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All Bets Are Off

Chapter Text

all bets are off:
(informal) the outcome of a situation is unpredictable.

Dear Officer Potter,

Thank you for agreeing to fill in on short notice for Officer Finnigan. We heard from the hospital; they're keeping him under observation for at least a week.

The attached Portkey will depart at 3 a.m. I apologise for the late hour, but the time difference is substantial.

Your destination is Las Vegas, Nevada, in the United States. Your assignment consists of four nights of security detail at the International Wizarding Casino World Series, in which three British finalists are participating. You, Officer Bones, and Officer Patil will report to a MACUSA supervisor, Senior Auror Kyle Reyes, who will explain your duties in detail.

Room and board have been arranged. Kindly contact the office via Floo with any questions or concerns.

Best wishes,

Dorothy Okafor
Secretary to Kevin Sterndale
Department of Special Security Operations
Ministry of Magic

P.S. Pack light! I hear it's rather warm.

"Seamus Finnigan?" Harry asked at the front desk, showing his Ministry badge.

The welcome witch barely glanced up as she scanned down her clipboard. "Room 506-B."

Harry thanked her and dashed upstairs and through the hallways of Houdini Memorial Hospital. A portrait of the hospital's muscular, handcuffed namesake waggled dark eyebrows at him as he opened the door to Seamus' room.


Susan Bones hopped up from the only chair in the tiny room and gave him a warm hug. "Hi, Susan." He squeezed her gently before turning to the reclined figure in the bed. "Seamus, how are you feeling?"

"Just fine, Harry. Sound as a Skrewt." Seamus raised a hand to his forehead in a salute, which would have been reassuring had his face not been a chalky shade of green, and his arm covered in tubes and adhesive pads.

"What happened?"

Seamus opened his mouth to answer but Susan cut in, "This nitwit started acting odd after lunch. It turns out that's what happens when you eat your entire weight at a seafood buffet."

"'All you can eat,' Harry," Seamus said in a reverent tone. "That's what the sign out front said. And god help me, I did." He patted his middle with a proud wince.

Harry gaped at him. "What the hell? I thought you'd been cursed!"

"Cursed with eyes bigger than his stomach," said Padma, elbowing the door open. The fragrant smell of coffee wafted up from the cups she was hovering in front of her. "Nice to see you, Harry."

Harry reached automatically for a cup, then turned his exasperation back towards Seamus. "It was a 3 AM Portkey, you know. Dorothy's head in my Floo at midnight scared me half to death. But I'm pleased to see you in one piece."

He took a sip of coffee (Padma remembered milk and sugar; all of them who'd joined the newly-formed Department of Special Security Operations after graduation had each other's drink preferences down pat). Seamus stretched out his hand for the fourth cup of coffee, but Padma batted it away. "That's for the welcome witch, Finnigan. Anyway, you can't have coffee, not with your--" she peered at the chart beside his bed, "--'unprecedented levels of shrimp neurotoxins'." They all grimaced.

Susan's phone chimed. "Come on. We're supposed to meet that Senior Auror bloke at half past, and I bet he wants us in full uniform."

"Ugh, I feel gross. Do I have time to drop off my trunk and take a rinse?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, I think so. We'll pack up your stuff and keep it at the hotel, Seamus."

"Sort yourself out!" added Padma cheerfully.

Seamus waved queasily as they began to shuffle out of the room. "Give 'em hell out there, girls. Harry, you're the best Chosen One ever!"

Harry rolled his eyes. "Is it wrong of me to wish he had been cursed?" He drained his coffee and chucked the empty cup into a bin.

Nothing really compared to seeing Las Vegas in person for the first time. It was crowded, chaotic, and hot -- all the worst parts of the Quidditch World Cup combined with an amusement park, with a dash of Fiendfyre added just for laughs. Not that there were any parts of Fiendfyre that weren't the worst, Harry admitted, feeling the ghosts of clinging arms around his sides.

Harry gazed down at the afternoon bustle of the Strip, all those people swarming below, barely-distinguishable pinpricks of colour and movement. From the enormous hotel room window, he blinked dazedly and rubbed a hand over his face. The coffee was just beginning to knock the Portkey-lag out of his system.

They were staying in a suite on the 13th floor of Unicorn Grove, one of three all-wizarding hotels, along with The Silver Sickle and Atlantis. The former had a reputation for unsavory business, while the latter was so prohibitively expensive as to be laughable. There were wizarding portions of the other hotels on the Strip as well, carefully disguised or made invisible to Muggles (Harry had seen a family on a flying carpet zoom directly into the O of the Bellagio) -- but apparently it was easiest to do business at the all-wizarding establishments.

The hotel's enchanted decor of breezy trees, soothing waterfalls, and frolicking forest animals was mostly restricted to the towering exterior and vast main lobby. The interior was a little toned down, but Harry's room still gave him a strong impression of Teddy's primary school production of Robin Hood. Most unnerving was that all of the portraits and tapestries depicting squires and ladies-in-waiting had incongruous American accents.

Seamus' trunk and belongings were scattered on one side of the room, so Harry threw his travel-grimy clothes onto the other bed and headed into the en suite, letting out a blissful sigh when the hot water hit his skin. The pipes at Grimmauld Place were rather temperamental, so he never failed to treat himself to scalding-hot water whenever possible. There were a couple of odd dials and levers on the wall that reminded him of the Prefects' Bathroom; Harry played with them until he settled on one that turned the water apple-scented, and offered a blob of similar shampoo from a silver nozzle.

The caffeine really started to kick in while Harry washed his hair. He always looked forward to field work, although this one -- being directly responsible for a civilian's safety, on foreign soil, and on short notice -- had him a bit more nervous than usual. So after he ducked his head under the water to rinse his hair, he reached between his legs and began his favorite method of physical relaxation.

When Harry had begun his practice of this particular method in his teenage years, he often visualised someone Ginny Weasley-shaped; long red hair, short skirt, athletic curves. But over the years, the figure had morphed into someone with the jawline of Cedric Diggory, the body of that one heavily tattooed and extremely fit Australian Seeker, and the distinctive white-blond hair of… well. And then Harry figured, who was he kidding, right? and just let himself add in a loosely knotted green and silver school tie, and a smile right in the middle of "fuck you" and "I'd like to fuck you." He hadn't seen the figure of his waking dreams in seven years, so he had to improvise here and there. But the posh, drawling, taunting voice could belong to no one else.

He breathed in deep, apple-y goodness and leaned back against the cool stone shower wall. The figure in his mind had in a stylish undercut, with the top long and flowing over his eyes. Harry ran the fingers of his left hand through his own hair, imagining that his grasp held pale-as-dawn blond hair instead of his own unruly dark locks. And at the same time, the hand in his hair wasn't his, but that of he-whose-name-we-don't-really-think-about, whose pale clever fingers ran along Harry's scalp the way he liked. Potter, Potter, the voice murmured against his ear, with a wicked smirk.

All the time, his right hand worked up and down, faster, twisting and teasing until-- ah--!

He came with a drawn-out, satisfied moan that he hoped the fall of water and several doors would hide. Merlin, he must have really needed it if he hadn't even thought to cast a Muffliato beforehand. He stayed boneless and panting against the shower wall for a minute, the scented water pounding on his tingling body.

Allowing the image of the cocky blond figure retreat to the shadows of memory, Harry stepped out of the shower with a bit more spring in his step and went to see just how wrinkled his uniform had gotten in the trunk.

Refreshed and suited up in their green and black uniforms (Susan did an Ironing Charm for Harry), the three Special Ops Officers met up with their MACUSA contact in the lobby of the hotel. Kyle Reyes was tall, with close-cropped dark hair and prominent dimples. He shook hands all around and handed them official dossiers, but added dismissively, "You can read those later. Let's talk on our way to the venue. And please, call me Kyle. I can't do that last-names-only thing with you guys; it just feels weird."

(Harry had been apprehensive about how he'd be received on this mission -- Ginny had told him about the American obsession with celebrities, and how she'd gotten mobbed outside her hotel in Portland before a Harpies/Pixies game -- but Kyle had just said, "Harry Potter, right? Cool.")

Kyle walked them through the lobby to the escalators that led to the hovertram station. As they boarded, Harry was reminded of the Tube, except that the sleek golden carriages were several stories in the air and hurtled around at unbelievable speeds under a very powerful Cloaking Spell.

"So we're on our way to Atlantis, where all the tournament events will take place," said Kyle conversationally, as they zipped around a massive erupting volcano and towards two pirate ships in the midst of exchanging cannons. Harry tried hard to focus.

"There's only one event today, and it's just a welcome party: photo shoot, press conference, and cocktail hour. My local team has already done a safety check of the room, entrances and exits, and routes to and from. They're examining the food and drink now. But starting tomorrow, those responsibilities will fall on you individually." The three of them nodded; security spells had been drilled into them so as to be second nature.

Kyle walked them through the structure of the series, which started officially tomorrow at noon with roulette, then an evening game of blackjack. Friday noon was baccarat followed by craps. Saturday was the main event: an all-day poker tournament, with the biggest stakes and biggest winnings. Then he gestured to their dossiers and gave a quick word about the high rollers they had been assigned to guard. The three Special Ops officers would be responsible for security during the higher-risk moments: escorting their wards to and from the games, and guarding them during the events. Kyle’s local Aurors would serve as more passive security, stationed outside each high roller's hotel room as well as backup around the restaurants and other public areas.

"Susan, you're with Edward Claiborne. He's from No-Maj parentage but he's pretty skilled at illusion spells. He was actually banned from a few events when he was younger for trying to use magic during a game, but he's on the straight and narrow now." When Susan peeked inside her dossier, the Claiborne in the wizarding photo began fiddling with his handlebar moustache. Padma caught Harry's eye and mouthed 'No-Maj' with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. Harry smiled. Yet another weird American thing to get used to.

"Padma, I've given you Honoria St. John Bucklebridge. She's just starting her gambling career but she just won a major invitational in Macau. Bucklebridge is a high flyer and apparently she's engaged to the guy who's eight hundredth in line for your guys' throne or something. I can't see why anyone would want to get to her, and at a gambling tournament of all places, but you never know." The imperious witch in Padma's dossier looked like the type of British aristocrat who had a middle name like St. John, Harry thought privately.

Last was Harry, who had been assigned to a gambler with the dubious moniker of Snake Eyes. Harry opened his dossier, curious for a look, but there was no photo inside. He showed the empty space to Kyle with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh, weird. I could have sworn it was there this morning." Kyle patted absently at his pockets, but shrugged and waved a hand. "Whatever, you'll see him soon enough anyway. Snake Eyes is a legend, man." Kyle's eyes took on a faraway look. "His instincts are unbelievable, and he's an absolute genius at statistics and stuff like that. He reads the other players like a Legilimens. The wildest thing is that he doesn't even use magic."

Harry frowned, thinking of Claiborne. "Well, they're not allowed to, right?"

"No, I mean… He doesn't use magic at all. Not even in his real life, outside of the casino. I don't even think he owns a wand."

"He's not a Squib, is he?" asked Padma.

"I don't think so. Something about him tells me he's a wizard," Kyle mused. "You kinda have to see him in action. I'll introduce you guys before the cocktails and mingling tonight. Oop, hold on, this part is always a little disorienting."

"What--?" began Susan, but the hovertram was already rapidly approaching the surface of a vast, dark lake between two towering hotels. Before Harry knew it, they were plunging into the water and down, down, down.

Atlantis was disgustingly chic, very clearly out of the Special Ops travel budget, and so cool that Harry couldn't stop staring. The entire hotel was underwater -- exorbitant shops, exclusive restaurants that had a waiting list for the waiting list, opulent lounges and lavish clubs, probably close to two thousand rooms and suites, and twenty vast gaming rooms. They left the hovertram on shaky legs and followed Kyle into the dark luxury of the resort.

Beyond glass walls, in the deep blue-green water, impossible creatures swam through the walls and overhead. There were not only sharks and turtles and jellyfish the size of the Knight Bus, but Grindylows and Kappa too. The effect would have been as creepy as the Slytherin Common Room if not for the oscillating mood lighting that guided their path towards the casino. When they made their way there, Kyle paused for a moment to let them gawk.

Unicorn Grove and every building Harry had passed through (except for the hospital) had been dominated by brightly-lit slot machines. Harry and Ron had been dragged to a casino in London once for Lee Jordan's birthday and had grown dizzy at the spinning coloured wheels, the endless chiming. Harry found it nauseating to watch the hypnotised-looking people at machines, tapping their wands on the control panel in grim silence.

In stark contrast, the casino at Atlantis was spectacular and effortlessly lush. Instead of jangling fruit machines, there were hundreds of beautiful white marble tables covered in aquamarine cloth, with clusters of gorgeous people playing cards or dice games. The dealers were clad in stiff black uniforms, wielding weird long wooden paddles and shuffling cards as high as the ceiling with an effortless flourish. The refined quiet of this space was like an art gallery, with murmuring voices in a dozen different languages instead of the insistent cheerful peals of magical gadgets. There was no sign of mass-produced tour group t-shirts or trainers among the clientele; it was all elbow-length gloves, dazzling robes, and even a tiara or two, which reminded Harry of the Diadem and made him feel a bit ill. He was glad he'd gotten a chance to shower.

They ducked around a server in a splendid mermaid costume bearing a tray of crystal champagne flutes and morsels of caviar, and Kyle led them up a grand set of stairs winding around a gigantic statue of Poseidon. He shook his trident as they passed, and Padma's squeak of surprise drew several disapproving glares.

After walking for an age and a half, they came to a lounge that would have fit Grimmauld Place twice over. Photographers and journalists were seated in low chairs facing a long table lit by gently bobbing golden globes, and the backdrop was a vaulted glass wall behind which dolphins were cavorting merrily. About thirty other security officers were there too; Harry spotted French and Italian flags on some nearby uniforms, among others.

"The hotel security are escorting the players here from the Floo and Apparition points, so we can sit back here and watch the press conference," Kyle told them, before getting up to chat with another American Auror.

"Blimey," breathed Susan, when he was out of earshot.

"Yeah." Harry nodded. It was a hell of a lot to take in. He felt nervy all over again and almost wished he had time for another wank. He settled for bouncing his leg and fiddling with his wand holster. Padma tried to read her dossier in the subdued light but gave up when the torches dimmed, and the guests began to enter from a grand entrance at the other end of the room.

There was an usher announcing them as they were admitted one by one, like they were at a ball or something. Madeleine Carpentier. Tianyi Chang. Raya Widjaja. The King. Domenica Giordano. They all looked terribly important and alluring, and they carried themselves like royalty instead of oddballs who played Bluff for a living instead of having real jobs. Harry watched them with fascination anyway.

Then there was only one empty seat at the table remaining, and Harry recognised moustachioed Claiborne and distinguished Bucklebridge, but his own high roller hadn't shown up yet. He started to get an odd feeling in his gut.

From the front of the room, the usher intoned, "Snake Eyes."

And somehow, Harry knew.

Even before the final figure appeared in the shadowy doorway, dressed in an impeccably tailored sky-blue summer suit. Lithe figure, perfect shoulders, long legs striding to the last available seat.

He knew before the man removed his hat and sunglasses to unveil sharp grey eyes and a fall of hair so light blond it was nearly white.

He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt before the man shrugged off his blazer to bare forearms and hands absolutely covered in a riot of colourful tattoos, that he'd spot the Dark Mark hidden among the intricate shapes and lines.

Susan drew in a sharp, hissed breath and Padma murmured, "Oh my god, it's Draco Malfoy."

The conference and photoshoot passed in a blur. Harry was stationed near the exit but his eyes were fixed on Malfoy as surely as if he were wearing Omnioculars. He couldn't have looked elsewhere even if he'd wanted to.

He hadn't seen Malfoy for seven years. There had been the trial, and Harry's testimony, and silently thrusting the hawthorn wand into a stone-faced Malfoy's hands as he left. He seemed to remember a tersely-worded thank you owl that he Incendio'd as soon as he'd read it. The last he heard, the Malfoys had moved to the Continent; Nott and Zabini were the only two Slytherins to return for an eighth year at Hogwarts. After graduation, Harry had thrown himself headlong into Special Ops training. Between his demanding job, Sundays with the Weasleys, visiting Teddy and Andromeda, and remembering to sleep and eat every once in a while, there had simply been no room in his head to consider much else.

And if Harry did have a tendency to pull blokes with blond hair and athletic, aristocratic features… and if he had envisioned Malfoy every time he closed his eyes in unfamiliar men's beds… well, Harry really had thought he'd never see him again, so what was the harm in that?

But god, laying eyes on Malfoy in the flesh was something else entirely. He'd lost track of the number of times Ron had begged him to leave the Invisibility Cloak in his trunk for the night, or Hermione had rolled his eyes at Harry's musing on Malfoy's latest schemes. For Merlin's sake, he'd only learned to master a wandless Lumos so that he didn't have to reach for his wand to check the Marauder's Map for Malfoy in the middle of the night. That it had evolved from suspicion to needful obsession that kept him awake and tormented and hard was something neither Hermione nor Ron had ever been told.

Malfoy brought out the worst in Harry -- competitiveness, focus verging on obsession, an urge to solve conflicts with fists and wands instead of thinking for two seconds. Not exactly good traits for a special operations officer. Harry wondered how pissed off Captain Sterndale would be if he asked to be removed from the mission. Or maybe he could ask the hospital to hurry up Seamus' treatment and get him back out in the field. Merlin, anything but having to open doors and check chocolates for poison and be at the beck and call of Draco Malfoy, the most insufferable tosser and the most compelling individual Harry had ever met.

It really didn't help that Malfoy had grown up to become the spitting image of the not-so-imaginary Adonis that Harry had wanked over not an hour before. He fidgeted in his seat, adjusting himself surreptitiously, but it didn't do much good.

Before he knew it, applause roused him from his reverie. The high rollers stood from the long conference table for group photos, then began to meander to the cocktail bar while a string quartet struck up a lilting tune in the background. Kyle beckoned the three of them to follow him so that they could be introduced.

Susan shook hands with Claiborne, whose ridiculous moustache had been waxed to the tips for the photoshoot. "I knew your aunt," he said to Susan with a roguish wink. His voice was high-pitched and musical, like he was on the verge of laughing. "She was the head prosecutor when I got my lifetime ban from the Piccadilly Wizards' Casino. She was a formidable woman." Susan looked surprised but gave a firm, proud nod of agreement.

Padma met Honoria St. John Bucklebridge, who greeted her frigidly before turning to light a cigarette with her wand. Even though the invitation for tonight had specified casual attire, she was still bedecked in silver and rubies at her ears, throat, and wrists. Padma raised her eyebrows but seemed to accept her fate, following Bucklebridge at a discreet distance.

Which left Harry and Malfoy.

Instead of mingling with the other high rollers, Malfoy was alone. He stood by a cluster of empty chairs watching the dolphins, his blazer draped picture-perfect over his sculpted shoulders and his tattooed hands in his pockets. The shifting light from the water illuminated his profile in an awfully lovely way. Harry's heart banged about in his chest as if trying to break its way out.

As Harry and Kyle approached, Malfoy turned to look at them and his bright gaze speared Harry like a knife. He underwent a series of minute transformations that had to have been invisible to anyone who hadn't watched him across the Great Hall for six bloody years. A slight widening of the pupils, a hitch in his breath, squaring his shoulders. Harry felt his own spine straighten, preparing for battle even as his eyes roved over the tight pull of Malfoy's flawless white shirt over his chest.

