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.
"You're going to drop that glass. Let go."
Someone tugged at something in Draco's grip. He held it tighter, just to be contrary. "S'not a glass, you git. 'Sa tumbler. If I drop it, it's well-named."
The someone gave up. "Fine. Break your glass. I don't care. Where's my wand?"
Draco cracked open one eye. Harry Potter loomed over him with his stupid hair and his stupid glasses and a stupidly annoyed frown on his face. "I'm sitting on it."
The frown deepened. "You... no you... you wouldn't... you're lying." Potter sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It ruffled into its usual messy configuration. Mufty must have washed it when she gave him the sponge bath.
Draco grinned, his wit returning as he woke up. "No, it's here. Wanna try to retrieve it?" He wiggled in his chair.
"Merlin, no. Not when you're in this sort of mood. Where are we? What time is it? Where are my clothes?"
Draco set his tumbler aside and pulled out his wand. Potter didn't even flinch. "Lumos." Draco looked around. Ah. Right. "We're in the Swan Room. Malfoy Manor. It's nighttime. Your clothes should be in the incinerator right now. Your wand is in the top drawer of the bedside table. And you have a lot of questions for a prat who landed on my doorstep, covered in blood and curses and begging not to go to St. Mungo's."
Draco paused. Potter was studying his hands. The room. Even his glasses, taking them off and running his hands over them before slipping them back on. "You're welcome, by the way."
Potter blinked down at him. "For?"
"Merlin's balls, I'm going to Stupefy you again and undo all my hard work."
Forget Stupefy, Draco was going to punch that stupid look off Potter's face. It seemed to have helped Granger's feelings towards Draco back in third year. "Yesterday. The lift. At the Ministry?"
"Ah. Right. Sorry. I... " Potter shook his head, somehow managing to throw his hair into even greater disarray. "Long night," he said, smiling.
Smiling. At Draco. Like they were...
Draco stood, breaking the odd intimacy of that look. "What the fuck, Potter? I know you're not confounded. Is this one of those muggle concussion things?"
"Wizards can get concussions too, Malfoy."
"Then you definitely need to go to St. Mungo's."
"Brain's a delicate thing, Potter." Draco eyed Potter's brow, the faded, famous scar. "Not that you've got much to work with. But, you know, preserve what you have."
"I said no." Potter spread his stance, hands at his sides as though preparing to duel. He should have looked ridiculous with his hair sticking out every which way, his borrowed pyjamas too long in the arm and leg, and no wand in his hand, but he somehow managed to convey the impression of implacability.
The clothes make the wizard, Draco's father had always said, and it wasn't untrue. But neither was it entirely true. The power made the wizard. Draco had now seen that power firsthand. He suspected there were maybe a half-dozen living wizards in the world who could even hope to challenge it.
And you're not one of them. You never will be.
The familiar resentment rose, cold and bitter as hoarfrost and lending Draco a different kind of strength. Maybe he could never match Potter, but he could still refuse to submit, and a contrary victory was still a victory. He went to the escritoire, pulling out paper and quill. "I don't think you understand, Potter. I don't care what you want, and I don't have to do what you say. You're going to St. Mungo's, and I'm owling Granger so she can make sure you stay there." Tylluan roused on her perch, ruffling her feathers and hooting softly.
"Draco, wait!" Potter's hand closed about Draco's forearm, a light grip, which was the only thing that kept Draco from hexing him. That and the name.
Draco? That was twice now. And it was weird.
As though sensing an imminent cursing, Potter released him. "I just... I need... just a little time to figure out what's going on, what I'm going to do. Please give that to me? I'll do anything."
"Anything?" Draco smiled.
At least Potter had the grace to look nervous at that. It was a good look on him. "Anything. What do you want, Draco?"
Your defeat, subjugation, humiliation. To be better than you. It wasn't a pretty moment of self-awareness, but Draco was used to those by now. If the power made the wizard, then having power over Harry Potter made Draco powerful.
But how? Defeating Potter in a duel only counted if Potter was doing his best. Making Potter stand still while Draco threw curses at him seemed a bit puerile. And while Draco would kill to take mastery over Potter's wand, he was fairly certain the wand wouldn't comply. So what was left?
"I want to shove my cock so far down your throat that you gag on it."
Potter blinked. His lips parted. Draco waited for the flush, for the flash of anger, for the abject disgust and inevitable refusal. And then he would drawl, So, not quite anything then, and prove to Potter that even his stupid Gryffindor courage had limits.
"Okay," Potter said, and reached for Draco's belt.
Draco backed away, bumping into the escritoire. Potter followed. "What? You weren't supposed to... what're you playing at, Potter? You're not... I'm not—"
"Yes I am. And so are you. And if the Wizarding World knew it would be a complete pain in the arse, which is why neither of us has made a big noise about it." Potter had the belt unbuckled and was working on the fly, and Draco should try to stop him, but...
"But we hate each other." Which was better than 'but you were supposed to say no', but not by much.
Potter stopped, hands clutching the open V of Draco's trousers. "Because wanting to shove your cock down someone else's throat is about love? This is about power, Malfoy. I get that. It's always been about power between us. You have something I want: your silence. And I have something you want in return. Mine."
It was a trick. It had to be. Potter was calling Draco's bluff, that was all. He expected Draco to back down first. Because he was right, it had always been about power between them.
Draco leaned back and braced his hands on the edge of the escritoire. "Then you're doing a lot of talking for someone who's offering his silence."
Potter smiled, the annoying smile of someone who has a secret, and slid his hand down to cup Draco's flaccid cock.
Ffffuuuck. Potter's hand warmed the silk of Draco's trunks, stroking Draco's cock awake. And even though Draco wanted to do nothing more than close his eyes and give himself over to the impossible reality of Harry Potter giving him a hand-job, he kept his gaze locked with Potter's. This wasn't sex. This was a standoff. Potter would back down before Draco did.
Which meant a little taunting could only speed matters along. "You've done this before," Draco said, letting his lip curl as though that could only be a shameful thing. He rolled his hips, pressing into Potter's hand.
Potter's smile widened. "Didn't I already admit that?"
"I just assumed a certain level of natural prudery. Aren't you and the Weaslette—" Draco's taunt ended on a choked sound when Potter's grip tightened to the point of pain.
"Are you really stupid enough to insult my friends when your balls are in my hand?"
Draco was no longer sure how stupid he was, how stupid Potter could make him. It seemed less and less likely that Potter was going to back down, which meant soon it would be Potter's teeth threatening him, and it was stupid how hard that thought made him.
A fact Potter seemed very aware of. He shoved Draco's trousers down to his thighs. "Ginny and I aren't together anymore, so fidelity's not an issue. Thanks for your concern." He knelt in front of Draco, lifting his cock and opening his mouth and holy fuck Potter was actually going to do this and—
"Wait." Draco released his death grip on the escritoire and grabbed Potter's shoulders. The part of Draco that couldn't back down warred with the part that couldn't force Potter to suck him off in exchange for... anything. He looked down, and everything about what he saw seemed disconnected and surreal. His hard cock. Potter's hand. Potter's eyes, and those stupid glasses. "What are you... how can you... why are you doing this?"
"Do you want me to stop?"
Draco shook his head.
"I'm doing this because I want to." Green, green eyes met his, made larger and more earnest by those stupid fucking glasses. "I'm not ashamed of wanting you, Draco," Potter said, and his eyes, I'm not ashamed of you.
And then Potter closed his stupid green eyes, leaned in, and slowly took in Draco's cock until his nose bumped Draco's abdomen and his glasses were nudged askew. One hand held Draco's hip in place, the other stroked his balls. Potter's throat worked around the head. His tongue lay flat along the base. His soft, shallow breaths stirred the hair there.
A strangled cry caught in Draco's throat. How was it that Potter was the one with a mouthful of cock, but Draco was the one choking?
Fucking Potter, Draco thought, but he couldn't seem to dredge up his usual level of vitriol. Maybe it was stuck in his throat with the rest of his tangled emotions. He lifted a shaking hand and rested it atop Potter's head, stroking, soothing, smoothing that wild hair that he usually found so annoying. Potter's throat flexed again in an aborted swallow, followed by a soft sound that might have been a gag. He slid back on Draco's cock before he could start choking on it.
And, inexplicably, Draco kept his grip on Potter's head light and let him pull away. "Why?" he whispered, watching Potter's lips still circling halfway down his cock.
Potter's eyes opened. He looked up at Draco as he sucked him off. Not as deep as that first dive, maybe, but just as hungry. He wrapped a hand around the base of Draco's cock—to steady it. To milk it. Those stupid glasses remained horribly askew. Draco left them, alternating between smoothing and mussing Potter's hair. Potter's mouth was soft and warm and wet, and Draco wanted to thrust deep again, but he resisted the urge.
"Why?" he asked, and he wasn't sure if the question was for Potter or himself.
Potter's lips slid off Draco's cock. His hand still worked it. He released his hold on Draco's hip to push his glasses back in place. "That's a very good question, innit?" he said with that same secret smile. He stood up, chest close enough to bump, lips close enough that his breath tickled Draco's cheek. He continued to gently wank Draco off. "Don't worry, Malfoy. You'll work it out. You're not a complete git."
Those teasing words should have banished Draco's confusion, reignited his irritation—the insult, the gentle mockery, the suggestion that Potter knew something, had something, was something that Draco didn't, hadn't, wasn't. But it wasn't the usual cold anger that flushed through Draco. His fist tightened in Potters hair. He closed that mile-wide inch of space and snogged Potter until his glasses were crooked again.
Potter released his hold on Draco's cock, fingers digging into Draco's arms. He dragged Draco across the room. They hit the bed and tumbled across it.
"Off," Draco broke the kiss long enough to order, even as he grabbed the edge of Potter's borrowed pyjama top and dragged it over his head. He threw it across the room, and a clatter followed that sounded nothing like fabric.
"Shut-up, Potter." Draco grabbed Potter's wrists and pinned them above his head, held Potter in place with his weight. He kissed and sucked his way down Potter's neck. "You look better without them anyways."
Potter's answering laugh was breathless and broke off on a whimper when Draco's teeth scraped skin. "Someday you'll learn to appreciate them."
"Not bloody likely," Draco muttered, but he couldn't be arsed to pursue the argument. There were more interesting territories to explore. Like Potter's skin. Soft. Clean, scented with dittany and the expensive bergamot soap Draco's mother insisted on sending from Italy. Mufty must have used it when cleaning him up. Draco dragged in a breath, burying his nose deeper into the hollow above Potter's clavicle, seeking out the scent underneath those others. Potter's scent. Harry's scent.
"Malfoy, I swear to fucking Merlin—" Potter broke Draco's hold on his wrists so he could yank at Draco's shirt.
Draco was tempted to snap at him to have some care for the fabric and the buttons, but... fuck it. That's what house elves were for. He lifted his head and glared down at Potter. "Oh, it's Malfoy again, is it? What happened to 'Draco, Draco'?" He made his voice deliberately breathy.
Potter's glare faltered. "You're Malfoy when you're being annoying." He rolled his hips, the hard cock that pressed into Malfoy's only softened by a single layer of silk.
"Well then, I guess you'll always be Potter," Draco said, grinding down. Flirting. Merlin help him, he was flirting with Harry Fucking Potter.
Something was deeply wrong with the order of the universe, and he was so hard he didn't even care what it might be. Draco pushed upright, kneeling between Potter's widespread legs. He looked down at that flushed skin, those soft lips and eyes too wide and earnest. Eyes that gazed up at Draco as though Potter didn't care that there was something deeply not right about any of this.
Like he didn't think it was strange at all.
"I'm going to fuck you," Draco said, waiting for Potter to flinch, for some sign of hesitation.
Potter's bone-deep shiver of arousal definitely didn't count. "Okay."
Okay. Okay? No, there was nothing okay about it. Draco wasn't even a top. Usually. But the idea of bottoming for Harry Potter, of submitting to him like that? No. No fucking way. Apparently the universe hadn't gone completely off its nut. Draco took comfort from that tiny bit of logical consistency as he Accio'd the lube from his potions array and shoved out of his trousers.
Potter scrambled out of his pyjama bottoms, graceless in his urgency. Draco let that spark his irritation back into life, stoked the familiar burn as he slicked his cock with a few strokes. He didn't want to be charmed by Potter's gangly—lean, well-muscled—legs, his messy—mussed. You did that—hair, his stupid slack lips. But not chapped anymore, at least. Red. Swollen. From kissing. From being wrapped around Draco's cock.
Draco groaned and shoved Potter up against the headboard, pinning one knee up under his arm and kissing the ever-loving hell out of those cock-swollen lips. His cock slid alongside Potter's, slicking it. They both groaned louder than the bed beneath them.
Draco wanted to say fuck all and shove in without prep. If all had been right with the universe, he would have, just to make Potter squirm. Instead, he pulled back enough to slide his hand down Potter's cock and balls, to the tight pucker of his hole. Draco brushed a thumb over it. Potter jerked. Those stupid long lashes fluttered against his cheeks. Draco rocked his hand, working a finger inside. Potter's whole body rocked in counterpoint. His muscles tensed and relaxed, tensed and relaxed. He was fucking himself on Draco's hand, and it was bloody amazing.
And like all amazing things, Draco just had to open his mouth. To test it. To make sure it was real. Probably to ruin it. "You like that, don't you Potter?" he whispered with only a shadow of his usual sneer. "My finger inside you." He slid a second finger in, working, stretching, telling his throbbing cock it could wait its turn. "You fucking love it."
Potter's eyes fluttered open. His breathing came heavy and uneven, his body trembled with the effort to remain spread and relaxed. And yet his gaze and words were steady and solid and true as bedrock. "So do you, Malfoy."
That quiet certainty shook Draco. He buried his face against Potter's neck, buried a third finger in Potter's ass. "Call me Draco again."
Potter's arms wrapped around him in something almost like a hug, except for the way his fingers dug into Draco's ass. "Stop being an annoying prat and fuck me already." Pause. Squeeze. "Malfoy."
Growling, Draco removed his fingers and pushed up Potter's other leg, opening him wide. His cock nudged Potter's hole, his wide, worked hole, and it would be so easy to thrust in, but... "Draco. Say it."
He wasn't the one who'd turned his name into a power game. Potter had done that. But it was one now, and Draco was going to win it. It didn't matter that he had Harry Potter spread wide and ready to fuck beneath him. Didn't matter that the head of Draco's cock was already pressing past the tight ring even though Draco had intended to make Potter wait. He wanted Potter subbed to him in every way. And if that meant making him gasp Draco's name while he came, so be it. It was Potter's own doing. "Say it."
"Say what... Malfoy?" Potter could have been a Slytherin with that smirk. Draco pushed in further, until there wasn't any further to go, and the smirk fled, leaving behind slack lips and glassy eyes. Potter tilted his head back against the headboard, eyes closing, tongue pressed to his teeth.
Draco caught that tongue, sucked on it, giving himself a moment—just a moment—to appreciate that he was buried balls deep in Harry Potter and fuck he needed another moment because that thought alone had him edging. He broke the kiss, breathing hard. He was the one trembling now, each stroke of Potter's hands over his ass kept him trembling on the edge.
And then lips. At his ear. A breath. "Fuck me hard. Malfoy."
Draco decided the moan that followed couldn't possibly have come from him. That denial gave him a measure of control. He used Potter's spread legs to brace himself and began doing just that, pulling out and slamming home. No way was he going to come until Potter relented. Years on a broom gave Draco the leg strength and endurance and balance to slam into Potter again and again. He shifted, hitched Potter's legs higher, watched those stupid fucking lashes flutter and those parted lips taunt him with whispers of Yes, Malfoy. Harder. Fucking hell, Malfoy.
Until Draco found the right angle, the one he'd been looking for, and Potter's eyes flew open and a whimpered, choked sound that might have been Draco's name escaped him. And then he was bucking, coming all over his own belly and Draco's too, and Draco had to slow down just to watch, because fucking hell, who knew Potter could come undone like that?
Draco followed after a few deep thrusts. He pressed his forehead to Potter's and came just a little undone himself, releasing everything he usually held clenched in a knot in the pit of his soul—anger, bitterness, resentment, control, pride. He sobbed through his orgasm, body shaking with the strength of it. And all through, Potter held him, stroked him, until there was nothing left to release.
Draco let go of Potter's legs, sagged atop him without much care as to whether he was too heavy or not. He should... move. He should clean up?
He should definitely stop mouthing lazy kisses against Potter's shoulder like he was a drunken kneazle.
"Shove off," Potter said. Gently. He pushed Draco to one side just as gently. Draco allowed himself to be rolled over only for as long as it took for Potter to fumble his wand out of the bedside table drawer and cast a few cleaning charms. Then he grabbed Potter's wrists, his shoulders, his waist, and muzzily wrestled him back into his arms.
"Okay, okay. Merlin, you're as grabby as the lake squid," Potter grumbled, settling into the little spoon position.
"M'fay the nicest things," Draco mumbled into the nape of Potter's neck. There was something wrong about cuddling with his nemesis that was even stranger than the fantastic shag, but Draco was still riding the lull after orgasm and couldn't be arsed to care. He let his eyes slide closed and kissed the back of Potter's neck.
Potter tensed. Shivered. Relaxed. "Well, it was a very nice shag. Draco."
Now he said it. Draco nipped the spot he'd just kissed and then kissed it again in apology. "Fuck you, Potter. Go to sleep."
Draco awoke to a knot of anxiety in the pit of his belly and the fading dream sound of a ticking clock. His room—no, not his room. Gold-flocked wallpaper. The Swan Room—was grey with the pre-light of dawn. And he was sleeping on his side rather than his back, curled around a long, lean form with mussed black hair and a nice, firm ass.
Harry Potter. He was spooning Harry Potter.
Years of Slytherin training kicked in. Draco controlled his breathing, kept his limbs loose when all he really wanted to do was shove away until the last few hours made sense.
When he was sure he hadn't woken Potter with his initial start, Draco began edging away from him. He paused every time Potter snuffled or shifted in his sleep. Like a damned puppy, Draco thought, annoyed with himself that he couldn't seem to dredge up his usual mental vitriol against Potter. He slid off the bed, cautious and quiet as a cat. Retrieving his wand and trousers, he slipped out of the guest suite and quietly closed the door.
The door to his own suite got a proper slam. The only thing that made sense about any of this was Draco falling asleep. Good sex always left him limp and useless for anything else.
Good. Sex. Good sex with Harry fucking Potter. Who wasn't under the influence a love spell or a lust potion or an imperius curse as far as Draco could tell. Who'd flirted and mocked and invited Draco willingly even though they'd spent most of their lives happily hating each other. Who'd come to Draco for help when he was bleeding and covered in a web of curses. Through a web of wards he shouldn't have been able to get through. Trusting Draco when he trusted nobody else.
Draco showered and dressed and tried to dredge up the familiar old hatred, but all he could manage was an increasing irritation at the baffling riddle that had led to him shagging Harry Potter. And liking it.
His distracted ramblings led him to the great hall and the entry portico. The house elves had cleaned Potter's blood off the porch, but the gardeners hadn't yet replaced a nearby topiary that Potter must have crashed through on entry. It listed across the wide front walkway, branches broken, leaves shredded. Given the break pattern, Draco suspected it was a botched apparition that brought Potter here. Which still didn’t explain how he got through the wards without Draco noticing.
"Damned fool's lucky he didn't splinch himself," Draco muttered, breaking off a few of the worst hanging bits. Something buried deep in the foliage caught Draco's eye, a gleam of gold that reminded him of Potter's cleansed magic.
Curious—but always careful because this was Malfoy Manor and who knew what cursed objects might tumble out of an old hatbox or a dusty, hollowed-out book—Draco pulled out his wand to part the branches. The gleam resolved into a dreadfully familiar shape. Fear washed over Draco's skin like a downpour of ticking spider legs. It left goosepricks in its wake.
Draco yanked the object out of the bush and ran into the manor. "Potter!" His footsteps echoed as he stormed up the stairs and yanked open the door of the Swan Room. "Potter!"
Empty, but only recently so. Draco took in the rumpled covers, the medkit and potions array still open on the escritoire. The jar of lube sat—neatly lidded—next to them, pinning down the corner of a curling piece of parchment.
Draco headed for it, kicking something that rested in the doorway. He looked down. Picked up the pair of black-framed glasses that had been flung across the room with Potter's borrowed pyjama top. Potter must not have been able to find them, wedged against the door. He'd fled without his glasses.
"Stupid bloody blind bloody git," Draco bit out, quite able now to dredge up the anger that had eluded him earlier. He threw the glasses onto the rumpled bed and snatched up the note. There wasn't much explanation. Just a date, time, location, and a single line in Potter's messy cursive:
'Don't fuck this up. You know why.'
Draco set the note down and, next to it, carefully, the little golden hourglass he'd found in the shredded topiary. There was no chain, no protective filigreed casing. It was an unshielded, unrestricted Time-Turner. He dropped his head into shaking hands. "Fucking Potter."
"Does nobody appreciate the fact that Malfoy hexed me today?" Harry muttered into his butterbeer. His breath over the top of the bottle made a soft hooting sound that was drowned out by the laughter of his so-called friends and the general noise of the Candle and Crow.
"—And then he just keeled over like a plank." Ron used his arm to demonstrate Harry's moment of keeling. "Flat on his back in front of the entire class of recruits. And then... and then..."
Neville took up the narrative when Ron couldn't continue for laughing. "And then I said, 'Many thanks to Auror Potter for demonstrating how not to approach a hostile target. Class dismissed.'"
Another round of laughter followed. Harry continued to blow disgruntled notes over his butterbeer. Maybe it had been a little funny, but it definitely hadn't been this funny.
Ginny at least made an attempt at sympathy, struggling to bite down on her giggles as she leaned across the table and patted Harry's arm. "But you weren't seriously hurt, right Harry?"
Only his pride, being taken down like that in front of the whole department. He'd only been out for a few moments, but, "He broke my glasses." Which Harry had fixed with a quick Oculus Reparo, but they still sat unsteadily on his face, like they were liable to break again at any moment. "And doesn't anyone care that Malfoy hexed me for no good reason?"
That made Hermione laugh even harder. Harry shot her a glare. Ron slung an arm around his shoulders, breath hot with firewhiskey. "Sorry, mate, but Malfoy's a git. Nothing new to that. He's always been a git. No point hating him more than we already do. But watching you go down like a plank right before you're supposed to lead a training session on navigating hostile environments, that was... that was just..." Ron wiped away tears.
"And you have to admit, git or not, Malfoy managed it with style," Neville said. "The wave."
"Oh Merlin. The wave. The wave!" and Ron was doubled over again, laughing bubbles into his firewhiskey.
Harry had been out for the wave, but it was, to quote Recruit Serpatia Venn, a thing of beauty. Harry'd bet money Recruit Venn had been sorted Slytherin, the little traitor.
"I don't see why you're laughing," he grumbled at Hermione. "You were angry enough when you caught us before. And I thought you were escorting him from the building."
She shrugged and sipped her wine. "He said he could find his own way out."
"And you trusted him?" Harry turned his glare on Millie. "You're a bad influence on her. You've tricked her into thinking that Slytherins can be trusted."
Millie raised one dark and terribly expressive brow. "Hermione's not the one who lowered her wand while facing an angry Draco Malfoy."
Which set the whole table off again.
"Don't be mean, Harry," Hermione said, leaning over to give Millie a buss on the cheek. "Have you considered that maybe I'm a good influence on her? After all, she's the only person here not laughing at you."
Harry had to admit that was true. He never quite knew what to make of Hermione's girlfriend. The Millicent Bulstrode he'd know from their school days had been a large, lumbering bully. The woman who allowed herself to be dragged along whenever Hermione could carve out the time to join them at the pub tended to watch their group's antics with a bemused reserve and occasional commentary dryer than the Gobi desert.
"Because it's not funny," he said, raising his bottle to Millie and nodding his head with exaggerated respect. "Thank you for understanding."
"Oh, I think it's hilarious." Millie timed her quiet words for when Harry was taking a sip. He choked on his butterbeer, and the rest of the table descended into another round of helpless giggling. Millie smiled and winked at Hermione. "Just not for the reasons you think."
"Why is it so funny, then?" Harry asked.
Millie exchanged a long, silent look with Hermione, the sort of look that couples sometimes exchanged that always made Harry jealous, as though they could do leglimancy without magic.
Hermione wrinkled her nose. Millie nodded and took a sip of her firewhiskey. "You get into it with Draco, a fight that Hermione had to stop by disarming you both, which I know you must have found a bit humiliating, so how much more humiliating must that have been for Draco? And then you run into him not ten minutes later with a whole passel of Auror recruits at your back, and your bright idea is to bring it up again?"
Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat and picked at the label of his butterbeer. "Well. Yeah. It was the right thing to do."
"Bollocks, Potter. You were being a self-righteous twat, and you got exactly what a self-righteous twat deserves. What, in your entire history with Draco Malfoy, made you think he'd react to that with anything other than a hex?"
The laughter ebbed. Ron stiffened at his side. Neville exchanged an uncomfortable glance with Ginny. Hermione put a hand on her girlfriend's arm. "Millie..."
"So what you're saying is that I shouldn't have tried to apologise?"
