in the first place. If she has an opportunity to work things out with Millicent, Harry doesn’t want to interrupt that because of a hunch that might not pan out. Maybe he’s wrong and Muggle cameras converted for magical use are more common than he thinks.

Maybe he’ll end up having a friendly chat with Dennis and nothing else will come of it. Harry tongues his teeth as his stomach twists with the concern, but he decides he’ll only call her if it’s an emergency.

Harry makes his way down to the Atrium, then he draws his wand and Floos into Dennis’ house. He’s only mildly surprised that he’s allowed access. He’d come once before to be nice when Dennis was having a bad day and seemed like he needed a little support. It had been the most awkward two hours of Harry’s life.

“Dennis?” Harry calls as he steps from the fireplace. He gazes around the empty living room, wand raised and senses on alert. The house is dark and still.

“Lumos,” Harry murmurs and shines his light around the space.

A cold shiver travels up Harry’s spine. The odd sensation of being alone in a stranger’s house after dark sets Harry’s teeth on edge, but he presses forward. Harry moves slowly through the house, checking it room by room.

When Harry gets to Dennis’ office, the creepy sensation intensifies as he moves his light across the walls, revealing a line of framed articles, all of them about Harry. As he steps forward and looks more closely at them, he realises that they’re all articles about cases Harry solved which Dennis also worked on, photographing the crime scenes.

Dennis clearly worships Harry as a hero and wants to commemorate the times they’ve sort of worked together. It’s strange but not entirely mad. Harry has always known that Dennis was a bit obsessed with him. It isn’t evidence that he’s been robbing people.

Harry turns away from the articles to look at his desk, and there he finds copies of The Daily Prophet with more articles cut out of them. All about Harry.

Harry frowns and opens the desk drawers one by one. The first two don’t have much of interest—parchment, spare ink and quills, typical office supplies. The third is locked and Harry tries a few spells on it before it opens. There’s a thick file inside, which Harry takes out. He puts it on the desk and flips it open.

Harry sucks in a breath. The file is filled with photos. Photos of Harry, photos of Draco, and photos of them together.

In many of the photos Draco’s face is scratched out, crossed out, and even burned out in some of the ones where he’s sitting with Harry, laughing. Harry sets down his wand so he can use both hands to go through them.

Harry flips through the photos faster and faster. There’s so many, and Harry feels a rush of anger and fear and nausea the further in he gets. He knew Dennis was a bit starstruck, but he never thought it would go this far. He’s been following Harry and documenting his life for years. The photos go all the way back to Hogwarts, when Harry and Draco first struck up a reluctant friendship.

Many of the photos of Draco have angry words scrawled over them, calling him a liar, a killer, and a snake. Dennis hasn’t only been stalking Harry, he’s the one who’s been threatening Draco. Harry recognises it as the handwriting and the same speech patterns.

“Fuck,” Harry mutters. He needs to find Dennis before he does anything worse than vandalise Draco’s house.

A noise behind him makes Harry still. The hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He reaches slowly for his wand.

“Hold it, Harry,” Dennis says, and Harry stops. He turns his head slowly to see Dennis in the doorway, his wand raised, pointed at Harry.

“What are you doing, Dennis?” he asks quietly, edging his hand closer to his wand.

“Accio wand,” Dennis casts, and Harry’s wand flies off the desk to him.

Harry clenches his jaw and slowly turns to face him. He puts his hands up in entreaty and says, “It’s alright, whatever you’ve done, we can work this out.”

“It’s not alright!” Dennish shouts. “I tried to warn you! I tried to keep that Death Eater away from you! But he just keeps coming back. I don’t know how he did it. Those Malfoys always find some loophole. Like cockroaches, you can never get rid of them.”

Harry swallows and takes a slow step forward. “There’s still time, you can stop this before it goes too far.”

“Stop!” Dennis orders him, and Harry does. “I’m sorry, Harry. I didn’t want to do this. But you’ve given me no choice.”

“Dennis—”

“Stupefy!”

There’s a flash of red and his world goes dark.

Chapter Text

Harry wakes with a start. The space he’s in is cold and dark. He’s lying on a stone floor, and his body aches. There’s a damp, mildew smell to the air.

Harry pushes himself to sitting and looks around. He’s in a cell in a large, stone dungeon. The iron bars around him are old but sturdy looking with runes carved into them. The space is lit only by candlelight from a table on the far end of the room. A shadow of a man stands at the table with his back to Harry. It looks like Dennis.

He doesn’t seem to have noticed Harry yet, and Harry takes the opportunity to try to get his bearings. The dark shapes of vicious looking tools line the walls. Old wooden shelves are filled with jars, potions, and various objects. Chain and manacles hang from the walls. As Harry’s eyes focus in the dark, he starts to recognise the shape of torture devices.

A shiver racks Harry’s body from the cold, spidery sensation of Dark Magic permeating the space. He reaches for his wand, but his thigh harness with his holster and all his pouches is gone.

Harry is sat in one of a row of cells, at the end of which is the large shadow of something curling and twisted. It moves slowly, vines crawling forward. It’s a Venomous Tentacula. It looks like it’s worked its way into the dungeon through a cellar door and has taken over that end of the room. The vines have entirely enveloped the last cell and are crawling forward to the next.

Harry furrows his brow and looks to the other end of the dungeon, to a door not far from Dennis. It’s an old bronze door, one Harry recognises. He’s in Draco’s basement.

Harry scans the room again and this time his eyes catch on a dark shape in the corner of the cell next to his. Harry jumps to his feet and runs to him, reaching through the bars to grip at his cloak.

“Draco!” he calls, and the shape moves.

Draco lifts his head from his knees, and peers at Harry from his curled position on the floor. The vines of the Venomous Tentacula are wrapped around the cell after Draco’s and are inching closer to him.

“I was wondering when you would wake,” Dennis says from behind him.

Harry ignores him, gripping at Draco’s cloak and saying, “Draco! Are you okay?”

A sharp, metallic clang echoes around the room as Dennis strikes the bars on Harry’s cell.

“Don’t talk to him!” Dennis shouts. “I’m speaking to you!”

Harry cuts a glare to Dennis, then looks back at Draco. Draco watches him quietly, his eyes dark. Harry imagines him in his snake form. He imagines his sharp eyes and patterned scales, and he says, “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” Draco hisses quietly.

“Stop speaking that filth!” Dennis screams and slashes his wand at Harry.

A spell hits Harry and flings him into the wall. He gasps and crumples to the ground as the air is knocked from his lungs.

“I didn’t want to do this to you Harry, but you’ve given me no choice,” Dennis says.

Harry coughs and pushes himself to sitting. He takes a minute to get his breathing back to normal and asks, “Do what, Dennis?”

“This!” Dennis shouts and gestures widely at their situation. “I never wanted this, Harry! I don’t want to hurt you, but I tried to warn you! I tried to keep you away from him.” He jabs a finger toward Draco.

“We can work this out,” Harry begins, but Dennis shakes his head and laughs manically.

“Don’t you think we’re a bit too far past that?” he spits. “I tried to warn you off. All the way back in Hogwarts I tried to stop you, but that snake already had its coils wrapped around you.”

“So you cursed him?” Harry asks, trying to keep his voice even. He’s going to get out of this, and when he does, he’s going to have a full confession from Dennis so he can put him away for the rest of his life.

“That’s right. I saw him dragging you down, getting you to help him with his Animagus. And you were completely blind to it. He shouldn’t be allowed free, let alone learning more dangerous magic!”

“What did you do?” Harry asks. “How did you do it?”

“Swapped his Animagus potion. I made it so no one could ever mistake what he is, and so you could finally see it!” Dennis turns a glare on Draco and sneers. “I should have killed him then. I should have known he would have found a way to slither out of it.”

Dennis stalks down to Draco’s cell and raises his wand. “How did you do it? How were you able to change back? It was supposed to be permanent!”

“Guess you’re not as smart as you thought,” Draco spits.

“Crucio,” Dennis snarls.

The screams echo around the dungeon as Draco writhes on the floor in pain.

Harry jumps to his feet and slams against the bars of his cell. He tries to reach through to Draco, but he’s rolled away from the bars and out of reach. “Stop! Dennis, stop! Please!” he yells. “Tell me what you want! I’ll do whatever you want, just let him go!”

“What I want?” Dennis snarls, cutting off the curse and stalking back to Harry. “What I wanted was to be your friend! But you picked this lowly Death Eater over me again and again!”

“I’m sorry, Dennis,” Harry says, putting on a sincere look. “Give me a chance—”

“You’ve had your chance. You had a lot of chances. It’s too late now, there’s no going back.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to kill you, Harry. I didn’t want it to come to this, but you’ve given me no choice,” Dennis says and sighs. “I got rid of him once before, but it wasn’t enough. I tried to warn you off, but that didn’t work either. He’s got his hooks too deep in you.

“But it’s okay. You will die a hero. You’ll be a martyr. Once it comes to light that that snake killed the Boy Who Lived, that he held you here in his secret Dark dungeon to torture and kill you, everyone will remember the War. Everyone will fight back against them. And they will finally be dealt with as they should have been. He never should have walked free. They should have died, the lot of them.”

“Dennis, this isn’t you. Killing people, using Unforgivables, this is Dark. Your brother died in the war fighting against this,” Harry says imploringly.

“Don’t talk to me about my brother!” Dennis shouts. “He died because of people like him.” He points viciously at Draco. “Colin was so bloody happy to find out he was a wizard. To discover this whole new world of magic. He loved Hogwarts. He adored you. We both did. But people like him spat at us, bullied us, told us we didn’t belong. They killed my brother and now the world just wants to move on!”

“No one is moving on, no one has forgotten,” Harry grits out, struggling to keep his tone even. “You think you’re the only person who lost someone in the War? A lot of people were lost.”

“But you have! You have forgotten, otherwise you wouldn’t be spending all your time with him! Protecting him, defending him, and all the others like him!” Dennis spits and gestures angrily. “Charles should have got a fucking medal for killing that Snatcher.”

“You know him?” Harry asks in surprise.

“Of course I know him! I’ve been doing what you won’t and helping good people who lost things in the war. Charles was just as angry as I was about the state of things.”

“And you’ve been helping people by Imperiusing innocent victims to do your bidding? Robbing people? How does that follow?” Harry asks with a shake of his head. “You’re using Dark Arts.”