Oh god, he was tall and lean and fit as fuck, and Harry didn't know whether to tamp down the hot feeling coiling in his belly, or harness it for the inevitable blows that would be exchanged as soon as Malfoy opened his perfect pink mouth.

"Snake Eyes, good to see you again, man," said Kyle cheerfully, as if tectonic plates weren't silently breaking and shifting beneath Harry and Malfoy. "I'd like to introduce you to your bodyguard for the weekend. This is Officer--"

"Thank you, Auror Reyes. Potter and I are well acquainted." Malfoy's words were cordial, but the knowing smile he gave Harry slipped under his skin like a familiar splinter finding its way home.

Kyle raised his eyebrows at Harry in mild surprise, but Harry gave him an I'll-explain-later scrunch of the mouth. The Senior Auror nodded, then headed back towards the larger group, leaving the two of them alone.

"Harry Fucking Potter." That crude oath in Malfoy's cut-crystal accent blazed through Harry in an instant. He put out a hand to steady himself on the back of a chair, trying to make it look like a casual lean.

"'Snake Eyes', Malfoy? Could you be any more obvious?" He chose to deflect the barbed introduction than to come to terms with Malfoy's voice working better than a Jelly-Legs Jinx.

To his mingled delight and annoyance, Malfoy laughed. "Believe it or not, it's a gambling term. Not everyone is gagging to relive their schoolboy days ad nauseam, and it's been a long time since I encountered anyone who thought that house mascots were still relevant."

Now it was Malfoy's turn to scrutinise Harry. Although he was wearing his full uniform -- white shirt under dark green robes, grey trousers, black leather gloves, and high laced black boots -- the way Malfoy's gaze raked over his body flayed him bare. Harry stared back defiantly, trying desperately not to think of gagging alongside the image of a Slytherin necktie put to an alternative use.

Whatever Malfoy was looking for, he seemed to have found it, because he broke the stare and gestured to a passing waiter. "Two dry martinis, please," he told the man.

"I can't drink on the job," Harry objected. Though Merlin knew he could use it.

"Oh, no?" Malfoy looked a little disappointed, but his mouth perked up in a little smile. "Make that one dry martini and one... peppermint hot chocolate. Extra whipped cream. Please and thank you." The waiter bowed and slipped away. Malfoy settled languidly into a chair and waved a hand at Harry. "Salazar's sake, stop hovering. Have a seat."

Harry furrowed his brow but did as he was told. "What the hell are you doing here, Malfoy?"

"As you are well aware, I am competing in my sixth International Wizarding Casino World Series," Malfoy replied placidly. He leaned back, getting comfortable. "It turns out I'm rather good at winning money when I put my mind to it. I suppose you'd prefer I was... oh, cleaning up owl droppings, or rotting away in Azkaban, to atone for my crimes?"

"Just atoning would be enough," Harry snapped. "Wasn't that part of your sentence? Ten years of community service?"

Malfoy touched a hand to his throat in an exaggerated gesture of delight. "Why Potter, you remembered! I'm touched. Don't forget, a lifelong playdate with the Dementors for Father, and exile abroad for Mother since the Manor was seized for reparations." His eyes had a dangerous gleam. "For your information, this is how I make use of my week of annual leave. I do spend most of my time doing serving my community."

"Doing what?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Try me."

The waiter reappeared with their drinks, and they sat in tight silence while the glasses were deposited on crystal coasters. Malfoy's elegant martini looked quite at odds with Harry's cheery hot chocolate. Harry performed the regulation spell to check for poisons and curses, and a wave of his wand produced a shimmer of blue: all clear. Finally, Malfoy said:

"...I work at a hippogriff rehabilitation center."

"HA!!" Harry's shout of laughter rang through the room, and several elegant heads turned to look at him in disapproval. He only had eyes for Malfoy, who looked irked. "You're right, I don't believe you."

"Good to know some things will never change." Malfoy picked up his martini and raised it to Harry, who in turn grasped the handle of his oversized mug. The aroma of rich chocolate and fresh peppermint seemed to ground him, even as his insides wriggled at the sight of Malfoy swallowing a sip of his cocktail. He took a drink of his hot chocolate and gave an appreciative hum.

"Come on, Malfoy, tell me the truth."

"I just did." Malfoy nibbled at one of the olives on the sword-shaped skewer. Harry noticed for the first time that he wore one or more rings on each slender finger. "It may come as a great shock to you not having seen me since we were at school, Potter, but I've left my bad habits behind. Fibbing and sneaking and tattling -- it's just too much trouble, I find. Far easier to tell the truth." He made a weird little hand gesture that might have meant something like 'scout's honor,' but Harry didn't know for sure, as he would never have been allowed to join.

He snorted. "That's the most un-Slytherin thing I've ever heard you say."

"Don't be puerile. It was ages ago when we were placed into teams on the whim of a talking hat. Are you honestly telling me you still categorise people into nerds, bores, liars, and chivalrous fools who'd jump in front of a train to save a kitten?"

"Of course not," replied Harry hotly as he thought to himself, Such a Slytherin.

Malfoy looked at him over the top of his glass, lips sealed but grey eyes glimmering knowingly. Harry distracted himself by gazing at Malfoy's arm tattoos. It might be surrounded by inked flowers, birds, and geometric shapes now, but Harry knew the Dark Mark was still there. Whether or not he still thought of himself as a Slytherin, that indelible proof of Malfoy's choices would be there forever.

Yes, he'd rather focus on that than on the sight of Malfoy's Adam's apple bobbing as he drained his martini.

Harry found that his own drink was almost finished, save for a small blob of whipped cream at the bottom. He raised the cup to his mouth and darted out his tongue. "Thanks for the drink. What are you doing now?"

He looked up in time to see Malfoy avert his eyes hastily. "I plan to catch up on my beauty sleep. International Portkeys always leave me feeling wrung out." He stood, and Harry stood with him.

"I'll walk you back to your room."

Malfoy glanced at him again, and Harry couldn't parse the gleam in his eyes. "Not like that, you won't."

"I have to. It's my job," Harry insisted. But he wasn't expecting Malfoy to close the distance between them and cup Harry's jaw in one hand.

The 'what are you doing?' died in Harry's throat at the touch of Malfoy's cool palm. He was a few inches shorter than Malfoy, which meant he had to tilt his head back to look at Malfoy's half-closed eyes while the other man's silver gaze was focused on Harry's mouth. His minty aftershave held the sharp tang of an impending storm.

Alarmingly, Harry's instincts told him to tilt his head to one side to make a better angle for the kiss. Because that's what this was, wasn't it? Harry's heart was pounding. Surely there could be no other--

In a split-second, Malfoy swiped his thumb and drew his hand back to show Harry a morsel of whipped cream that had been sitting at the corner of his lips.

Then with a wicked grin, Malfoy (the absolute bastard) brought his thumb to his own mouth and licked it clean.

Harry stood speechless as Malfoy shrugged back into his jacket, tucked his sunglasses into the breast pocket, and picked up his hat with a little twirl. He looked perfectly composed, unlike Harry, who was half bamboozled and half so turned on that his knees felt wobbly.

Gathering his wits, he raised a hand in farewell to Kyle, who was across the room with his colleagues, then followed Malfoy out of the lounge and towards the lifts that led to the rooms and suites. Questions burned on his tongue but he didn't dare speak as they passed the museum-quiet card tables. After a ride in the lift that felt far too short, they were standing in front of a grand door reading 'Deity Suite'. One of the local Aurors was stationed a bit down the hallway and gave Harry a perfunctory nod from over her paperback novel.

"Well, as delightful as this little reunion has been," drawled Malfoy, "I need to unpack. It turns out it takes much longer without a wand. Here, I'm supposed to give you this." He handed Harry a clear token shaped like a seashell, then held an identical one up to the door of the suite. A lock clicked and the door opened. Malfoy stepped forward quickly, and around him Harry caught a glimpse of a suite like something out of a pornographic interior design magazine: gauzy curtains, marble pillars, dark blue leather sofas, and what looked like a combination fountain/jacuzzi sunk into the living room floor.

"Wait--!" called Harry as Malfoy began to close the door, though he didn't know what to ask first. Where's your wand? Why don't you use magic anymore? What was up with licking your thumb thing earlier, because holy hell?

What he finally ended up saying was: "Can I have your number?"

Malfoy paused in the doorway, looking at Harry like he'd just suggested they move in together.

"Er. You know. If you need to get in touch with me, 'cause there's only a Floo in our common area. It's my job to keep you safe. And Susan and Padma want to get sushi for lunch, but after what happened with Seamus, I don't really feel like it. So if you wanted to get something to eat or whatever--"

"Oh my god, fine," said Malfoy, his features softening into something like amusement. He stuck out his hand for Harry's phone and keyed himself into the contacts with several swift taps of his thumbs. Then he did the thing where he called himself, because Harry heard the first few seconds of Carly Rae Jepsen from his jacket pocket. When he handed the phone back, their hands brushed and lingered for a moment too long. "Good night, Potter." Malfoy stepped inside and the door snapped shut.

In a bit of a daze, Harry meandered back through the labyrinthine hotel towards the hovertram station, and he only got lost once. (Why was there a button in the lift for 'Wedding Chapel'?) During the whole tram ride back to Unicorn Grove and the subsequent walk back to his room, his heart felt all leapy, and he couldn't even blame it on the caffeine anymore. It was either the Portkey-lag or seeing Malfoy again, and Harry wasn't sure which option he preferred.

In the black solitude of the hotel suite -- Padma and Susan's room was dark -- Harry shrugged out of his clothes and laid on top of the cool sheets, feeling electric and weird. Unbidden images rose in his mind like a malfunctioning Pensieve: teenage Malfoy laughing in the Great Hall as his owl swooped down with a package of sweets. That one Quidditch match when the locker room pipes had frozen so the Gryffindor and Slytherin teams had all had to crowd into Ravenclaw's, hurled insults and hurled towels and brief, tantalizing glimpses of skin. Malfoy licking his thumb with his eyes trained on Harry's like they were just two blokes in a bar, who didn't have all this fucking history between them.

Harry's phone buzzed on the nightstand next to his wand. Malfoy had added himself under the contact name SNAKE EYES, with a pair of animated dice icons that Harry hated on sight and didn't know how to change.

officer potter. what time do i get the pleasure of yr company tmrw?

He dug around on the floor for his crumpled dossier. I go on duty at 5, and I'm supposed to escort you to the thing at 6.

hm. i have plans for breakfast but we can do late non-sushi lunch after roulette if you like.


just take the lift to the pool at my hotel. you'll find me.

And another in quick succession: did you bring a bathing suit?

No? Why??? Harry responded, wondering what swimwear had to do with lunch.

ok. sweet dreams.

Harry scoffed, plugged his phone in, and set his glasses aside as he slipped under the sheets. He wondered if it was bad form to wank to thoughts of real Malfoy now that he had seen the stretch of cloth over his torso and taken in his incendiary scent. For twenty minutes he tossed and turned, staring at the blurry neon reflections of light that shone through a break in the curtains.

Then he decided sod it, and did it anyway, because he needed the sleep and Malfoy would never know. He came even faster than he had in the shower, thinking of the way Malfoy's plump lip had caught in sharp white teeth when he'd said Harry Fucking Potter.

Sweaty and breathless and sated, Harry cast a lazy wandless Scourgify and was nearly asleep when voices sounded right outside his door.

"Muffliato, Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5, Harry!" said Padma through an exasperated laugh.

"Really makes you wonder what the Gryffindor boys' dorm was like," Susan remarked. Then, more loudly, "Harry, if you can't cast a decent Muffling Charm, I'm asking Sterndale to never pair us on a mission together again!"

"Oh my god, sorry, I'm so sorry, goodnight!" Harry's face was burning and burying it under a pillow didn't really help. He wriggled further under the sheets and reflected that after seven years of good behavior, this was a hell of a way to become obsessed with Draco Malfoy all over again.

Chapter Text

Harry stepped out of the lift into the pool level at Atlantis, which was not so much a pool as it was a breathtakingly surreal subterranean grotto. Golden light flooded in from above, where the top of the cavernous space was wide open to the sunny skies.

He nodded at the Auror by the door, who seemed to recognise Harry even though he was wearing a v-neck and what Ron called his 'yacht club shorts'. He started to walk around the stone path around the edge of the water, looking for Malfoy.

Unlike the museum-like atmosphere of the casino interior, people seemed to be really letting loose here, to Harry's immense relief. A party was in full swing despite the fact that it wasn't even two o'clock in the afternoon. Hundreds of incredibly attractive people were lounging in the shallows or laughing over colourful cocktails. There was a surprisingly long queue for the waterslides, and the massive floating bar in the middle of the water was blasting Weird Sisters remixes. Watching the festivities was a head of white-blond hair.

Malfoy was splayed atop an enormous plastic pool float shaped like a peacock, because of course he was. He was lying back on his elbows looking absolutely edible in an indecently small green bathing suit and a garish tropical print Hawaiian shirt.

Harry made his way closer, past tanning tourists and splashing party-goers. By the time he made it over to a vacant sunning chair near Malfoy, his trainers were soaked.

"Potter!" Malfoy waved him over. Harry allowed his eyes to trail up from Malfoy's bony ankles -- the barely-there blond leg hairs holding drops of water and sunlight like dozens of rhinestones -- quickly past Malfoy's handkerchief-sized bathing suit, along his intriguing arm tattoos, and up to his carved-marble face. Belatedly, Harry realised that the hand he'd held up for shade had done little to camouflage his observation. Even with a ridiculous pair of reflective aviator sunglasses, Harry could read the pleased expression on Malfoy's countenance like a book.

"How was roulette?" Harry asked, to distract him.

"Horribly predictable, as usual. You know, I sometimes wonder at roulette still holding a place in tournaments like these. There's no strategy in it."

"I think it's fun to watch," admitted Harry, who'd actually only seen it played before in a Muggle film.

"'Fun,'" repeated Malfoy, oozing scorn in Harry's direction and resting his laced fingers on his chest. "It's all chance, and half the people I was matched with today played it maddeningly safe. Do you know what the odds are, when you bet on red versus black, or vice versa?" Harry gave a shrug. "One-and-a-ninth to one. 47.4%, I mean, can you blame me for being bored?"

"I shouldn't have asked. This just reminds me of talking with Hermione about her arithmancy homework," Harry grinned.

"It is nothing like arithmancy, Potter, which-- oh, don't just stand there sweating, you look dreadful. Look, I brought an extra swimsuit. It's in my bathing tent over there. You can order us some food and I'll get the drinks." With a wolfish grin and without waiting for Harry to reply, Malfoy slid neatly off the peacock and waded towards the floating bar.

The little poolside cabana was nicer than Harry's hotel room, which was maddening. A Cooling Charm kept the inside breezy and comfortable. There was a pair of cushioned reclining chairs, a basket of towels, and a little tray of suncream and ointments and Sunburn Salve. A small glass table imbued with a Stasis Spell bore plates of sliced fruit, a pitcher of water, and a beautiful and fragrant potted orchid. And there was a magically mounted wizarding phone, along with a booklet detailing a dizzying array of things to order: not only food and drink but shoulder massages and pedicures. White linen shorts and a pair of strappy leather sandals were thrown onto one chair, and a minuscule black swimsuit was placed oh-so-thoughtfully on the second.

Harry hesitated for only a moment before he shucked off his wet trainers, folded his own clothes, and squeezed into the tiny black spandex, more grateful than ever for the rigorous Special Ops training that kept him relatively in shape. He spread a bit of sunblock over his shoulders, legs, and face -- not because he was afraid his brown skin would burn (it never did) but because it was probably the nicest suncream he'd ever get to use. Lastly, he picked up the phone and ordered some lunch stuff off the menu at random, then slipped back out through the curtains and padded back towards the water.

The water was pleasantly cool and, combined with the sunlight beating down from above, it was pretty much heaven. With nowhere else to put his wand, he decided to stick it behind his ear, thinking of Luna with a grin.

Malfoy was wading back from the bar with a cocktail in each hand as Harry manoeuvered his way onto the ridiculous peacock pool float. He made his way into a sitting position with his legs splayed to keep his balance, and tried to remember to ask about Malfoy's no-magic thing at some point.

"Are you more of a piña colada fellow, or a Moscow mule? Because I find that..." Malfoy trailed off as he drew up alongside the pool float, running his eyes up Harry's muscular brown legs in much the same way as Harry had done to him earlier. A rosy streak coloured his high cheekbones and Harry tried not to look too smug.

"You find that what?"

"Hm? Well. That is. Good grief, Potter, make yourself useful and take these so I can climb up. We all know you were raised in a shed or whatever, but it's never too late to learn proper etiquette."

"It was a cupboard, and you're a git," Harry said amiably, plucking his wand from behind his ear to levitate the cocktails beside them. It was a bit of a challenge to keep the peacock stable while Malfoy scrambled up, but they managed in the end. In order for both of them to fit on the thing, Malfoy hooked his heels over Harry's splayed thighs and Harry tried not to think too hard about the tiny diamond of space between his Malfoy's spandex-wrapped package and his own. After Harry did the poison-checking spell on both their drinks, Malfoy helped himself to the piña colada and clinked it against Harry's copper mug.

"To better luck tonight," said Harry cheekily, if only because he knew it would solicit a look of incredulous derision from Malfoy.

"Luck, Potter? Blackjack is a game of probability and advantage. Ugh, I need a drink before I can talk to you about this." Malfoy sucked at the cocktail through a pink straw, hollowing his cheeks, and produced a deep moan which threatened the integrity of Harry's borrowed swimsuit. "God that's tasty."

Harry ducked his head to sip at his own drink. "Yeah, this is quite good. I like limes," he murmured.

He worked steadily at his cocktail while Malfoy launched into a lecture on blackjack: doubling down and 'soft' and 'hard' totals and percentages. And about how an ace plus a face card or a ten was the best you could hope for -- the eponymous 'blackjack', which was worth one and a half times one's wager. As the sun moved to an oblique position over the open roof of the cave, Malfoy shoved his sunglasses up on top of his head so Harry could see his eyes properly again, which was nice.

Despite his whole prim pureblood thing, Malfoy was such a physical, excitable speaker. He had a very Hermione-ish air about him when he warmed up to a topic, and Harry privately thought that Malfoy would have made a really good teacher, had his life turned out very differently. He had always been so animated; Harry vividly recalled the boy who'd insisted he was dying of a hippogriff attack and had climbed trees to taunt him in the courtyard. It was extremely weird and a little lovely to watch Malfoy gesticulating passionately about odds and chance while not being a complete dick. Also he kept jiggling his foot in time with the distant music, while Harry attempted to ignore the sensation of their wet skin sliding together.

"--and since the house edge is only 0.28%, blackjack is one of the more advantageous games in the tournament, if not the most," Malfoy was saying when Harry's brain caught up to his pathetically excitable body.

"Why don't people use magic at these things? Aren't there wizarding gambling games?" he wondered.

"What?" Malfoy blinked. "Of course. Exploding Snap evolved from a 12th century trick-taking game. And the Swiss still play Obstkuchensgewichtserraten at formal gatherings. But for the most part, the rules are so complicated and the spells so archaic that the old games aren't really worth the trouble." Malfoy lifted his shoulders and took a long sip of his neglected cocktail. "I think they tried to incorporate some wizarding games when they started doing these big formal tournaments, but everyone agreed it was better to just play the Muggle ones and have firewhisky afterwards.

