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So Many Choices

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Well, how about that?

 

Hermione sensed something disturb their peaceful Sunday brunch, and turned to Harry. He was staring at today’s Daily Prophet, and it only took her a second to realize what the problem must be. Daily Prophet always made a point of publishing a list of all newcomers to the ranks of Ministry, and Hermione already knew who would be having his first Ministry day tomorrow. She had pondered whether to tell Harry about it, or just let him notice it himself — the mischievous part of Hermione had voted for the latter… but now, it seems, the cat was out of the bag. Or the dragon out of the manor. Whatever. 

 

Among the new Ministry employees this month is the former Death Eater Draco Malfoy, who has been recruited to the Office of Improper Use of Magic due to his extensive knowledge in analyzing and breaking various kinds of curses, both ancient and new. His employment has created a certain amount of conflict within the Ministry — it is common knowledge that the Malfoy family played a crucial role in furthering the rise to power of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. However, when Daily Prophet requested a comment from the Minister of Magic, Minister Shacklebolt stated that Mr Malfoy has paid his dues to the community by serving two years under home arrest, after which he has shown a considerable aptitude in his chosen area of magic, and that there is no question about his loyalties, nor about him being a great asset to the Office. Minister Shacklebolt requires that all Ministry officials be granted full cooperation from the British Wizarding World in fulfilling their duties.

 

”Well, how about that?” said Harry out loud, after having stared at the news snippet for another ten minutes. Hermione saw that Ron was actually clocking Harry, and trying very hard not to laugh, or say anything referring to Harry’s obsession during the Sixth Year. 

 

Ron couldn’t help himself, however, when the next thing coming out of Harry’s mouth was ”He must be up to something”. Ron guffawed, tears pouring from his eyes. 

 

Even Hermione sniggered; it was as if they had briefly stepped several years into the past. Like they were school children again, not (relatively, mostly) adult 21-year-old Ministry employees.

 

”Harry, let’s not go down that road again, yeah? Malfoy’s been vetted by the Ministry, and if Kingsley is saying that he should be left alone to do his job, then I think we should do just that. Or don’t you trust Kingsley?”

 

”Hermione, you know I do… it’s just… Just weird, ok. I know I testified for him at the trials… I know Dumbledore thought he should get a second chance, and I’m not opposed per se…. I guess I just didn’t think what it might actually mean.”

 

Ron had finally stopped laughing; he hiccuped and wiped tears from his cheeks. ”You know Harry, it’s not that I don’t get what you mean. I don’t exactly look forward to seeing His Highness The Insufferable Ferret during office hours, either. Or any hours, for that matter. But it’s not like we aren’t already used to working with unsavoury Slytherins. I mean, Zabini’s an Unspeakable, and I haven’t felt the need to retch while working with him since at least a few months now. And you know we go to Parkinson’s pub for a pint every now and then without her having tried to poison us, or vice versa. I’m not saying it’s not a bit different with Malfoy but…”

 

”Ok, I get it. Or maybe I don’t, to be honest. But I know that I should get it. And maybe he won’t come to the Auror office at all. I mean, there are other cursebreakers in their office.”

”And I know I should get over this,” Harry continued, again staring at Daily Prophet. ”I’ve made my peace with Zabini, even Parkinson — and she wanted to give me over to Voldemort, for Merlin’s sake… I’m on civilized terms with Nott, and Ginny’s friends with Millie nowadays, so…”

 

”Harry, we understand. It was always different with you and Malfoy. You both got out of your way to annoy each other for six years. I’m not making excuses, he was rather horrible to us all. Let’s face it, though, none of us made any effort to change his views about us, we were so certain that black was black and white was white and there could be no shades in between. And you two were always, always at each other’s throat, even when there was no reason at all for it. Can’t help it though, Malfoy was a hard one to like… And yes, he made a few decent choices during the last year of the war but it’s not like he was exactly pleasant while making them… did he ever even thank you for saving his life from Fiendfyre, or for testifying for him?”

 

”I’m not looking for gratitude. I get quite enough of that as it is, and you know how I feel about it. I just don’t know what to expect. I haven’t seen him since the trials, so that’s, what, like, three years?” 

 

Harry stared at the article some more. ”Maybe I just have to dig into my Gryffindor traits,” he said, smiling finally. ”You know, to boldly go where Harry hasn’t gone before,” (Hermione gave a gratifying giggle for the Star Trek reference) ”and give Malfoy an actual chance. See what this new colleague is all about. Delaying judgment, as it were, until there’s actually something TO judge. Settle with not hexing him on sight, not going for the jugular for the first snide smirk, and all that rot.”

 

”That’s the spirit,” laughed Ron. ”I’m buying you a pint every week for the next six months IF you can do all that every time you see him. Starting tomorrow!”

 

This shouldn’t be a problem. Even though Aurors work together with cursebreakers nearly on a daily basis, there are several of them, and the chances that they put a rookie on the field immediately are slim… Ok. Breathe, Harry. Ron is taking this in stride so far, why the hell am I being so nervous?

 

But Harry couldn’t help it. He went to bed early and slept fitfully, with dreams about badges flashing, ferrets, blood and curses, and fire. So much fire.

 

 

*****

 

Monday turned out to be such a hectic day that Harry didn’t have time to worry about Malfoy. What with the triple murder of a jewellery vendor and his assistants early Monday morning, a new turn in the smuggling case, and an anonymous tip about a possible case of counterfeit potions being sold at a shop on Knockturn Alley, the Aurors had their hands full. Harry had barely time to remember his own name, much less Malfoy’s. 

 

At five o’clock, Harry was scribbling his report on the progress with the smuggling case, when Ron trudged to their cubicle. 

 

”I don’t care what Robards says, I’m not writing my report today. I’m beat. I’ll come early tomorrow and put something together. Nasty case, those murders, just wanna go home and forget it for a while.”

 

”Want to go have that pint you promised?”

 

”What? Oh, that. Well, you didn’t bump into the ferret today now did you, and I’m not coughing up a pint without you having met some sort of a challenge!” Harry saw Ron smile — at least reminding him of his promise was good for something if it cheered him up a bit.

 

”Ok, you go home. I want to finish this report before I leave. See you tomorrow, Ron!”

 

***

 

After half an hour, Harry was finally done with the report. He put the scroll into the ”out” tray and it vanished with a faint pop. The office was blissfully silent for a change, all the other Aurors either gone home or out in the field. Harry stared at his hands and felt… odd. No other word for it. He was not prone to self-analysis but this time he stopped for a while to ask himself why exactly did he feel odd. And what did that even mean — odd? 

 

Then he smiled lopsidedly. No need for lengthy soulsearching, the reason was obvious, wasn’t it, even for him. He had spent a lot of energy worrying about today. Trying to prepare himself mentally to meeting his old nemesis. Then Monday had actually happened with all the murders and what not, he had forgotten all about Malfoy and his worries, and hadn’t seen the git either. All that worrying and being nervous, for nothing! Fitting, somehow — the prat caused him problems even without being present!

 

Harry had half-risen from his chair when he heard a tiny sound from the cubicle door. Alert, Harry looked up so fast it made his head spin. Too much residue nervousness, he had time to reproach himself, when it hit him. The sound was made by none other than Draco Malfoy. Speak of the devil and he will appear, crossed Harry’s mind. I jinxed myself, shouldn’t’ve thought of the ferret, SO close…

 

Malfoy looked at Harry impassively, his face a pale mask, his voice steady and neutral. ”Sorry to bother you, Potter, I didn’t think you…anyone would be here anymore at this hour. Spencer gave me your smuggling case to analyse, you know, the curse problem of the caskets. Here’s the report, I thought I’d bring it personally, seeing as I’ve never been here, in the Auror department. Sudden bout of curiousity, you know, just wanted to have a look.”

 

And what the bloody hell was going on here: Malfoy actually SMILED. A tiny, cautious smile, granted, but a smile nonetheless. Harry’s brain pretty much short-circuited. Never during their acquaintance had Malfoy smiled at him. Never. 

 

Smirked, yes. Smiled, no.

 

What was Malfoy up to??

 

A voice that was clearly Ron’s, wailed in Harry’s brain, ”goddamnit Harry…not this, you promised!” The thought brought a smile to Harry’s face, which, ok, probably looked to Malfoy like Harry was smiling back at him.

These things happen, right? Coincidental smiles. It’s a thing, right?

 

Malfoy’s smile grew a bit, and he stepped forward and handed a scroll to Harry. ”Here, I’m sure it will be useful, there were some distinctive traces in the curses which gave me some ideas about the probably caster. I’d appreciate if I could go to the last warehouse you found, I think there might be more traces there. Just to make sure, I mean; it wouldn’t do to drag someone to questioning on the basis of half-arsed evidence.”

 

Malfoy kept smiling all through his speech. His voice was neutral and kind, but also confident, befitting a professional. Harry’s head was foggy — as annoying as it was to admit, Malfoy had taken him by surprise. Harry wasn’t used to being wrongfooted — he would’ve died ages ago (and not by choice!) had he been easily disturbed by suddenly changing circumstances, after all — but obviously Malfoy still had it in him to throw Harry off his stride. Malfoy had never, ever, spoken to me calmly, without any intention to aggravate, without any malice. How to deal with that?

 

Get yourself together, you’re a bloody Auror and he’s nothing but a rookie cursebreaker, a git, a twit, a ferret, a pain in my arse for six years. You can handle this. ”Oh, thanks Malfoy, that was decent of you. Yeah, I’m not usually here this late but this was a hell of a day and I wanted to finish my report. To make a fresh start tomorrow, you know.”

 

Malfoy actually looked a bit thrown by Harry’s answer. Didn’t he think I would reply in kind? Did he expect me to be, well, my old Hogwarts self? I DID speak for him at the trials, though, so…

 

Harry cleared his throat. ”Umm, Malfoy, I had planned to go to the latest warehouse tomorrow, myself. It hasn’t been emptied quite yet, our team is taking its time because of the nature of the stuff, and the curses on the caskets, as you well know now. If you’d like to tag along..?”

 

Well, this is a first. I’m actually actively asking for Malfoy’s company. The irony of the whole situation started to get to Harry’s sense of humour, and he dearly wished that Hermione were there to see all this. She would have got a good giggle out of it.

 

For a tiniest fraction of a second, Malfoy looked surprised, but he got ahold of himself quickly and his face was again the neutral mask. ”Perfect. What time do we leave?”

 

”If you’re in the Atrium at nine, we’ll start from there, okay?”

 

And that was it. Malfoy left for wherever it is he goes, and Harry walked home. He needed the short walk, to be out for a while, to clear his head. 

 

That was it. Not that terrible. There had been no shouting, no name-calling, no hostility whatsoever. It was almost as if the ten preceding years had never existed. Malfoy was just another colleague.

 

Well, not quite, let’s not kid ourselves. Harry snorted and a passer-by looked at him warily. But close enough. If we just steer clear of anything war-related, maybe this can work out after all, and Ron will have to buy me that pint. 

 

Harry went to bed feeling hopeful all of a sudden and fell asleep, easy as anything.

 

But his dreams were about wands lowering, uncertain recognitions, smirks over long tables, origami crane messages. 

 

There was fire, like a great big hungry beast, ripping everything apart. 

But also arms, tightly gripping Harry’s waist, keeping everything together.

 

He woke up too early, shuddering, and couldn’t for the life of him say if it was a pleasant shudder or not.

 

Let it go, Harry, that was then. None of it matters anymore. To anyone.

 

 

*****

 

Harry came to work later than usual, it was already half past eight when he barged into the cubicle he and Ron shared. Ron hardly paid him any notice, he was neck-deep in scrolls, writing furiously. ”Hello and goodbye, don’t disturb me, I’m dead if I can’t get this report to Robards in five minutes. Should’ve done this yesterday but nooooooooo, had to be all sensitive about it and run home, yeah, serves me right.” 

 

Ron kept scribbling and scolding himself until he finally threw the quill away, scrolled the parchment and pushed it into the ’out’ tray. ”Wow, last minute panic is actually pretty productive!” said Ron, finally having the time to raise his eyes to Harry and smile. It took him all of half a second to ask ”What’s wrong? You look constipated. What’s the matter, Robards on your arse about the smuggling thing-y?”

 

”You’d think, considering it’s been a month and we’re not making a lot of headway, but no. And today we might have something new but… as long as we’re discussing the case, there’s something… Prepare yourself to buying me a large pint in the very near future.” Harry smiled but Ron wasn’t far from the truth, Harry did feel a bit uptight. Nervous, again? Come on… 

 

Ron was picking up the quill he had thrown to the floor but straightened up quickly. ”Are you saying what I think you’re saying? You’ve met Malfoy?”

 

”And lived to tell the tale, yes.” Now Harry’s smile was a bit more cheerful, for real this time. 

 

”Yes, but does he? Live, I mean.”

 

”Hey, what do you take me for? Don’t forget that I’m the mighty Harry Potter, Auror extraordinaire! I’d think I have the wherewithal to not go slaying relatively decent people left and right! Self-control, that’s my middle name.”

 

”Dude, you’re hallucinating, you make me worried. Let me walk you to St Mungo’s, straight to the Janus Thickey ward. And who’s been teaching you weird words? Self-control? Admit it, you don’t know the meaning of it, you’re just throwing around words that sound impressive! Wherewithal, Harry, honestly…”

 

The two friends laughed about their oh-so-funny bantering, but then Ron got down to business. ”So you did meet Malfoy. When did that happen? Was it awful? Did you have to concentrate real hard not to kill the guy? Were there words? Duels? Any blood, a bit of gore? I know you should’ve let Ginny teach you that bat-bogey hex, it might have come in handy.”

 

Harry looked at his watch. Ten to nine, he still had a few minutes for Ron. ”It wasn’t like that, surprisingly enough. I was just leaving when he came in here, bringing a curse-report. We talked. And, if you can believe it, there was smiling involved. It was sickeningly proper! And now we’re leaving to check out the latest smuggling warehouse together — Malfoy thinks he might find some useful traces there.”

 

Both were silent for a moment. Then Harry went on, ”It was pretty NOT normal, actually, just because it WAS so, you know, NORMAL. Like we were anybody. Any colleagues. Not me and Malfoy at all. With everything. It was less hard than I had imagined, to be civil to him. I don’t know how hard he had to work for all that normalcy he was radiating….” ”Oh, he was radiating now, was he?” Ron was sniggering, the bastard.

 

”That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” huffed Harry. ”I’ve got to go now, we’re meeting at nine down in the Atrium. Just you take care that you have the money for the pint ready. I’ll amaze you with my self-restraint (STOP laughing, you bad, bad friend!) and my non-judgementalness (YES it’s a word!! NO, don’t ask Hermione!!) and me not hexing Malfoy at sight. At least until I get that pint!”

 

Ron’s laughter followed Harry as he was walking towards the elevators. He felt lighter, it had been good to talk to Ron, joke around a little. Made all this seem not so monumental.

 

It shouldn’t be monumental, that sort of word shouldn’t come up in the first place! Again, Harry, what the everloving fuck is wrong with you. He’s a colleague. He’s a Dean, or a Sheppard, or an Angelina, or even a Zabini for heaven’s sake. Just a colleague. Deal with it. 

 

 

******

 

Malfoy was waiting in the Atrium. Composed, head held up high, back ever so straight, face carefully neutral. The mask, so, so carefully held in place. Some of the other employees were making sidelong glances at him, some glared with open hostility. Nobody said anything, though.

 

He hadn’t noticed Harry yet. Harry paused for a minute, took a sort of a birds-eye view on the scene. 

 

It is less than four years since the war ended. People are still trying to work through their losses. What had made Kingsley decide it was a good idea to employ a Death Eater? What had made Malfoy think it was a good idea to work among the people who had fought against him, suffered for the damage his side had caused? You might suggest it was stupidity, but Harry knew that whatever else Malfoy was, stupid wasn’t it. He had been an excellent student at school, second only to Hermione. He had been creative (let’s not forget the badges!… or the Vanishing Cabinet, if one must be more sombre) and clever, albeit in bad ways. He had been loyal — to his family, if nothing else. 

 

For the first time, Harry wondered about Malfoy’s options after his house arrest. He hadn’t attended Eighth Year at Hogwarts, and Harry didn’t know if he had done his N.E.W.T.s in some other way. He must’ve had, how else would he have got a job at the Ministry? So he had probably gone the hard way, private tutoring (how did that even happen? who would have wanted to tutor the pariah of the Wizarding World?), private exams. He must have worked extra hard, to gain special knowledge of obscure curses in such a short period of time.

 

Again, what could he have done, after? Who would’ve employed him?

 

Other than Kingsley, who is sometimes too kind for his own good. And there had been ”conflicts”, the article in Daily Prophet had said. Kingsley must’ve put his foot down, pulled some ministerial weight in earnest.

 

Why didn’t I do anything? How did I just forget him like that? I didn’t spare one thought to the ”after”. I testified, because I wanted him to go free. Because I didn’t think he was truly evil, and because he did make those few decent choices in the end, like Hermione said. But I spared not a thought on how he would fare afterwards.

 

Should I have? Didn’t I do enough already?

 

If I should have, but didn’t, but forgot — what else should I have done? What else have I forgotten?

 

Did I just leave him hanging? Fending for himself, since for sure his parents had no power to help him.

 

And now I watch him, wrapping his pride around himself like a warm robe. Radiating something, I don’t know what, to ward off unkind looks. People expecting, hoping, him to fail, to show his ”true colours”.

 

Do I want him to fail? For old times’ sake, tit for tat, revenge is sweet? If yes, then why did I even bother to testify? Do I really, really want to see how fast we can get each other angry, our wands drawn? It couldn’t have been easy for Malfoy yesterday. To be so civil, borderline friendly. If that twit is ready to try so hard, why shouldn’t I? I’m supposed to be one of the good guys, after all…

 

”Malfoy, you’re already here, brilliant! Let’s go, I’m sure we’ll make a lot of headway now that you’ve cracked the curses.” 

 

Harry spoke in a loud, clear voice, making absolutely certain that as many people as possible in the Atrium heard him. And to be sure, there were surprised faces. That is not how they would’ve expected The Great Harry Potter to address Malfoy scum, right? 

 

The ”Malfoy scum” hadn’t expected it either, that was clear from the startled look in Malfoy’s grey eyes. The mask fell back into place quickly, but Harry had caught it. And enjoyed it. Hah! Let Malfoy learn that the Boy-Who-Lived-To-Be-Hotblooded can also have manners! A pureblooded snot like him should appreciate that — oh the sweet irony, I’m using their own tools to baffle him! 

 

After all the soulsearching Harry had done, he actually did want to help Malfoy succeed — however, he wasn’t angelic enough to not draw pleasure from the fact that while they were waiting for their turn at the Floo fireplace, Malfoy threw some furtive looks his way which could only be described as ”slightly spooked”. Hah!

Chapter Text

 

Well, how about that? Draco thought drily, when he noticed Daily Prophet’s short text about him starting at the Ministry. Luckily, it seems Mother hasn’t yet seen the paper — her health these days isn’t strong enough to handle any kind of public exposure, and Draco tries to spare her all he can. It has already been strain enough on her that Draco applied for the Ministry position, with all that entailed. The applications, supplications, downright begging-on-his-knees; the humiliation which Draco accepted with stoic calmness (he had no idea where he got the presence of mind for that) but which consumed Narcissa’s life force, like a Dementor sucking her soul little by little. She was such a proud woman, and did not take well being hit by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. 

 

Draco paused for a second, a cup of coffee half-way to his mouth. Those words sounded familiar. Had he read them somewhere just lately? Yes, probably that Muggle author, Shekaspierre or something or other. Wasn’t crap, got to admit that. Had to read it discreetly to avoid Mother’s eyes but… He took another sip of coffee and kept staring at the Daily Prophet. But what? Part of his self-imposed penance was getting to know what the Muggles are about, and since he liked reading anyway, it had seemed a good idea to start with Muggle books. No, it was Shakespeare, now it came back to him. Slings and arrows… that’s well put. The Dark Lord residing here was certainly one, and rather a large batch at that. Having to live through it all, having to endure all he had to do, that was a shitload of slings and bloody arrows. Father being sentenced to 30 years in Azkaban was certainly another arrow which had hit Mother particularly hard. As for Draco himself, in the solitude of his own bedroom he might have sometimes voiced it out loud: he was content that Father was in prison. 

 

Let’s not dwell on that. Draco finished his coffee. His eyes were still fixed on the short article.

 

He had started with the private studies during his home arrest. There was no tutor — nobody had wanted to accept the job. So Draco improvised: he went through the whole of Malfoy library which was bloody huge  but it contained pretty much every piece of Wizarding information ever. So he read. He studied. He sent his personal house-elf Rindi to shop for potion ingredients to have something to practice with. He spent endless hours with books trying to figure out how to do all the spells and charms. Even though he was under house arrest, luckily they were allowed to have visitors. And luckily some of his friends didn’t abandon him: Blaise and Pansy still came to visit. They took the Eighth Year and sat their N.E.W.T. exams, so they were able to help him. It was hard at first, to accept being taught by his friends, but needs must, and Draco was, like most Slytherins, predominantly realistic and pragmatic by nature. 

 

When the house arrest time was dwindling towards the end, Draco swallowed the rest of his pride, and contacted McGonagall to ask for advice on how to do N.E.W.T.s privately. To his amazement, she did help him, and he sat seven exams and received seven O’s. That was it. Now, what to do with that?

 

He was analytical, he liked to solve riddles of all kind. He read Muggle books and stumbled upon detective stories and took to them like kneazles to catnip. Somewhere in the books he had found the term ”film”, and, absolutely horrified and certain he would be caught and terrible things would happen to him, he crept to Muggle London and went to the movies. And he went again. And again. And like with books, he loved the mysteries, the crime stories, the police flics, the stories where the hero saved the day by solving everything. Could some future be found in solving mysteries?

 

He knew, he knew, he would never be accepted to Auror training, but maybe something else?

 

One morning he saw an article about Gringotts. Whatshisname had done whocareswhat, and the house cursebreakers had solved the issue.

 

He kept coming back to that. Cursebreaking is a bit like solving riddles…

 

So he began. He was free to travel, so he searched for teachers everywhere, feverishly. He hated leaving her Mother alone for any period of time but Pansy was really nice about it, she visited her every other day when he was gone.

 

He realized he could leave Britain, start over somewhere else where nobody would recognize the name Malfoy.

 

He still had the last vestiges of family pride, though. Maybe all the books and the movies and the hesitant trips to Muggle London had shown him the absolute error of the Malfoy ways and values, but he still had trust. Trust that the Malfoy name could mean something other than bigotry, discrimination, arrogance. In order to achieve that, he would have to stick around, do something good. Not just throw money in charity, but actually work like normal people, building something instead of tearing down. Show that the Malfoys are part of the society.

 

Hence the fun stuff: applications, crawling, begging, etc.

 

Kingsley had come visit the Manor. Several times, with several Aurors. They had tested and re-tested Draco’s skills. They had questions — my my, did they ever have questions! ”Are you up to something, and if yes, what is it?” It had almost made him laugh. The only thing he was ”up to” was saving his family name. Helping his Mother gain some respect again. Wanting to some day be able to walk down Diagon Alley without fear of being hexed within the first minute.

 

And if he was quite honest — which he sometimes was, in the solitude of his bedroom — he also wanted to make amends. Even a little bit. Some good, somewhere along the line, to maybe correct some of the wrongs he had done and contributed to. He didn’t say that to Kingsley — how would he even have believed him? — but he had a niggling suspicion the man had guessed. He wasn’t stupid, that man. Probably one the requirements to achieving Ministerhood was the ability to read between the lines. It’s humiliating to think about Kingsley having seen through him, but what’s another humiliation among so many others.

 

Anyway, it had come to this. This article where Kingsley had publically supported him. 

 

He put the paper down. There had been someone Draco had, sort of, expected to maybe, perhaps, help him also. And so he had, Draco wasn’t forgetting. He had testified for him. And before that, he had saved Draco’s life. Many times over, in fact, taking into account the fact that he had defeated the Dark Lord who would surely had killed Draco at some point.

 

After the trials, however, nothing. A few days after the verdict, Draco’s wand had arrived by owl, without so much as a note. 

 

Draco was bound to bump into him at the Ministry. Cursebreakers worked very closely with the Aurors.

 

Bloody hell.

 

Draco stood up and walked to his mirror. He had all the poise drilled in him by his parents since childhood. He would need it all tomorrow, and every day after that. He couldn’t give an inch to him, to them. He would show nothing at all. 

 

Draco closed his eyes and breathed in, out, in, out. Steadied his pulse. Be calm.

 

Try to be good.

 

***

 

The first day at the Ministry was going surprisingly well. His boss, Spencer, was carefully neutral; his colleagues conspicuously professional when they were forced to interact with him. Spencer gave him his first project, a fairly interesting case of smuggling and weirdly cursed caskets in the warehouses which the Aurors had located. ”Write a report on your conclusions by tomorrow morning and send it to the Auror who’s in charge of this case,” said Spencer. Draco skimmed the case scroll to find who he was supposed to work with, and couldn’t help but snort silently when he saw the name. Of course it’s Potter. Because the universe just works that way. So, no rest for the wicked, let’s just jump in at the deep end on my first day, shall we.

 

Since Draco had everything to prove and also everything to lose, he forced himself to forget about Potter, and spent the day investigating the casket curses. After four hours of intensive analysis on the caskets, he sat down for a quick lunch, then sat back in his chair, closed his eyes and started to do some serious thinking. He didn’t know how much time had passed, when a surprisingly friendly voice asked amusedly, ”Bored already, on your first day?” 

 

Draco tried not to wince; he had done nothing wrong after all. He opened his eyes to find a young man in front of his desk, a small friendly smile on his face. 

”Hi, I’m Gary. It’s your first day here, am I right?” 

”Yes, you’re correct. Nice to meet you Gary, I’m Draco. And I wasn’t bored, I was thinking about my case…I think I’ve got an idea. I’d better start with the report…” 

”It’s already four, most people leave at five, so you’d better hurry if you want to leave at a sensible hour.” 

 

Draco wondered about it all. About the pleasant conversation with a nice-looking colleague who obviously didn’t hold it against Draco that he was a Malfoy. Draco aimed the full force of his smile at this Gary-person, and saw to his amazement Gary blush a bit. So that’s how it is. He smirked inwardly…

 

…and all of a sudden he felt light, and young, and, and like he was anyone, anyone at all, just one young man flirting with another, without a care in the world, without an ugly mark weighing on his arm, without years of bad decisions. Just anyone. 

 

Draco flashed another smile at poor defenseless Gary, and said he must start writing then.

 

Halfway through the report his quill paused. It struck him that the last time he had felt so carefree had been during Fourth Year. Back then, his biggest concerns had been flirting with beautiful students from Beauxbatons, and trying to get the spell to make ’Potter stinks’ badges flash Just So.

 

Draco huffed to himself. Isn’t that just too bad, so sad. And so, so pathetic. Malfoy’s don’t do pathetic. Get a grip.

 

He finished the report half past five, streched his hunched back, and stared at the scrolled parchments. It was late, Gary had said most people leave at five, so maybe it would be ok to take the report to Auror Department himself. He had to admit he was curious, and odds were that Potter had already left, so it should be perfectly safe. Not that he was afraid of Potter but. Yes, perfectly safe.

 

The Auror Department was silent when Draco stepped out of the elevator. He walked down the hall, and saw one of the cubicles with a sign ”Potter / Weasley”. I’ll just quickly drop this on his desk, maybe take a look around to see where the illustrious Aurors work — he had had just enough time to congratulate himself on a mission well accomplished when he noticed a dark-haired man rising from his chair. 

 

Draco hated to react. Unchecked reactions invited stray Cruciatuses during His stay at the Manor, and Draco had thought he had schooled himself well. Obviously not, since the *crush* of the scroll in his hand made just enough of a sound to make Potter raise his head like lighting.

 

Seconds ticked away in Draco’s heart. Say something! You’ll look silly just standing there mute like a fish, and Malfoys don’t do silly either!

 

”Sorry to bother you, Potter, I didn’t think you…anyone would be here anymore at this hour. Spencer gave me your smuggling case to analyse, you know, the curse problem of the caskets. Here’s the report, I thought I’d bring it personally, seeing as I’ve never been here, in the Auror department. Sudden bout of curiousity, you know, just wanted to have a look.”

 

Great, the fish talks, now it’s a wooden statue… Do something!! Oh yes, maybe a smile. Worth a try anyway, it had worked wonders on Gary. So Draco smiled, just a bit. It was a lot harder to smile at Potter — how do you DO that? At POTTER? Oh God, I hope this looks like a smile, not a death-bed grimace ’cause that’s how it feels… I wonder what my voice had sounded like. Steady? Non-aggressive?? Professional, non-threatening, with a suitable amount of familiarity?

 

Had he managed to keep the bitterness out of it?

 

Potter blinked. Once. Twice. Seconds kept ticking. Then something unexpected happened: Potter smiled back.

 

Merlin’s saggy balls, how did that happen? Draco felt the lightness return. There really wasn’t any reason for it, it’s not like one lousy smile was any kind of evidence that they might be something else than utter enemies, but still he couldn’t help it. His smile grew spontaneously, he stepped forward to hand the scroll to Potter. To his colleague. How weird was that?

 

”Here, I’m sure it will be useful, there were some distinctive traces in the curses which gave me some ideas about the probably caster. I’d appreciate if I could go to the last warehouse you found, I think there might be more traces there. Just to make sure, I mean; it wouldn’t do to drag someone to questioning on the basis of half-arsed evidence.”

 

Where did that come from? What’s with the levity?? And I certainly hadn’t planned to ask for any, well, not favours since this is a reasonable plan to further the investigation, but… you know, asking something from Potter, that’s new. This can’t go down well…

 

Potter really is a bloody owl with all the blinking he’s doing. Probably planning a scathing rebuttal…

 

”Oh, thanks Malfoy, that was decent of you. Yeah, I’m not usually here this late but this was a hell of a day and I wanted to finish my report. To make a fresh start tomorrow, you know.”

 

Okay, didn’t see that coming. My name and ’decent’ in a same sentence from Potter’s mouth. The world is truly coming to an end.

 

The rest of the conversation was short and incredibly mundane, and Draco felt SUCH content for the sheer ordinariness of it all. Imagine that, a banal little conversation with Potter, no hexes as far as the eye can see!

 

Naturally, by the time Draco was in his bed, almost asleep, every last bit of lightness was gone. The day had gone too well, his luck was going to run out sooner rather than later. There’s no way that life at the Ministry, surrounded by the people who were so badly damaged partly because of his actions (or at least his father’s), could miraculously be this easy. People don’t work that way. They don’t forgive that easily.

 

After all, why should they if Draco hadn’t managed to forgive himself?

 

***

 

On Tuesday morning, Draco was at his desk promptly at 8, cleared the visit to the warehouse with his boss, made some notes to make absolutely certain that he wouldn’t forget anything and muck this up. This was his first case, and with Potter, oh dear Merlin and merciful Morgana…

 

He was in the Atrium with ten minutes to spare. Those were some pretty long minutes, resolutely not noticing the stares, the glances, the scowls. On the bright side, nobody said anything and there was no physical violence. Yay. 

 

”Malfoy, you’re already here, brilliant! Let’s go, I’m sure we’ll make a lot of headway now that you’ve cracked the curses.” Potter strode towards Draco, his words clearly audible quite possibly all the way to the First Floor.

 

Wait. What?

 

Again with the fucking reaction. And who’s to blame for that if not Potter, the git extraordinaire. This was starting to look like a trend. In a heartbeat, Draco had the calm mask back on; Potter probably hadn’t even noticed.  

 

Potter kept chatting about the case the whole time they were waiting for the Floo. …wasn’t this a bit suspicious? Why, whywhywhy would Potter be this NORMAL to me? Has the twit finally got one too many hits on the head? He must be faking this but if so, WHY? What’s there in it for him? Potter has it all already, there’s nothing more for him to gain. He already is admired by all — hell, worshipped by all is more accurate… why would he feel any kind of need to fake pleasantness to someone in my position? I could understand basic business-like manners from him — after all, even a hothead like Potter must have learned SOME manners by this age — but what is this sinister, sickening, suspicious NICENESS? Is there some angle to this I haven’t noticed?

 

Draco threw a bemused glance at Potter. He could have sworn he saw Potter’s lips twitch — was it mirth? what’s there to laugh about this, you son of a bitch! (yes, Draco had picked up some handy expressions from Muggle movies) — and, to his surprise, felt some of the lightness return. 

 

After all, what was more NORMAL than Potter and Malfoy annoying each other?

 

At least I’ll always have my keen sense of irony.

 

The running commentary in his brains almost made Draco chuckle out loud. This has been an eerily NOT horrible start for the second day.

 

Chapter Text

 

Harry rested his head on his hand, eyes half-closed. 

 

”Oi, Harry, are you listening?”

 

”Sure, Ron, it’s just been a looooong arse day. You know, I am able to multitask: keep my eyes closed AND listen at the same time. I’m talented that way.”