Millie gave him a look that reminded him oddly of Malfoy, even though the dark haired, bold-featured woman looked nothing like the pale, pointy-faced ferret. It must be a look they taught to all Slytherins the night they were sorted. The 'how-stupid-can-a-Gryffindor-be?' look. "I'm saying that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same patterns over and over expecting different results."
But he's the one who asked for an apology! Harry wanted to wail, except he hadn't shared the details of their fight in the lift, not even with Hermione. Malfoy had tried to de-escalate that one, and Harry had been the one to push. "I still don't get why that's funny," he mumbled.
"It's because either Malfoy already has that figured, which means he gets off on taking the piss out of you. Or he hasn't, which means you're both idiots. Either way, I think it's fucking hilarious." Millie downed the rest of her firewhiskey. "Next round's on me."
"Hermione?" Ron whispered in a strangled voice after Millie left the table.
"Mmm?" Hermione murmured, watching Millie's departure with a smile that said someone was getting some tonight.
"Remind me never to piss off your girlfriend. She's even scarier than you are."
"She is, isn't she?" Hermione said. She leaned across the table and patted Harry's arm. "But hey! She got everyone to stop laughing at you."
Harry groaned and pressed his forehead to the table. "I hate you all."
Thursday & Friday
The mockery cease-fire didn't carry over to the next day. Rumor of Harry's defeat in the Battle of the Lift had spread through the department. Head Auror Savage called Harry up during the morning briefing and asked him to demonstrate how Protego could be used to counteract a Stupefy, as if Harry didn't have the highest countercurse cast rating in the department.
"I really hate you all," Harry muttered to Ron and Neville as he retook his seat and did his best to ignore his grinning co-workers.
That was only the beginning. Harry's fellow Aurors spent the day popping out of doorways and around corners, shouting 'stupefy!' and then guffawing over their own wit. It didn't help that Harry's glasses kept breaking even after multiple Oculus Reparos.
"It'll pass soon enough, mate," Ron said on their way to lunch as they waited for the lift. "You just have to wait for someone else to do something embarrassing, and then it'll be them in the hot seat."
And then the lift doors opened to reveal Ernie McMillan in ill-fitting formal robes and a bad blond wig. He was laughing so hard that he was barely able to gasp out his 'stupefy,' and his jaunty wave looked more like someone flailing to catch his breath.
Harry took the stairs for the rest of the day.
The mood on the second floor was more subdued the next day, and when Savage called the morning briefing to order, he was all business.
"Yesterday there was an attempted break-in on the ninth level."
Harry sat forward in his seat. He knew the ninth level better than most, and not just because Hermione was secretly the head of that department. He remembered very well what had happened there in his fifth year. What he'd done. What he'd lost. Ron and Neville both sat up with similar interest.
"The Department of Mysteries' security team has reached out to us to provide additional support. Aurors Longbottom and Weasley, you'll be in charge of the external investigation. Auror Potter, you'll coordinate with the department security head to identify and shut down vulnerabilities around any... er... I think the term used was 'potential exploits'?"
"Muggle hacking term, sir. I understand what's meant by it."
Savage nodded and handed mission dossiers to each of them. "Good. Potter will be the main point of contact for the department. You understand that all information regarding the department, the personnel, and the research conducted by the Unspeakables is restricted?"
"Yes sir," they said in chorus.
"Good. Get going, then. I expect daily briefs, but you can skip the morning meetings."
Harry exchanged a small grin with Ron and Neville. Any assignment that got them out of the interminable morning briefings was a welcome one. They headed out past the good-natured glares and groans of their fellow Aurors.
"Oh, and Potter?"
"Sir?" Harry knew he was going to regret pausing the moment he stopped in the doorway.
"Maybe take the stairs. I hear the lifts can be dangerous to the unwary."
Harry stalked back to his office and pretended he wasn't the butt of the laughter pouring out of the briefing room.
"—best suspects right now are the Prophecy Retrieval and Transmittal Society, the Real Illuminati of North Gosport, and the Fenians, but those are just the groups that make regular threats against the Department. It's unlikely any of 'em are actually behind it. They aren't known for taking action," Ron said, paging through the notes he'd taken on his brief. They'd gathered in Harry's office to compare notes and coordinate.
"The Fenians?" Neville said, shuffling his papers as he searched for the reference.
"'Snot in the official reports. I just know from some things Seamus has said. I've already sent him an owl to see if he's willing to talk more, off the record."
"Right. You'll follow up with him, then, and I'll see about discounting the other two?"
"It'd help if we knew anything about the attack. How far they got, what stopped them. What they were after, maybe? There's fuck-all in my dossier." Ron raised a brow at Harry.
Harry showed them the contents of his dossier—a single sheet of paper, most of the lines redacted with thick black ink. "You have what I have. I'll be meeting with departmental staff this evening." At Ron's sharp glance, Harry gave a quick shake of his head. He knew who he was meeting with, and Ron knew, but Harry was pretty sure Neville didn't know. "I'll tell you what I can in the morning."
If Neville noticed the silent exchange, he was smart enough not to ask about it. He packed up his papers. "In the meantime, who's up for some wild goose chases?"
"Might as well side-along with you to Gosport until I hear back from Seamus," Ron said, following Neville out.
Harry opened his copy of their dossier to familiarise himself with it. He flinched when the bridge of his glasses broke again and they clattered onto his desktop.
"Bloody hell." He cast another Oculus Reparo and shoved them back on his face. Pulling on his Auror robes, he headed out, bypassing the lift in favor of the stairs.
He took the floo to Diagon Alley and window-shopped the edge off his irritation. It was a warm August day, but the alley formed a bit of a wind-tunnel, and his open robes caught the breeze and cooled him off. Quality Quidditch Supplies had a demo model of the not-yet-released Firebolt Ultima. A girl who barely looked old enough to be out of Hogwarts put the Ultima through its paces for a crowd of folks who could never afford the professional-level broom. Harry toyed with the idea of putting his name on the pre-order list, but... what for? His current Firebolt was a few years old, but it was still better than any other broom on the Ministry's intramural teams, and he was the best seeker. Getting a better broom would feel just a bit like cheating.
Still... it was a very pretty broom.
Feeling old, Harry dragged himself away and trudged on towards Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment. The displays for new school year supplies were up and hadn't yet been decimated, and Harry realised that they must still be in summer hols.
Which meant maybe the witch at Quality Quidditch Supplies was still of Hogwarts age and her gig at the broom store was just a summer job. Somehow, that made him feel infinitely better, or at least less old. He found what he'd come for, quickly made his purchase, and paused just outside the threshold to spello-tape the hell out of his glasses.
He didn't think anything of it when a shadow fell over him. He just took a step to the side to chase the light.
The shadow followed. "What's the matter, Potter? Someone break your glasses?"
Harry tensed at the sound of that familiar drawl. He looked up to see Malfoy standing close enough that, even without his glasses, Harry was sure it was Malfoy and not Macmillan in his cheap wig and dress robes. As if the obnoxious drawl wasn't confirmation enough.
"Malfoy!" Harry fumbled his glasses and the tape, trying to get the former on his face and the latter out of his hands so he could draw his wand before another Stupefy came his way. The freshly opened tape seemed determined to prove just how effectively sticky it was, and he ended up with the glasses and tape tangled in one hand. But at least he managed to get his wand out.
He blinked at blurry Malfoy and, although he couldn't be sure, he suspected that tight frown on Malfoy's pinched face was an attempt to fight back a smile. The cough that followed reminded Harry very much of Millicent Bulstrode's attempts not to laugh at the pub.
Harry opened his mouth to tell Malfoy to sod off, but Millie's comments about patterns and self-righteousness gave him pause. Instead, he sighed and raised his wand and glasses-taped hand. "You know what? I give up. Just hex me. At least if you do it here I won't have the entire department making jokes for days."
"Merlin, Potter. You're such a martyr. Is that how you defeated the Dark Lord? I give up, just curse me?" Malfoy's head cocked to one side. "Oh, wait. It rather is, isn't it?"
So much for taking a Slytherin's advice. "I've changed my mind. I'm going to hex you now."
"Can you even see me to aim properly? Wouldn't want to take out any innocent bystanders. Here. I call truce." Malfoy pulled something pale from his pocket and waved it. "Now give me your hand before you end up hexing yourself."
Harry hesitantly held out his hand, wand ready because clearly this had to be some sort of trick.
Malfoy did pull out his wand, which had Harry tensing, but the spell he directed at Harry's hand was a simple Reglutino.
The tape unstuck itself with a sad little flop, like overcooked pasta. Harry frowned down at it, and then up at Malfoy, still wary of a trap. He slipped the glasses on his face and the rest of the spello-tape in his pocket. He could do the repairs properly later when he didn't need to keep his wand trained on Malfoy. "Thanks."
Malfoy's frown was crystal clear now that Harry had his glasses back on. He eyed Harry's wand and then, very carefully and deliberately, sheathed his own. "Well. It was my fault they were broken. For which I apologise."
Harry goggled. A feather could have knocked him over right then and he wouldn't have noticed. He searched the street beyond Malfoy's shoulders, but he didn't spot any of his fellow Aurors watching from the shadows and the stoops. Whatever this was, it didn't seem to be another joke organised by them.
"What?" Malfoy snapped.
Harry shook his head and returned to studying Malfoy. He looked like himself. He sounded like himself. And Harry didn't think there was another man alive—barring Lucius Malfoy—who could mimic that posture and tone, or contrive to make those robes look elegant rather than poncy. "Nothing... I just... it's definitely not polyjuice, and I don't think you've been Imperiused..."
"Bloody hell, Potter. This is exactly why we end up with wands drawn every time we get past exchanging names. I swear, you don't know when to keep your mouth..." Malfoy clamped his lips tight. His cheeks flushed.
Harry looked down at his wand and then, as Malfoy had done, carefully sheathed it. "You're right." Because you're an annoying git. Because half the time you're the one who starts it. Because you demand an apology and then hex me when I try to offer it.
Malfoy smirked at Harry's extended silence. "You can't think of a single sentence to follow up that isn't some self-righteous justification, can you?"
Harry met his smile, shrugged, and deliberately kept silent.
"Fine. You not-talking is even more annoying than you talking. You may speak." He waved a gloved hand as though dispensing a benediction. "I promise in the future to at least try to curb my urge to hex you."
Harry considered that promise and weighed it against Millie's observation at the pub. "And I promise to at least try to curb my urge to... be self-righteous at you?" Harry wasn't even sure what that meant, but he supposed he could give it a try if Malfoy could.
Malfoy snorted. "That will be interesting to see." He took a step back, hesitated, and Harry was certain he was going to say something else, but then he merely nodded. "Potter."
Harry watched his departing back, the swing of his robes, trying to make sense of the whole encounter. It felt like something in their pattern had changed, or could change, or might have changed if only Harry had done something differently, but now that chance for change was walking away. "Oi, Malfoy," Harry called out before he could think better of it. "You had lunch?"
Malfoy stopped. Turned. "Lunch?" he said, like Harry had just asked if he ate babies.
"I just thought... I was on my way to... we could get something. Together."
Harry already regretted saying anything. His only comfort was that Malfoy would say no. Truce aside, he hated Harry, and the feeling was mutual. He'd say no, and then Harry's stupid Gryffindor sense of honor would be satisfied, because he'd offered and Malfoy'd been the one to say no. Harry could see the 'no' forming on Malfoy's pointed, pinched features.
Malfoy pivoted and strode back to where Harry was standing. "Very well. Where did you have in mind?"
"Wha—you're saying yes?"
Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "If you didn't mean the offer, you shouldn't have made it."
"No, wait. I meant it." Harry struggled to think of the next step. What came after asking your nemesis to lunch? Oh. Right. "There's a place. It's in muggle London. Indian. Do you like samosas?" He winced the moment he said it. Muggle London? It was like he was testing Malfoy's promise not to hex him.
Malfoy's wand stayed sheathed. "Everyone likes samosas, Potter. They are tasty fried starch bombs. Flesh-eating slugs like samosas. Hell, I'd wager the Dark Lord was up for a bit of Punjabi takeaway on occasion, and he didn't even have a nose."
The condescending tone was pure Malfoy, but the words coming out were... amusing. Mocking, but not mean-spirited. Harry was too busy choking on his own shock to quite follow. "Nose?"
"Half your sense of taste is based on smell. Malfoys, for your information, have a superior olfactory sense."
"Well. Obviously." And Harry knew he should keep his mouth shut, but... "That's why you always look like you smell something foul."
Malfoy's lips twitched, almost as though he was tempted to laugh at Harry's joke.
There was something deeply wrong with the universe.
"Exactly. Now, take me to these samosas."
Deeply, deeply wrong.
Whatever was wrong with the universe, it couldn't be all bad because there were samosas and raita and mint chutney, and when all conversational topics seemed rife with pitfalls, there was always Quidditch.
"I saw it. Spudmore's off his nut. Did you see the length of those bristles?" Malfoy kept his voice low even though Harry had cast a Muffliato around their tiny patio table, but that in no way lessened the intensity of his disdain. "Everyone knows long bristles make for shit maneuverability."
Harry found himself defending the Ultima with similar passion. "But they're better for stability, which the Keeper and Beaters need. A decent Chaser or Seeker can compensate for maneuverability more easily than stability—"
"A good rider shouldn't have to compensate for a poorly made broom or the incompetence of his teammates. If you're having stability issues, get your arse off the handle. I'll take a broom with short bristles, thanks."
"What, like the Thunderbolt III?" Harry snorted. "The broom that couldn't even make it to market because the mass produced version couldn't pass basic bludger safety regulations.
Malfoy's lip curled. "That's a production flaw, not a design flaw."
"It's a design flaw when the bristles aren't long enough to properly hold the protection charm."
Their empty dishes rattled when Malfoy's hand came down on the table. "Production flaw. Hire a competent wizard to cast the protection charms like you would for custom brooms, and it's no problem." He looked off somewhere over Harry's left shoulder, his expression gone completely soppy. "You didn't see the prototype tests in Edinburgh last summer. Potter, it was a thing of beauty."
Malfoy got invited to see top secret prototype tests? Harry tamped down on a surge of jealousy. "And when they start letting custom brooms fly in sanctioned Quidditch matches, I'll be drooling right there with you, Malfoy. But there's a reason regulation brooms are required for international play and why teams have to use the same make and model across the board, and for that, nothing beats Spudmore's designs." He sat back in his chair, arms crossed, and nodded as though that was the final word on the subject. Which it was.
Malfoy's soppy look pinched into a glare. He threw his wadded napkin at Harry's face, which was a step up from a hex. "People like you are the reason that Seekers are stuck making do with Spudmore. That man understands so little about a seeker's needs that he couldn't find a snitch if it was shoved up his..." Malfoy looked around, seemed to remember they were in a public place, and finished with a mumbled, "Quaffle."
Harry laughed. The most astonishing thing about samosas with Malfoy wasn't that they'd gone a full hour without hexing each other. It wasn't that Malfoy had transfigured his fancy robes into a passable—though still fancy—muggle suit and coat. It wasn't even that Malfoy had been perfectly civil to the muggle waitstaff. It was that Malfoy was interesting. Funny. Completely wrong in every possible way about Quidditch and the cutting edge of broom technology, but arguing with him when they weren't hexing each other had turned out to be fun.
So fun that Harry had lost track of time. He stifled his laughter, but couldn't quite stifle his smile. "I'd say we should test it, but I should probably get back."
Malfoy tugged on his gloves and followed him out. "We'd have to get our hands on a pair of prototypes. And you're assuming equivalent capabilities, but I think we both know that one of us is clearly the superior seeker."
Harry recalled Millie's words at the pub and swallowed his instinctive response.
Malfoy gave him a sidelong smirk. "Nothing to say to that, Potter?"
"I am learning the value of silence where you are concerned, Malfoy," Harry said, returning smile for smirk. A fleeting expression of... Harry couldn't say what... passed over Malfoy's features, there and gone and leaving a faint flush in its wake. The strangeness of that moment served to remind Harry that the whole afternoon had been one slightly strange moment after another, gradually leading them from another almost-duel to... this.
Harry paused at the doorway of the Leaky Cauldron. "So. This has been weird."
Malfoy nodded, the ghost of a grin curving his lips. "Very weird."
"We should do weird again sometime."
"I don't..." Malfoy looked down at his gloves, taking great care to straighten them. "I'm not sure what happens next."
And Harry was? "That's why they call it the future, Malfoy. If we knew what happened next, it'd be the past."
Malfoy looked up at him with such an odd expression that Harry was quite certain the truce was over and he was about to get hexed. And then Malfoy laughed, so long and hard that he had to brace himself on the wall to keep upright, and Harry found that even more unnerving than the possibility of being hexed.
"Oh Merlin," Malfoy said, wiping away tears. "Right. We'll do weird again when the time comes. I'll expect you when I see you, Potter."
And with that enigmatic statement, Malfoy entered the Cauldron. By the time Harry had collected his wits and followed, Malfoy had already escaped via floo.
That afternoon, Harry met Hermione in her second floor office—the DMLE decoy office where she held a job that nobody could quite explain, and that didn't seem to have any reports, but that everybody agreed was vital to the functioning of the department.
She scowled at him when he caught her on the way out. "What are you doing here?"
"I thought we—"
"One moment." She dragged him into her office and shut the door, casting several silencing charms of increasing complexity. "I meant, what are you doing up here? Why on earth would Auror Potter, who has been assigned to improve security in the Department of Mysteries, possibly be coming to meet his good friend Hermione Granger, who works for the DMLE and has no association with the aforementioned department?"
Hermione's glare was as effective as a shrinking jinx. Harry hunched his shoulders. "Oh. Right."
"Right. See you in ten." She cancelled the charms and headed out, smiling and waving over her shoulder as though she hadn't just reamed him. "Thanks for the reminder Harry. The pub tonight. I won't forget."
Harry followed more slowly in her wake. He'd suspected over the years that Hermione had been missorted and really belonged in Ravenclaw, but these days he wondered if Slytherin might not be more appropriate.
Which made him think of Malfoy, which just threw him into more confusion. He barely noticed when Ernie jumped out of the office next to his in that wig and robe. Harry just raised a brow and shook his head. That seemed to have a better quelling effect than a hundred scowls. Ernie slumped back towards his own office, dragging his props behind. The snickers that followed were directed at him rather than Harry.
Harry took a few moments at his desk to spell-o-tape his glasses properly before heading down to the ninth floor.
He disliked the Department of Mysteries. Intensely. He hated the obsidian black walls of the hallways, the eerie blue torches, the circular antechamber with its array of identical doors. He'd complained once to Hermione about it. If anyone could order changes to be made, surely she could. It wasn't like the ambiance was necessary for either security or research reasons, so what purpose did it serve?
She'd given him a fond smile and a sympathetic pat on the arm, and asked him to explain again the purpose of a seeker and the game-breaking point imbalance that came with catching the snitch. This was why, as much as Harry loved Hermione, Ron was still his best mate.
Harry recognised that the mood lighting wasn't the true cause of his foul mood. The Department of Mysteries marked his first turning point. He'd learned to rely on his friends. He'd learned not to underestimate his enemies. He'd learned that prophesies could be self-fulfilling, and that nothing was inevitable save death.
He'd lost Sirius. He sort of hated this place because of it. And yet, he understood why it was necessary, and why it needed to be protected.
The door to Ordo Division was open when Harry entered the circular antechamber. Hermione was expecting him. Tugging on his Auror robes in a vain attempt to make them sit more neatly, he headed down the hallway and pushed open the door to Hermione's real office—and came face-to-face with Draco Malfoy.
Harry's wand was in his hand before he even realised he'd gone for it. Malfoy drew with equal speed, rising up and kicking his chair out of the way.
"Oh, honestly," Hermione snapped, standing and training her wand on them both. In the corner of the cramped office, Millie didn't even try to stifle her laughter. "It's Pavlovian with you two. Put them away or I'm locking you in a room with a measuring tape."
"What's he doing here?" Harry demanded, scowling because Malfoy had snapped the same exact words. They traded glare for glare. It was like Wiseacre's and samosas had never happened. The only sound in the room was Millie's choked laughter.
And then, wand never wavering, Malfoy reached into his robes and pulled out the silver pocket square, the one he'd waved earlier. It fluttered as he flicked it. "Truce?"
The ridiculousness of the situation hit Harry then. He wasn't even angry at Malfoy. Not this Malfoy. Not really. He was angry at ghosts nine years gone. He relaxed his stance, shook his head, sheathed his wand. "Truce."
Malfoy followed suit, sheathing his wand and tucking the pocket square away.
Hermione huffed. "Thank Merlin. Now sit down, both of you."
Malfoy righted his chair and sat, still keeping a wary eye on Harry. Harry sat in the only other chair. Millie, it seemed, was content to lurk in the corner.
"So, what is he doing here?" Harry asked Hermione, ignoring Malfoy's muttered I'm right here, you git.
Other than a quelling look, Hermione ignored it, too. "Draco has been an Unspeakable with the Locus Division for the past three years, ever since he finished his dual Mastery in Arithmancy and Geomancy."
Draco? Harry thought, and Three years!? He glanced at Malfoy, who was drumming gloved fingers on the arm of his chair and glaring fixedly at the wall behind Hermione's head.
"You've only been head of the department for three years," Harry said carefully. Apparently, the universe had been out of order for far longer than Harry had realised.
"That's right. Draco was one of my first recruits," Hermione said. Millie cleared her throat. "At the recommendation of my head of security."
Harry struggled to assimilate this. Hermione had been working—amicably—with Malfoy for several years, and she'd never let on.
Malfoy had voluntarily agreed to work for a muggleborn witch.
Harry'd had samosas with Malfoy and argued Quidditch and laughed at his snark without either of them hexing each other.
All right. Okay. Clearly the world was even stranger than he'd credited. "That still doesn't explain—"
"Draco's last monthly report documented the potential dangers of a research anomaly that the department had deemed benign. Last night, unknown parties attempted to infiltrate the department, we believe to acquire the anomaly."
Malfoy's chair scraped across the floor as he lunged forward, hands braced on Hermione's desk. "And you didn't tell me right off? Did they—"
"They didn't get that far. Millie's security is excellent. However, they also got away, which means they're likely to try again. And that's not all."
"We think it's an inside job," Millie said.
Hermine grimaced and pushed forward a file that had been sitting on the edge of her desk. "Apparently, I'm not the only one who reads your reports, Draco."
"Lovely." Malfoy sat down, rubbing his brow with a gloved hand.
Millie stepped forward, looming beside Hermione. "Since I can't trust my team until we determine how the intruders got their intel, we've asked the Aurors for external support. Potter's our liaison. He'll help with our internal investigation and shoring up security. Weasley and Longbottom are handling the external investigation."
The scowl Malfoy directed at Harry might as well have been a hex for all the venom in it. "Of course. Because the proper response to corruption in the Ministry is a bit of old-fashioned nepotism."
Harry stiffened and managed to not go for his wand. "That's not—"
"Oh, don't be more of a git than you can help, Malfoy," Hermione snapped. "I asked for them because they already know about the anomaly."
"We were there when it was created. Millie, can you take them? I have to give my report to the minister."
"I'll be up to rescue you when I can." Millie buried her nose in Hermione's hair for a brief moment. "C'mon boys. And keep your wands sheathed. You're not impressing anyone."
Still trying not to reel, Harry grabbed the file and followed Millie out the door and back towards the circular entry chamber. Malfoy fell into step beside him.
"You know how I said today was weird?" Harry murmured. "This is weirder."
"I'm still accustoming myself to the idea that you know about the anomaly," Malfoy muttered right back.
"I don't even know what an anomaly is!"
Millie waited for them to exit the corridor, then closed the hallway door. The blue torches guttered, sinking them into darkness, and the walls began spinning faster than Harry could follow.
"Fores Tempus," Millie muttered. The doors slowed, stopped. One torch seemed to burn more brightly than the others. "As an added security measure, the wards can now only be lifted by a member of the security staff and an Unspeakable working in tandem. Potter, I'll see about getting you credentials so you don't need me in the future. Draco?"
"Need you for what?" Harry mumbled, but he suspected he knew the answer. It would be just like Hermione to lock him in a room with Malfoy until they killed each other or sorted it out.
He watched as Millie and Malfoy worked through the counterweaving, paying attention to both sets of movements with an Auror's eye. "Those aren't standard wards," he commented when the door to Tempus opened.
"Custom. And I change them monthly."
"But they're based on a Ceccetti pattern. Easy to crack if you know the key," Malfoy said. He shrugged when Millie and Harry both gaped at him. "My parents retired to Italy. Mother likes Ceccetti for the villa."
Millie led the way into the room beyond. "Oh, how are they? I heard the Greengrasses settled in Ravenna?"
"Yes. Mother and Astoria have become quite close..."
Their conversation faded, swallowed up by the cavernous room as they made their way in and Harry paused on the threshold.
The air glittered gold, like afternoon sunlight catching dust. It looked almost exactly as it had nine years previous. Desks marched in neat lines down the center. The bell jar was gone, but timepieces of every possible variety were still mounted on the walls and hung from the vaulted ceiling. Some of them floated in place: grandfather clocks, pocketwatches, sundials, and waterclocks. And all ticking. Ticking so loud that Harry wondered how anyone managed to get any work done.