"Anyway, it's Las Vegas, so people find dozens of other ways to gamble. Thestral racing, the outcome of Quidditch games -- hell, even the outcome of the Hogwarts and Ilvermorny House Cups."

Harry gave a surprised laugh. "No way."

"Oh yes. Some people will bet on anything. When you walk through the casino later tonight, take a look at the betting rooms. The bookies will all be asking each other, 'What are the odds that the Fitchburg Finches will sign Sasha Hughes as Keeper?' 'What are the odds that Celestina Warbeck's grandchild will be a girl?'"

"What are the odds," Harry played along, buoyed by the vodka-heavy cocktail in his mostly empty stomach, "that Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy will get through the rest of this weekend without punching each other in the face?"

Malfoy scoffed. "Knowing us? A hundred to one."

Harry watched him slurp at the last of the piña colada, then scrabble with his thin fingers for the cherry which had fallen to the bottom of the glass. Malfoy brought the bright red morsel to his mouth and bit down with a pleased hum, and the plastic pool float squeaked under Harry's hand as he sought something solid to grip.

His voice was lower than he thought it would be when he responded. "I think it's about fifty-fifty."

Malfoy looked up, chewing. "You would bet money on us not killing each other."

"Sure. You said yourself that it's been a long time since we were schoolboys playing pranks and landing each other in detention. I'm here to work, and so are you. You really think we're going to revert to fisticuffs spending the next 48 hours together?" Even as he said it, his blood began to sing with a familiar, almost nostalgic urge to string Malfoy up tight and see which one of them snapped first. It was primal, this connection between them: raw and dripping, and Harry yearned to sink his teeth into it.

Malfoy's grey eyes were thoughtful, calculating. "Seven years of bad blood, seven years apart? Abso-bloody-lutely, Potter. You and I have always been like fire and oil. We'll be at each other's throats before too long, mark my words."

Harry flared up at his knowing tone, as if -- as if! -- he knew Harry better than Harry knew himself. Despite his resolve to see the best in people and believe in second chances, there was always something about Malfoy that riled him to the brink of madness.

Worse still was that the underlying desire to clock Malfoy on the mouth was all tangled up with this horrible not-so-newfound temptation to kiss him there instead.

"I can't believe we're fighting about fighting," Harry sighed. "I'm telling you, we're too old for this. I'm not saying we're going to be bosom buddies by the end of this weekend, but I have faith we can keep our hands off each other, don't you?"

Malfoy fixed him with a keen, hungry stare that Harry remembered all too well. He'd seen it on that pointed face before every Quidditch faceoff, shared detention, and forced Potions pairing. Malfoy was right about one thing -- they were always drawn together, with explosive results. And neither of them would ever back down from the challenge.

"Right, then. What shall we say? A thousand Galleons?"

Harry waved a hand dismissively. "You win or lose more than that in a single hand of blackjack, don't you? And I have more money than I know what to do with."

Malfoy smirked. "Watch out, ladies -- he's humble, too."

"Shut up. C'mon, Malfoy, let's make it interesting."

"Very well." Malfoy adjusted his sitting position, pressing his ankles down on Harry's thighs and scooting their hips infinitesimally closer. "If I win, which I will, and we end up in the fistfight of the century... you have to tell everyone, 'Draco Malfoy is the best, signed Harry Potter, P.S. I'm not under an Imperius or a Love Potion,'" he grinned. "Preferably somewhere very public. I'm thinking a full-page ad in the Daily Prophet maybe, or at least an enormous banner at the top of the Eiffel Tower."

That surprised a laugh out of Harry. "Fine. And if I win, and we don't pummel each other's brains out, we'll be friends, right? So as friends, you'll let me take you out to dinner. Also someplace very public. In London."

"And?" Malfoy seemed to be waiting for him to say and you have to wear a feather boa or and you have to snog a Grindylow.

"And nothing. Just dinner, because we'll finally learn to get over this weird thing where you decided we were sworn enemies. Prove me wrong," Harry challenged him, grinning.

At his last words, something flickered over Malfoy's countenance. Fear? Hesitation? Whatever it was, it was gone in a moment.

"You are wrong, Potter. You're so wrong it's not even funny. But I'll enjoy seeing you admit it." He smirked and raised his hand for Harry to shake, an echo of their meeting on the Hogwarts Express.

Merlin, how much of their enmity had stemmed from that one moment? Harry suspected it would take the entire Department of Mysteries several lifetimes to figure that one out. Across from him, Malfoy's gaze burned with daring, walking the knife's edge between brimming hope and dare-you-to-defy-me. Harry wondered how much of the same Malfoy could see in his own countenance. He'd always been a shit Occlumens.

He brought their hands together. The strength and warmth of Malfoy's grip coursed all the way up Harry's veins and straight to his reckless, thudding heart.

"You're on."

It turned out that the stuff Harry had chosen off the poolside lunch menu was totally incongruous, so Malfoy spent the next hour taking the piss out of him as they feasted. Yet despite his complaints, Malfoy hogged the crispy duck panang curry while Harry was delighted to tuck into a chimichanga the size of his head. The horseradish waffle fries weren't bad either. He and Malfoy held their plates on their laps, bobbing on the peacock float and stealing bites of each other's food. The sparkling, unspoken tension between them gave Harry goosebumps beneath the sunlight.

When the late afternoon heat grew to be too much, Harry Vanished their empty plates and glasses, and they retreated to the refuge of the delightfully cool cabana. Malfoy reached for a slice of watermelon from his recumbent position on the chair, and Harry averted his eyes from the sight of juice dripping from the corner of his mouth and down his neck. Instead, he grabbed an orange flask of Sobriety Solution and downed a huge gulp. It wouldn't do for him to be the individual in charge of Malfoy's personal safety tonight while he was horny and tipsy. Just the one thing was bad enough.

After they had made short work of the fruit platter and several glasses of cold water, Malfoy stretched out on the chaise and yawned. "I suppose I should change out of my swim things," he said, even as he closed his eyes and pillowed his cheek on one curled arm.

"Oh shit, right," said Harry once he had done a quick Tempus. He unshrunk his uniform from his pocket, then turned around to change. As he wiggled out of the borrowed swimsuit, he asked, "D'you want to take some Sobriety Solution? I think there's still plenty left in the bottle."

"Hm?" Malfoy's voice was high and taut. "Oh, I suppose I should. Though you know, the Germans are always sozzled and I've long suspected that Vasiliev keeps vodka in his suit pocket."

"Is it usually the same people in this tournament, then?" Harry wondered as he shrugged into his shirt and began to button it up.

"Mm-hm. Sometimes there will be a few new proteges, or someone will retire, but mostly it's the same old crowd. Bucklebridge is a good sort, but Claiborne's a cad. No, a rake."

Harry bit the tip of his tongue to keep from laughing. One, because he'd forgotten how much Malfoy sounded like a 19th century novel sometimes; and two, because these judgments of character were coming from someone who'd willfully hung around Crabbe and Goyle in school.

He rolled his shoulders into his braces and nestled his wand into his holster. He turned to ask Malfoy something about Claiborne but realised that instead of getting changed, like Harry thought he had been the whole time, Malfoy was still lying down on the chaise and watching him from under a veil of golden lashes.

"Hey, it's almost time to go. Aren't you changing?"

"What, into these?" Malfoy toed at the breezy shorts crumpled by his feet. "Don't be daft, Potter, I have to stop by my suite for a proper outfit. Wasn't going to stop you, though. Did you know you've acquired a rather noticeable tan line?"

Harry's brain ground to a halt as he processed that Malfoy had watched him strip and get into uniform. He decided to save processing that thought for later, when they weren't about to be late for the pre-game photo shoots and peacocking.

In any event, Malfoy had tossed his shorts into a stripey tote bag and slung a towel around his hips, under the funny Hawaiian shirt. "You can Side-Along me if you're in that much of a hurry," he suggested.

So Harry did -- POP! -- and his preoccupation with the time and Claiborne and why Malfoy was living without magic was totally annihilated by the press of an athletic, warm, mostly naked body pressed against his, and the smell of pineapple and coconut that seemed to emanate from Malfoy's collarbone, where Harry's nose was pressed. Because that was how they'd ended up after the Apparition, with Malfoy fallen against him and trembling a little, like a little fawn who'd forgotten how to walk.

"I say, warn a fellow next time," said Malfoy, sounding like he was trying to whinge but instead coming across all breathless and low, his voice ghosting across Harry's neck.

Harry gulped. He cupped his hands around Malfoy's elbows, because it really felt like he might collapse if Harry let go. "S-sorry. It's just, we do have to get going, so... you should probably get dressed."

The sound of a distant slamming door broke the taut silence between them, and Malfoy jumped back as if he'd been hexed. "Right. Right," he said to himself as he ducked his head and dug in the tote bag for his room key. "First time Apparating in a while, so. Ah. Won't be a minute." He got the door open and strode off with his towel fluttering, leaving Harry stunned and reeling in the doorway.

Harry blew out a huge sigh, ran his hands through his hair, and stepped inside. If he was going to have a mini existential crisis, he might as well do it in the privacy of Malfoy's rooms.

The Deity Suite was outrageous, an affront to the part of Harry that kind of liked the drippy, cobwebby, creaky aesthetic of Grimmauld Place. Harry wandered around in a daze since he knew Malfoy would take forever getting ready.

He scrutinised his reflection in a massive gold-framed mirror that declared "YOU'RE HOT STUFF, BABY" in a booming American baritone, making him jump. He meandered from the twelve-seat wet bar to the billiards table, glancing at the abstract art on the walls without really taking it in. It was colourful and wild -- a stark contrast to the gloomy tapestry of a squire in Harry's own room -- but in the end it was still hotel art.

Finally, he manoeuvered around the ostentatious grand piano ("Self-Playing: from Elgar to Elton John!") and sank down on a blue leather sofa. He flicked his wand at the fountain to make it change colours, since that was better than thinking about Malfoy in his swimsuit, or in a sky-blue suit with a martini to his lips, or in his Quidditch uniform fast and fierce, or in nothing at all with his limbs tumbling across pillows and sheets, Harry's name wrenched from his lungs. God.

Harry needn't have bothered getting worked up. In the end, as usual, his imaginary concerns were far outdone by reality.

He was trying, he really was. He did his best to remember what Malfoy had told him about busts, hands, splits, and surrenders. But it was absolutely impossible to count to 21, let alone understand what the hell was going on in the game, when Malfoy was sat ten feet away like that.

Malfoy had emerged from the far reaches of his suite looking as fresh as a spring breeze, hair with that just-got-shagged tousledness, and... Harry didn't think he would ever have a reason to use the phrase 'dressed to kill' in real life, but Malfoy was probably actually going to be the death of him.

Malfoy's fashionable crimson and black socks matched the blood red of his brogues. The tailored dark jeans fit him like a second skin, as if they'd been spelled on and then shrunk a little more, just to be safe. His tattoos were starkly visible beneath the barely-there fabric of his shirt, a gauzy black mesh embroidered with a dark floral pattern: deep red roses and buds, spiky leaves, intertwining vines. He'd fastened a little gold chain to the corners of the shirt's silky pointed collar. It was completely unnecessary and, Harry thought, extremely fetching.

(Harry's tongue had been glued to the top of his very dry mouth for almost their entire walk from the Deity Suite to the dubiously-named Euphoria Lounge where the tournament was to take place. The only exception was in the lift, when Malfoy had gazed at their reflection in the metal doors -- they made quite a pair, the buttoned-up security officer and the debauched bad boy. Malfoy turned to Harry with a little frown and without preamble, reached for the waistband of Harry's trousers.


But Malfoy simply tucked the shirt in lopsidedly at the front, then stepped back to check his work. "Much better. The French tuck hasn't made its way across the pond yet, I see."

Harry didn't trust himself to speak, still trying to process the feeling of Malfoy's fingertips ghosting across his skin. Merlin.)

He willed himself to focus as the new hand was dealt. Grimsdottir played idly with her small pile of chips and Bekele lit another cigarette, but the other players sat quite still. Kyle had been right; Malfoy's skill was a sight to behold. He was cool, and methodical, and enchanting to watch.

Sometimes the other players would hoot in triumph, or lose their temper on a bad play. Once on a bust, Vasiliev crashed both fists on the table, sending his chips flying and earning a stern word from the dealer. But Malfoy never did, because he never went over 21. He seemed to know when to split a dealt pair into two separate hands; when to double down; and when to stand. Slowly, the other players' piles of chips dwindled while Malfoy's only grew.

Enchanted mirrors above them cast magnified reflections of the five tables for the spectators, as well as a running tally of each player's winnings. Harry watched the other tables, noting the difference between the people who were comfortable playing blackjack, and those who weren't. Bucklebridge, for instance, had a rather small pile of chips compared to her opponents, and was chewing on her cigarette holder irritably. On the other hand, Claiborne was doing rather well and kept fiddling with the ends of his moustache when he felt smug.

After the round drew to a close, the usher announced a short break. Bucklebridge and several others flew out of their seats to light a cigarette, and Chang made a beeline to the bar. Malfoy remained lounging in his chair, though he turned to glance at Harry and raised his eyebrows. His pile of chips looked like a dragon's hoard in comparison to his tablemates'. Harry figured a thumbs-up was better suited to a Quidditch game than their current refined setting, so he settled for a wink.

Malfoy's poker face -- or blackjack face, or whatever -- was usually stoic, but Harry swore that the corners of his mouth twitched before he turned back to chat with the hostess.

They played, and played again, until there were only five of them left: The King, an American in a massive cowboy hat; Giselle Beaumont, with a string of pearls in her rich red hair; Margret Grimsdottir, looking impassive and thoughtful; Claiborne; and Malfoy.

The other tables were cleared away. Some of the eliminated players stormed out to brood, but others sat at the lounge bar or took empty seats in the spectators' stands.

At last, it was down to Malfoy and The King. The King had 90,000 Galleons to Malfoy's 75,000. Claiborne watched from the stands with a stormy frown beneath his ridiculous moustache.

"60,000," announced The King, shoving a pile of chips towards the center of the table.

Malfoy blinked once, twice. Then he shoved all of his chips forward. "75,000." A murmur rippled through the spectators. If they both won this hand, they'd tie at 150,000 and force another game.

Then the host held up her hand for silence. There wasn't a sound in the room apart from the gentle flick, flick of the cards being dealt.

A 9 for The King; a Jack for Malfoy. The dealer drew herself a card and kept it face down.

The dealer laid the king of spades in front of The King -- he whooped and whipped off his cowboy hat, parading around the table gleefully.

Then the room hushed again for Malfoy's draw.

The dealer drew a card from the deck...

...laid it in front of Malfoy...

...and turned over the queen of hearts.

The crowd erupted into wild applause and cheers, even though the dealer had yet to unveil her own hand. But she did, and it was a 2 and a 7, and The King threw his hat on the ground, and looked murderous, and Harry wondered why, but then he remembered -- Malfoy's ace and queen were a natural blackjack, and worth one-and-a-half times his original wager, which meant--!

"He won!" Harry exclaimed to himself, but it was scarcely possible for him to hear his own voice over the rambunctious roar of the spectators. He nearly forgot that he was supposed to go to Malfoy until he spotted Kyle gesturing at him frantically from across the room.

Harry crossed to the edge of the platform where Malfoy was standing, acknowledging the cheers and whistles with a small bow from his waist before shaking hands with the dealer and host. He shook hands with The King, too, even though it looked like the furious American was trying to crush Malfoy's fingers in his grip. Harry would've gotten his wand out if it had gone on a second longer.

"SNAKE EYES - 187,500 Galleons" flashed endlessly in the enchanted mirror overhead, and confetti and sparks rained down from the ceiling. The hostess and a gaggle of journalists clustered around Malfoy, taking photographs and waving their quills and shouting over one another. Harry was glad that he wasn't guarding someone who wasn't Malfoy, because it was impossible to look away.

He was a luminous star, and a thousand times more captivating because Harry knew it was more than just his hair and his eyes and his shoulders and his fit, toned limbs -- he was brilliant, calculating and snarky and that was when Harry realised he was more than just a tiny bit into him.

Ah, fuck.

At length, the journalists' quills stopped twitching, the hostess shook Malfoy's hand one last time, and he signed several autographs before putting up his hand in a friendly wave farewell. Normally the winner would have performed their own money transfer spell, but Harry did it for Malfoy with a flick of his wand. "Transvecto Pecunia!" The 187,500 Galleons (good god) vanished with a hint of gold smoke.

Malfoy followed Harry as he pressed through the crowd, scowling and moving people aside to make a path. Finally, they came to the lifts and Harry glared at several bystanders so they could have one to themselves. The doors slid closed and showed them reflected beside one another once again.

"Not bad, mm?" Malfoy said, turning to him slightly.

Harry didn't really mean to kiss him. It just sort of happened -- Malfoy's triumphant smile turned into this eager, needful, blazing stare which was meant for Harry and only Harry, burning into him and drawing him in. He barely knew what he was doing when he drew forward and pressed one arm against the wall of the lift, pinning Malfoy in the corner, and used the other hand to draw Malfoy ever so slightly closer.

From there, well. It took no effort and no thought at all to press their mouths together and pour himself in.

Malfoy opened against him like a flower in bloom. His lips and tongue were wet and impossibly warm, and he tasted of victory and adrenaline, the same thing that ran through Harry's bones after catching the Snitch. He marveled at the sounds that were echoing around the lift as if Sonorus'ed -- needy moans and breathy sighs and half-caught breaths, their whispers mingling in the electric air between them. Malfoy was pressed close against him, clinging to Harry's robes with shaking hands. Through the translucent shirt, Malfoy was fever-hot and Harry was this close to just yanking at the collar chain and tearing it all off--

Then the lift chimed, the doors slid open, and Harry drew back. Malfoy's pupils were dark pools of arousal, and his mouth was flushed dark pink. There were spots of colour high on his cheekbones and his chest was heaving slightly, and Harry was sure his own was too.

"What d'you want to do?" he murmured. He couldn't stop staring at Malfoy, who was catching his breath slumped in the corner like he'd just run a marathon.

Malfoy stared at Harry for a moment, looking dazed, before breaking into a gleeful grin.

"C'mon, Potter. We're going clubbing."

Harry was prepared to be surprised at some wizarding touch to the club, but funnily, it was pretty standard. The smell of perfumed sweat; the flash of strobe lights; basslines boosted so high he couldn't hear himself think. He'd shrunk his outer robes again and stuffed them in his pocket, figuring that his uniform white shirt and grey trousers made a dull but passable going-out ensemble. Anyway, he'd definitely seen Malfoy eyeing the hug of his brown leather braces as the bouncer had waved them through the VIP entrance.

He followed the sway of Malfoy's denim-clad hips up the luminescent stairs and towards the crowded bar. The blue and purple lights caught Malfoy's hair like they were meant for him, and he walked like he belonged here, unlike Harry who felt about as out of place as a blindfolded erumpent in a porcelain factory. He didn't know where his pre-kiss confidence had fled to, but he certainly didn't feel it now. He sort of wished they were back in the lift (or on a sofa, or on Malfoy's bed, or on the bloody floor for all he cared) still snogging, but he also wanted to see where this was going.

Malfoy squeezed into an open spot at the bar and shouted to the bartender. Then he thrust a long, thin test tube into Harry's hands. It was emitting an alarming amount of green smoke from the top and smelled fruity. "Drink!"

Harry reflected that if Malfoy had given him a smoking test tube in sixth year and told him to drink it, he would have promptly smashed the thing before hexing Malfoy's ears off. But this wasn't sixth year; they were adults now, and Malfoy had changed... right?