“All we have of our loved ones are what they left behind, but because of those plundering snakes we don’t even have that much. They took our families, our lives. Now these greedy aresholes profit by selling the spoils of war. It’s disgusting,” Dennis spits. “When I saw Colin’s camera there in that shop…”

Dennis trails off. Harry can see the fury in his eyes and in the way his neck muscles contract.

“I couldn’t stand by anymore,” Dennis says, looking at Harry distantly for a moment, and then he turns and walks back to the table.

Harry curses himself. He should have known. He should have seen this coming. Dennis always seemed nice enough, but the hero worship had never gone away.

Harry knows Dennis enjoys working with the DMLE, but he has tried out for the Aurors on several occasions and failed the training. Robards wouldn’t even let him into Patrol. That paired with Harry’s reluctance to befriend him, Draco’s return, and finding his brother’s camera in a pawn shop forms a clear picture of what sent him off the rails.

There’s no point in talking to Dennis now. He’s beyond reasoning.

Harry looks back to Draco, who is pressed to the corner next to Harry’s cell, as far from the Venomous Tentacula as he can get.

“What’s the plan, Dennis?” Harry asks. “You can’t pin this on Draco if he’s dead. You can still let him go. Take me, whatever you want, just let him go.”

Dennis laughs coldly. “The fact that you would willingly die for him only proves my point. You’re beyond saving. But your death will still have meaning. Draco will take an accidental bite from his Venomous Tentacula, ending his reign of terror, and once your bodies are discovered, the Wizengamot will have to take my proposal for stronger penalties against Dark wizards seriously.”

“Then that would include you!” Harry snaps. “You’ve been going around using the darkest of curses on innocent people in the name of some ridiculous crusade! And now you’re going to kill me? You’re no better than them.”

“Oh, but it’s not me who’s cursing you, Harry. It’s Draco,” Dennis says, turning and waving Draco’s wand pointedly.

Harry curses under his breath. He turns and looks down to Draco. He already looks defeated, and it makes anger swell in Harry to see it.

“Draco,” he says, and Draco lifts his head to look at him. “Can you transform?” Draco shakes his head.

“I told you not to talk like that!” Dennis yells, twisting around and charging back to Harry. He slashes the wand at Draco and sends him flying to the other side of the cell. Draco hits the bars hard and screams as the Tentacula curls around him and bites at his arms and legs, right through his robes.

“Draco!” Harry cries as Draco fights off the vines, ripping them from his body as they try to wind around him. He manages to pull free and throw himself across the cell, out of their reach. Harry grabs onto Draco’s robes and steadies him as Draco presses his back to the bars between them, panting and shaking.

Harry turns a hateful glare on Dennis. Dennis sneers, raises Draco’s wand and casts, “Crucio.”

Harry drops to the floor as unimaginable pain racks his body. It feels like knives are driving themselves into every inch of his skin and tearing him apart. Harry feels like he can’t breathe, but he needs it to stop.

“Stop,” he gasps between screams. The pain ends.

Harry’s muscles are still twitching and contracting with the strain of being Cruciated. He gulps in desperate breaths of air and looks up at Dennis. Dennis is staring at Draco’s wand in anger and confusion.

Harry doesn’t understand why or how he stopped. He’s only glad it’s over for now. After a moment, Dennis turns away and returns to the table. He keeps flipping through a book sat on it until he finds what he’s looking for.

“Here we go,” Dennis says in a pleased tone. “I know which curse I’m going to use now, Harry.”

He picks up the spellbook and turns to Harry, reading out the curse to him.

“The Lingering Death,” Dennis says with a vicious smirk. “Also known as the Curse of a Thousand Cuts. Fitting, for every cut you dealt me every time you ignored me. Every time you blew me off. Every time you chose a Death Eater over me.”

Harry is surprised when Draco sits up taller and directs a fierce glare at Dennis.

“Just kill me, you fanatical arsehole!” Draco spits at him. “Kill me and leave Boy Wonder out of this. Isn’t that what you want? Kill me and Harry will be freed from the spell I’ve supposedly put him under.”

Dennis glances at Draco and shakes his head. “No, your death will come soon enough. If not by that venom in those bites, then once the Tentacula grows long enough to strangle you.”

Dennis raises Draco’s wand at Harry and says, “Caedere Millies.”

At first it seems like nothing happens. Then a sharp pain cuts across Harry’s arm, and he looks down to find a long, thin cut in the skin there. Drops of blood pool around the cut and tip over into a small stream.

After a few seconds, another cut opens over his stomach. Harry gasps at the pain and watches as a small red stain blooms on his shirt.

“I’m sorry it had to end this way, Harry,” Dennis says, shaking his head sadly.

“Fuck you,” Harry spits. He’s tired of playing nice. He’s tired of trying to keep calm. “You know why I never wanted to be friends with you? Because I could tell you were batshit crazy! When I get out of this, I’m going to personally see that you rot in Azkaban right next to all the Dark witches and wizards you despise!”

Dennis laughs. He tosses the Dark spellbook and Draco’s wand back onto the table and says, “Even you can’t survive this. You’re already dead.”

Harry seethes quietly as Dennis turns away. He leaves the dungeon, shutting the heavy, bronze door behind him with a definitive thud.

Draco groans in pain and Harry rushes to the corner of his cell, drops to his knees and reaches through the bars to grab Draco. “Draco! Draco are you okay?”

“The ring! Do you have the ring?” Draco asks desperately.

“Ring? What—?”

“The ring I gave you today! Do you have it?” Draco snaps and hisses out a pained breath.

“No, Dennis took my pouches, I don’t—” Harry puts his hand in his pocket and there is the ring. “Wait, I do have it.”

“Put it on!” Draco urges him.

Harry slides it out of his pocket and hesitates. He frowns as he watches the firelight catch on the red stone, shining like blood. Draco groans in pain. New cuts are opening in Harry’s skin with every passing second, becoming more painful and making him lose more and more blood. Harry bites his lip, then slides the ring onto his finger.

Almost immediately, the pain from his wounds recedes. Harry watches in awe as the cuts that had formed over his hands and arms close.

Draco hisses, then exhales a shaky breath.

“Were you in pain because I was cursed? Because of the life debt?” Harry asks, watching as Draco takes several long, concentrated breaths.

“Yes,” he breathes.

Harry is quiet a moment as Draco collects himself. A new cut opens on Harry’s hand, and he winces, then watches as it knits itself closed almost as soon as it’s opened. It seems the ring doesn’t stop the curse, but it does heal the damage.

“How are we going to get out of here?” Harry asks and looks around the room.

“We’re not,” Draco snaps. “Well, maybe you will. I’m going to die here.”

Harry’s stomach churns with the thought. “No, you’re not. We’re going to find a way out of this and get you to the hospital.”

Draco laughs at him. “Why do you even care, Potter?”

“Because we are friends,” Harry says stubbornly. “Because I care about you, and I don’t want to see you die.”

Draco shakes his head and gives a cold smile. “We were never friends. You always thought I was up to something,” Draco sighs. “Ever since I came back, you’ve looked at me with distrust. Looked for any evidence that I was up to no good again.”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it,” Harry argues. “I have trusted you, but you haven’t done yourself any favours.”

Draco scoffs and turns a skeptical look on Harry. “I’ve noticed the way you act now. Constantly scanning the room. Tracking everyone else’s movements. Always making a point of sitting with a wall to your back. Watching my hands, analysing my expressions.”

Harry frowns a little. “Constant vigilance,” he murmurs. The phrase falls from his lips automatically.

“Are you like that with the rest of your friends and family too? Or is it just me?” Draco asks with a sneer. “You haven’t been my friend, you’ve been an Auror.”

“I am an Auror, I can’t just turn that off like a switch,” Harry says. “I know you’re angry that I interrogated you, I know you’re angry that I took you into custody. But I had to. Taking the case was the best way for me to protect you.”

“I’m not angry at you because you arrested me. I’m angry because you didn’t trust me!” Draco bites out.

Harry sighs and purses his lips. He hesitates, and then argues, “How can I trust you when you do things like hide a Dark forge in your workshop?”

Draco’s eyes go wide in surprise and jump to meet Harry’s.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Harry says irritably. “I found it. And I know you’ve been using it. But I didn’t report it because I don’t want to arrest you for nothing. You’re my friend and I protected you every way I could. I lied in my report. I lied to my partner for you. I covered it up because I wanted to trust you. I wanted to hear your explanation before jumping to conclusions.”

Draco frowns and looks away from Harry.

“I ran myself ragged doing everything I could to get you out. I knew you were innocent, even if you’d lied to me, even if you hid your condition, and even though you hid a Dark forge in your workshop.”

“I…” Draco starts and trails off. He sighs and says, “I was using it to destroy some of the Dark objects I’d found. Not all of them are so easy to get rid of.”

“You haven’t been using it to craft anything Dark?”

Draco licks his lips and shakes his head. “No.”

Harry narrows his eyes at Draco. He’s not entirely convinced. “I want to trust you,” he says slowly.

“Then trust me,” Draco snaps. “You say you’re my friend but you’re still treating me like a suspect.”

Harry frowns and regards Draco. Draco meets his gaze steadily for a moment, then he winces and closes his eyes tightly. Harry curses under his breath and shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Draco. I didn’t want things to be like this.”

Draco gives a wry smile.

“I was really happy when I saw you’d come back,” Harry says quietly, and Draco’s surprised gaze jumps up to meet his. “I’ve missed you, these long years.”

Draco swallows hard, eyes jumping between Harry’s intently.

“Ever since you left, I felt like...like something was missing,” Harry says, and Draco frowns at him. “It’s true. I’ve never understood it, but you always got under my skin. After the War I felt alone. I felt like I had no one to turn to. I was surrounded by people who cared about me, but who couldn’t understand what was going on inside me. And then there you were. Struggling, fighting the same battle. When I was with you, I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t feel...dead inside anymore.”

Draco bites his lip and gives Harry a small nod of understanding.

“And if we’re going to die here, I don’t want to still be fighting with you. If you were just using me, if it all meant nothing to you, then fine. You can feel that way. But I want you to know that I do care about you.”

Draco is quiet for a long moment, his shadowed eyes studying Harry.

“I was using you,” Draco begins, and Harry’s heart sinks. “At first, anyway. I didn’t understand what you were thinking when you inserted yourself into my Animagus training. I thought maybe...maybe you were trying to sabotage me. But then I thought, if you were going to insist on spending time with me, I could at least use that to my advantage.”

Harry swallows and nods as Draco takes a long pause.

Draco licks his lips, then continues, “And at first I liked the prestige of being Harry Potter’s friend. It made me feel important that the Saviour of the Wizarding World would deign to spend time with me. I think that’s probably what I wanted when I tried to make friends with you in our first year.”

