(June 5, 2001)
While one came of age at seventeen in the wizarding world, it wasn't until his twenty-first birthday that Draco believed himself to be an adult. He opened the velvet drapes; moonlight gilded with the promise of dawn shimmered against the dark-wood furniture and blended with the glow of the candles he'd lit. He set the heavy book down on his father's desk and ran the tip of his little finger over the filigreed, gold-leaf lettering across the cover: Malfoy. A single, simple word, and yet it held so much meaning, so much history.
Blood Inscription was a sacred tradition, at least within the old families, and very specifically a Malfoy practice: on the day one turned twenty-one, male or female, those born with the surname 'Malfoy' added their signature to the Livre des Noms. Taking a breath, he opened the book and revealed yellowed parchment. He turned the cover page and stared down at the beginning of the list. Armand Aesepus Malfoy, Gundred Polydora Malfoy, Bourdet Abraxas Malfoy, Matilda Anais Malfoy… The book was so old, Draco's fingers trembled as he leafed through its pages. The parchment was thick with protective magic, but it felt terribly fragile.
A hard knot rested inside Draco's chest. He wasn't sure why.
He'd been looking forward to this day as long as he could remember. The day he turned twenty-one. The day he added his name to the list. He knew the ritual by heart. Of course he'd always imagined his father standing tall and proud at his side. Instead, his father was upstairs, presumably still asleep. Draco had woken and dressed before dawn and crept down to the study on his own. He'd do this alone, he'd decided. It had something to do with that uncomfortable swelling between his ribs.
Father would be disappointed. Mother would be cross. But Draco wanted the act of claiming his birthright to be his. His own act. His own choice. Things had changed since he was a little boy. He didn't want to do this standing in his father's shadow.
Once he found the end of the list -- Lucius Abraxas Malfoy -- Draco took a deep breath. An unused quill rested, waiting, to the side of the book. Above it sat a freshly filled inkwell. Draco lifted the quill and examined it. The nib looked hard and sharp -- just right.
The first glimmer of sunrise blushed the bone-white feather yellowish-pink. It was time.
The ritual was purely symbolic. He knew that. There was nothing to be afraid of. Still, his heart thumped hard in his chest and the feather of the quill wavered along with his hand.
Draco clenched his jaw. He was a Malfoy. It was his name. And whatever happened next, whatever he made of his name, that was up to him and him alone. He dipped the quill in the ink; he lifted his free hand and jabbed it with the nib. A small spot of blood welled up, a red drop in the centre of the pale-pink whorls of his thumb pad. Draco made sure the quill absorbed it, then set the nib against the blank parchment below his father's name. In a loud, clear voice he said the words: "Hic est sanguinis mei, sit nomine digna Malfoy."
Then he signed.
The quill sparked green as he lifted it away again, startling him and making his fingers itch. He set it aside and gazed down at his signature: Draco Lucius Malfoy. The ink glistened dark-purple in the morning light. As he watched, it flattened and lost its sheen. Instead of the purplish black of his ancestors' signatures, however, Draco's name turned blood-brown.
A strange giddiness flowered in his gut. His skin crawled and his pulse sped up again.
He was an adult; the future was wide open.
(June 9, 2001)
I am about to die.
Harry laughed as he zoomed toward the impossibly small gap between the trees ahead. The forest was getting too thick for flying, but he didn't care. He gripped his broomstick harder and leaned to the left. Bark scraped against the back of his robes, but he made it through, whooping in triumph.
Behind him, Ron screamed. "Harry!"
Harry ignored him, intent on his quarry. Farnsworth smashed through the underbrush in the distance, his orange robes flapping like a beacon and urging Harry to fly faster. He was almost on him. He pulled his wand, ducked under a low-hanging branch, and shouted, "Stupefy!" The spell smacked into the earth, just missing his target. Farnsworth leapt over a log, lunged to the side, and disappeared.
Cursing, Harry banked hard to the right, too late and at too sharp an angle--he smacked into a tree and almost spun out. No. He jerked himself level, ignoring the grinding pain flaming through his shoulder. It was worth it. Farnsworth became visible again, standing at the far end of a clearing. Harry bent forward, zeroing in. Farnsworth drew his wand--and then vanished.
Harry's stomach fell, but he didn't stop. We haven't lost him. Farnsworth might have only slipped between the trees. He shot back into the thick of the woods, and tossed away all caution, zipping through obstacles, steering on instinct, each turn and leap faster than the one before.
"He's Disapparated, Harry!"
With his ears full of rushing air, Harry could barely hear Ron's hoarse shout.
"He's gone. For god's sake stop!"
Harry twisted to avoid a rock; two yards ahead loomed a solid wall of brush. He was going to hit it. On reflex, he let his broom fall away and curled into a ball seconds before the bushes swallowed him with violent force, crackling and tearing at his skin and robes.
The sudden loss of momentum turned his stomach over. His head pounded and his skin stung. That had been close. He took a moment to let his heart catch up and to assess the damage. His face was clearly bleeding; he'd pulled a few muscles. His arm might be broken. Nothing serious, however, and he was alive. A wave of elation washed his mind clean, and the pain of the crash and disappointment at losing Farnsworth spiralled away.
With cold and trembling limbs, he clawed his way out of the brambles. Once free, he lay flat on his stomach in the mud, breathing hard. Ron whooshed to a stop a yard away, then dismounted. His broom smacked hard against the earth.
"Get up," said Ron.
Harry did so, looking down at his Auror robes, which were smeared with purple blackberry juice. He laughed again, then said, "Shit!" and kicked at the earth. He spun around, buzzing with energy. He wanted to continue the chase. He wanted to get back on his broom and fly straight up.
Ron's boots splashed through the mud; his face shone red with anger. Harry jerked away, but Ron grabbed him by the shoulders and thrust him hard against a tree, making his head smack against the bark. "You complete and utter git!" shouted Ron.
Harry remained silent, glaring back at him.
"What were you thinking, flying like that in woods like these? You could have killed yourself!"
"He was getting away." Harry swallowed. Adrenaline still spiked through his limbs, making them cold and shaky.
"You could have killed both of us!"
His eyes fell closed. Harry hated this part. He hated the inevitable shame that squeezed his chest tight as he realised that once again he'd lost control and put Ron in danger. Ron let him go and stepped away.
"You didn't have to follow me." Harry stepped toward the blackberry bush, rubbing the back of his head, and tried to see where his broom had landed.
"I always follow you," said Ron. Harry glanced at him over his shoulder. Ron scrubbed at his face, then lowered his hands. He looked apologetic now. He'd gone back to his normal colour. He reached out and gripped Harry's elbow. "We're partners."
"I know. I know. I… I got carried away." Harry spotted his broom on the ground to the left--or at least the lower half of it. Bollocks. It must have smacked into the rock. It had been a good broom, one of the best Harry had owned. He knelt to examine the damage.
"That'd be your head if you hadn't jumped," said Ron. "Merlin, Harry. I honestly thought you'd had it this time."
"I'm sorry." Harry picked up the remains. The handle was finished. It looked like someone had hit it with a Reducto spell.
"Sorry isn't going to help when your brains are spread across a rock."
"Well, if that happens, I won't say it." Harry moved back to examine the ground where Farnsworth had disappeared. He found nothing, just a fallen log and a circle of scuffed earth. He looked back at Ron. "I was so close. I thought I could catch him."
Ron extended a hand; Harry took it. Ron didn't release him but gripped him tighter. He stared at Harry, until Harry felt compelled to speak. "I'll be more careful next time. I promise."
"Right," said Ron, and continued to stare. Harry finally forced a grin, trying to break the tension. After a moment, Ron released his hand and gave him a subdued grin back. "You're mental, mate. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were trying to get yourself killed."
"Why would I want to do that?"
Ron shook his head. "If I knew…"
They began to walk out of the forest. Harry left his ruined broom behind. They'd Apparate back to headquarters, where he and Ron would start the process of tracking Farnsworth down all over again. "We've got to catch him."
"We will," said Ron.
"That's two dead and four nearly. I… We've got to stop him. Who knows how many people he'll hurt?"
"Not to mention the effect it will have on the Quidditch season."
Harry laughed. "Which is the most important aspect of the case, of course."
"You don't have to remind me, mate. Gudgeon won't play this year. The Cannons didn't need a blow like that."
"We'll get him," said Harry. "For Quidditch!"
"And because it's the right thing to do."
"And because they're paying us." Ron strode more confidently now. "And if you lose a limb in the process, so much the better." He elbowed Harry. "Battle wounds always impress the ladies."
Harry smiled, looking at the trees. "Anything to impress the ladies."
"Think of Mad-Eye. He was the ultimate witch magnet."
"It was his 'take me as I am' attitude as much as the missing bits. Irresistible. "
They reached the edge of the woods. Thinking of Mad-Eye, Harry rubbed his scar. It never bothered him anymore, but he couldn't quite shake the habit.
Ron looked him up and down. "You okay to Apparate?"
"Right then. I'll see you at the office." He gave Harry a wink, then spun and disappeared.
The smile slipped off Harry's face. Shame had chased away his adrenaline high, and he felt tired and dried out. He'd never forgive himself if Ron got hurt and it was his fault. He had to stop. He had to be more careful.
He just really, really didn't want to.
The waitress cleared her throat. Her order book hovered at her side, its quill quivering impatiently.
"I'm so sorry," Hermione said to her. "We'll need another five minutes. "
"No problem." The waitress glared while giving them a bright fake smile, then marched away, her ponytail swinging behind her.
"What a cow," said Ginny.
"She's just doing her job."
Harry drummed his fingers against the tabletop, already itching to leave. "I don't care about the bloody waitress." He knew an ambush when he saw one. "Actually, I do. I want a drink."
"No drinks," said Hermione. She had that fierce, focussed look that meant no escape. "I want you clear-headed."
So he'd guessed right. It was to be another one of those conversations. With a sigh, Harry slouched down in his chair. "Oh, just get on with it, then. If you're quick, I'll be able to get home in time to hear the game."
"Stop it." Ginny's gaze burned into him. He glared back at her. "We're here because we care about you. You've got us worried sick."
He straightened up and took off his glasses, then started cleaning them with the napkin. Ginny kicked his foot under the table; Harry kicked her back. They tended to express affection for each other through small acts of violence these days. It was easier than being tender, given their history. He really did want a drink. Once his glasses were spotless, he put them back on. Might as well get his telling-off over with.
Hermione took his hand and squeezed it. "It's not like we don't understand."
"This is because of the other day? Ron needs to keep his gob shut. We aren't meant to talk about work w--"
"Obviously it's all Ron's fault," interrupted Ginny, one eyebrow raised. "He just keeps breaking the rules."
"Look." Harry felt like a trapped animal. "Just tell me what you want. I'm sorry I flew into a bush. My broom is sorrier. But no one got hurt and when you're chasing a dark wizard, you can't just give up when things get tricky." He looked at each of them in turn, trying to makes his face earnest. Ginny laughed.
Hermione squeezed his hand harder. "Ron thinks you might be trying to get yourself killed."
"That's mental. Why would I want to do myself in? Being an Auror isn't about being safe and careful. It's about getting the job done, no matter what it takes."
"Harry," said Hermione. Her voice had gone soft, and Harry tensed. "It's not like we don't understand. We're all still getting over the war. You more than anyone."
He looked into her warm eyes. He looked at Ginny and saw the anger in hers, and beneath that, the fear. "I wish," he said, looking up at nothing, "that you would stop blaming everything I do on the war. The war ended four years ago."
"And yet you're still fighting," said Hermione.
"How do you think we'll feel if you die?" Ginny leant toward him, her hands curled into fists on the table. "You act like you're the only one entitled to care about his friends."
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. The worst part was that he couldn't argue with that. The last thing he wanted was to hurt anyone, to make anyone feel grief on his account. He wished… He wished they really did understand. It wasn't about the war. It was about now. Harry never felt more alive than when skidding along the edge of death. And he needed that. He needed the rush of adrenaline and the high of coming out unscathed one more time. He loved Ginny and Hermione, he loved all of them, but a small voice inside his head complained that if they truly loved him back, they'd let him live his life the way he needed to.
Hermione was talking, but Harry kept his eyes closed and let his mind drift. It seemed he wasn't the only one in the restaurant stuck in an uncomfortable situation. Given the sounds of their voices, a couple seated not too far away was engaged in a furious argument.
"It doesn't matter, Astoria. You're not listening to me."
Malfoy. Harry smirked.
"I am listening," the woman continued. "I'm just trying to explain to you that it's too late to change your mind."
She had a high voice that carried through the restaurant; Harry couldn't help but overhear.
"Harry!" said Ginny.
Harry ignored her and tuned back into Malfoy's conversation.
"We've ordered the flowers," said Astoria.
"I don't give a toss."
"My cousins have arranged their carriages and Syrio's putting the final touches on my dress. All my friends have sent in their RSVPs."
"Sod your friends. Sod Syrio and sod your dress."
"Harry, really. Have you fallen asleep?" asked Hermione.
He opened one eye. "Shh. Just a second. Listen."
"But, Draco…" Astoria's voice was thick. She was clearly fighting back tears. What a git Malfoy was. "If we call it off now, it's going to be so horribly embarrassing for me. Our engagement was in the papers."
"They're having a private conversation," Hermione whispered. "And so are we. Can you please just--"
"Hold on," said Ginny. She raised her palm to Hermione. "This is good."
Hermione sighed and threw up her hands.
"Astoria!" Malfoy was loud enough now that the entire restaurant must have been listening whether they wanted to or not. "We are not going to be married. I don't want to. I never did. It was our parents who thought it would be a good idea and I've decided they were wrong. In fact, I think it's an absolutely terrible idea."
"Poor thing," whispered Hermione, her hand over her mouth.
"But why, Draco?"
"Because…" Malfoy paused and Harry heard him inhale. "Because I'm bent and because you bore me to tears."
Ginny widened her eyes at Harry. I knew it, she mouthed, then beamed. Harry grinned back at her. He'd never suspected, but then he didn't put much thought into who or how other people wanted to shag. Hermione made a tsking noise at both of them.
"Well, I don't see what that has to do with anything," said Astoria.
"No," Malfoy responded. "I don't suppose you would."
"I don't want to discuss this here. We'll go to my parent's house."
"You can go wherever you like."
There was the sound of a chair moving. Without thinking, Harry looked up. Malfoy stood a few yards away. His robes were rumpled and he was wearing his hair differently than he had at school. Or maybe he just hadn't brushed it.
He stormed away from the table and Harry realised he was going to pass them. He felt an odd wave of self-consciousness. Then, as Malfoy stalked by their table, he spotted Harry and stopped short. He gaped. For a moment Harry thought Malfoy would spin and flee. Then his face hardened. "You!"
Bemused, Harry shrunk backward. "Me?"
"You're next." Malfoy pointed a finger at him.
Ginny drew her wand. Hermione gripped Harry's wrist.
"Next for what?" Harry asked.
The question obviously didn't sit well with Malfoy. He scowled, then waved his finger, but didn't answer.
"Draco." Astoria appeared, small, blonde and red faced, at Draco's side. "You are causing the most horrid scene."
Draco spun on her. "I don't care!"
Her eyes narrowed. She crossed her arms and peered at him. "You're on potions, aren't you? Daphne said it was true, but I didn't believe her until now."
"Daphne is a gossipy little twit who makes Goyle look like a gen--"
"Don't you dare talk about my sis-"
"Astoria!" Malfoy's eyes shone bright and wide. He grinned. "Fuck off!"
Astoria gasped. Then her eyes narrowed and she showed her teeth. Her wand snapped out of her sleeve.
Laughing breathlessly, Malfoy took a step away from her. The waitress was rushing toward them. "Well," said Malfoy. "It's been fun, but I'm afraid if I tarry even another second I'll suffocate from the sheer tedium of your company." He gave a kind of salute and then Disapparated with a loud crack.
Astoria shrieked in frustration.
Ginny had her hand over her mouth, trying to stifle her laughter. Hermione stood up and put a hand on Astoria's shoulder. Astoria shrugged her off and gave her a filthy look. "Don't touch me, Mudblood."
Bristling, Harry straightened in his chair while Ginny hissed like a cat.
"Oh, well of course not," snapped Hermione, her countenance shifting instantly from caring to furious.
The waitress arrived. "I'm sorry, Miss Greengrass. We're going to have to ask you to leave." Astoria raised her chin and sniffed. Then she marched out of the restaurant and slammed the door behind her.
"Bloody hell," said Harry.
"You ready to order now?" The waitress looked like she'd hex them all if they said no. They ordered.
To Harry's great relief the subject of himself didn’t come up again for the rest of the meal. Ginny talked about her upcoming try-out for the Harpies. Hermione ranted about the way a half-goblin woman in her department at the Ministry had been overlooked for promotion.
Harry let them talk, tuning in and out as his mind wandered. You're next. What had Malfoy meant? He'd have to be careful and keep his eyes open in case Malfoy was planning an attack.
"You're dreaming again, Harry," said Hermione. "What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing," replied Harry. "Just Malfoy."
Being told off by his two closest female friends was unpleasant. Being reprimanded by Head Auror Gawain Robards was worse. Robards had the power to take away Harry's toys.
Robards sat lodged behind his desk. A heavy-set man, thick with muscle despite his age, he looked uncomfortable stuffed into his chair. Harry very rarely saw him sitting still and could tell he didn't like it. His deep voice rumbled through the office. "It's against policy to continue a pursuit under impossibly dangerous conditions. You're not only repeatedly putting yourself in danger, but you're endangering the life of your partner and any others with whom you work."
Harry huffed in frustration. "I'm an Auror. We're all Aurors. The job's not meant to be safe."
"No." Robards shifted his wooden hand against the desktop as if to make a point. "It's not. But your behaviour is making it less safe than it needs to be. You act like you're looking for trouble, Auror. You don't need to look for trouble. The job is trouble enough."
Harry tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair. "Finbar Quigley is dead. He was fifty feet in the air when his broom exploded."
"I am familiar with the case."
"Are you? Connolly was on the ground when his went off, but a shard hit him in the throat. He's dead too. He had two young children."
"Four more are in St Mungo's. We still have no idea how they're getting to the brooms. Farnsworth is the only real lead we have and I almost had him--"
"I am aware of all of this." Robards hadn't raised his voice, but his tone cut Harry off like an axe falling. "If you think the problem is that I'm too removed from the case, then you're mistaken."
Robards had that look in his eye. Harry pitied any criminal who'd ever seen it in the field. Nevertheless, he persevered. "Well then you know people are dying. If I have a chance to get him, I'm going to take it."
"You won't be taking anything unless you listen to what I'm telling you."
"Auror Potter… Harry. With all due respect, it's not your responsibility -- or your right -- to be a hero. You're still a junior Auror." Harry tried to speak, but Robards held up a hand. "I know you've lived through more than most, but you won't do anyone any good if you're dead or too injured to work. And I'm tired of having to remind you that you aren't alone out there. You aren't the only one doing the job. It's not all down to you and you alone."
"I don't even know what you mean. I'm doing the job the only way I know how."
Robards sighed. He unrolled a parchment and picked up a quill. "Think about it. For now, I'm giving you a black mark."
"Oh, come on!"
"Harry! I'm marking you down with an infraction. Curb your behaviour. If you get two more, I will suspend you, Boy-Who-Lived or not."
Harry turned away and ground his teeth. If he never heard that phrase again, it would be too soon. "You can't just treat me like anyone else, can you?"
"I am treating you like anyone else. You need to start behaving as if you believe you should be treated that way."
He closed his eyes, letting the anger consume him, trying hard not to speak or do anything at all. If he acted now, he'd damage something -- his relationship with Robards, his career, the furniture. As if reciting lines from a script, he said, "I'll think about it."
"And you'll restrict your behaviour to actions within DMLE guidelines."
"And that." He opened his eyes and tried very hard not to glare.
"Right." Robards deflated against the back of his chair. "You're one of our best Aurors, Harry. I don't want to lose you."
"I don't want to be lost, sir."
"Good." Robards nodded toward the door to his office and turned his attention to the parchment.
Harry stood and left.
Earlier in the day he'd thought about Floo-calling Ron and Neville to see if they wanted to meet up after work, but now all he wanted was to go home and nurse his battered pride. He stopped by his desk, nodding without speaking to Creevey who'd been watching him curiously since he left Robards' office. He gathered up his things, pulled on his cloak, and then headed toward the lifts.
Harry trudged away from the Ministry building with his shoulders hunched and his hands in his pockets. His mind buzzed with fury and guilt. How was he supposed to try less hard? He didn't work that way. And, a small voice said, he didn't want to give up the rush. He needed it. He needed that moment of thinking, This is it. A sick, sad feeling bloomed in his stomach. Harry quickly shoved it away.
He turned the corner and saw Malfoy loitering, tall and slim in his dark cloak. Harry stopped and appraised him. Malfoy was more polished than he'd been in the restaurant. His hair was combed and he looked every bit the aristocrat. A ministry worker in maintenance robes brushed past him; Malfoy sneered and made a comment Harry couldn't hear, but which made the worker scurry quickly away.
Then Malfoy spotted Harry and he jolted, eyes widening. He looked like a startled rabbit. It only lasted a second, and then his face went back to its usual expression of irritable ennui.
It made Harry curious. And the way Malfoy watched him approach gave the impression that he'd been waiting for Harry.
He walked up to Malfoy and raised an eyebrow. "Is it my turn?"
"You said I was next. Is this it? Is it my go?"
"Oh. Yes." Malfoy cleared his throat and smoothed the front of his cloak. "I suppose so."
"Well? What do you want?" Hermione would call him immature for taking his temper out on Malfoy. Harry saw it as a welcome opportunity.
"Come for a drink with me."
It was an order, not a request. Harry scowled.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Please."