"Can't drink on the clock," he shouted above the music, reminding Malfoy of this twice in as many days.

"It's lime and soda."

Oh. Well. "You remembered," he said, blinking. Malfoy did a sort of eyeroll/shrug and Harry bit back a pleased smile. He waved his wand over their drinks. When the blue sparks appeared, he clinked the rim of his test tube against Malfoy's and they downed the smoking contents in one go. It was sweet and fizzy, and he felt a little more at ease despite the lack of alcohol.

"Thank you," he yelled, leaning closer to Malfoy to make himself heard. He breathed in and wondered if the shudder that ran up his arms was from the scent of Malfoy's aftershave, or the cool liquid he'd swallowed.

Instead of responding, Malfoy plucked the empty test tube out of his hands and popped them into a little rack on the bar. Then he grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him towards the dancefloor.

"Where are you-- Malfoy, I don't want to dance!"

He tried to yank his hand back, but Malfoy shot him a grin over his shoulder, and the sight felt like a punch in the gut. The lights shone from behind Malfoy like a halo, illuminating the fall of his hair and bouncing off his cheekbones. The pale skin of his neck and chest stood out starkly against his gauzy black top in sharp, unforgettable contrast.

"Well I do, and you're my bodyguard, Potter. So guard my body."

Malfoy sauntered backwards, beckoning him with both arms, before laughing and turning towards the dance floor. Harry groaned and followed him, squeezing into the crowd.

The press of bodies was overwhelming. Harry was immediately jostled from all sides by people dancing, shifting, twisting, grinding. Hundreds of people screamed and jumped as one, except for Harry, whose self-consciousness had returned with a vengeance. Every couple of steps, someone would step into his path and he'd have to duck around or scoot behind as they wove their hips. More than once, someone tried to snake out an arm to draw him closer as they gyrated, and what Harry first mistook as people dropping things on the dance floor then bending to pick them up was something else entirely.

Malfoy had found a spot under a pale blue light and was moving his body to the music with the ease and self-assurance of a Veela. Harry, trapped behind a pair of undulating women who seemed to be attached at the face, could only watch as Malfoy lifted his tattooed arms skyward, then drew them down along his lace-covered torso with a finger-light caress. The mesh fabric dipped under the pressure of his hands, pulling it over his pale skin in a way that sent shivers all the way down Harry's body despite the heat.

A man came up behind Malfoy, a tall fellow with brown hair and skin-tight red shirt. He murmured something in Malfoy's ear before sliding his hands around Malfoy's waist and burrowing his face between his shoulder and neck. Harry's hands involuntarily curled into fists, but the wretched couple in front of him still wouldn't move.

Malfoy's silvery gaze sought and held Harry's while he rocked his body against the stranger's. With every roll of the shoulders, every shift that brought his hips closer to the other man's, Malfoy seemed to be drawing an invisible string between him and Harry tighter and tighter. When the stranger drew one finger up from Malfoy's navel, up his chest and exposed lines of his throat, and tipped their heads back so that their faces were inches apart, Harry decided he'd had enough.

As surely as if he'd cast a Banishing Charm, the snogging couple slid away and everyone else between him and Malfoy parted to make a clear path on the otherwise overstuffed dance floor. Harry stalked forward and was satisfied to see, up close, that Malfoy's irises were blown wide and he was watching Harry with his full attention.

"Piss off," Harry snarled at the stranger, who lifted his hands from Malfoy as if burned and melted away into the crowd.

Malfoy said nothing, simply fixed Harry with a smoldering stare. Under the lights, he was simply ethereal: dark lines on ghostly skin, his flaxen hair shining with glitter and sweat.

Harry closed the distance between them and drew Malfoy close by the waist. He clutched at the heat radiating through the sheer fabric. The heady rush went straight through him, and from there he simply gave in to the rhythm of the music and allowed his body to move.

He didn't think it was possible for their bodies to get even closer, but Malfoy curled his hands around Harry's braces and slotted their legs together like a puzzle piece. He began to twist and rock again too, and Harry swore that when Malfoy tucked his head close to his neck, he could feel the other man's lips curved in a soft smile.

"I say, Potter," his whisper slid into Harry's ear. "You're a Gryffindor after all."

Four songs later, Harry was drenched in sweat while Malfoy looked like he'd walked out of a how-to pamphlet for looking like he'd just been fucked, but in a fresh, photogenic sort of way. He trailed Harry to the bar and draped his arms around him from behind like a clingy bat.

"This round's on you," Malfoy said against Harry's ear.

Harry suppressed a shiver and scoffed. "You're taking the piss, aren't you, Mister Millionaire?"

"I'm quite serious, Potter. I'd like a martini, please, with an extra twist of lemon." When Harry made a face at him, Malfoy rolled his eyes. "You don't think I keep all my winnings, do you? Good grief."

Harry had of course taken it for granted that Malfoy kept and spent his winnings, and that he slept in a pile of Galleons and diamond necklaces. He cast a Muffliato so they didn't have to shout quite as much to hear each other. "What do you mean?"

Malfoy huffed a sigh and dropped elegantly onto a barstool. "All of my winnings are automatically transferred to Gringotts, but not to my personal account. Blaise Zabini set it up ages ago that anything I send there gets distributed among several different charities. War Orphans Fund, St. Mungo's, Muggles Affected By Magic, Werewolf Victims' Aid... What?" He gave a short laugh at Harry's flabbergasted expression. "You really thought I was swanning around the Manor in designer robes, eating off crystal plates? My place in London is above a Muggle travel agency, Potter. I have seven flatmates and the kitchen smells of tomato soup."

Well, that answered many questions that Harry hadn't bothered asking himself. First of all, he assumed that Malfoy lived in the Vegas hotel suite year-round and was amassing wealth in a way that seemed totally… Malfoy-ish. The thought of him donating huge piles of gold to good causes and living with normal, non-exorbitantly-wealthy people was totally at odds with Harry's mental picture of his former schoolmate.

Malfoy seemed to suspect at least some of what was ticking through Harry's head, because he gave him a pointy-toed nudge in the leg. "Stop looking like I kicked your Crup, Potter. And for Salazar's sake, don't say 'sorry' in that absurdly heartbreaking way of yours. You can apologise by getting me that martini."

So Harry did, slouching off to think very hard while the bartenders ignored him and the pounding bass wreaked havoc on his already-tortured heartbeat.

They strolled side by side down the corridor, past the Auror with her book, and ended up at Malfoy's door. Malfoy was humming the catchy synth line of the last song they'd danced to before calling it a night. Even under the unflattering fluorescent lighting in the corridor, he was a vision beyond any painting Harry had ever seen: hair disheveled and features glowing; mouth curved in the easy, open smile of the fairly tipsy.

Harry's thoughts were bouncing around in his whirling skull like rogue Bludgers. He was trying to reconcile the fit, talented, wickedly smart Malfoy he'd snogged earlier with the sneering, cruel Malfoy of their teenage years -- not to mention thought of him living in a weird-smelling flat when he wasn't living as his Vegas alter ego. Part of him wanted to thrash and protest, to believe that Malfoy would always and forever be the boy who'd lured him out of bed for nonexistent duels, stomped on his nose, and spat vitriol at him and his friends. It was easy to think of Malfoy that way: a known quantity.

"I can hear those cogs turning, you know." Malfoy was leaning against the door with his room key in one hand. "Sickle for your thoughts."

Harry couldn't bring himself to begin talking about what was actually on his mind, because he'd probably just end up rambling and ruining the nice, glowy haze that was floating between them. So instead he said, "Tonight was nice."

Malfoy barked a laugh. "As always, Potter, your talent as a wordsmith astounds me. I prostrate myself before your masterful command of the English language. 'Nice,'" he repeated in a disbelieving tone, unlocking his suite door and beginning to step inside.

"Wait," Harry said, catching his arm before he could slip away. "I mean it, Malfoy. I enjoyed talking with you and, um. Dancing. I don't normally dance."

"I could tell," smirked Malfoy.

Harry resisted the urge to shove him. Instead he said, "What I really mean is... I'm pleased that I'm getting to know you. And I'm glad you're not," he fished in his memory for the words, "swanning around, eating off crystal plates. You're trying to be better, and that's really... nice."

Malfoy stilled, and Harry wondered if he'd said the wrong thing. "Yes, well, as I've told you before, the Manor has been repossessed, and I didn't have much choice for employment. In the end, the sanctuary was the only place that actually responded to my inquiries. I'll be back there on Monday, sweeping up feathers, hauling buckets of truly unmentionable fluids hither and yon. I'm glad you find it nice."

"Oh my god, stop saying 'nice' like that," Harry pleaded. But Malfoy was on a roll now.

"I had an exceptionally pleasant evening. I procured 187,500 Galleons for a worthy cause. I beat that pompous buffoon with the outrageous fashion sense and the ridiculous nickname--"

"Pot, kettle," Harry muttered.

"--and got to celebrate with The Saviour of the Wizarding World at my side. What else could a man ask for?"

The air between them crackled and Harry's first instinct was to kiss him. Then he remembered he'd already done that, and it was brilliant, and his mouth chose that moment to blurt, "Listen, Malfoy, in the lift earlier..."

"Oh, how could I forget!" Malfoy drew himself up to his full height, pinking. He appeared very worked up, which was an astonishingly good look on him. "Canoodling in a hotel lift, the high point of my evening. Cornered by an on-duty bodyguard, of all things, for a bit of public necking. And they say romance is dead."

"God, it wasn't that bad, was it?" Harry cried. Merlin, Malfoy was infuriating. There went Harry's lead-in for a second attempt.

"Not in the slightest," replied Malfoy, who was still rather rosy. "In fact, you could say it was rather... nice."

Then he leaned forward, pressed a barely-there kiss onto Harry's mouth, dashed into his suite, and shut the door.

Chapter Text

Unsettling nightmares came to Harry for the first time that trip, which was normal for his regular dream schedule but were a pain in the arse nonetheless. Masked figures in a graveyard; a curtain fluttering without any wind; blood on a bathroom floor; green light and a shrill, unending scream.

Last of all was the feeling of a pale, sweaty hand slipping out of his as fire rose up around them, devouring everything.

He woke with a gasp, sweat cooling on his brow in the air-conditioned room. For a moment he was disoriented, his eyes casting about for Gryffindor four-poster hangings, and then his bedroom walls at Grimmauld Place, before remembering where he was. Harry took deep breaths, turned onto his side, and let his mind wander through more peaceful images. Ron standing next to Hermione as she cradled a sleeping baby Rose. Teddy on a tiny broomstick, zipping around Andromeda's garden.

Malfoy, looking at him in the lift with wide, stormy eyes and wet lips. Warm hands on his waist but instead of Fiendfyre, the sound of their shared, secret breaths.

He drifted off again.

Harry's phone buzzed a few hours later with a single word text from Malfoy. brunch? His heart swooped giddily as he tapped an affirmative reply. He showered, dressed, and went out into the suite, where he could hear Susan's and Padma's voices.

"Morning, Harry. You look spiffy," Padma said from her spot on the couch where she was doing a crossword.

Susan piped up from where she was making a cup of tea in the kitchenette. "We were thinking about going to that Brazilian steakhouse for lunch. Fancy coming along?"

"Can't, sorry. Got plans with Malfoy."

There was a clatter and the sound of something breaking. Harry looked up to see Padma raising her eyebrows at him, and Susan staring aghast with a shattered teacup at her feet.

"Um. Are you feeling all right?" Padma asked.

"We should check him for Imperius, or maybe a cursed object," muttered Susan. "Edward says that most gamblers are very susceptible to--"

"Guys, I'm fine! We've been talking," (and snogging, a little), "and he's actually turned out kind of okay."

Susan's expression twisted into something horrified. "'Kind of okay'? Harry, he's a Death Eater! He may have a bunch of new Muggle tattoos now, but he's still got the Dark Mark on his arm! He swore his allegiance to You-Know-Who and-- and-- Wasn't the point of the D.A. to defend ourselves against people like him?!" Her face had gone pink, and Padma's own look was grave.

Harry shuffled uncomfortably. "The war is over," he told his colleagues: both members of Dumbledore's Army, both combatants in the Battle of Hogwarts. Two courageous, talented young women who had looked to him for guidance when they were all of 15. "Lucius Malfoy is in Azkaban for life and Mal-- Draco has changed. He has," he insisted, when Padma and Susan shared an incredulous look. "You know, he donates all of his winnings to charity. St. Mungo's, the War Orphans Fund..."

"I'm sorry," Padma half-laughed, "but a sudden interest in philanthropy when you've been caught on the losing side of a war is the most Malfoy thing I can imagine. Does that really make up for all the things he did? Does it make up for him letting Death Eaters into Hogwarts to kill Dumbledore?"

An icy sensation of dread was clutching at Harry's insides. There were so many things he wanted to say -- Dumbledore meant for Snape to kill him; Malfoy never would have done it; Harry saw him lower his wand -- but he couldn't bring himself to voice them when Susan and Padma were looking at him like that.

"He's trying. He's changed. We've all changed." Again, Harry insisted this to both his colleagues and to himself. "And what's the point of winning the war if we don't give people second chances? Dumbledore would have. Dumbledore did, for Malfoy. And I think I know that better than either of you."

The cold in his gut had turned to righteous heat, and he felt a flare of wild magic like static in his hands. Impulsively, almost viciously, he cast Reparo on the broken teacup on the floor. It reassembled itself not into a plain white vessel, but a baroque monstrosity with seven curlicue handles, engraved purple roses edged in gold leaf, and a chirping porcelain dove perched on the rim. It was also about five times bigger than it had been before, and Susan had to catch it with both hands, her mouth ajar, as Harry turned on his heel and stormed out.

Instead of heading for the hovertrams, Harry decided to walk to Atlantis, which was a horrible mistake as it was about a trillion degrees out and he began to sweat almost immediately. But he needed to work off his energy before he faced Malfoy in person.

He already knew everything that Susan and Padma had pointed out. The Dark Mark, Death Eaters streaming out of Malfoy's repaired cabinet, the fact that charity alone could never make up for years of bullying and tattling and swearing fealty to the most evil wizard of all time.

But it wasn't charity alone, was it? Malfoy had deliberately lied to Bellatrix in the Manor about his identity. I can't be sure. He'd tried to stop Crabbe in the Room of Requirement, too. And despite all his machinations, he'd never actually killed anyone, had he?

Harry let out a frustrated growl, startling a couple posing for photographs with a paunchy Elvis impersonator. Surely Harry wasn't guarding, standing up for, and quite possibly falling for a man for whom the best thing he could say was 'he's not an actual murderer.'

Malfoy was trying. He could've been up to any number of evil deeds, forming a resurgent Neo-Death Eater group, but he wasn't. He was living a low-profile, practically Muggle life, carrying out his community service sentence, and throwing money at his guilt. Which -- yes, Padma -- was a very Malfoy way of going about it. But it was something, right? It wasn't like Special Ops or the Aurors would've taken him, nor any other department in the Ministry that Harry could think of. He was, in his own way, doing his best.

Once again, Harry wondered who he was trying to convince: his friends, or himself.

He meant to ask Malfoy some of these burning questions, get some reassurance that he wasn't going mad. But as usual, Malfoy did a lovely job distracting him.

He knocked on Malfoy's door, sweaty and grumpy and sort of spoiling for a fight. And Malfoy answered the door with a towel around his hips.

Harry's cheeks burst into flame and his jaw worked soundlessly. Malfoy looked him up and down and said, "You're not wearing that to brunch, are you?"

"I could say the same thing!" Harry retorted. He'd had the pleasure of eyeing Malfoy's long legs in the pool yesterday, but he'd always been wearing a shirt. Now, Harry was able to drink in the sight of his sculpted shoulders, deliciously tattooed arms, and the dark gold hair that formed a line down to -- he swallowed -- the low-slung towel. Malfoy's damp hair curled slightly below his ears, and the heady scent of mint wafted from his freshly washed body. He was holding a smaller towel to his chest to blot at the water dripping down his neck and collarbone.

Harry was fucked.

"Those taupe monstrosities are suitable for a poolside picnic," Malfoy announced, casting a pointed glance behind him at the shorts that Harry was wearing again, "but we're going somewhere a little more upscale this morning." He lifted his nose and walked through the suite with Harry trailing behind him as if leashed and collared.

"Are we?" Harry asked faintly, eyes on Malfoy's water-streaked back as they climbed the stairs. To the bedroom, he thought dizzily.

Malfoy crossed the palatial room, his footsteps silent on flawless ivory carpet. He passed a pearl-coloured sofa and matching chaise, a flatscreen TV the size of a small car, and a round bed piled with a dozen pearl-coloured pillows. The rumpled sheets looked like silk, because they probably were. Harry didn't know what was making his heart squeeze more -- the thought of Malfoy with lips parted in a gasp, sliding against silk sheets; or the small stack of dog-eared Martin Miggs comics tucked next to the reading lamp. It was so fucking endearing, Harry wanted to die.

"Come here," Malfoy's voice sounded. Steam emanated from a frosted glass dividing wall behind the bed, and Harry walked around to discover the master bathroom and an immense walk-in closet. It was all beautiful grey marble, illuminated mirrors, dazzling gold detail. Through the towering underwater window by the bathtub, a swarm of luminescent pink jellyfish was drifting past.

To his mingled chagrin and delight, Malfoy had thrown on some clothes. Sort of. A crisp white shirt hung unbuttoned over his chest, and he was fussing with the button on a pair of sinfully tight olive green trousers. The sight of Malfoy putting clothes on shouldn't have made Harry as lightheaded as it did, but he accepted that this was just his life now.

"Try this," said Malfoy, handing him something slinky and black. "And don't bother with pants underneath; you'll ruin the line."

"Wh-- Er? Why?"

"Well, you see, young Potter, when a grown-up man gets aroused..."

"Not that, you berk," Harry shouted, throwing the garment at his head. Malfoy lifted the fabric with the back of one hand as if he was emerging from a tent, a mischievous grin dancing on his face. Harry was starting to feel very warm indeed. "I mean, why are you giving me clothes? You know I'm supposed to wear my uniform at all the events. I'm not allowed to get all fancied up like you."

"I'm aware of that." Malfoy pressed the clothing back into Harry's hands, along with a pair of grey slacks and two stylish shirts that he'd plucked from his hangers. "This is for brunch now and going out after, Potter. Your scruffy bodyguard undergarments might have been suitable for the lowly discothèque we patronised last night, but we mustn't let the Americans think us so slovenly at the proper clubs."

"Oh, no, we mustn't," echoed Harry in his best impression of Uncle Vernon's obnoxious golf pals.

The effect was lost on Malfoy, who added what looked like a cravat and a set of cufflinks to Harry's armful. "That should do. Can't do anything about the specs, I suppose--" he stared unnervingly at Harry as if tempted to Oculus Reparo directly at his eyeballs, wandless or no, "--but take these." He set a pair of lovely dark dragonhide brogues on the pile, and nodded to himself. Then he turned his attentions to his open shirt, and Harry's eyes wandered to--

--oh no--

Four long, ragged scars reached from shoulder to hipbone, marring Malfoy's soft skin all across his chest. One cut had come less than an inch from his right nipple, and that was what had drawn Harry's eye earlier: the waves of shiny, white flesh that had knitted together imperfectly over the wounds. Harry imagined that not even a garden full of dittany and the best ministrations of Madam Pomfrey could have healed those cuts -- blood pouring from them like the ink from Riddle's diary, so much blood.

"I--" Harry choked.

