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Reparations

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Expect the unexpected.

That’s what the tutor had told them on the very first day of Healer training, along with the not-very-confidence-inspiring assurance that no amount of reading, testing and training could prepare them for the actual experience of working with real-live patients.

Now, after only six days as a qualified trainee Healer at St Mungo’s, Harry can’t help but suspect the tutor was underplaying this somewhat.

Certainly, he never expected to spend a good portion of his day preventing the crafty old witch in bed four from liberating the chocolate cake from the tray of her sleeping neighbour.

“Mrs Derrida,” he calls, watching the plump witch freeze, hand outstretched. “What did I tell you about the cake?”

“Er... that it’s delicious and I really should have a slice?” she attempts, blinking hopefully at Harry. “That Rosemary isn’t going to eat hers and it shouldn’t go to waste?”

Harry sighs and fights down a smile. He crosses the room in three long strides and levitates Rosemary’s cake onto her bedside stand with a careless flick of his wand, putting it well out of the reach of Mrs Derrida.

“That sounds like me. Do you really think that Nurse Midgen just spent twenty minutes cleaning your blood for you to start on the sugar again?” he prods.

“Hmph,” mutters Mrs Derrida, looking suitably cowed.

“Exactly,” he says, picking up her chart and examining it. “If you behave yourself, you should be OK to go home in a couple of days.”

“And then what shall I do without you, Healer Potter?” the old lady asks, fluttering spidery lashes against lined cheeks.

The novelty of the address hasn’t quite worn off yet, and in spite of himself, Harry smiles widely as the warm feeling of accomplishment floods his veins.

“I’m sure you’ll cope, Mrs Derrida.”

Flirting with octogenarian patients is childishly easy; he only wishes he could extend the skill to someone a little closer to his own age. Not that Harry has any time for that. Healing is more of a lifestyle than an occupation, and that shows no sign of letting up just because the studying portion of his training is over. It was of little surprise when he discovered that most relationships seemed to be formed within the hospital.

‘If he didn’t work here, we’d never see each other,’admitted the quiet-but-kind Nurse Midgen on Harry’s first day, as she pointed out her Healer boyfriend. He vaguely remembers her from Hogwarts, and has to concede that he’s stuck to her just a little over the past week. He thinks it’s the relief of finding someone who doesn’t stare at his scar or walk on eggshells around him as though he might spontaneously combust at any given moment.

Leaning back against the reassuringly solid support of the nurses’ station, he takes a moment to stare out at the bustling sea of people; patients, visitors and staff. The lime-green of Healers and soft blue of nurses a refreshing contrast against the stark, clinical backdrop. It’s hour ten of a sixteen hour shift, but despite the exhaustion, Harry can’t quite quell the surge of warm satisfaction that comes only with the feeling of knowing that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. Finally.

It’s over five years since the war ended, though sometimes it seems like much longer. Once the dust had settled, literally and figuratively, time had seemed to ratchet up into a frenzy and rush by quite without Harry’s permission. Having spent half of his life narrowly avoiding his own horrible death and simultaneously waiting to bring about someone else’s, the fall of Voldemort had left Harry at somewhat of a loss. He was not, as some tried to insinuate, depressed, merely directionless.

He’d moved into number 12 Grimmauld Place. Stripped and painted and scrubbed and polished until it looked more like a home than a tomb. Declined several offers to play professional Quidditch, on the grounds that it just wasn’t the same since school. Followed Ron into Auror training for lack of a better idea.

Left Ron to it after only two weeks, still without a better idea. Though he’d wished at the time for a loftier explanation than just being sick to the fucking back teeth of fighting Dark magic, he hadn’t found one. The more rational of his friends were heard to wonder what, in that case, he had been thinking when he entered Auror training. Harry had decided against telling them the truth, which was that he hadn’t been thinking much at all.

It had been Hermione’s idea, in the end. All of this.

‘There’s no getting away from Dark magic, Harry. You can’t lock yourself away from the world,’ she’d said.

‘There must be something useful I can do to help people where it won’t all be about being Harry bloody Potter,’ he’d grumbled.

The Curatio School’s ‘Careers in Healing’ leaflet had been dropped next to his breakfast plate the next morning. Harry had simply allowed himself a smile at Hermione’s lack of subtlety and scanned the text and moving photographs of little green-robed witches and wizards with morning-sleepy eyes and buttery fingers. The simple rightness of the idea had struck him like a thunderbolt.

Never had Harry been more grateful that Hermione Granger had taught him how to study than during four gruelling years of training. And it had all been leading up to this –

“ – Harry,” comes the exasperated voice from somewhere to his right. Blinking, he rubs at tired eyes behind his glasses. Slowly but surely, the smallest and most tenacious of his fellow trainees swims into focus before him.

“Yeah?”

Cecile rolls muddy green eyes and prods him in the ribs with her wand, sending a sharp, cold shiver under Harry’s skin that is not unlike a slap in the face with a wet fish. He imagines.

“There’s no need for that,” he mumbles.

“There was every need,” she asserts, tucking a strand of unruly blonde hair behind her ear. “You look like you’re falling asleep. Apparently there’s been some raid or other, Aurors going after a supposed cell of leftover Death Eaters. They’re Flooing in now.”

Harry’s ears prick up. Feeling energised, either by Cecile’s words or her wet-fish hex, he’s not sure, but it doesn’t really matter. “What’s their status?”

“Some major spell damage,” Cecile replies. The spark in her weary eyes makes it clear that she’s also dying to get involved. He knows it’s unlikely they’ll be on the front line this time, as trainees, but there’s always the chance that it’ll be an all-hands-on-deck situation.

“What are we waiting for, then?” He shoots Cecile a small smile, pushes wearily off the nurses’ station and follows her down to the foyer.

**~*~**

The scene that greets them is loud, chaotic and frantic, sending a tide of adrenaline coursing through Harry’s veins and effectively washing away the last of his fatigue. The rush is sharper, sweeter and more powerful than any previous victory on the battlefield or Quidditch pitch.

A buzzing sea of green and blue surrounds the prone, levitated bodies of the three unconscious Aurors. As he and Cecile plunge into the fray, Harry catches sight of Ron as he talks anxiously to the Healer running diagnostic spells over his fallen colleague. His hair and rust-brown robes are dishevelled, but he cuts an imposing, professional figure in the midst of the disorder and Harry can’t resist a small smile.

“Potter, Mackenzie!” barks Harry’s boss and mentor, Augustus Tremellen, from somewhere behind him. He and Cecile turn, wands at the ready. “I need you to Side-Along the patients up to the third floor, and then stay out of the bloody way!”

At the sound of Harry’s name, Ron glances up and meets Harry’s eyes. The look he shoots Harry from under the red fringe is equal parts sympathetic, amused and grim.

“So much for helping out with the big emergency,” Harry mutters under his breath, wrapping his arm securely around the waist of the nearest patient and Apparating them both to the third floor. The faint pop as he disappears telling him that Cecile is not far behind.

**~*~**

“They could at least let us do something,” complains Terry Boot.

“We are doing something,” murmurs Cecile, voice heavy with sarcasm. “We’re observing.”

Harry snorts. They have been staring through the glass of the spell-damaged Aurors’ room for the last thirty minutes and he’s rapidly losing patience. Not that he’s ever responded well to being told to ‘stay put and watch.’

“Tremellen’s coming out,” whispers another trainee behind Harry.

Finally. The group turns as one to regard Tremellen.

“Hatchlings,” he booms, the accompanying smile twitching his dark moustache at the corners. Harry grips his wand tighter and rolls his eyes inwardly. He might be a great Healer, but the man is a patronising, slimy prat. At Harry’s side, Cecile is smiling but her eyes are cold.

“As you can see, all three patients are now stabilized, but they will require careful observation and regular tests before they can be released,” says Tremellen. “As such, I’m allowing the best trainee to assist me in caring for these... very important patients.”

Tremellen smiles greasily and sweeps his eyes over the assembled group, seemingly revelling in the collective intake of breath. Harry feels himself sag slightly, eyes flicking to his right. He knows he’s not the best. Competent – sure; good with the patients – absolutely; but he’s not the star. Most of the time, in fact, he positively delights in not being the one that stands out, though it’s a shame that...

“Healer Potter,” intones Tremellen. Harry’s head snaps up.

“Yes?” he asks. “I mean, erm, yes, Healer Tremellen?”

“You will be assisting me, of course. Back here in an hour.” The man waves his hand dismissively at the group, turns on the spot and Apparates away.

Harry stares at the spot his boss has vacated, blindsided.

“What the hell just happened?” he asks no one in particular. There’s no answer, as he expected, but a dull, low-level muttering has broken out amongst the group. Rubbing his eyes, he sighs. So much for that non-preferential treatment he really believed he’d been enjoying.

“I’m sorry, Cecile,” he says, turning to her at last. She bites on her bottom lip and shrugs.

“Doesn’t matter,” she replies, throwing him a wan smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. Guilt-flooded, Harry worries his already-messy hair with a restless hand.

“Seriously, it’s not fair. You deserved the case. You always do.”

“You think?”

“Yep,” he affirms, honesty making him vehement. He knows it, and he knows that she knows it, too.

“Well... shit. If you’re going to be so damn reasonable about it...” Cecile looks down at the floor momentarily, and when she looks up, her face has cleared and her smile is genuine. “Harry bloody Potter.”

“I’ve been called worse,” he offers, relieved. He knows he couldn’t blame Cecile if she did hate him on principle, but she’s clearly made of sterner stuff than that, and he’s pleased. “Coffees on me, in the canteen?”

When he looks around, he’s grateful to note that the crowd of disgruntled onlookers has dissipated, and he and Cecile are practically alone in the corridor.

“OK. ‘Coffee’,” she says, delicate nose wrinkling with distaste, making dramatic air quotes and narrowly missing whacking Harry across the nose. He ducks.

“I’ll see you down there.”

**~*~**

“Healer Tremellen?” Harry calls, shoes squeaking harshly on the polished floor as he skids to a stop behind the other man. He turns.

“Yes, Healer Potter, what can I do for you?”

“It’s about the case... the Aurors?” he begins. Tremellen arches a dark eyebrow and Harry pauses, suddenly uncertain. “It’s just that, well, I wondered if I was really the most deserving trainee.”

He swallows hard. Drags a deep breath in through his nose, detecting the scent of pine floor cleaner, the kind Muggles use, and the distinctive aroma of lavender given off by certain diagnostic charms.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m grateful that you chose me, Sir, but Terry beat me in every exam during training, and Cecile is by far the strongest in the group, and I wondered if...” he trails off, mouth suddenly turning dry as he catches the expression spreading across Tremellen’s darkening face.

“Mister Potter,” he says coldly, swiftly and harshly reminding Harry of another former mentor. “Are you questioning my judgement on this matter?”

The older man has a good three inches on Harry but this is the first time he has ever felt intimidated. Fitfully, he rubs damp palms across the rough fabric of his robe. Maintains eye contact. He wants to argue. For the injustice of it all. For Cecile. For the simple desire to be rewarded for his achievements, and not just for being the Boy Who Lived.

Before he can, however, his conscience appeals to him in a voice that sounds disturbingly like Hermione’s.

‘There’s a fine line between heroics and pointless self-sabotage,’ it whispers, and Harry bites his tongue.

“Well? Shall I take it that the great Harry Potter does not wish to assist me on this case?”

“No, Healer Tremellen, I mean, I still want to assist you,” he says. The moustache quivers, and Tremellen inclines his head carefully.

“Excellent.”

He strides away, green robes swishing behind him. Harry leans back against the cool, painted wall and scowls. Not for the first time in his life, he wishes he could have just kept his big mouth shut.

**~*~**

“I really am sorry,” Harry repeats. “I tried talking to Tremellen, but it turns out he’s even more of a wanker than I thought he was.”

Cecile cradles her coffee cup close to her face, resting skinny elbows on the shiny plastic table top.

“I’m used to it,” she says ruefully. Pulls a tiny, silver snake on a delicate chain out from the neck of her robe. “Ex-Slytherin.”

Harry smiles. “Nothing wrong with that,” he attempts, but Cecile laughs.

“You’re in a desperate minority there,” she says, leaning across the table to pick at the soggy chips on Harry’s plate.

Despite his better judgement, the heat of irritation curls in Harry’s stomach and he grips the edge of the table hard.

“Stop it.”

“What?” Cecile looks up. She licks salt from her fingers.

“Picking off my plate.”

“That hungry, are you?” she asks, a slight tilt to her head as she regards him curiously.

“No. It’s not that... it’s...” Harry pauses, feeling his face redden and not knowing how to explain.

“Don’t like sharing?” Cecile teases, smiling now.

“No!” Frustrated, he tips almost half of the chips onto a clean paper napkin and slides it across the table to Cecile. “I just don’t like people taking food from my plate.”

He shrugs, embarrassed. It doesn’t seem to matter how many years of good nutrition he now has behind him, he’s never quite been able to shake the deeply ingrained urge to protect his food. Dudley, of course, hasn’t had access to Harry’s plate in years, but the unease has never quite left him.

“Thanks,” Cecile says softly, picking up a chip from the napkin and chewing on it thoughtfully. “You are weird, though, you know that?”

“It’s been said,” he concedes, smiling.

Finally feeling at ease, he leans back in his chair and scans the canteen lazily, watching the canteen staff weave back and forth, easy to spot in their bright red uniforms amongst the Healers and visitors sitting in small knots at the various tables. A short, grey-haired witch behind the counter laughs raucously, drawing Harry’s eyes. She’s batting her eyes up at the tall, blond man dropping silver Sickles into her outstretched hand with long, elegant fingers.

Granted, Harry can only see the back of his head, but there’s something about the way the man holds himself that feels painfully familiar. The soft grey jumper and dark trousers are simple but stylish, and Harry finds himself wanting to look. Not that the person he’s thinking of would ever be seen dead in Muggle clothing. It’s a trick of the mind, of course. He’s sitting with one blonde Slytherin, it’s only natural to be thinking of another.

“Are you listening to me, oh Chosen One?” Cecile prods.

“Whaaaat? Don’t call me that,” he complains, still staring distractedly over Cecile’s green-clad shoulder. If the man could just turn around, he’d be able to look away.

“I knew you weren’t. What is it?”

Harry hesitates, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the back of the blond head. He’s holding his breath, even though it’s ridiculous, he knows it is. There’s no way...

The man turns slightly as he accepts the steaming paper cup from the grey-haired canteen employee, and the fine-boned face is thrown into profile. Harry bites his tongue, hard.

“Bugger me.” He blinks repeatedly, but each time he looks back, the image is unaltered.

“Eloquent,” Cecile snorts. In his peripheral vision, Harry watches her look over her shoulder, following his gaze. “Well, well. Draco Malfoy, no less.”

The mild surprise in her tone magnifies over and over in Harry’s head until he feels like his brain is about to explode.

“Draco Malfoy,” he repeats.

As he continues to stare, Malfoy nods briskly at the old witch, turns, and stalks out of the canteen without a backward glance.

“What’s he doing here?” he asks, finally dragging his eyes back to Cecile.

“How should I know?” She shrugs delicately and wipes greasy fingers on the now-empty napkin. “Are you going to eat the rest of those?”

Harry glances down at his plate, distracted. Suddenly, he’s not hungry. “Go mad,” he says, tipping the rest of the chips out onto Cecile’s napkin. “I have to go... do something.”

The sudden reappearance of the man who seemed to drop off the face of the earth, in Harry’s place of work, no less, definitely warrants further investigation.

**~*~**

Fortunately, Malfoy doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. Within a matter of seconds, Harry’s almost caught up to him. After that, it’s just a matter of ducking into an alcove to cast a quick Disillusionment charm and following Malfoy to his destination. It’s almost six years since Harry last tracked the Slytherin git on a regular basis, but the familiarity of the chase is oddly soothing.

At first, he’s certain that Malfoy is visiting someone in the hospital. It’s the only explanation that makes sense, and yet as he’s led down remote corridor after remote corridor, Harry is losing certainty at an alarming rate. As the corridor traffic thins down to nothing, Harry realises that he’s in a part of the hospital he’s never seen before. The usually all-pervading smell of lavender is almost non-existent, and the absence of it strikes Harry violently.

Turning a corner, Malfoy stops. Harry stops. Catches his breath. The blond waves his wand negligently over the set of double doors and pushes inside. Harry raises his eyes to the glossy white sign screwed above the doors.

No way.

**~*~**

“Malfoy’s in rehab,” he insists for the third time some hours later. He almost has to shout to be heard over the pounding bassline, but the eyerolls of his companions tell him that the words have hit home.

Again.

“Harry, I really don’t think... can we talk about something else?” pleads Hermione, or at least the pale, black-haired girl she’s pretending to be does. The voice and face are all wrong, but the exasperated expression is pure Hermione.

Ron shifts uncomfortably in the body of a slightly overweight Muggle man. The voice, when it comes, is unexpectedly gravelly. “How’s it all going over there, anyway?” he asks in an attempt to change the subject. “That Tremellen bloke seems like a bit of an arse.”

Harry sighs and stares down at the stubby fingers wrapped around his glass of Firewhisky. They’ve been using Polyjuice to avoid being bothered on nights out for as long as he can remember, but he’s never quite become accustomed to wearing someone else’s body.

“He is an arse,” he says at last, knocking back his drink and wincing as the harsh liquid burns the back of his throat. “And Malfoy is. In. Rehab. I saw him.”

He stares hard at Hermione and she exhales slowly, carefully, eyes softening. “I suppose it has been a while,” she says.

Immediately defensive, Harry bristles. “What do you mean?”

“It’s been a while,” she attempts, spinning her glass around on the tabletop between twitchy fingers. “Since you talked about Malfoy. Months, in fact. I thought it was a good thing for you, that you were moving on, finally. Letting go.”

Her expression is apologetic but unremitting, and Harry glances away from her, heart racing erratically out of time against the rhythmic vibration of the music that he can feel through the floor. At Hermione’s side, Ron’s lumpy face is twisted as he squints owlishly into his empty shot glass.

“Letting go of what? You make it sound like he’s an ex-lover or something,” Harry mutters at last.

Hermione shrugs awkwardly. “If you want the truth, that’s how you behaved, sometimes. It always seemed like a dangerous obsession to me.”

Prickling all over, he licks the last traces of alcohol from his lips. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hermione snorts. “Of course not.”

“Look, I admit that he isn’t completely evil. He didn’t identify us that time at the Manor, I put in a word at his family’s mockery of a trial. All squared away.” Harry slams his glass down on the table top with more force than he intends to, and sweeps his palms over the sticky surface in a gesture of finality.

“What’s really bothering you about all this?” she asks, brushing dark hair from her eyes and leaning closer across the table in order to make herself heard.

“I don’t know,” he admits. Pushes fingers into his eye sockets and presses hard. It takes him a moment to remember why he’s not wearing his glasses, but of course in this temporary form, he doesn’t need them. “It’s like I need to know what he’s doing, and yet I really don’t want to know. It makes no sense.”

“Do you think...” Hermione starts thoughtfully, before being interrupted.

“Harry, guess who I am,” insists Ron, sprawling across the table and huffing boozy breath into Harry’s face. Despite his hazy eyes, there’s something in his face that makes Harry wonder if the interruption is more of a rescue attempt than just the Firewhisky talking.

“Go on,” he encourages, hiding a grateful smile behind his glass.

“Could I be an uglier Muggle?” Ron deadpans, gesturing expansively.

The uncharacteristically sardonic expression lasts all of three seconds before he dissolves into helpless laughter. Hermione purses her lips and draws down fine eyebrows as though she’s trying not to smile at any cost.

“He’s been watching American sitcoms again,” she sighs.

“I’d never have guessed,” Harry offers. Allowing a grin to break through, he wills himself to relax and pushes the last vestiges of any thoughts Malfoy-related into the dark recesses of his mind. It’s Friday night. He’s worked hard all week, and he’s spent the last four years working his backside off to get there. Surely he deserves to relax.

“That VT thing is genius, Harry,” Ron enthuses. “You’ve got to get one for your place.”

“TV,” he corrects absently. “I have seen one before, believe it or not.”

“Brilliant. 'Mione managed to get it working on magic. She’s so clever.

The murky eyes that turn on Hermione radiate pure adoration, and Harry finds himself caught in a pleasant tide of warmth and amusement as he regards his two best friends.

It never fails to amaze him how much of a lightweight Ron actually is. Despite his six foot frame and clear dedication to the art, Harry’s best friend just can’t hold his drink. When he starts getting glassy-eyed and emotional, both Harry and Hermione have learned that the end of the night is nigh.

“So clever, and so beautiful,” Ron slurs, and the pale face Hermione is wearing blushes prettily. “I’m so lucky... Harry, you have to get yourself a lovely girlfriend. Not this one, though. This one’s mine.”

“All in good time,” Harry replies weakly, turning quickly away from Hermione before he can admit to seeing the knowing glint in her unfamiliar blue eyes.

They both know that he hasn’t had a relationship as such since Ginny. A few abortive attempts at dating have made up his entire history of romantic entanglements since then. The truth is, he doesn’t know how to talk to women, or even if he really wants to. That, though, is a quiet, wriggling, twisting feeling that he keeps locked well away in the pit of his stomach. Telling himself that he’ll take it out and look at it just as soon as he has time.

“I think I’d better get this one home,” says Hermione, and he nods faintly.

Not that she counts. Hermione is just... Hermione. It’s easy.

“You might want to top up the potion if you’re staying out,” she advises, ever practical. “Your eyes are starting to turn green again.”

He shakes his head. “Thanks, but I think I’ll head home too.”

“Bye, Harry,” Ron stage-whispers, slapping him heartily on the back.

Harry slaps back and then envelops Hermione in a brief hug, momentarily allowing himself to revel in the warmth of her embrace and inhaling her familiar fresh, flowery scent. The glossy dark hair slides across his face and startles him.

“See you soon. You still smell like Hermione,” he adds absently.

She laughs warmly as she pulls away. “Of course I do, silly. Polyjuice changes the appearance and the voice, but not the basic essence of a person. You know that,” she chides.

“Obviously,” he mumbles, impressed in spite of himself at his friend’s ability to deliver a lecture even when three sheets to the wind. He supposes some things never change, and it’s a small comfort.

Ears ringing and head buzzing, he stumbles out into the dark back alley to Disapparate back to Grimmauld Place, and is almost out cold before his head hits the pillow. Try as he might to dislodge them, Hermione’s comments about his former nemesis are his last conscious thought, and the subsequent dreams are fractured and confusing.

Chapter Text

“...and don’t come back!” Harry laughs, shaking hands with the last of the three recovered Aurors as they prepare to leave the hospital.

“Not in a hurry, I hope!” he replies, stepping into the green flames and away.

It’s been a long week. The patients, three thoroughly nice blokes he vaguely remembers from Hogwarts, have been good-natured, stoic and easy-going, but working directly alongside Tremellen every waking moment has left Harry teetering on the edge of his very last nerve. The man’s brilliant, he’s not denying that. But he’s insufferable.

On the positive side, he’s been working far too hard to spare Malfoy much head space, which can only be a good thing. Harry has seen him twice more in the canteen. Each time buying coffee, dressed in elegant Muggle attire and heading for the same part of the hospital that Harry had tracked him to following the first sighting.

Hermione’s probably right, of course. It really doesn’t affect his life in any way if Malfoy has gone and got himself addicted to crack, or Firewhisky, or treacle tart. His interest is just... force of habit, that’s all.

“You didn’t kill him,” remarks Cecile from behind Harry. She sounds impressed.

“The patient? I should have hoped you’d have a little bit more faith in me than that,” he rebukes, turning.

“Tremellen,” she whispers, tracing a shimmering, gold star in the air with her wand, and sending it shooting towards him. “You idiot.”

Harry sticks out his tongue briefly, pulling out his wand and dissolving the star in mid-air. “He doesn’t like to be disagreed with,” he offers. “I dare say he’s not my biggest fan any more, after this week.”

Cecile lifts an eyebrow doubtfully before breaking into a slow smile. “I suppose we’ll find out right about now.”

“What?”

Following the arc of her jerked chin, Harry’s eyes fall on a smug-looking Tremellen rounding the corner, rolled up parchment clutched in one large hand.

“Our first rotations,” fills in a soft female voice at Harry’s side. Another trainee, Lisa something-or-other. Briefly, Harry turns to her, before her furious blush reminds him that she’s one of the ones that become disturbingly over-awed in his presence.

“Good afternoon, Hatchlings,” booms Tremellen.

“My god, that man likes the sound of his own voice,” grouses Terry, having appeared from nowhere to stand at Harry’s elbow.

Harry snorts. Cecile stands on his foot.

“On this very piece of parchment, are your new departments for the next month. I should not need to impress upon you the importance of these rotations, and the necessity for you to learn and absorb as much as you possibly can from the specially trained Healers and...” he pauses, wrinkling his nose disdainfully, “...other... auxiliary members of our team here at St Mungo’s.”

“Pompous arse,” mutters Cecile.

“Problem, Healer Mackenzie?”

“Absolutely not, Healer Tremellen,” sings Cecile, hastily pasting on a smile.

“Good. You should all also be aware that these assignments are not random. I have taken great care to match each of you to a department and team that... befits your abilities and strengths. You will start on Monday,” he finishes grandly.

With a theatrical swish of his wand, Tremellen sends the roll of parchment flying across the corridor where it immediately flattens itself out and sticks fast to the wall. For a split second, the group is motionless, before exploding suddenly in a cascade of movement and excited chatter, as eight trainee Healers race as one toward the notice.

“Dark Arts Reversal, Dark Arts Reversal, Dark Arts Reversal,” chants Cecile under her breath, ducking under Harry’s arm and pushing her way to the front of the crowd. Her resounding cry of delight mere seconds later makes Harry smile.

After last week, the relief of knowing the most coveted position hasn’t been given to him is almost tangible. He doesn’t much care where he’s going for the next four weeks. There are more departments than he can name, and each is sure to come with its own unique challenges. As the crowd thins out, he moves to approach the list, and catches Tremellen’s eyes. Something uncomfortably like triumph sparks in the older man’s dark irises, and Harry frowns.

Turns.

Rakes eager eyes down the list of names.

Healer H. PotterDepartment of Magical and Chemical Dependence. 5th Floor.
Working Under: Healer A. Redrow and Mr D. Malfoy.

Harry blinks. Hard. Hopes against all hope that he’s hallucinating, but when he allows his eyes once more to focus on the parchment, the words are as clear as anything. As he stares, a cold, slimy sensation rakes under his ribs and drops through his body, rooting him firmly to the floor. Of course. It’s so fucking obvious, even though it doesn’t make any sense at all.

The git’s not a patient, he sodding works here.

“You’ve got to be joking,” he murmurs desperately, raising one lead-like hand to scrub at his face.

“Good luck with that, mate,” whispers Cecile, half-sympathetic and half-horrified.

In the lull that follows, he hears Tremellen’s sharp, amused exhalation and spins around to face him. It only takes one look at the man’s face for Harry to know that, just like Tremellen said, his assignment is no accident. The moustache quivers lightly. Harry feels suddenly nauseous. He questioned Tremellen’s judgement, and now he’s paying for it; of that he is certain.

“These decisions are non-negotiable, Healer Potter,” he smirks.

Every millimetre of curled lip is a challenge.

Harry bites the inside of his lip hard and stares right back, drawing every last drop of defiance and fortitude into the energy required to smile at his mentor.

“I have no wish to negotiate, Healer Tremellen,” he says evenly, fingernails digging painfully into the soft flesh of his palms. “In fact, I’m looking forward to it.”

It’s only a fraction of a second, but the astonishment that flashes across the older man’s face before the serene mask is back in place is enough for Harry, and his heart races triumphantly, flooding his veins with warm, rich satisfaction.

Irritated, Tremellen walks away, but Harry waits until he is out of sight to sag against the wall and release the soft cry of dismay bubbling up in his throat. A month. Working with Malfoy. A month with Malfoy. Working not only with Malfoy, in fact, but for all intents and purposes, working for him.

Fuck.

“Christ,” exhales Terry. “What’d you do to piss him off? A month with Malfoy. Rather you than me, mate.”

Harry sighs. Stares at the five other trainees, standing at the other side of the corridor. They’re chattering, laughing and comparing assignments, completely oblivious to the stand off that’s just taken place.

“Your support is much appreciated as always, Terry,” he says weakly.

“Sensitive as ever, Boot,” mocks Cecile. She elbows Harry in the ribs. “It could be worse.”

Baffled, Harry turns to her. “How?!”

“I don’t know, it’s just an expression,” she says.

Eyes narrowed in deep thought, she pulls a scrap of parchment from her robe pocket and Transfigures it into a small, animated paper bat, sending it flapping around Harry’s head. As it attempts to fasten its papery jaws around Harry’s nose, he snorts and looses an unexpected bark of laughter.

It’s absurd, surreal, ridiculous. The whole thing. Before he knows it, he, Terry and Cecile have dissolved into quiet hysterics. Holding onto the wall for support, Cecile wipes her eyes.

“It could be two months,” she offers at last. “That would be worse.”

She’s right. It’s only a month. Thirty days. How bad can it be?

**~*~**

“This is very, very bad. Very, very, very bad,” Harry groans, staring morosely into his wine glass.

“It is. Very bad,” Ron agrees.

Quietly, he’s impressed that he managed to make it to the end of his shift before the true horror of Tremellen’s assignment actually hit home. He’d Apparated straight into Ron and Hermione’s flat. On hearing the news, Ron had run for the wine and Hermione had installed Harry in his favourite spot on the furry rug in front of the fireplace, where he’s been sitting ever since. The plans for their regular Friday night out have been abandoned.

“And there’s really nothing you can do?” Hermione asks from the sofa, for the third time in half an hour.

“Nothing.” Harry gulps his wine. “A month of Malfoy. We’ll kill each other.”

“If you go first, you’re sorted,” Ron suggests. Harry shoots a quelling look in his general direction, slightly disoriented. “Not ready to joke about it? OK. Erm, what a bastard, eh?” he amends.

Hermione shrugs and hugs her knees. “Perhaps you’ll... find a way to work out your differences,” she suggests uncertainly.

“Not likely.” Harry blinks in the candlelight, holding up his glass and examining the rich, red liquid within.

When the fire in the grate whooshes green and Ginny’s face appears, they all jump. Shuffling backwards on the rug, Harry licks spilled wine from his knuckles.

“Evening,” she says cheerfully, smiling at each of them in turn. “Nev’s had to go back to work, and I’m bored. Can I come through?”

Harry returns her smile, suffused with a rush of gratitude that the two of them have remained on friendly terms following their train-wreck of a relationship. It wasn’t immediate, but he suspects her happy, solid relationship with Neville over the past three years has made it easier for them to revert to their former easy friendship.

“Of course,” Hermione replies, Summoning an extra wineglass.

Ginny steps out of the grate and dusts herself off, settling on the floor beside Harry.

“Gin, you’ll never guess who Harry’s stuck working with for the next month,” Ron offers, with a little more relish than Harry would have liked.

“Who?”

“You’re supposed to guess,” Ron insists. “Think of the evilest bastard you possibly can.”

Ginny wrinkles her freckled nose and shrugs. “I don’t know any evil bastards that work at the... hospital,” she finishes faintly, eyes widening.

“It’s Malfoy,” Harry cuts in, before Ron can derive any more pleasure from his best friend’s suffering.

“That’s... terrible,” Ginny says.

She tilts her head on one side and stares at Harry with an incongruous mixture of sympathy and anxiety written across her face. Before he can reply, she’s getting to her feet.

“You know what? I’ve got to go, I just remembered something I have to do,” she mumbles, smiling apologetically at Hermione, who’s holding out a full wine glass and looking completely baffled.

As the youngest Weasley disappears back into the flames, Harry stares after her for a moment and then drops his head into his hands.

“What the bloody hell was that all about?”

“I have no idea,” Hermione replies crossly. There’s still very little she hates more than not knowing.

“Give that to Harry,” Ron instructs, taking the full glass from her and handing it to Harry. “He’s going to need it.”

“He’s going to need an intervention, if you keep pouring wine down his throat,” Hermione scolds.

Harry peers at her from between his fingers, wondering if she realises just what she’s said.

“What, like a month in rehab?” Ron asks, grinning. Harry groans inwardly and tries to scowl, but he thinks it comes out as more of a grimace.

Hermione giggles, slapping a hand over her mouth and turning slightly pink. “Sorry, Harry,” she gasps, not sounding it one bit.

“You’re both going to hell,” he announces. “It’s fine.”

Closing one eye to correct his double-vision, Harry slides his wand out of the end of his sleeve and quietly murmurs a spell to turn Hermione’s hair green. She doesn’t notice.

It’s only Malfoy, he reasons sleepily. Harry leans back on his elbows, the furry rug fibres tickling his forearms. The warmth from the open fire is comforting and soporific. Ten minutes later, he’s asleep.

**~*~**

At three minutes past nine on Monday morning, Harry is still standing frozen outside the heavy double doors leading to the Department of Magical and Chemical Dependence. He’s not scared, that’s for sure. Definitely not. It’s just... Harry sighs and bites his lip. There’s no way this is going to end well.

“Healer Potter?”

At the hesitant male voice, he turns and looks expectantly at the pleasant-looking young man wearing light blue nurse’s robes.

“The wards have been adjusted to include you,” he continues, gesturing toward the doors. “So it’s just a matter of...” He shrugs and demonstrates a fairly standard swish and flick movement.

Harry feels the gentle give of the protective magic and pushes at the nearest door.

“Thanks.”

The nurse smiles, and to his surprise, follows him along a light, airy corridor. As they approach a second set of doors, Harry looks through the glass panels and takes a deep breath.

He counts fifteen witches and wizards sitting in chairs arranged in a circle; some in robes and others in jeans and t-shirts. For a moment, his eyes linger on a haggard-looking man in ill-fitting clothes as he speaks rapidly, gesticulating and looking appealingly around at the other occupants – though the closed door makes his words inaudible, Harry is certain they are loud and passionate. From the contemptuous expressions on the faces of the others, the speaking man is not making himself popular.

It’s with a heavy sense of inevitability that Harry allows his eyes to fall upon Malfoy. Watches him perching elegantly on his chair, legs crossed and arms folded across his chest. To Harry’s surprise, he appears relaxed and confident. The sharp eyes are trained carefully on the speaking man but as they flick momentarily around the circle, Malfoy’s cool gaze fixes on Harry and it’s as though the intervening years fall away. The contempt radiating from the grey eyes is palpable. Harry suppresses a shiver.

“I believe you two know each other,” remarks the nurse at Harry’s side.

“You could say that,” Harry replies through gritted teeth. The sound of amusement from the other man forces him to tear his eyes away from Malfoy, and he’s horrified to see a sly smile curving the nurse’s lips.

“Not like that!” he splutters, feeling his face heating. The nurse raises an eyebrow. “We hated each other at school, that’s all.”

“Really,” murmurs the nurse and Harry shifts uncomfortably.

“Yes! Malfoy and I are – ” Harry closes his mouth swiftly as the door swings open.

“You’re late, Potter.”

One delicate eyebrow is arched in unspoken challenge and the cruel mouth is a hard, uncompromising line. For approximately half a second, Harry considers insisting on being addressed as ‘Healer Potter’ just to really wind him up, but there’s something in Malfoy’s face that makes him think better of it. Just in time. Hermione would be proud.

That being said, he’s not about to apologise either. Even if he is late.

“Hello, Malfoy,” he grinds out, every shred of his self control pouring into keeping those four syllables civil.

“Usually the trainees call me Mr Malfoy,” he says lightly, one corner of his mouth lifting in a smirk.

Somehow, he manages to make the word ‘trainees’ sound like something dirty and shameful. Harry exhales slowly and forcefully through his nose. Regret for his self-restraint is immediate, but there’s something, buried deep down, something that’s struggling to surface, that wants him to act like the bigger person here.

It’s painful, but Harry thinks that just maybe he’s grown up a little in the years since the end of the war.

“I’m not intimidated by you, Malfoy.” The answering snort of disbelief tells him all he needs to know for now, but Harry presses on. “I do, however, plan on being civil. It’s just one month. Think you can manage that?”

The eyes are still positively icy, but Malfoy sighs and pushes a swathe of artfully tousled hair from his face.

“Fine.”

The sleeves of his fine-knit sweater are pushed up around his elbows, and Harry’s eyes are drawn inexorably to the fading Dark Mark that he’s clearly not trying to hide. It’s been some time since he’s seen one up close, and though it fails to inspire the horror he thought it might, there’s something shocking about the way the mark mars the pale skin, and something all at once defiant and fragile about the way it is casually exposed.

Malfoy folds his arms across his chest and coughs pointedly.

“I’m up here, Potter.” Dragged from his thoughts, Harry jerks his head up. “I can stare at scars, too,” he points out, raising his eyes to Harry’s forehead and heaving a theatrical sigh.

“You’ve had plenty of practice,” Harry mutters, embarrassment turning rapidly to irritation.

“Is there something we can help you with?” Malfoy asks suddenly, ignoring him and turning to address the nurse Harry had once again forgotten all about. Inexplicably, Harry is cheered by the fact that Malfoy’s tone is every bit as frosty as when speaking to him, if not more so.

“Ah, well, I...” the man falters, falling silent.

“Didn’t think so. Probably just over-awed by the Man Who Wouldn’t Die, are you?” He pauses, and Harry finds himself watching with interest. Though certainly not intimidated by Harry, Malfoy clearly scares the shit out of the nurse. Interesting. “Why are you still here? If you don’t have anything interesting to tell me, then I highly recommend buggering off out of my department. Right now.”

Harry turns, open-mouthed, to watch the nurse make his escape in a flurry of blue fabric and cursing, almost falling over himself in his haste to get away from Malfoy. When Harry turns back to him, the harsh, aristocratic features are arranged in something dangerously close to a smile. Just as quickly, it’s gone, and Harry can’t help but wonder if he imagined the whole thing.

“I suppose you’d better come in,” Malfoy sighs, and sweeps through the glass-panelled doors.

Harry hesitates just a moment too long, and the git lets the door slam in his face.

**~*~**

By the time he’s stopped muttering under his breath and pushed the door open, Malfoy is nowhere to be seen. Just typical of him to bugger off and leave Harry to his fate. The large room in which he’s now standing is almost empty, the group having dispersed to Merlin-knows-where.

A small, nervous-looking girl is watching him suspiciously from her perch on the windowsill, and Harry sends her a small smile. He’d like to think his green robes would be reassuring, but apparently not. The silence is eerie, save for his own footsteps on the polished floor, and it feels almost wrong to call out.

“Malfoy?”

“In here.”

Harry follows the voice to the partially open door of what appears to be a small office, affixed to which is a sign reading ‘Knock and WAIT’, underlined several times for emphasis. He smiles to himself and ignores the instruction, instead pushing open the heavy door with his finger and leaning on the frame.

Malfoy looks up from behind an attractive mahogany desk. His irritation at Harry’s very presence is etched across his face, and though he’s clearly trying to hide it, Harry reflects that he has always found Malfoy childishly easy to read. Releasing a controlled sigh, he sets down his quill and rises from his chair.

“I suppose you’ll want the grand tour, then,” he says.

“This is your office?” Harry asks, frowning.

Malfoy makes a show of looking around at the book-lined walls and cascades of paperwork. “Why yes, Potter, I believe it is.”

“Where’s Healer Redrow?”

Malfoy’s smile is slow but positively feral. “They didn’t tell you downstairs, did they?”

“Tell me what?” Harry asks, suspicion rising. “It says on my assignment that I’m working for a Healer Redrow.”

“Technically, yes.” Malfoy shrugs. “But he comes by here, once, maybe twice a week. The real work is done by yours truly, some nurses and some volunteers.”

“Great,” whispers Harry. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised.

“Tour, then?” Malfoy offers, and he nods silently.

He finds himself staring at the back of the shiny blond head as they walk, head filled with questions. It makes no sense for someone like Malfoy to be working in a job like this, one that surely requires a degree of respect, acceptance and empathy.

Not only that, but the man seems to switch between irritation, disdain and amusement with frightening ease. If Harry’s honest, it’s somewhat unnerving, but there’s no way he’s going to let Malfoy know that.

“This is the main lounge,” Malfoy says, opening a door and waving his arm negligently toward the occupants of another large, comfortable-looking if somewhat institutional, room. Harry recognises some of the faces from the earlier group, and several of them stop what they are doing and turn to stare openly at him.

“Do they always stare like that?” he murmurs, mainly to himself.

“You’re a celebrity, Potter,” Malfoy responds, and Harry rolls his eyes. “Moving on...”

**~*~**

The department is a lot bigger than it looks from the outside, encompassing at least half of the fifth floor by Harry’s reckonings. Malfoy points out the various store rooms, therapy rooms and stark, sterile wards. Most are empty at this time in the morning, but for the patients Malfoy refers to as ‘Stage One’. Most of these are sleeping, and in a heavily-warded room kept separate from the rest.

Harry lingers at the door, eyes caught. “They look like they’re in pain,” he observes.

“Some of them are,” says Malfoy. “The effects of detoxification potions are... unpleasant, to say the least.”

Harry winces. “Isn’t there some other way to...”

“Typical Potter, always trying to make everything better,” Malfoy interrupts, voice suddenly dripping with disdain.

“I was just saying,” Harry sighs. “Forget it, Malfoy.”

He turns, looking firmly into narrowed grey eyes, determined not to look away first. Malfoy’s nostrils flare briefly, like a bad-tempered horse, and Harry hides a smile. The part of him that’s still sixteen is starting to enjoy the verbal sparring, perhaps more than he should.

“A week in here, three weeks out there,” Malfoy continues, gesturing carelessly back toward the main lounge. “Routine. Rules. Honesty. Challenge. Acceptance.” He ticks off each word on long, elegant fingers. “Clear?”

“Crystal,” Harry mutters, though it’s anything but.

He’s certain that there are ways and means of figuring out how this place works without having to ask Malfoy. On hearing his reply, the blond’s eyes flicker with disappointment. Harry smirks and awards himself a mental point.

**~*~**

“Are you seriously expecting me to sit here and do your paperwork for the rest of the month?” Harry demands.

He pushes his glasses further up onto his nose and glares at Malfoy, who is lounging back in his chair with his feet up on the desk, resting on a stack of files. It’s late afternoon and he’s yet to take a break, or indeed spend any time with the actual patients. Malfoy is apparently enjoying himself immensely, the bloody sadist.

“No,” he says. “As soon as I decide that you know what you’re doing, I’m expecting you to sit out there and do it. This office isn’t big enough for two. Speaking of which, when did you start taking up so much space?”

“Fuck you, Malfoy,” Harry grunts, looking up just in time to catch the icy stare travelling speculatively over his body.

“That’s no way to speak to your boss, now is it?”

“You are NOT my boss, you self-important prick,” Harry shoots back. He stares hard at the iridescent black feather of Malfoy’s quill and attempts to quiet the snarl of frustration in his belly. Despite his best intentions, this room is too small and too hot and too full of Malfoy for him to remember what they were.

“Tell yourself what you want, but I’m the one filling in your evaluation at the end of the month.” Malfoy examines his nails airily and folds both arms behind his head.

The Dark Mark once more seems to smoulder menacingly at Harry, and he looks away. Exhales.

“Can’t this be done quicker by magic?” Harry asks at last, attempting a more civil tone.

“Quicker is not always better, Potter.”

“Is smug part of your job description?”

Malfoy ignores him and looks at the ceiling. Harry waits for a long minute, and then pulls out his wand, aiming it at the parchment and opening his mouth to cast a simple Duplicado.

“Put your wand away,” Malfoy sighs, returning his feet to the floor and folding his arms on top of the desk. “My point is, that I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have, and the purpose of this rotation is to teach arrogant, know-it-all, newly-qualified Healers that magic is not the answer to everything.”

“You’ve changed your tune,” Harry mutters, but he lowers his wand.

Malfoy merely raises an eyebrow, and for some unknown reason, the shadow of a thought that has been nagging at Harry all afternoon slams into horrifying full focus. He hasn’t seen Malfoy use a wand all day. Attempting discretion, Harry scans for one now. It’s not in his pocket or on the desk, nor is Malfoy wearing a standard-issue hospital wrist or belt-holster.

He was told that the Aurors would return the hawthorn wand to Malfoy, on his instruction, after the Final Battle. Turning cold, he swallows hard. He knows that some former Death Eaters had their wands snapped after the trials, but he never thought Malfoy... oh, fuck. He’s a bastard, but even he doesn’t deserve that, though it would explain a lot about his current position.

“What’s the matter, Potter?” the dry voice interrupts his thoughts. “You’ve gone decidedly green.”

Harry hesitates. Takes in the blatant curiosity of the man watching him. “It’s... nothing... I just... I didn’t realise they’d taken your wand.”

“They who?”

“The Ministry. I... fuck, that’s awful, Malfoy,” he stumbles, realising that it’s perhaps the first time he’s ever sympathised with the other man.

Malfoy stares openly for a moment or two as comprehension dawns. He laughs shortly.

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s in the desk drawer,” he says, throwing Harry a withering glance.

“Oh,” says Harry eventually. Cursing inwardly at his own stupidity, he can only hope that the flush climbing up the side of his neck isn’t visible.

He drops his eyes back to the parchment, but can feel Malfoy’s self-satisfied stare burning into the top of his head. For a long few minutes, the only sound in the room is the scratching of the quill as Harry returns to the paperwork without comment. He knows he’s not an idiot, but he’s starting to understand why Malfoy thinks he is one. It isn’t Harry’s fault; the man just seems to bring it out in him.

“They surrender their wands for the duration of their stay here,” Malfoy offers, unprompted, breaking the silence. “I don’t use mine while I’m here unless it’s completely necessary.”

“This is surreal,” Harry says at last without looking up.

“Be that as it may, you will also leave yours in here tomorrow,” Malfoy states.

Clearly, it’s not a request. Harry bristles.

“Actually going to let me do something useful?” he asks, voice laced with mock-surprise. “Wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself,” he adds under his breath.

“You never know, Potter. You never know.” Amused grey eyes flick to the wall clock, and Malfoy yawns, stretching luxuriously in his seat. The movement is characteristically graceful, and Harry finds himself watching. “Go home, Potter.”

When the words register, Harry is flooded with relief. Within seconds, he’s on his feet and pulling the door open. He’s survived the day, if nothing else. One down, twenty-nine to go.

“Erm... is there anything special I need to know about the wards on the way out?” he asks, pausing in the doorway to Malfoy’s office.

“No. They’re set to restrict who comes in, not who goes out,” Malfoy replies as he pulls Harry’s stack of parchment toward him and looks over it with a critical eye.

“You mean they could just walk out?” Harry asks, incredulous.

“Yes, Potter. This is voluntary. No one’s forcing them to be here, they can leave if they want to. It’s not Azkaban.”

A simple yes would be just fine, you prat, Harry thinks, gripping the door handle hard. The metal is pleasantly cold against his heated skin.

“Why are you doing this, Malfoy?”

“It’s my job,” he says evenly, but there’s a warning in his eyes.

“You know what I mean,” Harry insists, though he has no idea why he’s pushing the point. Maybe Hermione’s right, and he really does just like pressing the destruct button to see what it does.

Malfoy pushes away from his desk and spears Harry with a steely gaze. “I think you’ll find that’s none of your business, Healer Potter,” he spits, loading the simple address with a dangerous amount of venom.

Harry sighs and lets go of the door handle. As he walks across the empty room, heading for the exit, Malfoy’s voice echoes after him.

“Don’t be late!”

Don’t be late,” he mimics, casting Tempus as soon as he clears the double doors. It’s earlier than he expected, and the subsequent empty growl of his stomach turns his thoughts canteen-ward. Perhaps there will be pie left.

Heart racing for no good reason that he can see, Harry Apparates to the ground floor and walks straight into the canteen.

**~*~**

Having secured an extra-generous slice of apple pie by flirting shamelessly with the middle-aged serving witch, Harry scans the room for familiar faces. He spots Nurse Midgen striding toward the exit and realises that not only has she been avoiding him for the past few days, but he now thinks he knows why.

Pie or no pie, after a whole day with Malfoy, he’s not in the mood to let things go.

“Nurse Midgen!” he cries, causing half the canteen to look his way. His quarry merely slows, but does not stop. “Eloise! Hey!”

The small witch halts and turns, wary.

“Got a minute?” he asks, dropping his voice back to a more decorous volume.

Slowly, she nods and retraces her steps. Harry sits at the nearest table and presses a licked finger to the sugar-crusted pastry on his plate, allowing the crystals to melt on his tongue as he waits for Eloise to slide into the seat across from him. The tiny sugar-rush is almost immediate, and he resolves to take lunch tomorrow, whatever Malfoy might have to say about it.

“Everything OK, Harry?” she almost whispers, twisting small hands in her lap.

“How long have you worked here?”

“Close to five years, why?” Eloise looks nervous, and Harry doesn’t feel much like reassuring her.

“Then you must have known Malfoy was working here. Why the hell didn’t you tell me?” Harry demands, fully aware of how whiny he sounds, and barely caring.

The nurse blinks. Her full lower lip twists into a moue of confusion.

“Of course I knew. I assumed you did, too,” she explains. “I thought Ginny would have told you, actually.”

Startled, Harry accidentally stabs himself with the tines of his own fork. He stares at Eloise.

“Ginny Weasley?

She nods, a picture of pained bewilderment. “You’re still friends, aren’t you? I know you broke up after school, but...” Eloise bites her bottom lip anxiously and fiddles with the sleeve of her blue robe.

“We are, but... you’re not making sense, Eloise,” Harry complains.

He grips the fork hard, trying to reason with his treacherous subconscious as it helpfully supplies image after lurid image of Ginny and Malfoy in some very compromising positions. The thought of them together strikes him hard in the gut, and he didn’t even think he felt that way about Ginny any more. Perhaps it’s the fact that she’d be cheating on Neville, or simply because it’s Malfoy and that’s patently disgusting.

“What has Ginny got to do with Malfoy?” he prompts.

“I thought she... well they... they’re friends,” she admits at last. “They... have lunches sometimes.” She pauses, colour rushing to her face. “Secret lunches... oh, bugger.”

Eloise lifts both hands to cover her face and groans loudly.

“Just friends?” he asks, needing to know, even though the idea of Ginny and Malfoy being bosom pals isn’t much more palatable than the notion of them as secret lovers. Bleurgh. Although, her swift exit the other night is starting to make more sense.

“Of course,” replies Eloise, dropping her hands to the tabletop and fixing Harry with an indignant stare. “Ginny’s got a boyfriend, and Draco’s...” She shrugs.

“He’s what?”

“He’s not like that,” she says after a moment’s thought.

“I’m sure he’s completely honourable,” Harry mutters darkly to his apple pie. “And you’re certain about this?”

“Absolutely,” she assures, nodding vigorously. “Nurses make it their business to know everything that goes on around here.”

“I’ll bet.”

Smiling at last, Eloise swipes a crumb of pie-crust into her mouth. Harry opens his mouth to chastise her, but a familiar voice cuts in and does the job for him.

“Wouldn’t do that if I were you,” sings Cecile. She drops into the chair next to Harry and grins. Harry can practically feel the excitement and well-being rolling off her in waves. He surmises, not without envy, that her first day of the new rotation has gone well.

Eloise shoots them both an odd look and makes her escape.

“Do you have any particular warm and fuzzy feelings towards Draco sodding Malfoy, Cecile?”

She laughs. “Not especially. I was four years ahead of him – both of you – at school. Since then, let me think... ex-Death Eater. Snob. All-round grumpy bastard. No, not really.” She pauses and nudges Harry with a bony shoulder. “He’s a good looking bugger, though, don’t you think?”

Cecile,” he groans. “No, I bloody do not think. I’m going home. The sooner ‘Everyone Loves Draco Malfoy’ Day is over, the better.”

“Are you going to eat that?” she asks, eyeing Harry’s barely-touched slice of pie.

“Yes, I bloody am,” he says petulantly, picking up the whole slice and folding it into his mouth far more quickly than is strictly advisable.

“Bye, Harry,” Cecile offers, unblinking. He gets the distinct impression that she’s trying very hard not to laugh at him.

**~*~**

Still simmering with an odd, prickly tension, Harry makes for the fireplace as soon as he touches down in Grimmauld Place.

He firecalls the Burrow and submits to a painful few minutes of Mrs Weasley’s standard inquiries before he loses patience.

“I’m sorry, Molly, but where’s Ginny? We need to talk. Right. Now.”

“She’s out with Neville, dear. Is it anything I could help you with?” she offers. Harry grimaces.

“I doubt it. Sorry to bother you,” he says and withdraws from the flames.

No matter, he thinks, pulling off his heavy green robes and flopping onto the sofa. If he can’t get the answers out of Ginny tonight, he’ll squeeze them out of Malfoy tomorrow, instead.

Chapter Text

The following morning finds Harry standing stubbornly outside Malfoy’s office by eight-thirty. When a vaguely familiar nurse emerges from the Stage One ward and throws him an odd look, he reflects that perhaps he’s taking the ‘I’ll show you ‘don’t be late’’ to an unnecessary extreme. He gazes at the locked door with its haughty Malfoy-esque sign and fights down the urge to try an unlocking spell.

Which is just as well because half a second later, the doors fly open behind him and a harassed-looking yet perfectly put together Malfoy stalks toward him. Harry steps away from the door and pretends not to be listening as the blond murmurs a standard unlocking spell and enters his office without a word of greeting.

The scent that trails in his wake is fresh and citrus-sharp, and Harry inhales deeply before he knows what he’s doing. Mid-breath, realisation slaps him in the face, and he splutters, horrified. Malfoy eyes him as though he’s something peculiar. Harry shakes himself. Frowns. Malfoy does not smell nice. That is... all kinds of wrong.

“Are you planning to stand there all day gaping at me like a distressed trout?” Malfoy inquires. “Or will we be breaking for lunch?”

Lunch. Yes. Harry closes his mouth and folds his arms.

“Since when do you and Ginny have lunch together?” he demands, searching the pale face for any hint of guilt.

“Potter, I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Malfoy demurs, settling into his desk chair.

“You fucking do. Don’t lie to me, Malfoy.”

Green eyes meet and lock with grey in a fierce stare-off, and Harry muses that he hasn’t stared so intensely since his Hogwarts days, and never more so than with the man in front of him. Finally, Malfoy pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs heavily.

“Fine. Despite her... unfortunate family, Ginevra and I seem to share some common ground.” He shrugs, as though daring Harry to make something of it. Harry bites back the reaction to Malfoy’s casual slight against most of the Weasley family. “She volunteers on the ward at the weekends, and in return, she allows me to take her out for lunch occasionally. That’s all there is to it.”

That’s all there is to it?” Harry echoes faintly.

“Yes, Potter. We’re not having a torrid affair, if that’s what you think.”

The smile is pure Slytherin, and Harry’s urge to wipe it off his face tangles with the sudden hot spike of jealousy, leaving him feeling slightly nauseous.

“Oh, god,” he manages. “Don’t say that.”

“Why should you care? You’ve not been together in years,” Malfoy points out, sounding oddly stung.

“I don’t... I...” Harry lapses into silence and leans heavily on the closed door. Apart from the deception, he’s not sure why he minds quite so much. “She works with you? She never said.”

“You’ll have to take that up with her, won’t you?” Malfoy’s eyes turn cold and Harry sags, suddenly wishing he’d never said anything.

“Fine.”

Malfoy nods briskly and waves a dismissive hand. “I’ve got groups to prepare for, so do you mind terribly removing yourself from my office?”

“What do you propose I do?”

“I don’t care, just keep out of my way.”

“Will I be in the group?” Harry asks. Anything to avoid another day of mindless paperwork.

Malfoy sighs, grey eyes narrowed in contemplation. “I’m assuming you’re well up on all the current Muggle and Wizarding drugs?”

Harry blinks. “There are Wizarding drugs?”

“Seriously, Potter?” Malfoy runs an exasperated hand through his fine, blond hair. Harry watches the light sinews extend and flex under the skin of his forearm. “How you made it through Healer training is beyond me. I haven’t got time to give you a tutorial. I’m talking about things like Silvaso, Thrupp, Chromia... is this switching on any lights for you?”