It was late. Harry was tired and extremely irritable. Going for a drink with someone who was bound to wind him up even further was a terrible idea. "All right," he said. "But only because I want to know what you're up to."
"Oh, no good, Potter. As always. You can rely on that."
Harry snorted and began walking off down the street.
"The, uh, Leaky Cauldron's this way," said Malfoy, pointing in the opposite direction.
"I'm not going to the Leaky." Harry hadn't been able to have a quiet drink in the Leaky Cauldron since the war ended. "It's been a long day and I'm tired."
"The Wand and Radish, then?"
He shook his head. "I know a place a few streets over." He moved off again. With an extremely dubious expression, Malfoy followed him.
The place Harry had in mind wasn't far. It was a small pub down a side-street. It tended to be full of old men and locals who minded their own business, rather than the loud and chatty Muggle office workers who commuted into the area. It was old-fashioned, a bit dingy, and Harry rather liked it.
Malfoy stopped short. "This… This is a Muggle pub."
Malfoy stood stock still on the pavement, staring at the door.
"Oh, for fuck's sake, Malfoy. What? Are you frightened?"
"No! Of course not." He sneered. "I'm not scared of Muggles."
"You've never been to a Muggle pub before?"
"Why on earth would I have?"
"Well then." Harry smirked. "Consider this a learning experience."
Watching Malfoy react to the pub was amusing; Harry stopped regretting he'd agreed to go for a drink with him. They found an empty table in the corner. Malfoy alternated between staring so long at the other patrons that Harry worried he'd get into a fight and turning away from anyone who came within a yard of them. He didn't want to speak to the barman, so Harry ordered for them both. He also paid and resigned himself to paying for all the drinks that night, since Malfoy obviously never carried Muggle money.
Harry set Malfoy's drink down on the table.
"What's this then?" Malfoy stared at the drink as it were a toxic potion.
"It's elephant piss."
Laughing, Harry said, "It's lager, you big idiot. What does it look like?"
"Oh, very funny, Potter." Malfoy's cheeks were red. "You're hilarious. Come to dinner sometime and we'll see if you know which fork to use. If you do use forks, that is, rather than just shoving everything into your mouth with your hands."
Harry sniggered and took a gulp of his own drink. He put it down again, then said, "Right. What's this all about, then? You haven't joined some weird religion and been assigned to recruit me, have you?"
"Why would I be part of a religion that wanted you as a member?"
Harry crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows. He waited.
"Well," said Malfoy, picking at the surface of the table. He hadn't touched his drink, Harry noticed. "You know Muggles, don't you? You associate with them?"
"I've come across one or two in my travels, yes."
"I want to see one. Up close. Can you show one of them to me?"
"Show you one? They aren't farm animals."
"Well… No, I suppose not. Not technically. But… All right, fine. I want to meet one. Get a good look at him."
Harry snorted. "You do realise that Muggles are people? Don't you, Malfoy? I mean, I'm not going to introduce you to any friends if you're going to be forcing his mouth open to check his teeth."
"Fair enough. I won't do that." He shot Harry a sly look. "Is it true, by the way? What they say about the females?"
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "What exactly is it they say about girl Muggles?"
"You know. Teeth. That they have them." Malfoy gestured toward his crotch and squished his face up. "In their private area."
Harry opened his mouth, but found that he had no words. Eventually he blinked, then asked, "What in god's name do they teach you people?"
"It's a commonly known fact. My mother told me. I was thirteen and she sat me down and explained that I was never, ever to associate with Muggle females because--"
"I just-- Stop. Shut up. No. Muggle women do not have teeth anywhere other than in their mouths. That's an absolutely ridiculous lie."
"Is it?" Malfoy pursed his lips. "I don't see why mother would lie to me. You know this for a fact?"
Placing his hand flat on the bar, Harry leant toward Malfoy and looked him in the eye. "I know this for a fact."
"Meaning you've seen one?"
After a pause for more blinking, Harry said, "You're asking me if I've seen a Muggle woman's…"
Malfoy leant in. "Private area," he whispered.
Harry felt himself flush. "Er, no. Not exactly."
"Well," said Malfoy, with a smug smile. "Then you can't say for sure--"
"I've seen photos," Harry insisted.
Malfoy's lip curled. "Really."
"Like you haven't."
"Looked at photos of Muggle women's--?"
"Well, then witches. You must have seen a photo or a magazine."
"As I believe you and everyone else in the restaurant heard the other day," Malfoy said sharply, "I'm not all that interested in the private areas of females."
"Oh." Harry had forgotten. "Yeah, that's right." He took another drink, staring at the wall and hoping he wasn't blushing.
Malfoy's eyes were narrowed when Harry looked back at him. "This is all beside the point," he said. "Can you bring me to see a Muggle or not?"
On the one hand, Malfoy could go fuck himself. On the other, the world might be a slightly better place if Malfoy realised that Muggles weren't some sort of non-magical creature with teeth sprouting out of various orifices. Harry went through the list of Muggles he knew. He considered which ones upon which he'd feel comfortable inflicting Draco Malfoy. Dudley. It would definitely have to be Dudley. Harry suppressed a grin. The idea of Malfoy and Dudley in the same room, possibly having a conversation, was so ridiculous that he might actually need to make it happen. He wasn't going to make it easy for Malfoy, though. "I'm trying to come up with a reason why I should do this for you."
"Because I asked nicely?"
"We aren't friends. We've barely spoken in the past four years. We don't even like each other. Why should I spend my limited free time doing you a favour?"
Malfoy's fingers drummed against the tabletop as he sat stiff-backed and looked down his nose at Harry. He inhaled, then said, "You've been a thorn in my paw since I first laid eyes on you, Potter."
"Yeah, somehow that's not convincing me."
"You've brushed me off, repeatedly humiliated me, treated me like less than dirt--"
"I have not!"
"In sixth year, you almost killed me."
Harry closed his mouth.
"And then… I tried to grab you and turn you over to Voldemort and you responded by saving my life."
The conversation had drained all of Harry's humour. He didn't want to think about that or anything to do with that day, other than the end of it when he lay in bed jelly-limbed with relief and exhaustion and munched through a plate of sandwiches. Ron and Hermione were at his sides, and all Harry had been able to think was, We're alive and I'm free, I'm free, I'm finally, finally free.
But now Malfoy was forcing him to remember. "You wouldn't have turned me over to him."
"No. You didn't identify me at the Manor. You tried to stop Crabbe from killing me." Harry hunched his shoulders. He pictured Malfoy's terrified face and could almost smell the flames crackling through centuries of detritus. The memories were still so vivid when he let them in. "You're a slimy, self-important git, but you aren't a killer. You were just scared. You wanted your wand back."
Malfoy gazed at his drink. He made a show of sniffing it and then wrinkling his nose, but didn't take a sip. He sighed. "I have no idea what I would have done at that point. I was scared out of my mind. I would have done anything to save myself, to save my parents."
"Well," said Harry. "That's fair enough."
"Do you really think so?"
Harry looked at him. "We're just having a drink. Don't slap me with ethical quandaries."
"But…" Malfoy shifted in his chair. "That's why I asked you. The Muggle thing was just an afterthought."
Malfoy inhaled sharply then gave Harry a very direct look. "I wanted to… I don't know. Talk. 'Bury the hatchet'. Make peace with your existence. I just want to stop hating you or stop caring about hating you or find out if I still hate you at all."
Harry had thought about Malfoy maybe twice in the past four years. "But why? Why now? Does it have something to do with calling off your wedding?"
There was a silence.
"So, do that then," Harry continued. "See if you still care about hating me." His mouth quirked.
Malfoy gave him a wry smile in return. "It was a better idea when it was theoretical."
The idea of home floated through Harry's mind. It would be nice to be there, where it was warm and no one was making him think about the past. "You're a cheap date, Malfoy." He finished his drink and gestured at Malfoy's lager.
"You have it if you like."
Harry shook his head. "I need to go. I have to work in the morning."
"Can we still do the Muggle thing?" Malfoy had gone very tense.
"I… guess so. Sure. Er, let me call Dud-- I'll send you an owl. All right?"
"Yes. I'll wait for it."
"Thank you, Potter," said Malfoy, very quietly.
Creasing his brow, Harry nodded.
There was no one on the street outside the pub, so he Apparated straight home to his flat. It was indeed warm and very quiet. Harry fell asleep on his sofa, listening to the drone of the shipping forecast on his wireless.
The next day an elderly witch in Rowley Regis, the last place Farnsworth had been sighted, came across an abandoned warehouse humming with dark magic. She owled the DMLE, and Harry and Ron were sent to the scene to check it out.
As the warehouse had been enclosed in a web of both Muggle Repellent Charms and other 'stay the fuck away' spells, they had been forced to spend over an hour dismantling the wards before they were able to enter. Inside, the place looked like a broom-oriented fairy-tale nightmare. A large pile of shredded sorghum and broken handles sat in the centre of the space. Some of the debris jumped and shuddered. Sparks shot from within the shattered wood, and around the pile swooped the damaged remnants of the criminals' experiments. Three of the airborne brooms immediately swivelled and shot straight toward Ron and Harry. They dove out of the way, and the brooms hit the warehouse wall behind them, exploding in a shower of light and wood.
"Wow," said Ron. "What'd we ever do to them?"
Harry got to his feet, all keyed up with triumph. "This is it! This must be where they sabotaged the brooms. Or figured out how to." A couple rough wooden tables stood to the side of the warehouse covered with potion bottles, broom fragments and bits of parchment. He approached them.
Ron came up behind him. A truncated broom-head floated over to his face and poked at him with its bent bristles. He swatted it away. "We should call in the Unspeakables. It won't be safe here."
"Look at this," said Harry. He pointed to a roll of parchment. "Kestrels/Magpies, June 23, 2000. Tornadoes/Wasps. Ballycastle/Wigtown."
"That's gold. It looks like a betting syndicate."
"So, that's what it's all about. They're sabotaging brooms to influence the results of Quidditch games."
"Bastards. I knew the Cannons should have done better this year."
"Not with Stephanopoulos as Keeper. He couldn't stop a Quaffle with a--"
"You, shut it." Ron poked him in the shoulder, grinning. Harry grinned back.
Ron sent his Patronus to the Ministry to alert them that the Unspeakables were needed. Harry explored the rest of the warehouse. What a waste of good brooms. They were well on their way to solving the case now, and he hadn't even needed to risk his life.
The rest of the day was spent at Auror Headquarters going over the new information. Around seven the files containing the results of the Unspeakables' investigations arrived. Harry helped Ron gather everything up and they went back to the little house in Ottery St. Catchpole that Ron shared with Hermione, for dinner and Hermione's input on the case.
"I don't mind the food," said Hermione, helping Ron dish Molly's latest casserole onto plates. "Of course not. Saves me having to cook. It's just that she's here so often, and while I love your mum, it would be nice to feel like she isn't constantly checking up on me."
Ron sucked some gravy off his thumb and set a plate in front of Harry at the kitchen table. "She's not checking up on you. She just wants to make sure we're getting on all right. Newly married couple and all that."
Harry dug in, thinking, I bloody well know which fork to use. The stew was delicious, of course. He couldn't help but be grateful that Hermione hadn't tried to make one of her stir-fries.
"She dusted, Ron. And re-organised the cupboards."
"Good?" Ron plunked himself down at the table and began to eat.
Hermione sighed loudly, setting her own plate on the table. "I'm just saying it's going to get annoying sooner rather than later."
Ron shrugged, concentrating on his food. "Tell her, then."
"So," said Harry, bored of listening to Ron and Hermione bicker, "We're thinking it's a betting syndicate."
Hermione picked up one of the files and began flipping through it. Both Harry and Ron watched her eagerly. She paused. "Edmond Farnsworth."
"He was a representative from Gladfree's Potions," said Ron. "He'd visit the teams, give presentations, hand out free samples. Had free passage through Quidditch stadiums all over the country because of his job."
Harry glared at Farnsworth's photo. The saboteur -- and murderer, as far as Harry was concerned -- stood beaming with one arm around the manager of the Wimbourne Wasps and the other around their star Keeper. He was a lanky man with small eyes and a long, yellowish face. Burgess Weaver, the stocky, dark-haired manager, looked almost childlike in his half-embrace. "He was spotted lurking suspiciously around the changing room before Connolly's 'accident'. Some of the other players tried to grab him, but he escaped and has been on the run ever since."
"Potions…" Hermione twined a lock of hair around her index finger. "But the brooms were sabotaged with spells according to the Unspeakables' report."
"Yeah," said Harry. "We don't know why he's involved, just that he is."
"Give me a minute." Hermione began leafing through the file again.
Harry and Ron finished their food, then cleaned up, while Hermione remained bent over the files on the table. They moved into the small lounge. Ron lit the lamps and turned on the wireless. A ballad was playing, sad and beautiful. Harry plunked himself down in a chair and let his head fall back, eyes closed. "Saw Malfoy the other day."
"Yeah?" said Ron, sitting on the footstool. "Ginny told me he 'flies in the opposite direction' these days."
Harry snorted. "I guess so. We went for a drink." He heard Ron move sharply and opened his eyes.
"What?" Ron looked like his dinner was about to come back up.
"Not like that. " Harry tamped back a wave of irritation. "He just wanted to talk. To 'bury the hatchet', he said."
"What did you talk about?"
"We mostly insulted each other."
Ron visibly relaxed. "Right." He laughed and shook his head. "Malfoy, ay? What's he up to, then?"
Harry picked at a loose thread in the worn fabric of the armchair, needing very much to change the subject but not sure why. "I couldn't say."
Fortunately, Hermione walked into the room and cleared her throat. "Well, I think I understand where Farnsworth comes in. Gladfree makes a product called Minute Gel. It's a kind of time sensitive gelatine for enclosing spells. It's used in cleaning products and healing magic -- you cast a spell, apply it, but it doesn't become active until the gel wears off." She moved to stand behind Ron and smiled at Harry, looking a bit tired. "The Unspeakables found traces of the gel all over the warehouse."
Harry glanced at Ron and grinned. "You should have been an Auror, Hermione. We'd get so much more done so much faster if you came out with us. It would be just like old times. We'd be unstoppable."
"And we’d have caught Farnsworth ages ago," said Ron.
With a pleased smile, Hermione began massaging Ron's shoulders. He groaned with pleasure and let his head fall back against her. "I'm flattered, but my talents are needed elsewhere."
"Bloody house-elves and goblins," said Ron.
Hermione thwapped him on the top of his head. "If anyone ever finds out that I've been giving you two so much help, all three of us will be out of our jobs. I don't feel entirely right about it, you know."
"These are the moral sacrifices we must make in the pursuit of justice," said Ron solemnly and earned himself another thwap. He spun and grabbed Hermione, then pulled her laughing onto his lap.
Harry tried not to groan. You'd think they'd be able to keep their hands off each other for five minutes. It was late, anyway. He moved to the hearth and threw in a handful of Floo powder. As the sounds of newlywed snogging were becoming rather loud, Harry called goodbye without turning his back, then escaped through the fireplace.
Harry didn't see Dudley very often. They didn't have all that much in common, other than a traumatic childhood and differing opinions as to the degree of trauma. The fact that they'd stayed in touch had been more down to Dudley than Harry. They exchanged Christmas cards; Dudley sent them via post and Harry stubbornly via owl. He'd even visited the tower-block flat in Guildford Dudley shared with his girlfriend, once to see their new baby and once just to have dinner.
Harry never spoke to Vernon or Petunia. He could only imagine, with some pleasure, how they'd reacted to their precious son having a child out of wedlock at age twenty-one.
Given their infrequent interaction, Harry felt strange about inviting himself over and asking to bring a… Malfoy. He used a public phone and mumbled something about catching up and having a friend from out of town along. Dudley took it good-naturedly. Living away from his parents seemed to have done wonders for his temperament.
"He one of yours?" asked Dudley over the phone.
"Er, yeah. He is."
"Right. Well, tell him no funny stuff. Clarinda doesn't know nothing about that and I don't want her to."
"Fair enough." Harry hung up.
Harry's owl had told Malfoy to come to his flat at 6pm. They'd Apparate to the alley outside Dudley's building. Harry had toyed with the idea of making Malfoy take Muggle public transport, but decided the inconvenience would outweigh the entertainment value.
His bell rang. He opened the door. Malfoy was wearing a tuxedo.
"Don’t look so shocked, Potter," he said, looking extremely satisfied with himself. "I've seen Muggles before. I've just never actually spoken to one."
Harry glanced down at his own jeans and simple button-down shirt, then gave Malfoy a pointed look.
Malfoy frowned. "You said we were going to dinner."
And Harry realised that Malfoy had expected him to be impressed. "It's, uh, casual. Dudley's not really all that fancy." He eyed Malfoy's outfit; with his hair slicked back in his formal clothes he looked extremely genteel. It was strange to see him in something other than robes. His slender frame was more obvious and Harry hadn't realised he had such long legs. "I guess I should have said."
"Clearly. What am I going to do? You should change. Go put on something nicer. The Muggle's going to think I'm trying to show him up."
"Then we'll both look like prats." Malfoy cared what Dudley thought of him. Interesting. "You could borrow something of mine?" Malfoy's lip curled. "Fine. Your funeral."
With his hand on his stomach, Malfoy swallowed, then muttered something Harry couldn't hear. He pulled his wand and a moment later he was wearing black trousers and a grey shirt. The shirt was a bit billowy and wizardish, but Harry figured Dudley would be expecting that kind of thing. At least Malfoy wasn't wearing a woman's nightgown.
"Great. You look fine now. Let's go." He held out his arm. After the expected moment of hesitation, Malfoy took it. Harry Apparated them both to the alley outside Dudley's building.
As they entered the building and climbed the stairs, Malfoy remained very quiet. He gazed woefully at the concrete walls and synthetic carpet. Despite his semi-Muggle attire, Harry thought Malfoy looked very out of place. And miserable. He gave him an irritated look. "You asked me to do this. Remember?"
"Yes, I'm well aware you are doing me a favour."
A large, shaven-headed man thundered past them and Malfoy turned his face away. Once the man had disappeared below them, Malfoy swallowed, breathing hard.
He's scared, Harry thought. He tried to imagine what it must have been like for Malfoy, growing up completely immersed in the wizarding world, never brushing shoulders with Muggles. And some of the purebloods were taught such ridiculous things.
"It's going to be fine, Malfoy," he said. "Dudley's more frightened of you than you are of him."
"As well he should be." Malfoy lifted his chin. Harry sighed.
They arrived outside the door to Dudley's flat. Harry checked on Malfoy and noticed that he was suddenly carrying a potted plant.
"I had it in my pocket," said Malfoy. "One brings a gift when invited to dinner."
Shoving away the realisation that he'd brought nothing himself, Harry said, "You can't do magic here! My cousin knows about it, but his girlfriend doesn't. And Dudley… Well, he doesn't like it. Had some bad experiences when he was young."
"Thanks for the reminder, Potter, but I'm not a complete idiot."
"Could have fooled me." Harry smiled to show he was teasing.
To his surprise, Malfoy gave him a hesitant smile back.
Then Harry pushed the buzzer and Malfoy jumped, almost dropping the plant.
The door opened and Dudley's pink face peered out at them. "Harry!" He immediately pulled Harry into a fierce, slightly sweaty one-armed hug.
"All right, Dudley?" asked Harry, his face muffled against Dudley's shoulder. Once released, he moved into the flat.
Malfoy stayed in the corridor. He eyed Dudley who stared right back. They were both blonds and both wearing similar wary expressions, but while Malfoy was slim and pale, Dudley stood heavy-set and ruddy-faced. Neither spoke.
The staring was going on too long, so Harry said, "Er, this is Malfoy."
"Draco." Malfoy spoke slowly and a bit louder than usual. "Draco Malfoy. You must be Harry's cousin. Nice. To. Meet. You."
Dudley creased his brow and seemed to assume that Malfoy must be a bit deaf. He responded with equal volume, "Dudley Dursley," and held out his hand.
Malfoy stared at it. Then he shook it. Harry realised it was going to be a long evening.
Dudley turned his attention back to Harry. "Come on. Clari and Little Vern are in the kitchen."
As they passed through the small lounge, Malfoy whispered to Harry. "It seems to go well if you just speak to them like they're people."
Harry rolled his eyes. "They are people."
The TV spouted faux-Cockney as they went by; Jamie Oliver was putting something into an oven. Malfoy stopped short and gaped. Harry gave him a small push. "I'll explain later."
They arrived in the tiny kitchen to find Clarinda beaming and holding Little Vern on her hip. Little Vern wasn't so little. Harry suspected Clarinda had strong hips. She wore a pink tracksuit and her bleach-blond hair was scraped sharply back from her face into a ponytail. Her eyebrows had been plucked into two, thin curved lines and she looked tired. Harry saw the spread on the kitchen table and immediately felt awful about putting her and Dudley to so much trouble and expense: she'd cooked an entire roast chicken dinner.
"Oi, Harry," said Clarinda. Harry nodded, smiling. He'd always liked her. She had no problem telling Dudley when he was being a berk. She plopped the baby in his high chair.
"This is for you," said Malfoy, and handed her the plant.
"Oh," said Clarinda. "It's lovely. We could use some greenery in the flat." She set the pot in the centre of the table then held her hand out to Malfoy, knuckles up, as if she expected it to be kissed. Malfoy did look rather posh, Harry supposed.
Malfoy took hold of her fingertips and shook, then looked around. "You've certainly got a lot of machines," he said. "Understandable under the circumstances." He poked gingerly at the microwave door.
Clarinda looked at him quizzically. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Dudley shot Harry a warning glance.
"Nothing," said Harry quickly. "He's just foreign, that's all. From South Africa. They do things differently there. This looks delicious, Clari. Shall we sit down?"
"Yeah, good idea," said Dudley.