"Harry?" Millie's voice rose over the ticking. She and Malfoy had paused halfway down the length of the room.
"C-coming." Exhaling a shaking breath, Harry entered. At least it wasn't the other room.
Harry realised they were headed for the ever-falling cabinet the moment he spotted it on the far side of the room. "Oh. That anomaly," he said softly. It looked exactly the same as it had that night. A red flash reflected off a hundred curved glass surfaces, and then the glass doors shattered. The filigree-encased hourglasses fell, and then, like a movie in rewind, the cabinet reset itself to shatter and cascade all over again.
"Oh, that anomaly?" Malfoy said—screeched, almost—in a voice much higher than his usual cool drawl. He turned to Millie. "Please, please can I hex him?"
"No." Millie's brow furrowed. "Harry, you okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I just..." Harry gave her a wan smile. The Time-Turner case might not have changed since that night, but the world around it had. Millicent Bulstrode, of all people, was his friend. She was head-over-ears in love with one of his best friends. And Lucius Malfoy might have escaped justice, but Harry'd had samosas and argued with Draco about Quidditch. Samosas. In muggle London. And he'd enjoyed himself. He suspected Draco had as well. "Sorry, I just haven't been back here since..."
Millie grimaced and gave his shoulder an awkward pat. His surrogate Hermione. "Ah. Right. I see."
"Well I don't."
Millie scowled at Malfoy. "Draco..."
"No. It's okay," Harry said. Malfoy's petulance was almost comforting in its predictability. "Last time I was here was the end of fifth year. Voldemort tricked me here because he wanted the prophecy." Harry's gaze flicked briefly to the nearby door that led to the Hall of Prophecies. He plucked at his robes. No way to soften what came next, and he resented feeling that he should. "Your father was here. Bellatrix. A bunch of other Death Eaters. When we were trying to get away, Neville cast a stupefy that missed its target and hit the case."
And later, Bellatrix cast a curse that didn't miss, sending Sirius hurtling beyond Death's Veil. Harry stared at the Time-Turners, watching them fall and fall and fall. How many nights had he spent remembering Sirius' death just like that, watching him fall and fall and fall through that veil? Harry's hand flexed and he waited for Malfoy to say something. Just let him try to make some snarky comment.
The ticking of the clocks went on and on, louder and louder. And then, "Yes. I... heard something about that night. I wasn't aware that's when the case was broken."
Harry released the breath he was holding. Millie did the same. So he hadn't been the only one prepared for an explosion. But Malfoy had exercised restraint, so Harry was obliged to do the same. "I thought these Time-Turners were in a loop thing. You're saying they're not? They're dangerous?"
Malfoy nodded slowly. "An internally consistent time loop shouldn't leave any trace once the causal chain has closed. But you see the cascading pattern? That's because this isn't one time loop, it's a series in sequence, all the Time-Turners going off one after the other and creating a Mobius Loop that can never properly resolve. If an instability were to be introduced, that could expand the cascade into a fractal loop which would result in the loop becoming unfixed in spacetime. In those circumstances, you'd get an entropy engine that could conceivably collapse into a black hole with an eternally-expanding event horizon and neither of you understands a word I'm saying, do you?"
"Uh. No," Harry said.
"I'm used to it." Millie winked. "I live with Hermione."
Malfoy's lips moved as though he was counting. "It's broken. I believe I know how to fix it without breaking it further. Or erasing us all from existence." He gave Harry a hard look as though erasing everyone from existence would be Harry's fault.
Harry held up his hands. "Hey, it was Neville's spell."
"I'll be sure to thank Longbottom if we all succumb to entropy."
"Nothing like the end of the world to bring people together," Millie said, clasping her hands cheerfully. "Now, since you two seem to be getting along, I'll let you get to it. Potter, you're acting as personal security while Malfoy works. Hermione thinks that's when the Time-Turners will be at their most vulnerable, so that's the most likely window for attack. I'll get you credentialed and go over the rest of our security measures with you in the morning. And I'll chat with you both about changing the wards for this room to something not based on Ceccetti. We good?" Without waiting for an answer, Millie left with a wave and a 'ta!'
Harry looked at Malfoy.
Malfoy looked at Harry.
"You get the feeling we've been set up?" Harry asked.
Malfoy snorted and began removing his gloves. "Seems to be my lot, recently. Make yourself useful and grab me a chair. I need to work."
And Harry, instead of hexing Malfoy for being a git, made himself useful and grabbed a chair.
The new normal began to feel almost normal over the next few days. Harry brought coffee Monday morning as something of a peace offering. It seemed to magically transfigure Malfoy from a pinch-faced, sarcasm-wielding git into an if-not-pleasant-then-at-least-quiet working partner. Harry continued to bring morning coffee offerings every day.
Millie took three hairs and five drops of blood, swearing it was for Harry's credentials and not a polyjuice. She also delivered files by the stack to the Tempus room, so he was inclined to believe her. Harry spread out over the desk nearest to Malfoy, going over security measures and logs, employee files, the paperwork side of the investigation that Ron and Neville were covering on the ground. Millie's security measures were bloody brilliant. Some of the curses that were designed to incapacitate intruders until security could arrive were particularly... inventive. Others intended to mark them if they sought medical attention were downright nasty. Harry was okay with nasty and inventive, as long as it was on the side of the good guys.
He made a few suggestions to her, pointed out a few weaknesses, but most of it seemed impenetrable as far as he could tell, which supported their suspicion that the infiltrators had inside help.
Harry's check-ins with Neville and Ron were similarly interesting once Neville got over his embarrassment that his mis-fired curse might cause them to all be erased from existence.
"Don't worry, Neville. They've got their best Unspeakable working on the anomaly," Harry said, feeling strange now that he was in on Hermione and Malfoy's secret. He wasn't nearly as good a liar, as evidenced by the odd looks Ron and Neville gave him during their evening briefings when Harry had to talk around what was being done. "We just need to keep things contained until it's been nullified. Which doesn't mean we should back off on finding the people responsible. What else have you found?"
Despite his assurances to Neville, Harry couldn't banish the knot of tension that came from sitting not ten feet away from Draco Malfoy and that falling time bomb. It wasn't like Malfoy was doing anything. He showed up in the morning, hung up his robes, rolled up his shirtsleeves, cast a few diagnostic charms, and just stared at the damned thing. Sporadically, he would turn away to scribble notes or cast an arithmantic chart that had him frowning and muttering to himself.
He forgot to take lunch unless Harry prodded him, and then instead of going out for something, he'd unpack a home-brought lunch courtesy of his house elves. He'd pick at it absently, eyes still on the cabinet, and drift back to work with his lunch half-eaten.
"Were you like this sixth year? With the vanishing cabinet?" Harry blurted on Thursday lunch. He hadn't meant to say that. He'd meant to say that if Malfoy didn't want his jacket potato, Harry would be happy to take it over the anchovy-and-salad-cream sandwich that Kreacher had sent him off with. From the look Malfoy gave him, Harry suspected the only thing that saved him from a hexing was that Malfoy had left his wand on the chair by the cabinet.
"What—exactly—do you mean, Potter?" Malfoy didn't need his fancy robes to convey chilling disdain. He managed that with posture and diction alone.
Harry flushed. The urge to go for his wand was strong. Something about the way Malfoy said his name like that just begged for retribution. Maybe Hermione was right. There was something inevitable about their urge to fight. A universal constant.
Well, Harry had redefined the inevitable before. "I meant that you were given an impossible task, and you wore yourself ragged trying to accomplish it. With good reason." Harry held up his—empty—hands in a placating gesture. "So why are you doing that to yourself again?"
"Maybe because I'd rather not end up erasing us from existence if I fuck this up." Malfoy snatched up his wand, but he didn't hex Harry. He resumed his seat and glowered at the falling cabinet. So Harry must have said something right.
Malfoy confirmed that a few minutes later when he mumbled, "It's not really possible for me to erase us from existence."
Harry looked up from the file open before him—threats to the DoM from some of their suspect groups. Well, he hadn't been able to concentrate on it anyways. "That's a comfort."
Malfoy turned his glower on Harry.
"It's not a comfort?"
After studying his wand for several moments, Malfoy sheathed it. He straddled his chair backwards, resting his arms across the top. "You can't erase yourself from existence because it'd be you doing the erasing. Novikov's self-consistency principle comes into effect. It's a causality paradox. You can't take an action that would negate the effect that caused you to take an action in the first place."
It was like listening to Hermione. Same head-spinning effect. "Oh. So why is that not a comfort?"
"Two reasons, really. Novikov's elastic, and also, you can erase other people from existence."
"Oh." That stomach dropping terror was less like listening to Hermione.
Malfoy grinned, seeming to enjoy Harry's fear, the git. "That's not easy to do, though. Hasn't happened since Eloise Mintumble in 1402 and 1899. That resulted in strict regulation of Time-Turners and the development of modern casing technology. These days, you can't go back more than five hours."
Harry pointed at one of the hourglasses in the cascade. "That turner doesn't have a casing."
"Just noticed that, did you Potter?" Malfoy's grin faded. He rested his chin on his shoulder, watching the uncased Time-Turner fall and fall and fall. "It's safe enough for now. Time loops in a closed system can be bad if you're inside the system. We're not inside this one, so I can theoretically introduce a paradox that would erase these turners from existence. Close each loop individually without disturbing the others, and the anomaly will cease to exist."
"So what happens if we get caught inside a time loop?"
Malfoy lifted his head, watching Harry long enough to make him fidget.
"It's... unlikely that will happen."
"But it's possible?"
Malfoy grimaced and drew his wand, turning rightways in his chair. "More than you know," he muttered, leaning forward as though getting back to work.
Harry wasn't ready to drop their discussion of pending disaster. "What happens if that happens?"
Shrugging, Malfoy said, "Oh, you know. We'll end up repeating the same Thursday over and over until eventually entropy kicks in and we get to experience firsthand the heat death of the universe." He glanced over again when Harry made a strangled sound. "It usually takes a while. We'd probably be dead before that."
"Still, let's not do that, okay?"
"That's what I'm trying to prevent." He turned back to the cabinet, casting the diagnostic charms he used to watch the pattern of magic. "Don't worry, Potter. Entropy is only a problem in a closed system. Causality can be fungible and elastic. Different actions can lead to similar causal trajectories. As long as the inciting event remains constant, the system should remain open until we can resolve the time loop. All it takes is some careful realignment."
Harry was having difficulty mustering confidence. It was Malfoy. "Then I guess... don't fuck this up?"
Malfoy snorted. "Then I guess stop distracting me."
Harry managed to keep from distracting Malfoy until Friday. And when he did, he did by design.
"Malfoy. Oi, Malfoy!"
"What is it, Potter?" Malfoy snapped, wincing when he twisted to give Harry a glare. Well, it had to be hard on the back, sitting hunched over like that all day. Especially for someone who usually had impeccable posture. "How do you expect me to get any work done if you keep interrupting me?"
Harry refrained from pointing out that Malfoy wasn't doing anything. "I haven't said a word in four hours. Come on. It's Friday afternoon. I'm calling it a day, and so are you. The Time-Turners will still be here on Monday."
"Then go. I'm at a very delicate juncture in my observations. I can't possibly take off for an entire weekend. I can barely afford an hour."
"An hour it is, then." Harry grabbed Malfoy's robes and held them up. "That's enough time to grab food and reacquaint ourselves with sunlight."
"You can go. I'll be fine here—"
"Oh no. Millie and Hermione were clear. No leaving you alone. Besides, I need to set Millie's away measures, and I can't do that with anyone in the room. Some of the curses you'd trigger... you're better off not knowing. C'mon." Harry shook the robes, smiling in the face of Malfoy's glare. "Samosas?"
"Samosas aren't a panacea, Potter," Malfoy grumbled, but he rolled down his sleeves and snatched his robes from Harry, draping them around his shoulders. "Besides, I'm feeling more... I don't know..." He rolled his neck and winced at the series of delicate cracks that followed. "Korean maybe?"
"Delicious bibimbap waits just beyond those doors. And up nine floors, and out a floo, and—"
"Shut-up, Potter, and take me to this bibimbap."
"You do know the reason you're not allowed to leave me alone in Tempus is that I'm a suspect," Malfoy commented after they'd demolished most of their bibimbop and each other's favorite Quidditch team lineups.
Harry nearly choked on his kimchi. He swallowed and wiped his mouth. Eating with Malfoy made him consider his table manners more than an entire six years suffering Hermione's glares in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. "You are? But that doesn't make any sense. Why would they assign you to work on it if they suspected you?"
"Because I’m still the most qualified. Everyone in the department is a suspect. If Granger's smart, Millie is a suspect. I know Millie has considered that Granger might be."
"But she... but they..."
Malfoy tilted his head as though conceding a point Harry hadn't yet made. "Unlikely suspects, but still. Why do you think Millie's protocols won't allow you to leave me alone? You really think I'd have agreed to it if it was just for my protection?"
Harry's belly roiled uneasily. Too much kimchi. Even with his Auror training, he had a tendency to think in terms of good guys vs. bad guys. What was most troubling was that somehow Draco Malfoy had crawled his way from the latter category to the former.
"I'll make sure to take that into account. Thanks."
"We should get back. I wasn't kidding about being at a delicate juncture."
"Right." Harry settled the bill—expensing muggle food was a nightmare, but he had plenty of time to do the paperwork while he watched Malfoy do nothing. They fell in step back towards Charring Cross Road and the Leaky Cauldron. "How did you get involved with all this in the first place?"
"You mean working in Locus Division? Well, as you pointed out, I did spend a year trying to fix that stupid vanishing cabinet. Which required, among other things, a fairly solid understanding of spacetime as a single manifold."
"You used muggle physics to help forward the pureblood wizarding crusade?"
"In retrospect, I suppose it is somewhat ironic."
"Just a bit." Harry fought the urge to stare at Malfoy. He'd transfigured his robes again, and Harry had assumed that he'd chosen the too-elegant waistcoat, trousers, and dress shirt out of a lack of understanding of muggle styles. But now he wondered if it might not be an accident. Malfoy looked like a walking fashion advert.
And not in a ridiculous way.
Realizing he'd failed in his attempt to not stare, Harry shoved his hands in his pockets and fixed his gaze on the sidewalk. "I meant, how did you end up working with the Department."
"You meant Granger."
Harry kicked a bottlecap. "Well, she did punch you once."
"You really don't know how to refrain from being a git, do you?" Malfoy asked, but his tone didn't reach its usual levels of irritation. He sounded almost... fond. And then he laughed. "It was more or less what Granger said. I finished my Masteries. My parents wanted me to remain in Italy. I wanted to be... anywhere else. Millie strongarmed Granger into making the offer. I barely refrained from spitting in her face. I did laugh in it, as I recall."
"That sounds more like I would have imagined it going." Though Harry was somewhat astonished that Malfoy would admit to it. And laugh about it. "But you took the job?"
"Merlin, no. I'd have been working for Granger." Harry tensed. Malfoy saw it and smirked. "No, she offered a wager. She'd give me a series of geomantic puzzles to solve. If I didn't solve them in a month, I'd work for her on a trial period for one year. If I did solve them, hiring me would be her last act before she resigned. And oh, I was determined to make her resign."
He was such a git. Why had Hermione even bothered with him? "So you lost."
"Hm? No. I won. With a week to spare. But by that time, I was so hooked that I'd ceased to care that it was Granger who'd hooked me."
Harry slowed, and then had to hurry to catch up. "H-hooked?" Malfoy and Hermione hadn't... no. No bloody way in hell.
"Have you ever heard of geocaching? Psychogeometry? They're muggle hobbies. Granger used them to build her puzzles. I had to get help from some local groups to solve them. You know... ends justifying the means. Except... it was fun. The most fun I'd had since... in a long time. It was still a fairly new thing, so we were all figuring it out. Nobody cared who I was. They just cared about solving the puzzles. I got hooked, Granger got an Unspeakable. Millie got a lifetime pass for smug looks."
They paused outside the Leaky Cauldron, and Harry studied Malfoy. Seven years. He really didn't know Malfoy at all. "She does make good use of it," Harry said.
Malfoy raised a brow. "Well, it's a good look on her."
They fell silent as they entered the Leaky Cauldron and Malfoy took a moment to restore his robes. Harry was accustomed to the looks he got whenever he passed through Wizarding places, so he was astonished to see disdain this time instead of welcome, distrust instead of cheer. Until he realised the looks were directed at Malfoy.
Nobody cared who I was.
The Ministry Atrium was mostly empty when they arrived via floo, but even so, Harry noticed the same looks from the stragglers they passed, employees on their way home for the weekend. He held his tongue until he and Malfoy were alone in the lift—fewer witnesses if he got hexed. "It sounds like you stopped geo-whatsit?"
"Geocaching. I suppose. It's been about a year since I've gone out. There was..." He cleared his throat. Shook his head. "I'm busy with work, and there aren't any wizards involved, so nobody incorporates geomantic elements like Granger did." Malfoy frowned at the illuminated button for the ninth floor.
Harry was reminded of their previous lift ride, and the picture Malfoy had painted of his sixth-year—a terrified, lonely boy doing the only thing he knew to do to survive. "So you live alone in a National Trust house in the West Country, and the only time you see people is when you come in to deliver your monthly reports to Hermione?"
Malfoy's features pinched into a scowl, his stiff posture radiated prickliness. "I don't want your pity, Potter," he snapped, popping his p's for extra emphasis.
The chuckle escaped before Harry could contain it.
Malfoy's lips tightened and his cheeks flushed. "Shut-up."
Harry tried. He really did, but..."You don't want... pity-potter?"
"I said shut-up."
"Not even the pity-potter of little Malfoy feet?"
"I will hex you." Malfoy stabbed the ninth floor button again, as though that could make the ponderous lift go faster.
"And then you'll throw yourself a... pity party?"
"You have the wit of a dyspeptic flobberworm." The doors opened and Malfoy stalked out of the lift, but not before Harry caught the twitch of a smile quickly restrained.
"So domineering. I bet you make all the witches' hearts..."
"Don't say it."
"I'm not even kidding."
"Pitter-patter?" Harry's laughter echoed through the circular chamber, bouncing off the spinning wall of doors.
Malfoy sighed. His shoulders sagged. His one-sided smile was a rueful admission of defeat. "It's official. You have a death wish. Some people just want to watch the world burn."
Harry was inclined to agree. He wasn't anywhere near finished. "At least I'll be dressed for the occasion. What do they call it? Prêt-à-porter?"
"Ha. Ha." Malfoy raised his wand. "Fores Tempus."
"Potter, come here."
It was later that night. How late, Harry couldn't say because in a roomful of clocks, not one of them seemed to show the right time. He'd picked one that was close to correct when they first started, but it ran slow, and watching it seemed to make the time drag even more.
He set aside Ron's report on the Fenians—reading it for the fourth time hadn't revealed any new leads—and wandered over to where Malfoy sat.
"You need me for something?" Harry asked softly. The ticking of the clocks seemed to encourage whispering rather than shouting.
Malfoy gave him a tired grin. His usually neat hair was mussed from a day's worth of tugging, and he was down to rolled-up shirtsleeves again. He'd even loosened his tie. "No. Just watch."
It was an oddly intimate moment, and Harry was glad Malfoy turned back to the cabinet and missed his blush and strangled, "O-okay."
Malfoy set the tip of his wand against the barely visible shimmer that demarked the area containing the time loop. His lips moved, whispering an incantation too low to hear. The tip of his wand began glowing a subtle gold. Inside the bubble, the loop slowed to a stop, save for one turner that continued its slow, spinning tumble towards another, identical turner.
A dreadful chill replaced the heat in Harry's cheeks. His gut twisted, and he had to flatten his palms against his robes to dry the sweat. This. Could go. So badly. He stopped breathing and measured the tumble by the ticking of the clocks.
The turners collided. No, they merged. There was a flash, and then they blinked out of existence. The cascade resumed at normal speed, minus one Time-Turner that for a moment had been two. Malfoy sat back and ran a hand through sweat-damp hair. The grin he turned on Harry was bright as the gold sparkles on the still air.
Harry gaped. "What did you do?"
Malfoy's grin turned sly. Smug. It was a good look on him. If Harry's heart hadn't been trying to crawl up his throat, he might have been able to appreciate it.
"I just made paradox my bitch. C'mon. I feel like bragging. You may buy me a drink, and I will explain in words you'll never understand. Try to look impressed."
Harry watched the cascade while Malfoy donned his robes. He could almost see the moment where the missing Time-Turner had been and wasn't anymore. Dumbfounded, he followed Malfoy out. He suspected it wasn't going to be that hard to look impressed.
"—which is what gives time directionality. See, space and time follow the same rules, except that space has mass. Two objects—anything with mass--can't occupy the same space at the same time. That's a paradox. And a single object can't occupy two different spaces at the same time, except in cases of quantum entanglement, spooky action at a distance... nevermind. The point is, if you take an object at two different points in its own timeline and manipulate it to occupy the same space at the same time, then you create a paradox that negates the mass of the object, allowing it to dissipate as pure energy. You remove it from existence without destroying the universe!"
Harry nodded along and sipped his pilsner. He wished it was butterbeer, but, remembering the glares from earlier, he'd steered them towards a pub in muggle London. Nobody seemed to give Malfoy's excited explanations a second look. Apparently, muggle physics was as baffling to them as magic.
"That's very impressive," Harry said, because it was expected, even if it was a bit baffling to him as well. "What does it mean exactly?"
Malfoy chuckled darkly and took a rather large swig of his whiskey. "It means the restrictions against running into yourself while using a Time-Turner are there for a very good reason, so do try to avoid it, Potter."
"I'd rather avoid Time-Turners altogether, thanks."
"Hm. Well, you never know." Another sip. Malfoy looked around the pub, the exhaustion returning now that his triumph had been explained in full. "And it means we have one down and ninety-eight to go."
"That one took you a week."
"The others will go faster now that I've got the vectors worked out. I'll take the weekend to make some predictive adjustments. Shouldn't take me more than a fortnight to work through the rest and why are your glasses still spello-taped together?"
Harry blinked. Malfoy had gone from smug and smiling to scowling in a heartbeat. Harry touched the bridge of his glasses. "They've been like this for days and you only just noticed?"
"I've been preoccupied. The question isn't when you taped them. It's why. You're a reasonably competent wizard, and Merlin knows you've broken your glasses often enough over the years. Surely you can manage a simple Oculus Reparo."
After Malfoy's triumph with the Time-Turners, Harry was loath to admit that he couldn't seem to maintain a Reparo spell for more than a few hours. He shrugged. "Spello-tape lasts longer and doesn't give out in the middle of a mission."
"Alternatively, one assumes that even Gryffindors expect to be compensated for good deeds in the line of duty. You're not a volunteer Auror. You can't afford a new pair?"
"Spello-tape's cheaper." Now Harry was just saying it to see if he could get a rise out of Malfoy. Or another grudging smile.
He got neither. "Oh, Merlin. Just... let me see those." With seeker-quick precision, Malfoy snatched the glasses off Harry's face.
Malfoy ignored him, pulling out his wand and cleaning away the Spellotape with a muttered, "Reglutino."
"Malfoy, we're in public. You can't just..." Harry gave up and cast a minor muggle-repelling charm around their booth, feeling guilty when the booths on either side quickly emptied. "I could take you in for this."
"Shut it, Potter," Malfoy murmured, intently studying the bridge of Harry's glasses the way he'd studied the cabinet.
Harry took the opportunity to study Malfoy—the pursed lips and furrowed brow—trying to determine how this version of Malfoy was different from all the other versions that he usually wanted to hex. Maybe it was because Malfoy seemed annoyed at the world, at the situation, but not at Harry. Maybe it was because, for once, he wasn't being an insulting git. In fact...
"So. Reasonably competent, huh?" Harry asked, not quite sure himself if he was needling or fishing.
Malfoy's gaze flicked up from his repair work. "Shut-up, Potter."
"I'm just astonished. That's high praise, coming from a Malfoy."
"Not that high. My house elves are reasonably competent."
"So I'm in good company. Some of us like house elves." Harry chewed on his lip. Malfoy was taking an awfully long time to cast a simple repair spell. "I thought you said an Oculus Reparo—"
"It looks like the glasses took the brunt of my Stupefy. I had to remove some lingering traces of it." The furrow creasing Malfoy's brows cleared and he looked up at Harry, laughing. "They kept breaking, didn't they? That's why you used the spello-tape."
"You know, just when I'm starting to not hate you quite so much. Give them back." Harry reached for his glasses. Malfoy held them away. Harry leaned further and Malfoy stretched his arm. He had longer reach, and the table was in the way, but Harry wasn't going to surrender that easily. He climbed over Malfoy until they were wrestling like first years. "Give 'em here!"
"No, no! I can fix them." Malfoy was laughing, shoving Harry away with a hand in his face. The rest of the pub ignored them thanks to Harry's charm.
"You're the one who broke them!"
"Which means it's only right that I fix them. Mmph. Ger offa," Malfoy was nearly prone, one arm barred across Harry's chest, the other stretched as far out of reach as he could manage. Harry crawled higher. "Watch your knee! Merlin, Potter. Granger fights more fairly than you do."
"Punching you isn't off the table, Malfoy. Give them here."