Harry snorts out a small laugh and shakes his head. “Of course, eleven-year-old you only wanted to be my friend as a status symbol.”

Draco turns a small smile on him, and it makes Harry’s chest swell with warmth and sadness. “But after a while...after I stopped pretending to listen to you and really started hearing you, I realised that you were just as lonely as me. Just as desperate to break from the shackles we’d never known we were wearing. I tried to escape through Animagus training. I think you were trying to escape by befriending me. Proving to everyone that biases existed on both sides, but that fences could be mended, even after a War. You always were so ridiculously idealistic.”

Draco hisses in pain and curls tighter on himself. Harry takes Draco’s hand. He squeezes it gently, and Draco squeezes back.

Harry is fighting his own battle with the pain of his curse. Cuts keep opening over his body. But the pain barely lasts a second before the magic of Draco’s ring mends each wound.

“After I was cursed, I thought you were the one who did it,” Draco says quietly.

“What?" Harry asks in shock. “Draco, I never would have.”

“I know. I know now,” Draco says and shakes his head. “But you were one of the few who knew that I was training to be an Animagus. I was angry and scared and didn’t know what to think.”

“I wouldn’t have,” Harry says again firmly. He squeezes Draco’s hand and runs his other hand up and down his back.

Harry bites down on his lip hard, watching Draco. Watching him shiver and whimper as the venom works its way through his system. There’s a cut from the vines on Draco’s cheek, and Harry moves his hand to wipe away the blood. His skin is cold to the touch, and Harry cups his cheek. Draco closes his eyes and leans into Harry’s hand.


“I missed you too,” Draco admits quietly. “I cared about you. I’ll admit I was surprised when I realised it...when I realised I wasn’t spending time with you anymore for the renown, but because I wanted to. Because I cared about you. I still do. I have for a long time.”

Harry nods. He sweeps his hand through Draco’s hair to the back of his neck. “I’m going to get you out of here,” Harry tells him quietly.

Draco shakes his head. “It’s okay, Harry,” he says, opening his eyes to look up at him. “I’ve been living a half-life for years. I don’t know that I’ll ever break this curse. I came here hoping maybe I could, but it doesn’t matter. Forcing myself into my human form...it takes a lot. I’m tired. I’ve been ready for death for a long time now.”

“Don’t talk like that,” Harry says firmly. “We’ll get out of this, and then I’ll do everything I can to help you break the curse.”

Draco gives a little smile, but it’s a resigned one. He closes his eyes, and Harry can see that he’s flagging from the venom.

“You want Dennis to win?” Harry challenges and gives him a little shake. “Come on, when he comes back here and finds that I’m not dead, he’s just going to kill me too. Help me get us out of here.”

Draco opens his eyes and looks at Harry. “With what?” he asks. “These cells are inescapable. See those runes? They absorb any magic you try to use here. The enchantments are near impenetrable.”

“Can’t you turn into a snake? You could fit between them,” Harry suggests, but Draco shakes his head.

“I don’t have control of it. I’m stuck as a human until my treatment wears off.”

“How long will that be?” Harry asks.

Draco gives a weak shrug. “Soon, maybe. I don’t know that I’ll last long enough.”

Harry clenches his jaw and furrows his brow. There has to be a way out. Harry only just got Draco back and he’s determined not to lose him again.

Harry squeezes Draco’s neck gently then stands. He moves across his cell, looking around inside and outside of it. He tests the strength of the bars, but even old as they are they would be impossible to move or break. When he’s focusing on it, he can feel the Dark Magic woven into them.

Scanning the room, his eyes stop on Draco’s wand. Dennis left it on the table by the Dark spellbook. Hope flares in him at the sight of it.

“Accio wand,” Harry says, lifting his hand for it, but nothing happens. He’s wandless magic isn’t great, but he squares his shoulders and tries again, “Accio wand.”

“It’s no use, Harry,” Draco says tiredly. “I told you, your magic can’t reach beyond these cells.”

Harry glances at Draco with a frown, then he looks back to the wand. Surely there’s some way to use it. He stares at it, and the dark, twisted wood, coiled at the end almost like a snake.

“Come,” Harry hisses at it.

The wand trembles and rolls a short way until it bumps into the spellbook.

Harry grips onto the bars in excitement and tries again, “Come to me.”

The wand twists and rolls off the table, hitting the ground with a clack.

“The core,” Draco murmurs behind him, and Harry glances back to find Draco sitting up taller, looking at the wand with a spark of interest. “It’s Horned serpent horn. It’s responsive to Parseltongue.”

Harry nods and looks to the wand on the floor. “Come,” he orders it. The wand shakes and starts rolling toward him. When it catches on the rough stone flooring, Harry encourages it again until it’s finally close enough. Harry kneels down and reaches through the bars, grabbing the wand and jumping up with it.

He slashes the wand at the cell door and casts every unlocking charm he knows on it. The spells form, and then dissipate as soon as they hit the bars to no effect, except to make the runes glow an icy blue as they absorb each spell. He tries another round of spells, throwing every hex he knows at the door to break it, but it doesn’t budge.

“Fuck,” Harry curses, panting and sweating with the exertion. He turns and heads back to Draco. If he can’t get the cell open immediately, the least he can do is heal Draco in the meantime. “Let me heal you.”

Draco gives him a small smile and shakes his head. “I told you. It won’t work in here.”

Harry sets his jaw and tries anyway. “Repairifors.”

The runes carved into the cell bars between them glow a bright blue for a few seconds. Nothing else happens. Draco somehow looks smug that he was right.

“Damnit, Draco!” Harry cries in frustration. “You’re fucking dying, don’t look so happy!”

Draco chuckles and then sighs. “It’s okay, Harry.”

“No, I’m not going to let you die! I’m not going to lose you again,” Harry says adamantly, and Draco’s eyes widen in surprise. “I only just got you back.”

Draco frowns and watches Harry thoughtfully. His gaze moves away, shifting around the room in thought. After a moment he bites his lip and looks back to Harry. “There’s one thing we can try.”

“What?” Harry asks, eager for any solution.

Draco holds his hand out expectantly, gesturing for his wand.

“Draco, no. You need to save your energy,” Harry tells him.

“It’s the only way,” Draco says. “Do you trust me?”

Harry’s mouth twists down, feeling conflicted. After a short hesitation, Harry turns the wand around and sets it in Draco’s palm.

Draco wraps his fingers around the wand and gives Harry a small smile. He holds his other hand out and says, “Help me up.”

Harry reaches through the bars and takes Draco’s hand. He grabs under his elbow with his other hand and pulls him to standing. Draco sways and grips at Harry until he gets his balance.

The sound of liquid dripping catches Harry’s attention. He looks down. There’s a dark puddle on the floor, nearly black in the dim lighting, but the distant flickering of candlelight shows it to be a dark red.

Blood is dripping through Draco’s robes onto the floor. Harry looks down at his hand and finds a smear of blood.

“Draco,” he begins in confusion and looks back to him.

His black robes and the dim lighting made it difficult to see, but now that Harry’s aware of it, he can see the stains of blood soaking through the wool.

“What is this? Why…?” Harry trails off when he notices more cuts across Draco’s face that weren’t there before, and Harry sucks in a breath. “What have you done?”

“What I had to,” he says and gives a small, rueful smile. He lifts his hand and shows a dark ring that matches Harry’s. “Guess I’m not such a bad liar after all.”

“Draco!” Harry tries to grab for him, but Draco steps back, out of his reach. “Fuck,” Harry curses and tries to pull the ring off of his finger, but it won’t budge.

“Don’t bother. It won’t come off until it’s finished transferring your curse to me,” Draco tells him and walks unsteadily to the door of his cell. He grabs onto the bars to help keep him on his feet.

Harry keeps trying to tug the ring off, but it won’t move. He curses himself for not recognising the vampiric ring for what it is. He knew something felt off about it, and he never should have put it on. If Draco weren’t already in peril from the venom surging through his veins, feeding his life force into Harry and taking every one one of his wounds onto himself is certain to finish him off.

“Draco,” Harry says desperately, throwing himself onto the bars beside Draco and reaching for him. “Draco, please. We can figure out another way.”

“It’s too late, Harry,” Draco says, looking at him with a fond smile. “You can’t protect me anymore. But maybe, for once, I can save you.”

“Draco,” Harry calls to him, face twisted in anguish.

Draco turns away from Harry, raises his wand and casts, “Victurus ignis.”

The cursed flame springs from Draco’s wand and throws itself against the bars. The runes glow bright blue, and the flame seems to dissipate against it initially, but Draco straightens his stance and pushes harder, strengthening the jet of flame erupting from his wand.

The living flame gets bigger and brighter, swirling and forming into the heads of snakes that lash out at the iron bars. The iron begins to glow red, then orange, getting brighter and brighter as it heats up until it’s white hot.

Sweat runs down Draco face and blood drips from his wand hand, but he doesn’t stop. Harry has to take a step back as the Fiendfyre gets bigger, and wilder, and hotter.

One of the fiery serpents veer off from the pack and lashes out at Harry, but it crashes like water against the bars and scatters apart in a shower of sparks.

More Medusa-esque flames curl and twist away from the main serpent attacking the cell as Draco starts to lose control of the spell. As the heat increases, the vines of the Venomous Tentacula shrink back and away, but the fire chases after it and catches on it. The vines tangled around Draco’s cell erupt into flames.

“Draco! Cut it off!” Harry yells over the roar of the flames. “Put it out before it’s too late!”

Draco ignores him and keeps his focus on channeling the fire. The iron is melting under the heat, and the runes around the area fade and go dark.

The large head of a fiery serpent breaks through the bars, and Draco swishes his wand, directing it to the lock on Harry’s cell door.

“That’s enough! Put it out!” Harry shouts, sweat trickling down his temple as the room fills with heat and smoke.

Draco doesn’t stop. Half of his cell is up in uncontrolled flames as the Fiendfyre consumes the Tentacula. The fire Draco still has under control twists around the lock and makes shorter work of the iron from the outside, not having to fight against the magic absorbing enchantments laid on the inside of the bars.

With a twist of his wrist and a large flourish of his hand, Draco reels as much of the fire back into his wand as will listen to him.

As soon as the fire is out of the way, Harry bursts from his cell to get to Draco’s, but the flames are swirling inside, filling the cell rapidly. Smoke fills Harry’s lungs as he tries to move closer.