Malfoy was buttoning his shirt while watching himself in the mirror. His voice was astonishingly even. "Not to worry, Potter. They stopped hurting a long time ago. Anyhow, I find that a curse scar adds a certain je ne sais quoi to one's mysterious and sexy public persona, don't you?"

"I'm so sorry."

"It's all part of the glamorous mystique of Las Vegas," Malfoy continued, as if Harry hadn't spoken. He turned his attention to his trousers, lacing a dark leather belt through the hoops with hypnotic movements. "One of the first things you learn about this city is that everything is a trick. The erupting volcano in front of The Mirage, the twin dragons that roar down the length of Fremont Street -- all smoke and mirrors."


"They got the idea from Muggles, actually. Pheromones in the air circulating throughout the resort. Not so strong as to cause anything drastic; just a nudge. It makes the people losing money at their tables feel a little bolder, feel the need to impress their companions, take a few more risks.

"For a moment, they can forget their boring day jobs, their awful families, their worries, their debts, their regrets, their past. This ephemeral playground exists outside of space and time. 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.' Do you understand what I'm saying, Potter?"

He had pulled an embroidered silk waistcoat over his shirt, buttoned it, and was now cinching himself up at the back with an impossibly erotic bend of elbows and waist. Twisting around to examine his back in the mirror, his eyes flicked up and found Harry's. Harry, who was so captivated and infuriated and intrigued by this man, who couldn't look away if his life depended on it.

"I understand," he whispered.

"Good." Malfoy smoothed his hands over his front, ran a hand through his perfect hair, and motioned at Harry. "Now chop chop, into your glad rags, Cinderella. I'm starving."

They were at, of all places, a Muggle tearoom.

Granted, it was the $85-a-head tearoom at the Waldorf, but still.

Harry watched in mute surprise as Malfoy greeted the host with friendly familiarity ("A spot by the window for you and your guest, Snake Eyes?") and they settled in opposite one another at a glass-topped table with a phenomenal view.

Harry hadn't been bold enough to wear the black trousers (they were slinky and smooth and the thought of going starkers underneath them was positively obscene), but the grey ones did look and feel pretty good. Malfoy had insisted on packing him a small valise of "going out clothes," which was now sitting at Harry's feet. He strongly suspected that the sexy black trousers had made their way in there too.

A server approached with a pair of menus. "The blue cornflower Earl Grey to start with, I think," said Malfoy, without looking at them. She bobbed her head and left the two of them to not quite look at one another. Malfoy leaned back in his chair to admire the view while Harry gazed at the long lines of his neck and the soft fall of hair that framed his face. When Malfoy turned slightly towards him, Harry coughed and took a turn staring out the window, though he could feel Malfoy's eyes, probably laughing at how daft Harry looked in his borrowed clothes. Ugh.

Malfoy tapped his fingertips on the glass surface and, struggling for something to talk about, Harry blurted, "Your rings."

The fingers stilled for a moment before Malfoy asked, "What about them?"

"You didn't use to wear jewelry in school."

Malfoy seemed torn between surprise and pleasure that Harry had been watching him in school so carefully as to have noticed. In the end, he replied, "Yes, well. It started as part of the Snake Eyes costume, if I'm going to be honest. Then I decided I sort of liked them."

Harry gazed at Malfoy's hands. He sort of liked the rings too. Malfoy had one or two on each slender finger. Some were just a thin band of gold or silver; others were wider with a stone or an engraved design. One of them, on the ring finger of his right hand, was made of wood. Harry found himself almost reaching out to touch it, eyes traveling across the smooth ring so out of place among the other jewelry. Then the server arrived with their tea, several plates full of food, and a bottle of champagne.

Malfoy scooted his chair in to reach for the teapot, and his foot bumped into Harry's. Harry was too distracted by the food to move away, so he just let his foot rest against Malfoy's while he gazed at the delectable dishes. There was enough food to feed half of Hogwarts: popovers heaped with herbed cream cheese and smoked salmon, scones alongside clotted cream and about twelve types of jam, soft-boiled eggs and toast soldiers, leek and mushroom pastry puffs, a heap of fresh berries, and a tower of hotcakes. Harry helped himself to some of everything while Malfoy poured the tea. He was tempted to tuck his napkin into his collar to protect Malfoy's shirt, but didn't want to look more ridiculous than he already did.

"It's not quite like home, but it's decent, isn't it?" Malfoy leaned back in his chair after a long sip of tea, nudging Harry with his bony ankle. Harry found that he didn't really mind.

"It's really nice." Harry breathed in the citrusy aroma of his tea and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, Malfoy was looking at him, but quickly looked away to pick up a scone.

"Mother used to give a grand tea every Saturday. Cucumber sandwiches and gladhanding aristocrats as far as the eye could see," mused Malfoy. "I wasn't allowed to attend until I was 8 or so, but I could often persuade Dobby into sneaking a prawn toast up to my playroom."

Harry's heart tightened at the mention of Dobby, and he placed the uneaten half of his popover back on his plate. His mouth suddenly felt dry as he remembered digging that tiny grave by Shell Cottage -- he, Ron, and Dean working in silence for hours to give the brave house-elf a final resting place.

"I forget that he worked for your family," he said tightly.

Malfoy fidgeted uncomfortably with the change in tone. "Yes. That whole business with the diary… Merlin." He rubbed a hand over his face, his gaze far away. "Sometimes I can't believe the things my father did on the Dark Lord's say-so. I mean, you were twelve years old."

"Ginny was only eleven." Harry's fists were clenched in his napkin. The pleasant atmosphere from a moment ago had been suddenly replaced by cold, heavy darkness.

Malfoy bit his lip. "I know. His temper was out of control that summer, when he was removed from the Board of Governors." Malfoy looked down studiously into his teacup. "He never laid a hand on me or Mother, but..."

They sat in tense silence. More awful memories of Malfoy's father surfaced in Harry's mind like tidalwaves: his push to have Buckbeak executed, his declaration of Death Eater loyalty in the graveyard at Little Hangleton, and worst of all, having Voldemort as a bloody house guest at Malfoy Manor, the site of all those long-ago tea parties. Harry's fists trembled in his lap and he feared that he would smash the teapot if he had to remain civil to Malfoy while they discussed his father over hotcakes and eggs.

Suddenly he felt ill at the thought of kissing Malfoy yesterday, of defending him to Susan and Padma this morning, of even thinking of him as anything more than the petty, bullying son of a deeply evil and loathsome man.

"Bathroom," he declared suddenly, his voice rough. He threw his napkin onto his chair as he stood abruptly, and didn't stop to look at the expression on Malfoy's face as he stalked towards the other end of the restaurant.

Harry sat on the toilet seat, rested his elbows on his knees, and dropped his forehead into his hands. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply in and out. How could he pretend like the past didn't exist so he could kiss and dance and flirt with someone who had spent years making him miserable? Someone who called Hermione Mudblood and insulted the Weasleys every chance he got and who had never actually apologised for any of it.

Just because the man was living as a Muggle gambler for some reason instead of following in his father's footsteps and gifting Dark artifacts to schoolchildren, it didn't excuse his actions. Harmless pranks had paved the way for cruelty: paralyzing Harry on the train and breaking his nose; letting Death Eaters into Hogwarts to kill Dumbledore; torturing captives under the same roof as Voldemort. Could Harry really separate those malicious deeds from this Malfoy who had brought him cocktails and lent him clothes and invited him out to tea?

Merlin, it was no wonder that Susan and Padma had thought he'd gone off the deep end this morning. Maybe there really was something about this city that made people lose their bloody minds.

He stepped out to splash some cold water on his face, then screwed up the courage to leave the bathroom. Malfoy was still sitting at their table with his back to Harry, though it didn't look like he had eaten much since Harry had left. He sat with his teacup in both hands, looking out the window, the champagne left untouched.

Harry texted Malfoy on his way back out to the hotel, where the morning shift Auror asked if he was all right. Harry must have replied something before stalking away. Maybe the Auror could drink champagne with Malfoy while he waxed rhapsodic about his Death Eater days.

Got to get some air. See you at 2. Try not to get assassinated.

Harry began to regret his decision as soon as he took the hovertram back to his hotel. The food he bought at the lobby cafe was wet and flavourless, and he thought of Malfoy stuck alone at the restaurant with those plates covered in puffs and scones. He felt even worse when he thought about how it would feel to have Malfoy ditch him at a meal, and by the time he remembered that Malfoy's money was supposed to go to charity and not poncy sandwiches and eggs, he felt downright miserable. By the time he had almost moped his way into deciding to go back, he'd forced down half a soggy sandwich and it had been too long. Malfoy had surely finished his repast alone, and besides, it was nearly noon which meant the baccarat tournament was starting in half an hour.

Hungry and conflicted and feeling like a prat, Harry made his way upstairs to firecall Ron and Hermione. After all, they had lived with him through seven years of being upset by Malfoy, and had loads of experience in talking him out of his misery.

However, when he cast a handful of powder into the Floo and shouted their address, it was Luna who answered. "Hello, Harry," said her floating head from the green flames.

"Er, hi Luna. Are Ron and Hermione there?"

"No, they're in the Azores for the week. I'm here watching Crookshanks and Blossom."


Floo-Luna bent down and held up a violently pink Pygmy Puff, who wrinkled its nose at Harry. "He belongs to Rose. I'm trying to teach him to read runes before we have supper. Is there something I can help you with?"

Harry was about to tell her no thanks, but changed his mind. He needed to talk to someone about this Malfoy business, and both Padma and Susan had made their views quite clear this morning. He moved from his knees to a more comfortable sitting position. "Yes there is, actually. I'm working a security field mission in America at the moment."

"Oh, Harry, do be careful! The North American striped jackalope is particularly venomous." Luna gave him a concerned look as she stroked Blossom with the back of her hand.

"I'll keep that in mind," Harry promised her. "The thing is, I've been assigned to guard Draco Malfoy."

"That's wonderful," beamed Luna. "I like Draco."

"And I-- wait, what? You do?"

"Yes. He was very kind to me when I was living in his basement."

Harry felt his anger flare up again. How could Luna refer to her imprisonment at the Manor as casually as if she'd said 'when I was on holiday last summer'?

"That's the thing, Luna. He's acting nice and he's not up to anything outright evil that I can see, but he's still Malfoy. He and his family held you and Ollivander prisoner! He tortured Muggles for Voldemort! And he may have gotten more Muggle tattoos since the last time I saw him, but he's still got the Dark Mark on his forearm! He's a Death Eater." Harry drew his legs up and hunched forward. "It makes me feel ill, pretending like he's a normal person when I know what he's done."

Luna gazed at him in quiet thought for a moment. "Did he tell you why he took the Dark Mark, Harry?" she asked softly. "Voldemort threatened to kill Draco's parents unless he killed Dumbledore. And Voldemort expected, and wanted, him to fail."

"I know that." Harry was able to recall almost every moment on top of the Astronomy Tower with blinding accuracy. It featured in his nightmares at least once a fortnight.

"Well, you remember what happened during Christmas the following year?"

Harry looked up from his knees, wondering where this train of thought was going. "You mean, when we visited your dad?" Luna nodded. "He told us about the Deathly Hallows."

"Yes. And he summoned Death Eaters to capture you. He hoped that Voldemort would release me if you were taken."


"My father would have done anything to save me," Luna continued with a sad smile. "Don't you think Draco felt the same way about his parents?"

Harry opened his mouth, then shut it again. His heart felt so heavy and he felt a headache coming on, to boot. It certainly hadn't been any fun destroying the Lovegoods' home with an erumpent horn to escape Death Eaters, but he had never considered Luna or her father to be bad people because of that event. After a moment, he protested, "Okay, but that…" and then trailed off.

Luna persisted gently, "I meant it when I said that Draco was kind to me. And Mr. Ollivander. He brought us food and water and made sure that Fenrir Greyback was never assigned to guard us. He didn't have to, and I'm certain that he would have been punished if anyone had found out how long he spent down there talking with us. He was very scared." Luna tilted her head to one side, smiling crookedly. "We even played cards once, when Voldemort was gone for a few days. Draco taught me and Mr. Ollivander how to play baccarat. Has he taught you how to play baccarat yet, Harry?"

Harry shook his head mutely. He had a sudden, ridiculous vision of a skeletal Ollivander and a bruised Luna and Dean, sitting at a green felt gaming table while Malfoy wore a croupier's visor and dealt them cards.

"You should ask him sometime." There was the faint sound of a bell and Luna made an apologetic face. "That's our supper ready. I've got to go. I hope you have a nice time in America, Harry. Watch out for the striped jackalopes. And please tell Draco I said hello." Luna bent down to scoop up Blossom the Pygmy Puff, then the Floo went dark.

Harry remained kneeling on the floor, staring into the hearth without really seeing. He hadn't thought it was possible to feel any more conflicted and tangled up about Malfoy than he already had been, and yet.

Harry wondered if he could have weighed the lives of his parents against the rest of the world, if he'd had the option. But it was because of Malfoy's terrible family -- his father and his crazy aunt and all their friends -- that Harry didn't have parents, could never know what it was like to choose between them and literally everything, everyone else.

But we are not our families, a voice within Harry insisted, and thank Merlin for that, because the world really didn't need any more of the Dursleys in it. We are not our parents and we can change. Malfoy was trying, in his own way. Just as Harry couldn't be held responsible for his father's actions (hear that, Snape?), it was wrong to hold Draco accountable for Lucius'. He wasn't a murderer and he'd taken the Dark Mark under extreme duress. It'd been ages since their school pranks and fistfights and wasn't it Harry who'd said only yesterday that they were too old for this shit?

He grabbed his phone out of his pocket and fired off a text. I'm sorry about tea. I got really upset but I shouldn't have walked out on you. Dinner on me?

There was no reply right away, and Harry huffed and laid down on his back in front of the fireplace. He figured Malfoy was ignoring him (rightfully so) and was about to give up when the phone buzzed.

got plans already, potter. busy being assassinated.

Harry's breath caught in his throat. He desperately tried to think what he could possibly reply to that when another message came through:

jk. mtg with one of my sponsors. you can take me out after the game tho.

Well, Harry would have to settle for that. He texted back an affirmative and began to stand up.

Something hurtled through the Floo with alarming speed and if Harry hadn't been the youngest Gryffindor Seeker in a century, it probably would have knocked his teeth out. He lowered his slightly shaking hands and found himself gazing at the valise with the "going out clothes" from Malfoy. He'd left it when he stormed out of the teahouse.

A tag was affixed to the outside of the case reading Harry Potter, The Boy Who Just Wouldn't Die, Unicorn Grove, Room 1303. Beneath that, in smaller writing, it said: you'll need these for later. black trousers this time. i mean it.

Harry rolled his eyes but carried the valise to his room with a small smile.

That evening, for the first time, Harry paid attention to the pre-game ceremony.

A witch from WZRD, the American wizarding wireless station, was speaking into an oversized microphone, rattling off the players' names and familiarising her audience with the game of craps.

"Now craps is a very popular game in America, but it evolved from the game of hazard, which was played as far back as the Crusades. Not a fun time for wizarding kind, folks!

"Our players will take turns rolling, or 'shooting,' a pair of dice. The betting system is trickier than many other gambling games, but we'll walk you through it. The Pass Line bets win if the roll is a 7 or 11, while Don't Pass wins with a roll of 2 or 3. The other point numbers..."

Meanwhile, the hostess and several of the local Aurors were overseeing security measures. Each gambler made a formal temporary surrender of their wand, placing it on a glass dish which formed a protective covering around it for the duration of the game. A pair of Aurors scanned each player with their wands like Muggle security guards, casting Detection Spells for X-Ray Specs, traces of Felix Felicis, and any number of other things which might affect the game. At the moment, the hostess was chatting with Mike O'Halligan while the Aurors inspected an enormous bouquet of four-leaf clovers in his breast pocket.

The anticipatory air, excited murmurs from the crowd, and all the pomp and circumstance reminded Harry of the Triwizard Tournament. He was relieved to not be in the spotlight this time. He much preferred watching Malfoy swan around.

In his navy brushed velvet suit jacket, crisp white shirt, and pointy black shoes, Malfoy resembled a timeless film actor. He'd added some spiffy touches: a silver chain and pocket watch, and a printed silk scarf tucked into his open shirt collar. Harry badly wanted to untuck the scarf and mouth love bites on Malfoy's skin underneath, but he had so far been successful in keeping his hands to himself.

Malfoy ducked his head to chat with the hostess, saying something that made her smile appreciatively, before moving on to socialise with the other players. He avoided Claiborne, although he gave Bucklebridge a courteous nod on his way to talk to Claudia Somerville-Hayes.

The twenty-five competitors' names were drawn from a metal spinning cage to sort them into five different tables for the competition, and then the game began. Despite the WZRD witch's previous explanation of the rules and running commentary from her booth nearby, Harry had absolutely no idea how the game of craps was played.

There was a lot of dice rolling, and moving of tokens from one spot on the felt-covered table to another equally mysterious spot. Sometimes a number like 8 would win; other times, it would lose. The dealers whisked tokens to and fro with an endless patter that might as well have been a foreign language to Harry's ears.

It was a lot of fun watching Malfoy, though. He was a showman, every inch as dramatic as the boy who'd sewn and worn a Dementor costume with the sole intent of humiliating him during a Quidditch game. He had a witty retort for each of the dealer's good-natured jabs. He blew theatrically on the dice for luck, and flung them across the table with an easy flick of the wrist that always came up in his favor. Soon, the spectators closest to Malfoy's table were cheering "Snake Eyes!" with his every success, and doubly loudly when he actually rolled a 1 on both dice.

Like roulette, craps was not a competitive game, but the players were ranked in terms of their total winnings anyway. At the end of the night, Nakamura ranked third, Dalloway second, and Malfoy first.

Victory looked so good on Malfoy when, instead of sneering and lording it over teenage Harry, he won by skill and experience and instinct. More confetti from the ceiling, fawning journalists, and riotous applause. And more dreadful leaps of Harry's heart.

He hadn't gotten a proper chance to talk to Malfoy since the ruinous tea this morning. After baccarat there had been an interminable group interview with one of the American newspapers, and then he'd had to escort Malfoy pretty much immediately to the dinner meeting with his sponsors. They turned out to be clothing designers, which explained Malfoy's closet full of delectable clothing in spite of his impecunious coffers. Following a change of clothes (into the velvet suit ensemble, a fresh delivery from the fashion designers) they'd had to dash pretty much immediately to the evening game.

Harry had been agonizing all afternoon about what to say to Malfoy: he'd apologise about abandoning him at tea, and also about the Sectumsempra thing, because he really wanted to get that off his chest, no pun intended. He'd work up to it gradually. And then they'd go out for a drink and maybe, hopefully, kiss again, because that had been one thing that was really undeniably brilliant.

The wireless witch was standing on the platform with her microphone, head ducked close to Malfoy's. "We're live now with Snake Eyes, who has just set a record for the IWCWS craps winnings with an incredible 200,000 Galleons. Tell us, Snake Eyes, how will you celebrate tonight's victory?"

"Oh, the usual," Malfoy replied breezily. "Bottle service at my favourite club, find some beautiful people to have fun with, and see where the night takes us." He winked as a camera bulb flashed.

Harry's heart abruptly dropped through the bottom of his stomach as Malfoy laughed with the reporters. He felt like throwing up, screaming, or breaking Malfoy's nose. Maybe all three, in that order. What happened to their plans to go out together after the game?

