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Dare To Think

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The funeral director's office smells musty. Old. Almost suffocatingly so, in Draco's opinion. Frankly, he thinks it also far too grim and dark, what with its dark wooden panelling that stretches two-thirds of the way up the otherwise creamy walls and the thick, plush, blood-red carpet. Not even the large bouquet of bright white roses and peonies and lilies spilling over the rim of a silver vase in the corner can lighten the space; besides, the sweet, almost cloying scent of the flowers does absolutely fuck-all to mask the stuffy stillness of the air and the ever so faint whiff of putridity that wafts through the half-open door. It's near-silent in the room, to the point that Draco can hear the soft huff of his breath with each slow exhale. It makes him uncomfortable, makes him shift in his chair, which then creaks beneath his thighs, loud and echoing in the peculiar, asphyxiating quiet. Draco feels odd, almost as if he's not really in his body. As if he's floating above himself, disinterested, barely engaged in the hushed conversation around him.

Andromeda's sat beside Draco, neat and elegant in her scarlet brocade chair, her feet tucked properly to one side, full black skirt draped beautifully over her knees, pale hands clasped in her lap. She nods, listening to James McIntyre drone on. The gaunt, pale man with the too large head and the skeletal hands will be the one in charge of his father's body once the Aurors finally release it. McIntyre and McKenzie have buried generations of Malfoys, after all.

It's odd to be caught in this dismal mausoleum, Draco thinks, on a Monday afternoon that's bright and sunny and bloody gorgeous outside. His mother had wanted to come, wanted to be the one to make the decisions about Lucius's interment, but she'd started crying over breakfast and hadn't been able to stop. Draco, on the other hand, feels nothing. Hadn't even when he'd looked down at his father's body in the St Mungo's morgue on Saturday morning to identify it, Harry beside him, gripping his hand tightly.

That hadn't been Lucius Malfoy lying in the morgue drawer, not really; Draco had barely recognised the puffy, pale face, its familiar angles and sharpness softened by death, the silver-gilt hair so like Draco's own pooling around his father's shoulders. Except he had. But that body, lying still and silent, hadn't been the man he'd known. Hadn't been his father. The spark of Lucius Malfoy was gone. And Draco had turned away, walked out of the cold morgue with its stench of death and cleaning charms, and promptly sicked up in the bin just outside in the hallway, Harry coming up behind him to hold his hair out of his face and then to put his uninjured hand on Draco's back.

Draco'd spent the next quarter-hour just sitting on the cold, stone floor, the taste of his sick still lingering in the back of his throat, his shoulders pressed against the white-tiled wall, Harry beside him, letting Draco lean on his shoulder. They hadn't spoken, either of them, and Draco'd been so bloody glad. He wouldn't have been able to bear it if Harry'd offered him platitudes. Told him that things would be all right.

They won't be.

And Harry hadn't. Harry'd just let Draco rest his head on his chest, his good arm draped around Draco's shoulders, the other still clamped to his body with a sling. They'd sat there together in the middle of the bloody hallway, not giving a damn who walked past them, until Draco could stand without shaking. Draco hadn't cried the entire time. He doesn't have anything like that left in him any longer, he thinks. He just feels empty now. Hollowed out.

To be honest, Draco wonders if he's normal. If other people feel this blank nothingness once the shock of death wears off. If it's even done so yet. Draco's not so certain the shock has, not entirely. But he knows that his mother can't do these things, can't make these arrangements. Draco doesn't want to either. There's some part of him that'd rather his father stay in the Aurors' care, if Draco's honest. He feels lost here in this cold, cavernous office on what should be a normal everyday afternoon, soft sunlight filtering through the wispy white lace curtains.

But who else would do this if not him? He's the Malfoy heir. He knows his duty.

Pansy had once told him during their Auror training that terrible things happen on Mondays, and he'd laughed at her. She'd been hungover and grim and very much against being forced into Dawlish's course on proper investigative technique that day. Now he's not so certain she's wrong.

Harry'd been the one to firecall Andromeda whilst Draco sat with his mother, trying to calm her down. Draco'd heard him in the hearth, asking Andromeda to come with Draco this afternoon whilst he and Teddy stayed with Narcissa, explaining the situation to her a low, careful voice. Harry would have come as well today if Draco had asked, but Draco didn't really want him to. They've only been dating a week, really, and Draco thinks it's just not done to make your new boyfriend go with you to plan your father's burial. They'd argued as Draco'd dressed himself, hushed and angry in Draco's bedroom, trying to keep his mother from hearing them, but Harry'd given in finally. Draco'd been relieved. He doesn't want to put Harry through more than he has to with his father's death. Draco knows Harry hated Lucius, and it means the world to Draco that Harry hadn't gone back to Grimmauld Place when they'd arrived last Thursday night. Instead he'd stayed at Draco's flat, understanding immediately not only that Draco needed to be with his mother but also that Draco needed Harry close by.

And so Harry had been there quietly in the background all weekend, except for the few hours on Friday afternoon he'd had to go into the Ministry to help deal with the aftermath of Draco's father's death. Draco hadn't asked about that, not even when Harry'd come back. He hadn't wanted to know. Instead, he'd sat in his sitting room with his mother, letting her grieve around him, curled up on the sofa, whilst Draco sat in the armchair beside the window, sipped a glass of wine and wished he were back in New York, back with Harry, both of them lost in each other.

Damn his father to hell.

He realises that McIntyre must have just said something to him; both the funeral director and his aunt are looking at him expectantly. "Sorry?" he asks. "It's just…" He trails off, uncertain what to say. He hates this feeling.

"Yes, of course." McIntyre sounds sincerely sympathetic. "I was just asking about the casket. What sort you might like for your father. There's the line your grandfather was buried in, of course. Very plush. Polished mahogany with engraved sides. Lovely gold trim and tufted satin lining." He glances over at Andromeda. "And I've the ones the Black family have preferred over the years. Ebony, of course, with silver. Very tasteful. I have models if you'd like to see--"

"No." Draco can't. He rubs the back of his neck. "Something plain will do. Something simple. Fuck, just throw him into a sodding pine box and be done with it." He's so bloody exhausted, and his head's throbbing. He just wants to go home, to wrap his arms around Harry and be held.

McIntyre looks a bit taken aback, and Andromeda says, "Draco, your mother--"

"She'll understand." Draco feels a bit nauseous. He can feel the thrum of his pulse in his wrists. "My father was a criminal killed in Auror custody. I don't really think I want to bury him in grand style, Aunt Dromeda." He looks over at her, and she nods. Her dark curls are twisted up onto the back of her head, and for a moment, with the way her mouth turns down at the corners, she looks almost like his Aunt Bella. A chill goes through Draco, and his Mark throbs dully, but then she gives him a small smile and the illusion's gone. He presses his fingertips to his forearm and tries to breathe out. He's going mad, he thinks, with all of this.

His aunt turns back to McIntyre. "Draco's right, James," Andromeda says, her voice quiet. "There are other circumstances to consider. Something as ostentatious as our usual family traditions might be a bit…" She hesitates, bites her lip, then says, "Gauche."

McIntyre frowns a bit, but he leans back in his seat and nods. "Of course."

There's not much to say after that, really, but they go down the bloody checklist of bereavement. Draco refuses the Prophet obituary. "Everyone already knows the bastard died," Draco says bluntly. "It's been on the front page two out of the past three days."

What Draco doesn't say is that he has no interest in a polite fiction being written about his father's life. There are no good things to say regarding Lucius Malfoy, no philanthropies, no small kindnesses on which to reflect, no people other than Narcissa and Draco who might even miss the sodding shit. Hell, his father's own brother-in-law had killed him, and his so-called friends had abandoned him. The haughty facts of Lucius's existence were writ in blood and pain and hatred and couldn't--wouldn't--be covered with the tepid platitudes of memorial. Draco will never let them be. Not now. Not after everything. He won't allow his father's life to be rewritten, to be gentled by the man sitting across from him, to be boiled down to Lucius Malfoy is survived by a wife, Narcissa, a son, Draco, and a--what would Harry be? The very thought of Harry being mentioned in his father's death notice makes Draco laugh, sharp and bitter and louder than he expects. He catches himself. "Sorry."

McIntyre looks quite discomfited, but he politely continues. "The service then," McIntyre says. "Perhaps the parish in which your parents were married--"

"No," Draco says flatly, and he sees the scandalised expression cross McIntyre's face before it smoothes away in the man's carefully cultivated look of concern. Even the least religious of witches and wizards still make some effort for births, weddings and funerals. Draco doesn't bloody well care.

Even his aunt frowns at him. "Draco, you can't avoid--"

"There'll be five people there, so what's the bloody point?" Draco doesn't look at Andromeda. He's tired, so sodding tired, and he just wants all of this to be finished. "Besides we were only the Easter and Christmas sort anyway, and only that whilst Grandmother was alive. I haven't stepped foot in St Barnabas for years, and Father nearly had a bloody conniption when the latest vicar installed was a woman. So I'm not certain he'd give a fuck about those particular niceties either." McIntyre scrawls something on his notepad, his head bobbing. Probably judging him, Draco thinks, but he really doesn't give a fuck about that either. He sits forward in his chair. "Are we done here?"

McIntyre opens his mouth to answer, but Andromeda speaks first. "We aren't," she says, and there's an undercurrent of cold steel beneath her voice, causing Draco to glance at her finally. Her mouth's tight, and she's watching him, a furrow between her brows. And then it softens, and she sighs, looking back towards McIntyre. "We'll have a small, discreet announcement in the Prophet, James. Nothing more than dates and remaining family. No obituary, no notice of where the service will be held. You'll allow me to see it before it's placed, please."

"Of course." McIntyre looks relieved. "I'll owl it over this afternoon."

"Thank you." Andromeda's back is ramrod straight. "I agree with Draco about the necessity of simplicity when it comes to arrangements, all things considered. We'll take a suitable, subdued casket. Something without embellishment. Polished walnut, perhaps, with simple fastenings. Along the lines of what we buried Ted in." Her voice cracks only slightly, and she doesn't look Draco's way. He feels angry, almost, but also relieved that she's stepped in, that she's making the decisions he can't bear to face.

McIntyre's quill scratches across his notepad. "Yes, yes." He glances up at Andromeda. "The service?" His tone is careful, light, and his gaze flicks Draco's way.

For a moment Andromeda hesitates, then her fingers brush the back of Draco's hand. "We'll have it graveside at the Malfoy crypt at St Barnabas with the parish vicar," she says finally, and she looks at Draco. "No pallbearers. No eulogy. No grand flowers. Perhaps just a very small spray across the casket. White lilies, I think?" McIntyre nods at that. "Again, very simple. Nothing inside the church itself. A compromise?"

All Draco can do is shrug his shoulders, barely able to make himself care anymore. He sinks back in his chair, letting his aunt take over, barely listening to her and McIntyre discuss the specifics. He wonders how Harry's doing with his mother and Teddy. If he's as overwhelmed as Draco is.

And then Andromeda's standing, shaking hands with McIntyre, and Draco pushes himself out of his chair, lets McIntyre's cool fingers close around his.

"We'll take care of your father once we receive him," McIntyre says, his voice kind, and Draco just nods. Merlin only knows when that will be.

He follows his aunt through the quiet, softly lit outer salon of the funeral home, his boots sinking into the dark, plush carpet. He catches a glimpse of caskets through a doorway, neatly lined up, their lids raised to show off the tufted and shirred satin lining. Draco stills, looking at them, his gaze drawn to the wooden boxes gleaming in the light from the wall sconces, the commodification of death and grieving.

Draco's surprised when Andromeda walks back, stops beside him. They're silent for a long moment, then Draco manages to say, "It's a business, isn't it? Valourising the dead?"

"In a way." His aunt catches his hand with hers, slips her fingers through his. "But no death deserves dishonour, Draco. Not even for someone like your father." She looks over at him. "The rituals we engage in when one dies, the way we, the living, interact with the shells of our loved ones…" She hesitates, then sighs a soft breath. "It's for us, not them, my dear. They don't care. They're gone."

Draco's throat is tight and sore. "He doesn't deserve--"

"No." Andromeda's fingers are warm against his. "He doesn't. None of us deserve to be grieved, really, do we? I know you're angry at your father--and oh, I understand." She gives Draco a small smile. "I've lost my parents. My husband. My daughter and my son-in-law." She looks away; her face is pale in the dim light, her eyes shadowed. "I've been angry at every single one of them in some way. There are times, when I look at Teddy, that I have to walk away. Go back into my room and scream into a pillow at the bloody-minded selfishness of Dora, walking into that battle and leaving behind a three-week old son--" Her voice cracks, and Draco can hear the rage and grief that roils beneath her words. His aunt presses her lips together, exhales. "It's not easy when they leave us behind. And it's never kind."

"But…" Draco trails off. He doesn't know what to say. He pulls his hand away from his aunt's, folds his arms across his chest, uncertain. He's quiet for a moment, then he sighs. "It's not the same, is it? Not like your husband, or Nymphadora, or Lupin even. Father…" Draco closes his eyes, breathes in the musty, woody smell of the caskets. "The things he did…" The words catch in the back of his throat, make him cough. He turns away. "He died a coward's death. A criminal's, not a hero's." The words are a mere whisper. "How do I forgive him that?"

"You forget," Andromeda says, her voice quiet, "that I was Cygnus Black's daughter."

Draco looks back at her then. He remembers his grandfather's death, back in the summer between his first and second year at Hogwarts. He'd never been close to Grandfather Black. Not like he was to Grandfather Abraxas. Cygnus Black was a hard, angry man. "He must have been difficult," Draco says after a moment.

"One might say that." Andromeda gives him a small smile. "But he was my father, and for all his many faults, when he died…" She bites her lip, shakes her head. "I couldn't even be at his funeral because of my father's hatred, because my mother burned me from the family tapestry. I couldn't bury either of my parents, and as angry as I was with them--I wanted to be. I wanted to grieve them, to say farewell, to remember the things about them that I loved, the moments from my childhood that I treasured. So trust me when I say that all of this, all these trappings, all this bollocks isn't for anyone but those left behind." She looks around them, taking in the solemn tapestries on the wall, the gleaming caskets. "But there's something to be said for being able to stand there and to say a proper goodbye. Even if there's part of you that hates him still." She reaches for Draco, pulls him to her. "I'm so sorry, darling. I really am."

Draco lets his aunt hold him, lets her stroke his back, lets her comfort him as the grief he thought had dried up seeps out again from beneath his eyelashes, hot and burning and wet.

He doesn't know how he's going to get through this. How he can.

"I want to go home," he says finally, his fingers twisted in the sleeves of his aunt's robe. "I need…" He can't finish his thought, but his aunt seems to understand.

"Harry," Andromeda says gently, and Draco just nods.

He feels a fool.

