Draco Malfoy hated coming in to the Ministry. He hated the crowded Atrium, the sidelong glances, the hush that preceded his passing and the whispers that rose in his wake. About the only thing he appreciated was the way the people waiting for the lift found some reason to avoid the carriage he boarded, and how those already inside found a reason to get off on the very next floor.
He expected this time to be no different. The lift emptied on the second floor, leaving him standing in the middle of the lift in solitary splendour—splendour because Draco's father had impressed upon him at an early age that the robes made the wizard. Dressing down was for those who couldn't imagine commanding respect from others because they didn't respect themselves. It was one of the few lessons from his father that Draco still gave credence to, which meant that even for his routine monthly report, his proper business robes fell in heavy wool folds down to his calves, and the bespoke suit underneath had more in common with Victorian tailoring lines than it did modern muggle designs.
Draco folded his gloved hands before him, drumming his fingers impatiently against the back of his hand as he waited for the ponderous doors to slide closed.
"Hold the lift!"
Draco stayed where he was. Really, he was doing the fellow a favor, sparing him from a few uncomfortable moments in an enclosed space with a former Death Eater.
The fellow was too quick. A hand caught the doors just before they finished closing, and held them as they sluggishly opened again. Even then, Draco let a small smile curve his lips, expecting the latecomer to take one look and let the doors close again. Until the doors opened wide enough for Draco to see who the hand belonged to.
Harry Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World, the Boy Who Lived to Annoy Draco, hesitated for a breath before straightening his shoulders and entering the lift. His oxblood red Auror robes hung open over a muggle t-shirt and jeans, and didn't that just prove Lucius Malfoy's point about respect? Draco's lips tightened against a dozen snarky comments. Wearing the uniform like that couldn't possibly be regulation.
It was a typical exchange for them, as much civility as was necessary to rub along in the seven years since the Wizarding War ended. Potter had given a surprisingly honest—or perhaps not so surprising for a Gryffindor—account at the Wizengamot trial, ensuring that Lucius, Narcissa, and Draco Malfoy were pardoned for their coerced cooperation with Voldemort. He'd returned Draco's wand. By owl. By fucking rented owl. And then he'd gone directly into Auror training and Draco had buried himself in Mastery apprenticeships and research, and rarely did their paths intersect.
Today was just Draco's lucky day. He remained standing in the dead center of the lift, forcing Potter to wedge himself in the corner with the call buttons. Before Potter could punch the button for his destination, his arm brushed the panel, and all the buttons lit up.
"Bloody hell, Potter. Are you twelve? Some of us have places to be."
Potter glanced down at the lit up panel, eyes wide with dismay. They narrowed when he looked up at Draco. "I didn't do it on purpose, Malfoy."
Mild irritation snapped into icy fury as quick as a winter freeze. Potter probably didn't—couldn't—know how that particular phrasing cut, but that awareness didn't stop Draco's lip from lifting in a sneer or his gloved hand from lightly touching his chest. "Hm. Now where have I heard that excuse before?"
"Are you serious?" The lift stopped. The doors opened. A pair of young witches caught up in gossip started to get on, noticed Draco and Potter facing off, and stepped right back off. The doors closed.
Draco sighed and packed away the urge to snipe at Potter. Childish things. He was past all this. Mostly. He dropped his hands to his sides, hiding his fists in the folds of his robes. "No. I am not serious. Forget I said anything."
"No. You don't get to bring up something like that after years of nothing but 'Potter, Malfoy' and then expect to just drop it." The doors opened and closed again, this time on an empty hallway.
Fine. He'd tried the mature option. Draco pretended to straighten his clothes—waistcoat, cuffs, cloak. "As a matter of fact, I may do whatever I please."
"What, because you're a Malfoy?"
Baiting Potter was so easy. And oddly enjoyable. Draco almost felt bad for doing it. Because he wasn't twelve anymore. Because he was a Malfoy and was working to make that mean something good again. But there was such a rush that came with provoking Harry Potter, like the rush of flying or dueling or sex. He couldn't quite stop himself from pushing. Some twisted part of Draco missed this—the flash of green eyes behind black-rimmed spectacles, the flush of pale skin under a cap of messy black hair.
"No," Draco said—drawled—coolly. "Because I don't owe you anything, Potter. Not my life. Not my freedom. And certainly not an elucidation of my meaning." Draco waited, watched the flush climb higher up Potter's cheeks and lower down his neck. And then he smiled. "Although it occurs to me that you owe me an apology."
