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In Which Harry is Magnetic North and Draco Is An Idiot

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In Which Harry is Magnetic North and Draco Is An Idiot

The thing about Harry Potter, Draco thought as he looked up from his work to find Potter walking his way, was that the man had presence. He was scruffy and completely lacking in style, to be sure, but he undeniably had presence.

Here it was, almost four o’clock at the end of a busy work week, and everyone was looking haggard and run down from the grind of it all. Yet Potter was striding across the room, broad-shouldered and purposeful in his Auror robes. He had energy in his step and those green eyes of his were glowing with conviction and passion for the job. During the six months they’d been working together, Draco had seen Potter tired, angry, and even discouraged, but he’d never seen Potter fade. Whatever his mood, Potter always seemed to burn bright, something that definitely did not go unnoticed by the witches and wizards on Draco’s staff judging by their sudden attentiveness whenever Potter entered the room.

It was annoying, really. Potter had been visiting the Department of Potions Investigation and Regulation at least once a week since the DMLE had asked Draco to consult on a case, and he had Draco’s team utterly besotted. It had been a problem right from the start. That first visit, he had come into the department with that aura of power he pretended not to be aware of and been so earnest as he’d thanked Draco and his team for agreeing to help with the case, and Draco’s staff hadn’t been the same since. The hero thing wasn’t the only part that had them going, though; Potter, being Potter, had taken the time to get to know each member of Draco’s staff and had made sure he treated them as people and not just useful tools or sources of information. He’d asked after their parents, their kids, their bloody pets. He knew their hobbies, their favourite Quidditch teams, and their upcoming events. Hell, he’d even known about Susan Trotsworthy’s engagement before she’d announced it to the team.

He had Draco’s staff completely discombobulated, and those first few weeks it had taken all Draco’s resolve not to hex the man each time he appeared in the DPIR’s doorway. But manage he had, and now he was rather glad. Potter was still a disruption, but the case was interesting enough to make up for it. Heading up the DPIR meant Draco had worked on some fascinating potions issues, but even still, he was hard-pressed to remember the last time a potion had challenged him so much. And Potter, for all of his disruptive influence and annoying gallantry, had turned out to be a reasonable colleague. These days Draco hardly thought about hexing him at all.

The way his staff fell apart whenever Potter stepped on the floor was definitely a pain in the arse, though. Draco had quickly learned that getting any work out of them was impossible while Potter was around. His visits always seemed to get everyone whipped up into a hormonal frenzy, all thoughts of their jobs forgotten. More than one potion had boiled away to nothing while the brewer made moon-eyes at the wizarding world’s favourite hero.

Case in point, both Meghan Merriford and Simon Dillings were leaving their cauldrons to join the small crowd trailing in Potter’s wake. As far as Draco could tell, neither one of them had put a stasis spell on their brewing potions; they’d just up and left them. Typical.

Draco watched surreptitiously from under his lashes -- his staff may openly ogle Potter, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to be caught staring at the Boy Who Lived -- as Merriford put her hand on Potter’s arm. She laughed and leaned forwards in a way that showed her cleavage to its best advantage. Draco smirked to himself. Merriford had to be the only witch left in all of England who didn’t know which way Potter swung.

Sure enough, Potter gave Merriford an apologetic smile, gently detached her hand from his arm, and continued walking in Draco’s direction. Merriford looked crushed, and Draco had to suppress a snort. Absolute foolishness, all of it, but maybe her disappointment would help her remember she had a job to do.

Draco was so caught up in watching Merriford’s frustrated attempts to bedazzle Potter with her assets, he only barely remembered to look indifferent when Potter actually arrived in front of him. As Potter’s sure strides came to a halt, Draco shuffled some papers importantly before writing a few notations in a bold hand. Unlike his star-struck employees, Draco carefully put a stasis spell on his cauldron, and only then did he let himself look up and acknowledge Potter’s presence.

He found Potter’s gaze already on him, expectant. The corner of his mouth was quirked ever so slightly. “Hey, Malfoy.”

Draco looked at those curving lips and frowned; he had the distinct feeling he was being laughed at. “Hello, Potter,” he said, a chill plain in his tone.

The quirk disappeared, replaced by a small, uncertain smile. Seeing it, Draco felt like an arse. He and Potter had been getting on well the past few months, and now here he was, practically sneering at the man for catching him out at playing aloof. And he’d thought Merriford was being foolish…

Giving himself a mental shake, Draco offered Potter a conciliatory smile and gestured towards the phial in Potter’s hand. “You have a sample for me?”

Potter passed the glass tube over with a sigh. “I take it you heard, then?”

Draco took the phial over to a small, locked cabinet. “A near miss, was how the story came to me,” he said over his shoulder as he spelled the cabinet open and placed the tube inside.

Potter’s Auror team had been working on busting a suspected human trafficking ring for the last year. They had identified a group of wizards they believed were luring and kidnapping witches and wizards with low magical abilities and selling them overseas. Apparently the lower levels of magic made them easy to manage but still allowed them to respond to spells and potions that were only effective on witches and wizards. Rather than requiring the constant maintenance of Imperius curses, the group had developed several potions that mimicked the effect, keeping the trafficked individuals responsive but docile. Draco and his team had been brought in to help determine the composition and properties of some of the potions that had been recovered with the hope finding information that could help Potter’s team locate the perpetrators or the victims.

Last month, they’d had a major breakthrough when Draco had isolated a very rare, very potent ingredient -- pollen from a flowering mesmyridan bush -- that had to be spell-activated just before ingestion. When activated, it emitted a strong but brief magical pulse. In theory, when a potion made with this pollen was activated for consumption, Potter’s team should be able to detect its magical trace and follow it to the source. So far, though, they’d yet to locate it in time. The working assumption was that the traffickers had their victims ingest the potion in one place before quickly relocating in order to circumvent the vulnerability created by the mesmyridan pollen. Draco knew Potter and his team were engaged in round-the-clock surveillance, just waiting for the time when the traffickers didn’t clear out fast enough.

Draco turned back around from his cupboard in time to see Potter’s discouraged shrug. “It’s frustrating. More than frustrating. We’re getting better at tracking the potion -- I swear we just missed them by minutes this time. Might as well have been hours, though, for all the good we did anyone.”

“You’ll get them. You’ve got everything you need. Now it’s just about timing, letting it all…come…together…” Draco faltered on the last few words as he was struck by the realisation that he was offering Potter encouragement. Surely that couldn’t be right. Not hexing the man was one thing, but supporting him? And yet, the words had issued from his mouth. They practically still hung in the air.

Thankfully, Potter seemed oblivious to the milestone Draco had inadvertently hurtled them past. “I know, but when I think of them out there, selling people like they’re nothing, using them like they’re-- ” Potter broke off, visibly reining himself in. He scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed. “Sorry. I get a bit worked up when I think about it.”

“Well, hopefully it won’t drag out too much longer. As you say, you’re getting closer. Maybe I’ll come back on Monday to hear you have them sitting in detention at the DMLE,” Draco said in his best “wrapping up” tone; he was discomfited by his unexpected burst of Potter-compassion and was eager to get some distance.

Potter seemed to have other ideas, though, as he hitched one leg to perch on the edge of Draco’s potions table. “That’s up to Escher and Blake for the next couple of days,” Potter said, and Draco could see his energy shift as he moved his mind away from the case. “I’m off this weekend.”

Draco took in Potter’s body language, the laid-back posture in that said Potter was feeling pretty comfortable and wasn’t going anywhere soon.

Draco’s heart sped up.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Potter continued blithely, still oblivious to Draco’s unease. “First one I’ve had off in more than three months.”

This had been happening to him more and more lately, and he didn’t understand why. Potter would come by to talk about the case, the same as they had been doing for months. They’d discuss business and then make a little small talk, a routine they’d also been keeping for months. But the last few times Potter has made his way to the labs, Draco had found the experience distinctly agitating. He’d felt sweaty and edgy, and more often than not his heart had started racing. In truth, it reminded him of their Hogwarts days, when just looking at Potter would get him so wound up, it was all he could do not to punch him in the face. Except these days, the wound up feeling wasn’t accompanied by the face-punching urge. These days Draco was just, well, wound up for no apparent reason. He didn’t know what was going on with him, but it was bizarre and more than a little aggravating.