 

”You’re snarky that way, that’s what you are. Here I’ve been recounting the tale of my masterful deeds in solving the bloody — and I use the word advisedly — triple-homicide, and you’re ’multitasking’. Multitask this: how about your smuggling case, I haven’t heard any rumours and you’re never around to tell me anything. You skipped the Sunday brunch, which annoyed Hermione no end, mind you…”

 

”Yeah, sorry about that, but I did send you an owl about it, it’s not like I just didn’t show up… I had to sleep, I pretty much slept through the whole weekend.” 

Harry chuckled. 

”Gotta tell you, mate, last week took a lot out of me, I didn’t know it would be so bloody exhausting to get along with Malfoy. What with the case and keeping an unwaveringly pleasant smile on my face eight fucking hours a day…”

 

”While we’re on the subject… Why ARE you being so nice to that prat? I know we talked about this but isn’t this going a bit over and beyond the call of duty? Can’t be just for the pint we wagered — by now you’ve pretty much earned a whole barrel of beer…”

 

”I wish I knew”. Harry dropped his head on the desk with a faint *thump*. ”Want to show a good example to the others, I guess. I mean, wasn’t the whole point of the war to get rid of discrimination? And shouldn’t that idea be extended to, well, I don’t know what to call the likes of Malfoy… ex-cons, right? That Tuesday when we were supposed to go to that warehouse, remember, with Malfoy, I noticed how the others were looking at him, and it just… didn’t sit well with me, I guess.”

 

”It’s a pain in the arse to be a full-time Saviour”, emphatized Ron with a saintly smile on his face.

 

”Shut up you berk,” Harry huffed, but couldn’t help smiling at his flippant friend.

 

”We wrapped up the case on Friday. And not a minute too soon, Robards was breathing down my neck like nobody’s business. I was hoping for a few days of relaxing paperwork” — Ron snorted — ”yes yes I know, but after last week the idea of spending time peacefully, doodling some reports, seemed strangely appealing. But noooo, I’ve spent the whole day following a new lead on a bunch of those ’New master race’ idiots, you know the wannabe death eater losers who’ve been making a nuisance of themselves in Norfolk. A whole lot of ruckus, not a lot of brains to go round…”

 

”So, no Malfoy today?”

 

”Oh thank Merlin, no… I’ve haven’t had to be agreeable for three whole days now and I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.”

 

”Sure, mate, because your natural state is to be offensive 24/7…”

 

Harry grinned to his desk. He finally gathered the strength to raise his head and open his eyes, feeling like he had ’multitasked’ enough to go home for the evening, when his eyes fell on a familiar figure standing still just outside the cubicle’s doorway. Harry felt his heart sink.

 

”Oh, hello, Malfoy. Sorry, we didn’t notice you, we were just talking about our cases… Been there long?” he asked hopefully.

 

”Long enough”. Malfoy’s voice was cool and perfectly steady; he turned around and started to walk back to the elevators.

 

Oh, this is just fucking excellent, isn’t it…

 

”Mate, was Malfoy listening to us? Bloody hell, you’ve got to dig deep into that agreeableness to make all that go away…”

 

I’m not letting all the work go to waste just because I was joking around with Ron. I don’t deserve that.

And neither does Malfoy. 

To his surprise, Harry realized he actually felt bad for Malfoy. If the situation were reversed, how would he — Harry — have felt in Malfoy’s place just now?  

 

”Ron, gotta go…”

 

****

 

”Malfoy, wait up!”

 

The man continued walking. The corridors were empty as it was well after five. Harry didn’t hesitate to run. This is silly, I’m actually running after Malfoy of all people, to unruffle his fluffy feathers…

 

”Come on, Malfoy, talk to me.” He touched Malfoy’s arm lightly, not really expecting him to stop, but maybe he was doomed to be surprised by the guy. He stopped, bit his lower lip, turned to Harry.

 

”Yes?” How can one word be so lifeless? 

 

”Let’s not beat about the bush. Did you hear our whole conversation?”

 

”The gist of it, I assume. I seem to recall a profound discourse on the nature of multitasking. Before that, it was just Weasel blabbing about his case.” Malfoy shoot a glare at Harry, so hard it felt like a fist in his eye. ”And before you accuse me of eavesdropping, let me tell you I was simply trying to be polite and not barge in on your conversation. It seemed harmless enough to wait a bit for a natural lull in your little powwow.”

 

”Powwow? How do you even… ok, not important. You could’ve come in, you work here, you had a reason to come, I wouldn’t’ve thought anything of it.”

 

It was like Malfoy hadn’t even heard him. ”Or maybe I thought wrong, maybe I wasn’t being polite. Who knows, maybe my standing at your cubicle was only the first step to the killings of two War Heros. With malice aforethought to boot. Wouldn’t that be just like us ex-cons! What do the likes of me know of the workings of the better people.”

 

”Listen, Malfoy…”

 

”No, YOU listen.” Suddenly Malfoy’s mask cracked into million pieces, and Harry saw what lay underneath. Pinched face, flushed cheeks, the different shades of grey in his narrowed eyes swirling, swirling. (I hadn’t noticed before there ARE different shades of grey in Malfoy’s eyes, Harry thought, his powers of concentration shot to hell.) Malfoy’s voice didn’t tremble at all — his mask might be gone but his self-control held. No, no tremble, just… ice. 

 

”You don’t know anything. You think this is a joke? Worthy of a wager for a PINT? That’s what my life is to you? A barrel of beer?”

 

Malfoy closed his eyes for a second, breathed slowly to calm himself, then opened his eyes to fix his furious gaze again on Harry. 

 

Grey on green. 

 

Harry realized he had forgotten to breathe for a while. He had been sucked into the swirling grey, and hated, HATED the ice in Malfoy’s voice. Unlike he had told Ron, jokingly, last week hadn’t been arduous, well, not because of Malfoy anyway. He had worked hard, had been mostly quiet and restrained, had been no trouble at all in fact. On Thursday, when they had realized they were THIS close to the solution, they had started to relax, just a bit, and there had been a distinctive presence of playfulness in their work talk. Once, Harry had even seen (he was quite certain of it even though the silly man had tried to turn his head away!) Malfoy smile so openly it had made the corners of his eyes crinkle. That had been on Friday, after they had finally figured out the last of the case, and Harry had joked a bit. That big, genuine smile had seemed such a monumental (there’s that word again) step in their relationship. 

 

Work relationship, Harry. Work.

 

Truth be told, after the awkwardness of Tuesday had passed, they had worked together almost as smoothly as Harry did with Dean, or Angelina. (Not with Ron, but then, he was Harry’s best friend and nothing trumps that.)

 

Malfoy kept looking at him. Harry recognized the anger in his eyes but there was also something else. Was it hurt? Well-hidden under the swirly fury but yes, it was there. And why wouldn’t it be? His fifteen-year-old self would have laughed himself silly if someone had suggested that Malfoy was, in fact, human, and thus capable of having his feelings hurt. The sixteen-year-old Harry had witnessed some of  Malfoy’s humanity. So why would it now surprise the 21-year-old Harry that he was perfectly capable of wounding Malfoy? 

 

Again the ice, the lifeless formality. ”I do not wish to be a burden to our great Saviour, so please, do not bother yourself with any overly taxing efforts at politeness. I assure you, it’s both unnecessary and unsolicited. I’m neither an object of pity NOR a stake at your little games — kindly extend that courtesy to your colleague. Have a very good evening, Potter.”

 

Malfoy turned back towards the elevators, but before he had taken one step, they heard a shout back from the corridor. Robards’ voice. ”Potter, is that you? Thank Merlin someone sensible is still at the office!”

 

”Oi!!!” They heard Ron’s indignant shout; Robards was known to be less than proper or diplomatic when he was agitated. As he now clearly was. He came very close to running, and Robards NEVER ran.

 

”Sir?” Harry tried to compose himself. This thing with Malfoy, he had to put it aside for a moment. It wouldn’t do to let his boss see anything amiss; wouldn’t it be just dreamy if Robards barked something like ”what’s the matter with you two, having a lovers’ tiff or what??”. Robards wasn’t big on workplace political correctness, either.

 

”There’s a situation in Bournemouth, somebody’s been practising dark curses and targeted a Muggle family twenty minutes ago. It’s bad. The Hit Wizard, Zandra Holl, who arrived first to the scene says she can’t determine what the hell is going on with the curse. She thinks it’s a curse which has gone slightly wonky which makes it more difficult to analyze and she’s no cursebreaker so Harry, take one with you and leave immediately. You need to get this sorted out tonight. You’re heading the case, Holl deals with the field.”

 

Robards seemed to notice Malfoy’s presence only now. ”Malfoy? What’re you doing here? Oh yes, you worked together with Potter on the smuggling case. Ok, off you both go.”

 

Malfoy stood there, momentarily struck dumb by the sheer horribleness of Robards’ words. He recovered with a hesitant ”Umm, sir, I can’t just leave without checking with Sheppard…”

 

”Oh but you can, and you will. I’ll deal with Sheppard, you deal with the wonky curse.”

 

”But sir…”

 

”Why are you just standing there, you should be in Bournemouth by now,” Roberts barked. ”Holl’s waiting for you, get going!”

 

Harry knew his boss; he glanced at Malfoy who seemed not to have quite grasped the current realities of the situation and was on the verge of opening his mouth again. Probably another whiny ”but sir” coming up. It would’ve been entertaining to watch but the situation is bad enough already so maybe I’d better do my Saviour thing and get Malfoy out while the getting is still good. He grabbed the git’s arm and quickly threw a smooth ”Yessir” at Robards, and started to walk Malfoy briskly back to the cubicle.

 

”I’ll just fetch my wand and then we’ll be off immediately, sir!” he said over his shoulder, inconspicuously pushing Malfoy by the arm. This will so not help with… with what happened.

 

****

 

Draco didn’t utter one word before they were at the curse scene with Holl. Zandra Holl was a no-nonsense woman in her forties, a seasoned Hit Wizard who didn’t ogle Potter like he was some Roman god, which immediately endeared her to Draco. They got to work — he pushed all the other…things… to the back of his mind and concentrated fully on the curse. It had caused the Muggles to twist in some fairly unpleasant and damage-causing positions, and stuck them to the ceiling as well. The curse kept dropping the Muggles almost to the floor, then yanking them back, at random intervals; that was probably what Zandra had meant with the ’wonky’ part, and truly, it seemed to have been some unintentional effect of the curse which had been cast just a bit ineptly. He grimaced; if the curse had been cast correctly, it would’ve slowly dissected the victims in their twisted joints, letting gravity help with the maximum drainage of blood. This wasn’t the work of some childish loser playing at being bad. He grimaced again; this meant that he must go tell Potter immediately. How he would’ve wanted to take even an hour’s break, to steady his mind, to think about what had happened… 

 

Well, can’t be helped. He walked over to Zandra and Potter who were planning their strategy. Work to be done, people to be saved.

 

Betrayal to be forgotten. For the time being.

 

*****

 

It took Draco two hours to sort through the curse, unravelling the threads one by one and releasing the victims in a controlled manner, so as not to damage them any more than they had already been damaged. Help had arrived, a few Aurors who were on evening duty, and they whisked the Muggles to St Mungo’s. Lots of Obliviates to be cast in the near future.

 

Draco didn’t quite know what to do then. It was only his second case, nobody had told him what the protocol was in missions like this. Potter was still hunting down the lunatic who had done this, and Holl had gone with him. Draco wondered if he should return to the office, or if it was ok to go home — after all, he had done his part, there was nothing else for him except make a report tomorrow morning. The unpleasant fact was, however, that Robards had pinned Potter as the head of the case, so technically Draco might need his permission to leave. It felt profoundly uncomfortable to think that they might need to interact soon, without the benefit of a good night’s sleep and a few hours of thinking with fresh, rested brains.

 

So, Draco sat down on the porch steps of the Muggle house. He decided to wait an hour, that was surely enough to comply with the spirit of the case’s hierarchy. Now would be a good time to think, but Draco was tired and hungry. And hurt. Fuck it, it had HURT to realize that the only reason Potter had been affable to him was for a bet. And for some misguided saviourish reasons — Potter setting himself up as an ”example” of condescending goodness. Which, of course, means that Potter set Draco as an example of an ”ex-con” who needs someone to show him condescending goodness. 

 

I’m willing to admit I deserve quite a lot of shit; however, it’s so good to know that the Saviour of the Wizarding World thinks I deserve this public humiliation as well. Truly an empowering thing to do to your workmate.

 

Draco rubbed his temples, he sensed a headache coming up. Whatever had made him imagine that Potter might be nice because he genuinely thought that Draco deserved to be treated like an equal? That he ought to speak, well, normally to Draco because he actually might be a bit curious about what Draco was really like nowadays, as a person, an adult, a man, a workmate, a professional.

 

That he ought to be kind because of their history. Well bugger it, let’s put it out in the open, the twisted logic of it: because they were Potter and Malfoy and they just had always, always been aware of each other.

 

In a split second, the headache dropped on Draco like a suffocating blanket when the realization hit him.

 

Oh.

My.

Fucking.

God.

 

He had actually made the mistake of thinking he might be SPECIAL to Potter in some personal way. What an infinitely ridiculous mistake to make. How hilarious. How stupid. Childish. Smug. Presumptuous. Preposterous.

 

Pathetic.

 

Malfoys didn’t do pathetic, remember?

 

Draco felt like crying all of a sudden. He had tried so fucking hard to be cool enough, collected enough, to protect himself, to concentrate on making a life for himself and his Mother in this post-war world. This thing today, it seemed too small to make this huge an impact. Why should Potter’s wagers or saviour-complexes disturb him so?

 

But they did. How extraordinarily laughable.

 

Draco felt like crying but what came out was near-hysterical laughter. He laughed at himself, at his pathetic fixation on Potter, so hard the tears started pouring out of his eyes. Almost as if the laughter sqeezed them out of his system. Malfoy dignity, my arse. And it only made him laugh harder.

 

So naturally, that was the moment when Potter Apparated, right there, a few feet from where Draco was sitting, laughing, crying, making a spectacle of himself in general.

 

***

 

They had caught the person who had attacked the Muggles. Harry had expected to find some lesser Death Eater hangaround, someone who had avoided Aurors’ Death Eater hunts because he was just that insignificant. What they found, however, was a girl, barely 16 years old. Her young face was twisted with rage, eyes burning — she spat on Harry when he approached her after his Expelliarmus, wanting to detain her manually, not with a Petrificus. It hurt to fall to the floor, and Harry was shaken up enough by the age of the girl to not want her to hurt herself. Which was ridiculous and illogical — obviously she had had no such compunction with the Muggles — but Harry couldn’t help himself. She’s so young! 

 

Zandra took her away to the holding cells at the Ministry. Bone-tired, Harry leaned on a tree, closed his eyes and tried to empty his mind for a moment. For clarity. For getting out of this night without getting hexed by Malfoy. Well, in all fairness, I would have it coming.

 

Would Malfoy still be at the Muggle house, trying to de-curse the victims? Or had he already done that and left home? Wait… did he know he could go home? Oh fuck, Harry hadn’t given any parting instructions! He was so used to working with seasoned cursebreakers who didn’t need that kind of basic instructions, but Malfoy was new, and maybe nobody had taught him the protocol. Harry thumped his head on the tree. Yes, ”nobody”, that’s rich Harry, seeing as Malfoy has only worked with you so far, nonstop for a week, which means the only protocol training has come from YOU. Or in this case, has NOT.

 

Great. Just great. God knows how long Malfoy may have been waiting at the Muggle house, cursing Harry, stewing in his fury and hurt. Probably tired and hungry as well. Harry didn’t cherish the idea of meeting again the ice-king Malfoy, the odd mixture of stonecold pride and carefully hidden insecurity. Last Thursday and Friday, there had been touches of genuine friendliness, inklings of camaraderie, a few moments of spontaneous chatting (hard as it was to think Malfoy as the kind of a person who chats , all carefree, unguarded). Granted, just a few of those moments, but Harry already missed them. 

 

Hold on. ”Missed” them? Where did that come from?

 

Not important. Really, really not important.

 

Reluctantly, Harry pushed himself away from the tree, and Disapparated to meet his fate.

 

 

***

 

 

Harry had been expecting a pissed off and volatile prat waiting for him; what he saw caught him off-guard big time. He went from wary to worried in a second. Had Malfoy somehow got hurt, or hit by some residue curse threads? There was something very wrong here. Harry dropped to his knees in front of the madly chortling Malfoy. What the hell has happened here, his face is all wet. No, that’s… that’s tears? Malfoy’s crying?

 

Harry had no idea what to do. He could deal with crazy laughter and he wasn’t bad at handling crying people either — you had to learn that pretty quickly in this job — but this hysteria was a bit too much. Especially coming from Malfoy. He always took such care of his outward calmness. The only other time Harry had seen him lose control, show intense emotions, had been years ago, and that had ended in him almost dying because of Harry. Not a good precedent to remember…

 

He touched Malfoy’s shoulder very gently, like he was approaching a skittish kitten. ”Hey, what’s wrong? Can you speak? Are you hurt? Is it some hex? How can I help? …Malfoy, talk to me, I’m getting really worried here!”

 

Draco had only barely understood that Potter had arrived. That he was really here, watching Draco totally lose it. That it wasn’t a nightmare but the final ”fuck you” from the universe. The perfect ending for this day.  He felt Potter’s hand on his shoulder, warm and steady.

 

Comforting, also. I guess there’s no shame in admitting that? It was comforting to have him there — insults and condescension and beer barrels be damned.

 

Draco’s laughter settled to a faint giggle, hiccups, then silence. Tears stopped flowing. Potter didn’t take his hand away. 

 

”Ok, now don’t get upset, I just have to check…” Potter’s voice was subdued and very soft. Draco’s numb brain tried to squeeze one final giggle out of the situation. He treats me like some kind of a wounded animal. I should be insulted. Potter put his hand on Draco’s face, very gently, turned his face this way and that, looking very closely that there was no damage on his face or head, no blood anywhere. His hand is kind of nice. Very warm. Draco’s feelings were exhausted. He couldn’t be bothered to be insulted by Potter’s treatment, or Potter touching him.

 

”You wanna talk about what happened here? Is it something I should know? Someone said or did something to you? Malfoy, come on, if it’s something like that, I really need to know…”

 

Draco found his voice, faint and rasping after all that violent laughter, drowsy from exhaustion. ”Potter, relax. It’s nothing like that… It’s, it’s something I have to work through on my own. You arrived at an utterly unfortunate moment. I… I know it’s a lot to ask, considering, but I would highly appreciate if you didn’t mention this to anyone.”

 

”If you’re absolutely sure it’s nothing to do with the case, or… or colleagues… then I guess there’s no need for me to report it.”

 

”I meant what I said: to anyone, Potter. I know you blab everything to the Weasel and probably to your Weaselette as well but…” 

 

”No, Malfoy, I got it. I promise. Not a word.” And there’s no ’my Weaselette’. ”I choose to ignore the way you talk about the Weasleys, you probably have been…provoked… But please, try to remember their last name correctly from now on. Ron is your colleague, too. And his sister’s name is Ginny.”

 

Harry paused. If we’re ever going to straighten things up between us, it’s better to start right away, not leave anything to misunderstanding, however little it has anything to do with Malfoy. 

 

”And it’s not like it’s any of your business whatsoever, but there’s no such thing as ’my’ Ginny, hasn’t been for a long while. She’s a really good friend but she’s been dating Oliver these past eight months. I kind of thought that was common knowledge, seeing as they are both fairly well-known in Quidditch.”

 

Draco was still feeling weirdly numb. Feels rather pleasant after all the tumultuous emotions. ”Oh… I haven’t been reading Prophet’s society pages since forever. You probably think it’s …childish… but I kind of lost my appetite for them years ago — it’s not like there’s anything there for our family, now is there?” Draco yawned. And again. And again. 

 

Harry had to smile. It was odd to see Malfoy like that. For a brief moment, so utterly defenseless, maskless, vulnerable. Yawning, like a normal person. 

 

Suddenly Harry realized he still had one hand on Malfoy’s shoulder, and another was gently cupping his cheek. 

 

Umm, awkward much?

 

Harry thanked his Auror-trained reflexes that he didn’t ”untouch” Malfoy like a hot brick — that would’ve been more weird on top of all other weird. And Malfoy would’ve probably taken that as yet another insult. Slowly, he drew his hands away and straightened his back — he’d been on his knees by Malfoy this whole time.

 

”Look Malfoy, I’m really sorry I didn’t give you any instructions and you had to wait. I hope you didn’t have to wait too long. You did the right thing, by the way, the team’s supposed to wait the leader unless otherwise instructed… it was totally my fault, I’m too used to working with the senior cursebreakers and they know that my standing instructions are to go back home or office when their work in the field is complete. I’ve been a poor support for you this first week, I didn’t tell you any of the protocol stuff.”

 

Potter sat down beside Draco on the porch. It was fast getting dark, but he was so close that Draco could still see his face clearly. What he saw was a tired and embarrassed young man. The wait hadn’t been fun for Draco, but he could well imagine how much it had taken out of Potter to admit his failure, and apologize. To a Malfoy.

 

Draco was silent, waiting. He had a feeling Potter still had something to say — the nervous tap-tap-tap of his fingers on his knee, the other hand pushing again and again through the mess Potter called hair. The man may be a good Auror but he would never survive an undercover mission. The hopeless twit still wore his heart on his sleeve. That hadn’t changed since school.

 

”Ok. Ok. We… no. Shit, I don’t know where to start! Ok. I’m guessing you have a bunch of stuff you wanna say to me and, and, I’m willing to listen,” THAT shook Draco out of his drowsiness; he snorted loudly, ”BUT only if you’re willing to listen to me after! Really listen. I promise I won’t interrupt whatever rant you’re going to throw at me but I’m asking you to do the same for me. Please. (that ’please’ almost threw Draco. This has been a really weird day.). I need you to hear my side of the story.”

 

”Oh, I think I heard your side loud and clear a few hours ago.” Draco felt a twinge of renewed anger at Potter’s last words. ’His side’… is he actually going to try wriggle out of his own words?

 

”No you didn’t. Trust me, you really didn’t. I’d prefer to do this right now but it’s not a good idea. We’re both tired and hungry and probably still high on adrenaline because of the mission, and there’s the thing you…had…or whatever…just now, and this is so not an ideal situation to try to solve personal issues. I don’t know about you, but I tend to say really stupid stuff when I’m half asleep and my stomach’s growling.” Harry tried bravely to bring some humour to the situation, to lighten it up a bit. 

 

No reaction from Malfoy, the uncooperative prick.

 

Finally Draco rose, streched himself; he had hunched there for a long time, he was stiff. And yes, very tired, very hungry. Hard to believe this whole horrible phase of the day had lasted only four hours. Seemed so much longer. Feelings be fucked. Life would be so much more pleasant without them.

 

A lot can happen in four hours.

 

He looked down at Potter who was still sitting on the porch step. He was too tired to muster any ice or anger in his voice. ”I accept your apology about the protocol issue. You learned something, and so did I. About the…other…thing… You’re right, this is not the time nor place. I’m in no frame of mind to try to understand any ’sides’ you might have, and I’m too tired to be properly angry at you which is something I cannot have happen, obviously.”

 

Or maybe there was a reaction from him, after all. If Harry had made an effort to lighten up the situation, it seemed that so had Malfoy.  

 

”Are you ok Apparating home on your own, Malfoy?”

 

Draco would have wanted to retort proudly that he can take care of himself thankyouverymuch. But Potter had been rather decent, hadn’t made fun of him, had apologized. And Draco was just so fucking exhausted. Too tired to huff and puff and cling to meaningless bits of pride.

 

”Yes, I think so.” Pause. ”Thanks for asking, Potter.”

 

There’s still something…Harry couldn’t let Malfoy leave just yet.

 

”Hey, Malfoy… before we leave… about, you know… Would you have time tomorrow? After work? Let’s go eat somewhere. My treat, ok?”

 

”You really don’t want to listen to me rant in a public restaurant,” Draco said, amused. ”Or is this the Gryffindor at work here, ready to brave a public scandal?” 

 

He was silent for a moment, looked down at his hands, then looked at Harry, serious this time. 

 

”Let me think about it, ok. I… just now I don’t think it’s a good idea to go into… what happened today… in a place with a lot of other people around. But I don’t know what else… I can’t very well invite you to my place, either.” Draco smiled, a pinched little smile without real joy. ”I imagine you wouldn’t feel at home in Malfoy Manor. Let’s just sleep on it, yeah?”

 

Harry shuddered, the mere idea of going back to the Manor… yes, Malfoy was right, it certainly wouldn’t be a good place for what was going to be a hard conversation anyway. Then he thought of something.

 

”I’m just gonna throw an idea at you, think about it, ok. How about you come to my place?” Draco opened his mouth but Harry raised his hand. ”No, really. Kreacher, my house elf, is crabby as hell but he does make fairly edible meals, so… and the house I live in is an old Black residence, so it’s KIND of your place also, in a way… you being a Black on your mom’s side and all… There we can shout at each other all we want and nobody’s the wiser and we won’t end up on the front page of Prophet.”

 

”Yes, I can already see the headlines. ’Mighty Malfoy Hexes Snotty Saviour’.” Malfoys attempt at humour was clumsy to say the least but it was a try, and Harry appreciated it.

 

”So, how about it? Will you at least consider it? Let me know tomorrow, say, by noonish, so I can warn Kreacher?”

 

”I’ll think about it.” And he Disapparated with a loud *crack*.

 

”Good night to you too.” Harry stared at the place where Malfoy had vanished. He must be out of his mind, inviting Malfoy to his HOME. Under no circumstances would he tell Ron about this. He would book him a one-way ticket to Janus Thickey ward. Seriously though, is there any way this could NOT go wrong? It’s one thing to keep things civil at work — and THAT had only lasted for five days — and a whole another matter to let him into your home. Where there are no distractions, no other people to remain civil for.

 

At home, he ate a sandwich while standing in the living room. He looked critically at his home, trying to see it through the aristocratic, ultrastylish eyes of ancient pureblooded snotty git. (who seemed also to be a bunch of other things and not just snotty or a git — but not important right now, ok, Harry?) 

 

”Kreacher”, he called quietly. The old elf flickered into view. ”We may be having a visitor for dinner tomorrow. Would you please clean the downstairs rooms extra thorougly.” 

 

”Not the bedroom floors, sir?” 

 

Harry twitched. ”I don’t think — no, that won’t be necessary. Good night, Kreacher.”

 

Harry fell asleep the moment his head touched the pillow. The dreams he had…

 

…when he woke up in the middle of the night, he remembered the dreams. He had watched a replay of the fight in the bathroom; again and again he had seen Malfoy fall down, with dozens of bloodstains spreading on his white shirt. He had seen Malfoy’s face become so pale it was like snow. He had never, before or after, been so afraid. For someone. Of himself. The seconds before Snape had barged into the bathroom and started to treat Malfoy… they had been so very long. It’s easy to hate someone, throw words and snap and shout. It’s quite another thing to be the cause of their death.

 

Harry sat up on his bed, rubbed his eyes. So this is how it’s gonna be this night. Swell.

 

That Sectumsempra had changed something irrevocably in Harry. He’d been sixteen, angry, worried, obsessed, scared. He hadn’t thought about the consequences of his actions, not really. He had lived almost six years in the Wizarding world, he knew the dangers of saying or touching or drinking something you weren’t absolutely sure of.

 

He had seen Malfoy that year, getting thinner, paler, withdrawing in himself. He had seen him cry. 

 

And he had made a guinea pig out of him. There’s no excuse. Malfoy’s Crucio had been half-hearted anyway, and Harry could’ve just as easily used Expelliarmus. He knew lots of defensive spells, thanks to DA. But an unknown spell was what he chose. 

 

Consequences. Choices.

 

’It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are.’ Dumbledore’s words came back to him.

 

So, now there were new choices to make. And not just make them but actually keep living by them. Persistantly. 

 

Which is a lot harder.

 

Chapter Text

 

Harry slept the rest of the night surprisingly well, and woke up feeling rested. Maybe he had settled something, put a small part of his guilt to rest. He couldn’t change the bad choices he had made, but he could try to make sure he wouldn’t make similar mistakes in the future. He would keep on following Dumbledore’s words, he would think before acting. He didn’t really understand why he wanted to work so hard for Malfoy. He’s like my very own private trial, a test of some sort. Harry smiled at himself. On the other hand, it only seems right to work for this. Malfoy seems pretty dedicated to changing his future. He works hard for this. I would never have imagined that the git had it in him. So who am I to pull the rug from under him? 

 

***

 

It was approaching noon. Draco realized he was biting his thumbnail.

 

He had written the report. He had accepted home-baked cookies from Gillian, a cursebreaker colleague with a maternal attitude and a viciously sarcastic sense of humour. He had drunk two cups of tea. He had smiled and chatted with his workmates. All the while feeling like a machine. 

 

His thoughts were elsewhere. 

 

Draco hadn’t slept well; maybe it had been too much to expect. He hadn’t decided what to do yet. Potter invited me to his home. Draco tried to wrap his head around that. It doesn’t even matter how well it goes; maybe the relative ease of last week will never return — there’s hardly anything Potter can say to explain away his prattle with Weasley. Even so, they would talk, have a meal together. At Potter’s home.

 

Draco was eleven when Potter — the exciting, mysterious celebrity of Draco’s childhood — had turned down his offer of friendship. The following years just made everything worse and worse until it was impossible to turn back; things between them were twisted and tangled and Draco didn’t seem to be able to help himself but put more and more effort in tormenting him. It had been exhausting, but he hadn’t known how to stop. Actually, I don’t even want to think about the details of it right now. I don’t want to make myself feel even worse by dwelling on how huge a prat I was back then. How childish had his anger been, all for a wounded pride. They all had been just kids, anyway. Some more stupid than others.

 

It might have all blown away if Draco hadn’t been so unforgiving. If he had been willing to swallow his pride, treat Potter with the same basic courtesy he treated other schoolmates (yeah… except Gryffindors… man, he had really been a gigantic arse!). If he had done that, they might eventually have become friendly, they might have got along ok, both being Quidditch players, stuff like that.

 

That might have happened and everything could’ve gone so differently if. If he had even for one fucking second had a thought of his own, instead of parroting his father, instead of absorbing like a sponge everything he had said. Never once questioning anything. It had taken His rule over Manor, Draco torturing under threat of being tortured himself, attempting murder for fear of his parents’ lives… it had taken the evidence of his own eyes, the capricious killings, unpredictable rise and fall of favorites… it had taken a meeting at Manor’s dining table, watching a Hogwarts teacher being served for lunch to Voldemort’s snake; granted, she taught Muggle studies but still, she was harmless. And she was someone Draco knew. Who had been a part of Draco’s childhood, a presence in the Great Hall during meals, her kind face smiling and talking with other professors. Some of the Slytherins actually had taken her lessons, and none of them had ever had anything bad to say. She was strict, fair, sometimes funny. And here they were, cheering and clapping their hands, watching Nagini slowly swallow her. Because she told students about how other people lived. 

 

It had taken much too long for Draco to see that the idol of his father had clay feet. Draco still remembered the first time he had let the thought into his brain: Is this really what I wanted? Is this the well-organized, stable and firm society my father had promised Voldemort’s rule to be? He had taken great care of keeping a stealthy Occlumeus charm active at all times. Draco had seen enough to know it would most likely mean instantaneous death if Voldemort saw what kind of thoughts were crawling around in Draco’s mind.

 

Draco hadn’t been sorted to Slytherin for nothing. He was pragmatic, he had a well-developed sense of self-preservation. He had cunning, he had brains. What he didn’t have, however, was the kind of bullheaded bravery the Gryffindors seemed to possess in abundance. He didn’t know how to get out of the situation alive, with his parents alive. (Well, the immature adulation of his father had passed, probably for good. It was his fault they were in this shit situation anyway, and Draco couldn’t imagine ever forgiving him. He didn’t want him to be the next Nagini dinner, however.) So, how to get out of this? Was there anything, anything at all, that Draco could do to undermine Voldemort AND stay alive?

 

So he smuggled some food to the prisoners. Once, he brought a book to Luna. Teeny-tiny acts of insubordination. Not even Mother knew. 

 

But when they brought Potter to Manor, Draco almost fainted. He felt sick to his stomach. This was the breaking point. If Voldemort were summoned here, he would kill Potter instantly, and that would be it. Draco’s — everybody’s — future would be sealed.

 

So, it was Draco’s small mutiny to NOT give a positive identification. Truth be told, the 21-year-old Draco was ashamed of his younger self. It had been such a small thing to do. He could’ve done so much more. Turned double-agent like Snape, grabbed Dumbledore’s offer of forgiveness; there had been a few precious minutes before the other Death Eaters had barged to the tower. But the only action Draco had had in him, was a choice to NOT act, to not identify Potter.

 

Potter had remembered it, otherwise he wouldn’t have testified for him. Still, it wasn’t the stuff of heroic poetry. It wasn’t enough to make people stop spitting on him on Diagon Alley. It hadn’t been enough to make Potter come visit him during the house arrest. (Well, that had always been a foolish fantasy, anyhow.)