But Andromeda's already leading him towards the Floo, reaching for the jar of silvery powder on the chimneypiece. Draco can barely get the address out. His throat hurts so badly. But the green flames spin him away from the stale stuffiness of McIntyre and McKenzie's, and when he lands in his own Floo, stepping out after his aunt, he can hear Teddy's quick chatter and his mother's soft laugh, followed by Harry's low rumble.

They're in the kitchen, all three of them, sitting around the table with cups of tea and still-warm chocolate biscuits. Draco's counters are destroyed, flour and bits of chocolate everywhere, but Draco doesn't care because his mother's smiling down at a blue-haired Teddy who's explaining to her rather excitedly about Puddlemere's latest match. She reaches out a hand, smoothes Teddy's hair back. It turns a soft teal beneath her fingers before changing back to blue.

"Well, aren't you all cosy?" Andromeda says with a wide smile of her own, and Narcissa looks up at them, the flicker of mirth on her face fading slightly.

"Are you done already then?" Narcissa asks, and Andromeda walks over to the table and leans over Teddy, taking one of the biscuits from the plate in the centre.

Harry's already standing, giving Andromeda his chair. "I'll put the kettle on again, shall I?" He moves towards the hob.

"That'd be lovely, dear." Andromeda sits, then looks over at her sister. "James has all the information he needs. He and his people are just waiting for the Aurors to release the body tomorrow, hopefully. That's the last he's heard at least. We'll plan on Wednesday for the service, but that can be moved back if we need. The vicar understands the situation."

Narcissa looks down at the crumbled biscuit on her plate. "Thank you."

Harry walks past Draco, letting his hand rest on Draco's back for a moment. "All right?" he asks, his voice quiet, and Draco nods.

"As well as can be expected." Draco keeps an eye on his mother, half-listening to her asking Andromeda about the arrangements. "I was horrible at it all."

"I'm fairly certain you're not meant to be good at it." Harry picks the kettle up a bit awkwardly with his good hand, fills it with water from the tap. He sets it back down with a heating charm on it, then leans back against the flour-strewn counter. His wounded arm's still in the sling, draped across his faded blue Weird Sisters t-shirt, the neckline stretched and frayed, and he winces. Draco knows Harry's shoulder has been hurting for the past couple of days. Frankly, he has his suspicions about whether or not Harry's taking all his pain potions, but he doesn't have it in him to push the question. Not right now at least. Not when Harry's giving him that concerned look from behind smudged glasses. "Sorry about the mess," Harry says. "Teddy wanted biscuits, and it seemed to amuse your mother to watch."

"Chocolate biscuits are the best," Teddy shouts from the table, through a mouthful of crumbs. "Even Uncle Harry's."

"Yes, darling," Andromeda says, running her hand through his hair. "They rather are, aren't they?" She looks over at her sister and smiles. "Your Aunt Cissy ate them by the handfuls when she was your age."

Narcissa's mouth quirks at the corners. "The elves used to sneak them to me after lunch, as I recall."

"And you hated sharing." Andromeda laughs, and she reaches across the table, takes her sister's hand.

Draco looks away from them. He wants to lean his head on Harry's shoulder, wants to say thank you, to tell Harry he loves him. Instead he just shrugs and reaches for his wand, sweeping it across the counter. The flour and chocolate swirls up, then Vanishes in a soft pop, leaving the counter mostly clean again. Draco watches it disappear, and he feels oddly bereft. Empty.

He also wants to scream, to grab the flour tin and throw it across the kitchen, to watch it explode into a puff of white. He's reaching for it when Harry's hand closes on his.

"Don't," Harry says quietly, and Draco looks up at him. Harry's watching him with bright, worried eyes.

"I wasn't--"

Harry's thumb traces a small circle over the inside of Draco's wrist. "I got an image." He gives Draco a small smile. "But throwing flour isn't going to help you feel better. It'll just upset your mum. And then Teddy'll want to join in, and it'll be a bloody awful mess to clean up."

Draco knows he's right. He turns, his back to his mother and Andromeda, and he stares at the kettle, waiting for it to boil, his elbows on the edge of the apron sink. It's strange, he thinks, how this flat doesn't feel like his any longer. He wants to go back to Grimmauld Place with Harry, wants to feel the warmth and the welcome of the house. Not that he doesn't love his flat. He does, but it feels wrong now, like his mother's overwhelming it all. Taking it away from him. Draco rocks forward, presses his hand to his jaw, over his mouth. "I hate it here," he says finally, softly enough that his mother can't hear. "I'm going mad--"

"You're not." Harry shifts beside him, lets his hand trail up Draco's back, then back again. The faint pressure feels good, and Draco arches back into it. He closes his eyes, sighs as Harry's palm presses between Draco's shoulder blades. He misses Harry's touch. Misses being alone with Harry, misses Harry pushing him into a rumpled mattress, the whole of the New York skyline shining in the darkness around them.

Draco's chest aches. "I can't do this, Harry," he whispers. "I can't bury him. I'm so angry still…" He looks away, and he can't say anything else.

Harry's good arm slides around Draco's waist, and Harry pulls Draco up against him, resting his chin on Draco's shoulder, his slinged arm caught between them. Draco can feel Harry's knuckles against the small of his back. He knows he should chide him, knows it must be hurting Harry to hold him like this, but it feels good and calm and comforting, and Draco's selfish enough to just relax back against Harry's body and let himself be held.

"It's all right," Harry says, and he turns his head, his lips brushing against Draco's ear. "We'll get through this. Both of us." Before Draco can protest, Harry says, "I'm not going anywhere, love."

That last word sends a shiver through Draco's body. "Harry," he says, and when he looks at Harry, the soft warmth in Harry's eyes nearly takes Draco's breath away. Draco turns, pulls away enough so that he can touch Harry's face. "Merlin but I love you." It still feels mad to be able to say that. To know that Harry won't flinch away, won't look at him in disgust.

Harry's smile widens just a bit. "I know." He reaches up with one hand, brushes Draco's hair back behind his ear. "Just remember. You don't have to do any of this alone."

It's an odd feeling to believe him, Draco thinks. "You're an idiot," he says softly, and he thinks he could lose himself in Harry's gaze.

The kettle goes off, loud and sharp and rattling behind him. Harry gives Draco a regretful look. "Best steep some tea," he says, but he runs a knuckle down Draco's cheek before he leans in and kisses Draco, his lips soft and warm and careful. "Love you," he whispers against Draco's mouth, and when Harry steps away, Draco catches his mother and aunt watching them from across the kitchen, over Teddy's bright blue head, neither one seeming terribly surprised.

"Well, Cissy, perhaps Teddy and I will stay for dinner tonight," Andromeda says, a small smile quirking one corner of her mouth. "It seems there might be some things we ought to be caught up on?"

Harry Summons the teapot from the kitchen table, catching it with one hand. "We're madly in love, Andy," he says, his voice light, but Draco can tell by the set of Harry's shoulders that he's nervous. "I'd rather thought you might have figured that out by now." Draco's gaze flicks towards his own mother, who reaches for her teacup and lifts it to her mouth.

"I may have had my suspicions." Andromeda's watching them both. She picks up another biscuit. "But I'm pleased. For both of you."

"Nan," Teddy says, pulling on her sleeve. "Don't eat all of them. Uncle Harry made them for me." Andromeda breaks the biscuit in half and hands part of it back to Teddy.

Harry pours the boiling water over the tea bags and closes up the teapot again. The look he gives Draco is careful, a bit worried. Sorry, he mouths, but Draco just smiles back at Harry, lets his hand settle on Harry's back. He wants everyone to know he's in love with Harry. Even his mother, who's giving him a long, even look.

Draco doesn't give a damn what she thinks.

He leans in, kisses Harry, hard and quick and fast, his fingers tangled in Harry's hair.

If anyone can help Draco get through the nightmare of the next few days, it'll be Harry. This idiot Gryffindor with the slow, easy smile and the toe-curling kisses that he's fallen in love with. Draco can keep his head above water if Harry's nearby, can face whatever he must if he knows Harry's waiting for him at the end of it. That realisation terrifies Draco whilst, at the same time, sending his heart soaring. Harry promised they could do this together, that he'd be here for Draco.

And Draco believes him. Circe help him, but he fucking believes him.

***

Pansy sits on the edge of her hotel bed, folding her knickers and wondering how badly her flat will smell when she gets home. It's only been two weeks, and Pansy'd left it fairly clean, but her place has a tendency to get a bit whiffy when she doesn't air it out properly. It's an old building and the plumbing is atrocious, but she loves being in Camden near the clubs and pubs and the odd mix of Muggles that wander down her street at night. Not to mention, the shabby, rundown location also has the added benefit of horrifying Camilla Parkinson which brings great joy to Pansy's shrivelled little heart. She's fairly certain her mother would have a complete meltdown if she knew that Pansy's downstairs neighbour's a charming weed dealer by trade who always helps Pansy carry her groceries up the stairs when she came back from market. Liam's a lovely bastard, in Pansy's opinion.

She tucks a stack of knickers into her satchel, then reaches for the rest of the freshly laundered pile of underthings. Pansy hadn't cared what the others did yesterday afternoon whilst they waited to hear back from Granger about Dolohov's extradition; she'd found a laundromat nearby and managed to figure out how to do two loads of clothes in the oversized American machines without having to resort to magic. Well. Too much, at least. She really hates going home with dirty laundry.

According to Granger, they're due to leave with Dolohov at ten sharp New York time tomorrow morning, which means getting to the Chambers Portkey station a half-hour earlier and then waiting around while all of the paperwork is reviewed and all of the security goons are happy. Pansy's never been on an official extradition before, but Granger's assured them that they'll take every precaution the Department of Mysteries can devise. Dolohov'll be manacled and muzzled magically on top of that to keep him from casting any wandless or nonverbal magic. Honestly, the security briefing this afternoon had been more than a bit sombre, especially given the pall cast by the death of Draco's father in Lestrange's ambush. None of them want to admit it, but they're all worried about this extradition, about something going wrong again. Pansy loves her job, she truly does, but she doesn't want to die for it. Doesn't want to be another Phoebe Rayne or Winston Chang or Lotte Marquandt. She's a fucking lab rat, for Merlin's sake. Not a field officer.

Still, she knows the dangers of being in magical law enforcement. They all do. Things happen. Aurors get hurt, get killed in the line of duty regularly. A raid can go wrong, a suspect can throw a Killing Curse. Circe, it's not like the lab doesn't have dangers of its own. A Dark object could cross her desk. A potion could implode. An experiment could go badly. Pansy tries not to think about it. If she'd wanted a dull life she would have found a boring desk job somewhere in the Ministry where all she did was push around paperwork.

That doesn't mean she's not terrified about tomorrow morning, though.

Secretly, Pansy's glad that Granger will be with them. The guv's injured, and besides, with Draco, he's got enough to worry about without adding Dolohov and the Yanks to the mix. None of them had questioned his going home alongside Draco last Thursday night. Draco had needed Potter, so Potter went. Not even Granger had protested, as far as Pansy can tell. It's odd, she thinks, how they've all just accepted whatever this is between Potter and Draco, how obvious it is that they're mad for each other. Sometimes Pansy's jealous of them both, when she glances over at them and sees the way the guv's looking at Draco, as if he'd burn the whole damned world down if Draco asked him to. Pansy doesn't think Tony would do that for her. Then again, she's not certain she'd want him to, if she's ready for that from him.

But Pansy knows it's hard for Draco and the guv too. She wonders what will happen if Potter's relationship to Draco endures or, heaven forbid, becomes more public. It's going to be nasty if it comes out that the Saviour of the Goddamned Wizarding World is shagging a Marked Death Eater. On both sides, really. From the idiots who expect their Saviour to be a bloody saint and from the opposition, who see Potter as the reason their cause was defeated, their Dark Lord killed. Pansy grew up on the fringes of those circles, was friends with people like Draco and Theo, Vince and Greg, Millicent and Daphne. Half-believed what they'd told her, learned their prejudices herself by the time she'd entered Hogwarts, much to her mother's unease. Her own father had moved in those circles, played both sides for the sake of his business, whilst never pledging fealty to the Dark Lord. Just in case those idiots win, Pansy remembers him telling her mother during hols before Pansy's seventh year. Camilla had been furious with Terry; she hadn't spoken to him for half the summer, and when Pansy had asked her father why, he'd just given her a long, even look and said that her mother's family didn't care for men like Lord Voldemort. Pansy can still recall the shiver that'd gone through her at her father's use of that name. But Terry had told her not to be afraid of a madman's made-up name, told her that they were Parkinsons, and Parkinsons would always land on their feet. He'd bloody well make certain of that. Whatever Camilla might think.

Pansy had still been afraid. She's not certain she ever stopped, and she worries about her father, about his certainty he can control people, that he can use them to his advantage. There'll be a day, she thinks, that he can't. Perhaps it's already started with Eustace. She sighs, folds a bra carefully and sets it aside. Pansy hates worrying like this. About her family. About her friends. About everything.

Draco'd been almost catatonic when he'd left for London on the guv's arm, Pansy thinks. She hopes it's better now that he's home, but she doubts it. She hasn't yet heard when the funeral will be, but she and Blaise and Althea will be there. They've already discussed as much, the morning after Draco left, in fact. No matter how horrible Lucius Malfoy was--and he was a sodding arsehole of sodding arseholes in her mind--no one deserves to bury a parent alone, it's just not right. Despite years of wishing the opposite, Pansy murmurs a quick blessing and thanks to HaShem that her parents are still alive. She can't really imagine her world without them. Whom would she mortally disappoint, after all?

A deep sadness settles over Pansy as she turns back to her pile of clothes, wondering what the weather is like in London, whether it will turn cool again or be hot when they return. She's almost become used to the excesses of New York, the blistering heat of midday, the stifling warmth after dark, and the almost unbearable chill of the MACUSA cooling charms and the Muggle air-con at the Hilton. She's bought a few wraps to cover her shoulders, but the temperature shifts still astonish and irritate her.

She pauses on a pair of black lace knickers, a near match to the ones she ruined with Tony. It seems so far away now that she left her pants on his sink, even if it's not been a week. But so much has happened - the raid, Dolohov, the roses from Dimitri Godunov. It's more than enough, to Pansy's mind. It's time for life to slow down a bit.

Pansy runs a hand over the intact seams of this pair, thinking of that last encounter with Tony. They've seen each other, of course--several times in the halls of MACUSA this weekend,in fact, whilst she was working furiously to finish case details before they left--but she hadn't dared speak to him after Eustace'd been taken into custody. He'd kept his distance as well, although she'd caught him looking after her when she passed by. Tony's too close to that investigation, they both know. Pansy's half-glad that Eustace is being charged by MACUSA instead of the British Ministry. She can walk away from it, won't have to face the indignity of an investigation into her brother-in-law, won't be forced into the whole of the Auror force knowing her family's dirty secrets the way they have with Draco's father.