“Erm, afraid not. I don’t think they covered this during training,” Harry admits.

The words falling from Malfoy’s lips are disturbingly unfamiliar, and though he’s loath to admit that the prat knows something he doesn’t, he doesn’t see any other option at this point.

“They wouldn’t have,” Malfoy says grimly. “It’s ridiculous. The first two are stimulants. Sexual stimulants, ostensibly, but highly addictive. They are preparations. Chromia is...” He exhales heavily, and something Harry can’t identify flickers in the pale eyes. Something that, bizarrely, he wants to see more of. “Chromia is a potion. It numbs pain. Makes the user somewhat... co-operative. Also heightens the other senses. One’s perceptions of colour, sense of smell... et cetera. It is... was... a favourite among Death Eaters.”

“Ah,” Harry says softly.

Though he wants to push the issue, he lets it drop. Something twinges between his ribs, and he can’t quite look away from Malfoy’s face. When he finally manages it, the sight of Malfoy’s fingertips unconsciously tracing the Mark makes him swallow hard.

Within seconds, Malfoy is out of his chair and pulling books from his many shelves. The cool mask is back over his features, and Harry feels oddly like he’s been shut out.

“Like I said, I haven’t got time to teach you stuff that you should have been taught before you got here. Read these, go spend some time with the patients,” he instructs, pushing an unwieldy stack of books into Harry’s arms.

“What shall I do with them?” he asks, mildly panicked. “The patients, I mean, before you say anything.”

Malfoy rolls his eyes. “Talk to them, Potter.”

“What about?”

“Anything. Quidditch. The price of Owl Treats. The meaning of life. They aren’t imbeciles.”

“I wasn’t suggesting... fine. OK. I can do that,” Harry says, though whether he’s trying to convince Malfoy or himself, he’s not certain.

“Are you sure?” Malfoy asks, mouth curling into a contemptuous sneer. “Heaven forbid, you might actually learn something.”

“Fuck off, Malfoy,” Harry says. His half-smile is at odds with the words, and the bafflement on Malfoy’s face fills him with satisfaction.

He kicks the office door shut behind him and settles on the broad windowsill, opening the first book and losing himself.

**~*~**

“Interesting book?” The deep, amusement-rich voice beside Harry breaks him out of his utter absorption in a chapter of ‘Bridging the Gap – Muggle and Magical Intoxicants Through the Ages’ in which the author is drawing intriguing parallels between Chromia and heroin.

Reluctantly, he looks up, resting a finger on the page to keep his place. The stocky, silver-haired man leaning against his windowsill smiles, and the skin around his eyes crinkles pleasantly. The white flashes around the edges of his green robes suggest that the man is a head of department, like Tremellen, and Harry sits up a little straighter.

“It is, actually,” Harry replies. “It wasn’t until I started reading about Wizarding drugs that I realised how little I actually know about Muggle ones. I’ve got a long way to go,” he admits, casting a rueful glance at the pile of books next to him.

The man laughs warmly and holds out a hand for Harry to shake. “Algernon Redrow. You must be Healer Potter. I recognise you, of course.”

Redrow’s handshake is firm and dry, and Harry likes him immediately. “Good to meet you, Healer Redrow. From what that... Mal... Mr Malfoy said...” Harry stumbles, the desire to appear professional finally overriding the desire to bad-mouth Malfoy. “Mr Malfoy... intimated that I was unlikely to see you here,” he amends.

Redrow quirks an expressive eyebrow. “I dare say Mr Malfoy didn’t put it quite like that,” he says. “He likes to make sure everyone knows he does all the work around here.”

“Something like that,” Harry mumbles, casting a glance at the closed office door.

“It’s true enough, he does do all the work.” Redrow shrugs. “I just thought I’d drop in, check on Stage One and introduce myself. And... check that he’s behaving himself. As regards you,” he adds, somewhat cryptically.

“How do you mean?” Harry asks, wary of saying the wrong thing; however friendly this man may appear, he’s still essentially Harry’s superior.

Redrow plunges his hands into his robe pockets and levels an even stare at Harry. He sighs.

“Draco... has the tendency to play games with the Healer trainees. He likes to see how far he can push people, and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.” Redrow pauses, as though considering something. “If you want to be involved, and get something out of this rotation, you have to push, too. Don’t let him intimidate you.”

Harry stiffens. The thought of Draco Malfoy intimidating him rankles, and he knows it shows on his face as soon as Redrow’s eyes meet his in a flash of understanding.

“Healer Potter, believe me when I say this is no reflection on your character. I understand that the two of you have a troubled history, and that your past ideological differences may be... hard to get past – ”

Past ideological differences?” Harry interrupts, incredulous. If Malfoy has lost any of his elitism or bigotry since they last met, he’s doing a bloody fantastic job of hiding it.

Redrow’s mouth twists into a grim half-smile. “Let’s put it plainly,” he says. Harry wonders if he even heard the question. “I wouldn’t have him running this department if I didn’t believe fully in his abilities. These are vulnerable people, Healer Potter, here of their own free will. Draco is a difficult man, but he is very, very good at what he does.”

The passion that suffuses the older man’s words is almost tangible, and Harry finds himself caught in it.

“I believe you,” he says finally. Redrow nods, and Harry exhales gratefully, knowing somehow that these are the correct words.

“Good. From what I’ve heard, you have the potential to be a first-rate Healer. I suspect that you and Draco can learn a lot from each other.”

Harry suppresses the snort just in time, covering it with an awkward cough. Redrow’s dark eyes glitter with something like mischief.

“I don’t think that Draco...” Harry stops, looking once more at the sign on the office door. The name tastes odd and over-familiar on his tongue. “I don’t think that he has all that much faith in my abilities.” He indicates the books with a careless hand.

“Not so,” Redrow disagrees. “He wants you to learn something from these books, therefore he believes you can learn something. Believe it or not, it’s a compliment. He made the last three assignees do his paperwork.”

Harry flushes and stares at ‘Bridging the Gap’ without really seeing it. “That was yesterday,” he admits.

Redrow’s laughter is unfeasibly loud in the small space, and within seconds, the office door flies open. Malfoy’s eyes flash dangerously, his hair is falling into his eyes, and for reasons that he can’t quite explain, Harry’s head is all-at-once filled with Cecile’s offhand words from the day before.

“He’s a good looking bugger, though, don’t you think?”

“What’s all the... oh, hello, Algernon.” Malfoy’s eyes dart between Harry and Redrow. Harry looks at the floor, feeling as though he’s been caught out doing something he shouldn’t.

“Hello, Draco,” Redrow replies amiably. “Healer Potter here was just telling me how much he’s looking forward to really getting involved with the patients.”

Malfoy scoffs. “I highly doubt that,” he mutters, and slams back into his office.

To Harry’s consternation, when he looks back up at Redrow, the man appears amused and completely unruffled. He smiles slowly and straightens up, as though preparing to leave.

“I find that most prickly people just need to be handled right,” he offers, and Harry does his best not to scowl. He doesn’t want to learn how to handle Malfoy. Unfortunately, that thought cascades and morphs into image after inappropriate image of him doing just that. Horrified, he says nothing and tries to calm the flush that is rapidly heating his skin.

Redrow traces a finger along the spine of the topmost book on Harry’s pile.

“Muggle drugs, Wizarding drugs, alcohol, sex... whatever,” he muses. “Addiction is a psychological process as much as it’s a physiological one. Wizards think they’re immune, because of their magic, but when it comes to the mind, most of them are just as vulnerable as the Muggles they look down on. What’s important isn’t the substance, but why.”

“Is there always a why?” Harry asks, entranced.

“Always. That’s not my area, though. Mine’s the medicine, the magic. Stage Two is all Draco’s.” Redrow drops his hand back to his side and smiles at Harry. “He understands about the whys.”

“Oh,” says Harry.

“You have a lot of questions,” Redrow surmises. Harry shifts uncomfortably on the hard stone windowsill.

“Yeah.”

“Ask Draco. Get him to do the thing with the three circles,” Redrow advises somewhat mysteriously, and Harry frowns.

“The what?” Harry asks, eyebrows knitted, but before he’s even closed his mouth, Redrow has Disapparated and he’s left staring at an empty spot of floor.

“Three circles,” he mutters to himself. Pushing the hot, squirmy feelings deep into the pit of his stomach, he picks up ‘Bridging the Gap’ and forces himself to focus.

**~*~**

Though he’s not sure exactly how much time has passed, Harry knows he has reached total information saturation – the words are no longer going in, however hard he stares at them. He stretches and gazes at the door leading off to the main lounge.

Talk to the patients. He can do that. In theory.

His inner Hermione, of course, is telling him in no uncertain terms that the man who killed Voldemort has no business being afraid of a little social interaction. Harry rolls his eyes at the empty room and slides down from his perch onto numb, unsteady feet.

“Potter.”

Bemused, Harry looks up at the blond, who has crept out of his office, and wonders for the first time if there’s some sort of movement-sensing charm placed on him, or if Malfoy just has freakishly good hearing.

“Your wand.”

“Excuse me?”

The drawn-out exhale sounds a lot like ‘give me strength,’ but Harry politically chooses to ignore it.

“You can’t take your wand in there,” he says slowly, jerking his head in the direction of the lounge.

Harry isn’t sure he wants to know how Malfoy is staying one step ahead of him. The tell-tale sensations of Legilimency are absent, at least. He stares at the pale, outstretched hand for a long moment. Considers refusing, just for a moment. He’s always considered it a gesture of trust and intimacy, handing over one’s wand to someone else, certainly not something to be done lightly.

And it’s Malfoy, for crying out loud. Even as Harry’s fingers close around the smooth wood, reluctance slows his movements almost to a complete stop. As though sensing Harry’s reluctance, Malfoy takes a small step closer. Opens his mouth as though to say something and closes it again. The flinty grey eyes flicker in mute appeal, an expression that is – in equal parts – persuasive and disturbing.

“It’s for your safety and theirs,” Malfoy says at last. “It’s going in the drawer with mine, that’s all. You can watch me do it, if you want.”

Redrow’s words swim in front of Harry’s eyes. “No, it’s alright,” he says.

When Harry hands over his wand, his thumb brushes momentarily against Malfoy’s palm, eliciting a small, startled sound from the blond. The touch is entirely accidental, but Malfoy steps back as though he’s been burned.

He raises hunted eyes to Harry’s and turns away quickly, wand clutched in a death grip. As he walks away, Harry wants to make some snide comment about please and thank you, but all he can think about is that Malfoy’s skin is a lot warmer than it looks.

“Healer Redrow had some interesting things to say about you,” he blurts.

Malfoy pauses, one hand on the door handle. He doesn’t turn around, but the set of his shoulders belies his sudden tension far more effectively than any eye contact could.

“I don’t think I want to know,” he says, voice cold.

Harry shivers involuntarily, before the tremor is washed away in a hot rush of anger.

Why does he have to be so fucking rude?

“Right, then,” Harry sighs, and crosses to the lounge door in four long strides. Allowing himself a prickle of satisfaction at the fact that he slams the door behind him before Malfoy manages to slam the one to his office, he smiles for a moment before realising just how pathetic they both are.

**~*~**

He’s ready for it this time, so that when the room falls silent and close to twenty pairs of eyes swivel to fasten him to the spot, he just waits. Stands just inside the room and brazens it out. And, finally, as the seconds tick over into minutes, one by one the gazes drift and the occupants of the room return to their previous activities.

Silently, Harry awards himself points for his display of false nonchalance and allows himself to get a good look at the room. The warmth is surprising, until he notices the blazing open fire in the grate, several tatty but serviceable armchairs grouped around it.

One whole side of the room is taken up by a long, carved table. A number of patients are sitting around it, scribbling studiously with everything from ornate peacock quills to multicoloured ballpoint pens. He wonders idly if Malfoy sanctions the use of Muggle stationery.

A sharp burst of laughter draws his attention, and for a moment Harry watches the small group arranged around a tall, olive-skinned man who appears to be holding court in one corner of the lounge.

The low hum of conversation hovers softly above the crackling of the fire, the scratch of pens and the scrape of chairs upon tile, and Harry is surprised to find himself instantly comforted by the sound. Though he appreciates silence as much as anyone who has spent six years at boarding school, it’s now starkly apparent that the previous room was oppressively silent. It was... the wrong kind of silence.

Feeling curiously naked without his wand, Harry’s steps into the room are measured and hesitant. He isn’t sure how any of the seemingly-occupied groups will react to being interrupted, but failure is not an option, he knows that much. In any case, he’s not failing, he’s observing. That being said, when a cluster of photographs Spellotaped to the wall catches his attention, Harry relinquishes the room’s human occupants with silent gratitude.

Most of the pictures are jokey group shots and Harry easily recognises that they have been taken in this very room. They seem to be arranged to form a rough timeline, with some of the later pictures containing familiar faces sprawled in groups across the huge table or gathered around the fire. Pointing at each other, laughing and pulling faces. The thing that immediately strikes Harry is that they are all smiling.

It’s the last picture, though, that makes him catch his breath. It’s not particularly well-composed, and unlike the others, the subject has clearly been caught unawares. Malfoy stands in front of the fireplace, the only person in the frame, and Harry watches the photo-Malfoy look up as though someone has called his name. The slow, easy smile that curves his lips utterly transforms him. The sharp grey eyes glow like pewter and the characteristic eyebrow-lift seems gently amused rather than mocking.

Photo-Malfoy folds his arms in silent challenge to the unseen photographer, but the smile does not fade. He looks so open, and the certain knowledge that Malfoy has never looked at him like that makes Harry ache. Confused and suddenly melancholy, Harry tears his eyes away from the photograph only to find himself staring straight into the face of the dark-haired man from the corner of the room.

“Are you really Harry Potter?” he asks baldly.

Healer Potter, Fyz,” admonishes a blue-eyed girl with a sparkly pen behind her ear.

“That as well,” concedes the man, shrugging.

“Yeah,” Harry says carefully. “And it’s fine if you want to just call me Harry.”

“Told you,” whispers Fyz. He elbows the girl in the ribs triumphantly. Harry smiles, turning his back on the photographs. “I took that photograph. The one you were looking at,” he adds in a sly undertone.

Before Harry can respond, the girl cuts in. “Come and sit with us,” she instructs, before seizing Harry’s arm and propelling him toward a seat at the table with surprising strength.

Light with relief at finally having an ‘in’, Harry allows himself to be pushed into a chair.

“What was it like killing You-Know-Who?” asks the dark-haired man, and Harry sighs inwardly.

“You don’t have to answer that,” the girl interrupts. “That’s Fyzal. He has issues with self-control... in that he doesn’t have any. I’m Marguerite.”

“Who has an inflated sense of her own importance,” shoots back Fyzal, sounding wounded.

“I swear, if I had my wand...”

“Stop it.” The softly-voiced complaint comes from Harry’s other side, and he twists in his chair to look at a skinny young man with wavy hair and patched robes. “You were supposed to stop arguing.”

“Seb’s right. You’ll get the cupboard again,” offers a teenage girl as she hops up onto the table and swings her legs back and forth. Harry recognises her as the girl who’d watched him from the windowsill the previous day. This time, when he tries again to smile at her, he receives a small smile in return.

“Gosh, I’m really scared,” Marguerite deadpans.

Harry glances back and forth between them as the discussion carries on without him. He’s not sure if he wants to know what ‘the cupboard’ is, but knowing Malfoy, it’s probably something suitably sadistic.

When the argument runs out of steam, the attention of the group quickly turns back to Harry. He’s astonished at the willingness with which each offers up their story, no detail spared, and the degree of honesty to which his increasingly bold inquiries are answered. Slowly, the group around the table increases in size as the other occupants of the room creep in around them, settling on chairs, the tabletop and the floor as space dictates.

“I’ve got no confidence,” the nervous girl is saying, twisting long swathes of hair around her index finger as she speaks. “And Draco says I have to start speaking up for myself, ’else I’ll end up back here in six months’ time.”

Harry nods in what he hopes is an encouraging manner. “Wait... he lets you call him Draco?” he asks, as the thought occurs to him. The Malfoy he knows would never allow, let alone encourage, such over-familiarity... surely.

“Of course,” Seb says. “He changed it all when he started working here, because when he was in – ”

“Seb, meus fabula,” murmurs Marguerite, and the man pauses, looking guilty.

“Sorry,” he says. “I forgot.”

“It’s Latin,” Fyzal points out helpfully. Harry tries to arrange his face into an expression of ‘well, that’s all cleared up, then’ but it’s no good.

“Latin’s not my strong point,” Harry admits reluctantly.

Meus fabula est mei ut dico,” Marguerite elaborates. “My story is mine to tell.”

The nervous girl points across the room, where Harry can just about make out a wall display dominated by those very words in an attractive, ornate script and surrounded by the words: routine, rules, honesty, challenge and acceptance. Malfoy’s previous baffling pronouncement echoes in his head, and it’s with no small sense of relief that Harry slides another puzzle piece into place.

“Basically, you don’t go round spilling other people’s stuff. Draco’s story is Draco’s, mine is mine, Seb’s is Seb’s.” She shrugs. “It’s important. Just like yours is yours.”

Harry only wishes that were true. In reality, his story has been everyone else’s to tell for as long as he can remember.

“I understand,” he says. At the very least, he thinks he’s beginning to.

**~*~**

Harry shifts in his chair, trying to find a comfortable position without drawing attention to himself, but between the chair and his restrictive robes, he’s not having much success. As the group wears on, he gets progressively more uncomfortable and the dark looks Malfoy is shooting him grow ever more intense.

At least he’s in the group and not sitting under an avalanche of parchment at Malfoy’s desk. Harry suspects that the blond had planned to renege on his promise of participation, but he had been well and truly scuppered.

Harry’s going to be part of our group today, isn’t he, Draco? He’s ever so understanding,’ Marguerite had said faux-innocently, leaning on Draco’s office doorframe and smiling winningly.

Harry, observing the exchange from the shadows, could have hugged Marguerite. As he watches her now, all expansive hand gestures and rapid-fire exposition, Harry finds it difficult to picture her drowning her exuberant spirit in cheap Firewhisky, as she assured him was the case.

Fyzal, with his poor impulse control, is easier to imagine flying off the rails on a cocktail of Wizarding and Muggle stimulants.

Though he still can’t remember her name, the nervous girl’s tale of a controlling boyfriend force-feeding her Amortentia made Harry’s hair stand on end. More so.

He would be the first to admit that his knowledge of therapy is virtually non-existent, but even with that in mind, it’s difficult not to be taken aback by the ferocity of the patients’ challenges to one another. It never quite descends into a shouting match, but there are moments when the tension stretches so tight that Harry finds it difficult to breathe, and to his astonishment, Malfoy pulls the group back with what looks like absolutely minimal exertion.

Just a few calm, well-chosen words. A silencing hand, held aloft with careless grace. He doesn’t seem to need to raise his voice. The whole thing is so effortless that Harry unconsciously finds himself watching Malfoy instead of the patients.

Unlike Harry, who still can’t seem to get comfortable, Malfoy has barely moved since the group began, one wool-trouser-clad leg crossed over the other, arms folded. His breathing is slow and steady under the thin sweater, and Harry is pulled into the calm rhythm along with him. It isn’t until Malfoy smiles warmly, just like in the photograph, that Harry snaps his attention back to the group.

“I’ll... try to work on that, Draco,” Fyzal is saying. Harry has no idea what he’s going to work on, and he gives himself a mental slap.

“Aren’t you going to call me a wanker today?” asks Malfoy. “Or, no, what was it? Poncy blond bastard?”

Harry looks at him covertly and sees that he’s still smiling, and his eyes are alight with fun. Harry’s mouth drops open just a little.

“No, not today,” replies Fyzal, making a face. Someone sniggers; he thinks it’s Marguerite, but she looks composed by the time Harry’s eyes settle on her.

“Perhaps we’re making progress. What do you think, Healer Potter?” Malfoy inquires.

Harry jumps, not expecting to be addressed directly.

“Erm... I’m sure progress is being made,” he says weakly.

He thinks you’re a poncy blond bastard,” suggests Marguerite cheekily. Malfoy merely lifts an eyebrow.

“No comment,” says Harry.

The group titters appreciatively and to his surprise, Malfoy says nothing at all. Harry reckons that if he could keep his mouth shut for the rest of the month, this rotation might just be OK after all.

**~*~**

It’s clear by now that Ginny is doing a pretty good job of avoiding him; despite Harry’s better efforts, she’s stubbornly unreachable by firecall or owl. Harry quickly gives up, sheds his robes and sits at his dining room table in jeans and undershirt. He’s eating instant noodles with one hand, the other keeping his place in one of the books he has managed to sneak out of Malfoy’s department, when the soft shimmering of the wards makes him look up.

He quickly accepts Hermione’s request to come through, and a moment later she Apparates directly into the dining room.

“I thought you could cook,” she says, eyeing his gloopy noodles with suspicion.

“I can.” He shrugs and sucks the end of a strand into his mouth, making an exaggerated slurping sound that draws a predictable eye-roll from Hermione. “I just couldn’t be bothered.”

“Is Malfoy working you hard?” she asks innocently, and Harry splutters, spitting half-chewed noodles onto the pages of ‘Veritaserum Not Required – Talking as Therapy’.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, nothing,” she soothes. “But seriously, how’s it going?”

Harry takes a few seconds to consider his response, as he flicks noodles from the book and siphons off the spilled juices with his wand. “Malfoy and I are just about tolerating each other, but I think the actual work’s going to be pretty interesting.”

“Well... that’s... something,” she says uncertainly.

“Did you know you could get addicted to Amortentia?” Harry asks in an attempt to appeal to his friend’s hunger for information. To his delight, the expression that flashes across her face is one that he hardly ever gets to see. It’s just a slight, almost imperceptible drawing together of eyebrows and pursing of the lips that only occurs when she doesn’t know something.

“The love potion?” she asks. “Really? That’s not in any book I’ve read.”

Harry grins. “It’s in this one.” He holds up ‘Veritaserum Not Required’ and she stares.

“You’re... studying? Voluntarily?”

“Yeah, well, I can’t let Malfoy get too much over on me, can I?” he points out. He wants to add that he finds it interesting, but something makes him trap the words in his mouth.

“Why break the habit of a lifetime,” she sighs, folding her arms. “Listen, I only came over to see if you had any Pepper-Up potion... Ron’s full of a cold.”

“Top right kitchen cabinet.” Harry points. “I wouldn’t Accio if I were you, the cabinets can be a little bit... temperamental.”

Hermione shoots him a strange look and disappears into the kitchen. Harry scrapes his bowl for the last of the noodles and listens to her banging the cupboard doors open and shut with a small, affectionate smile.

“Seeing as you’re on your way to becoming an expert in the field...” Hermione’s voice floats through the open door. Frowning, he closes his book and rests his elbows on the table.

“Hmm?”

“Do you know anything about Chromia X?” There’s a final scuffle and then she appears in the doorway, cradling the potion bottle and looking flustered. “Only, Ron’s team are looking for this dealer, or maker, or something, and he’s driving me mad with his questions. I can’t find it in my books, and I... well... I don’t know much about it.”

Harry smiles, knowing just how much it must have cost her to admit that.

“I’ve never heard of Chromia X, but I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading about regular Chromia, if that’s any good,” he offers, deciding not to mention that just a day ago, he’d never heard of it either.

“It’s just a new, stronger form, I think,” she says, brightening.

“I’d lend you a book, but Malfoy would go mad if he found out I’d let a Weasley touch them...” Harry pauses, shaking his head. He extracts ‘Bridging the Gap’ from the stack and hands it to Hermione. “... which is a fantastic reason to do just that.”

“Worse than a Weasley – a Mudblood,” Hermione points out, wrinkling her nose in distaste. Harry mirrors the gesture. “Thanks, Harry,” she adds, and Disapparates with a small wave.

As he returns to his book, Harry almost catches himself thinking that Malfoy has his uses.

Almost.

**~*~**

The next two days pass almost without incident and Harry starts, slowly and cautiously, to relax.

On the Friday, Malfoy is sitting on the stone windowsill and watching Harry stack the chairs by the side of the room. Without magic, of course. Harry wipes the perspiration from his forehead with one lime-green sleeve.

“Can’t you help?” he demands, wheeling around to glare pointlessly at Malfoy.

Malfoy blinks and then continues with his previous rant, giving no indication that he has even heard Harry’s question.

“No one wants this rotation. I know that. We’re like the cousin no one talks about. The black sheep of the St Mungo’s family, if you will.”

Harry picks up another chair and concedes no more than a perfunctory ‘hmph’.

“Your man Tremellen only sends people down here when they’ve really pissed him off. I can’t pretend I’m not intrigued by what you did to wind him up. Though I expect in your case, it’s more to do with the fact that we share a certain... history... than his general antipathy toward my department.”

His half-smirk stirs Harry’s blood with frustration, and he turns.

“He’s not ‘my’ anything, Malfoy. I can’t stand him.” As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Harry wonders if perhaps he could have been more careful when talking about his boss, but it’s too late now.

“Couldn’t agree more, Potter. However, I doubt it’s in your best interests to say so. I see you’ve learned nothing of discretion since I last saw you,” Malfoy says, his derisory tone matching the now full-blown smirk.

“The last time I saw you was when I spoke at the trial that kept you out of Azkaban, you ungrateful sod!” Harry snarls, fingers clenching around the chair back until his knuckles turn white.

“Not that you hung around to hear the verdict,” Malfoy returns, scowling.

“Who gives a fuck? It did, didn’t it?!”

Harry’s breathing is ragged in the silence. The grey eyes that bore into his waver and then turn cold. When Malfoy speaks again, his tone is measured and sarcastic.

“Yes, well... no one asked you to do that, Potter. What do you want, a medal? Oh, wait... they already gave you one of those.”

Sliding down onto his feet, Malfoy shakes his head and shoulder-barges Harry on the way to his office. The blow is far from heavy, but the weight of aggression behind it reverberates all the way down Harry’s arm to his fingertips. The door slams.

When Harry looks up, he realises that he’s not completely alone in the room. Several of the patients, including a wide-eyed Fyzal, are lingering in the doorway, all eyes fixed upon him.

“What?” he demands.

Without waiting for an answer, he turns and heads out into the corridor. He doesn’t Apparate, finding that at times like these, a really brisk walk – or rather, stomp – is much better for tension relief.

And sure enough, as Harry thunders down the curving central staircase toward the canteen, he can feel the hot antagonism start to recede. He breathes in deeply and releases the exhalation in slow, steady huffs. He shouldn’t be surprised by it, not really, but there’s a part of him that thought perhaps they were getting somewhere.

Until, each time, Malfoy makes some snide comment and then Harry loses his temper and says something angry and inappropriate.

Anyway, it’s not like he cares. When he spots Cecile and Terry sharing a table, he joins them without a second thought.

**~*~**

Restored by food, coffee and Terry’s stories about some of the children in his care, when Harry returns he is grateful to note that Malfoy is nowhere to be seen. Giving in to his need for stillness, Harry wanders into the Stage One ward and leans on the door. Breathes in the mingled scents of various detoxification potions.

Though the grimaces of pain from some patients make uncomfortable viewing, the veil of silence that hangs heavy over the ward wraps around Harry like a cloak and soothes the last of his prickling nerves. In less than a week’s time, these witches and wizards will join the lively community in the rest of the ward, the one that has accepted him without question. The realisation makes Harry smile.

He can do this, Malfoy or no Malfoy.

“’Scuse me, Harry?”

“What is it, Fyzal?” He turns and addresses the man, almost in a whisper.

“Draco said to ask you to go help him with something in the store-cupboard,” Fyzal informs him with a shrug. “Some kind of stationery... situation.”

“Riiight.”

Baffled, Harry crosses the main room and steps carefully into the small, dimly-lit closet. All three walls are lined with shelves bearing a bewildering array of parchments, writing implements and many other things that Harry can’t quite make out. The cupboard smells comfortingly of ink and paper, and disturbingly of Malfoy.

Apparently, the blond hasn’t yet registered Harry’s presence. He’s muttering to himself, leaning up on tiptoes to rifle around in a large box on one of the highest shelves, the stretch exposing a pale strip of lower back that draws Harry’s eyes.

“What’s the emergency?” Harry asks, blinking.

“Excuse me?” Slowly, Malfoy withdraws his hands from the box and turns around.

“I was told you needed my help.”

“Potter, why would I possibly need your help? Apart from the obvious fact that I would never ask for your assistance, I think I can manage to locate a bottle of red ink all by myself,” he says.

Irritated, Harry folds his arms. “Look, all I was told was that...” he trails off, hearing the soft click as the door shuts behind him.

Sensing a trap, Harry lunges for the door handle. Simultaneously, a scuffle, squeak and heavy thunk issues from outside the cupboard, and when he rattles the handle, nothing happens.

“What the fuck...?” Harry pushes against the door with his shoulder, throwing all his weight behind it, but the only result is a sore shoulder. He rubs it and turns to Malfoy, who is far too close behind him.

“It would appear that we’re locked in,” Malfoy offers. “And our wands are in the desk drawer.”

“You think?” Harry rubs a hand over his face. Sighs deeply. Focusing his strength, he concentrates on the door and attempts a series of wandless unlocking charms, starting with Alohomora and working his way up to one or two dark spells that manage to elicit a raised eyebrow from Malfoy.

Nothing.

Harry rests his head against the shelves and clenches and unclenches his fingers. He’s breathing quickly; not only does wandless magic tend to take it out of him, but ever since the war, he’s carried an irrational fear of being trapped in a small space. He cracks one eye open to regard the other man, who appears exasperated rather than unduly worried.

“Impressive, and yet useless,” Malfoy says, succinctly assessing Harry’s attempts at escape. “We’re stuck.”

“We’re stuck,” Harry repeats. “So what do you suggest we do, oh-knowledgeable-one?”

For a moment, it looks like Malfoy smiles at him, but it must be the light. “We wait.”

Chapter Text

Harry has never been good at waiting. Or admitting to weakness.

As such, an estimated quarter of an hour later, he’s still leaning against the shelves, fidgeting and refusing to ask Malfoy exactly what they’re waiting for.

The closet is small, overstuffed and definitely not made to house two people who can’t stand being in close proximity; it’s uncomfortably warm and feels almost airless, though a small gap at the bottom of the door assures Harry that at least they won’t suffocate.

He stretches his arms above his head and knocks a box of quills from the shelf. As they rain down on him like feathery missiles and make him sneeze, Harry cracks.

“Fine. What are we waiting for?”

Malfoy heaves a self-satisfied sigh. “Either for a nurse to notice we’re missing, or for Fyzal and Marguerite to decide to let us go,” he says. “Whichever comes first.”

Harry stares, aghast. “How long will that be?”

“How should I know, Potter?”

“Oh, for... why would they do that, anyway? Did you know they were going to do it?” he demands, brushing stray quills from his robe.

“Of course I didn’t. But out of the current lot, they’re the only ones with both the balls... metaphorically, of course, and the motive to pull something like this.”

Feeling suddenly weary, Harry looks closer at Malfoy, but the angular face is oddly guileless.

“Do I even want to know?” he asks, sliding to the cold floor and resting his elbows on his knees.

“It’s a little intervention of mine,” Malfoy says, looking at the door. “A couple of hours in here does wonders for people who just can’t get along with each other. Enforced communication. Let’s just say that Fyzal and Marguerite have spent more time in here than most. You must have noticed how much they argue.”

“Of course,” Harry sighs. The Cupboard. “So you think they’re...”

“Taking the law into their own hands, yes.” Malfoy rolls his eyes and drops into a sitting position against the opposite shelves, brushing fastidiously at the floor before lowering his backside onto it.

There’s just enough space that their drawn up knees don’t touch, but Harry is still all-too-aware of the forced proximity.

“Fyzal heard us arguing,” Harry says to no one in particular.

“Which time?”

“Fair point. Aren’t you worried about what they’ll be doing out there while you’re stuck in here?”

Malfoy snorts. “They won’t be doing anything, that’s the problem. They’ll be playing fucking Exploding Snap instead of doing the work I’ve assigned them.” Once again, he gazes wistfully at the very solid wooden door. “Usually, I spell the door transparent, so I can check that they’re not killing each other in here.”

“Well, that I can do,” Harry offers. Finally, something practical.

“Is there no end to your wandless talents?” Malfoy asks, voice dripping with sarcasm as Harry murmurs a spell that appears to melt away the wood, though it’s very much still there.

Harry shrugs. “Ah. Well that would explain it,” he reflects.

A heavy mahogany desk is wedged right under the door handle.

“Bastards,” Malfoy explodes. “That’s my desk. My lovely, antique fucking desk.”

The expression on his face is so affronted that Harry has to smother a snort of laughter. Under the circumstances, he doesn’t actually want to get into a physical fight in such a small space. On the plus side, the fact that he can now see through the door reduces his claustrophobia drastically, and he relaxes. They’re no less trapped than they were before, but he feels like he can breathe properly again.

“Can’t you do anything?” Malfoy complains.

“I know a lot of wandless door-unlocking spells, but not a lot of... erm... desk un-wedging ones,” he admits, looking at the floor. He can’t help noticing how scuffed his shoes are next to Malfoy’s.

“Aren’t you useful to have around?”

“Hey, it’s your bloody idiots that locked us in here!” Harry shoots back, offended. He looks up and meets Malfoy’s glare with his own.

“If you weren’t in my department, getting under my skin, they wouldn’t have felt the need to lock me in here at all!”

“I didn’t choose to be here,” Harry points out, rubbing viciously at his robes with sweaty palms.

Malfoy barely moves, only the slight twitch of one eyebrow giving away his agitation. As his words sink in, Harry can’t help but feel validated by the fact that he is getting under Malfoy’s skin, too. He doesn’t really want to examine the whys behind that thought, and is relieved when Malfoy speaks again.

“And don’t call them idiots,” he says, voice softer now. “Addicts are smart, Potter.”

“What?”

“They’re smart people. Devious. They have to be, to handle the lives they’ve been pitched into. They’re people who’ve made bad decisions, people who’re just trying to survive. To cope with what life’s thrown at them.”

Malfoy draws his knees closer to his chest and rests his chin atop folded arms. His eyes rest on Harry’s face for a long moment before flicking back to the empty room beyond the door.

“Right,” whispers Harry. His anger has evaporated, to be replaced by something restless that tingles and turns his mouth dry.

“Desk under the door handle,” Malfoy muses, seemingly to himself. “You know, I’m not sure whether I should punish them for locking us in here, or reward them for being inventive.”

“Inventive? Are you sure that’s the right word?”

Malfoy smiles faintly. “These people, they know how to adapt. We take away their wands, and they find some new way to get one over on us. Salazar would be proud.”

“Salazar was an old crank,” Harry mutters, though he grudgingly concedes Malfoy’s point.

To his surprise, Malfoy smiles again. “Nobody’s perfect, Potter.”

Buoyed with relief, Harry smiles back. He can’t quite believe that they’re agreeing, but it feels pretty good. Surreal, but good. “That’s true.”

“The hero of the Wizarding world and an ex Death Eater, vanquished by a desk,” Malfoy says, flicking amused grey eyes up to Harry. “What’s the world coming to? Fortunately, the drawer with our wands in it is spelled to open only at my touch.”

“Thank Merlin for small mercies.”

The scent of parchment and lemons is warm in his nostrils, and the atmosphere in the cupboard has shifted from prickly animosity to, if not quite friendliness, then at least a mutual toleration. A small, treacherous voice in Harry’s head speculates on how different things might have been if he’d gotten himself locked in a cupboard with Malfoy a long time ago.

Harry holds the eye contact for a moment longer and buries his smile in the sleeve of his robe.

**~*~**

It’s not long before the heat gets too much for Harry and reluctantly he yanks off his green robes and deposits them in a heap at his side. Malfoy stares at his old jeans and thin t-shirt with obvious disdain, and Harry throws him a look.

“It’s warm, OK? Deal with it,” he says, repositioning his glasses and raking a hand through his hair.

“I don’t have a problem with you taking your clothes off, Potter,” Malfoy says carelessly. Harry’s cheeks burn and he looks away. “It’s what you’ve chosen to wear underneath that offends me.”

“Look. I wasn’t expecting to have anyone assess my clothes today, and I’m sorry they don’t meet your high standards,” Harry says. He stretches his legs out alongside Malfoy’s so that his feet touch the opposite shelf. “Anyway... since when have you been into Muggle fashion?” he asks finally, examining the nicely-cut trousers and cashmere sweater that he finds himself wanting to touch.

“Tell you what, Potter,” Malfoy says, a speculative gleam in his eye. “If we’re stuck in here, we might as well do this properly. One question for one question, OK?”

“Alright,” Harry says slowly. “Are you going to answer mine, then?”

“Yes. Because they’re more comfortable, especially in here. You must have noticed how warm it is,” Malfoy replies, looking pointedly at the puddle of green fabric next to his feet. “And, also...”

“Also what?” Harry prods gently, only just stopping himself from touching Malfoy.

“I looked at myself in the mirror one day, and I saw my father looking back,” he says. “Contrary to most people’s opinions, that’s not exactly what I wanted. The same reason why I don’t grow my hair long.”

“You don’t look...” Harry begins, but the dark look he receives silences him immediately. Biting his lip, he examines the hair in question. Long enough to fall into his eyes, and long enough to curl over his collar, but nothing like Malfoy Senior’s platinum blond curtain.

“My turn. Why did you decide to be a Healer? You could have done anything. Or nothing. I heard that you aren’t exactly short of Galleons.”

Harry pauses, unsure as to how honest he should be, until he catches Malfoy’s eye.

Fuck it, he thinks. In for a Knut, in for a Sickle...

“I hated Auror training,” he admits. “I lasted two weeks.”

“Really?”

“Does that count as another question?”

“Fuck off,” Malfoy mutters without venom.

“Yes, really. Didn’t want to play Quidditch. Didn’t fancy writing my memoirs,” Harry continues, with vicious air quotes. “I wanted to help people, I suppose it’s as simple as that... and, erm... it was Hermione’s idea, in the end.”

Malfoy laughs, and it’s a dry, warm sound. “I should have known Granger had something to do with it.”

“And as for doing nothing... I tried that, and I nearly went completely mad,” Harry adds.

The rubber soles of his shoes squeak against the shiny floor as he tries to get comfortable. Harry grimaces and casts around in his head for a suitable question. He knows what he really wants to ask, but he’s not quite sure enough of this tentative truce to really go for it.

“Tell me about the three circles thing,” he says, hitting upon inspiration at last.

Malfoy looks up in surprise and then scowls.

“That’s not a question.”

Harry gives in to temptation and kicks him lightly in the side. “Malfoy, please would you tell me about the three circles?” he rephrases.

“Who...?”

“Not your turn,” Harry cuts in, smug. Malfoy kicks him back, and he relents. “Redrow.”

“It’s not exactly making Veritaserum,” Malfoy says. “Just a simple analogy, which you’ll understand a lot better if you’ve actually been reading those books I gave you. Though I doubt that, since I haven’t seen them anywhere around in the last few days.”

“I... er... I’ve flipped through them,” Harry mumbles. There’s no way he’s telling Malfoy that the books in question are currently sitting on his bedside table.

Malfoy makes a small sound of disbelief and pulls himself to his feet. Harry watches the tightening of his trouser fabric as Malfoy leans over to reach for something from one of the shelves opposite the door. Or, at least, he does until he realises that he is, in fact, staring at Malfoy’s backside.

Malfoy’s got a nice arse. Interesting.

Harry snaps his eyes shut and silences his deceitful subconscious. Idly, he wonders if self-Obliviation is possible. When Malfoy sits back on his heels opposite Harry and holds aloft a bottle of red ink with a triumphant smile, an unexpected flash of heat in the pit of Harry’s stomach makes him forget to breathe.

“Right,” Malfoy says, unscrewing the bottle and setting it on the floor.

“Right,” Harry echoes weakly.

It’s the proximity, surely. And the heat. And probably, his brain is simply confused by this... civility, after half a lifetime of bitter enmity. If he’s attracted to Malfoy, then the whole world has turned on its arse.

Harry stubbornly ignores the part of his head insisting that actually, that would make a lot of sense. No. So fine, he’s not exactly hard on the eyes, but that’s it.

Focus.

He can only watch, when to his amazement, Malfoy dips his finger into the rich, red ink and draws three circles, all intersecting, on the polished stone floor. He finishes with a flourish and pulls a silk handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the inky finger. A faint red stain is left behind, and he examines it briefly before shrugging and turning to Harry.

“The way I see it, there are three main groups within the people who end up in this department. Those who don’t want to feel pain, those who want to relinquish reality altogether, and those who want to get high,” Malfoy explains, pointing to each of the circles in turn.

Harry nods and draws his legs close to him again, out of the way.

“There’s a certain amount of overlap of course, but where we can place a patient in the circles, dependent on which is their primary substance of choice, offers some indication of how we can treat them.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Malfoy goes for the ink again and starts adding the names of various substances. His writing is surprisingly legible. Harry is pleased to note that he recognises every single one; clearly all of the reading has not been for nothing.

“Take Fyz,” Malfoy says without looking up. He points to the topmost circle. “He’s a great example of this circle – Muggle cocaine. Amphetamines. Silvaso. Very intelligent guy, but no concept of self-discipline, whatsoever. He does what he wants and says what he wants. He needs a lot of challenge, a lot of rules, and someone who isn’t intimidated by him,” Malfoy says.

His eyes meet Harry’s in a wry smirk. “Says the man who’s been locked in a cupboard by him,” Harry says.

“Touché,” Malfoy mumbles. “Anyway. When we’re talking about pain avoidance... avoidance of any feeling whatsoever, really, we have things like Chromia, and the Muggle opiates and painkillers. Seb’s a good example.” He hesitates and Harry nudges him again with the tip of his shoe.

“I’m listening.”

“Good. Anyone who’s spent enough time using a drug to cut off their feelings has a hard time getting them back. That’s why Seb seems distant and emotionless sometimes. He needs a lot of help re-learning to identify how he feels about things. When it all comes back, it’s frightening... apart from anything else, when you’ve lived in the absence of pain, the idea of being hurt is...” Malfoy pauses. “...terrifying.”

Harry notices his slip into the second person as though a little red flag has popped up, but he wisely says nothing. For now, at least.

“The third circle is for those patients that choose to remove themselves from reality altogether.” Malfoy traces the dried ink with a careful finger. “They tend to have no clue what’s involved in normal, everyday social interaction, and can be quite precious. I tend to throw them into a lot of collaborative group work, but they don’t like it much,” he says.

Harry crosses his arms on his bent knees and exhales thoughtfully against the warm skin of his forearm.

“Malfoy, much as it pains me to admit it, that’s really logical. Some of those books are complicated as hell, but you explain it really well,” he says, barely able to believe his own words.

Malfoy’s lips quirk upwards at one corner. He glances back down at his diagram.

“It’s not exhaustive, of course. Marguerite belongs in the pain-killing circle because she’s an alcoholic, but she’s also used stimulants, and she shares a lot of behaviours with the people in that circle, too,” Malfoy says, pointing out the overlap between the two circles. There’s a faint pink tint to his skin, and it’s quite beautiful.

Harry shakes himself.

“Then you get people like Cassandra, who are a little more complicated, because the initial choice of drug wasn’t hers,” Malfoy continues. “Strictly speaking, she belongs in the third circle, because her substance is a hallucinogen, but it’s not quite so clear-cut.”

“Cassandra?” Harry asks, frowning. He rakes through his mental inventory of names and faces but fails to place it.

“Small, late teens. Long, dark hair.” Malfoy pauses, thoughtful. “Amortentia?”

“Ah! Nervous girl,” Harry mutters to himself.

Expecting to be scolded for not knowing the patient’s name, Harry cringes. Malfoy merely lets out a rueful laugh. “You think like a Healer,” he says. “Diagnosis first.”

“Is that bad?” Harry asks. Malfoy looks up. Runs ink-stained fingers through his hair distractedly.

“No,” he says. “No, it’s not bad.”

Their eye contact is intense. Harry inhales sharply and scrabbles for a question. Anything.

He glances through the door in desperation, and for the first time since they were locked in, there are actually people in the main room. Marguerite sits cross-legged on the windowsill, shaking her head vehemently at Fyzal. The tall man seems to be trying to persuade her of something, but Marguerite is clearly having none of it. The question falls out of Harry’s mouth without his consent.

“Why do you think they argue so much?”

There’s a soft, scuffling sound as Malfoy shifts his position to look over at the two patients. When he sits back, he’s closer than he was before and Harry can feel the warmth of Malfoy’s thigh against his calf.

“That’s your question?” He shrugs. “They’re very similar. Both strong characters. Both stubborn. Intelligent. Different backgrounds, though. Perhaps they see each other as a threat.”

The words strike Harry somewhere painfully familiar, and he smiles. Continues to watch as Fyzal steps right into Marguerite’s personal space.

“Perhaps they like each other,” he suggests. “Like pulling pigtails.”

For a moment, neither of them says anything until Malfoy breaks the silence with a dry cackle. “Is that how it works, Potter?” he asks, clearly most entertained by the idea.

It doesn’t take Harry long to realise exactly what he’s implied, however accidentally, and that he isn’t the only one drawing uncomfortable parallels.

“No! Well... I... it’s just... you know what I mean, Malfoy,” he blusters. Horrified, he keeps his eyes on the floor, pretending intense interest in Malfoy’s ink circles.

“I’m sure I don’t,” he says, and Harry can hear his smirk. “Anyway, you’re wrong. Fyzal is gay.”

Harry looks up. “What?”

“Gay, Potter. He likes other men.”

“I know what gay means, you prat,” Harry mutters, picking at a loose thread on his jeans. “I’m just surprised.”

“You’re joking. You must be. Fyz is obvious,” Malfoy insists, eyebrows drawn together in genuine bemusement. “If you’ve missed him, you must have missed the others, too.”

“How many others?” Harry asks. This time, he tries to hide his surprise, even though he’s not sure why it matters if Malfoy thinks he’s... what? Naive? Bad at spotting gay rehab patients?

“Right now? In Stage Two... there are six altogether. Four men and two women,” Malfoy says.

“Isn’t that rather a lot? Statistically... or something...?” Harry falters, conviction deserting him.

Playing for time, he picks up the small bottle of ink, inhaling the sweet smell that takes him back to the classroom with just one whiff. Harry sighs and replaces the screw-lid, wiping the traces of red onto his jeans.

“Do you know you’ve had three questions in a row? How come I missed my turn?” Malfoy says suddenly.

“There were two there,” Harry points out, and receives a sharp kick to the tender inside of his thigh. “Fine. Answer me this, and then you can have two goes.”

“Do you always get what you want?

“We can come back to that, if you like,” Harry offers. He wriggles in place and when his right knee ends up resting against Malfoy’s, he leaves it there. “Tell me about gay wizards in rehab.”

Malfoy’s sigh is dramatic, but Harry suspects he actually likes to talk more than he likes to listen, anyway.

“The proportion of gay wizards is higher in places like this than it is in the general Wizarding population. The same goes for Muggles,” he begins.

A week ago, Harry would have been surprised that Malfoy has bothered to find out anything about Muggles. A week ago, of course, he hadn’t seen Malfoy’s clothes. Or his stationery cupboard.

“I thought homosexuality was sort of... tolerated,” Harry says. “More so than by Muggles, at any rate.”

“It is,” Malfoy agrees. “Stop trying to ask extra questions. Society has its role to play. But more often than not, it’s just as simple as feeling different. An outsider. Fear of being rejected. Not that you’d know anything about that, eh?”

Suddenly, Harry can’t get the image of an eleven-year-old Malfoy out of his head. That, coupled with the piercing stare of the current Malfoy just inches away from him, is oddly affecting.

The urge to touch is incredible, and the discussion suddenly seems uncomfortably close to home. He wonders if Malfoy likes men or women. Probably not a wise question to ask while trapped in a cupboard, he decides.

“Is that another question?” Harry asks roughly.

“Is that?

**~*~**

Do you always get what you want, then?”

The cupboard is still a little too warm for comfort, but Harry has given up all pretence of good posture and personal space. He and Malfoy are practically lounging against their respective shelves, propped up on their elbows and feet resting amongst the items on the bottom shelves. Malfoy’s calf brushes against his bare arm every now and then, and Harry finds he doesn’t mind at all.

“I know you think I do. I know it looked that way when we were at school.”

“Looked that way? If you looked like you weren’t going to win at something, Dumbledore fixed it so that you did,” Malfoy says, his bitter tone underlining the words.

“I know,” Harry admits. “But believe it or not, I didn’t want to fight a war before I was seventeen, either.”

“Point,” concedes Malfoy, blowing strands of slightly damp hair from his forehead.

“Until I was eleven, I got nothing I wanted. And since the war, I’ve just been trying to... get what I deserve, I suppose. No more, no less. I’m not looking to be rewarded for things I had no control over.”

“I heard stories... about your family,” Malfoy says. “I heard they were bastards.”

“They were... misguided.” Harry pauses, trying to find the right word. “Ignorant? No, fuck it, they were bastards.”

Malfoy smiles. Harry thinks he’s seen him smile more this afternoon than in the entire twelve years they’ve known each other. He wonders if it’ll stop as soon as they’re released.

“A lot of people try to give me what they think I want,” he muses.

“I’m sure you get plenty of offers,” Malfoy agrees, the smile turning unexpectedly lascivious.

Harry rolls his eyes. “That’s not what I meant, but yeah, I suppose so.”

“Second question, then. Why did you break up with Ginevra?”

There’s a sharp clatter as Harry knocks something over with his foot, startled.

“That’s kind of personal, isn’t it? And you’re her friend, can’t you ask her?”

“I have asked her,” Malfoy replies, looking intently at Harry in the dim light. “But that’s her version. You never said I couldn’t ask personal questions.”

Bloody Slytherin, Harry thinks. You can take the boy out of the House...

“We weren’t right for each other; it’s as simple as that, really.”

“That’s not an answer,” Malfoy argues petulantly.

“It’s the truth,” Harry shrugs. “It seemed like a good idea at school. I liked her, liked her family... then after the war, it didn’t seem right to start things up again. She’s much better off with Neville.” He pauses, pressing hot palms against the cool floor and wondering what exactly is compelling him to be so honest. “I’m sure she has her theories, anyway.”

“Oh, she does,” Malfoy replies, grinning. “For what it’s worth, you made a very odd-looking pair.”

“Wow, thanks, Malfoy.”

Harry aims a kick at him, but hampered by the closely-packed shelves, he only succeeds in banging his foot and knocking several small boxes into Malfoy’s lap. Malfoy shifts his weight onto one elbow and picks up what seems to be a shiny, green paperclip. Harry squints.

“Isn’t Muggle stationery beautiful? Look at this,” he says, holding the paperclip aloft. “It’s a feat of engineering.”

Harry stares, mouth twitching uncontrollably. If he hadn’t heard and seen it himself, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“I don’t know,” he says, losing the battle and letting the laughter escape. “It’s... I... well, I just use Sticking Charms, mostly.”

“Sticking Charms are very efficient,” Malfoy admits, deadly serious. “But these are just so aesthetically pleasing. I have them in all these colours,” he adds, emptying one of the boxes out onto the floor.

Harry scoops up a handful and absent-mindedly links them together in a colourful chain as he thinks. Malfoy’s Mark catches his eye as he sweeps the remaining fallen boxes to the floor, and Harry can’t help but think of the real questions he wants to ask. And if Malfoy can ask personal questions, then so can he.

“How did you get into this line of work?” he asks, and holds his breath.

Malfoy stares at him for a long time, the steeliness of his eyes and the hard set of his mouth doubly harsh after their almost playful banter over the last hour or so. For a moment, Harry thinks he’s going to be told where to go again. But then, with a heavy sigh, Malfoy grips the green paperclip hard, and speaks.

“After the trials, I made a bargain with the Ministry. If you’d stayed around long enough, you might have got to hear about it,” he begins.

“I didn’t think you’d want–” Harry starts to defend himself, but quickly finds himself on the receiving end of that silencing hand he’d so admired. He bites his lip.

“The deal was, I would work here at St Mungo’s, in Chem Dep, for one year. For free. Six days a week, with regular Ministry supervision,” he says, eyes shuttered. “In return, I kept myself out of Azkaban, and my family out of the media for five years, which is just about up, but I suspect even The Quibbler isn’t interested in us any more.”

Harry exhales carefully and adds another paperclip to his chain, trying not to let his surprise show in his face. It certainly explains the disappearance of the Malfoy family from the papers, though a small part of him, a part that he quietly loathes, is surprised that his testimony alone wasn’t enough to secure Malfoy’s liberty.

“Why this department, though?” he asks. He thinks he knows why, but he wants to hear Malfoy say it.

“You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”

“I’m not trying to make it difficult,” Harry insists. “I just want to know the truth.”

“Because... I needed... help. I did my thirty days as a patient, just like Seb, and Fyzal and everyone else.” Malfoy swallows hard and lifts his chin to make defiant eye contact with Harry. He sits up a little straighter and the pale hands that rest in his lap tremble slightly, just for a second.

Harry’s stomach twists. “What... what happened?”

Suddenly, the eye contact is too much, and Harry is grateful when Malfoy turns his head and stares at something in the room beyond the cupboard as he starts to speak.

“By the end of the war, I was addicted to Chromia. When everything was over, I realised I couldn’t deal with it on my own. I can’t say I cared much about what happened to me by that point, but... my mother wanted me to sort myself out,” Malfoy says, voice raw. Even though he’s been expecting it, the confession still knocks the breath out of Harry. “Judge all you want, but it was survival, nothing more.”

“I wasn’t... I’m not judging you.” Harry mirrors Malfoy’s straighter posture and nudges him gently with his knee. “I actually believe that you didn’t want to do all of those horrible things.”

“I don’t remember most of it all that well,” Malfoy admits. “I remember screaming, and death, and being afraid. I remember colours and smells. Do you know what Avada Kedavra smells like?” he asks suddenly.

Harry gulps but his throat is completely dry. “I didn’t know it had a smell,” he admits.

“Not to you, I suppose. Chromia messes with the senses, as you know. AK smells like... a little like the air just before a lightning strike, and a little like wet leaves,” Malfoy says, pulling his knees up to his chest again. “The heightened sense hangs around for years afterward, if you’ve been a chronic user. That’s the reason I stay out of the main wards most of the time. I can’t stand the scent of fucking lavender.”

He cracks a wry smile and Harry returns it hesitantly.

“Even I can smell that,” he points out.

“Of course you can. But imagine how strong it is to me.” Malfoy screws up his delicate nose in distaste. “And anyway, I don’t particularly care for the way everyone stares at me, either. And the bright colours hurt my eyes.”

“Could I ask one more thing?” Harry requests. He’s suddenly very aware of Malfoy’s feelings, perhaps for the first time ever.

“Why not?”

“How did it start? I mean to say, who gave it to you?”

Malfoy sighs and levels an incisive gaze at Harry. “My father,” he says, and Harry’s stomach turns over.

“Fuck.”

“Yeah, well... it’s not as though I’m completely blameless. Not by a long chalk. I’ve done some extremely shitty things in my life, Potter. As I’m sure you’ll know.”

“Who hasn’t?” Harry offers, intending empathy but sounding flippant. The images that flood his mind are unremittingly dark. Malfoy Manor. Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. The Astronomy Tower. Every memory he has of this man involves a great deal of pain for someone, and yet sitting here in a cramped cupboard, covered in paperclips, he suddenly seems very ordinary.

“When the year was up, I talked my way into a paid job, and a year after that I was running the department with Algernon,” Malfoy continues, ignoring Harry. “There are many casualties of war, Potter, not just the obvious ones. When the effect is indirect and twisted, people break in a way that’s not quite so simple to fix. I wanted to... right some wrongs, I suppose.”

Harry fastens his paperclip chain around his wrist and just allows the words to drift in around him. Blindsided by the raw honesty, he takes a moment to look up, and when he does, the sharp grey eyes are so vulnerable that he feels like an intruder.

“Draco Malfoy, saving Wizarding-kind, one soul at a time,” he teases, hoping the smile conveys the feeling he doesn’t know how to name, let alone express.