The table wasn't meant for five, so they had to squeeze themselves a bit. Malfoy's knees knocked against Harry's under the table. He had to resist the urge to knock Malfoy back.
Malfoy looked worried and uncomfortable. "Will the cook be joining us?"
"Pardon?" Dudley's face creased up.
"The shaggy haired fellow." Malfoy pointed back toward the lounge.
Dudley turned to Harry. "What's he on about?"
Harry blinked, panicking, then remembered the TV. He swallowed a laugh, then put a hand on Malfoy's forearm. "No."
"I cooked all this myself," said Clarinda. "Took me the whole day. Do we look like the sort who've got a bloody cook?"
"Foreign," Harry repeated loudly and then did knock his knee against Malfoy's. Malfoy scowled.
Dudley carved the chicken in silence, watching Malfoy balefully.
As the meal progressed, Harry became increasingly aware that the whole thing had been a terrible idea. Malfoy picked his food apart and hardly ate anything. He stared at Dudley. He stared at Clarinda. He looked at Little Vern like he'd never seen a baby before.
"This is delicious," said Harry. He ate heartily and asked for second helpings, trying to make up for Malfoy's rudeness.
"It's chicken," said Malfoy.
"Yeah, it's chicken," snapped Clarinda. "You were expecting something posh, were you?"
"I didn't know what to expect. Some say you people eat live--"
Harry put his hand on Malfoy's leg under the table and pinched hard. Malfoy yelped.
Then Harry noticed the plant. Its long, thin, leafless stems had begun to shiver. "Malfoy," he whispered. "Exactly what kind of plant is that?"
Malfoy looked relieved at the change of subject. "Mother grows them in her greenhouse. It's a South American plant -- Mimsy Borogrova."
His fork wavering midair, Harry watched in horror as the stems began to lengthen and sprout leaves.
Dudley's eyes widened. "Harry, what's it doing? Make it stop."
"It's going to bloom," said Malfoy with anticipation.
Harry froze. He knew he had to prevent the plant from doing whatever it was about to do; he carefully freed his wand and held it under the table. A pleasant sense of morbid fascination kept him from immediately acting, however. He wanted to see what would happen.
Tiny buds appeared. They began to swell like inflating balloons. Little Vern pointed and said, "Gagodoobee."
The stems thickened and with a series of pops the buds blossomed into large purple flowers with knobbly orange centres. The room filled with the scent of chocolate.
Clarinda's face had gone slack. She gaped at the plant, blinked hard, and then said, "Oh. It's a dream. I'm dreaming."
"That's right, Clari." Dudley patted her on the shoulder, glaring at Harry like he wanted to strangle him.
"It's brilliant, isn't it?" asked Malfoy. "Very rare. And you can eat the blossoms once they mature."
He reached out, plucked a flower free, then handed it to the baby, who immediately shoved it in his mouth while Harry shouted, "No!"
Little Vern swallowed. He hiccoughed. Then floppy, pink bunny ears erupted from the sides of his head.
Clarinda shrieked and Dudley bellowed. His face had gone as purple as the flowers. With dismay, Harry saw how much Dudley was going to end up looking like his father.
Clarinda scooped Little Vern out of his high chair and gaped at him. "Tell me I'm dreaming, Duds!"
"You're dreaming, Clari! I promise!"
"Malfoy, what the fuck have you done?" Harry shot to his feet and pointed his wand at the baby, intending to cast a Finite spell.
Dudley threw his body between them. "How could you, Harry? I thought we were all right." His eyes were full of tears.
"It's a mistake. I'm sorry. Malfoy didn't know, I swear." Harry turned to glare at Malfoy, who was backing out of the room.
"It's… It's meant to be sweet," Malfoy protested. "A little joke. I thought they'd find it amusing."
"You think this is funny?" shouted Dudley, storming toward Malfoy.
Malfoy stumbled away from him, pulling his wand.
"Expelliarmus!" shouted Harry.
Dudley screamed and covered his bum with his hands.
Malfoy's wand shot through the air; Harry caught it. He ran to Malfoy and grabbed hold of his arm. "Dudley," he said, turning. "I'm really, truly sorry. I'll fix it. It will be fine." Then he yanked Malfoy into a spin and Apparated them back to his flat in London.
They landed in a heap in the centre of Harry's sitting room, their legs tangled together. Harry's head knocked against his coffee table. "Ow." He took a second to catch his breath, then said, "Malfoy, you are the world's biggest idiot."
Malfoy yanked himself free and sat with his back against the bottom of Harry's sofa. He hugged his knees to his chest. His hair stuck up and his eyes looked wild. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again.
Harry got to his feet, then plunked himself on the sofa. He looked down at Malfoy. "What were you thinking?"
"I didn't realise… I'm not sure."
"I told you no magic."
"But it was just a little bit."
"You gave their child rabbit ears."
"It will wear off in a day or two. There was no reason for them to get hysterical." He lifted himself up to sit on the sofa. "Are all Muggles that over-reactive?"
"Are all wizards such troll-brained troublemakers?"
Malfoy sighed and covered his face with his hands. "I didn't know. I didn't know what to bring or what to say. I don't know anything about Muggles -- just what I've been told -- and none of that appears to be true."
Arms crossed, Harry watched Malfoy as he tried to pull himself together. Malfoy smoothed back his hair and straightened his clothes. He looked down at the Muggle-style shirt in disgust, then his head snapped up and he glared hard at Harry. "Give me back my wand right now, Potter."
"Right. Sorry." He handed it to Malfoy. "I couldn't let you hex Dudley. It would have made everything worse."
Malfoy snatched his wand out of Harry's hand. He cast a spell, then looked anxiously down at his clothes, which had transformed back into traditional robes. With a sigh of relief, he sank back against the sofa and closed his eyes.
Harry's mouth twitched. He burst out laughing. "Dudley's face when I disarmed you. He's terrified of magic. He'll never forgive me."
"I'm glad you can see the funny side." Malfoy shook his head. "Have you got any wine, Potter? Or Firewhisky? I could use a good, stiff drink."
It was tempting. The idea of getting drunk with Malfoy, especially after their disastrous evening, had a strange appeal. Harry wondered what Malfoy would be like with his inhibitions lowered. But no. He sighed. "Can't. I need to go back and fix the baby. And possibly Obliviate them all."
"Of course." Malfoy looked as if he'd melted against the back of the sofa. He gazed up at the ceiling, his face waxy.
Harry couldn't help but ask, "What was all that about, anyway? Why the sudden interest in Muggles?"
Malfoy didn't answer for a while. He just continued to stare blankly. Eventually, he said, "Don't worry about it, Potter. I got what I needed."
"Well… Good. Because I doubt I'll be going back to Dudley's any time soon after today." He peered at Malfoy, uncomfortably curious. A nasty thought occurred to him and he sat up straight. "You aren't planning some kind of an attack, are you? Is your father involved in this?"
Pure fury flashed across Malfoy's face. Harry's hand went to his wand pocket. The anger slid away, however. Malfoy sighed and turned his head toward Harry. "No. Nothing like that." To Harry's surprise, he even smiled, albeit weakly.
Something wasn't right. Harry believed Malfoy. He believed that Malfoy wasn't up to anything rotten. Yet he wasn't behaving like… like Malfoy. Not entirely. Harry leant toward him a bit, trying to think of something to say, something that would unlock the puzzle. He came up blank.
A line appeared between Malfoy's brows and he pushed himself up. He got to his feet and said, "I appreciate the favour, Potter." He brushed down his robes and pocketed his wand. "I'm sorry it all went so pear-shaped."
"It was bound to, in retrospect."
Malfoy puffed out a breath. "It was interesting." He shifted a bit. "They're really quite mild, Muggles, aren't they? Nothing to be afraid of."
"I've been trying to tell you this. They're people. No more or less dangerous than any witch or wizard. They just don't have magic."
"Goyle told me they eat live frogs and have hallucinogenic orgies."
Harry's eyes slid to the side; he saw that Malfoy was completely serious and managed not to laugh. "Please don't make me imagine Dudley at an orgy."
Malfoy sat up, smiling ruefully. "Well, if there's no drinks on offer, I'll be off home."
"You can use the Floo," said Harry.
Malfoy nodded. He walked over to Harry's fireplace and picked up a handful of powder.
Still feeling that strange itch of curiosity, Harry said, "I'll see you around."
Malfoy looked back at him over his shoulder. His face was blank. "Sure, Potter. See you around."
Harry sank back against the sofa cushions after Malfoy vanished. He didn't fancy facing a hysterical Dudley and Clarinda again, but there was nothing for it. He stood and readied himself to go back to Guilford to repair the mess he and Malfoy had made.
The light in the magical windows of Auror Headquarters implied a lovely late summer afternoon. Perhaps outside it really was a nice day around one o'clock. Maintenance had been playing silly buggers lately, though, so it could actually be five in the morning and raining for all Harry knew. His stomach rumbled. The window might be accurate after all. He checked the clock and confirmed that it was lunchtime.
He and Ron were meant to be going over the Farnsworth notes, but Harry's mind kept drifting. He hadn't thought much about what Malfoy must be up to since the war. He'd been too busy dealing with the fallout from the final battle, then building his career and looking after his friends--moving on. Only now Malfoy was caught in his mind like a burr. The worst part was how familiar it felt, as if his obsession during sixth year had worn paths through his brain.
"I want a sandwich," said Ron.
"Accio sandwich." Harry hadn't pulled his wand, so nothing happened. Ron scowled. "We'll go to the café in a minute."
"Roast beef. Or ham." Ron gazed at the ceiling, smiling dreamily. "Coronation chicken."
"Right, now I'm starving," said Harry. He put the file down and closed it. Before he could stand and leave his desk, however, a memo swooped through the department door and headed straight for him. Harry ducked, but it still managed to poke him painfully in the temple.
Ron snorted. "I love when that happens."
Harry rubbed the sore spot with one hand and gave Ron two fingers with the other. "It must be from Robards. They're always a bit aggressive." He unfolded the memo and read. "You won't love this. Robards wants us in his office immediately. Lunch will have to wait."
"Bollocks." Ron looked like his puppy had been stolen.
Once Robards told them the news, Harry forgot all about eating. Farnsworth had sent the department an owl.
Robards loomed over them, seated on the edge of his desk. He handed the parchment to Harry. "It came in an hour ago. The Unspeakables have already had a look. No hidden spells. He wants to talk."
"Merlin's balls," said Ron, reading over Harry's shoulder.
Harry scanned the note. A cold thrill washed over his skin. "He wants us to come to him."
"Could be a trap," said Ron.
Robards nodded. "Or he's running scared because whoever's handling this scam cut him loose now that we've named him, and he has nowhere else to turn." He reached back and took something off his desk. "And there's this." He held it out for their inspection.
"A wand," said Harry.
"Farnsworth's wand?" asked Ron.
"We'll confirm it with Ollivander, but most likely yes."
Harry examined the tawny length of wood. "Chestnut."
"It is," said Robards. "With a dragon heartstring core."
Harry leaned back in his chair, studiously nonchalant. Ron's lips were pursed and his shoulders pushed forward. Ron doesn't want to go. Farnsworth's owl claimed he wanted to make a deal--information in exchange for a more lenient sentence. He must be desperate. It could be a trap, but it could also mean they'd have Farnsworth and possibly enough information to stop the murders and close the case. They had to go. Harry wanted to leap up and go right that second.
"It stinks," said Ron. "Too simple."
"He sent his wand," countered Harry. "He wants us to know he's at our mercy."
"I don't like it. He should come to us"
"He's too scared. We have to chance it." Ron frowned and Harry leant toward him. "We'll be careful. We can't let him slip through our fingers again, not when he's handing himself over voluntarily."
"It's your call," said Robards. "I could send backup, but if Farnsworth detects them he'll most likely run."
Harry felt Ron staring at him. He met his gaze. "We'll go," said Ron. "But if anything feels wrong, even the slightest bit off, we withdraw and call in help."
"Deal." Harry got to his feet, buzzing with anticipation. They were going to get Farnsworth and that would unlock the entire operation. They were going to find the killers and stop them.
Ron was still in his chair. "I mean it, Harry. No fucking around this time."
Harry made himself stay still and didn't speak. After a moment, he glanced at Robards, who sat with his arms crossed and an expression completely lacking in sympathy. Winded, Harry walked out of the office.
Ron caught up to him a moment later. "Look. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that in front of Robards."
Harry grabbed his cloak from the hook on the wall. "You're scared to go on missions with me now?"
Ron grabbed Harry's shoulder. "You were almost killed last time. I'm not scared for myself."
"No?" Keeping his eyes down, Harry did up the fastenings. "Because if it's time we requested different partners, then--" He was being childish and he needed to shut up. He knew this. But half his mind was already zooming toward Farnsworth and he never, ever 'fucked around' on the job.
"Oi!" Ron jerked Harry around to face him. "You're my partner. I don't want anyone else." Ron's fingers dug into Harry's skin. "I don't want you working with anyone else. You'd be dead in half a minute." His mouth turned up at the corners, but Harry could see his desperation; he forcibly shoved his hurt feelings away.
"That's how it happens, is it?" Harry made his voice light. "I risk my life and you baby-sit?"
"Some say we're mental, but it's a system that works for us." Ron gently shook Harry's shoulder.
Harry forced a smile. He took the fervent desire to punch his fist through the wall and channelled it into his will to action. "Right then. Let's go."
They Apparated to the address Farnsworth had given them: a street of run-down terraced flats in Brixton.
"Number 142," said Ron.
They approached the flat and stood quietly on the pavement. A rusty gate opened onto a short brick path. Harry scanned the empty street. Other than a dog barking in the distance and the sounds of traffic from the nearby high street, all was silent. He and Ron looked at each other. Harry's limbs felt tight and cold; his heart rumbled in his chest like a racing motor. Ron's familiar presence calmed and reassured him, as it always did.
The door buzzer appeared to be broken, so Ron knocked. No response came.
Harry tried the knob and it turned easily. Ron made an unhappy sound. Harry put a hand on his arm and said, "Shh."
Wands drawn, they entered. It looked like a typical student flat with its few pieces of cheap, worn furniture and stained carpet. A small, open kitchen took up the left-hand wall. Behind the empty shelving in the lounge, a door led off onto a corridor.
Ron waved his wand. "Homenum Revelio." After a pause, he whispered to Harry. "One person. In a room toward the back."
Together, they crept down the corridor toward the open door at the end. A floorboard creaked beneath their feet. They halted.
"Is that you?" came a thin voice from the bedroom ahead of them. "Are you the Aurors?"
Harry moved forward. "Farnsworth?"
"Yes. I'm in here."
"Careful," said Ron.
They entered the bedroom. It was empty but for Farnsworth who stood in the centre with his hands raised and palms forward. Harry recognised his thin, yellow face. Unlike in the photograph, however, Farnsworth wore no smile. Puffy red eyes peered from skin as dull and pale as wax.
"I'll check him out." Ron moved a few steps toward Farnsworth and flourished his wand up and down.
"In my pocket," said Farnsworth. "My breast pocket."
"What is it?" Harry walked closer. He could see tear stains on Farnsworth's cheeks.
Ron's arm shot out and stopped him. "There's something. Hold on."
"Not sure. I can sense magic, but it's muffled. He could be cursed."
"I'm not cursed. I want to show you," said Farnsworth, his voice cracking, and Harry realised the man was absolutely terrified. "It's in my pocket. You need to take it."
A high buzzing sound began in Harry's head.
"Harry, this isn't right." Ron took Harry's arm and tried to pull him back.
"Wait," said Harry, searching Farnsworth's face.
"We need to get out of here and call for backup."
"No!" Farnsworth's shoulders heaved. "You can't. They've got Milo."
"What?" Harry pulled his arm free and took another step forward.
"Harry!" Ron grabbed his arm again and held on tighter. "We need to get out now! Something is wrong. It's a trap."
Harry ignored him. "Who's Milo?"
"My son! They've got my son."
The buzzing in Harry's head grew louder.
"It's in my pocket," Farnsworth said again.
"We need backup," said Ron.
"He'll be gone by then." They couldn't leave. They couldn't let Farnsworth slip through their fingers again and someone had his son. "Send your Patronus. I'm not letting him out of my sight."
"You promised, Harry."
Harry looked at Ron.
"You promised," Ron repeated. His eyes bore into Harry.
Harry's heart beat fast and every instinct he had screamed at him to get to Farnsworth and see what was in his pocket before it was too late.
But he had promised. And it was Ron. He nodded. "We'll call for backup and watch the flat." Ron's face collapsed with relief.
"No!" cried Farnsworth.
"We're not leaving for good," Harry told him, backing toward the door after Ron.
"Please!" A trickle of blood dripped from Farnsworth's nostril and spilled over his lip.
"Help me," whispered Farnsworth.
Harry was already lunging back toward Farnsworth. He lifted his wand, the words to a Stunning Spell on his lips. The flash hit him before magic exploded from within Farnsworth's body. He had a split second to spin around and scream, "Protego!" at Ron. Then a wave of deafening energy crashed against his back and crushed him against the doorframe. In agonising pain, Harry fell to the floor and lost consciousness.
Harry cracked his eyes open. Ron knelt above him, droplets of red obscuring the freckles on his panicked face. His lips moved rapidly, but no sound came out. Air rushed through Harry's ears. His body felt numb from head to foot. Dizziness crushed his mind and then everything went black.
"Harry! Harry. Drink this, drink this right now."
Harry could hear again. He coughed and then cried out as pain shot lightning streaks through his back and limbs. Ron cradled him in his arms and pressed a phial to his mouth. Harry swallowed the potion then blinked up at Ron's wet eyes and parted lips. The magic swept through him, easing the pain and leaving him limp. "Am I okay?"
"No," said Ron. "You're a complete mental case and you almost got yourself killed again."
Harry laughed. Ron groaned and set him gently on the floor. "Funny from your perspective, maybe."
"I didn't do it on purpose."
Ron stood up and crossed his arms. "I told you we needed to get out."
The potion took full hold of Harry, leaving him giddy. "Where's Farnsworth?"
"He was trying to lure us toward him. So we'd get caught up in the blast."
"He's dead. The spell tore him to pieces."
"Dammit!" Harry cringed and vowed not to shout again for a while. He took a deep breath. The room smelt terrible.
"It was a trap. I don't know how they did it, but he was loaded up with a Sonic Boom spell."
"Time release…" said Harry. "Like Hermione explained."
Ron nodded. "Probably." Footsteps sounded from the other room. "That'll be Robards and the mediwizards."
Harry tried to force himself up, but fell back again because it hurt too much. It felt like he'd strained every single muscle in his body. What was Ron going to tell Robards? He hadn't been reckless. He'd just made a mistake acting on instinct. Ron wouldn't betray him. He was sure of it.
The mediwizards entered and descended upon him. Harry could glimpse Ron and Robards talking, but not hear what was being said. Robards glanced over, his expression grim. Again, Harry tried to get up.
The young woman casting spells against his skin gently pushed him back down. "Please stay still, Auror Potter. You've been seriously injured, but we're going to fix you right up."
Harry gave in. Relaxing allowed him time to think. They'd lost Farnsworth. For good this time. Disappointment sapped him of the will to do anything but let the mediwizards manhandle him. Farnsworth was gone along with everything Harry had hoped he'd be able to tell them. They had almost nothing to go on now, and a boy's life was possibly at risk if Farnsworth had been telling the truth about his son.
His vision focussed and he saw Robards kneeling above him. "You all right, Harry?"
"This wasn't my fault." His words tumbled sluggishly over each other. Whatever the mediwizards had done had left him slow and clumsy tongued.
"That's what your partner said." Harry sent a silent apology to Ron for having doubted him. "But we'll talk about it more once you're better."
The mediwizards' spells were dragging him back into unconsciousness. Harry struggled to stay awake, to defend himself, but the magic was too powerful and he fell asleep.
He woke again to find himself in St Mungo's. His arms and legs hung heavy against the bed and his head throbbed with a dull, consistent ache.
Ron sat in a chair at his bedside. Harry coughed.
"I guess so."
"You're going to be fine. There were a few broken bones and a lot of muscle damage, but nothing unhealable. You were lucky."
"What about the boy? Farnsworth's son?"
"He's safe back at home. Dennis found him wandering around Diagon Alley by himself. He's only six years old. He said the men who took him left him there."
"Did he say anything else?"
"We're going to talk to him in a few days. See if he can tell us anything. You can imagine the state his mother is in. She just wants him with her right now."
Harry let his head fall back against the pillow. At least the boy was safe. Harry had no idea how much time had passed or whether he was in for another round of telling offs. Careening from the hope of finally bringing in Farnsworth to losing him for good left him irritable and depressed. "I'm just going to come out and ask. Have you got the hump? Is Robards giving me another black mark?"
Ron took a moment without responding. He looked exhausted.
"Are you okay?" asked Harry.
The corner of Ron's mouth turned up. "I'm fine. Your Shield Charm did the trick."
"Good." Harry smiled.
Ron didn't return it. "What's going on with you, Harry?"
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. "Can we do this another time?"
"No. I need to sort things out in my head before we go back to work. I told Robards that we both got caught up in the trap. He might have even believed me."
"And that's what happened."
Ron leant down toward Harry. "You were going back for Farnsworth when the spell exploded. I almost had you out of the room and safe, but you turned back."
Harry swallowed. The exact sequence of events just before the explosion eluded him. He remembered Ron yelling for him to stop. He remembered Farnsworth begging for help, and thinking, Fuck it.
"You're like my brother, Harry. I'll always be by your side, no matter what. But you can't ask me to stand around while you do your best to die."
"That's not it." Harry pushed himself up. "I told you. I'm not trying to get myself killed."
He wasn't. Harry thought through those few seconds before he was injured. He hadn't been trying to get hurt. He'd been trying to save Farnsworth. He'd been trying to solve the case. He didn't want to die.