 

Ten years after the failed offer of friendship, I’m invited to Potter’s home. We will talk about yesterday. Discuss all of it: what he had heard in the cubicle and how he had interpreted it. (well, maybe not all of it… Draco didn’t feel it was absolutely necessary to inform Potter of his realisation on the Muggle porch. He had made an embarrassing mistake in nursing fantasies about their joint history and imaginatory ’special place’ in each other’s lives. It made Draco squirm in shame just thinking about it.)  He would need to stay calm, he would have to be unflinchingly honest. 

 

Otherwise, what’s the point? Draco was clever enough and, right this minute, honest enough, to admit he wanted Potter’s acceptance. He was also smart enough to know that Potter, like all ridiculous Gryffindors with their ridiculous big hearts, valued courage, frankness and openness above all other things. So that’s what he would have to try show him. 

 

In truth, he didn’t know how he would manage; all his life, restraint had been drilled into him. Mastering emotions under all circumstances. Showing and saying only what would benefit one at any given situation (Draco snorted. If he tried to explain that to someone like Potter, they would think that it means the same as lying. Of course it doesn’t! Only vulgar people with underdeveloped imaginations lie. There’s always a piece of truth a clever person can dig up and use. The truth, a part of the truth, and nothing but a serviceable part of the truth — to paraphrase a Muggle oath.)

 

Today might be Draco’s trial, then. Potter would be his judge and jury. And Draco would be his.

 

Draco WOULD talk, as openly and honestly as he could. He would do his damnedest.

 

And he WOULD listen to Potter. Whatever clumsy explanation he might offer, Draco would listen and try to understand.

 

They WOULD both put the horrible parts of their history aside, and really talk, and listen. 

 

Is this what growing up means?

 

***

 

Five minutes before noon, Harry received an internal message from the Office of Improper Use of Magic.

 

Invitation accepted. Atrium at 5.30.

 

-D.M.

 

 

Harry’s first reaction: he grinned. Bossy git.

 

Harry’s second reaction: shitshitshit! Malfoy is really COMING TO MY HOME. Harry would actually have to put into practice all the good decisions he had made last night and this morning. No bullshit, no pretty principles, no impressive words. 

 

Actual action.

 

Showtime.

 

***

 

Draco timed his arrival to the Atrium at exactly 5:30. Not a second early, not a second late. He didn’t want to appear too anxious by being seen waiting; he didn’t want to seem disrespectful of Potter’s time by making him wait.

 

Potter was there already, chatting with some Ministry officials. He seemed relaxed, focused on listening to whatever it was the others were saying. Not a care in the world.

 

Until Draco noticed Potter’s hand. The tap-tap-tap against his thigh. For some reason, it made Draco instantly feel better. For all the Gryffindor bravery, it seems the Great Harry Potter was nervous!

 

He drew a steadying breath and walked resolutely towards Potter. One of the wizards noticed him approach and obviously said something, because all of them turned to look at him. Now Draco was near enough to hear them; Potter excused himself. ”We have plans.”

 

Well. That should be good for a few days’ worth of coffee break gossip.

 

They walked side by side towards the nearest Floo entry. ”Here, read this.” Potter showed him a piece of parchment. Draco took a look at it. ”Twelve, Grimm…” ”Yeah, don’t read it out loud here, ok? Just memorize it, otherwise you can’t get to where I live.” Silently, Draco read the address on the parchment; then, Potter conjured a tiny flame and burnt the parchment.

 

”So, Fidelius charm?”

 

”Yeah, it’s been under the charm for a long time. Some Death Eaters found the place during the war — long story — but those guys are all in prison or dead now. Still, I put a new charm on it when I moved into the house a couple of years ago; the charm’s mostly there just for added privacy. Skeeter and her cohorts, you know. I made myself the secret keeper so basically only those who I really want to know where I live, get the information.”

 

Draco tried really, really hard to damp down his ridiculous, preposterous, smug, pathetic, etc. fantasies of ’being special’ to Potter. Something in his heart insisted on fluttering, however.

 

After a short but dizzying Floo trip they stumbled out of Grimmauld Place’s living room fireplace; first Harry, then Draco.

 

”I’ve been meaning to ask”, said Potter, ”why WERE you at the Auror office on Monday? Did you have something you wanted to talk about?”

 

So, straight to the business. Typical.

 

”Nothing of importance. Really! No need to look so shocked — even though I know you know that everything that comes out of my mouth is extremely important,” (Harry chuckled; Draco’s attempt at keeping things light for a few more moments was going well), ”I really didn’t have anything earthshattering to say. I was just a bit curious about where the smuggling case was going next. There were rumours circling in our department that Hit Wizards had caught Zeneck and Keller, but not a peep on how the search for Reggan was going, so I guess I was just curious about the fate of my first case.”

 

”Oh, ok, that’s one less mystery then.” Potter lead Draco to a surprisingly cozy kitchen with mouth-watering whiffs of potroast, and a table invintingly set for two. ”Smells delicious, thank you, Kreacher,” Potter said to a grouchy-looking old house elf who had materialized in front of them.

 

Kreacher scowled at Potter and scurried to carry the steaming saucepans to the table. He snapped his fingers, and a bottle of red wine popped on the table. Draco sat down and picked up the bottle. ”This is quite a decent vintage, I’m impressed, Potter. Not to mention surprised. You don’t seem the type to appreciate the finer things in life. More of a beer man, I’ve assumed…” Draco’s voice dwindled. Ok. Beer brought up and we’re hardly seated yet. Nice going, Draco!

 

”You’ve assumed correctly,” said Harry, amused. He sat down as well, opposite Malfoy. ”It seems there’s an old Black wine cellar around here somewhere, and occasionally Kreacher sees fit to surprise me with a bottle. Usually when I have Ron and Hermione spend the evening. Still, I don’t understand much about them, I just know if I like something or not.” 

 

The oil lamps in the kitchen dimmed; four long candles materialized on the table, and soft music emanated from the living room.

 

What? What! Harry felt himself blush. Kreacher, we’re SO gonna have a long talk later… 

 

”Ok, umm, sorry about that… I said to Kreacher yesterday that I’ll probably have a visitor coming to dinner, and… he seems to have misunderstood a bit the… the nature of the visit.”

 

Silence.

 

Then Malfoy burst out laughing.  

 

”This is too precious! I’ve spent the whole day agonizing over this. How this will be all serious and deep, and we’re going to have huge frowns on our faces the whole time, and the most humour either of us can get out of this will be a food fight. Me throwing raw potatoes at you, and you hitting me with a cast iron pot, and both of us ending up in St Mungo’s. I’ve got to admit I didn’t see a romantic candle light dinner as an option.”

 

Harry stared at him. He felt the corners of his mouth twitch. Ok, so this was a bit amusing. What’s weird is that MALFOY thinks this is amusing. And what’s with the sincerity and frank admittance of being nervous? Who are you and what have you done with Malfoy, the uptight twit!

 

***

 

They were halfway through their meal, and what was to become the first of their bottles of wine. Draco had talked about his Muggle books and movies, his studies and the curse-experts he had learned from; Harry described some of the weirder cases he had investigated with Ron. All very uncomplicated and suitable for easing into the actual subject.

 

”What about that Kreacher? Cooks well, prepares a perfect surroundings for a hot date,” Draco had to snicker a little; Potter rolled his eyes and, yes, blushed again, indeed! ”but looks at you like his fondest wish was to murder you in your sleep.”

 

”Yes, well, Kreacher has a bit of a hard time accepting the fact that his dear pureblooded Black family left this house to a filthy Half-Blood like myself. So basically, he busts his arse to serve me but sneers at me while doing it.”

 

Draco let out a genuinely amused laughter. He wanted to postpone the issue-of-the-day as far as he could; he wanted to relish this: what he had wanted since he was 11, he now had.

 

At least for awhile. At least until he had to listen to Potter’s excuses for his inexcusable condescension and playacting and ridiculing Draco with his wagers. 

 

But until that moment, let’s eat, drink and be merry.

 

****

 

Laughing about Harry’s story about his first case — which he had mucked up in such a legendary manner that it was used as a Not-Like-This-You-Idiots! example for Auror students — they took the rest of the second bottle with them and settled on the living room couch; Draco to one end, Harry to the other.

 

Kreacher continued on his chosen path: the lights dimmed, and candles popped up on every desk and shelf. The soft music kept on playing.

 

Harry didn’t bother to blush anymore. He was relaxed from the copious amounts of wine and the sheer pleasantness of Draco’s company. When did he become Draco to me? Will he still be Draco after tonight, or are we back to Malfoy?

 

He was silent for a moment, twirling the wine in his glass, pondering on the fact that he was quite certain he had heard Draco slip up a few times also, and call him Harry. 

 

The start of a beautiful friendship?

 

Kreacher took this as a date. That’s obviously not the case for… reasons which will come to me any time now. Oh yes. Straight guys don’t date each other. Right. Right. Probably should stop drinking now, it’s hurting my thinking.

 

It’s just… I’ve never enjoyed someone’s company this much on a date — well, except Ginny, but then, she was more like a sister anyway so it’s no wonder. 

 

This is not a date, but if it were, it would be one of the better ones.

 

Harry turned his eyes to Draco, and noticed him looking back, candleflames flickering in his grey eyes. It was an enticing sight, and Harry forgot to take his eyes off him, and Draco kept his eyes fixed on him, and they both just sat there, looking at each other, twirling their glasses. Silence started out so light and harmless; as the seconds rolled on, it began to purr, to rumble, to thunder.

 

Kreacher decided this was the perfect moment to *crack* beside Harry, and ask with his grating voice whether Master and Master’s Good Friend were ready for coffee and brandy.

 

Now Harry felt a hot blush rise to his cheeks. What the bloody hell had that been about? I’m probably making Draco uncomfortable. I know I’m making MYSELF uncomfortable… 

 

”Yes, thank you, Kreacher.”

 

Armed with a coffee cup and a snifter, Harry wanted to ward off the possibility for any other horrible (odd? curious? distracting? flustering?) moments. It was time to start.

 

”Draco, this has been nice. Really nice. But don’t you think we should get to the point? And before we start, I’m just going to say that I promise to be as truthful as possible. No lies, ok. I can’t really ask the same from you but if you think you could, I believe it’d be really good for this… So, do you wanna go first, or shall I?”

 

Draco drew a deep breath. Here goes nothing. Remember what you decided. Tell it how you feel it, no more, and abso-fucking-lutely no less.

 

”Look, Harry, we’d be here the whole night and probably the whole of tomorrow too, if I told you everything that made me the huge prat I was at 11. You’d be bored to tears if I recounted everything that made me an even huger prat by 16. However… Look, I worshipped the ground my father trod on until I was 16, until the sixth year happened. You don’t know where or how I grew up, but try to understand this: I loved my parents, I trusted them, I believed everything they told me, and I had absolutely zero reason to suspect that there was anything wrong with that. My father was clever, powerful, and I so wanted to be like him. I never was, not really, and he certainly didn’t hesitate to remind me of my shortcomings. For him, I was never enough. For me, he was everything.

 

I’m not giving excuses here. I do remember how I treated you, and Weasley and Granger. I can’t say that I didn’t mean every bit I said — I probably did. Or, at least, I knew what sort of stuff to say to hit where it hurt the most. 

 

You’d be surprised to hear but my father didn’t approve — yet another thing I failed in his eyes. On several occasions he told me to be nice to you, to ingratiate myself, to fake friendliness. Because, you know, you were famous, and important, and the Boy Who Lived! But you know how well I managed to follow those orders. I just couldn’t help myself…” 

 

Out with it, Draco!  

 

”…and I think I know why. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of me but what the hell: I wasn’t able to forgive you for pushing me aside that time in the train, the first year. You embarrassed me in front of a Weasley — and oh boy, how my father always talked about them! I learned to despise them as soon as I started understanding words! — and a Muggleborn, and two of my oldest friends. You will be glad to hear that you were the first for me in some respects: the first ever to NOT want to be my friend. I probably didn’t  — no, I’m sure I didn’t — understand that the kids I’d always met were part of our social circles, and one was not unfriendly to a Malfoy…

 

But I didn’t understand the reason for my reaction for years. And admitting it took even longer. You’re the first with that, too. I’ve never spoken about this to anybody.”

 

Draco stopped for a moment to finish his coffee. 

 

”Ok. So. Why am I telling all this, you may wonder. Thanks for keeping your promise, by the way. Thanks for listening. So. I’m going the long road with this because you need the background to understand why Monday happened.

 

If we get out of tonight as friends, someday I’ll tell you exactly what it was like to plan to kill Dumbledore while at the same time crying yourself to sleep Every. Fucking. Night. because you’re not a stonecold killer by nature AND because you’re so goddamned afraid that if you don’t succeed, you’ll be dead, and so will your mother and father. Voldemort made that crystal clear, make no mistake. I wasn’t just ”up to something” out of the evilness of my black heart. I was fucking terrified! Maybe you were used to slaying monsters by the age of 12, all in a day’s work to beat up trolls, fly hippogriffs, and vanquish Dark Lords left and right but I’m not you. I was sixteen, and I was…” 

 

Draco thought for a minute.

 

”I don’t know how to describe it. Not happy, ok??! That curse you threw at me, that was one of the easiest parts of that year. That was one of the most NORMAL things to happen to me that year. Or the next. It was fucking NORMAL to fight with YOU, the annoying git-who-lived-to-be-sanctimonius-and-righteous-and-hotblooded. We had history; you had, sort of, a proper reason to lash out, and I did try to Crucio you. Not that I planned to, did you know that? You just startled me at a very, very bad moment. I didn’t even realize it was you until I had already shouted the curse. So getting almost killed there was kind of my own fault. 

 

I’ve often thought what would’ve happened if I hadn’t been so wand-happy (don’t raise your brows like that… I go to the movies, I like action, I’ve heard trigger-happy, so there!). I’m guessing you weren’t following me to that bathroom with the intention of killing me, right?” (Harry nodded.)  ”So what if I had waited? I would’ve only needed to ask help. I truly believe that. Your bloody gryffindoryness would’ve forced you to help me, no matter how much you hated my arse.

 

Or that night at the Astronomy Tower… what if the others had come just five minutes later? I heard you were there and saw it… but did you know I was THIS close to giving in? Two seconds more, and the first Death Eater to come through that door would’ve arrived just in time to see me hand my wand over to Dumbledore. Wouldn’t that have changed the course of history? I’d’ve been dead for sure, but Dumbledore would’ve had time to escape.

 

But I’m not you. And not being you meant another year of Voldemort — this time he was unhappy with the whole of our family. And the others knew it. Relished it. Try to imagine being 17 and having to spend all your time being ogled by some of the worst dregs of wizardry. Or don’t. Let’s just say the door to my room was triple-warded against all sorts of Alohomora spells. Mother helped with those. She’d seen the looks.

 

So we watched Voldemort lord over our home. I saw him kill people just for looking at him wrong. He fed Professor Burbage to Nagini, did you know that? During one of the staff meetings, as he called them. I was sitting two feet from Nagini’s mouth. I watched it swallow her. She was still alive then.

 

I guess that was the final straw. I know it doesn’t make you think any better of me when you realize that it took me that long to really start questioning our choices.

 

Long story short, that’s why I didn’t rat you out when they brought you to the Manor. And I know you don’t think much of my physical prowess but let me just assure you NOBODY takes my wand that easily if I don’t let them. It wasn’t fun and I hated it, and I would’ve never just handed it over but… you started the fight and it just didn’t seem so important to really fight back. I needed you to escape, you see.

 

Bellatrix hated it too… Trust me, she knew some nasty wandless hexes and she was really, really not impressed with me that day. Mother says that it took four days until I regained consciousness.

 

Suffice to say, the pureblood rule à la Dark Lord really wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. You’ll be glad to hear that after tormenting you and your friends for so many years and in so many highly inventive ways, I got my comeuppance. With interest.

 

Then you grabbed me from the fire — thanks for that, by the way, I’d love to hear WHY some day, though…  And then you won. We all won. And you saved my arse from Azkaban, and mother’s too. Haven’t thanked you yet for that either. So, thanks.

 

Believe me, I did some thinking back then. Lots of re-evaluating values and stuff. Looked at myself and really didn’t like what I saw. 

 

You know, I was always told that I’m intelligent. Not by father but by Mother and Snape. Yeah, don’t grimace. You only knew the Snape of the Potions lab. Merlin, it was funny the way he used to snap at you! But he was very different with just me. He was a family friend, did you know that? Used to come visit during summer breaks. He kept saying that I don’t use my brain enough. That I don’t know how to think critically.

 

I never understood what he meant. I was a good student, a clever guy, so what the hell was that about, not knowing how to think!

 

Boy, did I get what he meant, after the war.

 

There was a lot of moping around, wallowing in self-recrimination. It took me four months to figure out if I want to give up (yeah, you know exactly what that means) or do something to change things. 

 

I know our name doesn’t mean a thing to you. It does to me, though. We’re an ancient wizarding family. It may be nothing to you but it’s important to me. I just don’t want our name to mean the same as it did to my father.”

 

Harry listened Draco recounting the months, years, of reading through Malfoy library, of practicing with Blaise and Pansy. Of McGonagall’s advice, of achieving excellent grades. He had already heard how Draco had found Muggle books and movies, and how he had studied abroad. Draco hadn’t told the story behind his Ministry job, but Harry could guess what kind of a hell that must’ve been. Kingsley may be all for second chances, but most weren’t. Draco must’ve been made to jump through all sorts of hoops. 

 

Draco had worked his arse off for the past three years. That much Harry had already guessed, based on last week and the stories they had swapped during the meal.

 

He just hadn’t known why. What had driven the man who was right there, sipping his wine. Flushed, clearly unsure of how his story might be received. Harry almost thought he was dreaming. Surely it couldn’t be the mean, petty little shit he had known for so many years, sitting there and baring his soul. It must be horrible for him, lowering all the Malfoy walls and letting Harry — of all people! — see all this.

 

Draco continued. ”Ok then, here I was, at the Ministry, and what do you know, my first ever official duty involves working with you! If I were a vulgar person, I’d say I almost pissed my pants. I had to slip into a broom closet to run through a breathing exercise to calm down. Harry, I swear to Merlin, you don’t want to continue with that snickering!! Yes, I do breathing exercises! Trust me, living with Voldemort really teaches you the value of self-control.

 

But I think it went rather well. Don’t you? Although I did wonder why you were such a loudmouth — even more than usual — at the Atrium on that first day. I hoped… I’m embarrassed to admit I hoped it was because you had seen how everyone was looking at me, and you honestly wanted to help. I hoped that it was because you wanted to be kind. Treat me as an equal, with as little prejudice as possible. Forgive and forget, clean slate, all that.

 

So, I was feeling pretty, well, not good but at least hopeful about my chances of finding some kind of normalcy into my life. In time, maybe a degree of equality, at least at work.

 

Now, do you understand AT ALL why it was so bad — I’m going to be honest and say so devastating (and if you’re ever using that against me, you’re a dead man, and I’m not kidding) to hear that you were kind to me because you just wanted to make on example of yourself, and by extension, an example of me. And that it had been a true hardship for you — that you were glad you hadn’t seen me in three days so you could rest. And that you’d been your old Savior-self, Potter to the rescue! And that I was an amusement to you and Wease…Weasley. Worth a pint or two.

 

Are you able to understand NOW why I…”

 

Draco swallowed.

 

”The one thing I won’t go into any detail is the…the fit I had in Bournemouth. Just this: yes, it also had to do with the discussion I had overheard. 

 

Obviously it hasn’t been enough that for the last three years I’ve worked HARD with myself, trying to come to grips with what I’ve been and what I’ve done and what I’ve been through. I still get triggered, ok. 

 

I’m. Not. Okay. 

 

Sorry you had to see that. And thanks for being so decent.

 

And now I’m done. Your turn.”

 

Draco felt cold all over. The surge of adrenaline which had got him through his speech was probably running out. He shivered, and wondered if he could ask Harry to ask Kreacher to bring more coffee. A huge cup of it. And maybe a few gallons of brandy.

 

”Kreacher, would you please bring us some tea. Maybe cookies too. Chocolate chip if we still have any. And also some brandy.”

 

Had Draco spoken out loud or did Harry just read minds these days? Bloody Aurors and their training…

 

Draco felt the couch dip, a knee touch his. A warm blanket was wrapped around him.

 

”You seemed like you could use something to warm you up.”

 

Draco thought Harry’s voice was doing a pretty good job of it, all by itself. He didn’t sound annoyed, or angry, or disappointed. Or bored. Or scornful. Even though he bloody well had reason to, after Draco’s ramblings.

 

He sounded… well, kind. No other word for it. Not condescending. Just, kind.

 

Bloody Gryffindors. Honestly! Is there no end to their sickening GOODNESS! Draco didn’t know whether to roll his eyes in despair or hug the silly bastard. 

 

The couch stayed dipped. The knee stayed put.

 

Probably neither. Yes. That’s a wise decision.

 

****

 

Harry had promised to be silent and let Draco talk. He had imagined he would have problems with it. He had thought he would feel the urge to interrupt, to ask, to comment, to snort in contempt or disbelief. Instead, he was captivated by Draco’s story. The way he told it; at times sad, then agitated, remorseful, angry. Sometimes flippant, then assertive. Draco’s gaze wandered from his hands to the candles and back, regularly lingering on Harry, as if to check he was still listening. Every now and then he paused to sip coffee; he didn’t much touch his brandy.

 

Harry wondered whether he was allowed to show any reactions — based on the few times he had and Draco had commented on it, he didn’t seem to mind. Just as long as Harry didn’t say anything. Didn’t try to stem the flow of thoughts and words and feelings. When Draco said that Harry was the first one to hear some of these things, or when he told about the life at the Voldemort-infested Manor, or, or, all the other stuff after that, just thinking about how much it must’ve cost him to tell it all to his old enemy, to throw himself at Harry’s mercy like that, he felt… 

 

What did he feel? What is the word for this? Dumbfound, touched, honoured, flustered — some combination of them. Is there a word for wanting both to slap and to hug this proud, resilient, insufferable man? Does he have any idea how incredibly brave he is right now?

 

So when Draco stopped talking and started shivering, Harry’s Saviour-reflexes kicked in instantly. Tea, of course. Oh, chocolate, Remus always said it made you feel better. Sure, that was in connection of Dementors, but this situation is one big-arse Dementor in itself, so chocolate it is. Yes, and booze. More booze. What else… Blanket, check.

 

Umm. Probably sat down unnecessarily close. Okay. Well. Hm. But it may be a good thing. He probably needs to see I’m not holding any of this against him. My staying right here proves him that I don’t feel creeped out sitting near him. Yes. That’s it.

 

***

 

Kreacher brought tea, cookies and more brandy. Draco was clutching the blanket with both hands, still shivering. Harry could see the moment when Draco seemed to order himself to snap out of it; he closed his eyes, breathed very steadily in, out, in, out; then opened his eyes and looked at Harry. His face was again calm and Harry could SEE the mask flickering on and off. As if Draco couldn’t decide whether it was still needed. Whether he was accepted without it. 

 

Harry gave him a large mug of steaming tea and smiled. ”Try the cookies also. I make a mean chocolate chip cookie if I do say so myself.”

 

He bakes ? My gods, do I know anything about this man?

 

***

 

Harry leaned his arms on his knees and held the mug on his right hand. It seemed he was fascinated by the contents of his mug; he twirled and twirled the mug and stared at the tea milling around in it. Draco had stopped shivering. The blanket was nice and soft, the tea excellent quality, and the cookies were indeed tasty. Harry’s left knee was still touching his right; a hot, steady pressure. Draco took great care not to move an inch. 

 

”You warm already?” Harry asked, finally directing his green eyes on Draco. He nodded; best to get on with it.

 

”Before five thirty, I was sure I knew what to say here. Hearing your story… I’m not so sure anymore. It’s not that it was all new. Some of it I knew, some I had guessed. But to hear you tell it… all the whys I had no idea about…

 

For what it’s worth, I think you’ve been incredibly brave. It took some serious guts to deal with what came after the trials the way you did. You’ve joked about — and insulted! — my Gryffindorish foolhardy courage quite enough and yeah, I guess I have some of that but… you know, I really don’t know if I would’ve had your tenacity and determination, had I been in your place. You worked your arse off for years, for an uncertain future; the particular lion’s den you walked into last week, the absolute hostility of so many, just waiting for any mistake… I’ve gotta say, I don’t know if I could’ve done it. Bravery comes in many forms. Believe it or not, but I admire what you’ve achieved.”

 

Harry still held the mug in his hands but now he moved: he half-turned to Draco, his knee on the couch, now touching Draco’s thigh.

 

”Last night, I dreamt of you.” It was something one might say in a completely different context, and it would be bloody HOT. Harry blushed. Draco would never think that…that it was like THAT in this case. Which is good, of course, yes! Harry pulled himself together. 

 

”I relived almost killing you at least a dozen times. Like a recording stuck in a loop.

 

I woke up, I guess it was at two, maybe three. Something Dumbledore had said came to me, and I started to think about choices. 

 

For most of these ten years I’ve thought that almost all your choices were shit. And that you yourself were rather a little shit. I’m not saying I’ve completely forgiven your general awfulness at school,” (Harry smiled faintly, to show this was intented as banter, not insult), ”it’s that I guess now I understand why you were the way you were.

 

I think I dreamt about what happened in the bathroom because it was also about choices. I think my subconscious wanted to remind me of some of the shit choices I’ve made.

 

I think we’ve both made some good and some really horrible choices. Our choices have hurt or killed people, but they have also saved lives. We… everyone, really… has to play with the cards they’re given, but truth be told, Draco… I think in both our cases, the decks were rigged.

 

You went the long road with your story. So here’s a little background for you. 

 

This is probably no surprise to you but I was really not thrilled about your Ministry job. It’s not that I was angry about it or anything like that. It just made me nervous for some reason. Would you believe it was Ron who actually talked me into looking at this in a positive way? He reminded me that we already are almost-friends with some Slytherins. Though I don’t think my being nervous had anything to do with you being a Slytherin, or even you having been on the wrong side of the war for so long. It’s just… it’s you. It’s not Blaise, or Millie. It’s you. Hermione said it had always been different between the two of us. I guess it still was, even after these years.

 

The next thing I knew, I was saying that I want to try to be open-minded about you. Not judge you based on ancient stuff — even though there was good stuff too, among those ancient things, you saving my life for one! — but try to be fair. Get to know today’s Draco. That’s when Ron joked about buying me a beer if I can, you know, play nice with you. It was a FRIENDLY joke, and anyway it wasn’t on you, it was on me. I tend to be really short-tempered when it comes to you, so it was THAT Ron joked about. It was never meant to be about you. It wasn’t meant to insult you.

 

I didn’t even expect to see you for days, maybe weeks. Your department is large and I really didn’t expect them to send a new guy to a field case on his first day! But because you’re you and I’m me, you were given one of my cases.

 

You said it yourself: it went well. You work hard, you’re really clever, you gave me absolutely NOTHING to be short-tempered about. On Tuesday, I actually mentioned talking with you to Ron, and I told him you were ok. That it had all been ok. I think the exact word I used was ’normal’. I had been so nervous about seeing you, and then it had suddenly been so fucking NORMAL. 

 

By Friday, I was honestly happy to have you as a colleague. You are an asset to the Ministry, just like Kingsley said. And every day I was just a bit more pissed off about the attitude the Ministry idiots were giving you. You were right, that first Tuesday I did want to help you, BECAUSE I did want everybody to see you as an equal. Or at least try, I’m not stupid… these things take time… but at least TRY, and they weren’t. They looked at you real ugly. That was not what we had fought the war for, for fuck’s sake!”

 

Harry felt his temper rise, just thinking about it. I’ve got to learn those breathing excercises… Maybe Draco would teach me.

 

”I kept dreaming about you every night. (Stop blushing Harry, it’s not like THAT and you know it!) They weren’t pleasant dreams, most of them. (Please god, let Draco not get stuck on that… all this dream talk must be making him uncomfortable already, and… ok. Not important.) 

 

I’m sure if I had told Hermione, she would’ve lectured about the importance of dreams; our subconscious dealing with the issues in our life, and all that. Maybe so, I don’t know. I don’t really understand why I had so many nightmares, when during the day, every day went more easily than the previous. You know it did. On Friday, I saw you smile at my joke, and that was the first time ever!”

 

Draco smiled. Reflections of flames were glimmering in his eyes which were fixed on Harry. Unsettled all of a sudden, Harry cleared his throat and continued.

 

”So, about that discussion. First, you need to know I hadn’t talked with Ron since Tuesday last week. We usually have brunch every Sunday but you know what that week was like; I can honestly say I slept through the whole bloody weekend, and skipped the brunch. So there hadn’t been any chance to talk with him properly. The first time we had any time to ourselves, was that time on Monday. Ron was in a really good mood because of the case he had solved, and I was unbelievably tired and also fucking bored about the wannabe Death Eater case, the dimwits. So I was really not in the mood for being serious, at all. So that’s the setting you walked into.

 

You’re not going to like what I’m saying next, but hear me out, ok?

 

I don’t want to take back the conversation I had with Ron. So there. It was a private conversation and not meant for ANYBODY else’s ears. I wouldn’t have joked around like that with Dean, or any other colleague. I joked around with my BEST FRIEND, I don’t have to watch my every word with him and I don’t want to either. I’m allowed to joke, I’m allowed to, I don’t know, speak recklessly with him.  

 

You weren’t meant to hear it. I’m really, really sorry you did. I get how it must’ve sounded, I truly do, and I apologize for how bad it made you feel. But — and here’s the thing — all you heard were the loose words, the tired jokes. I hope I have made it clear that wasn’t at all how I really felt about you. 

 

Draco, I’m really sorry.”

 

Draco seemed to understand this wasn’t the end of it, and didn’t say anything. He kept looking at Harry with his glimmery grey eyes.

 

”Until five thirty today, that was the extent of it. I think it was sometime during the meal that I thought to ask myself: what made me talk to Ron in that particular way? I mean, there’s joking around, and then there’s… the things I said. There’s reckless talk with a best friend, embellishing for the sake of good storytelling, and then there’s flat out lies.

 

And I really have no explanation why I lied to Ron.

 

I didn’t like the way people glared at you. Truth.

I wanted to let people see how we get along. Truth. 

Yes, I wanted to set an example. But please believe me that there was not an ounce of condescension in that. I just don’t like people behaving like that, and though I really, really hate the whole Saviour thing, I don’t hesitate to use what clout I have for good purposes. Stop smirking Draco, I can just read your mind, you think I’d make a good Slytherin with attitude like this! Admit it, that’s what you think! Here’s the kicker, and I bet you didn’t know this: the Hat wanted to sort me to Slytherin first. So yeah, I can get pragmatic if I really want to.

 

I think we’re all mixtures of several Houses, in any case.

 

You’re worth nothing but a wager and amusement. Not true. And I never said that, either. That was your interpretation based on insufficient evidence. 

 

I can’t say this strongly enough: REALLY not true. 

 

That shit about the likes of you and ex-cons… I don’t know where that even came from. Loose words which I very much wish I could take back. Wrong, hurtful words. I do stand by the general idea, though: what the hell did we fight for if we, the supposedly good guys, start the discrimination game all over again? And what’s the bloody point in serving a sentence if you’re never really let out of the jail?

 

I said it was exhausting to be nice to you. That I was glad I hadn’t had to see you in three days.

 

That was a lie. I’m sorry, I have no excuse for that. Was that just for some misguided effort of making a funny story by twisting and exaggerating? Partly yes, I think.” 

 

Oh for fuck’s sake, get on with it, you brave Saviour!

 

”I have another possible explanation too. Don’t really know how to say it, I have a bit of a problem coming to terms with this myself. It’s possible — and I really don’t feel good about myself admitting this — that being so tired, I didn’t have the courage and energy to face Ron’s reaction if I had told him what I really thought. 

 

I’m not really comfortable with NOT being honest with Ron or Hermione. Sometimes they can be a bit taxing with their strong reactions and endless amounts of questions, though. And if there is something to trigger Ron’s arsenal of wtf’s, it would’ve been this. I was too tired. And also… a bit unclear about it myself. Baffled, so to speak. I kind of wanted to think about it by myself first a bit more, before facing Ron’s loud and fake-dramatic horror. Last week had been so fucking hectic and the weekend I had just slept, so I had had no time to think. 

 

I said it earlier already. It had been a GOOD week. You are good at what you do, you don’t whinge or complain; you pull your weight. You don’t look at me like I’m a god — which is a definite plus, believe me, don’t even get me started on how frustrating it can get sometimes. 

 

You’re really pleasant to work with. No hardship whatsoever. Not exhausting AT ALL. Yes I wanted to be seen being nice to you in public — that, or I would’ve just had to beat some sense into some people. All considered, I thought it would be better to reach the same objective by a less violent way: being agreeable to you. Which was not hard at all. Draco, I didn’t fake it. If you know me at all, you KNOW I didn’t. Based on what you know about me since school, ask yourself this: am I really a person who could pull off such a piece of acting?

 

You KNOW I’m not. 

 

And I’m so sorry that I took the easy way out with Ron. I’m sorry you heard me being so fucking stupid. And weak too. 