Still, Pansy doesn't want to know what Tony plans to do about her own father, doesn't want to think about how her Eustace's idiocy will affect her family on the official end of things, what might be uncovered, what Tony might find out. There are things about her father and his business that Pansy wants to ignore, wants to tell herself she's never noticed. And Pansy wants to pretend that it can be okay, that she and Tony can still be on good terms, that she can still fall into bed with him without thinking about all of this, but really, who's she fooling? She can't forget the reasons he began his relationship with her, at least at the start. He used her, and although she wants to believe him that it had all changed once they'd started sleeping together, really, in her experience, men will say almost anything to keep getting fucked. She wonders what his soon to be ex-wife, Eva, might have to say about it, but she stops that train of thought before she gets too maudlin and pathetic. It's when she thinks of Eva--the rare time she does--that Pansy has to admit she's not a nice person. She'd never cared about Eva's feelings in all of this, and if she's honest, she's not certain she does even now.

Whether she can bear to forgive Tony is still up for final review, Pansy thinks. She doesn't need to know yet if she has to hate him forever. His cock really is fucking brilliant, after all, and Pansy does love a good, thick prick deep inside of her. Maybe at some point she can just use Tony for sex, she muses. It's really all he can offer her, after all, and Merlin, is he ever bloody reliable in that department. She bites her lip, thinking of the myriad times he's brought her off for what felt like hours until she was limp and gasping from release.

The knock at the door catches Pansy off-guard. She's not expecting Blaise right now -- he and Durant had been holed up all weekend in Blaise's room, doing Merlin only knows what, and Blaise has been paying for it today. He was groggy and visibly sex sore this morning, with love bites down the side of his throat, but terribly, terribly smug. Really, Pansy hates him. So bloody much. Still, he'd also been a bit grim, saying it was just an extended one-night stand.

Bollocks, Pansy thinks as she pushes herself up off the bed. This can't be the last time he and Jake Durant will see each other, not the way their teams are so intertwined now, but, well, it's not her private disaster, is it? She's looking forward to dragging Blaise out for drinks with Mills and Draco when they're back home, although a shiver runs down her spine as she wonders how much they've changed in New York. Deep down, she worries this fortnight has driven a wedge between them all, although she can't really see how. But she can feel the separation lurking still, worming its way into the cracks between them.

Pansy walks to the door, holding her wand by her side out of caution, and opens it. She's fairly certain it'll be Althea on the other side, wanting something from her, perhaps a drink even. Pansy could use a good companion for the evening, especially one who isn't Tony.

When she sees Daisy standing there instead, Pansy blinks, a bit startled, then pulls her sister inside rapidly, looking around in the hall to make sure no one's seen, before slamming the door shut.

"Circe, what are you doing?" Pansy's breathless with worry. She doesn't know why, exactly, but she has a sense it can't be a good reason that brings her sister all the way down to the Financial District on a Monday in the late afternoon.

"Hello yourself, sister mine." Daisy pushes up her incredibly expensive sunglasses, and she leans in to kiss Pansy's cheek. She smells fantastic, like chocolate and roses, or something warmer. Muskier. It's definitely a fuck-me perfume, Pansy thinks, her senses coming to full alert. She wonders whom Daisy's wearing it for, and why now when the investigation into Eustace's only just begun.

Pansy steps back, eyeing her effortlessly chic sister, who's wearing a lightweight black jacket and sleek, matte black flats, her dark hair twisted up into a tight topknot. Her trousers are some sort of beautifully clinging, heavy knit that must have cost a small fortune, and her ivory tank is whisper-thin silk. She doesn't have any jewelry on except for a gorgeous emerald pendant that looks new. Pansy notes that Daisy's not wearing her wedding ring.

"So, what brings you to the Millenium Hilton?" Pansy decides to keep her tone light. This is Daisy, and no matter how much trouble she's in, Pansy will help her, even if she needs to dissolve bodies in the bathtub or cross the border illegally. Canada can't be too far away, Pansy thinks, although the exact distance eludes her at the moment.

Daisy frowns slightly, looking at Pansy's open suitcase. "You're packing."

Pansy shrugs. "Yeah."

"Oh." Daisy hesitates, then says, "I wanted to say goodbye. I won't see you for a while."

Pansy nods, wondering how Daisy knew she's leaving tomorrow. Granger just gave them the details this afternoon, and Pansy had planned on ringing her sister later tonight. "Well, I won't be far away, Dinks. You could come and visit, you know. Mother would love to see you."

If you're not charged with conspiracy and not allowed to travel, Pansy adds mentally, and she sends another prayer up to HaShem that Daisy will be spared all of that bollocks, and not just for her sister's sake. After all of the bumps and bruises of the last week, not to mention Lucius Malfoy's death, Pansy's beyond ready for a good spell of boredom and drudgery in the lab. She wants to do crossword puzzles in the back of the Prophet at night. Or pick up random strangers from the club down the street from her flat and fuck them senseless. She's not decided which, yet.

But either way, she's bloody well not going to shag Tony until he proves himself worthy, not with Daisy in the mix too. Pansy might just need to cut him out of her life entirely. She's not going to have her heart broken again, or her family threatened. She'd rather die than see any harm come to any Parkinson, ever, through her own inability to keep her knickers up and her legs closed.

"I didn't mean England, Pinks." Daisy is looking out of the window, up towards Midtown, her hands pressed flat on the ledge. "The views here are great, aren't they? I can't believe the Ministry sprang for a fortnight here." She glances back at Pansy. "Are the baths clean?"

Pansy almost laughs, as her sister doesn't usually stay hotels shabbier than the wizarding wing of the Four Seasons when she travels. And then Pansy remembers, Daisy might be separating from Eustace, and her mouth snaps shut. In an instant, Pansy revises her image of her perfect, golden older sister and her impeccable life. There's a lot of change happening, and Pansy's not sure her heart can catch up, but she can at least avoid bringing attention to her lapse. She still wants to think of Daisy as invulnerable; she wants to think of her as leading a dashing, elegantly illustrious life in New York. Pansy's not sure she can deal with Daisy's new vulnerability.

"What did you mean?" Pansy asks, voice throaty, although she's really not sure she wants to know.

Daisy half turns then, fingering her pendant. Her bottom lip's caught between her teeth, and she sighs. "I'm going to be gone for a bit. I won't--" Daisy stops, tilts her head. "I'll be okay. I just won't be reachable."

Pansy's alarmed, and she's sure it shows on her face. "Daisy, you can't run." She takes a step closer to her sister. "You're meant to be a witness--"

"They can't force me to testify against my husband," Daisy says, her voice quiet. "It's part of MACUSA law. I can choose not to. The lawyers have said."

"So you're leaving." Something twists in Pansy's stomach, hard and frightened and unsettled. "Have MACUSA cleared you for that?" At her sister's faint smile, Pansy's heart sinks. "Daise. You know they'll catch you. What Eustace's done is bad, but it'd be worse for the two of you to run away."

Right now, Eustace is up for possession of illegal magical substances, conspiracy, and criminal malice. Pansy can't imagine what flight or worse will add to his sentence, not to mention Daisy's role in his departure.

Daisy shakes her head. "His family bailed him out, Pinks. Not me." She looks away, a tight, bitter expression twisting her face. "That fucking bastard can go to Oudepoort, for all I care."

"Then…" Pansy hesitates, thinking of the perfume, then eyeing the emerald Daisy is fiddling with. It's huge, easily above five carats or Pansy will eat a pair of her own knickers.

And the Knut drops.

"Godunov," Pansy says, her heart clenching in her chest and the vision of a hundred perfect white roses rising in her mind, their scent rich and sweet, filling the whole of the incident room. She looks at her sister. "You're running away with Godunov." She sinks down onto the edge of the mattress. "Oh, shit, Daisy. You stupid arse."

Daisy turns back to the view of Manhattan. "Dimitri thinks he can get them to drop charges," she says, and there's a steely bite to her tone. "But I'm not going to be around much."

"You know this is an idiotic idea." Pansy shakes her head, but she knows her sister. Once Daisy decides she wants to do something, almost nothing can deter her. "He's a criminal."

"He's powerful." Daisy glances back at Pansy. "And he can protect me."

That brings Pansy up short. "From whom?"

Daisy doesn't answer. She just turns again, leans her arse against the window ledge, looking away from Pansy, her arms folded across her chest.

"Fucking hell." Pansy wants to shake her sister, to tell her what bloody shit taste she has in men. But that'd make Pansy a hypocrite, wouldn't it? She'd been charmed by Godunov herself. She runs a hand over her face, pushing her loose hair back from her forehead. She feels frumpy and plain sitting here in a pair of old leggings and a too tight t-shirt she'd bought in Hogsmeade during third year before her tits had grown in properly. She'll never be the graceful, stylish creature her sister is. But then again, she's not about to make the stupidest mistake of her life either and throw her lot in Godunov. "You're really going to do this."

"I am." Daisy sighs. "I just came to say goodbye, Pinks. Not get a lecture." She meets Pansy's gaze then, and Pansy knows nothing she says is going to change her sister's mind. Her shoulders slump.

"If he so much as hurts one hair on your head," Pansy says, her voice low, "I'll fucking kill him."

Daisy gives her a wry smile, flicks a white fibre off the arm of her jacket. "And you're sure I can't defend myself? That he isn't the one who should worry?"

Honestly, Pansy isn't sure at all.

"But you're my only sister," Pansy says, and she can't help the way her voice wobbles a bit. "His bloody siblings can avenge him, if they need to."

Daisy stills. She looks over at Pansy, her face softening. "I'm really glad you're on my side," she says, and she walks over, sits beside Pansy on the bed. "But I don't want you to worry."

"You know I'm going to." Pansy leans her head against Daisy's shoulder. Daisy turns her head, kisses Pansy's temple. Pansy sighs. "What am I going to tell Mother?"

"That I'll be fine." Daisy pulls back, reaches into a pocket of her jacket, pulling out a tightly rolled parchment. Pansy can see the spellwork from here.

"What's this?" Pansy doesn't reach out a hand to take it yet, even though Daisy's holding it towards her.

"It's for Daddy," Daisy says. "It's spelled to open just for him." She gives Pansy an even look. "So don't try, my lovely Auror sister."

Pansy eyes it. "Do I want to know what's in it?"

Daisy shakes her head. "No. I think it's probably best if you don't. But you're the only one I trust to carry it."

Pansy sighs. Daisy knows her too well. She's going to bring whatever that is to her father, on a secure diplomatic transport, no less, and she's not going to betray her sister's trust. "Fine. But I'm going to chase you myself if I get in trouble for whatever the fuck this is." At least it isn't a body, she thinks, although she has no intention of telling Granger about it regardless. It'll fit in her pocket, she thinks. "Can I miniaturise it?"

Daisy nods. "It should be fine." She stands, draws her jacket a bit more tightly around her, fiddling with her buttons. "Be careful. You'll want to keep out of the action on this one." There's a worry line between her brows. "Trust me. There are factions..." She trails off, then sighs again. "Don't get involved."

"I'm just a lab rat," Pansy says, although her stomach swoops a bit. She's a lab rat who's going to be transporting a known Death Eater tomorrow.

"Hide in your laboratory and don't come out," Daisy says. She chews on her lip. "Dimitri says--"

Pansy shakes her head, cutting her sister off "I don't want to know, Dinks. Not one word more."

Her sister nods, then gives her a quick hug, the whisper of her mouth next to Pansy's ear. "Stay out of it all, Pinks. Please." Daisy's voice breaks a bit. "I mean it. Don't be a hero. Or a bloody Gryffindor."

And then Daisy's gone, the door of Pansy's room closing behind her with a quiet snick, and Pansy's left clutching a magicked scroll of uncertain contents in a musky cloud of chocolate and rose, wondering when she'll see her older sister again.

She's strangely bereft at the thought that it might be longer than she can imagine.

***

When Harry slips out from beneath the duvet, Draco's still sleeping, his pale hair fanned out over the smooth grey cotton of his pillow. Harry thinks about waking him, of rolling Draco onto his back and pulling his legs wide so he can suck Draco's prick, but settles for brushing a kiss across Draco's cheek instead. They haven't had sex since they'd come back to London. Draco's been too wrapped up in his grief, and Harry won't push him. It's nothing that he can't take care of with his own hand, and Draco needs Harry to hold him at night, to be there for him when he wakes up from a bad dream. Harry can do that. He wants to, and he won't think about how odd that is, how he's never been with a partner in this way, not like he is with Draco. Ginny had always told him he was a shit boyfriend, and every other person he'd dated, all the way through Jake, had concurred.

Harry doesn't want to be a shit boyfriend for Draco. Not right now. Not ever.

"I'm going to go into the Ministry," he says softly against Draco's ear. "I'll be back when I can."

Draco mumbles something and shifts deeper into his pillow. Harry's glad Draco's sleeping, at least. He's barely eaten for two days, and Harry can tell that Draco's nerves have been fraying under the constant, quiet sorrow of his mother. Privately, Harry wonders whether Narcissa shouldn't be staying with her sister, who might be able to handle her grief better than her son can, but he's not going to say anything before the funeral tomorrow. For now, they all just have to muddle along as best they can.

Harry picks out dark trousers and a white shirt from the satchel he's still living out of, frowning at the wrinkles before quickly spelling them smooth. At some point he'll need to go back to Grimmauld or have Kreacher send over some new clothes. But his cleaning charms will have to do for now. He's picked up a few tricks over the years, although Draco still thinks his housekeeping spells abysmal, and he's probably not half-wrong. Harry pads over to Draco's en suite, setting his clothes on the corner of the sink before taking a quick morning slash. It feels odd to be almost living here in Draco's space. Harry isn't certain he likes it. He misses Grimmauld and the way his house would open up for Draco, the attempts it made to make certain Draco was comfortable, welcome even. Draco's flat feels closed off to Harry. Too quiet. Too filled with sadness.

It's already twenty after seven and Harry needs to hurry. Gawain had summoned him by owl last night for eight o'clock sharp, and Harry assumes he wants to get a briefing on the MACUSA situation before he goes into meetings about Dolohov. Hermione had said something about Luxembourg being interested in charging Dolohov in connection with the transport deaths, even though those were clearly committed by Lestrange, but Harry assumes that's a political manoeuvre, both to use against Lestrange when he's caught and to force the British Ministry's hand on something else. Honestly, it's all going to get bloody ugly soon, Harry thinks. He rubs his left hand over his face, checking in the mirror to make sure the bags under his eyes aren't too awful. Even though they'd spent barely a fortnight in New York, his body feels like it's two in the morning right now. Christ, but he hates adjusting to time zones and Portkey drag.