He just didn't not want to.
He still felt fear. He worried about losing his job. He worried something bad would happen to someone he loved. He worried that they wouldn't catch the broom saboteurs before they killed again. He just rarely felt fear for his own person. That sort of fear had ended four years previously as he walked toward the forest, knowing he was going to die. It was as if he'd used it all up or left it behind in the mists of his vision at King's Cross Station.
Harry didn't want to die, but neither did he feel all that attached to life.
And that was okay. Because it meant he could do his job better. He could risk himself to save others. It was what he was best at, after all.
"Ron. I… I'm doing the best I can. This is who I am and I don't think I can change." He ducked his head and then lifted it again. "I don't want to."
Ron leaned back in his chair, looking even more tired. "Right."
"Has being my mate ever been easy?" Desperate to end the tension so he could rest, Harry nudged Ron's knee. "I'd have thought you'd have learned by now."
"Yeah." Ron grinned weakly. "Silly me."
A healer came in with new potions. They made Harry sleepy again. Ron ruffled Harry's hair with grim affection and then left. The following morning, the mediwizards said Harry could go home.
When he arrived at his flat, he found an owl waiting for him from Malfoy. Surprised at the flicker of pleasure, Harry picked it up. He read it and laughed out loud. Malfoy wanted to ride a Hippogriff. He knew Harry tended to mix with the beastly sort and asked Harry's help in making arrangements.
The request was so out of the blue and bizarre that Harry couldn't help but want to meet it. And it offered exactly what he needed. Malfoy on a Hippogriff would be the perfect mindless entertainment to wipe away the dregs of the last few days.
He sat down and scribbled a note to Malfoy agreeing to help out and telling him to meet him at Hogwarts the following Wednesday.
Despite Malfoy's accusations, Harry was only personally acquainted with one Hippogriff, and he wasn't familiar enough with them as a species to feel comfortable posing as the expert to Malfoy's novice. Fortunately, Hagrid was on holiday in France, so Harry could re-introduce Malfoy to Buckbeak without worrying about Malfoy insulting Hagrid or Hagrid understandably refusing to allow Malfoy anywhere near his beloved pet.
He had owled Minerva McGonagall to let her know what he was doing, but asked that she not spread the word. He wanted to slip in and out of the Hogwarts grounds with as little fuss as possible. He arrived mid-morning and waited, leaning against the paddock near Hagrid's hut and watching the clouds. A light breeze licked pleasantly against his cheeks. He hadn't been back to Hogwarts since his last guest lecture a few months previously. It always made him feel peaceful. He hoped it wouldn't rain and spoil things.
Malfoy appeared trudging over the hill with a pale, sour face and hunched shoulders. His hair hung in tangles, as it had that night in the restaurant. Maybe this wasn't going to be as fun as Harry hoped.
"What's going on, Malfoy? You look like someone mistook you for a Hufflepuff."
Malfoy straightened and ran his fingers through his hair, trying to fix it. "Just a few family problems. Don't worry yourself, Potter. It's none of your concern."
Harry sighed. "Brilliant to see you again. Let's get started. I'd like to be able to leave before classes get out." He gestured toward Buckbeak, who was pecking at the ground on the far side of the paddock.
Malfoy stood very still, his arms hanging straight at his sides. "It's the same one, isn't it? That's the Hippogriff who mauled me when I was thirteen."
"Yep." Harry grinned and rocked on his feet. "That's Buckbeak."
Malfoy gave Harry a sideways glance. "Father and I tried to have him put down, if I recall."
"That you did."
"But he somehow managed to escape."
"I know!" Harry scratched his head. "Odd, that."
"Mm." Malfoy crossed his arms. "Well. I'll tell you now that I don't mind. In fact, I'm glad it's the same beast. Makes it more of a challenge."
"So it's the challenge you're after?"
"In a sense."
Harry gave a whistle. Buckbeak cawed and nodded his head in Harry's direction, but remained firmly on the far side of the paddock. Harry pulled a rat from the sack hanging on the fence and waved it in the air. He whistled again. Buckbeak hesitated, then slowly trotted over. He settled to Harry's right, as far away from Malfoy as possible, and cawed again, snapping at the rat.
"Ugh," said Malfoy. "Does it need to--"
"I'm going to suggest you don't talk for a bit." He tossed the rat; Buckbeak caught it in his mouth. Harry turned to check on Malfoy and saw that his face was dead white. "It will be fine. You just need to listen and do as I tell you."
"You're loving this, aren't you? Getting to order me around."
Losing patience, Harry said, "You're the one who asked me to come along. Why? Why not one of your friends?"
Malfoy's face went blank. Then he smiled, and said, "I care what my friends think of me. Wouldn't want them to see me look foolish."
"Good thing they're not here, then."
With a sigh, Malfoy squeezed his eyes shut. "Let's just get on with it."
"Fine." Harry vaulted over the fence.
Malfoy remained on the other side. Harry gestured for him to follow, so Malfoy gingerly climbed over and stood, keeping Harry firmly between Buckbeak and himself. He licked his lips and refused to meet Harry's eyes.
Why was Malfoy insisting on doing something that clearly terrified him? The same curiosity Harry had experienced previously itched through his mind. He would find out. Afterward. First he was going to get Malfoy on that Hippogriff.
He cleared his throat. "The most important thing is to show respect." Harry approached Buckbeak and bowed. "If he thinks you're taking the piss… Well, you know what'll happen. Just don't. I'd rather let him eat you than have to explain this to Hagrid and McGonagall." Buckbeak bowed back to Harry, then moved forward and nuzzled his head against Harry's shoulder, forcing Harry to step backward so as not to fall down. Harry laughed and scratched the Hippogriff behind his ear. "Now, Buckbeak, I know Malfoy's a ferrety git, but I want you to try and be nice to him." He glanced toward Malfoy, who stood glaring and hugging himself. "As a favour to me."
Harry moved away and left Malfoy open to approach on his own.
Looking ill, Malfoy took several stiff, slow steps toward Buckbeak. Buckbeak snorted and stomped his foot, but remained in place. Then, in one fluid movement, Malfoy fell to his knees, face earthward, arms stretched flat to the ground above his head. Harry held his breath.
Buckbeak gave a derisive caw, then trotted a few feet away and began to graze.
"Er," said Harry. "I think that may have been a bit much. You don't quite need to genuflect."
"I thought it would be better to overdo," said Malfoy, his voice muffled as he remained curled on the ground.
"Yeah, he's just irritated with you now. You don't want to be rude, but you don't want him to lose all respect either."
"Of course not. Merlin forbid the chicken-horse thinks I'm unwor--"
Harry coughed loudly. "Come on, get up. We'll try again."
Malfoy climbed to his feet, red-faced, and brushed off his robes.
"Just do exactly as I did," said Harry. "Bow. With sincerity--not melodrama. If you can manage."
"I can manage. You wouldn't know, Potter, but even I can be humble when I put my mind to it."
"You're right. I wouldn't know."
Malfoy sighed, melodramatically in Harry's opinion. Then he lifted his chin and moved back in front of Buckbeak.
"Go on," Harry whispered.
Taking a deep breath, Malfoy bowed like a relatively normal person. The hair on the back of his head fluttered in the breeze.
For several long seconds, nothing else happened. It looked as if Buckbeak would simply continue grazing and pretending that Malfoy didn't exist. Harry wondered if he could bribe the creature with more rats. Then, miraculously, Buckbeak lowered his head. It wasn't much of a bow, but it was a bow. Malfoy had done it. Harry silently cheered.
"Brilliant," he said. "Now, slowly, approach. See if he'll let you pet him."
Malfoy straightened up. He took one step toward Buckbeak. Then another. Buckbeak stayed still, watching impassively. Something strange twisted in Harry's stomach. Wanting Malfoy to succeed--being on his side--was new. And weird.
"You can do it," he said quietly.
Tall as he was, Malfoy looked fragile next to Buckbeak's six feet of muscle, claws and feathers. He stroked lightly down Buckbeak's neck. Buckbeak shook his head and then leaned into the touch. Malfoy's face lit up with wonder and pleasure. He gave the Hippogriff a firmer pet and Buckbeak cooed.
"Brilliant," said Harry. "I think he might even let you ride him."
"Oh, well. I've gone this far. Maybe I don't need to actually--"
"None of that." Harry joined Malfoy and rubbed his knuckles affectionately against Buckbeak's forehead. "You came here to ride a Hippogriff and that's what you're going to do." He glanced at Malfoy to see how his proclamation had registered.
Malfoy's face wavered through several expressions--irritation, fear, resolution--and settled on blasé. He glanced at his fingernails. "If you say so, Potter. Only you're coming too."
"You could easily have trained the beast to get to a certain height and them dump me. I'll risk my neck, but only if your neck is right there next to it."
All the talk of necks made the back of Harry's itch. He scratched it. "You're letting your imagination run away with you. If I wanted to do you in, there are much easier ways."
"So you've thought about it, then."
"Not recently." Without thinking, Harry took Malfoy's shoulder, the way he would have if he'd been talking to Ron. "You want me to come along on the ride with you?"
Malfoy's eyes widened at the touch. Harry let him go, feeling awkward. "Yes," said Malfoy. He crossed his arms.
"I just do," said Malfoy through his teeth.
To the side, Buckbeak scratched at the ground, getting impatient.
"Well, fine then. We'll both take a ride."
Harry gave Malfoy a leg up and settled him on Buckbeak's back first. Then Malfoy reached down and pulled Harry up behind him. They both fit, snugly if not comfortably. Buckbeak snorted and moved about, adjusting to their weight. "I'm, um, going to hold on to you. All right?" asked Harry.
"Go ahead." Malfoy vibrated with tension as Harry wrapped his arms around his waist. His hair tickled Harry's face, so Harry blew at it and Malfoy said, "Stop that."
It was time. Harry slapped Buckbeak on the haunch and said, "Go!"
Buckbeak reared up. Malfoy said, "Fucking hell," and threw his arms around Buckbeak's neck. Harry shouted with excitement and, with several bounds and an enormous lurch, Buckbeak took off into the air.
"Merlin," said Malfoy in a high, tight voice. "Oh god."
"You're safe." Harry moved his mouth closer to Malfoy's ear. "I won't let you fall."
You didn't tell a Hippogriff how or where to fly. You could make polite suggestions, but riding a Hippogriff was basically like perching atop a feathery runaway train. It was an insane thing to do and the higher they flew the more Harry hummed with energy and pleasure. Buckbeak circled the lake and turned to fly over the castle. Malfoy was making a soft, keening sound.
Half-blinded by rushing air, Harry tightened his grip around him. He could feel the heat of Malfoy's body, the stiffness of his spine and the way his muscles flexed as he moved with Buckbeak's lifts and turns. It had been a long time, he realised, since he'd been so physically close to another person. The fact that this was Malfoy made it even stranger.
Buckbeak swooped around the Astronomy Tower, then headed back toward the Forbidden Forest. They were so high. You could see forever, all the green hills and mountains, the sparkling lake. It was so different to riding a broom. He had no control, but could only hold tight and take the ride. Harry noticed that Malfoy's face was still clenched. "Open your eyes," he said. "You're missing it."
"Open them. Trust me. I've got you."
The side of Malfoy's face relaxed a little. Then he said, "We are definitely going to die."
Harry laughed. "So fucking what? Relax, Malfoy. Enjoy it."
Buckbeak swooped upward, then made a sharp dip toward the earth and Harry's stomach plummeted along with him. Malfoy screamed, but the sound was tinged with excitement rather than fear. They'd done this before, Harry remembered. Only last time Malfoy had been the one clinging on from behind. He'd still been screaming, though. Harry grinned. His body sung from the thrill of flying without being able to steer, and holding tight to another person felt really good.
All too soon, Buckbeak turned toward the paddock again. It was a bumpy landing. Harry slid off backward and landed on his arse in the dirt with a thump. He rolled out of the way just in time to avoid being trod on.
Malfoy dismounted more gracefully. He stood on the earth, looking stunned, then burst into laughter. "Merlin's tits, Potter. We did it. And we're still alive."
Grinning, Harry pushed himself up on his elbows. He knew just how Malfoy felt and it was amazing to see it reflected in another person.
Still laughing, Malfoy turned to Buckbeak and gave him a dramatic, stylised bow, almost scraping the ground with his nose. When he rose, Buckbeak bowed back, then snorted and batted at him affectionately with his beak. Malfoy fell over backward.
Harry got up and ran to him. Malfoy lay in the dirt, his wind-tangled hair fanned around his head. His cheeks shone bright. Harry smiled, enjoying the look of him like that, all mussed and joyful. "You liked it," he said.
Malfoy nodded. "That was amazing."
Harry held out his arm. Malfoy grasped his hand and pulled himself to his feet. He stood close, smiling and still holding Harry's hand. Harry's heart sped up. Malfoy seemed to lean in, and Harry let him go and stepped away. His skin felt hot. "I should take you on a roller coaster."
Malfoy's lashes fluttered. "What's that? Let's do it."
"It's terrifying, but once you're on, you've got no choice but to ride it to the end."
"Like the Hippogriff."
"Let's do it," said Malfoy again. "Today. Right now. I want to go on an oilier-toaster."
"You're up for anything, aren't you?" Harry pulled his wand. He'd have loved to have gone on a roller coaster with Malfoy, but he had to get back to work for the afternoon.
"Anything," said Malfoy, looking Harry straight in the eye. "Anything you want."
Harry dropped his wand.
He bent down to retrieve it, wondering if he was coming down with a fever. "I-I can't today. Sorry. Need to get back to--"
"Of course." Malfoy's smile had softened from excited to polite.
Harry wondered at his immediate desire to get the old smile back. "Is… Is there anything else? Do you have a list or something?" A strange tickle buzzed in the centre of his stomach. Panic. He didn't want Malfoy to leave without knowing when they'd next meet. Bloody hell.
"There's a bit of a list," said Malfoy, and there was warmth in his eyes again.
"This weekend. We'll meet up this weekend."
"All right, then."
Malfoy's brow creased. "Don't get too excited, Potter. Maybe I want to go grave robbing. Or werewolf hunting."
"Whatever, Malfoy. You're not going to scare me off."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. Harry turned his back so Malfoy couldn't see his face. He wouldn't be scared off.
It was only Malfoy, and Malfoy was nothing to be afraid of.
Harry took a breath, then said, "Come on. Let's leave the grounds before anyone sees us."
Perched on the corner of Harry's desk at work, Ginny swung her feet and plucked Bertie Bott's Beans out of the jar without asking. "She's really down to earth. You wouldn't think so, given she's Captain of Britain's best Quidditch team--"
Harry coughed, and strangely it came out sound as if he'd said, "You wish."
"Britain's best Quidditch team," Ginny continued, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "In case you missed that bit while coughing. And I think we're going to really get on. Gwenog is funny. You should have heard the things she said about Oliver Wood."
"Oliver's a good bloke." Harry leaned back in his chair and grinned. It had been a while since he'd seen Ginny so happy.
"Sure, but, Gwenog said… Well, you had to be there." She popped a pink bean into her mouth and then winced. "Soap. Yuck."
Dennis piped up from a few desks over. "He hides all the good ones in a box in his desk. You'll find nothing but liver, mustard and dirty socks in there."
"I like the mustard ones," said Harry. He was used to Dennis listening in whenever Ginny showed up. He wondered if the bloke would ever have the guts to finally ask her out. He turned his attention back to Ginny. "I'm surprised they're taking you on as Keeper."
"Mm, well, I tried out for Seeker, but Gwenog says she thinks I'm made for the hoops. It'll be a while before I can play in an actual game, of course, but Gwenog said--"
Harry made his voice high and squeaky. "'Gwenog said.' You've got a crush. You love her."
"Maybe I do." She took an orange bean out of the jar. "Ugh!" Her face scrunched up and she chewed quickly then swallowed. "I don't even want to know what that one was." She bent down toward him. "And you're just jealous."
He leant up toward her. "Maybe I would be. If it wasn't just a girls' team."
Ginny's eyes widened. "You want pain. Don't you, Harry? Because I can't imagine you'd say something like that unless you were interested in receiving actual pain."
"You think you could give me pain? You honestly think you're up to that?"
"Oh, I can give you pain. You want pain? I can give it to you."
Harry's grin widened. "I dare you to try."
She leapt at him. The chair fell over backward and they crashed to the floor. Harry took hold of her arm and tried to bend it behind her back. Ginny grabbed a handful of his hair. "Unfair!" said Harry. "Hair pulling is against the rules!"
"Stop being such a baby." She twisted her wrist and Harry yelped. He flipped her over onto her back and dug his fingers into her side, where he knew she was most ticklish. She shrieked and tried to knee him in the groin, but he managed to twist his hips away just in time.
"Oi!" called Dennis. "Could you… not? Please?"
They ignored him, wrestling on the floor until Harry had her in a headlock and her teeth were digging into his forearm. One of their legs smacked against the desk and a sheaf of files slid off and scattered.
Ron sauntered into the office, whistling, then stopped in his tracks when he spotted them. He sighed. "Hi, Gin. Harry, I've got the results of the Milo Farnsworth interview." He waved a file.
Harry released his hold on Ginny and they disentangled themselves. He righted his chair and hopped back onto it. Ginny reassumed her position on the edge of his desk. She blew a bit of hair out of her face then grinned at him.
Ron shook his head. "Why did you two break up again?"
"The sex was crap," said Ginny.
Both Harry and Ron exploded with shouts of outrage.
Ron glowered at his little sister. "I'm going to assume that by 'crap' you mean 'non-existent', given my little sister is saving herself for marriage or preferably a nunnery."
Ginny said nothing. She just smiled up at him, wearing an angelic expression.
"We're just too similar," said Harry.
Maybe that was it. He and Ginny had so much fun, even during the brief time after the war when they'd given dating a go. Harry had always loved snogging her. As soon as their clothes came off, however, it was like they were strangers--awkward and embarrassed. It just didn't work. They'd fought over whose fault it was, whose intimacy issues, whose unwillingness to give up control. But ultimately, it was a problem they just couldn't solve. They made much better friends than lovers.
"Except I don't have a death wish," said Ginny.
Harry frowned. "Yeah, well, neither do I."
"Right!" said Ron. "We have, believe it or not, actual work to do. So get yourself forth, sister. And congrats again on making the Harpies. They're the best girls' team-- Ow!"
Ginny left Ron rubbing his pinched cheek, and shot Dennis a wink before she disappeared out of the office.
Harry took the file from Ron and opened it. "Have we got anything?"
"We've got something," said Ron, pulling up a chair.
"How was he? How was the mother?"
An Auror specially trained to work with children had conducted the boy's interview. Harry scanned the opening paragraphs. It looked like Milo was coping well under the circumstances.
"Poor kid," said Ron.
Harry nodded, then read through the rest of the notes. "So. He's given us descriptions of two of them. And hints toward a location. That's brilliant. We're close again."
Ron's fingers drummed against the desktop. "I'm not sure. Why would they let him go with this information? Why didn't they Obliviate him? Or kill him?"
"He's just a kid."
"They are murderers."
"Sometimes murderers don't like killing kids."
"I'm just saying we shouldn't discount it."
"They tried to lure us into a trap once. They knew it might not work, so they created a backup plan."
"Maybe." Harry crossed his arms. Waiting to act tortured him. It might only be the slimmest of leads, but it was a lead. They couldn't just file it away and do nothing. He leafed through the file again, studying each word.
"I'll get us some coffee," said Ron.
"I heard the canteen has gooseberry teacakes today."
"You play rough, Potter." He punched Harry lightly on the shoulder then headed out for the canteen.
A short man with dark hair, Milo Farnsworth had said. Something itched in Harry's mind. The child said they'd taken him through a fancy bridge in a little hill. Through a bridge, not over. The itch grew worse. He remembered the photo of Farnsworth, taken in the Wimbourne Wasps stadium. Harry had been there. He'd been to a game. And in order to reach the stadium, you had to cross through the arch of an old ornate railway bridge set in a hill… The short, dark haired man could be Burgess Weaver, the team's manager. He could be in on it.
Harry chewed his lip. He wanted to go check out his hunch. He wanted to go right then. He didn't want to wait for Robards or backup or even Ron. Time was passing. Sure, it could be another trap, but maybe it wasn't. Maybe this was the lead they'd follow straight to the source.
He'd go alone. He wouldn't tell Ron. That way he was only risking his own neck and not putting Ron in danger. Of course he'd have no one to help him if he got hurt, but---
If he got hurt he wouldn't be able to see Malfoy on Saturday.
Harry's face prickled. He couldn't believe he'd just had that thought.
"They only had one gooseberry left, so I got you blackcurrant," said Ron, plunking a coffee and a teacake down on Harry's desk.
Harry shuffled the parchments in the file together, hoping Ron wouldn't notice his guilty expression. He swallowed. The opportunity to act impulsively had passed. It was probably for the best.
"So," Ron sat down and took a bit of cake. "Weh do we stah?"
"I think," said Harry, "we might want to call Burgess Weaver in for questioning."
"Blimey! You think he's involved in this?"
"Could be." Harry showed Ron what he'd seen and began to explain his theory.
It seemed important that Malfoy have a more accurate view of Muggles, so come Saturday Harry took him out into the Muggle world. This way, they could mingle and observe without actually having to speak to anyone. Harry chose to go to Camden as a safety measure--if Malfoy wore or did anything bizarre, people might be less likely to notice. They strolled down the street toward the lock, passing shops selling cheap clothes in all varieties of punk, gothic and vintage as well as tourist trinkets and tattoos. The sun shone through sparse clouds and the pavement heaved with people.
Malfoy stuck close to Harry's side. "Why are so many of the females dressed like witches?" he asked, looking suspiciously at a girl kitted out in full goth regalia. "I keep thinking I've seen my dead aunt Bellatrix."