He did find, however, that the feeling passed relatively quickly once Potter left. So he just needed to move Potter along so he could wrap up the day’s work, go home, have a shot of Firewhisky, and untie the knots in his stomach.

Instead of shutting the conversation down, however, Draco found himself saying, “Big plans?”

“Just sleep.”

The preposterousness of the answer cut through Draco’s preoccupation with his own burgeoning panic or whatever it that was. He looked up at Potter and gave a derisive snort of laughter.

“What?” Potter asked.

“Your first weekend off in three months and your plans are to sleep?” Draco shook his head, putting on an expression of disappointment. “If your groupies knew how sad and pathetic you really are...”

Potter grinned at him. Draco’s poor heart, which had just started to calm down, actually stopped for a beat and then staggered ahead at an alarming pace.

Merlin, what was wrong with him? He took a surreptitious breath and let it out slowly. He needed to calm down. All this tension he felt around Potter was just because the case had him so uptight. And he’d been caught off guard by that rather startling fit of compassion he’d had towards the man. That’s why he felt so flustered. Because this was not a big deal. This was just Potter. Potter in his Auror robes looking very professional and impressive, perhaps, but still just Potter. And Potter did not freak him out. So that was that. No reason to get all worked up. He took another breath…

… and realised Potter was saying something to him.

“Hm?”

Potter’s grin widened. Great, now the git was laughing at him.

“I said, ‘What about you?’ ” Potter said. “Any plans this weekend?”

“I have the inestimable good fortune to be attending my parents’ annual Yuletide celebration,” Draco said, pleased to hear his voice sounding smooth, tinged with sarcasm rather than nerves.

“Ah, and who have you suckered into going, er, invited to attend, rather, this illustrious event with you?”

“I’ve done my usual and roped Pansy into it.”

Potter’s eyebrows raised. “You and Parkinson?” He made a gesture that somehow asked whether Draco and Pansy were in a relationship.

“No, god, no. I mean, I love her, but no. That’s not in the cards for us. However, I learned many, many years ago that attending my parents’ Yule party without a date meant I would spend the entire night being shepherded from eligible witch to eligible witch as my mother and her friends attempted to play matchmaker.” This was a familiar topic, comfortable ground, and Draco found himself settling as he talked, his heart dropping back into its proper rhythm. “Alas, bringing an actual date to the thing is pretty much the kiss of death to any relationship. A whole evening of being passive-aggressively grilled by my mother and not-so-covertly tested by my father? So Pansy accompanies me, and I return the favour for her when she needs a convenient escort.”

Potter laughed. “You can take the man out of Slytherin, but you can’t take the Slytherin out of the man, huh?”

Draco affected a sniff. “The strategy has been effective, thank you very much. Well, except for last year when she was inconveniently married.”

“Oh? So how did you manage that, then?”

“I brought Adrian Pucey,” Draco said, shooting Potter a grin of his own.

“Pucey?” Potter laughed again and Draco had the passing thought that Potter seemed to be laughing more lately. Or maybe he was just seeing more of it. “That must have gone over well.”

Pucey had been recruited by the Wimbourne Wasps out of Hogwarts and had been playing professional Quidditch ever since. He was a high-profile player, garnering notoriety both for his aggressive style on the pitch and for his sexual escapades off it. News of his latest misbehaviours frequently graced the front page of the Daily Prophet. When had Draco had shown up with Pucey on his arm, his parents had looked decidedly green.

“I think it was the first time my mother was actually disappointed I hadn’t brought Pansy with me. Poor Pans. She’s always rather enjoyed messing with my mother. Mother’s never really approved of Pansy. Her return as my date will seem so anticlimactic after last year. Instead of getting my mother worked up into a small fit for thwarting her plans to engage me off to some inbred heiress, Pansy will probably be welcomed with open arms. Disappointing for me, too. I do rather enjoy disrupting my parents’ social machinations.”

“Maybe you need to bring someone else, then,” Potter said, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Someone even more shocking than Pucey.”

“Hmm. I’d have to give that some thought. Pucey’s ill repute set the bar pretty high. Finding someone to top that would be difficult. Especially finding someone who would be willing to come...”

Though their situation had improved since the years immediately following the war, outside of their elite pureblood circle, many people still had a great deal of resentment where the Malfoys were concerned. Draco had worked hard to overcome these prejudices in his workplace with significant success, but in the broader social world, his last name and the faded Dark Mark on his forearm still presented considerable barriers. The type of person that would be believable as a date (after all, if Draco’s choice was too preposterous, his parents would just brush the person off and match-make away regardless) and objectionable to his parents tended to be the type of person who wouldn’t associate with Draco in real life. Pucey’s combination of wanton sluttiness, familiarity with the pureblood world and its customs, and friendly feelings towards Draco would be hard to replicate.

He pulled away from these musings to find Potter watching him, a bemused expression on his face. “Malfoy, I’ve enjoyed working with you the past few months. And I’ll be the first to admit, a lot of the ideas I used to have about you were heavily coloured by Hogwarts prejudices. Well, and by what an arse you were when we were kids.”

Draco arched a brow at him. “Are you going somewhere with this?”

“Just setting the context; I think you’re a decent bloke and hope you won’t take offense to what I’m about to say.”

“Which is?”

“Surely you realise there are plenty of people your parents would find objectionable who would attend that party with you just for the chance of taking the piss out of your father? Hell, I could probably have George Weasley here within a minute if you wanted.”

Draco paused, considering. Potter raised a very interesting point. There was, however, one small problem with the scenario. “Somehow I don’t think my parents would believe I’d suddenly taken up with a Weasley.”

“Why not? It can be the whole ‘opposites attract’ thing. You know, schoolboy animosity turns out to be sublimated attraction. Textbook stuff.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t do anything about the whole ginger issue.” No, George Weasley wasn’t a possibility, but a whole host of other options began cataloguing in Draco’s mind.

Potter was apparently thinking along similar lines. “Fine, not George. Come on. There were lots of people you and your family pissed off back in the day. The whole sublimated desire angle will work with any of them. All you have to do is pick one.”

Draco sighed. Much as he hated to admit it, gingerness wasn’t the only stumbling block to this plan. “Picking someone won’t be the problem. The problem will be getting them to talk to me long enough to make the pitch.”

Potter waved a dismissive hand at him. “That part’s not hard. Just Floo them up and say, ‘Hello, I know we haven’t spoken in ten years and we hated each other’s guts back at Hogwarts, but would you like to come a party with me to help me piss off my father?’ “

“Eloquent as ever, Potter,” Draco said with a smirk. But he had to admit, the idea was growing on him. Yes, it was childish, but his mother had steadfastly ignored his direct and repeated requests that she stay out of his love life. If anything, she seemed to be pushing him harder. Perhaps he needed to up his game, too. “Do you think that would really work?”

“Sure. Why not?” Potter gave an easy shrug. “It would work on me, anyway.”

Draco blinked as his heart kicked him in the ribs. “It would?”

“Trust me. One mention of pissing off your father, and I’d see right past all those years of you behaving like a tit.”

“I see.” Draco leant against his desk, striving for casual and hoping to hell he didn’t look as flushed as he felt. “Well then, Potter. I know we haven’t spoken much in the last ten years and we hated each other’s guts back at Hogwarts, but would you like to come to a party with me tonight to help me piss off my father?”

Potter laughed. “Sure, Malfoy.”

“Really?” Draco couldn’t help asking. The idea that Potter would agree to this set Draco’s guts squirming, though whether in excitement or apprehension, he couldn’t say. This evening was either going to be completely brilliant or a total disaster.

“Yes,” Potter said, with a nod for emphasis. “It would be my pleasure. When do you want me there?”

“Half-seven should suffice.” He paused, a thought coming to him. He looked over at Potter, trying to find a way to delicately say what he needed to say. “It is a formal event. If you need help finding something appropriate to wear, I could lend you something. We’re about the same size and our house-elves could do any needed alterations in a snap. Literally in a snap.”

“You mean I can’t just wear my denims? They don’t have any rips or stains in them.”

“Potter….” Draco protested, feeling strained.

But Potter only waved him off again. “Relax, Malfoy. I have been to a few of these things over the years. I’ll clean myself up appropriately.”

“If you’re certain.”

“I am. Besides, if I don’t get it right, it will just make me that much more appalling to your parents, right?” He gave Draco a cheeky grin that had Draco’s breath catching in chest.

Yes, the night was either going to be completely brilliant or a total disaster.