He spun away from the sight, only to find himself face-to-face with Kyle, who was looking at him with a small frown.

"Everything okay, Harry?"

"Fine," Harry responded, though his voice betrayed him and wobbled.

"Look," Kyle's brow furrowed. "I know you and Snake Eyes have a history."

Harry coughed. That was putting it very lightly.

"Padma and Susan talked to me this morning. They're worried about you and your ability to remain objective on this job." Kyle was frowning. "Seamus is due to be released from the hospital tonight, or I can get one of my local team to step in. But you're my first choice, if you can put your feelings aside."

He had so much of the kind tone of a concerned professor, and this felt so reminiscent of Hermione and Ron running to a grown-up for help, that Harry barely resisted the urge to stamp his foot. He could handle himself; he was an adult, even if Malfoy insisted on acting like a playboy and -- what had he called Claiborne? -- a rake.

"I can," he insisted. "I can do it."

Kyle regarded him for a moment before nodding. "If that changes, you've gotta let me know right away. I don't want to see anyone getting hurt because of some playground vendetta, okay?"

Playground?! Harry wanted to scream, but didn't, as that would have belied the words that did actually come from his mouth. "Okay. Thanks, Kyle." He had no choice but to turn back to the platform and watch as Malfoy posed for photographs with a dozen showgirls, all feathers and rhinestones. Each held a glass dish heaped with part of Malfoy's 200,000 Galleon winnings. Right before the cameras flashed, the girl closest to Malfoy leaned over and gave him a lingering smooch on the cheek.

The reporters' clamoring rose to a high-pitched squeal, and Harry clenched his fists so hard that the seams on his gloves began to strain. Behind him, a pair of empty champagne flutes vibrated, then shattered into a hundred splintered shards.

Harry and Malfoy were joined in the lift by the furious Vasiliev and his Russian Auror guard. From the sway of the man's stance and the way he spit his words, Harry was certain that Vasiliev was insulting Malfoy to his face. But Malfoy simply stood with his arms crossed in the corner -- Harry tried not to imagine how he'd looked in that same corner not twenty-four hours before.

Malfoy must have said some things on their short walk from the lift to his suite door, because Harry grunted monosyllabic responses without thinking about it. But he could barely see through the haze of frustration that made his head buzz.

A click of the shell token, and the door opened. "Coming in?" Malfoy asked. He tapped his rings as he hung on the doorframe, gazing at Harry with that victorious, satisfied sheen radiating from him. Harry wanted both to bask in it and to throttle Malfoy until that light went out.

He hated how Malfoy had always been able to make his emotions flip from hot to cold without thinking about it. Harry was already as volatile as a botched potion most of the time; truly the last thing he needed was Malfoy driving him up the wall, causing his wild magic to explode. All of Malfoy's skill and control made Harry feel even more unhinged than usual. He couldn't decide whether that was a bad thing or not.

With all his heightened emotions churning around like a horrible soup, he couldn't even trust himself to speak, so he just shook his head and Disapparated. In the split second before he went, he thought he registered surprise and disappointment on Malfoy's face.

"Seamus," Harry said blankly. "You're... here."

"Harry, hey, yeah." A flush-faced Seamus leaned in the bedroom doorway and pulled the door close to his body. "Not really a good time. I'm kind of... um... busy."

From within the bedroom, Harry could hear low music and a woman's laughter. Ah. Well, he'd been in this situation enough times in the Gryffindor boys' dorm to know just how unwelcome he was.

"Er, fine. Just... Could I grab some clothes? And my toothbrush?"

"Seamus, baby! What's the holdup?" called someone who sounded like Claudia Somerville-Hayes. Seamus gave him a significant look.

"Okay, all right, I'm leaving." Harry had barely taken a step back into the common area before Seamus shut the door in his face.

He stuffed his hands in his pockets and huffed a sigh. He was absolutely knackered, and he wanted nothing more than a hot shower and sleep. The thought of Malfoy off having fun with beautiful people made his heart sour.

...Then again, wouldn't that mean his suite was free?

Before Harry could think twice, his aching legs were leading him towards the hovertrams. He just needed a place to crash, that was all. He would wander up to one of the spare rooms and explain to Malfoy in the morning. It wasn't like the man could hex him without a wand, after all.

He took his time walking back to Atlantis. The city was lit up like a Christmas tree, so bright he couldn't see a single star overhead. Throngs of people jostled him along every elevated walkway and crowded crosswalk. People were constantly trying to thrust things into his hands: buffet vouchers, glossy nightclub advertisements, sordid business cards for callgirls and callboys with special discount rates for groups. It was distracting in a horrid sort of way.

By the time he made it back to Atlantis, it was close to midnight. Grumpy and desperate for a shower, Harry traipsed up to the high roller suites, nodding at the Auror with her interminable book. He leaned up against the doorframe with a thump as he checked the myriad pockets of his robes for the shell-shaped key, but when he finally found it, the door had opened.


Damn. Of course Malfoy was here, hosting the afterparty in his swanky suite. Harry was really not in the mood to join the revelers getting lap dances on the marble countertops or doing shots in the jacuzzi fountain. He turned to tell Malfoy this, but found that the wizarding world's latest blackjack champion was not dressed for partying.

Malfoy was leaning in the doorway, looking soft and unbearably domestic in low-slung grey joggers, a soft white t-shirt, and tartan house slippers. This was not the outfit of a man in the midst of spraying champagne over a crowd, unless it was some kind of crazy Las Vegas trend that Harry hadn't heard of yet.

"Thought you might've been room service," said Malfoy, hiding a yawn behind one lovely hand.

"No, I, er." Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "I was actually just here to sleep. Not with you, I mean, just, er. Here. Sleep here." He was rambling and Malfoy had a weird look on his face. "Seamus kicked me out of our room and I just wanted to shower and sleep and I thought I could kip on your sofa or something."

"I see." Malfoy drummed his fingers against his bicep before uncrossing his arms. "Well, lucky for you, Potter, I have a number of sofas that would do well for, as you say, a 'kip'. It wouldn't do to have you sleep-deprived when you're supposed to be guarding me tomorrow, would it?" He stepped back and motioned Harry in.

Harry entered, feeling self-conscious. He had sort of been looking forward to relaxing alone, either in the comfort of his hotel room or the opulence of the high roller suite. As always, Malfoy had a knack for putting him on his back foot.

But to his surprise, Malfoy motioned towards the stairs while heading for the couches near the fountain. The seat closest to the door held a mound of pillows and a copy of Potioneers Weekly. "You know where the bath is. Should be some pyjamas on the right side of the closet."

You could have knocked Harry over with a feather.

No words came to mind other than "Thanks, Malfoy," so that was what he murmured before climbing the stairs.

With a bone-deep sigh, Harry settled into the bath. The buttons and switches provided the expected massage jets and scented bubbles, but nothing so plebeian as apple or rose. They were at once deeper and more subtle: the scent of a forest after rain, the fresh and warm aroma of linens hung out to dry in the sunshine, the burnt sugar smell of treacle tart fresh out of the oven. True to form, Harry settled on the last one and melted a little lower into the water and allowed the tension from his muscles to fade.

After what felt like hours, Malfoy's voice floated in from outside. "Food's here. Are you hungry?"

"God, yes," Harry replied, before he could think about it.

Malfoy brought the tray into the bathroom, continuing this week's pattern of the most bizarre meals Harry had ever had in his life. He set it down on the counter, clinked about with utensils for a moment, then brought over a small bowl of sausage fettuccine and a glass of red wine. Harry could have wept.

Reverently, he murmured, "Thank you."

"Yes, well. When people appear at one's door at midnight begging for food and shelter, one usually obliges."

"I never beg."

"Oh?" From over the rim of his wine glass, Malfoy quirked an eyebrow at him dangerously. Harry chose not to respond. They ate and drank (and in Harry's case, soaked) for several minutes in a semi-comfortable silence. Malfoy bounced one slippered foot from his vantage point on the vanity chair.

"I'm sorry about earlier," sighed Harry after a particularly satisfying bite of pasta.

"I did wonder what had got you in such a strop."

The warm bath and meal seemed to loosen Harry's tongue. He vaguely recalled being upset, but it seemed like a lifetime ago. "I thought we were going to go out," he muttered petulantly. "Instead you said you were going out for bottle service and lap dances and whatever."

"Heavens, did I?" The wine had stained Malfoy's lips a dark red, like a ripe raspberry. Harry tried and failed to not stare at them. "Or was that my mysterious persona, Snake Eyes?" Harry looked blank and he continued, "Really, Potter. What do the adoring public want to hear? That the alluring high roller is celebrating with VIP treatment and invisible limousines? Or that he's having pasta in his pyjamas while his old school chum takes a bath?"

That. Made a lot of sense, actually. "We could've gone for something nicer than this," Harry protested, his face warming. "I probably wouldn't have picked something up to your standards, though."

Malfoy gave a cynical laugh. "You've seen how I live here, Potter. I play the events, I have a meal or two out, I lounge by the pool. It's all comped by the hotel." At Harry's quizzical look, he clarified, "Complimentary. Gifts, to keep me appeased and thank me for furthering their image of hedonistic luxury. Room, food, drinks, even the Portkeys to and from here," he ticked off his fingers. "It's good for the hotel to pamper us."

"So they give free stuff to the people who already have a boatload of money?" Harry was bewildered.

Malfoy grinned widely. "Welcome to the entertainment business."

Harry sank into the bath, breathing in treacle-scented vapour as he digested this unsettling information. He wanted to change the subject. Wasn't there something, or several somethings, he had meant to ask Malfoy? Oh, right.

"Can I ask you a question?"



"You can ask me three questions, Potter. Better make them good. And I get three as well." Malfoy set down his empty bowl with a clatter and swirled his wine around. He'd taken off most of the rings, except for the wooden one, Harry noticed.

"Oh. Sure." He stretched his legs out in the bath, flexing his toes. "Why don't you use magic anymore?"

"Feels wrong," Malfoy answered pretty much immediately. "It feels awful, like trying to force myself to eat something that I know will make me sick." He took a slow sip of wine if he'd given this a lot of thought and was actually okay talking about it, unlike Harry who had gone quiet and still.

"They had a specialist at Beauxbatons who tried to sort it out. She wondered if it was something to do with my wand-- changing allegiances," he said with a small hitch in his voice, glancing at Harry, "or living with Him under my roof. Like He was draining my magic away or something. But they never did decide what it was, and a few years later the Ministry came and snapped my wand in half anyway."

"What?!" Harry practically leapt out of the bath, remembered himself, and splashed back down. "But! Why? It's your wand, you were acquitted, and--!" He gripped the edge of the bathtub wildly. "I used that wand to kill--!"

"Yes, yes, The Expelliarmus Heard 'Round The World, don't think I've forgotten. When Shacklebolt came for it, I thought they were going to put it in a museum or something. No such luck. Apparently he didn't want anyone to steal it and start a new group of murderous fanatics hellbent on taking over the world, or something. So," he snapped his fingers, and shrugged.

Harry gazed at him with a heavy heart. "I didn't know."

Malfoy mirrored the shrug. "They didn't exactly write it up in the Prophet. 'Last Relic of Dark Lord's Defeat Unceremoniously Chucked in the Bin.'"

Harry snorted. "Ha! They should've."

They shared a smile for a beat too long before Malfoy said, "Right, my turn. What happened with the girl Weasley?"

"Oh, Ginny?" Harry paused to gather his thoughts. "We were sort of on again, off again all through eighth year, and we decided to call it off. She signed with the Holyhead Harpies after graduation, you know. And I still see her at her family's place every once in a while. But in the end, it turned out I was..."

"Too busy?" Malfoy asked lightly, playing with his fork.


Malfoy dropped the fork with a clatter, his face going as red as his wine. "I see," he squeaked. Grinning, Harry rested his chin on his hand as he watched Malfoy kneel and fetch the fallen utensil. The joggers did marvelous wonders for his backside.

"No need to be so shocked, Malfoy. Didn't mean to offend your delicate pureblood sensitivities."

"My delicate--" Malfoy began, then cleared his throat. Spots of dusky rose still coloured his high cheekbones; he looked utterly enchanting. "I see. Hence the, um. In the lift. Well. Me, too. Obviously."

Harry wanted to put that on his wall and frame it. "That one actually did make the Prophet, but it was a while ago. They mostly publish photos of me taking out the rubbish bins these days."

"That's a laugh. I spend most of the time putting the Prophet in the rubbish. Makes good lining for the cages." Malfoy smiled wistfully, as if imagining Harry's printed face being trampled with hippogriff scat. Or pellets, maybe? They hadn't exactly gotten around to specifics during that particular Magical Creatures lesson.

He sort of wanted to ask about Malfoy's life in London, but instead he said, "What are you most afraid of?"

"Good grief, this has taken a serious turn. I was prepared for 'what's your favorite colour' and 'how many people have you snogged'." Malfoy sighed and fussed with the drawstring of his joggers. He waited for so long that Harry wasn't sure he was going to answer. Then he said, "Not being wanted."

Now it was Harry's turn to be surprised. Involuntarily, he wondered how a Boggart would manifest for that response.

But Malfoy was wanted, had always been wanted. Hadn't he grown up with devoted parents who showered him with gifts and praise? Chosen as Seeker and Prefect and surrounded by his gang of Slytherins?

Then he remembered his empty spot in the Great Hall during Harry's eighth year. And Malfoy's blank face after the trials. And an outstretched hand on a train, left empty.


"Oh," he managed. "I... I know what you mean." The Dursleys rarely featured in his nightmares these days, but he would certainly never forget the cold and absolute darkness of that cupboard.

Malfoy nodded. "Why did you decide to work for the Ministry?"

A serious question, but only fair considering Harry's last one. "Er. I guess I always thought I was going to be an Auror. No, actually, that's a lie. When I was seven, I wanted to be a pirate. But apart from that, yeah, it always seemed like the logical choice. Then after the war, they made it so that Aurors sat in a dark room tracking Dark wizard activity all day, and the new Special Ops team did actual fieldwork and keeping people safe. So I went into Special Ops."

Malfoy refilled his own wine glass and then padded over to top off Harry's. "All right, we're going to leave the pirate bit for now -- but mark my words, we're coming back to it -- because I have to ask you: logical? Sitting in fourth-year Divination, you really thought to yourself, 'You know what I'd like to do for the rest of my life? Get myself into life-or-death situations'?"

"To be fair, I did spend a lot of time in school in life-or-death situations," Harry pointed out dryly. "I already had a lot of experience with dueling and defence work. And everyone else expected me to, I suppose." Hermione, Ron and Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys, even Hagrid and McGonagall had all taken his announcement of his career path as a matter of fact. "I don't even know what else I would've done."

"Professional Quidditch player. Hogwarts Defence professor. Philanthropist. Write a bestselling memoir and rest on your laurels for the next fifty years," Malfoy rattled off with ease.

A genuine laugh bubbled up from Harry's chest, between the tight secret spaces where he'd decided he owed it to the world to continue rounding up murderers. "Sounds like you've been thinking about this a lot," he teased.

"Don't think you can get me to show my cards so easily, Potter. That's a rookie mistake." Malfoy didn't quite smile into his wine glass, but the corners of his eyes crinkled and he hooked his bottom lip into his teeth.

If you'd asked Harry two days ago how he thought he'd be spending his Friday night, he would never have guessed it would be sort of flirting with Draco Malfoy while taking a bath. There were worse things, he figured.

Enjoying the giddy wave that he found himself riding, Harry grinned, "I'll let you off easy for your last question. How many people have you snogged?"

Malfoy stilled. Maybe that had been the wrong question to ask. Maybe it brought back memories of Zabini or Parkinson that were painful. Quickly, he tried to think of a way to take it back, when Malfoy said in a small voice:


"Oh," said Harry. "Really? I thought you..." were a sex god in school; must have had a thousand anonymous flings in clubs and pubs and back alleys and fancy dress balls; had learned to fuck like you were made for it, because you certainly look like you do.

Malfoy shook his head slowly, still looking down at his hands.

"Who?" Harry asked, before he could stop himself.

Malfoy squeezed his eyes shut. "Salazar save me."

Why should he react like that? Harry wondered. Unless--


...No way!

"Wait!" Harry cried, half leaping out of the bath again. "Yesterday, when I-- in the lift-- that was--?!"

"Potter, your eloquence is breathtaking, as always," Malfoy bit out. He averted his eyes and got to his feet shakily. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I might create a new identity and move to another foreign country to liberate myself from this line of interrogation."

"Wait," repeated Harry, and this time he jumped all the way out of the steamy bathwater. He trailed after Malfoy with a splash, slipping on sudsy feet as he chased the other man.

Malfoy had stalked halfway across the bedroom before Harry caught up with him. He'd snagged an emerald green silk dressing gown from a hook by the bath and shoved it on, and was trying to tie the belt with one hand while reaching for Malfoy with the other.

"Please, Potter, just let it go. It's not a big deal." Malfoy's hands were shaking as he moved things about in a frenzy: folding a blanket, repositioning the porcelain figurines on a high shelf.

Harry reached out and caught Malfoy's hands in his. He trembled and he wouldn't meet Harry's gaze.

"Malfoy, hey. Look at me," he soothed.

With treacle-slowness, Malfoy's grey eyes rose to skitter wildly over Harry's face. He looked as if he might bolt if Harry said the wrong thing, so he summoned his Gryffindor candour and spoke softly.

"I'm a little bit mad about you, and I reckon I always have been. Please, can I kiss you again? Because I really want to. And I think you might, too."

The sound Malfoy made was something between a gasp, a laugh, and a sob. His fingers clasped Harry's and he let out a sharp breath. "This is a dream," he said, barely audible. "You can't want this. You hate me."

Harry's shout of laughter resonated around the room. "Trust me, I don't. We're just two people who want to kiss. We could have been kissing all of eighth year, if you'd come back. I don't know why you didn't come back."

"Because I wanted you to be happy, you idiot." Malfoy gulped. "You hated me and I couldn't bear the sight of you with how much I wanted you, so I had to leave."

"Malfoy, stop. I've wanted this for ages."

"Not as long as I have." Malfoy's response was so quick, so certain, that Harry was momentarily stunned into silence.

"...How long?"

Malfoy murmured something that could have been "How long is forever?" but he was already ducking his head to kiss Harry again.

This time when their lips met, it was shy and almost hesitant, tinged with mutual awe and disbelief. Harry fisted his hands in the soft material of Malfoy's t-shirt at his slender waist, and Malfoy's palms cradled his face with unbearable delicacy. They breathed as one, and their combined exhales fogged up Harry's glasses but he couldn't bring himself to care.

Malfoy was the first to part his lips in a silent invitation, and Harry surged forward, turning the slow beginning of the kiss into something more furious and fevered. He kissed his way down Malfoy's jawline, the frenetic jump of his Adam's apple, to lavish attention upon the divine dip in his collarbone.

"What did you say about being at each other's throats?" he whispered.

"Shut up, Potter."

Malfoy's fingers trailed cool, quivering lines against Harry's skin as he pushed the dressing gown off Harry's shoulders. The silk slid over his arms, hips, and thighs before pooling at his feet, leaving him absolutely bare. He stepped closer to Malfoy and pressed their bodies together, relishing how much more naked he felt wedged against Malfoy in his pyjamas.

He tipped his head up to kiss Malfoy again while walking them backwards, slow step by slow step until the backs of his legs found the edge of the bed. Then, grinning, he grabbed Malfoy by the waist, whirled them around, and pushed.