Harry lines up his potions and takes them one by one, all but the strongest pain potion--he needs his mind clear if he's to face Gawain today--then starts the shower. He manages to soap his hair well enough, keeping the water shield around his dressing since the skin's still fragile. He can clean it later with a spell the Healer in New York taught him.

His shoulder aches deeply, and although it's probably going to be fine, Harry's pride has taken a hit as well. It's bad enough that he got nailed by Dolohov, but the fact that he went down before the action really got going bloody well infuriates him. Then again, Harry supposes, it's just as well he took the attack so the team could fight. And Harry's pleased for Zabini--he knew Zabini had this in him, and after the ambush in Prague and the Crickerly attack, Zabini's confidence had flagged. Terribly. To be honest, Harry thinks Zabini's earned the triumph of Dolohov's collar more than anyone, and he'd shown his prowess under pressure.

And if some of Zabini's confidence returning also includes his sleeping with Harry's ex, well, Harry has no bloody right to be offended by that, whether or not it stings. Jake deserves someone who wants to be only with him, Harry thinks. They probably think it's temporary, Jake and Zabini both, but, well, Harry has seen how Zabini looks at Jake. Eventually they'll figure it out, he supposes. It's none of Harry's affair any longer, and he's just as happy to be sidelined with an injury so he can care for Draco right now. He only hopes he's doing more good than harm lately. It's hard to tell with Draco sometimes, especially when he's as pulled in and withdrawn as he's been the past few days. Harry thinks Draco needs to cry, needs to let himself fall apart, to rage, to be furious and grief-stricken and unhappy. It worries Harry that Draco's so silent and shut down.

Still, everyone grieves in different ways. Harry remembers what it had felt like that summer after the war, how tired and shuttered he'd been, going to funeral after funeral, unwilling to let his sadness be put on display for other people. Draco's more like him than either of them might like to admit. Besides, Ron's right. All Harry can do is be here for Draco. Wait for Draco to tell him what he needs, wait for Draco to feel what he's going to feel.

Harry uses magic to dress himself, wincing as he holds his arm out to let the shirt smooth itself over the still reddened skin of his shoulder. He's going to carry a lacework of scars across his arm, and Harry'd be fine with it if they didn't bloody itch so much right now. Also his scapula's beginning to ache from the immobilisation, and he's going bloody mad from not being able to go to the gym. Maybe he can do something in water or at least some yoga soon, he thinks. He's going to go spare if not. Harry hates not being active, hates the way his body gets twitchy, tense. He needs to purge some of that energy somehow before he implodes. The last thing Draco needs to deal with at the moment is Harry in sodding mood. Even Harry knows that.

Walking out to the hall with his hair still damp and his braces newly situated, his arm in its sling, Harry spies Narcissa in the kitchen, sitting at the island counter. Even though he's late, he walks in to check on her. It's part of what he's doing for Draco, this attempt to step in, to help in any way he can, even if it's something as simple as making certain his mother's fed and cared for.

"Good morning," she says softly, her face drawn and deep shadows under her eyes. She looks regal even like this, Harry thinks, clutching a cup of tea and, judging by the redness of her eyes themselves, clearly having sobbed half the night.

Harry touches her shoulder as he walks past, and she smiles at him. "Good morning," he says. He thinks about pouring a tea of his own, but he hasn't the time. He takes a scone from the breadbox instead, and breaks off a piece, walking back to lean against the island beside her. "Sleep well?" He pops the bit of scone into his mouth. It's a bit dry, but still delicious, studded with currants and faintly sweet.

"Enough."

That's obviously not true, but Harry doesn't press the matter. Instead he offers Narcissa half the scone. Crumbs scatter across the marble counter, and Harry brushes them away. "Eat," he says. "You can't live off tea alone. Even laced with firewhisky." He's caught the smell of it, drifting from the cup. He keeps his voice light, though. Far be it from him to judge her, and it might help her nap this morning. Draco'd be relieved.

Narcissa takes the scone, albeit reluctantly. "One can try," she says, but there's a bit of a flush across her cheeks. She nibbles at the edge. "Are you gone today then?" Her blue eyes are warm, but she looks like she could break out in tears again at any moment.

"I have to go in. I've been summoned." Harry hesitates. He knows he's been a buffer for her and Draco lately. Neither of them seem to be able to talk to one another, not in any depth at least. Narcissa's devastated with guilt and loss, and Draco's bloody furious with his father to the point that Harry's rather certain Draco can't even feel his own grief at times. "But I'll be back as soon as I can."

She pats his good arm. "We'll be all right."

They both know it's a lie, but there's nothing Harry can do. "I won't take long," he promises again and he walks back to the hall and picks his coat from the hook beside the entry hearth.

The Floos aren't too busy yet as Harry arrives at the Ministry. He manages to get through the wand check quickly, and up into the lift. He doesn't bother to check his watch. He's probably ten minutes late by now, but he hopes that Gawain will be charitably disposed.

When Viola sees him, she clucks and gestures to his arm. "That's not a good souvenir, Harry. You're supposed to have fun in New York, not get hexed by a bloody idiot."

Harry smiles, a bit pained. "Next time I'll just buy a t-shirt or a snowglobe. Promise."

"For fuck's sake come in, Harry, and stop wasting my assistant's time." Gawain bellows from the inner office, and Viola raises her eyebrows and nods toward the open door.

Harry gives up any hope of Gawain being in a good mood. He walks in, his steps silent on the thick carpet. "Hi, sir. Sorry I'm late."

Gawain waves a hand at him, but he's scowling as he sets a file jacket down. "Sit." When Harry's settled himself in one of the chairs in front of Gawain's wide, heavy desk, Gawain asks, "How's the arm?"

Harry shrugs with his good shoulder. "It's all right. The Healers in New York think it'll be good as new soon, although I'll get some wicked scars out of it."

"Charazando did that?" Gawain's frown deepens. "What the fuck was Dolohov casting with, the Elder Wand?"

"No." Harry sighs. "That's still safe, obviously." He hasn't told anyone, not even Hermione and Ron, that he'd left the Elder Wand in Dumbledore's tomb. He's not about to let Gawain know. "Dolohov had his own fucking wand." Dolohov's hit is still a bit of a sore point with Harry. Charazando is supposed to be a minor spell, after all. "He also used an otherwise unknown spell, one that does internal damage." Harry leans back in the chair, trying not to wince. He doesn't want his boss to think he's exaggerating his injuries or playing a sympathy card.

"Have you been to St Mungos yet?" Gawain's eyes are sharp. "I know the New York Healers are good, but I want you seen by our people too."

Harry shakes his head. "Sorry. I was going to later this week." After the funeral, he thinks to himself.

There's a long silence after that. Gawain looks out the window to the atrium below. "Yes," he says finally. "Make certain you do." He drums his fingers against the arm of his chair, and Harry can tell Gawain's furious with him. His heart sinks a bit, but he just takes a deep breath and settles himself. Whatever Gawain throws at him, Harry can take. He's done it before. More than once. Harry thinks that's part of why Gawain likes him, if he's honest. Gawain prefers people who don't cower. The Head Auror heaves an irritated sigh, then looks back over at Harry. "Dolohov's a dangerous bastard and no mistake. Saul's taking him into the cells over there, as you might've heard."

Hermione had mentioned it, when Harry'd rung her over the weekend to check in whilst Draco was sleeping one evening, and Harry wonders if Gawain's upset that the Unspeakables are keeping Dolohov under their guard. Still, he thinks it's a decent idea. Lucius Malfoy hadn't been attacked whilst in an Unspeakable holding cell. Harry draws in a slow breath, then says, "There have been a lot of surprises lately." When Gawain glares at him, his brows drawn together, Harry adds, "Sir."

For a moment, Gawain looks as if he wants to rip Harry's head off, but then he relaxes back into his chair. "You're right, of course. Between you and me, I'm just as glad it's Saul's job to keep Dolohov locked up safely." Gawain rubs his temples. "There've been far too many surprises in Auror custody recently, on both sides of the pond."

Harry shifts, coughing softly. "At least the Americans have had trouble as well."

"Yes, but it's our arses that Luxembourg are coming down on, for their envoy's death." Gawain looks over at Harry. "You worked with Charlotte Marquandt, didn't you?"

Harry hasn't even had time to think about Lotte. He can't believe she's gone. There'd been a time a year or so ago he'd even thought he'd fancied her, when he and Jake were in one of their off-again moments, Jake storming back off to New York after they'd fought, telling Harry they were definitely done. Lotte had taken him out for drinks. He'd kissed her afterwards, half-pissed, beneath a street lamp on Rue du Fossé, and he can still remember how soft and warm her lips had been. She'd pulled away, told him she wasn't willing to risk it, that she wasn't going to be his rebound shag when she was certain he'd go back to Jake in the end. She'd been right. They'd stayed friends though. Lotte was just that sort.

"I did," Harry says finally. "She's--was great." A lump forms in his throat, tight and painful, and he looks away for a moment. He needs to get to Freddie, needs to talk to someone about all of this and soon. He'd cancelled his last appointment because of the raid in New York, and he'd not owled for a follow up yet. He has to do that when the funeral's over. Harry won't let himself fall apart. Not on Draco.

Gawain heaves another heavy sigh and looks away. He rests his elbow on the arm of his chair, presses his knuckles to his lips. He doesn't say anything, just sits silently. Harry waits, watching him.

"You know," Gawain says finally, "I'd planned to suspend you when you returned for your blatant disregard of my orders regarding Sergeant Malfoy."

Harry jerks his chin up, heart pounding. He hadn't really considered it, although Draco'd worried, late at night when they were lying in bed together, and he kicks himself for being so bloody trusting, so certain in his defiant insistence to Gawain that he was going to be open about his relationship with Draco. "I'm sorry to hear that, sir."

"You'll be sorrier to hear that I can't," Gawain says, and he turns a grim frown on Harry. "We need you too much in the field. Also, Saul Croaker is going to take Malfoy on formally, and that will absolve you of professional misconduct. I believe he'll backdate it to the beginning of the New York mission." Gawain's mouth tightens. "As a favour for the Saviour of the Wizarding World." He looks unhappy. "You're bloody fucking lucky, Harry. They wouldn't have done something like that for me. They didn't, in fact." He leans forward, his elbows on his desk. "But Saul wants Malfoy that badly he's willing to overlook both of your defiances."

"What?" Harry's head is spinning, and he wishes his focus weren't so off with the time shifts and the potions. He can't quite believe his ears, and he feels dazed. He knew this might happen, but it feels unreal right now, and his first reaction is an angry kneejerk. "I mean, Draco's obviously not able to work right now due to family circumstances, sir, but he's still essential to Seven-Four-Alpha. And he's an Auror, not a sodding Unspeakable--"

Gawain stands abruptly, a bitten off swear on his lips. "Stop playing silly buggers, Harry. Like I've said, you're incredibly fortunate not to be sent home without pay to cool your heels for a few weeks, although I doubt it'd do bloody much in your case." He walks over to the window, looks out onto the atrium below, his hands in his pockets.

Harry bites the inside of his lip, sitting silently as Gawain continues. "You know damned well Malfoy can't be near Lestrange case, and the likelihood that will cross over to your team's doorstep is higher than I'd like, all things considered." He looks back at Harry. "And Saul wants to take him on as a full Legilimens. Pay for his training and everything. Going to make an official offer to him after the funeral."

"But Draco just made sergeant." Harry doesn't know why this matters, but it does. Draco'd been so proud of his exam and his promotion. It's Harry's sodding fault he can't stay on the Auror rolls, and that upsets Harry. He doesn't want to be the reason Draco's career derails. That's not what he wanted from any of this.

Gawain turns, facing back towards Harry. "Malfoy'll receive an equivalent rank in the Unspeakables, perhaps even better. I hear he's quite a natural as a Legilimens, and we're very scarce on those in Britain. Saul's champing at the bit."

"I don't want to lose him from the team." Harry knows he shouldn't object further, knows the decision has been made, knows that nothing he does will change that, but he really thinks Draco is the heart of Seven-Four-Alpha. They need him. "Can you put me in charge of another group? Let someone else take on Seven-Four-Alpha? Hart, perhaps? She's just made Inspector--"

"You'd do that?" Gawain shakes his head, surprised. "You'd give up your first special branch assignment for Draco Malfoy?" His gaze searches Harry's face.

Harry nods. He doesn't even have to think about it. "Draco's worked far harder for it, sir. He deserves to be here. I've just been given what I have because I killed Voldemort." He snorts. "If a rebounding curse can be considered that."

"No matter, Harry," Gawain's expression is kinder now, the harshness softening, a gentleness back to his eyes. "There's nowt to be done about it. Althea's your sergeant now. And I need you all to come back into the office as soon as possible. I'll give your team time to settle back in from the extradition today, but we're dangerously low on trained Aurors as it is, and I'm fighting a war here, whether or not Kingsley and the Wizengamot want to see it as such." Harry blinks at the intensity in the Head Auror's voice. Gawain's barely speaking above a whisper, but his syllables are clipped and fierce. "Peasegood's gone. Bates and Wrightson are gone. The Unspeakables just lost Chang. Shah's having a bloody existential crisis because he thinks he'll be held responsible for the transport safety since he left the detail and survived."

"No. Not Shah." Harry shakes his head in protest. "He'd never go in with the wrong side."

"You and I know that," Gawain says, "but the timing looks bad, and let me tell you, the Prophet's already starting to push the connections. He had to go back to Azkaban because of fucking Rodolphus Lestrange at the last minute, and Chang was substituted." Gawain sighs. "Proudfoot's starting to make noises about disciplinary action, but I'm doing what I can to put him off. The Changs have his ear though." Gawain shakes his head. "Poor family. The mother's beside herself."

Harry suddenly realises that this is Cho's little brother they're speaking about, that he should send flowers, or something in sympathy. His heart clenches in his chest. They've all lost so much and for what? "It shouldn't be like this, Gawain. We shouldn't be sitting here with so many dead already. They weren't supposed to come back, those bastards." He doesn't know whom he blames, exactly, but a black wave of despair slides over him, almost physically pinning him to the chair for a moment.

Gawain sits down again and runs a hand through his hair. "Agreed. But they are back, some of them at least, Lestrange first among them. We're the poor fools who have to mop up." He settles, looks at Harry. "At least your team captured Dolohov."

"When's the transport due?" Harry shivers involuntarily, his brain leaping back to the present. He's worried about his team, and he can tell from the set of his features that Gawain is as well. They're bringing him in today, Parkinson, Zabini, Whitaker. Even though Harry's grateful Hermione's taken point, it's hard for him not to be with Seven-Four-Alpha right now.

"They'll be sent off at ten local time, three in the afternoon here." Gawain glances down to a sheet on his desk. "Tom Graves is supervising the transfer personally."