~*~

A few hours later, Draco had gone from thinking that maybe inviting Potter hadn’t been a good idea to being certain he’d made a very bad mistake. When Potter had proposed it, it had seemed like a grand idea -- a bit of diversion during what was typically an onerous evening and a way to get one over on his parents. In fact, despite his squirming innards, he’d been feeling quite enthusiastic about the plan as he’d left the Ministry. But when he’d Flooed over to Pansy’s to tell her she needed to round up a new date for herself, her reaction had been less positive.

There’d been a long pause and then, “Do you really think it’s wise to bring Potter?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” he’d asked.

“Well, you and Potter, there’s a lot of history.”

Draco’d scoffed. “Ancient history. We’ve been getting along fine while we’ve worked this case.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“What then?

“You’ve never been exactly… reasonable… where Potter’s concerned.”

“What does that mean?” he’d asked, bristling.

Pansy had sighed. “Never mind, Draco. Just, I don’t know, keep your wits about you tonight.”

And then she’d shooed him out so she could find Blaise and tell him he needed to escort her to the party.

At the time, he’d thought she was being ridiculous, and he still didn’t know exactly what she meant about him not being “reasonable” where Potter was concerned, but as the party approached, he began to wonder whether she hadn’t been right.

Sure, he and Potter had been getting along recently. When Draco had first been brought in to consult on the case, they had been stiff and awkward with each other. But they’d soon realised that they were both willing to leave the past in the past and that, actually, in the present, they worked quite well together. Their relationship at work had become easy, collegial, even. But maybe he’d been getting ahead of himself in thinking that could translate into Potter attending the Yule party with him. After all, he was Harry Potter, Gryffindor, Golden Boy, and Saviour to the Wizarding World. And Draco was a Malfoy, Slytherin, Death Eater, and elitist Pureblood. Well, formerly elitist. Sort of. Some days. And the last time Potter had been to the Manor… It didn’t exactly inspire confidence about how the evening would unfold.

Time had ticked on and Draco had got more and more worked up about it. By seven o’clock he had himself half-convinced Potter wasn’t even going to show. That it had all been some kind of joke, saying he’d come and then no-showing, forcing Draco to go solo and endure the whispered speculation of his parents’ guests about why he couldn’t procure a date. Or maybe Potter would show but be so outrageous that it would take the joke too far. Draco liked the idea of getting under his parents’ skin, but he didn’t want to humiliate them. Or himself, for that matter. He had sudden visions of Potter in ragged old jeans and a “Free the House-Elves!” t-shirt striding around the Manor ballroom demanding to know people’s actions and affiliations during the war.

At that point he’d done a little deep breathing and downed a generous shot of Firewhisky. Still, as the time of Potter’s arrival drew near, he had a hard time convincing himself to remain calm, and he started thinking maybe it would be better if Potter didn’t show.

But as the clock chimed half-seven, the Floo flared to life and Potter strode out, brushing ash off his shoulders. Draco flushed - probably just the Firewhisky hitting his system - and did his best to ignore the swarm of hyperactive butterflies that had abruptly taken residence in his stomach.

Potter let a house-elf take his coat with a simple “thank you” and then took a moment to straighten his robes and run a hand through his hair. Draco took the same moment to look him over.

Potter looked… good. Really good.

He was wearing a closely tailored open-front robe in a charcoal grey with subtle embroidery work on the hem. Underneath it, he had dress trousers and a waistcoat both in a grey just a shade darker than his robes. He paired these with a cranberry coloured shirt and tie, perfect for the festive theme of the night. He’d done something with his hair, too. Still wild and unruly, it now had a sexy ‘just been shagging’ look rather than a ‘woodland creatures live here’ look. The overall effect was compelling, and Draco found himself at a loss for words.

This situation wasn’t helped when Potter caught sight of him, smiled broadly, and Draco felt his heart turn over in his chest.

He was just relieved, he told himself. The warmth and the fluttery feeling were just intense relief that his worst fears hadn’t been realised. That’s all it was, relief.

Right, said a small voice in the back of his head. Just like that feeling before at work was anxiety or excitement about the case…

Draco ruthlessly shoved that thought aside and brought his focus back to Potter only to notice that maddening quirk curving Potter’s lips again. For a brief, terrifying second, Draco feared that his internal dialogue had somehow been broadcast to Potter, like he’d been using Legilimens on Draco without Draco even noticing.

But then Potter spoke, putting that fear to rest. “You don’t have to look so shocked, Malfoy. I told you, I have been to a few of these events before.”

Shock! Of course that’s what it was, this sudden tightness in his chest, warmth in his face, and tingling in his, well, everywhere. It was shock that Potter could pull together a reasonable appearance. And relief, too, of course. From before. Shock and relief.

The clarity calmed him and he was able to roll his eyes at Potter and quip, “Yes, well, forgive me for doubting you, but your track record would make anyone wary.”

“Is that your way of saying you approve?” Potter asked.

Draco sniffed. “You’ll do.”

“Cheers, Malfoy,” Potter said, and he smiled again.

Shock and relief, Draco told himself firmly. Shock and relief.

~*~

Draco guided Potter down the hallway that led from the guest Floo to the party. He glanced over at Potter as they walked. “Ready for this?”

Again, the curving lips. “Are you?”

Arriving at the doorway, Draco placed a hand on the small of Potter’s back and ushered him through. He determinedly did not notice the strong planes of Potter’s back or the heat of his body radiating through his robes. “Here we go, then.”

The Manor’s vast ballroom had been transformed for the party. While dinner would be served in a separate dining room, the south end of the ballroom had been supplied with a few tables and lots of seating. Comfortable chairs and sofas upholstered in rich brocades and plush velvets were artfully clustered in ways that promoted conversation and intimacy, despite the immense size of the space. The north end had been left clear for dancing. A string quartet was currently playing, but Draco knew they’d be joined by a full complement of musicians later in the evening. Magicked chandeliers hung from the ceiling, their crystals refracting warm light throughout the room. Juniper and holly garlands decorated the walls, and at least a dozen Christmas trees lined the room, each trimmed with fat red ribbons, twinkling ornaments, and live fairies. An artful charm had snow appearing to fall from the ceiling, though it disappeared a foot or two above the heads of the guests. Everything about the room was beautiful, warm, and magical. Despite Draco’s distaste for the event, he couldn’t deny his mother knew how to set a room.

At first, their entrance seemed to go unnoticed but after only a short moment, heads began to turn. Carefully schooled expressions gave way to shock, surprise, and even alarm in a few cases. From their position at the top of the room they could practically see the ripple effect as word spread and more and more people looked their way. Watching, Draco saw the exact moment word reached his parents. A comment from a companion and his father’s shoulders snapped tight, eyes finding Draco and then landing on Potter beside him. His lips pressed in a grim line. Draco could see the colour climbing up his father’s neck from across the room. When he glanced over at his mother, however, Draco was brought up short by the soft smile on her face. Unlike the false pleasantness Draco’s father was trying to force into his expression, his mother’s smile seemed genuine, an unexpected warmth in her eyes.

He froze for a moment, perplexed by the reaction.

Potter leaned towards Draco and whispered, “Everything all right, Malfoy?”

Draco suppressed the shiver that wanted to come at the feeling of Potter’s breath against his ear. “Everything’s perfect. My plan is working already.”

That brought a low chuckle from Potter as he straightened. “Well, then, Machiavelli, lead on.”

Draco looked over at him in confusion. “Who?”

“You don’t know who Machiavelli is?”

“Should I?”

“I certainly would have thought so at one time.”

Potter’s eyes had that mischievous glint again. It was not at all appealing, so Draco turned away to survey the crowd as he asked, “But now you don’t?”

“Not in the same way.”

“But you’ll still bring him up,” Draco pointed out.

“Seems so.”

He glanced again at Potter and found that damn grin again. Draco shook his head. “You’re very strange, Potter.”

Potter gave an easy shrug. “I’ve been told this before.”

Moving through the room with Potter gave Draco a thrill, even if it was decidedly adolescent of him. For a group that prided themselves on maintaining an unruffled exterior no matter what scandalous events unfolded around them, the other party-goers were delightfully overt in their responses. Though many of the guests nodded or said hello as Draco and Potter passed, others seemed to have forgotten all the social niceties that kept pureblood society moving like well-charmed clockwork. Some openly stared, following Potter’s progression with wide eyes and gaping mouths. Others were so determined not to seem affected, they appeared stiff and unnatural in their efforts to keep their faces averted. One or two actually shied away, as though they expected Potter to whip out his wand and start interrogating people right there in the middle of the ballroom.