The flames crash together, condensing and forming into larger snakes that beat against the cell containing them and circle Draco. The iron bars of the cell around him glow red-hot. Draco staggers back and falls to the floor.

“Draco!” Harry screams at him. He lifts his head and looks up at Harry, his eyes drooping with the effort to stay conscious.

The Fiendfyre coils around him, forming the enormous head of a basilisk. It opens its jaws wide.


Draco seems either unaware or unconcerned with his fate. He closes his eyes and cringes, curling inward. His human body shifts and shrinks down into a neat coil of scaled skin that shimmers in the firelight.

The open mouth of the fiery basilisk crashes down over his body and Harry screams for him.

The rest of the bars of Draco’s cell are melting rapidly, and more of the fire is reaching out of its prison in serpentine tendrils.

Harry has to step further and further back from it as it grasps for him, all while Harry shakes his head and keeps repeating, “No, no, no.”

This can’t be it. Draco can’t die here. He isn’t dead, he can’t be.

He wants to scream and fight and run into the flames to rescue him, but the Fiendfyre will turn him to ash before he can get a foot inside the cell.

The main body of the tentacula outside the cells has erupted in flame and the room is rapidly filling with fire and smoke. Harry’s eyes sting and his lungs burn from it. Coils of serpents strike out at him, getting bigger and faster by the second and he has to retreat.

Harry turns heel and runs for the door. His thigh harness is laying on the table by the door, and Harry snatches it on his dash out. He grabs the heavy, bronze handle and yanks the door open, throwing himself out of the room. His shoulder smacks into the opposite wall at the bottom of the stairwell. Harry clambers up the stairs, using his hands for the first few steps until he gets his feet and gets enough momentum to take the last of the stairs two at a time.

When he gets to the landing, Harry glances behind him, but the Fiendfyre is only just reaching through the door at the bottom.

Harry turns and runs out of the house, bursting out of the front doors and collapsing on the doorstep.

He takes a second to gulp down clean breaths of air, then he shoves his hand into one of his Auror pouches. He swirls his hand through the items, digging and digging and never seeming to find what he’s looking for. It feels like it takes hours before his hand finally lands on the cold, round metal texture of his compact mirror.

Harry pulls the mirror out and flicks it open. “Call—call Susan,” Harry says, coughing.

For once, Giselle doesn’t mess about with decorum when she sees Harry’s face, and she connects to Susan’s mirror.

Susan answers the call mid-laugh and looks to her mirror with a grin. Her face falls as soon as she sees Harry. “Harry? What’s happened?” she asks urgently, jumping to her feet.

“Fiendfyre. At Draco’s,” Harry says, struggling to find the words to explain the situation. “It’s—it’s out of control.”

“I’ll be right there, are you hurt? Are you safe?” she asks, but Harry doesn’t know how to answer, he just shakes his head and coughs from the smoke tearing at his lungs.

He knows he needs to get away from the house. The Fiendfyre will spread rapidly, and the area isn’t safe. Harry closes his compact, cutting off the call, and pulls himself to his feet.

Harry drags himself as far down the drive as he can manage until his legs become weak, and nausea overtakes him. He stumbles and falls to his knees next to a tree, putting a hand on it to steady himself. He gags, lurches forward, and empties his stomach onto the ground.

Harry’s eyes sting from the smoke and the realisation that Draco is dead.

Draco is dead.

Harry’s arms shake, and his whole body begins to tremble. Nausea curls low in his belly, threatening to clench at his stomach again.

The ring on his finger glints, reflecting the firelight. Harry rips the thing off and chucks it.

Harry turns and collapses against the tree, leaning back on it and covering his face with his hands.

It’s his fault. It always is. How many times has Harry lost someone he cared about this way? How many more times will it happen?

He’s cursed. Harry is cursed to hurt anyone who gets too close to him.

That old, familiar despondence creeps down Harry’s spine, turning his rage and denial and grief into a cold numbness. He doesn’t know what he feels. He doesn’t feel anything. His mind is blank. He can’t process the situation, because it’s not possible. Draco can’t be dead. He can’t be.

Harry drops his hands and looks down the path at the house. The Fiendfyre has bloomed over the property, pouring out of the windows, slithering across the roof, and encircling the house in serpentine coils. The fire is racing over the grass and into nearby trees, sending a thick, black column of smoke into the air.

The distant pops of Apparition barely register in Harry’s mind as he watches Draco’s house collapse and be consumed by the living flame.

“Harry!” Susan shouts, and she drops to the ground next to him, grabbing at him.

Harry looks up at her. He sees her lips moving, but he doesn’t hear the words over the low buzzing in his ears. He turns his head to look back at the house as Aurors rush into the scene, surrounding the fire and beating it back with the counter curse.

“Harry! Look at me!” Susan keeps trying to get his attention. “Are you hurt? Tell me what happened. Where’s Draco?”

The name cuts through the white, buzzing fog in Harry’s brain, and he looks at her. “Draco,” he says and tries to swallow, but his mouth is too dry. “Draco—” His throat closes, and he can’t get the words out. Harry lifts a hand and points to the fire.

Susan follows the gesture, gazing at the house. Her expression twists in sympathy. “Come on,” she says after a moment, looking back at Harry. “We need to get you to St Mungo’s.”

“No, no,” Harry says, shaking his head and coughing. “I need to—I need to stay. I need to be with him.”

“Harry,” Susan says softly. She puts a hand on his shoulder and looks at him sadly.

“Don’t,” Harry says. The command comes out quietly, barely above a whisper, more like a plea.

Susan watches him for a long moment. Her brow furrows, but then she gives a small nod. She glances to the puddle of sick, and she draws her wand and vanishes it. Harry doesn’t care about the mess, but he is glad to have the smell gone. It was feeding his nausea.

Susan conjures a glass, fills it with water, and hands it to him. “Here,” she says.

Harry almost doesn’t take it, because what does it matter? What does anything matter anymore? But she pushes it on him.

The water is a relief to his dry, acrid palette. Harry takes a few deep swallows, then he takes a mouthful, swishes it around and spits it out on the ground to his left.

Susan is rubbing his arm consolingly with a pitying expression.

He grips at her wrist and looks at her imploringly. “Help them,” he says, cutting his eyes to the Aurors wrestling with the Fiendfyre. “I’m fine.”

Susan looks conflicted.

“Please,” Harry whispers. He doesn’t want to leave, and he doesn’t want to see her looking at him like that. He just needs to be here.

Susan swallows, then nods and stands. She heads up the path to the house with a backwards glance at Harry.

Harry exhales a long breath. He rinses his mouth again and gulps down more of the water as he watches the Aurors putting out the fire distantly. It takes all of them to put out such a large, out of control Fiendfyre.

By the time it’s extinguished entirely, the whole of the manor is a pile of ash. The stone skeleton of the workshop sits next to it, charred but not entirely gone. The surrounding grounds and trees have all burned down.

Harry stares at the remains of Draco’s home, reduced to nothing, just like him.

Memories of his time here with Draco flood his mind. Laughing, arguing, bumping shoulders, playing games, kissing.

His chest tightens, and his throat constricts. His vision blurs, and the tears threaten to spill over onto his ash covered cheeks. The grief in Harry is a physical being, twisting his insides into knots, sending hot and cold flashes across his skin, and turning his stomach with nausea.

Harry twists his hands in his shirt and curls on himself. He inhales a shaky breath and tries to hold himself together.

Commotion around the house gets Harry to look up. The Aurors are running and shouting at each other to, “Get them! Stop them! Before they start more fires!”

The ash covered ground seems alive with movement, almost like waves in the sea. Harry furrows his brow and puts a hand on the tree to push himself to standing. He staggers a few steps closer to the remains of the house, and then he recognises them.

Hundreds of ashwinders are pouring from the embers of the fire. Harry swallows as he watches all of them and takes a few steps closer.

The Aurors are rushing about, trying to freeze them and collect them all before they start laying eggs. Harry can’t help but watch in wonder and a twinge of bitterness at the show of life springing from death.

Harry’s eyes scan across the sea of snakes and a small, irrational flicker of hope lights in his chest.

Thoughts of, maybe, and please, run through Harry’s mind. But there’s no sign of the brown and copper banding of Draco’s snakeskin. It’s an ocean of ashen grey.

Harry moves slowly forward through the ash and the rubble. Little of the house remains standing. The destructive force of the Fiendfyre consumed wood, metal and stone alike. Harry walks through the ghosts of the rooms that once existed, the layout of the walls and paths and doorways seared into Harry’s mind.

In the middle of it is a gaping, blackened hole in the foundation where the dungeon was. The dungeon is filled with ashwinders, twisting around each other, seeking an exit or a dark corner to curl up in. His eyes scan the waves of serpents, but none of them pay him any mind.

The initial surge of ashwinders begins to slow and less of them are coming from the remains of the house. Harry crosses his arms over his chest and tries to swallow down the disappointment.

He knew it was stupid to hope. Draco was the point of origin for the fire. It would have been impossible for him to survive.

Harry starts to turn away, no longer able to to look at the tomb, but new movement catches his eye.

The pile of ash in what was Draco’s cell moves and shifts. The grey head of an ashwinder emerges, and then moves forward, out of the ash. It’s larger than the others, with a somewhat different patterning. Instead of the speckled greys, it’s striped with different shades of grey.

“Draco?” Harry breathes, the spark of hope igniting in his chest.

It lifts its head, and its orange eyes, glowing like hot coals, fix intently on Harry.

Harry doesn’t think, he jumps down into the basement without hesitation, landing hard on his feet but catching himself on his hands. He bounces up and rushes to the snake, jumping over other ashwinders as he goes.

He slides to a halt a few feet from the snake, and then he doesn’t know what to do. Is he insane? Is he imagining the way the ashwinder is watching him intelligently?

In the blink of an eye, the snake shifts up into a man. Into Draco. He’s covered in soot and blood. His robes are charred and tacky with bloodstains, but his eyes are alight with life. A grin spreads over his face and he throws himself at Harry.

For a moment Harry isn’t sure whether he’s dreaming or not. Maybe he’s having a complete mental breakdown. He doesn’t know.

All he knows is that Draco feels warm and solid. Harry can feel Draco’s arms wrapped around his body and his breath ghosting against his neck.

“Harry,” Draco murmurs, and that—his name spoken barely above a whisper—is what breaks him.

Harry’s throat constricts, and his eyes flood with tears that finally spill over. He wraps his arms around Draco and grips at his robes, twisting the fabric in his hands.