 

I’ve thought a lot about why I didn’t do anything for you after the trials. Don’t look at me like that, Draco! I didn’t mean it like you were some charity case! It’s just… that Tuesday morning, it struck me for the first time that saving a person from jail is only half the job. I left the other half unfinished, and hadn’t even realized it. I should’ve made sure your house arrest terms would’ve let you attend the Eighth Year. I noticed you didn’t come to Hogwarts but I didn’t know you couldn’t have, I thought you didn’t want to. And I never asked. One question to McGonagall, and I would like to think I’d been appalled enough to contact Kingsley about it. I’m sure it could’ve been arranged. I could’ve done at least that for you. It would’ve gone a few steps towards re-establishing you. Not many, but a few. Instead… well. You spent your three years very well, you did it all yourself. But you shouldn’t have had to, that’s my point!

 

Monday had been shit so far, and all this was going on in my head, one big mess, and I didn’t want to deal with it or answer anyone’s questions until I had figured it out some myself… and the result was I ended up insulting the person I had just started to like.”

 

Harry rubbed his temples. His knee was still pressed firmly against Draco’s thigh. In a funny way, it was grounding him, making it real. These are not abstractions, or philosophic principles and ideals. This is a person, a warm, solid presence, a firm thigh, glimmery eyes, steady breath. An actual person who is drinking Harry’s tea on Harry’s couch. Harry’s workmate. A friend, perhaps?

 

Pictures of past days came to Harry. 

Draco scowling at Harry, Tuesday in that warehouse, dissatisfied by some Auror’s failure to properly freeze the spelltraces in half the premises. 

Draco weaving a detection charm on Wednesday, with total concentration and graceful movements. 

Draco looking at Harry warily on Thursday morning, reacting to Harry’s praise of the crucial conclusions Draco had drawn, uncertainty in his eyes whether to trust Harry’s sincerity or suspect a trap of some sort. 

Draco on Thursday night at 11, grabbing the last piece of pizza and trying hard to mind his manners and not speak with his mouth full, all tired but eyes blazing with joy of discovery. Neither of them had wanted to leave work. They had been exhilarated.

 

Friday, Draco and the badly hidden smile that melted his meticulous mask so completely. Harry feeling a huge grin on his own face, simply because he had finally made Draco smile.

 

Tonight, no smiles hidden anymore. Open laughter, open talking.

 

It was all so fucking agreeable it was downright ridiculous!

 

Harry didn’t want to lose it. Would yesterday’s bad choices cost him an efficient work partnership, and possibly a new friend? Harry felt he didn’t have so many friends yet that he wouldn’t have room for a new one.

 

A headache was just around the corner. This was all just a bit too monumental for a Tuesday night. 

 

And there’s that word again, Harry.

 

***

 

”You like me?”

 

Draco’s question was soft, a little puzzled.

 

Harry didn’t answer immediately. Answers flitted in his head, and he tried to make sense of them. Which one would be the most correct one? 

 

Harry was being a coward; he didn’t have the nerve to look Draco in the eye.

 

”I guess I might.

 

No. I know I do. I hope we can get past this and maybe give a try at being friends. We already know we work well together, and dinner was really comfortable. And surprisingly enough, you’re rather easy to talk to — as evidenced by this,” Harry waved his hand between him and Draco, ”I don’t know if I’ve spoken this much in one go, well, pretty much ever. 

 

I can’t tell how odd it feels to realize I actually do like you. I mean, you, the Draco Malfoy. I can quite honestly say I would never ever in my wildest dreams have imagined that that could happen in this or any parallel universe either. Getting along — maybe, yes, after the war, why not. But like you? We’ve spent hours talking tonight, and it has been nice and comfortable and fun and… and interesting and touching… and I bloody well didn’t just say touching, if you ever rat me out to Ron, I will deny all!… but you know, ok, what I mean is I’ve enjoyed myself, in spite of how serious it got in the end.”

 

Draco didn’t say anything. Harry finally glanced at him, to gauge his reaction. Draco was looking at Harry’s hand; it was resting on Harry’s knee, fingers brushing to and fro, giving away his nervousness. Draco’s eyes were following the small movement, and Harry couldn’t tell what he was thinking if his life depended on it. No wonder he was nervous…

 

…he ordered his hand to relax. He felt something at the tip of his fingers. That would be Draco’s leg, well isn’t that just splendid, I’ve been pawing my colleague, way to make this even more awkward! I can’t very well yank it away now, it would be too conspicuous, right?

 

So Harry’s hand stayed put, warm fingers lightly touching Draco. 

 

***

 

It’s not like Draco hadn’t read between the lines, listening to Harry’s tale. Nevertheless, it was a whole other thing to hear the actual words. ”I had just started to like.”

 

Harry likes me?  

 

It seems he does. And suddenly Draco felt dizzy. How had the world started to spin so fast? When did that happen? Years had gone by, minutes and days trudging by with very little change. Then there were the horror movie years — and still the days marched by slowly and steadily, with ominous crunch. Then there were the years of work and uncertainty, with nothing but determination to keep the seconds ticking, towards unsure future.

 

Then there was just over a week at the Ministry. With Harry. And Draco couldn’t believe how fast everything was happening. Cases to be solved. Enemies to befriend. Childhood fantasies to fulfill. Secrets to bare.

 

Harry likes me??

 

Draco couldn’t look at Harry while he was speaking. He followed Harry’s nervous fingers stroking his knee; he felt a soft touch on his leg, then the movement stopped. The fingers stayed, so light Draco wasn’t sure if he imagined it or not. He raised his eyes to meet the green gaze. Silence weighed between them, kind and vulnerable, waiting for something.

 

Harry’s eyes were wary. What’s he worried about? 

That I’ll throw his words back at his face? Laugh? — Hasn’t he listened to me at all tonight?!

Scream sexual assault? — He’s done nothing inappropriate, doesn’t he see that?, and he’s the bloody Saviour, for Merlin’s sake, irritatingly honourable, upright, and very straight. 

Or is he waiting… 

oh .

 

”Apologies fully and unequivocally accepted. Every one of them. 

 

And you’re right: I do know. You are many things but an actor isn’t one of them. Like I said: I get triggered sometimes. I’m sorry, too. I wasn’t thinking straight. It won’t be the last time, either. I told you I’ve done my best to work through… you know, everything… but it’s not over yet, there’s still a lot of shit to sort through.”

 

Draco had no earthly idea how to approach the next issue. Here goes…

 

”Since this is a night of monumental confessions,” Draco felt Harry’s fingers twitch, ”full disclosure, if you will, in the interest of mutual and quite harrowing honesty” (WHY couldn’t he just up and SAY it, like Harry did, with none of this fucking recourse to pseudo-humorous word-spinning?) ”I must say that…

 

…ok, Harry, here’s the thing. You probably blab cute nonsense to your friends and lovers on a daily basis. Or maybe that’s a House trait. All I know is I have very little practice of saying something like ”I like you” just like that to someone. I know my Mother is very fond of me, and I of her. But I don’t really remember either of my parents just saying that to my face, saying ’I love you’. Maybe that is a stuck-up pureblood way — or maybe not, your Weasleys sure seem loquacious with their endearments. Pansy is a very dear friend but I… this is probably hard for you to grasp… but I don’t have any idea if either of us ever has said ’I like you’. Even though we do, truly! It’s just… not done, somehow. Maybe it’s a House trait. Or maybe I’ve just grown up in a really, really twisted environment… but there it is.

 

So it felt fucking WEIRD to hear you say you like me. Just like that. Like it’s nothing odd at all to say.

 

But yeah, I like you, too. So there you go. Again with the first times with you!” 

 

Draco felt himself give a small smile; he felt shy all of a sudden, Harry probably had no idea how difficult that had been for him. Draco had needed to insert a little joke to downplay the seriousness of it, throw in a bit of double-entendre (because it was just that gratifying to make a straight guy blush; Draco might be new and improved, but he was certainly still mischievous.)

 

”So I really hope that the next time you dream of me, it won’t be a nightmare.” Now Draco grinned impishly to Harry. And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen, Harry Potter is blushing! Mission accomplished!

 

Now to the last issue… hmm.

 

***

 

Harry felt like he was out of his body, looking at the two of them, listening to Draco, watching his fingers on Draco’s thigh, right next to his knee.

 

Draco likes me. Who knew?

 

Too bad I can’t tell anyone about tonight. Hermione would help me put my feelings in order. She would surely tell me why I thought this evening was so necessary in the first place. She would know why we both felt the need to be more open than with anyone ever before. I know I was, at least. I think Draco was, too. She would explain why his joking innuendo makes me blush. And why I bloody well keep finding reasons to touch him. That’s odd, I’m sure.

 

Too bad Hermione can’t tell me these things. This evening is too private. Not to be shared and ripped apart over bacon and eggs.

 

I’m so done with this blushing shit. It’s time to strike back a bit.

 

”Well, I didn’t say they were all nightmares, now did I?” Hah, you didn’t know I can wink, you little twit! Two can play this game!

 

Draco looked dumbfound for half a second, then he chuckled happily, glad that Harry had lost the wary look in his eyes, glad that Harry was pushing back a bit. ”Good to know, Harry. We can discuss that over the next dinner. At length.”

 

Draco’s comeback cheered Harry up; this was more normal, this back and forth between them. Albeit of slightly flirtatious nature — which is odd, I’m sure? — but very welcome nonetheless.

 

***

 

Draco wondered if they had now returned from the brink of the Chasm of Seriousness, all the way back to whatever passed for normalcy between them. Despite Harry’s jests and bold winks, his hand still didn’t move. His knee was hot and firm against Draco’s thigh, and the fingers were hovering, featherlike, on the fabric of Draco’s trousers. Draco blamed the late hour, wine and brandy, and the exhaustion of deep conversation, that he imagined Harry’s hand looked hesitant. Like it didn’t know if it was welcome to stay, or if it ought to be snatched away as soon as possible, with embarrassed apologies.

 

Why are these things always so bloody awkward with straight guys? Harry’s probably having some kind of a nervous breakdown over this silly thing. Honestly! I still don’t know if I should slap him or hug him. Although, under the circumstances, hugging might trigger a full-on angsty-fit. Fuck. As if we hadn’t handled enough of embarrassing secrets and personal stories tonight…

 

Harry thought his heart would stop when Draco leaned forward and took his hand. Picked it up from his knee, just like that, and held it gently in his palm, his hand now on Harry’s knee.

 

Just a tiny bit freaked out, Harry looked at Draco. The man smiled — kind, not teasing or angry. Still the grey glimmered, and Harry couldn’t take his eyes off of him. Draco squeezed his hand, for the longest while, the warm pressure squeezing Harry’s heart, and Harry so wished Hermione was here to explain what the bloody hell was going on with him.

 

”Don’t worry so much, Harry. It’s ok. You’re overthinking this. Just… don’t, yeah?”

 

Draco let Harry’s hand go, rose from the couch, streched himself.

 

”Let’s call it a day, ok? It’s really late, and we have work tomorrow. I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted. I’m not being flippant now, Harry, it’s just that I’m REALLY not used to these sort of heart-to-hearts. Baring my soul isn’t really my thing, except tonight it kind of was. I could use some sleep, I’m certain you would too.

 

We’ll talk more later, ok? It’s all good now, right?” 

 

Harry said nothing, eyes fixed on the hand Draco had lowered back on Harry’s knee. Draco’s heart sank. ”Right? Harry? We’re good?”

 

Harry cleared his throat and stood up. Looked at Draco, slightly confused but not wary anymore, which Draco counted as a win.

 

”We’re good. I’m really glad we had this talk. Even though I’m probably just as exhausted as you are.” He smiled. ”I’ve been thinking, for the last hour or so, that I could really use a feelings-interpreter; there’s some weird stuff going on in my head, I can tell you! Since I don’t think there’s any such profession, I’ve got to do it on my own. Lot of work yet ahead for me, for you too, maybe. But you’re right, enough is enough for one day.”

 

Draco moved as if to leave towards the Floo. 

 

”You can stay the night, if you want.”

 

Say what? Draco froze. ”Come again?”

 

”I mean it’s late, and there are five empty bedrooms in this house. Ron and Hermione often stay over, and so does Neville — I hear the beds are pretty good and Kreacher always keeps the guest rooms tidy with fresh linen… So I just thought…”

 

”Oh,” Draco unfroze, chuckled inwardly, for a second he had thought… ”thanks for the invite. Can I take a raincheck? I really feel like crawling in my own bed after the emotional trainwreck that was tonight.” Draco smiled. ”If I still had any of the teddybears I used to hoard in my bed as a child, this would be a very good night to have them around. After baring my soul, they might help un-bare it.”

 

As Draco had hoped, that lame pun made Harry chortle. ”Ok, raincheck it is. Safe Floo trip, and sleep well. Maybe we’ll see tomorrow. Lunch at noon if there’s no mission?”

 

”Yes, fine, come check up on me then if you’re not running around saving the world… Good night, Harry.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Harry wasn’t surprised by the dreams. If the last nine nights (and if he was quite honest, a few more nights before that, during several years) were anything to go by, he had kind of resigned himself for yet another night of dreaming of Draco. The only thing his tired mind was rather morbidly curious about was whether it would be a night of nightmares or, well. Not-nightmares.

 

Not-nightmares it was.

 

Harry woke up in the morning. At some point he really would have to speak with Hermione. He needed that interpreter. Auror training just didn’t cover this shit.

 

 

****

 

 

”Late night at the office, dear?”

 

”….yes, Mother, there was some urgent business to attend to. It couldn’t wait.”

 

”Another interesting case?”

 

”Well. That would be one way of putting it, certainly. - Have a lovely day, Mother; I’m off to work.”

 

Chapter Text

 

”Do you ever think about theology, Harry?”

 

”WHAT? Ron, are you feeling ok??”

 

”I was just thinking what people keep saying in Muggle movies and such, you know, ’thank God’ for this or that (and don’t I have the best and cleverest girlfriend in the world? who else could’ve tricked a Muggle tv to work in a wizard home!). But how do they know which god to thank? I’d like to say ’thank god it’s Friday afternoon’ but really, who’s to know where that thanks goes?”

 

”Ron, I… don’t even know where to start… please stop watching so much tv, it makes MY head hurt…”

 

Ron was leaning back on his chair; the chair was tipping back on its two legs, and Ron was staring wistfully at the clock which was nearing five with a very promising inevitability.

 

”You coming to brunch on Sunday?”

 

”That’s the plan, yes.”

 

”Where have you been all week? I’ve barely seen you since Tuesday. I thought to ask you to lunch on Wednesday but you vanished into thin air before I had time to open my mouth. Very suspicious behaviour, methinks.”

 

”Oh. Umm. Sorry about that, but — hey, it’s five now, I’m off. See you on Sunday, ok.”

 

This is ridiculous. I’m acting like a child. There’s nothing ”suspicious” in gaining a new friend. Even if that friend is a Malfoy. Ron will just have to deal with it. He was the one egging me to treat Draco nicely in the first place! 

 

Anyway, they’re used to Millie hanging around. And I’m sure I saw Pansy giggling with Hermione last time we were at her pub. So really: what’s one more ex-Slytherin?

 

Why am I making such a fuss about this?

 

 

****

 

 

”Do you think they serve mimosas here?” Ron asked.

 

”What I’m interested in is how do YOU know what a mimosa even is?”

 

”Well, yesterday I was watching this sitcom and they — no I’m not gonna stop watching telly just because you ask, Harry, there’s only so much I’d do for a mate — were having this fancy brunch and ordering mimosas and I was just thinking they looked nice, is all.”

 

Hermione frowned, thinking. ”Well they just might… the owner of this place is Muggleborn so he might’ve heard of it. Why don’t you go ask the bartender?”

 

Harry saw an opening while Ron ambled through the restaurant towards the bar.

 

”Hermione, are you free for lunch tomorrow?”

 

”Sure, Harry. What’s up?”

 

”Nothing.” Harry paused. He had given an evasive answer. He didn’t know why. Another proof that he really needed to talk with Hermione…

 

”Well yes. There’s something. I think I need your amazing and sometimes frankly quite annoying” (Harry gave a quick grin) ”skills at understanding human feelings. I’m having no success whatsoever in trying to decipher mine. Auror training clearly is missing a subject on the curriculum.”

 

”Ok, now you’re just making me angry. You really think you can leave it at that and expect me to patiently wait until tomorrow?” Hermione put her elbows on the table, dropped her head on her fists, and grinned. ”Tell me all! Are you… hey! Are you in love?”

 

”What? No!! Pfffft!!! Why would you think I am? No!” Oh for heaven’s sake, here comes the blush again. I give up. Obviously my body and me aren’t seeing eye to eye. Fuck this shit, I need help!

 

”Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much,” said Hermione, and smirked in a distinctly un-Hermione-like manner. ”Haven’t seen you blush this prettily in ages! Actually, not since I caught you eyeing Cho yearningly in Fourth Year,” observed Hermione, triumphant and amused.

 

”Yeah, whatever,” Harry mumbled, realizing he was playing a losing game; the godawful blush had done him in, and Hermione wouldn’t believe otherwise until Harry had time to explain the situation properly.

 

”Don’t say anything to Ron today, okay? It’s NOT what you think anyway… Look, to tide you over until tomorrow, this is about a new…friend. Or maybe a friend. No, a friend. Definitely a friend. It’s just…there’s a lot of old shit, and it’s all coming back to me, and I should’ve done certain things, but didn’t, and now… fuck, I’m confused, is all, and I keep having these dreams every fucking night and, and, it’s so easy to talk with this person, and enjoyable, all right? And this…person… is clever and witty and so much more than I ever imagined and I don’t know why I keep blushing because it’s not like that honestly but…” Harry realized he was babbling. Hermione must think he’d lost his marbles.

 

Hermione had dropped the grin and the frivolity. The way she looked at Harry… penetrating, that’s the word.

 

”Start using pronouns, Harry. It’s ok.”

 

”I don’t…”

 

”Oh stop it. It’s me you’re talking to! You don’t need to… Harry, I’m guessing that this person is a he. Am I right?”

 

Harry was getting so goddamed sick and tired of the blushing but nooooo, here we go again…

 

”Yes, alright, it’s a he. And one of the things I need your help with is just that: what’s with the ’this person’ crap I just did? What’s with the blushing?? And the dreams??? — not that kind of dreams, Merlin, get your mind of the gutter — but they make me feel really odd, like I’m missing something, not getting the meaning… And, and, the other night, after dinner,” (”After dinner?” squaked Hermione, ”Well, you have been busy with the new friend, and Not. Telling. Us. Anything!!!), ”yes after dinner, we were on the couch — oh give it a rest or I’m not telling you anything… we just TALKED — so we talked, for hours, like I said there’s a TON of old shit, and it was such a good conversation. Honest, I think.” Harry glanced around; Ron was happily chatting with the bartender, probably negotiating the mimosas. ”I don’t think I’ve ever talked so much. Or listened so carefully. And I really like this guy. I think we’re friends now. We’ve had lunch together, twice this week. It’s so bloody easy to talk with him. So what the fuck is it with the dreams and other crap? How do I stop… his eyes are so grey, and I… Ok. Look. I just want to understand what’s going on. And how do I stop it, before I drive him away?”

 

Hermione glanced at the bar as well. Ron was still chatting.

 

”We can talk more tomorrow but.. first of all, stop freaking out. You’re incapable of driving anyone away, trust me. If that’s the way you blush around this guy, TRUST me, all he thinks is that you’re cute as hell. I find it very hard to believe you could do anything, you know, inappropriate.

 

Second, if you’ve had dinner and lunch and whatnot, obviously he likes you. You said you think you’re friends — so trust your instinct. If he’s the kind of person with whom you can solve whatever old shit there is between you then…then it’s potentially a very promising friendship, and you should be glad, not panicking!

 

Third… come on, Harry, you’re really not this dense, are you? Are you?? Darling, you’re lyrical about ’his grey eyes’ and you dream about him (yes yes, not THAT kind of dreams, I got it in one!) and you’re saying you don’t know what’s going on?

 

Really, Harry?”

 

Harry stared at Hermione. Suddenly he noticed he was squeezing his napkin so hard his fingertips had turned white. His fingers were cramped; he slowly started to unclench them.

 

His mind was at a standstill. So… he was ’not knowing’ something on purpose? What the fuck is that even about? Hermione was talking through her hat. Obviously.

 

Hermione glanced at Ron. Still safely at the bar.

 

”Harry, I think you’re blocking something. You’re not usually this clueless about emotions. Honey, have you considered the possibility that you might have… feelings for this guy?”

 

Blocking? What??

 

”Of course I have feelings. I like him! We’re friends!”

 

”Okay, now you’re just stupid on purpose. Please tell me it’s on purpose… Harry, OF COURSE I didn’t mean that kind of feelings. I meant I think you might have a crush on him. THAT kind of feelings. Romantic. Erotic. Passionate. Infatuated. You’re smitten.”

 

Mind. At a standstill. Harry stared at Hermione, unable to say anything. At all.

 

Hermione snapped her fingers in front of Harry’s eyes. 

 

”Snap out of it. Ron’ll be back any time now, and I don’t want to leave it like this.

 

Don’t look so horrified, darling. It’s ok, really. You like like him — it’s not as if it’s the end of the world, is it? It’s good, liking is good. Why are you in denial like this?”

 

”But… he’s a guy!”

 

”Indeed he is. So?”

 

”But I’m not gay! Haven’t you noticed I like girls? Hello, dated Ginny??”

 

”Hello yourself, you dimwit. The one does not preclude the other. Hogwarts really should start including some kind of sex ed — this is just bloody ridiculous…. You DO know it’s possible to feel attraction to more than one gender, don’t you? It doesn’t have to be just one or the other.”

 

Mind. Numb.

 

Hermione glanced towards Ron again. ”Ron is coming back. Harry, we’ll talk more tomorrow. Promise me you won’t panic about this. The feelings you have are good feelings. Concentrate on that: it’s beautiful to be a little bit in love. There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong with you. You do know that, right?”

 

Harry didn’t have time to answer; Ron put three mimosa flutes on the table, grinning and triumphant. ”Finally!! Let’s try these.” Ron looked at the two of them. ”Have I missed something? Harry looks a bit peaky.”

 

”Nah, I’m just tired. Haven’t been sleeping too well for days.”

 

*****

 

What’s the usual reaction to solving a mystery? You’d think it would be satisfaction. Relief.

 

Harry felt neither. Had I blocked this? Did I sorta kinda know this, just tried to play dead and wish it would go away if I just didn’t acknowledge it?

 

Can’t rightly say. My subconscious obviously hates me.

 

Harry sat on the couch. Just about right where he sat when Draco was there, sitting knee-to-thigh.

 

So. Ok. I’m attracted to him. I keep staring at his eyes. Touching him.

 

Alrighty then.  

 

How do I handle this so that I don’t drive him away? Harry shuddered. He remembered Draco taking his hand, saying ”It’s ok”. Fucking fuck. Does that mean Draco guessed what he was feeling? And that he was terrified? Did Draco try to console him? Took his hand and put it away in the kindest way possible?

 

But he did also sort-of-flirt, didn’t he?

 

Fuck, like Harry was an expert on man-to-man flirting…

 

Or is it different, really?

 

How should I know! Gaaaaaaaaah! After 17 years of basically being hunted by a madman; after four measly years of relative peace (as an Auror, ’relative’ being the operative word here), where the biggest emotional turmoil was the break-up with Ginny — and even that hardly qualifies, it was such a freakishly friendly break-up! —, here we go again. Apparently my sexual identity is not what I’ve thought it is for 21 years. And to make matters worse, the person who makes me realize this is Draco Malfoy. Who is my colleague. And a new friend, and it’s still a bit fragile. After, you know, those ten years of varying states of hate, anger, disgust, interest, fear, obsession, curiosity, need, worry, violence, help.

 

How do I handle this?

 

Shit. I totally could’ve used a few more years of calm.

 

Chapter Text

 

Draco’s head popped in the cubicle. ”Hello Weasley. Harry, up for a lunch today?”

 

”Umm, not today, I’ve…” 

 

Harry was stumped. If he said he had plans with Hermione, Ron would wonder why he wasn’t invited. It’s not like Harry never lunched with just Hermione, but Ron was Ron, and curious as hell, and he would just know there’s a reason he was blatantly uninvited. On the other hand, if he said he’s got plans with someone else, both men would be curious. And would ”plans with someone else” sound like he was having a lunch date? 

 

This pristine awareness of his feelings was making Harry hyper-aware and sensitive to all possible connotations and undercurrents and implications of, well, basically every single move or sound he made in Draco’s presence. Inconvenient as hell.

 

Harry changed tack. Thank Merlin he remembered he had left his case notes in the meeting room this morning. 

 

”… yeah, tomorrow is better. By the way Draco, glad you came, there’s something I want to ask you, let me show you, I left the notes in the meeting room…”

 

Ron barely noticed them leave; he had gotten used to Draco popping in and out during the first week when Harry and Draco had been running like crazy, investigating the smuggling case. So now they had some other case where Harry wanted Draco’s help — no biggie.

 

Draco walked alongside Harry in the corridor. The meeting room was empty. Draco looked at the table. ”So where are the notes?”

 

”I feel like a spy in some B-movie, sneaking behind a colleague.” Harry had to smile a little, this was rather silly after all. ”But the truth is I have lunch plans today with Hermione, and I couldn’t very well say that in front of Ron, or he would’ve wanted to know why. Or worse, tag along, and today that can’t happen.”

 

Draco quirked an inquisitive eyebrow. 

 

What would Harry choose this time? The truth (or at least part of it), or some white lie?

 

The truth. That had started Tuesday night, and Harry didn’t really feel this here was a good enough reason to stray from the path.

 

”I have to pick Hermione’s brain about something. It’s got to do with… well, partly what we were discussing on Tuesday.” Draco started to frown, and Harry hurried to explain. ”It’s about my thoughts. I wouldn’t say anything about what you told me! I wouldn’t. I don’t even want to tell Hermione what I told you, well, at least not all of it. That discussion was private. But… remember I told you I’d need a feelings-interpreter? I’ve still got a lot of things to sort out. You said you get triggered sometimes; well I think you were my trigger. All sorts of thoughts crawled out of the woodwork. About the past, and what I’ve done or not done, and why. And how it affects my choices now. 

 

I’m happy you came here to trigger me.” Harry smiled; Draco’s frown had vanished, his eyes were questioning. How did I not get it myself? I bloody well don’t think about the expressions or shades of Ron or Dean’s eyes all the fricking time. Poor Hermione, she’s got the patience of an angel… ”But as the result my head is in complete disorder, and Hermione is pretty good at sorting out these things.

 

I hope you don’t mind? We’ll have lunch tomorrow?” Shitshitshit you’re an idiot, stop digging your own grave. ”…Or how about dinner tonight? I could ask Kreacher to whip up something. Get a nice start for the week.”

 

Draco looked surprised, then pleased. ”Dinner sounds great. Maybe a bit less brandy this time, I wasn’t feeling my best after last Tuesday.”

 

”Yeah, let’s stick with wine. Kreacher can probably dig up another quality bottle.”

 

”And the candles. Don’t let him forget about the candles!” Draco was full-on grinning now. Harry liked his face when it was joyful and genuine (well, apparently he liked Draco’s face with pretty much every expression) but he was paying special attention to those grey eyes. Which weren’t laughing. They were, what? Searching?

 

Searching for what? Harry felt his stomach twitch. This could go either way. Either he’s thinking I’m just trying to lure him into my nest (Harry almost snorted out loud; even Draco with all their bad history wouldn’t think Harry would stoop to that?) and he’s planning how to gently rebuff me.

 

But he’s coming nonetheless— he wouldn’t, would he, if he had bad vibes about it? He wouldn’t, right, if he thought he was heading for a situation where he would need to reject me? And he joked about the candles. Was that flirting? How don’t I know what is flirting and what’s not?? Anyway, it’s good sign. I think. Friendship-wise at least?

 

Harry didn’t know how to form coherent sentences about the ’or’ option. That much was obvious.

 

He settled with smiling wickedly to Draco. ”Oh, I most certainly will make sure he remembers them.”

 

Draco burst out laughing. 

 

I can play this game, too. Or I think I do? I got him laughing, didn’t I?

 

 

****

 

 

”So, you asked him to dinner. At your place.” 

 

Harry had talked and talked. About his dreams. About his thoughts on choices — how he was hardly in a position to hold the bad ones of others against them as he had made enough of his own. About this attraction. For a guy. How is it even possible to NOT notice that before?

 

Hermione didn’t even blink at that. ”Well, Harry, if I’m quite honest I’m not that surprised. I’ve seen you look at some guys in a certain way… like your eyes were resting on something interesting or, or, puzzling. Being you, you probably didn’t even realize it yourself. And you’ve been doing it as long as I’ve known you. Didn’t bring it up since I thought it might’ve been too sensitive an issue for you, seeing as YOU never said anything to me. And then there was the thing with Cho… and you dated Ginny… so I thought…”

 

Harry stared at her. ”Boggles my mind that something like this isn’t a surprise to you when it’s a total freakingoutbloodyhell kind of a surprise to me!”

 

So, then Harry talked some more. There was no use to beat about the bush — it’s not like he could keep Draco’s identity a secret from Hermione. She would make the connection quickly enough anyway, deducing from the stuff he would recount. So he told her. 

 

That made Hermione blink a few times. Then, to Harry’s immense annoyance, ”Could’ve seen that one coming, I suppose.” Honestly. What does it take to surprise this woman??

 

”I didn’t want to name any names earlier, but Draco certainly was one of the guys your eyes rested on, even during those times you both weren’t actively on each others’ throats. You just, kind of, always kept him in your sight.”

 

”…and yet you said nothing!”

 

”Yeah, imagine how that conversation would’ve gone back then. Harry, you’re making cow eyes at Malfoy for the fourth (and fifth, and sixth…) year in a row, have you considered you might find him attractive? Yes, I can just see how open to that idea you would’ve been…”

 

Harry snorted. ”Ok, fair point.”

 

Harry kept talking. About the first week, the case they had. The misunderstanding on Monday. The urgency to solve it that Harry had felt, and which had so baffled him at the time. The dinner on Tuesday. The maybe-flirting, the being lost in his eyes, his fingertips on his leg. The honesty of everything that was said.

 

Some things he didn’t talk about. Draco’s fit on Monday night. Or basically anything Draco had said. Otherwise, it was as if Harry couldn’t feel any shame, he didn’t even blush describing how he had kept losing himself in Draco’s grey eyes, flickering candleflames reflected in them. Amused, he compared this flood of words to throwing up. He simply had to get it all out, and to hell with embarrassment.

 

”So, you asked him to dinner. At your place.”

 

”Did I make a mistake, Hermione? Yes, he says things that might be interpreted as flirting but maybe it’s just his style? And the way he put my hand away… It’s not like he could be interested. On the other hand, what do I know, 24 hours ago I didn’t know I was interested.

 

I don’t want to risk the friendship we’re starting to have. He’s really good company, believe it or not. That, and he works with me. I can’t risk it, I can’t mess this up.” Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. ”So, did I make a mistake when I invited him? Friends spend time together, right? But what if I keep doing something which forces him to, to, to repeat that putting-away-my-hand-thing. And then it would become awkward, right?, and weird, right?, and at some point he won’t want to spend time with me anymore, and he’ll be all polite and shit, and he’ll ask his boss to not assign him on my cases, and…”

 

”If you don’t stop that right this minute, I’m going to have to go fetch a paperbag. You’re THIS close to hyperventilating.”

 

Harry looked up at Hermione. She was really hard trying to prevent the corners of her mouth rising up. What the…

 

”Some friend you are, laughing at a gentleman in distress!” 

 

”Harry, honey, I’m really not. Well, ok, I AM a little amused. I’ve never seen you like this! Not when you were crushing on Cho, and never about Ginny. Malfoy really seems to push your buttons in a very unique way…

 

Don’t worry so much. Don’t overthink this.

 

And… are you sure Malfoy meant to turn you down on Tuesday? He did say ’it’s ok’, right? Really, that gesture alone makes me re-evaluate the man, and for the better! Harry, think: you’d just been talking for hours, you both were probably raw and vulnerable from all the soul-baring, and you’re not very good at hiding your emotions at the best of times. So I’m guessing Malfoy noticed you were freaking out, and was being a GOOD FRIEND by getting you out of the situation. Even if he WAS interested in you, that night would’ve been so very very bad timing, and he was being extremely responsible and a good person by handling it the way he did. Either way, it sounds like Malfoy is not upset with you and not wary of you in any way. I’m thinking you have nothing to worry about. If you feel he’s a friend, act accordingly. Give this a bit more time — see where it might go.”

 

”I don’t even know if he likes men,” Harry mumbled gloomily.

 

”24 hours ago YOU didn’t know you like men. Imagine what you may learn within the next 24 hours!”

 

”Har har, you think you’re funny but you’re not,” but Harry couldn’t help but smile. It was hard to try to be resolutely glum when Hermione was talking so much actual sense.

 

He had known it was a good decision to talk with her.

 

Chapter Text

 

It was precisely 7 am; Harry’s Floo activated, and Draco stepped out. He had had time to go home and change, which was nice but also made him feel… No. Stop thinking this is a date. It. Is. Not. A. Date. This is spending time with a workmate-slash-friend. He’s had dinner at Blaise’s loads of times — those weren’t dates either, they were dinners with a friend.