For his part, Potter seemed completely at ease, as though walking through the crowded ballrooms were something he did every day. Draco supposed that Potter had plenty of practice managing the masses, what with the legion of fans that seemed to follow wherever he went. Even here, where presumably Potter would find few allies, the Potter groupies were starting to gather. Glancing around, Draco could spot them, detaching from their escorts to drift nearer, like pathetic moths to Potter’s bright flame.

Potter seemed unaware of them. In fact, his attention seemed focused on Draco. Every time Draco glanced over, Potter’s eyes were on him. It was disconcerting, and Draco found the tightness and tingling returning.

There was a sure solution to that, however. Draco waved down one of the servers who was circulating with champagne. A young witch promptly came over and plucked a glass from her tray. She handed it to Draco.

“H--here you are, Mr Malfoy,” she said, stammering slightly. Draco noticed her face had gone red and blotchy. Then she turned and offered one to Potter. “For you, M--Mr Potter?”

“Thank you,” Potter said, accepting the fluted glass.

The girl mumbled a quick reply, cast a furtive look at Potter, and then disappeared back into the crowd.

Draco watched her go, feeling wryly amused. “Merlin, Potter. I thought she was going to faint.”

“She’s just a kid doing her job,” Potter replied easily.

“Hm. Yes, well, no one’s nearly fallen over themselves offering me a drink before.”

“I find that very hard to believe.” At Draco’s puzzled look, Potter waved off his own words. “Never mind. Besides, I thought the whole reason you brought me here was to make people uncomfortable.”

“My parents, not the staff. You’re no good to me if you interfere with the people who bring me alcohol. Alcohol is the only thing that gets me through this night.”

“Perhaps we should have her bring you the bottle.”

“Believe me, if I thought I could get away with it, I would.”

At this, Potter paused and fixed Draco with a contemplative look. Draco resisted the urge to squirm under it. After a moment of this scrutiny, Potter said, “I’m not sure I understand the rules to this game.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you only bring dates that will disappoint or agitate your parents, but you wanted to make sure I would dress appropriately so I would fit in. You seemed to enjoy shocking people with my presence, but you don’t want to shock them by appearing to drink too much.”

Draco took a sip of champagne, considering his response. “I suppose it looks somewhat arbitrary, but there is method in the madness. It’s not so much about agitating my parents as much as it is escaping their social manoeuvring. I have tried talking to them but they -- well, my mother in particular -- have a hard time letting go of their ideas about what my future should look like. Over the years, I’ve become good at evading her attempts to set me up with her preapproved potential spouses, but this is an event that I always come to. It’s been a family tradition for more than three hundred years, and I wouldn’t miss it. Accordingly, it’s also become one of her favourite settings to push women at me. I don’t want to humiliate my parents, I just want to escape the matchmaking. Hence my arrangement with Pansy. My mother may be capable of masterful scheming behind the scenes, but she would never be so gauche as to make issue of it in front of my companion for the evening.”

“But your mother must have clued into the fact that you and Parkinson weren’t ever going to get together,” Potter reasoned.

“You’d be surprised. For a good stretch there, Pansy and I did a convincing on-again, off-again relationship to both our benefits. It let us both have some breathing room for several years after Hogwarts.”

“But eventually your mother realised the truth?”

“Sadly, yes.”

“But you still brought Parkinson.”

Draco shrugged. “She and her family are invited every year anyway, and she’s very adept at scaring off any eligible young witches my mother might care to introduce me to. Rather enjoys it, actually.”

Potter nodded his head in concession; one didn’t have to know Pansy very well to appreciate what a formidable deterrent she could be. “And what about the eligible young wizards?”

Draco smirked. “She only runs off the ugly ones.”

“And your mother? What does she think of the eligible young wizards?”

Draco’s smirk turned sardonic. “Have I mentioned how badly my mother wants grandchildren?’

“But she does know you’re gay?”

Draco sighed. Potter cleaned up nicely, but apparently fancy robes did nothing to soften his bluntness. “What a lot of assumptions you make, Potter. Whoever said I was gay?”

Potter blinked. “Um, I’m here as your date tonight. And you said you brought Pucey last year, who’s known for shagging anything that stands still long enough. I kind of gathered that meant you were. And you just said Pansy only runs off the ugly wizards. Plus, you know, you kind of put it out there.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “To be honest, Potter, I don’t really label it. It happens that I enjoy both men and women. I suppose if I absolutely had to choose, I’d choose the side with cock, but I prefer not to limit myself that way. But if you need a label, I expect bisexual would fit.”

“And your mother is aware of this?”

“As much as she likes to pretend otherwise, yes,” Draco said drily before taking another sip of champagne.

“And your father?”

“Is also very good at pretending. Last year, both my parents kept talking to Pucey as though he was just an old mate who’d tagged along to the party to meet a young witch, dropping bits of information in his ear about this one or that one, offering to introduce him. After a couple hours of it, he finally told them he’d come to the party because he’d hoped I’d bend over for him in thanks. I’ve never seen my parents at a loss for words like that before. It was brilliant.”

The unspoken question of whether Draco had bent over in thanks seemed to hover in the air between them. He had, in fact, and it had been fantastic. All those years of Quidditch had given Pucey abs like sheet rock and the stamina of a centaur.

“I’m not sure I can top that,” Potter said with a laugh.

The double entendre was too good to let past unnoticed. “No pun intended?”

Potter looked at him for a moment and then laughed again as he realised what he’d said. “No pun intended.” A sly look came over him and his voice pitched low as he said, “After all, I’m quite sure I can top Pucey.”

Draco slanted an amused glance at Potter. “Top him, or top his topping?”

Potter shifted closer, bending his head towards Draco. His eyes were positively sparkling with mischief now. “Curious, are you?”

Draco’s heart knocked against his ribs, hard, and his grip on his champagne glass suddenly seemed weak, as if it would slip from his fingers. Something in his face must have changed because Potter’s expression shifted, his eyes going from playful to heated. The tingling sensation was back, spreading warm and quick through Draco’s body before centring undeniably in his groin.

Draco was saved from having to make sense of that by the sight of a graceful figure moving towards them, the crowd parting to make way.

He breathed a shaky sigh and nodded over Potter’s shoulder. “Looks like we’re about to find out whether you can top the impression Pucey made on my parents, at any rate,” he said, refusing to acknowledge the slight breathlessness in his voice. “Here comes my mother.”

Potter straightened and dropped him a wink, though Draco thought he saw a tightness to Potter’s jaw as he did so. Together, they turned to face Draco’s mother.

Narcissa swept forwards, one pale hand extended towards Potter. “Mr Potter. How delightful to see you.”

Not missing a beat, Potter took her hand in his and bent over it in a shallow bow. “And you as well, Mrs Malfoy.”

“Narcissa, please.”

Potter nodded in acknowledgement and released her hand. “Thank you for having me tonight. I’ve heard people talk about your Yuletide celebrations but seeing it first-hand is quite something.”

Now it was his mother’s turn to nod her head in acknowledgement. Her eyes slid towards Draco, and he was surprised to see a hint humour in her expression before she refocused on Potter. Draco’s stomach clenched with anxiety about what that look could mean. He’d assumed that Potter, being Potter, could take whatever his mother might dish out but that sly glance meant this was uncharted territory.

When she spoke, again, however, her words were quite mild. “Draco neglected to tell us you’d be his companion this evening. A must say, it comes as a surprise, but a pleasant one.”

“I have a feeling the fun of my unexpected appearance was too good spoil with a warning,” Potter replied. “I hope my being here doesn’t put you in an awkward position with any of your other guests.”

“Not at all,” she said, her expression turning serious. “And frankly, even if it did, I wouldn’t miss the chance to welcome you to my home in peace.”

Draco’s eyes fairly boggled at that one. Of all the things he expected his mother to say, a veiled reference to the night Potter and his friends were captured and tortured in the Manor was not one of them. What the hell was she thinking?

Potter, however, seemed to take it in stride. In fact, he seemed to actually relax at the words, the hard line of his jaw softening. For a moment, Potter and Narcissa just looked at each other with small smiles, some kind of silent communication passing between them. The moment lengthened and Draco began to feel he’d dropped the thread somehow. He was about to ask what the hell was going on when Potter broke the gaze to look about the room.