Harry doesn’t know how long they stay like that. He feels like he’s weightless and floating outside his body, watching himself hugging Draco. He doesn’t know if this is real, or if the whirlwind of emotions has sent him over the edge.

Harry tugs with his grip on Draco’s robes to pull him back just far enough to look at him. Draco looks so fucking happy, and Harry doesn’t understand it. He lets go of Draco’s robes and slides his hands around and up over his cheeks, needing to feel the warmth of his skin to believe it’s true.

Harry swallows hard to loosen the tightness in his throat, suppressing a new wave of tears as he shifts his gaze between Draco’s pale grey eyes. Draco’s grin softens into something less manic—something warmer.

“You arsehole,” Harry grits between his teeth, shaking Draco in his frustration. “You fucking arsehole.”

Draco laughs, and it’s the best sound Harry has ever heard.

Harry pulls Draco down into a fierce kiss. It’s messy and desperate and uncoordinated. It’s anger and relief and passion.

Draco grips tighter to Harry and kisses him just as fiercely.

It goes on and on. Somehow, slowly, the kiss turns into something softer. Warm presses of lips and murmured reassurances.

Harry pulls away and glares up at Draco. “Don’t ever do anything like that again,” he growls.

“Really?” Draco asks and raises an eyebrow. “I was hoping I would get to kiss you a lot more after this. I just died, after all.”

Harry laughs and it turns into a choked-out sob. “You know what I mean, you prick,” he says tightly.

Draco smiles and slides a hand up to Harry’s chin. He wipes at the teartrack on Harry’s cheek with his thumb, and says, “No promises.”

Harry laughs and shakes his head at him. He slips his arms around Draco’s shoulders and pulls him into a tight hug, burying his face in Draco’s neck.

Draco rests his head against Harry’s and holds him just as tightly.

Harry and Draco both end up in St Mungo’s because Harry insists that Draco go, and Draco insists that Harry go, though neither feel that they need to.

Harry demands that the Healer see Draco first, which Draco isn’t happy about, but Harry doesn’t give a damn. Draco just died. Maybe. Harry’s actually not entirely sure what happened.

After checking Draco out, the Healer tells him that he seems fine. From what she can tell, Draco is in perfect health. Harry can’t believe that he has the nerve to look smug about it.

The Healer treats Harry for smoke inhalation, but other than that and a few bumps and bruises, Harry is no worse for wear.

The worst of what happened was the emotional toll of watching Draco die. And Harry is being understandably clingy. Harry hasn’t let him out of his sight. Part of Harry worries that Draco will crumble to ash in front of his eyes, another part is focused on the fact that Dennis is still out there somewhere. Once he finds out that Harry and Draco escaped, he’ll become even more unhinged.

After the Healer has finished with him and deemed him fit to leave, Harry sits on the edge of his bed and starts buttoning up his shirt. His clothes and hair smell like smoke, and all Harry wants to do now is shower and rid himself of the smell.

Draco is perched on the bedside table next to him, arms folded over his chest, watching Harry curiously. He’s been quiet since the Healer started her examination of Harry, and Harry turns his head to look at him.

Since his miraculous return, Draco has seemed practically chipper at escaping from the jaws the death. Now he looks more sober. The reality of the situation starts to settle, and Harry feels somewhat awkward.

With his shirt buttoned up, Harry pulls his suspenders up onto his shoulders. Draco picks up his thigh harness and hands it to him. Harry takes it, then sets it in his lap and chews his lip. He fiddles with one of the buckles, then looks up to Draco with a small frown.

“What happened back there? How are you alive right now?” Harry asks him. “Part of me feels like...like maybe I’m hallucinating all this. Chemicals in the smoke, or lack of oxygen, or something.”

Draco’s lips tip up in a small smile, and he shakes his head. “I...well I don’t know precisely,” he begins slowly.

“Did you know?” Harry presses. “When you did that, did you know that you would survive?”

Draco’s mouth twists and he lifts a hand to rub at the back of his neck. “No,” he says with a wince. Harry clenches the leather straps in his hands. “I was already dead. I only wanted to save you before that happened.”

“Then how are you here? How were you an ashwinder?” Harry asks, confused and hurt and needing to understand.

“Well,” Draco begins slowly, “my mentor had postulated that the only way to break my curse was to kill my false self. That my true Animagus shape was trapped and couldn’t take form otherwise, because I’d been cursed into a form I wasn’t meant to be.”

“Postulated?” Harry echoes incredulously.

Draco gives a wry smile and shrugs. “It was an unusual case. Even for Druids, all we had to work on was theory.”

“So that was your plan all along? Why would you ever try something so extreme? Surely there was another answer,” Harry says. “You had your treatments.”

Draco shakes his head. “You don’t understand. I spent years trying to find a solution. Trying to create a solution. That was the closest I got, but even that was limited. It only lasted for so many hours, and when I was using it, I never felt like myself,” he says. “Like I was in the wrong body. But I feel different now… Right. Like I fit in my skin.”

Harry frowns, but he nods. “And you returned to England to—to what? Say your goodbyes if it went wrong?”

Draco frowns and looks down at his feet for a moment, worrying the frayed edge of his robe. “Sort of,” he answers eventually, looking back at Harry.

Draco is chewing his lip nervously, and Harry studies him for a moment. “Tell me,” he prompts.

Draco’s mouth pinches. He hesitates, then says, “Mainly I came back because I wanted to resolve our life debt before I attempted anything. I was worried...I was worried that if I died trying to end my curse, that the bond would hurt you.”

Harry’s chest tightens. It makes him feel incredibly sad, hearing that Draco only came back to resolve their life debt to save Harry from suffering, and that he was planning on taking such an extreme and potentially fatal measure to end his curse.

“Then you had to go and be a prat about it,” Draco says, and Harry laughs quietly.

“If you needed to resolve our life debt, why didn’t you ever just transfer some of your magic to me?” Harry asks.

Draco chews on his lip some more, glancing at Harry and then away. “I didn’t want to...I was worried that I would...that it would hurt you,” he says quietly, “Because I was cursed. Because I was...toxic.”

Harry reaches out and grabs Draco’s hand, stopping it from fiddling with his robes. “You’re not toxic,” Harry tells him sternly.

Draco looks up at him, eyes moving between Harry’s and reading his sincerity. “I’m still a snake. Even with the curse broken, I’m still—my soul is a serpent,” he spits unhappily.

“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Harry says firmly and interlaces his fingers with Draco’s. “So you’re a snake, so what? That doesn’t mean you’re toxic. That doesn’t mean you’re inherently evil. You’re beautiful, and if you hadn’t taken that form you might not be here now.”

Draco squeezes Harry’s hand lightly and gives a short nod. Harry’s not sure that he’s completely convinced, but that’s alright, because Harry will tell him as many times as he needs to.

They sit in silence for a long moment. Harry rubs small circles with his thumb into Draco’s hand. Harry leans over, and Draco meets him in a short kiss.

“Just don’t ever try anything like that ever again, okay?” Harry says, pulling back and giving him a small smile.

Draco smiles back, some of the smugness returning to his expression. “Now I won’t have to. The curse is broken. My life debt is repaid.”

Harry nods and swallows. “What will you do now?”

Draco blinks and hums in thought. “Well, I burned my house to the ground…”

“You can stay with me,” Harry says. The words tumble from his mouth before he can think too hard about what he’s suggesting.

Draco looks at him in surprise. Harry immediately feels silly for suggesting it. The Malfoys have other properties he can stay at, and it’s presumptuous to think that he’d want to stay in England. Let alone with Harry. He has no idea what sort of relationship they have, and it would probably be a bad idea to live with each other while they figure it out.

“Thank you, Harry,” Draco answers carefully. “Maybe. Just for a few days...until I figure something out.”

Harry nods and says, “You can stay for as long as you need.”

Draco gives him a cautious smile, which Harry returns.

As Harry opens his mouth to suggest that they go home and clean up, the door to their hospital room bangs open and within seconds they’re flooded with Harry’s family. Draco’s posture straightens, and he watches them nervously, like he’s about to jump up and flee the room. He tries to drop Harry’s hand, but Harry holds on and gives him a reassuring look.

Their quiet moment is effectively shattered as they are bombarded with questions faster than they can answer them.

Harry gives a brief rundown of what happened. He leaves out the parts about Draco’s curse and the pair of Dark rings. When he tells them that Draco saved his life, Molly turns a watery smile on him, and enfolds Draco in a tight embrace. Draco goes stiff, and then slowly warms to it and wraps his arms around her. He cuts an anxious look to Harry, but Harry merely grins at him.

Regardless of how Harry feels for Draco, he comes as a package deal. If Draco can’t learn to accept his family, then they’ve no hope of anything beyond a shallow friendship. Likewise, Harry knows that being with Draco will mean dealing with his family too. His mother, at the least, but Harry is willing to try. He hopes Draco is too.

Chapter Text

After Harry and Draco are interviewed about what happened, Robards takes Harry off of the Mindtaker case and puts him on a month of paid leave. Dennis goes on the run, and Susan and other Aurors take charge of the manhunt. He manages to evade them for a while, but eventually they catch up to him. Harry hates not being there for it, and not being able to watch Susan’s back. The trial doesn’t take long. Dennis gets life in Azkaban.

At first during his mandatory leave, Harry hates it. He never likes going on leave because he feels lost and directionless without his job. Spending all day at home is normally mind-numbingly boring, but things are different having Draco living with him.

Unsurprisingly, Draco stays longer than a few days. Going from spending a few hours together once a week, to being roommates is a rough adjustment. Draco has a lot to say about the grim and untidy state of his house. Harry argues that his work comes first, and tidiness isn’t high on his priority list. When Draco starts reorganising the house, Harry gets frustrated that he can’t find the things he needs anymore, and they bicker about it. Susan teases him that he and Draco moved in together faster than a lesbian couple.

The first couple weeks are rough, but then things start to settle. Having Draco around is challenging but rewarding. His house feels brighter and livelier than he’s ever known it to be, and Harry feels more alive than he has in years. Harry finds himself playing childish games, chasing Draco around the house, and engaging in a pranking war which they both deny starting but are determined to be the one to finish.

Draco soon starts tossing around the idea of building a new house over the old one. It takes Draco suggesting it for Harry to realise that he doesn’t want Draco to move out, but he bites his tongue and agrees that it could be a good idea. At least he’d still be in England, instead of running back to France as Harry worried he might.