"I... you... we... " Potter sputtered.
"All excellent pronouns. Do go on. Try for a verb."
"You were going to Crucio me!"
And there was the explosion Draco had been stoking. Potter even drew his wand, Auror-fast. Draco backed into the opposite corner of the lift and drew his own. Not that he expected Potter to lose control to the point of slinging spells, but still... he could be unpredictable. Draco had the scars to prove it.
"Please. I was terrified and desperate and sobbing my eyes out to a bathroom ghost. I couldn't manage to land a simple hex, much less an effective Unforgiveable. But you. You had enough self-righteous intent to make my insides outside. And I could let that go. Bygones and all that. But you're still so self-righteous that you can't even admit I might deserve an apology."
"Oh, you want to talk about what you deserve?" Potter whipped his Auror robes back, and the practise of wearing them open made more sense to Draco. Easier for free range of wand movement.
Draco flipped his robes over one shoulder. Same ease of movement, much more stylish effect. The lift was too small for proper dueling, but when had that sort of concern ever stopped the two of them?
"Expelliarmus!" The white bolt of the spell shot through the opening lift doors. Potter's wand hit the back wall. Another shout, another bolt, and Draco's wand followed a moment later.
"Harry, what the hell do you think you were doing?" demanded the bushy-haired termagant standing in the hallway.
"N-nothing, Hermione." Potter ducked his head, and Draco could swear he was digging the toe of his trainer into the tiled floor of the lift.
Granger stalked up to the opening, wand still at the ready. She slammed a hand against the lift door to keep it from closing. She was a head shorter than either Draco or Potter, but her presence seemed to dominate the doorway of the carriage. Maybe it was her sternly controlled anger. Maybe it was the bushy hair. "And you, Mr. Malfoy? Visitors to the Ministry are expected to behave with a certain level of decorum. Which does not include antagonizing Aurors in lifts."
Draco bit the inside of his lip. Antagonizing Potter was strangely enjoyable, but there was nothing to be gained by antagonizing Hermione Granger.
"Yes, Ms. Granger. My apologies to the Ministry for my reprehensible behaviour." He gave her a formal bow which had Potter sputtering again. Probably the git mistook good manners for mockery. Fixing a cool smile on his lips, Draco retrieved his wand. He resisted the urge to remove his gloves and stroke the ten inches of hawthorn, to confirm his wand was still loyal to him by hexing both the Gryffindors glaring at him.
Potter snatched up his wand a moment later and shoved it in his sheath as though he could care less whether he'd lost its loyalty.
"Harry, don't you have a lecture to give to the new recruits? Mr. Malfoy." Granger pursed her lips, looking very much like she wished she could hex his bollocks off. "I'll escort you from the premises."
Granger didn't escort Draco from the building, of course. She escorted him exactly where he'd been headed—her office. Her real office, not the false one on the second floor with the DMLE. The office she led him to was on the ninth floor, a tiny little closet of space in Ordo Division from which she ran the Department of Mysteries, organising the interdivisional research and generally making sure that the Unspeakables sometimes spoke, if only to each other.
The office where all her Unspeakables were expected to give their monthly reports, including Draco Malfoy.
Some things might never change, like the thrill of antagonizing Scarhead into an unsanctioned duel in a Ministry lift. And some things had changed quite a bit, like the fact that Draco Malfoy actually respected and maybe even nurtured a tiny smidgeon of fondness for the bushy-haired muggleborn witch who'd once blackened his eye and was now his superior. Hell, anyone smart enough to comprehend the DoM's various lines of research and organised enough to bring them together without blowing up London was deserving of such respect. Draco pulled out his report, shoulders relaxing when his wand responded easily to the unshrinking charm, and set it on the corner of her desk.
"I thought you were past the days when you sniped at Harry for no good reason," Granger muttered, shucking her outer robe and standing behind her desk, fists planted on the neat, paperwork-free blotter.
Frightfully organised. Draco lounged in the chair facing her as though she wasn't glaring Crucios at him. "I don't suppose 'he started it' is a good reason?"
Granger's pursed lips pursed harder, fighting a smile. "Not if you value my continued respect."
"Oh. Well, then. He definitely started it."