"I'd like to be there when they arrive." Harry doesn't want to let his team come in with Dolohov alone. He knows Hermione has it covered, but he wants to at least show up to greet them on the other side. He hasn't mentioned it to Draco yet, for obvious reasons. He'll go back to the flat for lunch, then come in again.

Gawain nods. "I think that's a good idea. I'm set to meet Saul at half-two in his office. Why don't you join us at quarter til?"

Harry thinks this is a good sign. A peace offering of sorts. He could have dealt with suspension, but he doesn't want to draw any focus from Draco's grief right now either. "Are Luxembourg moving quickly?"

"Not sure." Gawain steeples his fingers. "Their people are supposed to be examining the Dementors, and they'll probably send more oversight." Gawain's face is grim. "As if they haven't been over our facilities with a fine-toothed comb already."

"Hermione mentioned Barachiel Dee had been in hospital," Harry says cautiously.

Gawain's expression flattens, and Harry can't help but wonder what the story is behind Gawain's dislike of Zabini's grandfather. "He's perfectly fine." Gawain sounds bitter and exasperated. "The arrogant prat chatted up the mediwitches and then checked himself out the moment Irskine turned his back."

Despite the obvious tension, Harry can't help the chuckle that escapes him. At least someone is coming out of this hale and hearty, he thinks, and he can only imagine how Barachiel Dee had handled being confined to St Mungo's. Gawain's visibly not amused, although the corner of his mouth quirks after a few moments.

"Speaking of that family, I'd like to give Zabini a commendation." Gawain's face is strangely thoughtful, and Harry can't quite read his expression. "If you think you can put him forward."

"Of course." Harry leans forward, nodding as eagerly as he thinks is presentable. "Absolutely. Zabini was bloody brilliant with Dolohov." Harry's shoulder twinges as he sits back in his chair. He doesn't let it dampen his enthusiasm, but he does rub his forearm, trying to settle the nerve pain. "He's an incredible duellist, and he got the collar. He actually took him on directly."

"In that case, I'll need your report as soon as possible," Gawain says. "I've already read Granger's."

Harry resists the urge to swear. Of course Hermione's got her paperwork in already. He's late, as usual, but he thinks he has better cause right now as well. "I'll get a report in by the end of week, sir. Once we…" He hesitates, then says, "Well, I'll want to be there for Draco when his father's buried." He raises his chin, daring Gawain to challenge him.

"We've released the body, you know." A hush settles across the room. Gawain looks over at Harry. "Lucius Malfoy's I mean."

Harry takes a deep breath. "That's good. The funeral's been scheduled for tomorrow. At eleven." Andromeda had been ready to take the Ministry on today if Lucius hadn't been released. Harry's glad she won't have to, if he's honest. "St Barnabas in Wiltshire."

"I'll let people know." Gawain's silent for a breath, and then he says, "We had to take a tissue sample." Gawain presses his lips together; he doesn't look happy. "I asked Jones to make sure we had enough to analyse, just in case it's not him." He shrugs his shoulders. "The way this lot are popping up alive again, one can't be too careful. Although, under the circumstances, we're all but sure that's Lucius Malfoy lying in the morgue." At Harry's frown, Gawain adds, "We've looked at all the recording charms around the Portkey cabin, both from our end and the site in Brussels. It seems fairly obvious that Lestrange killed them all. With no evidence that Malfoy's body was switched out."

Harry hadn't even thought about the possibility of a body swap. He thinks for a moment. "I suppose it's good to be certain, under the circumstances. Parkinson can show Jones the tests she did for the last one."

Gawain nods, then leans back in his chair with a sigh. "Well. At least someone's burying Malfoy." Gawain's face is clouded.

"What do you mean?" Harry doesn't quite follow.

"No one's claimed Marcus Wrightson's body." Gawain watches Harry's face. "Everyone else Peasegood took out has been claimed by family and interred, but he's still in the morgue." Something crosses his face, sadness, Harry thinks. "No one wanted him. No family. No friends. Shit of a way to die, wouldn't you think?" Gawain sighs. "Fucking Marcus. I thought he was one of ours. One of the good ones." He looks up at Harry. "Don't let yourself be a bloody idealist, Harry. It'll ruin you every time."

Harry shakes his head, not quite sure what to say. He wants to feel something, wants to know what to do, but he doesn't. It's all so strange.

Gawain pushes his seat back, indicating that the interview is over. 'I'll see you at quarter to three in Saul's office, Inspector Potter."

"Thank you, sir," Harry ducks his head, aware that he's narrowly avoided disaster yet again. He lives his life under a lucky star, he thinks.

Gawain's voice follows him out. "Oh, and Harry? Don't be fucking late this time."

Harry winces and lets the door fall closed behind him.

***

Blaise follows Pansy and Althea into the heavily warded room tucked away in the back hallways of the Chambers Street Portkey terminal. It feels strange to be back here again with his luggage in hand. He doesn't want to leave New York, if he's honest. He feels like a heel, really. He should want to go back to London, want to check in on Draco. Circe, he's only firecalled once, on Sunday night, and he'd reached the guv then, who'd told him Draco was sleeping. Blaise isn't great with time zones. Potter'd looked tired and worn out, and Blaise is worried that the guv might be taking on a bit too much this early in however he and Draco are defining their relationship now.

It's not his place to say, though. Blaise knows that damned well. He'd learnt that lesson during Draco's relationship with Nicholas Lyndon, had Draco furious with him for questioning that bastard's motives. Not that the guv's anything like Lyndon, thank Circe. Still. Blaise doesn't want to upset Draco. Not with everything he's going through.

Granger's standing by the customs officials, waiting as they check her bag for charms. Weasley's gone ahead earlier this morning on a regular Portkey, Blaise knows. He's not an Auror; they couldn't have taken him with them. Blaise drops his satchel down beside Granger's. She looks over at him, her dark curls pulled back by a thin cream scarf wrapped tightly around her hairline. Whilst the rest of them are in full Auror dress uniform, even down to Pans, Granger's in a black silk top that drapes perfectly over her breasts and a pair of cream trousers that make her arse look brilliant. Bloody Weasley's a lucky man, Blaise thinks. "Boss," he says, with a cheeky grin that he doesn't quite feel.

"Zabini," Granger says, and there are lines at the corner of her mouth. She looks tense and worried. Blaise doesn't blame her. Not after what had happened with Lucius Malfoy's transport.

They'd talked about the danger yesterday afternoon, gathered together in the MACUSA incident room. Anything could happen. Despite London and Luxembourg's best efforts, Rodolphus Lestrange was still at large. Granger had nixed the use of a Portkey cabin. They'll be doing this the old-fashioned way, each of them bound to Dolohov, the official Portkey being delivered to them by Tom Graves himself.

Blaise is still fucking terrified. He's doing his best to hide it, though, just as the others are. Pansy's been quiet all morning, unusually so, and it's starting to worry Blaise. When he'd asked her about, as they checked out of the hotel, she'd just shaken her head. Said she was fine. That's bollocks; Blaise knows it, and she knows he knows it. But there's no use in pushing her about it. Pansy'll talk when she wants to and not a moment before. Still, he rests a hand on her arm as she puts her bag beside his.

"All right, old girl?" Blaise asks, and Pansy just gives him a faint smile.

"Brill," she says, but her smile doesn't reach her eyes, and Blaise thinks she must be upset about Eustace and how that fucking wanker's going to hurt her family. He doesn't even want to think about how Daisy's going to face it all down. For all that Pansy whinges about her sister, she loves Daisy dearly. Blaise has always envied her that connection. He'd spent most of his childhood wishing he had a sibling. Even one older than him.

Althea drops her bag down in front of the customs official. She looks severe in her dress blacks, her hair twisted tightly back at the nape of her neck, her red sergeant's bars polished as brightly as her boots. She watches as the MACUSA Aurors go over their luggage carefully before setting it into a crate that'll be Portkeyed separately once they're gone. Blaise nudges her shoulder. "It'll be fine," he says.

"We'll see." Althea's mouth is a thin line. "After what happened last week I'm not certain I trust anyone."

"I'm not sure I ever did," Blaise says, his voice light. Sometimes he wonders how non-Slytherins survive. How they manage to go through their lives thinking people can be trusted, can be believed, can be counted on.

Pansy glances over at them both, and she doesn't smile as she says, "It's never a good idea. Not really." Her fingers brush across the breast pocket of her Auror uniform, almost as if she's checking to make certain something's there. She catches Blaise watching her, and she drops her hand. The look she gives him is shuttered, yet even.

Granger turns around. "So here's how this is going to go," she says. "In a few minutes, our friends here from customs are going to leave, and Antonin Dolohov is going to be brought in via that door." She nods towards a plain white door in the corner. "This room's warded. Heavily. There'll be MACUSA Unspeakables outside in all corridors leading to us, and Dolohov will be under an armed guard comprised of Unspeakables and Aurors. Everyone with me so far?"

They all nod, their faces sombre.

"Right." Granger pulls four silver cords from her pocket and hands them around. "You'll each use your cord to bind yourself to Dolohov. Upper arm or thigh, I don't care which. The cords are charmed to form an unbreakable bond." She looks at them, her mouth tight, her expression grim. "Even after death. Ours, obviously. Or his, but if they come for him, I'm not so certain they'll want Dolohov dead this time. Still, our objective is to protect the prisoner at all costs. Even at a danger to our lives. Am I clear?"

"Utterly," Althea says.

Pansy draws in a quick, soft breath beside Blaise. "The Unspeakables are taking the threat level rather seriously, I see." Her voice is light, but Blaise can hear the slight tremble beneath it. So can Althea, evidently. She places a hand on Pansy's shoulder and squeezes lightly. Blaise can feel Pansy relax at Althea's touch. Pansy gives Althea a small smile, and it's more sincere than Blaise expects it to be. Curious.

"We are." Granger lets her own silver cord slide from one hand to another, a thin, shimmering serpent of magic against her skin. "None of us want a replay of Lucius Malfoy's transfer. I want all of you home safely, and Dolohov in our custody. We'll be keeping him in the Department of Mysteries, at least for now. Luxembourg's making noises about taking him themselves."

Blaise thinks that's wise. The Department of Mysteries is the only place those bastards haven't yet managed to infiltrate. Merlin fucking help them if they do, but Blaise doesn't want to think about that. Ever.

There's a movement at the door, and they all look towards it, bodies tense, their Auror senses on high alert. Even Pansy's hand goes to her wand hilt, that training they'd had in their first few months as Aurors kicking in even for a self-professed lab rat like her.

Jake walks in, and a ripple of relief goes around the room, even from the customs officials. He nods towards the MACUSA Auror in charge. "Everything set, Holborn?"

"Close enough," Holborn says, and he's watching the customs officials tag Blaise's bag and set it aside. "Is the prisoner on his way?"

"Five minutes, give or take." Jake looks damned good in his flat-front khakis and his navy jacket, open at the front. He's wearing a blue shirt with white pinstripes, and Blaise wants to sink down to his knees in front of Jake and mouth his prick through the twill of his trousers. A roil of pure lust goes through Blaise, sharp and hot, and Jake's head turns towards him almost immediately, as if he can feel it radiating from Blaise's taut body.

He probably can.

Fuck but they'd spent most of the weekend in bed, and Blaise feels guilty about that, about the waves of pleasure he'd ridden whilst his best friend was at home, grieving the death of his father. But those two days were all that Blaise was going to have, weren't they? And he wasn't willing to give them up in some mad solidarity for Draco's loss. He couldn't. He wouldn't.

So he'd wrapped his body around Jake Durant's, and taken Jake's thick, long prick into him over and over and over again, stretching his arse wide, blocking everything out but Jake's mouth and his hands and his cock, refusing to think about the outside world.

Blaise hadn't bothered with clothes all weekend. He didn't think Jake had minded. They'd fucked until they were both spent and exhausted, and the room stank of sweat and spunk, and then Jake would roll Blaise over again and kiss him, pressing him into the mattress, their bodies sliding slickly together, both of them almost insatiable for the other.

To be honest, Blaise has never been fucked like that before. Somehow, he doesn't think he ever will be again.

He can feel his body responding to Jake, can feel the way he wants so desperately to walk up to Jake, to press his body against his, to feel the warm solidity of Jake beneath him. He craves it. Badly.

Blaise looks away. Takes a deep breath. Tries to focus on anyone--anything--else. It doesn't work. He's so fucking aware of every movement Jake makes, of the way Jake pushes his hair back from his forehead, of the soft murmur of Jake's voice as he greets Granger first, then Pansy and Althea. Blaise stares down at his feet, tries to still the quiet thud of his heart.

Like that's bloody well going to happen.

"Hey," Jake says from beside him, and Blaise glances up, doing his best to look as if he doesn't give a fuck that Jake's a foot away from him, hands in his pockets, seersucker jacket pushed up at the sides.

What Blaise wouldn't do for a pair of sunglasses right now. Anything to hide behind, to keep Jake Durant at an arm's length. He exhales, a soft, slow puff of breath that parts his lips, and Blaise catches the way Jake's eyes dip down. Pansy's watching Blaise, and there's a faint furrow of worry between her perfectly groomed brows. Blaise looks away, but he also doesn't miss Althea's quick, knowing glance.

"Got a moment?" Jake asks Blaise, and the corners of his eyes crinkle. Circe, they're so fucking blue, Blaise thinks, but he just shrugs.

"Can't go anywhere without being attached to a fucking Death Eater," Blaise says, "so I suppose I might."

Blaise can feel Granger's curious gaze on him as he lets Jake lead him a few feet away from the others. It's not much privacy, but it's not as if they've one last chance at an empty room, yeah?

Jake's back is to the others; Blaise can see them looking over Jake's shoulder--even Granger. He feels his face warm. "So," Jake says, and then he stops, an uncertain expression crossing his face.

"This weekend?" Blaise gives Jake a small smile, keeping his voice low. "Pretty good."

"Yeah." And Blaise gets a flash of something warm and soft from Jake, a quick image of himself spread out across the hotel bed, sweaty and sated. "It was decent, I'd say."

Blaise feels a bit flustered. He tries to push it away, but he thinks Jake can sense it anyway. Merlin, but Blaise needs to work on his Occlumens.

Might be a good idea flits through his head, so quickly that Blaise isn't quite certain at first it's not his own thoughts.

"Stop that." Blaise frowns at Jake. "No Legilimency without explicit consent, remember?"

Jake chuckles, and it's a warm, low sound that goes straight to Blaise's prick. "Sweetheart," he says with a faint drawl, "you projected that loud and clear."

Blaise sees Pansy's eyebrow go up a bit further. "Circe, Jake." He hesitates, then says, "So we're saying goodbye. How terribly dull of us."