Something in that challenge made Harry look down at Malfoy. Malfoy, who was pinned under him, now that Harry thought about it. Malfoy, who was looking up at him like... like...
Like Harry had never expected to be looked at by Draco Malfoy.
"Malfoy, are you..." Gay? was what Harry meant to ask, but more rational options might be drunk or mental or under a lust potion, because simple orientation couldn't possibly explain that look.
"Am I what?"
Harry licked his lips, watching Malfoy watch the movement, and the rest seemed obvious. "Going to kiss me?"
The hand warding Harry off slid up his neck to the back of his head. "You know, I might just."
Malfoy tasted like whiskey, the muggle kind, and his lips were softer than Harry expected. If he'd ever thought about kissing Malfoy—which he hadn't, not ever, not even in his relief after the war when he imagined shagging every classmate from Hannah Abbot to Blaise Zabini—he would have expected kissing Malfoy to be violent. Angry. Hard. Definitely not this curious, winsome thing. He wanted to press down harder, deepen the kiss, but he was afraid that any pressure would break it, like popping a soap bubble.
Malfoy's lips met his again and again, a score of micro-kisses, testing, tasting, building up to something that had Harry whimpering in the back of his throat and trembling from chaste kisses alone.
And then Malfoy pulled away. Stunned, Harry let himself be pushed upright. The pub around them was a great blur, which was fine. He couldn't see them, they couldn't see him. "My glasses..." he murmured, still shellshocked. His lips felt as soft as Malfoy's had been, and he was certain his hair was more of a mess than usual thanks to Malfoy ruffling it all about.
"Oculus Reparo." Malfoy settled Harry's glasses gently on his face. "They should hold now."
Harry touched the bridge. They did feel more stable than they had. He looked at Malfoy, tried to think of something to say. Had that just happened? It didn't seem possible. It seemed as hazy and dreamlike as the rest of the world.
Malfoy wasn't looking at Harry. He sheathed his wand, pulled on his gloves. "I should go. I'll see you Monday morning."
He left, and Harry downed the rest of the whiskey he left behind.
It tasted like Malfoy.
Something sweet for you all for the weekend. Yay!
A few notes, comments, and attributions:
1. The Thursdays/entropy reference (and also the tendency for important time moments in this story to happen on Thursdays) is a tribute to "Getting the Hang of Thursdays" by Hayseed, one of the classic Harry Potter Time-Turner fics and certainly one of my favorites.
2. The quote "Entropy is only a problem in a closed system" is from Ken Kesey's "The Demon Box: an Essay" and formed the core of this particular plot bunny.
3. All that being said, I know something between jack and shit about physics, spacetime, and time travel as it relates to both. All time travel nonsense being spouted by Draco is pure physics wank, and I suspect people with a more solid grounding in the field than myself will be able to tear it apart. My response: this is a world where people can wave a piece of wood and teleport. Clearly, physics has been keeping things from you, the saucy minx.
I hope you all enjoy!! On Monday, we enter an unexplored territory: Quidditch!
When the weekend didn't crawl, it flew. Harry honestly couldn't say which he preferred. He wanted Monday to arrive already, to see Malfoy again, to ask him... what? To do... what?
And thus his contrary desire for Monday to take its sweet time, because Harry had no idea what he was going to do.
Every moment he wasn't distracted, his thoughts returned to the pub, to play-wrestling and laughing and the taste of whiskey. He'd always hated whiskey, but he rather thought he could come to like it with the proper incentives. Like Malfoy's lips meeting his over and over in soft kisses until the memory encompassed more time than the kiss ever had. It was a more pleasant version of the falling cabinet.
Luckily, there were distractions aplenty, because it was one thing to obsess over a kiss. It was quite another thing to obsess over Draco Malfoy.
Harry had Teddy on Saturday, and even though Hogwarts was a few years off yet, Harry decided that a trip to Diagon Alley to witness the back-to-school madness was well in order. They drooled over the new Ultima, smeared their faces with Fortescue's ice cream, and played in the aisles of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. They left that shop with a too-generous bag of freebies and samples courtesy of Angelina, which would soon be Andromeda's problem rather than Harry's. Teddy begged for an owl like he did every time they visited Diagon Alley, and, as he did every time, Harry thought of Hedwig and promised Teddy an owl when he got his Hogwarts letter. The magic of some moments owed nothing to wizardry.
It was a good day, and yet Harry lay awake that night thinking about loneliness and family and soft kisses that wouldn't—couldn't possibly—lead anywhere.
Sunday was the final practise for the departmental Quidditch teams before the season started, and Harry found himself searching the crowd of Ministry employees for a blond head and a condescending sneer. He spotted neither, but he did see Millie Bulstrode, beater and captain for the Overflow team. Harry wondered if that team didn't include a few secret Unspeakables.
"No Malfoy?" he asked as casually as he could when he finally managed to insert himself into her orbit. They were both on brooms—Millie, he noticed, kept her ass off her handle like a proper beater should—waiting for the Games & Sports and Accidents & Catastrophies teams to get off the field so the DMLE and the Overflow teams could have their half hour of scrimmage.
She gave him a weird look. Harry was glad he was already flushed with exertion. Millie didn't level an accusing finger at him and shout 'You kissed Malfoy!' She just shrugged and turned her speculative gaze back on the competition. "Wish I could convince him. I'd go Dark for a half-decent seeker. You could give it a shot."
"Y-you mean... me convince him? How am I supposed to do that?" Harry asked, though his brain was helpfully supplying a few inappropriate ideas.
Millie shrugged and kicked her old Comet into movement. "Turn it into a power game? He loves getting into those with you."
Harry shivered as he watched her fly onto the field. It was true. It had always been true from the moment Harry refused to shake Malfoy's hand. And yet... and yet...
Those kisses Friday night hadn't been about power. And Harry was back to having no idea what to do or say on Monday.
He didn't get a chance to find out, either. Monday morning, he passed through an Auror office mad with mobilization activity. He wasn't certain whether to be annoyed by the obstruction or relieved by the reprieve.
"Potter! Suit up, standard protection gear. We're moving out in ten," Head Auror Savage called when he spotted Harry by the lift.
"What about the Department of Mysteries assignment?"
"This takes precedence. Hostage situation at Heathrow. Dark wizards. Apparently their documents didn't pass muster with customs. We're all hands. Lewis has the portkey."
"Yes sir!" Harry darted into his office, abandoning his morning coffee offering and donning full protective robes. He passed Lewis' office, heading for the DMLE section.
Hermione was in her false office when he poked his head in.
"Harry?" Her eyes were wide, her hair a strange mixture of frizz and curls, as though she'd been twisting bits of it. She did that when she was nervous. Harry wasn't surprised that she knew already what was going on, at least enough to be worried. He gave her a reassuring smile. "Hey. I'm off to deal with some Dark Wizards. Ron and I will tell you all about it when we get back."
She gave him a half-hearted smile. Their Hogwarts days were seven years gone, but when it came down to it, their core was always the three of them. Harry held his arms open, and Hermione snuggled in his robes for a quick, rib-breaking hug. He kissed the top of her bushy head and released her. "Uh... Malfoy is going to be waiting for me to let him in downstairs. Could you..."
"I'll tell him. Harry, be safe."
Harry winked and headed back towards Lewis' office. "Aren't I always?"
It was after dusk by the time Harry apparated back to the Ministry. The hours' long standoff had ended in a firefight despite everyone's best efforts at a peaceful resolution. Six Dark wizards and witches had held an entire terminal. Harry had taken out two more that had almost evaded both magical and muggle detection with charms of tortoiseshell and raskovnik. That earned him a talking-to from Savage about teamwork and unnecessary heroics. Then came rushing the injured to St. Mungo's, getting cleared himself even though he'd assured everyone that he hadn't taken a single hit. The recruits that weren't processing evidence were put on Obliviate duty, and Harry'd felt obliged to check back on that process because sometimes wizardborn agents weren't especially careful about how they dealt with muggle witnesses.
So Harry was tired, sweaty, buzzing with magic depletion, and just a bit annoyed when he arrived on the second floor and dragged himself to Hermione's office. He hadn't spared a thought for kissing the entire day.
Which changed the moment he spied a pale-haired git bent over paperwork at Hermione's desk. "Malfoy?"
Malfoy straightened. Stood. For one moment, Harry saw everything in his expression—fury, fear, relief, desire. It was quickly shuttered away behind a cool, blank expression. Harry wondered if he'd just imagined it.
Harry touched the rims. "Yes?"
"They're... still here."
"Yeah. They held together well during... today. Thanks." Harry swallowed. He didn't want to talk about his fixed glasses. He wanted to talk about what had happened while Malfoy was fixing them. "What are you doing here?"
Mlafoy shuffled a few of the charts spread across Hermione's desk. "Granger said I could work up here, since Millie couldn't be spared to babysit me. You're... everything's all right? Granger said there was a situation, but she couldn't say more."
"Half dozen Dark wizards from Croatia at Heathrow. They sometimes try to bypass Magical Transportation regulations by coming in by muggle means. Pretty standard, actually. These fellows were just a bit more wand happy than the usual."
Harry couldn't quite understand why that would make Malfoy scowl. He couldn't be sympathetic to Dark wizards. Did that mean he'd been worried? In general, or over Harry in particular? "Nobody was seriously hurt, and it's nothing to do with our case, as far as I can tell."
"Well, that's good then." Malfoy shoved his charts and papers into a single pile, careless of order or if the pages got bent. He shoved them into his satchel and shrank it. "You're tired, and it's too late to get any work done today. I suppose we'll resume tomorrow." He stalked out past Harry.
Times before, Harry might have let him leave—this level of irritation from Malfoy usually heralded a hexing. But... there'd been the kissing, and the look Harry wondered if he'd imagined.
"Malfoy," he called softly. It was still enough to cause Malfoy to stop and turn mid-flight.
'I'm okay,' Harry wanted to say, but that would get a sneer and a 'like I care, Potter.' 'I'm sorry about today' would elicit a response along the lines of 'Sorry doesn't give me back wasted time.' And Harry didn't even want to know what Malfoy would say if he brought up the kiss.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning," he said.
Malfoy's lips tightened. For a moment, Harry worried he'd chosen the wrong path, but then Malfoy inclined his head. "Do try not to be so late."
Harry couldn't help but smile at Malfoy's retreating back.
Over the next several days, Malfoy paradox-erased three dozen more Time-Turners from the cascading cabinet. He showed up on time, took a home-brought lunch at one of the desks, left at five on the dot, and was perfectly civil to Harry in all their interactions.
No mention was made of their kiss at the pub or Malfoy's behaviour on Monday. It was driving Harry mad, to the point where he was half-temped to hex Malfoy just for some reaction beyond arms-length civility.
Turn it into a power game? He loves getting into those with you. Well... Harry had heard worse suggestions, and he didn't have any better ideas. On Thursday lunch, Harry cracked enough to give it a go.
"You know, it's a shame that Unspeakables can't play on the Ministry intramural teams. Ginny has a chaser team put together for Magical Sports & Games that's nigh unbeatable with the seekers we have."
Malfoy finished his current bite of something that looked French and smelled divine. He carefully wiped his mouth. "Nigh unbeatable?"
Harry grinned. Hooked on the first cast. "Well, I can beat them." But only when he was able to find the snitch quickly before the point spread became too wide.
"You could beat a team of drunken kneazles riding will'o'wisps." Malfoy frowned as though dissatisfied with his own insult.
It took Harry only a moment to puzzle out why. "Anyone could beat a team of kneazles, drunk or sober. But Magical Sports beat every team last year except for the DMLE—without catching a snitch a single time. And they've added a new beater to their lineup that even has Millie worried."
Malfoy's brow twitched. He was pretending disinterest hard enough to bring colour to his cheeks. "Unspeakables can join teams. I choose not to."
Harry nodded. He had to take this slowly or Malfoy would catch on and refuse to do what he clearly wanted to do, just to be contrary. The man wasn't a ferret. He was a damned cat.
"Of course you would. All those people watching you, expecting you to be what you were back in school." Malfoy flinched. Harry ignored his own flare of guilt. This was for Malfoy's own good. "I mean, maybe you were a decent seeker then, but all these years sitting at a desk, going half-blind making charts, and generally letting your reflexes dull..."
Malfoy's napkin hit Harry in the face. "Sod off, Potter. I'm twice the seeker you'll ever be."
"Dunno. Auror training keeps me pretty fit."
Malfoy sputtered. "I'm... I'm fit, you wanker. And it takes more than brawn to be a good seeker. You have to have situational awareness—"
"I can outdraw you any day."
"Be able to calculate vectors of the snitch based on flight pattern studies of the snidget, and then map those to probability matrixes of where the snitch will be at any given moment, all on the fly."
Harry's heart skipped a beat. "You can do that?" he whispered. This must be what love felt like.
"As I said. Twice the seeker you are."
"No. Wait. Is that really a thing? That can't be a thing. Is that a thing?"
Malfoy leaned across the desk where they were eating lunch. Harry met him halfway. "It's called predictive modeling. And it's a thing."
It might be a thing—Harry had no capacity to tell if Malfoy was lying or not—but it sounded like the sort of thing he would have figured out during his Mastery work, well after his time at Hogwarts, which meant...
"You've never actually tried it in a game, though," Harry said, wondering if he looked as smug as he felt.
Malfoy flushed and sputtered, so Harry must have, a bit. "Th-that's not relevant. I've worked out the models and tested it on a broom at home—"
"Not game conditions. Doesn't count."
"Does so count."
Harry smiled. Malfoy was caught. "Prove it."
Malfoy's eyes narrowed as though he finally recognised the trap for what it was. He packed away the remains of his lunch and shoved it back in his satchel. "I'll talk to Millie on the way out."
"Sweet Merlin, will you look at that nonsense," Ron murmured, interrupting the play breakdown that Neville was going over. Harry had finally given up looking for Malfoy in favor of concentrating on Neville's strategies, so at first he ignored Ron's interruption.
Neville didn't. "Merlin's beard, is that Malfoy?"
"Didn't think he worked for the Ministry," said Recruit Venn, their newest chaser.
Their other beater, Magda Jorkins, shielded her eyes to see better. "I heard he smooth-talked his way into consultant status so he could join Overflow?"
Harry could care less about the gossip. He was searching for the familiar blond head.
"I think you're all missing the point," Ron said. "Who care's why he's here. Who plays pick-up Quidditch in a full kit?"
Harry followed the wave of Ron's arm and understanding dawned. Also, desire like a punch to the gut. Draco Malfoy had always filled a Quidditch kit nicely, and now... and now...
Malfoy's over-robe was deep indigo and silver rather than Slytherin green. His leather pads looked molded-to-fit, as did his pale trousers and indigo jumper for very different reasons. He carried an unfamiliar model broom that Harry surmised was one of the much-vaunted Thunderbolts. The looks and whispers that followed him, he ignored with classic Malfoy sneer-and-swagger.
"Holy fuck," Harry whispered, gripping his broom tight enough to turn his knuckles white.
"I know!" Ron crowed in unholy glee. "It's priceless, innit? Perfect vengeance for that Stupefy, and you didn't even have to do anything."
"Ron..." Harry said, uncomfortable with how much Ron seemed to be enjoying this. Ron wasn't the only one. Heads turned and tilted towards one another as Malfoy made his way across the pitch to the mis-matched Overflow team. Harry chewed on his lip, very aware that a few weeks ago, he would have joined in the gleeful looks and laughter.
"What? He's a git, and a git can't help gitting."
"Let's just play, all right?"
"Right," Neville said, clapping his hands. "This doesn't change much. Leave Harry to beat the pants off Malfoy. Venn, Murial, and Clovis, watch out for Millie. She's ruthless. Magda and I will do our best to give you cover. Ron, if you can tear your eyes off your new boyfriend, try to keep the other teams balls out of the rings. We good?"
With an all-hands 'Go DMLE!' the team broke and took to the skies.
Malfoy was already aloft, indigo robes fluttering in the wind.
Don't say anything. Don't. Say. Anything. "Nice broom," Harry said.
"I mean it. I'm looking forward to seeing a Thunderbolt II in action. I assume you've buffered the protection charm?"
Malfoy gave him a wary look. Harry did his best not to stare, knowing Malfoy would take it the wrong way. "Clearly. Because I'm not an idiot."
"Then may the least idiotic catch the snitch," Harry said, holding out one hand.
Malfoy eyed it. Took it, but didn't shake. Just sort of squeezed before letting go. "I've a proposition for you, Potter."
Harry's cool deserted him. His stomach dropped as though his broom had faltered, even though it remained steady. "Oh?"
"You asked me to prove the value of predictive modeling in game conditions. What I propose is this: We stick together. Every time your team scores, I will tell you where I think the snitch will be. Neither of us will go for it until we've confirmed my prediction. If I'm right more than twenty-five percent of the time by the end of the game, I'll have proved it gives me an edge. Less than that, and we'll call it chance or luck."
It sounded fair enough. If Malfoy could guess even once where the snitch might be, that would be proof enough for Harry. "What do you get if you win?"
"I get to be right. No sweeter victory than that."
Harry laughed and wondered if he knew enough to create a Malfoy predictive model. "And if you lose?"
Malfoy fidgeted with one of the buckles of his arm bracers. "I don't intend to lose. What would you suggest?"
Harry could think of a half-dozen things, all of them inappropriate. "I agree with you. Victory is its own reward."
Malfoy settled his buckle and smirked at Harry. "We have a deal, then?"
Harry nodded. Neville was going to kill him. If Ron didn't beat him to it. "Let's see this model of yours in action."
"I've lost it," Harry muttered, pulling up short when his flight path would have tangled with Malfoy's. "You?"
Malfoy turned in a hairpin arc that had Harry revising his low opinion of the Thunderbolt. He came to a full stop alongside Harry, facing the opposite direction. "Like I'd tell you if I had," he said, but the fact that he wasn't chasing anything indicated that he'd lost the snitch too.
"Still, that's three times now." Out of the four times they'd found and lost the snitch, three had been due to Malfoy's predictions. Only once had been due to Harry's instincts and keen eye. He didn't know how Malfoy did it.
He didn't know, but Merlin's beard, did he want to. "You've got to show me how that works, Malfoy."
"Like hell I will, Potter," Malfoy said, hovering just out of reach and scanning the game above them. They'd nearly collided with the half-empty stands, losing the snitch in the maze of supporting beams. "In fact, if you're conceding then I say we call it here. We're at a twenty-seven percent prediction success rate. And I think Weasley wants to hex you. Assuming Longbottom doesn't get to you first."
"Millie doesn't look very pleased with you, either," Harry said, though the Overflow beater's glares were nothing to Ron's shouts of 'Harry, what the fuck are you about?' every time they flew near the keeper's box.
"I can handle her. So we call it?"
"You win." Harry nudged his broom level with Malfoy's. "Still doesn't mean you're going to catch the snitch."
"Oh really?" Malfoy's broom yawed from side to side, making his robes flutter. "Let's see what you've got that's better, Potter." He swooped away in a graceful curve.
Harry smiled. Now the real game was on. He headed upwards in a lazy spiral. The temptation to watch Malfoy was strong—and not just because of the way his Quidditch robes fit—but watching the other seeker was a weak tactic. The best seekers kept an eye on the opposition, but they didn't rely on them for finding the snitch.
And they kept an eye on the game. Harry dodged a bludger and scowled at Millie. She waved her bat as she flew past him. "Glad to see you two decided to play with the rest of us. How was your date?"
"Get bent, Bulstrode. You're going down."
"Big talk, Potter. Ooh, looks like Malfoy's spotted something."
Harry wheeled and almost took another bludger to the face. Malfoy hovered in place midfield, scanning the pitch as Harry had been. Mille's laughter followed Harry as he flew off to a new vantage far away from the Overflow team's beaters.
He let his focus relax, observing the game as a single system rather than a series of discreet events. The chasers wove a braided trail around the pitch, lobbing the ball back and forth, intercepting, doubling back. They dodged bludgers whacked into their path by the less elegant tactics of the beaters. Most of the play was concentrated beneath Harry. Down at the other end of the field, Ron was giving Harry looks. Not dirty 'what-the-fuck-are-you-up-to-with-Malfoy' looks. Wide-eyed, chin-nodding, it's-right-fucking-here-you-git looks. And sure enough, Harry spied a glint of gold not ten feet beyond Ron's head.
Resisting the urge to glance at Malfoy, Harry let himself drift closer. There was no way he'd get to the snitch first if he broke for it. He kept an eye on it as it flitted down to wind in lazy circles around the DMLE goal posts, sidling ever closer and waiting for his moment.
It came when Venn sank the quaffle and a ragged cheer rose from the stands. Harry's Malfoy-predictive-model said Malfoy would be watching his own team's posts, doing whatever calculations he did to predict with uncanny accuracy where the snitch would be. Harry urged his Firebolt into a dive, heading straight for the snitch.
"Bloody hell!" came Malfoy's curse as Harry zoomed past, close enough that the air of his passage tagged the short bristles of Malfoy's Thunderbolt and sent him into an unsteady spin. Harry fought to keep the Firebolt on target, blessing the stability provided by its clearly-superior long bristles. Up ahead, the snitch shot straight up into the sky. Harry rose higher in his seat and arced up to follow, balancing on the bipod so he wouldn't tumble to his death.
Behind him, he heard wind whipping fabric—Malfoy's robes, which would be spelled to reduce drag. Shit. No wonder Malfoy was willing to put up with a bit of public humiliation. A regulation kit came standard with all sorts of charms that would give him another edge. An edge that was allowing him to creep ahead of Harry.
The snitch hit the apex of its climb, paused for a moment like a teardrop in the sun, and then shot down between them. Malfoy nearly slapped Harry in a vain attempt to grab the snitch as it passed. Harry hadn't bothered to try. He was already arcing back in a tight loop to drop after it. He dodged a bludger, ignored the ground speeding up to meet him. There was only one thing, one prize, one moment encased in a little sphere of gold. Malfoy was right up on his flank, and it was like all the best days of Harry's school years, the days that weren't dark and full of fear.
Draco Malfoy had been a part of that, too. What an odd notion.
With a good twenty feet to go before it hit ground, the snitch changed direction, zipping under Harry and Malfoy and back towards Ron's head. Malfoy was already turning to follow, as though he'd anticipated the snitch's about-face. There was no way Harry's Firebolt could match the Thunderbolt's superior maneuverability. Desperate to regain the advantage, Harry threw himself over the front of his broom. The riderless inertia charms kicked in, stopping the Firebolt mid-flight. He flipped it under him, sweaty fingers sliding along the haft because there were no inertial charms on him. His flailing foot caught the bipod, stopping his slide. He flew hell-for-leather after the snitch, leaving most of his stomach behind him.
"Ron! Get down, get... Move! Ron, move!"
To his credit, Ron tried to get out of the way. The snitch followed him, and Harry followed the snitch.
They collided forty feet above the pitch, a tangle of limbs and brooms and 'bloody hells.' Only the cushioning charms kept them from slamming into the ground. Only the keeper's padding around Ron's body kept Harry from breaking his glasses again.
Ron groaned, tentatively touched his split lip, and groaned again. "Mate, you have got to lay off the butterbeers. Tell me you got it, at least?"
Harry rolled off Ron, laughing. "I got it," he said, and held up the snitch for the rest of the players and the crowd to see. He looked around for Malfoy and spotted him leaning on Millie, shaking. For a moment, Harry worried he'd been injured somehow, but then the sound of his laughter rose above the general cheers of the crowd. Laughing. Malfoy had lost to Harry, and he was laughing. Laughing so hard that Millie had to help hold him upright.
Harry's grin returned. He held out a hand to help Ron up. "Now that was some Quidditch."
Ron looked at him like he was barmy. "If you say so." He brushed at the dirt and grass stains on his clothes, and Harry was reminded that keepers, as a rule, didn't often go crashing into the pitch. "Damn, will you look at this tear? Suz is going to kill me."
Harry collected both their brooms and slung an arm around Ron's shoulders, leading him towards the spot where the DMLE team was gathering to celebrate. "Maybe she'll give you a reprieve when you tell her you're the only keeper to ever assist on catching the snitch?"
The celebration—and commiseration—following the first game of the season lasted until Hermione made the sensible suggestion that they move it to their usual pub. Harry waved them off, promising to join them after he'd cleaned up. He hadn't seen Malfoy since the end of the game, but he managed to catch Millie alone on her way out.
He was pretty sure she wasn't fooled by his casual query. "Malfoy? I think he went home. Why?"
Harry shrugged, still trying for nonchalance. "Because he isn't as much of a git as he used to be, and I figured he might actually appreciate being invited to the pub after game."
"Hm. Maybe next time. Though I'd recommend leaving out the git part. He might take it the wrong way."
"I'll think about it. See you all there." Harry waved her off and headed for the tiny changing room on the edge of the pitch.
He expected it to be empty. They all played in street clothes, and nobody at their pub minded a bit of sport-sweat, so the bunker saw little use during the intramural games. He definitely didn't count on running into Malfoy, straddling the bench between locker banks and fussing over his broom. He was still fully-dressed in his kit, and Harry stopped in the doorway, gut twisting from a confused riot of emotions.
"Good game," he said to stop himself from staring and to keep Malfoy from realizing that he had been staring.