“Shut up,” is the immediate response. When the grateful half-smile follows after a beat, Harry sighs with relief.

During the long pause that follows, Harry casts a wandless Tempus and is faintly surprised to discover just how long the two of them have been locked up together.

“Almost two hours, and we haven’t killed each other?” Malfoy remarks, meeting Harry’s eyes through the shimmering numbers. “And no, that isn’t my question, before you say anything.”

Harry dispels the charm and draws his fingers across his lips in a zipping motion.

“My question is; why did you ask me that question?”

Harry frowns. “Because I’m interested in you... I mean, curious about your life... your motivations, and stuff,” he rambles, only just resisting the temptation to cover his face with his hands.

Fortunately, Malfoy seems to miss his embarrassment completely, looking as he is, not at Harry, but at the green paperclip as he methodically unfurls it between nimble fingers.

“I thought you already knew everything,” he says. “I thought Algernon told you, or the patients. It’s not that I’m ashamed, it’s just...”

Meus Fabula?” Harry offers quietly.

Malfoy looks up, surprised, and the startled openness in his eyes yanks at Harry. “Exactly.”

“All Redrow said was that I should trust you. As for the patients, they wouldn’t tell me.”

“Wouldn’t they?” He smiles. “I’m impressed.”

“Makes sense to me,” Harry says. “But what’s with the Latin?”

“Potter, you truly are a pleb. Because it’s elegant.”

“Pretentious wanker,” Harry coughs. He yelps in pain when he receives a jab to the leg with the pointed end of a paperclip, and rubs the wounded area vigorously.

“It’s one of the many things I changed as soon as I had the chance,” Malfoy continues, offering the information for free. Though there’s a part of Harry that knows he’s showing off, there’s also something compelling about the passion and knowledge with which Malfoy speaks about his beloved department, and Harry bites back the urge to cut in with a snide comment.

“It was a mess. Everyone talking behind everyone else’s back, no structure, no control. Everyone had their wands, so the weaker patients were being dismissed or bullied. No philosophy whatsoever... in fact, most of the current techniques have been borrowed from our Muggle counterparts... what?”

“Nothing,” Harry says. “I just have to keep reminding myself that you used to hate Muggles on principle. Can’t the ones addicted to Muggle substances go to Muggle rehabs, then? If you’re going to take their wands away anyway?”

“I’m not saying I want to marry one, or anything,” Malfoy says, attempting a glare that doesn’t quite make it. “Just that they have some admirable ways of coping without magic. It’s difficult to live through what we did without questioning some of your beliefs, don’t you think?”

“Nicely put.”

“As for your question... where would the honesty be? They’d have to lie their arses off every single day. Not exactly a recipe for success, is it, Potter?”

Harry groans and rakes frustrated fingers through his hair. It doesn’t seem to matter what the context, Malfoy’s use of his surname feels automatically contemptuous, and it’s starting to make his head hurt.

“Could you... maybe... stop calling me Potter?”

Malfoy looks up from wrapping the green wire around his finger and stares at Harry’s face as though seeing it for the first time. Harry squirms lightly under the scrutiny.

“You know, I really should,” he says.

“Yeah, that would be nice,” Harry agrees. “I’m surprised you agree with me, though.”

“Refusing to use a given name is just another way of creating distance. I don’t allow the patients to do it,” Malfoy says, drawing his eyebrows down in fierce concentration. “Harry,” he manages.

Suffused with a surprising warmth, Harry smiles slowly and is opening his mouth to respond when a loud scraping sound from outside the door steals his attention. He turns in time to see the desk being pulled away from the door, and when it opens, finds himself looking up into a pair of amused coal-black eyes.

“Hello, Fyzal,” Malfoy says evenly. He gets to his feet and stretches. “I thought you’d forgotten about us.”

“We reckon you’ve had long enough for now,” Fyzal says, glancing between them. His sharp eyes fasten onto Harry’s discarded robes and his eyebrows shoot up into his hairline.

“For now?” Harry repeats, incredulous. “You’d better not be thinking of doing this again.”

“Come on,” says Malfoy, and when Harry turns to look at him, he’s holding out a hand to help Harry up.

He stares at it for a moment, dumbfounded. When he clasps the warm, dry hand in his and allows Malfoy to pull him to his feet, he feels Fyzal’s eyes on him and can’t control the irrational flush that heats his face.

“What do you have to say for yourself, Fyzal? And where’s your partner in crime?” Malfoy demands, letting go of Harry’s hand and folding his arms in what is now a comfortingly familiar gesture.

“Ah, it was so worth it. We couldn’t stand the thought of you two bickering like children for another second,” Fyz says, leaning on the doorframe. “It was putting us off our recovery,” he adds slyly.

“You’re both leaving in three days!” Malfoy cries.

“We were doing it for the community,” Marguerite cuts in, sidling up beside Fyzal.

“How very altruistic,” Harry mutters, picking up his robes and slipping out of the cupboard. The late afternoon sun that streams in from the tall windows is soft and welcome on Harry’s skin, and he turns his face into it.

“I want twelve inches on conflict resolution, and I want you and Marguerite to do it together,” he hears Malfoy saying behind him. “Go.”

The patients’ protests are music to Harry’s ears and he smiles to himself. He watches them stalk back into the main lounge. When he turns around, Malfoy has reclaimed his wand and is casting a muttered Scourgify at the closet floor.

Now that the door is open, light floods the space and Harry finally gets a good look at the closet’s contents. As he watches Malfoy grip his wand with ink-stained fingers, Harry frowns as the thought occurs to him.

“There must be twenty different types of pens in here,” he says to Malfoy’s back. “All of this parchment. Why would you choose to get your hands and your floor dirty?”

Malfoy returns the spilled paperclips to their boxes with a flick of his wand. When he turns to face Harry, a small, cryptic smile lights his face.

“What can I say? I like to make an impression,” he says.

Harry laughs. “Obviously.”

Harry tosses his robes over one shoulder and stretches his arms above his head until his spine cracks. He can’t help feeling that whatever happens tomorrow, something fundamental has shifted between them.

He hopes.

**~*~**

There’s something about being locked up in a cupboard that makes a person appreciate the outdoors, Harry decides, as he forgoes Apparation and instead walks out into the autumn sunshine. He shrinks his robes down and shoves them into his jeans pocket, preferring to feel the light breeze on his skin.

The walk takes less than thirty minutes but the exercise is invigorating and the solitude satisfying. As he kicks up crunchy leaves from the pavement, Harry finds himself replaying the afternoon in his head.

Who knew that given the right circumstances, he and Malfoy could have a civil conversation?

...and the rest, his mind pokes at him insistently. Harry shakes his head and rounds the final corner. He stops.

Ginny is sitting on his front doorstep, flicking through Witch Weekly. Confused to see the one person he’s been chasing down all week sitting outside his house like she belongs there, Harry takes the last few steps and sits down next to her on the cold stone.

“How did you know I was going to walk home?”

She looks up and smiles, closing her magazine. “It’s a nice day, and I thought you’d probably be craving fresh air,” she says. Pauses. “After being locked in a cupboard half the afternoon.”

“How did you...?”

“Draco firecalled.” She sighs. “And before you say anything, I came to explain.”

“I’m listening,” Harry says, deciding to let her speak first.

Ginny takes a deep breath and tucks a lock of shiny, red hair behind her ear.

“Two years ago, I was... looking for something. I loved helping George with the shop... still do, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to do something that meant something. Does that sound weird?”

“No, it doesn’t. But what has that got to do with Malfoy?”

Ginny sighs. “I’m getting there. Nev had his Herbology business, Ron was in Auror training, Hermione had her vulnerable wizards committee... you were at Curatio’s. I saw an advert in the Prophet, looking for volunteers at the hospital,” she explains, curling fingers around the edge of her magazine.

“I didn’t know Draco would be there, I swear,” she insists. “But once we started working together, it turned out we had some... areas of common interest.”

“Like what?” And why does everyone keep saying that?

Ginny looks away down the street and shrugs lightly. “Oh, you know. We grew up with a lot of the same people. We both like to argue. We both like Quidditch,” she adds after a moment, and Harry can’t help thinking he’s not getting the full story.

Areas of common interest. “Gin, is he gay?” Harry asks before his brain catches up with his mouth.

She turns so quickly that Harry gets lashed across the face by a heavy curtain of hair. “What?”

“Never mind.” Harry takes his glasses off and rubs his eyes so that he doesn’t have to look at her.

“I’m not saying that I know either way, but if I did, and I told you... do you think my life would be worth living?” she points out eventually.

“Forget it, it’s not important,” Harry insists, replacing his glasses and shifting on the cold step. “I just can’t believe you’d keep it a secret for two years.”

She smiles softly and turns appealing eyes to Harry. “I should have told you, I know, but I thought you’d go mad. I’m sorry.”

Harry gazes at his friend for long seconds; she seems to be holding her breath as she waits for his response. Somewhere within the last few days, his righteous indignation over the whole thing appears to have mellowed. He’s just not angry with her any more. Perhaps it’s something to do with being locked in a cupboard all afternoon with an old enemy.

“Go mad? A bit like I did, you mean?” he says, nudging Ginny with his knee.

She smiles, relief evident on her face. “Something like that. The thing is, I know you hate him, but...”

“He’s not so bad,” Harry finds himself saying.

He rises from the step and turns away to hide his smile. When he opens the door and steps inside, Ginny merely twists around on the step and stares at him. Harry shrugs and leaves it open for her.

Two seconds later, she’s behind him, and her questions follow him all the way into the kitchen. Harry calmly makes tea and, equally calmly, deflects every single one.

Chapter Text

Harry folds his arms on the desktop and meets Draco’s glare with one of his own.

“You’re wrong. In fact, you’re so beyond wrong, that you’re almost all the way back around to right,” he opines, and Draco snorts derisively.

It’s been surprisingly easy to drop the ‘Malfoy’, having had a weekend to think about it, and Harry now vacillates between ‘Draco’ and ‘that blond git’ as suitable epithets, depending on his audience. And his mood. Right now, it’s Tuesday morning, and he’s frustrated.

Because what’s proving more difficult, is finding anything on which to agree. The blond git in question has clearly been born to argue, and no amount of cupboard-based interventions can actually stop him from being utterly infuriating.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Draco says, leaning on his side of the desk. “I’ve been doing this for more than five years. You’ve been doing it for five minutes. Unless she has a personality transplant in the next twenty-four hours, you are going to be very embarrassed indeed.”

“The only thing I’ll be embarrassed about is showing up my ‘boss’ in front of his patients when he has to hand over his ten Galleons to me,” Harry disagrees. “She’s changed. She’s ready.”

“She’s ready for nothing,” Draco says. “It’ll be Martin, and that’s all there is to it.”

“They all hate Martin!” Harry raises a frustrated hand to scrub through his hair.

Draco smiles slowly. “And that’s your problem. You’re such a Gryffindor, sometimes, do you know that?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, Harry, that you have no idea what leadership is really all about,” Draco pronounces, grey eyes glittering. “It’s not about whether people like you; it’s about authority and about power. Charisma, possibly, but it’s nothing to do with being liked.

“Hark at you,” Harry snaps. “And anyway, Martin has the charisma of a Flobberworm.”

Unexpectedly, Draco laughs, and Harry feels the corners of his mouth twitching in spite of his irritation.

“We shall see, soon enough,” Draco says with a small shrug. “Perhaps this afternoon, definitely by tomorrow. You can leave the money on the desk, there,” he adds, gesturing negligently.

“Right,” Harry mutters. “Don’t get ahead of yourself or anything, will you?”

“I’ll try not to. Do you have something to do? Only, you’re polluting my office with your... wrongness,” Draco says through a deceptively charming smirk.

Harry rolls his eyes and leaves the office, kicking the door shut behind him as he crosses to the Stage One ward. As he passes the main lounge, he peeks around the doorframe for just long enough to reassure himself that Draco’s ten Galleons are all his. Not that either of them particularly need the money; it’s more a matter of pride than anything else.

Cassandra is balancing precariously on the raised marble surround of the fireplace, nodding carefully as the small group in the chairs around her engage in what looks like a spirited discussion. She’s come a long way in the past week, and Harry is confident in her to step up as the next unofficial ‘leader’ of the Stage Two community when Marguerite and Fyzal leave later on this morning.

Martin, Draco’s pick, is sitting alone at the table, scowling and exuding ‘fuck off’ waves from him so intense that Harry can almost taste them. Harry remembers him as the truculent, slightly desperate group member he’d observed on his very first day, and very little seems to have changed, despite both his and Draco’s better efforts.

Harry smiles. He doesn’t suppose it will do Draco any harm to be wrong for once. After all, Harry has been the one with everything to learn, the one making the rookie mistakes; it would be very satisfying to have the balance tipped, even over something as silly as this.

Silently, Harry moves around the ward, drifting from one bed to the next, checking respirations, pulse rates and for signs of increasing pain. He knows there’s not much he can do, but he makes the checks anyway, feeling frustratingly powerless. As he does so, he can’t help but wonder if this was part of the punishment Tremellen intended to mete out – sending him to a department where almost everything he had learned during Healer training would be completely useless.

Probably. Harry sighs.

Taking care not to disturb the patients, Harry makes a second round and adjusts the titres on the hovering potion bags by each bed, just like Redrow had shown him yesterday during his brief visit. The delivery system works much like a Muggle IV drip, only maddeningly complex to calibrate and maintain.

Carefully, Harry fans his fingers in a circle. The pink potion in front of him slows down its dripping almost imperceptibly, but when he glances at the witch in the bed at his side, her face unscrunches immediately.

He smiles, and carefully strokes back a strand of dirty-blonde hair that has become caught in her mouth as she sleeps.

“Just one more day, Ramona,” he says softly, glancing at her chart. When he’d asked Redrow if they could hear voices, he’d been noncommittal, but Harry has found that he likes to talk to them anyway. Just in case. “You’re over the worst now. Well, I suppose that depends on how you look at it,” he continues conversationally. “But most of them are OK, I – ”

“Nice bedside manner,” Draco interrupts from the door.

“Excuse me,” Harry says to his sleeping patient, and turns to face Draco. His smirk doesn’t take away from the compliment, and Harry grins, moving closer to the door.

“That’s what they said at Curatio’s,” Harry offers. “Thanks.”

“That’s a good school,” Draco says, raising an eyebrow. “The best, in fact.”

“Surprised?”

Draco pauses. “No,” he says eventually.

“Bugger off, Malfoy. You’re distracting me.”

“Draco,” he corrects absently, not quite meeting Harry’s eyes. In fact, just for a moment, his gaze drops to Harry’s mouth. Just as quickly, it’s back, grey irises alive with something like excitement.

If Malfoys even do ‘excitement’, Harry ponders. He’s fairly sure they don’t. Most undignified.

“Have you finished? I wanted to show you something.”

Harry shoots him a curious look. “Should I be worried?”

He fully expects the patented Malfoy scowl, and is not disappointed. The thing is, the expression doesn’t have the same effect that it used to. Harry’s not certain if it’s because recently there seems to be a smile lurking behind it, or if Draco just isn’t really trying.

“Of course you should be worried. I’m very dangerous and frightening.”

“That you are,” Harry lies, not bothering to hide his grin. “Yes, I’m done. Lead the way.”

Curious, he follows Malfoy through the group room, the main lounge and down a small corridor that Harry hasn’t been down since the grand tour on his first day. The door they stop in front of is unremarkable, but when Draco’s hand closes around the brass doorknob, Harry feels as much as he sees the glimmer of complex protective magic.

He lets out a low whistle, which turns to a murmur of surprise as the door is opened and he takes in the room. The space is small but surprisingly well-lit and obsessively tidy. Three cauldrons sit in the centre of the room and a large workspace takes up one side; neat stacks of books and notes cover the shelves.

Harry drags in a deep breath and is immediately startled by the rich, evocative odour. He almost expects Snape to swoop in from behind a bookcase, and the twinge of sadness that accompanies the thought steals Harry’s breath away.

The click of the door behind him makes Harry turn. Draco leans against it for a moment before pushing himself upright and crossing to the work table.

“You know, this may be the longest you’ve gone without speaking, ever. If I’d known, I would’ve shown you this room on the first day.”

“Shut up,” Harry mumbles. “I feel like I’m about to lose a lot of points for Gryffindor all of a sudden.”

There’s silence for a moment, and Harry bites his tongue anxiously and looks at the floor, wondering if he should have mentioned Snape, however oblique the reference. When he looks up, though, Draco is holding out a small silver-framed wizard photograph with an uncertain half-smile.

“The man had taste.”

Harry accepts the heavy frame and watches the small photo-Snape arching a dark eyebrow.

“That’s debatable. Doesn’t he have a portrait?” Harry says, thinking out loud.

“Only at Hogwarts.” Draco holds his hand out for the frame and sets it back on the worktop. “But I like to think that he’d have been interested in what I’m doing here.”

“Which is what, exactly?” Harry takes a step closer to the cauldrons and peers into the nearest one. The green liquid within shimmers attractively back at him, but doesn’t provide any answers.

“A little project,” Draco says. “Something I’m working on my spare time, such that it is. Evenings, mostly.”

“I’ve never seen this room before.” Harry looks up, and the other man squirms slightly under his scrutiny.

“I didn’t want you to see it before.” Draco’s voice is cool, his chin tipped up in defiance.

“But now you do?” Harry asks carefully, and when Draco moves toward the cauldrons, the tension in the room snaps and releases.

“Those detoxification potions you were working with... they’re the same ones that were developed thirty and forty years ago, which is nothing compared to most potions, obviously, but they were first made at a time when this kind of dependency was even more frowned upon than it is now.”

Draco takes a deep breath and curls his fingers around the edge of the cauldron as he continues to speak.

“They don’t take into account the discomfort levels of the patient at all, and a week is a long time... I, er... I’ve been working on some alternatives,” he finishes.

Harry folds his arms crossly, almost unable to believe what he’s hearing.

“What the hell, Malfoy? Just last week, I asked if there was any way to make the process less painful, and you tore a strip off me!” Harry’s stare is equal parts challenge and indignation. He waits.

“I know,” he says, attempting a shrug. “That was last week. You hated me, I wasn’t about to start agreeing with you and... sharing information.”

“And now?” Harry can’t help but focus on the word hated. Past tense.

“I think I’m growing on you.”

“Like a fungus,” Harry mutters, but the smile he receives in return is so startlingly like the one in the photograph that his gut tightens at the sight of it. “Is that supposed to be an apology?”

“Of course not.” The pale eyes look honestly bewildered.

“Let me guess – Malfoys don’t apologise?”

Draco laughs. “Of course they do. But only under very special circumstances,” he adds.

“I’ll keep that in mind. What’s this then?” Harry looks once more into the iridescent green liquid.

“That one’s a variant on the potion we’re currently using for Chromia patients. I’m trying it with a combination of Dreamless Sleep, and elements of one of the more targeted painkilling solutions,” Draco explains, gesturing to each cauldron in turn. “It’s getting the proportions right that’s the problem.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“No, but an imbalance can mean the ingredients cancel each other out, or work too well.” Draco flips through a chunk of paper-clipped parchment and glances up with a rueful smile. “This is Mark #15, of this particular potion.”

Impressed, Harry cranes his neck to look at the notes. Green ink, and rows and rows of Draco’s small, spiky script. His first thought is that Snape, the old bastard, would be proud of his favourite student. Unsure of how to say so without sounding trite and sentimental, he keeps it to himself.

“Does Redrow know about your secret Potions lab?” he asks instead, genuinely curious.

“Know, yes. Pay me for my time, no.” Draco pauses. “Come in here? Never.”

Harry says nothing and pulls out a tall stool from under the work table, sitting without invitation. Draco raises an eyebrow but doesn’t call him on the poor etiquette.

“Why?”

“Because he doesn’t like change,” Draco says, dropping the notes on the table and resting folded arms on the work surface. When Harry twists around on the stool so that they face each other across the table, he’s close enough to make out the individual flecks of pewter in the grey eyes.

“I meant, why are you doing this?” Harry manages after a moment. He doesn’t know how he spent so many years convinced that Malfoy’s eyes were cruel and nothing more.

“I know what you meant.”

“And?”

“I remember what it was like,” Malfoy says, grimacing. “It doesn’t have to be like that, I’m sure of it.”

“You surprise me.” The words fall unchecked from Harry’s lips, and he curses himself silently. Far, far too honest.

Draco merely smiles and looks back at his notes.

“Can I see some of your other work?” Harry asks.

Apparently these are exactly the right words. It’s like a light is switched on behind Draco’s eyes, just like the one Harry thought he saw back in the ward, but a hundred times brighter.

“This one is really interesting,” he’s saying, opening up a thick leather-bound notebook and rounding the table to lean next to Harry, elbows brushing and pale hair falling across his face.

With some effort, Harry focuses on the words in front of him and the sound of Draco’s voice, quickly becoming absorbed. When Marguerite’s voice in the corridor calls them out for morning group, the cursing at his side draws Harry’s eyes to the wall clock.

Both hands point accusingly to ‘You’re Late.’

**~*~**

It’s a clear, bright day and Harry blinks to adjust his eyes as he walks back into the foyer after watching Fyzal and Marguerite Apparate away. He didn’t have to accompany them, of course, but he felt like a walk, and more that that, he has a feeling he’s going to miss them.

Draco hasn’t said so, but Harry suspects he’ll miss his two liveliest patients just as much.

Harry smiles as he pictures the look of alarm on Draco’s face when Marguerite had refused his handshake at the door and had instead enveloped him in a tight hug. Harry had never seen him hug anyone before. When, after a moment, one pale hand had come up to rest tentatively on Marguerite’s upper back, Harry and Fyzal had exchanged amused glances.

“Healer Potter!”

Halfway across the bustling foyer, the booming voice stops Harry in his tracks. Silently, he gathers his self-control and turns to face Tremellen with a carefully neutral expression.

“Good morning, Healer Tremellen.”

“I think you’ll find it’s after midday,” he sniffs.

Harry grits his teeth, smiles politely and wonders if it’s possible that the man has become more of a prick in the ten days since Harry saw him. All signs point to yes.

“How are you liking your rotation, Healer Potter?” Tremellen’s smirk stretches his face grotesquely, and yet he still manages to drag out the word rotation as though it tastes nasty in his mouth.

If he’d had any doubts about the man’s intentions before, the smirk dissolves them, and a hot, petulant anger spikes in Harry’s chest. There’s no way Tremellen’s having the satisfaction, not this time.

“It’s great,” he says firmly. “I’m learning a lot from the patients. It’s fascinating work, thank you for the assignment, Sir.”

Tremellen bristles. Harry’s smile widens. He suppresses the urge to punch the air.

“Good,” he says stiffly. “I trust you’re enjoying working with Mr Malfoy?”

Desperate tactics. Harry turns up the smile a couple of notches.

“Absolutely. Turns out Draco and I make a great team,” he assures, laying it on as thickly as he can.

“Fantastic.” The word is choked, and Tremellen’s moustache twitches at the use of Malfoy’s given name.

Harry continues to grin at him until he excuses himself and disappears into the crowd. Shaking his head, Harry allows the warm swell of contentment to profuse his veins. He’s halfway back to the department before it occurs to him that, while he might have been over-egging the pudding somewhat for Tremellen’s benefit, every last word was true.

**~*~**

There’s something soothing about routine, Harry thinks. Life is full of unexpected drama, but there’s always solace to be found in Friday-night drinks with Ron and Hermione, Sunday lunches at the Burrow and afternoon complaint-fests with Eloise, Cecile and Terry.

Even during the most fear-ridden, chaotic years of Voldemort’s return, he never failed to draw comfort from the well-worn rituals of Hogwarts lessons, Quidditch, and homework. Of detentions and Hogsmeade visits and baiting Slytherins.

...perhaps that last one still holds true. Never in his wildest dreams, though, did Harry ever expect any of his post-war routines to be centred around Draco Malfoy. As they approach the end of Harry’s second week, however, it’s just so easy.

Harry always gets in first, because the look on Draco’s face is worth the loss of sleeping time. Draco is not only fussy about coffee but verging on dependent; Harry has taken to swinging by his favourite coffee shop on the way into work, and has been testing out a range of increasingly bizarre syrups and toppings on his prickly colleague, hoping for a reaction. As yet, it’s not forthcoming, but Harry has been happy to discover that Draco is infinitely easier to deal with after a caffeine fix.

Mornings are spent arguing over paperwork, and then in morning group. The first time Harry ventures an opinion, he still fully expects to be laughed out of the circle, but his points are received with grave consideration by the patient involved, and they even manage to spark a new debate amongst the others. When he chances a glance at Malfoy, the man is looking right back at him, expression deeply pensive. He almost looks impressed. Harry speaks in groups, after that.

Afternoon groups are more relaxed, and following that, both of them spend time chatting with the patients until the volunteers turn up and drag the patients into activities that, from what Harry has observed through a crack in the lounge door, are frankly bizarre. Instead, he escapes to the Stage One ward, or goes to poke at Draco in his office.

It’s taking time to wrap his head around the idea that, while fragile, these patients are just as receptive to his usual playful manner, and more importantly, that they actually appreciate being treated like normal witches and wizards. But he’s getting there. The desire to be treated like everyone else is one that he’s familiar with.

Refreshingly, most of the patients don’t suffer from Boy Who Lived Syndrome, and for this, Harry is grateful. Ramona, sitting opposite him on the wide stone windowsill, is apparently content to spill out all her problems to him, rather than venture into the main lounge. She’s just two days into Stage Two, and incredibly wary.

“I remember your voice from the other place,” she says, pointing. “In there. I knew I could trust you.”

“You can trust me. But you can trust the others, too.”

Her lined face scrunches up doubtfully, and when she speaks it’s from behind a curtain of dark blonde hair. “Some of them are scary. They aren’t like me at all,” she whispers.

Harry tips his head back against the window frame and thinks. The midday sun is warm on his bare forearms and glints off Ramona’s sparkly earrings. He swallows the notion that it’s ridiculous to be giving advice to a woman at least twenty years his senior, and replies.

“Appearances can be deceptive. If you talk to some of them, you’ll probably find you’ve more in common than you think.” He catches her one visible eye. “I know it’s scary, but no one can hurt you here. No one wants to hurt you.”

“Draco said it’s normal to have trust issues,” she says, as the man in question emerges from the lounge and walks into his office.

“He’s right.” Never thought you’d be saying that, did you? “One step at a time. Why don’t you find just one person this afternoon and tell them a bit about yourself. Cassandra’s nice – and she used to be nervous, too.”

To his relief, Ramona smiles. Any response she might have had is cut off by Draco’s sudden reappearance. The stare is level, but sharp.

“Healer Potter,” he says carefully, and Harry can’t quite imagine what he’s done. “Would you care to remove your discarded robes from my desk? It looks as though a Healer has come in and expired in the middle of my paperwork.”

Ramona’s giggle is both encouraging and surprising. Harry fixes Draco with a stare of equal intensity and tries not to smile.

“Sorry,” he says. “It’s not my fault you don’t have a coat-stand, or even a hook. You said you didn’t mind if I took my robes off,” he adds boldly.

Ramona snorts. Draco’s mouth twitches at one corner, and his eyes glitter with something that’s not quite malice and not quite amusement. Harry doesn’t know what it is, but either way, his words were flirtatious, and he doesn’t know what he’s thinking of.

“I did, didn’t I? Either way, please can you find another place for your lime-green... carcass, so we can all have lunch like civilised people,” Draco says, dragging his gaze away from Harry to smile encouragingly at Ramona.

Harry makes a face at him when he’s not looking and obediently trails into the office to collect his robes. He’s started removing them whenever it gets too warm, and though his taste in Muggle casual-wear is nothing special, Draco has at least managed to curtail his wardrobe-related comments. Harry is trying not to think about how long he spent in front of the mirror that morning, staring at his black trousers and thin, green sweater. It was longer than usual, and that fact alone is enough to make his head explode, if he lets it.

‘Who are you trying to impress?’ the mirror had asked, and it was only the thought of seven years of bad luck that stopped him from accidentally-on-purpose dropping it on the floor.

“What are you doing in there?” comes Malfoy’s voice, and Harry hurriedly rolls the robes up into a ball and stuffs them in the largest desk drawer.

The dining room is alive with chatter and smells deliciously warm and savoury. Harry had been initially astonished to discover that Draco ate with the patients, and even more astonished when he was asked to take a seat at the department table instead of sloping off to the canteen, the shift following the cupboard incident.

They’re late, and Draco makes sure Harry knows it’s his fault. For the first time he finds himself seated next to Draco at the table. Their plates fill the moment they sit, and not for the first time, Harry notices that while the basic components of the meal are fish, bread, potatoes and peas, not every plate is exactly the same.

He manages two mouthfuls of fish before he gives in and asks.

“The plates, and the table and chairs, are charmed,” Draco says, spearing a pea.

“Like at Hogwarts?”

“It’s a similar principle, in that the kitchens are elsewhere in the building, and the plates fill themselves. It’s more complex, though. Each plate responds to the individual’s magical signature. The requirements are pre-set, so that each diner gets exactly the right amount of nutrients, calories and whatnot,” Draco explains.

“That’s impressive,” Harry admits. “Did you set it up?”

“Sadly not. If I had, I would’ve had the enchantments take account of personal preference.” He looks at Harry’s plate with interest. “For example, it looks as though you don’t like peas.”

Harry casts a malevolent gaze upon the offending green spheres. He’s tried to push them to one side of his plate, but the tenacious little buggers keep rolling toward his fish. “I hate peas,” he agrees.

“May I?” Draco stretches his fork toward Harry’s peas. Agitation roils in his gut, and he pulls his plate away almost without thinking. When he looks up, Draco is regarding him with confused interest.

“How about a trade, then?” he offers, holding up his buttered bread. “I can’t stand this stuff.”

Harry pauses, weighing up his options. An extra fish sandwich and the removal of his peas, versus possibly having to explain his plate issue to Malfoy. There’s something almost earnest in Draco’s expression as he waits, bread aloft, and Harry makes his decision.

“OK,” he agrees, accepting the bread. “But let me.” Even as he locates a dessert spoon and transfers the peas to Draco’s plate, Harry can feel the embarrassed flush crawling up his neck, but he carries on until his meal is pea-free.

He continues staring at his plate as he constructs a messy fish sandwich, and for a moment, he thinks the other man has actually let it pass by. And then:

“You have a weird food thing.”

“I don’t like people taking things from my plate. It’s no big deal.” Harry bites into his sandwich, hoping that a full mouth will excuse him from having to answer any questions. As it turns out, Draco merely waits until he swallows to continue.

“Why?”

“Does it matter?”

“I’m interested.”

Harry glances up, and watches Draco chasing a forkful of peas around his plate. It occurs to him that no one has actually ever asked him why before.

“Because... when I was younger, my cousin used to steal from my plate. And I didn’t get fed properly to begin with.” Harry swallows hard against the oddly raw feeling of exposure. “I know it’s stupid, but it’s sort of stuck with me.”

Malfoy chews thoughtfully for a moment. “OK.”

Whatever he was expecting, Harry wasn’t expecting that. When Ramona taps Draco on the shoulder, he turns to talk to her, leaving Harry to stare at his fish in bewilderment.

After a moment, he shrugs and uses Draco’s bread to make a second sandwich.

“You should eat your peas,” advises Seb from Harry’s other side.

“You shouldn’t talk with your mouth full,” Harry shoots back.

Seb pulls a face but then makes a show of clamping his lips together while he chews his mouthful of fish. It’s clear to Harry that he’s never going to get that sort of ‘Three bags full, Mr Potter’ deference from these people, and at moments like this, it makes him want to stay forever.

...or, you know, at least another two weeks. Harry bites viciously into his sandwich and pulls himself together. It’s only natural that his constant proximity to all this therapy and emoting is turning him into a complete sap.

**~*~**

It’s late afternoon when the knock comes on the office door. The patients are ostensibly busy with written work; Draco is leafing through referrals while Harry answers his medical questions and solicits help with his Daily Prophet crossword.

“Six letters, composer of the Merman Concerto.” Harry looks up, chewing on his quill. “Aren’t you going to answer that?”

“Derato.” Draco smirks. “Waiting is a good test of self control.”

“Sadist,” Harry mutters, filling in the letters.

“Enter,” he cries, startling Harry into creating a large ink blot on the page.

The door swings open to reveal Cassandra. She lounges against the door frame in a way that’s so reminiscent of Marguerite that Harry has to look twice.

“Hello,” she says. “So, we were thinking... everyone’s finished their work, and we wondered if we could finish early for the day and chill out.” Cassandra pauses, fixing her hopeful stare on Draco. “Everyone’s worked ever so hard.”

Harry conceals his smile of victory behind his newspaper, but his insides are breaking into a small celebratory dance. Draco has been hedging for days regarding the outcome of their bet, but there’s no way he can refute this. Cassandra’s appearance at the office door to broker some sort of deal for the community is cold, solid evidence that Harry was right.

He’s too busy trying not to look smug to hear the rest of their exchange, but Cassandra’s triumphant smile tells him all he needs to know. Seized by the urge to really rub it in, Harry calls out to her.

“Oh, hey, Cass?”

She turns. “Yeah?”

“How’s Martin doing?” Harry asks innocently.

She frowns. “He’s... just Martin. He’s a bit of an idiot, if I’m honest.”

“Thanks.” Harry grins at her until she frowns, murmurs to herself and turns away.

He waits for the door to close before he speaks again. He’s fairly sure Malfoy wouldn’t have afforded him the same courtesy, but Harry’s feeling generous.

“Hand it over, Draco.”

Harry drops his paper on the desk and holds out a hand expectantly. The expression on Draco’s face is deliciously murderous, and Harry is reminded once again of just how much he hates to lose.

“There’s really no point dragging it out any longer.”

“Yes, alright, alright.” Draco heaves a dramatic sigh and removes a small money bag from a desk drawer. “You really are unbearably smug, do you know that?”

Harry’s grin widens. “I’ve been taking lessons from you.”

Draco rounds the desk and leans right into Harry’s personal space, one hand braced on the desktop as the other drops the bag onto Harry’s palm. Reflexively, his fingers close around the silky fabric, sliding over the cold, hard coins inside as he looks into the intense grey eyes at close range.

They narrow carefully as the soft blond hair falls forward, almost close enough to graze Harry’s nose. Suddenly, Harry can’t speak; it feels as though something is wrapping around his chest but he knows he’s not being touched.

The clean, warm scent of lemons is everywhere and he’s caught. Trapped.

He can’t tear his eyes away from Draco’s, but he feels the smirk like a kick in the ribs.

“Enjoy this, Harry,” he says, and Harry can’t quite decide if he’s talking about the money or the proximity. “You won’t win again.”

Ah. The money. Well, that makes more sense.

And just like that, he’s back in his chair and scanning through referral parchments as though nothing has happened. The whole thing must have taken less than ten seconds, but Harry’s head is spinning.

Harry clutches the bag tightly and watches him shake his head and scribble something across the topmost referral. He swipes away the fall of hair that’s just long enough to tuck behind his ear, and the mundane, thoughtless action is suddenly hypnotising.

“Think they could do with a bit of cupboard time?” Draco asks without looking up.

“What? Who?” Harry rasps, trying to get some saliva back into his mouth.

“Cassandra and Martin, obviously.”

“Er... I don’t know. Would it help?”

“Worked on you,” Draco mutters into his parchment.

Retrieving his crumpled robes, Harry decides it’s definitely time for a break.

“I’m going down for coffee,” he announces, and bolts out of the department.

It’s when the male-nurse-whose-name-he-can-never-remember gives him an odd look that Harry realises he’s grinning like the proverbial idiot.

He’s so, so screwed.

**~*~**

“You look pleased with yourself,” Cecile remarks, dropping into the seat opposite Harry’s and blowing on her coffee.

“Oh, well, it could be the ten Galleons I just liberated from Mr ‘I’ve been doing this for five years’.” Harry grins.

Cecile’s green eyes narrow as she examines him carefully. “No... it’s something else.”

“Stop looking at me like I’m a patient,” he complains, mildly alarmed. “I did. See?” He holds the small bag up for her perusal. “Never bet with me. I’m freakishly lucky.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” The tilt of her head and slight pursing of the lips – what Harry thinks of as her Slytherin expression – spells danger. “You know, I almost think that you’re – ”

“What are you doing tomorrow night?” Harry jumps in, almost spilling his coffee in his eagerness to change the subject.

“Friday? Nothing, why?” Cecile sips her coffee and fixes him with a searching expression.

Harry gulps at the hot, bitter liquid and allows the steam to fill his nostrils. He’s been meaning to ask her ever since Ron’s even more pointed than usual comments about Harry’s lack of a girlfriend during their last night out, but he hadn’t planned on being quite so blunt about it.

Oh well.

“I, well... would you come out with me? Me and a couple of friends are going out for dinner and drinks, and...” He stops, rubs at his face and looks at Cecile appealingly.

She raises an eyebrow. “Like... on a date?”

He does spill coffee this time. Horrified, he banishes the small puddle. “No...! No, of course not.”

Of course not?” she repeats, crossing her arms on the table top.

“Cecile... I’m sorry... you know what I mean... oh, fuck it,” Harry mumbles, burying his head in his hands. He remembers now exactly why he doesn’t talk to women. He and Cecile see each other every day and he’s still beyond useless at it. He doesn’t even want to think about Malfoy.

After a moment, a small, tenacious hand starts to pull the fingers away from his face.

“I’m messing with you, Harry. I know you don’t think of me like that. The feeling is mutual, believe me.”

“I hate you,” he whispers. Cecile beams.

“This is your friend Ron, who’s always going on about you getting a girlfriend, yes?”

“You know far too much about me.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.” She pats his arm in mock-sympathy. “I’m not pretending to be your girlfriend, though.”

“That won’t be necessary, Cecile.” Harry drains his coffee and stands. It’s still too hot and scalds the back of his throat. “Thanks. I owe you one.”

“I know,” she says delightedly, the glint in her eyes speaking of a thousand favours waiting to be called in.

Harry is still mumbling to himself about bloody Slytherins everywhere as he climbs the curving staircase back to the department. Draco is still in the office, frowning over paperwork. Silently, Harry watches him from the door for a moment or two, and then heads for the main lounge.

**~*~**

“I don’t think she’s coming. Bloody hell, Harry, what did you say to her?”

“How is that helpful?” Hermione hisses, elbowing Ron in the ribs and smiling at Harry across the table. They’ve chosen well tonight, their Friday night Polyjuice disguises taken from a handsome brunette couple that Hermione met in the park, instead of their usual amusingly mismatched efforts. “Does she know that you’re not going to look like you?”

“Of course. Cecile’s smart, and the reservation is in her name.” Harry examines his manicured nails with interest. “She’s probably been held up somewhere, that’s all.”

Ron’s incongruously tanned brow furrows, and then to Harry’s relief, he seems to let it go. He’s never doubted that Ron’s intentions were good, but his constant campaign to see Harry settled down with a nice witch is wearing ever thinner.

“Thanks for the book, mate,” he says at last, gulping his wine. “Interesting stuff.”

“He was reading while the television was on,” puts in Hermione. “It was quite a sight.”

Harry grins. “I’m sure. Did it help with your investigation?”

“Well, actually, we – ”

Muffliato,” mutters Hermione, shooting Ron a dark look as the sounds of the busy restaurant fall away.

“Thank you.” Ron reaches over to squeeze her hand and she smiles indulgently.

“So?” Harry leans forward eagerly on his elbows. Though he has never regretted dropping out of Auror training, there’s something of a vicarious thrill to be had in hearing Ron discuss his ongoing cases, even though he’s fairly sure that Ron isn’t actually supposed to discuss quite as much as he does. That’s what friends are for, after all.

“It’s actually really hard to get hold of that kind of information, so yeah. I don’t know where you got that book from, but it’s brilliant.”

Harry immediately flicks his eyes to Hermione and she shrugs apologetically. Ron clearly has no idea that his ‘brilliant’ book belongs to a Malfoy.

“Anyway, we’re narrowing the search right down,” Ron continues. “There’s no way we can ignore the links to the Death Eaters, so it’s likely someone with a Mark. Someone with the connections and the resources to flood the streets with this stuff.”

Something wholly unpleasant prickles under Harry’s skin and he inhales sharply. Looks quickly at Ron, but he’s topping up his glass and whispering something to Hermione, completely oblivious. A flash of movement catches Harry’s eye and he hurriedly dispels the Privacy Charm as Cecile approaches the table.

“Sorry I’m late,” she says, pulling out the empty chair beside Harry and looking carefully around the table at the three unfamiliar faces. “Blond, Harry?” she adds, dropping her voice and smirking. He kicks her under the table.

**~*~**

“We used to get served a lot quicker before all this Polyjuice lark,” Ron yells over the music as he and Harry finally manage to fight their way out of the scrum at the bar with their drinks.

To his eternal gratitude, the meal had passed without incident, and all four of them have since embarked upon the traditional Friday night bar crawl.

“Yeah, but did that make up for all the staring?” Harry yells back, wishing he had a free hand for a discreet Repelling Charm, as yet another woman in stilettos stands on his foot.

“I dunno... some would take the staring as a compliment.” The handsome brunette’s face splits in a grin that’s uniquely Ron, and Harry laughs.

They stop, some feet away from the table, to lean on a convenient ledge.

“She seems alright,” Ron bellows into his ear. “Hermione likes her, which is always a good sign.”

Harry follows his friend’s gaze over to their table, where Hermione and Cecile sit on low stools pulled close together, conversing furiously. Though they aren’t whispering, it’s far too loud in the bar for him to know what they’re saying.

“She’s a pretty girl,” Ron adds.

“Is she?” Harry sips absently at his drink. He’s never really thought about it, if he’s honest.

Mate.” Ron looks scandalized.

“She is, of course she is,” he amends quickly. It’s only the drinks he’s carrying that stop Harry from slapping himself in the face. Hard. He’s going mad, that’s what it is.

Before Ron can say anything else, Harry plunges back into the fray and elbows his way back to the table. When he pulls up a velvet-topped stool and slides Cecile’s honey-vodka across the table, the two women draw apart and fall silent immediately. Cecile’s expression is one of amusement, but Hermione flushes and guiltily avoids his eyes.

Harry wonders if, actually, it wasn’t the best idea he’s ever had to introduce his two cleverest friends to each other.

“Well,” Ron announces, slinging one arm around Hermione and holding up his glass. “Here’s to you, Harry – you’ve survived two weeks with Malfoy, and more impressively, so has he. Halfway there, mate!”

Hermione’s dark eyebrow lifts just a fraction as she meets Harry’s eyes and raises her glass. He’s not even going to look at Cecile. How is it, he wonders, that he’s been so careful not to mention Draco all night and yet they end up talking about him anyway?

“Halfway there,” echoes Cecile, holding out her drink, too.

A chunk of blond hair falls into Harry’s eyes as he looks down at the table, and his stomach tightens immediately. Slowly, remembering it belongs to him, he reaches up and swipes it out of the way. Drags heavy, smoky air into his lungs and looks up at the expectant faces of his friends.

“Halfway there,” he agrees, returning Ron’s approving nod and clinking glasses with each in turn.

He waits until Ron and Cecile are in the middle of a heated argument about the relative merits of their favourite Quidditch teams, with Hermione refereeing, to slip away for a moment.

Standing on the front steps of the bar, Harry savours the cool, damp air on his face and rakes restless fingers through his borrowed blond hair. Is it actually possible that he can’t get Malfoy out of his head to the extent that the stupid blond bastard is even unconsciously influencing his choice in Friday night Polyjuice disguises?

It would seem so. And the thing is, he knows from bitter past experience that keeping it all in his head doesn’t make anything go away. In the past, he would have gone to Sirius, or even Remus, but...

Harry exhales, idly watching his breath curl in the night air. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.

“Harry?”

One last glance at the stars, and he turns to face the interloper. “What’s up, ’Mione?”

She tucks her arm through his and looks at the sky. “Cecile’s a nice girl,” she says lightly.

“Not you as well.” Harry groans and presses his cheek against the rough stone pillar at his side. “She’s not my girlfriend, nor is she likely to be, and I think she’d eat you for calling her ‘nice’.”

Hermione laughs against his shoulder. For a long time, she says nothing, and Harry listens to the muffled cacophony of the bar behind them, pleasantly lightheaded, Hermione a comforting warmth at his side.

“Harry,” she says suddenly, gripping his arm a fraction tighter. “Are you having a gay crisis?”

On hearing her question, Harry does what any open-minded, fearless war hero and trained Healer would do.

He freezes.

Every muscle in his body tenses as one, and breathing becomes an entirely foreign process. Mind racing, he finds himself flicking through an internal slideshow of little moments, and though he’s forced to admit that Hermione’s knowing looks are nothing new, she has never come out and actually said it. Probably because you’ve never let her, his conscience reminds him.

The gentle tug on his arm reminds Harry to breathe, and as he looks down at the pretty brunette that’s not quite Hermione, he suddenly feels tired. Head buzzing lightly, he sighs.

“Define crisis,” he says, offering her a dry half-smile.

Eyes as wide as saucers, Hermione bites her lip. “Oh, wow. I don’t know. I didn’t expect you’d admit to it.”

Harry’s just relieved she didn’t go with ‘I knew it!’ “Listen, don’t...”

“I won’t tell Ron,” she assures. Harry smiles at her, feeling oddly giddy.

“Don’t tell Ron what?”

They both spin around in the doorway, to see a grim-faced Cecile propping Ron up. Given that he’s almost a foot taller and at least sixty pounds heavier, Harry’s impressed.

“It’s a surprise,” Hermione replies quickly, pulling away from Harry to help Cecile. “Do you want to go home?”

“Don’t be diriculous,” Ron disagrees. “It’s only midnight. Onward!” Waving the girls away, he leans heavily on Harry and they stumble toward their usual end of the night pub.

He can hear the low-level murmurs coming from behind them, and decides he doesn’t want to know what they’re talking about. Ron is speaking to him, but he’s not really listening.

Gay crisis? Gay, he can deal with. It’s the fact that it’s a Draco Malfoy crisis that’s going to turn everything upside down.

**~*~**

When he wakes up on Saturday morning fuzzy-headed, dry-mouthed and uncomfortable, Harry scrabbles for the vial of Hangover Potion on his bedside table and drains it without opening his eyes. As his head clears but the discomfort stays put, he wills himself to full consciousness. It’s with a sinking feeling that he registers the cold, stickiness of the thin cotton pants he sleeps in.

Fuck.

Mildly horrified, Harry stares at the cracks in the ceiling and tries very hard not to move. Not since his Hogwarts days has he suffered from unwanted night-time... emissions. For once, he can’t remember his dreams but he has a fair idea of the content. Groaning softly, he throws one arm across his face and reaches under his pillow with the other to grab his wand and perform a quick Cleaning Spell.

By the time he’s showered, dressed, eaten and read all the papers, he’s convinced that it’s just the natural consequence of too many Firewhiskies, his conversation with Hermione and his admittedly woeful sex life. Or lack thereof.

“Fucking Malfoy,” he says severely to the kitchen cupboards as he waits for his kettle to boil.

The top cupboard creaks pitifully in response.

“Well, you would say that.” Harry pours boiling water onto his Earl Grey teabag, and inhales the distinctive, fragrant steam.

Hermione’s words are insistent in his head as he sits at the messy kitchen table and drinks his tea slowly. It’s a good possibility that he’s been having a gay crisis for some years now, all of those unrelenting squirmy feelings that he’s found excuse after excuse to shelve for some other time.

Not now, I’m fighting a war... not now, I’m trying to get into Healer training... not now, I’m studying for finals... not now, I’m a very busy Healer and I’m trying not to kill Draco Malfoy.

Harry smiles at last, resigned. The kitchen tiles are cold against his bare feet as he crosses to dump his cup in the sink.

“Figures, really,” he continues, addressing the cupboard. “Bastard always did know how to get under my skin.”

The cupboard door swings open and whines on its hinges.

“Exactly,” says Harry.

Chapter Text

Harry sleeps late on Sunday. When a moment’s experimental shifting under the sheets reveals no lingering stickiness, relief is immediate. He ignores the customary morning stiffness that strains at the thin fabric of his sleepwear, at least until he steps into the shower, in a redundant but quietly smug show of self-control.

The hot water pounds his shoulders and flattens his hair slickly over his eyes and ears as he closes a hand around himself, bracing the other against the cool tiles. Eyes closed; it’s a slow, easy pressure and long, languid strokes. Just like so many mornings before this one. A release of tension built up somehow, without his knowledge, in the night.

Steam, wet skin and the echo of his own breathing in the small room. That’s all.

As the sought-after white heat coils around the base of his spine, Harry’s fingers slide on the tiles and he gives in. Allows the careful, mocking voice and intense grey eyes to slip in around him... a spike of pleasure and he explodes, back arching, mouth opening in a soundless cry.

Seconds later, he’s bent double, spluttering on the water he has accidentally inhaled, and watching the product of his release disappearing around the drain, taking with it the last traces of his denial.

On slightly shaky legs, he finishes his shower and wanders back into the bedroom to dress for lunch at the Burrow.

It wouldn’t be so bad, he reasons, if I weren’t actually starting to like the idiot.

**~*~**

Lunch is the usual noisy, frantic affair, although Ron is conspicuous by his absence. As is customary, Molly tries to feed Harry far more than he can manage, and he slips out into the back garden with his unwanted second bowl of apple crumble and custard. It’s unseasonably warm, and the air smells comfortingly of moss and woodsmoke.

It’s not long before the door creaks open. Harry picks up his spoon hurriedly, dropping it again when he sees it’s not Molly but Ron. He’s carrying a plate of dinner and an air of resignation.

“Where’ve you been?” Harry asks. Ron sighs and sits down heavily on the bench beside him. “I tried asking your mother, but she started muttering under her breath and I thought I’d better change the subject.”

“Meeting about this Chromia X business.” He attacks his roast beef, plate balanced precariously on his thighs.

“On a Sunday?”

“Rodriguez has no concept of a life outside work,” Ron replies, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

Harry snorts. He remembers Ron’s work-obsessed partner from the last Ministry function he’d been forced to attend. “Probably because he doesn’t have one.”

“Too true, mate. Anyway, the upshot is, we’re bringing Malfoy in tomorrow.” Ron looks up from his plate, and Harry stares, mouth turning dry at the implication. “Just think, if it is him, you’re getting a reprieve two weeks early.”

When Harry says nothing, Ron delivers a light nudge to his ribs and smiles.

“What?” Harry coughs, forcing his voice to even out. “Why?”

“For all the reasons I’ve already told you. Weren’t you listening on Friday night?”

“Yeah, but I missed the part where you said Malfoy specifically,” Harry points out, even though he knows as he’s saying it that it’s pointless. “You actually think he’s making illegal potions?”

Ron carries on chewing, completely unperturbed. He seems to consider Harry’s question. “Making them? We’re not sure if it’s making, or just selling, but... Malfoy always was good at Potions, wasn’t he?”

Harry closes his eyes, feeling suddenly sick. Draco’s secret Potions lab flashes immediately into his head.

‘A little project... something I’m working on my spare time, such that it is. Evenings, mostly.’

He’s fairly sure the Aurors don’t know about that, whatever else they might have managed to find out about Draco’s past and his deal with the Ministry. Confused, conflicting emotions slide over him, wrapping around his arms and legs and trying to pull him in opposite directions.

It’s all so very neat... a little too neat. Draco’s history, his connections, his links to the Death Eaters. His ability in potion-making and his secret lab.

And despite everything, Harry finds himself wanting to believe that Draco has nothing to do with it.

“Harry?” Ron’s fork-wielding hand waves in front of his face, and he snaps his eyes back to his friend’s.

“Yeah, he was good at Potions,” he says, belatedly answering the last question he remembers being asked. “But are you sure about this?”

Ron’s eyebrows draw together. He stares at Harry, clearly bewildered. “He’s a fucking Death Eater, Harry. What does it matter? You hate each other.”

“Ex-Death Eater,” Harry mutters. “It matters because... he’s paid what he owes. This isn’t about whether we like him or not.”

He folds his arms and stares defiantly into the distance, half-watching two grey rabbits chase each other across the bottom of the garden, and half-listening to the blood thundering in his ears as he waits for Ron to – quite rightly, he thinks – jump all over him. The Harry of a month ago would have been delighted to have information that might help Ron put Malfoy away; he would have passed it on without a moment’s thought.

And yet, here he is, giving in to this intense need to protect a man he’s always hated. And wondering what the hell he’s doing. When the expected tirade doesn’t come, Harry sneaks a sidelong glace at Ron. The calm, pensive expression is not one he’s used to seeing on the freckled face, but there’s no mistaking it.

“What do you know, Harry?” he asks carefully.

“Nothing,” he lies. “I just know he wouldn’t do this.”

“Based on what?”

Torn between giving up information that could just as easily make things worse as well as better, Harry shifts on the bench. His long, heavy sigh lifts the hair from his forehead.

“I just... I... he really cares about those patients, Ron. I honestly think you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

Ron shakes his head and shoots Harry a searching look. “He’s got to you somehow, hasn’t he?” he says, almost disbelievingly. “Look... you know I respect your opinions and everything, but I can’t very well exclude my prime suspect because you don’t believe he’d do it, can I?”

Harry doesn’t have an answer for that. Despite everything, it’s horribly logical, and he realises anew that sometimes, Ron doesn’t get enough credit. “No, I suppose not,” he says grudgingly.

Visibly relieved, Ron nods and resumes shovelling roast potatoes into his mouth. Harry breathes.

“Want this?” Harry pushes his unwanted dessert toward him with one finger.

“Silly question.”

Ron is halfway through the crumble before he speaks again.

“You don’t hate him any more, do you?”

“No,” Harry says softly. “I don’t.”

“I can’t pretend to understand that.” Ron pauses, blue eyes boring into Harry’s. The serious expression is only slightly undermined by the smudge of custard on his top lip. “Personally, I think he’s an idiot. But... if you’re going to insist on being friends with him, then I hope he’s not a drug-dealing idiot.”

“Thanks, Ron,” he says, trying not to smile.

“I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”

“I suppose we will,” Harry agrees.

**~*~**

By 8.26am on Monday morning Harry is standing outside the office door, coffee cups in hands.

By 8.35am, he’s sitting on the cool stone windowsill, robes folded messily beside him, and has drained his double espresso.

By 8.43am, fully-caffeinated and impatient, he’s drumming his fingers restlessly on the stone when Draco sweeps in and fixes him with a curious gaze.

“You’re all nervous energy... more so than usual. How many of those have you had?”

“Good morning to you too, Draco,” Harry mutters, grabbing up his robes and coffee cups.

He follows Draco into the office and leans against the bookcase, unable to sit. It’s certainly true that nervous energy is nothing new, but ever since he woke this morning his whole body has felt charged, somehow. Admitting to himself that his feelings for Draco are becoming complicated has certainly had an effect, and the man isn’t helping matters by dressing with characteristic style – today all in black – and smelling edible.

But even as Harry silently hands Draco his coffee, he knows that the tight, straining knot of tension in his gut is a result of his conversation with Ron. Conflict is something he’s used to. And secrets. And yet somehow, Harry never anticipated the sick feeling of guilt that comes with knowing what’s coming when Draco doesn’t. It’s insane, of course it is, and yet the whole thing feels like a betrayal.

“What the fuck is this?” Draco demands, looking up.

Distractedly, Harry wonders if his bizarre syrup game has finally broken the man.

“Hazelnut and peppermint latte,” he says, managing to keep a straight face.

Draco takes another sip, eyebrows knitted. “Hmph. It’s... nice.”

He flashes a brief half-smile and then starts into his morning paperwork. Harry’s stomach tips and his self-control is lost.

“Draco... do you know what Chromia X is?”

Mildly surprised, Malfoy looks up. “Chromia X? Yes, I’m aware of it. Very nasty stuff indeed. Stronger, more dangerous, more addictive version of the old Chromia. Which was bad enough.”

Harry scans his face, every inch of it, but there’s nothing there to suggest guilt. For a split second, he doesn’t know if he’s relieved or not.