"Something like that." Jake pushes his hands deeper into his pockets, rocks forward on the balls of his feet. For a mad moment, Blaise thinks that Jake might actually kiss him. Right here in front of everyone. He's disappointed when Jake doesn't.

Instead Blaise shifts, folds his arms over his chest. His Auror jacket pulls tight across his shoulders. Blaise knows it's a good look, the way it makes him look broad in the chest, lean in the hips. "We had fun."

"A bit." Jake rubs at his jaw. He hasn't shaved this morning; there's a bit of stubbly shadow that Blaise wants to press his face against, wants to feel scrape across his cheek. "I'd do it again."

"Would you?" Blaise smiles faintly. Of course you would, you wanker, he lets himself think, and he's rewarded with a soft laugh and a shake of Jake's head.

I think I might miss you, Jake whispers in Blaise's mind. Well. That brilliant arse of yours, at least.

"You're incorrigible," Blaise murmurs, but he's watching Jake's face. For a moment, he thinks he sees a flicker of regret, and then it's gone, and Jake's just looking at him, the way every other one of Blaise's ridiculously stupid flings has. Except not quite. There's something a bit held back about Jake Durant. As if he's trying to keep Blaise at a distance and failing. Blaise steps closer, reaches up to flick a piece of nonexistent lint from Jake's shoulder. "If you find yourself in London," Blaise says, his eyes fixed on Jake's face, "look me up."

Jake's smile is slow and easy. "I might just do that, Constable Zabini," he says, and Blaise's stomach twists at the heat in Jake's gaze. He almost forgets they're not alone, almost reaches up to touch Jake's cheek, to smooth his thumb along the curve of Jake's bottom lip.

Blaise catches himself in time.

The door opens again, and even Jake's head turns. A half-dozen Aurors, give or take, come through the door, Espinoza and Martine amongst them. In their midst is Antonin Dolohov, wrapped in shackles, hands clasped in front of him, a thick metal gag hiding his mouth, the woven leather straps disappearing into his lank, filthy hair. He's in the bright orange robe of the MACUSA prison system, the American phoenix printed across the back in black ink. The customs officials slip out behind them, giving Dolohov uneasy looks as they do.

A frisson of fear goes through Blaise at the sight of the man. Dolohov's eyes are sharp and bright and dark, his gaze flitting around the room. Blaise knows Dolohov can't cast wandlessly here, not with the myriad magical dampeners on the shackles and the gag. Even Blaise can feel the strength of the charms, and he's halfway across the room from Dolohov. Still, he can't help holding himself a little tighter, making certain his wand's in easy reach, the holster at his hip unsnapped. If Blaise is honest, he doesn't trust anyone in this room outside of Pansy, and even she could be corrupted. Any of them could. Blaise had lived through the war, after all. He's seen what people are capable of, what they can be forced to do. He wraps the thin silver cord Granger'd given him earlier around one finger, feeling the cool slickness of the metal against his skin.

"Ready?" Martine asks Granger. "Graves is coming with the Portkey, but not until you're all in place."

Granger nods and motions towards what's left of Seven-Four-Alpha. They draw close; Blaise hates to leave the comfort of Jake's side, but he strides towards Granger with only the slightest backward glance at Jake. The MACUSA Aurors wait until Seven-Four-Alpha is even with them, and then they draw back in a smooth, fluid movement, their own silver cords sliding off Dolohov's limbs, making space for Blaise and Pansy to move behind the bastard.

Dolohov's elbow goes out, but Blaise already has his wand in his hand, the tip pressed against Dolohov's temple. "Give me one reason," Blaise says quietly into Dolohov's ear. "Because I'm Slytherin, old man, and I haven't the qualms of a Gryffindor or Ravenclaw about taking your fucking arse down. Harder this time." He feels Dolohov relax, Dolohov's elbow going back to his side. "Smart."

The look Dolohov gives him is scathing, vicious, but Blaise tells himself he doesn't care as he binds his left arm to Dolohov's right. Pansy's taking Dolohov's thigh--probably to torment the fucker, Blaise thinks, since it presses her body tightly against Dolohov's.

"Hi," Pansy says to Dolohov with a tight, thin smile. "Cosy, are we?"

Dolohov makes a noise behind his gag, but it's unintelligible.

"No toying with the prey, Parkinson," Granger says, attaching herself to Dolohov's other arm. "It's not done."

"Says you." Pansy gives Granger a bright smile, and Althea snorts from Dolohov's other side. Blaise is fairly certain he hears an affectionate slag in the way Althea clears her throat afterwards, and Pansy just laughs, wrinkling her nose Althea's way.

Granger glances over at Jake. "I wish you'd finished looking at that case file you were working on for us," she says, a bit wistfully.

"I don't know," Jake says, and his gaze finds Blaise. "I might need a weekend or two in London coming up."

Blaise just looks away from him, a fluttery warmth twisting through his stomach. He's certain Jake's only flirting, only saying things he thinks Blaise might want to hear. Still, Blaise wants to think about a dirty weekend in his flat, wants to imagine Jake Durant bending him over the edge of his sofa and fucking Blaise senseless.

It seems like an eternity before Tom Graves walks into the room. Blaise knows it has to be less than a minute. His whole body feels as if it's on high alert; the heat from Dolohov's arm seeps through the thin wool of Blaise's summer dress uniform. Everyone in the room is tense, worried when the door opens one last time. Hands go to wands, then relax when it's clear that the latest intruder's the Director of Magical Security.

"Stand down," Graves says, and Blaise wishes he could hear a tinge of amusement in Graves' voice. He doesn't. None of this is funny. Not after last week. "Durant, help me with this. It's keyed to both of us."

Graves holds a small box in his thick hands, highly polished and black, the MACUSA symbol engraved in silver on its top. Jake moves forward, his wand in his hand, and together he and Graves unward the box, the spells dissipating in a soft puff of bright red sparks. Slowly Jake opens the top, pulls out a small obsidian disk. He flips it over, examining it, frowning down at the slick, shiny stone.

"It's good," Jake says finally, and Graves nods, not a single hair of his perfectly coiffed head moving.

"Antonin Ioannovich Dolohov," Graves says, looking over at Seven-Four-Alpha and their prisoner, "you are hereby transferred from the custody of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for the Magical Congress of the United States of America to that of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for the Ministry of Magic of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Unspeakable Hermione Granger and her team will transport you to a holding facility of their choosing, and as Director of Magical Security for MACUSA, I am relinquishing and waiving all rights to a trial of said prisoner on American soil pursuant to the Magical Extradition Order of 1931."

Granger's shoulders straighten. "And, as senior representative of the Ministry of Magic, I take on responsibility for the prisoner as outlined in the MEO of 1931," she says, and there's a shiver of magic that goes through the room. Blaise feels it spark along his spine, feels Dolohov tense next to him.

Graves huffs out a sigh. "Well, the fucker's yours now." He doesn't sound happy about it, Blaise thinks, but Jake's handing Granger the smooth, flat Portkey disc.

"You've got about thirty seconds," Jake tells her. He's looking at Blaise, though.

The Aurors around them have their wands out, watching them all. Blaise is glad that Draco's not here to see them, not here to realise that this level of protection's only in place because of his father's death.

Blaise rocks back slightly on his heels, his body thrumming with anxiety. Fear. He doesn't want to go back, he thinks again, and his gaze settles back on Jake. He wonders if he'll see him again or if this was just one brilliant weekend of shagging and cock-sucking. Blaise doesn't know why that thought makes him itchy and unhappy, but it does. He tries to push it back down, tries to keep it hidden from Jake.

He's not certain he manages.

And then the Portkey clicks in Granger's hand and starts to spin, lifting up over her palm.

The last thing Blaise sees before the Portkey pulls him away is Jake's face, tight and tense and terrible, those bright blue eyes fixed on Blaise.

Blaise spins into the darkness, his fingers digging tightly into Antonin Dolohov's forearm.

A moment later they land with a thump in the middle of the Department of Mysteries.

"Welcome home," the guv says, his voice warm and even, and he's there, between Robards and Croaker.

Fucking hell but Blaise has never been so glad to see Harry Potter in his life.

***

Draco hasn't been inside the Manor for weeks. Not since his mother moved out.

It feels odd to be standing in the foyer again, this warm Wednesday morning in late July, the silence of the house almost an oppressive weight around him. He'd come here first, before his mother and Harry, who'd offered to wait for Narcissa as she finished dressing for the funeral.

Crying, more likely. And that's what's rubbing Draco raw. His mother's constant tears, his feeling as if he's suffocating in her grief, allowed to do nothing but support her, be the good son. When all he wants is to slam his fist into a wall, to scream, to destroy everything around him in a flurry of vicious, violent magic.

And when his mother had drifted down the hallway in tears again, her dressing gown wrapped tight around her, her misery had scraped rawly across Draco's nerves, pushing at the chinks of his Occlumens, overwhelming his mind until Draco felt abraded by his mother's sorrow, every bit of him jangling and jittering with the waves of unfiltered emotion rolling from Narcissa in waves, somehow pushing past the meagre shields Draco's managed to keep in place the past week.

Draco hadn't been able to bear staying in the flat one more moment. Thank Circe, Harry'd pushed him towards the Floo before Draco'd started yet another fracas with his mother. Or with Harry. Draco can't seem to help himself this morning. He feels wound up. Angry. Furious with his father for putting them all in this position, even if he knows that's ridiculous, knows that his father didn't plan to be killed, but Draco doesn't care. If Lucius hadn't found himself caught up in all this bollocks again, if he hadn't been so desperate to be relevant, to have some modicum of power once more...fuck. Draco hates his father for what his idiotic choices have forced his mother to deal with. For what they've forced him to face.

His feet carry him up the staircase. Draco doesn't quite know what he's doing. Where he's going. Why he's walking through these hallways again, his fingers trailing along the curve of the bannister. Sunlight filters through the arched, lead-paned windows on the landing, gothic remnants of his family's proud past, destroyed by his father's arrogance.

The last time he climbed these steps, Harry was with him, strong and silent, standing back whilst Draco confronted his father. Took him into custody.

Draco's polished black brogues sink into the thick, purple carpet of the hall. He'd run down this hall as a child, flown his first broom down it when he was four, white-blond hair tumbling into his face, his bare feet barely brushing the floor, his father laughing at the end of the corridor, telling Narcissa that Draco was a bloody natural on a broom whilst she fretted beside him and sent a house elf over to catch Draco before he flew down the staircase.

If Draco closes his eyes he can almost hear his father's voice.

He ends up in his father's sitting room with its tall, paned windows that fill the room with morning light, casting shadows across the comfortable leather chairs and sofa his father favoured, the heavy Jacobean bookcases that line one end of the room, sunlight reflecting off their leaded glass doors and carved dark wood.

Across the arm his father's favourite chair is a folded copy of the Prophet, yellowing already in the sun. Draco sits down, feels the leather give beneath his thighs. He glances at the Prophet; it's dated the ninth of June. The day he brought his father into custody. Draco pushes it away, lets the Prophet fall to the floor in a rustle of newsprint. Six weeks tomorrow it will have been since that morning he'd stood in front of his father. Defied him. Imploded his family as he once knew it.

Draco wonders if he would have made the same decision, had he known what today would bring, had he known he'd be sat here in his best black wool suit and green tie, silver serpent cufflinks gleaming at his wrists. He looks around him, feels the presence of his father imbued throughout this room. This had been Lucius's refuge. His sanctuary. Draco knows his parents' old bedroom lies through the half-open door on the long wall opposite the bookcases; his mother's sitting room flanks it on the other side. Narcissa had moved out of the bedroom a few years after the war. She claimed it was for sleeping purposes, but Draco's not a fool. He knows how strained his parents' marriage had become in the past half-decade. To be honest, he suspects that's part of his mother's intense roil of grief. Guilt and anger and loss all rolled into one turbulent package.

Circe, but his family's fucked up, Draco thinks. He sinks back into the chair, breathes in the lingering scent of leather and something curiously spicy, like cloves and musk. It reminds him of his father. Of sitting here with Lucius during school hols, taking breakfast with his father in the mornings, Draco still clad in his pyjama bottoms and a Quidditch t-shirt, his father dressed impeccably in a suit, his wizarding over-robe waiting on a hook nearby for whatever jaunt Lucius planned to take into London that day.

There's a movement from beneath the sofa, and Draco frowns until a small russet-and-white fur face peers up at him, a bit blearily. Cronus, Draco realises, and it's only then he wonders who's been looking after his father's favoured Crups. The elves, Draco supposes, since Chronos's arse looks a bit plumper than it had the last time Draco'd seen him. He vaguely remembers his mother telling him when she moved in that Trissie would be taking care of the beasts. Draco'd been too lost in Harry at the time to care.

Cronus waddles out, followed by Coeus and Crius. Draco expects the Crups to lunge for him, like usual, barking, teeth bared, but they just sit silently, looking up at him, all of them a bit lost and uncertain.

What must the poor bastards be thinking, Draco wonders. His father had been ripped from them so suddenly, and Lucius had been the world to those damned Crups. Cronus quirks his head, looking up at Draco, one of his folded ears flipped up. Draco reaches out and smoothes it back down, as quickly as he can, expecting a sharp nip in return. Instead, Cronus just whines a little, his forked tail thumping against the floor. Draco's father had never bothered with the law that said Crups' tails had to be trimmed down to one at birth to keep Muggles from noticing them. Lucius had found that particular Ministry regulation cruel. Draco wants to laugh at that thought, but in absurdity rather than amusement. His father could watch the Dark Lord kill a Muggle in cold blood but he balked at the idea of harming his pup. Merlin.

"He's not coming back," Draco says to Cronus, and the Crup just frowns up at him. "I can't--" Draco breaks off as Cronus jumps up, landing in Draco's lap. For a moment Draco calculates how fast he can get to his wand to cast a sleeping charm, but Cronus just turns around twice, then settles himself into the chair between Draco and the leather arm, putting his head down on his paws with a heavy sigh.

Draco stills in surprise. Crius and Coeus look up at their brother, then with snuffly huffs, drop down beside Draco's feet, curling up the way they had when Lucius sat in this chair.

"Oh," Draco murmurs. His hand settles on Cronus' back, and the Crup looks up at him, his eyes wide and a bit sad. Draco thinks the Crups must know then, must somehow understand what's happened, must realise their master's never coming back. Cronus pushes his head beneath Draco's hand and whines a bit more. Draco pets him, scratches him behind his ears the way he remembers his father doing. "I'm sorry," he whispers, and a deep ache opens up inside of him, almost overwhelming in its intensity.

He sits silently--for how long, Draco hasn't a clue. The quiet of the room is strangely comforting, as is the warmth of the Crup beside him. Draco can almost believe he's a boy again, just home from Hogwarts, waiting for his father to stride into the room and ask him how his term had been as Lucius tossed his robe over the arm of the sofa.