Malfoy sat up, balancing his broom across his knees, and stretched his arms above his head. "It was. I especially liked the part where you tried to make yourself one with Weasley and you both ended up flat on the pitch."
Harry snorted. "Yeah, I noticed you liking that part."
Malfoy stared at Harry just a moment too long for comfort before ducking his head to continue working on his broom. "That flip you did was fairly impressive, too. Suicidal, but impressive."
"Helps if you've got a broom with decent stability. You knew the snitch was going to change direction before it did, didn't you?"
Malfoy looked up through his fringe. "As if I'd be inclined to confirm anything when you just made a crack about my broom."
Harry straddled the bench, facing him. "I didn't do any damage with that fly-by, did I?"
Malfoy's hands stilled, then resumed trimming the bristles. "No. I think it was a friendly bludger. My charm held like a dream, though."
"Mm. You're right about the Thunderbolt. It's not a bad broom."
Malfoy carefully packed up the scissors and the repair kit. "Don't patronise me, Potter." His tone was about five degrees cooler than a freezing charm.
"What... I didn't... All I said was that it was a good broom."
Setting the broom aside, Malfoy stood and crossed his arms. He loomed over Harry. "Why did you come in here at all? To gloat? Because catching the snitch wasn't enough?"
"I didn't even know you were in here! Millie said you went home. I just came to clean up and found you here, and you didn't seem to care who caught the snitch a few moments ago. Can't I even compliment your sodding broom without you hexing my balls off?"
"Sod off, Potter." Malfoy started to turn away.
Harry grabbed a fistful of indigo wool and yanked him back. "Merlin, Malfoy, would you just... you change moods faster than a snitch changes direction. I need one of those predictive models for you."
Malfoy's breathing echoed loudly in the tiny cement bunker. "Why would you care to want one?"
Harry knew he should release Malfoy's robes, let him escape, but he feared if he did, he'd never catch him again.
Why would you care?
He loosened his grip but didn't let go. "I’m going to invite you to the pub. And I think you're going to say no, but you shouldn't. You should come. Ron will make an arse of himself. Neville will be deeply uncomfortable. I don't know how the others will act. But Hermione and Millie will be there. And me. And I think you should come."
Because you were Voldemort's victim, too. And if that didn't get Harry hexed, nothing would. Instead, he went for a different kind of truth. A more frightening truth. "Because I want you."
Malfoy's eyes widened. His arms dropped to his sides. Harry released his grip and stood, edging Malfoy back against the bank of lockers on the strength of proximity alone. "I wasn't laughing with everyone else when you showed up in full kit."
Malfoy's jaw tensed. "I noticed."
"You know why?" Harry slid his hands inside the robes, resting them lightly on Malfoy's hips. "Because all I could think was how fucking hot you looked, and all I wanted to do was this."
Harry suspected he lacked Malfoy's finesse in the kissing department. His lips were wind-chapped, and he was shorter than Malfoy by several inches, which necessitated some awkward stretching and rising on his toes. Malfoy didn't seem to mind, though. After a startled moment where Harry was certain he was about to get hexed, Malfoy wrapped his arms around Harry and bent into the kiss.
There was none of the softness that Harry had been dreaming about all week. This kiss was tongues and teeth and a fight for dominance, like careening sidelong to reach the snitch. Harry's hands dug under the cable-knit jumper, seeking skin. Malfoy's found his ass and squeezed.
Harry broke the kiss. "Fuck," he breathed into Malfoy's neck, and then there was skin to explore, soft and sweat-salty and every brush of his teeth made Malfoy hiss and cringe into Harry's mouth. The hands on his ass pulled him close, so there was no mistaking that Malfoy was as hard as Harry. Harry curled his fingers around Malfoy's waistband, seeking some sort of leverage to grind into him.
Malfoy released his grip, bringing one gauntlet up to tear at the buckle with his teeth. Harry caught his wrist and pinned it to the lockers behind him. "Leave it."
He was nose-to-nose with Malfoy, close enough to see the striations of blue and green and yellow that read as grey from a distance. Close enough to watch Malfoy's pupils dilate and feel his breath hot against his lips. "You're serious?"
"Yeah. The whole kit. Leave it all."
"Like this? Or would you prefer..." Malfoy released Harry's ass and touched an embroidered bit on his robe's collar. The indigo dye washed away, leaving a deep, Slytherin green in its wake.
Harry shuddered and pinned Malfoy's other wrist. "How..."
"Didn't you know, Potter? Colour changing charms are standard with any decent kit." Malfoy's condescending sneer took Harry right back to their school days as much as the robes did. It shouldn't have been arousing. It should have made Harry want to shove Malfoy away and hex the holy hell out of him.
It didn't. "I know that. I'm not..." Harry couldn't say what he wasn't. Couldn't say why having Malfoy in Slytherin Quidditch robes, pinned against a bank of lockers, was the hottest thing this side of Fiendfyre. He gave up trying to figure it out and opted for snogging his way to enlightenment.
"I never... this wasn't something... I ever thought about," Harry tried to explain between kisses. His fingers were knotted with Malfoy's now, and both of them thrusting against one another. "You, I mean." Harry stopped kissing, but he couldn't seem to make himself stop rutting up against Malfoy, even though the painful friction of his jeans was starting to edge out the pleasure of it.
"I know." Malfoy's smirk lost something in translation when he was flushed and breathless. "That's what makes this so interesting. If you'd been carrying some sort of torch all these years, I wouldn't be here."
Harry pressed into Malfoy, in case he needed reminding of just how hard they both were. "You wouldn't?"
Malfoy caught his breath, knee sliding between Harry's legs. "No. I'd have mocked my way into an early grave."
Harry buried his nose against Malfoy's neck, riding Malfoy's thigh. He laughed harder than the statement deserved. "I probably wouldn't have killed you."
"Weasley would have. Or Granger."
"Fair enough." Harry'd had enough of chafing. He pulled back far enough to see what he was doing and released Malfoy's wrists so he could fumble at the fly of his trousers.
Malfoy's fingers ghosted across Harry's lips. They smelled of leather and sweat and broom polish. "What are you doing?"
"Haven't decided yet." Harry caught two of those fingers between his teeth, licking, sucking, watching Malfoy's expression go stupid with wanting. It gave Harry a very good idea what he wanted to do. If Malfoy let him. He shoved Malfoy's trousers down to his hips and wrapped his hand around Malfoy's cock, matching the teasing of his fingers to the curl of his tongue.
"What do you want to do?" Malfoy whispered, slow-fucking his fingers into Harry's mouth. Harry moaned around them. Nobody should get this hard at the smell of leather and broom polish, at the sight of Draco Malfoy in Quidditch pads and Slytherin green.
Harry knelt on the concrete floor—his knees were going to hate him tomorrow and he didn't care. Draco's fingers left wet traces across his cheek and buried in his hair. Harry looked up, watching for a reaction as he ran his tongue up the underside and over the slit of Draco's cock. A thin line of pre-come broke and fell onto Harry's chin. Draco swiped it up. Harry caught Draco's thumb and pulled it to his lips, sucking it clean.
Draco's mouth was moving as though he was working himself up to say something. From previous patterns, Harry suspected it would be something designed to piss him off. To forestall him, Harry did the only logical thing: he wrapped his mouth around the head of Draco's cock.
Tingles washed over Harry's scalp and down his back when Draco's fists tightened in Harry's hair. He moaned and kissed Draco's cock the way Draco had kissed him that night at the pub: soft, wet kisses that never went beyond the head. Draco jerked his hips, whimpered, but didn't force his way into Harry's mouth even though he could have.
And sweet Merlin, Draco fighting for control was a beautiful sight. He'd bowed his head, chin tucked to his chest, brow furrowed, eyes clenched shut and lower lip caught between his teeth. Harry suspected it was to hold in the whimpers caught in his throat. And the rest of him covered in layers of wool and leather save for the triangle of flesh Harry had uncovered, a bit of hard stomach and a very hard cock. Harry kept his rhythm slow, lips tight, sinking deeper each time and wondering how far he had to go before Draco looked at him.
He paused halfway down, where his lips met his hand, as far as he could go without gagging. He could settle into this until Draco came or Harry's jaw locked, but he wanted...
He pulled back, and Draco's cock popped free of his mouth. "Look at me," he said softly, still working Draco with his hand.
Draco's eyes remained half-lidded as though he was drugged, but he looked down at Harry. He'd chewed his lower lip swollen and pink, and Harry suspected he'd get a hexing if he ever let on how adorable it was.
"Better," he said, kissing the tip of Draco's cock without breaking eye contact. "Something off about you closing your eyes when my teeth are this close to the Malfoy... escutcheon."
Malfoy groaned, a mix of pain and pleasure. "You are hereby prohibited from making up euphemisms for my cock. And yeah. That's what's odd about all of this."
"Didn't say it was the only odd thing. And I rather like the Malfoy escutcheon." Harry ran his tongue around the glans. "As a euphemism, I mean. You going to tell me to shut-up and suck your cock already?"
Draco's stomach clenched. His cock bobbed in time with his dry laughter. "Probably. I suppose if you're going to suck it, you can call it whatever you want."
"Oh. That was very unwise of you. Very... un-Slytherin." Harry took Draco back in his mouth, and this time Draco kept his eyes open, watching Harry watch him. It was the strangest staring contest Harry'd ever engaged in, the both of them moaning, Draco trembling, nails scraping, digging into Harry's scalp. Harry held him still with one hand on his hip, just in case. He didn't think Draco would deliberately shove his cock down Harry's throat, not if he'd resisted doing so at the start. But then again, Draco tended to lose control when Harry was the one egging him on.
And for once, Harry somewhat wanted to see Draco lose control.
Draco's tensed, fingers tugging at Harry's hair, trying to pull him away. "'m close." Harry shook his head, as much as he could with his mouth around Draco's cock, and took him faster, deeper.
Malfoy broke their locked gaze, eyes sliding closed, head falling back hard enough to bang against the locker bank. He tensed, twisting Harry's hair, and then he released his grip, hands slamming flat at his sides. He orgasmed with a series of trembles and high-throated whimpers that reminded Harry of the cascading cabinet, Draco falling and falling and falling. Harry watched it, as awestruck as he'd been in the Department of Mysteries. He could watch this forever.
But it ended. Too quickly, though that was probably just as well because Harry's jaw was starting to ache. Sucking his way up Draco's cock, he swallowed and licked up the last few lazy spurts of come. He rested his cheek on Draco's hip and wiped his eyes, nose, and mouth. He was a mess, and he didn't care a whit.
Draco's hand returned to stroke Harry's hair. Harry wanted to close his eyes and fall asleep to that soothing touch, but there were other matters to attend to. He propped his chin on Malfoy's belly and looked up.
Harry decided Malfoy had a very nice post-coital laugh.
It was truly amazing the things you could get a bloke to agree to when you'd sucked him off without giving him a chance to return the favor. Malfoy grumbled a bit about having to wear his kit--'Transfigure something with this many charms woven into it, Potter? Are you mental?'--but he'd grudgingly allowed Harry to side-along him to the Candle and Crow.
"Oi! Harry! Over here, mate!" Ron's call rose above the general noise of the pub while Harry and Malfoy were still stashing their brooms and Malfoy's robe. With a final glance at Malfoy to make sure he wasn't about to bolt, Harry led the way into the gryffin's den.
The remnants of the two teams and a smattering of friendly spectators had taken over the rear of the pub. Ron, Neville, Millie, and Hermione had commandeered a booth in the back corner. Ron shoved over for Harry. "Where've you been? We were just about to send a—Bloody hell! What's he doing here?"
Harry glanced back at Malfoy. He wore that pinched expression that gave him the look of a ferret. Harry offered him a reassuring grin. "I invited him, Ron," Harry said, putting an edge on his words that Harry hoped Ron would interpret as Trust me, mate. Go along with this.
Ron, unfortunately, had never been the best at picking up on subtlety. "But... but why? Did he Imperius you? Is it blackmail?"
"Hm, blackmail. Now there's a thought," Malfoy murmured, so low that Harry suspected he was the only one who heard it.
"Don't you get any ideas," he whispered, and then, to Ron, "Nothing like that. It was a good game, is all. And it's been years. We've all changed."
"Yeah, but... but... it's Malfoy! He hexed you last week for no reason."
Harry was quickly losing the plot. He'd known this wasn't going to be easy, but by Merlin, if Harry liked someone enough to suck them off, then they were going to have to rub along with his friends. His friends that were his only family.
Even if that someone was Draco Malfoy.
"That was a misunderstanding," Harry said. "He apologised for that. Didn't you?"
"I did. Felt just awful about it." And then Malfoy smiled. It was not a nice smile, but it was a very Malfoy smile.
"Oh no," Hermione murmured, sinking her head into her hands.
"And hello to you too, Weasley. Ta for making room." Malfoy plunked down in the space Ron had cleared for Harry, trapping Ron and Neville in the booth.
"Harry?" Neville asked, glancing between Harry and Malfoy, one hand on his arm sheath. Millie had covered her mouth with her hand, but from the way her brows furrowed, it was fairly clear she was holding back laughter.
"I didn't make it for—what's this about, Malfoy?" Ron pressed back into Neville so he wouldn't have to brush arms with Malfoy. "Did you Stupefy Harry again?"
"Clearly not, or he wouldn't be standing here." Malfoy looked up at Harry from underneath his fringe. "No, I think it was more along the lines of a Silencio. Wouldn't you say, Potter?"
Harry felt his face go warm. He wasn't sure why he'd expected Malfoy to keep quiet about what had delayed them. It was Malfoy after all. The only way to beat him was to prove Harry was less afraid of consequences than Malfoy was. "Possibly. You were groaning enough for the both of us after I hit you with that Jelly-Legs jinx."
"You definitely caught me off guard, I'll admit. But I think I countered admirably with that Slugulus Eructo. Come to think of it, you know a bit about those, don't you, Weasley?"
"I... what?" Ron squeaked. "You're both taking the piss, right? Please tell me you're not... you didn't..."
"Choke Potter with a bezoar?" Malfoy purred, sending Ron almost into Neville's lap merely by leaning closer.
"Cast an Engorgio on the Malfoy escutcheon," Harry countered.
Malfoy winced. "I warned you about euphemisms, Potter."
Millie downed half her firewhiskey. "I am not nearly drunk enough for this."
"Ohhhh," Neville whispered, brows climbing almost to his hairline. "Bugger."
"Not yet." Malfoy winked.
"I think I'm going to be ill," Ron whimpered.
"I think I'm going to hex your bollocks off," Harry cheerfully told Malfoy.
Hermione slammed both her hands on the table, rising as much as the booth would let her. "And I'm going to cast Petrificus Totalis on you both if you can't sit down for a friendly drink like civilised people."
Harry looked at Malfoy, who looked at Harry, and they both burst out laughing.
"I'm confused," Ron wailed.
"I'm annoyed." Hermione sat and crossed her arms.
"You're priceless is what you are," Millie said, burying her laughter in Hermione's shoulder.
"And unexpectedly kinky." Malfoy reached for Millie's firewhiskey. "You lot used Petrificus Totalis often back in the day, did you?"
Millie grabbed Malfoy's wrist, knuckles whitening until he winced and let go of the tumbler. "Don't insult my girlfriend, Malfoy. Unlike Potter, I don’t have any use for your bollocks, and I will hex them off."
Silence descended, followed by Malfoy's quiet, "Sorry, Granger."
So much for slowly breaking it to his friends. Harry clapped his hands. "Well, that went well. And now that everyone's getting along, I'll see about getting us some drinks." He fled to the bar before anyone could stop him.
By the time Harry returned to the booth with at least two rounds worth of firewhiskeys and butterbeers, his friends and Malfoy had reached some sort of detante. The social lubricant of the day was, of course, Quidditch.
"Harry, Malfoy's having us on," Ron said, snatching one of the firewhiskeys from Harry's tray and tossing it back before Harry even had a chance to set the tray down. "Says he can predict where the snitch is. Says he proved it to you."
Harry snagged a butterbeer before they were all gone—though given that everyone but Hermione reached for the firewhiskey, he needn't have been worried. He sat next to Millie, opposite Malfoy, and tried not to be distracted by the way he had to lattice his knees with Malfoy's for them to both fit in the narrow booth.
"Seems like." He made himself look at Malfoy as though they weren't knocking knees under the table. "What was it, twenty-seven percent success rate?"
"More like thirty-three if you'll allow me knowing the snitch was going to change direction at the end." Malfoy took a drink of his firewhiskey and slouched just a bit, as Harry had never seen Malfoy do. His knee nudged up between Harry's thighs.
"Bloody hell," Ron murmured, second firewhiskey hovering halfway to his lips as he regarded Malfoy with something very like admiration. "Now I want to snog you."
"I would rather snog an actual weasel."
"Can you do that with bludgers, too?" Neville asked, leaning around Ron.
"But he won't. Not for you, at least." Millie raised her tumbler to Neville. "Nice try, Longbottom."
Hermione studied Malfoy, absently tracing figures in the condensation on her butterbeer. "Predictive analytics?"
He nodded into his glass.
"How long did it take you to compile the dataset?"
"Three years," he mumbled.
Hermione's shoulders started shaking. "And how much time did you spend memorizing the statistical model for this particular match?" Malfoy drank instead of answering. Hermione broke into laughter. "Merlin, Draco. Did you get anything else done this week?"
"Hold up, hold up." Ron spread his hands across the table to halt the conversation. His colour was high, which Harry suspected had more to do with the two drinks he'd just downed than from additional embarrassment. "I get that Harry's got a Quidditch hard-on for Malfoy, but when did you two get to be such good mates?" He fixed a somewhat bleary eye on Millie. "Did you do this? Is this your doing?"
Hermione sighed. "Honestly, Ronald. Just because I can dredge up an ounce of civility—"
"It's all right, Granger." Malfoy said, looking at Harry rather than Hermione. Something about that look made Harry's skin tingle and his groin tighten. Malfoy looked away before Harry could figure out why. "I think everyone here has clearance."
Hermine glanced at Millie. "If you're sure?"
"Clearance?" Ron asked.
Millie was already casting a Muffliato. Even with that precaution, Hermione leaned forward, keeping her voice low. "I think everyone but Neville knows that I'm the head of the Department of Mysteries."
"You're what?" Neville yelped, looked around, and lowered his voice to a hiss. "Since when?"
"Three years now," Ron said with a drunkenly proud nod. "Youngest head ever."
"Millie's my head of security."
Malfoy downed his firewhiskey and sat back up. "And I'm one of her Unspeakables."
Harry gave Neville and Ron a moment to scrape their jaws off the table. "Malfoy's the one I've been working with on the anomaly."
"Wait. Wait. Wait." Ron held the table down, possibly to hold himself up. "Malfoy is the brilliant chap who's going to make sure we don't all get erased from existence? Hermione's best Unspeakable?"
"Brilliant, hm?" Malfoy smirked at Harry over the rim of his empty glass.
Harry took a large swig of butterbeer. "Shut-up."
"I wouldn't say he's my best..." Hermione drawled.
"Just your most sane."
She tipped her butterbeer. "That, I'll grant you."
"The one-eyed man is king," Millie intoned with dour solemnity.
"Fuck you, Bulstrode."
"Not your type, Malfoy. Apparently we both beat for Gryffindor."
Harry wondered if his expression of annoyed forbearance looked anything like Hermione's.
"Neville?" Ron whimpered.
"Right there with you, mate."
Together, Ron and Neville pounded back the last two firewhiskeys.
Between them, Harry, Hermione, and Millie managed to support the drunken Ron and Neville out to the apparition point. Malfoy refused to help, but he kept his mocking laughter to a minimum.
"We can side-along them to make sure they get home without splinching," Hermione said, taking Harry aside while Millie sorted out whose broom was whose. "You going to be okay?"
Harry hugged her and kissed the top of her head. "Yeah. I'll take the pub's floo. Grimmauld Place is on the network, remember?" He could probably apparate in his current state, but why risk it?
Hermione glanced over his shoulder to where Malfoy stood. "That's not what I meant."
Harry gave her a lopsided smile. "I know. And I know it doesn't make sense—"
"Oh, it makes rather a lot of sense. I just never thought you'd get over hating each other enough to realise there might be something across that fine line."
"You mean... that's... we just..." Harry sputtered. "It is much too soon for... that."
"Mmhmm. Just be careful. I know you Harry. Your heart is the best thing about you, but it means you want things that Draco might not be able to give."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked. Hermione had been there through his break-up with Ginny. She'd been the one to finally explain Ginny's withdrawal to Harry in a way he could understand. But surely she didn't think this thing with Draco was in any way similar.
"Well, he doesn't have the best history with..." She grimaced and waved her words away. "Let's just say he thinks too much, and it's mostly of himself. One of the challenges of dating a Slytherin, I guess."
"You and Millie made it work."
"And it took work. On both our parts. Are you sure Malfoy's up for that?" She shook her head. "Ignore me. Like you said, much too soon. Just remember, I like Malfoy well enough these days, but you are Ron are my family."
Harry hugged her again, hard enough to make her squeak. "And you're mine. Thanks, Hermione."
He stood back as his friends whipped out of existence, Hermione's worries sinking to the pit of his belly like lead weights. Robes rustled behind him. Malfoy.
"That was less painful than I expected," Malfoy murmured. "Mind explaining what the point of it was?"
Too tired for their usual sparring, Harry shouldered his broom and headed back towards the pub. "There's no point in continuing this if you can't go for drinks with my friends."
Malfoy fell in step beside him. "This? Meaning sex? Because I'm not certain 'this' is anything else."
"This, meaning sex, because if that's all you want, then I'm not certain it's worth my time."
Malfoy paused outside the Candle and Crow, dragging Harry to a stop. "I wouldn't knock it 'til you've tried it, Potter." The light of the half-moon painted Malfoy in shades of indigo and silver. When he smiled like that, all sharp and knowing, he looked a fair sight better than a ferret.
"I'm sure. I expect you'd be an amazing shag." Harry ignored the widening grin. "And I don't expect any kind of guarantee. I'd still lay even odds of us remembering all the reasons we love to hate each other and ending whatever this is in the grandmother of all duels."
"Yeah, but... you have to admit, it sounds just a little bit fun."
Harry couldn't help but smile at that. They were mental, the both of them. He took a deep breath, letting the hint of autumnal chill in the air cool his thoughts. He needed clarity, not libido. "It all sounds... fun. And maybe fun is enough for other people, but I don't see the point unless there's at least the hope for something more."
Malfoy took a step back, and there was the fear Harry knew so well. The fear Malfoy's sneer-and-swagger was designed to hide. "You're expecting rather a lot in exchange for a blow job, Potter."
Shoulders sagging, Harry reached for the door. "I'm not expecting anything, Malfoy. That's what I'm telling you. I don’t expect anything from you. But if you decide you want to try for something, well... I guess you know where to find me." He opened the door.
Malfoy hung back, still looking scared. Confused. So much the boy Harry had known rather than the man he was getting to know. Wanted to know. "I don't want to fuck this up," he said softly.
A shiver ran through Harry. The boy Malfoy had been would never have said those words, never have admitted his fear, much less its source. Harry closed the space between them and touched one of those moon-pale cheeks. "Take your time. I'm not going anywhere," he said, and brushed his lips over Malfoy's in a whisper-quick kiss. "Well. That's not... I'm going home. But I'll be around. I mean... I'll see you tomorrow."
Malfoy touched his lips, frowning. "Right. Tomorrow. Goodnight, Potter."
"G'night, Malfoy." Harry backed away and slipped into the Candle and Crow before he could confuse them both even more.
As with the days following their kiss, Malfoy seemed to take Sunday's intimacy as his cue to withdraw to a civil distance. Harry tried to cultivate patience as he'd promised.
Harry was shit at patience.
Instead, he sank himself into his work, requisitioning the research reports from every Unspeakable under contract with the DoM and combing through them for anything that matched up with Ron and Neville's investigation.
He learned that cutting-edge research was a lot more hazardous to life and limb for wizards than it seemed to be for muggle scientists, even with all the protective measures Hermione had put in place since her takeover. He learned that the Overflow team's second beater was so terrifying because he worked in Chaos Division, and that far from being a recluse who wrote the occasional column for The Quibbler, Luna Lovegood was the rising star of Fantasia Division.
He learned that Malfoy hummed to himself when he was in deep concentration, and that when he rolled up his sleeves, he kept his left arm at his side or rotated down, hiding the inert dark mark from view.
Sadly, Harry learned very little about who might be the inside leak for the attack. If it hadn't been for this growing... whatever... with Malfoy, Harry had to admit he'd be at the top of Harry's list.
"Would you mind if I talked at you?" Harry asked when they broke for lunch, shoving aside his stack of files to make room for Malfoy at the desk. It was Thursday, and Malfoy had cleared out almost all of the falling Time-Turners. At this rate, he'd be done in a day or two, and the case would be moot. Savage was already making noises about moving Harry, Ron, and Neville to more pressing investigations. He'd even grumbled a few times about the waste of Auror resources for what seemed to be a DoM false alarm.
"What would you do if I said no?" Malfoy asked, lifting the lid on a container of tikka masala kept warm by house elf magic. The aromatic steam made Harry's belly grumble. Kreacher's butter-and-pickle sandwich seemed even less appetizing than when Harry had unwrapped it.