“In fact,” Draco continues, setting his coffee down. “It’s responsible for a real resurgence in the use of Wizarding drugs. They were on the decline until this fucking stuff appeared out of Merlin-knows-where.” His voice is grim and the grey eyes are steady, and Harry knows. He knows Ron and Rodriguez are wrong.

“I need... you need to know something.” Deep breath, stupid Gryffindor courage, fingers wrapped around the shelf at his back.

“What?”

“The Aurors, Ron’s team specifically, are trying to find out who’s responsible for it. Their knowledge is fairly limited, but they know about the Death Eater connection, and... you’re under suspicion.”

Draco stares. His hands lift to rake through his hair, drop to the desk, lift again to rub at skin that’s paler than usual.

“Do they know about the lab?” It’s almost a whisper. Harry’s fingers grip the shelf harder, unseen.

“Why would they?”

“Let me rephrase that, Potter. Did you tell them about the lab?”

His expression claws at Harry’s chest until he can’t breathe. “No.”

It’s fleeting, almost too quick to see, but the faint smile relaxes Harry’s death grip on the slippery wood.

“So, they’re basing this on... what?”

Slowly, Harry crosses to sit on the edge of the desk, hand resting dangerously close to Draco’s where it lies on the surface. “Your past... affiliations. Your connections to a potential customer base, working in this department. Personal bias?” he adds, weakly attempting to inject a twist of humour into his words.

Draco smiles grimly.

“I shouldn’t be telling you this,” Harry admits, looking hard at the floor. The rush of guilt rolls back to swipe at him from the other direction, as he’d known it would.

“Why are you?”

Harry has no answer for that, at least none that he can adequately put into words, and definitely none of which he’s about to admit to Draco.

The frenzied, desperate knocking startles them both, and though they both turn to stare at the closed office door, Draco seems to be choosing to ignore it. The knocker has other ideas, apparently, because as soon as Harry opens his mouth to speak, the banging starts up again, loud and insistent.

“What?” Draco snaps, and the door flies open.

Anxious Brunette Nurse stands in the doorway all but wringing his hands.

“Mr Malfoy... Aurors at the main doors, they want to come in and speak to you.”

It’s barely nine o’clock. Clearly, they’re not wasting any time. Harry glances covertly at Draco; he looks taken aback, but not as much as he would’ve done ten minutes ago.

“Not bloody likely,” Draco says, standing. The nurse pales. “Not in front of the patients.”

He shoves his wand into his pocket and runs an agitated hand through his hair before setting his features into a stony mask and pushing past the nurse. Harry follows him. Halfway out into the corridor, he notices and spins around.

“What are you doing?”

“Coming with you.” Harry frowns. Obviously.

“And how do you think that will look?” All challenge, but his shaky breath betrays him.

“I don’t care how it fucking looks, I’m coming with you.”

Just at that moment, the door creaks open and the nurse steps into the corridor behind them. Harry barely notices him but Draco manages to send a withering look in his direction. When he turns back to Harry, his eyes have softened a little and he drops his voice.

“No.”

“No?”

“Harry. Please. I know what you’re trying to do, but I need you to stay here.” The combination of his name and the careful request, almost sighed, strikes Harry. Hard. “Morning group, well, you know how that goes. Floo Algernon if you need him. There’s a new admission, the paperwork’s on my desk...”

“You want me to run the department as normal?” Harry demands, incredulous at the display of trust.

If Draco goes with them, it could be a while. He knows that, and Draco knows that, and yet.

“You can do it. You’re not completely useless.”

An uncertain smile tugs at the corners of Harry’s mouth. It might just be the best compliment Draco has ever given him. Possibly, now he thinks about it, the only one.

“Good luck,” Harry mumbles awkwardly, almost giving in to the urge to offer some kind of reassuring touch, but keeping his hands by his sides.

Draco quirks an eyebrow. “Luck is for the guilty, Harry. I won’t need it.”

“I know.” I know you didn’t do it.

His shock, in that split second that Harry gets to see it, is raw, sparkling, beautiful. Then, rolling up his sleeves, he turns and walks away. Harry stares after him, imagining the moment when he turns that haughty glare on Ron and his partner.

When he turns around to head back into the department, the anxious nurse looks rather amused.

“Oh, shut up,” Harry says, and lets the door bang behind him.

**~*~**

“Where’s Draco?” asks Seb, eyeing the empty office as he helps Harry to put out the last of the chairs for morning group.

Harry hesitates, weighing honesty against discretion and surprising himself by finding diplomacy somewhere in between. “He’s at the Ministry. They wanted his help with something.”

Not a lie, at least. Seb’s eyes bore into his back until he turns. Leans on the back of the last chair.

“How long will he be gone?”

“Probably most of the day,” Harry says, although he bloody well hopes not, for everyone’s sake.

Seb’s dark gaze is calculated, but he says nothing. Harry draws himself to his full height and tries to don the air of quiet authority that people are always telling him he has.

“Would you call everyone in, please?”

When Seb turns away, Harry sits down, deliberately choosing the seat Draco usually occupies. He has no idea how the patients will react to morning group sans Draco. Being a Healer garners him a certain amount of respect, but then again, he also remembers some of the stories Redrow has told him about previous trainees. And none of them had ever been left in charge.

As the patients start to drift in and take up their places in the circle, Harry resists fidgeting and greets each with a small smile that he hopes conveys ‘I mean business, but in a calm, supportive way’.

Oh, fuck it.
He’s survived killing curses and wars and two hours in a cupboard with Draco Malfoy. He’s good at his job, good with patients. This, though... this is like acting as the referee in a colossal argument, and being expected to not only make sure everyone comes out of it unscathed, but also that everyone takes something useful away from the experience.

Only one way to do it.

“Hi, everyone. Just me today, but we’re running everything as normal.”

Harry looks around at the expectant faces, heart pounding. He throws one foot up onto the opposite knee in a calculated gesture of nonchalance.

“Group open.”

Jump.

**~*~**

As the group races to a close, Harry finds himself filled with ever more respect for what Draco does here, every single day. He’s never registered quite how often the patients look to their group leader for backup, cues, encouragement, and how easy it is to let the discussion veer off at a completely pointless tangent. Let it not be said, though, that Harry Potter is not a fast learner.

He’s getting it, he knows he is, but he has no idea where Draco gets his poise from.

‘Good breeding, Potter,’ Harry imagines him saying, and smiles.

He snaps his attention back the group where Martin is attempting – clumsily – to defend himself against accusations of disrespectfulness.

“Yes, but I didn’t say – ”

“It’s not what you said, Martin, it’s the way you bloody said it!” the young, coffee-skinned witch next to Harry interrupts. Again.

“Soraya.” Harry speaks before he has had time to consciously formulate the thought, but it comes together anyway. “Do you see what you’re doing?”

“What?” Soraya exhales dramatically and stares at Harry.

“You’re telling Martin that he doesn’t respect you, and then you keep talking over him.”

Soraya scowls, but when Harry chances a glance at Martin, his pasty face is entertainingly dumbstruck. Next to him, Cassandra is clearly hiding a smile.

“I’m not saying that Martin’s blameless here, but maybe you both need to think about how you communicate.” What is it that Draco’s always saying? Ah. “When a behaviour jumps out at you, it’s often because you have that same behaviour.”

“Don’t be upset, ‘Raya,” offers Ramona. Her voice is barely audible but it’s the first time she’s spoken since the group started. “Just think about it.”

When Soraya nods silently, Harry exhales. “I think we’ll finish there.”

He closes his eyes briefly, dragging deep breaths in through his nose and listening to the scrape of chair-legs on polished stone. When he opens them again, he’s alone in the room.

Well, there’s one comfort zone well and truly shattered. And it seems he’s still alive.

Draco has been gone for more than two hours.

**~*~**

Lunch is meat pie and peas. Moodily, Harry pushes away his peas and tries not to think about the extra piece of pastry that Draco would have given him.

When he walks into the Stage One ward, he’s mildly surprised to see Redrow. He looks up from scribbling on a patient’s chart and smiles at Harry.

“Hello, Healer Potter. Just dropped by to check on this lot,” he says. “Is Draco about?”

Harry hesitates, but his mind is made up much more quickly this time. After all, this man is both his and Draco’s boss – he’s going to need to know anyway.

“Draco went to the Ministry. Some Aurors wanted to talk to him.” He pauses, wondering whether to elaborate, when Redrow almost drops the chart he’s holding.

“Aurors? What about?”

Redrow’s dark eyes are compelling, and Harry sighs. “They’re trying to find out who’s responsible for Chromia X,” he says, dropping his voice. And I really have to stop telling people that, he adds silently.

Clearly horrified, Redrow pales and sets the chart down, shaking his head. “And they think that Draco...?”

“I don’t know,” Harry lies. “That’s as much as I know. He went with them of his own free will, though. He wouldn’t do something like that, anyway.”

“Of course he bloody wouldn’t,” Redrow hisses, sotto voce. The dark eyes narrow almost defensively, and Harry feels somewhat warmed by Redrow’s vehemence.

“I know about... he told me about his past,” Harry says hesitantly, and the eyes soften slightly. “I think he’d rather no one else had to go through that experience, if he had a choice.”

“You’re an idealist, Healer Potter.” Redrow smiles faintly. “Draco, too, though he hides it a damn sight better than you do.”

Unsure if he should feel slighted or not, Harry frowns, and the man holds up a hand. “It isn’t a criticism. Myself, I’m a realist. People will always do these things to themselves, and that’s why this department is so important. Worth every last Knut it costs the hospital, too.”

“Of course it is,” Harry agrees, wondering if he inadvertently suggested the opposite. “You’re saving lives.”

Redrow laughs softly. “Perhaps that’s why you fit in so well here, Healer Potter.”

It’s a testament to how much Harry likes the man that he resists the urge to roll his eyes.

“I suppose so,” he says instead.

Raised voices coming from the main lounge catch Harry’s attention and he leans around the ward door, trying to hear exactly what’s going on. It’s no good; the doors are too far apart.

“I need to see what the Stage Twos are up to, I’m sorry,” he explains. “Feel like coming with and backing me up?”

Redrow shakes his head immediately. “I’ve a meeting in five minutes. This really was just a flying visit.”

Harry shrugs and turns to leave.

“Will you be alright on your own?”

“Of course.” He grins at Redrow and takes his leave. The key is to appear confident, he’s learned that much.

Harry has one hand on the door handle when he hears his own name. Stops. Squints through the inch-wide crack in the door.

“You’re all daft,” one of the newer male patients is saying, and a small group of others nods along with him. “Sitting here doing all this work. Harry’s here on his own – he doesn’t know what he’s doing. We can just tell him Draco said we had a free afternoon.”

Oh, really?” Harry mutters to himself. He resolves to keep a closer eye on that patient from now on.

“You’re suggesting one of us goes into that office and lies to him?” Ramona asks uncertainly.

“No, we’re suggesting that you go in there and lie to him. You’ve got an honest face.”

“Maybe that’s because she is honest,” mutters Soraya, though it’s unclear whose side she’s on.

“Oh, for... someone’s got to scam him, ’cause I ain’t spending all my afternoon writing.”

Harry grits his teeth and forces himself to stay where he is. Much as he’d like to interrupt right now and really put a cat amongst the pigeons, he wants to see what the community will do. Automatically, he looks around for Cassandra, but she’s not in the room.

“I’m not doing it,” asserts Ramona, and Harry smiles.

“I bloody will, then.” The man stands, and it’s then that Harry gets the shock of his life.

“Fucking... give it a rest,” bellows Martin, rising from the table and pushing his way into the centre of the group. “Leave Ramona alone. And Harry might be new, but he’s been here longer than you bloody have, Leonard. If you don’t want to do your work, that’s your problem, but you can keep your mouth shut and give Harry a bit of fucking respect.”

Harry reckons Leonard’s jaw hits the floor about the same time his does. After a moment, the man seems to recover himself and opens his mouth to fight back, but the look on Martin’s face soon silences him again. Harry doesn’t blame him. In the dark, forbidding stakes, Martin could have given Snape a run for his money.

Cassandra flings open the other door and stops short, visibly unnerved by the silence in the room. Her eyes immediately settle on Martin, and Harry watches the two of them size each other up carefully.

“Fine,” Leonard says suddenly, and he slumps back into his armchair.

“Cassandra.” Martin nods curtly and returns to the table, turning his back on the group.

The gesture is cordial, bordering on deferent, but does nothing to diminish the pure authority exuding from the man. So, perhaps Draco was wrong, but Harry was wrong too; he can see that now. And never in a million years did he expect Martin to leap to his defence.

As the conversation in the room slowly returns to normal volume, Cassandra stands alone and pensive. After a moment, she pulls out the chair next to Martin’s, rests her elbows on the table and speaks. Harry doesn’t hear what she says, but to his astonishment, Martin looks up, nods, and curls his lip in what can only be described as a smile.

Miracles, it seems, never fucking cease.

**~*~**

Afternoon group is uneventful, with several patients markedly less strident than they had been just hours before. Harry says nothing about what he has seen and heard; there’ll be a time for that. Before he knows it, he’s back in the office, sitting in Draco’s chair and watching the clock.

He tries telling himself he’s not worried. After all, Draco’s not his to worry about, even if something leaps inappropriately in his chest at the thought. And, of course, he’s fine. Even though he’s not so sure about Rodriguez, Harry knows that Ron wouldn’t do anything unethical.

Logic isn’t working, however. Harry sighs and presses his cheek against the cool seat-back, smelling worn leather and something Draco uses in his hair. The paperwork is all done, but the Prophet crossword is unfinished because his Astronomy is terrible (14 across), and 2 down requires knowledge of Wizarding literature, of which Harry is sorely deficient. He hasn’t had time to read a book that wasn’t related to Healing for years.

He’s checked Stage One... over-checked, really. The rest are engaged in some bewildering craft activity in the main lounge. Bored. He’s bored. Not worried... well, perhaps a bit worried. But mostly bored.

Pushing off with one foot, Harry rotates on the swivel chair. Round and round and round.

When the door opens, he reaches out to grab the edge of the desk, head spinning. Draco leans against the door frame. Harry takes in his dishevelled hair, deathly pallor and irritable expression with an inward wince. He wonders if it’s a little wrong to still find him alluring when he’s clearly distressed.

“Veritaserum,” is all Draco says, and in fact all he needs to say.

Harry gapes. “What the hell? They made you – ”

“They didn’t make me,” Draco interrupts. “I offered.”

“You look... fucking hell. How much? And why the hell would you offer?” Harry gets up and steps closer, hanging onto the door handle just so that he has something to do with his hands.

“A lot. It doesn’t last long, as I’m sure you know.” Draco arches an eyebrow, but even that seems half-hearted and worn. “I offered because that’s where it would have ended up anyway, and I opted for the illusion that I had at least a modicum of control over the proceedings.”

“Well, they let you go,” Harry says pointlessly, too relieved to try to hide it.

“Sharp as a tack.” Draco’s wry half-smile briefly brightens the tired grey eyes. Harry returns it.

“You need coffee... at the very least,” Harry assesses. And chocolate, he thinks. Definitely.

For once, Draco doesn’t even try to argue. “Who’s here?”

“Er... two nurses.” Harry pauses, wishing he was better at names. “Anxious Brunette Nurse and Loud Irish Nurse. And Scary Craft Lady.”

His words draw a snort of laughter from Draco, and Harry prods him gently out of the office. The wool sweater is just as soft and warm as it looks, he decides.

“Wonderful,” Draco says. “Let’s go.”

Draco locks his office and slaps a scribbled post-it note on the door. Scary Craft Lady’s name is Annette, apparently. Not that Harry’s going to remember it.

“You keep post-it notes in your pocket,” Harry observes as they walk out into the corridor.

“Shut up.” Draco kicks the side of his shoe lightly. “You’d be surprised what I keep in my pockets.”

**~*~**

“And a piece of that blueberry pie, please.” Harry points, surveying the range of always-excellent desserts behind the canteen counter. He already has coffee and confectionery, and he’s not sure what kind of desserts Draco likes, but chocolate is good for shock, so it’s probably OK for post-interrogation fatigue, too.

“Anything else, love?” The serving witch passes him the plate and peers up at him myopically.

“Just a slice of that lovely chocolate cake,” Harry says, flashing her a winning smile. “Any chance of that corner one with all the icing on it?”

She grins toothlessly and obliges. There’s no use fighting it, Harry thinks. Old ladies love him.

With the tray bobbing gently behind him, Harry treks over to the table Draco has selected. It’s the one furthest from the door and some distance away from any of the other occupied tables, but it’s next to the window and he’s not about to start picking fights about table choices. As Harry approaches the table, Draco sighs, chin propped up in one hand, elbows resting on the tabletop.

The cross expression lightens slightly as Harry sits opposite him and pushes coffee and Chocolate Frogs under his nose. Wisely, Harry says nothing and just looks out of the window, flicking occasional glances at Draco.

Strong, dextrous fingers tipping in sugar and stirring.

The flick of a pointed tongue, swiping a fleck of foam from a full lower lip.

The gradual lessening of that hard line between drawn-down eyebrows.

“I haven’t eaten these since I was at Hogwarts,” Draco says eventually, tearing open the packet and examining the struggling frog between thumb and forefinger.

Harry wraps his hands around his coffee cup. “Liar,” he says, relieved when Draco returns his smile.

“So.” Draco bites the head off the frog and it stops moving. “Everything OK today?”

“Yes. Turns out you were right, I’m not completely useless. Redrow came by... he asked where you were.” Harry hesitates, but Draco seems unconcerned, not looking at him and licking chocolate from his fingers. A shock of desire shoots through Harry’s lower body. He looks away. “I gave him a brief idea of what was going on, hope that’s OK.”

“I would have had to tell him anyway. Hospital policy.” Draco shrugs, wiping his fingers on a napkin, to Harry’s relief. “What did he say?”

“He was pretty indignant on your behalf,” Harry says.

“Good old Algernon.” Draco unwraps another frog. “Did the patients behave themselves, or did they try to take advantage of you?”

Harry sips his coffee and stalls, wondering how much he should tell. It feels a little like admitting to weakness, but for some reason, he wants to tell Draco about Martin’s unexpected turn.

So he does, start to finish. Draco listens silently and demolishes the pile of frogs, one after another.

“And,” Harry adds, “just before I left, he and Cass were talking. And I think he smiled.

Temporarily restored by the caffeine and sugar, Draco’s grin of triumph is blinding. He still looks a little bit fuzzy around the edges, but only sleep will fix that. “I knew he had it in him. I told you.”

“Yeah, I thought that might come up,” Harry mutters.

“Are you going to give me half my Galleons back?”

“No chance.”

“Always worth a try. Shame he’s leaving in a few days,” Draco muses, stretching luxuriously in his seat.

“And Cass.”

“And Cass,” Draco agrees. “Nice girl. Shame about the bloody awful flowery scent that she insists on drenching herself with. I won’t miss that.”

Harry frowns. He’s always thought Cassandra smelled nice, of something light and floral not dissimilar to the perfume Hermione uses. “Ah.” He remembers, suddenly. Of course. “Because of the Chromia?” he asks, dropping his voice, even though no one could hope to hear him in the crowded canteen.

“Yes.”

“Well... fortunately for you, I don’t like cologne,” Harry points out, for no good reason that he can see.

When Draco’s eyes glitter with amusement, he swallows hard. “I know.”

Harry doesn’t have an answer to that. He wants to ask Draco what he smells like; he wants to tell Draco that he likes the smell of lemons, but he does no such thing. Instead, he plays with his fork and asks the obvious question.

“So... what happened?”

Draco pokes at the self-refilling spot on his cup with the tip of his wand. “It never tastes right after the refill,” he sighs. Harry lets out an impatient sound and he snaps back to attention. “Myself, Weasley and that swarthy-looking miscreant, locked in an airless room for several hours. An experience I’d rather not repeat.”

“Well, you seem to be getting back your ability to insult,” Harry observes. “So, what do they know?”

“Everything, Harry. Fucking everything.” Draco picks fitfully at his cake topping and spares Harry a beleaguered glance. “Bloody fucking Aurors delving into my past just as the five-year media gag expires. They’ve fantastic timing, I’ll give them that.”

Harry winces as the possible implications sink in. “I want to say it’ll be OK, but I know what they’re like at the Prophet, unfortunately,” he offers. “That’s if they find out, obviously.”

Draco laughs hollowly and shakes his head. “I’m sure. I can see the headline now – ‘Ex-Death Eater addict scum Malfoy suspected of drug dealing’.”

“Snappy.” The weak smile is more than Harry expected to get. He leans closer across the table. “There must be something we can do.”

“You don’t have to save me, Potter.”

“Less of the Potter,” Harry remonstrates. “There’s a difference between saving and helping, you know. What about your parents?”

As soon as the question leaves his lips, Harry realises he has no idea where Lucius and Narcissa are, or what they’re doing. Draco inhales sharply and looks at the table.

“My father’s dead.”

Oh, god. Harry hesitates. It’s not as though the world will miss Lucius Malfoy, but even so. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not.” Draco looks up abruptly and meets Harry’s gaze with eyes that are clear and unwavering. Harry’s hand twitches on the table top with the effort of keeping it where it is. “The part of him that was really my father died a long time ago.”

“What about your mum?” Harry asks carefully, sensing that pushing the subject is unlikely to achieve anything.

“She doesn’t read the papers. She doesn’t even go outside, just hides in the Manor. She says she doesn’t understand the world any more, but I think she’s afraid.”

Cold, haughty, privileged Narcissa Malfoy, afraid of the world. What’s wrong with this picture? Harry stares into the foam at the bottom of his coffee cup. “Your mother saved my life,” he says at last.

“I know.”

“So did you.”

Draco shrugs uneasily and looks out of the window. “Perhaps.” The sun is slipping below the horizon and the soft light filters through the window, illuminating the pale skin and outlining the sharp features for Harry’s scrutiny. White-blond eyelashes flutter momentarily as Draco shuts his eyes, just for a second. “I never did thank you for what you did at those trials. I should have.”

Pulse racing, unable to look away, Harry fights down a niggle of irrational guilt. “I didn’t say that so you’d thank me. I wasn’t fishing for gratitude, believe it or not.”

He’s never seen Draco so uncomfortable, so awkward, and it’s compelling. Harry watches as he traces invisible patterns on the shiny table top with his fingers, the grey eyes following the swirling movements as though Draco’s very existence depends upon it.

“I know,” says Draco. “But without your testimony, I doubt I’d have been in any sort of position to be making deals with the Ministry.” He takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. “And yes, I know what I said before. If you’d like to consider this one of those very rare apologies... I’d be OK with that.”

Harry refills his coffee with a tiny smile. The apology is so utterly Malfoy in its logic, and he supposes it wouldn’t have seemed genuine any other way. He knows how much it must have cost Draco, and he summons graciousness that would impress even Hermione.

“Apology accepted, then.”

Draco says nothing, but his small, stiff nod and subsequent rapt interest in his slice of cake are enough.

There are other apologies to be made, and Harry knows he’s the one who has to make them. Something tells him that now is not the time, though. As always, the temptation to rush in and try to fix everything right away is compelling, but he resists, knowing that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.

And apparently, against all odds, Draco Malfoy is something that’s worth doing properly.

... or something to that effect. Harry smirks and silences all the little voices in his head.

“What’s funny?”

“Oh, I... ” Harry colours slightly and casts around for something that won’t make him sound like a pervert or a nutcase. “I was just thinking that perhaps we wasted a lot of time hating each other.”

“I haven’t hated you for a long time, Harry,” he says casually, swiping cake crumbs into his mouth on the pad of one finger.

“Really?” Harry regards him doubtfully. He remembers that contemptuous glare very well, even though it’s been a while since he’s seen it aimed at him. “You did a pretty good job of pretending you did, only a couple of weeks ago.”

Draco shakes his head slowly, as though Harry is a particularly slow child. “I said I didn’t hate you, I never said I didn’t find you extremely fucking irritating.”

The smile turns Harry’s stomach over, but the words make him scowl. Apparently, nothing Draco-related can be simple. “Gosh, thanks, Draco,” he mutters.

“Don’t mention it.”

And he wants Harry to bite, of course he does. It’s so transparent, and there’s no way Harry’s going to give in and ask. No way. He looks at the table, at his fingers with the bitten-down nails, at the half-empty canteen. Anywhere but at Draco. After a moment, his eyes come to rest on the forgotten slice of pie, and he pulls it toward him, sinking his fork through light, crisp pastry and soft, sticky filling.

The first bite is halfway to his mouth when the maddening prickle on the back of his neck becomes unbearable, and he throws the fork back onto the plate with a noisy clunk.

“Fine. Tell me. How am I irritating?”

Draco’s smile is slow and satisfied. He stretches unhurriedly, and leans across the table on his elbows.

“Oh, where to start? Perhaps... your disturbing chirpiness in the mornings. In fact, your disturbing chirpiness most of the time. On the other hand, your terrible temper. Your appalling posture. Your worrying lack of knowledge about popular culture. Your constant need to save people. Your unrelenting compulsion to state the bloody obvious.”

He pauses for breath, and then continues, carelessly indicating the points on his fingers.

“Your ridiculous hair that manages to defy both gravity and good taste. Your fidgeting. Your naive Gryffindorish insistence on seeing the best in everyone. Your messiness and your thinking out loud and your book-stealing,” Draco finishes, levelling a pointed glance at Harry and then sitting back in his chair, arms crossed and expectant.

“Book-borrowing,” Harry mutters, picking up the fork again and poking at his pie. He should be offended, but it’s just not happening. Instead, he feels like he wants to... pull Draco’s pigtails, so to speak.

“So?”

Harry looks up, baffled. “So, what?”

An exasperated sigh. “Don’t tell me you don’t have a great long list of things that I do that annoy you.”

As a matter of fact, he does. Probably. “I do.”

“Aren’t you going to share it with me?” Draco demands. He’s almost... almost pouting, and it’s just too good.

“Nope.” Harry grins. “I think it’ll annoy you more if I don’t.”

And there it is—there’s the glare. Harry sighs with contentment and finally slides the forkful of pie into his mouth. He doesn’t even care when an audible groan of pleasure escapes from his lips because it’s good.

The pastry is melt-in-the-mouth shortcrust, the granules of brown sugar rough against his tongue and the syrupy sharp-sweetness of the blueberry contrasting deliciously and making him terribly regretful that he’s waited this long to eat it.

He doesn’t realise he’s closed his eyes until he swallows, blinks and finds Draco looking at him with interest, the scowl replaced by amusement.

“You need to try this,” Harry insists, scooping up another generous bite without thinking.

As he holds out the fork, intending Draco to take it from him, Harry unexpectedly catches sight of Terry, sitting just two tables over with a group of unfamiliar Healers. There’s no way of knowing how long he’s been sitting there, but he looks absolutely thunderstruck. Harry nods and smiles weakly, but the treacherous blush lights up his face like a beacon.

It’s not like he’s doing anything wrong. Just sharing dessert with a colleague.

When Draco’s fingers wrap around his wrist, Harry turns back to him, pulse jumping at the touch. Eyes flitting briefly between Harry and Terry, Draco grins and leans over to close his mouth around the outstretched fork. All too quickly, he releases Harry’s wrist and chews thoughtfully.

“It’s good,” he agrees.

Torn between looking at Draco’s mouth, eyes and throat as he swallows, Harry focuses instead on the empty fork in his hand, turning it over and over in his fingers. He’s losing the plot, and definitely doesn’t trust himself to speak.

“Friend of yours?” Draco asks casually, glancing back at the other table.

“Yeah.” There’s no way Harry is looking at Terry now. “That’s Terry Boot... he was in our year at Hogwarts.”

“Thought he looked familiar. Hufflepuff?”

“Ravenclaw.”

Harry drops his hands into his lap and rubs his thumb over the inside of his wrist. The sensitive skin still tingles from the unexpected touch, deliberate on Draco’s part, surely? Whatever he might think, Harry isn’t naive enough to believe that Draco would do anything without at least some awareness of his actions. The purpose is less clear. To make him uncomfortable? To make Terry uncomfortable?

It’s possible of course, that he’s over-analysing. It would be a first, granted, but stranger things have happened recently.

“People always stare at me when I sit in here,” Draco is saying, looking around. “Which is why I don’t sit in here.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow. What he wants to say is, ‘Well, you’re not exactly trying to be inconspicuous, what with all your wrist-grabbing and pseudo-flirting.’

What he actually says is; “Stop complaining. I bought you coffee. And cake.”

“You did. They could have fed me at the bloody Ministry. All I got was water, and that was at room temperature.”

Draco’s tone indicates that Harry should be scandalized, but he just laughs. “Snob. They’re not going to haul you in again, are they? That’s it, now?”

“Yes. I’m no longer a person of interest in their investigation, which I think is just a fancy way of saying ‘prime suspect’,” Draco says, watching Harry intently as he devours the last of the pie. “They seemed content with uncovering every detail of my life instead.”

Harry can’t quite suppress the light shudder that passes through him. The idea of being interrogated under Veritaserum is horrifying, the thought of losing control over even your very darkest secrets, the stuff of nightmares.

“I suppose they’ll have to start looking elsewhere for suspects,” he says. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Draco sighs, resting his chin in his palm wearily. “Neither do they. They want my help.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes, it’s that ‘bring in the addicts to catch the dealer’ approach.”

“But you’re not...”

“Not me,” Draco corrects. “My patients. Weasley wants information from the ones who bought Chromia X.”

Apparently, there is room for this rotation to get a little more surreal after all. Draco rubs his eyes, and Harry fights a sympathetic yawn. He seems to have sagged all of a sudden, and Harry, too, now that he’s released the tension of his day, is completely shattered.

“What did you say to him?” Harry drains his coffee cup and slumps on folded arms.

“I said I’d think about it.”

“Hmph.”

“I’m going back to the department for a moment, just in case they think I’ve deserted them permanently,” Draco yawns, getting up and easing the kinks from his back.

Harry blinks up at him and nods. After a moment, he rises. “They’ve seen enough of me today, I’m going home.”

As he turns to leave, Harry deliberates for a fraction of a second before reaching out tentatively and patting Draco’s cashmere-clad arm in perhaps the first friendly, compassionate contact he has ever initiated with the man. It’s nothing, nowhere near enough, but Draco’s eyes go gratifyingly wide, and it’ll do.

“See you tomorrow,” Draco calls out, distracted.

“You will.” Harry smiles and Disapparates.

**~*~**

“Ron says the interview with Malfoy didn’t go quite as they expected,” Hermione says, examining her nails in a painful attempt at casual.

She’s sitting on Harry’s kitchen counter top as he makes tea, dark outer robe folded neatly beside her, Malfoy’s copy of ‘Bridging the Gap’ resting on top. Ostensibly, she’s come to return it, but Harry knows her better than that by now.

He’s still tired, but there’s no use putting it off. When Hermione wants to talk about something, she’s like a dog with a bone, and it’s a foolish man that ignores that fact. If he’s honest, he’s amazed she’s lasted the three days since Friday night.

“No, I suppose it didn’t.” Harry levitates her cup, handle out, so as not to touch the hot ceramic. “Is he pissed off?”

“No. Just frustrated. Rodriguez is really sore, though, which I think’s cheered him up.” Hermione smiles and tucks an escaping curl behind her ear. “Ron says he’s never seen him go that colour before.”

Harry laughs into his cup and leans against the counter. “I’d like to have seen that.”

“Ron told me...” She hesitates, setting down her cup and smoothing non-existent creases from her smart aubergine suit trousers. “He told me what you talked about at the weekend.”

Of course he did. “I said I didn’t think Draco was the one responsible,” Harry says lightly. “I was right.”

“Draco, is it?” Hermione’s tone is blasé, but Harry isn’t fooled.

“That’s his name, as it turns out,” he replies, gulping at his too-hot tea and forcing himself to look at her over the rim of the cup. Hermione’s dark eyes are intense, and this time there’s no alcohol to soften the challenge. No Ron to distract her from her target.

“Are you... involved?”

Harry chokes slightly on his tea, but she holds onto the eye contact. He doesn’t know why he expected for a second that she’d do anything but get straight to the point.

He rubs a hand over his face. “No.”

“But?” But you want it.

“Yeah. But,” he admits. But yeah, I do want it. “I know you’re not surprised.”

She picks up her cup again, turning it delicately in small hands. “Not really.”

“People change,” he says, even though she didn’t ask for an explanation.

“Sometimes,” she says slowly. “Please be careful, Harry.”

He grins, light with exhaustion and relief. “Don’t worry. Caution is practically my middle name.”

Hermione lifts a dubious eyebrow and holds out her empty cup expectantly.

“It’s your turn,” Harry points out.

“I’m a guest.”

“So?”

“So... I’ve been in meetings all day with some of the dullest individuals you could hope to meet.”

“No way, I know you love your job,” Harry disagrees, shaking his head. When Hermione says nothing, he shrugs and points at her with his cup. “OK. I see your Ministry meetings, and I raise you being left alone at the mercy of sixteen scheming Chem Dep patients.”

Hermione scrutinizes him for a long moment. Finally, she heaves a long-suffering sigh and slides down from the counter onto her feet, sensible low heels clacking on the tile.

“You’re going to have to brush up on your etiquette if you want to bag a pureblood,” she remarks, carrying the kettle over to the sink.

Harry stares at the back of her head and says nothing.

Fucking unbelievable.

The cupboard door just above his head flaps back and forth noisily. He thinks he knows how it feels.

**~*~**

That night, he sleeps better than he has done in a long time. Whether it’s the stress of the day, the outcome of the interrogation or the unexpected apology, Harry can’t be sure, but whichever way, he wakes up before the alarm as hard as he’s ever been. Warm and comfortable, Harry wraps a languid hand around his cock without bothering to open his eyes.

It doesn’t take long, and he doesn’t even try to pretend he’s not thinking about Draco’s mouth, his fingers, his smell. It’s the new memory of the intense eye contact and just what Draco looks like when he swallows that does him in, though. Just a graze of his thumbnail across the sensitive head and he loses it, arching and spilling over his hand with a soft cry.

There are worse ways to start the day, he decides. It seems his body agrees with him too, because two out of the next three mornings begin exactly the same way. And there’s bags of satisfaction to be had from the fact that an early morning wank plus a good cup of coffee makes him even more ‘disturbingly chirpy’ first thing, much to Draco’s chagrin.

The fact that Harry’s starting to find Draco’s ‘I am not a morning person’ scowl really quite erotic is an unexpected side effect, but he can cope with that. He’s a professional, and besides, Draco barely speaks to him for the first half-hour of the day anyway. Routine, as always, is a reassuring thing.

By Thursday morning, Harry has admitted four new patients to Stage One, moved three to Stage Two, and overseen the departures of Martin and Seb. Martin’s firm handshake and brief ‘thank you’ are like a big wet kiss from anyone else, and Harry is almost sad to see him go. Today is Cassandra’s last day, and yet it seems like five minutes since she was that nervous girl watching Harry from the windowsill on his very first day.

Cecile had been right when she’d said that a month really wasn’t a long time, only not in the way that Harry had first thought. It makes no sense to get attached to the patients, he knows that, but the intensity of the environment makes it almost impossible not to.

“How do you deal with it?”

“How do I deal with what?” Draco looks up from the desk.

Harry tears his eyes from where Cassandra is saying her goodbyes over at the window. He turns in the office doorway, unaware he’d voiced his thoughts.

“When they leave. Thirty days, and then that’s it... must be difficult.”

“No more so than what you do,” Draco disagrees. “You have to say goodbye to patients all the time. Some of them die.” His tone is bordering on dismissive, but the hand that rakes through his hair says otherwise.

“Yeah, but I see those patients maybe twice a day for a week. You spend every day for a month with these people,” Harry argues. “You hear their stories, you tell them yours. You must feel something.”

The little voice in his head wants to know exactly what he’s trying to achieve by pushing Malfoy to admit that he has feelings. If actions speak louder than words, he’s already seen evidence that he does, but Harry wants to hear him say it.

“No. I don’t allow myself to get attached to people.”

The eyes flicker and Harry’s not having it. “Bullshit.”

Draco looks down at his newspaper, carelessly flipping through the pages, nostrils flaring. “It depends on the patient. Sometimes I’m relieved. Sometimes I’m proud. Sometimes... some of them, I miss. OK?” He sighs. “I deal with it because I’ve been doing this for a long time. If I didn’t deal with it, I wouldn’t be able to do my job.”

Harry smiles, triumphant. “You care.”

The derisive snort is immediate but it doesn’t discourage Harry one bit. “Nothing in the Prophet about me, again,” Draco announces, closing the paper and folding it in half with satisfaction. He turns surprised eyes to Harry, making a sudden warmth pool in the pit of his stomach.

“Good. You care,” he repeats, grinning. “You care about your patients, and you care what people think of you. Whatever next?”

“Next, you’ll take these discharge papers and get out of my office.” Draco holds out a sheaf of clipped papers and scowls ineffectually. “If you know what’s good for you.”

“Are you arguing?” The soft voice and warm arm around his waist make Harry glance to one side, and sure enough, he’s being hugged by Cassandra. “I kind of thought you were starting to like each other.”

“Appearances can be deceptive,” Draco mutters.

She grins, looking out from under her long fringe. “I’ll miss you, Draco.”

Harry wraps an arm around her shoulders briefly and then releases her. “He’ll miss you, too.”

The dark muttering, he expects and ignores. Instead, Harry takes the papers and Draco’s quill and follows Cassandra back out into the light-drenched room. When he looks back into the office, the grey eyes are watching him intently.

Chapter Text

It’s a disturbing feeling to be waking up on a Saturday morning with a clear head, and it takes Harry a moment to remember that he has Rodriguez to thank for it.

Having felt the rough edge of Molly Weasley’s tongue after missing last week’s family dinner, Ron had insisted on a work-free Sunday, case or no case. Rodriguez, it turns out, drives a hard bargain, the upshot being that Ron now has a Saturday morning action meeting, and Friday night drinks have been shunted to Saturday night.

Which, Harry can’t help feeling, is inherently wrong somehow, to the extent that it sends his whole Saturday rhythm out of whack.

He’s usually perfectly content to wander around the house on weekends, and can always find a whole load of pointless activities in which to immerse himself, but not today. Heaving a restless sigh, Harry rests his chin on the smooth grain of his dining table, arms dangling inelegantly at his sides.

Ron’s in his meeting. Hermione has seized upon the excuse to work and is surely buried under a flurry of paperwork in her office. Cecile’s working a double shift in Dark Arts Reversals. Nev’ll be busy; he does his briskest trade at weekends. And Gin... Harry drags himself slowly upright as the thought occurs to him. Ginny works in Chem Dep at weekends, doesn’t she?

And it’s not like it has anything to do with Draco, because he won’t be there. Obviously. That said, Harry thinks as he ties his shoelaces and pulls on a thin coat, he can’t help but wonder what exactly Draco gets up to at weekends. Perhaps Ginny will know.

The morning air is fresh and damp with the night’s rainfall, the soft breeze stirring Harry’s hair from his forehead as he walks slowly to the hospital, hands shoved in pockets, enjoying the silence of grey sky and rain-slicked pavements.

As he steps into the warm, bustling foyer, the world switches abruptly from muted hush to a shock of colour and noise.

“You need to go home and get some sleep, Mr Cameron.” Cecile’s voice makes Harry turn, and sure enough, there she is, one hand on the arm of a distressed, ashen-faced man as she steers him toward the nearest Floo connection. “She’s stable. The best thing you can do for her right now is come back when you’ve had some rest, OK?”

When the man disappears into the flames, Harry calls out to her and she whirls around. The dark circles underneath her eyes make him wince, but she smiles to see him.

“I think someone needs to take their own advice,” he says as she fights her way over to his side.

“Yeah, well... I’ve still got eight hours left,” she sighs, pushing back the blonde strands that straggle around her face. “It took half the night to stabilize that guy’s wife... she’s a Curse-Breaker. We don’t know what it was that backfired on her, but it was extremely nasty. Stasis Spells wipe me out.”

“You love it. You’re a glutton for punishment.”

Cecile grins wearily. “I can still do this, though,” she points out, and casts the wet fish hex with barely a twitch of her wand. Harry shivers and scowls. “That’s good coming from you, anyway. What are you doing here on a Saturday? Did Malfoy need a consult?”

No,” he says, throwing a non-verbal Stinging Hex that Cecile just about manages to step out of the way of. “I’m bored. Never a dull moment in Chem Dep.”

Someone calls Cecile’s name, and she turns, standing on tiptoes and looking around. “I’ve said it before, Harry, and I’ll say it again. You’re a very strange person.” She turns and smirks at him. “I’ve got to run.”

“Try to stay conscious!” he calls after her. It’s difficult to see, as she melts back into the throng, but Harry thinks she gives him the finger.

He laughs, and heads for the fifth floor.

**~*~**

“OK... Rene’s miserable, got that. What was it you said about Soraya?”

Ginny’s voice, floating out from a tiny crack in the office door. Ears pricking up, Harry takes a step closer to the door, taking care not to let his shoes squeak on the floor.

“I said watch her, because she’s getting a bit too close to Jake,” comes the answer, and it’s unmistakeably Draco.

Harry freezes and flattens himself against the wall for a good few seconds, the time it takes him to tell himself to stop being so fucking dramatic. They can’t see him. Which is a good job, really, considering he currently resembles a character from one of those bad spy films Ron likes so much.

When he peers through the crack, he can just about make out Ginny’s pale hand clutching a bright red biro as she scribbles furiously in a battered leather notebook. “Which one’s Jake again?” she asks, hand stilling.

Unseen, Draco’s sigh is one of pure exasperation. “Honestly, Ginevra. Sometimes, I despair of you. Jake is the one who looks like he belongs on the cover of Witch Weekly.

Harry raises his eyebrows and chews on his lower lip thoughtfully.

“Tall, dark and pouty? Ah, yeah.” The hand scribbles another line. “Anything else?”

Draco’s remark is lost in the sudden rustling and scraping as they get up.

“Bugger off, Draco. I can’t remember everything when I’m only here once a week and you know it.”

Harry glances around the group room, wondering where to put himself. Anywhere but right behind the office door will do, he decides, racing over to the windowsill and leaning on it nonchalantly as the pair emerge from the office.

Ginny sees him first, her surprise quickly melting into a smile. Draco looks blindsided, but soon recovers himself. For what seems like a long time, no one says a thing. It occurs to Harry that this is the first time all three of them have been in a room together for several years. Since Harry became aware of Ginny and Draco’s unexpected friendship, even, and oh, yes. It’s awkward.

“I thought maybe you could do with an extra pair of hands today.” Harry addresses Ginny, but can’t quite look away from Draco’s eyes.

“That’s great,” she says. “The more the merrier, right, Draco?”

“Hmm?” It seems that he can’t bring himself to look away either, and Harry’s breath is stolen.

Harry hears rather than sees Ginny’s elbow to the ribs, but Draco blinks and looks down at her, and Harry sucks air into his lungs greedily.

“Yes.” Draco nods, visibly puzzled. “Yes. I was just leaving, anyway. So... Ha—Healer Potter,” he stumbles slightly over the address, as though Ginny’s presence makes him doubt their new-found informality, and something about that makes delight leap in Harry’s chest. “I shall see you on Monday. Goodbye, Ginevra.”

He frowns, pulls his wand out of his pocket and stalks toward the exit. It’s only when his back is turned that Harry realises he’s wearing Muggle jeans, the kind that pretend to be old and faded but really cost a small fortune. They look good on him.

The door slams, and Harry smiles brightly at Ginny.

“He’s a strange, strange man,” she murmurs, tucking the pen behind her ear and the book under her arm as she aims her wand at the office door and locks it securely.

“What are you going to do with your wand?”

“There’s a warded box in Stage One,” she replies, turning back to look at him.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to use the office?”

“This office? You must be joking. No one’s allowed in there when Draco’s not here.” Ginny pulls a face. “It’s like his sacred space or something. Locked up,” she intones, wiggling her fingers.

“I see,” Harry says faintly.

But as he follows Ginny into the Stage One ward, he’s only half listening to her instructions about the nature of the spells protecting the lock box. In his head, he’s back spinning in Draco’s swivel chair and looking up at him, framed in the doorway, from behind the desk.

He, apparently, has office privileges. He doesn’t tell Ginny.

**~*~**

The atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed during Ginny’s laid-back morning group, due in no small part to the fact that she holds it in the main lounge with the fire crackling in the background, instead of in the usual austere space.

The patients pull the armchairs round to form a rough circle, others sprawling on the floor in between and in front of the fire. Harry, remembering Draco’s warning, insinuates himself between Jake and a disgruntled Soraya on a thick patterned rug. Ginny catches his eye and shoots him a secret, approving smile.

Harry leans back on his hands and puts on his group-referee head. It’s not long, though, before he realises he doesn’t need it. Ginny’s group isn’t about challenge; she allows each patient to talk in turn about their feelings, struggles and what they hope to achieve over the next few days. His input is barely required, and more than once, the entire group dissolves into giggles.

It’s interesting, he thinks, watching her. She doesn’t have Draco’s natural authority, but there’s something so comfortable about the way she sits cross-legged in a battered armchair, feet tucked under her and notepad balanced on her knee, like she belongs there. She certainly has no problem holding the attention of the group when she speaks, and if Harry’s surprised, he’s no longer... surprised about being surprised.

He wonders if he’s really been wrapped up in his own struggles for so long that the people around him have changed and grown without him noticing. It’s a sobering thought, and more so is the notion that, had he not acted so impetuously toward Tremellen, Harry might have gone on not noticing Ron’s new acceptance and Hermione’s new restraint. Ginny’s accomplishment and ability to forgive. The fact that Draco Malfoy, despite his prickly exterior, has a sense of humour and a sense of remorse. And intense eyes, and a divine mouth, and—

“Here.”

Harry blinks. Glances down to his left, where Jake is holding out the smooth black pebble the patients have been passing around. He takes it, rubbing his thumb over the slippery stone as he thinks.

“Thanks.” He sits forward, turning the stone over and over in his hands. “Well, it’s nice to be here on a Saturday for a change. I’m here to support Ginny in any way I can.”

Pausing, Harry looks around at the silent group. Unlike the usual groups, there’s something else required of him here, something personal. He casts his mind back over the contributions so far.

‘This weekend, I want to apologise to Ramona about how I spoke to her last week.’

‘I feel horrible and I want to go home, but I know that’s not the right thing to do.’

‘Today, I got a letter from my daughter and it made me cry.’

‘The day started pretty badly when I rolled over the wrong way and fell out of bed.’


Harry smiles. “This week I realised that sometimes, I’m so busy that I don’t notice people changing. People can change, and they can surprise me. That’s a good thing, I think.” He presses the stone between both palms. “I’m sure I’ll find out.”

**~*~**

Ginny leans against the windowsill in the Stage One ward as Harry flits from bed to bed, flicking potion bags and talking softly to the patients.

Glancing between the chart and the bag hovering at eye level, Harry increases the drip rate of the shimmering potion. The usual stuff just doesn’t seem to be as effective with the Chromia X patients, and he can’t help but think of all the unused experimental potions bubbling away in Draco’s lab.

“Sorry, mate,” he murmurs, making a note. “But that’s all I can give you for now.”

“Do you think they hear you?” Ginny asks.

“Some of them do,” he replies, thinking of Ramona. “Healer Redrow is less than convinced, though.”

“Al’s nice, isn’t he?”

“You call him Al?” Harry turns to her, amused. Professionalism requires that he calls the man Healer Redrow, but he supposes technically, Ginny’s not his subordinate.

“Not to his face.” Ginny grins. “He was the first person I met here. I think if it hadn’t been for him, I would’ve walked out when I saw who was running the place.”

“What did he say to you?”

“I think he said: ‘Good grief, it’s the Weaselette’,” Ginny says, pulling off a passable Malfoy-esque drawl.

Harry laughs and motions for her to follow him back out into the main room, where they settle on the sun-warmed windowsill. “Not Draco, you idiot. Redrow.”

One ginger eyebrow raises a fraction, and Harry elects to answer the question before she asks it.

“Refusing to use a given name is just another way of creating distance,” Harry repeats wearily. “Apparently.”

Ginny draws her sparkly pumps up onto the sill and nods. “Yeah, he got me with that one, too. And now he’s the only person who ever calls me ‘Ginevra’.” She wrinkles her nose.

“Preferable to ‘the Weaselette’, surely.”

“Believe me, it’s a close call.” She grins, then, lighting her whole face and looking just for a moment like her fifteen-year-old self, the one that Harry had fallen in love with all those years ago. She’s really quite beautiful, he realises, but what he feels for her is an almost familial affection, and that would never have been enough. It’s ridiculous that it’s taken him this long to figure out why.

Harry’s eyes drift to Malfoy’s ‘Knock and WAIT’ instruction, affixed to the office door, and when he looks back to Ginny, she’s chewing on her thumbnail and regarding him carefully. It occurs to him that no one could tell him more about post-war Draco than Ginny; they’ve been friends and colleagues for two years.

Question after question crowds his mind until it’s an effort just to keep them in.

Did he ever apologise to you for being a twat at school?

Do you talk about the war?

Do you know about his drug use?

What does he like to do at the weekends?

Does he laugh with you?

When he smiles, do you want to ravish him?

Does he talk about me?

Does he have a girlfriend? A boyfriend?


“You OK?” she asks, and Harry nods quickly.

“Fine.” It’s warm in here, he thinks. And he won’t ask.

“Come on,” she says, sliding to her feet and gesturing toward the lounge. “I promised Jake a game of chess.”

“I’m rubbish at chess,” he whines, following her anyway.

“I know. I need you to make sure he doesn’t cheat.”

“And that,” Harry sighs, “is exactly why I went through four years of Healer training.”

“Exactly,” murmurs Ginny, but she’s not listening. She’s waving to Jake and setting up the chess set on a low table near the fire. Harry drops into a nearby seat and watches Ginny’s opponent folding his long frame into a wing-backed chair, dark eyes narrowed in concentration.

Tall, dark and pouty. As his gaze turns appreciative, Harry catches himself and focuses on the chess board. What was it Draco had said? Looks like he belongs on the cover of Witch Weekly.

Harry wonders.

**~*~**

When Monday rolls around, Harry can’t seem to silence the little voice in his head that’s reminding him it’s his last Monday in Chem Dep. In the small window of time between afternoon group and the arrival of Scary Craft Lady, he sits at the lounge table with a long roll of parchment in his hands.

Try as he might to concentrate on the revealing piece of work Leonard has unexpectedly asked him to read, Harry can’t seem to focus. Every few seconds, his eyes insist on flicking over to where Draco is crouching by the fireplace next to a new, skittish patient. Harry can’t hear everything that’s being said but Draco is nodding carefully, and then he says something that makes the patient look up, astonished, and gape at Draco.

“Really?” the man asks, forehead wrinkling.

Draco mumbles something about the war, and gestures expansively with both hands. Harry sees the exact moment the patient’s eyes drop to the Mark, watches him reach out and then quickly pull his hand back. Draco sees it too, because he turns his arm, exposing the marked skin to the patient.

“It’s OK. You can ask.”

The patient’s question is mumbled, but Harry catches “Did you... because...?” even as he drops his eyes back to the parchment under Leonard’s careful scrutiny.

When Leonard turns to answer a question from across the room, Harry looks back to the fireplace. Draco laces his fingers together and gazes at the carpet. “No. I made a decision—a bad decision, and when I realised my mistake, it was too late. They applied pressure, and...” He pauses. Harry stays very still. “Chromia isn’t Imperius. It just makes you stop caring about your decisions.”

“Everyone makes mistakes,” the patient says eventually, barely audible, finally allowing himself to meet Draco’s eyes. He smiles slowly, and something warm unclenches in Harry’s stomach.

“Yes, they do.” Abruptly, he looks up right into Harry’s eyes. Harry’s mouth turns dry. “Excuse me, Victor.”

Harry looks hurriedly back at Leonard’s parchment, but the words no longer make any sense. The brush against his shoulder blade as Draco walks behind his chair is so light that he can’t be sure he didn’t imagine it, but it undoes him all the same. Handing the parchment back to Leonard with an apologetic smile and a promise of ‘later’, he follows Draco out of the lounge and ducks into the office behind him, just in time to avoid Scary Craft Lady coming the other way.

Draco sits on the edge of the desk. Looks at Harry expectantly.

“You’re still punishing yourself,” Harry says, pushing unsteady hands into his pockets.

“No.”

“What then? Why else would you agree to help the Ministry, after the way they treated you last week?” Harry challenges hotly. He was baffled when Draco announced that he was planning to meet with Ron after all. It’s a good thing, he’s certain, but it feels odd.

“You know, I’m beginning to think it’s you that’s been wronged, somehow.” Draco frowns. “Or do you just enjoy getting angry on behalf of others?”

“I’m not angry, it’s just...” Harry doesn’t know how to finish that sentence.

“It’s not about me, or you, or that red-headed fool. Whatever I feel about Weasley, he was just doing his job. If I can help them stop whoever’s selling this shit, I’m going to do it.”

“It’s like you still have something to prove,” Harry says softly.

“I have everything to prove.”

“That’s what I mean,” Harry insists, raking a hand through his hair. “Like all this is some kind of... atonement?”

“Reparation, perhaps,” Draco admits. His lips curve in the ghost of a smile.

“Semantics,” Harry mutters, but he smiles back.

“Your vocabulary certainly has improved since school,” Draco remarks drily. Offended, Harry opens his mouth to retort but he’s cut off. “Use it to help me with this, please?”

“With what?”

“Draco. Healer Potter.” Harry turns in the doorway to greet a harassed-looking Redrow, allowing him to pass into the office and kicking the door shut behind him.

“Something on your mind, Algernon?” Draco’s tone is impressively blithe, but it’s fooling no one.

“Yes, you know there is,” Redrow says evenly, leaning against Draco’s bookshelves. “I’m not sure this is a good idea. Letting Aurors into the department, it’s unsettling for the other patients.”

“It’s one Auror, Algernon,” Draco points out. “They’ll be using a private room, and there’ll be little or no disruption to the usual routine. It’s one day, just a morning, probably.”

“What about consent? I know these Aurors think they own the stars and sky but these people are vulnerable, and I don’t want them browbeaten because...”

Harry catches Draco’s appealing glance, and weighs into the argument with as much authority as he can muster. “I have a list—six Stage Two patients who say they’ve bought Chromia X. Five of them are happy to talk to Auror Weasley, if it will help.”

“I really don’t know.” Redrow sighs, and the crinkles around his eyes appear deeper than usual; the man is obviously worn out.

“Oh, for pity’s sake.” Draco folds his arms and shakes the hair out of his eyes, the embodiment of impatience. This, perhaps, is why he needs Harry’s help.

Diplomatically ignoring him, Harry turns to the department head. “With all due respect, Healer Redrow, I think Draco’s right. They want to help... allowing them to do that can only further their recovery,” he argues, with more confidence than he feels.

It does the trick, evidently, and when the door closes behind Redrow after securing his reluctant approval, Harry leans against it heavily.

“That was hard work.”

Draco shrugs, picking up papers and settling into his chair. “Algernon can be like that. It’s not really his fault. Being a department head and a board member comes with a certain amount of...” He gestures vaguely with an outstretched hand.

“Pressure?” Harry fills in.

“Well, I was going to say it turns an otherwise sensible person into an insufferable bureaucrat,” Draco offers. “But that, too.”

That’s why he was banging on about money the other day,” Harry mutters to himself.

“Oh, yeah. He does that. Being a board member means he spends a lot of his time justifying Chem Dep’s budget. Evidently, some people think we should be getting the patients off the stuff and then discharging them.”

Incredulous, Harry drops into his chair and rests elbows on the desk. “What? You’re talking about a one week programme?”

“Exactly.” Draco nods contemptuously. “Stage Two—gone.”

“But that’s not long enough! How can they stop doing it if they don’t have the chance to work out why they did it in the first place?”

Draco smiles, and Harry feels suddenly childishly pleased that for once in his life, he’s said the right thing.

“Of course it isn’t long enough,” he agrees, grey eyes lighting up from within. “It’s fixing the surface problem but the roots are still there. A month isn’t long enough really... in fact, there are some studies that show... sorry, this isn’t interesting.”