Draco brushed his knuckles against the back of Harry's hand. "I don't miss her, you know. That Weasley woman did us all a favour. Bella was mad as a flaming hop-weasel. It runs in that part of the Black family."
"Not in your part, of course."
"Of course." Malfoy smiled. "My mother passed on the Black super-intelligence and dashing good-looks. I escaped the madness gene." He gave Harry a funny look. "Although lately, I've been wondering…"
"I think a lot of people have been wondering." They'd both stopped walking. "Do, uh, you want to get some coffee?"
They ducked into a local café. Like the streets outside, it was crowded, with a queue and no empty tables in the back.
Malfoy sniffed. "Muggle coffee smells like burnt cinnamon."
"It's just coffee. Made using coffee beans."
"Mother's coffee always smells like baked vanilla. She uses beans grown in a small village in South America."
"That's because you're rich. Not because you're magical."
"Harry? Harry Potter?"
The words came from a girl with short, brown hair sitting at a table with another girl. Damn.
She shot up and approached him. Her friend covered her mouth. "I was with you in Hogwarts for a bit. I don't expect you'd remember me. My mum had me transferred to Beauxbatons in third year."
"Ah." Harry shoved his hands into his pockets. "Hmm."
"Sally-Anne." She held out her hand. Harry gave it a quick shake then returned his hand to his pocket. "And that's my friend Marnie."
"Nice to meet you both. We're just off to--"
Sally-Anne tore her eyes off Harry for a second and spotted Malfoy. Her mouth formed a small 'o'. Then she shrugged. "Are you here for the Fizzing Wallabies show?"
"No, I was just showing Malfoy here around." Malfoy looked at the ceiling, biting his lip. "He's never been to Camden before."
The girl laughed and stroked Harry's shoulder. He smiled politely and stepped away; it was a reflex at this point.
The girls stepped closer again. "Well. I can get you in, if you don't have tickets. I know the manager."
"Thanks! But we're just getting some coffee."
"Oh." Sally-Anne stroked his arm again and gave it a squeeze. Harry hardened his expression. "Well, if you change your mind, just send your Patronus. It's a stag, right?"
"Yeah. It's a stag. And if we change our minds, I'll send it." He moved purposefully away and toward the end of the queue. Sally-Anne returned to her friend.
"I think you're in there, Potter," whispered Malfoy.
Harry shook his head. "Yeah, that happens now and then."
"You must be swimming in fan-- What do you kids call it these days?"
"Female company? Not really." Harry shrugged. Malfoy was giving him that strange look again. Harry turned away to hide his embarrassment. He hadn't had time for girls since Ginny. There'd been too many other things to think about. And he didn't think of Ginny as a "girl". She was Ginny. She'd been virtually family since he was eleven.
They got their coffees and wandered out toward the lock. Harry leaned his bum against the wall. "I'm not interested in the ones who only like me because they've heard of me. And I don't have time to meet anyone else."
Malfoy settled beside him. "You've never been tempted to just have a fling?" He fiddled with the lid of his coffee. "Women throwing themselves at you left and right?"
Harry made a face. "I don't work that way." He glanced at Malfoy, unsure why the conversation was making him uncomfortable. "I'm all or nothing."
They stood quietly for a while, sipping their coffees and listening to the crowds moving by and the water rushing behind them. Harry snuck a peak at Malfoy's profile. It confused him. He'd felt so many things for Malfoy when they were at school, but never attraction. Looking back, he remembered a skinny, pasty-faced, pointy little git. It wasn't as if Malfoy looked all that different now -- a bit older, sure, but the bone-structure was the same. Harry glanced at him again--the curve of Malfoy's lower lip, the soft fan of his eyelashes, the slope of his nose and the spot just above his mouth that made Harry want so very badly to lean in and…
Malfoy was staring back at him. His pupils had gone wide. He blinked then looked down at his hands.
He looked just the same as he always had. It was the way Harry saw him that had changed.
They began to walk again, eventually entering a courtyard surrounded by food stalls and shops set into railway arches. In the middle stood a street performer juggling flaming batons.
Malfoy gasped. "What's he doing? Is he insane?"
"It's just a juggler."
"He'll catch on fire. Or set one of us off. He'll set the whole place alight."
"I think he knows what he's doing. It's fine. They're all over London in the touristy areas."
A small crowd stood and watched the man perform. He tossed the batons high, caught them behind his back, and added a fourth. A couple people threw coins in the hat at his feet. Malfoy fidgeted but didn't try to walk away.
"It's the fire," said Harry.
"Well, it's not the batons."
"You're scared of the fire." Had that always been the case? Or was it just since their close encounter in the Room of Requirement?
Malfoy took a small step backward, exhaled loudly, then strode determinedly toward the juggler. "Oi!" He lifted an arm in greeting.
Harry followed him. "What are you doing?"
The juggler acknowledged Malfoy with a nod and a grin. "Yes, good sir?"
"I would like a go with your insane fire sticks."
"Would you now?" The man continued to juggle as he spoke. He made it look so easy. "Think you can handle it?"
"I can," said Draco, his face pale and his chin high.
"'fraid I can't let you, man." One by one, he caught each of the four batons and held them still. "You get burnt, and I go to prison. It takes years to get as good as this." He tossed the batons in the air all at once and began passing them back and forth between his hands, higher and higher. They spiralled, vivid and beautiful in the darkening dusk light. The crowd applauded.
Harry took Malfoy's hand, which twitched and then settled against Harry's. "Come on." He led Malfoy away, releasing him once they'd exited the courtyard. It was getting dark, but the stars and streetlamps lit their way. The shops were closing up, the pubs and restaurants filling. They twisted through the alleys and emerged next to the canal once more. A small, white painted bridge spanned the water, framed by twin willow trees. Harry wandered onto it and Malfoy followed. They halted at the crest. A mild breeze curled through the warm summer night air.
Harry turned to Malfoy. "This, everything you've been doing, it's about facing your fears. Isn't it?"
Malfoy examined his nails. "In a sense."
"You keep saying that." Harry moved a bit closer. "You've made me deadly curious. It's like you're a whole different person."
A kind of sadness flickered across Malfoy's face and then vanished. "I'd rather not talk about it. Some things are better when you don't spell them out with words."
"All right." Harry looked up at the stars and the burgeoning moon. Maybe if he went first, Malfoy would feel better talking about himself. "I feel more alive when I can see death in front of me. I'm almost never scared. Not since the war." Malfoy looked at Harry intently, something hungry in his gaze. Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I thought it was the same for you, maybe. That you were doing all these crazy things for the same reason."
With a bitter laugh, Malfoy shook his head. "Oh I'm scared. I'm terrified. All the time." He pressed his lips together. "It's just that I'm sick of it." His hands curled into fists. "I want it to stop. I'm doing these things because I need to stop being scared."
"Is it working?"
Malfoy closed his eyes. "Sometimes."
Harry leant over the railing. The water glistened with wavy streaks of moonlight. The night had gone dark and they were virtually alone together in the sheltering curtain of the willow trees. He wondered where he fit on the scale of 'Things Malfoy was scared of.' He straightened up again. Malfoy cupped his jaw with trembling fingers and kissed him.
Some deep instinct froze Harry in place. He was grateful, as the surprise only lasted a moment. The kiss--Malfoy's warm lips, soft and barely parted--hit him like an electric shock. He kissed back. He grabbed Malfoy by the shoulders. Garbled words rushed through his mind, yes and finally and you, you, you, but he was too intent on Malfoy's mouth to speak any of them aloud.
Malfoy managed a short gasp against Harry's lips. "Oh." He slid his fingers up and buried them in Harry's hair. His other hand gripped Harry's hip. "Potter," he whispered.
"Malfoy," said Harry, and grinned.
Malfoy pressed their foreheads together and laughed softly. "Thank god. I… I wasn't sure…"
"If you hadn't, I would have."
"You taste so good." Malfoy moved in again.
Breathless, Harry slid his arms around his back and pulled him closer. Their muscles moved together; there was no space between them and no air in Harry's lungs. Every bit of Malfoy felt electrifying--his chest moving against Harry's, his chin raspy with slight stubble, his fingers digging into the back of Harry's neck. Malfoy's wet tongue and his silky hair, the way he smelled… Harry turned him and pressed him against the railing. Their hips ground together and hard, insistent against Harry's thigh…
Gasping, he drew back and looked down.
Malfoy tried to pull him back and then looked where Harry was looking. His shoulders fell and in a breathless voice he said, "Potter. If this is too--"
Harry cupped the bulge in Malfoy's trousers. Malfoy jerked and clenched his fingers. Harry watched Malfoy's face and touched him again; he got a firmer grip and squeezed.
"Oh god." A bright flush spread across Malfoy's cheeks; his knees bent. "Do you really…"
"I want…" Harry imagined putting his hand in the same place, but without clothes in the way. His face prickled with heat and he licked his lips. "I want to touch you. I have to. Where can we go?"
"We can go to mine."
Harry's voice came out harsher than intended. "I'm not going to the Manor." Malfoy stiffened, so Harry kissed him until he softened again. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. We can go there. I don’t care. I--"
"Not the Manor. I'm staying with a friend. We can go to hers."
"Brilliant." Harry pulled back and smiled. He couldn't stop. It was like his first time on a broom: sweet, crazy and perfect. Malfoy smiled back at him, looking stunned. He drew his wand, then took Harry's hand. "Go," said Harry. Malfoy gripped him hard then spun.
They materialised in a dark room. Various shapes presented as sitting-room furniture as Harry's eyes adjusted. Malfoy didn't give him any more time to take in his surroundings, however, but pulled him down a corridor. Harry stumbled enthusiastically after him, laughing.
They entered a bedroom, which was dimly illuminated by the glow of streetlamps through the windows. Malfoy threw himself backward onto the bed and began breathlessly yanking free the fastenings on his robes. "You can do anything to me. Anything you want."
As Malfoy shrugged off his robes, baring his chest and shoulders, Harry stood paralyzed--partially by the sight of spider-thin scars criss-crossing Malfoy's skin and partially by the infinite choices Malfoy had opened up to him. He wanted to touch every bit of Malfoy. He wanted to ask forgiveness. He wanted to eat him up. He had no idea what he wanted, just that he wanted lots and lots of it all at once.
Malfoy pulled off his pants, and then Harry knew. He knew exactly. With blood ringing in his ears, he moved forward and fell to his knees between Malfoy's thighs. Right in front of him, Malfoy's cock curved upward, pink and long.
Malfoy pushed himself up on his elbows. "Merlin, Potter. Are you going to suck me off?"
Harry shivered and then licked up Malfoy's shaft, desperate to know what he'd taste like. Malfoy cried out; his nails dug deep into the bedding. That was good. Harry wanted more reactions like that.
He licked again and Malfoy whimpered. "Put it in your mouth, oh please. I want--"
Harry took the head into his mouth and sucked. Malfoy's thighs clamped against his shoulders and he made a sound like a sob. Malfoy's cock tasted salty and also like a stronger version of the way his neck smelled. Harry tried to take it deeper. He grasped Malfoy's arse and squeezed.
"You're good," gasped Malfoy. "You're so good. I know you've never done this before but, Salazar, Potter I don't care. Push the foreskin down with your tongue. Oh, like that. Yes. Thank you. I…" His hips bucked up. "I…"
Malfoy stopped being able to talk. Harry concentrated on not gagging and worked his mouth up and down, sucking and swallowing. So sloppy. His groin ached for attention, but he didn't want to let go to touch himself. This was… How had he gone so long and never… Fuck, Malfoy tasted good. His jaw began to hurt, but he refused to stop.
Malfoy's voice got higher. He was still trying to talk, uttering truncated syllables as the muscles of his arse shifted rhythmically against Harry's fingers. "Ah! Pott… Oh… That's…" His knuckles were white where he gripped the sheets. Harry squeezed his eyes shut and tried to move faster. "Ahh! I'm going to come. I'm going to…" Malfoy arched up hard and trembled, finally silent.
Harry's mouth filled with hot liquid. The surprise made him cough. He pulled away and covered his mouth with his hand. "Sor--" He gagged. "I didn't--" It dribbled down his chin.
Malfoy collapsed against the sheets. "Don't apologise, you idiot."
Harry laughed. "I need to clean up." He stood, dizzy, and moved toward what he presumed was the en-suite. Malfoy grabbed his wrist. He looked up at Harry with an expression Harry could never have imagined, then yanked Harry down and gave him a hard, open-mouthed kiss.
He licked away the remains of the mess on Harry's chin. "You don't need to clean up. Come here." He pulled Harry down onto the bed. "Take your clothes off."
Harry couldn't find it within himself to object. He toed off his socks, pulled off his trousers and pants, then moved to the centre of the mattress. Malfoy rolled onto his stomach and watched, grinning like a cat.
As Harry's fingers closed around the top button of his shirt, however, he paused. It had been a long time since anyone had seen him naked. He undid the buttons and looked warily at Malfoy as his shirt came off.
Malfoy's eyes widened. He got onto his knees and touched Harry's collarbone, then trailed his fingers across his chest and up to his shoulder. "Those… Those are… They really suit you."
"Thanks." Harry felt more exposed knowing Malfoy was looking at his tattoos than at his cock. Ron had seen them in the changing room at work and Ginny had seen the older ones. But they weren't really meant for other people. They were Harry's. His markers and reminders.
"This one's a stag, isn't it?" Malfoy traced the black lines on his chest. "And this is a lily?" Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Malfoy kept his palm pressed flat over Harry's heart but kept looking. His eyes passed over the wolf creeping down his shoulder, the chameleon, the dog, the jester's mask, and the doe. He moved his hand to touch the phoenix on Harry's forearm. "Dumbledore?"
Harry's chest tightened. "Yeah."
"Memento mori," Malfoy whispered.
Merlin, the mood was ruined. Malfoy had gone solemn and quiet. Harry didn't know where to look.
Malfoy took Harry's face in his hands and kissed him. He continued to kiss him as he pushed Harry back and down with the weight of his body. His fingers closed around Harry's cock. He didn't let go, but continued to stroke Harry, the kisses becoming deeper and messier as Harry's pleasure grew. When he couldn't kiss any longer, but could only gasp and thrust into Malfoy's fist, Malfoy sucked on his neck. When Harry cried out, writhing and coming, Malfoy gently dug in his teeth.
"You're delicious," Malfoy whispered against Harry's skin.
Harry smiled. "You taste pretty good yourself."
"That was your first time with a man, wasn't it?"
"Did you honestly not know? Until now?"
"Know what?" Harry had a sudden fear that Malfoy would pressure him to have a talk about their feelings.
Instead, Malfoy pushed himself up onto his arms and said, "That you like cock. Dimwit."
"Ah." Harry used the excuse of burrowing into the pillow to avoid looking at Malfoy's face. "I dunno. I've been really busy most of the time. Running for my life and fighting wars and things. It never occurred to me to stop and sort out what sorts of bits I preferred."
"I always knew." Malfoy sat up and swung his feet to the floor. "Since I was four or five."
Harry rolled over so he could look at the curve of Malfoy's spine. He wanted to run his fingers down it, but Malfoy stood and walked toward the toilet. Leaving the door open, Malfoy took something out of a cabinet: a phial. He downed it, and for a moment Harry worried that he really was on potions. But no. There'd have been signs -- bad skin, constantly blown pupils, twitching. "What's that?" he called.
Malfoy jumped. "Just some vitamins and Pepper-Up Potion. Feel like I might be catching a cold."
Huh. Harry sniffed, testing his own airway. He was fine. He wondered if he should get dressed. It had been so long, he didn't know what was expected. Were they done for the day? Should he go home? It might be nice to have a bit of space to think things over.
He got off the bed and pulled on his pants and trousers. When Malfoy left the toilet, Harry was fastening his fly.
Malfoy pulled on a dressing gown, looking over Harry's tattoos some more. "You've lost a lot of people."
Harry shrugged. "You can't save everyone. At least that's what Hermione tells me." His stomach clenched hard. No more. He didn't want to think about this; there was no point. "I should go."
Malfoy nodded, his face impassive.
"Things I need to do at home."
Harry found his shirt and pulled it on, then fastened the buttons. Malfoy leaned against the wall with his arms crossed, watching Harry. Moonlight frosted his hair and accentuated the angles of his face. There was still so much about him Harry didn't know and wanted to learn.
"I'll see you, Potter." There was a strange tone in his voice.
Harry walked quickly over and pulled him into a kiss; Malfoy melted against him. "Soon," he whispered against Malfoy's lips.
"Very soon," said Malfoy, smiling.
Harry didn't manage to get away for another thirty minutes.
Burgess Weaver put up a good front for approximately an hour and half, at which time he crumbled and dissolved into a sobbing, leaking mess. "It was never meant to go this far. No one was meant to get badly hurt. No one was supposed to die. We just thought we'd skew the odds in our favour, make a few extra galleons, no harm done."
Harry sat leant back with his arms crossed. "Only harm was done."
"And people did die," said Ron. He was busy pouring tea. They'd amped up the cooling charms in the interrogation room. Weaver shivered and looked longingly at the steam rising from the mugs.
Ron sat down and took an ostentatious sip. "Ahh. That's lovely. How's yours, Auror Potter?"
Harry lifted his cup and let it warm his face. "Perfect. Ta, Auror Weasley."
"We thought…" Weaver took a shuddering breath. "The brooms weren't mean to go off during play. It took us a while to get the timing right."
"Connolly wasn't flying when he was killed," said Ron.
"Neither of us wanted to kill anyone. It wasn't us. It was… those other bastards."
Harry set his mug down and leant toward Weaver. "Other?"
Weaver chewed his lip. Then he covered his face with his hands. "I can't… They'll kill me."
"They'd have a hard time getting to you in Azkaban," said Harry. "And if you don't give us names, you can expect to spend a great deal of time there."
"Who else is involved?" Ron's posture mirrored Harry's.
"They don't care who they kill. They want to blow the whole thing up. Take control of Quidditch entirely."
"Bastards!" Ron looked more outraged than he had over the deaths.
"If… If I tell you their names, will you let me go?"
Harry glanced at Ron. They had him. He was going to spill. "Of course not. But it will most likely get you a shorter sentence."
"I don't care." Weaver wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "I just want it over with. Poor Farnsie. Poor, poor Farnsie. He never meant no one any harm."
Harry got up and started making another mug of tea. He turned to Weaver. "Sugar?"
Weaver's eyes opened wide. "Yes, please." He took the mug with soppy gratitude and drank it down. Then he started to talk. "Pilkington. Alfred. He's in marketing at Gladfree's Potions. Overheard Farnsie talking to me on the Floo. He brought in Mario Todd. I don't know what he does, and I don't want to. Filthy man. They found the warehouse in Rowley Regis. Didn't care if the players were hurt or outright killed. Farnsie and I didn't want nothing to do with them, but they wouldn't leave us alone."
Weaver told them everything; once he started, it was as if he couldn't stop. Harry guessed that he'd been desperate for help but hadn't known how to get it. The tea went cold and the cooling charms dissipated. Once Weaver was finally done, they summoned a guard to escort him to a holding cell.
As soon as they arrived back at their desks, Harry grabbed his cloak.
"Whoa," said Ron. "Put that down."
"We've got bring them in right away." Harry vibrated with the familiar need to act. "They'll notice that Weaver's gone. They'll flee."
"For all we know, Weaver could have been feeding us a line of bullshit. We've got to check this out first. Sit down, Harry."
Harry's hand closed into a fist in the fabric of his cloak. Ron raised his eyebrows. He might be right. He probably was. Harry wanted to go anyway; he didn't want to sit around checking facts. They could ask questions later, once Pilkington and Todd were firmly locked up.
"Harry," said Ron. "This is part of the job. It's going to be all right."
Harry remained frozen. He could just go. Maybe Ron would follow him, maybe he wouldn't. He would, though. He wouldn't let Harry go on his own. And taking those few extra seconds allowed him to realise it was just possible that acting too quickly without checking things out first could spoil the operation entirely. He hung his cloak back on the hook. He sat down at his desk.
"Are you drunk?" asked Ron.
Harry laughed, still giddy from the aborted adrenaline rush. "Merlin, Ron. I'm a serious, responsible Auror. Doing the job properly. Making Robards proud."
"Yeah…" Ron's eyes narrowed, but he was smiling. "Well, when you sober up, we'll look into these arseholes' backgrounds."
Harry tried to calm down and focus. He pulled a quill and began writing out the notes for the interrogation.
Ron became very busy arranging the objects on his desk. "Hey. Neville and Hannah are coming for dinner tomorrow. And Luna and her bloke. Come along. Bring a friend, if you like."
Harry immediately went on full alert. "A friend? You know all my friends. Which one were you specifically thinking of?"
"I don't know. Someone new, maybe. Someone you might be shagging. Perhaps."
Harry gaped and ran his fingers through his hair. "How the bloody hell did you know that there was someone--"
"Because you just told me so." Ron grinned.
"Come on. It's all over you, Harry. I haven't seen you like this, with the little smirk and the disgusting happiness coming out all over the place since… Well, never, really."
Harry groaned. "Fine." The conversation was inevitable, he supposed. "There's someone. But it's really new and I don't want to talk about it."
"Great! Bring, er, them. That person. Bring them along tomorrow."
Bollocks. "Oh. I, well, this person isn't really someone… I'm not quite ready to…"
"Oh god. Please, please, please say it's not Malfoy. Please? I'll pay you. I'll let you fly straight into a wall next time we go out. Just tell me it's not him."
Harry pressed his lips together. "It's not Malfoy."
"Really?" Ron looked ridiculously hopeful.
"No. It's Malfoy."
Ron banged his head against his desk and let it stay there.
Harry got on with his parchment work.
Eventually Ron lifted his head and did the same.
"You've got nothing more to say?"
Ron straightened an already perfectly straight pile of files on his desk, whistling to himself.