“The room looks lovely. I imagine we’ll see a watered-down version of it at the Ministry’s Yule Ball next year.”

It was common knowledge amongst his mother’s social circle that Miranda Kettlebaum, head of the Ministry’s social planning committee, regularly borrowed inspiration from Draco’s mother when planning the Ministry’s seasonal fete. The fact that Potter was aware of this was unexpected and rather disconcerting. Disconcerting to Draco, at any rate. Really, first the clothes, now knowledge of the inner workings of society witches? What was next, recitations of pureblood history going back to the time of Salazar Slytherin?

His mother, on the other hand, seemed to find it rather delightful. After appearing briefly startled, she laughed, her hand pressed to the base of her throat. “Oh, Mr Potter, you are a surprise.”

“It’s Harry,” Potter said, and now Draco was sure he’d slipped into an alternate universe.

“Harry, then. And thank you. I confess, I do rather enjoy decorating for the Yule season. There is something so inspiring about celebrating our fortitude and resiliency even in the coldest of times.”

And now they were back to sharing another of those loaded looks. This one, however, was thankfully brief, as Narcissa was breaking the moment with a small nod. “If you will both excuse me, dinner should be announced in a few minutes, and I need to oversee matters.”

Before she turned to go, she leaned close to Draco, lowering her voice so only he could hear. “I imagine your father will be by soon to say hello. I’ve told him not to muck this up for you, but it will be much easier if you don’t goad him, so do behave yourself, darling.”

“Muck what up?” Draco whispered back, baffled.

His mother pulled back and gave him an affectionate but exasperated look before kissing his cheek. Then she turned to Potter with a warm smile. “I do hope you’ll enjoy the evening, Harry.”

She waited for him to return the smile and then swept away with a swish of silk, quickly disappearing in the crowd.

Draco was barely able to wait for her to get out of earshot before he rounded on Potter. “What the hell was that?”

“What was what?”

That.” Draco gritted out between clenched teeth. “With my mother.”

Potter’s eyebrows shot up. “I’m pretty sure it’s called conversation.” He was clearly amused at Draco’s consternation.

Draco, however, was not amused at all. “Very funny. You were charming her. Seemingly on purpose! And those looks! What was with those looks?”

Potter cocked his head to the side, giving all appearances of being confused. “The looks?”

“You know what I’m talking about!” Had it only been this morning he’d been reflecting on the fact he no longer felt the urge to punch Potter in the face whenever he saw him? Because he seemed to be reacquainting himself with the urge just then.

But Potter remained placidly cool. “Was I not supposed to be nice to her?”

“Yes, but-- ” Draco broke off as Potter stepped closer. He caught the scent of a subtle cologne, something woodsy and alluring. Draco’s breath shuddered out of him.

He took a small step back, but Potter bent his head forwards in compensation and dropped his voice so as not to be overheard. “I am here as your date, right? And you were just saying that the point wasn’t to embarrass your parents so much as to send out a stop signal with regards to matchmaking.”

“I suppose, but-- ”

“So,” continued Potter. “If I come in here and act like a wanker, they aren’t going to believe you invited me to be your date. They’re going to think you’re messing with them. Especially after Pucey last year.”

Potter stepped closer still. The scent of his cologne was curling into Draco, making it hard to think.

Potter ducked his head to catch Draco’s eyes. Draco fought the urge to close his own eyes in response.

“Am I not doing what you were hoping I would?” Potter asked.

“You are.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

The problem was that Potter was standing much too close. The problem was that his cologne was doing things to Draco. The problem was his body was being very strange, tingling and fluttering and flushing at the oddest of times.

Thankfully, he didn’t have explain any of this because Pansy suddenly appeared at their side, a hard smile on her face and a steely look in her eye.

“Potter,” she greeted him, her tone just a shade warmer than glacial. “Don’t you clean up nicely.”

Potter straightened and took a step back from Draco. Draco gulped in a breath, grateful for some space.

Potter turned an easy smile on Pansy. “Thanks, Parkinson. You’re looking rather fetching yourself.”

But Pansy didn’t charm nearly that easily; her smile didn’t warm up even a degree. “Draco told us you were coming but I’m not sure I entirely believed him.”

“I couldn’t resist the invitation. It’s not every day a bloke is invited to Malfoy Manor to give Lucius a hard time.”

Pansy’s eyes narrowed. “Mm, it is a rather time-honoured tradition in these parts. You’re a twist on the usual though, I’ll give you that.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“That remains to be seen, now, doesn’t it?”

Draco usually enjoyed Pansy’s ball-breaking routine, but it seemed as though she was laying it on a bit thick. After all, Potter was in on the gag. There was no need to give him the full treatment. And he was getting the full treatment. Pansy was practically radiating hostility. Potter was managing to hold on to his good humour but the building tension was palpable.

Which is why Blaise wasn’t a moment too soon in arriving with drinks. He passed one to Pansy and then stuck out a hand towards Potter. “Potter! Well, fuck me, you really did come.”

Though he held Pansy’s gaze, something in Potter’s face turned questioning. Pansy looked a beat longer, then she sniffed and took a sip of her champagne.

Potter turned an affable smile on Blaise and shook the proffered hand. “Zabini. You know, I’m not sure whether or not I should find all this surprise at my presence insulting. It’s as though you lot were expecting me to chicken out.”

“Pish-posh, we were expecting no such thing,” Blaise said with a wink. “We all know you’re very brave. Balls of steel and all that. I mean, you’re Harry Potter, right?”

Draco’s eyes shot to Potter, waiting to see what he’d make of that, but Potter only laughed and said easily, “Now I know you’re taking the piss.”

“Ignore Blaise,” Draco said, rolling his eyes. “He can’t help being an arse.”

Blaise was prattling on with a shameless grin. “Quite the contrary, it takes hard work to be this much of an arse. It’s a talent I’ve been honing for many years.”

“I’m afraid you’ll find your subtle mastery of the craft wasted on me,” Potter retorted. He nodded toward Draco. “Working with this one for the last six months has left me immune to all forms of sarcasm and wankery.”

Draco made a sound of protest which was roundly ignored by everyone.

“Why Potter, those words smack of a challenge.”

“A sarcasm challenge?”

“Sarcasm and wankery. Don’t leave off the wankery; it’s one of my greatest strengths.”

“Sadly, he’s not joking,” Pansy put in.

“You’re no better!” Blaise tossed back.

“Please, I can be bitchy when the situation calls for it, but I can also put it down. You, on the other hand…” She let her words trail off and gestured meaningfully.

“What? I just wanted to see if Potter here was up for a little-- ”

Up for a little what, they never found out because Draco had reached his limit.

“Potter!” he interjected brusquely. “I need a refill.” He held up his empty champagne flute as proof. “Could you get me a refill? A fresh one, not one that’s been sitting on a tray for half an hour. Ask one of the servers to open a new bottle for you.”

Potter gave him a dubious look but took the glass from him. “Sure, Malfoy,” he agreed, though his tone suggested he had misgivings. “I’ll be back in a second.”

Draco watched Potter go, making sure he’d been swallowed up by the crowd, before he spun back to face his friends.

“What are you two doing?” he hissed.

Blaise gave a relaxed shrug. “Giving the gears to your new boyfriend, of course. If he can’t take it, better to find out now than-- ”

“He is not my boyfriend!” Draco cut in. “He is a friend and barely that. A work acquaintance, really.”

“A work acquaintance who you’ve brought to your family’s holiday party,” Blaise pointed out.

Draco huffed in annoyance. “For a laugh. You both know this, I explained it all just a few hours ago.”

Honestly, were they idiots?

“Oh, Draco.” Pansy gave him a pitying look. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“Excuse me?”

Pansy put a gentle hand on his arm. “Darling, be serious. You’ve been obsessed with him since you were eleven. The last six months he’s all you’ve talked about.”

Draco sputtered and shook off her hand. “That’s ridiculous. The most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

But Blaise was nodding his head in agreement. “She’s right. There are times I could close my eyes and swear we were back in the Slytherin common room listening to you go on and on about Potter-this and Potter-that.”