Shaking his head, Draco falls silent and rearranges the sheaf of parchments in his hand.

“I’m interested.” Harry resists the urge to touch his arm, but he does lean closer across the desk. “Talk to me.”

“OK.” When he looks up this time, the faint blush that stains the pale cheeks is like electricity in Harry’s veins.

**~*~**

“I’m going to lunch with a Weasley!” Draco cries at noon on Wednesday, striding out of his office and walking straight past Harry, who’s sitting in his habitual spot on the windowsill, watching him with amusement. “If I’m not back in an hour, send for a search party.”

“There’s no need to shout, I’m only here.”

Draco halts and turns. Frowns. “Why aren’t you in the lunchroom?”

“I thought I’d come with you,” Harry says, tilting his chin upward and smiling convincingly. His reasons, not that he’d admit them, are threefold. One, he wants to make sure Draco doesn’t hex Ron; two, he wants to make sure that Ron doesn’t hex Draco; and three... well, Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy sharing a civilised lunch is something that he just has to see.

“Must you?”

“Definitely.”

Draco sighs. “Fine. It’s only lunch, and I certainly don’t intend to linger. Where’s Loud Irish...” He stops, closing his eyes briefly. “You’ve got me doing it now. Where’s Nurse Osprey?”

“Lunchroom,” Harry says innocently, getting to his feet.

“Let’s get this over with, then.”

**~*~**

“Now,” Harry instructs, straightening his hastily-thrown-on green robes. “I can see why you’d want to, but please try not to be unnecessarily mean to Ron.”

“What?” Draco examines the canteen specials board, on which is enscribed Soup (chicken broth) or Salad (warm chicken and spinach), and makes a face. “Make your mind up. It was only the other day that you were all righteous indignation, now you want me to be nice?”

“Soup, please.” Harry shoots him a look. “Yes, but as you said, Ron’s only doing his job. He also happens to be my friend, and it won’t kill you to be pleasant.”

“You never know,” Draco mutters darkly. “Salad. Please,” he adds a moment later. Harry smirks.

When he walks away from the till without paying, Harry calls after him, indignant. There’s no way he’s paying for Malfoy’s lunch. Cheeky bastard.

“It’s on the Ministry,” Draco tells him. “Why else do you think we’re here, of all places? Bunch of skinflints.”

Harry picks up his tray and follows, noting that the chicken salad is the most expensive item on today’s menu. No coincidence there.

He quickly spots Ron, seated in a corner and trying to look inconspicuous in his Auror robes. Trying and failing. Draco chooses the seat diagonally across from Ron, leaving Harry to sit opposite him.

“Hi, Harry.” Ron’s expression is a mixture of surprise and relief, and Harry grins at him. “Malfoy,” he adds uncertainly.

“Weasley.”

Ron stirs his soup awkwardly and Draco pokes at his salad with his fork. Harry looks between the two of them surreptitiously, caught halfway between amusement and wanting to say something utterly inappropriate just to break the suffocating tension.

Like, ‘Hey, Ron, what do you think of Malfoy’s arse in those pants?’ Harry bites his tongue.

“Listen, Malfoy... thanks for meeting with me. The Auror department will really appreciate any information you can pass on from your patients,” Ron says stiffly, and Harry glances at Draco. Ron’s clearly labouring under the misapprehension that he’s going to get patient information out of Draco.

Draco snorts and levels his best withering look at Ron.

“Nicely,” Harry murmurs out of the corner of his mouth, kicking Draco gently under the table. He bristles, but drops the scowl. Ron stops playing with his soup and stares at Harry as though he’s started speaking in tongues.

“If you want information from my patients, you’ll have to talk to them yourself,” Draco says.

Harry wouldn’t have said it was possible, but Ron turns a shade paler. Draco smiles.

“You’re kidding.” Ron groans. “How long’s that going to take?”

“As long as it takes, Weasley.” Harry kicks him again, softer this time. “Not long. I have five patients that might have useful information, and that are willing to talk to you,” he relents.

Ron perks up and makes a note on a small pad at his side. When he starts eating his soup, Harry remembers his own and looks down into the bowl.

Croutons. What’s that all about?

“Five of them, should be able to do that over a morning, what do you reckon?” Ron’s saying.

Shaking his head, Harry mutters a spell to levitate and dry the croutons in mid-air, then dumps them unceremoniously onto Draco’s salad. Draco picks up the buttered bread on the side of his salad plate and passes it into Harry’s outstretched hand without a word. He doesn’t take his eyes from Ron the whole time.

“A morning would be fine.” Draco’s voice is impressively polite. “Would you—” he begins, but Harry is already holding out the salad dressing. “Thank you.”

“Right,” Ron rasps, soup spoon halfway to his mouth and dripping warm broth back into his bowl.

Harry dips Draco’s bread into his soup and chews on it carefully. He’s not sure he wants to know what Ron’s thinking right now, but he’s suddenly very aware of the warmth of Draco’s knee where it rests against his under the table. Not much space at these canteen tables.

“Eat your soup, Weasley, before it gets cold.”

Blinking rapidly, Ron lifts the spoon to his mouth, flicks curious eyes to Harry and then down to his notepad. “Tomorrow any good? Or Friday?” he asks.

Draco stabs his fork delicately into slivers of chicken, spinach and cherry tomato. “In a hurry?”

“It’s an active investigation,” Ron replies from between gritted teeth.

“Yes, I did gather that much last Monday.” Draco crunches a crouton.

Pale blue eyes bore into cool grey in an all-too-familiar stand-off while Harry eats his crouton-free soup and observes. It’s good, salty but flavoursome, warming from the inside and soothing his exasperation with the pair of them. For all Malfoy’s calm grace inside his department, it turns out that all he needs is an encounter with his least favourite Weasley to regress ten years. And Ron’s no better.

“Friday would be good,” Harry cuts in after several seconds of silence. “Wouldn’t it?”

Draco nods and whips his leg away from Harry’s pre-emptively. Harry misses the warmth.

“Excellent. I’ll be there at nine.” Ron smiles, relieved.

“Eight thirty,” Draco counters, taking back the last word. Harry’s eye-roll is stopped in its tracks by the split-second secret grin of triumph Draco shoots his way as he slides the last forkful of chicken into his mouth. Harry looks away from his mouth hurriedly, suddenly glad he’s sitting down.

“Eight thirty, then,” Ron mutters, scribbling vigorously.

“Nice doing business with you, Weasley.” Draco sets down his fork and rises from the table, extending a hand to Ron who, to his credit, manages not to choke on the last of his soup. Finally, haltingly, he scrapes back his chair and clasps Draco’s hand in a terse but civil shake. “I have a department to run. Don’t be late.”

Once again, his eyes dart to Harry, and it’s all Harry can do not to grin. He drops a careless hand to Harry’s shoulder, the touch burning through two layers of clothing. The fact that Draco seems completely unaware of what he’s doing is a low, painful ache. He’s not a tactile person at all, and yet.

When he leaves, Harry pushes his empty bowl away and throws Ron a casual grin.

“Never thought I’d see the day... that was almost civil.”

Ron’s eyes search his face thoroughly before he responds. “Yeah, almost.” He licks a drop of soup from the back of his hand. “I was right, though... still an idiot.”

Warm and slightly unsteady, Harry releases a shaky burst of laughter. It’s unclear whether Ron is oblivious or just diplomatic... for all of five seconds. Whatever else may have changed, diplomacy is never going to be Ron’s strong point.

“Not a drug-dealing idiot, though,” he says at last.

“Apparently not,” Ron concedes. “But I think he’s trying to make this difficult for us.”

Harry’s robes stick to him uncomfortably as he stands and he plucks at them pointlessly. Scrubs a hand through his messy fringe.

“It’s a distinct possibility,” he admits, attempting a casual shrug. “But he’s also protecting his patients. Meus fabula est mei ut dico,” Harry mumbles. Turns out that seeing Draco’s wall display every single day can brand a phrase into one’s mind that way.

“What?”

Harry smiles slowly. He wonders where Fyz is now. “It’s Latin,” he says. “I’ll see you later.”

He keeps a straight face until he’s back outside the canteen doors, but Ron’s utterly bewildered expression is just priceless. Harry grins all the way up to the fifth floor.

**~*~**

Draco’s office is locked. At first it’s unclear whether that’s because Draco has made some detour on the way back to Chem Dep, or because he’s still wary of stealth desk-thefts almost three weeks after Fyzal and Marguerite’s prank. When Harry notices that the door to the supply cupboard is slightly ajar, he smirks to himself—the latter, evidently.

He pulls the door half open and steps just inside the closet, watching Draco as he glances between a shiny clipboard and the array of boxes at his feet. Eventually, he frowns, scratches his temple with the tip of his wand and leans down to aim a Severing Charm at the string tied around one of the boxes.

It’s one of only a handful of times Harry’s actually seen him perform magic since the rotation started, and he watches the negligent flick of a thin but strong wrist, the movement of lips around the softly muttered words and the smooth line of his back under charcoal-coloured fabric.

Clearly absorbed in his task, Draco has no idea he’s being watched, and yet Harry feels loath to break the hush. He doesn’t need to, as it turns out, because the squeak of his shoes against the floor as he shifts ever-so-slightly gives him away instantly. Draco turns quickly, wand in hand. The expression Harry catches on his face is caught somewhere between relief and pleasure, but he quickly and adeptly adjusts it into mild annoyance.

“Nice of you to come back.”

Harry ignores the sarcasm. He’s found that entering into it just encourages Draco, and there’s no knowing how long it’s going to last. “You were quite pleasant,” he says instead. “I’m impressed. In fact, I think Ron was just a little bit freaked out.”

“I’m not incapable of being nice, you know.” Draco shoots Harry a slightly hurt look and crouches down to rummage inside the nearest box. “I’m very versatile.”

“Right,” Harry mumbles, leaning back against the shelves where the quills are kept and absently studying the way Draco’s hair just about curls over his collar, startlingly light against the dark grey.

“Oh, where the fuck is the fucking thing...?” Draco starts into another box, shaking his head. “Bloody suppliers are a bunch of incompetent...” He reaches for the clipboard again, examining it with narrowed eyes. “Did you notice that he... oh, Merlin give me strength.”

Amused, Harry watches him mumble to himself for a few seconds longer before he drops down beside Draco and crouches amongst the mess of boxes.

“Want some help?”

“No.”

“Of course you do. Bloody incompetent suppliers,” Harry says brightly. “What are we looking for?”

Draco sets his wand down carefully and looks up. “A raven’s-feather quill. A nice one.”

Harry nods and stretches out a hand instinctively. Quick as lightning, Draco grabs his wrist, stilling his hand, and a shock of something startling and pleasurable rakes down his arm.

“Don’t Accio, it’s delicate. If it’s at the bottom of a box, you’ll break it.”

Harry swallows and nods again. “OK.” He tugs his hand away reluctantly, keeping his eyes fixed upon the box at his feet. Heart pounding chaotically, he starts sorting through the contents.

“I thought you liked Muggle things better,” he remarks.

“There’s an exception to every rule,” Draco says, distracted. “There’s something very satisfying about writing with a quill, and I just snapped mine.”

Harry says nothing and pushes stacks of parchment and various multi-coloured packages aside carefully. Though the door is open enough to allow some light in, the small space is still relatively dim and he has to squint to see what he’s doing. With his sight compromised, his remaining senses are heightened and he’s all too aware of Draco’s thigh brushing against his and the warm, clean scent of his skin.

“Did I notice what?” he asks, needing to say something. “You asked if I noticed something.”

“What?” Draco pushes away his box and reaches for another. “Oh. Weasley. Did you notice that he managed to look everywhere but at this?”

Harry looks up, seeing that Draco is vaguely holding out his left arm. His eyes drop momentarily to the marked skin and he makes a small noise of comprehension.

“Ah, no.” He stares back into the box. “I wasn’t really... paying attention.” Not to Ron, at any rate.

Draco snorts. “Well. I only noticed because he spent half of my ‘interview’ staring at it like it was going to jump up and bite him.”

Despite the tension coiling in his stomach, Harry laughs shortly, amused by the mental image. It occurs to him that he barely notices it any more; it’s just a collection of black lines on skin. Remembering Draco’s exchange with the patient by the fireplace, he thinks for a moment but then asks.

“You don’t hide it... from the patients, even.” OK, so it’s not strictly a question, but he knows that Draco will hear it as one.

“For the same reason that I don’t hide my past addiction. If I don’t hide things from them, they don’t hide things from me... in theory.”

“In practice?”

Draco sighs, turning a box of paperclips over and over in his hands. “I’ve had one or two spooked by it over the years,” he admits. “I like to think of it as positive risk-taking.”

The words are casually confident, but the voice is strained and dry to Harry’s ears. His fingers trace a promising outline through delicate tissue paper, and Harry gently withdraws a large, handsome quill.

“Found it!” he announces, holding the quill aloft and turning triumphantly to Draco.

For a moment, the grey eyes light up and he smiles unreservedly. Somewhere between the smile and the awkward crouching spin, Harry loses his balance and stumbles. Determined not to break the quill, he holds his left arm clear and instinctively reaches out with the other, ending up with his nose pressed into the side of Draco’s neck and his right hand wrapped around Draco’s arm just above the elbow, one thigh pressed alongside Draco’s and one thrown out at an awkward angle.

“Fuck,” he whispers against the smooth skin. Draco doesn’t move. “Sorry.”

“Mhmm,” says Draco. It’s almost a low hum, and Harry feels the vibration under his lips.

He smells overpoweringly delicious this close up, the warmth and proximity utterly intoxicating. Harry can’t breathe. The compulsion to just flick out his tongue and taste the skin is staggering, but Draco’s sudden sharp intake of breath just above his ear brings him partly to his senses and he draws back hurriedly, still gripping Draco’s arm tight for balance.

He’s losing it; that much is obvious. The fact that he was perilously close to molesting Draco Malfoy’s neck with his tongue is proof of insanity in anyone’s book. Not daring to make eye contact, Harry finds himself staring at the expanse of marked inner forearm just inches below his hand.

Positive risk-taking. What does that even mean? Draco uses words to keep himself safe, to keep people away. Maybe this, too, Harry thinks as he tries to catch his breath. A visible, glaring symbol of ‘Keep the hell away from me.’

“It’s just a scar,” Harry almost whispers. “Nothing more.”

“What?” Draco’s voice is equally soft, drifting around Harry like smoke, making the small space seem even smaller.

“This.” Despite the logical part of his brain that’s screaming at him to let go and stand up and be quiet, Harry’s fingers move without his permission, sliding over soft wool and onto Draco’s skin. He watches their inexorable journey, lips parting soundlessly, horrified. He thinks he wants to stop, but the connection between his brain and his fingers has apparently been severed.

Still, Draco doesn’t move an inch, but as the tips of Harry’s fingers trace the faded black lines his breath catches sharply. Harry’s head jerks up. The sudden eye contact is explosive and his mouth turns instantly dry. Draco’s eyes are silver-bright in the darkness, pupils wide and intense.

Harry stares back. The position is awkward and his thighs are beginning to ache, but he daren’t move; it’s imperative somehow not to break this... whatever this is, and he’s not going to be the one to do it, even if Draco’s breath is as shallow as his and even if he feels like he’s going to suffocate at any second.

When Draco reaches out, Harry’s hand stills and wraps tightly around the pale forearm as though it’s the only thing holding him up. The touch, when it comes, is just a graze of warm palm against his jaw, fingertips sliding into his hair; it’s nothing, and yet it’s achingly erotic. Draco never breaks eye contact, and the slide of his thumb over Harry’s cheekbone is enough to ensure that he’s suddenly and embarrassingly hard.

It’s not even a sexual touch, instead, shockingly intimate and so loaded with intention that he feels dizzy. Suddenly it doesn’t matter how many mornings he’s gotten off in the shower thinking about things a hell of a lot dirtier than this, he never thought anything would happen and he’s completely, woefully unprepared.

“Put that down,” Draco says roughly.

“Hmm? Oh.” It takes far longer than it should for him to realise that he’s still gripping the raven quill, and he drops it carelessly into the nearest box.

And he’s not sure exactly how it happens, but Draco is smiling, just a tiny bit, and fuck, he’s beautiful, and the hand on his face is sliding around the back of his neck and tugging gently, and the distance between them is disappearing into nothing. He’s so fucking close, and it’s quite possible that Harry has never wanted anything quite so terrifying before.

Draco is silver and lemons and heat. Cool, soft hair under the free hand that Harry doesn’t really know what to do with. Leaning, and pitched forward as his left knee hits the cold floor. All that’s in his head as Draco’s hot, coffee-scented breath brushes his lips is that he never expected Malfoy to want him back.

Overwhelmed, Harry lets his eyelids fall shut and presses closer, determined that he won’t just be kissed; he doesn’t do passivity and he’s not about to start now, in a hospital supply closet with Draco Malfoy. It’s a surprisingly gentle brush of lips but the slow, sweet ache spreading out from the base of Harry’s spine is enough to draw a soft whimper from him that he absently hopes Draco doesn’t hear.

Draco’s tongue collides hotly with his and there’s a low groan that could have come from either one of them. He tastes bitter like canteen java and salty-sweet, firm, moist and addictive where they fit together.

Harry tangles his fingers in Draco’s hair and deepens the kiss but it’s nowhere near enough. Crouching on a box-strewn closet floor is not conducive to the kind of contact that he wants, needs, and as he desperately kisses his one-time worst enemy, Harry’s amazed that there’s enough blood in his body to press his insistent cock painfully against his inseam and still keep his heart beating so hard that it feels like it might stop.

As the kiss turns messy and breathless, Draco’s trapped hand curls around his forearm, blunt nails digging into the tender flesh, painful and exhilarating. Outside the door, the muffled sound of voices filters into Harry’s consciousness and it’s with a cold jolt that he registers exactly where he is, what he’s doing and who he’s doing it with.

They draw back simultaneously until hands and mouths are no longer in contact. Breathing hard, Harry blinks, adjusts his glasses and stares at Draco’s lust-blown eyes and lips shiny with his saliva. The tension that had filled the tiny space has snapped, leaving shock, arousal and a lingering feeling of uncertainty.

“Afternoon group,” Draco says, dazed.

“Ah, yes. That. We should...” Harry gestures vaguely at the door, trying not to imagine what might be going through the patients’ minds when they walk out of the cupboard together. He’s fairly certain that kissing in supply cupboards goes against every professional code of ethics in existence, but it’s a bit late to worry about that.

“Yes.” Draco combs through his hair with restless fingers and slowly pulls himself to his feet. “Why don’t you... erm... follow me in a moment or two?”

Harry nods mutely. As soon as he’s slipped around the door, Harry covers his burning face with his hands and groans, pressing an ineffectual hand against the bulge in his trousers, willing it down. He’s never been more grateful to be wearing his robes. That was either the best or most ill-advised kiss of his life so far—possibly both. Afternoon group is going to kill him.

**~*~**

Harry survives afternoon group after all. Even so, it’s probably the most uncomfortable group he’s experienced since the very first one, for very different reasons. Though, he concedes, he spent most of that one staring at Draco, too.

Despite Harry’s better efforts, he loses the thread of the group about fifteen minutes in. He thinks it’s something about self control, and there’s an appropriate topic—it isn’t as though self-discipline has ever been his forte, but it seems that close proximity to Draco Malfoy is all it takes to banish it completely. Who knew?

The infuriating git still manages to look remarkably composed, and Harry—all but sitting on his hands to keep from fidgeting—is sorely tempted to get up, knock him off his chair, pin him to the floor and ravish him until he gives in and... what?

... until he gives in and admits that what happened affected him just as much,
supplies Harry’s subconscious.

He bloody reached out first, anyway. Didn’t he? Harry fell, that wasn’t his fault. And the arm-stroking... definitely wasn’t intended as a come-on. Or something.

Harry half-listens to the patient to his right talking about thinking before acting and bites his lip hard enough to bruise in an effort to keep any damaging words from escaping.

The taste on his lower lip is faint, but it’s both foreign enough and familiar enough to quicken his breath. Hurriedly, he looks at the floor. Harry looks up again some time later, just in time to see Draco’s eyes flick to his mouth. They are back on the group within seconds, but it’s enough for Harry. When a pale hand lifts to distractedly rub at Draco’s bottom lip, triumph swells in Harry’s chest.

“That’s a good point, Soraya,” Draco addresses the patient who has just finished speaking, sounding frustratingly calm. “If we can just—”

“I’m Samira,” the patient interrupts. Gestures to the girl two seats away from Draco. “That’s Soraya.”

Harry doesn’t dare look at Draco, but he can imagine the expression on his face well enough. The squirmy sensation intensifies and he grins at the floor, validated and amused. Draco never gets the patients’ names wrong.

“Of course, Samira. Forgive me.”

That, Harry decides, as he tunes out Draco’s next words, is as good as an admission.

**~*~**

Draco makes a beeline for the main lounge post-group and immediately absorbs himself in an intense debate with the patients sitting around the table. Nothing unusual in that per se, but Harry—still rattled and anxiously turned on—can’t keep his eyes off the man.

Jake is at his side with the chess board within minutes, spotting an easy opponent. Harry plays even more inadequately than usual, not surprising considering his eyes stray so frequently to the back of the blond head.

Jake’s victorious “Checkmate!” comes not a moment too soon, and Harry is out of his chair before his king has finished toppling onto the board. He has no idea what he’s going to say yet, but he doesn’t plan to let Draco pretend nothing happened. Harry has no proof that’s what he’s going to try, it’s just... a feeling.

“Harry, I forgot to tell you.” Draco pulls seamlessly out of his conversation and stands. “I have a meeting with Algernon this afternoon. It’s a regular monthly thing,” he adds, not quite meeting Harry’s eyes.

“Right now?” Harry clarifies, stomach dropping.

“In about two minutes.”

“When will you be back?”

Draco looks at the floor and rubs his face. “I don’t know. It might take a while. Lock up the office when you leave, will you?”

Harry grips the back of the nearest chair tightly. Look at me, he wants to yell. Fucking look at me!

It’s no coincidence that they’re having this conversation in front of the patients, and Harry knows that. He should always trust his hunches.

Draco’s posture is brittle, fragile. They are three, maybe four feet apart, and it seems like miles, painfully far removed from the man in the cupboard who was all warm, soft mouth and wide eyes and hungry, grasping fingers.

“Yeah, of course I will,” is all Harry says, professionalism keeping his voice even.

“Thanks.” When Draco glances back from the door, it’s subtle but it’s there—the flicker of a silent apology in an otherwise expressionless face—and it makes Harry’s chest ache.

“Time for another game before Lazlo gets here?” Jake enquires, and Harry turns away from the empty doorway.

“Lazlo?” He frowns. Right... Yoga Guy. “Yeah. OK.”

This time, he’s focusing so hard that it takes Jake almost half an hour to beat him.

**~*~**

When afternoon activities begin and Harry is kicked unceremoniously from the main lounge by a purple-haired, tattooed Lazlo, he finds himself standing next to the window in the Stage One ward and looking out into the sunny courtyard without really seeing it. The silence, suddenly, is deafening rather than comforting, the pungent potions in their dangling bags making his head hurt. He performs the necessary checks as quickly as possible and makes his escape, only to begin pacing the length of the main group room.

Back and forth, nervous energy rolling off him in waves and necessitating movement. He quickly regrets not taking his time over the rounds, because now he’s taskless and restless and patientless and... everything-less, really, he decides, raking fingers through his hair until it looks and feels like a furze bush.

All he can think about is kissing Draco fucking Malfoy, and there’s absolutely nothing to distract him. The bastard has fled to Redrow’s office for the remainder of the afternoon to avoid the inevitable conversation, and that, Harry thinks, is the thing that’s really gnawing at his insides. Not the fact that he kissed a man, that he kissed Malfoy, even, but that he’s being avoided.

That in itself should be pretty worrying, shouldn’t it? Harry groans softly, ceases his pacing with some effort and rubs his eyes behind his glasses.

Finally, deciding firmly that he must be a masochist, Harry goes into the supply cupboard and resumes Draco’s interrupted task. He keeps the door wide open this time and works in silence, unpacking each box and systematically storing all of Draco’s purchases on the correct shelves. It’s something to do, even if not thinking about it is an impossible task at the scene of the crime, so to speak.

He works slowly and without magic, and Lazlo is leaving by the time he eases the kinks out of his back and exits the cupboard. He takes the raven’s feather quill into the office and sits in Draco’s chair, twirling it between restive fingers and stroking the soft feather against his chin. His lips.

Harry stomach flips over and he smiles against the feather.

There are probably a hundred reasons why he shouldn’t have done what he did this afternoon. And he’s going to do it again, as soon as he gets the chance.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Harry is early. Draco is not.

He waits until almost nine am, drinking his coffee and trying not to pace, before he reluctantly gives up and wanders around the rest of the department, greeting patients and watching them go about their morning routines. By the time he gets back, Redrow is hovering in the door of the Stage One ward.

“Good morning, Healer Redrow,” he says, surprised to see the man so early.

“Healer Potter. Everything alright?”

“Everyone’s just finishing breakfast,” Harry replies, gesturing vaguely toward the dining room. “Do you know...” He hesitates, not wanting to draw attention to Malfoy’s lateness, but still. Fuck it. “Do you know where Draco is?”

“Yes, he’ll start a little late today. Our meeting rather overran yesterday,” Redrow explains.

“Did it?”

Harry knows it did, as a matter of fact, because he may have happened to wander past Redrow’s office on his way out last night and hear voices, and it was well past eight o’clock. He may have happened to press his ear up against the door, just for a moment. He also may have listened for a bit longer than he should have, partly because he wanted to see if his name came up, and partly because he likes the way Draco says ‘intensive group therapy.’

“He’ll be in for ten,” Redrow says, looking at Harry oddly.

“Just in time for morning group,” Harry sighs, and the dark gaze intensifies. Just in time to literally walk straight into morning group. How very fucking convenient. “Wonderful.”

“Are you sure you’re alright, Healer Potter?” Redrow frowns but doesn’t move from his spot in the doorway. “Is Draco still giving you a hard time?”

Harry flushes instantly and it takes every last shred of self control he has not to look at the floor. He swallows rapidly and shakes his head. “No, no. We’re... he’s... fine. No problem,” he stumbles, smiling in what he hopes is a reassuring manner.

Redrow stares for a moment longer and then allows an encouraging half-smile. “I told you, it’s just a matter of proper handling. Draco’s a professional, and so are you. I knew you’d work out your differences.”

He looks pleased, and Harry knows he’s thinking of their very first conversation. “Yes, we managed to find a way to work together,” he says weakly. “Would you excuse me?”

“It’s all about communication!” bellows Redrow as Harry escapes into the office and shuts the door behind him.

“Communication my arse,” Harry mutters to the room.

Meeting or no meeting, he’s now certain he’s being avoided. And by a Slytherin. He’s seriously fucked. Impulsively, he pulls the plastic lid from Draco’s coffee. It’s cinnamon-pistachio and smells vile.

Harry drinks it.

**~*~**

When Draco does turn up, he looks far from rested despite his late start. Though he’s perfectly put-together as usual, his eyes are tired and by the end of group, his hair is verging on unkempt from running fingers through it.

He doesn’t, however, get anyone’s names wrong. Harry fights to keep his attention on the group and wins, for the most part. The theme of the group is denial. Draco is apparently a fan of irony, too.

During lunch, Draco slides into a seat in between two patients, leaving Harry to sit at the other side of the vast table next to a particularly talkative Ramona.

“And it just clicked, you know?” she’s saying, waving her fork demonstratively.

“What did?”

“About why I was using the stuff. About why I didn’t want to feel. It was like a lightbulb going off in my head, it was amazing,” she enthuses, and Harry forces a smile, trying to get caught up in her enthusiasm, but feeling unable to get off the ground.

“That’s great, Ramona,” he says. “It’s a real breakthrough. Now you can do something different.”

“I will. I know why I’m here now.” She smiles back, earrings jangling. Harry’s eyes are drawn across the table to where Draco is examining his bread with something akin to confusion. Eventually, he picks it up, sets it to the side of his plate and carries on eating.

Irritated, Harry shakes his head and looks away.

**~*~**

“Have you got a minute?” Harry asks as the last of the patients have left afternoon group.

Draco visibly stiffens and curls his fingers around the nearest chair back. He stares over Harry’s shoulder at the window, as though afraid to make eye contact. In fact, he’s barely looked at Harry all day and Harry wants to grab him and shake him.

“Well, I...”

“It’s a simple question.” Annoyed, Harry snaps, even though he knows it won’t help.

“It would help if you didn’t interrupt.”

Harry holds his hands up and says nothing, but the tone irks him.

“I should be in the lab, actually. I’m at a critical point with one of the new potions, and if I leave it much longer I might as well start all over again,” Draco says hurriedly, still looking out of the window.

“Do you want some help?” Pointless, but he asks anyway.

“No, it’s best that I’m not... distracted,” Draco says, voice strained.

Resisting the urge to kick the nearest chair, Harry grits his teeth and exhales roughly through his nose. He hates this stupid game of avoidance. He hates that he cares so much. He hates that he can be equally captivated and enraged by this... this childish, acerbic blond idiot.

“Well, of course, I’d hate to distract you from your work,” Harry grinds out, and the sharpness makes Draco look.

Something interesting flares in the grey eyes and then it’s gone; Draco crosses his arms and tilts his chin up ever so slightly, managing to look unbearably frail and still like he could crush Harry with a few well-chosen words.

“Harry, I...” He pauses, and every muscle in Harry’s body tightens in anticipation. “Thanks,” he amends at last, and walks away.

When the door closes behind him, Harry does kick the chair, sending it scraping halfway across the room. He’s determined not to be the ‘we need to talk’ person, but something’s got to give.

It’s with no small relief that he abandons the Stage Twos to their deranged volunteer and trails down the stairs to the canteen for afternoon coffee.

**~*~**

Cecile, Terry and Eloise are already waiting at their usual table when Harry takes the last remaining seat, coffee cup in hand. For a moment, there’s silence, and they all look at him expectantly.

“What?”

“It’s Thursday,” says Cecile.

“I know that.”

“So, where is it?” prods Eloise, dipping her teabag in and out of the cup on its string.

Finally understanding, Harry shakes his head. “It’s not my turn.”

“It is,” Terry insists.

“No, it’s not. It should have been my turn, but you left your money in your locker last week, remember?”

Dark eyes and green ones swivel to fix upon Terry as the girls turn to him. Harry smiles.

“You may have a point there.” Terry holds his hands up in defeat and slopes off to the counter to purchase what has become known as the ‘Thursday Pity Flapjack’.

Complaining is just what they do, but on Thursday afternoons, their casual game of one-upmanship turns into a sport. It’s not as though any of them can’t afford to buy their own flapjacks, but the combination of competition, food and grousing has become irresistible over recent weeks. And tradition is tradition. Simply put, whoever has had the most miserable day wins.

Today’s flapjacks have cherries in them. Harry wants to win.

“Right, then.” Terry returns and places the small plate in the centre of the table. Eloise stops dunking her teabag to gaze at it longingly. “Let the self-pity begin.”

“My patient had a psychotic episode while I was examining him and pulled out a great chunk of my hair,” Cecile complains. “Stupid Dark Arts.”

Harry leans across to examine the sore patch behind Cecile’s ear as the others make appropriate sympathetic noises.

“Three-year-old with Dragon Pox bit me,” offers Terry, holding up an arm on which faint tooth-marks are still evident. “And then his mother yelled at me for putting my arm near his mouth.”

Cecile snorts into her coffee and Harry can’t resist a smile. Slowly, he lets go of a little of his tension.

“El? What you got?” Cecile invites.

The small witch stirs her tea and cocks her head to one side in consideration. “Well, let’s see,” she says thoughtfully. “I’ve been vomited on by a child, sworn at by an old lady, and repeatedly hung upside down by a group of dirty old men who think Levicorpus is a great way to try to see my knickers.”

Terry snickers into his cup, and after a moment Harry and Cecile join him. Eloise looks unimpressed for all of five seconds before she beams, clearly tasting victory.

Never one to go down without a fight, Harry looks at the table and thinks.

I think I’m in love with Draco Malfoy, and he can hardly look at me. That’s pretty pathetic.

Silence. Suddenly cold, Harry jerks his head up. All three of them are staring at him. “Did I say that out loud?” he whispers, horrified. And where did the l-word come from? So. Beyond. Help.

“Say what out loud?” Cecile frowns. “You didn’t say anything, we’re all waiting for your feeble contribution.”

Flooded with relief, Harry sags against the table and gulps at his coffee.

“Well... I got cried on again. And a paper-cut, look...” Harry holds out his index finger for inspection, but he knows he hasn’t a hope. At least, not with that. The truth would probably ensure flapjack victory, but that’s not going to happen.

“Nice try,” Terry says, picking up the plate. “Your flapjack, El.”

“Thank you,” she says softly, breaking off a large piece and stuffing it into her mouth. “Mm, cherries... s’good. Am th’most pathetic.”

“We’ll see about that, next week,” Cecile grumbles, rubbing the spot where her hair used to be.

“Indeed,” says Harry. “And by then, I’ll be back in the normal wards, being thrown up on and cursed and all that fun stuff. So watch out.”

“Ah, but no more Malfoy,” Cecile points out, smirking. “He won you the thing two weeks running.”

Harry’s suddenly quite glad he’s not eating because he feels a little sick.

Terry never said anything after seeing him and Draco in the canteen together that time, but his current pensive expression ensures Harry knows he hasn’t forgotten about it. Terry, in fact, forgets very little, even if he doesn’t always say a lot.

“I don’t need Malfoy to make me miserable,” Harry says with a wry smile. “I can do that all on my own.”

“I’m sure he helps,” mumbles Eloise through a mouthful of flapjack.

“Something like that,” says Harry. When she accidentally drops a chunk of cherry next to his hand, he picks it up and puts it in his mouth before she can protest.

All things considered, he probably deserves it.

**~*~**

When he returns to the department, Loud Irish Nurse helpfully informs him that ‘Mr Malfoy is in his workroom, but he doesn’t like to be disturbed.’

Wearily, Harry trails through the corridors until he’s standing outside the door to the lab. One hand outstretched, fairly sure the wards will hold against him but knowing that the intrusion attempt will at least alert Draco to his presence. Just before his fingers graze the wood, though, he stops. Withdraws his hand.

He stands in the dark corridor for a long time, motionless. Eventually, he turns away, shaking off the stupid emotional impulse, and returns to work. That, after all, is what he’s here for.

**~*~**

Sleep is elusive and, in the end, Harry gives up and comes in early for his last day in Chem Dep, having planned to arrive in plenty of time to act as a buffer between Ron and Malfoy, though he’s not sure how effectively he’s going to do that any more considering that Draco can barely stand to be in the same room as him.

Though his rational side is trying to tell him that it’s just one ill-advised kiss with someone that he disliked in the extreme just weeks ago, it’s not quite that simple. In fact, it’s becoming more and more gut-wrenchingly complicated the more time he has to think about it. And several hours spent staring at his bedroom ceiling has turned Harry’s frustration to silent, seething rage.

Having looked back over the last few weeks, it’s damningly obvious that it’s Draco who gets in his face, Draco who touches him, Draco who says things like ‘I don’t mind if you take your clothes off’, Draco who stroked his face in that cupboard. It’s just not on.

Spoiling for a fight, Harry strides into the department and finds Draco not in his office, but leaning against the windowsill. The soft morning sun streams through the window at his back and lights his pale skin and sage-green sweater, the whole tableau strangely at odds with his grave expression.

“Ramona walked,” he says, before Harry has time to say anything.

“What?” Stunned, Harry’s words of challenge fly out of his head and before he knows what he’s doing he’s crossing to sit on the windowsill beside Draco.

“Last night, after we both left. The nurses didn’t realise until bedtime, and by then there wasn’t much they could do. It happens,” he adds, attempting a shrug, but the disappointment is clear in his eyes when he turns to look at Harry.

“But she was so close to finishing,” Harry insists, hanging onto the eye contact and curling his fingers around the cold stone edge for safekeeping. “I don’t understand.”

“I know. People tend to walk out either right at the beginning or right at the end... perhaps the reality of what she was trying to do was too much for her.” Draco sighs, uncrossing his arms. “Like I said, it happens. I’m amazed it hasn’t happened for a few weeks, actually.”

Sadness heavy in the pit of his stomach, Harry nods carefully and tears his eyes away from Draco. This isn’t like losing a patient because they were too ill or too injured to be saved. This is a bright, nice lady walking straight back into a painful, dangerous life for no good reason that he can see.

“But... I was talking to her yesterday. She said she was working things out, she was happy.”

“It doesn’t always make sense,” Draco says. “I know you liked her.”

“I just... I admitted her. She trusted me. I feel...” Harry shrugs, unable to find the right word.

“Let down?” Draco supplies.

Harry looks up to find the grey eyes fixed upon him once more. “Yes... no... I don’t know. I feel like we failed.”

“Can’t save everyone.”

Irritated, Harry grips the windowsill hard, the stone warming under his fingers. “Is that just something you have to say to me?” he snaps.

Draco arches an eyebrow, surprised. “What I mean is that failure is inevitable. You can’t let it affect you.”

“Oh, and you don’t?” Harry challenges, highly dubious. “I don’t remember you ever taking failure all that well.”

“Things change.”

“Not that much.”

As Draco shifts position against the sill, his shoulder brushes against Harry’s, warm and solid. Draco looks at the floor, and Harry looks at Draco. The lounge door creaks open and then closes again.

“Weasley’s going to be thrilled to know that he now has four interviewees instead of five.”

“He’ll manage,” Harry says. “What did you tell the patients?”

“Nothing yet. I should go and talk to them before he gets here, actually.” Releasing a heavy sigh, Draco clasps both hands behind his head and closes his eyes. It’s barely a second before he blinks and drops his hands to his sides, but it’s long enough to expose the distress behind the composure. “I hate doing this,” he admits unexpectedly.

“Thought you didn’t care,” Harry says, but there’s no bite to it.

“They get upset when someone walks out,” Draco continues, ignoring the implication.

“They’ve only known her for a couple of weeks.”

Draco laughs shortly. “Rehab is a strange place, Potter.” His lips curl in an odd half-smile but his eyes remain unreadable. “It invites confidences... intense relationships.”

He pushes off the windowsill, and all Harry can do is watch him, the words echoing inside his head.

“Don’t call me Potter,” he manages. It’s true – there’s so much distance in that simple address, and he hates it.

Draco nods. “If Weasley turns up before I’m done, show him the private room for the interviews, would you?”

“Will do.” Harry fiddles with the bottom of his shirt, determined not to watch him leave.

“Thanks. Harry,” he hears, just before the door closes behind Draco.

**~*~**

Fortunately, Harry’s mediation skills are barely needed. One brief, awkward conversation between the three of them on Ron’s arrival and Draco disappears into his office and then into group.

By 11.30, Harry’s bored. All but four of the patients are in group, and the ones waiting to speak to Ron aren’t exactly in a talking mood.

“Where’s ferret-face?” Ron whispers, poking his head out of the interview room as Soraya disappears out of view around the corner.

Harry, leaning against the corridor wall, shoots Ron a look. “In a group.”

“Avoiding me, is he?”

No, avoiding me, Harry thinks but he just shakes his head. “Don’t take it personally, it’s just how he is. Plus, it’s a pretty tight schedule around here.”

Ron scrubs at his hair with a heavy brown sleeve. Hesitates. Harry frowns and shifts against the wall, indicating for him to spit out whatever it is he’s not saying.

“What’s up with the two of you?” Ron says at last.

“Er... what do you mean?”

“Well, it’s just that when we all had lunch, you were all... friendly, for want of a better word. And now... it’s all weird.”

“You noticed that?” Harry asks slowly. Apparently, it is that obvious.

“Yeah. What’s his problem?”

Good question, Harry thinks. “Maybe you should ask him,” he replies petulantly. Just for a moment, Ron’s eyebrows shoot up. “I have no idea,” he adds, this time with an effort at nonchalance.

“I won’t be asking him anything I don’t need to, believe—ah, hello.” Ron smiles warmly and his tone is suddenly all professional.

Harry turns. “Rene, this is Auror Weasley.”

“Hello, Rene.”

The small man nods to Ron but does not remove his hands from his pockets. He really is a miserable bugger, but he wants to help, and Harry has to give credit where it’s due.

“I’ll leave you to it.”

**~*~**

“I can’t believe it about Ramona,” Soraya is saying some half an hour later from her seat in front of the fire. “What the hell was she thinking of?”

Leonard and Jake make small noises of agreement, and Harry sighs softly. They’re waiting for Ron to finish his last interview, for morning group to finish, and for lunch to be served, in varying orders of importance.

“Maybe she just couldn’t handle it,” Jake suggests. “They say it gets hard at the end, and she was kind of fragile, wasn’t she?”

“She was not,” Leonard jumps in, sitting up straighter. Unexpectedly, after she stood up to him that day, he has become Ramona’s fiercest champion. He’s still a slippery character, but Harry thinks the mother tiger act is quite charming. “She was strong. Someone must have said something to her.”

Jake and Soraya bristle at his tone, and Harry realises he has to say something.

“She was strong, Leonard, but you can’t start throwing accusations around like that.” Harry removes his glasses and polishes them on the sleeve of his sweater. “Some people just aren’t ready.”

Leonard mutters under his breath and stares into the fire. Harry blinks and replaces his glasses.

“She was like my mum, you know?” They all turn to look at Soraya, who has flung her legs over one arm of her chair. She catches their curious expressions and sighs. “Not like my actual mum, I just mean that I could tell her stuff, and she always knew what to say. She was dead calm, you know? In fact, she was nothing like my mum... my mum’s horrible,” she adds matter-of-factly.

Still not desensitised to this kind of easy honesty, Harry sucks in a breath. Jake leans across from his spot on the floor and gives Soraya’s dangling arm an awkward pat. She smiles.

Still close, then. Draco doesn’t miss much, even when there’s nothing he can do.

“What did you make of that Auror bloke, then?” Leonard asks. Harry’s eyes flick to him immediately, and the crafty smile on his already sly face makes sure Harry knows that Leonard is perfectly aware that he and Ron are friends and he’s asking the question quite deliberately.

“I hate Aurors.” Jake shudders theatrically, and the others nod in agreement. “But as they go, he was alright.”

Soraya tips her head back over the other chair arm, dark hair spilling almost to the floor. “I thought he was quite good looking,” she offers, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling.

Leonard snorts. “Whatever floats your boat, ’Raya.”

Harry’s startled by her comment until he sees the look on Jake’s face, and then it all makes sense.

“Seriously? But he was... all ginger and stuff,” Jake protests. Pouting.

Harry hides a smile. Ron’s not bad looking, he supposes, but there’s no getting away from the fact that he is ‘all ginger and stuff.’ On the other hand, telling Ron that a pretty girl thinks he’s attractive won’t do his ego any harm, regardless of her intentions.

“What’s wrong with that?” Harry asks innocently, shifting position on the rug next to Jake.

“Exactly,” says Soraya, smirking at the ceiling. Jake scowls. Leonard’s expression, when Harry turns to look at him, is that of the satisfied stirrer.

“I’m going to miss you lot,” Harry says, thinking out loud.

“Today’s your last day, isn’t it?” Soraya looks up.

“Certainly is.”

Harry watches, perplexed, as all three of them turn to look at something behind him, and then exchange almost identical conspiratorial glances. Jake pulls himself to his feet without a word and disappears off into the corner of the room. When he returns wielding the camera, Harry shakes his head firmly.

“Not a chance.”

“Why not?”

“He thinks we’ll sell it to the papers or something,” Soraya points out, and it’s the first time a patient has referred to his public profile in weeks. It’s almost as though Harry Potter the celebrity ceases to exist once he steps through those double doors, and he likes it that way.

“Do you?” Jake inquires.

“No, it’s just...”

“He does,” Leonard interrupts. “Trust is a two way street, you know.”

“No hidden agenda.” Jake holds his hands up. “Just that you need to go on the wall. It’s tradition.”

Harry turns to look at the wall of photographs over his shoulder and, as always, his eyes are drawn to the picture of Draco on his own. “Fine.”

Jake positions him in front of the fireplace in an echo of Malfoy’s pose, though it’s unclear whether that’s deliberate. Soraya jumps out of her seat and fiddles with his glasses and his hair until he bats her hands away.

Even though Harry really, truly detests having his picture taken, he smiles and holds still as Jake shuffles back and forth trying to find the right angle, muttering to himself under his breath.

“Come on, David Bailey. I haven’t got all day,” Harry laughs.

Jake lowers the camera and stares at Harry. “Who?”

“Never mind. Get on with it.”

Finally, the flash goes off, just as the door to the lounge opens, admitting Rene and an entertained-looking Ron.

“Didn’t realise we were interrupting a photo shoot,” he remarks.

Fuck off, Ron, Harry thinks. “Do you have everything you need, Auror Weasley?” he says instead.

“I think so.” Ron’s still smirking, but he hasn’t reckoned on Harry’s improved self-control.

“Let me show you the way out,” he says sweetly, crossing the room and nudging Ron back out into the corridor.

“Malfoy still in his group?” Ron asks as they walk.

Harry nods. “It might be a little bit longer than usual because we lost a patient. I suppose something like that brings stuff up for them.”

“Well, I was going to thank him myself but I’ve got to run—progress meeting with Kingsley,” Ron says, grimacing. “Would you mind, mate?”

Harry doesn’t mind, if he can get anywhere near the man. “No problem. If he asks...?”

“Tell him it went fine.” Ron looks over his shoulder, one hand on the door handle. “I’ll tell you about it tonight, after we celebrate your release.”

He grins, and Harry grins back, ignoring the dull thud somewhere inside his ribcage. “Right. First round’s mine.”

**~*~**

As predicted, the group lets out late and there’s a stampede for the dining room. Harry’s not surprised; he’s quickly learned that food and coffee are of vital importance in the absence of noxious mind-altering substances.

When Draco isn’t among those rushing through the main lounge, Harry finds him in his office with the door half-open, scribbling furiously with his shiny new quill. Just the sight of it sends an inappropriate ripple of arousal through Harry and he looks away hurriedly, eyes falling on the unopened Prophet on the corner of the desk. It’s unusual for it to be unread by this time of day, but he supposes Draco has had other things on his mind.

“Ron says thank you,” Harry says, picking up the paper. Draco looks up briefly and nods. “He had to get back for another meeting, but he wanted me to—oh.

Harry falls silent, having unfolded the Prophet, eyes falling on the front page.

“What?”

Harry stares down at the photograph and small article that caught his attention. It’s not the main story but it’s apparently newsworthy enough to warrant the front page. A slightly grainy photograph of himself, Draco and Ron sitting around a table in the St Mungo’s canteen, under the legend:

‘Potter, Weasley and Malfoy Bond Over Soup.’

Harry wants to laugh at the inanity of the Wizarding press, but something stops him. In the photograph, Ron looks baffled, he looks amused and Draco is smirking at his plate.

“I don’t know if you want to see this,” Harry says.

“Oh... what is it?” Draco pales. This time, he actually stops writing.

Silently, Harry passes the paper over and watches Draco’s expression shift from fear to shock, and then from bewilderment to derision. Finally, he throws the paper onto the desk and shakes his head.

“Oh, Merlin preserve us. This passes for news?”

“Apparently.”

“Five years of not being able to print a word about me, and the first thing they go with is ‘Malfoy has lunch with Potter and the Weasel’?” Draco demands, sounding almost put out. Their eyes meet and Harry feels it all over.

“Could have been a lot worse,” Harry reasons, leaning on the bookshelves.

“You mean it won’t do my public profile any harm to be associated with people like you.” It’s a statement, not a question, and though Harry is offended, he can recognise another attempt at a freeze-out when he sees one.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“Right, of course not.”

Draco stares back at him and the tension in the room thickens unbearably until Harry’s heart is hammering against his ribcage and his skin itches like he wants to scratch it off. The office door is closed, the patients are at lunch, it’s his last day and he’s at the end of his tether.

“Enough. I’ve had enough of this now, Draco.” Harry pushes off the shelves and stands straight, arms folded, looking down at Draco in his desk chair. “Who exactly do you think you are, with your flirting and grabbing and kissing in cupboards, and then your sudden meetings and appointments and anything else that you can fucking think of to keep me at arm's length? What's your fucking problem?

Slightly breathless, Harry falls silent. The grey eyes smoulder dangerously for a moment before Draco drops his gaze to the desk again. Picks up the quill and grips it just a little bit too hard.

“Can you hear yourself?” he says evenly. “You're incoherent.”

“My articulacy is not what we're discussing here and you know it!” Harry explodes.

“We aren't discussing anything, Potter. You're yelling at me. In my office, I might add. You should also know that I'm trying to fill in your evaluation.”

“Potter, is it now?” Again. Harry sighs, staring at the side of the blond head. “For fuck's sake, Draco. Retreating back to cold formality because you're... whatever you are. Scared, I reckon.”

“I am not scared,” Draco refutes. “I'm certainly not scared of you, if that's what you're implying.”

“No, would you please just... Merlin... confront this thing. You were there, too, as I remember.”

Taking deep breaths, Harry grits his teeth and waits for a response. When Draco throws down the quill and stands, taking a step into his personal space, he freezes.

“If you think you're going to force some sort of admission out of me, then you’re wrong.”

Harry releases a low, strangled sound from deep in his throat and it’s a mixture of frustration, ire and arousal. He never expected this conversation to be an argument, not really, but he thinks maybe he should have done. It’s what they do, after all. What they’ve always done. In the past, it wasn’t such a turn on, and now he can’t imagine why not.

“What are you trying to do, here?” Harry manages. “Push me away? It's not working.”

Slowly, as Harry holds his position and refuses to be out-stared, the hard, defensive set of Draco’s features softens into something more uncertain.

“You’re out of here at the end of today, and then you don’t have to see me again. Forget about it, OK?”

“Forget about it?” Harry demands, disbelief spiking in his veins and raising his voice. “Do you honestly think that ignoring me for two days is going to make me forget the fact that something actually happened between us? That I... that I want you, and I think you want me?”

Wishing he could take back the last few words, even if they are true, Harry holds firm nonetheless. Draco is close enough to touch now; he smells warm and his breathing is slightly laboured. When he speaks, his voice is low and scratchy.

“That shouldn’t have happened. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.”

Dully, Harry registers that this is the second apology Draco has made to him, and the first direct one. He doesn’t want it. At close range, Draco’s eyes are hopelessly sincere. Harry’s thin veneer of resistance is shattered and he takes one step closer, lifting hands to cup Draco’s face and bringing their lips together.

The contact is delicious, the accompanying wave of relief sharp and sweet as it rolls and rises inside Harry. Draco shivers lightly under his hands, otherwise motionless until Harry swipes his tongue between parted lips and he moans softly and kisses back, tongues curling together, hands wrapping around Harry’s hips. The touch goes straight to his cock and he pulls Draco closer, threading fingers through his hair, thoughts reduced to nothing more complex than yes, yes, yes, more, now.

“No.” When Draco pulls away abruptly, it hurts. Harry doesn’t trust his legs to hold him up, and takes a step back to grab at the shelf behind him again, watching Draco sit on the edge of his desk and cross his arms protectively over his chest.

“What? Why?” Clearly there’s no lack of desire here, he thinks, licking Draco’s taste from his lips.

“Come on, you know why.” His voice is softer now, less accusing, but it doesn’t help.

“Clearly I don’t,” Harry argues, mirroring his folded-arms posture.

“Because...” He sighs, closing his eyes briefly. “Because it was a mistake then, and a mistake now.”

Harry’s heart stutters painfully and he hates it. Fucking traitor. “Just a mistake? What if it wasn’t?”

Draco shakes his head. “It was,” he insists, unmoved. “You don’t even know what you want... and you definitely don’t want me.”

Anger flares instantly, and the desire to grab Draco and slam him up against his own bookshelves is overwhelming. Draco might be an inch taller, but Harry thinks he’s probably stronger, definitely heavier. He resists, just about.

“You’re so fucking arrogant sometimes, do you know that?”

Draco almost smiles. “I’m so fucking arrogant all the time, Harry. That’s why you don’t want someone like me.”

“You think you know what I want? You don’t,” Harry asserts. I do want you, though I can’t quite remember why right now, he adds silently. “What about what you want?”

“It doesn’t matter what I want.”

“Oh, for... you’re infuriating.” Harry closes his eyes and rubs a weary hand over his face.

Draco laughs softly, but it’s a hollow, humourless sound. “Look, I’ll be honest. I never even expected we could learn to work together, let alone actually get along. Let’s not fuck it up by doing something stupid like what happened the other day... and, er, just now, OK?”

It’s unexpectedly rational, and Harry isn’t in the mood for rational. His whole body hums with want and passion and impulsiveness, the rush akin to that he feels in a genuine medical emergency. He’s not quite sure what that means, only that no one else has ever made him feel quite so alive.

“Why you are so set on the idea that this whole thing is a mistake?”

“Because you’re you, and I’m me, and it doesn’t make any sense, and so—”

“Wait a minute,” Harry interrupts, eyes open now. “This is about names? Don’t you dare tell me that this is about ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Draco Malfoy’, because that’s just so much bullshit.”

Draco tucks his hair behind his ear and wraps his fingers around the edge of the desk, stretching long legs out in front of him. “It’s about what you are, and what I am. And that this might be really exciting to you right now, but when the novelty wears off you’ll realise I’m...”

“You’re what?” Harry prompts gently.

“A sad, stuck-up idiot who’s done a lot of bad things,” Draco says, so unemotionally that Harry aches.

“I already know that,” he half-whispers.

He almost gets a smile out of Draco, but he doesn’t look up. “Regardless, I shouldn’t have done what I did. I shouldn’t.”

“You wanted to.” It’s definitely not a question.

“I never said I wasn’t attracted to you,” Draco admits, flushing slightly. “That’s not the issue here. The issue is that it’s insane and someone has to say no... clearly, it’s not going to be you.”

“You are incredibly fucking stubborn,” Harry says after a long silence. When Draco looks up and meets his eyes, something stings in the back of his throat and he grips the bookshelf behind him until the sharp edges of the wood cut into his fingers.

“I know.”

“What happened to positive risk taking?”

“You got me. Like I said, a lot of things are better in theory than in practice.”

“A lot of things are great in practice, even when they don’t quite add up in theory,” Harry counters, sounding more hopeful than he should. He gets a half-smile from the man on the desk, and falls silent. Fighting is one thing, begging is quite another.

Finally, Draco gets up and settles back into his chair. “You know, I don’t think arguing with me should be the last thing you do here. Let me finish this before group and go talk to your fans.”

My fans? Harry mouths, eyebrows raised.

“Not like that, for heaven’s sake. Do you think you’re ‘Harry Potter – Saviour’, to them? You’re their Healer, their group leader, their confidant. You’re... deserving,” he finishes, eyes flicking up from the half-filled parchment for a fraction of a second.

Deserving. The word echoes in Harry’s head until it no longer makes any sense.

He’s pulled the door halfway open when he hesitates, and the question is out of his mouth too quickly for his fledgling self-restraint. “What did you and Ginny have in common?”

Draco looks up very slowly and stops writing. Blinks. “Nothing special,” he replies. “Quidditch, mutual acquaintances... an all-consuming crush on Neville Longbottom,” he adds weakly, and Harry stiffens, even though he knows that last part isn’t true.

“Right.”

“That was a joke, just so you know,” Draco points out, quirking an eyebrow in the same way Harry has seen him do it hundreds of times before, managing to look distressingly, inconveniently vulnerable.

“I know. It’s funny...” Harry smiles shakily and lets himself out of the office, closing it behind him.

Just for a moment, he allows himself to lean against the door, head tipped back against the cold wood, hands dangling at his sides. He’s uncertain exactly what kind of feeling is indicated in this situation, but the angry lust has dissolved, only to be replaced by a soft, tugging sort of longing and a lingering confusion.

**~*~**

He breathes in the familiar heavy silence of Stage One as he walks around making his last set of notes to the charts and holding hushed, one-sided conversations with each patient in turn. He thinks he may miss the comforting stillness in here almost as much as the lively, frantic challenge of the Stage Two community.