Harry leaned back in his chair. "You're going to get Hermione to talk to me. Aren't you?"
"It's definitely possible. Or would you prefer I Stupefy you and take you straight to the Janus Thickey ward?"
"He's changed." Harry laced his fingers together. "I know it seems weird. But he's different. Brave and funny. And I feel so good when I'm with him. It's just--"
"Oh god." Ron covered his face with his hands. "Stop. Please. I got used to the idea of you being gay ages ago, but this… Malfoy! It's going to take a while."
"Come on, Harry. We all knew."
"Well, that's very interesting, considering that I didn't."
Ron gestured vaguely, refusing to look Harry in the face. "Hermione. She knows everything about everyone."
"Just because things didn't work out between me and Ginny doesn't mean that--"
"Look…" Ron shook his head and held up his hands.
"Yeah," said Harry. "Well. Fine. I'm a huge poofter. There, I hope you're happy."
"Positively ecstatic." Ron wadded up a ball of parchment and tossed it at Harry.
Harry caught it. "I can't bring him tomorrow, though."
"We're doing something else."
"Have fun. Never tell me the details."
Harry smiled and turned back to his notes. That had been much less gut-wrenchingly horrific than he'd imagined it would be. His mind wandered. It would be the full moon tomorrow night. Malfoy wanted to see a werewolf transform. It was the most insane and recklessly dangerous thing he'd suggested yet.
Harry couldn't wait.
On any other day, Harry would have been happy to run into Hermione in Diagon Alley. Today, however, he wasn't. Not when she wore an expression that promised a particularly gruelling chat. Bloody Ron and his 'talking to his wife' thing.
Harry had been about to enter Calliope's Cake and Coffee. He'd arrange to meet Malfoy there. Before he got the chance to hide himself behind one of Calliope's unfeasibly enormous coffee cups, Hermione pounced on him. Whether it was more of a polite and friendly approach than a full on pounce depended on one's perspective, Harry decided.
Regardless, Harry sat down at a table with Hermione and braced himself.
"So," she began. Then took a sip of tea. "I hear you're involved with Draco Malfoy."
Harry wrapped his fingers around his drink. "Funny, you hearing that."
"Married couples talk."
"Apparently." Harry tried to relax. He could imagine what he'd have thought if their positions had been reversed. She was just concerned. She didn't know Malfoy the way Harry had come to know him.
"Ron says you're really trying at work. Thinking things through a bit more. And that's wonderful." She took his hand and squeezed. "But it's not going to do you any good if you replace it with something just as self-destructive."
Harry took a deep breath. "Right. I can understand why you'd think it was self-destructive given my history with him, but I'm telling you that it's not. I'm having fun. He makes me laugh." Hermione's kind and patient I know you better than you know yourself expression made him take a few seconds to gather himself. "I need you to trust me."
Hermione gave him another squeeze. "I want to. And I would, if you hadn't spent the last few years flying into lakes and jumping off cliffs."
"It wasn't a cliff. It was half a hill. And there was a haystack at the bottom. I just missed it."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I know we've talked about this before, but I think you should consider seeing someone. Someone professional. Someone who can help you."
There was no way he could convince her. Harry gave up. Maybe she was right. Maybe he should see someone, let them fiddle around in his mind. Some bloke who'd tell him he had a death wish and that he'd been manipulated by Dumbledore. Or an earnest witch who'd insist that it was okay to cry, no one would think less of him for it.
Bollocks to that.
A shadow moved across the doorway, and there was Malfoy, leaning against the frame, his head cocked to the side. Golden afternoon sunshine backlit his hair. His body humming, Harry leant toward him; his smile beamed bigger and brighter than he could help. Malfoy looked startled, but then smiled back, straightening his neck. They gazed at each other. Harry's heart thumped in his chest and he thought, What is this? What is this?
Hermione's hand tightened on his arm. "Oh Harry…"
Harry tore himself away to glance at her and was surprised to see her eyes glistening.
"You lucky thing," she whispered, then leant in to kiss him on the cheek. "Forget everything I said. Just forget it." She stood and ran her fingers quickly through his hair, smiling down at him. Then she walked toward the exit.
Malfoy straightened further and got quickly out of her way, but she stopped, purposefully, and stood in front of him. She nodded, her face solemn, but for a quirk at the corner of her mouth. "Malfoy."
Malfoy widened his eyes and said, "Granger."
"Do I need to give you the 'hurt him and I'll kill you' speech?"
Malfoy shook his head.
"I mean it, you know."
She walked out of the café and into the street.
Malfoy took her place at the table. "She's terrifying."
"You don't want to cross her, that's for sure." After his blatant display of Merlin-knew-what toward Malfoy, Harry found it necessary to pour his full attention into examining the cakes on display. Calliope was an artist with marzipan and icing sugar. One of the fairy cakes was topped with an entire miniature replica of the Hogwarts castle. Another had a green dragon on it that periodically exhaled a small shower of sparks.
"So you were talking about me," said Malfoy.
"Oh," Harry made an indeterminate gesture. "She just wanted to make sure--"
"She was trying to warn you off."
Malfoy looked down at his hands. "Well, she was probably being sensible. You're not going to do something stupid and get emotionally attached, are you?"
That shouldn't have felt like a blow to the chest, but it did. Harry took a sip of coffee. "Don't be ridiculous. It's you."
"Exactly." Malfoy raised one eyebrow. "And, on the other hand, it's you. We're just having a bit of fun."
"If you can call it that."
"I'm not in a position to get serious with anyone just now, much less a Gryffindor, of all--"
Harry set his cup down with more force than he'd intended. "Well, I wasn't thinking of proposing any time soon. So untwist your knickers." Malfoy stayed very still. Harry got the impression he was keeping his face intentionally blank and that if he poked him sharply enough, he might crack.
Then Malfoy smiled. "You can help me with that later. If you're good."
Harry snorted. Now he was randy and hurt and irritated all at the same time. He wanted to throw his coffee cup in Malfoy's face. Only Malfoy was looking at him with teasing eyes and lowered lashes and the randiness part took over. He squared his shoulders. "So. Werewolves."
Malfoy leant back in his chair. "Werewolves." He shuddered.
"There's a pack I know of in Dalby Forest. Monitored and mostly well behaved. They all take their Wolfsbane potion. We look the other way when the occasional sheep disappears off a nearby farm."
"How big is this… pack?"
"A dozen or so men and women. A handful of children."
"Children?. Werewolf children? That's monstrous."
"They have children! Like any other people--"
"People! They aren't people." Malfoy folded in on himself. "They're disgusting aberrations."
"I… I'm sorry. I just… They terrify me. They always have. When Professor L-Lupin opened the cabinet, a werewolf came out and…" His hands shook.
"Your Boggart was a werewolf?"
"Only in third year?"
"It's always been a werewolf." He swallowed. "Later on it just got more specific."
Harry thought of Fenrir Greyback and shuddered a bit himself. "You don't have to do this."
"I do have to. I have to." His hands curled into fists.
Harry couldn't help himself. "Remus Lupin was killed in the Battle of Hogwarts."
Malfoy helplessly raised his eyes to the ceiling. "I know. I heard that. Potter, I'm sorry I called them aberrations. If I'd known Lupin better, I might feel differently."
Malfoy had been raised to see werewolves as sub-human monsters. And then he'd had the worst of them around the Manor during the war. Harry apologised to Remus in his mind and decided to pardon Malfoy. Remus had a talent for forgiveness and seeing things from other people's perspectives. He'd have understood.
They arrived in Yorkshire at dusk and crept into the forest. Malfoy didn't speak. He seemed closed off to the outside world. Harry imagined what it would be like to seek out a nest of Dementors and moved closer to him.
They reached the pack's territory as the sun set. Harry pulled an atomiser from his pocket. "It's Wolfsbane Potion. We'll use it to disguise our scents."
"So they won't bite us?" Malfoy asked, shoulders hunched and eyes wild.
"They aren't going to bite us." Unless something goes horribly wrong. "They'll just ignore us, if they notice we're there at all.
"I could never live that way. As… One of them. I don't see how anyone could."
"Shh." Harry brushed some hair out of Malfoy's face. Malfoy startled, but then forced a thin smile. "Close your eyes." Harry used the atomiser to mist Malfoy with the potion: his face, his hair, his body arms and legs. It had a bitter smell that stung Harry's nostrils. He passed the potion to Malfoy and he did the same for Harry.
The forest was dark and cold, but each passing second made the moon shine brighter. They found a clearing Harry recognised from a mission several years previously. He pulled out his Invisibility Cloak.
"This…" said Malfoy, fingering the material with reverence. Then a twig cracked and leaves rustled. Harry ducked beneath the cloak and made sure that Malfoy was as covered as possible. They retreated into the shadows and cast a Muffling Charm. Malfoy huddled close to Harry, trembling.
It was almost anti-climactic to see a group of relatively ordinary-looking people enter the clearing: men and women, a few children. They wore colourful, raggedy clothing that looked hand sewn. Chatting casually amongst themselves, they removed it and arranged it neatly in piles on the ground.
"Now I feel like a complete pervert," said Harry.
Malfoy didn't say anything. His eyes were as wide and round as the moon.
One of the women looked abruptly up at the night sky. A shiver went through the rest of the group as they did the same. A small boy jumped up and down, clearly excited. His mother hushed him and stroked his head.
As moonlight reached the clearing in all its strength, Harry burned with excitement. He'd never seen anything like this. Watching Remus transform had been different; there'd been so much else going on at the time. This was spectacular.
Malfoy whimpered. His breath came much too quickly. Harry squeezed his shoulder, then found his hand and held it tight.
Malfoy gripped him back so hard it hurt. "I… I might not be able to do this."
"You can," Harry whispered. "You're brave. I've seen it."
Draco closed his eyes. "You make me brave."
The words settled in Harry's chest with shimmering warmth.
The werewolves twisted and convulsed as they changed. The small boy cried and clung to his mother. Harry's heart clenched and he felt a nostalgic wave of love and respect for Remus. The group had become a sea of howling, screaming skin and fur, grotesque and beautiful.
After ten or so minutes, the entire pack had changed. The clearing heaved with wolves. A large grey wolf licked the face of a brown. A pup ran in circles, chasing his own tail. An enormous white wolf lifted his head and howled. The other wolves joined in.
With one sudden movement, Malfoy stood.
"What are you doing?" Harry tried to pull him back down again. Malfoy stepped away. "Malfoy! Are you insane?"
Malfoy looked back at Harry over his shoulder. His tear-streaked face glimmered. "Yes," he said, then laughed softly. "Completely." He began to walk into the clearing.
Harry shoved the cloak back in his pocket and pulled his wand. He'd Apparate them both away if he had to, regardless of what Malfoy said.
The wolves allowed Malfoy to walk amongst them without giving him more than a glance and a sniff. Harry caught up to him. They were surrounded, enveloped in a sea of churning canine. Malfoy laughed, loudly this time. He looked mad in the moonlight, with his pale, tear-crusted face. Mad and joyful.
I love him, Harry thought. I'm in love with Malfoy. He felt a bit mad himself. He reached out and kissed him. He had to. He wanted to push what he was feeling inside Malfoy somehow and take all his fear away. Malfoy kissed him back, hard and urgent. Harry swayed and pulled him tighter, woozy with the smell of Wolfsbane and the musk of the pack around them. He clawed his nails down Malfoy's back. Malfoy nipped at his lips with his teeth. Harry wanted to be closer, as close as he could possibly get.
Their scents must have changed. The wolves were paying attention now. One sniffed at Malfoy's legs. Another shoved his snout against Harry's bum. "Oh," he said. "We should leave."
"Mmm." Malfoy rubbed his thigh between Harry's legs.
Harry moaned. "Mine. We'll go to my flat." He brandished his wand. "Hold on."
They materialised in Harry's bedroom, spinning out of control, and smacked into the wall. Harry pressed Malfoy flat against it and bit at his neck. Malfoy wrapped his leg around Harry's thigh. Harry thrust against him. He thought he might lose control and just grind him into the wall until he came.
"Potter," Malfoy gasped. "I want you to fuck me, Potter."
"Mmm!" Harry opened his mouth and pressed his face to Malfoy's neck.
"I want you inside me. I want to feel you… Oh please."
Harry waited for the violent, wonderful shivers to subside and then said, "I don’t know how."
Malfoy laughed, a soft, beautiful sound, and stroked the back of Harry's neck. "I'll show you." He took Harry's face in his hands and moved their mouths together. "I'll show you everything," he whispered against Harry's lips and then kissed him hard.
Harry kissed him back, his lips stinging, and rolled his hips forward. The thought of putting his cock inside Malfoy, of fucking him, was almost enough to make him come on its own. How did people do this? Malfoy made him crazy and helpless and god, Harry wanted him so much he could barely breathe.
"Let's get you naked," he said.
Malfoy undid the fastenings on his robes and shrugged them off his shoulders. Harry pulled them off the rest of the way. Malfoy went for Harry's shirt. Harry pulled down Malfoy's pants.
They stumbled together toward Harry's bed, and by the time they reached it Malfoy wore nothing and Harry was shirtless with his pants and trousers around his ankles. He kicked them off. Malfoy wrestled him to the bed and held him down, looking over Harry's body as if it were made of chocolate and he had to decide which bit to bite off first. He decided on Harry's left nipple, then nipped at it, which tickled. Harry laughed. "Don’t."
"Take it," said Malfoy, with an impish grin. He slid his face down Harry's chest, pausing to nuzzle his bits, and then gripped Harry's thighs hard and pushed them up. The complete exposure made Harry go still and silent. He wasn't sure he liked it. Then Malfoy blew on his balls and Harry forgot to be embarrassed. Merlin, Malfoy was a wicked, filthy thing. Harry reached for his own cock.
"No," said Malfoy, and swatted Harry's hand away.
"I have to."
"Not allowed." Malfoy pushed Harry's thighs back until his knees were almost pressed to his chest. His tongue laved firmly between Harry's balls, against them, around them, making them wet. Malfoy blew again. Harry yelped and his cock jumped. Then Malfoy moved lower and Harry hadn't known, had never even imagined that something like that could make him melt with pleasure.
"What are you doing?" His thighs trembled. He twisted his pillow in his hands.
"I'm rimming you into submission."
"Want me to stop?"
"Noooo…" Harry arched his back.
Malfoy snickered and ran his tongue over Harry's arsehole again. It felt too good; Harry was going to lose it. He grabbed a handful of Malfoy's hair and yanked.
"Sorry." He pulled again.
"Prick." Malfoy left off licking and rolled onto his back. Harry immediately crawled on top of him. "Eager, are you?"
"What gives you that idea?" Harry kissed him and rutted against his thigh. So much skin.
"We need lube."
Harry lunged for his beside table. He yanked open the drawer and grabbed the tube inside. The drawer thumped to the carpet. "Got it."
"You're going to leave your glasses on?"
"I want to see you."
Malfoy smiled, bright and gorgeous. "All right. Slick up your finger."
Harry did so. His finger looked slick and obscene and his face burned. He couldn't believe this was really going to happen.
"Now put it inside me." Malfoy's voice had gone hoarse.
Harry swallowed. He reached down between Malfoy's thighs and slid his finger between Malfoy's arse-cheeks. Malfoy's bits nestled against his forearm, tickling a little. He found Malfoy's opening, a sweet little pucker, and his finger slid easily inside; Malfoy took him in, warm and clinging.
"That's it." Malfoy's eyes had grown darker. He licked his lips. "Put another one in." Harry did. Malfoy arched a bit. Harry moved his fingers in and out. Malfoy's thighs fell to the side. "Oh, Merlin. Oh hell." He clenched around Harry's fingers and Harry's vision went blurry.
He pulled his hand free, wiped it on the sheets, and then kissed Malfoy, deep and slow, trying to calm himself. "Yeah?"
"Oh yeah." Malfoy kissed him. "I'm ready. Do your worst."
Harry lowered his hand again and guided his cock into Malfoy's body. It took a second to find the right angle and push in--tight and hot and smooth… He tried to speak, but only managed a soft groan from the base of his throat.
"All right there, Potter?"
Harry lifted up on his arms. "You feel really good."
"Don't come yet."
"I'm trying." Slowly, carefully, he pulled out and pushed back in again. Each movement sent hot shivers up his spine. His cock was inside Malfoy. He could barely breathe.
"Enough of this." Malfoy dug his ankles into the backs of Harry's thighs. "Fuck me."
Harry thrust in harder.
"Up, angle up."
Harry thrust again. "Mmm!"
Malfoy bent his neck back. "Yesss. Just like that."
"Oh god." He was already losing control. He fucked Draco vigorously, making the bed squeak.
Malfoy writhed, taut beneath him. "Ahh! Hold my wrists down. Fuck, Potter. Harry. Harry."
Harry grabbed his wrists, moving faster. He lowered his head. "Draco." His lips brushed Draco's ear, and Draco arched and gasped, cradling Harry's pumping arse tight with his legs. "Draco. Oh. I…" He bit down on his lip. The pleasure boiled over. Harry came, shaking hard. "So good," he gasped. "So fucking good."
As Harry panted and stilled, Draco wrapped his arms around Harry's neck. He kissed him lightly on his cheeks, his forehead, and his lips. "You're beautiful. God, Harry. Your face. "
"Make me come. I'm close."
Without catching his breath, Harry took hold of Draco's cock. He fisted it, watching Draco's face until he cried out and shuddered, falling to pieces in Harry's arms. Harry kissed his damp neck. He kissed his collarbone. He laid his head down on Draco's chest and closed his eyes. Draco's heart pattered against his ear--his life beating inside him.
"Get up," said Draco, and kissed Harry's cheek. Harry pulled out--such a strange sensation--and sat on his knees. "I'm going to go wash. Back in a minute." Draco--Harry would only think of him as Draco now--slid off the bed and disappeared into the bathroom.
As Harry snuggled beneath the duvet, his body continued to hum. He wondered at the familiarity of his elation; he'd never had sex quite like that before.
Malfoy came back to bed. They kissed gently for a while before Malfoy rolled onto his side and drifted off to sleep. The curve of his shoulder rose and fell inches from Harry's mouth, and he wanted to bite it, to sink his teeth in and wind his arm around Malfoy's waist until he found his cock. He wanted to make Malfoy hard and then break him apart over and over again. The sheets slipped soft beneath his skin as he turned onto his back; the room smelt of sex and every inch of his body vibrated with life.
And then he realised--this was just like flying. No. It was like crashing. Crashing and coming out alive again. He thought of Malfoy's face just after he'd come, how his skin had gone pink from throat to chest and his limbs soft with joy and pleasure. Harry had done that to him. To Malfoy, of all people. This made Harry's thoughts start to tick over in a different direction. Malfoy, whom Harry had saved from the fire. One person he had saved.
His heart sped up. His eyes began to burn and he didn't know why. Harry rolled onto his side and pressed his face into the back of Malfoy's neck. He pulled him close and breathed him in, trying to chase away the strange, mysterious sorrow. Malfoy hummed softly, grasped Harry's hand, and wriggled back closer against him.
"Should I go?" Malfoy asked, his voice fuzzy with sleep.
"No," said Harry. "Stay here with me." He held Malfoy even tighter. Don't leave. Don't ever leave.
Dawn sliced through the blinds and nudged Harry awake. He rolled over, smiling as memories of the previous night floated through his mind. The duvet smelled of Draco; Harry wanted a bit of the real thing. He reached out, but found the other half of the bed empty. Surprised and disappointed, he slit open his eyes. Draco's discarded clothes still littered the carpet. He hadn't left. The closed bathroom door and the sound of running water explained his absence. Harry sat up and stretched, enjoying the ache in his muscles. What was Draco like first thing in the morning? Grumpy? Soft and gentle? Randy? Harry hoped he was randy, but suspected he'd be grumpy.
Maybe he'd take Draco to a theme park. He wanted to see him eating candyfloss. Or maybe they could just stay in and be adventurous in Harry's flat. He grinned, warmth spreading through his body. They wouldn't even have to leave the bedroom. He watched the line of light shining from beneath the bathroom door. Draco was taking ages.
The door finally opened. Draco emerged. He saw Harry and froze.
Harry's pleasant lethargy vanished. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Draco picked up his pants and pulled them on. Dark circles under his eyes hinted that he hadn't slept well. "I just need to get back." He grabbed his robes, dropped them, and snatched them up again.
Harry frowned. "Were you just going to sneak away?"
"No. It's not that. There's something I need in the place I'm staying. I should have had it last night." He gave Harry a forced looking smile. "But something distracted me." He began to fasten his robes with shaking fingers. Purple bruises circled each of his wrists.
"Merlin. Did I do that to you?"
"Throes of passion, ay?" Malfoy winked, although his mind still seemed elsewhere.
"I had no idea I was holding you so tightly."
"You're a brute. I always knew this."
"Or maybe you have freakishly delicate skin." Harry put on his glasses and slid out of bed. "I'll come with you."
"Draco--" Malfoy's head jerked at the sound of his given name. "What's going on?"
"I'm staying with Pansy Parkinson. And she'll be there."
Harry slid a hand into his hair and winced. He did not want to see Parkinson. The wonderful feelings from the previous night crumbled away.
"That's what I thought," said Draco.
Harry retrieved his dressing gown from the back of the bedroom door and pulled it on. "Can you blame me?" He didn't want to fight. He hadn't expected the morning to go this way.
"I…" Draco closed his eyes. He licked his lips, and then looked at Harry again. "I just need to go back."
If Draco was still friends with someone like Parkinson, maybe he hadn't changed all that much. "She would have given me to Voldemort. She would have handed us all over to him."
Draco shot him an irritated glance. "She was a scared teenager."
"We were all scared."
"Please." Draco covered his face with his hands and stood quietly for a moment. He approached Harry, and grasped his shoulder. "I need to go. I'll talk to you later today. Or tomorrow."