Once the idea comes to him, Draco dives into it wholeheartedly. He decides that he wants to try and build it himself and Harry thinks it’s mental, but he jumps into it with him. They’re both stubborn and foolhardy enough to believe it won’t be too difficult, and they do a lot of research on how to magically build a house.

Harry ends up cashing in all the vacation hours he’s accrued so that he can devote a couple months to help Draco start building. It’s a slow and frustrating process at first because they don’t know what they’re doing, but after several mistakes they start making real progress.

They start with clearing the charred grounds around the house and ripping out the damaged foundation. The mass destruction the Fiendfyre caused means they have to start from scratch, but Draco seems happy about it. He says he wants a fresh start, and the new house he has planned is much smaller than the manor was.

The main structure of his workshop survived the blaze, and Draco works to repair it on the side. Harry gets him to agree to getting rid of the Dark forge.

Molly gives Draco an open invitation to Sunday dinners, which Draco seems wary of but grateful for. It takes a few weeks before Harry convinces Draco to come with him. It’s a trial by fire dealing with so many Weasleys at once, but Draco manages to hold his own against them. He starts coming with Harry regularly and somewhere along the way he even starts plotting with George and Ron about new ideas for their Weasley Wizard Wheezes.

It’s not always easy, Draco is still Draco, but when he makes thoughtless or bigoted comments, he has an entire table of people to call him out on it. He often gets defensive and retreats when it happens, but Harry talks him through it later. Slowly but surely, he makes progress and learns to take a critical lens to many of the outdated ideas he was raised with. Eventually, even Draco even begins to joke about what his father would say if he heard about it.

Their relationship moves at a glacial pace. It takes weeks before Draco will agree that they’re going together, despite the fact that they snog daily and go out every weekend on what are clearly dates. Each week they switch off with who gets to decide where they go for their date, and Harry uses the time to introduce Draco to more Muggle culture, taking him to everything from movies to laser tag.

Mostly Harry doesn’t mind the slow pace, he likes taking the time to get to know Draco, because he also needs time to learn how to let go and trust. It takes a while before they do more than long sessions of necking. Harry wonders at times if it’s Draco’s traditional background that holds him back and has kept him a virgin all this time.

Once, when they’re laid out on the couch, kissing and frotting, Harry decides to ask him.

Draco is underneath him, and when Harry breaks the kiss and pushes up onto his elbows, Draco grips at Harry’s hips and rocks up to keep their rhythm going. They’re both hard in their trousers and the delicious friction serves as a momentary distraction from Harry’s goal.

Harry breathes out a quiet moan and closes his eyes. He bites his lip and presses back against Draco for a moment before he refocuses.

“Are you really a virgin?” Harry asks him directly.

Draco stills. He furrows his brow and looks up at Harry with a bewildered look. “Is it a problem for you if I am?”

“No,” Harry answers honestly and shakes his head. He watches Draco’s expression, then tilts his head curiously and asks, “Is it a problem for you that I’m not?”

Draco’s gaze shifts around in thought, then shrugs and says, “No, I guess not. Why are you asking about this right now?” Draco rocks his hips up and pointedly presses their erections together again, and Harry laughs.

“I’m just curious. Are you uncomfortable with it? Are you waiting for marriage?” he asks. “Am I supposed to register my intent with the Ministry, and do some complicated traditional dance in front of witnesses to appease your Pureblood culture?”

Draco snorts and slaps Harry’s arse. Harry gasps and his hips jerk forward. He raises an eyebrow at Draco and grins impishly. Draco smirks and shakes his head. “I mean, if you’d like to make a fool of yourself in front of Earl, I wouldn’t be opposed…”

“Git,” Harry says, leaning down and catching his lips in a kiss.

He means for it to be a peck, but it soon shifts into something deeper.

“Seriously though,” Harry says when he manages to pull back.

Draco sighs impatiently and says, “Harry, I spent the better part of the last eight years as a snake.”

Harry hums and scratches his cheek in thought. “Snakes don’t have sex?”

“Oh my god,” Draco says in exasperation. “I am not into bestiality, thank you.”

Harry gives him a cheeky smile. “Is it bestiality if you’re both snakes though?”

Draco dumps Harry off of the couch and onto the floor. He hits the ground with a loud thump, but he can’t stop himself laughing as Draco glares down at him.

Time rolls by easily in Draco’s company. Spring turns to summer, and Harry spends the majority of his last month away from work on Draco’s property, building his house with him.

After the frame goes up, Draco start to ask Harry more and more for his opinion on things. Does he like this kind of roofing? Does he prefer log siding or stone siding? What does he think about an open floor plan?

At first Harry is surprised and a little confused that Draco seems so invested in his opinion. It’s Draco’s house, after all. He brushes off the questions at first, he’s not a decisive person and Draco should build his home how he wants it. Harry gets even more confused when Draco seems frustrated by Harry’s lack of input but continues asking him anyway.

Eventually it clicks, and Harry feels a bit like an idiot, but also overwhelmingly touched. Draco doesn’t officially ask Harry to move in with him while they’re building, but Harry starts to imagine living here with Draco. The more he thinks about it, the more time Harry spends on the property, and the more energy he puts into creating a home for them, the more Harry falls in love with the idea.

It’s a beautiful piece of land, protected from Muggle expansion through the years with its magic warding. It’s surrounded by trees and wildflowers that bloom in the summer. It’s a quiet, peaceful space hidden in the city. Conveniently located by the magical shops in Horsa’s Rest, and not far off from London.

The house is two levels, big enough to grow in but not so large that it feels oppressive in its emptiness the way Grimmauld Place has always felt to Harry. They install large windows all around the house to bring in a lot of natural light, and they both agreed early on without having to say it out loud that there wouldn’t be a basement.

It’s not a stretch for Harry to picture himself here with Draco, living happily ever after.

Eventually Harry’s vacation days run out, and he has to return to work. It puts a new kind of strain on their relationship. They have to figure out how to balance their time together. Harry would never give up being an Auror, but living with Draco gives him a better appreciation of his time at home. It gives him a new desire to leave work on time, to not go in every weekend unless called in, and to only work overtime when necessary.

Harry does his best to work around his schedule to keep making progress on their house with Draco. Harry doesn’t like not being able to put as much time into it as he did before, but they make it work.

Sex is a slow-moving process. They move on from frotting to handjobs, and once they’re comfortable there, Harry’s new favourite thing becomes winding Draco up. He loves discovering with Draco all the ways he likes being touched and stroked to slowly build him up to a beautifully intense orgasm. His favourite discovery is Draco’s Parseltongue kink.

On the days when Harry comes home after work and doesn’t find Draco, he knows he’s almost certainly going to be at Estuary Estate, working on the new house. Sometimes Harry goes out to see him, sometimes he stays home and gets dinner ready for them.

When Draco is working on finishing the piping in the house, Harry makes a point to go out to watch him. Harry loves seeing him in his smithing gear, working at his forge or intensely focused with his welding mask on. It leads to a lot of firsts for them, like Draco’s first blow job.

Draco set up a table outside of his workshop at one point to be able to work on the bigger pieces more easily. This is where Harry finds him one evening. Draco has all his gear on as he works on a piece for the piping. He’s focused, and he doesn’t notice Harry. Harry leans his shoulder against a nearby tree and uses the opportunity to watch him.

Draco doesn’t notice Harry until he finishes his weld and lifts his mask up. He startles slightly and then rolls his eyes. “Am I going to have to put a bell on you?” he asks.

“Sorry, love,” Harry says with a cheeky smile. “You know I’m a sucker for a man in a welding mask.”

Draco shakes his head at him. He pulls the mask off his head, then tugs off his dragonhide gloves. When he goes to straighten his mussed hair, Harry stops him.

“Don’t,” he says and gently grabs his wrist. “I like it like this. Messy.”

“You have the strangest kinks,” Draco informs him. Harry raises an eyebrow, stepping in front of him and grabbing onto his hips.

“I’m not the only one,” Harry hisses at him. Draco’s cheeks flush a light pink, and Harry smirks.

Harry leans forward and catches Draco’s lips in a kiss. Draco wraps his arms around Harry’s neck and falls into the kiss easily enough.

After a minute, Draco pulls off and murmurs, “You’re distracting me, I wanted to finish this tonight.”

“It’s gone eight,” Harry says, kissing Draco shortly once then again, before continuing. “You’re already losing light. Do it tomorrow.”

Draco makes a small unhappy noise in his throat, but he’s the one who leans forward and reconnects the kiss. Harry moans into it as Draco tilts his head and pushes deeper. They press their hips together. Harry reaches around Draco’s waist to untie his blacksmithing apron.

They break the kiss briefly so Harry can pull the apron off over Draco’s head. The more they keep kissing, the more Harry can feel Draco’s cock hardening in his trousers. They frot briefly, then Harry reaches down and rubs his hand over Draco’s erection.

Draco breaks the kiss for a moment to moan as Harry curls his hand around the shape of it and starts stroking it.

Harry watches him avidly as Draco moans, and bites his lip, and clutches at Harry’s suspenders. His hair is disheveled, lips red and swollen, and there’s a smudge of coal on his cheek.

“You look so hot like this,” Harry tells him.

Draco opens his eyes to look at Harry. They’re blown wide, and his pale cheeks are flushed a dark red. Harry leans in and kisses him heatedly. He stops stroking Draco so that he can undo his trousers and get his hand inside them. He fists Draco with the firm grip he’s learned that he likes, and tugs at him slowly.

“Harry,” Draco breathes, moaning and tilting his head back in pleasure. Harry takes the opportunity to lean forward and kiss and suck marks into the pale column of his throat, as he slowly works him up toward orgasm.

Harry swipes his thumb across the head of Draco’s cock, catching a bead of precome. He pulls his hand from his trousers and brings his hand to his mouth. Draco’s head tips down and he watches heatedly as Harry licks the precome from his finger.

Harry smiles a little at the obvious interest in Draco’s expression. “I want to blow you,” Harry tells him, and a shiver runs up Draco’s spine. “Can I?”

Draco bites his lip as he considers it, and then he swallows and nods. “Yes.”

Harry pushes him back into a nearby tree. He presses against him and kisses him deeply for a moment. Then Harry breaks off and sinks to his knees. He looks up at Draco with a small smirk as he runs his hands down his chest to his trousers. He tugs them and his pants down, and he licks his lips at the hard, red cock exposed before him.

Harry takes Draco in hand and strokes him slowly a few times. Precome dribbles from the slit. Looking back up to Draco, Harry holds his gaze as he leans forward and licks at the head of his cock, catching the precome on his tongue.