"Talk at you anyways," he said. Which probably wasn't true, but he was annoyed at Malfoy's lunch. How could he tempt Malfoy to go out when everything Malfoy's house elves made was better than a restaurant?
"And this is why I long for the days when I could cast a Silencio on you with impunity. Very well. Talk."
Harry picked at his sandwich, brow furrowing as his thoughts turned to his original conundrum. "Why did we decide that the intruders had inside help? And that they were going for the Time-Turner anomaly?" Since Malfoy was chewing, Harry answered his own question, laying out the pertinent documents. "Someone tripped Millie's defenses in the circular antechamber and Tempus, but got away before they could be incapacitated, probably via an unauthorised portkey they brought with them. This came a month after you filed your report, and a day after Hermione transferred you to Tempus to deal with the anomaly. That forms the basis of our assumption."
He pushed aside his soggy sandwich and began pulling out other documents. "At the same time, Hermione gave the order for all the other Unspeakables in Tempus to be diverted to other projects until the anomaly was dealt with."
"Are you getting to a point, or are you just trying to crowd my lunch off the desk?"
Harry traced the path of his thoughts across the documents. "Hermione arranged things so that you would be alone with the Time-Turners. If the Time-Turners were the target, and if I were being logical, one or the other of you would be my top suspect."
Malfoy carefully wiped his mouth, folded his napkin, and set his lunch aside. "And since you would never suspect Granger, naturally the blame falls on me. Well, I told you I was a suspect. I don't know why I'm surprised it took you this long to—"
"Oh, shut it, Draco. I'm thinking." Harry slid the papers around again, trying to see in them what he'd almost felt in his gut. "Hermione had to submit all those reassignments. And unlike reports, they have to go through multiple departments. Accounting, Facilities, Legal. Anyone could have seen them and started to wonder and oh Merlin! Of course!"
"What?" Malfoy was looking at him oddly, but Harry was too elated to worry about whatever flea had crawled into his brain.
"They weren't targeting Tempus. It's like back in fifth year. They just tried a door at random and happened to trigger the defenses. This isn't about the Time-Turners. This is about Hermione." Harry stood up, gathering all his files in a hodge-podge. He leaned over and gave Malfoy a quick buss on the lips. "Be right back."
He raced out, letting the door slam behind him, and had already commanded the spinning doorways with a Fores Ordo when sense caught up with enthusiasm.
He'd kissed Malfoy. He'd called him Draco.
One half-hanging file slid free and scattered papers across the floor.
"Well, bollocks," Harry muttered, and bent to retrieve it.
Once Harry made the necessary connection, all the other pieces fell into place. Ron and Neville led the raid on the Real Illuminati of North Gosport. Their president, Spartacus Weishaupt, had applied for the DoM job, lost it to Hermione, and spent the next three years writing angry letters about what he was going to do if he ever found out who had usurped his rightful position. August Trimbull, the RING treasurer, worked in the Ministry's accounting department, and he'd cracked under five minutes of questioning. They found the Ministry-issued visitor badges and the chipped teapot the two men had used as a portkey to make their timed escape before Millie's security measures caught them.
"Honestly, all because Weishaupt figured out I got the job over him and didn't think I deserved it?" Hermione said after her debriefing that evening, when Ron and Harry insisted on escorting her to the floo.
"Hard to be illuminati when you can't even get a government job," Ron said. He and Harry were taking the threat far more seriously than Hermione, which only exacerbated her irritation. "We confiscated his journals. He was obsessed with the person who orchestrated his setback and usurped his rightful place."
"But that was three years ago!"
"Three years of stoking his anger without a target." Harry didn't want to frighten Hermione, but he also wanted to make sure she took this seriously. "He found out where you lived, Hermione. He'd worked out how to get around some of Millie's protections. This wasn't going to end with a bit of poking at the DoM."
Hermione looked shaken for all of two seconds before her lips firmed in a line of determination. "Right. Clearly there's a flaw with the security of the paperwork process. I just need to tighten that up so I'm not exposed in the future."
Harry and Ron exchanged a look, but let the matter drop. Maybe it was better this way. Hermione determined and looking for solutions was far preferable to Hermione cowed and scared. Still, they waited until she was safely flooed home before either of them left.
Malfoy's steps faltered when he emerged from the lift to find Harry waiting in the foyer with coffee, as he did every morning. "I thought you closed the case last night."
Harry sipped his coffee to hide a smile. Malfoy was being remarkably civil for not having had his morning fix. "Nobody's reassigned me yet. Until they do, protecting you is my number one priority, remember?" Ah, there was the scowl that made Harry's blood warm. He followed Malfoy to the circular hub. "How'd you know about the case? I rather ran out without explaining."
Malfoy took his coffee and inhaled, scowl fading and eyes closing in bliss. "I noticed. Millie told me when she flooed to ask about home protection. Apparently, she feels her wards aren't proactive enough."
They entered the circular chamber and the doors began to spin. "You mean vicious enough?"
"Isn't that what I said? Fores Tempus."
The doors spun to a stop. Malfoy began unweaving the wards on his own.
"Millie reverted to the old protocols?" Harry asked, sheathing his wand when he realised it wasn't needed.
"Unspeakables are used to working alone. I think she was tired of fielding all the complaints." Malfoy stood at Tempus' open door, clutching his coffee close to his chest. "So you see, there really isn't any need for you to stay today."
"I know." Harry passed Malfoy, dropped his satchel next to his usual desk, and began pulling out the files he'd need for his report.
They fell into their usual pattern, outer robes discarded, Malfoy concentrating, Harry going cross-eyed at his desk, but this morning it felt more at ease than it had, as though something other than the case had broken.
When they stopped for lunch, Malfoy took one look at Harry's shrimp paste and radish sandwich and declared that he couldn't sit through another torturous session of watching Harry eat.
"No wonder you've always looked underfed. I'm inclined to send you Mufty so she'll stop harping on me to eat more. Where to? Samosas?"
They decided on Moroccan, and Harry spent the meal filling in Malfoy on the details of the raid and the nefarious plans of Spartacus Weishaupt and August Trumbull.
"And to think, the next Dark Lord almost got his start in North Gosport," Malfoy murmured, and Harry might have taken offense at his flip tone if he hadn't followed it up with, "I'll make sure to share all the Manor's nastiest protocols with Millie."
It was ridiculous how much that warmed Harry. He fought a sappy smile. "Of course, as an Auror, I didn't hear that."
That afternoon, Harry abandoned the pretense of writing reports and pulled up a chair to watch Malfoy work.
After an odd look, Malfoy said, "Do you know how to cast diagnostic spells?"
"Like for seeing curses and wards?" It was a basic part of Auror training, though not Harry's specialty. He found it easier to blast through things that his fellow Aurors had to pick apart.
"Yes. You'll get a better idea what I’m about if you can see. Here, I've a modified one you can use."
After a few corrections and snorted Really, Potter?'s, Harry was able to fumble his way through Malfoy's diagnostic charm.
He caught his breath at what it revealed. The golden shimmer in the air that Harry had always assumed was dust resolved into a spacefield of tiny spheres strung on thin filaments of magic. Each filament vibrated in time with the ticking of one of the clocks, each vibration rippling out to create resonant vibrations in the other filaments and set the golden spheres to dancing. The air hummed with the music of the strings, a counterpoint to the percussion of the clocks. So that was why Malfoy was always humming while he worked.
And that was just the air. The clocks shone like concentrated suns. Harry had to look away. His gaze fell on the cabinet, and kept falling, tracing the pathways of each turner in turn. There was no beginning and no end, and it should have made sense but it didn't. It twisted and turned so that when he thought he should be back where he'd started, he found himself on the flip side. Harry twisted, chasing rationality like it was a golden snitch.
A hand on his shoulder steadied him when he swayed and would have stumbled. "Careful, Potter. And keep that magic of yours in check, would you? We don't want you wandlessing us through the protective shield by accident."
"Huh?" Harry managed to look away from the mind-breaking patterns of the cabinet. Looking at Malfoy was like a splash of cool water after too long in the sun. Harry lifted a hand, ran fingers through the stillness around Malfoy. It felt like water, cold as snowmelt. He lifted his fingers to his lips, and it danced on his tongue like sweet mint.
Malfoy's grip on his shoulder tightened. "Er. Potter? Would you mind not lapping at my magic like a puppy?"
"Is that what that is?" Harry looked down at himself, curious, but all he saw was his usual t-shirt and jeans and trainers. "Where's mine?"
"Bloody hell, Potter. You mean you never..." Malfoy made a disgusted noise. "You can't use magic to see your own magic. That's like licking your elbow or using your eyes to see your own eyes."
Harry made a face at the duh implicit in Malfoy's tone. He suspected this was one of those things that people born in the wizarding world knew so well that they forgot to tell people who came to it late. Even after all these years, Harry sometimes felt like a foreigner in a strange land.
Still, he'd gladly put up with feeling like an outsider if it meant there were wonders like this to discover. He resisted the urge to run his fingers through the ripples of Malfoy's magic again and instead turned his attention back to the cabinet. Now that he'd had a few minutes to adjust, it was easier to brace himself against the disorientation.
"Right. So, show me what you're doing?" Harry said, retaking his seat.
With surprising patience, Malfoy led Harry through the weave of Time-Turners, pointing out the twists that had discombobulated Harry and explaining that he was waiting for certain patterns to align, something he called a pendulum wave effect, and then he fell silent, the both of them mesmerised by the fall of the half-dozen remaining Time-Turners.
"You know, I still haven't decided if I'm flattered or worried that Granger gave me this assignment," Malfoy said after a long while of doing little but watching the remaining turners fall and occasionally scrawling a notation in one of his charts.
Harry thought he might finally be discerning a pattern. He spoiled it by glancing at Malfoy. The air around him smelled faintly of mint. "Flattered because it's impossible, worried because it's dangerous?"
"Exactly. She's remarkably Slytherin for a Gryffindor. Conning me into an assignment that could get me killed slowly by repeated Thursdays. At the time, I was furious." Malfoy grinned, though he didn't look away from the Time-Turners. "That was the day I stupefied you."
Harry would have shoved him, except that he recalled too well what happened to Rabastan Lestrange when he fell into the bell jar during fifth year. Horseplay had no place near things like the falling cabinet. "You stupefied me because you got a shit assignment?"
"I got an assignment that could—can—kill me via entropy. Still might. I was in a bad mood."
"So you stupefied me."
"Cheered me right up."
"I whistled all the way home."
Harry grinned and threw up his hands. "You're an arse.
"Best day I'd had in weeks."
They fell into silence, marked only by the ticking of the clocks and the music of the spheres. Harry watched Malfoy now instead of the Time-Turners. Every time he turned to make a note, tiny ripples folded across the surface of his magic, like something passing beneath still waters. "Why does stupefying me cheer you up?"
This time, Malfoy returned Harry's regard. "Anything that gets you flushed and flashing cheers me up. Why do you think I tormented you all those years."
"Because you're a git."
And yet, they'd broken that pattern. Or could break it, if Malfoy was willing to try. Harry had told himself that he'd be patient, that he wouldn't push, but... "What exactly do you mean, flushed and flashing?"
And just like that, the spell was broken. Malfoy turned back to the falling cabinet. "Nothing. Forget I said anything. Now shut-up. I need to concentrate."
Cursing himself for not listening to his better judgement, Harry went back to his desk and worked on his report until the magic faded from sight.
End of day came—Malfoy's diagnostic spell had allowed Harry to find the one clock in the room that ran on time. Harry scuffed his feet as he approached Malfoy. The last thing he wanted to do was startle him while he was erasing the Time-Turners.
Or... turner. "There's only one left?" Harry studied the case, the single turner toppling over and over in an endless loop. It was the one without the casing, of course. Malfoy would choose to save the worst for last. "We could stick around until you've finished."
Malfoy stayed silent long enough to make Harry nervous. "No. I need to wait for the pattern to fall into alignment. And it'll be safer to try it once I've rested." His shoulders sagged. He looked almost... defeated. "Monday's soon enough for this to end."
Harry rested a comforting hand on Malfoy's shoulder. He was tense as a clockspring. "Then let's get out of here."
Leaving Malfoy to pack up, Harry crammed files into his satchel without much care for their structural integrity. He was just shrinking the last few files to make them fit into his overfull satchel when Malfoy cleared his throat.
"Just give me another moment." Harry pulled out a few more folders to shrink them for more room.
Malfoy's hand fell across his. He was standing close enough behind that all Harry had to do was lean back...
Another hand landed on Harry's hip. Malfoy, steadying him when he swayed.
"I expect you won't be back on Monday. Savage isn't going to leave you to drown in paperwork." Malfoy's breath stirred the hair at the back of Harry's neck, making it hard to concentrate on his words. The fingers threading with Harry's were cold. Harry cupped his hand to warm them.
"That's probably accurate." He'd been trying to devise an excuse to argue for continuing this assignment and coming up empty.
"And it occurs to me that while you said we had time, we don't." The hand on Harry's hip slid around to his abdomen, pulling him against Malfoy. Lips as warm as the hands were cold brushed the back of Harry's neck. "When we leave today, that's it. You'll go on doing Auror things. I'll finish with the anomaly and go back to working on Locus from the manor." Each sentence was another kiss, another shiver down Harry's spine. "Whatever this is between us will stretch and snap before we cross paths again."
Harry wanted to deny it, but he knew that it was true. He was too caustic and Malfoy was too contrary. Their new pattern was too new; their old pattern was just one moment of carelessness away. "Then what are you doing?" he whispered, fingers twining with Malfoy's to keep him from... to keep him.
Malfoy used their linked hands to turn Harry around, only to press him back against the desk. "Not leaving."
He caught Harry's lower lip between his teeth, tongue flicking against it. Harry had no patience for the tease. He wasn't certain when kissing Draco Malfoy had become necessary to his existence, but he was far past the point when nibbles and softness would satisfy. He gripped the back of Malfoy's head and forced the kiss deeper.
Malfoy lifted him onto the desk, kissing like they were fucking—deep thrusts, deep moans, pressing Harry down, down, down until he was half-sprawled across the desk and Malfoy hard between his spread legs.
Harry broke the kiss when breathing became a concern. "Does this mean you want to try—"
"Yes." Malfoy's teeth scraped his neck. "No." He bit Harry's earlobe, and Harry squirmed close, away, as conflicted as Malfoy. "I don't know. It means... I don't know. Is that enough for the great Harry Potter?"
Harry caught Malfoy's chin and wrestled him away from his assault on Harry's neck. "Let's get one thing clear. I am not fucking someone who calls me that."
"Fine. Pot—" Malfoy grunted when Harry squeezed. His jaw tensed. Relaxed. "Harry. Is that enough for you, Harry?"
"It's enough for now, Draco." Harry pulled Draco in, trading kisses just as hungry as before, but without the raw edge of desperation. Draco's hands found their way under Harry's jumper, shoving the bottom edge higher and higher as he warmed his seeking fingers against Harry's chest.
"Wait..." Harry gasped. Once again, Draco was sucking his way down to Harry's collarbone. He was on a collision course to meet his wandering hands. "We can go... somewhere. My home..."
"Fuck that." Draco wrestled Harry's shirt over his head. Harry had only just enough wits to hang on to his glasses when the shirt went flying over Draco's shoulder. "I have spent this entire week trying not to think about bending you over this desk. We are staying here."
"Someone could walk—"
Draco swallowed the protest with a kiss, drawing his wand and casting a wordless locking charm at the door. The clunk of heavy locks sounded even louder than the ticking. He set his wand atop Harry's abandoned satchel. "Any other concerns?"
Harry let out a soft breath. Fuck, that had been hot. "Lube. But I suspect you've an answer for that, too."
Draco tugged him down off the desk. "Did I mention I'd been thinking about this all week? Turn around."
Turning, Harry braced his hands on the desk. Draco fitted up behind him, stroking his stomach, kissing his bare shoulders.
"Shoes," he whispered.
Harry toed off his trainers.
That got Draco a glare. "You going to do anything?"
"I'm going to watch you take off your jeans."
"Git." Harry undid his fly. Draco ended up helping. Sort of. His hands covered Harry's and they both pushed the jeans down. But Draco's hands didn’t follow Harry's back up. He took his time, scraping his nails up the inside of Harry's thighs. Harry widened his stance. He felt ridiculous, standing there in nothing but his socks and Draco still mostly dressed—or would he have, except Draco's nails traced lightly over Harry's balls. And just his balls, no matter how Harry squirmed or his cock jumped at the touch.
Harry fumbled for it and passed it back, falling to his elbows in the hopes that would encourage Draco to get on with the fucking.
Draco's murmured, "Scourgify," was followed by a slightly uncomfortable rush of tingles down Harry's crack and up into places that made him squeak.
He twisted to glare back at Draco. "Wait. Seriously. Did you just cast a cleansing charm on my—" Harry broke off in another squeak when Draco knelt, parted his ass cheeks, and kissed him... there.
"Still want to complain?" Draco's breath ghosted across Harry's puckered hole.
Not trusting himself to speak, Harry shook his head and pressed his brow to the desktop. If he looked down his own body, he could see Draco's shoulders, his long neck. His chin. Harry closed his eyes and arched his back. He didn't want to see. He wanted to feel. Fingers digging into his ass cheeks, soft kisses, and then the wetness of Draco's tongue, sliding past, plunging in. Harry rose against it as much as Malfoy's grip would allow.
When Harry reached for his cock, Malfoy batted his hand away. "Did I say you could touch yourself, Pot—Harry?"
"Didn't know I had to ask permission, Mal... Draco," Harry shot back, deliberately slurring the names together. That earned him a slap on the ass that had his cock throbbing even harder.
Draco snatched the strap of his satchel and dragged it across the floor. There was a bit of fumbling about. Draco stood, and something harder and less forgiving than a tongue pressed into Harry's ass, two cold, slick fingers stretching him to the point of discomfort. Like the shock of the ass-slap, it only had Harry squirming for more. Draco held him still with a hand on the small of his back, working him open.
And working. And working. "Draco, I will hex the bloody hell out of you if you don't—" Harry got no further with his empty threat. Draco removed his fingers and pushed his cock past the initial tightness.
Harry pressed his cheek to the desk, the cool wood leaching away the rush of heat. Pain wasn't the right word for the feeling of being filled before he was quite ready—could he ever have been ready for this? He couldn't quite catch his breath, couldn't catch his thoughts. They pounded through him like blood, his body squeezing around the heat of Draco's cock even as he tried to relax and accept it.
Draco rubbed small circles above Harry's tailbone, soothing. Not moving. The fucking tease. "Never thought you'd be the sort to just lie there and take it, Potter," he said softly. His palm massaged up Harry's spine and back down. It would be so easy to mistake the gesture as solicitous. Except for the way he called Harry by his last name again. Apparently Draco Malfoy was chronically disposed to pushing Harry's boundaries.
"I'll show you lying there, you git." Harry grabbed the opposite edge of the desk to give himself leverage so he could fuck himself back onto Draco's cock.
Groaning, Draco clamped tight around Harry's hips, trying to hold him in place. "W-wait."
"Never thought you'd be the sort to just stand there and take it, Malfoy." Harry taunted, riding back onto him. Fabric padded his ass each time he slammed back. He glanced over his shoulder. Draco hadn't even taken off his clothes. Just opened his trousers to have at it. The veins stood out on his tensed forearms as he tried to hold Harry still. His lips hung slack, eyes clenched shut—the same look of concentration he'd had at the bunker. Harry's balls tightened.
"Oh, you're close," Harry breathed. Draco exhaled in time with Harry's rocking, guttural noises nothing like his usual air of refinement that bordered on prudishness. Harry wondered just how undone Draco Malfoy could get. "You're too close. You're going to come before me. Again." Draco made a high sound that might have been a denial—leastways, his head shook—but he was sliding into Harry now as roughly as Harry was pressing back. Harry lost the thread of his taunting for a few moments when the angle shifted and caught his prostate. But only for a moment. "Do it."
"Just... leave you hanging for a second time?" Draco's teeth grit in a parody of a smile. He still has his eyes closed, as though the sight of them fucking would take him over the edge. "You a masochist, Potter?"
"Well, I am letting you fuck me," Harry said. Draco rolled his hips, and they both groaned. "Look at me, Malfoy."
Draco opened his eyes. His thrust slowed, deepened, cock dragging along Harry's prostate now with almost every stroke. His grip on Harry's hips tightened to the point of bruising. "I'm looking," he whispered.
And in looking, he looked a little lost. Harry's chest tightened. Hermione had been right. He couldn't just do sex. And apparently his heart had decided it wanted a lot more of Draco Malfoy looking at him like that. "It's all right. This isn't the end. We'll leave together."
"Are you saying I'll owe you one?" Draco's voice shook, and his body.
"Two." Harry turned forward again, bracing against Draco's thrusts. The desk scraped across the floor with each one. "And a real bed."
For some reason, Draco found that hilarious. He came laughing, cursing Harry with an increasingly unintelligible string of invective while his cock pulsed and his body shook. Heat washed over Harry's skin, nothing so violently pleasurable as an orgasm. Just a warmth that wouldn't ebb so quickly.
Draco sagged, spent and heavy, along Harry's back. He stretched his arms up to curl his hands around Harry's, fingers weaving and pinning them both in place. His cheek rested on Harry's shoulder, breath stirring the hair on the back of his neck.
It was nice, or would have been if Harry's hard cock wasn't pressed against the wood siding of the desk. "Malfoy? Oi, Malfoy. Don't you dare fall asleep on top of me."
"M'not. Just. Legs. Working. Not working." Malfoy got heavier, as though Harry needed a demonstration of his inability to support himself. His cock slipped free of Harry's ass, followed by a warm trickle of fluid down Harry's thighs.
This was becoming infinitely less charming by the moment. "At least cast another Scourgify, you git."
"Mm. You cast. Reasonably competent, remember?" Malfoy nuzzled Harry's skin, lapping lazy kisses up to his neck. "So warm."
"Merlin help me, you're a cuddler."
"We're both full of surprises. You're a masochist."
"I must be to want you," Harry grumbled, managing to shift Malfoy to one side so he could retrieve his wand, cast the Scourgify, and get dressed. By the time he'd tucked his still aching cock away, Malfoy had recovered enough to push himself upright and do up his trousers. He retrieved his robes and satchel, only a bit unsteady on his feet.
He caught Harry's hand when Harry reached for his own bag. "I think that was two times and a bed, yes?"
Harry studied him—cheeks still flushed from sex, hair falling forward, no sneer. He looked open. Soft. Vulnerable. His ungloved hand in Harry's was ice cold. Harry squeezed it and resisted the urge to wrap his arms around Draco. "To start. But you're buying me dinner first."
Draco buying meant they ate at a Wizarding establishment, which was fine. Harry's presence meant that they were able to convince the maître d' to give them a table in an out-of-the-way alcove, which was better. Harry had been skeptical about the food—thanks to his years with the Dursleys, French intimidated him in a way other cuisines never had—but it was good, and the silverware wasn't too complicated.
Trying to maintain eye contact and a normal conversation with Draco Malfoy proved to be more complicated. They couldn't talk about Quidditch forever. Harry supposed it was inevitable that one of them would move on to more personal territory.
"So what did ever happen with you and the Weas—Ginny?" Draco asked, swirling a deep red wine around the even deeper bowl of his wineglass. Apparently, the size was supposed to help it breathe or something.
Harry wasn't sure how he felt about drinking things that needed to aspirate. He searched the depths of his butterbeer, poured into a glass because this wasn't the sort of place that let you drink anything from a bottle. "She figured me out."
"That you're gay?"
"I'm not, actually. Queer. Bi. Whatever." Harry waved away his impatience with labels. "I like people, not plumbing. I loved—love—Ginny. But maybe I was more in love with the idea of her. The big family, the happy ending my parents never got. She looks like my mum, you know. Felt a bit like correcting what went wrong. And I could have been happy with that. Ginny was having none of it."
"Hm. My estimation of the littlest Weasley just went up considerably."
"But your estimation of me is still in the crapper?"
Malfoy raised his glass. "See, Potter? You're not as stupid as you look."
"You're such a..." Harry shook his head at the depth of challenge that could be communicated by one raised brow. "Nevermind. It's like calling water wet. What about you?"
"What about me? Also pan. I like people for what they can do for me, not for what's in their pants."
Spoken like a true Slytherin. "What about... Hermione hinted there might have been... someone."
"Granger has a big mouth." Draco drained his wineglass and set it down too forcefully for how casual he was trying to appear.
"She didn't tell me anything. She was just worried—"
"He was a muggle."
Harry was glad he wasn't drinking or he might have choked on his butterbeer. "Y-you dated a muggle?"
"And then I broke up with a muggle." Draco set his napkin very carefully next to his empty plate. "I did say I liked people for what they can do for me. Once I got bored with the sex—"
Harry laid his hand over Draco's, warming his cold fingers. "Pull the other one, Draco. He's why you stopped the geocatching, isn't he?"
Draco's fingers curled inside Harry's He stared at their interlocked hands. "Caching. And yes. They were all muggles. His friends. Didn't seem to be much point going back once it was over, other than making things awkward for everyone."