Though most of his former patients were also bed-bound, they complained and grumbled almost constantly, and it’s the one part of general Healing that he hasn’t missed over the last four weeks.

“Glad I caught you, Healer Potter,” Redrow says softly. Harry jumps, having failed to hear him enter the ward. “I know today’s your last day, I just wanted to give you my regards.”

“Thanks.” Harry tucks his pencil back into the pocket of his robe and returns Redrow’s smile. There’s another thing—after four weeks working under Redrow, Tremellen is going to seem like even more of a colossal bastard than usual. “I’m going to miss it, I think.”

“We shall miss you as well. I know you’ve formed some strong relationships with the patients,” he says. “I was sorry to hear about Ramona.”

“Apparently, it happens,” Harry says, but the reminder still pokes at a sore spot somewhere. “I never expected to get so... sentimental about them. But, you know, I’ve learned a lot.”

“I knew you would. Don’t be a stranger, now. My office is just down the corridor if you ever need anything.” Redrow pauses, dark eyes sparkling. “And when it comes to choosing a specialty, don’t forget about us.”

“Oh, well, I hadn’t really given it much thought yet...” he hedges, not wanting to offend Redrow, but he’s got a lot more departments to try before he decides anything like that, even if it is tempting right now.

“I know, I know, just keep it in mind,” Redrow says, shrugging.

“Good grief, Algernon, is this your fourth visit this week?” Draco remarks from the open doorway.

“Just saying farewell to Healer Potter. I’m not planning to get in your way, don’t worry,” Redrow assures, shooting a long-suffering look at Harry.

“Someone’s defensive.” Draco smirks, and Harry swallows dryly. “Maybe you should sit in on our afternoon group, it’s starting in twenty-five minutes. It’s never too late for therapy, you know.”

“In my case, Draco, I think it’s entirely too late,” he laughs. “But thanks for the offer.”

“Algernon, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were afraid of my Stage Twos.”

“That reminds me,” Harry mutters to himself. “Excuse me. Thank you, Healer Redrow, and I’ll definitely think about it.”

“Think about what?” he hears Draco ask as he crosses to the main lounge and lets himself in.

**~*~**

Harry feels oddly calm during his last ever group. He can’t quite shake the mantle of sadness that has attached itself to him somewhere around lunchtime, but he throws everything into listening to the patients and offering up what—limited, he feels—pearls of wisdom he possesses. As the session draws to a close, someone mentions that it’s his last group and, before he knows it, he’s the subject of an impromptu flood of feedback.

“You’re a good listener,” says one patient, one that Harry hasn’t had chance to get to know yet.

“I always feel like you really care,” says another.

Harry shifts in his seat. Compliments make him uncomfortable, especially so many at once.

“I think you’re a good Healer and a good person.”

“I’ll miss you.”

“You make me think, and I need that sometimes.”

“I thought you’d be a total pushover, and you’re not at all,” says Leonard, and Harry smiles to himself.

“Wicked sense of humour, yeah, but you should believe in yourself more.” Soraya.

“Crap at chess but good at life,” offers Jake.

Forcing himself to look up, Harry fights down a blush and looks around at everyone in the circle.

“Thank you,” he says eventually. “I’ll have to try and remember all of that.”

Draco says nothing, except to gently bring the group to a close, and Harry opts to not torture himself by looking over at him.

When everyone has retired to the lounge, though, Harry approaches him at the windowsill. From his trouser pocket, Harry extracts the shrunken ‘Bridging the Gap’ and restores it to its proper size. For the last few days he’s been returning Draco’s books one at a time, slipping them quietly back onto the shelves in the office. Something made him hang onto this one, and he’s somewhat reluctant to return it to its rightful owner.

“I brought this back.”

Draco turns to face him, gaze falling immediately upon the book. He reaches up to push his hair out of his eyes, and Harry wants to touch him so very badly. But he doesn’t.

“Book thief,” he says lightly.

“Book borrower, actually.” Harry cradles the heavy book against his chest and looks at Draco’s shoes. “Part of the definition of theft includes an intention to permanently deprive, and since I’m voluntarily returning this, um, property, then I can hardly be considered a thief,” he says, all in one breath.

“Is that so? Muggle or Wizarding law?”

“Both, actually, the definitions are very similar.”

“Granger?”

“Maybe.” Harry flushes and grips the book harder. He truly has no idea why he’s saying any of this, but he figures it’s too late to back out of it now. “She works for vulnerable wizards at the Ministry... apparently there’s a lot of overlap between ‘vulnerable’ and ‘criminal’, so...”

“There is,” Draco says, suddenly vehement. “Most of my patients would fit into those two categories, in fact.”

They both look up at the same time, and Harry forgets what he was going to say.

“You can have that one, if you like.” Draco indicates the book.

“Don’t you need it?”

“I have about five copies of it.”

Harry frowns, looking back down at the cover. “Why?”

“Did you ever look at when that book was published?” Draco asks. Harry flips to the flyleaf. Published 1999. “Dylan Gatsby did quite a bit of his research in this department the year before,” he continues. “I was one of his case studies. He gave me a box of them when the book came out.”

Immediately, Harry’s brain is flicking through what he remembers from the book, trying to locate anything that seems particularly Malfoy-esque, but he draws a blank. From what he does remember, the patients Gatsby discusses are never referred to by name, anyway.

Harry crosses his arms over the book once more, comforted by the weight and the smell of leather and pages. “Thanks.”

Draco nods stiffly. “Who knows... you might actually learn something. Heaven forbid,” he adds, in a deliberate parody of the first time he gave the book to Harry, judging by the way his mouth twists into a strange smile at the words.

“Stranger things have happened,” Harry murmurs, smiling back. Almost forgetting their earlier conversation, and when it rushes back, it’s a sharp, prickly sort of pain.

The kind that makes no sense.

**~*~**

As soon as the afternoon volunteer is safely out of the way (a witch with a flute—beyond that, Harry doesn’t want to know), he slips into the lounge and just soaks it up. All of it: the chatter, the arguments, the impromptu counselling sessions and the group in the corner that seem to be discussing the flute lady.

“But Samiraaa,” trills Leonard in an impressive falsetto. “How does the flute make you feel?

“Disturbed,” says Samira, quirking a dark eyebrow.

Good answer, Harry thinks, grinning. As he walks around, the warmth in the room is utterly comforting, both in the literal and figurative sense. He barely cares how corny he sounds in his head any more, he knows this place has gotten to him, and he suspects the damage may be permanent.

As he sits with each small group in turn and says his goodbyes, he’s attacked by a range of hugs, backslaps and handshakes. Some of these people he’s only known for days, but maybe Draco is right, and the normal rules of relationships just don’t apply here.

He knows he can probably visit, but he also knows the reality of being rushed off his feet once he returns to the normal ward. Two or three weeks will pass in the blink of an eye and all of these people will be gone. Conscious of that, he acquiesces to Jake’s request for one more game of chess and is gracious—and unsurprised—in defeat.

“Thanks, everyone,” he says at the door, no longer thrown by every eye in the room being turned on him. “Good luck.”

Draco is at the office door when he emerges from the lounge, Harry’s wand in hand.

“You didn’t have to stay so late.”

“I wanted to,” Harry says simply, waiting for Draco to call him a sentimental Gryffindor, but he says nothing. Just hands over Harry’s wand in silence. Their hands don’t touch.

“I finished your evaluation. Sent it off to Tremellen.”

Harry nods, watching Draco cross his arms and look at the floor. “Thanks.”

The silence stretches out between them and for a brief moment, Harry wants the old hostility back, because at least it was something. Not this raw wanting smashed up against a cold, hard surface.

Eventually, because he doesn’t know what else to do, Harry holds out his hand. It’s feeble, but he doubts very much Draco would appreciate a hug. Startled, Draco looks up and meets his eyes. The skin contact when he slides his palm against Harry’s is warm and firm and perfect, and somehow, Harry has never felt more awkward in his life.

“I...” Draco pauses, letting go of his hand and his eyes foreshadow the apology that doesn’t come. Harry doesn’t want one anyway. “Thank you. Good luck with everything.”

“Think I’ll need it?” Harry allows him a smile as he backs away toward the door, because he’s brave, apparently, and that’s what he does.

“Probably not.” Draco drops his eyes to the floor again.

Harry doesn’t let the door bang behind him.

**~*~**

It’s dark by the time he leaves the hospital, and Harry barely has time to Apparate home, drink his disguise and get to the agreed meeting place on time. It’s a trendy Mediterranean-style cafe-bar just off Diagon Alley that just screams Hermione, and Harry identifies his friends almost instantly—the tall redhead smiling into her wineglass and the intellectual-looking man sitting next to her and scowling at the menu.

“Hi.” Harry slides into his seat across the table and Hermione smiles at him.

“Don’t these people eat steaks?” Ron asks mournfully, looking up.

“Which people are those, exactly?” Hermione sounds amused.

“Italians?” Ron guesses, gesturing with the menu. “European... type people. Harry?”

“Nice place, Hermione,” he jumps in, recognising a cry for help when he hears one. “How was your day?”

“Oh, you know... meeting with the Minister and a representative from the Wizengamot.” She swirls her wineglass in a poor attempt at nonchalance. “Same old, same old.”

Harry laughs, and she looks up at him, secret delight written all over the strange pale face.

“Just a normal day at the office then,” he teases. “It go well?”

“Of course it did... what the hell is gnocchi?” Ron cuts in, still frowning at the menu.

“Kind of... dumplings?” Harry flicks his eyes to Hermione, uncertain.

She nods. “It means ‘lump’,” she supplies brightly and Ron makes a face. “I think there’s pizza on the other side of the menu.” Turning back to Harry, she grins. “I think we’re actually going to get some stuff on the legislative programme this year. In fact... and this is very much in the planning stage, but we’re pushing to get some of the laws altered regarding the use of Wizarding drugs.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. What with Ron’s case and your placement, it’s really been brought to my attention how archaic our laws are compared to the Muggle equivalents,” Hermione says, the familiar manic glint lighting her eyes. “I started doing a little bit of research...”

Ron’s snort cuts her off and she shoots him a sharp look, but Harry smiles to himself. He’s fairly certain that Hermione’s idea of ‘a little bit of research’ and his own differ somewhat.

“Go on.”

“It’s a fascinating subject, anyway, but did you know that eighty-three percent of wizards caught with controlled substances are given punitive rather than rehabilitative sentences?” she recites, not pausing for breath or for a response. “And do you know how much Ministry funding actually goes toward centres like the one you’re working in?”

“Er, not very much?” Harry ventures. And I’m not working there any more, he thinks, with a sharp pang of sadness.

“Scandalously little, actually.” Hermione purses her lips and twists the delicate stem of her wineglass. Ron says nothing, having clearly heard this particular tirade before. “And they’re talking about cutting funding further, which is ridiculous, because there are all kinds of studies that show... what?”

She stops, registering the amusement on Harry’s face. He shakes his head with a disbelief that feels a lot like resignation. “You ought to talk to Draco,” he says, the familiar address slipping out easily. Harry quickly realises he doesn’t care any more. “We had a very similar conversation just the other day.”

Hermione gapes for a moment before recovering herself with creditable alacrity. “I should... goodness. I never even thought of that.” She sips her wine thoughtfully. “Do you think he’d speak to me?”

Harry starts, grateful he’d not chosen that moment to take a drink. Ron isn’t so fortunate, and splutters violently until Harry reaches over and slaps him hard on the back. He hadn’t meant it as a literal suggestion, but Hermione seems to have taken it as one.

“I don’t know,” Harry says at last. Honestly. He has no idea. Hermione might be ‘Granger’ now, rather than ‘that Mudblood’, but he’s painfully aware that there’s no use trying to predict how Draco will react to a given situation.

“Not you too, ’Mione,” Ron complains, gazing at his girlfriend with watery eyes, still wheezing slightly.

“What?” Her voice is wary, but her eyes flick to Harry’s briefly.

“Everyone’s mates with Malfoy now, it’s fucking weird,” he replies emphatically. “Harry, my sister—yes, I found out about that just after you did, apparently.” He glances at Harry, pained. “And now you.”

Hermione exhales, exasperated. “Don’t be such a drama queen, Ron. And besides, I’m not talking about becoming best friends with him, just a... mutually beneficial, um, professional relationship. Right, Harry?”

“You know what... don’t drag me into this.” Harry looks at his hands. “I’m hardly unbiased,” he adds quietly.

“Exactly!” Ron crows, pointing his glass at Hermione and jerking his head toward Harry. “It starts out all ‘mutually beneficial’ and whatnot, and then what happens?”

“What happens?” Hermione asks in a small voice. Harry’s heart stops, just for a second.

“Well, now Harry’s all matey with the Slytherin bastard, that’s what happens,” Ron finishes, as if it were obvious, and Harry sags, heart kicked back into a regular, if slightly fast, rhythm. He stares at the grain of the tabletop, wondering if he can absorb himself into it somehow.

“Right,” says Hermione, sounding relieved.

“Right,” echoes Harry, looking up sharply and flexing his knee painfully. He’s not sure which one of them kicked him under the table, but it bloody hurt. “That’s, er... what happens.”

No, he corrects silently. What happens is that you start out tolerating him, and then you start to like him, and then you like him and respect him, and then.... then, you fall into a helpless and irretrievable infatuation with him. And then he rejects you, even though he wants you. And that fucking well hurts, too.

“Perhaps I’ll owl him about it,” Hermione says loudly, eyes catching Harry’s.

Smiling gratefully at her, he nods. “Good idea. I’d ask him for you, but I’m not in Chem Dep after today, so...”

“I’m sure I’ll manage. He doesn’t frighten me.”

“You should have seen him today, moody bugger,” Ron offers, signalling for a waiter. “Did you sort him out, Harry?”

With Ron’s eyes diverted, Harry and Hermione exchange glances, his pleading, hers concerned.

Sort him out. Well. “Yeah, I... I did. He said he was sorry, actually.” Harry gulps his wine, relieved when the waiter interrupts to take their orders.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Malfoy apologise,” Ron remarks when he’s gone, face thoughtful.

“Sometimes they do,” Harry murmurs, looking intensely at his cutlery. With the memory, his stomach contracts unpleasantly and he closes his eyes. Opens them. “Can we talk about something else?”

Hermione gets up and excuses herself, and the contact from the hand that she lays on Harry’s shoulder as she passes is brief but comforting.

Fortified, Harry directs a sly grin at Ron and as soon as she’s out of earshot, says:

“You made quite an impression on one of your interviewees today.”

“How do you mean?” Ron leans forward, visibly intrigued.

“Soraya said she thought you were rather good looking.” Harry smirks as, even wearing someone else’s form, the tips of Ron’s ears turn pink from embarrassment.

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m not,” Harry assures, enjoying his friend’s astonishment. “Wouldn’t tell Hermione, but it’s true.”

“Well, bugger me.” Ron grins, and attempts a rakish wink at Harry that sadly looks more like a spasm. Harry snorts into his wine. “That might be the most useful thing to come out of those bloody interviews.”

“That bad?” Harry raises an eyebrow and casts a lazy Privacy Charm.

Ron sighs. “It’s not that they were bad. The patients themselves were really co-operative, surprisingly open. It’s just that... after nearly four hours of interviews, I ended up with next to no workable information.”

“They don’t remember anything about the dealer?”

Hermione returns to her seat and Harry loops the Privacy Charm around her, too.

“No, it’s not that. All of them said that the first time they bought it, they were approached en route to their usual dealer, and after that by owl to a remote location which is basically an empty shed in the middle of nowhere—total dead end. Rodriguez checked it out this afternoon.”

“So far, so useless,” Harry agrees. “But at least they’re consistent.”

“Well, yeah, to a point. Two of them said it was a blonde witch who sold it to them, two said a blond wizard. Sometimes wearing a hooded cloak, sometimes not.” Ron folds his arms on the table top and sighs grimly.

“Both blond, is it possible they’re related?” Hermione muses, leaning in, too.

“Multiple suspects would make sense,” Harry agrees, trying not to dwell on the blond aspect too much. “It’s not likely to be a one-man operation, is it? Or one-woman,” he adds, catching Hermione’s expression.

“That’s the weird thing,” Ron says. “It’s pretty much confined to London, all of the ingredients can apparently be sourced locally... there’s nothing to suggest it’s a big operation at all. There’s a lot of it, and it’s nasty stuff, but we think there’s one person behind it.”

“Because?” Hermione asks before Harry can.

“Well... all four of them said the same thing, it’s pretty odd. They all said that the dealer smelled of oranges.”

“Oranges? Chromia doesn’t have a smell, does it?” Harry stares into space for long seconds, fingers tracing patterns into the condensation on his glass. As he does so, something flickers in the back of his head and he reaches for it.

“Different appearances, same essence—he’s using Polyjuice.” Harry’s voice is triumphant as he once again focuses on Ron’s—borrowed—face.

“Or she’s using Polyjuice,” Hermione mutters, looking utterly affronted that she hadn’t thought of it first.

“That’s what we’re leaning towards.” Ron covers Hermione’s hand with his in an unconscious gesture of appeasement. “Which, of course, then widens the field massively... we’re not necessarily looking for a blond. In fact, they’re most likely not a blond.”

“Did you figure it out, or Rodriguez?” Harry wants to know.

“I did.” Ron grins but it’s slightly sheepish. “It took me a lot longer than that, though. He was grudgingly impressed, so I decided not to bother telling him I use the stuff every Friday night. It won’t do him any harm to think I’m a genius for a little while.”

“I can think of a few things that wouldn’t do that man any harm,” Hermione mutters darkly.

At that moment the food arrives, and Harry digs into his pasta gratefully, having spent lunchtime arguing with Draco in his office. And kissing him, adds his subconscious, and it’s a testament to how ravenous he actually is that he ignores the flip flop of his gut and carries on eating.

“It wasn’t a total waste of time, then. The interviews.”

“No,” Ron admits, cutting methodically into his pizza. “But the net’s wide open. We were looking into Greg Goyle earlier this week, but when we saw how he was living... fuck, there’s just no way. The guy’s dirt poor. No resources, and what would he be doing with the money he’d got from selling the stuff? Nah.”

“Don’t you think you might be over-emphasizing the Death Eater angle?” Hermione suggests, examining a sun-dried tomato on her fork. “I know a lot of them used Chromia, but that doesn’t mean the person making this new stuff was one. It’s flawed logic.”

Harry smiles at her and says nothing. He’s often thought that if he had her powers of deduction, he might actually be dangerous.

“It probably is, you’re right.” Ron grimaces and swallows a huge mouthful of cheese and pepperoni. “Trouble is, the Ministry’s still obsessed by anything vaguely Death Eater related. It bothers them that any are actually still out there. Rodriguez calls it ‘institutional guilt’.”

“That might be the first smart thing I’ve ever heard out of Rodriguez,” Harry muses.

“Probably the last,” Hermione mutters into her dinner.

“Anyway, we’re chasing up all the remaining Death Eaters, Death Eater sympathisers, anything like that. I don’t know what to do with the orange thing. It’s so specific that it’s somehow completely unhelpful. Why would someone stink of oranges? Do we need to start investigating people who live near an orchard?” Ron shakes his head and reaches for his glass.

“They wouldn’t have to stink of it,” Harry points out, as it occurs to him. Unsurprisingly, he’s thinking of Draco, and he wishes he could stop it. “It might be very subtle. It might be unnoticeable, except to a Chromia user.”

“Fan-bloody-tastic. What am I going to do, walk around with a Chromia addict strapped to my back?”

In spite of himself, the image tickles Harry and he laughs. Fortunately, so does Ron, exasperation melting away quickly. When he looks at Hermione, she’s smiling too, and Harry feels himself starting to relax into a comfortable Friday night rhythm. There’s no need to think about Malfoy, none at all.

“Enough about my problems, anyway.” Ron picks up his glass. “Harry, you made it. I know you’re mates now, but I’m sure I’m right when I say that no longer working for ferret-face can only be a good thing. To your freedom.”

Hermione raises her glass to the toast, face caught somewhere between curiosity and exasperation.

“Your freedom, Harry,” she murmurs.

“Great.” He clinks their glasses and forces a smile. He always speaks too soon.

**~*~**

Harry wholeheartedly blames Draco Malfoy for the fact that, by the end of the night, he is a lot more drunk than usual.

He could blame Ron, whose short-term memory exists in inverse proportion to his level of intoxication, to the point where he’s alternating between ‘Harry, I really can’t understand why you’re still single’ and ‘That Malfoy... he’s coooold. Ice cold... like a ferret,’ every few minutes.

He could, alternatively, blame Hermione, her tortured glances and her hissed ‘What did he do to you?’-s whenever Ron slopes off to the bar or the bathroom.

Any one of those things on its own could be held accountable for Harry deciding to consume enough Firewhisky to fell a Hippogriff, but as he stands swaying slightly in the cold night air outside the Dragon and Snitch, he decides he’s most comfortable in laying the culpability at Malfoy’s door. So to speak. Not that he can probably pronounce that right now.

“Culpabibility,” he attempts, lips feeling stickier and heavier than they should. “Culpabrolity. Fuck it.”

“What are you talking about?” Hermione’s drunk, he decides, blinking at her. That’s why he can see two of her.

“If I am this drunk, it’s entirely Malfoy’s culpabriplolity,” he says severely. “A pox on both his houses.”

He squints. Hermione is trying not to laugh, and playing with long, red hair that’s a lot like Ginny’s. Pretty. “Harry, what did Malfoy do to you?” she tries again, and Harry groans, clutching at her shoulder and shaking his head.

“No. That’s the wrong question.” He frowns. “Where’s Ron?”

“Getting his coat. What’s the right question?”

Harry doesn’t quite know why, but the question makes him feel suddenly sad. And then angry. “Hermione... when I have worked that out, I shall let you know,” he says grandly.

“But Malfoy...” she says, reaching out with one hand to steady herself. It’s windy out, Harry thinks. Either that or she’s very, very drunk.

“Oh, yes. I hate him.” Harry blinks. His chest hurts, and the air is too cold where it hits his lungs. “No, I don’t. Oh, Merlin... I really don’t hate him at all. Do I?” He looks appealingly at Hermione.

“I don’t think you do,” she says with an odd little smile.

“I couldn’t find my coat!” Ron announces, stepping out onto the street beside them.

“You’re wearing it,” Hermione sighs, grabbing his arm. “Come on, it’s cold.”

“Ice cold... as a ferret,” Ron mumbles. “Bye, Harry.”

It’s a miracle you managed to Apparate in one piece, says a strange little voice inside Harry’s head that he decides must belong to Hermione. Disoriented, he touches down in the living room and folds easily onto his knees in front of the fireplace.

His head’s spinning most unpleasantly, slow and faded rotations of words and images. Draco’s handshake at the door; his kisses stolen in cupboards and offices; grey eyes, warm and cold; drawing inky red circles on stone floors; devouring chocolate frogs and secret smiles in the canteen; turning his wrist to expose the faded Mark; slender fingers wrapped around a glossy black quill.

‘Isn’t Muggle stationery beautiful?’ and ‘Use it to help me with this’ and ‘Ramona walked.’

‘Because you’re you, and I’m me, and it doesn’t make any sense,’
and ‘You’re deserving’ and ‘I’m sure she had her theories,’ – ‘Oh, she did.’

Shaking himself hard, Harry rubs his face. Before he knows what he’s doing, he’s sticking his head into Ginny’s living room and looking around desperately.

“Gin,” he wails through the fire. “I need to know about the theories... he said you had theories... and I need to know about the areas of common interest!”

The room is dark and nothing happens immediately, until finally, a soft thudding issues from behind one door and Neville appears. Harry blinks stickily. He’d almost forgotten this was Neville’s house, too; he hadn’t thought much further than that he wouldn’t find her at the Burrow at this hour.

“She’s not here, Harry.” Neville crouches by the fire in striped pyjamas, a copy of... Harry tilts his head very slowly and squints... ‘Sweet Music – the Life and Times of Celestina Warbeck’ dangling from his fingers.

Harry laughs. Neville blushes and hides the book behind him. “It’s Ginny’s.”

“Neville,” he says gravely. “I believe you. Where is she?”

“Um, you know... out. Not here, at any rate.”

Neville, Harry decides, is good at a lot of things, but lying is not one of those things. “It’s... very late, and stuff. Where is she?”

“She’s out with a friend.”

As he leans forward, Harry’s balance deserts him and he smacks his kneecap against the stone surround of the fireplace so hard he hears the crack. He doesn’t know who put it there, but it’s clearly a design flaw.

“Any bibaprolity... proba... chance that friend is Draco sodding Malfoy?” Harry inquires, eyes narrowed.

Neville rakes a hand through his messy, flattened-on-one-side hair. “Ah... he... she said he was upset about something.” He shrugs. “I don’t know any more than that.”

“He’s upset?” Harry can’t quite believe he would dare. “Oh, that’s wonderful. He’s got a bloody cheek.”

“Harry... is everything alright?” Neville looks worried, and that can’t be good, but Harry can’t remember why. He swallows, throat sandpaper-dry.

“That would depend,” he says very carefully, holding onto his knees, “on your definition of ‘alright’.”

“Did he do something to you?”

Harry repeats the question in his head until it sounds ridiculous, and it does. And he laughs.

“Did he do something to me? That’s a good one. I’m going to bed... think I might be a bit drunk. All things considered...ed.” Harry frowns. “Enjoy your book.”

He makes a slow, weaving progress up the stairs and manages to pull back his sheets at the third attempt, having failed to will them back with the sheer power of his eyes, wand somewhere on the floor inside his tangle of clothes.

“What did you do to me, Draco Malfoy?” he asks of his ceiling, just before his eyelids droop. “Something,” he whispers.

Chapter Text

After a restless weekend, Harry is relieved to be back to the usual frantic pace of the St Mungo’s main wards, though it takes him some time to adjust, to shed his Chem Dep persona. Down here, he doesn’t need eyes in the back of his head, and he has to remind himself that these patients just want his medical help and not his personal advice.

He’s always preferred to be busy, but when the expected heavy patient-load is dropped on him first thing Monday morning, he finds himself thinking wistfully of sharing Draco’s desk and calmly flicking through the Daily Prophet. Watching Draco drink almond-apricot mochaccino and letting him help with the crossword.

It’s at this point that Harry seriously considers banging his head against the nurses’ station until some kind of sense prevails. That, or perhaps drinking some of the Sedative Draught he’s just collected for Mr Bayleaf in bed twelve. Something is surely indicated, because if he’s already missing such ridiculous little things about the man after less than a day, there’s little hope for his sanity in the long term.

The man who doesn’t want me, he reminds himself forcefully.

“Cecile, have you seen my marbles?” Harry groans, setting down the potion bottle before temptation gets the better of him.

“Literally or figuratively?” Cecile frowns, emerging from where she’s rummaging in a box on the floor.

“Either.”

“’Fraid not, Harry. Have you seen Mrs Kneasby’s chart?”

Harry shakes his head.

Cecile raises a hand to her brow in a dramatic gesture. “A day for lost things, this is. What’s to be done?”

Reluctantly, Harry feels the corners of his mouth twitch upwards and Cecile grins. “Fuck me, it smiles.”

“Bugger off.”

“Tremellen’s coming,” Terry puts in, Apparating in neatly beside Harry. “I really haven’t missed this part.”

“Who could possibly miss that man?” Harry wonders aloud.

Cecile coughs. “Daisy and Lisa look rather eager to see him.” Harry looks, just as the man himself turns up, in time to see the two girls straighten up and smooth down their hair.

“Oh, no... that’s just disturbing.”

“Hello, Hatchlings,” bellows Tremellen, revelling in the sound of his own voice. Something grates inside Harry’s head, and he sorely misses Redrow’s easy, hushed tones.

“Good morning, Healer Tremellen,” comes the straggling response. Eventually.

“So, I spent a good portion of the weekend reviewing your individual evaluations on these rotations, and they are... varied, to say the least.”

Tremellen pauses and pulls a sheaf of parchments from his robe pocket. A small ripple passes around the group.

“These were not written for your eyes, so do not expect any allowances to be made. However, I’m of the opinion that reading the honest opinions of another Department Head will help you to learn,” Tremellen says, and Harry finds himself holding his breath. He doesn’t know if he wants to know, really.

“Healer Boot,” he begins, holding out Terry’s report. “Not bad, although it seems one of the parents complained about you. The parent is always, always right. Remember that.”

Terry takes the parchment, instinctively rubbing his bitten arm. Harry meets his murderous expression with what he hopes is a sympathetic one.

“Healer Frobisher.” Tremellen turns to one of the simpering girls; Harry thinks it’s Daisy.

“Yes, Healer Tremellen?” She smiles brightly. Beside Harry, Cecile mimes sticking two fingers down her throat.

“I don’t know where to start. Poor concentration, failure to follow instructions, lateness, lack of proper attire...” Tremellen’s moustache quivers and there’s a fleck of spit in the corner of his mouth. Harry can’t help but feel a little sorry for Daisy, however irritating she might be. “I expected more from you. I seriously suggest you think very hard about your choices and your priorities as regards your place here.”

When he stops speaking, Daisy steps back as though she’s been hit. The smile has disappeared and as she accepts her parchment, she looks as though she might cry.

“Harsh,” whispers Terry, and Harry nods, stomach in knots.

He barely hears the next four pronouncements but with Cecile’s name comes the knowledge that he’s next, and he shakes himself.

“Healer Mackenzie.”

Cecile’s face is impassive but Harry knows she cares; she cares a great deal. She accepts the parchment without looking at it.

“Your performance apparently impressed Healer Aquiline. She believes you are hard-working and quick-thinking. You have shown considerable... talent,” he says, sounding reluctant. Harry grinds his teeth. “However, it has been noted that your bedside manner needs some work; certain patients found you... less than warm.”

Cecile nods but Harry can practically see the silent retort simmering behind her eyes.

‘Less than warm’ is certainly rich coming from Tremellen.

“And finally, Healer Potter.” Tremellen looks down his nose at Harry, expression strangely unreadable. “It seems that Healer Redrow holds you in rather high regard.”

His voice is carefully neutral rather than oily or contemptuous, and Harry just can’t figure him out. It’s possible, just possible, that Tremellen actually respects Healer Redrow.

Harry accepts the parchment with a small nod. “Thank you, Healer Tremellen.”

A quick glance at the sheet in his hands confirms what Harry already knows, and he won’t be telling his boss that while that may be Redrow’s signature at the bottom of the evaluation, the department head hasn’t written a single word of it.

“Read, digest, and learn.” Tremellen casts a critical eye around the group. “In your own time, mind. This ward doesn’t run itself.”

The moment he’s gone, though, the group bursts into conversation, swapping parchments and opinions, the air abuzz with both congratulatory and sympathetic noises. Across the hall, someone is comforting a distraught Daisy, and next to Harry, Cecile is muttering to herself as she examines her parchment.

Certain patients found you less than warm,” she mimics, lip curling slightly.

Harry pats her on the back and wanders slightly away from the group to scan Draco’s economical black script. His eyes immediately drop to the bottom of the page, where the overall score is inked inside a small box.

A 92. Harry grips the parchment harder, heart racing. Draco Malfoy gave him a 92.

Granted, he never intended Harry to see it. In fact, Harry’s fairly certain that had Draco known Harry would get to read his own evaluation, he would have found some way to give him a horrible mark on purpose.

Lips curving into a small smile, Harry starts to read.

‘I have found Healer Potter to be—’

“Bed six is crashing!” yells Terry from the ward door. Harry’s head jerks up immediately, taking in the rush of movement and the magical alarms and light-flashes behind Terry. He moves instinctively, shoving the parchment into his robe pocket for later.

He’s the first to reach the patient’s bedside after Terry, casting and holding a full-body Stasis Charm under Terry’s Ennervate, allowing him to cast a series of diagnostic spells, one after another. The characteristic scent of lavender hits Harry immediately, seeming stronger after a month-long absence.

Draco hates the scent of fucking lavender, he thinks idly, strengthening his charm as Terry accepts the vial of Potion No. 7 from Eloise and tips it into the patient’s mouth.

“OK, he’s back.” Terry steps back, relieved.

Finite?

Terry nods. Harry ends the spell and sheaths his wand. The evaluation is burning a hole in his pocket.

**~*~**

Monday’s shift rattles along at a frenetic pace, and Harry doesn’t have time to so much as take a deep breath until almost nine hours in. Eventually, he manages to give his friends the slip and finds a secluded step round the back of the laundry room to rest his legs and look at his evaluation.

It’s a cool day, and as the wind whips up around him, he’s grateful for the heavy robes that have been weighing him down all day. Exhaling carefully, he spreads the parchment out on his knees and begins to read. He tries to tell himself that it’s purely professional pride on the line here, but he knows he’s kidding himself. It is that, of course it is, but it’s also Draco’s opinion—for once, not coloured by his habitual need to make Harry feel small.

Scanning rapidly, words and phrases jump out at him at random.

Healer Potter shows great sensitivity when dealing with vulnerable Stage Two patients.

Listens to suggestions and takes on new information with ease.

Lacking in specialist knowledge at the outset of the rotation, but willing and quick to learn.

Healer Potter is thorough, tactful and competent in his treatment of Stage One patients.

Unafraid to challenge/ask questions.

Reliable, trustworthy and calm in a crisis.

Air of natural authority.

Healer Potter has excellent communication skills with patients, co-workers and superiors.


Harry shakes his head slowly and stares at the parchment. Malfoy wrote those words, Harry knows he did, and yet somehow that fact refuses to sink into his brain.

“Healer Potter is somewhat blindsided by this evaluation,” he mutters to himself.

Casting a wandless Warming Charm against the bitter wind, he starts again at the top and reads it properly.

**~*~**

The first week away from Chem Dep is racing to a close before Harry knows what’s hit him. As he Apparates blearily into his living room at 5am on Friday morning after a double shift, Harry is once again wistful for the almost nine-to-five pattern of Draco’s department.

Yawning, he pulls off his robes and stretches. Carelessly lights the fire in the grate and winces. It’s been almost a week, and still he can’t look at the fireplace without cringing, half-remembering his drunken conversation with Neville.

‘Nev, if you could... maybe not tell Ginny what we talked about last night?’ he’d pleaded on the Saturday morning, having woken horrified and repentant.

‘To be honest, Harry, you weren’t making much sense to me anyway,’ Neville had shrugged. ‘Mum’s the word.’

It had been a close thing, and a harsh reminder of the downside of Firewhisky, as if he needed one.

Turning away from the fire, Harry scratches through his hair and wanders into the kitchen. As the kettle boils, he looks disinterestedly through the contents of the pantry and various cupboards. There’s plenty of food, and the low growling from his stomach tells him that he should be eating something, but nothing appeals.

Nothing seems to taste right recently. Even canteen pie is disturbingly flavourless, and he just can’t be bothered. And, despite his better attempts to dislodge her, Harry’s inner Hermione has taken control of this particular thought process. The implications are horrifying.

“I do not miss stupid Malfoy,” Harry lies out loud. “It’s the food, it’s not me.”

As if to prove his point, he opens a can of peaches and carries it over to the table with his tea. Grimly, he stabs his fork into the can and shoves a dripping peach slice into his mouth.

See? Delicious peaches. I’m fine.

Chomping with admirable determination, Harry’s eyes fall on his copy of ‘Bridging the Gap’, sitting atop a pile of old newspapers at the other end of the table. He pulls it toward him with his free hand and flicks to the chapter on Chromia, taking care not to drip peach juice on the pages.

‘Dylan Gatsby did quite a bit of his research in this department... I was one of his case studies.’

Harry’s read this chapter before—in fact, Ron’s read it, too, and probably Hermione—but he reads it again, scanning through the different case studies with different eyes this time. This time, he’s looking for something.

When he finds it, his cry of triumph almost makes him choke on the chunk of peach in his mouth. Recovering himself quickly, he swallows the slimy fruit and devours the words with his eyes. There is almost a full page devoted to what he’s sure is Draco, and he has no idea how he never noticed it before. It’s the last couple of paragraphs that catch his attention, though:

D responded well to basic rehabilitative treatment and is fully abstinent at 12-month follow-up sessions. D has gainful, secure employment and a relatively normal, ordered life. However, it should be noted that...

Harry looks up and sets the can and fork down, picking up the book and his cup of tea.

“Listen to this,” he says, looking over the top of the book at the top cupboard. “It should be noted that D experiences continued reluctance to form personal relationships and freely admits that he has not entered into a meaningful non-platonic relationship for several years.”

The cupboard rattles encouragingly. Harry gulps at his tea and continues.

“As such, it is difficult to say whether this dysfunction is as a result of long-term Chromia dependency or whether the drug use merely exacerbated existing trust and intimacy issues which can be traced back to a privileged but somewhat troubled upbringing. This case once again raises the question—which comes first— the drug, or the condition? In Chapter Six, we will further discuss... yada yada yada,” Harry finishes.

Lowering the book back to the table, he wraps his hands around his hot cup and bites his lip. The cupboard is stubbornly silent, but Harry can’t shake the thought that Draco wanted him to read this. Why else would he have volunteered the fact that he was a case study? He doubts Draco does anything by accident.

“Don’t you get it? This is just what he does! This distance thing.”

A doubtful squeak is his answer.

Harry frowns. “Of course I’m sure. It’s obviously him. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it before.”

Silence. Harry sighs and drains his tea. Looks back at the printed words, feeling strangely uplifted. Confused, but definitely uplifted.

“You see, I just need to... I need to something. I need more tea,” he decides, standing up abruptly.

The cupboard flaps back and forth in approval. Tea seems to be its answer to everything.

By the time Harry has finished his third cup of Earl Grey, it’s settled. There’s no way he’s giving up on the stupid stubborn prick.

“Yep.” He stretches out in his seat and folds his arms. “You want Draco Malfoy, you go get him.” Decisively, he flicks his eyes across the kitchen. This time, the silence seems vaguely mocking.

“Yes, I heard it,” he sighs, lifting hands to rub at his heated face. “Oh, this is so fucked up.”

**~*~**

Following his exhausting double, Harry’s Friday shift is a relatively light ten-til-seven, but something drags him out of his restless sleep early and he’s standing outside the double doors of Chem Dep by quarter to nine.

Conscious of Draco’s aversion to bright colours, his green robes are sitting shrunken in his trouser pocket. The paper bag containing two cups of takeaway coffee that dangles from his left hand adds fuel to the creeping realisation that he’s definitely turning into a complete sap.

Harry hesitates, wand in hand, in the empty corridor. He hasn’t been nervous like this since his very first day; it’s patently ridiculous, but still he’s rooted to the floor. Armed with the evidence gleaned from ‘Bridging the Gap’, his glowing evaluation, and just spending every day for a month with the man, his mission is clear.

It’s not as though he’s an expert in matters of... romance, or whatever, as it is, but he’s especially perplexed by the case of someone who wants him but doesn’t want to want him.

It’s no good to say ‘I’m not going anywhere, you idiot’, he has to prove it.

And when it comes down to it, though it’s not very scientific or very subtle, annoying Draco into submission is pretty much all he’s got.

Shaking himself, Harry performs the wand movement for entry and hopes for the best. When he feels the wards give, he grins to himself. Whatever Draco might have said about not having to see him again, he hasn’t altered the wards to keep Harry out. He takes that as a good sign.

The office is locked. Harry wanders through the deserted lounge, half-listening to the familiar sounds of the Stage Twos getting up and getting breakfast in the distance. By the time he’s at the door of the lab, his heart is pounding erratically and he realises that he’s planned everything except what the hell he’s going to say.

In the end, it’s with a muttered ‘Fuck it,’ that he knocks sharply on the door and waits. Five seconds later, it flies open and Draco’s initial scowl softens into a twist of confusion. Gratified, Harry smiles and holds up the paper bag.

“What are you doing here?”

Harry dangles the bag right into Draco’s field of vision. “I brought coffee.”

“Yes, because that’s a valid explanation,” Draco mutters, but he steps back and allows Harry into the room.

“Caffeine is always a valid explanation.” Harry pulls up a stool at the worktable and empties the bag, hoping it’s not obvious that his palms are sweating at the proximity after what feels like a long time. Merlin, he’s pathetic. But that won’t help right now, will it?

When he looks up, Draco’s eyes are wary but he accepts the proffered cup and removes the lid, breathing in the steam appreciatively. “Cinnamon,” he guesses. “Vanilla?”

“Indeed.”

“That’s pretty... conventional.” Draco sips and shoots him an odd look. “Relatively speaking, of course.”

“They’d run out of the weird flavours,” Harry admits, savouring the bitter sting of espresso on his taste buds.

Finally, Draco sets the cup down on the table and faces Harry, arms crossed. “Seriously, what do you want? I’m working.” He indicates the steaming cauldron and the recently abandoned set of notes next to Harry’s hand. “Don’t you have lives to save downstairs?”

Unfazed, Harry folds his arms on the table and shakes his head. “Not until ten, I don’t. Just thought I’d... you know... hang out with you for a bit.”

The look on Draco’s face makes him cringe inwardly, but there’s no use letting it show.

“Hang out?”

“Yeah. Maybe I can help?” he suggests, indicating the notes and just about avoiding spilling coffee over them.

Draco sighs and looks at the floor. Fiddles with the sleeves of his duck-egg blue sweater. It’s a good colour on him, Harry thinks, but then it seems most are. The silence stretches out and tension is evident in every line of Draco’s body. For a moment, it seems like he’s going to spit out some acidic remark and eject Harry from the lab; Harry holds his breath.

“Right,” Draco says at last, sounding uncertain. He glances at Harry searchingly, gulps a mouthful of coffee and turns back to his cauldron. Harry exhales slowly.

Harry says nothing, just picks at his paper cup with a ragged thumbnail and watches Draco poke at the potion with a delicate glass rod. He fills a small glass beaker and examines the iridescent green liquid with a critical eye. Apparently, he’s not in the mood for conversation, but Harry doesn’t mind. The lab is peaceful, and he elects to get comfortable on the hard stool and watch Draco work.

When Draco leaves the cauldron after a while and approaches the table to flick through his notes, his heavy sigh catches Harry’s attention.

“What’s the matter?”

Slowly, the grey eyes meet his, half-obscured by the fall of hair that Harry is definitely, absolutely not going to touch. Yet. Draco hesitates, considering something.

“It’s the Dreamless Sleep that’s fucking it up, I think.” He traces fingers over the pages but doesn’t take his eyes off Harry. “Everything else is in balance, but I can’t get this right.”

His frustration is almost tangible, and god, Harry wants to help.

“Does it have to be Dreamless Sleep? Have you tried something similar, like, er... Tranquillity?”

Draco lifts an eyebrow but the expected retort about stating the obvious does not come.

“Tried Tranquillity. Tried Soporifa. Nothing works in this combination.” Draco grimaces and drains the remainder of his cold coffee.

Harry reads upside down as he picks up his quill and scribbles a new note at the bottom of a page. Picking out the word ‘FAILURE’ underlined several times, he winces. There must be something, some other way.

“What do you do when your patient’s allergic to a whole class of potions?” Harry says suddenly, mind racing.

Draco stops writing and looks up, frowning. “Excuse me?”

“What do you do when your patient’s allergic to all the usual potions?” Harry repeats, the idea drifting, smokelike, before his eyes.

“Try an unusual one?”

Harry grins. He’s missed that sardonic expression more than he realised. “Funny. We had a case in training, a child with night terrors. Allergic to every Sleeping Potion they could throw at him.”

“You do have a point, don’t you?” Despite the tone, Harry notices the hopeful flicker in his eyes.

“Always. They used a modified Stasis Spell. Now, I know this isn’t exactly the same, but the principle of combination charm and potion treatment is pretty sound, we use it for spell damage downstairs, so why not for this?” Harry says hurriedly. Leans across the worktable on his elbows, waiting.

“Stasis,” Draco mumbles, tapping his quill against the notebook. “Perhaps with a really delicate, advanced Stasis Charm... and I could take the Sleeping Potion out of the equation.”

Abruptly, he turns and starts pulling books from the shelves behind him. He pushes a stack toward Harry and starts into one of his own, muttering under his breath. When he looks up again, his face has cleared and his smile is one of genuine, unguarded delight.

“Brilliant.” The smile widens, and Harry’s reaction is sudden and visceral. He’s all at once excited, nauseous and painfully hard. He smiles back. “Fuck, it’ll take a lot of work, but it might just... brilliant.”

“Not completely useless,” Harry agrees.

“Apparently not.”

Still slightly flushed, Draco tears his eyes away and absorbs himself in the thick book in front of him. Harry spares the clock a glance; it’s almost ten. He discreetly adjusts the front of his trousers and takes his leave. It’s probably better to leave now before Draco remembers to be all irritable and defensive around him again.

“Harry.” Hand on the doorknob, he stops. “Er, thanks.”

“I’ll be back,” he assures, and closes the door behind him.

He unshrinks and dons his robes in the corridor, slipping out of the department and down the stairs just in time for morning rounds.

**~*~**

He receives Hermione’s owl two hours before the end of his shift and, having barely slept recently, is relieved by the suggestion of a Friday evening at Ron and Hermione’s flat instead of the usual tour of the pubs of Wizarding London.

As he Apparates into the tiny kitchen, he’s amused to see Hermione standing at the stove, looking vaguely panicked and stirring something furiously with a wooden spoon. Her hair is escaping from its silver clip with all the steam and her smart tailored blouse is flecked with red liquid despite the shiny apron tied in a knot at her back.

“You’re cooking,” Harry points out redundantly. “Bloody hell.”

“I’m not a complete domestic failure, you know,” she says crossly, turning around and displaying the front of the apron, which reads: ‘Aurors do it in pairs’.

Laughing, he creeps closer to the pan and looks inside. When he looks back at Hermione’s face, it’s twisted with embarrassment. “It’s Ron’s.” She glances down at the apron. “George has a very strange sense of humour.”

“Well, I know that.”

“Taste this,” Hermione says suddenly, shoving a huge spoonful of scalding hot sauce into his mouth.

Harry suppresses a yelp but almost chokes trying to suck cool air onto his burning tongue. Glaring at Hermione, he swallows and licks the smudges from his lips. It’s not bad. Sweet and tomatoey, but definitely on the bland side.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake.” She places hands on her hips. “Is it horrible?”

“No, just needs something.” Harry opens her (silent and co-operative) cupboards and rummages through the many glass spice jars. After a moment’s thought, he adds sea salt and chilli flakes to Hermione’s sauce and directs her to test it herself.

She smiles, licking the back of the spoon, and Harry grins, forgiving her his burned tongue.

“I can’t understand why you weren’t brilliant at Potions, it’s basically the same principle.”

Harry shrugs, replacing the spice jars with a clatter of glass on wood. He suspects that he’d have been a better Potions student without Snape breathing down his neck for five years, but there’s no use dwelling on that.

“I have my moments,” he says finally. He wants to tell her about what Draco is doing, knowing she’ll be fascinated, but he doubts Draco would see it as anything other than a breach of trust if he did. Better not, he decides, though not before he remembers the look of unashamed excitement on Draco’s face when he’d come up with his stasis workaround. Harry’s mouth is tugged into an involuntary smile at the thought, and he looks at the floor.

Hermione dumps pasta into a pan of boiling water and flicks her wand to retrieve knives and forks from the drawer next to Harry.

“You seem brighter tonight,” she remarks. There’s just a tiny note of pleading in her voice, but Harry ignores it, for now at least.

“I have a strategy.” He looks up and meets her eyes, seeing the flash of understanding there.

“Well, that’s always... a good idea,” she ventures. “How is Malfoy, by the way?”

She’s smirking in a most un-Hermione-like manner and Harry refuses, flat out refuses, to blush. “He’s fine,” he says decisively. “He’s an irritable, stubborn, professional pain in the arse.”

“And?” She waves her spoon in the air expectantly. Harry looks at her messy hair, sauce-splattered shirt and ridiculous apron and smiles.

“And I like him very much. What kind of wine are we supposed to drink with pasta?”

**~*~**

“That’s what I said to him,” Ron says, sprawling in his armchair. “But no, the bastard insisted on opening it, and we both got drenched in Transparency Potion, in the middle of the Ministry lunch room.”

Harry looks up from his spot on the fireplace rug and laughs at his friend’s indignant expression. Hermione, curled on the sofa, laughs too, having forgiven Ron for his late arrival home on the production of a bunch of flowers and a sheepish expression. That was hours ago, and the three of them are into the second bottle of Chianti, having demolished huge plates of Hermione’s pasta.

“Did it...?” Harry gestures vaguely with his glass, unsure why he’s asking; the image is already far more vivid than it needs to be.

“Yes. It did. And Kingsley was at the next table, which was nice.” Ron grimaces and Harry laughs harder.

“Sorry, mate, but that’s fantastic. I have to give Rodriguez this, he’s great for entertainment value.”

“Easy for you to say,” Ron mutters. “I think he does it on purpose.”

“Perhaps he wanted to see you naked,” Hermione offers, smiling sweetly into her glass.

Ron’s face freezes in utter horror. “Nggg,” he says.

“Perhaps he wanted the entire Ministry to see you naked,” Harry adds, warming to the theme.

“Both of them,” Hermione corrects. “They were both naked. Or at least they might as well have been. Naked, that is.”

Ron groans loudly and covers his eyes. Harry and Hermione exchange gleeful glances.

“Right. Nobody say naked. Please?”

“I wasn’t saying naked.” Harry runs a finger around the edge of his abandoned plate, lifting a smudge of thick, spicy sauce to his mouth. “Were you, Hermione?”

“Definitely not. So, what was this ‘big breakthrough’ that necessitated you being so horribly late home, hmm?”

Harry arranges himself into a comfortable position, lounging on his side, propping himself up on one elbow, the fire warm at his back.

Ron replenishes his wine glass and brightens at the change of subject. “Well, we’ve finally found something promising on the Ministry list of known Death Eater sympathisers,” he says.

“We’re listening.” Hermione tucks her feet under her thighs and they both look at Ron expectantly.

“Bloke named Grant Tremellen.”

Harry’s skin tingles at the name. “Tremellen? Related to Augustus Tremellen?”

“The very same. Grant is your Tremellen’s son.” Ron continues, clearly enjoying the rapt attention of his two friends. “And get this. He’s an Apothecary.”

“Fuck.” Harry threads his fingers through the furry rug and exhales hard.

“Do you have anything on him?” Hermione asks carefully.

“Nothing concrete yet. But we do know that he went through rehab at St Mungo’s three years ago, for Chromia and alcohol addiction. It didn’t work for him, he relapsed not long after.”

“Links to potential customers,” Hermione extracts, nodding slowly.

That’s why Tremellen hates Chem Dep,” Harry murmurs, twisting the slender fibres around his fingers as he thinks. The satisfying but unnerving sensation of something sliding into place washes over him.

“What?”

Harry looks up at last. “Oh, nothing, it’s just... Draco told me that Tremellen—Tremellen Senior, I mean—has a really low opinion of Chem Dep. Makes sense, if they couldn’t help his son.”

“You mean maybe he’s not such a bastard after all?” Hermione suggests.

“No, he’s definitely still a bastard.” Harry smiles wryly. “Believe me. Does he know his son’s a...?”

“Pureblood supremacist pig?” Ron supplies, grimacing. “Does the apple ever fall that far from the tree?”

“Sometimes,” Harry insists, letting go of the carpet and draining his glass. “I mean, what about...” ... Lucius Malfoy, he thinks, deciding not to complete the sentence. Draco, after all, did become a Death Eater, even if he’s a reformed character now. Harry doesn’t feel like defending him to Ron right now; he thinks it could get messy.

“Draco Malfoy didn’t end up exactly like his dad,” Hermione supplies helpfully, and Harry’s head jerks up. She’s no Legilimens, he knows that, but sometimes she’s annoyingly perceptive. She’s testing the water, and Harry wants to throttle her.

“I think we’ve established that logic based on what Draco Malfoy is or isn’t, is not helpful to this investigation,” Ron says, and throws Harry a strange look. Harry looks at his fingers and bites the inside of his mouth.

For some reason that Harry can’t fathom, Ron doesn’t say any more on the subject.

“Anyway, regardless of what your idiot boss knows about it, we’re waiting for a Ministry warrant to go and search Grant’s work room and his home. Should have it in the next couple of days.”

“Sounds promising,” Harry agrees. “Maybe when you’ve got him, we can send someone round to tell you if he smells of oranges or not.”

Ron grins. “Malfoy seemed to enjoy the interrogation suite.”

Harry smiles weakly back before he flops down onto the rug on his back, but the image of Draco’s exhausted, pained eyes after his visit to the Ministry strikes him hard somewhere that hurts.

When the conversation turns toward the hospital, he’s grateful. He spends the best part of an hour indulging his friends with an endless list of bizarre patients from his daily rounds of the main wards. It seems they’ve missed them during Harry’s time on the fifth floor, and he finds himself smiling at the ceiling as he tells them about the woman with a pineapple growing out the top of her head, and the man with singing purple boils all over his buttocks.

“Any tune in particular?” Hermione wants to know, sounding like she wants to write down the answer.

“Christmas carols. It was wonderful.” Harry wrinkles his nose. “On the other hand, listening to Cecile singing ‘We Three Kings’ for the rest of the day was not wonderful.”

“How is Cecile, anyway?” is the immediate enquiry from Ron, and Harry instantly regrets mentioning her. He shuts his eyes.

“She’s fine, Ron.”

“Have you, er, been out again since the last time?”

Hermione sighs softly. Harry can’t see her, but he knows what kind of look she’d be giving him if he could.

“No, we haven’t. Listen, Cecile is my friend, and that’s all.”

For a moment, Harry hears nothing but the crackling of the flames near his head. Puzzled, he cracks open an eye and peers up at Ron.

“Oh. OK,” he says at last, face scrunched up in thought. “Well, in that case, I was thinking, I’ve got this colleague in the Auror office... she’s paired with Angelina Johnson, from school? And she’d be perfect for you. Hang on a minute, I’ve got a picture of her somewhere from the Ministry picnic...” Stretching, Ron hauls himself out of his chair and wanders into the kitchen, still talking, although Harry isn’t listening to him any more.

Sliding his fingers back through the fur beneath him as if to anchor himself, Harry tips his head back to regard Hermione. As expected, her eyes are appealing.

“You’ll have to tell him sometime.”

“Why do I?” he asks, purely out of the need to whinge about the inevitable.

Harry.

“I know. What should I say?” He twists his fingers until the fibres start to cut off the blood supply to his hands. She looks strange upside down, and Harry doesn’t know why he feels so helpless.

“I don’t know,” she hisses. “Just something, so it’s not quite as much of a shock if and when he finds you wrapped around Malfoy.”

“Gah,” Harry expels, covering his eyes again. She doesn’t even know that he has, in fact, been wrapped around Malfoy, and it was fucking fantastic.

“Found it!” Ron sprawls on the floor now, just feet away from Harry, and holds aloft a large wizard photograph of a mixed group lounging underneath an oak tree. “There’s Gina, next to Rodriguez.”

But Harry’s not looking.

“You have to open your eyes, mate. She’s a very nice-looking woman, I promise you. And smart. Isn’t she, ’Mione?”

“Hmm,” says Hermione.

Harry tenses, drags in a deep breath and holds it.

Just fucking do it, he admonishes himself. And after you do, he’ll never try and set you up ever again. Which will be bloody marvellous.

Releasing the breath, Harry takes his hands away from his eyes and pulls himself into a half-sprawled, half-sitting position, eyes fixed somewhere to the right of Ron’s ear.

“The thing is, Ron... I’m not that interested in girls.” There, done it.

The silence that follows is almost suffocating. Harry doesn’t dare look at either of them, though he can feel Hermione’s empathic cringe from across the room.

“What about Ginny?” Ron asks eventually, voice strained.

“That was a long time ago.”

“Still... are you sure?”

Harry forces himself to meet Ron’s wide eyes. “How do you want me to answer that?” He swallows dryly. “Yes.”

Something like alarm flickers across Ron’s face and Harry’s stomach clenches in anticipation of the question. When it comes, it’s not the one he expected at all. “OK. But... wow. Fucking hell.” A long pause. “You don’t fancy me, do you?”