 

Get a grip. As if you have so much practice on dates, anyway. What with Mr Megalomaniac shadowing his golden teenage years, Father in and out of prison, dear Voldie keeping Death hanging over Draco’s head like a sword and amassing various sorts of brutes and pervs to Manor (especially the Snatchers had really been something else, truly), Draco had felt that trying to stay alive with preferably his virginity intact had been more of a priority than frivolous dating. And then it was the war, and then the trials, and whaddoyouknow, suddenly Draco had no problems keeping his precious virginity, isn’t that irony for you. Nobody half decent would’ve touched him with a ten-foot pole. The year after the home arrest — studying, travelling abroad — had been interesting, admittedly; it had opened his eyes to… let’s say, possibilities. There had been a bit of flirting, a few kisses, some touching. But Draco had had his eyes on the goal, and he hadn’t wanted unnecessary distractions.

 

Draco brushed some soot off his trousers and looked around in Harry’s living room. The room was lit with dozens of candles, more than the last time, and the music floating there was fascinating. Draco was rather sure it was what the Muggles called ’classical’ music. Not too shabby.

 

”Kreacher has surpassed himself this time, I can’t believe the ridiculous amount of candles. I told him you were coming over, and the next thing I know he’s summoning dozens of candle boxes from the cellar and charming them all over the place.” Draco startled, he hadn’t noticed Harry coming in from the kitchen. Harry’s voice was warm and welcoming, with just a tiny undercurrent of anxiety. Draco smiled inwardly; apparently the Savior lost his cool when faced with candles and soft music. I’ll just file that away for future reference.

 

Which I won’t need, obviously; Draco scolded himself. It’s not like he’s nervous because he’s interested; it’s because he’s  not, and he’s worried all this might send some sort of pick-up vibes. Poor guy… Although there had been a few looks which someone more prone to fanciful thinking might, in a pinch, describe as ’too long’, and there had been that teeny-tiny-barely-there-touching, which, again, someone with excessive amounts of imagination could say was maybeperhaps tentative.

 

Well. Luckily Draco was good at keeping his imagination where it belonged. Under lock and key. Nothing good would come out of wishful thinking.

 

”Well, as long as the dinner is as tasty as the last time and the wine selection as savoury, we can live with some extra candles.” Draco smiled, and walked towards Harry. ”Will we eat in the kitchen this time, too?”

 

”Kreacher set the table there so if it’s ok for you..? We have a dining room here somewhere but I hardly ever use it. I don’t have big dinner parties and the kitchen is so cozy.”

 

”Oh, it’s perfectly ok. I’ve lost my appetite for fancy dining rooms since the war. After you see your professor being digested by a giant snake during dinner, under the soft light of a centuries old family heirloom chandelier, it feels pretty good to eat somewhere snug and cozy and warm.” Well, that went serious fast. You idiot. ”Mother and I never dine in the actual dining room anymore. Luckily there’s a smaller one, meant for less formal parties, so we use that.” Draco paused. ”Sorry, I shouldn’t’ve brought any of that up. My mistake.”

 

”Don’t. Let’s stick to what we did last Tuesday and stay honest and speak our mind, ok? I kind of liked it.” Harry smiled, the anxious undercurrent lost.

 

”You look nice.”

 

To his mortification, Draco slightly lost his composure hearing this. And as usual, his recourse was to make light of it. 

 

”Oh, this old thing… anyway, everything looks nice compared to the standard uniform of Office of IUM. You Aurors have the only halfway decent uniforms in the whole Ministry. I can’t stand looking at mirror at work, the robes are just ghastly.”

 

”Well, you don’t look so bad in them, either.” Draco looked at Harry, surprised by this persistent stream of personal compliments. Harry’s eyes were on the table, a slight flush on his cheeks. 

 

*****

 

”Was there something particular you wanted to talk about?” Draco was looking at Harry over the rim of his wine glass. 

 

”Not at all. I just thought it would be nice to have a pleasant meal and chat peacefully — lunches are ok and fine but it’s only an hour and you can’t really call Ministry cafeteria ’peaceful’. I think the dinner last Tuesday proved that we’re able to have a good time for a longer period than just an hour at a time.” Harry was putting a piece of steak to his mouth but lowered the fork and chuckled in a low voice. ”I’ve got to admit, it still feels weird to say stuff like that to you. If someone had told you, five years ago, that we’d actually volunteer to spend time together, and like it, would you have believed them?”

 

Draco gave a short chortle. ”Well, if it had been five years ago, I would’ve snorted incredulously, but honestly, I would’ve been happy. Because that would’ve probably meant that Voldie dearie would be dead. Don’t forget, by that time I already was sort of rooting for you. Six years ago, however, would’ve been a completely different scenario.” Draco grinned wickedly. ”Someone had said that to me, I’d probably had sued them for slander.”

 

*****

 

It felt as if the dinner flew by, even though Draco noticed himself eating the chocolate ice cream at the most unnaturally slow speed. He wasn’t the only one, though, which made him feel a bit less silly; Harry was taking such tiny spoonfuls at a time it almost looked the spoon had nothing in it.

 

Harry set the spoon on the table with a clank. ”Ok, gotta be honest with you… I’m really enjoying myself and don’t really want to end the evening just yet. How about coffee in the living room? No brandy, I swear!” He smiled, and Draco could’ve sworn it was a shy smile. If it were someone else, I’d think he’s interested in me… but seeing as it’s Harry, I really don’t know what’s the deal with this…is he nervous that if he says stuff like that he’d inadvertantly give a wrong impression? Man, it’s got to be excruciatingly complicated to be straight…

 

”Sure, why not.. and this time we don’t have to worry about having to pour our souls out. Do we still have to be completely honest? Is that still a thing?” Draco waggled his eyebrows which brought a genuine, not-so-shy-anymore smile on Harry’s face.

 

”I kind of liked it. Makes for a refreshing change since school times.” Now Harry’s eyes were all crinkled with amusement.

 

****

 

Both men stared at the couch. Or what was left of it.

 

”Kreacher is so dead.” Harry didn’t know whether to be angry or amused. He just wished Draco would find this amusing also, and not, you know, alarming or anything.

 

When Draco had arrived, two hours ago, it had been to a room with a comfortable sofa with lots of fluffy cushions. And which seats four persons. Four. Not like the one Harry and Draco were now staring at. It looked like the original sofa, only shrunk. A two-person couch. A fucking loveseat.

 

”Need my help with the little bugger?” asked Draco, trying really hard not to giggle. He couldn’t help it though, he started shaking, and then Harry noticed something vibrating beside him and turned to him, and Draco couldn’t keep it in any longer, he absolutely howled with laughter. How very unsuitable for the impenetrable Malfoy dignity, and that made him laugh even harder. Harry gaped at Draco for a second — well, I guess it’s safe to say he sees the humour in this situation; Draco’s mirth was so very contagious that Harry felt a chuckle rumble through him and they were both guffawing.

 

”Whatever made Kreacher think he’d be a good matchmaker, I can’t tell you. Also, whatever made him think I’d need one. I mean, how incompetent does he think I am?!” Harry swiped tears off his cheek. 

 

”Oh, I’m quite sure you can make your own matches; it’s your house elf that needs convincing,” Draco was wheezing with laughter in a most undignified manner (but what the hell, he was among friends, right, right…). 

 

”Let’s sit down and have coffee — unless this makes you uncomfortable?” Harry sobered up quickly. ”I really am sorry about that foolish elf, I don’t know why he…what makes him think…” He couldn’t finish the sentence but he was quite proud of not blushing. Small victories.

 

”I seem to remember us sitting just as close last week and no harm done. I don’t have a problem with it if you don’t,” Draco said bluntly. ”And I think your house elf is kind of sweet. Maybe he doesn’t want to murder you in your sleep, after all. Maybe he just wants you to have some company while you sleep,” he added, and winked for good measure. He sat down, and patted the place beside him. ”Oh come on Potter, let’s make your elf happy. You need to keep him in a good mood if you want to have your giant sofa back one of these days.”

 

Draco’s right. This is only awkward if I make it so.

 

Chapter Text

 

It was closer to midnight when Harry finally climbed into his bed. Kreacher has to try harder, I still have no company. Harry chuckled. This is a new development: I keep finding this almost-flirting and loveseats and candlelight dinners mostly amusing, instead of horribly confusing and mortifying. And I complimented Draco’s looks. Twice! I don’t know whether to be proud of myself or slap myself. Draco didn’t seem to mind, though. At least the friendship is still ok. Friends say nice things to each other, right? I’ve heard Luna compliment Hermione’s dress or hair, and it’s not weird at all. (I can’t seem to remember any instances of Ron and me saying stuff like that to each other — never mind. Not important.)

 

The rest of the evening had been painfully pleasant. The loveseat was very snug, and they kept brushing against each other. Their talk had flowed freely; they both made an effort, however, to stay on nice subjects. No war-talk, no sad memories, no deep heart-to-heart. Agreeable childhood memories from Draco; amusing anecdotes of adventures with Marauder’s Map from Harry. When Draco asked about Harry’s childhood, it only took ”I’d rather talk about it some other time”, Harry’s eyes suddenly guarded, to make Draco immediately ease into a story of how he and Pansy became best of friends at the ripe age of four. 

 

In turn, recollections of friends brought up Crabbe and Goyle, and Draco’s voice faltered, ”It’s not that I don’t know he chose his own fate but…” — instinctively, Harry put his hand on Draco’s shoulder, squeezed gently, ”I get it… hey, we don’t have to get into these things tonight. There’s plenty of evenings for this stuff…I’d like to hear all your stories, and I’d like to tell you mine. If you’re interested, that is.” 

 

***

 

Harry’s hand remained on Draco’s shoulder, warm and friendly, and Draco felt safe enough to relax. Relaxed…with just a hint of anticipation, a small flutter in his heart, because… it had almost felt like Harry had been talking about more than just stories.

 

Maybe he’s crazy. Off with the nauseating wishful thinking!

 

 

***

 

Harry put his head on the pillow and rerun the evening in his mind. Painfully pleasant, yes. It’s so goddamned NICE being around Draco. It’s so fucking AWESOME to get lost in his eyes, to forget to be careful for just a little while. Harry hadn’t planned to touch his shoulder, it had been a gut reaction, a way to comfort a friend — but ohmygod it had been INSANE and AMAZING, both at the same time, to touch him like that, for minutes, and he hadn’t seemed bothered at all. No, not bothered. Harry’s heart beat faster just thinking about the instant when Draco had turned his head towards him, and for a gloriously INTENSE moment, tilted his head so that his cheek slowly and most intentionally brushed Harry’s hand.

 

Harry chuckled again. I’m a sad, sad case. I’m a 21-year Auror, slayer of dark lords etc. and THIS is the kind of stuff that makes my heart beat doubletime. A brush of a cheek and a pair of grey eyes. 

 

***

 

”Another late night at the Ministry, darling?”

 

”Mother, you’re still awake? I hope I wasn’t keeping you up?”

 

”No, dear; I have trouble sleeping nowadays, you know that.” A surprisingly sharp look sweeped over Draco. ”They are working you too late, my son, you cannot let them take advantage of your… situation.”

 

”They aren’t, Mother, please don’t worry. If you must know, I wasn’t working, I was having dinner with a colleague and it was rather pleasant, there was a lot to talk so…”

 

”Oh.” Silence. ”Well. I’m glad. It is good for you to have some social life. Pansy and Blaise are lovely people but it is only two of them, not enough for young people’s taste.” 

 

Another sharp look. Draco held a carefully neutral expression on his face, but couldn’t force himself to look in his Mother’s eyes. Why he felt the need to keep his dinner companion to himself, he wasn’t quite sure. Mother would approve of his friendship; Harry was responsible for the leniency of their sentences, and he was, after all, a VIP in wizarding England so his publicly good graces and friendly relations with Draco could only help the Malfoy family.

 

”Well.” Narcissa rose from her chair, walked to Draco to kiss his cheek. ”I’m sure you will tell me more when you are ready.” She smiled faintly. ”Until that time, I will not question you. For many years now, you have made exceptionally good choices. I have great trust in you.” Narcissa squeezed his son’s hand. ”Good night, dear.”

 

”Good night, Mother.” Well. That was… not what he had expected. 

 

Draco walked slowly to his room, thinking about the evening. Everything they had talked about — nothing momentous, just stories and anecdotes; lots of smiles and laughter. Good food, hot coffee. A knee or an elbow touching, every now and then. Harry’s hand on his shoulder, and Draco’s acceptance of it. What had made him acknowledge the touch like that? It had been risky. Harry might amuse himself by small flirting but that was a long way from. Well. From anything else. And Draco wouldn’t be anyone’s experiment. 

 

Who am I kidding? I wouldn’t give a rat’s arse if some nobody kissed me as an experiment in some anonymous nightclub. Let me rephrase that: I will not be Harry Potter’s experiment.

 

For reasons.

 

Chapter Text

 

October was rainy and busy. Draco’s fifth case took him to Scotland for nearly three fucking weeks, and not with Harry, either. His Auror colleague, Kerstil, was a thirty-something woman, very business-like but every now and then she eyed Draco like she was waiting for him to grow a second head. Draco took care to keep his mask on at all times, and Kerstil seemed to relax somewhat towards the end of the final week. 

 

Draco had thought about owling Harry but they were to keep owl messages to the minimum, so as to not attract any more attention than was strictly necessary. He stared at the temporary Floo in their ad hoc office so deep in thought that it attracted a half-suspicious look from Kerstil. He couldn’t use that Floo. Or could he? No. It was just for business use. The office was small, just a room, really, and Kerstil seemed to stay there 24/7, probably even slept there, on the rickety old sofa. And there was a bigger issue: Draco wasn’t sure if the friendship was at a stage which would justify Floo calls from business trips. Maybe it would just seem too…keen; too eager for a friendship that had existed barely three weeks, and consisted of a total of two dinners and six lunches? 

 

Malfoys don’t do love-sick puppies, either. Not that he was one. No. However, it would be unseemly to look like one. Yes.

 

In all honesty, Draco knew he was slightly too invested in furthering this friendship. Just, it was hard to know what to do differently to protect oneself? Friends want to spend time together. Friends have lunches. Friends have dinners. Friends talk and laugh. They had all that, and it felt good. Draco felt good with Harry. Accepted. Liked. Appreciated. Safe. He felt young and interesting and clever and funny. When he got Harry blushing, or when Harry stood his ground, winked, and almost-flirted back, he felt mischievous and playful and fucking happy. 

 

If only he can guard himself and not step out of line and spook Harry, he can have this. 

 

So Draco didn’t Floo. But when they finally returned to Headquarters around six pm on Wednesday, the first thing Draco found himself doing was going up to the Auror floor. Futile exercise, there’s not much chance of Potter staying here so late, Draco explained to himself while he was walking towards Harry and Ron’s cubicle.

 

But there he was. Leaning on one elbow, fingers deep in the messy hair, scribbling what was probably another case report. For two heartbeats Draco just stood there, watching. Then drawled, ”Don’t think much of the vaunted Auror instincts. Here I could’ve been ready to jinx you and you notice nothing!”

 

Harry had obviously been deep in thought; he startled, looked up — and smiled. A big, warm smile, which made Draco wonder again how it was possible that he had this. And swear that he wouldn’t do anything to risk it. Friendship with Harry was more than he could ever realistically hope for, and it was a valuable treasure.

 

Harry rose and strode towards Draco. Something flickered on his face and he slowed down, squeezed warmly Draco’s shoulder, smiled again. ”You’re back! I heard you might be, Robards said something in today’s briefing, that’s why I… well, good to see you!”

 

I almost rushed to hug him. Harry was slightly upset by his incautiousness. Then again, if this were Ron, and he had been god-knows-where on a mission for three weeks, I would’ve hugged him without a second thought. Why would this be any different?

 

It just is and you know it, don’t be an idiot, Harry…you also almost blabbed that you were more or less waiting for him. Which is silly because what made you think he would come here after a tiring three-week mission?

 

He did, though.

 

Just at the same moment, Draco himself seemed to realize that there maybe was something curious about his coming here at this hour, straight from the mission. Draco’s cheeks flushed. You don’t see that every day, Harry was amused. He’s adorable.

 

Well. Crap. Spin the truth and wing it, Draco!  ”I’m in dire need of sensible conversation! Three weeks with Kristel — she’s ok but apparently not my biggest fan, at least not yet, I’m working on it! I haven’t had anyone to chat with; would you care to oblige, now be a good friend, will you?” There, that should be true enough but also light enough.

 

Harry laughed. ”Who would’ve guessed that the day would come when YOU come to ME for the quality of excellent conversation.”

 

”Yes yes, you’re an all-round saviour, don’t hurt yourself patting your back. Now do I have to invite myself for impromptu dinner and some of your excellent wines, or will you do the honours?”

 

”Dear Draco, my most esteemed colleague, would you honour me with your company and have dinner with me,” Harry said, smiling and bowing.

 

”Now THAT’s what I’m talking about. Now you have finally grasped the concept of how to treat an exquisite person such as myself.”

 

Both men congratulated themselves silently on a situation well handled, awkward slip-ups drowned in banter. Both so very sure that the other one hadn’t noticed anything. 

 

 

*****

 

Kreacher was decidedly not happy with Draco’s surprise visit. However, within five minutes he had conjured the candles, the music — and shrunk the sofa. ”Master and Master’s Good Friend will waits here, Kreacher cook,” he grated, snapped his fingers, and bottle of wine and two glasses appeared on the coffee table.

 

Harry looked at Draco. ”You must be exhausted after the mission. Sit down, make yourself comfortable. I’ll pour the wine. It won’t be long until dinner, Kreacher can be pretty efficient — as we just saw,” and couldn’t help but let out an honest snicker.

 

”He has really set his heart on me being your Special Friend,” smirked Draco, and accepted the glass Harry was offering, settled back on the cushions and closed his eyes. ”It wasn’t so bad at the end, by then it was more wrapping up the case. A week ago, however, what I would’ve given for this couch and a glass of wine… we were tramping through the sidealleys all night long, basically Kristel hunting the crooks and me trying to clear the way for her — well, you know how it is. For me it was a first, I had no idea it can get that adventurous! Man, those guys loved their curses…”

 

Harry leaned back on the sofa, sipping his wine, listening to Draco. He had missed this. No point trying to sugarcoat or deny it. Draco kept on talking, spinning tales of the case, obviously enjoying himself greatly. Harry remembered what Hermione had said about the way he looked at some men. Like his eyes rested on them. Well, that’s what it felt like now, looking at Draco. Shadows danced on his face, flames glimmered in his eyes, lips moved and smiled, hand brushed a strand of hair away from his eyes. Harry couldn’t take his eyes off of him.

 

Draco moved, turned more towards Harry, drew his leg on the sofa. Harry felt Draco’s shin flush against his thigh and ferventely hoped Kreacher wouldn’t come just yet to announce dinner. Draco kept talking, didn’t seem to think anything of it, but for Harry, the touch burned.

 

***

 

Harry’s gaze hadn’t gone unnoticed. Draco tried to remember caution, under no circumstances can he risk this. However,  every minute under Harry’s intense eyes eroded Draco’s resolve. He felt giddy and daring. Maybe something… so he changed his position; Harry didn’t withdraw. To all appearances and purposes, it was just a random touch, like any friends in close quarters, nothing special. So how come it took all Draco’s powers of concentration to keep talking, instead of closing his eyes, and revelling in the heat of the touch?

 

Only minutes later, Kreacher announced that dinner is ready. Neither man showed any inclination to rush away from the sofa, but finally Harry rose up, and extended his hand to Draco. ”Come on, let’s eat, you must be starving by now!” 

 

It’s not that Draco needed any help in getting up from the sofa. It’s just that he really, really didn’t mind accepting Harry’s hand. The firm, warm touch tingled pleasantly for the few seconds it took to get up, and Draco’s hand felt downright lonely after Harry let go. Don’t read too much into it, you pathetic sod. Friends can be tactile. Friends help each other.

 

Chapter Text

 

At midnight, Harry had been in bed for half an hour. The bedroom was dark but Harry’s eyes were open, staring at the darkness, looking inwards at the previous hours, having dinner, drinking coffee on the sofa. He didn’t know whether he should be worried or not — he was absolutely certain he had screwed up a few times, getting utterly lost in Draco’s eyes, or caressing his face with his gaze. He only hoped that Draco hadn’t noticed. He’s not a complete idiot, you know. Should I bring this out in the open? Assure him that there’s nothing to worry about, that Harry values his friendship much too much to ever let this get out of hand in any way? Draco’s not homophobic, most likely, or he wouldn’t take Kreacher’s ridiculous matchmaking so lightly, would he? (or flirt. he does flirt, right?) 

 

Harry squirmed, looking for a more comfortable position. Maybe not, maybe these feelings will blow over in a few weeks, when Draco stops being so new and exciting. Harry snorted. Yeah, that’ll happen. He didn’t stop being ’exciting’ in six years of Hogwarts — why would he now, when they are friends and spend so much time together.

 

Harry closed his eyes. Pictures of Draco flashed in his mind, and he didn’t bother to try stop them. Pleasant dreams, he wished himself, half amused, half frustrated. The further he slipped in slumber, the more images of previous nights rolled in his head, in a flurry of flames — which didn’t bring along a sense of dread, of Fiendfyre, but instead candlelights and reflections in grey eyes. Drowsy and all but asleep, Harry felt warm, warmer, hot, tense… 

 

Harry started and was completely awake. Fuck, this is a new development. He palmed his cock. Which was also awake, to quite an (un)comfortable extent. To such an extent, in fact, that it only took a few tugs to make him come. Harry knew now what Draco’s hand felt in his — it hadn’t been such a leap to imagine what it might feel like on his cock.

 

Yeah. Nothing to worry about at all. Harry lay there, waiting for his heartbeat to settle, and would’ve rolled his eyes but he was far too relaxed for self-irony.

 

***

 

”Your mission was a success, I hope?”

 

Mothers really shouldn’t stay up so late.

 

”Yes, it was, thank you for asking. I trust that everything has been alright here? Are you feeling well?”

 

”Yes, dear, do not fret, I am after all an adult and quite capable of handling the Manor by myself for a few weeks,” Narcissa said, an amused small smile on her face.

 

It is true, Draco realized. Her mother had been feeling better these few months. Maybe the fact that Draco had obtained some normalcy, some grasp on social life, was good also for Narcissa’s state of mind.

 

”Did your mission truly end at this hour? A very peculiar work you have, darling, most of your days end in somewhat late hours.” Narcissa raised a questioning eyebrow, and Draco could’ve sworn there was a twinkle in her eyes. A twinkle? Surely not?

 

All of a sudden, Draco felt fifteen again, awkward and hopelessly smitten and not really willing to say a word out loud — especially to his mother, for gods’ sake — to make it real somehow, because real things can be broken, real things can damage you. Better to keep it this way, with almost-flirting and small touches which can be explained away as nothing but friendly.

 

Draco pulled himself together and smiled noncommittally; his reply was, however, truthful. ”Well, to be honest, I did return earlier today but had dinner with a colleague after. It felt like a good way to relax — the mission wound me up a bit. It was really good to talk about it with someone who knows the job but wasn’t involved, if you know what I mean. Unwind, you know.”

 

”No need to explain, darling. I am extremely glad to hear that you have…colleagues… with whom you feel so comfortable that they are the first place you go to after a three-week mission.” 

 

Draco snapped his eyes to Narcissa. Now there was no room for error: there was a definite twinkle there. The eyes of Mrs Malfoy NEVER twinkle. Best to make a strategic withdrawal before all his excellent decisions melt away…

 

”Well, yes, I…” Draco stopped. That didn’t come out as smoothly as he’d liked. Not doing a very good job at pulling myself together! ”Yes, mother, indeed. Now I have to excuse myself, we have a mission meeting early tomorrow. Good night, Mother.”

 

”Pleasant dreams, dear.” 

 

Oh, I’m sure they will be.

 

Chapter Text

 

Harry hadn’t planned this, not really. He was restless, waiting for something, some nudge this way or that, to advance their friendship (don’t you mean their flirtatious friendship, his traitorous brain supplied) apart from lunches (two last week, four this week) and dinners (altogether four by now). Mention the exact number of meals to Ron, I dare you! ”But hey, who’s counting.” See what happens to plausible deniability, he’s already suspicious. Harry flinched inwardly. His brain so wasn’t helping.

 

So, he hadn’t planned this. It was Friday. They had been having a pleasant lunch, and not just the two of them, either. It had been a slow Friday so most of the day shift Aurors as well as cursebreakers were at the office. So there was, in fact, eight of them, all around the same table, talking animatedly, the weekend euphoria already approaching. Harry was chatting with Angelina; every now and then his eyes straying to Draco who was having what was apparently an intense discussion with Dean, Gary and Gillian. Lunch hour was nearing its end, and Harry was positively itchy. Two whole days without any kind of excuse to ask Draco to lunch or dinner. And at what point did two measly days become such a hardship? 

 

”I have heard that if you’re interested in someone, you should just ask them out. See what happens. Just saying.”

 

Angelina’s voice busted through the haze of Draco-thoughts. Hadn’t they been talking about the second Wheezes shop George was opening in Hogsmeade? 

 

”…what?” Harry looked at Angelina, nonplussed.

 

Angelina was finishing her tea quite calmly. She looked at Harry with a slightly amused look on her face. ”For absolutely no particular reason I decided to impart to you the words of wisdom of someone-or-other. That if you’re interested in someone, you should ask. them. out. Again, just saying.” 

 

She rose and took her tray and left, leaving Harry staring after her, absolutely horrified. If Angelina can see, what about the others? Draco?

 

But what exactly had she said? Ask him out? Could he, just like that? On a weekend, outside of even the flimsiest of work-related pretenses?

 

Steady, Harry. Think. You wouldn’t hesitate asking Ron to the movies or Dean to see a football game. If you consider Draco a friend, act accordingly. This is awkward only if you make it so. You’re supposedly a grown-up, and a professional law enforcerer, and according to Prophet, the strongest wizard of our time. This is the one time it would be a good idea to believe your own press. Just ask him about his plans for the weekend. It’s not that difficult.

 

That is why, when Harry saw Draco rise and pick up his tray and glance at Harry’s direction, Harry also rose, and mouthed ”wait” to him. I blame Angelina, Harry thought grimly, if this ends in an unmitigated disaster. He walked towards Draco who was waiting with the tray in his hands, and together they took away the trays and walked to the lifts. 

 

”Did you have something you wanted to talk about?” Draco asked curiously.

 

”Oh, I was just wondering what you’re doing this weekend,” Harry said with the utmost nonchalance. ”It’s a pretty good weather for late October and I was thinking of doing a bit of flying, and I just thought maybe you’d like to come along.”

 

Draco glanced at him, surprised. ”Well, I don’t have anything specific… I usually have lunch with Pans and Blaise on Saturday but they’re both out of the country this weekend, so I’m completely free… So, flying… that could be nice. It’s been a while since I’ve had company to fly with, at least decent company. Pansy and Blaise don’t see the point of leisure-time flying, and they’re really not very good at it, either. So… why not?”

 

Harry felt a happy little flutter in his belly; he smiled, and was afraid that it came out as just a bit too pleased, but who cares? 

 

”What about at 11, and then we can have a late lunch somewhere?” suggested Harry.

 

”Where do you usually go flying?”

 

”Well, usually I go to the Burrow, it’s nice and peaceful there, but maybe not this time…I have to think a bit,” Harry frowned, just now realizing he really didn’t have a clue of any other suitable places.

 

***

 

Draco watched Harry frown, deep in thought. Yeah, probably not the Burrow, thankyouverymuch. It’s all very well here, at the office, to get along with one Weasley. A whole another thing to risk spending time with the lot of them. One of the brothers died during the war… most likely I wouldn’t be warmly welcome anywhere near there. A small part of Draco’s heart was squeaking and I don’t want to share Harry, this first time we’re actually doing something together without any relation whatsoever to work.

 

A thought — and a very obvious one at that — occurred to Draco. He shivered. This could be good or very very bad. ”Harry, I have an idea… would you consider coming to the Manor? We have ample space for flying. And we could have lunch there too,” Draco saw that Harry’s frown had not disappeared, and hurried on, ”or not, we can go anywhere you like.”

 

Silence reigned the whole lift ride to the Auror floor. Draco didn’t get out at his own floor; this was not a discussion that could be left unfinished.

 

”Would your mother mind? Me being there?” Harry asked, his face unreadable, his voice expressionless.

 

”Honestly, Harry, I don’t know. What I believe, however, is that she wouldn’t mind. You saved us from that psychopath whack job and you are also the one we both can thank for the sentences we got. No, Harry, don’t. I know full well what it might have been without your testimony, and even so, I do know it was a touch-and-go with us and Azkaban.” Draco hesitated. ”I have to admit I haven’t told her anything about us working together, or…or that we have become, well, friendly…”

 

”Just say friends, Draco,” Harry cut in. ”For my part, I reckon we’re friends.” Harry tilted his head; his gaze on Draco was penetrating, and just like that Draco was reminded of the fact that the man he was harbouring silly romantic feelings for was, in fact, really a very good Auror and an incredibly strong wizard to boot. ”Or what do you think?”

 

They locked gazes. ”Yes, I do consider us friends. The world is truly a wondrous place.” 

 

Draco couldn’t help but smile, full-on, for once letting his face show every emotion. Well, most of it, anyway, certain silly romantic notions were still better off concealed. 

 

”However,” Draco went serious again, ”the truth is that for whatever cryptic reason, I have not mentioned any names to her. She doesn’t know any names for the people I work with or,” Draco faltered slightly, ”or the people I spend time with outside office hours.”

 

”You aren’t ashamed of me?” Harry’s voice was decidedly amused.

 

”Oh for… not everything’s about you, Oh Mighty Saviour,” Draco lied without a flinch, thinking really fast; fortunately he excelled in that. ”It’s just that we were cooped up in that house together for a very long time, and it’s still just the two of us, and believe you me, even though my Mother is the epitome of excellent manners and wouldn’t dream of something so plebeian as prying into my affairs” (Draco almost gagged; what a truly unfortunate choice of words) ”she is nevertheless extremely talented at asking questions without actually asking any. And for now, I’ve wanted to keep the work separate. It’s something just for me.” Well, he didn’t lie all of it. What he said was also true — just not the reason for keeping Harry’s name from his Mother.

 

”I can understand that,” Harry said, lost in thought. ”Not many people know we’ve become friends. Well, hardly any. And it’s…”

 

”Are you ashamed of me?” interrupted Draco. ”That would be more logical than the other way around.” He made a real effort to sound neutral but the flutter in his heart wasn’t a happy one.

 

Harry looked up, startled. ”NO, why would I? You’re brilliant. I have no problem having you as a friend. Hell, I’m better off with you as a friend! But there’s something in what you said that sounded…rung a bell, as it were. Going on four years after the war, my life’s still an open book and everyone seems to think they’re somehow owed everything I do, the people I meet, or make friends with, or date. Somehow we’ve managed to keep our friendship under the radar this long. Prophet hasn’t written anything — and you know what kind of headlines this could create. Neither of us needs that. So yes, what you said resonates. Having something — someONE — just for me. Not for the public consumption.”

 

They were standing in Harry’s cubicle; luckily, Ron had a day off. Harry stopped, realizing that what he had said could be interpreted… well. What’s done is done. ”Sorry if I got a bit carried away.” He pushed his fingers through his black mane, and felt fucking awkward. 

 

”No need to apologize. Probably we both did. So,” Draco said briskly, sounding a bit too upbeat to his own ears, ”neither is ashamed of the other, that’s cleared up now. I am ever so glad. I’ll speak to Mother today; I’ll owl you tonight.”

 

***

 

”Draco, darling, I see you have something on your mind. Do remember that you can talk to me about anything.” Narcissa put down the magazine she had been skimming during their evening tea. ”I wouldn’t go quite so far as to describe your manner as fidgeting, but you are very close.”

 

How embarrassing.

 

”Mother, I have made plans with a friend tomorrow. He’ll come here, we’ll go flying and then perhaps have lunch — possibly here, or maybe we’ll go out, that hasn’t been decided yet. I hope this will not disturb any plans you have made for Saturday?”

 

”My plans for Saturday consist of reading and taking care of my correspondence. So no, you will not disturb me.

 

Do I know this friend? I take it you are not talking about Pansy or Blaise?”

 

”This is a colleague who has, surprisingly enough, become somewhat of a friend. And yes, you’ve met him. It’s Harry Potter. He’s an Auror and we’ve handled a few cases together.” Draco concentrated hard on keeping his voice matter-of-fact, betraying nothing.

 

”Am I to understand that the colleague you have spent so much time with is Mr Potter?” Narcissa had been pouring another cup of tea for herself and raised her head to look at Draco, her eyes fond and also oddly — and quite disturbingly — speculative.

 

”You are very welcome to do so, as it happens to be true.” Draco smiled. ”We have, at least for the most part, made peace with our past. We work well together, and I’ve found he is rather easy to talk to. He asked if I’d like to go flying tomorrow but couldn’t think of a suitable place, so I…”

 

”… quite naturally thought of the Manor grounds.” Narcissa finished his sentence. ”Yes, that is a good idea. I am glad that you have managed to overcome the rather unfortunate history you have between you two. I…I would think that it would have required a lot of talking and listening on both your parts.” 