“Yes,” Pansy said. “Instead of listening to you go on and on about what an arse he is, this time we’ve had to hear you go on and on about what a great Auror he is. ‘Potter brought me another potion sample today.’ Or, ‘Potter almost had them today.’ Or my personal favourite, ‘If there’s anyone who can bring them in, it’s Potter.’ “

“I never said that!”

“That and much more, Draco,” Blaise said.

But Draco wasn’t having it. His friends were either off their nuts entirely or they were having him on. “I do not talk about Potter, I talk about the case. Because it is an interesting case. If I happen to mention Potter, it is only because he is also working on the case.”

“We are well aware Potter is working on your case, trust me,” Blaise said in a voice dripping with innuendo.

Pansy, the traitor, had the nerve to giggle.

It was all Draco could do not to go for his wand. “You’re both being complete and utter arseholes. Potter is here because I invited him to help me irritate my parents and avoid their attempts to marry me off to some insipid cow, the way I have done every year for as long as I can remember. In fact, I barely even invited him. He was the one who came up with the idea. He practically invited himself.”

Pansy stopped giggling and her expression turned sharp with interest. “Did he really?”

“Yes, he did.”

She tapped one manicured finger against her pursed lips. “Interesting.”

“Actually, it’s not. It’s not interesting at all. It’s a very straightforward situation, which the two of you are twisting around, trying to make it into something it’s not. And I’ll thank you to cut it out.”

Potter arrived back at the scene before Draco could extract a promise from his friends, though, leaving him feeling less than confident that the conversation wouldn’t devolve into more foolishness.

Potter handed Draco his drink. “There you are, Malfoy. One fresh glass of champagne. I hope you enjoy it because I’m pretty sure the waiting staff thinks I’m a complete berk.”

“Oh! Maybe they’ll sell their story to the Prophet!” Pansy said, eyes wide as she affected excitement.

Blaise jumped right in as if on cue. “I can see the headlines now: “Boy-Who-Lived-To-Be-A-Poncy-Wanker terrorises wait staff with outrageous demands. Says petrified waitress, ‘I thought he was going to vaporise me with his laser beam eyes, just like he did to You-Know-Who.’ "

Draco groaned and buried his face in his free hand.

But Potter just shook his head with mock indignation. “Sodding Prophet always gets it wrong. I didn’t get Voldemort with my laser beam eyes. I got him with the Gay Rainbows of Happiness I shot out of my arse.”

There was a frozen moment where Draco, Blaise, and Pansy all stared at Potter, mouths hanging open. Then Pansy was laughing, loud and throaty, and Blaise was clapping Potter on the shoulder.

“You’re all right, Potter.”

Potter grinned at them before turning his smile on Draco.

This time, Draco had no way to explain the fact that his heart was suddenly in his throat.

~*~

As the night wore on and they sat down to dinner, Draco was feeling more and more like it was all some kind of terrible joke. It was the only explanation. He’d thought he’d bring Potter to the party, shock and aggravate his parents, and have some fun observing the discomfort of the guests. Maybe he would even get a laugh out of watching Potter -- who was raised by Muggles and Weasleys, after all -- try to navigate a high-society Pureblood function. Immature, maybe, and definitely mean-spirited considering he and Potter got along rather well these days, but if Draco was honest with himself, it was what he expected.

His expectations, as it turned out, were grossly out of line.

Potter, despite the Muggle-and-Weasley-rearing, was a perfectly delightful dinner companion. He not only knew which fork to use and which glass was for red wine and which for white, he also managed to win over everyone at their table despite awkward differences in political alliances. He regaled them with stories of his time in Auror training, poking fun at himself with a rueful grin and a modesty that was charming rather than smarmy. When challenged by one of their tablemates with regards to the DMLE’s handling of a recent high-profile arrest, Potter engaged in a thoughtful, intelligent discussion on the issue. When another tablemate slyly asked about his relationship with Draco, Potter didn’t miss a beat. His response was so smooth, no one noticed that he’d actually evaded the question. By the time dessert was served, he had the whole table utterly bewitched.

As they moved on to coffee service and people began to drift towards the ballroom again, several of the guests made a point of coming over to introduce themselves, even shaking Potter’s hand. Others kept their distance, of course, some because of the war, others because of Potter’s status as an Auror. More than one person in the room had a family member Potter had personally put into Azkaban. In fact, if memory served, Daedalus Greenfinger had only been released last month. That probably explained why he was currently glaring daggers in their direction. Overall, though, the atmosphere was decidedly positive, almost welcoming, and Potter himself had a good deal to do with that, meeting people with courtesy and good grace.

Even Draco’s father had been, well, if not welcoming, at least reasonable. There were no proffered hands when his father joined them, and Draco was very aware of the rigid line of Potter’s shoulders throughout the conversation, but they managed a civil exchange for several minutes with no wands getting pulled. Draco counted this as a win. When his father excused himself to go mingle with other guests and Potter gave Draco a shaky sort of smile, Draco found himself returning it, feeling unaccountably proud of the git.

Shortly thereafter, Pansy had appeared to whisk Potter off to dance while Blaise did a close and dirty spin around the floor with a young witch who was wearing far too little clothing for a formal event.

As his friends moved out onto the dance floor, Draco allowed himself to sink into a nearby armchair. He watched as Potter twirled Pansy in his arms before taking her by the waist. Potter would never win any prizes for his dancing, but he was respectable enough. Much better than the awkward, lurching boy he’d been back at the Hogwarts’ Yule Ball, anyway. Merlin, what his fourteen-year-old self would have thought if he’d known one day he’d be escorting Potter to his family’s Yuletide celebration...

“You’re smiling.”

Draco started and turned to see his mother standing beside his chair. He’d been so caught up in watching Pansy and Potter, he hadn’t even noticed her arrival.

“Am I?” Draco felt as though he’d been caught out, but at what, he didn’t know.

“He’s grown into a very handsome man, hasn’t he?”

“Who has?” he asked, feigning nonchalance, though he knew full well who his mother was talking about.

“Your Harry, of course.” She smiled and her expression grew wistful. “You know, I can still remember him coming off the train at Hogwarts, so small and skinny. And that hair! He’d looked like he’d never had a mother his whole life. Though I suppose he didn’t, really; Andromeda told me he was horribly neglected by those Muggle relatives of his.” She let her gaze drift back towards the dance floor. “Now look at him, strong and self-assured.”

“Something you want to tell me about you and Potter, Mother?” Draco asked, incredulously.

“And you were so smitten,” she continued on, as if he hadn’t spoken. She smiled down at him affectionately. “Every letter you sent home had his name all over it. Potter, Potter, Potter, barely anything else.”

“Yes, because I hated him. He was the bane of my existence.”

His mother laughed merrily, as though this was the funniest thing she’d heard all night. “It used to drive your father crazy. He was always complaining about your ‘obsession with the Potter brat’.” Especially after it became clear Potter’s loyalties would not be shifted. Of course, he had a better idea of what was to come than I did. Maybe he knew it would be best not to appear too preoccupied with Harry.” She dropped a hand to Draco’s head, running her fingers through his hair as her eyes again found Pansy and Potter. “But it seems everything has turned out in the end.”

“I think you’re getting ahead of yourself. He’s just my date for tonight.”

“Oh, Draco,” she said sadly and gave him one of those looks that she was so good at, the kind that made him sure she could see right through to every secret part of him. “I raised you to be smarter than that.”

“I really think you’re getting the wrong idea,” Draco insisted and wondered when he’d gone from wanting his parents to believe there was something between him and Potter to trying to convince them there wasn’t.

Again, Draco’s mother seemed to ignore his words. “It was very brave of him to come here tonight. I don’t know too many men who’d put themselves in the lion’s den on a lark.”

Then she drifted away before Draco could make a reply. He stared after her.

He was ready for this party to be over.

He looked back to find Potter and Pansy moving off the dance floor. Their heads were bent close together, and they seemed to be having a serious conversation. Pansy was making emphatic gestures with her hands, and Potter’s mouth was pulled in a tight frown. Then Pansy stopped and turned to squarely face Potter. She leaned closer to him, a frightening scowl on her face, and said something short and fierce which she punctuated with a finger poked into Potter’s chest. Draco’s stomach sank at the thought of what she might be saying, but then Potter’s hand came up to close around Pansy’s. He smiled gently at her as he said something in reply. She paused, her eyes intent on his face, and then she smiled, too. For a moment, they stayed like that, just smiling at each other, and then they turned and started back towards Draco, their hands still joined.