Draco gasps and mutters, “Oh, fuck.”

Harry grins and laps at it again, before he leans forward and takes the head into his mouth. A slew of curses come from Draco as Harry sucks on it and runs his tongue around the glans.

Harry watches him, loving every second of being able to make Draco come undone.

He takes Draco deeper, going as far down as he can and then stroking what he can’t take with his hand. Harry pulls back, then drops back down, stroking in counterpoint and beginning a rhythm of bobbing up and down Draco’s cock.

Draco seems unsure where to put his hands, holding them out, then against himself, clenching and unclenching them. Harry takes his hand and guides it to his head, looking up and catching his gaze. Draco slides his fingers into Harry’s hair and grabs it gently.

“Merlin, Potter,” Draco moans out, closing his eyes briefly and licking his lips. “I’m not going to last like this.”

Harry smiles as much as he can with Draco’s cock in his mouth, lips stretched over the girth of it. He drops back down on Draco and doubles his efforts, sucking, licking and stroking at him until he’s a nearly incoherent wreck.

“Fuck—” Draco’s bitten of cursing is the only warning Harry gets before he comes in his mouth. Harry pulls back a little, stroking him through it and sucking at the head of his cock, as Draco grips at Harry’s hair and trembles through the aftershocks of orgasm.

Harry swallows as much as he can. He pulls back when Draco seems finished and licks his lips, grinning up at Draco like the cat that got the cream. He’s missed feeling the weight of a cock on his tongue, and he loves the dopey, post-orgasm look Draco gets.

“Mother of Merlin,” Draco pants out, slumping against the tree and watching Harry through half-lidded eyes.

Harry is tenting his own trousers, and he watches Draco’s eyes drop to his hand as he palms himself.

“Let’s go home,” Draco suggests.

Harry quirks an interested eyebrow up at him.

“I want to do this on a bed,” he explains.

Harry grins and reaches for Draco’s hands. Draco grabs them and helps pull him to his feet.

Once they get home, Draco takes them to Harry’s room, kissing him and tearing off clothes along the way. Harry falls back onto the bed and pulls Draco down with him.

Draco, curiously and competitively, wants to try giving a blow job for the first time. Harry happily guides him through the process.

Harry lays out on the bed, arms stretched over his head as Draco sucks experimentally on the head of his cock.

“Yeah, like that,” Harry tells him, moaning and tilting his head back as Draco works his tongue across the frenulum.

Draco takes him deeper then gags a little when he goes too far. He pulls back, licks his lips, then goes down again.

“It’s okay, don’t take too much,” Harry says. “Just whatever you’re comfortable with. Work the rest with your hand.”

Draco follows his instruction, wrapping a hand around the base of Harry’s cock and stroking it slowly. It’s not the most skillful blowjob Harry has got before, but he doesn’t mind. Draco is a stubborn and determined person, and Harry knows he’ll learn quickly.

When Draco pulls back to catch his breath, he sits back on his heels and keeps stroking Harry slowly, watching the spit-slick cock moving through his fist and dribbling precum at the top of his strokes.

Harry watches him with a small smile, as Draco drags his eyes up Harry’s body appreciatively.

When he meets Harry’s gaze, Draco bites his lip nervously. He hesitates, then says, “Do you want to have sex?”

Harry laughs softly. “We are having sex.”

“No, I mean—you know what I mean,” Draco says and furrows his brow.

“Penetrative sex?” Harry asks and grins.

“Yes, that,” Draco says and rolls his eyes, but he runs his hands up Harry’s sides and leans forward to kiss him.

Harry threads his fingers through Draco’s hair and pulls him into a deep kiss. Draco rocks his hips down against Harry, and he can feel Draco’s erection brushing against his.

Harry hums a pleased note into the kiss, then pulls back and asks, “Are you sure?”

Draco nods and says, “Yes.”

“Okay,” Harry says with a smile. “Then I’d love to.”

“Do you want me to…?” Draco asks, looking down at Harry’s cock, and Harry laughs.

“Want you to what?” he asks, though he already knows what Draco means. He just wants to hear him say it.

Draco licks his lips and huffs out a small sigh. “Do you want me to finish blowing you?”

Harry grins and shakes his head, “No, but thank you. I’d rather come with your cock up my arse.”

Draco’s eyes get wide and his mouth tips open. “You’d let me do that?” he asks.

“Of course,” Harry says. “I mean, if you want to, we don’t have to—”

“No, that sounds good,” Draco says, cheeks flushed a darker red than of a few moments ago. “Very good.”

“Good,” Harry agrees and smiles, running his fingers through Draco’s hair and playing with the shorter strands on the back of his neck. “I’ve been thinking about it. A lot.”

“Yeah?” Draco asks and swallows.

“Mhmm,” Harry hums. He slides his hand down and wraps it around Draco’s cock. He’s half hard already, and Harry strokes him slowly to fullness. “Think about your thick cock inside me. Stretching me, filling me, fucking me.”

Draco shivers and releases a quiet moan. Harry pulls him into a short kiss, and then he stops. He lets Draco go and pushes him back. Draco sits on his heels and watches Harry pull a bottle of lube from his bedside drawer.

“I need to stretch myself first,” Harry explains.

Draco nods. He watches with fascination and no small amount of interest as Harry slicks his fingers with lube and begins to open himself up.

“Merlin, Harry,” Draco murmurs, reaching down to grip the base of his cock as he watches Harry’s fingers slide in and out of himself.

When he feels ready, Harry asks, “Charm or condom?”

Draco’s expression scrunches in confusion. “Charm…?” he says uncertainly.

“Oh, a condom is something Muggles use,” Harry tells him. “For protection. You wear it over your cock.”

Draco makes a face. “Not that. Charm.”

Harry chuckles and nods. He grabs his wand and casts the charm over Draco quickly then sets it aside. He picks up the bottle of lube and squeezes more onto his hand, then he sits up so he can rub it over Draco’s cock.

“How do you want to do this?” Harry asks and looks up at him.

Draco bites his lip and appears to think about it for a moment. “Maybe…on your knees?”

“Sure,” Harry agrees readily and turns over onto his hands and knees.

He looks over his shoulder and catches Draco’s gaze, and he gives him a little nod. Draco holds onto Harry by one of his hips and uses his other hand to guide his cock into Harry.

Draco gasps and swears under his breath once the head of his cock pushes inside. Harry moans and fists the sheets under him. The insistent stretch of Draco’s cock pressing inside him is a bittersweet mix of slightly pained pleasure. His eyes roll back at the nearly overwhelming sensation of being filled so completely.

When Draco keeps pushing in too fast, Harry winces. He reaches back and presses a hand to Draco’s hip. “Slower,” Harry tells him. “It’s been a while.”

“Sorry,” Draco murmurs, stopping and pulling out.

When he pushes back in, he goes slower and shallower, and then he pulls back and does it again. His thick cock dragging against his rim sends sparks skittering across Harry’s skin, turning him nearly mindless with the pleasure and the sensation of a cock pushing inside him, again and again as he picks up a rhythm.

“Perfect,” Harry hisses. “Just like that.”

“Fuck, Harry,” Draco gasps as his fingers tighten on his hips.

Harry grins. “I can stop if you want.”

Draco is silent for a second, then he pushes into Harry a little deeper and says, “No, I like it.”

“Good,” Harry says.

Draco still struggles sometimes with his Animagus being a snake, but Harry knows there’s nothing wrong with it, or the way he reacts to Harry speaking Parseltongue to him. It’s a part of him, as Parseltongue is a part of Harry.

“Deeper,” Harry purrs, and he moans as Draco presses deeper into him. The hot, heavy sensation of a body pressed over his is one Harry has always loved and missed feeling. He starts to push back against Draco, encouraging him deeper and chasing the sensation of and pleasure that comes from being fucked and filled.

Taking his cue from Harry, Draco slowly builds to thrusting faster into Harry, pushing all the way in which each thrust, rolling their bodies against each other and chasing the pleasure mounting and curling between them.

Every time his cock pushes over Harry’s prostate, a fresh wave of pleasure flashes across his skin. Harry pushes back on Draco’s cock, giving as good as he’s getting, and egging Draco on with hissed encouragements.

It’s been so long since Harry has bottomed, and his whole body is trembling with the pleasure of feeling Draco inside of him, stretching him open and filling him so perfectly with every thrust.

Harry wants to make the feeling go on forever, but he knows Draco won’t last much longer and he wants to come while Draco is fucking him. Harry steadies his weight over one hand as he grabs himself with the other and starts stroking his cock in time with Draco’s thrusts.

Harry’s toes curl from the added sensation and his mouth drops open. He pants and moans out, “Draco,” as he feels his climax building, the pleasure coiling low in his abdomen and pulsating through his cock and out across his body.

As the pressure is mounting and Harry feels himself getting closer, Draco stops and pulls out of him. Harry makes a small noise of protest at the sudden sensation of loss, nearly toppling over from the sudden halt to their movements. He drops his cock and catches himself with his hand.

“Draco?” Harry asks and looks over his shoulder.

“Turn over?” Draco asks and bites his bottom lip. “I want to see you.”

Harry smiles warmly. Ridiculously, his stomach flutters from the intimate request. Harry drops onto his back, wiggling a bit to position himself comfortably and hooking his legs around Draco’s waist.

Blond curls of hair are stuck to Draco’s forehead with his sweat. His cheeks are pink with heat and his eyes are dark with pleasure as they move up Harry’s form. Draco scoots closer, gripping at one of Harry’s legs and laying a kiss by his knee. He watches Harry as he pushes the leg back further and guides his cock inside him.

Harry moans softly at the sensation and reaches for Draco. Once Draco is fully seated in Harry, he leans down and Harry wraps his arms around his neck. Draco presses all the way down against Harry and captures his lips with a firm, insistent pressure. He tilts his head and deepens the kiss, encouraging Harry to open his mouth against Draco’s, sliding lips and tongues together in tandem.

Harry moans into the kiss as Draco rolls his hips slowly, cock pressed deeply into him and the weight of his body pushing him into the mattress. Waves of pleasure roll through his body as Draco picks up a rhythm, shifting back and forth inside of him over and over. Harry runs his fingers through Draco’s hair and murmurs Draco’s name against his lips.

Draco leans back and slides his hands up Harry’s thighs to grip at his hips. He works them both back up to orgasm with deep, slow thrusts, watching Harry all the while with a soft expression on his face.