Malfoy fell back, uttering a wordless exclamation as he fell and landed on top of the rumpled sheets. He was still fully clothed but the sight of him crushed Harry's heart and made his dick twitch with undeniable interest. Sprawled artlessly, pink lips parted, shirt rucked up to expose a pale stripe of stomach, Malfoy couldn't have looked more delicious if he tried.

Harry knelt and crawled over him, licking his lips. "I can't begin to tell you," he whispered, pressing a kiss the inside of Malfoy's leg through his joggers, "what this week has been like. It's like I was asleep for years" (a kiss to his inner thigh, a spot that made Malfoy's hips buck) "and I've just woken up."

Malfoy's voice was quiet and wobbly, as if it were fighting its way out. "Potter, you -- aahh-- in that swimsuit. Yesterday, when I went to change for the game, aahhhhHH--" His whole body bucked when Harry's fingertips tugged down his waistband, gliding over his hip bones. "--I didn't even close my bedroom door, I fucked my fist twice and I came so hard."

"Ohhhhh my god," breathed Harry, rolling his hips forward against the bed. He planted kisses on the soft hairs below Malfoy's stomach as if he were sowing seeds. Against the base of his throat, through the soft fabric of the joggers, he felt the tempting press of Malfoy's hard-on. Harry mouthed against it and snaked a hand up to creep beneath Malfoy's t-shirt and brush softly against one nipple.

"Jesus fuck!" Malfoy cried, like he'd been electrocuted.

Hearing him utter Muggle profanities was so bloody hot, Harry launched himself up and captured his mouth in a turbulent, desperate kiss. He worried Malfoy's top lip between his teeth, licked the tiny sensitive bridge that connected Malfoy's lip to his gums. And Malfoy shoved one hand into Harry's hair and formed a fist, pulling at his scalp while holding Harry in place, which was so good it was nearly unbearable. Harry might not have believed that yesterday had been Malfoy's first snog, except that everything about this was so furious and pure that it couldn't have been anything but Malfoy taking his walls down for the first time ever.

The thought of it was intoxicating, and Harry ducked his head down against Malfoy's throat to hide the wild desire that must be written all over his face. "I came twice on Wednesday thinking of you," he gasped. Beneath his lips, Malfoy's pulse point jumped.

"Yesss," sighed Malfoy. "Tell me."

"F-First in the shower..."


"And again before bed."

Instead of responding, Malfoy groaned and shoved desperately at the low waistband of his joggers. Then he sat up, reached behind his shoulders, and whipped off his t-shirt. He caught Harry's stare as his naked chest rose and fell.

Harry didn't know how he'd ever thought of grey as a cold colour. The heat in Malfoy's eyes scalded him.

He tugged at the joggers and was rewarded with the sight of Malfoy's perfect pink cock, jutting out of his foreskin and leaking a bit and so hard it must have hurt. "Yes," Harry whispered, and instead of sliding the joggers off gently like he'd intended to, they flew of their own accord off Malfoy's legs and flung themselves across the room, knocking over a stack of books with a crash.

"You're a brute," Malfoy half-laughed, throwing an arm over his face to muffle the sound.

Harry laughed a bit too. "I can't control myself around you. I've never been able to." He crept back up to bow his head over Malfoy's hips, nudging his glasses back up his nose when they threatened to slide off. "Can I… Can I suck your cock?"

Malfoy bit his lip and nodded decisively, once. Then he threw his head back with a groan when Harry leaned down to taste him.

He tasted clean and warm and like the sharp mint that Harry had come to think of as his signature scent, and at the same time the salty-bitter taste of precome. Harry started slow, pressing open-mouthed kisses to the exposed tip before gently pulling his foreskin down and kissing and licking the shaft. Malfoy's breathing was ragged and erratic, and Harry placed a hand on his belly to feel the muscles jumping underneath his fingers. When he took the head of Malfoy's cock into his mouth and licked the sensitive underside, he heard an "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhmygodohmygod" that seemed to be addressed more to the ceiling than to him. He smiled around his mouthful and took him deeper.

Harry was floating in a state of wonder as he drew a series of unbelievable sounds from Malfoy, feeling the other man's thighs thrashing beneath him and humming with approval when Malfoy grabbed a fistful of hair to hold him in place. He swallowed Malfoy even further, rewarded with blissful victory as the tip connected with the back of his throat and Malfoy howled in approval. Harry was achingly hard, grinding his hips mindlessly against the bed as he worked his lips and tongue with every bob of his head. When he hummed, his mouth vibrated and he heard a long, low groan from above. The dark gold curls at the base of Malfoy's cock brushed softly against his fist with each stroke.

"W-wait," Malfoy stuttered.

Harry withdrew immediately, smudging his glasses when he jammed them back onto his face to look up. "What's wrong?" he asked, in the low and slightly broken tone of someone who had recently had a cock down his throat.

In the dark intimacy of the bedroom, Malfoy looked as lovely as a portrait. A thin sheen of sweat glistened at his temples, throat, and shoulders. His neck and chest were painted pink with exertion, and he was leaning up on his elbows gazing down at Harry with wide, dark eyes.

"I--" he began, then broke off to lick his lips. Harry feverishly thought, Harry James Potter, time of death - 1:06 AM, cause of death - Malfoy's tongue lost for words and pressing at the corner of his mouth. Requiescat in pace.

"I don't want to-- I want you to--" Malfoy flopped back against the bed and covered his face with both hands, groaning. He really had no right to look so adorable.

Harry climbed up to lie beside Malfoy, pressing his leaking cock against Malfoy's hip and drawing a long, aching sigh from both of their throats. "Tell me what you want," he urged.

Malfoy's hands roved over Harry's chest, clenching and flattening against his heaving sternum and tracing shapes over his collarbone.

"Iwanttocomeatthesametimeasyou," Malfoy said all at once. Harry beamed.

"That can be arranged." Getting onto hands and knees, he perched above Malfoy and settled himself between his parted thighs, then lowered his hips until they were nearly touching. "'M gonna make it so good for you."

"You had better," said Malfoy, fixing him with a steely glare even though he looked like he was trying not to smile. "I'll be sincerely vexed if my first time is anything less than perfect."

Harry's head exploded.

Because of fucking course Malfoy was a virgin, if he had never even snogged anyone before yesterday, and Harry was the world's biggest idiot--

"Do not go to pieces on me about this, Potter." Malfoy's expression shifted so it was less a glare and more a demanding (virginal) smolder. "Just show me how it's done."

And Jesus, it wasn't like Harry was a divine Casanova or anything, but neither had anyone ever told him he was bad in bed -- but who knew how much of that was real and how much was the I-fucked-the-Saviour thing? And he really was going to pieces, so instead of overthinking it he just took off his glasses and laid them gently on the side table. Because if there was one thing he didn't want, it was his glasses falling off midway through and hitting Malfoy in the nose. He really did want to see Malfoy's face clearly, but maybe that could wait for next time. (Oh god, next time.)

He lined up his hips properly and held Malfoy's gaze while lowering himself. When their cocks brushed together, sudden and smooth, Malfoy started slightly. He reached his right hand reflexively for Harry's, so Harry twined their fingers together, pressing their palms tight. Malfoy exhaled slowly, gripped his hand tight, then nodded.

"Lubricus," Harry whispered, and took them both in his other hand.

Why was it that everything with Malfoy was a million times more intense than it had any right to be? Harry lost count of how many times he'd used that lubrication spell, but his hand sliding over himself never felt as hot or exquisite as it did when Malfoy's dick was squeezed in his hand too. Getting to watch Malfoy fall apart up close, feel his legs thrashing against Harry's, his fingertips digging into Harry's arms -- he drank it all in, desperate to replay it in his mind every day for the rest of his life.

Malfoy started thrusting up into his hand, which felt absolutely brilliant. They fell into a rhythm like that, Harry's hand flying over them while Malfoy clung to him, uttering these sounds like "Ahh-- ahh-- ahh--" that were bloody glorious. For Harry's part, muffled groans escaped his lips no matter how hard he tried to press them together, to hold back a little so he didn't become unraveled right away.

Malfoy shifted his hips to bring them just a bit closer and Harry panted, "Yes, like that."

"So good, don't stop," Malfoy replied shakily.

He couldn't deal with how badly he wanted Malfoy -- had perhaps wanted him for years, when he stopped and thought about it -- how much he wanted to stretch this moment into eternity and live in a world where kissing and teasing and fucking and adoring Malfoy was his present and future. He was funny and smart and maddening, and all the doubts that had plagued Harry about dark deeds and Dark Marks faded to nothing in the wake of the unbelievable friction between them.

"I'm gonna come," keened Malfoy from beneath him.

"M- Mal-," Harry began unevenly, but his treacherous mouth whispered unbidden the name that his heart had been shouting. "Draco."

With a sharp cry like he'd been wounded, Malfoy came. Hot, wet ribbons shot over Harry's fist and onto Malfoy's stomach, and even a little on his chest over his scars. And it was the unbelievable sight of that, along with Malfoy's scrunched-up face and the taut lines of his throat and the dark O of his open mouth that finally undid Harry.

He rutted against Malfoy's slick, spent cock twice before spilling over both of them with a sob and dissolving into a billion pieces.


"Oh yeah?" asked Harry, who had already wrapped his arms tightly around Malfoy after casting a Scourgify and had never really had any intention of leaving. "And what will we do tomorrow?"

"Secret pizza place," Malfoy yawned. "Practically Undetectable, but it's Muggle. Best pepperoni and pineapple on the Strip."

Harry wanted to ask a thousand things: But can I suck you again beforehand? Have you ever taken anyone else there? Since when do you eat pineapple on your pizza?

Instead, he pressed a kiss against Malfoy's whisper-soft hair and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

But they never made it to the secret pizza, because the explosion that Harry had been dreading finally hit them.

It didn't start that way. It started with waking at dawn to Malfoy's mouth on his neck, and both hands on his waist. Harry pressed kisses to his pale Sectumsempra scars and to the countless tattoos that danced over his arms: peonies and thorny black roses, herons and swans. He ran his lips over the smudged grey skull on Malfoy’s left forearm, now almost indiscernible beside a garish peacock feather.

Then he flipped them over and fucked between Malfoy's squeezed thighs until they both came, him with a shout and Malfoy with a sort of whimper that made Harry's heart feel too big for his chest. That had been brilliant, as had the shared shower where they slowly washed each other's hair in a way that felt terribly domestic and like something Harry could get used to.

No, it started afterwards, like immediately afterwards, when Harry said while toweling himself dry, "I could get used to this."

Malfoy paused at the vanity, where he was rubbing a small dab of Sleekeazy's into his hair. He glanced at Harry in the mirror. "'This' meaning…?"

"Y'know." Harry motioned vaguely between them, still feeling floaty from the night and morning they'd shared. They'd washed with Malfoy's shampoo and soap and now they both smelled like mint, and Harry was going to get turned on (again) by the scent of his own body if he didn't rein it in a little. Christ. "Dinner and confessions in the bath. Ravishing each other morning, noon, and night. I'm into it."

He came up behind Malfoy and leaned gently against him. They looked so good together: a study in contrasts. Malfoy's creamy complexion made Harry's look richer and darker by comparison, and the green of Harry's eyes only served to emphasise the silver in Malfoy's. He had to stand on tiptoe to rest his chin on Malfoy's shoulder, just above a tattoo of a cherry blossom branch covered in blooms. His lips curved in a fond, helpless smile…

...just as he spotted Malfoy's stormy expression in the mirror.

"Are you always this clingy?" he asked in a clipped, decidedly-not-fond way.

"Er. Can't say I've done this enough to say what I 'always' do." Harry took a backwards step, his smile fading.

"I just don't like being jostled while I'm grooming, is all," Malfoy said with a bit of a pout. It would have been adorable as hell if there hadn't been this sudden tension in the air. Harry tried to think of the right thing to say to diffuse the weirdness.

"I'll keep that in mind for next time."

This was apparently not the right thing.

Malfoy swung around to look at him with an expression of utter incredulity. "I really didn't think I had to spell this out for you, Potter, but there is no 'next time.' The poker tournament starts at noon and ends at 10, and my Portkey back to London leaves at 10:30."

"Uh… okay. Well, my Portkey's not until tomorrow morning, so--"

"So tonight is where 'this' ends." Malfoy mimicked Harry's back-and-forth gesture with a flippy exaggeration of his wrist that made it a mockery. The warmth had vanished from his eyes. "You go back to being the Golden Boy, the Chosen One, Ministry Darling, and I go back to… hm, that's right, shoveling hippogriff droppings."

"You don't honestly shovel--" Harry began, but Malfoy raised one imperious eyebrow and he fell silent.

"I see the allure of Sin City has addled your brain, Potter. This isn't real, none of this is real. You seem to have forgotten that a world exists outside of the partying and masses of gold raining down from the sky. Outside of this weekend, no one gives flying fuck about Snake Eyes and they sure as hell don't care about Draco Malfoy, either. I have no proper skills and most people would slit their throats before associating with me, so that's just the life I live now."

How had they come to this, not minutes after they'd been blissfully soaping each other's backs? It was way too early for Malfoy's melodrama, and besides, it didn't make any sense. "Maybe you wouldn't be knee-deep in hippogriff shit if you hadn't become a Death Eater," Harry muttered.

"Oh, ten points to Gryffindor," Malfoy sneered, avidly seizing onto his blithe remark. "I know you're used to getting away with literally every mistake you've ever made, but the rest of us have to live with the consequences of our actions."

What Harry wouldn't give for a scrap of clothing close at hand so they could have this conversation in anything but towels. Or better yet, not having this conversation at all. "We were kids, and we lived through a war, and we were all made to do horrible things. And please don't start a pissing contest with me about this, otherwise we'll be talking about Quidditch fights and hospital wing visits until our teeth fall out. Look, Malfoy." He massaged the bridge of his nose tensely. "Sometimes it seems like… like you want to be this tragic figure, living in near-exile in the shadows of everything you've ever done wrong."

"You don't think I could take it all back if I could?" Malfoy cried. "Salazar, sometimes I think I would give anything for a Time Turner and go back to the war."

"So would a lot of people, I expect." Harry had dreamt thousands of times about being there a second earlier to grab Fred out of the way; to cast the strongest shield he could muster around Tonks and Lupin and Colin Creevey and basically everyone they'd lost. "Look, you made it out alive. You can't go back in time, but you can be better -- you are better."

Harry reached out to try and take Malfoy's hand, but he flinched away miserably. "You don't mean that. I bet you wish you'd left me in the Fiendfyre sometimes."

"What the fuck?! No, I don't! I never wish that! Time Turner or no, I would save you every time, given the chance."

"You would have saved anyone; I'm not special," Malfoy retorted. "Hell, you tried to give the Dark Lord an out in the end!"

"Of course I did," shouted Harry, and Malfoy threw his hands heavenward.

"Of course you did. Saint Potter can't bear the thought of anyone dying if he can save them, not even the most evil mass murderer in the history of the universe. You're so good, aren't you? So consistently, unerringly, purely good," he spat.

"But so are you," Harry insisted. "You saved me, in the Manor. You could have turned me over and you didn't. Your aunt would've given me to Voldemort in a second if you'd just told her who I was."

"So you said at my trial," Malfoy sneered. "The reason why I'm here now instead of sharing a cell at the Dementors' playhouse with my father. I hate to break it to you, Potter, but the world isn't black and white like that. It turns out you can be the Saviour of the Wizarding World even though you almost killed your classmate once; and even though I lost out on the opportunity to see my aunt flog you to death, I'm still waiting on my Order of Merlin." Malfoy was shaking now, and the next thing he said made the tears that had been welling up in his eyes finally spill out. "People are always going to believe what they want to believe, and I don't think even you can make it otherwise."

"That's not true." Harry was crying now too; he didn't know when he'd started, only that he was so sick and frustrated of arguing with Malfoy that his eyes and nose were leaking. He felt like a kid, pushing his glasses out of the way to wipe the back of his hands across his eyes. "You can't go back, but you can make it better. You can try. And you are trying, Malfoy, so what the hell are we even arguing for?"

Malfoy was shaking, the cords of muscle standing out on his forearms, his eyes agitated and overly bright. The air between them crackled, and Harry couldn't tell whether it was Malfoy's magic or his own.

"It doesn't always have to be like this between us," Harry told him, almost begging.

Malfoy jerked away and stood with his shoulders hunched over the sink: a horrible echo back to sixth year, desperate and helpless and afraid. "If you really believed that you could redeem me, O Saviour, you're several years too late. Just-- just get away from me. In a few days, you'll forget that this ever happened. You'll think, 'Did I really have a dalliance with a Death Eater last weekend? No, that can't be true, it must have been a trick of the light.'"

When Harry sobbed, "Please," and reached out for him, the way he should have reached for him all those years ago, if he could do it over again, because of course he would give anything to do it over again -- Malfoy just said, "Don't" in a way that shredded the last of his hope.

What could he do but leave?

So he left.

A furious slash of his wand sent Harry's belongings into his trunk at random. Toiletries got tangled up with his phone charger, which all got wrapped up in the shirt he'd borrowed last night, which smelled half like Malfoy and half like him. Harry cursed and tore it out of the trunk, which meant that a bottle of skin cream and a single glove came flying out along with it. Clenching his jaw, Harry dug through the blasted trunk until he'd fished out each item of Malfoy's clothing, because no fucking way was Harry going to keep any of them.

He kicked open the borrowed valise and threw the crumpled clothes inside, then scratched out the address on the Floo tag and wrote: Draco Sodding Malfoy, Deity Suite, Atlantis Wizarding Hotel. Then he marched out to the common area, flung a handful of powder into the hearth, and chucked the valise into the green flames.

It bounced back out.

"What the fuck," Harry growled. Vindictively, he grabbed for a pen and scratched out the 'Sodding', so hard that it must have indented the supple black leather of the case, and tried sending it through the Floo again.

It whirled around for a moment, then flopped back into the room.

Harry barely resisted the urge to kick the valise out of the 13th story window. No way was he going back to Malfoy's room, take the chance that he'd have to lay eyes on those pointy, arrogant features ever again in his life.

But he couldn't make Susan or Padma do it, and he didn't want to have to explain to Kyle why he had borrowed a sexy pair of black trousers from Malfoy, because that wasn't very remaining objective on the job of him, was it.


Harry knew something was wrong when he stepped out of the lift; the air was close and oppressive, like deep in a cave, and there was a sharp scent that stung his nostrils and eyes. He cast a quick Bubble-Head Charm and hurried towards a prone body halfway down the hall.

It was the Auror on duty, sprawled on her back with her paperback crushed under one leg. "Rennervate," Harry murmured, but her eyes stayed glassy and unfocused. She was breathing shallowly. Harry cursed and cast one Patronus to summon Kyle, and two more for Padma and Susan. Two stags galloped down the corridor…

...but one turned towards the open doorway of Malfoy's suite. With his heart in his mouth and his wand clenched, Harry stepped carefully around the fallen Auror and through the door. He left Malfoy's valise where it had dropped out of his hand.

The suite was eerily quiet. Beside the front door, the smashed mirror offered neither compliments nor warnings. One sheer curtain had been torn from its ceiling beam and had fallen into the still surface of the jacuzzi fountain. A dark crimson smear was swiped across a marble pillar, and trailed along the floor back towards the lounge.

Harry had the odd sensation of hearing his Patronus speak in his voice, just out of sight. "Susan, help! Something's wrong at Malfoy's suite. Call for backup!""

"It's a little late for that," Susan murmured in an odd voice, flat and echoing.