And Draco misses that Lucius. The father who had always listened to him in those early days of school, who had taken his side without question, who had even indulged him in his angry complaints about how bloody irritating Potter was. Draco smiles faintly at that, and a bit bitterly if he's honest. He can't help but wonder if his father had suspected then that his son might be a poof. Draco had been so gone for Harry even back then. He just hadn't recognised it for the pash it was. Not really.

What would it have been like for Harry if Lucius had lived? Draco can't imagine it would have been all happy families. Not with the two of them across the Christmas table. But his father would have been in Azkaban. At least for a while, and perhaps that might have made it easier for Harry.

Or not. Draco knows what'll be said if they go public with their relationship. He's not a fool. The Saviour of the Wizarding World oughtn't be seen on the arm of a known Death Eater. But Harry's never been one to care what the public thinks, and it's one of the ridiculous quirks Draco loves about him.

And Draco does love Harry. Madly. It's a strange sensation, these feelings that twist up inside of him whenever he thinks of Harry. Draco's not used to it, not entirely comfortable with the way his breath catches when he looks over at Harry, when he catches Harry unawares, his glasses perched on the end of his nose as he reads a case file, or when he watches Harry talking to his mother, gently drawing her out of her cocoon of sadness, making Narcissa smile, even a little.

His mother's accepted Harry. Even adjusted to Harry sleeping in Draco's bed the past week, to Harry wandering out into the kitchen for breakfast, hair mussed and shirtless, in desperate need of a strong cup of tea. Draco knows she doesn't entirely understand, not when so obviously faced with evidence of her son's bent nature, but she's trying. And Harry's good with her. Careful. Polite. Always kind, more so than Draco has been, he thinks.

Draco doesn't know what he'd do without Harry. How he could face today. He dreads it. Doesn't want to face putting his father into the ground. There'd been part of him that had wondered if it was even his father in the morgue drawer. How many of those bastard friends of his father's had faked their own death, after all. But he knows deep down inside that his father's gone. Lucius wouldn't hurt Narcissa like this. Draco's bloody well certain of that.

The door to the sitting room swings open, and Harry walks in. "Hey," Harry says, and Draco just looks at him. Harry's in a black suit, perfectly tailored, with a grey silk tie, his sling charmed to match the black of his suit today. He looks lovely with his dark hair artfully mussed and his face clean-shaven. How inappropriate is it, Draco wonders, to want to fuck your boyfriend just before your father's funeral?

Harry walks in, looks around. He raises an eyebrow at the sight of the Crups sprawled around Draco. "Part of your inheritance?" he asks lightly, and the ludicrousness of it all makes Draco smile, just a bit.

"They miss Father." Draco strokes a finger along the back of Cronus's ear. "I'm waiting for them to remember they loathe me."

"Give them time." Harry sits on the arm of the chair and looks down at Draco. "Your mum's with McIntyre downstairs. They'll need you soon."

Draco just nods. He knows he'll have to go down, knows he'll have to make it through the next few hours. The service. The lunch his aunt is hosting at her house. He wonders idly if the Manor elves are in the kitchen, or if they're cooking for Andromeda.

Harry smoothes Draco's hair back from his forehead. "You can do this," he says quietly. "You know that."

"I'll be fine." Draco turns his head, brushes his mouth across Harry's knuckles. "Thank you for giving me some time, though."

"Your mum's all right." Harry's hand cups Draco's cheek. "I think she'll make it through the service at least." He hesitates, then says, "She wants me to sit with you both."

Draco thinks he should be surprised, but he's not. "That's good of her." He knows what that means, knows that his mother is already offering Harry a place in their family. If he wants it. Draco's chest constricts a bit. "Will you?" He doesn't look at Harry as he asks. He strokes Cronus' ear instead.

Harry doesn't say anything at first, and Draco's heart thuds loudly. He's certain Harry can hear it. And then Harry reaches for Draco's hand, curls his fingers around Draco's. "Would you like me to?"

All Draco can do is nod.

"Then I will." Harry's voice is soft. His thumb traces a small circle on the back of Draco's hand. "We should go down though. Your mum's already fretting."

Draco lets Harry pull him out of the chair, Vanish away the Crup hairs that cling to his suit. Cronus looks disgruntled, and Draco smoothes his ears back. "I'll come back," he promises, and Cronus' tails thump against the leather of the chair. Draco means it. He doesn't know what to do with his father's Crups, but he knows he can't leave them here in this bloody house with just the house elves for company.

Harry leads Draco downstairs. His mother and McIntyre are in the foyer, along with Andromeda and Teddy, all of them dressed in shades of grey and black. Even Teddy's hair is a subdued slate blue today. They look up as Draco and Harry take the turn from the landing, their hands still interlaced. Draco knows his mother and Andromeda have both noticed. Even McIntyre's eyebrow goes up, but he doesn't say anything.

"There you are, darling," his mother says. She's in an elegant dark grey wrap dress made of raw silk. It looks beautiful on her, and she's wearing her engagement and wedding rings again, Draco notices. She hasn't had those on in years. Death brings out odd things in people, he thinks, as his mother holds her hand out to him. "James was just telling us how the order of service will go."

McIntyre clears his throat. "Yes, well, the vicar will be leading, of course. It's a simplified graveside service, per your request. However…." The funeral director trails off, looking a bit uncertain.

"What?" Draco looks between McIntyre and his mother.

"It's not just family that'll be attending," his aunt says, her voice quiet. "James says that some others have gathered."

"Quite unusual," McIntyre says, with a worried glance Draco's way. "But given the individuals in question…" He chews on his bottom lip. "Well. You'll see, Sergeant Malfoy."

With a frown at Harry, Draco follows McIntyre to the wide entry Floo. St Barnabas has been the Malfoy family parish for as long as there've been Malfoys in Wiltshire, even if in recent years the family's been strictly Easter and Christmas attendees. Or less, in Draco's case. He hasn't stepped foot in St Barnabas since the Dark Lord took over the Manor. It feels odd but strange to land in the Floo back behind the choir stalls now.

The stone church is empty and silent. Draco waits for his mother to come out after him, followed by Harry, then Andromeda and Teddy. Draco catches Teddy as he stumbles, keeping his cousin from smashing his nose on one of the saint's statues in the back corridor. Teddy gives him a small smile; Draco just lets his hand drop.

"Used to do that myself when I was small," Draco says. "Nearly brained myself on the Apostle Paul over there." Draco nods towards the statue of a serious, bearded man across from the Floo, raised up just enough so that his bare toe was even with an eight-year-old's temple.

"Thanks," Teddy says. He looks up at Draco, almost as if he's assessing him, and then he slides his hand in Draco's, pulling Draco after the others. Teddy's palm is warm and a little bit sticky, but something about the feel of it against Draco's skin is right, and when both Andromeda and Harry smile at him, Draco's cheeks grow warm.

McIntyre leads them through the quiet nave, and into the foyer beyond. The arched wooden doors are heavy; their iron hinges creak when McIntyre pushes them open, letting the bright summer sunlight flood over the cool shadows of the foyer. Draco blinks as he steps out into the warmth of the July morning. It's nearly Harry's birthday, Draco realises. A week and a half or so to go. It's a curious thought to have as he walks down the stone steps, his brogues hitting the crushed gravel of the circular path leading towards the graveyard. Draco glances back at Harry, who's helping his mother down the steps, holding one hand for her as she daintily makes her way down the worn steps, her skirt caught up with her other hand. The sun glints in her golden hair, and his mother's beautiful, Draco thinks as she looks up at him, giving him a small, sad smile.

Draco doesn't know what to expect as he follows McIntyre and his aunt down the path towards the Malfoy crypt, large and grey-white against the other half-sagging headstones around it. But it's not the people gathered around his father's closed casket, a simple spray of lilies on top of the polished walnut. Blaise and Pansy and Althea are there, all in their Auror dress uniforms, standing tall and square-shouldered beside the path. Behind them are Olivia Zabini and Barachiel Dee, Terry and Camilla Parkinson, then Mille and Hannah and Greg and Theo, even Gawain Robards, and a row of Unspeakables in uniform, as well as Granger and Weasley, the latter's hair shining ginger and bright in the sunlight.

And then Harry pulls Teddy back and Blaise and Pansy are beside Draco, holding him, Pansy whispering I'm so sorry, darling in his ear. Draco clings to her, breathing in the smell of roses against her skin, feeling the press of Blaise's hand against his back. He's missed them these past few days. Badly. As much as Draco loves Harry, he needs his friends too right now.

He steps back when he hears a deep voice say, "Sergeant Malfoy."

Kingsley Shacklebolt's standing beside Draco, with Gawain Robards and Bertie Aubrey flanking each side. They look solemn, Robards and Bertie in full dress uniform as well, and Shacklebolt extends his hand to Draco. "I'm sorry for your loss," he says. "Officially and on a personal level as well. The death of a parent is always difficult." Draco can tell he's sincere.

"Thank you, sir," Draco says, and he means it as well. He's a bit stunned that the Minister of Magic's shown up at his father's burial. That any of them have, to be honest. He looks back behind Robards and Bertie, and he sees a handful of other Aurors. Shah. Viola. Dawlish even. Aurors from his past assignments. Men and women he's worked with for years. They're here, and Draco knows they've not the slightest bit of respect for his father.

And then Bertie's pulling Draco into a one-armed embrace and he says in Draco's ear, "They've all come for you, you know that, lad."

Draco hadn't, but he realises Bertie must be right. Aurors and Unspeakables alike dip their heads as Draco makes his way down the line, taking their quiet murmurs of sympathy in, one after another, his mother behind him.

"Whatever you need, Malfoy," Weasley says, holding out his hand, and Draco hesitates only briefly before taking it. He can feel Harry watching from beside McIntyre, and Draco can't say anything, can only nod as Weasley releases his hand. "If there's anything at all…" Weasley falls silent for a moment, and then he says, a bit gruffly, "I know what it's like to lose someone in your family. So yeah. Anything." Weasley looks away, towards his wife. Granger puts a hand on his shoulder, and he smiles faintly at her.

And then Draco's being pulled away by one of McIntyre's helpers, being led down to the gaping hole that's the entrance to his family crypt. His father's casket sits in front of it, and there are seats for Draco and his mother and Andromeda and Teddy. Harry stands behind Draco, his hand on Draco's shoulder, and Draco knows what this means, their colleagues watching Harry with him, touching him like this, like he's more than Draco's SIO.

Harry doesn't seem to give a damn.

The vicar steps forward, a small, round woman with a pretty face and a dark bob. "Lord," she says quietly, "thou hast been our refuge, from one generation to another."

Harry's fingers tighten on Draco's shoulder, and Draco feels a warmth go through him. He stares straight ahead at the smooth, shining wood of his father's simple casket, letting the vicar's words fade into the background, a quiet hum of Anglican platitudes meant more for his mother than himself. He sits ramrod straight, memories of the last Malfoy funeral he'd attended flitting through his mind, of Grandfather Abraxas, so pale and stern in his casket, and the church that had been filled to overflowing with the wizarding elite, of his father standing beside him, his hand on Draco's shoulder much as Harry's is now. Draco had never seen his father express the slightest bit of emotion at Grandfather Abraxas' death. Draco can't help but wonder if Lucius had been glad to see his own father go, if the Malfoy line was destined to be filled with fathers and sons who despised one another.

Except Draco had never hated his father entirely. He still doesn't. He can't.

He watches as the vicar sprinkles dirt on his father's casket, watches as his mother stands and does the same before turning to Draco expectantly.

Draco doesn't want to. And yet he finds himself standing, walking over to scoop a small handful of dirt from the pile beside the casket. He lets it fall from his fingers, hears it striking the wood, spattering against the lilies. He doesn't feel as if he's in his body, doesn't feel as if he knows what he's doing. Everything's so distant. So empty.

Somehow he sits back down. Catches Harry's hand with his own dirt-streaked fingers and he holds on, tightly, waiting for it all to end.

He won't fall apart. Not here. Not now.

Not ever, if he can help it.

Draco holds fast to that small curl of anger deep down inside of him. At his father. At the world. He clings to it. Tightly, as if losing that spark of fury will spin him out of control, bring the whole world crashing down on him.

In front of him the engraved plaque on his father's casket gleams bright in the sunlight. Lucius Abraxas Malfoy. 6 Aug 1954 - 13 Jul 2006.

"That we," the vicar is saying, "with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory…"

Bollocks, Draco thinks. Complete and utter bollocks, and he wants to throw himself to his feet, to shout and scream and rage against all of this idiocy, at the idea that his father might deserve any bliss, any peace at all, in any sodding afterlife that might or might not exist.

He can't though. He can't embarrass his mother like that. He won't.

And so he sits silent and angry, his whole body tense and tight as the vicar ends her prayer, steps back away from the casket.

McIntyre's men move forward, levitating the casket and its spray of lilies up, moving it slowly towards the crypt. Draco can't watch. Can't let himself look at what's left of his father being guided into its final resting place.

That's not Lucius Malfoy, Draco wants to say. My father was alive. Vicious. Bright. Sharp. Not silent. Dead. Gone. His chest tightens. His shoulders shake as he stands along with the rest of his family, Harry by his side.

Draco refuses to look back at that dark, gaping hole in the carved stone crypt.

He won't let himself cry.

***

Thursday morning comes too soon for Althea. She feels as if she'd barely slept before it'd been time to wake again; her nerves hadn't let her settle and she's still back on New York time. She supposes it's also the stress of the Dolohov transport, not to mention the funeral of Lucius Malfoy stirring up emotions that she'd thought had been well-buried for years. Althea knows all too well what it's like to lose a parent, especially in such a violent and unexpected way, and she feels Malfoy's loss intensely, even given who his father was. A parent is still a parent, and Althea misses her own mother every day. She'd also gone to New York petrified she might have to come back to Mitchell having drunk himself into a stupor and done something rash. Or worse.

The first thing she'd done when she'd got home was to go see her father, to make certain with her own eyes that he's all right. Mitchell had thought her half-mad when she'd walked into his room at the halfway house, but she'd needed to put her arms around him, to lean her head on his shoulder, to let him know she loved him. Needed him. Her father had just let her cry on him, had just stroked her hair and told her softly he'd be okay. He promised he wouldn't leave her, promised he wouldn't make her go through life alone. And Althea had wept in her father's arms, letting herself remember how much she misses her mother, admitting to him how empty she is.

Really, it's everything Althea hasn't let herself feel for weeks. Being back in London means thinking about Marcus Wrightson again, thinking about the future and what might happen to all of them. She feels so bloody lost if she thinks about it too much, as much as she's so glad to be on Seven-Four-Alpha, to have some sort of anchor right now.