“Ron!” The interjection comes from Harry and Hermione simultaneously, and he shoots her a grateful smile whilst trying not to think too hard about that suggestion.

“That, mate, is whole new worlds of disturbing. No, I do not.”

Ron’s face relaxes in relief but he still looks slightly blindsided; he’s blinking and frowning quite a bit, and Harry doesn’t think he’s had enough wine—even for him—for it to be the alcohol.

“I’m going to head home,” Harry decides, standing carefully and holding back on his usual shoulder slap. Though Ron doesn’t seem angry, he definitely seems freaked out, and now is a good a time as any to beat a hasty retreat... er, give him some space.

He sets his empty glass and plate on the coffee table and submits to Hermione’s brisk, encouraging hug.

“See you soon,” she says, smoothing the wrinkles out of his t-shirt.

“Bye, ’Mione.”

Ron is still staring at the photograph in his hand as Harry turns on the spot and Disapparates.

**~*~**

It’s early to be home on a Friday night and Harry doesn’t feel like going to bed. Unsettled but strangely light, he settles on the sofa with tea and one of the books he’s managed to find on advanced Stasis Charms. The words are slightly blurry, but he leafs determinedly through the pages anyway, chewing on a cracked biro and trying to find something, anything, that will help Draco.

And distract him. He hates feeling so vulnerable, and yet it seems to be life’s current plan for him to be exposed in as many different ways as possible. Draco is one thing—something he wants, something he has to work for. He has to be open. His best friend’s approval is quite another. It sounds ridiculous in his head, but he’s terrified of what will happen if he doesn’t get it. This isn’t just anyone, it’s Ron.

Which is why you’re not thinking about it, he reminds himself, squinting at the sentence he’s already read ten times and practically inhaling his tea.

The roar of the fire in the grate startles Harry just over an hour later. Frowning, he sets everything down and scrambles over the back of the sofa. When Ron’s face appears in the flames, he waits, surprised. Folds his arms across his chest.

“So, er, about this gay thing.”

Harry can’t resist a half-smile. “Yeah?”

“Have you got a boyfriend, or whatever?”

“No.” Harry quirks an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Well, I was thinking,” Ron says slowly. “George has a gay friend... maybe I could get his number for you.”

Harry groans and covers his face with his hands. When he looks up, though, he’s grinning, giddy with relief. Apparently, some things never change, even if they seem like they do.

“What?”

“Thanks, Ron.”

“Well, you know. Whatever makes you happy,” he says, somewhat awkwardly, though the sentiment is genuine. “And if you don’t like George’s mate, there are plenty of people at the Ministry.”

Exasperated but still riding the flood of elation in his veins, Harry shakes his head.

“It’s true. I’ve always wondered about Rodriguez...”

“Even I can do better than Rodriguez,” Harry points out, mock-offended.

“True. Well, alright... tell me what you like and I’m sure we can figure something out.”

“Ron... I don’t think you want to know.” Harry settles into a comfortable position in front of the fireplace.

The whole ‘I’m falling for Malfoy’ thing can wait.

**~*~**

Over the next few days, Harry finds himself wandering into Chem Dep whenever he has time. Some late evenings, Draco isn’t there and Harry can’t resist slipping into the main lounge and chatting to the few patients that remember him. It might have only been two weeks but turnover is rapid and soon only a handful remains that know him well. Those that do, though, are delighted to see him and drag him over to a chair by the fire to bombard him with the latest gossip.

When he does catch Draco, he’s either in his office doing paperwork or in the lab, working away on the experimental potions. Harry can’t seem to stop bringing him coffee.

The confused irritation that had greeted Harry’s first impromptu visit soon gives way to simple confusion, then surprise, and then something else entirely. Harry’s not sure what it is yet, but the first time that Draco opens the lab door and smiles at him, he wants to punch the air in triumph.

The tall stool at the worktable has become his habitual perch, from which he watches Draco frowning and stirring, making minute adjustments to potion quantities and scribbling careful notes. He spends the first couple of visits watching in silence and passing items over as they’re needed, but when he discovers by accident that Draco doesn’t require silence to work, Harry takes full advantage of the knowledge.

He talks. About his patients, about Tremellen, about Ginny and Hogwarts and Quidditch and Hermione’s cooking and making a perfect cup of tea. About Terry and Cecile and Eloise, and about Ron’s attempts to set him up with everyone he knows. About anything and everything he can think of to take his mind off the hopeless, deepening feeling of longing that sinks into him every time he and Draco are in the same room together.

Mostly, Draco listens. Harry can tell he’s listening, even if he only looks up occasionally; there’s a certain way his eyebrows twitch ever-so-slightly when he finds something amusing.

Harry hasn’t a hope of contributing on the potions-expertise front, but his knowledge of Combination Therapy and Stasis Healing is suddenly useful and, before the week is out, he has slipped into the role of chief researcher, poring over Draco’s books and offering up suggestions.

He’s childishly thrilled to feel useful. They’re getting somewhere, and it’s exciting.

“How about Congelo Sedo?” Harry offers, looking up from the book.

Draco frowns, increasing the heat under his cauldron almost imperceptibly. “Can’t use anything in the Congelo family with the base Anti-Chromia Potion.”

“Bugger, you’re right. They’d end up in a hypothermic coma. Fuck.” Harry scowls and rubs his eyes. It’s after nine pm, but Draco doesn’t seem to have noticed.

“There’s something else, though... another charm. Something else Sedo,” Draco continues. “It’s not so much of a total stasis as a slow-down. That might work.”

Finally, he looks up and meets Harry’s eyes. Harry forgets what he was going to say.

He blinks. “Ah... what was that, again?”

One corner of Draco’s mouth twitches upward. “See if you can find a slow-down-and-calm spell instead of a freeze-and-calm one,” he rephrases.

“Good idea.” Harry shakes himself and resumes flipping pages over.

“I’m full of them, hadn’t you noticed?”

**~*~**

“Do you ever miss it?” Harry asks the next morning. He’s playing with Draco’s quill and gazing at the front page of the Prophet. The paper has finally caught on to the investigation into Chromia X and the article is accompanied by a lurid posed picture of a black-robed ‘addict’ and a suitably menacing photograph of the Minister, which Harry can’t help laughing at.

“What?” Draco glances up from the other side of the office desk.

“The... oblivion. Not feeling anything.”

Just for a second, Draco freezes, and his eyes are intense in their scrutiny. Harry holds his breath as it occurs to him what a personal question he’s just casually thrown out.

“Yes.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Harry rasps, clutching the quill hard.

“Sometimes,” Draco amends. He sighs softly and tucks a strand of hair behind his ear. “But I’d never go there again.”

“You wouldn’t?”

“I said I wouldn’t a long time ago. And as you know, I’m far too stubborn to go back on my word.” The momentary half-smile turns Harry’s insides to water as he remembers the conversation that took place in almost this exact spot two weeks ago.

Shakily, he smiles back. “It’s not the worst thing in the world, you know. Feeling.”

Draco just looks at him for a long time.

Stubborn. Fucking. Arse, Harry thinks, reaching across the desk and taking half of the paperwork.

He still has twenty minutes left before morning rounds begin; he might as well make himself useful.

“You hate paperwork,” Draco says faintly.

Harry doesn’t look up, but he dips the raven quill into the ink-pot with relish. “Drink your coffee.”

**~*~**

It’s early evening on Harry’s third Wednesday away from Chem Dep and his feet make their way to the fifth floor with little to no conscious input from him. He’s tired but not ready to go home yet, and as he discards his hot, heavy robes and opens the lounge door, the buzz of conversation and the hum of the wireless are comforting.

By now there are barely any patients he recognises from his rotation, and several of the faces are completely new. As he takes a step into the room, though, a sharp-eyed young man rises from the table and approaches him.

“You’re Harry Potter,” he says.

Harry, flooded with a strange feeling of déjà vu, blinks. “Yes.”

At the table, Samira—one of the remaining few—looks up from her card game with interest. Harry smiles at her and turns back to the man, anticipating one of the usual questions.

“You used to work here, didn’t you?”

Or not.

“For a little while, yeah,” he says.

“I recognise you from the photos.”

Harry nods and then pauses. “Photos? Plural?” He only remembers one being taken.

The man gives him a strange look, drawing down unruly eyebrows. He points, and Harry moves closer to the wall, the smaller man following close behind.

Sure enough, taped up next to Draco’s picture, there is the photograph Jake took of him standing in front of the fireplace, smiling and rolling his eyes. Next to that, though, is a second picture. Harry has no idea who took it or when, but he stares.

The second photograph captures himself and Draco just outside the office. They’re clearly deep in conversation and standing just a bit too close to each other. After a moment, Photo-Harry pulls a childish face and Photo-Draco grins openly at him.

Harry’s heart races and he fights the urge to peel off the tape and shove the picture in his pocket. He wonders if Draco knows it’s there. He must.

“See,” the man says. “Photos. Plural. You’re Draco’s friend, aren’t you?”

Harry turns. “Yeah,” he says softly. “Is he still here?”

The man shrugs wordlessly but Samira leans back in her chair and addresses Harry.

“He’s in his secret room, doing his secret things,” she says.

Harry lifts an eyebrow. “Care to elaborate?”

Samira scrunches up her nose. “Would if I could, Harry, but I have no idea what he does in there.”

Smiling to himself, Harry heads for the lab.

The door flies open before he gets chance to pull his hand back for a second knock and Draco drags him inside by his sleeve.

“Good, you’re here. I’ve been waiting for you,” he says urgently, not letting go of Harry’s sweater. Harry forgets to breathe, a sharp crack of anticipation ripping through his body. The grey eyes are bright and the usually-immaculate hair is slightly rumpled.

“Oh... why?” Harry manages.

“Wanted to try something.”

“Right.” Yes. Anything you want. “OK.”

Draco smiles. “Excellent. Just a moment... I need you to tell me what this feels like.”

Harry nods mutely. When Draco produces his wand, alarm flickers in his chest.

Altus Retardo-Sedo,” he murmurs, and the creep of soothing warmth through Harry’s veins is immediate, though his understanding of immediate is slipping away because everything is slowing down: breathing, heart rate, movement.

Thoughts like treacle, his blinking slows to a standstill and the lab swims into darkness. He vaguely feels himself slump against the door at his back, but nothing more.

Finite Incantatem.”

Harry splutters and blinks rapidly, fingernails clawing at the door behind him as he’s overwhelmed by an abrupt, cold sensation as though he’s surfaced from a hot bath into a biting wind.

“What the fuck was that?”

Draco is standing just inches away, examining him carefully with eyes that are half concerned and half curious.

“Are you alright?”

Harry stands up straight, feeling surprisingly, absolutely fine. “Yeah. What the hell did you do to me?”

“Modified Stasis Spell.” Draco blinks innocently. “Did you like it?”

Harry stares at him until he turns away and retrieves his notebook and stands there, quill poised, eyebrows raised. Just in that moment, there’s a wholly unexpected touch of the mad scientist about Draco, and Harry likes it.

“Did I like it...? Was there any need for the element of bloody surprise?” Harry enquires, struck by the fact that he actually trusts Draco enough not to be angry about the surprise assault.

“You nodded and said ‘OK’.” Draco frowns.

Yes, but I thought I was agreeing to something entirely different, Harry thinks grimly. “So I did.”

“And? What did it feel like? Were you aware of how much time was passing?”

“How long did you leave me under there?” Harry demands, twisting round to look at the clock.

“About sixty seconds. Drama queen.”

Harry snorts. Pot. Kettle.

“No, I had no idea how long it was,” Harry says eventually, leaning back against the door and idly watching Draco scratch away with his quill. “It felt like warm water. Like everything slowing down. It was actually much nicer than falling asleep.”

Draco lifts his eyes from the notes and smiles. “Brilliant. Just... yes. Now we’re getting somewhere.”

We’re getting somewhere. We are. Not ‘I’m getting somewhere.’

He’s still standing far too close, close enough for Harry to smell him, and close enough that when he flicks his tongue unconsciously over his bottom lip, Harry has to fight not to lean over and follow it back into his mouth.

“Progress,” Harry remarks, looking away.

“Well, it’s a start. It needs testing on Chromia patients, obviously.” Draco grimaces. “Which is highly unlikely.”

“Stranger things have happened.”

“Right. Can you really see me getting Ministry approval to start experimental trials?”

At first, Harry is inclined to agree with this assessment, but then he remembers a friend of his with useful connections, frightening tenacity and a newly keen interest in Draco’s field. Taking his usual place at the worktable, Harry shrugs.

“Stranger things have happened.”

**~*~**

“No. No, Mr Crawley. No. Stay in your bed, and a nurse will come and check on you soon.”

Harry resists the urge to mutter under his breath until he closes the ward door firmly behind him. It’s Thursday afternoon and his patience is being severely tested. He can no longer remember how many hours he’s been working but he suspects it’s into double figures and that’s never a good thing.

He feels, and no doubt looks, like an over-wrung flannel as he stomps out into the corridor and almost straight into Draco Malfoy.

Taking a rapid step backwards, Harry blinks, flushes, and when Draco throws him a dry semi-smile, grins back, baffled and lightheaded with tiredness.

“You’re here.”

“So are you,” Draco agrees, folding his arms gracefully.

“But...” But you hate the main wards. But you hate the bright colours and the staring and the smell of lavender. “Did you come to see me?” Harry’s eyes widen at the realisation that he’s said that last part out loud.

“No. I rather like the ambience.” Draco’s grin is crooked and he seems so gloriously out of place in the middle of the loud, bustling corridor that Harry doesn’t see anyone else.

“You’re hilarious. What’s the matter? I know you don’t like it down here.”

“I got an owl from Granger this morning.”

Harry affects his ‘that is brand new information’ look. Feebly, he suspects, but still. “Oh?”

“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

Harry shifts on the spot and tugs at his robes. Draco’s gaze is probing and steady, and in the end he opts for honesty. “No, well, yes, but not in the way you’re implying. Her committee’s getting involved with drug legislation and I happened to mention that you seem to be... fighting a similar cause, that’s all.” He shrugs.

“Well, I...” Draco trails off as Harry raises a quelling hand, hearing the familiar booming voice getting closer.

“Tremellen’s coming.” Draco pulls a face. “Exactly. Do you want to go get a coffee?” Harry rushes out all in one breath.

He doesn’t know if it’s the offer or the impending threat of a man he dislikes intensely but Draco doesn’t make him suffer. Allowing only the briefest ghost of surprise to flicker across his face, he nods vigorously and they head in the opposite direction to Tremellen.

It’s not until they’re walking together through a heavy-traffic area of the hospital that Harry realises Draco wasn’t kidding—people do stare at him. The thing is, though, he’s not convinced that it’s all for the reason Draco is all too quick to attribute it to: his past.

Quite a few of those stares, in fact, from witches and wizards alike, are openly admiring rather than contemptuous. Draco can’t be unaware that he’s actually quite astonishingly handsome when he’s not scowling, and even when he is, in a haughty, brooding kind of way.

Draco seems oblivious, fixedly so, staring straight in front of himself as he walks, but Harry feels the stares like restless prickles on his skin. He’s never liked being stared at himself, and by the time they reach the canteen, he realises that he likes people staring at Draco even less.

Almost without thinking, he shifts to walk a little closer and with a more purposeful stride. Until he catches himself at it and wants to laugh. As though Draco wants or needs to be protected against the very dangerous staring of hospital employees.

Draco buys the coffee and Harry allows him to, because Draco would owe him an enormous number of coffees if he were to start counting. The canteen is busy but they manage to snag a free table.

“So, you really didn’t put her up to it?” Draco asks, dropping into the seat opposite Harry. Briefly, their knees slide together with a delicious friction but Draco draws his leg back and looks at the table.

Harry sighs. “No, I really didn’t. Are you going to help her?”

“What makes you think she wants my help?”

“I know how Hermione works. I doubt she put it exactly like that, though.” Harry lowers his face into the steam rising from his cup, deep in thought. “She probably said something like: ‘I’d be extremely grateful if you’d agree to consult with me on these matters’. I imagine.”

Draco’s small sound of surprise is wonderfully illustrative. Hermione is usefully predictable at times.

“She called me Draco.”

“That is your name, isn’t it?” Harry glances up and smirks at his sour expression. “You should do it.”

“Of course I’m going to do it. Think about it—I get my name on a paper like that and there’s a good chance I’ll get permission to do my trials. Maybe even funding, too.” Draco smiles again, all traces of sourness evaporated.

“It’s your best chance,” Harry agrees, and then, just because needling Draco is a habit that won’t die: “What was with the attitude, then?”

“Nothing, I... alright, fine. You’ve got to admit that it’s weird. I never expected my life to become quite so entangled with...” He struggles for a word. Harry lets him. “...you lot.”

“What, three Gryffindors? The horror.” Harry raises a dramatic hand to his forehead. “Don’t fight it, Draco, it’s your destiny,” he intones.

The reluctant smile is immensely rewarding. “Yes, that’s becoming clear,” he mumbles, meeting Harry’s eyes in a way that makes his stomach turn over. The noise of the canteen falls away and it’s a damn good job Harry’s hands are wrapped around his cup.

Give in, he pleads with his eyes. I want you so much.

What seems like much, much later, Draco coughs. Blinks. “I’ve been meaning to ask, since we’re talking about your friends. Did all that business with the interviews actually help?”

“You’re interested?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I don’t know much,” Harry lies. He’s got no good reason to compromise Ron this time, and he’s thinking carefully about every word. “They have a lead but the, erm, person in question is proving surprisingly difficult to track down for interview. But yes, I think it’s going to prove useful.”

“You’re a terrible liar, Harry Potter,” Draco says, continuing before Harry can protest. “But I know you can’t tell me. It’s fine.”

“I’m not lying.”

“You’re lying about not knowing much.” Draco pauses. “Well, in this instance, anyway.”

Without thinking, Harry kicks him under the table at the slur. When his knee comes to rest against Draco’s inner thigh, he leaves it there and forces himself to look Draco right in the eye. To his utter delight, there’s a faint flush to the pale skin. Harry leans back in his seat and drinks his coffee, grinning.

“Is that fudge?” comes a familiar voice behind him. Harry’s smile fades.

“No, it’s caramel.” And another.

“Even better.” And a third.

“That’s a matter of opinion. I prefer fudge,” says the first.

Draco is looking at something over his shoulder with interest and alarm, and suddenly Harry knows.

It’s only fucking...

“Hi, Harry. Look,” Cecile announces, reverently setting the plate in front of him.

...Thursday.

Smirking, she pulls up the chair next to Draco without comment. Terry appears with characteristic stealth and slides into the seat at Harry’s side. Not daring to look at Draco’s face, Harry looks up at the end of the table, where Eloise is standing looking stunned. And chair-less.

“Cat got your tongue, Eloise?” Draco inquires, sounding completely unruffled.

He doesn’t quite fool Harry but he has to admit it’s an impressive display. Eloise puts her hands on her hips and wrinkles her nose, lost for words. Draco sighs and Summons a chair from another table that slams into the backs of her legs and forces her to sit down.

“Thanks for that, Draco.” She throws him a dark look and Harry is temporarily startled; Eloise is the epitome of shy, and yet she doesn’t seem one bit intimidated by Draco. When he remembers that they’ve been colleagues for almost five years, he feels a bit better. He supposes no one can be scary for that long, even Malfoy.

With that in mind, he allows himself to look at Draco, who’s now sipping his coffee, face blank but eyes screaming: ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ Harry winces and mouths ‘I’m sorry’ while the others are distracted discussing the relative advantages of caramel over fudge as a flapjack topping.

Harry half expects Draco to make some excuse and leave the table, but he merely shrugs and shifts his thigh against Harry’s.

“Because it’s sticky,” insists Cecile, before she turns back to them. “Hello, Malfoy,” she says brightly, holding out a hand. Draco takes it. “Cecile Mackenzie.”

“I remember you. You’re a Slytherin.”

Harry exchanges glances with Eloise and Terry. He’s beginning to think Slytherins have some sort of radar that they don’t tell the others about; he’s willing to bet that Cecile and Draco never exchanged a word during their shared time at Hogwarts.

“Boot,” Draco says, nodding graciously. You only know that because I told you after he watched you molesting my fork, thinks Harry, and then tries not to think about it, because everyone’s too close for him to be entertaining thoughts of Draco’s mouth. Especially Draco. Fuck.

“Right, enough of the pleasantries,” Terry announces after returning Draco’s nod. “We haven’t got long, it’s mad busy on the ward. Who wants first shot?”

Draco raises an eyebrow and sits back, waiting. Oh, sweet fuck. This is just a special new kind of surreal, Harry decides. There’s really no use expecting to do anything without everyone in his life getting involved in some way; that much is becoming abundantly clear.

“Mr Crawley,” Eloise begins, scowling at Harry as if his patient’s personality is somehow his fault, “kept trying to get out of bed, so in the end I had to Incarcero him.” She stops and fiddles with her tea bag.

“And?” Cecile prods.

Eloise looks up, face burning. “And he liked it.”

Terry and Harry laugh, and Eloise’s skin just flushes further. She likes to give the impression she’s seen everything, but apparently she hasn’t. Or hadn’t.

“Win,” Cecile splutters. “Fucking win. That is impressively disturbing.”

“Mr Crawley is sixty and currently covered in rancid boils, just FYI,” Harry says helpfully, eyeing Draco. He remains silent but Harry catches the eyebrow twitch and the shake of the warm thigh against his.

“No one ever dies on a Thursday,” Cecile sighs, and then hurriedly flicks apologetic eyes to Draco. “Poor taste Healer humour, sorry. I do actually prefer it when my patients live.”

“I believe you.”

“You know what? I want it, I really do, but I’ve had a great day.” She shrugs and stretches out a caramel-filching finger. Eloise draws the plate away from her and tuts.

“Tremellen just informed me I’m working with Lisa on that case report.” Terry raises mournful dark eyes to the ceiling. “Which means I have to spend time with her outside of work. Every day, until it’s done.”

“That’s bad, but I’m not sure it’s as bad as a kinky old man.” Cecile shudders.

“Let me remind you that said kinky old man is my patient,” Harry weighs in, thinking quickly. “And now I’m stuck with that knowledge until I get to discharge him. I’ve been here more hours than I can count, and this morning my patient’s hand fell off. We, erm, put it back on,” he adds. Looks around hopefully.

Cecile's and Terry’s eyes are appraising, while Eloise nudges Harry and mouths ‘hand fell off?’ Harry nods smugly, and in the anticipation of flapjack victory, he’s almost forgotten that Draco’s there until he speaks.

“This morning, before I left the house, my mother informed me that my clothes make me look like an unrefined homosexual. Which, of course, is at least fifty percent untrue.”

Four pairs of eyes snap to him and he smiles the slow smile that has a direct link to Harry’s groin. He’s playing.

“I spilled Anti-Chromia Potion on my floor, which now has a lovely hole in it. I couldn’t finish my crossword.” He flicks a pained glance at Harry and then appears to be considering something. “And then I got an owl from some officious Ministry employee. And on top of that, I’ve just had to buy coffee for Harry bloody Potter.”

Harry stares at him. Some officious Ministry employee. Draco’s eyes are downcast, but he allows Harry a momentary glance from under his eyelashes, and just the smallest of smirks. Not only is he playing, but he’s playing to win.

Slytherin bastard.

“Beginner’s luck,” Terry mutters, sliding the plate across the table.

“Caramel,” Cecile sighs regretfully.

“Unrefined?” Eloise asks, sipping her tea and looking at the top of Draco’s head.

Draco looks up and drops a chunk of flapjack into his mouth. “Never.”

He ruins the effect somewhat by licking caramel from his fingers but Harry can’t say he minds. “You couldn’t finish the crossword?” he asks, trying to tear his eyes away. “What was the clue?”

“Something you’d probably know,” he admits grudgingly. “You should come and have a look at it. I hate leaving things unfinished.”

Draco chooses that moment to meet Harry’s eyes and the odd uncertainty in the grey depths makes Harry’s heart race out of control.

“So do I,” Harry says boldly, pressing back against Draco’s thigh under the table.

It isn’t until Eloise almost chokes on her tea that Harry remembers where he is. Fighting down a blush, he offers her a napkin and pats her on the back.

Suddenly he can’t wait to get back to work.

**~*~**

Draco has left for home by the time Harry’s shift ends, but he doesn’t mind too much. He has a 4am start to look forward to and is still replaying the events of the afternoon as he falls into bed still half-dressed. He’s under no illusions about Draco’s mulishness, but there had been definite thawing. And flirting. In front of his friends.

And OK, he’s still thinking about it on Friday afternoon as he checks on his patients. Not in a conscious, front-of-the-mind sense, just as a pleasant feeling of warmth and pressure and finger-licking and caramel.

Harry smiles as he gently turns over Mr Diego’s boneless arm and examines it. “That’s all fine, Mr Diego. How’s the pain?”

“Nothing I can’t deal with, don’t worry. I must say, young man,” he remarks. “It makes a change to see such a happy face in here.”

Harry looks up hurriedly and lays the arm back down at the patient’s side. Across the room, Cecile pauses in her skin healing and glances over at them.

“Oh, don’t mind Healer Potter’s inane smile,” she says cheerfully. “He’s been like this all week. I wonder why.”

“Shut up, Cecile,” Harry says as pleasantly as he can whilst staring daggers into her back.

“I don’t wonder why,” Terry offers without looking up from his patient’s chart.

“That’s good to know.” Harry smiles grimly at Mr Diego and reaches for his notes.

“Goodness, why?” asks Mr Diego eventually, seemingly grateful for any distraction from the pain of regrowing bones.

“Curiosity is contra-indicated with the use of Skele-Gro, Mr Diego,” Harry says, unblinking. “And you don’t need me to tell you what it did to the cat.”

The patient’s blue eyes widen. “Really?”

Harry sighs and initials the chart, meeting Mr Diego’s gaze with a slight prickle of guilt. “No, not really. Sorry. Residual sarcasm.”

The man nods slowly. He still looks puzzled, but doesn’t ask Harry to elaborate.

“I’m calling in my favour,” Cecile informs him as they leave the ward. “I need you to take over my patients for a little while. I have to run out and... I have to run out.” She shrugs.

“Run out and do what?”

“It’s an errand of a personal nature.” Cecile grins devilishly. “But if Tremellen asks, I’m... er... my grandma’s on fire.”

Harry sighs. “You want me to make something up, don’t you?”

“Would you?”

“Fine. Anything I need to know?”

Cecile chews on her lip pensively. “The only one you need to watch is the new admission to ward six.” She crosses to the window of the four-bed ward and Harry joins her. “Forty-two year old female, multiple fractures. She’s unconscious and Ennervate’s doing nothing. There’s something freaky in her blood that’s resisting diagnostics. Brought in by some friends at around two this morning... what?”

Harry freezes, one hand on the glass as he gazes into the room, heart twisting.

“Oh, Ramona.” He exhales hard. “I’m willing to bet that’s some kind of Chromia in her system.”

“You know her?”

“She... yeah. She’s a former patient.”

He glances at Cecile and she throws him a small, sympathetic smile. “Is it OK?”

“’Course. See you later.”

Heavy with sadness, Harry slips into the room and stands at the end of Ramona’s bed. She’d look almost peaceful, were it not for the hum of protective spells and the raw patches of skin indicative of recent Healing Charms.

“What did you do?” he whispers, and is startled when a familiar voice replies.

“No one knows. We found her like that on the doorstep.”

For the first time, Harry registers the two shadowy figures at the bedside. A silent, pale-faced Seb, sitting in a hard chair, and an incongruously solemn Fyzal, standing next to him with one hand resting carefully on the younger man’s shoulder.

“Fyz? What are you doing here?” As soon as the words are out, Harry regrets the lack of sensitivity. “Sorry, I mean... it’s good to see you, shame it’s under these circumstances.”

The dark eyes glint and Harry is rewarded with a rapid, weary smile.

“No worries. Seb’s here because he and Ramona exchanged addresses in treatment, that’s probably why he found her on his doorstep.” He pauses and searches Harry’s eyes. “I’m here because I... was also there.”

Harry nods, then frowns, remembering. “At two in the morning?”

Fyzal looks vaguely amused. “Yes.”

Seb looks up at last and tenses; the hand on his shoulder squeezes briefly and Harry understands. Draco was right, and clearly he’s been completely oblivious. He can’t help but wonder what else he’s missed.

“Is she going to be OK?” Seb looks immensely relieved to see him, but the anxiety in his voice is obvious.

Glancing through the notes on Ramona’s chart, Harry decides how to answer the question. Everyone wants to hear ‘Yes, everything will be fine,’ but it’s rarely that simple. When he has enough information, he looks back to Seb.

“We’ll know a lot more when she regains consciousness. If that happens in the next few hours, it’ll be a really good sign.”

“She’s got no family, you know,” Seb says. He sighs heavily and rubs his face. “Are you taking over from that blonde Healer? She was alright and everything, but I bet Ramona would rather have you.”

Before Harry can answer, a nurse sticks her head around the door. “Owl out the front for you, Healer Potter, when you’ve got a minute.”

Harry excuses himself and he’s only mildly surprised when Fyzal murmurs something to Seb and follows, falling into step beside him. The dark-haired man’s stylish blue robes swish around his legs as he walks; Harry feels hopelessly inelegant next to him, but that’s not a new feeling.

There’s a chill in the air as they step outside the main doors. Small pinpricks of rain splash onto the parchment Harry accepts from the waiting owl, threatening to blur Hermione’s neat handwriting.

Harry,

Just received owl from DM! Super-polite. In shock. Wait while you read it.

Hermione.

PS. Just a warning—Ron’s in a foul mood. They tracked down GT at last and he’s clean. Why do I have the feeling it’s going to be a long night?


Harry’s smile at the first part of Hermione’s message dissolves into a grimace as the postscript sinks in. Grant Tremellen had looked so promising, especially when he made himself so difficult to find. No wonder Ron’s pissed.

“Bad news?” Fyz enquires.

Turning, Harry tucks the parchment into his robe pocket and looks at him. He has to squint in the fading light but Fyzal is the picture of careless languor, leaning against the red brick, smoke curling from the dark, hand-rolled cigarette suspended between two fingers. Following Harry’s gaze, he smirks. “There’s nothing dodgy in it, don’t worry. Just the standard dirty tobacco habit.”

“Glad to hear it. Frustrating news,” he offers, coming to lean on the wall beside his former patient.

Fyz nods and exhales a plume of smoke thoughtfully. “How’s our illustrious leader?”

“Oh, he’s... he’s good, Fyz.” Harry doesn’t hide his smile as well as he hopes and Fyzal’s dark eyes glitter.

“You see, that cupboard was the best thing we could have done for you.”

“I thought you did it for the good of the community,” Harry points out.

“Haven’t you ever heard of an ulterior motive?”

Harry smiles. The quickening rain spots his glasses, blurring his vision, but he can see well enough to wandlessly hover and dispose of the cigarette end that Fyzal flicks into the bushes.

“Why Seb?” he asks impulsively, gripping the cold wet door handle. The light and sound of the foyer filter through the crack as he pulls it open.

Fyzal fixes him with a speculative look. “Why not?”

Rolling his eyes, Harry turns away and yanks the door fully open. Fyz easily catches up to him halfway through the foyer and nudges him with a sharp elbow.

“Because he’s interesting. He’s an enigma. It’s not just all... out there, you know?” Fyzal shrugs. “I get bored without a challenge.”

Harry risks a sidelong glance as they walk but Fyzal’s face is inscrutable. Warmth fills his tired veins. Draco is a lot of things, but he’s never boring, that’s for sure.

“I understand,” he says.

Fyz grins. “I know.”

**~*~**

Three hours later, Harry’s shift is almost over and he makes one last round of all his patients, knowing he won’t be back until Sunday night. Cecile happily trades patients with him so he can oversee Ramona’s case and hers is the last bed he checks on. As he runs diagnostics, he can’t help but covertly observe Seb and Fyzal as they exchange mumbled words and intense glances.

He’s trying to focus on the task at hand but it’s all kinds of surreal being back in the general ward and yet knee-deep in Chem Dep patients. Or ex-Chem Dep patients, he supposes. Suddenly, the visible energy field around Ramona flares and seconds later, she opens her eyes.

As she blinks and struggles to focus, Harry tucks his wand away and leans over her, letting the rush of relief carry him.

“Ramona? Can you hear me?”

She nods, confusion wrinkling the papery skin around her eyes. “Harry? Oh, everything hurts.”

“I’m not surprised, you were in a right state when we brought you in,” Seb cuts in before Harry can respond. Her eyes slide to his guiltily. “Silly cow.”

“Not helping, Seb.” Harry lowers his voice, taking in the pinched concern of the usually expressionless face.

“Well, she scared me.”

Fyzal, to Harry’s amazement, says nothing. He wonders if the man has finally learned some self-control, or perhaps it’s just that today, Seb’s got the impulsive outburst quotient covered for the both of them.

“Do you remember what happened?” Harry asks, examining the healed cuts and bruises on her face.

She winces. “I fell off... something. I’m not sure... I was...” She hesitates, closing her eyes briefly. “Out of it. I messed up.”

“I’m not here to judge, Ramona. I just need all the information so we can treat you properly.” Harry’s tone is calm, professional, but her regret pulls at his insides.

“You should judge me. Merlin, I was so confused after I left here. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“Why did you walk out?” Seb demands. Fyz watches him carefully and runs an absent hand down Seb’s back.

“I don’t remember,” Ramona says at last, picking fitfully at her sheets. “I remember walking out, but I don’t remember why. It’s like there’s some time missing. I was confused and my head hurt and I ended up in Knockturn Alley, and then...” She shrugs, and none of them need her to finish the sentence.

Harry stares down at her, mind racing. There’s something not right with the explanation, and he doesn’t know what it is yet, but it’s something that makes his skin prickle unpleasantly.

“Weird,” he mumbles, shifting in place. “How... odd.”

“It’s not.” Fyz speaks for the first time in some minutes. “She doesn’t remember how she got here, why would she remember walking out of Chem Dep?”

Harry shakes his head. “No.” The half-formed thought is sharpening and gathering momentum now, twisting into something horrible and recognisable inside his head. “No. She has no memory of the accident because she was intoxicated when it happened. This is different. There’s no reason for her not to remember why she left Chem Dep unless... will you excuse me? I’m going to get a nurse to check you over again, Ramona, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Harry is halfway to the door before he’s finished speaking. There’s no reason for her not to remember why she left Chem Dep unless... someone took the memory from her.

It never made any sense that she left like that.

‘Someone must have said something to her.’ Leonard’s accusing voice echoes in Harry’s head as he walks quickly down a side corridor and leans against the wall, trying to think.

Said something to her, or done something to her. Imperius? Obliviate? Both? Why?

Tipping his head back against the cool plaster, Harry rakes a restless hand through his hair.

His stomach tips. Ramona had bought Chromia X. Was on the list of Ron’s interviewees. Walked out the night before the interviews.

Something else. Fuck... focus. Hermione’s letter.

They tracked down GT last night and he’s clean.

Grant Tremellen, Death Eater sympathiser, addict and Apothecary, knows nothing about Chromia X. Harry knows that now. But someone needed to get rid of Ramona, and Harry’s prepared to wager his wand that this person and the Chromia X mastermind are one and the same.

Someone skilled. Someone with access. Someone who fucking works here.

Tremellen Senior is a department head. A Healer of his level has to have strong potion-making ability; he could brew both Polyjuice and Chromia X, if he so wished. He hates Chem Dep. He hates Draco Malfoy, and Draco Malfoy hates Chromia X.

And he’s an utter bastard.

Harry blinks, eyes dry from staring at the floor unseeing for Merlin-knows how long. Ron and Rodriguez had discounted Tremellen weeks ago because of his squeaky-clean record and lack of Death Eater affiliation, but Ramona’s memory loss puts him right back in the frame.

Heart racing with exhilaration and horror, Harry lets go of the wall and Apparates to the fifth floor. Ron’s going to need to hear this, but first he needs to speak to Draco.

As he appears outside of the double doors, Draco’s voice makes him turn.

“You’ve got good timing. They’re all eating their dinner and I’ve got something to show you in the lab.” He’s carrying two cups of coffee and smiling so warmly that it takes Harry a moment to remember why he’s here.

“Sounds good.” Harry looks back at the doors. “Draco, who will these wards admit?”

Draco frowns. “Me. Algernon—any department head, in fact. All the nurses on this floor. Er... you.”

The slightly sheepish expression is filed away for later enjoyment as Harry fixes upon the important words. “Any department head in the whole hospital?”

Draco opens the door nearest to him and Harry follows him along the corridor into the main room.

“Yes. Why?”

Because now I know that Tremellen can walk in here any time he wants. “Just... needed to know. Can I use your Floo?”

Draco’s eyes betray his confusion but something in Harry’s tone must have reached him, because he nods and carelessly gestures in the direction of the private room beyond the lounge.

Harry crosses the room quickly, adrenaline wild in his veins, half-thinking about what he’s going to say to Ron.

You need to look at Tremellen Senior again. It’s an inside job. I have new information.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Draco accept a clipboard from Loud Irish Nurse and examine it. Draco sniffs the air distractedly.

“What did Algernon want?”

“When?” the nurse asks, confused.

“In the last minute or so. He was here.”

“I haven’t seen him, Mr Malfoy, but I’ve been in the dining room. Are you sure?” Harry doesn’t know exactly why, but something makes him hesitate, one hand on the door handle.

“Yes, I'm bloody sure,” Draco snaps irritably. “He was right here in this spot, the man has a very distinct scent.”

“Not that I’ve noticed,” Loud Irish Nurse counters.

And that’s why. Dropping his hand to his side, Harry digs nails into his palms. Turns slowly.

“What does he smell like, Draco?”

They both spin around to face him with matching startled expressions.

“What does that matter?” Draco asks. “What’s with all the weird questions today?”

“Please.” Harry meets his eyes, cold nausea roiling in his gut. The nurse stares at him like he’s completely lost the plot.

Draco tilts his head, thoughtful. “Well, it’s a complex scent, but it’s citrus-based. A bit like tange—”

“Oranges,” Harry interrupts urgently. “He smells of fucking oranges, Draco!”

Nonplussed, Draco narrows his eyes. “You’re making no sense, you know.”

“Seconded,” the nurse murmurs.

“I’m making perfect sense, that’s the horrible thing.” Harry grips the doorframe, needing something solid to hold onto while the world shifts and changes around him, rearranging itself into something unexpected and disturbing.

Not Tremellen. Fucking Redrow. Nothing to do with revenge or Death Eaters, at least Harry doesn’t think so, although Redrow’s motives are anyone’s guess at this point.

‘Polyjuice changes the appearance and the voice, but not the basic essence of a person.’

‘Algernon, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were afraid of my Stage Twos.’

‘I remember walking out, but I don’t remember why. It’s like there’s some time missing.’


“Harry, you’re as white as a sheet. What’s going on?”

Somewhere distant, the note of concern in Draco’s voice soothes Harry and he snaps to attention.

“Er... would you excuse us for a moment, Nurse... Osprey?” Harry manages, somehow pulling the name out of the bag at the last moment. It must be the stress.

She takes her clipboard back from Draco and backs away. Harry drags Draco into the office, almost vibrating with impatience as he shifts the coffee cups to one hand so he can unlock the door.

“I thought you wanted to use my Floo,” he says, setting the cups down on the desk.

“I do, in a minute. Just listen.”

Draco sits on the edge of his desk and crosses his arms, looking at Harry expectantly. Taking several deep breaths, Harry weighs his options. He probably shouldn’t be even thinking about involving Draco, but then again, Redrow is his boss and Harry is going to need his help. A nagging little voice in the back of his head tries to remind him that he’s a Healer, not an Auror, and he should step back, but he silences it quickly.

“I think the Chromia X guy is Redrow,” he says in a rush.

Draco’s skin drains of colour. “What?”

“Because... oh, fuck, Ron’s going to kill me for this, but... your interviewees were insistent that the dealer smelled of oranges. All of them. We know the dealer’s using Polyjuice. The night Ramona left, I think someone walked in here and messed with her head. She’s my patient downstairs and she can’t remember why she walked out.” Harry pauses, breathless, in his pacing.

“Fuck.”

“I know. I thought maybe Tremellen had something to do with it until just now.”

“Tremellen doesn’t smell of oranges,” Draco says distractedly. “I could have told you that.”

“No one thought to ask, until... er, now.” Harry rubs his eyes. “Do you know where he is?”

“In his office, I imagine.” Draco stands up, pushes fingers through his hair, takes small, erratic steps around the office. “No wonder he didn’t want Aurors coming in. I bet he used my lab.” His voice is deceptively calm for someone who’s just been told his boss is a criminal, until it isn’t.

With his back to Harry, he drops his hands to his sides. “Oh, fucking... GOD!” he explodes. Several objects on the desk throw themselves onto the floor with a messy clatter at the burst of raw fury that briefly surges from Draco.

Behind him, Harry takes a step back, pulse racing. Draco leans on the desk, just for a second, hair falling into his face, and it’s the closest Harry’s ever seen him get to truly losing his composure.

“OK.” He turns around, eyes steady. Instantly, it’s back. “What do we do?”

“I’m going to fire-call Ron at the Ministry. It’s his case. Can you...” Harry hesitates. Draco gestures in silent appeal, face tight with tension. “Can you make sure he stays in his office?”

“No, that’s no good. He can just Disapparate.” His eyes light up and he takes a step closer to Harry. “I’ll tell him I need him in here. This office is the only place on the fifth floor with full anti-Apparation wards, and I’ve got a few things I’d like to ask him before Weasley comes wading in.”

“Brilliant.” In spite of the world twisting around him, Harry smiles, and doesn’t even try to stop himself reaching out and squeezing Draco’s wrist.

“Right,” Draco whispers. His pulse jumps under Harry’s fingers.

Exchanging a determined, heated glance, they nod to each other and sprint out of the office in opposite directions.

Chapter Text

After a moment’s hesitation, Harry takes the slightly longer route to reach Draco’s Floo connection, the one that bypasses the main lounge. The last thing he needs is to alarm the Stage Twos, who should be straggling in from dinner now and settling in for the evening.

Pulling the door closed behind him, he sinks to his knees in front of the fireplace and fire-calls Ron’s office at the Ministry. As he sticks his head into the room and looks around, the first thing that hits him is that Ron isn’t there. The second is a pair of vaguely familiar dark eyes that fasten upon him from the opposite side of the office.

His heart sinks.

“Hello, Harry Potter,” Rodriguez says, rising from his desk and crossing to drop down in front of the fireplace. He rests tanned hands on his knees and regards Harry carefully. “What can I do for you?”

“Hi, um, Rodriguez.” Harry’s mind stalls temporarily, having been totally ready to just spill everything out to Ron, knowing that his friend would listen. “Is Ron about?” he asks hopefully.

“He went to retrieve some documents from the archive.”

“Can you go and get him? Please?”

Rodriguez bristles slightly and Harry bites his tongue, gripping the stone mount of his fireplace hard.

“I have things to do, you know. I take it this call is of a personal nature?”

Oh, you fucking jobsworth, Harry groans inside. “As a matter of fact, it’s not,” he says out loud. “And I really don’t have a huge amount of time, so please can you tell Ron I need to speak to him?”

“If it’s a Ministry matter, I don’t see why you can’t tell me,” Rodriguez points out, not unreasonably. “We are partners, you know.”

Harry scrutinizes the man in front of him. The curly dark hair and hard mouth and brown robes. Rodriguez is stuffy and terminally serious, but not unpleasant, not untrustworthy.

“OK. Listen. It’s about your Chromia X case.” The dark eyes flicker and Harry winces but presses on; it’s too late to worry about what he should or shouldn’t know. “The man you want is named Algernon Redrow. He’s a Healer here at St Mungo’s and a department head.”

Rodriguez blinks and rubs at his face distractedly. Come on, Harry thinks, come the fuck on. Say something.

“Redrow, the head of Draco Malfoy’s department?” he asks at last. “That Redrow?”

Yes.” Harry resists the urge to reach through the Floo and shake Rodriguez. “You need to come and interview this guy. I’m not messing with you, Rodriguez. This is serious.”

“He’s not on any of our lists.” Rodriguez casts a pained glance at the tidy stacks of paperwork on his desk and the neatly labelled collection of photographs on the wall with wiggling arrows and words connecting them together. Really, Harry thinks absently, it’s a wonder that Rodriguez and Hermione don’t get on better. “There’s no evidence. With all due respect, Mr Potter... you must see how potentially damaging it could be for us to just turn up and cart off a St Mungo’s department head because you’ve got a hunch?”

Hanging onto the fireplace and closing his eyes briefly, Harry wishes—just for a moment—that Salvatore Rodriguez was one of those disturbing people who listen to him just because he’s Harry Potter. Just for a second.

“It’s not a hunch, Rodriguez. I’ve got a former Chem Dep patient with a chunk of memory missing and only a limited number of people who could have taken it from her. Do you not see how much of a coincidence it is that one of those people matches the very specific description given by all four witnesses?” He sniffs meaningfully and stares at the other man.

“Oranges?” Rodriguez whispers, eyes widening.

Yes.”

“How do you know about that?”

“Is that really the issue right now?” Harry says, hoping Ron doesn’t kill him too painfully later on. Hopefully he’ll see the bigger picture, but Ron’s not always been a great bigger picture kind of bloke. “Look. I know from experience he’s jumpy around Aurors. He’ll Disapparate the second he sees you, unless you come now. Right now, he’s in the office in Chem Dep, and he can’t Disapparate. So, if you want to speak to him, I advise you to hurry the fuck up about it before he figures out what’s going on.”

Breathing hard, Harry waits, watching the changing expressions flit across Rodriguez’s solemn face.

“You’re sure about this.” Oddly, it’s not a question. Harry nods firmly anyway.

Rodriguez straightens up and brushes the creases from his robes. “We’ll be there in ten minutes.”

**~*~**

Harry approaches the office just in time to see a determined-looking Draco ushering Redrow through the door, talking rapidly about exit stats and something else that Harry’s racing mind can’t focus on.

“Well, yes, Draco, I can see why that might be a concern. Why don’t you show me the papers, and I’ll—Healer Potter, nice to see you up here again.” Redrow smiles serenely as Harry enters the office behind them and closes the door.

“Nice, yeah,” Harry mumbles vaguely, exchanging a split second glance with Draco.

Redrow heads for the nearest chair, the one Harry still thinks of as his. To his surprise, Draco casts Incarcerous and Silencio the second the man sits down. Redrow’s eyes widen almost comically as the magical restraints snake around his body, binding him to the chair, but he can’t say a word.

Draco shrugs at Harry’s expression. “What? No point messing about, is there?”

The flash of nonchalance is striking, and Harry almost smiles. “No. I guess not. Your favourite team of Aurors will be here in ten minutes, apparently.”

“Lovely.” He turns to Redrow, motionless in the chair turned parallel to the desk. Draco stands in front of the bookshelves, facing him, and Harry instinctively stays with his back pressed against the door in case of any highly unlikely escape attempt. He can see enough of Redrow’s face, though, to register the sudden pallor of his skin and the screaming eyes. The mouth desperately forming words that cannot be heard.

Draco stares at his boss for a long time, eyes positively arctic. The only movement is one pale hand, in which he’s twisting his wand between his fingers. When he speaks, Harry is suddenly grateful that Ron and Rodriguez will be here in ten minutes, because in all his life he doesn’t think he’s heard Draco so dangerously angry.

“You absolute, utter fucking bastard.” He grips his wand hard and raises it. Harry’s fingers close around his own but he doesn’t draw it. “You hypocrite. ‘Drugs are a menace, Draco. This department is so important, Draco. We have to help these people, Draco.’ Yeah. Right.”

Redrow blinks rapidly and mouths something that looks like ‘I don’t know...’

Fury flares in Draco’s eyes and he steps closer until the tip of his wand almost touches Redrow’s forehead. “I’m going to take the Silencing Spell off now, and so help me, if you even dare to say you don’t know what I’m talking about, I will hex you into so many pieces the Aurors will have to mop you up. Understand?”

Redrow nods slowly and Draco mutters the counter-spell. He doesn’t lower his wand.

“You’ve called Aurors?” he asks, twisting his head awkwardly to look at Harry.

There’s a note of fear in his voice and Harry finds himself completely unaffected by it. “Yes. And I’m sure they’ll have plenty to ask you, but first I think you owe Draco an explanation,” he says, injecting a quietly threatening edge to the words.

“An explanation, yes, that would be nice.” Draco glares. His wand hand is steady, Harry notices, but the one at his side is shaking ever so slightly. “An explanation of why you’ve been sneaking around and betraying everything this department stands for, selling that filthy, dangerous shit... for what? Aren’t they paying you enough?”

Redrow closes his eyes for a moment, apparently assessing the situation. The futility of his position seems to dawn on him pretty quickly, because when he opens his eyes and addresses Draco, his words are almost a plea.

“Please, Draco, you don’t understand. It wasn’t like that at all. The board...”

“The board? Oh, what—the board made me do it? Give me a fucking break.” Draco finally lowers his wand, but, if anything, he looks angrier than before. Harry’s urge to cross the room and place a calming hand on his shoulder is immense and he struggles hard to fight it down.

Redrow tries again, looking suddenly very old. “You haven’t been sitting in those meetings for the last few months, have you?”

“No, I’ve been doing the real work, in case you haven’t noticed,” Draco snaps.

“Listen to me. They were going to shut us down, Draco. Times are changing. Wizards are moving onto the Muggle drugs... it was getting harder and harder every time to convince them that we needed a rehab unit here especially for wizards. The chairman of the board was on a mission to cut budgets and cut departments he thought we didn’t need.” Redrow pauses, catching his breath. “I had to do something.”

Looking blindsided, Draco leans heavily against the shelves at his back. “Do something? The best thing you could think of to solve that problem was to create more addicts?!

“Draco... don’t you think I tried everything else I could think of first?” Redrow appeals, voice strained with desperation.

“You hurt people. You could have killed people.” Disbelief tightens Draco’s face, and regarding him silently from the door, Harry aches.

“Chem Dep saves thousands of lives. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the few to save the many.”

The dull, efficient delivery of those words turns Harry’s insides cold. For the first time since entering the office, Redrow’s expression is unrepentant, just calm. Cool, hard logic.

Harry lifts his eyes to Draco, who is staring at Redrow with a very strange expression on his face. The flush of recent anger tints his cheekbones slightly pink and his eyes are hard but oddly shiny. Harry’s heart stutters and he flattens himself against the door forcefully.

Apparently Draco doesn’t have a response to the department head’s logic any more than he does, and seems completely lost for words.

“How did you choose the hairs?” Harry says. “Why blonds?”

Redrow sighs. “Sorry to disappoint you, Healer Potter, but there isn’t a neat reason for everything. The first hairs I ever used happened to be blond, and I like consistency. I took them wherever I could find them.”

“They were always blond?” Draco snaps to attention, addressing Harry. Harry nods. “Did you use my hair, Algernon?”

“No. Do you think I’m stupid? They’d have come in here and recognised you straight away,” Redrow points out.

Draco’s eyes narrow as another thought occurs to him. “Did you use my fucking lab?”

Harry watches the man squirm and shift as much as he can under the tight restraints and knows he did. The look on Draco’s face as the full extent of the betrayal sinks in is painful—the underhand use of his private space to create something at such utter cross purposes to his own work.

“Did it not occur to you that I might come under suspicion in all this?” Draco demands, livid once more.

“Draco, even if they did suspect you, I knew they’d give you Veritaserum and exclude you from the inquiry.”

“Did it ever enter your head that perhaps I didn’t want to be carted off by the Aurors and given another fucking mind-altering substance?” Draco demands, voice rising, hair falling into his eyes as he looks momentarily at the floor. “Does my history mean nothing to you? I fucking trusted you, Algernon.”

“I know. I’m sorry, Draco, really, but it had to be done.”

Seeing Draco’s wand hand twitching, Harry jumps in. It can’t be long now until Ron arrives, and he has one more thing he wants to ask.

“What did you do to Ramona?”

The dark eyes are quizzical as the man turns his head.

“She’s my patient downstairs, and I know someone’s messed with her memory.” Harry frowns, crossing his arms. “Strike that, I know you’ve messed with her memory. Why?”

“I always stayed away from the Stage Two patients, especially the ones I recognised from the sales,” Redrow says reluctantly, resignation all over his face. “I only came back that night to fetch something I’d left in Stage One, and she was standing at the door when I left. I practically knocked her over, and then she just got this terrible look on her face, and I knew that she knew.”

“She could smell you,” Draco says dully. “You’re safe with the Stage Ones once they’re under, but... bloody fucking hell, Algernon, what did you do to her?”

“She shouldn’t have been standing there! What could I do? I Obliviated her.”

“And?”

“And nothing,” Redrow mumbles, no longer looking at either of them.

“Did you use Imperius? Or did you threaten her? Because she sure as hell didn’t walk out of here of her own accord,” Harry challenges.

Redrow sighs. “It wasn’t Imperius. I just used a Suggestibility Spell to make sure that she’d do whatever she heard after she’d been Obliviated. I told her she was going to walk out, and she did.”

Over the top of the silver-grey head, Harry and Draco exchange glances, and all of the pain, anger and disbelief in the grey eyes leeches into Harry’s veins. In that moment, he wants nothing more than to draw Draco close and press kisses to his skin until he feels calm and safe again. It’s a strange feeling, and the depth of it shakes him to his core.

“Is she alright?” Redrow asks suddenly, shattering their connection. Draco looks away, flushing.

“No, she bloody isn’t alright,” Harry snaps. “She will be, but no thanks to you.”

The knock on the door is a familiar one and Harry isn’t the least surprised when he opens it and finds Anxious Brunette Nurse.

“Aurors,” he says wearily. “Again. Shall I let them in, or would you like to go outside to... oh.” His mouth drops open when he catches sight of the incarcerated Redrow and he darts glances between the three of them.

“We’ll come out, thank you.” Draco flicks a grim glance at Redrow. “Not a word to the patients about what you’ve just seen if you want to keep your job.”

The nurse nods hurriedly and scurries away in the direction of Stage One.

**~*~**

“We’ll come out? Isn’t it better if they come in here? Anti-Apparation wards,” Harry says, looking pointedly at Draco.

“This is not going off in my department.” Draco scowls. “And apart from the fact that he wouldn’t fucking dare, the ropes aren’t coming off until he’s in Weasley’s grubby hands.”

“You don’t have to do that, Draco,” Redrow puts in. “I’m not going to make a break for it now, what would be the point?”

Snorting, Draco deftly modifies the spell so that he can pull the department head to his feet whilst still leaving him very little room for manoeuvre, much less Apparation. “Excuse me if your word is worth approximately bugger all to me at this point.”

Harry tugs at the silvery ropes until he’s satisfied they’ll hold, and opens the door. As he brings up the rear of their rather bizarre procession through the main room and down the corridor, he’s trying to imagine what Ron’s face is going to look like when he sees them.

He’s prepared for surprise, satisfaction and even anger, but when Draco opens the double doors and the three of them step out into the fifth floor corridor, empty save for Ron and Rodriguez, the expression on his friend’s face is one of alarm.

“You restrained him?” Ron’s eyes widen, and behind him, Rodriguez is shaking his head slowly. “Harry, bloody hell... you can’t do that before they’re charged, you...”

“He didn’t,” Draco cuts in. “I did. And he as good as confessed, anyway. Didn’t you, Algernon?” Draco’s eyes gleam dangerously.

Redrow’s face is blank now, expressionless. “I’m not going to resist,” he reiterates. “I’ll go with you. It’s not as though it will help.”

Harry takes an unconscious step closer to Draco and shoots Rodriguez a challenging stare. He stops shaking his head.

“Right.” Ron looks startled but hurriedly recovers his composure. “Well, we don’t have any search warrants right now, so it’s just a matter of returning to the Ministry for interview.”

He takes Redrow’s elbow firmly and pulls, but the man resists and stays still. Harry’s close enough to feel Draco stiffen beside him, and Rodriguez steps in, but he’s cut off before he can say a word.