Harry swallowed down a surge of jealousy. Draco might pretend otherwise, but he had cared. And he still regretted. "So why?"
"He was a muggle, Potter." Draco pulled his hand away, sat back with arms crossed. "And I don't care what you think of me now, any more than I cared what Granger thought a year ago. Wizard-muggle relationships aren't easy. It's not simply a part of your life you can't share. It's your whole life. It's hard enough for Muggleborns. Most of them choose to leave the wizarding world behind if they marry a muggle, did you know? Can you imagine how it must be for Purebloods? He could never live in my world, and I wouldn't want to give it up to live in his. Maybe some people can do it. I can't. For all her butter-won't-melt opinions, I'd bet Granger couldn't, either. Could you?"
Harry wanted to say yes, of course. If he loved someone enough, he'd give up anything. But... would he? And he couldn't imagine falling in love without being able to share the wonder of magic. To fly and meet hippogryphs and catch glimpses a world shot through with filaments of gold and ice-chill lakes of mint-scented wonder.
"No. I suppose not."
"Then don't judge me for it."
"Draco, I didn't."
Draco frowned. His lips parted to argue. Snapped closed. "You know, you're less annoying when you're being predictable."
"Self-righteous and easily flustered. You done with your butterbeer? I'm overcome by a strong urge to shag you proper."
Harry flushed and finished his butterbeer He didn't know what Malfoy was on about. He wasn't sure about the self-righteousness, but he was definitely flustered.
They didn't make it to a bed. They didn't even make it past the doorway of the drawing room. They stumbled out of the fireplace in Grimmauld Place and into one another's arms, kissing, groping, dropping whatever clothes they managed to struggle out of while being reluctant to part long enough to undress properly. Harry chanced a wandless Scourgify to rid them of the floo grit, which had the added benefit of making Malfoy growl, "Showoff," and shove Harry onto the drawing room settee.
Harry sprawled across it. Malfoy loomed in strange, fish-eye focus thanks to Harry's glasses being askew. His robes were a dusty clump beside the fireplace, his waistcoat dangled off one shoulder, and his shirttails hung untucked over the waist of his trousers.
Harry licked his lips and adjusted his glasses. "Bed's upstairs."
"Patience, Potter. I've decided the problem has been not enough foreplay. So." Draco knelt before Harry, pushing his knees apart. "Foreplay."
Harry's shirt was already riding high. Draco pressed his face to the bared skin, open mouth, hot breath, hands fumbling at Harry's jeans to open the path downwards. Harry touched Draco's hair. There'd been enough mussing and Scourgifying this day to banish whatever product he used, leaving it straight and silk-fine. Draco caught his breath when Harry smoothed it, glance flicking up briefly before it fell back to Harry's open jeans and his ready cock. The longer Draco looked, the more Harry squirmed, equal parts impatience and concern. Was there something wrong?
"If you're having second thoughts—"
"Shut it, Potter. That's not..." Draco pressed his lips together, caught Harry's hand and kissed his fingers. "It's nothing to worry about." He smirked and nipped Harry's thumb. "And you've got a very nice cock, Harry."
It was stupid, how much that made Harry smile. Not the compliment. His name. On Draco's lips. He traced their curve. "Well, you have a very nice mouth. Draco."
"Nice cock and the subtlety of a bludger," Draco murmured. He tugged at Harry's jeans, and Harry raised his hips so they could be yanked off. They joined Draco's cloak and Harry's Auror robes somewhere across the room. Harry couldn't keep track. Draco's breath stirred the hair on his thighs, his balls, mouth circling but never fucking connecting. Harry's fingers twisted with Draco's. He lifted his hips, and Draco shied away.
"Gah! Fucking paint a portrait if you're so bent on admiring it!" Harry flung an arm across his face before Draco's smirk made him do something he'd regret.
"Now wouldn't that be an interesting piece of motivational art." Heat wrapped around the head of Harry's cock. Wetness, a vibration as Draco moaned. Unprepared, Harry thrust into his mouth, and the moan cut off.
Lifting his arm, Harry looked down. "Sorry." But he wasn't. Not really. How could he be sorry at the sight of Draco kneeling between his thighs, lips circling the head of his cock and inching down with every breath? Draco eased off, leaving Harry's skin glistening in the wake of his mouth. He pressed his free hand flat against Harry's groin, framing Harry's cock like it was the fucking portrait they'd joked about. Harry curled his arm around the back of the settee to keep from grabbing the back of Draco's neck and forcing himself down his throat.
He needn't have worried that Draco was calling quits. He slid down again, further this time, forging a path of wetness with his lips. His moans made Harry tremble as much as the press of his lips and tongue, and each time Harry thought Draco had reached his limit, he inched down just a bit further.
"How do you...?" Harry whispered, disentangling their twined fingers to stroke Draco's cheek. His nose was buried against the hair at the base of Harry's cock. His tongue and throat flexed, tears wetting his lashes. He moaned as though there was no greater bliss than Harry's cock down his throat.
And then, as slowly as he'd gone down, Draco pulled back. Harry's cock bobbed fee. Draco kissed the head. Harry suspected that in the future, all Draco would need to do was throw him that smug look to make Harry instantly hard.
"You've never done that?"
Harry shook his head. "I always gag before... you know."
"I guess I could," Harry babbled. It was hard to concentrate past the tiny flicks of Draco's tongue around his glans. "With a smaller cock. You... don't have a smaller cock."
"It's not an issue of size, Potter. It's an issue of finesse over power. You barely have a passing acquaintance with finesse."
"You always insult blokes while you're sucking them off?" Harry asked. The annoying thing was, the insults weren't having their usual, infuriating effect. Harry squirmed as much from Draco's mocking tone as from the sloppy wet kisses he was tonguing over Harry's balls.
Draco's breathy laugh cooled the wetness. "Only you, Harry."
Harry whimpered and smacked Draco's shoulder, tugging at the dress shirt still covering it. "Git. So we're done with foreplay?"
"Not remotely. But I can't insult you and suck cock at the same—you don't want to do that." Draco's hand clutched Harry's, stopping him from tugging the shirt off.
"I don't?" Harry had to disagree. He wanted to run his hands—and then his tongue—over every inch of Draco's skin. And he wanted to see him. To press naked against him. He wanted all of Draco.
"Not unless you want..." Draco closed his eyes. Sighed. "You know what? Fuck it. Couldn't avoid it forever." He pulled the shirt over his head and tossed it aside.
Harry gaped, feeling just a little ill. Not at the scars slashing in a clear swath across Draco's chest. They were faded and clean, just a bit of pale keloid buildup and puckering at the edges. No, his queasiness came from the knowledge that he'd been the one to put them there.
"Pomfrey had enough dittany paste on hand for my face and arms, but not for everything." Draco wasn't looking at Harry. He examined his chest with clinical detachment. "David used to ask about them—how I got them—but I couldn't tell him the truth without telling him everything."
"Oh, Merlin." There wasn't apology enough. No wonder Draco had drawn on Harry that day in the lift.
One pale, bony shoulder lifted in a shrug. Draco turned his arm, revealing the dark mark. "It wasn't the only thing we fought about. He also thought my tattoo was cool. He couldn't understand, if I hated it so much, why I didn't just get it laser removed or reworked into a flower."
"Don't. Just... don't. There's nothing you can say that won't piss me off." He snorted and shifted, sitting cross legged and resting his forehead against Harry's knee, muttering, "You know, I'd wondered why you didn't say anything before."
"I didn't know." Harry leaned forward. Part of him wanted to soothe the faded scars, but if apologies were unwelcome, his touch must be doubly so.
"That's not what I..." Draco lifted his head. The clinical detachment had cracked, leaving him looking... sad. Lost. Lonely. He touched Harry's brow. "At least my scars didn't get me killed."
Harry went cross-eyed tracking Malfoy's gentle touch. "You knew about that?"
A reluctant grin tugged at Malfoy's lips. "Everyone knows that. It's the worst kept secret of the Wizarding War." He brushed Harry's hair, and Harry couldn't tell if he was trying to smooth it or muss it more. "For what it's worth, I'm glad it didn't take. I've... always... been glad it didn't take."
Always. Even in those first days after the war when the Malfoys had been held in Azkaban, fate uncertain in the wake of Voldemort's defeat.
"Well, you were never as awful as you pretended to be."
Draco snorted. "Gryffindors. I was as awful as I pretended to be. I just got a chance to change." His finger traced the rim of Harry's glasses. "Maybe more than one."
Harry smiled at that admission. So he wasn't the only one who saw what was happening between them as a shift in the very bedrock of what they had been. Taking Draco's touch as invitation, Harry ran his fingers under the scar that ran crossways over Draco's chest. He hadn't meant the touch to be erotic, but Draco shivered and closed his eyes all the same. His fist clamped in Harry's hair.
"Would you let me try something?" Harry asked.
"I still have a blow job to finish." Draco glanced down at Harry's lap, his flagging erection. "Start over," he amended.
"Nobody's stopping you. I'm just curious." Harry grabbed his wand from where it had fallen on the couch and cast Draco's diagnostic charm. It was a testament to just how much things had changed between them that Draco didn't flinch, just watched with a furrowed brow.
Draco's confusion cleared and he breathed a soft ahhh when Harry trailed his fingers through the icy well of magic that surrounded him.
"You felt that?" Harry dipped deeper, cupped his hand and let the magic trickle down his arm and back into the pool.
"It's... warm. You're so fucking warm. Bloody hell." Draco buried his face in Harry's lap, mouthing curses against his cock.
"Guess that's a yes," Harry said, a bit breathless because bloody hell indeed. He shifted, inviting Draco's tongue to wander.
And wander it did, over his balls, sucking warm, wet kisses, leaving behind breath as cool as the magic that swirled around them both. Harry shivered at the contrast. Heat and cold, cold and heat. Draco was warm, but when his touch moved on, the magic cold as icemelt followed in its wake. Harry cupped it in his hand and lifted it to his lips to suck at it. He let it sprinkle on his chest, trickling down in cold streams of sensation to rejoin the pool surrounding Draco. From the urgent moans and sloppy wet sucking, Harry suspected Draco didn't mind him splashing about.
It was all too much, and Harry had no idea how to dismiss the charm that left him bathing in Draco's magic. He clutched at Draco's shoulders for something real to hold onto. "Kiss me."
Mint-cold chills trickled down Harry's cock when Draco pulled away, and then warmth again as his hand replaced his lips. "Can't fucking kiss you and suck you off at the same time."
"Then kiss me." Harry pulled at his shoulders.
"Romantic twit," Draco muttered, but he shoved Harry across the settee and climbed atop him, covering him, kissing him, the warmth of his skin chasing away the chill of his magic. Harry thrust desperately into his hand, driving towards that heat. Draco was sweating, Harry shivering, and both of them so tangled that Harry wondered if it was possible to collapse into each other, and what would happen if they did.
At least there was the next best thing. Draco braced both hands on the arm of the settee. He lined his cock up with Harry's, fucking him into the cushions. Harry tensed and curled into him, and then the heat melted the ice and Harry shattered.
For all his mockery about delusions of romance, Draco held Harry through his orgasm. He stroked Harry's hair, kissed his cheeks and closed eyes, pressing him down until he stopped shivering and loosened into the warmth of skin-on-skin. Harry floated in mint-scented bliss until the chill began to creep back in, and he honestly couldn't say if it was the bad insulation in Grimmauld Place or Draco Malfoy's magic.
"Could you... is there a way to stop your diagnostic charm?" Harry mumbled into Draco's shoulder, shivering. "Your magic is freezing. No wonder you always wear gloves and full robes."
Draco shook with silent laughter. He shifted to retrieve his wand and cast a Finite Incantatem. "Complex spellwork, I know. Not in the usual Hogwarts curriculum."
Harry opened his eyes and scowled up at Draco's self-satisfied grin. "I would have thought of that eventually. Orgasms make everyone stupid."
Draco recovered Harry's glasses from the space between their bodies and the back of the settee. He set them just a bit askew on Harry's nose. "Hm. So you're claiming your stupidity is situational rather than dispositional? You must enjoy a lot of orgasms."
Harry straightened his glasses. He wondered if he'd been better off in the days when Draco's mockery had infuriated him. It was very inconvenient to be turned on by it. "You're looking entirely too pleased with yourself for someone who still owes me one. And a bed. It's still cold in here."
"How can you be cold?" Draco nuzzled a kiss against Harry's cheek. "It's... oh. Fuck."
"What?" Harry asked. Draco had gone still, the kisses, the gentle circle of his fingers against Harry's hip, all stopped. Frozen. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Just... a puzzle solved."
"This is nothing?" Harry traced the frown lines between Draco's brows. "What puzzle?"
Hooking Harry's finger with his own, Draco tugged it away. He chewed his lip as he studied their linked fingers. "I think perhaps you took in some of my magic while you were playing about."
Okay, that was cause for frowning. "You think? You can't check?"
"I told you, no way to use magic to see your own magic. But it explains... a lot. Don't worry. It's not like a wand's loyalty. It should fade and return to me."
Harry flinched. A wand's loyalty. He'd never asked how Draco had won back the loyalty of his hawthorn wand. Just... assumed. Or, really, ignored the issue and hoped it resolved itself. "When?"
Draco sat up, untangling their limbs. Withdrawing. "A few hours. It should only be... a few hours."
Harry wanted to pull Draco back, but guilt stopped him. Maybe this was inevitable, hurting each other even when they didn't mean to. He sat up as well, careful not to touch. "I'm sorry, Draco. I—"
A finger across his lips stopped Harry's apology. "Don't apologise for inevitabilities, Harry. Besides, I enjoyed it. Kinky bastard." Draco's smile didn't quite warm his eyes, but Harry let it go. They both had scars, at least some of which they'd given to each other. If this was going to work, they had to refrain from picking at every one.
"Do you want to leave?"
The silence that followed Harry's question made his gut churn, but then Draco leaned over and kissed Harry. Soft, careful, as though he'd come to a similar conclusion. "Not leaving, remember? Mind if I take a shower, though? I just need... a few moments. And then we can investigate the possibilities of beds."
Harry kissed him back instead of saying yes. "Top of the stairs. If you're having trouble with the hot water, bang the pipe."
Relief coursed through Harry as he watched Draco gather up his clothes and leave the drawing room. He took a few moments to breathe. Today had felt like a vault ride at Gringotts—too fast, no control, hurtling between extremes, and always an inch away from crashing. And yet, somehow, he and Draco had made it through. Maybe would keep making it through. And how strange to want so much for that to be true.
Rousing himself from his slump, Harry found his jeans and pulled them on. He slung his shirt and robes over his arm and did a last sweep for anything left behind. Kreacher had a habit of putting things away in ways that guaranteed Harry would never find them again.
He grabbed his satchel and Draco's and slung them both over his shoulder. He was making for the door of the drawing room when the floo crackled.
"Harry?" Hermione's soft whisper carried across the room. Harry dumped everything by the door and pulled his t-shirt on as he headed towards the fireplace.
"Hey, Hermione. Um. This isn’t the best time..."
"Is Draco with you?" Harry was glad that the floo couldn't reveal things like blushes. But Hermione knew him too well to be fooled. She got that look. The one that said she wanted to hex and hug him simultaneously. "Oh, Harry."
Harry tried to give her a reassuring grin. She didn't understand, was all. He could make this work. He and Draco together could make this work. "It's fine, 'Mione. It's—"
"No, that's not... Harry, are you sure? Is he with you right now?"
If Hermione knew Harry, then Harry also knew Hermione. He shivered, and he didn't think it was due to the remnants of Draco's magic coursing through him. "What is it? What's wrong?"
The fire crackled as Hermione shifted. She was probably swaying from knee to knee as she knelt before her floo, unwilling to share whatever was making her look so distraught. "Millie put in a passive surveillance system in the antechamber. Just a live video feed, the sort of thing wizards wouldn't even think to look for—"
"Hermione, what is it."
"Draco's at the department right now. He just entered Tempus."
Harry's nails scraped the wood of the floorboards. "I understand. I'll take care of it. Do I still have my credentials?"
"Millie hasn't removed you yet. Harry—"
"I said, I'll take care of it." He doused the floo. Draco was upstairs. Showering. There was no question. The pipes were groaning as he fiddled with the water. He hadn't gone out the front door or the floo, and he couldn't apparate from within Grimmauld Place. But that left one option too horrible for Harry to contemplate. After all, what better alibi than the word of the Great Harry Potter?
Harry dug through the pile on the landing, tearing open Draco's work satchel and rooting through it. At the very bottom he found a lumpy package wrapped in a grey silk pocket square. He opened it, knowing what he would see.
The unrestricted Time-Turner wasn't a surprise. The pair of black-framed glasses identical to Harry's... was.
Harry didn't know much about Time-Turners, but he'd learned enough in the past few weeks to be wary of the one he'd found in Draco's satchel. If finding it in Draco's possession was the inciting event for sending Harry after Draco, then Harry had to leave it behind for Draco to use later so that Harry could find out now so that he could go after him.
At least... Harry hoped that was the right answer? His head pounded with trying to sort out what had happened from what would happen. His gut churned from the fear that if he didn't figure it out correctly, and soon, he could inadvertently destroy the world. His heart ached because he'd believed that everything that had passed between himself and Draco was real, and all he wanted to do was lay the puzzle before Draco and ask for his help in figuring it out.
Except... inciting events. Causality. If the Draco showering upstairs was a past version of the one sneaking into the Department of Mysteries, then asking Draco for help was the one thing Harry couldn't do.
Disgusted with his indecision, Harry shoved his feet into his trainers, pulled on his Auror robes, and flooed to the Ministry. He left the Time-Turner on the settee cushion because it seemed safer than taking it. He left the glasses because they were a damning indication that Draco had been using Harry all along, and Harry couldn't face that possibility just yet.
This late on a Friday, the Ministry Atrium was empty of traffic. Harry took the stairs so Draco wouldn't be alerted by the arrival of the lift. The circular antechamber was locked in place—Tempus' door stood open and the blue torches flickered like caged pixies struggling to be free.
Harry backed up against one side of the doorway, cursing his impetuousness. If he'd been thinking instead of reacting, he would have brought the invisibility cloak. Except then he would have had to creep past the upstairs bathroom, past a Draco showering while some other Draco from some other-when broke into the Ministry and broke Harry's heart.
He peered around the doorframe, ready to pull back if a curse came flying at his head, hoping he was wrong, that Millie's surveillance had suffered some sort of glitch.
He wasn't. It hadn't. At the far end of the room, through a haze of shimmering gold dust and a floating forest of clocks, Harry spied the familiar form of Draco Malfoy. He sat in his usual chair, hunched under long dress robes. His pale head bowed towards the falling cabinet where the lone remaining Time-Turner fell over and over in its eternal loop—the same unrestricted Time-Turner Harry had found in Draco's satchel and left at Grimmauld Place.
Draco pressed his wand against the shimmering shell that contained the anomaly. It glowed pale gold, and for just a moment, Harry entertained the hope that this was all a huge misunderstanding, that Draco had managed to sneak out so he could erase this final turner. But then the containment shell popped with a discordant chime. The dust in the air dimmed to a sickly, jaundiced yellow, and the ticking of the clocks slowed and warped like a Victrola running out of juice. All signs of Tempus' secondary protections straining to avert disaster.
Draco reached in and plucked the free-falling Time-Turner out of the air.
That was it? After weeks of meticulous precaution he was just grabbing the thing bare-handed? No caution, no preparation? Harry must have made some noise of protest, because Draco whipped around with a shouted, "Stupefy!"
"Protego!" As though Draco could ever catch Harry out when Harry was ready for it. He dove through the open doorway and took cover behind the nearest desk, back-casting over the top. "Expelliarmis!"
A clatter followed the disarming spell, and a pained grunt. Harry charged down the length of the room, making for the blond head just peeking above the last desk in the row. The desk angled slightly askew from the rest because they hadn't bothered to shove it back in place after...
"Accio Hawthorn Wand!" Harry held up his hand. Nothing came to it. Draco dove for his wand, rolled and came up on his knees. Harry ducked behind another desk when a string of Auror-standard suppression curses came flying at him.
Something was very wrong here. Harry had spent the better part of his life facing off against Draco Malfoy. He was many things—annoying-as-fuck, too-smug-for-his-own-good, sexy-as-hell, competent, brilliant. He was not the sort to make stupid mistakes or cast predictable curses.
Relief flooded through Harry, followed quickly by fury.
"Who the fuck are you?" Harry left his cover, stalking past the remaining desks. The curses kept coming at him. He used his growing rage to fuel each Protego. Clocks shattered in his wake from the deflected curses. Harry rounded the final desk and grabbed for the intruder. He wrenched their wand free and caught a handful of cloak and hair—
—which slid off as the intruder scuttled back against the far wall, leaving Harry holding a cheap blond wig and a worn set of dress robes. He stared at the culprit. "Recruit Venn?"
"Stay back!" She held the unrestricted Time-Turner to her chest, twisting, twisting. Harry couldn't tell how many turns she'd already given it.
He tossed the robes and wig aside and pocketed her wand. "Do you have any fucking idea what you're doing? How dangerous that is? Put the Time-Turner down, now. Back away. I'll do what I can—"
"No!" Tears wet her cheeks. Her eyes were puffy with them, her hair in disarray from the wig. "You can't do anything. Nobody can. But I can. I can fix it. I can go back and stop him from being so stupid..." She sniffled, fear twisting into a scowl of determination as she looked down at the Time-Turner. She'd stopped twisting.
Oh, fuck. Harry heard a commotion behind him, footsteps running. Shouts. Hermione must have sent backup, but he didn't have time to wait for them. He lunged for Venn, grabbing her wrist as she pulled the pin that would set the Time-Turner in motion.
Everything seemed to slow around Harry, like the tumble of turners just before Draco erased one of them. Harry turned just as slowly, like he was trapped in honey. Draco stood in the doorway. Something gold flew in a high arc towards Harry, and a lifetime of seeker instincts kicked in. Without thinking, without questioning, Harry caught the Time-Turner Draco had thrown. He slammed it against the one in Venn's hand just as it began to unwind.
The world flashed gold and descended into confusion.
The sound of glass shattering oriented Harry, or perhaps it was the pain of being struck by dozens of shards flying out from the point of impact. It was one of the clocks, a heavy monstrosity he couldn't remember ever seeing, made entirely of crystal. The shards cut through Harry's robes and shirt, leaving a score of shallow wounds. He staggered back. The air of Tempus shook with the deafening cacophony of a hundred clocks going off at once.
Venn struggled free of his grip, dashing for the door of Tempus. The defenses paid her no mind, let her pass without harm, which made her careless. Harry's Stupefy caught her in the back. She stumbled and fell face-first to the floor. Harry flinched in sympathy, but he had no time for more than that. The glittering dust in the air was shifting into organised phalanxes, the clocks were stirring from their hanging positions, and then everything descended—on him.
The clocks came first, hurtling at him like demented bludgers. Harry ducked and rolled, coming up against his desk. It was no longer askew, he realised. It marched in perfect alignment with the other desks. Venn's robe and wig were gone from where Harry had tossed them. The falling cabinet looked like it had that first day, a hundred turners cascading and cascading again. And Draco...
Draco was nowhere to be seen. The door to Tempus was closed, the only visible life was Venn's prone body, leaving Harry alone to deal with Millie's activated defenses.
He shoved the Time-Turner he'd taken from Venn into the pocket with her wand and cast Draco's diagnostic charm. The network of filaments strung between the gold orbs sliced through the air like some golden laser array from a muggle film. The clocks dashed themselves at the desk where Harry hid. And there was worse to come even if he could get past them. Harry had gone over every one of Millie's countermeasures, never expecting he'd be the one to trigger them. And now he had to figure out a way past them and out of the Ministry with an unconscious prisoner in tow.
"Bloody hell." Harry had a very good idea when Venn had taken them to. There was only one recent documented attack on the DoM, and all the details fit perfectly with Harry's current predicament. He'd lay odds that, even now, those idiots from the Real Illuminati of North Gosport were in the circular antechamber, preparing to cause havoc in the hopes of getting Hermione fired.
That was the only bright side. If Harry timed things very carefully, he might get out of this without destroying the world or erasing anyone from existence.
He watched the slicing dance of golden filaments revealed by the diagnostic charm, using the gaps in the pattern to dash from desk to desk. He ducked a little too late when he reached Venn, and an old cuckoo clock clipped his head hard enough to make him dizzy. Blood dripped in his eye when he bent to scoop up Venn. She was coming to, her speech still slurred to unintelligibility, her struggles weak and bandy-limbed. She went limp with another Stupefy. Harry tossed her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry and charged the rest of the way towards the door.
With Venn as a shield, Harry managed to evade rest of the Tempus protections. Apparently, they were confounded by whatever she'd used to slip past them. Harry wasn't so lucky with the door protections. When he burst through into the antechamber, each one of the twelve torches flared, and twelve curse bolts in a rainbow of nasty hues converged on him. Not even the strongest Protego was enough to divert them all. He did manage to throw Venn free before he was hit.
The two wizards in the antechamber—familiar to Harry from the RING raid—gaped at him as he stumbled to his knees under the impact of so many curses. One of the men—the younger one, Trumbull—saw Venn and gasped. "Serpatia! What did you do to her, you bastard?!"