And that was it. He’d had enough. Enough of the women in his life fawning over Potter. Enough of the loaded looks and the secret smiles. Enough of Potter’s charm and clothes and sensual cologne. Enough of the stupid heated feeling that was clawing up his throat at the sight of Pansy and Potter’s clasped hands. It was all just enough.

“Doing all right, Malfoy?” Potter asked as he and Pansy reached him.

Draco crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Fallen in love on the dance floor?” he asked peevishly.

But Potter only smiled. “Hard not to love a girl who can dance like that.”

Pansy rolled her eyes. “Yet somehow you’ll manage, I’m sure.”

“What about you, Malfoy? Can I get you out on the dance floor?”

“I don’t think so,” Draco said coolly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Pansy trying to suppress a grin, and it pissed him off even more. “In fact, I was thinking we should call it a night.”

“Come on,” Potter cajoled. “One turn around the floor, just for appearances’ sake.”

“You really should, Draco,” Pansy piped in. “You’ve both gone to all this effort. Might as well stick a stamp on it, you know?”

“Fine,” Draco huffed and held out his hand to Potter.

Potter took it. His palm was warm and rough, his fingers strong as they twined with Draco’s. When they reached the edge of the dance floor, Potter pulled Draco closer, looping his arms around Draco’s waist.

“Sure, make me be the girl,” Draco mumbled as he rested his hands against Potter’s shoulders.

Potter’s shoulders were very broad. And very strong. Not that Draco was noticing.

Draco’s throat felt tight and blocked and he was warm, much too warm. Potter was holding him too close, that was the problem. And Merlin, why was it so stuffy in the ballroom tonight? He felt like he couldn’t breathe.

Potter’s voice cut across his spiralling thoughts. “So has the evening turned out the way you expected?”

“I think you know the answer to that,” Draco grumbled.

Potter gave him a surprised look. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you and all your suave handling of my friends and my mother and the flatware.”

“The flatware?” Potter repeated, clearly confused.

“Yes, the flatware! You know, the salad fork and the dinner fork and the shrimp fork and the dessert fork.”

“You’re upset because I used the flatware correctly?”

Draco shook his head impatiently. “Not only because of that. Also because of your clothes and your hair and your not hexing my father’s balls off.”

At that Potter stopped dancing. Taking Draco’s arm, he pulled them off to the side of the dance floor. “You wanted me to hex your father’s balls off?”

Draco shook him off. “Ugh, you’re infuriating!”

“I don’t understand why.”

Potter was looking at him with genuine concern and Draco felt the anger drain out of him. He let go a sigh; suddenly he felt completely wrung out. “Look, Potter. You were supposed to come here and help me unnerve my parents. That’s all. You weren’t supposed to come here and make everybody love you. You weren’t supposed to come here and fit in like you belong here.”

Potter peered at him a moment longer and then his expression shifted as understanding dawned. “Oh,” he said. His face fell. “Oh.”

And now Draco was back to feeling like an arse. Potter had done him a favour coming to the party, and here Draco was throwing a fit because it hadn’t all turned out the way he’d wanted it to. He tried to soften his words. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate you coming. I do, it’s just-- ”

But Potter cut him off. “No, that’s okay.” He didn’t look at Draco as he spoke, his eyes locked on the floor. “I get it, Malfoy. I do. I just thought-- ” He broke off and gave a short, bitter laugh. “Well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. Clearly, I was wrong. Listen, let’s just-- ”

Before he could finish that thought, they were interrupted by the a sharp rise of surprised voices. Looking around, the source of the surprise became immediately apparent: a silver wisp was blurring through the room at top speed. It came to an abrupt halt in front of Potter and resolved itself into the shape of an eagle. It hovered for a second and then a deep male voice came out of its beak. “Auror Potter, Code Hematite. You’re needed immediately.”

Potter’s whole body snapped to attention as he shifted into Auror mode. “That’s the traffickers,” Potter said quickly, speaking right over top of the Patronus’s last few words. “I’m sorry, Malfoy, I have to go. Tell your parents I’m sorry about the wards.”

“The wards? Why?” Draco felt a strange surging sensation in his chest. He didn’t want Potter to go, not before they’d had a chance to finish the conversation. There was more they had to say to each other. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but he had a feeling it was important and he had a feeling if they didn’t say it now, they might never say it. “Wait, Potter!”

But Potter was already turning into his Apparition, tearing through the Manor’s Anti-Apparition wards as though they were nothing and disappearing in a blink.

~*~

On Monday, Draco had to wonder whether maybe he was a little clairvoyant because when he arrived at work, he found that Potter’s case with the traffickers had indeed been blown wide open and they had the guilty parties in custody. From the sounds of it, they’d been able to apprehend one of the traffickers Friday night after Potter’s speedy departure. It had taken most of Saturday, but eventually they’d got some critical information from the wizard about the traffickers’ home base. From there, arrests had happened fast, with half the DMLE Apparating all over the country in a series of hastily organised but expertly executed raids. By the time Draco got to work on Monday, Potter’s team was rounding up the last few stragglers, the case otherwise locked up tight.

Draco supposed he probably hadn’t heard from Potter all weekend for that reason; the man had clearly been busy with very important matters. While good for the kidnapped witches and wizards and society at large, this hadn’t been great for Draco because he really wanted to talk to Potter.

He’d been replaying the events of Friday evening over and over in his head and he’d come to suspect that he’d been a bit of an idiot. Both Pansy and his mother had visited on Saturday and lent their unequivocal support to this theory. In Draco’s experience, when his mother and Pansy actually agreed, it meant that either the world had stopped spinning on its axis or they were speaking the truth. So, there was really only one conclusion possible: he was an idiot. And he owed Potter an apology.

He didn’t get the chance to apologise on Monday, however. Not Tuesday or Wednesday, either. He’d wandered up to the DMLE a time or two (or eight, but who was counting?), but the place had been in absolute chaos. Draco, idiot though he may be, could tell that barging in and demanding that Potter talk to him would not be appreciated. So he waited and tried to be patient, which was not exactly his strong suit.

But Thursday morning, when Draco was wrist deep in a pygmy sun melon trying to carefully extract its tiny, slippery, fragile seeds without crushing them, he heard a familiar buzz travel through his department. He looked up to see Potter standing in the far doorway, his eyes on Draco. Draco wiped his hands off and didn’t even try to pretend that his heart hadn’t just kick-started into a racing rhythm that would put his family’s Andalusians to shame. He met Potter’s gaze and smiled. Seeing this, Potter blinked, but then an answering smile slowly curved his lips. Even though Potter was still fifty feet away, Draco could feel the pull of that smile, like he was a magnet drawn due north.

Potter took a step forwards with the obvious goal of getting to Draco, but he was stopped by the sudden sound of clapping. Then Merriford was rushing forward to crush her breasts against Potter as she threw herself against him in a full body embrace that had Potter staggering. Another member of Draco’s staff came forward and clapped a hand on Potter’s shoulder. Whistles and cheers were added to the applause, and Draco looked around to see all of his staff standing on their feet in appreciation of Potter for a job well done.

Potter ducked his head, an embarrassed look on his face, and gently pulled Merriford off of his body. He shot Draco a quick look before addressing Draco’s team.

“I just wanted to come down and thank everybody in the DPIR for their hard work on the case. As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, the traffickers have been apprehended and are cooling their heels in our cells.” More cheers went up at this, and Potter nodded in agreement. “The victims were all taken immediately to St Mungo’s. Some have already returned to their families. Some...” He trailed off for a moment, and anger momentarily clouded his features. Draco could see him pull himself back, shaking off the anger. “Some are going to be there a while, but they will recover. We never could have done this without the effort and dedication of each and every one of you. My team and I are so grateful. Well done, everyone.”

A final cheer from Draco’s team capped off Potter’s statement, and then they seemed to surge forwards to shake Potter’s hand and chat with him about the case. They mobbed him shamelessly, but Potter appeared to take it in stride. Draco took a moment to drink it in, feeling pleased. They had all worked hard, Potter’s team and his team. The outcome was a good one. The DPIR did a lot of important work, but they often did it behind the scenes. They didn’t get to experience this sort of clear victory very often. He enjoyed seeing his staff revelling in the moment.

It would also be nice, however, if they would wrap it up so he could talk to Potter.