 

Draco had noticed the slight falter; his mother showed any kind of hesitation only very rarely. 

 

”It sounds as if you have both grown a great deal. I imagine,” Narcissa paused to sip her tea, to collect her thoughts, ”I imagine that a certain amount of unpleasant truths had to be voiced and accepted. Perhaps even a few apologies were in order.” Narcissa put the teacup down. ”However, I do not wish to pry. I only… Draco, I hope you know how very proud of you I am. That is all I am going to say on this subject.”

 

Narcissa stood up. ”I think I will retire now. Please assure Mr Potter he is very welcome tomorrow. It is entirely up to him if he also feels comfortable enough to have lunch in this house. For my part, it would give me great pleasure to have him here with us.”

 

Mother never ceases to amaze me.

 

***

 

Harry heard the sharp rat-a-tat on the living room window and met the haughty look of an eagle owl. The owl condescended to give a letter to Harry, and he didn’t have to see the Malfoy crest on the envelope to know who the missive was from. Even their owls are snotty, Harry thought, amused.

 

Harry,

if you’re still interested in flying together, I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Manor tomorrow at 11. I will set the wards so they will let you through the gates.

Where we have lunch is entirely at your discretion; however, please know that you’re very welcome to have it with us at the Manor. Mother was rather glad to hear we’re friends nowadays. Your decision, though.

 

-D

 

Something had changed. All those weeks ago, when they had their first dinner, Harry had felt nearly nauseaus thinking about the Manor. Now, he was going there, and all he could focus on was that he’d spend a day with Draco. That the place would be the Manor was of little consequence. Meeting Narcissa, however, gave him some pause. An open mind might again be the key. Dwelling on past mistakes benefits no-one. After the war, Harry had gone to a Mind Healer a few times. He remembered something he had said. Wallowing in old injustices hurts only yourself, and does not actually change anything for the better. He hadn’t been quite ready to accept that at the time but the thought had come back to him repeatedly during these years, and he understood the wisdom in it now. However, understanding is one thing, consistently acting on it another. Choices, we always come back to choices.

 

Draco,

I am very much looking forward to flying with you tomorrow. I will be there at 11. 

Lunch sounds lovely. It’ll be a meal with two people who actually have saved my life, so I think it’s time I exorcise my personal monster-ghosts of the past from the house which is your, my friend’s, home. Sorry about the convoluted sentence, hope you get what I mean. 

See you tomorrow!

-H

 

Harry gave the message to the Malfoy owl. The die is cast. It would be inaccurate to say that Harry only felt eager anticipation; tomorrow would test his resolve on letting bygones be bygones. But it was so hard to concentrate on anything else but hopeful visions of a day with Draco. Harry decided to go to bed and indulge in pleasant dreams. He felt his cock react to that thought. He snorted. His body obviously liked the idea of Draco dreams, too. For a moment, Harry marvelled at the change in him. Only a few weeks ago he didn’t even recognize the signs — now, he has accepted these new feelings of attraction. It is what it is. Most likely one-sided, but then, having Draco as a friend is a win anyway.

 

Chapter Text

 

Narcissa was already at the breakfast table when Draco stepped into the room. He had spent an absurd amount of time selecting a proper outfit for the day. Saying ’he has seen me in all kinds of less flattering clothes, my work robes included’  to himself didn’t help at all. Draco knew perfectly well he was being not a little foolish but still he changed his shirt for the third time.

 

Draco wore an amiable expression and hid carefully the nervousness he couldn’t help but feel. Narcissa watched him calmly. ”What time is your friend arriving? I noticed you sent Marlon on its way last night; I presume it was a message to Mr Potter about today’s arrangements?”

 

The world lost an excellent Auror in Narcissa. The woman misses nothing.

 

”Harry is coming at 11, and he has accepted my invitation to have lunch with us.” 

 

Draco was still amazed about Harry’s decision. He had waited for Harry’s reply last night, anxious and worried. Reading Harry’s message had felt like the last specks had been wiped clean from the slate. He had gone to bed head full of plans for today, images of Harry flying, sitting on Draco’s dining table, lounging by the fireplace. Maybe Draco would take him on a tour around the Manor, show him Draco’s room. He had fallen asleep among vivid erotic visions involving Harry and Draco’s bed.

 

In the shower, he had mildly scolded himself. The dreams had been very lovely and the orgasm they had induced had been very pleasing indeed, but… well. Dreams are dreams. He should get back to worrying — so many things could still go wrong today.

 

Narcissa smiled a rare open, genuinely delighted smile. ”How wonderful. I will take care of the lunch arrangement, you young people have fun flying.”

 

And they did. Harry and his broom arrived punctually, and they spent the next two hours having more carefree fun than Draco had had in the previous five years combined. The weather was very mild for late October, the sky was clear and there was hardly any wind — perfect conditions for a good fly. After two hours, they were exhausted, their facial muscles were cramping from all the grinning, their clothes were sweaty, and even Draco’s hair looked a right mess.

 

”Would you like to freshen up before lunch, Harry?”

 

”I was just going to ask if it’s possible to take a shower; I brought an extra set of clothes with me…I wouldn’t want to meet your mother looking like this!”

 

Later, Draco couldn’t explain what came over him. He blamed the adrenaline, the elation, the giddiness. 

 

Without a word, Draco grabbed Harry’s wrist and Apparated them straight to his room.

 

Harry frowned and looked around at the warm, cozy room. It was high and huge, with a massive bed, comfortable-looking armchairs by the fireplace, windows looking over a small pond and grove. The room was airy with gentle colours — blue, white, grey, all composing a harmonius and welcome atmosphere.

 

”What the… Is this your room, Draco?”

 

Draco felt something cold settle in his belly. You don’t apparate anyone — least of all a very new acquaintance — to your bedroom without even telling them about it in advance. It’s in dreadfully poor taste, not to mention highly inappropriate. Taking into account this whatever between him and Harry, all the almost-flirting and blushing and Harry’s obvious confusion, this sort of thing was possibly the worst thing Draco could’ve done. Harry could bolt, or worse: stay blandly polite and go forcedly through this situation, and then freeze their budding friendship. Push Draco away.

 

”It’s so beautiful. Very unlike what I expected. Not that I didn’t think your room wouldn’t be beautiful! Just… I probably had some stereotypical ideas of green and silver and stuffy aristocratic heirloom furniture and ominous tapestries. But this is great!”

 

Draco blinked. The cold something in his belly cautiously warmed up a few degrees.

 

”Took me a bit by surprise, I didn’t expect to be shipped to your bedroom quite like this.” Harry grinned.

 

Draco struggled to gain his footing. ”Pray tell, how did you imagine being shipped to my bedroom, then?” Draco smirked, and winked for good measure.

 

Harry blushed but didn’t look at all awkward; his eyes were bright with amusement, and he nudged Draco playfully. ”Wouldn’t you like to know! But first things first: I need to shower, I feel god-awful, and isn’t your mom expecting us to lunch soon?”

 

****

 

This is a first. Draco sat on his bed and listened to the sounds of running water from the bathroom. Someone is taking a shower in my bedroom. Draco stared at the bathroom door and tried to hold at bay the fantasies: what Harry looked like in there, naked, wet, hands all over his body.

 

Water stopped running. I’m really, really asking for trouble, Draco thought and started to open the buttons of his shirt. One, two, three… Harry stepped out from the bathroom, towel around his waist, hair still dripping water. Draco looked at him, couldn’t help but follow a rivulet of water from his collarbone, welldefined chest, lean stomach… he snapped his gaze to Harry’s eyes; Harry was staring at Draco’s fingers, they were slowly popping open the fourth button. Draco swallowed. There’s almost-flirting and winking in jest, and then there’s…this. 

 

*****

 

Harry had to admit that, for just a moment, he had been a bit disturbed by the sudden Apparition into the Manor. There had been no slow adjustment by strolling towards the house across the park — in a blink he just was there. Wary, he looked around — and suffered through a bout of cognitive dissonance: expectations of dungeon-like gloominess and aristocratic menace were hit on the head by the airy cozyness, soft rugs, high windows with a calm view over a tiny pond and grove which Harry could imagine looked very pleasant in the summer. The massive bed on one side of the room was covered with a pearly grey bedspread and numerous expensive-looking white throw pillows. Two stylish armchairs were facing a large fireplace where flames were dancing merrily. Harry could just hear the cogs in his head creaking rustily while they turned into another position. The one which now knew that Draco lived in a beautiful, cheerful room, and Harry had nothing against being there with him.

 

Five minutes later, he was in Draco’s bathroom, washing himself with his shampoos and bubbly soaps, and drying himself on his thick, fluffy towels. Harry realized he had left his change of clothes in the room. He had to remind himself very firmly of the fact that for several years he had showered with other guys and walked around with only a towel around him without even a moment’s awkwardness. This is no different, he assured himself, and tried very hard not to listen to the sarcastic giggle and ”yeah keep telling yourself that” which his brain — being markedly NOT helpful once again — supplied him.

 

Harry opened the door and stepped to the bedroom. Only a few feet away, Draco was sitting on the bed, eyes on Harry, following the drops of water Harry could feel on his body. Draco’s fingers were slowly opening his shirt — already a tempting amount of pale chest was, just, there, and how was he supposed to NOT stare?

 

Five, six… all the buttons were open now. Draco rested his hands on his lap. Their eyes were glued on one another. Draco’s eyes were huge, pupils dilated, and Harry was certain that Draco saw the same in his eyes. Silence began to purr once again, Harry felt his skin prickle and tingle. Draco stood up, a corner of his mouth raised just a bit to a shy half-smile. He took a step towards Harry.

 

*Crack*. ”Master, Mrs Malfoy is wanting to lets you know that lunch is served in the small dining room.”

 

The tension broke. The two young men looked at one another, and both saw the absolute hilarity of the situation which so reminded them both of a similar one weeks ago. Draco tried valiantly to suppress a fullblown guffaw but Harry failed epicly. 

 

”Thank you, Bitty, please let my Mother know that we will be joining her in ten minutes.” The house-elf vanished with another *crack*.

 

Draco smiled at Harry — and took off his shirt, unhurried, looking Harry straight in the eye. Still laughing, Harry let his eyes roam on Draco with obvious appreciation. Draco winked at him, ”I’ll go have a shower and let you dress in peace. We have ten minutes, and we do not want to be late even a minute. My Mother is big on punctuality, and for some reason I would really like it if she continued to be pleased about our… friendship.” The pause was carefully calculated, and Draco saw Harry get the meaning. Harry shook his head, clearly amused. ”You’re something else, you know, Draco?”

 

”I do. I really do.” He smirked, and closed the bathroom door.

 

*****

 

Nothing had happened, and yet everything had changed. Harry was sure now that they both shared an interest, a curiosity about the other, which surpassed regular friendship. His brain whirred with thoughts of the possibilities this newfound knowledge might present. He dressed, tried to comb his hair (yet again an exercise in futility), listened to Draco showering — and completely forgot to be nervous about the lunch. By the time Draco finished showering, they only had five minutes left, which caused them to stumble downstairs at the last minute, in high spirits, snickering like teenagers, glancing at one another every five seconds, Draco grabbing Harry’s hand and stage whispering ”hurry, you big lump!”

 

Yes, everything had changed. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Even under extreme duress, Narcissa would not have admitted out loud to being nervous about Harry Potter’s presence at their lunch table. Nevertheless, she caught herself arranging her napkin again and again, which caused her to raise a pale eyebrow at herself. Well. I will not be intimidated by a barely adult boy, however strong, however renowned an Auror he may be. If I cannot put the past behind me, how can I expect anyone else to do so? I will accept Mr Potter only on equal footing, come hell or high water. 

 

Narcissa arranged the poor napkin for the sixth time. I will remember that this young man has earned Draco’s approval. He is not the enemy anymore — if he ever was. Narcissa tried the words out silently: Harry Potter and my son are friends.

 

Who knew?

 

Odd noise came from the hall. Stamping of feet on the staircase, light-hearted laughter. Her heart tightened, a sudden sadness overcame her. How long has it been since the last time there were any sounds of carefree merriment in this house? Maybe not since Draco’s early childhood? This has not been a joyous house. Stylish, or proper, yes. Joyful — not so much. Maybe it’s time to forget everything else, all other worries, and give a chance to something which apparently has the power to generate cheerfulness.

 

Narcissa put down the rather worse for wear napkin, set her clasped hands on the table, and waited calmly.

 

She saw Draco and Harry arrive at the doorway, struggling to contain their laughter. She noticed Draco quickly let go of Harry’s hand, and only the years of schooling her reactions helped her not to raise her eyebrows. Well. She had surmised as much. How very gratifying to be correct.

 

”Mother, I do hope we aren’t late?”

 

”Not at all, dear. Welcome to Malfoy Manor, Mr Potter. Do sit down. Bitty, you may serve now.”

 

Harry walked to Narcissa and extended his hand. His smile was happy and so openhearted that Narcissa felt thrown for a moment. What is this that has arrived at my home? How do I handle this kind of unguarded emotions?

 

Narcissa shook Harry’s hand. ”Mrs Malfoy, please, call me Harry.”

 

She smiled; Draco wasn’t the only one with a dazzling Malfoy smile. ”Only if you call me Narcissa.”

 

****

 

It is maybe too much to say that the lunch went perfectly. There were some uncomfortable silences, Narcissa’s smile was a tiny bit brittle at times, Harry had a few unpleasant flashbacks, Draco fidgeted with his silverware. All in all, however, it was a success. There was also a lot of entertaining talk, a few laughs, several genuine smiles on everyone’s part. Food, of course, was excellent. Harry said good things about Draco’s work performance which warmed Narcissa’s heart, especially as she noticed the pleased, barely there flush on his son’s face. Harry kept reminding himself that this was the mother of his friend, a person who had saved his life, and should be treated accordingly. 

 

Draco kept wondering how he ever had had the courage to take this particular gamble; he was watching them all as if from outside. The way they all played their parts, trying their honest best. He was kind of proud of them all. Maybe it would be easier, more natural, the next time.

 

He was already thinking about next times.

 

****

 

”I will leave you young men with your coffees. I am waiting for a Floo call soon. It was good of you to visit us, Harry. Do remember you are always welcome here.”

 

Harry watched Narcissa glide from the dining room. Hard to see what was really going on behind that elegant facade. A formidable woman, all the same.

 

”That went well,” Draco said, without any irony.

 

”I guess it did. The first time is always the worst; next time it will be easier.” Harry noticed he was thinking in terms of ’next time’ but couldn’t even be surprised by it. Of course there would be other times. If nothing else, they would stay friends, Harry was sure of it now.

 

Draco stood up, with the coffee cup in his hand, and walked to the tall French windows facing the park. ”It really is a nice weather for this time of year. In a month, it will be time for Christmas parties. I wonder if this year Mother wants to try to have one here too. Would anyone come?”

 

He heard Harry’s footsteps behind him. Harry stopped just behind him, so close Draco could feel his bodyheat, sense his presence like a magnetic field. This time, there was no shrunken sofa to excuse the physical proximity.

 

”I would come,” Harry said in a low voice. He stepped past Draco, turned to look at him, so, so close. Draco’s cup frozen halfway to his mouth, air around them still. Harry raised his hand, slowly swept a loose strand of hair from Draco’s face. 

 

Harry’s face was flushed, eyes bold and at the same time uneasy that he was overstepping a line, somehow still misunderstanding… He worried at his lip, Draco’s eyes immediately following the movement. He felt his hand rise as if by its own volition, touch Harry’s mouth gently, brush the worried lip. Draco’s heart pounded in his chest; vaguely he thought that this was nothing, nothing like the halfhearted attempts at one-night stands, heated impersonal kisses Draco had had before. The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife; he could barely breath. His fingertips caressed Harry’s lips, moved to brush his cheek, then down to his neck, and so, so gently Draco pulled Harry closer. Harry’s eyes were glued to Draco’s, the expression a mixture of intense hunger and faint anxiety.

 

Harry yielded under Draco’s touch, couldn’t believe this was actually happening. He felt Draco’s firm fingers drawing him closer, he felt Draco’s breath on his lips, and 

*crack* ”Master is wanted at Floo”.

 

”Oh for fuck’s sake!” ”You’ve got to be fucking KIDDING me!”, burst from both men at the same time.

 

SO not funny! Harry pushed his hand through his hair, feeling like he had flown full speed at a brick wall. Fucking fuckety fuck!!! Bloody cockblocks, the lot of them, fucking elves!

 

Draco’s elf, Rindi, squeaked another hurried ”Master, it be urgent, he says.” Draco tried to steady his breath and heartbeat, put away his coffee cup, and followed Rindi towards the hall Floo.

 

”What took you so long, Malfoy?” barked the most unwelcome face of Harry’s boss, Robards. Draco thought it better not to open his mouth to answer. He feared that it would take another few moments to make him gain his composure enough to keep from voicing every uncharitable opinion he had about the qualities, intelligence, lineage, looks, and sound of the honourable Head Auror Robards.

 

”Spencer is alerting Gary and Gillian, you are needed too, make it to Ministry in five minutes.” Through his rage, Draco noticed that Robards actually looked really worried, and it helped him to calm down. 

 

”Yes sir, anything I need to know before I arrive?”

 

”No, just get the hell here as quickly as possible, be prepared for at least a week’s mission.” Robards was about to close down the Floo connection when he turned to face Draco again. ”Do you by any chance have any idea where Potter is? He’s not at home and Weasley has no clue and we really don’t have time to send an owl to search for him…”

 

Draco heard Harry’s voice behind him saying composedly, ”Don’t worry, sir, I’m at Malfoy Manor. I’ll be there in five with Draco.”

 

”Excellent,” bellowed Robards, ”we’ll be waiting.”

 

The men looked at each other. Harry smiled. ”Just another mission, nothing more. Let’s continue after, okay? And next time, we’ll ward whatever room we’re in with a gazillion spells to keep the fricking elves away, okay?”

 

Draco let out a small laughter. ”Oh, I was thinking precisely the same thing. But let me just…” Draco took a few quick steps to Harry, cupped Harry’s face with both his hands, drew him near, and pressed his lips on Harry’s mouth. It was just a quick kiss, but so full of promise that Harry felt dizzy when Draco stepped away. 

 

”A week’s a long time,” Draco whispered. 

 

”So… this was kind of a preview of coming attractions?” Harry smiled, lighthearted and absolutely smitten.

 

Draco laughed. He heard his own laughter, warm and happy like it hadn’t been in a really, really long time.

 

He summoned Rindi and told her to inform his mother of the urgent call to work, and required her to get his necessities at the Ministry within ten minutes. Then Harry asked her to deliver the same message to Kreacher as soon as possible. After that, they took a pinch of Floo powder each, and arrived at the Ministry a few seconds later, to a complete state of uproar. Ron strode to them, eyes ablaze, lips a thin angry line. ”Thank Merlin you’re here Harry. Oh, hi Malfoy!” 

 

”What’s going on? Robards told us nothing when he Floo’d.”

 

”Us?” For a fraction of a second Ron looked as if he was going to get stuck on that word, but the urgency of the situation took precedence. ”Robards and Spencer are holding a briefing in two minutes but as far as I know, it’s the wannabe death eater losers — not so much with the losing anymore. It seems they’ve got some new recruits and those guys mean business. The thing you had few weeks ago, the young girl and the Muggles, remember, that had been part of it.” They heard Robards shouting in the corridor. ”The briefing is starting, let’s go.”

 

Chapter Text

 

The following days were a blur. They split up in teams of three, with two Aurors and a cursebreaker each. Harry didn’t often insist on anything for himself at work but this time he put his foot down: he wanted his team to include Ron and Draco, and Robards didn’t put up too much of a fight. And why would he — Ron and Harry made for an efficient team, with Ron providing cool strategy and Harry quick thinking and enormous powers; Malfoy and Harry had also proved to be able to deliver the goods. Ron lifted an eyebrow over Malfoy but Harry had absolutely no patience for this and just said, ”We’ve noticed we work really well together. Give him a chance, Ron, he’s not so bad, just think of him as another Blaise, okay?”

 

After that, a blur of action, sleeping in shifts a few hours at a time, wrong leads, curses that flew by missing them by an inch. 

Later, Harry remembered the bloody gash on Ron’s face which they didn’t have time to heal properly and which left a scar. 

He remembered Draco, face pale and drawn, and deep, deep in concentration, parrying curses as they came and at the same time sending curse-detection spells this way and that, to find the booby traps. 

He remembered how dead tired he had been by the fourth day. The messages they got from the Headquarters were disheartening; these New Master Race fuckers were crawling out of the woodwork all around Britain. Harry spent a few exhausting hours questioning himself and his earlier investigations. Had he taken these arseholes too lightly? Assumed they were all morons, just because most had been? He hadn’t made the connection between the Bournemouth girl and the Norfolk mob, so was this on him? Much later, he accepted the fact that the mob had been a careful cover-up, and no-one — not even the mobsters — had known there had been a larger plan. Harry hadn’t been the only Auror on that case, and he tried to find some comfort from the fact that none of the others — some of them long-term professionals, sharp as nails — had figured it out either. Like Robards said, in his gruff manner: ”Stop angsting, Potter. You win some, you lose some.”

 

Harry remembered being too tired to worry about his best friend and a friend who was maybe something more than a friend. They fought side by side, each pulling their weight in their own special manner. 

He remembered Ron, glancing at Draco with respect, asking his advice. 

He remembered Draco taking care of Ron’s twisted ankle, carefully holding his leg while making the graceful wand movements required to fixing a damaged ligament, while Harry was covering all of their arses, fighting like the devil himself. Ron had been in pain; Draco had murmured soothing words, radiated calmness in the middle of a storm, to help Ron heal just a bit faster, to join the fight.

 

Harry remembered the times, few and far between, when there had been a lull in the action. When Ron had been poring over maps or intel from Headquarters, and Harry and Draco had rested. Sometimes they succumbed, for a few minutes, to the temptation of touch, holding hands. Nothing more than that — nothing more would’ve seemed proper for what was essentially a war zone — but it sustained Harry much more than the measly meals they had.

 

When it was all over, eighteen days later, on a Wednesday evening, Harry remembered being so proud of his team. They sprawled in Ministry chairs, all the teams, all tired, dirty, too exhausted to feel any triumph. Not all of them had returned either. Nothing dampens the feeling of triumph like seeing the empty chairs. The teams of two. Or of only one.

 

Robards was unusually subdued. Loss of team members was hard on him too. He was blunt and rude and undiplomatic and stomped on political correctness without even noticing it crushing under his feet, but he had a good heart. ”Okay folks, the field operation part of this case is officially over. There’s a lot of work still ahead but we all need some time to rest. Spencer and I have arranged a four-day rest period for all of you.” Robards fell silent, staring at his hands. ”What’re you waiting for?” He tried his good ol’ bark — didn’t much succeed. ”Go home, people. See you on Monday.”

 

Harry’s team was the last one to leave the room. They sat silently in their chairs, still getting used to the silence and not having to be on high alert every second.

 

Ron was the first to move. He shuffled from his chair, turned to Harry and Draco, and said, ”I’m going home to sleep. And shower. And frankly, to kiss Hermione for 24 hours straight up. I feel I need some honest-to-god light in my life right now.”

He looked at the two men. ”I reckon you could use some too. Probably don’t have to go too far to find it, right, Harry? Malfoy?”

 

Without waiting for a comment, Ron walked out of the room. Harry and Draco threw a tired but baffled look at each other. 

 

Drily, Draco asked: ”What the actual fuck? Does this mean that Weasley is less clueless about these things than you are?”

 

”I’m too tired to come up with any witty retorts but consider one made, okay, be a pal.”

 

Draco smiled, a tired little half-smile. He looked at Harry, eyes bloodshot, hair a dirty mess, clothes dirty. Harry thought he was the most beautiful thing in the world.

 

”Your place or mine?”

 

Harry snorted with what little energy he had. ”I hope you mean the shower and the meal and the good night’s sleep?”

 

”Why, of course that’s what I meant! Whatever do you think I could’ve meant?” Draco smiled again, then grew serious. ”It’s just… what Weasley said… the idea of going home alone…to an empty bed… after this… just… You wouldn’t have to worry… I’d just really like to have you there.” Draco rubbed his face, suddenly looking slightly ashamed. ”This quite possibly destroys whatever image you might have left of me as a coldblooded Malfoy but… I’d just like to have you there. Close. Hold you. Sleep — as in actually sleep — with you.” Draco looked profoundly embarrassed. Like it wouldn’t be fitting for a young man (aren’t they supposed to be continuously horny?) and a Malfoy (aren’t they supposed to be aloof and guarded all the time?) to seek comfort in simple closeness, and what’s more: to admit wanting it?

 

”Come to mine, ok?” Harry said quietly. ”We’ll let Kreacher have a fit with the candles, it’ll make him, well, whatever works as ’happy’ for him. We’ll have something to eat, and take long showers, and have clean clothing, and we’ll sleep however long we like, and then we’ll wake up together and that’s something I’d really, really like.”

 

The embarrassed expression vanished from Draco’s face; maybe it helped that Harry voiced the same feelings. We’ll be sappy together, he thought, with gentle humour.

 

They walked slowly to the Atrium Floos, and arrived at Grimmauld Place to a startled Kreacher who was just spelling away dust from the living room. ”Master is always so kind to brings surprise visitors,” he squeaked; scowled at the both of them, snapped his fingers twice to shrink the sofa and light the candles — Kreacher was nothing if not consistent. 

 

”Thank you, Kreacher,” Harry said, amused. ”Would you bring us something to eat here as soon as possible, and after that please check that my bedroom is fresh and the linen is changed.”

 

”Just Master’s bedroom?” Kreacher growled.

 

”Yes.” Harry’s answer, short and sweet; Draco took his hand and pulled him down on the sofa, exhausted but bubbly with anticipation. 

 

Kreacher vanished with a faint pop, and Draco could have sworn he saw Kreacher’s mouth twitch in a way which could be interpreted as not-grumpy.

 

****

 

They ate in silence. Warm sandwiches, small glasses of wine, sitting thigh-to-thigh, seeking comfort from each other. They trudged to Harry’s bedroom. Draco showered in Harry’s room, Harry went to a guest bathroom. Draco was ready first, dressed in the clean pyjama bottoms Rindi had provided with Kreacher’s help. He had trouble keeping his eyes open. Draco climbed to the bed and looked around — it was a pleasant room, cozy, with strong colours of purple and dark grey, creating a cavelike feeling of security. Draco had almost fallen asleep when he felt the bed dip. ”Merlin, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated my own bed as much as I do now.” Harry sounded drowsy and happy. ”Especially since you’re in it too.” Draco felt a light kiss on his cheek, and promptly fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

 

Harry flicked a quick Tempus; it was almost noon. He streched himself, unhurried, muscles aching. The house was silent; the only thing he heard was the sound of Draco’s breathing, slow and steady. He turned to look at the man who shared his bed. Draco was deep under the duvet, the only visible thing the white-silver hair covering his face, softly moving with the rhythm of his breath. 

 

Gingerly, Harry brushed the hair away, and watched the pale eyelashes, long and thick on Draco’s cheek. He drew his fingertips along Draco’s straight nose, over one cheek, along the jawline. He didn’t want to wake him up but it was impossible not to touch him, he was there, and Harry felt such tenderness he thought he might burst. His friend, his comrade-in-arms, his… well. Still Harry didn’t dare to voice his hopes. All this was already almost too good to be true — could he wish for something more? He caressed Draco’s cheek, feather-light touch.

 

Draco opened his eyes, blinked a few times. Harry smiled at him, brushed a gentle thumb over his eyebrow, run a hand through his hair, then withdraw his hand and put it on his pillow to rest. ”Good morning, Draco,” he said quietly. ”Sleep well?”

 

”Good morning, Harry, yes I did. And you? Does this still feel like something you like?”

 

Harry was silent for a moment, thinking back to whatever Draco was referring to. Then he remembered. ”I slept very well, thank you. And yes. This is just as I thought it would be. It feels very, very good to wake up with you.”

 

Draco took Harry’s hand and stroke his fingers with his thumb. They looked at each other’s eyes for what felt like an eternity. The luxury of spending time like this, without hurry or hazard, without annoying elves or work problems… just the two of them, finally able to try to begin finding out what they could be to each other.

 

Harry wondered if maybe he wasn’t nervous enough. Shouldn’t he be nervous when he was in bed, with a man, for the first time? He had no idea how far they’d be going — he had no idea how far he’d want to go. The idea of a kiss felt exhilarating all by itself. The idea of Draco’s sleep-warm body against his made him light-headed and electrified. The idea of anything…more…Well, it seems that made his cock sit up and take notice.

 

Back off, Harry. One step at a time. This is Draco , after all. We are safe together, we have time. No need to rush into anything.

 

”Come here.” Draco pulled Harry’s hand gently and drew back a bit, to make room for Harry on his pillow. Harry felt his heart thump louder when he wiggled closer to Draco and lowered his head on Draco’s pillow. They were almost nose to nose, Draco still holding Harry’s hand. Harry felt the heat of Draco’s body like a hot magnetic field, crackling and tingling. They were almost, almost touching, and then they were — Draco put his leg over Harry’s and drew himself flush against Harry, all the way from toes to chest. The heat was almost unbearable. Harry thought he could feel every glorious inch of Draco’s body, every move of a muscle, the way his — Harry’s brain quite nearly short-circuited from the sheer pleasure — cock twitched and hardened, and the way Harry’s cock responded. He closed his eyes, let himself drown in the sensations flooding all over. He heard Draco’s breath — not so slow and steady anymore — and felt it touch his lips. He sensed Draco’s presence hovering a hair’s bredth from his mouth. He opened his eyes, the blond almost too close to come to focus, but he saw the last remnants of hesitation, a question in the grey eyes asking ’are you sure?’.

 

Harry closed the distance, felt soft lips meet his. The kiss was so very gentle, but soon gained strength. Both men were struggling under a sensory overload the likes of which neither had experienced before, but they did know what they wanted, and they wanted it with absolute certainty: to lose themselves in the kisses and the feel of hands roaming over bare skin, hesitating slightly at the waistband of thin pyjama bottoms but continuing on. It was still, perhaps, all very chaste, but at that moment it was more about relishing the possibility, the permission to touch, than aiming for some physical target of getting off.

 

They paused to catch their breath. Harry stroked Draco’s back, felt his muscles twitch, ran his fingers along his spine down to the dip in the lower back. This wasn’t the first time he touched Draco’s arse during the kissing session but now he could concentrate only on the touch. He hesitated for a moment at the waistband of Draco’s pyjama bottoms but continued downwards, caressing the swell of his arse, drawing his hand closer over the hip and on Draco’s belly, just below his navel. The angle of his hand was uncomfortable but Harry didn’t even notice. Draco kept looking at him, mapping his body just like Harry was mapping his. Draco’s hand stopped on Harry’s hip, the palm of his hand firmly settled where Harry’s inner thigh met his groin. Through the thin material of the pyjamas, it felt unbearably hot, and Harry thought he had never, ever been harder in his life. Harry moved his hand up, over the smooth plains of Draco’s abdomen muscles, over the lower ribs, over the hard pebble that was Draco’s nipple. Harry shivered and stopped there, rubbing the nipple with his thumb, tweaking it between his thumb and forefinger, his heart beating like crazy at the sound of Draco quickly drawing his breath. Harry kissed the corner of his mouth, his jaw, felt Draco’s stubble meet his — it felt different, exciting. He brushed Draco’s neck with his lips, stopping at the collarbone to nip the skin, going lower, licking and sucking his nipple, and feeling his body hum with excitement at the sounds Draco was making. The grip on Harry’s hip was tighter, like Draco was holding on for dear life.

 

Draco felt like bursting at the seams, he was so full of sensations and emotions. It was impossibly hard to understand that they were really here, that Harry welcomed his touch, and seemed to like touching him. He almost laughed remembering the few sort-of-experiences he’d had — they were nothingnothingnothing compared to this, and he felt young and passionate and happy. And inexperienced, to tell the truth. Harry had dated Ginny for a long time, so they must’ve… well, Draco didn’t want to think of the details. Harry pressed his fingers firmly on his waist and nipped at his neck just below the jawline and Draco had real trouble concentrating on anything else, but still, Draco might have the disadvantage here and it made him nervous.

 

”Harry…”

 

”Yeah?” Harry raised his head and met Draco’s gaze, immediately worried he had been doing something wrong.

 

”Just…” Draco swallowed, tried to drive away even a little bit of the lust haze from his brain, ”what do…what are we doing?”

 

Harry looked at him with a tiny frown, obviously not getting at all what he meant. Draco tried again.

 

”Just that… you should know…” (oh gods this is so so so fucking embarrassing!) ”… maybe you should know that I’m not… that is… I haven’t really…”

 

Harry raised his eyebrow questioningly. 

 

So, so obtuse.

 

”Oh for fuck’s sake Harry, do I have to draw a picture? First, I want this, and I want you; second, I haven’t done, well, nearly anything before, so; third, that means I’m a virgin, and fourth, I’m nervous, ok??? Have I embarrassed myself enough now?” Draco took recourse in his old sneery attitude — Harry saw through it, of course.

 

Harry stroke Draco’s face, from temple over cheek, repeatedly. Draco loved the intimacy of the gentle touch.