Harry cast a wordless Protego, rounded the corner, and choked down a cry.

Malfoy was hovering high in the air, his bruised face contorted in agony. Blood from his nose had dripped down over his clenched jaw and lips and onto the collar of his torn shirt. His limbs were stiff and strained, and his arms shook as he fought futilely, trying to reach his neck. As Harry watched in horror, a glowing red rope was unwinding itself slowly from the ceiling and curling into a knot above him.

At his feet, Susan Bones stood with her wand raised. Her hair was wild, a cloud of disheveled strands stained dark where a cut led from her temple towards her scalp. She wore a maniacal smile that Harry had thought never to see on that usually warm, humourous face.

And around Susan's feet was the source of the acrid scent, partially penetrating Harry's Bubble-Head Charm and making his eyes water. A ring of flaming white powder wreathed her in unnatural fire.

The sight staggered Harry. His voice broke as he shouted, "Malfoy! Susan, what are you--?"

Her Bombarda would have slammed him against the opposite wall if he hadn't thought to cast Protego first. As it was, it was still enough to knock the breath out of him and slide him back a few feet.

"Yes, far too late, Harry Potter," Susan said in that same strange voice. It almost sounded like two people speaking at once. "The Death Eater's time has come. Seven years late, but better late than never."

Above them, the red string continued to wind, inches above Malfoy's head. It was forming a noose.

Harry raised his wand. "Stupefy!"

Susan stepped aside faster than she should have been able to move, like an old Muggle video malfunctioning. Lazily, and without removing her eyes from Malfoy, she said, "Confringo." Swearing, Harry dodged the blast and ensuing flames that rose up from the billiards table behind him.

They traded spells faster than they ever had in Special Ops training and the D.A. combined. Lightning flew from their wands, and Harry had to counter or dodge each spell while Susan either waved his away, or sidestepped in the blink of an eye. Malfoy continued to struggle while the red noose hovered overhead; he showed no signs of breaking the spell that held him immobile. And how could he, without a wand?

A wide-arcing blasting spell shattered the contents of the bar behind Harry, and an Incendio from Susan set it on fire in half a second. Harry's senses reeled from the fumes, his Bubble-Head Charm weakened by a dozen offensive attacks and his own energy fading. Where the hell were Padma and Kyle?

"An eye for an eye, that was the old way," intoned Susan in her dreadful monotone. "We shall lead him to the gallows ourselves. Justice at last." Her Blinding Jinx whipped just over Harry's head as the red noose settled loosely around Malfoy's neck. Susan turned from him with sickening speed and began to recite an incantation, the red string around her wand glowing bright.

'We'? half of Harry's brain wondered, while the other half shrieked in terror at the sight of the noose. If Malfoy dropped, it would, oh god. And none of his spells were getting through. It seemed that as soon as she heard his voice, she determined whether to dodge or cast a counterspell.

Harry had only ever done wordless magic by accident, but now was the time for it. Gritting his teeth, he pointed his wand at the grand piano and thought as hard as he could: Wingardium Leviosa!

It swung up from its resting place and smashed into Susan's back, sending her flying out of the flaming ring with a shrill scream. Then it landed on the ground hard enough to splinter one of the legs, causing a cacophony of broken strings and hammers that resounded at deafening volume throughout the flat.

"Finite Incantatem!" Harry roared over the noise, but the noose only began to pull upwards, tightening around Malfoy's neck.

He swore and ran across the room to where Susan lay, clutching her head. He swiped up her wand from where it had rolled from her fingers and clutched it so tightly his knuckles went white. "The counterspell, Susan. Now."

She uttered a dry, pained laugh. When she spoke, her voice no longer sounded doubled. "Even if I could, I wouldn't. He dies, Harry." And her eyes rolled up to where Malfoy was still hovering. The noose had pulled snug around Malfoy's neck and all there was left to do was release whatever was holding him aloft. He watched them from his suspended position with an expression of horror and grim anticipation.

"Susan, please." Harry looked back at Malfoy desperately.

"HE DIES!" she screamed, and again that voice echoed alongside hers. A man's voice. Musical, like laughter.

Vaguely, Harry remembered yesterday morning with the teacup. Susan trying to tell him, Edward says that most gamblers are very susceptible to…

Kyle, on Wednesday, telling them: He was actually banned from a few events when he was younger for trying to use magic during a game…

And Malfoy: Bucklebridge is a good sort, but Claiborne's a cad. No, a rake...

Susan was sobbing. Her wand, covered in the sinister red string, throbbed unpleasantly in Harry's hand. "My whole family was murdered by V-Voldemort and the Death Eaters. My gran, my aunt and uncle, all my cousins! And Aunt Amelia! He-- he came to her house and killed her."

Harry's heart clenched. He had met Madam Bones when he was 15, dragged before the entire Wizengamot after saving Dudley from a Dementor attack. She had been thoughtful and understanding, and most of all unbiased in the face of Fudge's defamation of his character. He'd frequently heard older wizards in the Order refer to her as one of the greatest witches of her time.

"I know, Susan. And Voldemort's dead," Harry insisted. "You were there, remember? He's gone and he can't hurt you or your family anymore."

Susan drew in a shaky breath, then flinched in pain and put a hand to her ribs. Half to Harry, half to herself, she said quietly, "Edward understands. He knew Aunt Amelia. She was a good woman, and she deserved justice. He told me that the fire would bind us together. That I could use his strength to punish the Death Ea-- to punish Malfoy."

Harry eyed the circle of flaming powder with unease. He envisioned Claiborne surrounded by fire in his own rooms, pouring his bitterness into Susan after days of rekindling her own pain and suffering. He hadn't thought that anyone would actually be desperate enough to attack any of the gamblers -- it was just a game, after all, wasn't it? just money? -- but this was the terrible proof that he'd been wrong.

He threw a belated Aguamenti at the flames and watched in satisfaction as they hissed out, leaving behind a ring of white burn marks where the powder had been spread. Susan slumped back down to the floor with a groan as her connection with Claiborne was severed. Harry's eyes darted up to Malfoy, but he remained in place, as did the fitted noose.

Harry spoke gently, trying not to let his coaxing tone betray how little energy he had left. "Hurting Malfoy won't bring your family back. It won't bring any of them back." He swallowed past the lump in his throat, seeing rows of coffins in the Great Hall; a veil fluttering in a room with no wind. "You are not a killer, Susan. Please, let him go."

For several moments, the only sound was that of Susan's heartbroken crying. She heaved big, broken breaths and Harry breathed with her for one, two, three counts.

Then she murmured, "Maledictum Oblitero."

The noose coiled upon itself in the blink of an eye like a tape measure, and winked out of existence. And Malfoy fell.

Harry ran and caught him, even though the impact buckled his knees and they both collapsed onto the floor anyway. He cradled Malfoy while sweeping bloodstained hair back from his face and willing his hands to stop shaking.


Draco's petal-thin eyelids fluttered. He made a little whimpering sound in the back of his throat, which fairly broke Harry's heart. His chapped, bloodied lips parted several times, as if he were trying to say Potter. He was trembling all over.

Cursing softly, Harry fumbled with the buttons of his robes before sliding it off his shoulders and draping it around Draco's own. As soon as the voluminous cloth enveloped him, Draco took a deep, shuddering breath and relaxed infinitesimally in Harry's arms.

Harry's eyes stung and he felt absolutely wrung out. He wondered if he had the strength left for a second Patronus, calling out again to Padma and Kyle but also to anyone, absolutely anyone else.

In the corner of his vision, Susan was moving. She reached her hand into the pocket of her robes and removed a small orb, about the size of a Remembrall. Its sickly yellow glow set off every instinct in Harry to ship it off to a Curse-Breaker.

He met her eyes and shook his head No. No.

"Harry," Susan whispered, "I thought you of all people would understand."

The orb in her hands shone blindingly bright as she spoke an incantation and hurled it against the wall. Above the deafening crash, someone shouted, "PROTEGO MAXIMA!", and Harry tumbled into oblivion.

The astringent smell of antiseptic roused Harry from a deep slumber. It was a familiar scent, yet not that of the Hogwarts hospital wing nor St. Mungo's. Unfamiliar voices sounded as if from a great distance.

"--spell damage was lower than we would've--"

"--can't be certain that his Shield Charm wasn't--"

"--never seen anything like that bef--"

Harry slept.

When he woke again, the room was quiet. This time, he recognised the scent and the surroundings, the moustached man in the hallway portrait glimpsed through the open door. He'd been here before, with Seamus. Houdini Memorial Hospital.

He made to sit up, which was difficult for two reasons. One was that it felt like a Thestral had kicked him in the ribs and head before trampling his knees, so all of his muscles shrieked in protest and his vision grayed out at the edges. Harry sucked in a pained breath and sank back down onto the pillows.

Two was that Draco was curled around him, one tattooed arm thrown over his waist and one leg slung between Harry's. He was paler than usual, which was saying something, but his face was clean of blood and the worst of his head wounds were bandaged. Someone had applied thick yellow paste to the bruises on his cheekbone as well as Harry's arm, which was curved around Draco's back. The shimmer of diagnostic monitoring spells hung over both of them.

A Medi-witch stepped inside and exclaimed softly, "Ah! You're awake. How are you feeling, sweetheart?"

"Like shit, but alive." His voice was little more than a croak. She smiled and waved her wand over his monitoring spells, picking up the clipboard at the foot of his bed. "What happened?"

"You and Mr. Malfoy were hit with the effects from a very strong Minatorium. Very nasty stuff, severs the life force of anything in its blast radius quicker than you can say 'Presto.'" She spoke conversationally while prodding at the clipboard with her wand.

"Okay…" Harry blinked. "So how are we alive?"

"Well, Auror Reyes believes that Mr. Malfoy was shielded from the worst of it by your robes. International Ministry regulations mandate all kinds of protective wards and cushioning spells for Ministry-issued clothing."

He shivered. If he hadn't given Malfoy his robes… it didn't bear thinking about. "I see. And what about me?"

"That's simpler. You are alive because of Mr. Malfoy's excellent Magnified Shield Charm." The Medi-witch beamed.

Harry would have shaken his head if his neck muscles hadn't protested at the very thought of it. "That's… not possible. He doesn't have a wand. He hasn't done magic in ages. It must have been Officer Patil, or--"

"There's no mistake," she said firmly.

"Wandless?" Harry goggled at her. A wandless Protego Maxima?

"Oh goodness, you must have hit your head very badly indeed." The Medi-witch made a note on his chart. "His wand-ring, sweetheart." Harry continued to gape at her, then at where she was pointing with her wand. At the wooden band on Malfoy's right ring finger.

The wood was the dark honey shade of hawthorn.

"...trend started in the San Francisco area, I want to say. I wouldn't be surprised if the next generation of Ilvermorny kids all have wand-rings and wand-bracelets and what have you," the Medi-Witch was saying. "Although Mr. Malfoy's is curious. It almost looks like instead of having a wandmaker perform the transfiguration, he found a way to do it himself."

"Of course he did," Harry said, feeling lightheaded.

The Medi-witch seemed to take some pity on him, smiling as she pulled up a chair alongside his -- their -- bed. Draco continued to breathe softly, his chest rising and falling against Harry's side. "Can I tell you something else, Mr Potter? I specialised in magical cores and signatures during my training. I have never seen a core as massively overpowered as yours, nor one as damaged but nevertheless controlled as Mr. Malfoy's. I doubt he would have been able to cast any spell, much less a Protego Maxima, if he hadn't drawn on your strength and funneled it through his very admirable command."

Drawn on--?! Harry thought of Claiborne, magically fusing his bitterness with Susan's pain. His unease must have registered on his face, because the Medi-Witch smiled and hastened to reassure him.

"You are both a bit young, but magical cores often intertwine and work with one another when a pair of people become exceptionally close. Colleagues, family members, married couples." Her eyes twinkled. "Have you known each other long?"

He nodded numbly.

"Then I can only see your bond growing stronger in the future. With his skill and your power, you make quite the team."

She stood and waved her wand once again at the faint gleam of diagnostic spells above them -- which Harry belatedly realised was just one spell, monitoring their combined magical signature. Merlin.

"I'll let you rest, but I'll check in on my next rounds. We may be able to release you sometime this afternoon." With one last amused look, the Medi-witch slipped out of the room and closed the door behind her.

"How much of that did you hear?" he asked Draco, whose breathing had shifted some time ago.

"All of it," was the immediate reply. "You're a rather loud pillow, Potter."

Harry drew his hand up and stroked circle shapes upon Draco's bicep, beneath the cuff of the hospital gown's loose sleeve. "Pretty presumptuous of you to borrow my magic without asking."

"One, you weren't using it; and two, I saved your life. The Medi-witch said so."

"Uh huh. And when were you going to tell me about your wand?"

"You never asked."

"I did! We were talking about it specifically, and you said you'd chucked it in the bin!"

"I was being facetious."

"And what happened to not being a Slytherin anymore, and never telling a lie for the rest of your life?"

"I'd like to see you produce that in writing before using it in evidence against me." Draco snuggled closer, knocking their knees together painfully, but Harry didn't really mind.

They laid there in the stiff, narrow hospital bed for a few moments, listening to the muted beeps and chatter from down the hall. Then Draco said:

"You know it's never going to be simple between us."

Despite the grinding pain in his neck, Harry ducked down to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "I know. And I wouldn't have it any other way."

A few hours later, Kyle visited Harry and Draco with the news that they were both cleared for release. He'd Floo-called Sterndale, who was apoplectic at the thought of two of his officers requiring hospital visits for what had been deemed a low-risk assignment. ("Mostly he was mad because our healthcare system is complete garbage," shrugged Kyle. "Just wait 'til he sees yours and Seamus' actual bills.")

Thanks to the protective spells on her Ministry robes, Susan was also in stable condition and, along with the apprehended Edward Claiborne, was to be extradited back to London under the care of several Senior Aurors. It went without saying that Claiborne's use of the curse orb and mind-altering Amazonian Firepowder had earned him an immediate disqualification from the tournament.

The morning shift Auror had missed the worst of the blast by virtue of being too far away, out in the hallway, and was currently recovering in a hospital bed down the hall with her trusty paperback novel. Padma and Kyle had arrived just in time to witness the blast and Side-Along them all to the hospital.

"Now, you guys had better get going," said Kyle as he cast a quick Tempus.

"Why?" Despite the handful of potions he'd been administered for his bumps and bruises, Harry wasn't really in a mood to hurry anywhere, except perhaps back to Draco's bed.

Kyle examined his nails with a little grin. "Most of the time, the poker finale requires consistent play from the beginning. But the tournament rules state that a player may enter midway through the finale under extenuating circumstances. And I think today has been pretty extenuating, don't you?"

Slapping his hands on the tops of his knees, Kyle rose. Draco was staring at him with an expression of hope so intense that it bordered on fanatical, and Harry in turn stared at Draco. Kyle chuckled and left them to it, raising his hand in casual farewell on his way out of the room.

"Potter." Draco turned to him and grasped him by the shoulders. "If he's right-- the second round-- we have fifteen bloody minutes-- my clothes--" He looked down in horror at his hospital robes.

"Then let's go." Harry smiled and curled an arm around Draco's waist. As natural as breathing, he reached out with his magic and felt for Draco's control, the same way Draco had drawn on his power earlier. It felt like holding sunshine in his hands, or translating numbers into birdsong, or quantifying the colour blue -- a seemingly impossible concept, but dead simple once he put his mind to it.

Harry pulled Draco close and Apparated them through the hospital's wards without a second thought.

The dress code for the grand finale was as close to red carpet as the gaming federation could demand without literally telling the high rollers to don designer labels. But don them they did.

Jessie June Clancy was in a sweeping chiffon ball gown with fairy lights charmed to float around her shoulders. In his voluminous navy robes, Alessandro Bianchi was dwarfed by Domenica Giordano, who wore spiked high heels that left behind fiery footprints. Nakamura and her date were in matching sets of angel wings that moved and fluttered with their every movement. It was as much a fashion show as a gambling event, and the photographers were having a field day.

Harry and Draco had dressed in a tangled frenzy of elbows and discarded hospital gowns. As expected, Draco had insisted on choosing every layer of Harry's outfit while refusing to show Harry his own, and instructing him to Apparate them to the VIP lounge with his eyes closed so that he could 'make a proper entrance.'

And dear Merlin, he did.

Draco looked divine in the most literal sense of the word: he was otherworldly, radiant, untouchable. He wore a set of robes that were a hybrid of their wizarding counterparts with some touches of a Muggle three-piece suit. The result was an extraordinary outfit in pure white: sharp at the shoulders, tapered at the waist, and flared at the hips, with dramatic swaths of fabric trailing behind him at every step. His trousers hugged his perfect legs in a way that made them seem endless. The front resembled a button-down shirt which Draco had left undone almost all the way down to his navel, exposing his scarred chest and his long alabaster neck for the spectators and cameras to devour.

From his vantage point in the audience, Harry tried to adjust himself subtly, but he must not have done a very good job because he distinctly saw Draco smirking. He was wearing the slinky black trousers at last, because he figured he owed it to Draco and also because they did remarkable things for his backside. Along with a bottle-green blazer and silver shirt from Draco's closet, Harry looked rather Slytherin-ish but had never been more pleased about it.

Seamus, recovered from both his seafood incident and the vigorous attentions of Claudia Somerville-Hayes, had been officially reassigned to be Draco's bodyguard for the game so that Harry could sit in the audience. This was just as well, as Harry couldn't have torn his attention away from Draco if he'd tried.

The other twenty-three players had amassed various inconceivable amounts of gold during the first half of the poker tournament, ranging from Jessie June Clancy's 3,500 Galleons to Nakamura's 75,000. According to Kyle, the gaming commission had made an exception for Draco joining for the second half, with the condition that he only be given a single ten-Galleon chip. This meant that he would have to work his way up, going all in from his very first hand and getting knocked out of the tournament immediately if he played his cards wrong. Listening to the chit-chat around him, Harry heard only disbelief that Draco was to be allowed to participate at all, let alone that he would stay in for more than a hand or two.

In true keeping with the pomp and circumstance of the tournament finale, the lonely chip was borne in on a ceremonial tray by one of the dealers' assistants. Curious murmurs and shocked giggles rose as the audience fixated on the chip, because it did look rather pathetic - a single plastic token which a blank-faced man was offering to Draco like a crown jewel.

Draco picked up the chip, gave it a showy toss, and caught it in his hand again. Then he strolled down the steps from the raised platform in the middle of the room and over to the spectator stands, where Harry had a front row seat.

"Wish me luck?"

Harry leaned forward to rest his elbows on the front of the booth. "You're not going to tell me that poker is a game totally independent of luck, that it's all down to your amazing skill and technique? Or that there's only a 61% chance that you'll--"

"Do not even start with me, Potter. There's a 61% chance that I'll throttle you." Draco did the smirk from Harry's X-rated daydreams and he felt a blush creep up the back of his neck.

"You realize I won the bet," Harry said, sitting up straight as he remembered with a pleased grin. "We didn't punch one another and now I get to take you out when we get back to London." It was thrilling to think about the future, as though they hadn't been making up for years apart with these past few wild, turbulent days.

"Weekend's not over yet," said Draco, trying to look dismissive but smiling anyway.

"I think the odds are pretty good, though." Harry moved closer to brush his thumb over a healing cut on Draco's cheekbone.

Draco drew in for a kiss -- the camera bulbs flashed madly -- and the hostess called the players up to the stage. In a whisper that only Harry could hear, he said, "I'll take my chances."