Eventually, Potter was able to extract himself from the throng, and Draco’s staff slowly drifted back to their work stations. Potter headed towards Draco. Instead of doing his usual routine of pretending not to notice, Draco watched him approach.

Potter came to a stop at the edge of Draco’s potions table. Up close, he looked rumpled and tired. He had several days’ worth of stubble on his face and dark circles under his eyes. There was no quirking grin curving his lips; instead, the corners of his mouth were pulled down in a weary frown. But even wrinkled and exhausted, he still had presence, and his eyes were as bright as ever as they found Draco’s.

The fluttering was back in Draco’s stomach and the original swarm of butterflies seemed to have brought friends.

“Hey, Malfoy.”

“Potter.” Draco nodded at him. “Congratulations on the case.”

“You, too. I meant what I said, we couldn’t have done it without your team. And you especially. That pollen was the key that unlocked the whole thing.”

Silence fell between them. For his part, Potter looked uncomfortable, his shoulders hunched defensively, but there was a determined set to his jaw, too. The two were at odds with each other, as if Potter was in the midst of some inner conflict. Draco could sympathise. He had things he wanted to say but he wasn’t sure he could open his mouth to speak without vomiting. Knowing there were things that needed by said and actually saying them were apparently two very different matters, and Draco’s butterflies were taking no prisoners.

Potter managed to get some words out first. “Listen, I wanted to apologise about Friday.”

“No,” Draco objected. “I’m the one who needs to apologise about Friday.”

But Potter just shook his head. “It’s not necessary. I was the one who went in with an agenda. I reckon that was kind of obvious.” He sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair. “It’s just, I’ve really enjoyed working with you and getting to know you better. But there’s so much history there and we’ve been on the opposite sides so many times. I suppose I thought if I could make you see that it doesn’t have to be that way anymore, that I can fit into your world...”

Draco could feel his face flush as Potter spoke, could feel heat curling low in his stomach and spreading through his whole body. It overtook him so rapidly and with such intensity, that he felt momentarily dizzy. His fingers gripped onto the edge of his table, digging in to the soft wood and anchoring him there.

Potter didn’t seem to notice and continued on with a shrug. “But, you know, no harm done. I hope not, anyway. I had a good time. And I got to practise my formal party skills, which will make Hermione happy. She’s always dragging me off to fundraisers, and you just know that if I say the wrong thing or, god forbid, use the wrong fork, it will show up in the paper the next day, so I try to stay in practice.”

The heat kept building, shifting now, centring in Draco’s throat and chest and groin. “Potter-- ”

But Potter spoke right over him. “Anyway, I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. Can’t blame a bloke for trying, though, yeah?”

Draco squeezed his eyes shut in frustration. When he opened them again, he tried to fix Potter with a steady look, but Potter wasn’t even looking at him, his gaze locked somewhere over Draco’s left shoulder.

“Potter--. ” he started again.

But again, Potter ignored his interjection. “I just hope that this won’t make it too awkward between us in the future. Your help really was invaluable on this case and I imagine the DMLE will want to collaborate with you again. Whatever else, you and I work well together, and I’d hate for my stupid whatever-it-is to get in the way of that. You really are brilliant at what you do.”

“Damn it, Potter, would you shut up already!”

Potter’s mouth snapped closed.

“Look, I’m the one who needs to apologise about Friday,” Draco said. “It has been pointed out to me by several people that I have been operating under some serious denial and had not been honest with you or myself about why I invited you to the party. I thought I was only doing it for laugh, but actually…” He trailed off as he reached for the right words. “That is, I rather--.”

He broke off again as his chest tightened in that compulsive seize it frequently seemed to do when Potter was around.

Draco took a breath and tried again. “I was--.”

Potter was looking at him now, his brow furrowed in confusion, and Draco decided the exact words didn’t matter that much anyway.

He cupped Potter’s face with both hands and kissed him.

For a brief, horrifying moment, Potter froze, his lips hard as marble under Draco’s own, his entire body rigid with tension. But before the panic could take hold and make Draco break the kiss, Potter came to life. His hands flew to Draco’s hips, gripping tight and pulling him closer. His mouth opened under Draco’s, his lips soft and pliant and warm. They moved against Draco’s, pressing against his top lip, then capturing his bottom lip. Then Potter licked his way inside Draco’s mouth, and everything was wet and slick, and Draco was hot, so hot he was burning up, and his heart was pounding so fast and so hard, he was sure Potter must be able to feel it.

Draco returned the kiss, deepening it, welcoming Potter in. Potter made a low groaning sound that Draco swallowed, pressing their bodies closer together. Potter arched towards Draco so there wasn’t even room for air between them and Draco could feel every inch of Potter’s lean, hard body. Draco’s hands slid up into Potter’s hair before moving round to the nape of his neck, trying to deepen the kiss further, to get closer still. He had no idea how he had never realised this was what he’d been wanting, needing, all these months because now, kissing Potter, it was clear that this was much more critical than food or water or magic or air and he’d been an idiot, such an idiot...

The kiss probably would have went on for hours -- and Draco certainly wanted it to -- but they were interrupted by the sound of whooping and clapping and loud, ringing laughter. Breaking apart, Draco turned to see every member of his staff watching with broad smiles. Even Merriford had managed a smile, even if it was somewhat misshapen and grim.

Draco turned back to Potter, laughing to find Potter grinning at him. Draco supposed he should feel embarrassed but he couldn’t bring himself to feel anything other than good. He kissed Potter again, keeping it brief this time, and then dropped his forehead to Potter’s shoulder as the dizziness took him again.

Potter’s hand smoothed up Draco’s back and he chuckled. “I wish you’d done that on Friday. You’d have saved me a lot of agonising this last week.”

“I’d have saved myself a lot of agonising, too,” Draco said into Potter’s shoulder. “And several hours of lectures from my mother and Pansy.”

Draco could feel Potter turn his head to look down at him. “Then why didn’t you?”

“I didn’t know I wanted to.”

“So I did win you over with my formal manners!”

Laughing, Draco straightened but stayed close enough that Potter didn’t have to relinquish his hold on Draco’s hips. “No, impressive though they were. I think it’s something I’ve wanted for months. I just didn’t know I wanted it.”

“Sublimated schoolboy attraction is sneaky like that.”

“Mm, very sneaky.”

Potter caught Draco’s eye, his expression growing serious, though his tone remain light. “Just to be clear, is this something that happens to you often? Wanting people without realising you want them? Are there other men you’re lusting after and you just don’t know it yet?

Draco laughed again. “I suppose it’s possible, but I’m pretty sure I’m only lusting after the one.”

Potter beamed at him and Draco smiled shyly back. Then he realised they were having one of those looks, the ones that had been driving him mad on Friday night. His smile widened.

“Then what do you say I take you out for an early lunch?” Potter asked.

“It’s only not even eleven o’clock yet.”

“I know but I’m anxious to get out of here. I haven’t left this building since Monday and I haven’t eaten anything but limp sandwiches and stale biscuits for days. Let me take you out for a little while at least. We’ll go somewhere easy, where the only give you one fork and one spoon and half the time you just end up using your fingers anyway.”

“Charming, Potter. I think I liked you better when you were trying to impress me.”

A familiar quirk curved Potter’s lips. “Oh, I still fully intend to impress you. I intend to hustle you out into the hall, around the corner, and into that alcove half-hidden behind the tapestry of the dancing unicorns so I can impress the hell out of you without an audience. Then I’m going to impress you again in the lifts, and maybe even again at the pub if we can get a table in a shadowy corner.”

“That’s a lot of impressing,” Draco said, a bit breathless. He couldn’t look away from Potter’s mouth. Potter’s lips were so lush and pink and Draco could still feel the imprint of them on his own. He wanted to feel them again.

“Well, you high-society types tend to take some convincing.”

“Not really.” Draco shrugged. “Mostly we’re just pretending we know what we want until someone comes along to show us otherwise.”

Draco tore his eyes away from Potter’s mouth. Looking up, he saw Potter watching him with such open affection, it snatched the air right from Draco’s lungs. For a long moment, he was completely caught in Potter’s gaze.

Potter’s hand came up to brush tenderly along Draco’s jaw. “Good thing I came along then.”

Draco released a shuddering sigh. “Yes, it is. Though I’m sure I would have figured it out eventually.” He took another steadying breath and then shot Potter a grin. “After all, I may be many things, but I’m not a complete idiot.”

~*~

HAPPY HOLIDAYS