That got Draco the smile. Granger shook her head and abandoned looming in favor of sitting. "I'm certain that'll be the version Harry tells at the pub tonight." She dragged his report over, skimming the abstract. She'd read it in more depth later, he knew. Of all the officials working in the Ministry, he suspected Granger was the only one who read her reports.
"I don't doubt it. I've heard Gryffindors are honest like that."
Granger's smile twisted into a smirk. "You really are a prat. I'm putting that in your next review."
"Nobody reads those things."
"And I'm moving you off Locus—"
"What?" Draco's good humor vanished. He sat up, fists clenching in his robes because he couldn't very well hex or strangle his boss. "Because I picked a fight with your friend?"
"Hah. You admit you picked the fight?"
Draco's eyes narrowed and he reined in the childish surge of resentment. If Granger was joking, then this wasn't punishment for Potter. "Ms. Granger, I'm in the middle of some highly complex arithmantic calculations around the folding of space as relates to the abilities of poltergeists—"
"Yes, yes. But the Betelgeuse problem isn't going anywhere. Right now I need a cross-division specialist, and you're the best qualified."
Draco released his grip on his robes, but only to transfer it to the arms of his chair. If she were Slytherin, he'd suspect it as empty flattery. But Granger didn't do flattery. "Which division?"
"Amare." Granger pulled a face to show she wasn't serious. "Which do you think?"
There was only one division that made sense based on Draco's background. He was tempted to make his own face. Instead, he kept his expression smooth as a frozen pond. "No." They were all bugfuck crazy in Tempus. And with good reason.
"I reviewed your last report. About the anomaly. You're right about the increasing danger of instability, and I think you're on to the best solution. Nobody here understands the elasticity of Novikov like you do—"
"I said no." Draco resisted the urge to rub at the inside of his arm. "I may have made some regrettable mistakes in my life, but I still rather like having been born. No."
Granger's expression smoothed over, similar to Draco's. Cool. Distant. "I think you're confused, Mr. Malfoy. This isn't a request. This is your new assignment."
Forcing his hands to unclench, finger-by-finger, Draco stood. His robes swirled around his calves. The weight and drape of them felt something like dignity—the only dignity left to him, it sometimes seemed. It was why he wore them, when so many wizards these days opted for the sloppiness of muggle dress. "I trust I may still work from the manor?"
Granger did a fair job hiding her wince at his clipped diction. "For the theoretical work, of course. You'll have to come in to deal with the anomaly. It's—"
"Fixed in spacetime. I know. I did do the initial research. Is that all?"
She nodded. He opened the door to leave. "I should have hexed Potter in the lift."
"Probation wouldn't have made a difference, Malfoy. I need someone competent on this."
Even that—the acknowledgment that Draco could do something that nobody, not even Granger or the Git Who Wouldn't Die could do—did little to sooth Draco's ruffled pride or banish his anger. He stalked down the black-walled hallway and entered the waiting lift. At least he wouldn't be troubled by mindless yammering on the way out. He could fume in peace all the way home.
Or not, he thought as the lift stopped on the second floor and the doors opened to reveal a large group of what looked to be Auror recruits, and Harry Potter leading them. Potter took a step back when he saw Draco. His mouth opened and closed like a demented merrow before firming in a line of Gryffindor determination.
"Malfoy, I owe you—"
Oh, fuck no. Draco's wand barely cleared his sheath before he snapped out a curt, "Stupefy!"
The curse hit Potter hard enough to snap the bridge of his glasses. His eyes went blank, lips went slack, and he keeled over backwards.
Feeling much better about the world in general and nursing a warm glow from imagining Granger's reaction when she got wind of this, Draco kicked Potter's feet out of the way of the closing lift doors and gave the stunned recruits a jaunty wave.
He whistled all the way to the Atrium floo.
Draco spent the next day in his study, robes hung up, sleeves rolled up. Working. He reviewed the notes and research that had gotten him into this trouble in the first place and cast arithmantic charts to determine how best to proceed. Granger was right, damn her. On all counts. This was a problem he was best suited to solve specifically because of his work in Locus Division. And it was a problem that could only really be solved at the Ministry.
He hated going into the Ministry. He hated going anywhere. After the war, his parents had decamped for Italy to escape the stares and whispers. In Rome, his father claimed, they respected pureblood lines and played the elegant game of politics properly. His mother said she was there for the sunlight. That she was tired of Britain's constant gloom.