He lunged for Harry and fell like a plank under a Petrificus Totalis. His boss, Spartacus Weishaupt, went down a moment later at Harry's Stupefy.
Silence descended. Harry sagged to hands and knees, the combination of curses and blood loss making him dizzy. Something crawled under his skin. Sanguinaria, that was Millie's name for that particular countermeasure. A ding echoed from down the hall, signaling the arrival of the lift. Footsteps. That would be Millie, alerted by her countermeasures going off. Harry couldn't be here when she arrived. He didn't care to find out what would happen to the world if she discovered him. Think. Think! His gaze fell on a cracked teapot, the portkey they'd confiscated in the Gosport raid. Right.
"Incarcerous," Harry whispered, and ropes sprung up, binding Weishaupt to Trumbull to Venn. Harry grabbed the bundled bodies and the portkey just as the cavalry burst through the door.
Somehow, he managed to keep hold of both through the wild ride to North Gosport. They tumbled free across the rear yard of Weishaupt's cottage, the three bound bodies landing safely and limply as dolls. Harry didn't fare so well. His shoulder took the brunt of the impact and his breath knocked out of him. He rolled onto his back, staring up at the summer-bright sky, until breath returned and the dark blotches receded from his vision.
Only years of training and the knowledge that he'd survived worse got him up and moving. He unbound the prisoners and Obliviated Weishaupt and Trumbull. Venn, he dragged through the house and into the fireplace.
"Shell cottage," he whispered, thankful that Fleur and Bill made a habit of going on vacation to France before the start of Hogwarts' term. He swallowed down the urge to vomit when he and Venn landed in their cramped hearth. Just a bit longer and he could stop. Pass along his burden. He stumbled out of the fireplace and laid Venn out on the floor. A quick search of her pockets produced a familiar tortoishell stuffed with wilted raskovnik—the same charm the Croatian wizards had used to bypass Heathrow's protections. It explained how she'd gotten past Millie's security measures, but not how she'd known to, or why she'd done it.
No matter. He could question her. Later. Harry pocketed the charm. Venn started to rouse again, so he stupefied her one last time and bound her with another Incarcerous. It would have to do until he could return for her. He only hoped it held.
Stumbling out onto the dunes, Harry dredged up a memory eight years gone. He hoped it was enough. He apparated, nearly splinching himself through a topiary hedge. He sprawled across a long, pebbled pathway. The door was close, so close. He dragged himself up to it, pounding, pounding. The Sanguinaria roots reached thirsty tendrils for his blood, enervating him until he had no more strength to knock.
The door opened, and Draco loomed above him looking beautiful even when he was scowling and confused. "What the fuck?"
Harry wanted to kiss him, wanted to cry, because he wasn't alone anymore. Because he was safe.
Note: For those of you interested in revisiting/completing the time loop, go back and reread Chapter 1 and 2 from the moment of Harry's arrival at Malfoy Manor, imagining it from Harry's perspective.
For the rest of you, one more chapter to go! Soon it will all make sense (if it doesn't already). I hope you've enjoyed the journey so far. Kudos and comments are love :D
The energy release from the nullified Time-Turner was massive enough to blast Draco back from the Tempus doorway. His heel caught the edge of his hastily-donned robes and he fell back, slamming his head on the tile floor. Everything went dark for a moment, followed by a gas-low gutter of blue lights and crazily spinning walls. He made himself even dizzier trying to follow them, to visually fix the world in place, until he realised it wasn't confundus or concussion. It was just the usual behaviour of the antechamber. The paradox-erasing of the last Time-Turner had blown Tempus' door shut.
"Fores Ordo," said a familiar voice from somewhere outside Draco's field of vision. The spinning stopped and the lights came back on. Harry stepped into view, no longer in Auror robes or disheveled from several hours of sex.
"Your glasses," Draco said. Somewhat stupidly, on balance, but he'd been feeling a bit off-balance since he came out of the shower to find Harry gone and the unrestricted Time-Turner sitting on the settee like an accusation.
The Time-Turner and Harry's glasses.
Harry touched a set of thin wireframes that were nothing like the thick-rimmed monstrosities he'd sported since he was eleven. "Yes, well. Had to get a new pair when I lost the old ones at your place, didn't I? Told you you'd learn to like them someday."
He had. He had, but that had been back at the Manor, before... or was it after...?
Draco sat up, gingerly touching the back of his head. It ached enough that he expected blood, but his fingers came away clean. "What... happened? Where did you..." Draco glanced past Harry's shoulder to Ordo's open door. The Harry that had been standing in Tempus had disappeared along with that DMLE chaser, Venn. Simultaneous with the flash that came when the last time loop was closed. Draco shook his head and regretted the movement. "When did you... go?"
Crouching, Harry brushed Draco's fringe out of his eyes. It was still damp from the shower. "You know when. I've been hiding out with Serpatia Venn for the past three weeks, ever since I left the Manor, desperately hoping I didn't—wouldn't—fuck things up. You all right? You look a little shaky."
Draco closed his eyes and leaned into Harry's warm touch for just a moment, until his question registered. "Am I all right?" he cried—maybe shrieked, a bit. He slapped Harry's hand away. "After you take off with a 'Don't fuck this up'? You couldn't give me anything more to go on than that?"
Harry lost his balance and sat back on his ass. "I told you where to meet me. I wasn't even sure I should have done that. I'm not the expert! And I didn't have weeks to work out what I had to say to make this go right. I figured the more I told you, the greater chance that I'd fuck it up."
"Where's my wand?" Draco felt around the floor. "Because I really need to hex you."
"Are we back to that again?" Harry asked.
Something in the way he said it, a thin-edged thread of wariness, drew Draco's attention. He clutched his robes with cold fingers, not wanting to see what he saw in Harry's expression. All these weeks, he hadn't been quite sure what to make of the shift between them. He'd known it was necessary. Whatever he did had to lead along a trajectory that would result in some future Harry Potter coming to Malfoy Manor. In Harry knowing what to say and what not to say. In Harry trusting Draco's expertise enough to let Draco puzzle the way out of their predicament.
It would have to lead to Harry eagerly spreading himself for his worst enemy.
Draco had spent the past several weeks tamping down on every vindictive, combative urge in an effort to change how Harry saw him. He hadn't expected to be changed himself in the process.
"I... don't know where we are," he whispered. He wanted to say it had all been a calculated manipulation with a side benefit of fantastic sex. He should say it. It was true, and he wielded truths against Harry Potter like the weapons they were.
Harry pressed his fingers to Draco's lips, stopping the truth before Draco could unsheathe it. "My Malfoy Predictive Model says you're about to say something calculated to piss me off, so I'll just warn you that your wand got knocked halfway across the room, while mine is in my hand. Also, I think Hermione and Millie just arrived, so maybe save it until we can... hex each other in peace?"
That minute hesitation went right to Draco's gut. Without thinking, he parted his lips, tongue touching Harry's fingers. Harry's breath hitched, and he shifted to his knees, fingers pressing into Draco's mouth.
It was for the best, really, that Granger and Millie burst into the antechamber just then. Would have been much harder to explain five minutes later why Draco Malfoy was shagging Harry Potter in the middle of the Department of Mysteries.
Most of the story came out during Granger's rather grueling interrogation, enough that Draco could piece together the bits that still confused him. Harry'd had three weeks to work things out, hiding from the world with Serpatia Venn on the coast of Cornwall.
"But the loop is definitely closed? The Time-Turners all properly disposed of?" Granger asked. More than once.
Draco clenched his teeth and reassured her. Again. "It is closed. I can't say how many iterations we experienced. The final loop would have overwritten all previous loops that failed to follow the proper trajectory to achieve resolution."
Harry blanched, looking properly horrified at that. "You mean, there might be other versions of us that—"
"No. Not anymore," Draco said. Harry had enough reasons for nightmares. No reason to give him one more when there was nothing to be done about it. "Thanks to your... inciting event, we've closed the loop without destroying ourselves or anyone else or reality. Take it as a win."
By unspoken mutual agreement, neither Harry nor Draco went into detail on the inciting event that set them on the necessary causal trajectory. Not that it was much of a secret, given Granger's concerned frowns and Millie's parting leer.
"I can't believe you recommended leniency for Venn," Draco grumbled as he and Harry boarded the lift. The questioning had gone long enough that it couldn't properly be said to be Friday night, but it wasn't yet Saturday morning. "Maybe we managed to avert disaster, but that doesn't change the fact that she could have destroyed us all."
"I can't believe you view voluntarily resigning from the Aurors to work under Millicent Bulstrode as lenient." Harry kept looking at Draco, which meant Draco had to keep looking away, which was more difficult than it used to be, especially in the closed quarters of a lift. "It'd be a waste to toss her in Azkaban. Venn's not stupid. She exploited several holes in the Department's paperwork security process that Millie and I both missed, and she figured out a way past Millie's security with that confiscated raskovnik charm."
"Brilliant. She also wore a wig and robe to place the blame on me if she was spotted, so forgive me if I'm feeling a bit vengeful."
"She was trying to save the man she loved from Azkaban. So forgive me if I'm feeling a bit sympathetic."
Draco froze. He couldn't breathe. From the way Harry's mouth opened and closed in silence, it was likely the feeling was mutual.
"I... I just meant that... I believe in second chances," Harry sputtered.
Draco jammed his finger into the Atrium floor button as though that would make the lift go faster. "Fuck you, Potter. I stopped being your charity case a long time ago."
Harry's sigh was almost lost in the sound of the lift doors opening. Draco pretended not to hear it. He stalked out into the darkened Atrium, footsteps ringing on the marble as he nearly ran across it. Now that they were safely on the other side of the time loop, he didn't have to take care with every word he said, every flash of irritation. The impulse to fall back into their old pattern was strong. Resisting it left him feeling as wound-up as an unsprung Time-Turner.
"So, where to?" Harry asked when they reached the huge marble hearths with their banked eldritch flames. "Grimmauld Place or the Manor?"
Draco nearly stumbled into the fire without benefit of floo powder. Harry caught his elbow, steadying him. "I don't think that's necess—"
"I don't think I'm going to let you avoid this conversation that you're so clearly trying to avoid. I know how this will go. If I let you leave now, you'll hole up at the Manor and come up with all sorts of entirely reasonable excuses for why we are a horrible idea."
It was an echo of Draco's words from earlier this evening, except that had been three weeks ago for Harry. Draco viciously crushed the little sprout of hope seeded by those words. "We are a horrible idea. You have to know that all of this was just another calculation. A lie. Have some fucking pride, Potter—"
Harry's teeth cut Draco's lip, his kiss so hard that Draco had to grab his shoulders to avoid being pushed off-balance into the floo. Draco's fingers dug into Harry's jumper, the compact muscle underneath, pulling him closer, clinging. Their tongues danced around the copper of Draco's blooded lip.
And just as quickly as he'd grabbed Draco, Harry shoved him away. "The Manor. Home pitch advantage. Go on. I'll follow."
Dazed, Draco complied. He stumbled out of the fireplace in his suite, and the lamps flared in welcome as they were spelled to do. Draco touched the cut on his lip. He should Episkey it before there was more kissing—
—No. He should bloody well make sure Harry didn't distract him with more kissing. It was only after Harry came through that Draco realised the easiest way to have done that would have been to close off the network behind him.
Draco must have muttered the thought aloud. Harry grinned. "I would have just force-apparated through your wards and probably ruined another fancy bush," he said.
"It's called a topiary—"
"That's nice." Harry pulled Draco down by his lapels and took up where they'd left off.
Or something like. These kisses started sharp, but quickly gentled. Harry sucked on Draco's lower lip, his tongue soothing the cut. He nuzzled Draco's cheek, moaned soft, desperate breaths into Draco's mouth. He kissed like a man in—
"No." Draco lifted up, glad his height worked as an obstacle Harry couldn't force his way past. "This isn't... maybe you don't understand."
Harry groaned and mussed his impossible hair. "Fine. I was hoping to get you to fuck me until you reached the cuddly and complacent stage, but we'll do this the hexing route." He drew his wand and poked Draco in the chest, backing him up until his knees hit the bed and he was forced to sit.
Harry straddled him. Draco tried to hold back a groan and ended up emitting a high, strangled sound that was even more pathetic.
"I do understand, actually," Harry said. "I understand that you've spent the past few weeks on what passes as best behaviour for you. I understand that all this time, you think you've been building a lie for me to believe. Because you had to in order to get us out of that time loop."
Draco had grabbed Harry's hips with the intent of shoving him off, but he couldn't quite find the will to do it. Harry was so warm, his balls a soft weight that seemed to invite Draco to press his cock into them. And his words ripped through the pretense that there was anything between them other than heat and hardness.
"You said before that it wasn't enough." Draco dug his fingers into Harry's hips, shifting him. Moving him. Merlin, it felt so good, even with their trousers sliding and bunching and chafing. It made Draco want to lie all over again. To Harry. To himself. He ducked his head to allow himself just a moment of fantasy. "You said that this wasn't enough."
"And if I thought this was all you felt, I'd have let you run away at the Ministry." Harry framed Draco's face with his hands, forcing Draco to meet his eyes. "You're many things, Draco. But you're not a liar. You're too fucking proud to lie. Maybe the person you've been recently wasn't easy, but he wasn't a lie. Even this whole nonsense now about pushing me away. For my own good or something?" Harry smirked like he'd been spending entirely too much time with Slytherins recently. "I mean. It's so noble. It's..."
Draco tensed. "Don't say it."
Harry ground down onto Draco's cock, but not even that could curb Draco's rising irritation. "... it's positively..."
"I swear to fucking Merlin, Harry."
"Gryffindor of you."
"Oh, fuck you." Draco snatched up the wand at his side and pointed it at Harry, trying to come up with the most appropriate curse. Something humiliating. Not too debilitating.
Harry's laughter was not the cowed reaction Draco might have preferred. "Um. Draco? Wrong wand."
Draco glared at Harry's wand as though it had betrayed him. Harry must have set it aside when he cradled Draco's face. Draco's own wand was still tucked in his arm sheath.
"Oh... fuck me. Fuck this." Draco tossed Harry's wand aside, along with whatever arse-headed inclination had overtaken him to do the right thing. Whatever that was. Better to take what he wanted, and if Harry someday regretted it, Draco could remind him that he'd asked for it.
By the time Draco was done, perhaps 'begged' would be a better term. Draco rolled Harry, shoving him onto his back and climbing over him. "Gonna fuck you."
Harry writhed beneath Draco, undaunted. "Finally. That's what I've been trying to get you to do."
"A bit desperate for it, are we?" Draco breathed the question into Harry's neck.
"It's been three weeks, you git. And you still owe me one. And a bed." Harry's back arched when Draco bit into the muscle at the curve of his neck.
A few moments of hard sucking and mewling and squirming later, Draco reared up to admire the blood dark mark on Harry's skin. His doing. "As I recall, I provided both at the beginning of all this—my beginning. In the Swan Room."
"Pre-existing sex. Doesn't count." Harry yanked at Draco's waistcoat. Draco worked on the buttons before Harry could pop them off another set of clothes.
What started as a quick and expedient divesting became a slow, studied tease when Draco looked down and realised Harry was watching him intently. The new glasses didn't hide the green of his eyes or dominate his face the way the old ones had.
Draco undid his many buttons one-handed, touching the frames with the other. "You know, my fascination had nothing to do with liking your old glasses. I was just tracking to see when they changed."
Harry's scowl was like an aphrodisiac. Draco thought he could rather get to enjoy telling Harry the truth if it elicited those flashes of irritation. He offered another truth as a balm. "These aren't that bad."
"Says the man who kept the old pair as a keepsake. Romantic twit." Harry rolled his hips, fingers curling around the waistband of Draco's trousers and thumbs digging on either side of his cock.
Draco sagged forward, thrusting into the space between Harry's hands. "Too many clothes," he muttered, struggling out of his waistcoat and shirt, and then lifting Harry's jumper.
"Whose fault is that?" Harry rose up to meet Draco's lips, parting only briefly to tear his jumper over his head and fling it aside. He tugged open Draco's trousers, freeing his cock, and then his hands were moving, stroking, so warm, like the kisses.
Draco groaned and pulled away. If he didn't now, he was going to come early again and never live it down. Harry was already too insufferably smug. Draco blazed his own trail of kisses down Harry's body—neck, collarbone, delightfully sensitive nipples. He tested Harry's abdomen with nips and licks to see how much the muscles would tighten before Harry snapped at him with an impatient, "Get on with it!"
He shoved off Harry's trousers and briefs, dragging slow breaths up Harry's thighs. Harry smelled of ocean and sand and beach peas. And musk, a scent that made Draco want to bury his nose forever against Harry's skin.
"For Merlin's sake, Draco. Would you stop... sniffing at me?"
"Superior olfactory sense, Harry." Draco stopped nuzzling, instead tonguing the soft, taut skin of Harry's bollocks. Fuck, the taste of him. That should have been Draco's final clue that he was done for. He'd been reluctant, back in Grimmauld Place, wondering what it meant, what it said about him, that he could happily spent the rest of his life with his tongue wrapped around Harry Potter's cock.
Now, he found he could really care less what it meant, as long as he got to enjoy the process. He lapped a bead of pre-come leaking out the tip, and then closed his lips around the soft-skinned head.
Harry moaned, his hand coming to rest lightly atop Draco's head. Not like before, when he'd thrust deep in surprise. Draco sucked free of Harry's cock. "You don't have to be so gentle, Potter." Using that name got Draco another flash of irritation. He grinned. "Some of us like a bit of the rough."
"Who's the masochist now, Malfoy?" Harry asked, but his fingers dug in, twisting, pulling Draco's hair and oh, fuck it felt good to be just a little bit owned like that. Draco wrapped his mouth around Harry's cock again, sinking deep, deeper, letting go any urge to resist, giving up, giving in.
Harry's thrusts grew in confidence when Draco didn't gag or clamp down with his teeth. The prickling pleasure of pulled hair increased every time Draco moaned around Harry's cock. Until the tugging changed direction, pulling Draco away instead of closer.
"M'close," Harry whimpered, as though Draco couldn't tell from the tightening of his belly, the increasingly erratic movement of his hips.
Draco let himself be pulled free. "Can't have that." He circled his fingers around the base of Harry's balls and squeezed, cutting off the orgasm before it could start. "Potter, I absolutely forbid you to come yet. Understand?" Draco didn't believe for a moment the breathless whimper and the sharp, distracted nod. He squeezed harder. "Not until I'm inside you and can feel your ass squeezing around my cock as you come. Understand?"
"Then don't. Fucking. Say things like that! Arse!" Harry had one arm flung across his face. He spoke through gritted teeth, and his body trembled with holding still. With the effort to obey Draco's command.
The surge of power that came from watching Harry struggle to meet Draco's unreasonable demand was an even stronger turn-on than the pleasure of pain and submission. Harry was right. This was going to be amazing. If they didn't kill each other.
Slowly, Harry got his trembling under control. The tension tightening his limbs released, and with it a long, shuddering breath. He lowered his arm and met Draco's gaze through glasses on the slightly-fogged side. "You're an arse."
"So you've said. We must work on your vocabulary." Draco removed his trousers and accio'd the lube from his potions array before setting aside his wand.
"Mmhm." Draco coated his hands. His cock. Harry's, for good measure. He spent rather longer than necessary on Harry's until the half-controlled trembling returned.
"You curse like you drink."
A hand smacked his shoulder. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Draco pushed Harry's legs wide, hand sliding from cock, to ass, to that lovely, tight hole. "Butterbeer."
"I like... to keep... ah, fuck. Wits or something." Harry rocked against Draco's hand, pressing down onto his fingers.
"Yes. You're clearly aces at keeping your wits about you."
Draco laughed. "Not tonight, it would seem."
"Nor that, either. Maybe someday."
Harry stilled, ass clenched around Draco's fingers and cock bobbing as though that suggestion alone might tip him over. "Holding you to that one. Fuck me."
"Yes." Draco slid his fingers free and gave his cock a few messy strokes before pressing into Harry.
For several long, ragged breaths, Draco wasn't good for anything but holding completely still. His arms trembled from supporting himself. He chewed on his lip, splitting the cut again. The tang of blood, the memory of unyielding kisses, just pushed him closer to the edge.
Harry wasn't any sort of help, damn him, with his rocking hips and his squeezing-tight ass and those soft noises somewhere between sobs and whinges. He stroked Draco's tense forearms, brushed back the fringe hanging over his eyes, ran a finger over the cut on his lip.
Just like that. The cut closed and Harry went back to ruffling Draco's hair like wandless healing was no big thing. Draco groaned and collapsed atop him, kissing—sloppy kisses, hard kisses, deep kisses. No art, just hunger and a primal need to crawl inside something that powerful and make it yearn for him in return.
He'd meant to fuck Harry hard, but the rhythm they fell into was deep, slow, the push and pull of the tides. Each surge pressed a groan up from the depths of Harry's gut that Draco swallowed with his kisses and answered with ragged grunts. Harry's cock dragged between their hard-pressed bodies, slick with lube and sweat.
Nothing this perfect could last forever, though Draco had a mad flash of insight as to how he might build a recursive engine that extended the dura—the thought shattered when Harry's nails scraped down his back. Fuck. Draco couldn't keep this up much longer.
"Would you come already," he whispered—begged—against Harry's cheek.
"Didn't. Tell me. I could."
Draco whimpered at the realization that Harry had been holding back—still was—on his command. He buried his face in Harry's neck, mouthing permission into the warm-salt skin. "You can. Come for me."
Shuddering, Harry dug his hand between them. Their bodies separated with a soft, sucking pop. Harry's knuckles dug into Draco's stomach as he wanked in counterpoint to their rocking.
Draco lost all rhythm. They both did. Harry tensed first, head falling back into the pillows, mouth open in a silent cry. Draco surged into that clenching ass, letting go into his own orgasm, riding it through on the back of Harry's. He made enough noise for the both of them—grunts, and then low, shapeless cries, and then, surging up from his groin, the oddest urge to laugh.
He gave into it, collapsing on top of Harry with giggles that were nearly indistinguishable from tears. And all the while, Harry stroked his back, kissed his cheeks, his eyes, his lips.
Eventually, the mad urge to laughter passed and the familiar lassitude set in, robbing Draco of any impulse to tell Harry to stop mouthing at his face like a romantic twit.
"That was... weird," Draco mumbled into Harry's neck. He should probably get up. Get under the covers. Harry was warm, but the rest of Draco's room was just a bit chilly. The Manor's warming charms hadn't quite caught up with the autumnal shift.
Fuck it. He was never moving again.
"That was glorious." Harry's kisses had moved up to Draco's ear, the bright, delighted words sending a shiver across Draco's skin that had nothing to do with the chill.
"Yes. Well." Draco shifted uncomfortably, but before he could force himself to do anything, Harry was doing it—casting the cleaning charms, getting their wands sorted and stowed, pulling back the covers. Draco let himself be rolled about until they were both tucked in, legs tangled, chest-to-chest, brow to brow. Somewhere along the way, Harry'd set aside his glasses, leaving nothing to shield Draco from green eyes that saw too much, expected too much.
Draco squirmed. "Sorry about the laughter."
"That was the glorious part." If Harry's eyes saw too much, his soft grin said too much.
"I still might hex you on occasion," Draco warned him.
Harry met that warning with a kiss. "Just so long as you remember there are pleasant alternatives."
Oh. Oh! Draco answered with a grin of his own. "See, pointing out the benefits of alternate behaviour. You're getting the knack of how to date a Slytherin already." His voice barely wobbled on the word date. He was very proud of that. Saying it aloud felt almost like courage.
"I can't promise I won't get self-righteous at you on occasion." Harry's thumb brushed his lip, as though he was thinking about kissing Draco again.
Draco caught Harry's hand in his and tucked them both under his chin. If they made this a regular thing, his hands might actually warm up on occasion. "Ugh. And what are the alternatives to that?"
"Aren't any. Price of loving a Gryffindor."
Harry knew. It seemed pointless to argue the point, because Harry had that look, the one that made Draco want to hex him. The one that said he knew Draco better than Draco knew himself.
Ugh. Fine. Draco was in love with a stupid, bloody Gryffindor. Not just any stupid, bloody Gryffindor. The Gryffindor. The most Gryffindoringest Gryffindor ever to Gryff since fucking Godric himself. Saint Potter. The Boy Who Was a Shockingly Good Shag.
"I suppose I will have to cope," Draco muttered, pushing Harry onto his back and then snuggling into his side and using his shoulder as a pillow. "But if you think I'm saying it first, you're mental."
"We'll see." Harry's lips rested against Draco's brow, his breath stirring his hair. "Will you hex me if I make a bad joke about having all the time in the world?"
Draco groaned and closed his eyes. "Fuck you, Potter. Go to sleep."
Thank you everyone for keeping with me through this. I hope it all became more or less clear by the end. For those of you who want a peek under the hood (or just a better explanation), I'll be posting my timeline structure soon.
Comments, kudos, recs, they're all much appreciated!
Chapter 12: Timeline
Several commenters asked to see the timeline I worked with. The loop is not terribly complicated or exciting in visual form, but I think it helps to keep events straight.
I didn't really bother to clean this up or edit it, so you get a lot of me being a bit silly about what is going on.