“It doesn’t matter about warrants.” Redrow shakes his head wearily. “My office is down the hall. The password is ‘necessity’. You’ll find all you need there.”

Rodriguez nods and Harry watches him and Ron communicate via a series of exchanged glances and vague hand gestures. However much Ron claims the man irritates him beyond all belief, the display of synchronicity is both impressive and surprising.

This time, when Ron moves, Redrow moves with him. Harry lets out a long breath for all of two seconds until the last voice he needs to hear right now makes itself very apparent in the previously deserted corridor.

“Well, well. I was told there were Aurors hanging around on the fifth floor and I thought someone was having me on, and then I remembered you work up here, Malfoy. Why am I not surprised that this has something to do with you?”

Tremellen’s disdainful gaze is trained only on Draco, and it seems to Harry as though he hasn’t even noticed the restrained department head at Ron’s side. As Harry looks at his mentor, there’s a split-second flash of guilt for having so eagerly suspected him just an hour earlier, but then he registers the stream of wordless bile spilling out of his eyes and hitting Draco, and the guilt vanishes.

“How sweet,” Draco snaps. “But this has nothing to do with me, as it happens.” His eyes slide toward the two Aurors and Redrow, and after a moment, Tremellen’s follow.

He blanches. “What is the meaning of this?”

“I’m afraid that information is unavailable to unauthorised personnel,” Rodriguez says, sounding like he’s quoting from the Auror Code of Conduct. He probably is.

Tremellen bristles and draws himself up to his impressive full height, but no one is intimidated. When Redrow doesn’t even deign to meet his colleague’s gaze, Tremellen turns on Harry.

“Healer Potter, I was under the impression that you failed miserably at Auror training, and as such, I can’t quite understand why you’re running around this hospital like some sort of—”

“I didn’t fail, I bloody quit!” Harry explodes, before he can stop himself.

“That’s not what I heard.”

“For fuck’s sake, Augustus. Shut up.” Draco’s voice from beside Harry is low but commanding, sending inappropriate warmth up Harry’s spine.

“Malfoy,” Tremellen says, all contempt. “Do not take that tone with me, you worthless, incompetent scum. I know what you are.”

Fuming now, Harry wants to say something but he knows it’ll end badly for him. He bites his tongue, but apparently his body fails to agree with this logic; he doesn’t even realise he’s taken a step toward Tremellen until he feels Draco’s hand on his arm.

“If you’re that desperate to lose your job for me, at least do it over something worthwhile,” he murmurs, only loud enough for Harry to hear.

“But you just...”

“Tremellen can’t touch me.”

Ron coughs loudly and raises an inquiring eyebrow once all eyes are on him. “We’ll be going now. Healer Potter... er, Malfoy. Thanks.” He nods. “Healer Tremellen.”

With that, he turns on the spot, and with a pop he and Redrow disappear. Rodriguez lifts one corner of his mouth in what can only be his approximation of a smile, and follows them.

“Is someone going to explain to me what’s going on?”

Harry opts to keep his mouth closed and his expression neutral. Draco has no such qualms.

“Didn’t you hear the man? That information is unavailable to unauthorised personnel.” He grins.

“Am I expected to believe that you are such?”

“I don’t much care what you believe, Augustus. Healer Potter and I are off the clock now, so if you’d excuse us.” Draco shrugs carelessly and flicks his wand over the doors, holding open the nearest one for Harry.

“Er, have a nice weekend, Healer Tremellen,” Harry manages, smiling blandly and ducking into the department before Tremellen has a chance to respond.

**~*~**

As he stumbles into the office behind Draco, Harry takes a deep breath and tries to slow the confused buzzing in his head. It could be the drama of the last hour, or it could be the thrill of anticipation that’s thickening with each smile and touch and glance Draco gives him; either way, something is making his heart pound like mad.

He has even less of an idea what Draco needs. The man has been irate, upset, cold, and amused by degrees and there’s no telling what will come next. When he ignores his desk and chairs and instead slides to the floor beside his bookcase, Harry hesitates only for a moment before dropping down next to him, close enough to touch but choosing to keep his hands to himself.

Draco leans back against the shelves and sinks his fingers into the luxurious rug underneath him. Deciding to wait for him to speak first, Harry examines the rug. There are a number of red and green snakes woven into it, and he idly wonders if he could get them to move about. Perhaps if he asked nicely.

“I’m so stupid,” Draco says at last, and Harry looks up sharply.

“No you’re not.”

“Don’t.” Draco stares straight ahead and rests folded arms on his drawn-up knees. “You work with someone for five years and you can’t figure out they’ve turned drug dealer? That’s pretty far up the scale of stupid by anyone’s reckoning.”

“It’s not your job to figure stuff like that out. You work ridiculously hard, and when you’re not with the patients you’re in your bloody lab trying to find a way to make things better for them.” Harry sighs and shoots him a frustrated sidelong glance. “When were you supposed to have time to play detective?”

“I should have known,” Draco insists, but some of the edge is gone from his tone.

“No one knew. Ron and Rodriguez have been looking for Death Eaters all this time. I thought it was fucking Tremellen. We all got it wrong.”

Draco tips his head back against the shelves and flicks his eyes to Harry. “We had it all, between us, you know.”

When Harry turns his head, too, those eyes are only inches away. He swallows and shoves his hands into his pockets. “How do you mean?”

“Oranges. If we’d just...” He gestures vaguely and then lets his hand drop.

“Oh.” Harry nods slightly, understanding. The need to reassure is intense. “Well, we’d have maybe saved a couple of weeks. We wouldn’t have been in time to help Ramona.”

Draco winces. Looks at the floor. “She used, didn’t she?”

Harry stretches his legs out in front of him and smoothes the creases from his trousers. “Yeah. She did.”

“Tell her she can come back.”

“What?”

“Tell her she can come back and finish the programme. Well, she’ll have to start again, but still. If she wants to, that is.”

Harry smiles. “I think she’d like that.”

“It’s not her fault. ‘Oh, I just Obliviated her and sent her on her way under a fucking Suggestibility Spell, no problem eh, Draco?’” Draco narrows his eyes and directs the words at the floor.

“That was a particular low point,” Harry agrees.

“Oh, I don’t know. Sacrifice the few to save the many? I didn’t even know how to argue with him, Harry.”

The eyes that meet his then are sharp with pain. “Neither did I. Stop. Punishing. Yourself.”

“I’m not, I...” Catching Harry’s expression, he pauses. Shrugs awkwardly. “Force of habit.”

“I know.” Without looking away from his face, Harry throws caution to the wind and covers Draco’s hand with his where it rests on his knee. The grey eyes widen but then Draco turns his hand under Harry’s and laces their fingers together. He grips and Draco grips back, the gesture mutually comforting.

“Polyjuice,” Draco says after a while. “Sneaky bastard. I wonder what they find in his office.”

“God knows. Lots of hairs, I bet. You know, Cecile lost a chunk of hair in the hospital a while back and she’s a blonde,” Harry says, giving voice to the thought that had occurred to him during Redrow’s impromptu interrogation. “I really hope he didn’t, but fuck... she’d kill him.”

“I’d like to see that.” Draco smiles faintly. His palm is warm against Harry’s, and Harry has never been quite so aware of holding hands with someone before.

“Why faff about with Polyjuice, though? Why not just use a Glamour?”

Draco turns his head and Harry almost gets a mouthful of delicious-smelling hair. “Chromia users are an unknown quantity at best. Some of them would be able to see through it, too much of a risk.” Pausing for a moment, he lifts an eyebrow. “Why don’t you just use a Glamour when you go out at the weekends?”

Harry blinks. “What?”

“Ginevra is awfully talkative after a few drinks.” Draco rubs the pad of his thumb over Harry’s knuckles.

“Oh... well, I... I suppose it’s nice to actually be someone else for a little while. Glamours just hide things; Polyjuice is... well, it’s real and not real, all at the same time.”

“What’s worrying is that I actually understood that,” Draco says. “I used to think you loved attention, you know.”

“I know. And now?”

“I think... you seem pretty intent on getting mine.” He looks up and flushes. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

Harry grins, stomach flipping. “Subtlety isn’t my strong point. However.” He takes a deep breath, knowing that it’s now. “You are an arrogant, stubborn snob.”

“What?” Draco narrows his eyes and Harry squeezes his hand.

“I know it’s a little late,” Harry says innocently. “But I recall you asking for a list of things that annoy me about you. The way you always have to be right. The way you yell at Anxious Brunette Nurse just to amuse yourself. Your posh fucking accent. The way you never, ever forget the right word, even when you’re angry or tired or distracted. The way you fold your arms and try to look scary... actually, forget that one, I quite like that.”

Draco stares, mouth slightly open, eyes unreadable. Harry continues.

“You can be incredibly rude when you feel like it. You’ve got this huge chip on your shoulder and this insane drive to pay for things that happened when you were still basically a child. I know you think you’re cleverer than me. You eat desserts like an absolute tart. In short, Draco, you wind me up something fierce,” he finishes, forcing himself to hold the eye contact even though he’s never felt more exposed.

“Um,” says Draco. And then: “I don’t think I’m cleverer than you.”

“I forgot ‘argumentative’.” Harry smiles. “Look, I don’t know if I have the crappiest timing in the world, but I’ve started now, so I might as well finish. I know what you said before, but I’m not some lovesick teenager who’s blind to all your bad qualities. I know what they are, and yet I’m understanding you more all the time, and I think... I rather like you, actually. You complicated bastard,” he adds.

Feeling suddenly hot all over, Harry relinquishes the eye contact and stares down at his free hand. The silence in the office is crushing.

“Harry, you’re... fuck.” Draco tries again. “You haven’t even been with a man before, have you?”

“I’m not even going to ask how you know that. If I really wanted to experiment, don’t you think I might’ve found someone a bit less complicated to experiment with? You’re not exactly easy-going, are you?”

Draco snorts but does not let go of his hand. “You have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

“No, but I have been told that I’m admirably persistent,” Harry offers, barely breathing.

“You like me.” He’s so close that Harry can feel rather than see Draco shaking his head. “You like me.”

“Yeah. And, erm, then some.” Harry squeezes his eyes shut, sensing the exact moment his whole face suffuses with colour.

When, seconds later, Draco lets go of his hand and gets up, the cold shock of disappointment is immediate and Harry doesn’t open his eyes to see what he’s done wrong, or to watch Draco leave. He knows it’s vaguely ridiculous for a grown man to be sitting on another’s office floor with his eyes shut, but he can’t quite bring himself to care.

The warm weight on his thighs is completely unexpected. Harry’s eyes fly open and fasten onto searching grey ones at close range. When it registers that Draco is actually sitting astride his lap, one knee on either side of his thighs, he thinks his heart stops beating altogether.

“Um.” A cough. “You, er... hi.”

“People won’t like it, you know.” The words are mumbled and somewhat undermined by the hand that’s gently stroking a rebellious strand of hair out of Harry’s eyes.

Hope sparks explosively and Harry stares back, trying to ignore the fact that wherever Draco touches him seems to have a direct link to his cock. “When have you ever cared about that?”

“I do, a little bit,” Draco whispers harshly, sitting slightly back and resting his hands on his own thighs. At this proximity, his eyes are molten metal and they burn Harry. “If you tell anyone that, I’ll kill you.”

“I’m not afraid of you,” Harry replies, tentatively lifting hands to wrap around Draco’s hips, fingers sliding over the smooth leather of his belt and then warm, soft cashmere. It’s a lie, of course, because he is afraid, but the fear is shot through with desire and need and warmth, and it’s wonderful.

One side of Draco’s mouth quirks upward and Harry can’t stop himself mirroring the smile. The part of his brain that isn’t completely lost in sensation muses that he never expected to end this day being pinned to the floor of Draco Malfoy’s office and thoroughly smouldered at. And yet, it somehow feels like things are exactly as they should be.

Expect the unexpected. Hell, yes.

“Perhaps you should be.”

“Should be what?” Harry traces his thumbs over Draco’s cloth-covered hipbones, distracted.

“Afraid of me.” Rough-toned, he leans forward, sliding something deliciously hard against Harry’s erection, reaching out and supporting his weight on the bookshelves with one hand at either side of Harry’s head. Nostrils invaded by the warm scent of citrus, fear and arousal, Harry bites back a groan and tightens his hold on Draco’s hips.

“No.”

“Fearless, are you?” Draco murmurs, contemplative. “Will you tell me what you like about me?”

The question strikes Harry somewhere tender, and despite the seductive tone and obvious fishing, the brief flicker of uncertainty in the grey eyes just about does him in. He nods slowly.

“You’re never boring,” he says at last, remembering Fyzal’s words. “You make me feel, er... you make me feel.” Draco stares and Harry can barely breathe from trying not to look at his mouth. “And it helps that you’re, quite frankly, um... reallyfuckinghot.

“Oh,” is all the response he gets. “I see.”

Oh, god. It’s times like this when Harry really wishes he’d had more... times like this, he supposes. Just so he’d know what to say and manage to sound smooth and strident instead of like an absolute fucking—

“In spite of this?” Draco shifts his left arm alongside Harry’s head, drawing Harry’s eyes first to the soft, pale skin on the inside of Draco’s forearm, and then to the faded black scar.

Suddenly, Draco’s words are a challenge and Harry forgets everything about being suave, looking up and straight into his eyes. Saying the first thing that comes into his head.

“Because of it, Draco.”

“That might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say,” Draco says drily and raises an eyebrow.

The inappropriate laughter that bubbles up in Harry’s chest escapes as a breathless bark, startling both of them, but Draco doesn’t release his grip on the shelf behind Harry’s head. If anything, he leans closer, hot breath mingling with Harry’s and almost driving all thought from his mind.

“Give it time. I’m sure I’ll say something far more stupid than that. What I mean is that you do this insane, thankless job for practically zero respect, and that when you don’t hide your mistakes from the world, I can’t decide if you’re stupidly brave or bravely stupid but whichever it is,” Harry forges on, heart hammering. “I know I want it.”

The sound that follows seems to be ripped right from Draco’s chest, somewhere between a laugh and a sob, and when Harry looks at him, his eyes are screwed tightly shut.

“Look at me.”

“No chance.”

Draco.”

Pinned against the shelves and the floor, Harry slides the tips of his fingers under the sweater to stroke Draco’s warm skin and he shivers, sending a jolt of pleasure to Harry’s neglected groin. Grey eyes fly open at the touch and tear him apart.

The slow, almost predatory smile is at complete odds with the next words. “Harry, I have no idea what I’m doing,” Draco says, and then Harry is being thoroughly kissed before he has time to respond.

Somehow it’s a surprise, even though he realises abruptly that their current positions had hardly been leading in any other direction, but Harry’s soft sound of comprehension as his body gets with the programme only seem to intensify Draco’s invasion of his mouth, and he’s not complaining for a second.

Wanting to touch everywhere at once, Harry settles for dragging one hand up Draco’s back under his clothes and fisting the other into soft blond hair, alternating between kissing back with everything he has and submitting to the agonising slide of warm lips against his as Draco’s tongue in his mouth traces an ache that carves mercilessly down his spine.

The shift of hips and equal hardness against his sends a spiral of relief and need through him so intense that it’s all he can do not to come on the spot. One hand releases the shelf and tangles in his hair, almost hard enough to hurt, but he doesn’t care.

“God, Draco... fuck,” he mumbles, reduced to incoherence by the soft kisses and small bites being pressed along the line of his jaw. Unable to open his eyes, he feels the smile against his skin.

“Hmm,” says Draco, pushing closer still and arching into the hand Harry is sliding up his spine.

“Come here.” Harry sighs and pulls him back into the kiss, deciding right there and then that any time not spent kissing Draco Malfoy is a waste of time.

Harry can’t be sure how much later it is, that he’s utterly lost in a world of too-many-clothes friction, sweet, slick mouth and thoroughly not caring about the shelves digging into his back, but when someone knocks at the office door, Draco jumps and bites his tongue.

“Ow,” Harry complains, tasting coppery blood in his mouth and sticking out his tongue to examine it.

“Sorry.” Draco wrinkles his nose and leans closer again to look.

The knocking starts up again and Draco twists around to glare at the door. “It’s eight thirty. At night. Why does anyone even think I’m still here?

“I don’t know, but maybe you should answer it because the door’s not locked and they might just decide to—” Harry doesn’t finish his sentence because the door handle starts to turn as if in slow motion.

“Just one moment, please!” Draco calls out, sounding calm and authoritative but—to Harry’s pleasure—looking neither. Hair tousled and messy, flushed, eyes wide and alarmed, his recent arousal obvious in both the tint of his skin and the tightness of his trousers.

Fortunately, the door remains closed. Harry allows himself to exhale, releases Draco so he can get to his feet, and then stands somewhat shakily, adjusting his clothes and trying to flatten his hair down. With as much nonchalance as he can muster, Harry leans against the bookcase and nods to Draco, who now looks slightly neater if no less debauched.

“Can’t you read my bloody sign?” Draco demands, flinging the door open. Harry looks at the rug studiously.

“Er, yeah, but it doesn’t say how long to wait for, does it?” comes Ron’s voice. Harry closes his eyes, horrified, praying that the intense blush he feels isn’t as visible as he thinks it is.

“For fuck’s sake, Weasley, who let you in?”

“A nurse... a worried-looking one.” Harry hears Ron’s sharp intake of breath and knows his friend has noticed him now. “Hi, Harry,” he says uncertainly.

Harry looks up and meets familiar blue eyes that search his face like they never have before. “Hey.”

The strain winds so tight that Harry can almost taste it, as he watches Ron glance between them. He barely dares look at Draco, but a split-second sidelong glance reveals him to be wearing an expression of utter impatience.

“Weasley, you have the timing of a Confunded goblin,” Draco says wearily after what seems like a long time. “As usual. Would you excuse me?” And with that, he steps around Ron and walks out into the ward.

Ron twists around to watch him leave, and when he turns back to Harry, the knowledge is clear on his face.

“Malfoy,” he says simply.

Harry worries his hair, shifts in place, and sighs; he’s determined not to apologise, but fuck, this is weird.

“Malfoy,” he agrees.

“You...? That... with...? Bloody hell.” Ron exhales noisily, lifting his shaggy fringe from his forehead. “You know, the other week, I almost thought... but I didn’t know how to ask.”

“Why not?”

“Because, well, it’s Malfoy,” Ron replies, as though that’s obvious.

Harry’s heart sinks, but then Ron smiles. It’s a slightly shell-shocked smile, granted, but a smile nonetheless.

“Is he... actually, I really don’t want to know.” Ron grimaces. “I’m going to go, I think. I told Rodriguez I wouldn’t be long.”

“What was it you wanted?”

“You know... I really can’t remember,” Ron admits, brow furrowed.

“Nothing to do with Tremellen, then?” Draco asks absently, having reappeared in the doorway.

“What?”

“Senior,” Harry mutters. “I thought he might’ve been involved. At first.”

“Nope, one-man operation, as we suspected. I’ll, er, I’ll owl you,” Ron directs at the room in general.

“Harry or me?” Draco steps into the office and perches on the edge of his desk.

“Both of you,” Ron says, looking up. As he turns to go, it’s with a strange little nod that Harry has seen before, just once.

**~*~**

“That was surreal.” Draco rises from the desk and approaches him. “Where were we?”

“Here’s pretty good, I think,” Harry manages, gasping involuntarily as he finds himself pressed up against the door, the full length of Draco’s warm body plastered against his. Fleetingly, he wonders about resisting, about taking back control just for the sake of it, but it only takes a thrust of hips against his and the warm mouth urging his open to bring him to his senses.

With a flash of heat, he realises that he likes being pinned, covered, held. He could easily push Draco away if he wanted to, but fuck, he’d be a fool.

I’ve lost my mind, he thinks, pulling at Draco’s bottom lip with his teeth and humming with warmth at the sound this drags from him. Completely lost it. And it’s amazing.

“Mr Malfoy?”

The address is bracketed by a couple of sharp knocks that Harry feels through the door he is almost at one with.

He groans softly and Draco releases his wrists from their iron grip, slumping against Harry and burying his face in his neck. The ragged exhale against his skin makes Harry shiver.

“Mr Malfoy? You there?”

There’s an odd note to the familiar voice and impulsively, Harry grips Draco’s shoulders, turning them halfway, and mutters a one-way wandless Transparency Charm at the door. Draco’s eyes widen in alarm at the sudden visibility, and he takes a step back.

Harry reaches out and catches his wrist. As he suspected, a look through the door confirms that Anxious Brunette Nurse’s face is arranged in a strange twist of curiosity and amusement.

“S’OK.” Harry draws Draco back to him and whispers against his mouth. “We can see him but he can’t see us.”

“Really?”

“Cross my heart, hope to die.”

Draco arches an eyebrow.

“Not literally. I’d say something to him if I were you,” Harry suggests, running fingertips under Draco’s belt. “He knows you’re here, and it wouldn’t do for him not to be afraid of you any more, would it?”

“No, that would be... unfortunate,” Draco whispers, now finding himself pressed up against a door that looks like it isn’t there and managing to look both aroused and disconcerted. “Yes, I’m here, what do you want?”

“Is everything alright?” The nurse smirks slightly and Harry thinks it’s a good job Draco can’t see him now.

“Yes.”

“Well, OK. Just to let you know we’re switching with the night shift now.”

Harry looks up from where he’s licking a stripe up the side of Draco’s neck and watches the nurse shift from one foot to the other.

“Goodnight, Mr Malfoy,” he says at last, taking a step closer to the door and straining to hear the sounds within.

“Goodnight, Nathaniel,” Draco manages. “I’m going to fucking kill you, Potter,” he adds, dropping his voice.

Harry grins. “Nathaniel? Yeah, that’s going to do wonders for your scary image.” He watches Anxious Brunette Nurse leave, shaking his head.

“Harry. Let’s get the fuck out of here.” The words pressed against his neck are the equivalent of an Incendio to his cock and he nods eagerly. “Just one minute, OK?”

Yes. Hurry.

Reluctantly, he releases Draco and spells the door opaque once more. Steps out into the main room, where it’s silent and almost completely dark. Stretches, feeling light, as he watches Draco enter the main lounge, glancing over his shoulder as he does with a grin that makes Harry’s insides effervesce.

He waits, thoughts deafening in the darkness, and Draco is back by his side in less than two minutes.

“Where...?”

“My house.” Harry slides fingers into the crowded spaces of belt loops, hanging on.

“What’s wrong with the Manor?”

“Nothing, per se. But my place is much less likely to contain your mother,” Harry points out.

Draco laughs softly and wraps an arm around Harry’s waist. “Good point.”

The closeness and the anticipation are an intoxicating mix, and it’s not altogether surprising that Harry misjudges the jump somewhat. Not too badly, by all accounts, but he blinks in confusion at his kitchen for a good few seconds before anyone says anything.

“You planning to cook for me?” Draco inquires.

“Shut up. I was aiming for the bedroom. So, I was a little off... can you blame me for being distracted?”

The smirk and the arms around his neck and the bruising kiss melt away his indignation surprisingly quickly. “Bedroom,” Draco murmurs into the kiss. “How presumptuous of you.”

“Is it?” Harry mumbles, far more concerned with what Draco’s tongue is doing than with words.

“Hmm.” As they separate briefly for air, Draco rests his forehead against Harry’s and sighs softly, warm breath caressing Harry’s cheek. “What a fucked up day. I don’t even know what’s going to happen to Chem Dep when they find out... fucking Algernon.”

Pulling back to look into his eyes, Harry tries to focus and rein in his desire. “Want to talk about it?”

Draco looses a shaky laugh and tightens his arms around Harry’s neck. “No. Yes. But not now. This first, then talking.”

“What first?”

“This... right now.” Heat and hardness pressed against him, tight. “I want you.”

Harry swallows hard and nods. “Oh, fuck... OK. Yes. Upstairs then?”

“No. Here.”

“Right here? In my kitchen?”

Draco smiles, nods and strokes the back of his neck, and Harry is assaulted by the frightening and thrilling suspicion that he will never be able to say no to this man.

Once more threading his fingers into those convenient belt-loops, Harry backs across the kitchen, leaning up against the work surface and pulling Draco roughly against him, the sudden contact ripping the breath from both of them. It’s been building for too long now, and he knows that whatever happens is going to be neither drawn-out nor elegant.

He tips his head back as Draco trails desperate open-mouthed kisses against his neck and the recalcitrant cupboard directly above him creaks almost inaudibly.

If you don’t want to be unhinged and removed first thing in the morning, you will behave yourself, he addresses it silently, just before his eyes close in surrender.

It feels like only seconds pass before the friction between them becomes maddening and Harry releases Draco’s belt loops with a groan, attacking his mouth once more as he pushes one thigh in between Draco’s and unbuckles the belt, supple leather slipping through his fingers while the other hand makes short work of the button and zip.

Draco mumbles something into his mouth that sounds a lot like ‘Yes’, and pushes obligingly into the touch, all warm cotton and covered pliable hardness and a leak of sticky fluid under Harry’s fingers as he presses his palm against another man’s erection for the first time. Draco whimpers lightly and Harry’s absent brain amends the thought—not just any man, he’s touching Draco Malfoy’s erection and it’s a whole new kind of rush.

Hurriedly, Harry yanks the trousers and underwear down around Draco’s thighs and closes his hand around his bare cock. The flesh pulses and jumps in his fist, sending a jolt of electricity to his own neglected arousal, forcing his lips away from Draco’s just long enough to whisper, “Touch me. Please.”

“Absolutely,” Draco mutters, eyes heated and cloudy with lust. Within seconds, Harry’s trousers are shoved down around his knees and a sure, surprisingly cool hand is wrapped around his cock. He almost wants to slide to the floor just from the pure satisfaction of being gripped by that hand at last, but Draco’s eyes and hips pin him to the counter at his back.

“I don’t think this is going to take very long,” Harry half-whispers half-gasps as that hand starts to move in long, smooth strokes.

“Not this time.”

“What about—ah—next time?”

“Next time I’m going to find out what you taste like,” Draco confides, smirking at Harry’s expression and leaning in to cover his mouth.

That thought alone is almost enough, and as Harry sinks into the demanding, deep kiss, it’s all he can do to keep moving his hand over Draco’s erection, half-learning the pressure and speed and grip that makes him twist and cry out, spreading slippery fluid over the heated flesh with his thumb and sinking further and further into the abyss as Draco strokes him over and over and flicks his tongue into Harry’s mouth.

He wants to look, so much, but he can’t pull away from the kiss, and all too soon it’s just one last twist of the wrist in exactly the right place and he’s losing it, pushing up into Draco’s hand and gripping his bare hip hard enough to bruise. He comes hard and fast, spilling between them and dripping stickiness everywhere as the heat rips through him and he calls out incoherently.

“Draco, god... fuck... so... oh.”

The grip loosens but does not release, and Harry pauses only for a deep gulp of air before he resumes his own stroking, pressing his heated face to Draco’s neck and breathing in lemons and sweat and soap, drawing him close and savouring each slide of his fist over the hard flesh. It won’t be long; Draco’s breath is hitching in his chest and Harry can feel the strong thighs gripping his trembling with need.

Harry nips at his earlobe. Harder. Faster. “Let go,” he whispers.

Draco shudders, groans and explodes over Harry’s hand, dropping his head to Harry’s shoulder and leaning against him heavily.

Breathless, sated, Harry holds him there with his clean hand slipping under Draco’s sweater to stroke his back. He buries his nose in the fragrant hair and smiles, eyes still closed. The feeling of sleepy wellbeing settles over him like a blanket, and though he doesn’t really want to move, the kitchen isn’t the warmest place at night and the cooling stickiness between them is threatening to meld their hands and groins together permanently.

Draco stirs and pulls back to regard him. His eyes are soft and warm, face flustered and pleasantly smug.

“I like your kitchen,” he says obliquely. Harry smiles.

“I have more comfortable rooms, believe it or not.”

“Show me.”

**~*~**

The second attempt at reaching the bedroom is successful, and within seconds they are both falling back onto Harry’s—thankfully clean—sheets in a tangle of limbs and exploring mouths and whispered Cleaning Spells.

In the darkness, Harry looks down at the shadowy face below him as he sprawls between Draco’s drawn up knees and knows it won’t do at all. He focuses, ignoring the skilful hands pulling at his clothing, and conjures a gentle blue fire inside the crackled glass sphere at his bedside. The room fills with enough soft, glowing light to allow him to see every inch of the man in front of him, laid out on his linen sheets.

Harry’s not quite sure when Draco lost his sweater, but the expanse of pale, toned flesh draws his eyes and ensures he cannot look away. The skin is not flawless by any stretch of the imagination, marred as it is by scars both intentional and otherwise, but it feels like silk under Harry’s fingers and seems to luminesce in the low light.

“Beautiful,” Harry whispers.

Draco takes advantage of his momentary distraction to pull his shirt over his head but Harry doesn’t miss his smile.

“Why are you still wearing trousers?” An arched eyebrow and now-warm hands sliding down the back of Harry’s undone pants and gripping hard.

“I have no idea. Why are you?”

Draco follows his eyes down to where his own renewed arousal is pushing its way out of the trousers he’s only just still wearing. Languidly, he stretches and arches under Harry, looking up at him through a swathe of dishevelled hair until Harry’s mouth waters and his pulse races out of control.

“Off, then?” Harry mutters to himself more than to Draco, and a minute of pulling and twisting and stolen kisses and trying not to fall over later, no physical barriers remain, and he’s stretched out once more between warm, lightly-haired thighs with his mouth wrapped around a peaked nipple, an insistent hot hardness pushing against his abdomen.

The skin to skin contact burns all over, making Harry question the wisdom of clothing full stop.

“Are you cold?” Harry flicks the pebbled flesh lightly with his tongue.

“Not even a little bit.”

“I can’t help but feel I should be more nervous about this,” he says conversationally, applying his mouth to a delicious collarbone, swiping bitter-sweet-salty-Draco into his mouth like he wants to keep it there.

“But you aren’t.” Draco blinks, eyelashes bright in the shadows.

Harry presses closer. “Not even a little bit.”

“Why would you start now?” The tone is one of mild exasperation, but the little smile makes hope and desire flare in Harry’s chest.

Tearing his eyes from Draco’s face, he finally allows himself to look at the lines he’d known would be there but still hadn’t been ready for. Faint now, fine, pink-silvery lines tracing down across his chest, over gently lifting ribs that remind him that yes, Draco is alive, despite what he did, and carving down almost all the way to the opposite hipbone.

When his fingers trail across the first one, Draco goes absolutely still underneath him and Harry can’t look at his eyes, but he knows he’s being watched. Whatever the circumstances, he’s never forgiven himself for what he did in that bathroom, and as the hands on his back grip hard, Harry leans down, unthinking, and presses a small, repentant kiss against the topmost edge of the scar. Eyes stinging, he squeezes them shut and exhales hard against Draco’s skin. Draco shivers.

“I’m sorry.”

He doesn’t choke the words, because fuck, he’s stronger than that, but his chest constricts when he forces his head up to meet Draco’s eyes. Those eyes are unreadable as he regards Harry for a long time.

“I don’t need you to apologise to me,” he says at last, dropping one hand to twist around Harry’s as it rests on his chest.

“I need to, though.”

Eyes locked, the wordless exchange builds into a silent struggle. Harry holds his breath and is almost convinced that Draco is going to refuse the apology, until finally he nods. Swallows. Looks down at the scars under Harry’s tracing fingers.

“Ugly, aren’t they?”

“No.”

A dubious half-smile. “Bullshit.”

“Trust me.” Harry leans forward, savouring the firm press of warm skin as he stretches to kiss Draco.

“I don’t trust anyone.”

The words are so quickly and automatically thrown out that Harry doesn’t know whether to believe them. Thoughtful, he follows the curve of the scar with the pad of his thumb and then the tip of his tongue.

“Trusting few is wise. Trusting no one is just... paranoid, Draco,” he murmurs against the damp skin.

“You—oh,” Draco gasps, lifting helplessly into the caress as Harry pulls back reluctantly from the full body contact to be able to lick along one hipbone.

“What about Ginny? You let her alone with your patients every weekend.” Harry looks up into narrowed but lust-blown grey eyes. If he didn’t have his mouth two inches away from Draco’s cock, he’d want to laugh at the sheer impropriety of mentioning his ex-girlfriend whilst in bed with his ex-worst enemy.

Draco’s eyes seem to be reflecting the same sentiment back to him as he props himself up on his elbows.

“What about Algernon?” he counters. “Look where trusting him got me.”

Harry grins. Runs both hands up Draco’s sides, lowering his head to inhale the heavy, intoxicating scent of arousal so close to his nostrils. His ragged breath over the sensitive, flushed skin makes Draco’s cock jump, and he gives in, wrapping a hand around it.

“Aha, so you are capable of it. Doesn’t mean you’re not going to get disappointed sometimes, but... for fuck’s sake, Draco,” Harry expels, darting out his tongue to flick a bead of moisture from the tip into his mouth.

Draco’s answering groan is much more satisfying than any smart remark.

A hand tangles in his hair and he looks up to see that he’s being stared at with frightening intensity.

“What?”

“Your hair is ridiculous,” Draco whispers, stretching the unruly strands out with a lazy hand. His sudden smile is radiant, and Harry is lost. He smiles back, lowering his head and applying himself to Draco’s cock with characteristic focus and enthusiasm.

One hand gripping the hard flesh, following the path of his mouth over spit-slicked skin, the other resting on top of the sheets, fingers threaded through Draco’s as he puts everything he has into making the strong, fragile man beneath him fall apart. Judging by the soft cries and nails digging into his palm and whispers of his name, flying by instinct is paying off pretty well.

He learns ridges and contours and pressure points with an eager tongue, tasting and taking as much as he can, needing so much to tease Draco’s release from him, all but ignoring his own needy erection as it drags heavy against the cool sheets. The slow, salty leak against his taste buds makes his head spin with pure want.

“Yes, oh, fuck, yes,” Draco cries, tensing. Close. Harry grips hard, flicks his tongue, and that’s it. As his mouth is flooded with Draco’s release, he wonders what kind of pervert it makes him that he’s never felt more vital or more validated than he does right now.

Swallowing carefully, he rests his head on the flat, soft plane of Draco’s stomach and stretches out, calves hanging off the end of the bed, luxuriating in the hand in his hair as he allows Draco to get his breath back. He licks his lips and pulls his glasses off, dropping them to the floor and blinking at the blue-toned, flickery, slightly blurry room.

“I was supposed to be finding out what you taste like,” Draco remarks breathlessly. Harry can feel the low, gentle vibration of Draco’s words through the muscles under his cheek. “You always have to beat me to everything, don’t you?”

Harry pushes lazily into the hand currently flattening his hair. “Well, much as I love to hear you whinge, I wouldn’t be averse to you putting that right.”

“That sounds like a challenge.”

“Everything sounds like a challenge to you,” Harry points out, but the second half of his remark goes unsaid because he’s being rolled onto his back and yanked up the bed before he has time to take a breath.

Flopping back onto the pillows, Harry sprawls out brazenly. He takes up as much space as possible on the sheets, looking up into eyes that still burn despite Draco’s recent release, quite happy to find their positions reversed. When Draco once more sits across his thighs, he can’t suppress the sound that escapes from his throat; the warm friction and pressure and pure sensation without clothes to get in the way is almost too much.

Heat-flooded, Harry reaches out, needing to touch. Immediately. Blindly, he draws Draco down into an agonisingly soft, slow kiss that only serves to intensify the twin aches in his cock and his chest.

Draco feathers long fingers out from the nape of his neck, trailing down over shoulders and collarbones and nipples. Harry closes his eyes. Down over ribs that Harry’s always thought stick out a little bit too much, stroking down over thigh muscles and calf muscles and ankles that he didn’t even know were sensitive. There’s just the right balance of rough and smooth in those fingers to make him shiver and jerk and whine.

“You absolute...” ...tease, he was going to say, but the word is bitten back as fingers close around him, languorous and unhurried. “Oh, that feels good,” he amends, eyes still closed, falling fast in the dark.

“I knew you’d be like this,” Draco says, leaning close and covering Harry’s body with warmth. “Knew you would.”

Harry opens his eyes, searching for Draco’s under the messy blond curtain. “Like what?”

“This... fuck, Harry, you’re so...” He frowns, shrugs and lifts his free hand to brush Harry’s hair from his damp forehead, twisting the other one suddenly to bring him right to the edge. “You were wrong, you know, before. I don’t have a word at all. For this.”

“But you knew?”

“Yes.”

“You thought about this.” Heart pounding at the implication, and knowing. Hoping.

Draco’s eyes glimmer with anxiety just long enough for Harry to see it. “Once or twice. Close your eyes.”

“Why?” Harry wants to know, but he complies anyway.

“Just feel.”

He can do that. Oh, god, yes I can do that, Harry cries silently, throwing his arms out and twisting wrinkled sheets into his fingers as that soft, wet tongue slides all over his skin. Sometimes flat, broad strokes, changing without warning into light, pointed, precision jabs and swirls that set every nerve ending he possesses aflame.

Draco seems intent on covering every inch of skin with his mouth in a maddeningly unpredictable pattern, everywhere, at least, other than where Harry needs it the most. The unhurried circling of a thumb around the leaking head is the only concession, and even that’s almost too intense.

Not being able to see what is being done to him only heightens his desperation, but even though he knows he could open his eyes at any time, he doesn’t want to, because nothing has ever felt this torturous before and he loves it.

He thinks he should be embarrassed about the noises he’s making, but he can’t find it in himself to care. Gasping, he arches into the drag of Draco’s mouth against his inner thigh and a hand splays across his hip, pushing him back into the mattress.

“No,” he protests, turning and pressing his face against the cool pillow. Hot breath whispers across tight, eager flesh, drawing a sharp line of heat between bitten hipbones that pulls and rips at the base of his spine.

“Draco.”

“What?” Voice low and amused. Thumb circling. Warm breath. Fucking bastard.

“Draco, please.” It comes out as exactly the tormented whimper that it is, and Harry doesn’t care because he’s immediately taken into a hot, wet mouth. Eyes snapping open, Harry just about has time to register the fervent silver gaze as Draco looks up at him and does something fantastic with his tongue, before he’s shattering and spilling down his throat and almost crying with relief.

As he slowly unclenches the sheets from his fingers, Harry drags air deep into his lungs and feels every last muscle in his body relax into total submission. He doesn’t know whether to be surprised or not when Draco crawls back up the bed and wraps himself around him, but it feels good, and Harry lifts one arm to rest across his sweat-damp back.

He says nothing, just lies there being looked at. Draco curls one arm over Harry’s chest and props his chin up on it, just looking. There’s something about the steady, calm grey gaze that lights something new and giddying inside him.

“You taste fucking fantastic,” Draco offers, breaking the silence. “Everywhere.”

“Likewise.” Harry bends one knee obligingly to allow a warm thigh to insinuate itself between his. “Tell me... what do I smell like?”

Draco frowns, puzzled. “Don’t you know?”

“It’s different, isn’t it... I want to know what I smell like to you,” he clarifies.

Draco snorts, nodding his understanding. “Ah, the drug-related superior sense. Well, right now you smell like sex.” He grins and Harry rolls his eyes. “But, OK... lots of things. Cedar. Muggle fabric softener. Espresso. Something sweet that I think you put on your hair. Those are all external things, though. A person’s individual smell, the smell that’s just them, that’s much harder to describe.”

“Try,” Harry implores, attempting a pout.

Lifting an eyebrow and interestingly, flushing slightly, Draco presses his face to Harry’s skin and inhales deeply. He tilts his head just enough that Harry can see a pair of eyes. “It’s something like... you know when it rains on a hot day? It’s a bit like that. Nice,” he adds. Blinks.

The exposure is obvious and Harry smiles, strokes the hair out of the visible eyes and resists the temptation to say something completely sappy that would probably earn him a knee to the groin.

“I could murder a cigarette,” Draco says suddenly, flopping back down against Harry’s chest.

Surprised, Harry pauses in his hair stroking. “I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I don’t, not any more.” He sighs. “Funny how that urge never leaves you. After sex, I mean. Though it’s been...” Draco falls silent.

“A while?”

“I’ve been busy,” Draco says defensively.

Feeling unaccountably pleased, Harry skates a hand down his spine. The blue light flickers, casting opalescent shadows over Draco’s pale skin. “Me too,” he whispers.

When Draco shivers against him, Harry Summons a blanket and drapes it over both of them. When he shivers again, he has to ask. “You OK?”

“Mm... just that ‘sacrifice the few to save the many’ thing. I can’t get it out of my head. It’s just... cold.

“Sounds sort of Slytherin to me,” Harry remarks without thinking.

Draco lifts his head and shoots him an odd look. Harry cringes inwardly.

Well, that was a brilliant thing to say, chides his subconscious, far too late as usual. You’ve insulted him.

Shifting against him to rest his chin on Harry’s chest once more, Draco’s expression turns indulgent. “Algernon wasn’t a Slytherin. Slytherins are all about self-preservation. That kind of pure, hard logic is something else. It takes a through-and-through Ravenclaw to make people’s lives into a numbers game.”

Relieved that he’s simply being ignorant rather than insulting, Harry shrugs. “Hmm. Makes sense, I suppose. I don’t think you’re all about self-preservation, for what it’s worth.”

“I’d like to think I’ve moved on somewhat since school.”

“You still call me a Gryffindor,” Harry points out, indignant, “all the time!”

“Yes, well. You’ll always be one. You’re a special case.”

“Fuck you,” Harry mumbles, but he’s smiling, and Draco’s eyes are playful.

“Not a chance. I’m worn out.”

Harry stretches, pressing closer to the warm naked body entangled with his, and luxuriates in the tingle of warmth that presents itself just at the very thought of getting even closer. All in good time, he supposes. But hopefully not too much time.

“Do you think it’s true, what he said about the board?”

Draco plays with one edge of the blanket, pensive. “Yes. He had no reason left to lie to me. It’s not as though he could have gone any further down in my estimation.” His sigh is heavy, regretful. “If nothing else, Algernon is a very smart man.”

“What will you do?” The concern seeps through in his voice even though he doesn’t want it to.

“Fight,” Draco says simply.

“Good. How?”

“I don’t know yet. The bedroom is no place for strategy.” Draco yawns, lifting a hand to his mouth.

Catching it, Harry quickly recalls how tired he is. He has no idea how long he’s been awake now, only that the whole Ramona-Tremellen-Redrow fiasco feels like it happened days ago. And to someone else.

Warm, satisfied and utterly comfortable with a boneless, tactile Draco draped all over him, Harry lets his eyes close and starts to drift almost immediately.

“I should go,” Draco says, pulling back slightly.

Blinking fuzzily, Harry frowns in consternation. His exhausted brain cries ‘No going, no!’ and he can’t stand the thought of it. “Why?”

“I just should.” Draco kisses him softly. “I don’t sleep well in weird places.”

It’s all wrong but sleep has got a hold of him now, and he can’t focus.

“Stay,” he mumbles, curling an arm around Draco’s back as his eyes close again. For some seconds, soft blue light dances on the insides of his eyelids, but it soon fades to black.

**~*~**

Harry wakes to the first weak rays of light filtering through the gaps in his wooden blinds. Feeling warm, sated and well-rested, he smiles, remembering the night before in vivid detail. When he reaches out and encounters nothing but cold sheets, his smile fades. He’s alone. Draco’s gone.

A glance at the bedside table informs him that the glass sphere is empty. Perhaps Draco extinguished the blue flames on his way out. Harry sighs, disappointment settling heavily in his chest. He vaguely remembers Draco saying he had to leave, but had somehow convinced himself that he’d changed his mind.

Not that it matters, Harry tells himself firmly, rubbing his eyes and lowering his feet to the cold floor. It’s fine. He’s not bothered or anything.

Scrabbling myopically on the floor for his glasses, Harry’s hand brushes against something odd. A collection of small objects. He crouches, retrieves his glasses and shoves them onto his nose. Stares at the floor, frowning. Fingers slipping over several gold Galleons, two silver Sickles, a tiny pad of post-it notes, several paperclips and... a piece of string?

Draco-stuff, he thinks, wondering what it’s doing all over his bedroom floor for all of five seconds until he grabs up the crumpled trousers next to him and notices that they are absolutely and definitively not his. The thrill of relief is immediate, and Harry grins. He’s still here... somewhere.

Hurriedly, Harry pulls on pyjama pants and an old t-shirt. He pockets the string and makes his way downstairs, scratching pointlessly at his hair.

He hears Draco before he sees him. Intrigued, Harry creeps as silently as he can through his house, following his voice until he stops in his kitchen doorway.

Draco is sitting at his kitchen table wearing a white shirt with approximately three (mismatched) buttons fastened and the sleeves rolled up. And nothing else. His hair is all over the place, he’s drinking tea—Harry’s Earl Grey, if the scent in the air is to be trusted—and is apparently mid-conversation.

“Well that’s good coming from you. Anyway, it’s not my shirt, it’s Potter’s.”

Squeak.

“Well, I know that,” Draco says.

Harry leans on the doorframe and watches him, belly filled with warmth. “Draco? Who are you talking to?”

Startled, Draco looks round to meet his eyes. “Top cupboard. It’s rather opinionated for a kitchen fitting.”

“Couldn’t agree more.” Harry slouches into the kitchen and scrapes up the chair next to Draco’s. “Hi.”

Draco’s smile is slightly guarded, but there. “Tea?” he offers, indicating a shiny brown teapot that Harry is fairly sure he didn’t own yesterday. He decides not to ask what it used to be and instead accepts the steaming cup gratefully.

“String,” he says conversationally over the top of his cup.

“Yarn,” Draco replies. “Wait, what are we playing?”

Harry laughs and pokes his bare thigh with a forefinger. “No, string.” He holds the string aloft, hoping for an explanation of why a wizard in charge of a drug rehab centre would need to carry string in his pockets.

“Yes, it is,” Draco agrees.

Harry sighs, slanting an exasperated look at him. “You don’t make sense sometimes, do you know that?”

“Is that a problem?” Draco wants to know. Reaching across the table, he lifts Harry’s hand, takes the string and, frowning with concentration, ties it around Harry’s wrist.

“No,” Harry says softly. Draco squeezes his fingers briefly before he lets go.

And it’s not a problem, really. Though it’s easily the most surreal morning-after Harry has yet experienced, he feels wonderfully calm, and Merlin help him if he doesn’t find Draco’s uncertain standoffishness completely charming.

He drinks deeply, the familiar heady taste lifting him as it always does. He wonders where on earth Draco found that shirt. He looks good in it, even if it’s vaguely obscene and he surely must be cold.

“I thought you’d left,” he says, unsure of what he’s really asking.

“I nearly did.”

“Why didn’t you? Not that I’m complaining. I’m glad you’re here,” he adds lamely.

Draco meets his gaze head on. “You asked me to stay.”

The sensation of something bursting messily somewhere inside Harry translates itself to the slow smile he knows is spreading across his face. Unable to come up with any useful words, he sets his cup down, curls his hand into Draco’s shirt and tugs gently.

He gets a sardonic eyebrow flick for his trouble, but the important result is the subsequent lapful of semi-naked, surprisingly warm man. Straddling him so that his feet only just touch the kitchen tiles, Draco holds on to the back of Harry’s chair and looks at him expectantly. Harry slips a possessive hand under the shirt and wraps his arm around Draco’s back.

“So.” Another raised blond eyebrow.

“So,” Harry echoes.

Draco sighs dramatically. “If you’re going to give me the ‘Love conquers all’ speech, don’t bother. I’ve already had it from Ginevra. I’ve also had the ‘You’re an idiot, Draco Malfoy’ one, and the ‘I’m going to hex your arse ten ways from Sunday if you hurt Harry’ one. She’s quite the one for speeches.”

Harry shakes his head. “I wasn’t going to—what?! You talked to Ginny about... this?” He waves his hand vaguely in between them, not wanting to use the word but doing it anyway, in an awkward whisper. “Us?”

Shifting in his lap, Draco looks away. “It may have been one of our areas of agreement,” he admits.

“What? Me?”

Draco flushes but meets Harry’s eyes with a careful but warm grey gaze. “That you were interesting, that’s all. I was interested.” He rubs distractedly at his marked inner forearm and suddenly there’s that defiance that met Harry with full force on his very first day in Chem Dep.

A swift weighing-up of the situation—one surprisingly pliant, completely delicious morning-after Draco Malfoy in his lap—and Harry opts not to push it. For now. Ginny’s not going to know what hit her, though.

“I think you’re interesting, too,” he says instead, and is rewarded with a small smile and a long, involved kiss that tastes like tea and sugar. Feels like cold tiles on bare feet and early morning sun on pale skin and Draco’s heartbeat against his.

“I really do have to go now.” Draco pulls back and glances down at the shirt which has mysteriously come undone. “Well, after I’ve put some clothes on.”

“Oh.” Harry hides his disappointment pretty well, he thinks.

“It’s not like that.” Or perhaps, not so well. “I have to give Ginevra a handover.”

Eyebrows shooting into his hairline, Harry demands: “You have to give her a what?

Draco smirks. “A handover. It’s not a sexual thing. But thanks for putting that idea in my head, really.”

Harry shudders. “I’ll walk with you.”

“Seriously, you’ve nothing to worry about. I just have to tell her what’s going on with all the patients.” Face clouding, he grimaces. “And Algernon, I suppose. She’s going to be spitting mad.”

“I just want to check on Ramona, that’s all,” Harry assures. “I left kind of abruptly yesterday. Go put some clothes on.”

“Bossy will be the last thing you do,” Draco advises, but he gets up. Harry’s lap misses him immediately.

Ten minutes later, they walk out onto the street together. It’s a freezing cold, bright sunny day, crisp and clear-skied. Harry savours the cool, dry air. He feels energised and content; he’s going somewhere he wants to go with someone he wants to be with. Draco matches his strides, bundled up in a reluctantly-borrowed overcoat that Harry privately thinks looks extremely good on him.

“Quicker to Apparate,” he mumbles. “Potter,” he adds, attempting to get a rise out of Harry.

“Quicker isn’t always better, Malfoy. Isn’t that right?”

A grudging smile is his only answer, but when the back of Draco’s hand brushes against his again, he decides that’s good enough for him.

**~*~**

As Harry makes his way through Chem Dep five days later, armed with coffee, he reflects that none of his carefully nurtured rituals and routines have changed. Everything is much the same, even though some would say that the sky should be falling in because Harry Potter is Draco Malfoy’s... whatever he is.

They haven’t put a label on it yet, but Harry’s not sure he really needs one. It feels like a partnership. It feels brilliant.

Regardless, he’s still working ridiculous hours and he’s still spending most of his free time haunting Chem Dep. He exchanges professional greetings with Healer Carmichael, the temporary department head, as he passes Stage One. Steps into the main lounge and seeks out one particular face with satisfaction. Ramona has just re-entered Stage Two, looking frail but determined to make the most of her second chance.

She looks up from her conversation and returns Harry’s smile and wave. The new patients have pulled up chairs around her and are listening to her words with rapt attention. He supposes she has a different story to tell now.

It’s early, but he’s confident Draco will be in the lab. He knocks gently.

“Give it a push,” calls Draco.

Frowning, Harry presses a palm against the door and pushes gently. The complex magic weaves around his hand and wraps tightly for a moment, glowing bright, and then dissipates. The door swings open easily.

That’s... new.

Draco stands at the worktable with his back to the door. He doesn’t turn around when Harry closes the door behind him and approaches.

“I’m starting to think they’re not working you hard enough downstairs if you’ve got time to come and get in my way this often.” Harry can hear the smile in his voice and it lifts him.

“I haven’t got long, don’t worry,” Harry assures, coming up behind him and setting the coffee down. Pressing a kiss to his black-clad shoulder, he rests his hands on top of Draco’s on the table top. “Hi.”

Draco still doesn’t turn but he leans back against Harry and hums contentedly.

“We’re in the Prophet,” he offers.

“What else is new?”

“This is.”

Curious, Harry rests his chin on Draco’s shoulder and scans the article, which isn’t about them at all. It’s a blow-by-blow account of the fantastic detective work of ‘two of the Ministry’s brightest young Aurors in capturing a true threat to Wizarding society’, accompanied by various sensationalised ‘quotes’ and a photograph of Ron and Rodriguez that makes Harry laugh out loud.

Photo-Ron smiles calmly and is doing a great job of looking mature and professional until he digs a morose-looking Photo-Rodriguez in the ribs. Both Aurors engage in a glaring contest before the photograph stops and loops over again.

“This isn’t about us,” Harry points out.

“Here, look.” Draco guides Harry’s hand over to a column near the end of the article. “I quote—‘We couldn’t have done it without the help of St Mungo’s employees Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Malfoy, 23, who is currently consulting with a prominent Ministry committee on the issue of drug legislation reform, is said to have...’” Draco trails off, turning in the circle of Harry’s arms and pressing hands, palms flat, against his chest.

Draco’s smile is brilliant. “Did you hear that? ‘Malfoy, 23, who is currently consulting with the Ministry.’ Not ‘Malfoy, 23, who used to be a Death Eater.’ Fucking hell.”

Draco’s surprised delight is infectious and Harry smiles back. “As it should be,” he says.

“Do you want to read what they said about you?”

Harry pulls a face. “Not especially.”

“Good. It’s all far too complimentary anyway; your ego’s big enough.”

“Shut up.” Harry looks down at the desk. “I think you’ll get your trials now, don’t you?”

Draco frowns, picking up and examining the flask of green potion in front of him, labelled ‘Pain-free Combination Chromia Detox’ with instructions for the accompanying Altus Retardo-Sedo charm.

“Our trials, Harry.”

“What?”

“Don’t be stupid. I’d never have got this far without you. I’d still have been obsessing about finding the perfect proportion of Dreamless Sleep. I needed someone to come in and suggest something completely off the wall, and you did.”

Harry catches his breath, ridiculously moved by the admission. Taken by surprise, he instinctively brushes off the praise. “No, Draco,” he insists. “I might have helped a little bit, but this is your project, your work, your lab.”

“How do you suppose it is that you’re able to walk straight in here and get in my way any time you like?” Draco challenges, voice soft.

“I was wondering about that, actually.”

“Idiot.” Draco stares at the floor. Looks up and smiles with one side of his mouth.

“...trust me?” Harry mumbles against his lips as they close the tiny remaining distance for a bone-meltingly intense kiss that’s all mingling breath, warm tongues and contented sighs released into the sterile silence of the lab.

“Little bit,” Draco admits breathlessly, pulling away to press his mouth against the side of Harry’s neck.

“I knew it.” Harry slides a finger under Draco’s chin and tips it up to bring their lips together once more. “I have to go. I brought you something suitably warm and disgusting to drink.”

Draco’s smirk throws him until he retraces his own words. “Coffee. Pervert.”

“You love it.”

Harry already has the door open, but he turns slowly, looking straight into slightly panicked grey eyes.

“Yeah,” he says softly. “I do. I’ll see you later.”

**~*~**

He carries Draco’s stunned expression with him like a warm blanket down five flights of stairs, and he doesn’t give a flying fuck how sappy his smile is.

“Catch!” yells Cecile. Harry’s Seeker reflexes kick in just in time for him to shoot an arm out and grab the chart she’s sent flying through the air.

“Patient has no tongue?” he reads aloud from the chart as Cecile falls into step beside him. “At all?!”

“Not a smidge.”

“Cool.”

Cecile shoots him a strange sidelong glance. “You really are disgustingly happy, aren’t you?”

Amused by her bewilderment, Harry laughs. “Cecile,” he says gravely. “I am disgustingly happy.”

“You don’t know how delighted that makes me.”

“Really?” Harry comes to a stop in the lavender-scented corridor. She pauses beside him.

“Yes,” she says seriously. “Do you know why?”

Harry shakes his head. Cecile grins.

“Because there are chocolate flapjacks in the canteen today.”

Harry draws his wand and wet-fishes her before she has time to react, leaving her disgruntled in the corridor.

“Hello, Mrs Wrenbeck,” he begins brightly, stepping into his new patient’s room. “I see we’re going to be re-growing a tongue today.”

The old woman stares balefully at him and he smiles at her.

Life is good.