 

”First, I absolutely want you. Second, I don’t have that much of experience myself. I’ve only ever been with Ginny, and never with a man. Third — we can learn together, ok? I’d really like that. I’m nervous too but, you know, I trust you. There’s no rush, no deadline. We can take it as slow as we like. Enjoy the road.”

 

Harry was silent for a moment. ”Remember what I said about our stories. That I’d like to hear all of yours and tell you mine. And that we have loads of evenings for those. It’s the same with, you know, this. We have loads of time.

 

We can go have breakfast — or lunch — now. If you want.”

 

Silence. Draco felt Harry’s body firm and warm against his, hand caressing his back up and down. Draco still gripped Harry’s hip, realizing just then that the furnace-hot presence brushing against his wrist was Harry’s cock. He still was nervous, but suddenly it didn’t matter so much anymore. Harry was right. No rush, loads of time. They had nothing to prove to anyone, they could just enjoy themselves within whatever limits they, together, saw fit.

 

Draco pulled Harry closer and rolled his hips; Harry gasped and trembled. ”Oh, I think the lunch can wait a few more minutes. We have some unfinished business here,” Draco said with boldness he didn’t quite feel. But he wanted to, so much.

 

Harry rolled his hips, and now it was Draco’s turn to gasp. They found a rhythm together, cocks rubbing against each other, the thin material of the pyjamas not really forming much of an obstacle. They kissed hungrily, tongues tangling. Draco’s heart beat so fast, the flood of pleasure tensing up his body; they weren’t so much kissing as breathing in each other’s mouths as the orgasms came rumbling. Draco felt Harry stiffen, then quiver, heard him let out a long moan — and that did it for Draco. He heard a high mewling sound, his body shook like a leaf, both of the pyjama bottoms a big soppy mess, and only then he realized the sound was coming from him.

 

Draco kissed Harry on the mouth, on the cheek, on the closed eyes. Spent, relaxed, content. Quite stupidly in love, if he was honest — as he now was, even without the solitude of his own bedroom; no, he was here with Harry, in Harry’s bedroom, and honesty was the new norm, oh how his father would disapprove if he ever heard about this. Which he wouldn’t. Draco felt like giggling, it was all so very absurd and he felt so, so good.

 

”Ready for lunch now?” Harry’s amused voice. 

 

”Eww, no, not before we do something about the…you know… the mess. Spells or shower? Your house, your call.” Draco sounded just as flippant as he felt.

 

”I’m thinking…both,” Harry smiled and did a few wandless cleaning spells. ”You go shower first, I’ll let Kreacher know we’ll be down for lunch in half an hour.”

 

Draco rose and walked towards the bathroom; he heard Harry call Kreacher and the elf *crack* into the room. When he got to the bathroom door, he hesitated. He felt weirdly shy, he shouldn’t, should he, after what had just happened, but… ”Harry?” 

 

”Yeah?” Harry was almost done with giving instructions to Kreacher, and they both looked at Draco.

 

”Umm… come shower with me?” Draco blushed. He had been raised in a household crawling with elves; why was he suddenly hyperconscious of Kreacher’s beady eyes? Maybe because Kreacher looked awfully smug for an elf. The Matchmaker…

 

Harry’s face lit up with a huge smile. ”Can I wash you?”

 

Draco backed to the bathroom, shedding the pyjama bottoms on the way. Harry followed him, looking quite… (Draco shivered) …looking absolutely ravenous. When they closed the door behind them, they heard an unobtrusive *crack* as Kreacher finally left, apparently satisfied with his handiwork.

 

Harry took off the pyjama bottoms as well. For the first time, they were naked in each others’ company; Draco scrutinized every inch of Harry, savouring the moment. 

 

Harry stepped closer, so close their bodies touched, and their cocks paid attention once again, the action only minutes ago already forgotten. Harry felt the hair on his arms rise, skin prickling, itching to be touched. He managed to hold on exactly three more heartbeats before succumbing to Draco’s magnet-like lure. They kissed. Their hands wandered, all shyness vanished like it had never been there in the first place. Harry pushed the blond against the wall, buried his face on Draco’s neck, and sucked and licked, pressing his hips against Draco’s with a determined roll. Harry’s thoughts were blurred by lust. Draco’s grip on Harry’s hips was so tight it would leave marks — how nice, Harry thought hazily.

 

Draco raked his fingers along Harry’s back, hard, nails biting into the skin. Harry’s fiery wail went straight to Draco’s cock, it was nearly painful. ”Weren’t we supposed to shower?” he panted in Harry’s ear. ”In a minute…” Harry’s voice was so low it was almost a growl. Didn’t help the situation with Draco’s cock. His blood flaring and boiling, he grabbed Harry’s waist and span them around, Harry’s back connecting the wall with a thud. 

 

Dazed, Harry looked at Draco, pupils so dilated the green was nearly covered — hmmm, the Auror surprised with being manhandled by a mere Cursebreaker, now is he? Well he’s got another thing coming, this Cursebreaker is a Malfoy and Malfoys can do the pushing-against-the-wall as well as any Auror, be they ever so Savioury or not. 

 

”Harry,” Draco positively purred, ”as it seems the lunch is somewhat delayed, and I’m absolutely famished, I’ve got to think of something else to put in my mouth. Got any suggestions?” He felt giddy with desire, completely forgetting he handn’t exactly done anything like this before, and maybe one ought to be a bit more restrained, not quite so eager, not quite showing that you’re this vulnerable with passion? He forgot all that, he let go, staring at Harry’s shocked gaze, taking his hands, putting them on his shoulders, making Harry push him downwards. 

 

Harry caught on quickly, bless him. Draco licked and sucked and lightly bit Harry’s skin all the way down to what used to be covered by pyjama bottoms. Draco wrapped his fingers around Harry’s cock — hot, and hard, and leaking precome. He tugged at it a few times, fascinated, hardly comprehending how vastly different this was than the few lukewarm, hasty fumbles in the backalleys of French clubs. He gave the head a tentative lick; the sound Harry made was most satisfactory, the taste was not half bad, and… Draco had to close his eyes for a second, he was so turned on by the sounds and the taste, it hit him like a hammer, he would surely come right here, untouched, how embarrassing… He pressed his hand on his cock, hard, and willed it to calm the fuck down!

 

Harry saw Draco close his eyes, panting, gripping his own cock — oh! Harry licked his lips. He put his left hand on Draco’s head, threaded his fingers through his hair, and pulled, lightly. Draco opened his eyes, and Harry held his breath; Draco’s eyes were huge, dark grey, colour shifting and swirling, burning. Harry’s cock jumped eagerly, Draco put his tongue on the shaft and licked a long, firm lick, all the way from the root to the head, took it in his mouth, tongue working on the underside. He moved his head up and down; Harry tried to keep his hips from moving, he figured Draco hadn’t yet tested his gag reflex. He looked down at the absolute vision — his hard cock entering the blond’s mouth, Draco’s head bobbing back and forth, god how I want to fuck his mouth, Harry’s thoughts messy, blurred by lust, I want to fuck his mouth so bad… next time, maybe, oh my god… Harry’s head thumped on the wall, pleasure mounting, almost unbearable. ”Draco…fuck, so good…this won’t take long…” Harry gasped, he was losing it, ”Draco, I mean it…” He pulled Draco’s hair, gently but firmly.

 

Draco let the cock out of his mouth with a small pop, his spit-slicked lips glistening as he looked up at Harry and smiled faintly. ”Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.” He stood up, close, and wrapped his fingers around both of their cocks. ”Help me out here, Harry,” he mumbled, took Harry’s free hand, and licked the palm wet and slippery, then wrapped Harry’s hand along his own. Again, Harry caught on quickly, the clever man. It didn’t take long before Draco knew he was losing the tenuous grip he had on his self-control. ”Harry…” Draco hardly recognized that shaky, pent-up voice as his own.

 

Harry tightened his grip on Draco’s hair near convulsively, the slight pain shooting through Draco and heightening all sensations tenfold. Harry drew Draco even closer, they kissed, and panted, and kissed again, all through the orgasms hurtling through their bodies.

 

Draco leaned on Harry; Harry wrapped his arms around him. They waited to catch their breath, enjoying the afterglow. ”Good thing we didn’t go shower first,” Draco chuckled drily. ”Yeah…” Harry’s voice smiled, and he kissed Draco temple, and then rubbed his nose there so fondly it made Draco’s eyes well up. This is so ridiculously nice.

 

”Umm, I thought you said you hadn’t, you know, done much of anything…” Harry’s voice was suspiciously airy. Draco thought he might guess what was coming; he suppressed a mischievous smile, and mumbled nonchalantly into Harry’s shoulder, ”Yeah I did. So?”

 

Harry squirmed. The Chosen One honest-to-gods squirmed! Draco’s eyes welled up again, this time from the hard work of suppressing a chortle. 

 

Again the breezy voice. ”Just thinking what you said back there — that you know what you’re doing…” Harry hastened to continue ever so cheerfully, ”and you really, really did! That was amazing!”

 

Draco knew he was so going to hell for this. An evil git, that’s him. ”Glad to hear it! So, what was it you were thinking? Or was there a question in there somewhere?”

 

Fidget, squirm, fidget, squirm… Is it possible to choke on pent-up chuckles, I wonder?

 

”Just that… well, how did you know so much? If you hadn’t done anything?”

 

Draco pulled back, with a grave face. ”Are you asking if I lied to you?”

 

Harry’s mouth twitched. Then he looked down, let go of Draco and ran his hands through his hair.

 

”Not really, no. Although I’d kind of understand if you did and why… you might do it to… to put us on even footing with this. Sort of. I think. Maybe. But yeah, when you put it like that, then no, I don’t think this would be the kind of thing that’d make you break our policy of honesty. I just…”

 

”Relax, darling.” Harry looked up, startled by the unexpected endearment, which was exactly why Draco had done it.

 

”Honestly Harry, you forget the most obvious explanation. I’m amazed — you’d think a professional Auror would’ve cracked the mystery in a heartbeat.”

 

Again Harry’s mouth twitched, this time in a tentative amusement.

 

”Harry, you do know I can read, right? There are books about this sort of thing. Also magazines. Oh, and comic books. Not to mention the pieces of… what I would hesitate to call ’movies’ because they lack most of the necessary qualities to be called that: a decent plot, or quality of acting and camera work among them; however, what they lack in art, they have plenty of in their graphic and most illustrative content. Just because I’ve refrained from having sex like a bunny, and concentrated, you know, on figuring out how to survive in the post-war world, doesn’t mean I wasn’t curious.”

 

Harry stared at him. ”You utter prat!” he marveled, ”you knew it’d make me wonder. You sadistic berk!” Harry nudged him playfully.

 

Draco grinned. ”It’s not like I planned it! Ok, yeah, when you started stuttering and twitching (”Did not!” — ”Did too!”) it occurred to me pretty much immediately that you might have taken my words the wrong way… and, well. You’ve got to cut me some slack, I am a Malfoy after all, can’t go around being virtuous and high-minded all the time — what would happen to our evil reputation!”

 

Harry’s answer to that was to start a vigorous water fight. Lunch could wait a bit more.

 

Chapter Text

 

After the lunch they sat in the living room, relaxing, watching the fire crackle in the fireplace. Harry had his arm around Draco; Draco’s head leaning on Harry’s shoulder. Draco was slightly taller than Harry so after a while he felt his neck cramp a bit. He raised his head, stretched. ”My turn,” he said. 

 

”What?”

 

”My turn to hold you.” 

 

Gods, I’m sappy. I could’ve made a quip about Harry’s height or the lack thereof, or that it’s his turn to get a crick in his neck, but noooo, I had to go with the cheesy solution.

 

****

 

Harry rested in Draco’s arms, watching the flames. How did this become so easy? How is it that all of a sudden it’s quite natural to have Draco’s arm around you and hold his hand and kiss his fingers? Harry stopped his useless wondering, checked himself. It didn’t happen ’all of a sudden’. There were weeks of dancing around each other. There was the day of flying at the Manor, the almost-kiss, the quick kiss, the hand-holding during the battle mission… all of that paved the way for this. Harry kissed Draco’s knuckles, one by one, relishing his Right to do this. 

 

”I should let my Mother know I’m back.”

 

”Oh. Oh, yes, of course you should. I’m sorry, I’ve been selfish, wanting to keep you here.”

 

”Well, it was I who agreed we come to your place so there’s no need to apologize.”

 

Silence.

 

”Umm… so… are you leaving right now?”

 

”The truth?”

 

”You need to ask?”

 

”I’m having an argument with myself and I don’t know who’s winning.” Draco’s voice held amusement mixed with genuine unease. Harry sat up straight and look at him. ”What’s the matter?”

 

”It’s like there’s these four voices in my head and I can’t decide whose argument is the best. Or the most proper, I should say. Or if I should go with the best OR the most proper.

 

First, I really don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay here with you in this… this cocoon, outside of real world. We just had a whole lot of the ”real world” and I could do without it for a few days… We JUST started…this… and I’d like to continue for a while without the need to take anyone else into account.

 

Second, I really, really should inform my Mother that I’m back and all’s right with the world again. I imagine she must be very worried, although I’m sure she’s taken advantage of her acquaintance with Kingsley to at least know I’m alive… I feel incredibly bad that I’m even entertaining thoughts of burrowing in this house, shutting everyone else outside, INCLUDING my Mother… but after all that’s happened the past days, wouldn’t I have the right to be just a bit selfish? 

 

Third, I’d like to ask you to come with me to Manor. But you are tired, too, and would it be selfish to ask you leave your home so soon? Even though it went rather well last time, I’m sure you don’t feel at ease there, it wouldn’t be relaxing for you…

 

…and fourth… Yeah, the fourth… please don’t get upset Harry but… I’ve never brought anyone to meet Mother… I’ve never dated anyone… I’m pretty sure Mother guesses where my preferences lie but we’ve never talked about it, and I don’t know…”

 

Harry raised his eyebrows. ”You don’t know for sure it’s ok for her?”

 

Draco grimaced, looking thoughtful. ”I really don’t. Father definitely wouldn’t be ok with it but Mother… if I had to guess, I’d say she’d be mostly ok, but… with Mother, you never really know until you KNOW.

 

It’s not that it’s neither here nor there what she thinks. I am what I am, and what I am is someone who likes you very much and would REALLY like to keep waking up in the same bed.” Draco flashed a smile at Harry. ”But we’ve just had a hell of a fortnight and I wouldn’t want to subject you to any risk of anything potentially unpleasant. And if it makes me a coward, I don’t care, but I admit that I wouldn’t want to subject myself to that either.

 

That said, if I go to the Manor, I’d love it if you came too. We could go flying. Or we wouldn’t have to go anywhere, we could just stay in my room, have meals brought there…”

 

”Draco, I get it.” Harry smiled, and leaned over to kiss him. He tasted Draco’s mouth, with the faint aroma of coffee, felt his lips and tongue and…yeah, what was I going to say? Harry drew back a bit. ”What if I came along with you? I can stay in your room if you feel it’s easiest for you, and you can talk to your mother and I’ll be there for you. If you want to tell her about us, I’ll be there for you. If not, I’ll be there for you in any case.” He threaded his fingers through Draco’s hair, over to his cheek, his lips, down to his chest… he couldn’t get his eyes off of him, and he still had a hard time understanding that it was ok to look at him, to touch him.

 

Draco’s eyes were intense; he was silent for a long while. He looked down, on Harry’s hand caressing his chest. He took Harry’s hand, threaded their fingers together, looked up at Harry’s eyes again.

 

”I’d like to have you there, close by. I’d really like to have you in my bed tonight.” Now there was unveiled lust in his eyes, and Harry felt a shiver run down his back. Draco’s voice was playful when he continued: ”And tomorrow morning. I think I got addicted to waking up with you after just one dose.” More seriously he said, ”And I’ll tell Mother right away. After being in mortal danger for eighteen days, what’s one day more?” 

 

Harry raised his eyebrows. ”You’re kidding, right?”

 

”Well, yes, sure… though I don’t exactly look forward to Mother’s reaction. But it’s got to be done, and I’ve put it off long enough. It’s never been an issue because I never had anyone I was willing to risk this before. You, however, are a different matter, as befits the Saviour of the Wizarding World!”

 

”Yes yes, I’m ever so special.” Harry pinched his hip good-humouredly. ”Quit it, you prat!”

 

Draco laughed, smile on his face, heat in his eyes.

 

Two hours later they Floo’d to Manor’s hall.

 

Chapter Text

 

”So, what did she say?” Hermione asked, a half-eaten croissant all but forgotten in her hand, so avidly was she listening to Harry’s great tale of the Formal Introduction to Mrs Malfoy of one Harry Potter as Draco Malfoy’s Boyfriend. ”I’d think she’d be ok with it, you said it yourself, it went well the first time, and even if it were only from a utilitarian point of view, you are a great asset to the Malfoy family in their current situation and also…” 

 

”Who’s telling the story, you or I?” Harry was amused. Typical Hermione.

 

”So, we Floo’d straight to Draco’s quarters. Draco wanted to go by himself to tell her he was ok. And then, after whatever works for a hissy-fit for Narcissa had calmed down, he told the rest. One shock at a time, kind of. He thought it would be better if I waited in the bedroom, otherwise it might be difficult to explain why I’m popping out of the hall Floo with Draco after a two-week mission. Draco didn’t want to give her mom two shocks at the same time…”

 

”How very cunning and pragmatic and slytherin-y of him.” Hermione’s voice was kind and playful.

 

”I’d go with Hufflepuff — but don’t tell Draco I said that! He’s really attentive to her, you know… it really wasn’t just for his own sake that he was worried about Narcissa’s reaction… there’s so much pressure on the pureblood families, continuing the line, as it were, and Draco is an only child so… what with his dad in Azkaban, and all the social ostracism after the war, he really was worried that learning that there wouldn’t be any more Malfoys could be too much for her. She looks ok but Draco said the past years have tried her health severely.

 

And speaking of worrying… you all right there, mate?” Harry turned to look at his old friend who was staring at his cappuccino cup as if waiting for the shapes of the froth to reveal answers to all the life’s big questions. The most pressing of which still — after two hours of brunch — was: ”Malfoy???”

 

It’s true that Ron had grown accustomed to Draco during the weeks at Ministry. It’s twice as true that he had grown to respect the man after the grueling three-week miniwar, fighting side by side. And yes, he had guessed that something was going on between the two men, and in the aftermath of the war, mellowed by exhaustion, had kind of given his blessing. But now, four days later, Ron had a relapse and just. could. not. get. it.

 

”Malfoy??? So it’s true and I didn’t hallucinate it? You’re dating, you’re in love, and you’ve been formally introduced to his mom as his boyfriend. And, mind you, being the only pureblood at this table, let me tell you that that isn’t an insignificant matter at all. There’s all sorts of customs attached to that kind of thing. Purebloods don’t simply ’date’… well, at least those who adhere to the old ways. We don’t, so no need to look at me like that, Hermione, you weren’t slighted, our family just doesn’t care about that crap.”

 

Harry laughed. ”Yeah, I wish I’d known that before the grand introduction. I told Draco that because I kind of like him, I’m willing to give him the benefit of doubt and believe it when he said he ’forgot’ I didn’t know all that custom crap already… I highly suspect, though, that he just wanted to get a good snicker out of my baffled stutterings, the git…” Harry smiled fondly. Ron looked at him, shaking his head. All hope was lost, it seems!

 

”So, what did she give you?”

 

”Give him?” Hermione frowned at Ron. ”There are gifts involved with pureblood dating? Why wasn’t I informed of this!” Hermione raised her voice in mock indignation.

 

Harry pulled at a gold chain on his neck, and a small amulet came into view from under his shirt. It was the size of a man’s thumbnail. Hermione and Ron leaned forward to see the engraving. ”On the other side there’s the Malfoy crest. The front side, you see, there’s the letter ’D’.” Harry held the amulet gently and smiled at his friends. ”I know it’s probably not my style, I’m not big on jewelry anyway. But… this is important to Narcissa, and I like it. It’s Draco’s, it was given to him on his first birthday. And now his mom gave it to me. Draco claims he doesn’t think much of the old dating customs but I’ve seen his face when he sees me wearing this.” Harry put the amulet back under his shirt and flashed a smile to his friends. Hermione smiled back. 

 

”I think it’s sweet. Most of the pureblood stuff I hear about is, well, sorry Ron, but it’s obnoxious. I’m glad to hear that there are sweet customs in there as well. So, I gather Draco’s announcement was received well?”

 

”Draco says she didn’t bat an eye. He suspects she knew already, although he has no idea how. It’s a mom-thing, right?” Harry nodded at Ron. ”I imagine Molly knows all the crushes you all have had, probably before you yourselves knew about them… so maybe it’s the same with Narcissa?

 

He came to fetch me after that, blatantly NOT warning me of any dating custom-ritual-whatevers, and he’ll get his just deserts for that one of these days, I swear I heard him snort when her mom recited those dating rhymes to me…”

 

Hermione’s eyes were round as saucers. She glanced at Ron. ”To think I missed this, all because your fricking family doesn’t want to follow pureblood customs which are starting to sound absolutely brilliant! Gifts, and Molly reciting poetry to me…”

 

”And don’t forget the hand-holding and Draco formally accepting the amulet from his mom and reciting some rhymes to me when he put it around my neck.”

 

Hermione positively squeaked with delight; tears were flowing, she was laughing so hard. ”Ron, you have a lot of work ahead of you to make this up to me. To think I missed having you spouting verses at me…”

 

”Yeah, well, it’s not that mom couldn’t pull it off. Hell, I could pull it off. However — and this is what you didn’t have to stomach with the Malfoys — the whole family should, ideally, be present at the dating ceremony… Can you two imagine George and Ginny in the audience? They’d never have kept a straight face. Awkward, I tell you…!”

 

”So what you’re saying is I could’ve had Lucius glaring daggers at me the whole time? Oh my… he’d have had to say all those pretty poems to me… probably would’ve had a stroke… Not gonna say this to Draco but I’m glad his dad is where he is… Narcissa I can deal with, she’s surprisingly ok, but Lucius… yeah. You know.”

 

For a second there was sombre silence. ”We know.”

 

Hermione cleared her throat. ”We’re not going to be grim, not today. Ron, go get us a few of those mimosas, we’re celebrating!”

 

Ron having ambled towards the bar, Hermione looked at Harry. ”You’re happy with Malfoy, right? It’s real? You trust him?”

 

”Yes, yes, and yes. Don’t worry.”

 

”I’m not worrying as such… it’s just been a bit fast.”

 

”It’s not how long it takes, it’s how you use the time. I know a lot of unpleasant stuff happened during the first seven years. But these last few months have been like…like a blender. Rearranging everything. Putting us through a lot together. Making us talk and get to know each other. I imagine that, down the road, some old stuff might still emerge to fuck things up a bit, but…you know Hermione, I’m sure that we can sort it out as well. We have so far.”

 

Harry paused. ”He’s changed. I’ve changed. And we’re still the same, as well. He’s still a snob and a git, and smirks and teases, and sometimes he’s sharp with his words and he can be really insecure and that makes him lash out… it’s still Draco, you know. But he’s also kind and affectionate and fierce and extremely loyal and he’s so funny and clever. I’d trust him with my life, and I’ve done so already, several times. So yeah, it’s real, for my part at least. And since we have this honesty thing going,” Harry smiled to himself; Hermione — the brightest witch of her time — figured it was a private joke, ”I have full confidence it’s real on his part as well.”

 

Hermione took his hand and squeezed it fondly. ”I’m so glad for you. I love you so much, you know Ron does too. I’m so glad that you have a special someone you can shower your love on.”

 

Harry caught himself fidgeting his fingers at that. ”Well… we’ve not talked about the L-word just yet…”

 

Hermione rolled her eyes. ”Alrighty then, ’the L-word’ — you can say ’fuck’ but with ’love’ you fidget. Ok, I get it. You’ll know when your courage to deal with the word matches your emotions and deeds for Draco.”

 

Ron arrived with three mimosas. ”Here’s to us! We’re all dating now. Welcome to the club, Harry!”

 

They all took a large sip of the delicious drinks. Ron turned to Harry. ”So, what’s next? Should we invite you two to dinner next week? Since you two are an item now, I guess we should make an effort to get to know him…” He turned to Hermione. ”Would you be comfortable with inviting him to our place?”

 

”Why not? If Harry can trust him with his life, then I can trust him with our dinner plates.” Hermione smiled valiantly. Harry knew it was one thing to accept Draco as Harry’s boyfriend, and a whole another thing to actually accept him as a constant in their lives, too. Hermione hadn’t worked with him, or fought alongside him, like Ron. Some of her last memories of him were of Draco watching by as his aunt tortured her. 

 

This will be an example of ’some old stuff’ which will try to fuck us up. But if she’s willing to try, I’m not making an issue out of it. She’ll deal with it in her own competent way.

 

”Speaking of invitations, Draco mentioned that Narcissa might try to arrange a Christmas party this year. Their social standing is still dodgy, and I know she worries that no-one would come which of course would make the situation even worse than it already is… such a public humiliation would be hard to counter. I was thinking…”

 

”We’ll do it.”

 

Harry stared at Hermione. ”Come again? How would you know what I was about to say?”

 

”You’d want us to come — provided we’re invited of course, but since the Weasleys are part of the Sacred 28, I’d think under the circumstances it would be prudent of Narcissa to invite some of them. And we’d come, wouldn’t we, Ron?” 

 

Hermione didn’t even pause to confirm this. 

 

”I imagine you’d also like us to use our connections to make sure as many of their old friends or other important people as possible would come. We’ll do our best with Neville, and if he comes, then Hannah would probably come too which would add two more families from the Sacred 28 list… and I’ll speak to Pansy, of course. She’ll come, that’s a given, but I know her parents are… well. Somewhat cautious as to outward appearances, to put it mildly, but maybe Pansy can badger them to come. She can be pretty badger-y when she wants to. And Ron, you get along swimmingly with Blaise nowadays, you talk to him and see if he can get his mom to accept the invitation. She’s tough and doesn’t care much about the opinions of other stuck-up wizarding families so that should be a breeze. And Andromeda, of course, it’s vital to get Narcissa’s sister to come — you talk to her, Harry.” 

Hermione tapped her chin with her forefinger, frowning, thinking.  

”You should maybe have a chat with Kingsley as well, it should be impressive enough if the Minister of Magic attended the Malfoy Christmas party. Now, that would be a lot of those Sacred families taken care of… it would be very good to have a number of Muggleborn witches and wizards as well, to counteract possible accusations that Malfoys are reverting back to their old ways. Although how could anyone claim that with Harry or me there, I can’t imagine but… yeah, we’ll have to think about that… Harry, do you think Narcissa would mind very much if I helped with making the invitation lists…?” 

 

Hermione fell silent; Harry looked at her and it was as if he could see the computer clicking in her head as she went through their social network, calculating like a true Slytherin! Harry glanced at Ron, and saw on his face the same realization. Ron returned Harry’s glance; they both rolled their eyes. Hermione was Hermione, efficient as always.

 

 

****

 

”You’re uncharacteristically quiet. You ok?”

 

Harry sat on the foot of the bed, watching Draco in front of the mirror, tying a silk scarf to an artful knot. Draco moved his eyes slightly, looked back at Harry in the mirror, moved them back to the scarf. With a frustrated grunt he wrenched the scarf off and threw it on the back of one of the armchairs.

 

”Stupid scarf anyway.”

 

”I’m sure it is,” Harry agreed mildly. ”Want to tell me what’s really bugging you?”

 

Draco stood in front of the mirror, looking at Harry in it again. Harry kept his face carefully relaxed — a counterpoint to Draco’s tense bearing. He stood up and took a few steps, ending up right behind Draco. Harry put his arms around him, drawing him flush against him.

 

”I’m going to hug the tension out of you. So if you’ve grown very attached to it, let me know before I start the process, okay? Wouldn’t want to rid you of anything you like,” Harry said softly.

 

A small smile flitted across Draco’s face. ”Prat,” he mumbled fondly. ”Git,” countered Harry, and squeezed him gently.

 

Harry put his chin on Draco’s shoulder — Harry already had his boots on which evened out their height difference. They looked at each other in the mirror. Harry loved Draco’s firm body against his, the feel of his abs under his fingers, moving as Draco shifted to fit himself even better against Harry. 

 

”You’re handsome,” Harry said, tightening his grip, inhaling Draco’s scent, and then went on with a mock-stern voice: ”Now, would you finally tell me what’s wrong so we can deal with whatever it is, and get going?”

 

Draco remained silent for a while still, nibbling his lower lip. ”You’re sure this is a good idea?”

 

”What, NOW you’re having second thoughts? They invited us days ago, and I thought you agreed that we should go?”

 

”In principle, yeah… in practice… How is this going to be ok? Do you honestly think this evening will turn out well?”

 

Harry freed Draco from his arms, grabbed his shoulders and flipped him around, to face him. ”For the love of Merlin, we’ve been over this. Ron will be fine, you’ve worked with him, fought with him, sat down to lunch at the café with him. Hermione…ok, admittedly you haven’t yet spent time with her but please believe me, she’s willing to give this a fair chance. At the risk of sounding terribly conceited, I’m fairly important to her and she loves me and honestly wants the best for me. And you’re it, and she knows that. Yes it may be a bit strained this first time but it’ll get easier.”

 

Harry cupped Draco’s face with his hands, caressed his cheeks with his thumbs. Draco’s eyes fluttered shut, and he breathed in, out, before opening his eyes again. 

 

Harry gave him the best smirk he could muster, raised his eyebrow in his most rakish manner: ”Scared, Malfoy?”

 

The smile flitting on Draco’s face wasn’t small anymore. He chuckled. ”You wish, Potter!”

 

He leaned towards Harry, and for a glorious while they kissed, hands roaming up and down backs and sides and arms and arses and… well. Harry drew away and cleared his throat. ”I hate to say this but… hold that thought, let’s get back to it when the evening’s over, ok? Kissing you tends to lead to stuff which will make us late…”

 

Draco’s smile was smug. ”Yes, I know, I’m fabulous!”

 

Harry looked at him. ”Better now?”

 

”You do know I’m not afraid of them, don’t you?” Draco frowned. ”It’s just that… I know how important these people are to you. And if they don’t like me, or at least tolerate me to a reasonable degree, I do worry that it’ll make you…reconsider…this thing we have. And that would be quite inconvenient for me, and obviously I can’t have that.” Draco’s voice was flippant, but Harry sensed the real worry behind it. 

 

”Be patient, ok. I can promise you they will give an honest effort at getting to know you, you just have to give them the chance to learn to know the Draco I l…like so much.” If Draco noticed Harry fumble around the L-words, he didn’t much express it, the barely noticeable flush on his cheeks the only hint that maybe, just maybe, he did notice.

 

”Oh I will charm them so fast they don’t know what hit them.” Draco turned to take a final look at the mirror, smoothed his hair, turned and took Harry’s arm. ”Shall we, then?”

 

They walked downstairs, entered the Floo, and a few seconds later stumbled out of Hermione and Ron’s fireplace. Well, to be exact, it was Harry who stumbled — Draco, however, was grace itself as usual. They were smack on time, Ron was standing close to the fireplace like he was waiting for them. 

 

They hadn’t decided on a dinner, not the first time. They thought it might go easier if it was simply an hour or two, some cocktail snacks, a few drinks, one or two friends in addition to Harry and Draco, and then they would all leave to Pansy’s pub to meet more of their usual gang. That, explained Hermione, would all work together to take some of the tension off everybody’s shoulders. More people, no formal dinner with hours sitting tied up to the same table and trying to figure out what to talk about… no, not the first time. This should be light and easy and it should be easy to ”escape” for a few minutes to another room or move around to talk with others. Harry had thought it an excellent idea.

 

”Oh, hello boys.” Luna’s dreamy voice preceded her; she came from the kitchen, a tray full of drinks floating beside her. She was followed by Dean and Seamus, both steering trays with various kinds of snacks. Ron nodded welcome to Harry and Draco, and grabbed a glass from Luna’s tray. He glanced at Draco, and offered the glass to him. 

 

”It’s nothing fancy, just gin and tonic, hope it’s ok.” 

 

”Of course it’s fine, why wouldn’t it be?” Draco took the drink, sipped it, and looked around. ”So, how long have you been living here? I like the colours — is it you with the eye for interior decoration or should I pay the compliments to Granger?”

 

Ron looked surprised, then pleased, and opened his mouth to answer, but a cool voice came from behind Draco. 

 

”We’ve known each other for quite a few years already, so please call me Hermione. And no, it’s not me. Actually, it’s Luna. She has an eye for this kind of thing. I’ve been encouraging her to start a business in interior design but she seems to be happy working in the Care of Magical Beasts department.” Hermione smiled at Luna who was watching them with her usual, serene air.

 

The evening wore on, with relaxed chatter interspersed with occasional bouts of awkwardness. Harry had wondered about Hermione, but she proved herself to be the champion Harry knew and loved, acting relentlessly polite, even kind, to Draco, and seeking out opportunities to discuss with him. Hermione wanted to get to know Draco, and what Hermione wanted to happen, she made happen. Harry smiled in his glass. Actually, the only one who kept shooting suspicious glances at Draco was Seamus, and that didn’t much astonish Harry. Ron already knew Draco at least a bit, Dean had gotten used to him at work, Hermione was resolutely predisposed to accept him, and Luna, well, Luna was Luna. Seamus was understandably wary of Draco — for him, Draco represented everything that was wrong with the purebloods; it was his home where Dean had been imprisoned for months. Harry could see it on his face, the bafflement, when Dean burst out laughing at something Draco quipped. 