Every letter she wrote, she expressed worry over Draco 'rattling around in that cursed mausoleum' only himself and a few house elves, and she begged him to join them. Every time, he refused. They'd all chosen to deal with their ghosts in different ways. His father pretended they didn't exist. His mother banished them with sunlight and wine and a constant round of socialization. And Draco...
Draco lived with them until they'd become as powerless as old shades.
He couldn't claim that his way was the best way—clearly not, if he was still picking fights with Harry Potter—but he had his work. He liked his work. He had his boss, and sometimes he liked her too. And he had his pride. He might not go out much into Wizarding Britain, but he hadn't fled it. The Malfoys had resided in Malfoy Manor for centuries, and a Malfoy lived there now, and dammit that meant something and—
"What that hell is that pounding?" he shouted when he realised the pulse underscoring his increasingly belligerent thoughts wasn't his heartbeat or a headache, but actual pounding from somewhere outside his study. He set his quill aside and strode out into the great entry hall. One of the remaining house elves, Mufty, was already jumping for the latch of the main doors.
"It's so sorry we are, Master Malfoy. The wards, they never tripped. It's no warning we had a'tall."
"I know," Draco said. He hadn't sensed anything passing the wards either, so there was no reason to blame the house elves. And no reason to lose one if something dangerous had come knocking. He pulled Mufty away from the door. "Have a care. Let me."
The banging had stopped. Perhaps it had been a branch? A wild bludger? One of the peacocks gone completely mental? It wasn't an intruder and it couldn't be a visitor. The wards were woven with trigger strands like a spider's web. Even the entry of an invited guest through the gates should have alerted the Lord of the Manor and the elves so they could prepare a proper welcome.
Wand drawn and ready, Draco pressed down the latch and the door swung inwards. He goggled at the sight of Harry Potter in shredded Auror robes, crouched on the porch in a spreading pool of his own blood.
"What the fuck?"
Potter's head lifted at Draco's strangled whisper. Half his face was slick with blood, his hair matted with it. Head injury, most likely. Didn't they bleed a lot? Something dark crept up the opposite cheek and across his nose, like fast growing roots beneath the skin, seeking out the blood. A Sanguinaria curse, if he recalled correctly. And that couldn't be good. If there was one dark curse, there were probably more.
Shit. Fuck. "Mufty! Floo St. Mungo's. Tell them to get a team of trauma healers up to the Spell Damage ward. And the cursebreaker on call." Draco stooped to lift Potter. A Levicorpus might be easier, but unknown curses could mix poorly with healing spells and incantations. He didn't dare use magic until he knew what had been done. "And then get Tylluan from the owlery. I'll need to send a message to the Head Auror—"
"No." Potter's fingers dragged at Draco's sleeve, smearing the fabric with a mixture of blood, ash, and grime. Potter's other hand still gripped his wand. Well, that was something at least.
"Potter, you have to come inside. It's not safe to side-along you in this state. I can floo you to St. Mungo's—"
"No. No Mungo's. Nobody. Tell nobody I'm here."
Draco shivered at the urgency in Potter's tone, as frightening as the clear-eyed intensity of his gaze. "Are you mental? Did you get hit by a Confundus?" But Potter wasn't acting confounded. He seemed lucid. And... how the hell had he gotten past the manor wards? Why had he come here, to a place that had to hold all sorts of bad memories? Why had he come to Draco?
"I'm not confounded. Know what I'm doing." Potter laughed, or coughed. Some admixture of the two. "I hope. But I definitely know no Mungo's. You can't tell anyone I'm here."
Was it something to do with a botched Auror mission? Draco didn't have any sort of contacts with the Aurors, but, "At least let me call Granger. You trust Granger." Surely, if Potter trusted anyone, it was the brains of the Golden Trio. He had to trust her more than he trusted Draco.
"No! Nobody. Promise me." Potter's grip tightened on Draco's arm. Maybe urgency. Maybe a surge of pain. Likely both. "You can't. Draco. Please."
The use of his name arrested him. Draco stared down at those green, green eyes magnified by thick-rimmed glasses. Potter had repaired them since yesterday.
"Fine. If you die, I'm submitting this memory to the Wizengamot. I'm not going to Azkaban for you."
The laws about submitting memories to prove innocence were clear: they were inadmissible without the consent of all remembered parties. Many an accused Slytherin had wormed free of a conviction because of such inadmissible evidence.