Harry's heart pounded. He felt sick. He searched Draco's face for traces of what he'd seen only a handful of hours earlier: he saw only panic now. Maybe… He moved closer and kissed him. Draco gasped softly and kissed him back. Harry melted with relief and tried to stroke the back of his head, but Draco jerked away, looking frantic.
A chill rushed over Harry's skin. "Go then." He tightened the belt on his dressing gown.
Harry's hands curled into fists. "Potter again, is it?"
"Harry." Draco stared down at the floor. "I told you where I stand."
He had. Harry couldn't deny it. But then he'd erased it all from Harry's mind with his hands and his lips and… You make me brave. Harry stepped toward him, and then stopped. It didn't make sense. "So, last night. That was just 'a bit of fun' for you?"
Draco didn't respond. Perspiration dotted his temples. He hugged himself, and Harry wondered if he really did have some deep secret, some terrible motivation driving him to do all these crazy things. Maybe Harry hadn't saved him after all. "Draco…"
Then Draco's face hardened. He straightened his back and looked at Harry full on, smirking. "It was more than a 'bit of fun'. You're a top fuck, Potter. You make up with enthusiasm what you lack in experience. I have no regrets."
"Oh." That was a Draco he recognised. That was Draco Malfoy. "Sure. Glad you enjoyed it." Harry spoke through his teeth. "Maybe we can do it again some time."
"Given sex turns you into the world's biggest limpet, probably not a great idea."
"And given it turns you into the world's biggest git, you're probably right."
Malfoy wiped his still damp brow. "This has never happened to you before, has it?"
"What exactly is happening?" Harry moved to his bed and sat down. His body felt limp and heavy.
"I'm going to leave. I… We shouldn't see each other again."
There was nothing inside Harry's head other than rushing air. "You can't really mean that."
Draco closed his eyes. "It happens, Harry."
"Why?" Harry gestured, not sure what he was asking. "You aren't telling me something."
"It was all just too much too quickly. It was never meant to be more than a distraction. I didn't mean for it to go so far."
Harry turned away. Maybe it really was that simple. Harry had decided he wanted Draco, and it hadn't occurred to him that Draco might not want him back quite as much.
He shook his head, deflated, as Draco walked toward the door. No. No. The pain and confusion he felt coalesced into anger. It didn't matter that Draco had warned him not to get attached. Draco's actions had spoken louder. He'd made Harry believe he cared for him and it wasn't right. Harry couldn't just sit there and let him leave.
Before he knew it, Harry was on him. He grabbed Draco by the shoulders and slammed him against the wall. "You're a liar. You're a weak, pathetic liar and a shit."
Draco's face creased up and he whimpered. Harry immediately let him go and took a step back. Draco's jaw and hands were clenched with pain and Harry hadn't hit him all that hard, or at least he didn't think so.
"I am," gasped Draco. "I'm all those things. Didn't you realise?" He straightened up and rubbed his eyes. "You're a fool, Harry." He took Harry's cheek in his hand and spoke with soft insistence. "You're better off without me."
Harry couldn't help it. He tried to kiss him.
Draco ducked away and ran for the front door.
Harry slumped against the wall and let him go.
None of it made sense. It was like Harry had gone to bed with one person and woken up to find someone completely different in his bedroom. Draco cared for Harry. He hadn't imagined it. Only… Only what? Draco was gone, and he didn't want to see Harry again. Maybe wishful thinking had made Harry see what he wanted to see. Maybe Draco had known exactly what to show him.
Harry wandered into the sitting room and fell down on the sofa. He had to figure it out. He had to figure Draco out. What had he been hiding?
Perhaps nothing. Perhaps he'd just become nervous because Harry came on too strong. Maybe it had been so long since Harry had been intimate with anybody that he'd become needy and desperate. Draco had called him a limpet. Harry grabbed a cushion and held it over his face.
Was he really that naïve? If Draco had been using him, than why? For the sex? Just so he could find some way to get at Harry and hurt him? Then why now, after so many years?
Harry sat up. He had to do something. He had to fix this. He threw the cushion across the room and cried out in frustration.
It couldn't be over. Harry needed Draco. Draco had made him feel rooted. Normal. Now he wanted to scream and break things; he wanted to throw himself into chaos. Worst of all, he sensed that the answer was right there, just beyond his ability to grasp it. He ground his fists into his eyes.
The bruises. He hadn't held Draco that hard. He wouldn't have.
A sick dread flickered to life in Harry's stomach.
Before he could follow the train of thought any further, a small, silvery dog bounded into the room and jumped onto Harry's lap. Then, in Ron's voice, it spoke: "Holyhead. The stadium. Fire. Come quickly."
Harry leapt to his feet and ran to his bedroom. As he pulled on his clothes, he thought, Ginny, and ripped his sleeve as he yanked too hard on his shirt. He tossed it aside and grabbed another one.
Of course they'd go for the Harpies. They couldn't get to Harry or Ron, so they went for someone they knew he cared about. If something had happened to her… He should have made Robards set up a security team. How could he not have guessed? If she was hurt and he hadn't even warned her. If he'd just let this happen…
He lunged for the bedside table and grabbed his wand. Then he spun and Apparated.
The Holyhead Harpies Quidditch Stadium rested on an island in the Irish Sea just off the coast of northern Wales. Harry hit the ground running. He scrambled over the rocky terrain until he saw the stadium looming ahead. One of the observation towers was aflame; figures on brooms swooped about, showering it with Aguamenti spells.
As Harry moved closer he spotted Robards near the archway leading into the stadium. He was talking to a tall, well-muscled woman who gestured and stamped her feet. Harry could hear her shouting even from a distance. That was Gwenog Jones. Dennis Creevey comforted a sobbing woman who was wearing soot-covered Quidditch gear while his partner, Samantha, leant over a mediwizard who was tending to an injured player. Harry observed at least half a dozen wounded people, a crowd of traumatised Quidditch players, and more medi-workers. He didn't see Ginny anywhere.
He scanned the group again and caught a glimpse of bright-red hair. Panicked, he tore toward the mediwitch blocking his view. Once he was close, Harry recognised the maroon Auror robes; Ron lay on his back, staring up at the sky and grimacing in pain.
Harry fell to his knees beside him.
"I'm okay," said Ron in a gravelly voice. "Just a few burns."
The mediwitch handed Ron a phial. "Drink this. It will help with the pain."
As Ron drank the potion, Harry looked him over and cursed himself for taking so long to arrive. "Your leg…"
"It's healable." He squeezed Harry's hand. "Just hurts. I'm going to be fine."
"He is," said the mediwitch, and smiled at Harry before casting more spells on Ron's leg.
Ron's muscles lost their tension. The pain potion must have kicked in.
"Where's Ginny?" Harry asked.
He gave Harry a wary look. "You don't need to worry about her."
"She's okay? What happened here?"
"They were preparing for a practice game with The Arrows. Their brooms went off. Reducto. Incendio. A couple of other spells we haven't identified yet."
"All the brooms?"
"No. Some being flown, some in the changing room. We're not sure yet."
"How many hurt?"
"Half a dozen. No one was killed." Ron's eyes flicked away and back again.
Those bastards. Harry wanted to find Pilkington and Todd and grind them into sawdust. Ron twitched, unable to lie still. There was something he hadn't told Harry. "Where is Ginny, exactly?"
Ron looked toward the stadium. "She wasn't hurt. Craydon and Parse are inside dealing with the mess. You should go and see Robards."
"Where's Ginny?" Ron closed his eyes, so Harry grabbed his shoulder. "Are you telling me there are people still trapped in there? That Ginny's still in there?"
"Harry…" Ron made a fist. "She'll be fine. I've seen her. Craydon and Parse are removing the rubble and--"
"The fire's still burning!"
"Harry--" Ron tried to grab him.
Harry jerked away and set off running toward the entrance to the stadium.
Robards blocked his path before he could get inside, thick and impassable as brick wall. "Auror Potter."
Harry stopped and tried to look as if he hadn't been about to run into a burning building without waiting to receive orders first. "Sir."
"I need you out here. Question the witnesses while their memories are still fresh."
Harry stared at him.
Robards stared back. It was like looking into the abyss and seeing the abyss look right back at you.
"Sir, there are people still trapped inside and I need to--"
"You need to do as you're told, Auror Potter."
Harry wanted to jump out of his skin. Robards was testing him. He knew it. "My friend, Ron's sister… She's inside, Sir. I can't bugger about questioning witnesses when she might be in danger."
"I sympathise, but that's all the more reason for you to stay out here. You're emotionally involved and won't stay level-headed."
Robards spoke over him. "There are several good Aurors already taking care of the situation. I'm not going to tell you again. Do not attempt to enter the building, Auror. Question the witnesses. It needs to be done."
Harry looked at the ground.
"Do what he says, Harry," called Ron.
Time was passing; Ginny was still inside the stadium. For a wild moment Harry considered Stupefying his own boss.
"Sir!" Dennis Creevey waved his arm in the air. "Sir, this witch says she saw someone creeping around the changing room."
Robards turned to look. Harry yanked out his Invisibility Cloak and wrapped it around himself.
"No!" shouted Ron. "Fuck!"
Robards spun. His face darkened. "Harry. Harry!" He swung his hands through the air in front of him. "Consider yourself suspended, you bloody idiot!"
Harry was already halfway to the stadium entrance. He darted inside and rushed through the smoke filled atrium. He could barely see. He pulled off the cloak, then vaulted over the turnstile. A sign indicated that the changing rooms were to the right, so that's where Harry headed: straight toward the heart of the fire. As he travelled deeper into the stadium, his breathing hitched and his heart pounded. He took a moment to cough and lean against a wall before casting a Bubble-Head Charm. Now he could breathe, but it was still difficult to see.
Shouting voices, and the whoosh and crack of spells being fired urged Harry onward. He burst through the doorway into a conflagration of flame and chaos. Craydon stood to the side, vacuuming up smoke with her wand. Her partner, Parse, was levitating a pillar beneath which Harry could see a pair of pale legs and green Harpies robes. Harry ran to the injured woman; she had short, blond hair. Not Ginny. As Parse stabilised the fallen pillar, Harry gently lifted the player and carried her out of harm's way.
"Set her down. Carefully!" A mediwizard helped Harry lower the woman to the floor. Then he said, "Get back. I've got her," and shoved Harry out of the way.
Harry backed up to let him work. He spun around, trying to peer through the smoke. His clothes were sticky with sweat and ash.
Someone shouted. "She's there! Near the back!" Harry turned and saw Ginny climbing over a fallen locker. A smudge of ash painted her cheek and her hair looked singed, but she didn't appear to be hurt. He ran to her, faint with smoke and relief. "Harry!" She gave a brief, hysterical laugh, then hugged him.
"You're okay," he said against her shoulder. "God, I thought--"
"I'm fine." She began to drag him back over the locker. "But Theresa's been hurt. I think she's unconscious. Help me get her?"
He nodded and followed Ginny to the back where a woman lay curled in a corner, her arms bent protectively around her head.
"Theresa!" Ginny shouted. Theresa looked up and then reached out. Ginny ran to her and together she and Harry lifted her to her feet. Theresa coughed and retched.
"Is that everyone?" Harry tripped to the side, woozy, and put a hand against the wall to get steady. Burning pain shot through his palm. He jerked his arm back and held it to his chest.
"I think so," said Ginny, half-leading, half-dragging Theresa to safety. "Are you all right?"
Harry stayed where he was.
"Come on, Harry."
He'd seen a door a bit further on. "Have you checked the toilets?"
"No. I think… I'm sure everyone else got out."
She didn't sound sure. "I'll just check."
"Harry!" screamed Ginny.
He looked back over his shoulder at her. "I'll just be a moment."
She creased her brow and pressed her lips together. Harry thought she might try to follow him. Then Theresa coughed and doubled over, clutching her stomach. Ginny held her up and called back to Harry. "You come straight back out. Damn you. You'd better come straight back out again, Harry!"
Harry grinned, his head light and empty. Then he turned and ran into the toilets.
The cubicles on the right crackled with flames. Harry felt his way through billowing clouds of black smoke. "Hello? Anyone here?" There was no response.
The first cubicle he checked sat empty, as did the next two. The rest were burning. There was no one there. No one he could save.
Harry stumbled to the centre of the room and crouched down. He wrapped his arms over his head. The fire roared around him, ruffling his clothes and hair like wind. Sweat trickled down his scalp and dried before it reached his neck. He let his mind go blank. He let the chaos around him wipe it clean.
Four years ago in the Room of Requirement Draco had reached out to him through the smoke, his face white with terror, his hand too sweaty to grasp. He hadn't been willing to leave Goyle behind.
Robards would suspend Harry. Harry had no illusions. He'd broken Robards' trust and he didn't know if he'd ever get it back. Ron would be furious too. They didn't understand. They didn't know that Harry needed this. He had to put his life on the line, to see it beating and vulnerable before him, as penance and payment for everyone he'd let slip through his fingers. You can't save everyone, Hermione had said. But as much as he knew she loved him, he also knew she didn't get it. She hadn't walked through the forest surrounded by the shades of people who had died for her. If he tried to explain, she'd tell him he needed help.
Maybe he did need help. With Draco, he'd thought he'd found it.
Draco had understood. Harry had no idea why. He just knew that Draco hadn't responded with pity when he saw Harry's tattoos. He hadn't told Harry to be careful or to stop putting himself in danger. If something scared Draco, he leapt right into the middle of it, dragging Harry along with him. And he'd said that he was always frightened, but Harry made him brave.
The remaining two cubicles had caught fire. The walls were burning. It was like crouching in the centre of an oven. Harry couldn't see, hear or feel anything beyond his own beating heart and pounding head.
He thought of Draco held tight in his arms and shrieking with joy and fear as Buckbeak plummeted toward the earth. He saw Draco's face shining in the moonlight as werewolves rubbed against their calves, then soft and warm in Harry's arms later that night. He needed Draco. He needed him.
But Draco had said he'd be better off alone.
He was wrong. Harry pressed his fists against his temples. What secret was he keeping? What would be enough to make him push Harry away after the night they'd spent together? Harry thought of the bruises and then the glimpse he'd had of Draco surreptitiously drinking a potion. Draco hadn't had a cold. He'd not so much as sniffled. And this morning he'd said he needed to get something, something he should have had the night before. Maybe he needed that potion.
Harry understood what it was like to push people away when you were scared, how sometimes you could imagine they'd be better off without you. That's what Draco had said.
He stood. His knees popped and for a moment he doubted his legs would hold him. He managed to get steady, and then pulled his wand and Apparated onto the rocky ground outside the stadium.
He'd barely caught his breath before Ginny hit him with a Stinging Hex. "What was that?" she shouted while Harry reeled and then fell on his arse. "What the hell was that? There was no one left! I told you. You made me leave you behind and I thought you were dead, you ridiculous bastard."
Harry vanished the Bubble-Head Charm and lay back, gratefully inhaling the fresh sea air. "Sorry."
Ginny glared down at him, hands on her hips.
Ron hobbled into view beside her. He looked tired and resigned. "You're fucked, you know? Robards was serious. He said he's going to team me with Kieran Greenberg now."
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. "You'll finally be able to do the job properly, without worrying about me all the time."
"Yeah." Ron lowered himself to the ground by Harry's side. "But it won't be anywhere near as fun. Kieran's a bit of a stick in the mud." Ron nudged him with his foot. "Robards is coming. You'd better get up."
Harry opened his eyes. He took a second to watch the clouds move over the sun. He hoped Robards would make it short so he could go and see Draco as soon as possible.
Once Robards had shouted himself hoarse, he put Harry on indefinite suspension. Harry made his escape; he Apparated straight from Holyhead to Auror Headquarters. After abusing his revoked Auror privileges to find Pansy Parkinson's address, he travelled to Chelsea. He might have benefited from a shower and a change of clothes, but he didn't care. He needed to see Draco, confront him with what he'd guessed, and then see if it made any difference.
Parkinson lived in a swanky, brick-fronted flat off the King's Road. Harry steeled himself. He hadn't expected to ever see Parkinson again, much less have to speak to her. The memory of her terrified face passed through his mind, But he's there! Potter's there! Someone grab him! He'd been a thing to her--not a person, but an object to hand over to Voldemort in the hopes of saving her own life. She'd wanted to take the choice away from him. He pulled the brass, flower-shaped doorknocker and clacked it.
Parkinson opened the door and froze. Her face went red and she gaped at Harry. He didn't care. He had no interest in her. He just needed to figure out how to get her to let him in.
She stood aside and said, "He's in the back bedroom."
Harry blinked, and without thinking said, "Er, thanks."
They stared at each other.
Then Parkinson's lip trembled and her eyes filled. "He needs you. I'm really glad you came."
Not wanting to deal with her tears, Harry turned away and moved quickly through the flat. It looked completely different in the daylight, but he remembered where to go. He reached the bedroom's threshold and then stopped. Parkinson had almost seemed to expect him, but he was unsure how Draco would react. It didn't matter. Harry had to do this. It was the right thing to do.
He walked through the doorway. Draco sat in a chair by the window, a book in his hands. The bruises on his wrists were gone. He had such pale hands with the bone structure delicately evident beneath the skin.
He looked up; his eyes shone clear and shocked in the sunlight. "Harry."
Harry stayed by the door. It was so good to see him again, and he couldn't move. He had no idea how to approach him after the way they'd parted.
Draco put on the blank expression Harry had learned meant he was trying not to show any emotion.
Harry took a hesitant step toward him. "Parkinson let me in."
Draco raised an eyebrow, but otherwise remained impassive. "Couldn't stay aw--" His fingers were white where they gripped the book. "Merlin, Potter. It's only been…" His face crumpled and the book fell to the floor.
Harry went to him. Draco stood and backed away, but when Harry pulled him into his arms and Draco clung and shook. "I'm sorry," Draco said in a soft, shaky voice. "I'm so sorry. I can't do this without you."
"Telling me to fuck off probably wasn't the best idea, then."
"I was trying to be noble. Taking a leaf out of your book. It turns out I'm no good at it."
"S'all right." Harry squeezed him and buried his face against his neck. "You make up for it with other qualities."
They stood that way for a while: not even kissing, just holding each other. Then Draco sniffed and said, "Merlin, the state of you." He made a face. "What happened? Did you burn your flat down in a fit of rage?" He looked almost as if he hoped Harry had.
Harry shook his head. "There was an incident. Work." He gestured, brushing off the topic.
"I need to lie down," said Draco.
They moved to the bed and stretched out next to each other. Harry ran his fingers over Draco's face: his cheekbones, his sharp nose, his soft lips.
Draco smiled sadly. "You've figured it out, haven't you?"
"You're ill, I think." Harry drew his teeth over his lower lip. "Ill enough that it's scaring you."
Draco slid his hand up Harry's arm. He brushed a lock of hair off Harry's forehead and touched his scar. "Ill… It's more than a case of Dragon Pox. I'm dying, Harry."
Harry had hoped very hard that it wasn't that bad or that final. His chest tightened and burned. "Why?" His voice came out thick. "What is it?"
"A curse. It happened in June." Draco's mouth twisted. "On my birthday."
"Who did it? Who cursed you?" Harry would personally throw them into the deepest cell in Azkaban.
"Voldemort," said Draco.
"What?" Harry went rigid with horror. He had nightmares, sometimes, that there was a remaining Horcrux--one they hadn't known about--and he was forced to fight again, never free, and never be able to keep the people he loved safe. On waking he knew the fear was ridiculous, but some memories clung, inextricably woven into your psyche, and haunted your dreams no matter how hard you tried to forget them.
"No. Calm down." Draco stroked Harry's head. "He cast the spell before you got rid of him. During the war. I'm sure of it. The curse virtually stank of him." He rolled onto his back. "He cursed our family book of names. Every Malfoy signs it when they turn twenty-one. It's a rite of passage. Only at some point, Voldemort got hold of it and implanted his little 'joke'. He envied the old families. Sure, he had Gaunt blood, but that's nothing to brag about. And he hated us, the Malfoys, in particular."
Harry didn't question this. He'd seen enough to believe it. "Even though you were on his side."
"My father was. My father was on his side. And he fucked up and the Dark Lord never let him forget it. No matter what Father tried--and, oh, he tried--it was never good enough."
Harry slid his arm around Draco's shoulders. Draco ran his fingers through Harry's hair.
"He killed me," said Draco. "My father. With his ignorance, stupidity and greed. He brought the Dark Lord into our lives, into our home, and now I'm going to die at twenty-one. I never even had a chance."
Harry's mind reeled, but Draco's fingers felt good against his scalp and helped keep him calm. "Have you told him? That you're ill?"
Draco shook his head. "When I told them I wouldn't marry Astoria, we fought. He can't bear that I won't do exactly what he wants, that I won't marry that woman to make an alliance he'll find useful. Pansy says I should tell them." He sighed. "She's right. I have to, but it will kill my mother. She won't forgive him either. It will destroy us all and that's exactly what the Dark Lord wanted."
Harry sat up. "So you were going to go through this alone."
He shrugged a shoulder. "I have Pans."
"Well, with only Pansy, then. Without your parents." Harry let his eyes fall closed. When it had been his time to face death, he'd had his parents. Only briefly, but he'd had them. He couldn't have done what he needed to do without their love and encouragement.
Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy both came from ancient wizarding families. They'd grown up in a culture steeped in dark magic. If Draco hadn't told them yet, he hadn't explored every possibility.
He opened his eyes and grasped Draco's shoulder. "You aren't going to die."
"Oh no. Don't." Draco looked stricken. "I've been through that already. We tried. Juliet, our family Healer, searched through her entire library. She consulted specialists at St Mungo's. We tried potions and spells. We tried everything. Nothing works."
"There must be something. Some counter-curse, some treatment."