 

And then Harry and Draco were standing together, just that tiny bit too far within each other’s personal space, talking, and the flames of the fireplace flickered in Draco’s eyes just so, reminding Harry of the first dinner they had; he felt a warm flutter in his heart and couldn’t help himself, he leaned forward, put his hand on Draco’s shoulder and whispered in his ear, ”Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?”

 

I don’t care how sappy that sounds. Harry straighted a bit, still keeping his hand on Draco’s shoulder, his thumb drawing small circles on Draco’s thin silk shirt, feeling the sharp edges of his collarbone. His eyes were on Harry, wide and vulnerable. Draco took his free hand and raised it to his face, giving a small kiss on Harry’s fingertips. Both of them had thoroughly forgotten the people around them — the people who had gone quite quiet. Draco smiled at Harry. ”And do you have any idea how utterly adorable you are?”

 

”No, he probably doesn’t, and we’d love to hear all about it,” said a highly amused voice which belonged to Ron, of all people. ”However, we promised Pansy we’d be there at nine and it’s already five to, so we’d better get going.”

 

Harry dragged his eyes away from Draco’s and looked at the others who were all staring at them, faces expressing various emotions. Seamus’s entertained Harry the most, it was the look of unadulterated shock. Harry knew he must’ve known that something was going on between him and Draco. But looking at Seamus’s shocked face, Harry guessed that it must be one thing to kind-of-know, in the abstract, and a whole other thing to actually see the concrete evidence. Harry suppressed a smirk; poor Seamus. On the other hand, it was Hermione’s face that warmed Harry’s heart. Her smile was genuine and affectionate, and…

 

Draco’s dry voice interrupted Harry’s thoughts. ”Well, since it seems my lecture on Harry’s charm was so rudely nipped in the bud, we’d better take care that we won’t displease Pans by being tardy. That would expose us all to a world of unpleasantness,” Draco shuddered in mock horror. ”Although the lecture would’ve been quite riveting, I assure you. I had such plans…the title would’ve been ’The Delight That Is Potter’.” 

 

”Oh, shut it,” Harry said fondly, and nudged the man who — he realized, feeling rather lightheaded — really was his boyfriend. Now there were all these friends who had witnessed them acting, well, boyfriendish. And in five minutes they’d be in a pub, which, as the name says, is a public place, and this whole thing would rise to another level, and it all suddenly felt so much more real than after the formality of the Manor. Harry expected to feel some sort of twitch-of-nervousness but that never came. A twitch of anticipation, yes, there was that. 

 

Seamus had finally managed to gather his wits. ”I thought Dean was pulling my leg,” he blurted. ”But you two are together, aren’t you?”

 

Draco put his arm around Harry’s waist. ”Yeah, we are.” A small silence followed. Harry kept his eyes firmly on Seamus, channelling quiet, irrefutable certainty. Seamus, being one of his oldest friends, having witnessed Harry having sound instincts for so many years, rose to the occasion. He smiled cheerfully. ”Well then, if you’re happy, Harry, then I’m happy.”

 

Harry hadn’t even registered that Draco’s body, so close to his, had been all tensed up, in spite of his nonchalant voice. Now he felt it slowly relax, the grip on his waist lighten up a bit. The others started chatting, gathering their winter coats and cloaks. Harry leaned to kiss Draco’s cheek, and muttered, ”I’m happy.”

 

****

 

The young men hadn’t agreed on it beforehand; they just both instinctly felt it was a good idea to not drink too much on this first evening. Keep a reasonably clear head just in case the social mix went sideways. However, it didn’t, which resulted in Harry and Draco returning to Grimmauld Place only pleasantly buzzed. Harry took both of their cloaks to the rack in the hall; Draco went straight to the living room to pour himself a drink. Harry found him lounging against the wall, absentmindedly twirling the snifter in his hand, watching the flames in the fireplace. Draco turned his head towards Harry. 

”It went well.” 

There was a question in his voice.

 

”Hmm, I’d say it did. Seamus, Blaise, Millie and Ron with hands on each others’ shoulders, blasting drinking songs with polyphonics which were on the wrong side of harmony — even I noticed that which means the singing was truly unfortunate…. yeah, I’d say the worst is over,” Harry laughed, remembering Hermione’s horrified face when she watched Ron conducting the impromptu choir with a long, mermaid-shaped cocktail stick.

 

Draco’s eyes stayed on him. Harry felt an unexpected shiver of anticipation replace the relaxed merriment. He strolled to Draco, taking in his lean, firm form, covered in silk and denim like a caress. He saw Draco flick his finger — and felt a button on his shirt open with a tiny pop. Another flick, another button. 

 

”Been practising new non-verbal, wandless spells? How very industrious of you. Though I’m not sure how they’d come in handy at work.” The words were playful; Harry’s voice was low, making Draco’s body shudder in response. He flicked a lazy movement, and a third button popped open. Then Harry was there, flush against him, taking Draco’s glass, sending it gliding towards the nearest coffee table, without a word or a wand, of course, Draco would’ve smiled but Harry’s mouth was Right There, and suddenly Draco’s mind had no room for other thoughts than off with his clothes!

 

”I told you to hold that thought…” muttered Harry, hands roaming, fingers raking through the flimsy silk. The light mood of the evening’s festivities had turned into heated tension in a split second, with the relief of everything having gone so well accentuating their hunger for each other. 

 

Draco felt Harry’s cock so hard, so hard, gods this is killing me, and with the shortest Deliberation ever Apparated them to Harry’s bedroom, and Vanished both their clothes with a breathless spell. Harry flipped them on the bed, mumbling something about favourite shirts or some such nonsense for which Draco had no patience whatsoever, so he turned his attention to Harry’s left nipple, biting, sucking, and generally vanishing all shirt-related thoughts quite efficiently from Harry’s mind. 

 

”Draco, god, want to kiss you…” Harry’s voice was tight and needy, and Draco gladly obliged. It was remarkable, he fuzzily thought, how varied shagging can be…he hadn’t understood it before, not really, because reading about it is quite different from actually experiencing it. The need to sometimes be greedy, hungry, hurried, so high on passion it was almost like being out of one’s mind. Sometimes, it was unhurried, languorous, dreamy, gentle; fingers and mouths moving like they’d want to memorize every bump and scar and hollow. Sometimes, it was fighting for dominance, raking the fingernails just this side of pain, pushing, pulling, laughing breathlessly, eyes bright and blazing.

 

Harry’s hands wandered on Draco’s skin, feeling the warm body and the flexing of muscles. Draco wound his fingers in Harry’s hair and pulled his head back, exposing his neck to Draco’s lips and teeth. 

Harry saw stars, ”Draco, fuck…” 

”Yeah…?” Draco loosened his grip and looked at Harry, panting, eyes burning. Harry caressed his cheek, pulled his face closer and put his entire being in the kiss. Slowly, he flipped them over, lying on Draco. He glided his mouth over Draco’s jaw, chest and stomach, kissing and nipping, his fingers skimming Draco’s skin gently. Harry felt his chin bump into Draco’s cock, wet with precome, and he shuddered with sudden bout of lust, gentle finger pads convulsed into roughly raking fingernails. Draco arched his body like a bow, whimpered, ”come on Harry, stop teasing… I swear… gods, oh…!” Harry licked Draco’s cock slowly, thoroughly, from the root to the head, taste buds screaming more!  And for a while Harry surrended, abandoning himself to tasting and licking and sucking, pleasuring Draco and getting quite as much out of it himself, as well. Draco’s thighs trembled from the effort of holding back, not snapping his hips.

 

Harry couldn’t think much, not through the haze of lust seething in his head. A picture, no, a stream of vivid images penetrated through the fog, however. Harry gave one last lick, laid his head on Draco’s hip, wrapped his fingers around Draco’s cock and stroke slowly, up and down… fascinated by the movement, the feel of hard, hot prick in his hand, the sounds of Draco’s shaking breath making his own cock twitch and harden even more. He swallowed. ”Umm… do you mind if I try something out?”

 

Draco fell silent — he put his hand on Harry’s, stopping the tugging. They both knew that there were, indeed, still quite a few things they hadn’t tried out. Harry raised his head, looked at Draco, who was leaning his head on his other hand and watching Harry with unreadable expression. The silence held its breath.

 

Then Draco smiled, a hesitant little smile. He started moving his hand, and Harry’s hand, and jerking himself off, the smile transforming into something else entirely: electrified, greedy… 

”Yeah… ok.”

 

Harry swallowed again, hoping this was the brilliant idea he thought it was. Draco narrowed his eyes. ”Come on, let’s see what you’ve got. It’s not like we have the whole night!” Harry raised his eyebrow. ”Ok, yes, we do. But you shouldn’t keep your man waiting. It’s most unseemly.” The fact that you’re writhing from pleasure the whole time somehow takes out the worst sting of the malfoyish rant, Harry thought giddily, and his face burst into the widest grin. 

 

He pushed Draco’s hand away, took his cock in his mouth again, rubbing the underside of the shaft with his tongue. He put his hands under Draco’s things, pushed his legs up, up, feet flat against the bed. He stopped licking just long enough to mumble ”hand me a pillow, ok?”, then pushed the pillow under Draco’s raised hips. He twirled his tongue over Draco’s bollocks, and Draco shuddered violently, with a sort of a wheezy pant-grunt sound that assured Harry that so far, this was a brilliant idea indeed.

 

Draco tried to hold his legs in place, but the pleasure provided by Harry’s persistent tongue was almost too much. Harry put both hands against his legs and pushed again; Draco heard a tense ”keep them up, ok”, and then Harry’s mouth went lower, kissing and licking the sensitive perineum. 

 

Draco felt Harry grab his buttocks and firmly push them apart, and he felt more naked than ever before. He snapped his head up, looked at Harry between his legs. Harry was staring at Draco’s arse with a hungry look; it was enough to make Draco’s cock twitch violently, and an ample amount of precome dribble on his stomach. 

 

Then Harry’s head vanished from view, Draco felt a warm breath against his…”Oh gods oh fuck YES!” Draco’s head *thumped* against the mattress. How did…why….FUCK…you’d think tongues had no business being there but you’d be sososososo wrong— Draco was on sensory overload. Not only Harry’s avid, agile tongue lapping, lips suckingholy hell, now I understand why it’s called eating arse — but the sounds as well, wet licks, slurps, sucks, moans, yes yes Harry’s moans! gods fuck! And Draco heard a new sound, his own ragged breathing, keeling whine coming from deep down. 

 

And then silence, utter and complete, from the sheer shock of feeling Harry’s tongue pushpushpush inside of him. Fuckfuckfuck!

 

And Harry did. Relentlessly he opened up Draco’s hole with just his tongue at first, tasting and sucking and then pushing  again inside, hardly comprehending that they were doing this, and what the fuck why hadn’t they done this before, they had lost weeks of absolute bliss. 

 

Harry stopped. What the hell what’s with the stopping? Draco’s brains were a very un-Malfoyish mush but he managed to voice a protesting mewl. Harry chuckled, his voice so low and thick it made his own spine tingle. Harry eyed Draco’s blissed-out face from between his legs, and when their eyes met, Harry very slowly and deliberately reached towards Draco’s mouth. 

 

”Suck,” he commanded, putting his middle finger on Draco’s lips, pushed gently, and Draco opened his mouth just enough for the finger to slip into the hot wet slippery heaven that was Draco’s mouth. Harry had to close his eyes, for a moment concentrate on don’t come don’t come, he was rock hard and positively aching but he didn’t want to come just yet, oh no!

 

Harry pulled his spit-slicked finger out and lowered himself anew; Draco’s whimper was tense with anticipation. Harry licked the rim of Draco’s hole, sensing the muscle quiver under his tongue. He put the slicked finger right beside his tongue, feeling the opening, pushing slowly inside, Jesus Christ it’s hot! fuck fuck fuck it’s tight! Harry had to grab his own prick firmly to stave off a much-too-early orgasm. He breathed against Draco’s quivering hole, one hand gripping his own cock, one hand pushing one finger slowly deeper into Draco. He felt the worst threat of an orgasm pass, and concentrated again on eating Draco with vigour. He licked inside of him, pushed his tongue along with his finger. Harry was searching for something he had read about… there. Judging from the sounds Draco was making, he had found Draco’s prostate. Draco’s muscles contracted and spasmed, ”what the fuck was that Harry! do that again, yesyesyes!!”

 

Instead, Harry pulled his finger out, and Summoned a vial of lube from the drawer Draco had reserved for Harry’s stuff a few weeks ago. He uncorked the vial and poured a generous dose of the viscous fluid on his fingers. Draco was panting hard, his arms holding his legs up trembling with exertion and arousal, and the pretty, so pretty, wet, inviting hole was winking and spasming. Harry gave it a firm, slow lick, feeling the hole open up easily when he pushed his tongue in. He sucked on the rim, pushed two fingers in, right there by his tongue — and Draco howled. ”Fuck YES gods gods GODS, fuck it burns…” Harry’s fingers froze, his head snapped up, ”Too much? Is it too much?”

”Fuck no! Gods get your hand moving right.this.instant! It burns but gods it’s a GOOD burn, don’t you dare stop.” Draco was panting so hard his words came out haltingly, but Harry couldn’t mistake the hungry tone of his voice. 

 

He fucked Draco with two fingers, poured some more lube directly into his hole, and added a third finger. He had stopped using his mouth; he was too fascinated with watching his fingers move in and out of Draco’s body. His prick was throbbing near painfully. Can’t believe that’ll soon be my cock in that heat. I won’t last long… 

 

Harry raised himself, sat on his heels, all the while pumping his fingers in and out, in and out. He looked at Draco, his twitching, leaking cock, his flushed face, mouth half open, breathing raggedly. Slowly, he pulled his fingers out. Draco mewled a faint protest. Harry poured some more lube on his hand and started stroking his own prick. His eyes, fascinated, feverish, returned to Draco’s hole, glistening with lube, gaping open and waiting. Harry was overcome with a surge of lust so strong he closed his eyes and gripped tightly the base of his cock, to ward off coming this instant.

 

”Please…” Draco’s voice was a mere whisper. Harry opened his eyes; Draco was staring at him, pupils so dilated there was no grey left. 

 

”Please… I want you.”

 

Such a simple little phrase. No lust-ridden dirty words, no fuck-me-right-this-second. Harry’s heart did a silly little skip, a surge of overwhelming affection mingling with mindblowing lust. He shifted a little, guided his prick with his hand to Draco’s fluttering opening, and pushed gently, determinedly until the head popped by the ring of muscle. He heard Draco draw his breath quickly. Harry had just had his tongue and fingers in Draco’s tight little hole but somehow the tightness and the heat came as a surprise as they slowly started to envelop his slick prick. 

 

”Say if this hurts,” he said, voice almost unrecognizable even to his own ears, so low and thick it was.

 

”Gods no, no, just…go slow okay?”

 

Harry took hold of Draco’s legs and positioned them over his arms. He kept pushing steadily, eyes fixed on Draco’s so that he could detect any signs of uncomfortable pain. When he was finally all the way in, the sensation almost overwhelmed him. He closed his eyes to concentrate, to NOT come in that very instant. He felt Draco shiver, Draco’s cock twitch and harden to an almost impossible degree between their bodies, and realized he wasn’t the only one being overwhelmed here.

He opened his eyes; Draco was still staring at him.

”Yeah?” Harry whispered, voice taut.

”Yeah.”

Harry started moving. 

 

And the rest of it was a flurry of intense sensations, lips crashing together, the pace becoming more feverish. Draco’s sudden ”yes!” informed Harry that yes, he had once again found Draco’s prostate, and he did his very best to maintain the angle, Draco’s ever-louder moans of pleasure hightening his own until he couldn’t hold it any longer. With a split second, Draco beat him to it, and the sounds of Draco’s orgasm and the vice-tight clenches of his channel pushed Harry over the brink of ecstasy. Harry kept pumping his cock in Draco’s convulsing hole all through the orgasm, until he was so oversensitive he couldn’t anymore. Panting hard, he slowly eased his prick out, and lowered himself by Draco’s side.

 

***

 

”That….That was brilliant.” Draco was breathing hard. He covered his eyes with his hands, and visibly strained himself to settle his breath.

”Harry?”

”Yeah?” Harry laid on his back, drowsily staring at the ceiling, mellow with the afterglow.

”How would you feel about the next time being the other way around?”

Harry turned his head at Draco.

”You’d like to fuck me?”

”And eat you out, and open you up, and fuck you with my fingers, and then, yeah, I’d like to fuck you. Please. Pretty please?”

Harry chuckled. 

”How can I say no when you ask so nicely?”

 

Chapter Text

 

Narcissa swept her eyes over the Manor hall. It looked festive and welcoming. She frowned, thinking how Lucius wouldn’t approve. The hall, well, the ballroom also, looked much too happy to be entirely suitable for the Malfoy dignity. 

 

Narcissa found she didn’t much care. The Manor was beautiful and stately; it’s majestic structure and sumptuous materials would have to be enough to satisfy the Malfoy requirements. Colourful drapes, festive decorations, delicious wafts of spicy ciders, Christmas carols from the machine that Granger woman had brought and obviously somehow tricked to function within Manor wards… Lucius so wouldn’t approve. 

 

Narcissa closed her eyes, breathed in, breathed out, concentrated on the sounds and smells, and again found she did not much care what Lucius would or would not approve. Their house now had a smidgen of happiness, of Christmas spirit, and that must be better than the constant formality (Narcissa refrained from letting the word ’pomposity’ enter her mind). 

 

Something had indeed happened to her during the few weeks before the party. She found herself smile more often, laugh more easily. Harry brought sounds to the Manor; he talked with Draco, laughed with him; they practiced dancing in the ballroom and laughed themselves silly, and Narcissa could barely stop herself from smiling as well, noticing how clumsy Harry was — but how could she care about clumsiness when her son looked at him like that? Narcissa remembered that look. It was the same look Lucius had had when they had first fallen in love.

 

Harry had brought the world into the Manor, to Narcissa, when she couldn’t very well go into the world herself. That Granger woman — Hermione, she reminded herself — had stumbled from the Floo some weeks ago, looking slightly frantic upon entering a building which surely held unpleasant memories for her. She had regained her composure within seconds, however, which Narcissa admired greatly. Well. It would be foolish to think that a lesser person could have been instrumental in overturning His Noseless Freakishness… Narcissa raised a pale eyebrow at herself; Draco’s language must be rubbing off on her. 

 

She run her hands on her dress robes. All smooth, all just as it should be. She didn’t need to look at a mirror to know how she looked. Regal, pale, dignified, thoroughly a Malfoy. 

 

She heard Draco and Harry’s voices in the kitchen. Harry would insist on spending time there, and Draco had got into the habit as well. Yet another thing his father would not approve. She heard the sound of running footsteps from the ballroom — Hermione rushed by, mumbling about having forgotten something. Narcissa frowned and advanced firmly to the kitchen where Draco and Harry as well as the Weasley boy were ’sampling’ the hors d’oeuvres. Narcissa dearly wished she was the kind of a woman who rolled her eyes. 

 

”Draco?”

 

”Yes, Mother?”

 

”Have we not modified the wards to allow Apparition within the premises for Ms Granger? I just saw her running upstairs in her dress robes — most inappropriate, not to mention dangerous, she could stumble badly on the stairs with her long robes and high heels.”

 

”Oh. Ok. I’ll take care of it right away. Ron, I guess it’s sensible to add you to the wards as well.”

 

Narcissa turned and left the kitchen; she glanced over her shoulder once, marvelling at the unlikely trio in her kitchen, the young woman upstairs, the sounds, the laughter…

 

…and then the hall Floo pinged, and Pansy stepped in along with Blaise. The Floo kept pinging, more and more of young folk, dressed in their finest attire, came in. Some of them looking around a bit nervous, some of them — such as Pansy and Blaise, bless them — keeping up a steady good-humoured banter. 

 

She started, hearing Harry suddenly behind her. ”We thought it would be wise if our friends came a bit early. Narcissa, I hope you don’t mind me being frank but… for most of these people the Malfoys don’t mean anything good. It’ll take time, you know. They accept Draco, however, and for his sake — well, for his and mine — were willing to help. We just thought it would be better if they had a bit of time to get accustomed to this place before the rest of the guests arrive.”

 

”Your frankness could easily be mistaken for rudeness, Harry.” However, Narcissa’s voice was amused, not angry. ”I am sure you made the right decision. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I will go welcome my guests.”

 

Harry watched her glide towards his and Draco’s friends. It warmed his heart to see that all of them had, indeed, arrived. Neville, so handsome, so happy, holding Hannah’s arm. Dean and Seamus, not quite out yet with their relationship, but keeping a close distance to one another. Luna, Millie, Ginny, Percy and his fiancée, even George and Angelina. Narcissa floated among them, shaking hands, smiling. 

 

Floo pinged again, letting Bill and Fleur in, followed by Molly and Arthur. This had great potential to turn very, very awkward. Harry held his breath and fervently wished for Draco to return already, it can’t take this long to modify a few sodding wards, can it? He saw Molly draw herself up, take Arthur’s arm, and advance towards Narcissa. Molly extended her hand, smiled warmly. ”Thank you for inviting us, Mrs Malfoy. Merry Christmas. What lovely decorations you have, they truly do justice to the beautiful proportions of the hall.”

 

Harry didn’t listen after that, not really. He heard Molly and Arthur engage in an impeccably polite small talk with Narcissa, and had never been prouder of them.

 

”Difficult to believe, isn’t it?” Draco stepped beside him. ”Less than four months ago you and I were barely civil to one another, and Mother was a social outcast. Now look at this.”

 

They watched Narcissa chat with her guests, Hermione and Ron joining Pansy and Blaise, hugging Neville and Hannah. They watched the guests start to relax, to wander along the hall, looking at decorations and paintings and ornamentation, talking and laughing. Someone shouted ”Oi, Hermione, is that a cd-player in there?” and insisted on being told how she made it function this deep in a magical building. 

 

The Floo kept pinging: Susan, Michael, Patil sisters, Lee, Katie (who obviously was now dating Oliver Wood as he was her ’plus one’). Charlie stepped in the hall, and Draco nudged Harry. ”Stop drooling even before you start! Although I’ve got to admit that’s one fine male specimen.” Harry grinned but didn’t have time for a suitable comeback as Andromeda stepped in just then, and Harry hurried to greet her. Andromeda had visited Narcissa a week prior so he wasn’t worried; it had been quite uncanny how easily the sisters had found a common tune. Both of them had had ample time to realize that there weren’t that many Malfoys or Blacks left, and it would be pointless to continue with old, tired enmities.

 

The Floo pinged and pinged. Pansy’s parents, followed by Blaise’s mother with whoever was her latest husband. The Parkinsons were more than stiff but they had come and they were strictly polite. Kingsley and her wife were among the last visitors who Harry actually knew by sight; luckily he had his boyfriend present and willing to help. Draco kept on a quiet running commentary all the while, and Harry had a hard time not laughing at some of the more unflattering remarks.

 

***

 

Not all came. Enough of them did, however. Representatives from more than thirty of the most distinguished wizarding families, noteworthy Ministry officials such as Kingsley of course, but Spencer and Robards were nothing to sneer at, either. Draco looked at his Mother, radiant and regal, an excellent hostess obviously enjoying every minute. Draco searched the partying crowd with his eyes. There’s Harry, chatting with Bill and Charlie. Draco tried a jealous frown on for size, but couldn’t muster the energy; he was sure jealousy would be quite unnecessary, so why bother. He trusted Harry. 

 

”Here, I brought you a new drink, I don’t want to drink alone.” Draco accepted the glass Pansy was offering him. 

”It’s a good party. Your mother will have it much easier after this. Public support from the likes of Shacklebolt and the whole lot of the War Heroes… The Prophet will have a field day reporting this,” Pansy nodded towards a plump blond guy with a camera flashing non-stop and a pretty brunette holding an inconspicuous quick-quotes quill and a small roll of parchment, ”and they’ve got to play nice, otherwise Shacklebolt will frown at them which would make them promptly pee in their pants.” Draco snorted.

 

”I had my doubts when Hermione first brought this up. Honestly, I didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off. Gotta tell you, I’ve grown to like that girl. She pestered me like nobody’s business but here we are, so it paid off.” Pansy snickered. ”Slughorn will be sore as hell he declined. Can you imagine him reading the guest list from tomorrow’s paper? Oh the agony of the poor man… to think he could be here hobnobbing with the high and mighty of the wizarding England…”  

 

”Oh yes, my heart quite aches for him.” They looked at each other, mischievous laughter in their eyes. From across the room Harry looked at them with a questioning eyebrow; Draco and Pansy raised their glasses in a salute and smirked, simultaneously to a quite uncanny degree. Draco saw Harry chortle, could imagine the exact sound his almost-suppressed laughter makes.

 

”Pans, I think I ought to play the hospitable host alongside Mother for a while. Come with me, let’s go get my gorgeous boyfriend and charm the pants off everybody.”

 

”So it’s official?” 

 

Pansy, a product of earnest purebloods, knew to ask. 

 

”Has been for a few weeks now.”

 

”What did you give him?”

 

”My one-year-amulet.”

 

”And he wears it? Potter wears jewellery? Somehow doesn’t fit the image…”

 

”Oh he wears it alright. Always. It’s just under his shirts all the time, so it’s only the Chosen One’s Chosen One who gets to see it.” Draco preened but Pansy wasn’t having any. 

 

”Chosen One’s Chosen OneS you mean, don’t you? You know, every Auror who ever happens to be in the communal showers after work, or any of his friends after Quidditch matches, or anyone on the beach at summer, or…”

 

”Stop raining on my parade, woman!”

 

Pansy giggled. Then her face grew so fond, so devoid of the customary bored-sarcastic mask that Draco was for a second quite thrown off balance. The rare open face reminded him of a very young Pansy, from a time long before Hogwarts and all the nastiness that ensued. Draco took her hand and squeezed. ”You’re a good friend, Pans.”

 

Pansy squeezed back. ”And you’ve become quite the sentimental sap lately. Potter’s corruptive influence, I’m sure. You hang around with all that mushy one-for-all-all-for-one Gryffindorish recklessness at your own peril. 

 

I rather like you like this, though.” Pansy continued, still with the fond, serious face. ”You remind me of—” ”—when we were kids?” Draco interrupted.

 

Pansy quirked her eyebrows. ”Yes, yes that was what I was going to say!” They were slowly walking across the large room, towards Harry who was watching them while he was talking with the two Weasleys.

 

”It’s a good change. You look happy. Which is rather puzzling, actually, seeing as only a few weeks ago you were fighting for your lives. For our lives. I had nasty flashbacks then, back to the Awful Old Days. Wasn’t fun to walk in Diagon Alley and see people crying, their child or husband or wife fallen and nobody really knowing whether this was going to be just as bad as before… And only four, five months ago you had… I don’t know Draco, but you really didn’t have any life in you. Just dead-eyed determination. Now look at you, you live again, you laugh like we used to, long time ago… Did Potter do this to you?”

 

Draco was still holding Pansy’s hand; he squeezed it again. Pansy, the tough, hard-as-nails Pansy, had a fricking tear in her eye. She really is a good friend, Draco thought affectionately. 

 

”Harry didn’t do this to me, Pans. He did this with me.”

 

And then they were by Harry and the Weasleys. Truly a remarkable specimen for a Weasley,  and wow, Draco had a marvellous idea. ”Have you met my dear friend Ms Parkinson? Pansy, this is William Weasley, he’s a cursebreaker at Gringotts, if I’m not mistaken? and married to Fleur — you remember Pans, from fourth year Tournament. And this is Charles Weasley — you were a Quidditch Captain back in your Hogwarts days, am I right? He works with dragons nowadays, rather a dashing métier, don’t you think, Pansy dear? And,” Draco was inspecting his fingernails with great nonchalance, ”quite unattached, I have heard.”

 

Charlie — not a fool by any means — saw through Draco’s not-so-subtle machinations but, as Pansy was a lively-looking lady, with pretty eyes, generous mouth and a pleasing voice, he saw no reason not to try to get acquainted. Besides, he had seen how Draco and Pansy had interacted during their walk, and it had oddly warmed his heart. Maybe the young Parkinson has a kinder heart than her parents?

 

***

 

Sometime during the evening Pansy and Charlie were seen dancing together. 

 

”So you took Kreacher’s correspondence course on the Art of Matchmaking?” Harry teased him. 

 

”I’m sure I don’t know what you’re trying to imply,” Draco sniffed haughtily — and then winked. ”Anyway, it’s just good fun. As far as I know, there’s nothing wrong with the dragon-Weasley, and Pans is great, so if something comes out of it, it might actually be something good. And if not, well, they get to be gorgeous together for one evening.” Draco nodded towards the Prophet’s photographer who was shooting photos like crazy, obviously drawn to the handsome couple.

 

As the clock stroke two in the morning, the last of the guests left. Draco and Harry stepped outside of the main doors to breathe some night air. It was only a week to Christmas, the air was crisp, cold and refreshing.

 

Harry yawned. 

 

”You’re tired.” That wasn’t even a question.

 

”Probably. Also, it’s the after effect of everything… it’s over now and it’s silent and lovely… the weeks of planning and then hours of noise and mingling and staying alert just in case someone decided that after the fifth glass of Fire-nog was a perfectly good time to tell your mom exactly what they thought about the Malfoy family. Or worse.” Harry noticed Draco’s surprised glance. ”You don’t need to look at me like that. It’s just… I’ve seen enough not to believe in stuff just because it looks smooth on the surface. I didn’t become an Auror just because it was expected of me.”

 

”I know you didn’t. Well, I mean I know now that you didn’t.” Draco watched his breath cloud in the cold air: the small bursts of mist. ”To protect and to serve.”

 

”…Come again?”

 

Draco smiled faintly. ”I told you I’ve watched a lot of movies… That’s the motto of some Muggle Police Department, I can’t be bothered to remember which one. Somewhere in the States, probably. Anyway, it suits you too. Me, I like to solve riddles; ergo, a cursebreaker. You… with you it’s more about people. Helping them. Protecting them.” Draco fell silent again, thinking, frowning, as if the concept was hard to verbalize. ”It’s like there’s a lot of love in you and you just, just need to spread it around. Protecting people is hell of a lot like loving them, isn’t it?”

 

Draco turned his head to look at Harry who was staring at him with raised eyebrows. 

 

So I used the dreaded L-word, so what? It’s not like we can’t use the full richness of the English vocabulary while discussing philosophical and psychological matters!  

 

His thoughts sounded defensive even to his own brain. Draco felt a sudden and compelling need to fidget which he decisively stamped down. It wouldn’t do. Whatever the Malfoys were, are, and will be, they will most definitely not be fidgeters.

 

Harry’s face relaxed into a soft, small smile. His eyes were blazing green and held an amused, knowing look. As if Harry had just realized something and didn’t quite know what to do with the knowledge.

 

Harry put his arm around Draco’s waist and started walking back inside.

 

”Well then. Draco ’The Riddlesolver’ Malfoy, solve this puzzle: what ever can Harry Potter refer to by saying he wants to protect one Draco Malfoy more than anyone.”

 

Draco kept walking. He felt Harry’s arm tighten just a bit. His stupid, sappy, sentimental heart fluttered like crazy and all residue of outside coldness was forgotten. He was warm all over, and didn’t dare to look at Harry, for fear that he couldn’t contain the turmoil of his emotions if he met Harry’s bright eyes.

 

They walked up to Draco’s bedroom in a tingly silence. At some point Draco had put his arm around Harry, and could’ve sworn he heard an actual fucking purr rumble from Harry’s mouth. 

 

It seems I’m being loved by a goddamned tiger.  

 

Could be worse.

 

Draco’s heart gave another giddy, happy flutter.

 

Chapter Text

 

They were resting on Draco’s bed, semi-nude, both still wearing their trousers, too drained from the festivities and solving riddles about Harry Potter. 

 

”Oh bollocks!”

 

”What? What’s wrong?”

 

”I need to go back for a second. I can’t believe I forgot to say good night to Mother. Especially after a day like this. Sorry Harry, I need to go check up on her, make sure everything is all right. I’ll be back in a minute.”

 

Draco pulled on his dressing gown, and Disapparated.

 

He *popped* back after five minutes. Harry turned towards him, goodhumouredly saying ”well that was more than a minute” but then he saw Draco’s face. He stared into nothingness, obviously holding back tears.

 

Alarmed, Harry jumped up from the bed. ”What is it?”

 

Draco swallowed, pulled himself together. ”Nothing bad. The exact opposite, in fact. I just couldn’t leave. I had to stay and listen — I haven’t heard her do that since I was a child. Harry, she was in the ballroom, just walking about, would you believe she was picking up glasses and plates herself — Bitty was really upset! — and she was humming. Some Muggle Christmas tune, I guess she had heard it from Hermione’s cd’s. Harry, she was humming. Humming!” 

 

 

 

******The End******