Potter coughed again. Closed his eyes. His skin, the parts not soaked in blood or crawling with subdermal black roots, was pale as old cheese. "Fine."
Fine. Fine. Fuck. "Mufty! Take my medkit to the Swan Room. And my potions array. Keep the floo ready just in case. Potter, you are not allowed to pass out until I get you upstairs. And anything you can tell me along the way about what they hit you with will help me greatly in keeping you alive."
Keeping Potter alive proved to be touch-and-go for several hours. Tylluan perched near the window in case Draco had to break his word and send for Granger. Mufty sat by the door in case St. Mungo's was needed. Draco stood over Potter, casting and recasting diagnostic spells and going cross-eyed from unweaving the complex net of curses that wrapped him up and wove through his magic.
He let himself sag for just a moment after he finally, finally rooted out the last of the Sanguinaria curse. He blinked hard to clear his eyes and ran a hand through sweaty hair. Parts of it were sticky. Potter's blood, most likely.
Draco had been right that some of the curses were meant to interact poorly with healing potions, which meant he only had Mufty's gauze bandages to staunch the blood until he was done. He was fairly certain he'd cleared everything—Potter's magic as revealed by the diagnostic spell was as bright and golden as champagne. But Draco was no cursebreaker, and he was tired. His efforts had given him a migraine that pulsed in time with Potter's champagne glow. "Mufty, can you see anything else? Anything I missed?"
The house elf crept closer to the bed. In his Hogwarts days, Draco would never have considered consulting a house elf on magical matters, but that was seven years gone. Master Pendolo had cured him of that stupidity in the first year of his apprenticeship with her. House elves saw magic better than a wizard ever could.
"That I don't, Master Malfoy. He's whistle clean. Though, there's something... it's a bit pulsy, isn't it?" She smacked her lips. "And... minty?"
"His magic's helping to keep him alive. Pass me the potions array and get the healing salve from the medkit."
With the curses lifted, Draco could deal with the physical damage. He was relieved it all seemed to be bleeding-related. He wasn't healer enough to deal with things like broken bones or missing organs. But fuck him if he hadn't learned to cast a competent Vulnera Sanentur after his own experiences with Sectumsempra.
Draco let Mufty strip Potter and pour blood-replenishing potions down his gullet while Draco downed a Pepper-Up. Then he set about finding each wound, tracing and singing, tracing and singing, to cleanse and close them. "Dittany paste," he instructed. "Third row center. The green one. Spread it on... fuck it. Everything. I can make more."
He wasn't going to give Potter any reason to later gripe about scars.
Draco finished casting and sank into a too-comfortable armchair while Mufty finished salving. Potter slept on, but that wasn't necessarily cause to worry. Staying alive could take a lot out of a wizard. His color was much better, and except for some bruising around his biceps and shoulders, the Boy Who Inexplicably Kept Living looked rather fit.
Fine. Not fit. Fine. No, well. He looked... well. Draco rubbed his burning eyes and left Potter to Mufty's tender care before he could consider just how good Potter looked.
After a quick shower and a poke downstairs to confirm the front hall had been cleaned and the wards hadn't suddenly gone on holiday, Draco returned to Potter's bedside with a tumbler of firewhiskey and a head full of questions.
Potter was still sleeping, of course. Draco sank into the comfy armchair again and brooded. Mufty had changed the sheets and given Potter what looked to be a fairly thorough sponge bath. She'd also dressed him in a pair of Draco's pyjamas. Burgundy and gold silk, his least favorite, so that was all right. He'd told her to incinerate Potter's clothes and Auror robes rather than try to salvage them. Blood, ash, and gaping rents aside, there could be residual curse magic laid upon them. Better to consign them to the fire.
Which just left Potter. Why had he come here? How had he slipped undetected through the manor's wards? After seeing the boundless sea of Potter's magic, Draco had no doubt he could have punched his way through, but not undetected. That required finesse, not power. Potter had as much finesse as a drunken erumpent.
And why here? Why come to him and not Granger or St. Mungo's? It couldn't be a curse compelling him, nor a potion. Draco had stripped everything away. All that was left was Potter in Draco's pyjamas and his stupid pulsing sea of champagne magic.
Draco sipped his firewhiskey, let it burn through him, let his eyelids droop on a similar sea of unanswered questions.