Harry feels his stomach twist with a bundle of nerves from the intimacy of it, but he holds on to Draco and rocks against him. The way Draco is watching him is something Harry doesn’t think he’s ever seen or felt before. He’s not used to a partner looking at him with such love and tenderness, like he’s worth something. Harry bites his lip and swallows down the tightness in his throat.

He reaches down and curls a hand around his cock, holding Draco’s gaze. He strokes himself slowly, building up the tight sensation of pleasure coiling inside him, urged on with every thrust of Draco’s cock inside him, pushing in an out of him, pulling at his rim, stretching him and making Harry feel like Draco’s lighting him on fire from the inside out.

For one perfect, infinite moment, Harry feels balanced on the edge of climax, so close yet so far, wanting to tip over and wanting to stay here forever. Then the pressure tips over the edge and releases like a tidal wave of pleasure across his body. Harry throws his head back and his toes curl and he shouts Draco’s name. Pleasure pulses and courses across his skin and along his cock as come shoots over his abdomen.

Draco curses before he buries himself in Harry and pulses inside him. He curls over Harry and grips tightly onto his hips, both of them jerking as they ride the shockwaves of their orgasms. Harry buries his fingers in Draco’s hair, carding them through it again and again as he murmurs breathless praises against his temple.

Draco collapses onto him, and Harry grunts out an, “Oof.”

“Sorry,” Draco mumbles, face buried in the pillow next to Harry’s head, but he doesn’t move off.

Harry laughs lightly and runs his hands up and down Draco’s back. He tips his head to the side and lays a soft kiss on Draco’s jaw. He’s tired, but he doesn’t mind the temporary weight of Draco on him. He’s always enjoyed the sensation of being pressed down into the mattress.

After a long moment, Draco moves off of Harry, rolling over and dropping onto his back next to him. Harry rolls his head on the pillow to look at him. Draco turns his head and meets Harry’s gaze with a small smile.

“That was…brilliant,” Draco sighs happily, then his lips tip down in a small frown. “Was it good?”

Harry gives a soft chuckle and rolls onto his side. “It was good, very good,” he says, running a hand up Draco’s chin and leaning in to catch his lips in a kiss.

Draco’s expression softens, and he meets him in the kiss. They close their eyes and brush lips, breathing each other’s air and savouring the tender moment. Draco kisses him with slow, lingering presses, and Harry’s stomach fills with butterflies at the adoration in them.

Draco squeezes gently on Harry’s hip, then pulls back, a small smile on his face.

Harry smiles back fondly, rubbing his thumb over Draco’s cheek. “How does it feel? Not being a virgin anymore?” he asks, then adds as an afterthought, “Though I don’t really think you’ve been a virgin for a few weeks now.”

Draco snorts out a laugh and rolls his eyes. “It feels good,” he answers simply.

“No regrets?” Harry asks, eyes jumping between Draco’s and reading his expression.

“No,” Draco answers honestly with a small shake of his head.

“Good, me neither.”

“Apart from—you know—the whole snake thing?” Draco begins hesitantly, and Harry nods. “I think, mostly…I waited because I wanted my first time to be with someone important.”

“Important like Saviour of the Wizarding World important?” Harry asks with a cheeky smile.

“No, git,” Draco says and pokes Harry’s side.

Harry yelps and jumps away from the ticklish prodding, grabbing Draco’s hand to stop him from doing it again. Draco is grinning, and Harry sticks his tongue out at him. Draco chuckles, then his expression softens.

“No, I mean important to me,” he explains.

Harry smiles and interlaces their fingers.

Draco swallows and continues, “After I was cursed, I thought…I thought I would never get to have this.”

Harry brings Draco’s hand up and kisses it lightly. “I didn’t think I would either,” he says quietly.

They fall into a comfortable silence, Harry’s thumb rubbing circles against Draco’s hand. Harry has wanted this for so long, someone to love him for who he is, and someone he can give all of himself to. Now that he’s here it’s more nerve-wracking than he ever imagined it would be, and his stomach twists in knots over it, but he trusts Draco.

“I love you,” Harry tells him.

Draco’s eyes widen in surprise and he sucks in a quiet breath. His eyes move over Harry’s expression, and then he says, “I love you too.”

Harry grins and pulls him into a kiss.

When the come drying on him becomes too annoying to ignore, Harry pulls away and grabs his wand so he can clean them off. After that, he waves the lights off and pulls the covers over them.

Draco curls around him, and Harry presses his back into him.

“Are you going to finally, officially ask me to move into your house with you now?” Harry asks.

“No,” Draco says matter-of-factly. “It’s not my house. It’s our house. I shouldn’t have to ask.”

Despite Draco’s nonchalant attitude, Harry knows it’s a big deal, and he’s touched by Draco saying so.

“Good,” Harry says and grins, “because I was planning on moving in whether you invited me or not.”

Draco pokes his fingers into Harry’s side, and Harry jumps and snatches his hand. Draco laughs as Harry turns his head back and makes a face at him. Draco smiles and leans over to kiss him.

Harry closes his eyes and kisses him back. He pulls Draco’s hand around him and interlaces their fingers over his stomach.

Harry loves sleeping with Draco, having the warm body against him, and waking up next to him in the morning. Mostly Draco has stayed in his own room and has only slept with Harry a handful of times.

They’ve fallen asleep on the couch together watching telly plenty of times, only to wake up hours later with numb limbs and a crick in his neck. Harry much prefers the bed, and after this night, Draco moves out of the guest room and stays with Harry more often than not.

Not long after, Draco finally tells his parents that they’re together. Harry doesn’t hear the whole story of how Lucius reacts, but based on how quiet Draco is after he gets home from Azkaban that day, Harry is sure it wasn’t a pleasant conversation.

Narcissa invites them to start having brunch with her every Sunday. It makes Harry nervous, but mostly he is glad that he doesn’t have to deal with Lucius. He doesn’t think he’d be capable of breaking bread with the man. Narcissa at least gained some perspective from the war—perspective of what’s most important.

Narcissa is reserved with him, and Harry suspects that she doesn’t completely approve of him, or the influence he’s had on Draco’s social and political leanings. But ultimately, her priority is Draco’s happiness, and Harry makes him happy.

As spring turns into summer, the house starts coming together. Harry throws a huge surprise party for Draco’s birthday which puts him centre stage all night and goes through multiple rounds of gifting, praising, and roasting him. Draco loves every minute of it, even when he feigns offense at the roast.

One of the gifts Harry gets for Draco is a large batch of saplings for the property. The Fiendfyre destroyed many of the ancient trees that had been around the manor, and Harry knows it’s something Draco holds a lot of regret for.

Many of the trees were magic, with sprawling, interconnected root systems that drew power from the ley-line running through the land. They held a lot of power and meaning in Draco’s Druidic practices.

With Neville’s help, Harry figured out which kinds of trees were on the property before and started growing new ones. He even orders a Dwarf Beech, knowing the significance it has to Draco. When Neville delivers the saplings, he offers to help plant them, but Harry and Draco turn him down. What started as a bullheaded decision to build the house by themselves has turned into a private labour of love.

Harry and Draco spend a weekend working the soil and planting the young trees around their house. Draco teaches Harry how to feel for the plant’s energy and gently encourage them to dig their roots deep and reach for the magic of the ley-line which will assure them long, healthy lives. It will take them a while to grow big and replace what was lost, but it’s a new beginning. And Harry is excited to be here to watch them grow, year after year.

The house is finished mid-July, and once Harry and Draco are moved in, they plan a big housewarming party with all their friends.

“Stop fidgeting,” Draco chides him. “Our guests will be arriving soon, and I need Leo to be presentable.”

Harry rolls his eyes but makes a conscious effort to stop swinging his feet. Draco has him sat on a stool in the dining room because it has, ‘the best light’ for trimming Harry’s beard.

“I’m sure Leo looks fine,” Harry says sarcastically, “Come on, I still have hors d’oeuvres to put together.”

“Don’t think I didn’t hear that sarcasm, Potter,” Draco says, tilting Harry’s head to the side and running his wand along the edge of his beard. “I am shocked and offended at how little care you would give your own son.”

“If he’s my son how come I didn’t get to name him?” Harry asks, fighting down a smile.

“Because you were mistreating him. Now under my care he is bold and kingly—well-deserving of a noble name like Leo,” Draco says and turns Harry’s face forward. He squints and touches Harry’s beard here and there, checking that it’s symmetrical and up to his standards.

When Draco got tired of the beard burn from Harry indecisively—or lazily—alternating between shaving and not shaving, he had asserted control over the care of Harry’s beard and promptly named it Leo. Now Draco has complete charge of it, and Harry has no say. Though he pretends to grouse about it, in truth Harry loves the time Draco devotes to grooming him.

“Perfect,” Draco says with decisive nod.

Harry smiles fondly up at him, placing his hands on Draco’s hips and drawing him into a kiss.

Draco lets it go on for a minute, then he breaks away, so he can brush Leo out and rub beard oil into him.

Harry and Draco finish getting everything in place for their party, and then they welcome friends and family into their home. It’s a melting pot of people who’ve somehow managed to step over the lines that divided them once and come together as friends. As Harry looks around at them, the tightness in his chest loosen and he feels a calm contentment settle over him.

Blaise and Ginny, who are only in town for the weekend, are still happily going together. Blaise is crowing about his victory over the Harpies, and Ginny is promising to kick his arse in the next game. Harry knows now that he misjudged Blaise. Underneath his narcissistic facade, he’s a devoted boyfriend, and he and Ginny match each other’s wit and energy perfectly.

Susan and Millicent have teamed up and are killing it in a relay drinking game against George and Lee. Harry watches as Millicent, with her hands tied behind her back, grabs a shot glass with her mouth from Susan’s cleavage, throws it back, spits out the glass, and bites at the lime wedge Susan is holding between her teeth. After she swallows, Susan tosses the lime’s skin and pulls Millicent down into a celebratory kiss.

They watch George and Lee struggling to finish the race. Lee can’t get the shot glass to stay on his chest, no matter how he tries to push his pecs together. George is threatening to charm breasts on him, and Lee yells at him to do it.

The house is filled with raucous laughter, and Harry laughs so hard he tears up and his abs ache from it.

“You look happy,” Draco says, when he finds him later and stops beside him, wrapping an arm around his waist. “Relaxed.”

Harry smiles up at him and leans in to give him a chaste kiss. “I am.”

Harry can’t count the number of ways his life has changed since coming across Draco on that cold January morning. He feels like leaving Grimmauld Place is shutting the book on a long and dark chapter of his life. But beginnings are built on endings, and Harry is ready to start a new chapter.