Draco shook his head. "The potion came closest. It helps, but it won't help forever. Juliet says I'm doing really well considering." He swallowed then gave a bitter laugh. "I should have been dead weeks ago. She has no idea why I'm still alive."
Harry shuddered. He stopped himself from gripping Draco harder. "I won't let him do this to you."
Draco gazed at Harry with his brow creased. A kind of hunger flickered to life in his eyes. "You're cruel."
"Because you give me hope. I look at you, and… You make me believe there's hope."
"There is. And we'll find it." Voldemort isn't going to take anyone else. Especially not you. "We'll do everything we possibly can, and we'll find it."
The next day Draco went to the manor to tell his parents he was dying. He went alone. Harry would be there for him when he returned, but he knew his presence wouldn't make what Draco had to do any easier.
Harry did what he always did when he had a magical problem he didn't know how to solve. He went to Hermione.
She sat behind her desk in her office, looking grown-up and professional in her pressed, grey work robes with her hair tied neatly back. When Harry told her about Draco, she burst into tears.
Harry sat down in a chair. He conjured a handkerchief and handed it to her.
"I'm sorry." She wiped her eyes. "I just remembered the way you looked the other day. It's been a long time since I've seen you that happy."
"Yeah. Well, it's just my luck, isn't it?"
"From what you've told me, none of it would have happened if he hadn't been cursed. He might have gone ahead and married that horrible Greengrass girl." She set the handkerchief on her desk and took on a look of determination. "Magic is always balanced." She Vanished the cloth. "Curses have counter-curses. We'll find the magic that will work for Draco."
"All curses have counter-curses?" His heart beat faster and he understood what Draco had meant about the cruelty of hope.
"All of them. Sometimes the magic is complicated or very specific, but it always balances out."
"The Killing Curse?"
"Is instantaneous. You can't shield against it and there isn't time to cast a counter." She pulled out a quill and began writing on a blank sheet of parchment. "What's the name of the healer treating him?"
Hermione nodded. "I've heard of her. Works privately with a lot of the older families. I'll send her an owl."
Harry sat still, smiling at her. "I'm very lucky to have you, Hermione."
She blushed. "I'll let you know once I've spoken with Healer Duarte."
Hope might be cruel--a feverish light, sweet and aching in the centre of his chest--but Harry welcomed the pain. He went home and paced the rooms of his flat. He didn't have work as an outlet or distraction. He couldn't leave, as Draco might finish with his parents and need him. Hermione might send news.
He cleaned his kitchen. He tried to read the Prophet. He tore the Prophet into strips and made them into a paper chain.
Draco didn't knock on Harry's door until shortly after the sun had set. He entered with a grim face and dark circles beneath his eyes.
Harry wasn't sure what to say. Draco sat down on the sofa and let his head fall back.
Harry sat next to him. "So. I guess it was… hard. Yeah?"
Draco snorted. "Worse than finding out for myself."
"Did they have any suggestions? Anything you could try? Your mother. Is she--"
Draco turned and grabbed Harry by the shoulders. He pushed him back, straddled him, then bent down and gave him a bruising kiss.
Harry went hot all over. Draco nipped at his jaw and began undoing the buttons on Harry's shirt. Harry gasped and arched his neck. "Can you do this? I don't want to hurt you." He grasped Draco's hips and held them as gently as he could.
"If you're going to start treating me like a fragile, untouchable flower, I might as well toss it all in now. What's the point of dying tragically if you don't get lots of tragically beautiful sex to make up for it?"
Harry smiled. "I don't think I've ever had tragically beautiful sex before."
"Oh, you have." Draco trailed kisses down his throat. "You just didn't know it at the time."
"Seems kind of unfair."
Draco undid Harry's belt and pulled his jeans and pants down his hips. Harry was almost embarrassed by the fact that he was already hard with his cock jutting upward, damp and red. Draco hovered, his lips no more than an inch away from the tip. He shot Harry a wicked look. "I promise to make up for it."
Harry tried to pay attention to the specifics of what Draco was doing: the way he cradled Harry's balls, the way he swallowed around Harry's cock and sucked so hard Harry thought his ears would pop. By the time Draco had wiggled a spit-slicked finger inside him and found a spot Harry had only vaguely known existed, he'd stopped being able to pay any kind of attention to anything other than the deep, radiating pleasure building and building until he came, moaning and clawing at the sofa cushions.
"Promise me something," Draco said, once they were both drowsy and satisfied. He sprawled atop Harry, boneless, his head resting on Harry's chest.
"Anything." Harry rubbed his palm in circles against Draco's back.
"Don't tattoo me on your body. No ferrets."
Harry went still. "I wouldn't use a fe--"
Draco ran his hand along Harry's chest and down his arm. "I don't want to be another one of your scars."
Harry imagined lying on his sofa alone, knowing Draco was gone forever. Darkness crept up around the edges of his mind. "I don't think either of us is going to have much choice about that."
Draco was silent. He began to quiver gently against Harry. His breath hitched.
"Don't," Harry said and wrapped his arms around Draco. "I'm not going to let you die."
"I want to believe you. All those things we did--the Muggles, the Hippogriff. I thought they'd help. But I'm still so scared."
"It helped that I was there, though. Right?"
"Well, I'll still be here."
"You'll stay with me?"
"The whole time." Harry closed his eyes. "Until the very end."
In the morning, Draco had to get ready to go back to the Manor. Now that his parents knew about the Curse, they didn't want to let him out of their sight. Harry understood. Only he didn't want Draco out of his sight either. And apparently Parkinson had sent an owl asking when he was coming back.
"I've never felt so popular," said Draco, combing his hair with extra attention. "Shame it's not going to last."
"Stop that." Harry liked watching Draco groom himself. "Do, uh… Do your parents know about me? About…" He made a gesture.
"Do they know I'm fucking the wizarding world's saviour? Not yet. I think it's best to let one shock sink in before I add another one to the pile."
While Harry had a certain amount of respect for Draco's mother, knowing he was sending Draco off into the arms of Lucius Malfoy made him irritable. He pushed the discomfort aside, filing it under 'problems they should be lucky enough to have to confront at a later date'.
Draco exited through the Floo. Harry's flat felt too big and too empty afterward. Fortunately, it wasn't too long before Hermione's head sputtered into green, flickering life in his fireplace. He helped her out and fetched her a cup of tea.
"What did Healer Duarte say?" Harry asked once he'd settled Hermione in the armchair.
"Well, she wasn't exactly forthcoming." Hermione tapped a nail against the rim of her teacup. "There are patient confidentiality issues. Also, she's a bit of a snob. Brilliant, but reluctant to share her knowledge with 'a Muggleborn Ministry worker still wet behind the ears'."
Harry scowled. "Did she tell you anything at all?"
"Eventually." Hermione took a sip of tea. Her eyes looked cattish.
Harry smirked. "What did you do?"
"That's not important. What's important is that it's a blood-borne curse. Which is good, because it's limited and treatable. We just need to find the right kind of magic to balance it out."
She made it sound so possible. "But, why couldn't she cure him, then?"
"The magic Voldemort used was very powerful. The potion Draco's been taking treats the damage the curse is doing to his body, but it doesn't defeat the curse outright. Duarte doesn't know of a way to counter this specific kind of curse."
Harry ran a hand through his hair. Maybe it had been cruel to give Draco hope. Maybe it had been cruel to let himself hope. "He told me she'd expected him to die weeks ago. Duarte doesn't know why he's lasted so long."
He sunk back against the sofa cushions, shoulders slumped.
"Don’t give up, Harry. Just give me a bit of time."
He shook his head. "We don't have time. Hermione… I'm scared. I don't want him to die."
"I know." She got up and sat down next to him on the sofa. "How is he doing?"
Harry didn't know if he wanted her so close. He wanted to be alone. No, he didn't. He wanted her to hold him and promise that everything would be all right. "He's terrified."
"Of course he is." She sighed. "Oh, Harry."
That sat together in silence.
"I don't know how to help him," said Harry.
"Have you thought about telling him about what you went through?"
He knew what she meant. "It was different for me. I didn't die in the end."
"But you believed you were going to."
He stared down at his hands. He thought back. He'd been aware of each beat of his heart, as if counting down to the last. His senses had been heightened: every scent sharp, every sound deep and clear. He'd longed to be found out, to be stopped and dragged back to safety; but he'd gone on.
Harry knew what it felt like to be close to death. He'd had a choice, though, and Draco didn't. Did that make it easier for him or harder?
Hermione's fingers laced through his. She rested her head on his shoulder. He slid his arm around her waist. "What you did saved us all, Harry."
"Your sacrifice weakened Voldemort's magic. It prevented him from being able to hurt anyone else. And yet you still tear yourself up for the ones you couldn't save."
He hated thinking about it. Maybe he had a choice, technically speaking. If he hadn't gone through with his walk through the forest, though, his life would have been worthless. He didn't feel like he'd done some great thing, just that he'd done what he had to do.
Hermione went rigid at his side. Her hand tightened in his. "Harry."
"Harry!" Her eyes had gone round and her face alight. "I think I know why Draco hasn't died yet. Juliet wouldn't have thought of this. She doesn't know you, and I doubt she understands the implications of what you did."
Despite being desperate to change the subject, Harry let her go on.
"He was there that night. Draco. The magic would have protected him from Voldemort along with everyone else."
Harry's skin prickled. He swallowed, not knowing how to take in what Hermione was telling him.
"And…" She turned his face to look at her. "It's still in your blood, Harry. Your mother's protection against Voldemort."
It was like the first time Draco had kissed him. His body hummed with energy. "So… What? We just give him some of my blood? You think that could cure him?"
She beamed. "It's not quite that simple, but yes. It might. It's definitely worth a try."
"All right." Harry gripped her hand hard. "Let's try it. Thank you." He pulled her into a hug. "He can have my blood. He can have any bit of me he needs."
Dusk fell gently, dimming the light in the sitting room at Malfoy Manor. No one spoke as the house-elf moved about, lighting the lamps one by one. Looking paler than Harry had ever seen him, Draco sat quietly on a fancy-looking, overstuffed chair with his hands resting on his knees. Every so often he'd slowly blink. He appeared, to Harry, lost deep inside his own mind. Harry wanted to go to him, to touch and comfort him, but was wary of disturbing him in such a state. Also, the Malfoys were watching.
The darker part of Harry allowed himself a bit of pleasure at the fact that their son's life was, hopefully, about to be saved by their Dark Lord's nemesis and a Muggleborn witch. He'd looked Lucius Malfoy straight in the eye and shook his hand half an hour earlier as Narcissa had welcomed him into their home. The elder Malfoy's face had stayed blank, still as stone. He looked old and worn. His hair had gone white. Harry couldn't summon any remaining anger for Lucius Malfoy.
He, Draco, and Hermione had decided that Hermione didn't need to be present for the spell. Harry felt very out of his element in the Manor and could have used her support, but if she'd been there, an already awkward situation would have been even tenser.
Julia Duarte would direct Harry and Draco's actions, then perform the incantation. Despite her stocky figure, her short grey hair and overall grandmotherly appearance, something about her set Harry on edge. She stood in flowing, purple robes, her spine stiff with aristocratic pride. "Well, boys." Her voice was deep and melodic. "It's time to begin."
Draco's eyes cleared and shot to Harry. Harry smiled at him. It was going to work. It had to. He stood and met Draco in the centre of the room in front of Healer Duarte.
"You understand," she began, "that this may be futile. It's old magic with which I'm not overly familiar. Its success depends as much on luck as on your mutual determination."
"We're determined," said Harry.
Draco nodded. "Yes." He sounded hoarse, his voice a whisper.
"Ultimately, it will come down to whose blood carries the more powerful magic." She gave Harry a doubtful look and he tried not to glare.
Hermione had put it a little differently. I think it will work, Harry. Because this kind of magic so often depends on the strength of the emotional power driving it. And you really care about him, don't you?
Draco's eyes shone from a pinched face, as if he were struggling not to feel too much hope, but couldn't help himself. Warmth spread through Harry's chest. He tried to beam his feelings out toward Draco, to let him see, so he'd know that everything would turn out well.
You understand what you're doing, don't you, Harry? Hermione had asked. Taking in cursed blood? If the magic doesn't work…
Harry understood. If the spell didn't work, he could die alongside Draco. He was more than willing to take the risk.
"We'll begin." Duarte pulled a silver dagger from within her robes. "I suggest you both kneel. This may leave you slightly woozy."
Harry got down to his knees and Draco did the same. They faced each other. Duarte bade them lift their right arms and they did so. She cut Draco first--a swift slice down the centre of his wrist. He gasped and swayed; Harry grabbed his shoulder with his free hand. Draco's blood trickled from the wound in a bright-red line down his skin. Then she turned the knife to Harry. It didn’t hurt--and then it did, with bright, fierce pain. Harry inhaled sharply. He watched himself bleed and noted with some hysteria that his blood and Draco's were exactly the same colour. Harry slid his fingers between Draco's. Draco gripped him back as hard as he had when Harry had pulled him from the fire.
"Quickly now." They pressed their arms together, cut to cut. Chanting an incantation, Duarte waved her wand and trailed a coil of light around their joined wrists. Harry felt a tug--his arm drew closer to Draco's. They were bonded. The lips of their wounds had been woven together.
It made him dizzy. He'd thought he and Draco had been as physically intimate as two people could be, but now they were, in a sense, one body. They were sharing each other's blood. The idea of it crept over Harry's skin like warm silk and he didn't care who was watching--he leaned in and kissed Draco. Draco made a soft sound and kissed him back.
Harry's wrist grew hot and then erupted with itching pain. He almost bit Draco's lip.
"What?" asked Draco, looking scared.
"I…" Harry didn't want to say. The itch grew more intense. Without thinking, Harry tried to pull his arm away. Draco cried out.
"Mr Potter! Please remain still," snapped Duarte.
From the side of the room, Narcissa called out for her son.
"It's okay," said Draco, his voice loud and clear. He began to tremble, his face shocked and ebullient. "I can feel it, Harry. I can feel the magic flowing through my arm."
So can I, thought Harry, and wondered if he would pass out. His arm felt as if it were crawling with biting ants; his stomach roiled with nausea. Draco's face wavered in front of him as Harry's heart began to beat faster, each thump echoing through his head. Black spots swam across his vision, and he realised that he was frightened. He gripped Draco tighter and focussed on him.
"It's going to work," said Draco.
Harry ignored the pain and concentrated on the hope shining from Draco's face. "It is." He pulled Draco close again, gripping him like a lifeline. "It's going to work." He kissed him and put everything into it--all his love, all his desire for Draco to be well. Draco responded passionately. Harry whispered against his lips. "You're staying here, with me."
Night had fallen. They held each other tight, neither willing to let go.
(July 31, 2001)
Draco squinted against the sun. They were up very high and getting higher. The expanse of space left him breathless, the wind kept disarranging his hair, and he was sure the air was too thin. This was insane. Muggles were insane. Harry had promised him that it was perfectly safe, but perched in the air and poised to plummet, Draco couldn't believe it was true.
The morning had started in such a commonplace manner. He'd rolled onto his stomach and yawned. Harry's mattress always made his back ache. It was far too hard. If they ever decided to use it for proper sleeping, he'd have to have a word with him.
Voices floated into the bedroom from the lounge. Harry's and… Oh. Weasley. Damn. Draco had thought he might give Harry a birthday treat and wake him up with breakfast in bed, or perhaps indenture one of the Malfoy house-elves to cook breakfast and wake Harry up by sucking his cock. But Harry was already up and about. Bugger it all. Draco would have to come up with some other kind of surprise.
He got out of bed and padded out into the sitting room. He hadn't bothered dressing. Harry glanced up from his position crouched in front of the Floo and smiled. He lazily ran his eyes up and down Draco's body and said, "You're wicked."
"Am I?" Draco cocked his hip.
"You-- You're a bloody-- Arrgh!" Weasley covered his eyes with one hand and gestured wildly toward Draco with the other. "Harry! Can you please do something about… that?"
"Go put something on. A dressing gown or at least some pants. You're upsetting Ron." Harry shook his head at Draco as if Draco had been a very naughty boy.
Draco sighed. "If you insist." He turned and walked back toward the bedroom, only pausing to bend over and pick at a non-existent speck of dust on the floor. Weasley made a sound like he was being strangled.
Sadly, the sight of Draco's bare bum didn't cause Weasley to flee in horror. He was still there, chatting to Harry, when Draco re-emerged, wearing a pair of Harry's jeans. He wasn't quite used to them yet. The material was stiff and made his legs hot, but he loved wearing clothes after Harry had worn them.
Half-listening to the Floo conversation, he went into the kitchen and started making coffee.
"He wasn't even expecting it?" Harry sat on the floor, hugging his knees. He wore an old pair of pyjamas.
"Nope. Todd must have been the smart one. Pilkington was having dinner with his wife and kids. Shocked out of his mind when we showed up. He thought it was all going swimmingly. Says Todd didn't keep him informed, just used him for information. I think it's a load of shit. He's a right slimy bastard."
"And where was Todd?"
"Spain. Pilkington told us exactly where to find him. Kieran gets them talking, I'm telling you, mate. He may seem mild-mannered, but he's got a silver tongue. Both bastards are going to Azkaban for a very long time. The rest of their lives, if I have anything to do with it."
"So… You're getting on with Greenberg?"
There was a certain unhappy tone in Harry's voice. Draco bent down and handed him a mug of coffee, then moved to the sofa. He suspected a 'moment' was in the offing and wanted to leave Harry to it.
"Come on," said Weasley. "He's not you. He never could be."
Harry shrugged and took a drink.
"You know you needed this time off," Weasley went on. "In six months, you'll come in and see Robards, convince him you're no longer mental, and we'll be back out in the field together, just like before."
"Right." Harry ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah."
Draco was getting bored. "Of course it's entirely possible I will have fucked his brains out by then," he called toward the Floo.
Weasley made a sound like a Puffskein being crushed beneath a falling rock.
"Stop it, Draco." Harry turned his head so Weasley couldn't see his amusement.
"I'm just going to go and leave you with the ferret now," said Weasley. "Don't tell me what you have planned. And have a great birthday, Harry. I'll see you tonight."
Draco hadn't decided if he'd go to the party Granger had planned for that evening. He got along well enough with her these days, but spending too much time in her husband's company tended to make him cross.
Harry bade Weasley goodbye and then stood. Draco took a sip of coffee and fluttered his eyelashes.
"You can't pull off innocence." Harry took the mug away and set it on the floor. "You shouldn’t even try." He climbed onto Draco's lap and straddled him.
Draco put his hands on Harry's arse and ground up against him. He wasn't quite hard yet, but he was getting there. He wanted to calmly enjoy watching Harry's face before he got carried away. "How are you feeling?"
"Perfect." Harry bent and kissed his neck. "You?"
"Great." He scratched his nails down Harry's back and made him twist.
They did this several times a day--just checked in with each other. Draco's symptoms had vanished--no more nausea or headaches and no more bruising at the slightest touch. Juliet had said she couldn't be sure, though. And even if he was cured, you never knew. Accidents happened. Life was dangerous. And living in fear had changed Draco. He didn't think he'd ever feel entirely safe again.
But so what? Life wasn't about feeling safe. It was about living as much as you could in the time you had. And with Harry by his side, Draco knew he would never again feel like a coward.
"What's the plan for today?" He thrust up again, adamantly this time.
"Sorry?" Harry was apparently distracted.
"What…" Draco rolled upward. "Are we going…" Again. "To do today?" He tightened his grip on Harry's arse and began grinding against him in earnest. "Birthday boy."
"You know." Harry gripped Draco's shoulders and held on. "That thing… that I said. Merlin, take those off." He slipped off Draco's lap and slid out of his pyjama bottoms. Draco yanked off the Muggle trousers. Harry crawled back onto Draco's lap and they pulled each other off, kissing until Draco threw his head back and Harry pressed his mouth against Draco's throat. "Fuck, Draco," Harry whispered, and then moaned as he came, spurting over Draco's chest and stomach.
"Yeah." Draco thrust up into Harry's fist. "Hold me tighter." Harry did and Draco came, gasping and shuddering hard.
They showered together, and eventually Harry remembered that he wanted to take Draco to a theme park to finally ride a rollercoaster.
So now Draco found himself strapped into a tiny, open-topped train car creeping up an impossibly steep slope and about to plummet to what he hoped wouldn't be his death. He chewed on his lower lip. It was no use, trying to hide his nerves. Even if Harry weren't able to see through him at this point, Draco's sweaty hand would have given him away. Harry rubbed his thumb against Draco's palm and Draco clenched his hand tighter.
They were nearing the top of the arch. The tiny train seemed to be stuck firmly to the track, but Draco didn't trust it. It made a clack, clack sound with each foot they travelled and felt much too light and insubstantial. He checked once again to make sure the harness around his waist and hips was securely fastened.
Harry nudged Draco's shoulder. He grinned and straightened his glasses. His hair was ridiculously tousled from the previous rollercoaster and his cheeks were flushed with wind and sunshine. The fierce flame in Draco's chest burned higher, as it always did when Harry met his eyes.
Clack, clack, clack
They were at the top--the highest point in the entire park. A round dome sat in the distance near a sparkling blue lake. Next to that sat an enormous water slide. The ground was littered with countless devices engineered to toss and spin Muggles around like the mad, thrill-seeking creatures they apparently were.
"How are you feeling?" asked Harry.
"Great." Draco scooted closer. "You?"
The train moved forward. Gravity snatched at it with greedy hands and Draco squeezed his eyes shut. "Scared?"
"A bit," said Harry.
The rollercoaster tipped and then plunged at a ridiculous speed. The wind tore at Draco's face and the pressure swept his breath away. At his side, Harry screamed and laughed. It was terrifying, but Draco knew that with Harry there, he'd be fine. He held on tight and screamed along with him.
-- The End