Now she's walking back through the bullpen with a paper cup of tea in her hand, wondering if the past weeks in New York were a dream. They certainly feel like it. She greets a few people on the way in--she and Maxie are scheduled to take lunch together, but he's not here now. He'd said that her dad had been well when he visited Sunday, and she's so grateful to Maxie that he's gone to see Mitchell this past fortnight, that they've made friends. Her father thinks Maxie's brill, wants him to come back and watch the cricket with him whenever he can.

Althea wants to go back herself again and see Mitchell this afternoon, if she can get away early. She needs to mention it to Potter, see if he'll let her leave for Bristol. She knows it's not a typical day, but Potter'd also said they needed to get back. Robards is feeling antsy. Althea's not surprised. She's seen the Prophet headlines the past two days, suggesting that there's gross incompetence in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. They're going after Proudfoot first, but Robards' name had been mentioned as well, as had Shacklebolt's, and an editorial from Barnabas Cuffe had suggested that perhaps the Wizengamot might call for a vote of no-confidence in the Minister, particularly given his opposition to the Death Eater registry legislation that's starting to gain traction.

Althea doesn't like the direction her country's starting to turn towards. Even Maxie had been resistant to the idea that she'd go to Lucius Malfoy's funeral. It'd look bad for her, he'd said when she'd firecalled him Tuesday night, a frown on his face. She ought not to be at a known Death Eater's funeral. For a moment she'd nearly agreed, but then she'd remembered Malfoy's stricken face when the news came in about his father, and she'd shaken her head, told Maxie it wasn't about memorialising a Death Eater but rather about being there for a member of her team who'd lost a dad, the way Malfoy would be there for her if it'd been Mitchell who'd been murdered.

Maxie had just snorted, told Althea she was a damned fool. Maybe he's right, she thinks, but she doesn't much care. Not after everything Seven-Four-Alpha's been through since she'd come on board.

When Althea opens the door to the incident room--their incident room, with their whiteboards and their desks and the familiar clutter scattered across it--her heart actually skips. If she's honest, she's bloody glad to be back here as well. Setting her boots back on British soil feels right. New York had been an interesting break, a good chance to see how MACUSA polices, but Althea's glad to be back in London, back in here in the Ministry, blowing on a cup of proper tea and hearing the sounds of a proper Auror force around her. Even the smells are familiar, and although she knows this is a difficult homecoming, she's glad to be faced with it finally instead of dreading it from afar. New York'd been unreal, like a holiday on Mars. She'd had a great time shagging Lucy and the work'd been interesting, but there's nothing quite like home, is there?

Parkinson traipses in next, her satchel slung about her shoulder and sunglasses pushed up on her head, her dark hair pulled back in a loose bun at the nape of her neck. She's lovely in heels and bright green trousers with a wispy, floral chiffon blouse that dips down low enough to let a glimpse of creamy skin and lace edging show, and Althea lets herself look a bit. Respectfully, of course.

"All right there, Parkinson?" Althea asks, taking in the curve of Parkinson's neck, the quirk of her gorgeous, scarlet-lipped mouth. Althea wonders what it'd be like to kiss her, to have that bright red lippie smeared across her own mouth. She breathes out, then takes a sip of her tea, trying to keep her hand from trembling. Pull yourself together, you idiot, she tells herself. You don't shag your co-workers, remember? Even if your guv doesn't seem to give a fuck. She looks away when Parkinson smiles at her, bright and sunny and oh so sharp as only Parkinson can manage.

"Rather, thanks," Parkinson says cheekily. "All right yourself, Whitaker?"

Althea nods. "Just getting comfortable again." She's sitting at the table in the corner, one that used to be Malfoy's, or Parkinson's perhaps, but Althea knows she's got her place in the team now and she can sit where she likes. She hardly remembers being afraid to take the wrong seat, but she knows she had been at the beginning.

Parkinson plops down next to her and starts rummaging in her satchel. Her coffee's on the table, and Althea's amused. She's also trying not to look down Parkinson's shirt too much--Parkinson has something lovely on in ivory lace, and Althea doesn't want to fixate on her bra but, well, for Circe's sake, it's right there in front of her. "I can't find any proper quills in here."

Althea reaches into her own satchel, pulls out the new ones she'd packed today. "Take one of mine. I had a set in my desk at home."

Parkinson selects one with a lovely stripe to the black feather. "Ta, you beautiful Ravenclaw." She blows her a kiss with the feather, touching it lightly to her lips and making Althea swallow hard in astonishment before looking away. "This is brilliant."

As much as she tries not to stare at Parkinson, Althea fails. Mentally she kicks herself. Over and over again. Having a pash on a co-worker is so sodding passé, as much as it seems to be the norm rather than the exception in Seven-Four-Alpha. But none of them are your bog-standard Aurors, are they?

As if on schedule, Zabini comes in looking a bit worse for the wear. He's beautifully dressed, of course, but his face looks a bit worn and harsh and Althea thinks she detects a hint of sadness under the irritation. He sets his coffee down hard, splashing a bit across the top of his desk. "Morning, witches."

Parkinson eyes him, sipping from her own cup and leaving a crimson-coloured stain on the edge. It's darker than the shade she'd been wearing in New York, not that Althea's watching or thinking about her colleague's lipstick choices. Not at all. "What's flown up your broom twigs, darling?" Her tone is mocking, but Althea knows that Zabini would've responded badly to compassion. She's learnt that much about him in recent weeks.

Zabini leans back in his chair. "What hasn't? Mother and my grandfather have settled in my flat. She can't stop complaining about how cramped everything is. It's a bloody two-bedroom, and I'm sleeping on the fucking sofa so she and Grandfather can have the beds, so I don't know what she's whinging on about."

Parkinson shakes her head in commiseration. "Well, it's not as though we can afford the Beaumont with our pay packets."

"Exactly." Zabini snorts. "And they expect me to have time to squire them around the city. Mother was actually incensed that I had to work today. She wanted to go to lunch."

Parkinson laughs, whilst Althea tries to imagine a parent who doesn't understand workdays.

"The sheer affront," Althea says, trying to put a toe in the Slytherin game of mockery. It seems to work.

"Can you imagine?" Zabini puts his hand to his chest in mock outrage. He's clearly feeling better, Althea thinks. He just needed to be distracted. "That I might actually have to be an Auror for a bit."

"And what about a certain American Unspeakable?" Parkinson eyes him. "Has he firecalled yet?"

Zabini glances towards the door. The guv should come in any minute, and Zabini's look is wary. Althea doesn't blame him. She wonders what the guv will think of someone from his team shagging his ex. It's awkward, she supposes, but so is buggering one of your sergeants, and Potter doesn't seem to have had a problem with that. Zabini shrugs. "No. But we've texted a bit. He's busy with something Graves wants." He looks a bit put out.

"Any sexy photos?" Parkinson looks over. "I wouldn't mind a look at what you've been busy with."

"Pansy, he's an Unspeakable." Zabini purses his lips.

"You didn't answer the question," Althea says. She sees Zabini narrow his eyes at her, and yeah, she's pretty sure Durant gave Zabini some photos to remember him by. She smiles at him over the rim of her tea.

Zabini mutters something about Ravenclaws dressed as Slytherins, but he's saved from further outrage by the door opening. The guv comes in red braces and dark trousers, his shirt sleeves buttoned and his arm still in that bloody sling, his jacket in his other hand. He smiles. "There you all are. Thrilled to be back at work again, I'm certain."

The room feels strangely hollow without Malfoy. Althea wants to look around for him, but she checks herself. It feels as if he should be here, and she misses him. Merlin, but she never would have thought that a month ago. Never would have considered calling any of this lot her friends. Especially not Malfoy.

Potter settles his things on the table nearest the door, dropping his jacket across it and taking a miniaturised satchel out of his pocket with his left hand, then saying the spell to restore it to size.

"Well, we're back," he says when he's done. He regards them each in turn. "And it looks like this is going to be our team going forward. The four of us." He sounds a bit regretful. Tired even. Definitely unhappy.

Zabini and Parkinson look at each other quickly, then over at Althea. She shrugs and glances back at Potter.

"What about Malfoy?" Althea asks, leaning forward in her chair. She sets her tea down. "Sorry, guv, but isn't he going to come back too, when he's ready?"

Potter presses his lips together and takes a breath, then shakes his head. "He's going to be offered a position with the Unspeakables when he comes back. They're all but drafting him into Croaker's division given the shortage of Legilimens." He fiddles with his satchel, opening it up with one hand, not looking at any of them.

"What does Draco have to say about it?" Parkinson's voice is sharp, her carriage erect. "I can't imagine he wants to leave us."

Potter shrugs and steps away from his desk, coming to the centre of the room. He leans against what would have been Malfoy's desk. "I'm not sure there's much choice. I tried to argue with Gawain, but Croaker and national security seem to take priority."

Zabini settles back. "Are you sure that you don't take priority, guv? I mean, you're fucking him after all." Parkinson gives him a shocked look, and Althea's a bit taken aback herself at Zabini's bluntness. Zabini frowns at them all. "Sorry, I'm just wondering if it's motivated by that any, Draco's transfer." He looks over at the guv. "I would have thought you'd fight back a bit harder against any national bloody security bollocks, but…" He trails off, his gaze fixed on Potter's face.

The guv rubs a hand over the back of his neck. "It's a fair question, and yeah, I was worried too, Zabini. I'm not half-certain they're moving Draco because I made it clear I wasn't going to hide my relationship with him. You're not far off what I asked Gawain myself." He meets Zabini's frown with an even look of his own. "But I do think it's also about the Legilimency. Saul Croaker's desperate to have that specialty, particularly with Jake back in New York." He hesitates, then he says, "They want to train him. Pay for it all with a top-notch Legilimens, and possibly bump his rank up in the Unspeakables force. This isn't a demotion for Draco, and it doesn't preclude his working with us on cases." Potter's mouth tightens. "I'll make damned certain of that. It helps to be best mates with a high-ranking Unspeakable myself."

This seems to mollify Zabini, and Althea does believe, of all people, Potter tries to have Malfoy's best interests at heart. She's seen them together, and she knows that the guv, for all his failings, truly wants Malfoy to succeed.

"Well, I guess it's just us, then," Parkinson says archly, sipping at her coffee, then putting it aside.

Potter looks over to her. "Yeah. Just us. With a little change."

They all look at him expectantly.

"Whitaker's our sergeant now." Potter smiles and looks over at Althea, who can't help but blink at him. "Gawain asked to have you put in that role formally for the team."

To Althea's great surprise, Zabini and Parkinson clap, genuine if slightly smug smiles on their faces.

"Hear, hear," Zabini says, as Parkinson adds, "Well done, Althea." She reaches across her desk to touch Althea's arm, and a frisson of warmth goes through Althea.

Althea can feel her face heat. She ducks her head. "Thanks, guv. I'm happy to serve, if you'll have me."

Potter's smile widens. "I'll need some help with these two. We all know who's in charge, after all."

Parkinson sticks out her tongue, whilst Zabini whispers "Draco" sotte voce. Potter pretends not to hear, but Althea catches the faint hint of red across his high cheekbones, sees the slight quirk of his mouth at the corner. Zabini's not far off, Althea thinks. Whatever the guv might believe.

"Well. I know you all have your drinks, but I reckon it's my shout at the teacart this morning," Potter says, his voice light and teasing. "I'm sure you're all dying for a pumpkin pasty." He shoots a look at Zabini. "Or three." Zabini just shrugs at him, gives the guv a lazy, easy smile.

The funny thing is, Althea actually could bloody well murder a pasty right now, or whatever else Margaret has on her cart.

As she follows them all out into the hall, her team with her guv, she thinks, maybe being home won't be that bad.

Merlin's tits, though, she's going to miss Malfoy's snark. A fucking hell of a lot.

***

When Harry walks back into Draco's flat just past four, he hears raised voices, then the distinct sound of crockery shattering against the kitchen wall. He drops his jacket, not bothering to hang it on the wall hook, and strides down the hallway.

The kitchen's a mess; half of one cupboard appears to have been flung across the room. Shards of pottery are scattered across the floor, and Narcissa's standing there, another soup bowl in her hand, her shoulders heaving.

"Calm the fuck down, Mother." Draco's back is to Harry, and his voice sounds strained, tired. "I'd really rather you not destroy my entire kitchen over a sodding Prophet article."

"What's wrong?" Harry asks from the doorway, and they both turn to look at him. A faint flush stains Narcissa's pale cheeks, and from the frown on Draco's face, Harry realises this is something he wasn't meant to see. Fuck that, he thinks. So they thought they'd have it all cleaned up before he came back. It's not as if he still wouldn't have had to deal with the fallout. Honestly, Malfoys think they can hide everything from the world, present this acceptable, polished front. They're sodding stupid about that, in Harry's opinion.

There's a Prophet on the island counter. Harry picks it up, frowns down at the front page. It's the usual bollocks about the current Ministry political situation and Luxembourg's involvement in it. But down at the corner's a photograph. From yesterday, Harry realises. After the funeral. He can see Draco and Narcissa front and center, their bright blond hair gleaming in the sunlight, but they're surrounded by Kingsley and Gawain and Bertie Aubrey. Harry sees himself just behind them, with Ron and Hermione at his side, the rest of Seven-Four-Alpha a step to the right. But it's the text that's the problem, he realises. Orla Quirke's done it again, writing a terse, vicious paragraph about the Ministry notables at the funeral of known Death Eater Lucius Malfoy. It begs one to ask, she's written, why so many Aurors and politicians showed up for Malfoy's funeral, when not a single Auror representative--much less Harry Potter, himself--attended the services of Hit Wizard Winston Chang this past Monday, or Unspeakable Phoebe Rayne on Sunday. When asked, Department of Mysteries head Saul Croaker had no comment for the Prophet, but one might speculate, given recent events, that perhaps there are more Death Eater sympathisers than one might like within the ranks of our Magical Law Enforcement.

"Cow," Harry says, and he drops the Prophet back down on the counter. He looks over at Narcissa. "This upset you enough to destroy half of Draco's soup service? It's less about your husband than the Auror force."

Narcissa leans against the counter. Draco takes the soup bowl from her, sets it back into the cupboard. "It's not just the article," she says.

Harry moves closer to her. "Then what is it?" Draco turns away, his back to both of them, his hands splayed against the sink, his shoulders hunched, his head bent. Exhaustion radiates from him, and Harry's worried. It's all getting to be too much for him, Harry thinks, this emotion his mother's swirling through. Harry knows it's bringing up other things for Draco. Memories about the war. The aftermath. He's been next to Draco this week as Draco cries out in their bed, tossing and turning as the dreams wrack his body. Harry doesn't know if Draco remembers them in the morning. They've never spoken of them, but Harry won't forget the things Draco says, the whispers Draco breathes out in his troubled sleep.

How Draco has lived with some of this, Harry doesn't know.

"I know the world wants me to hate my husband," Narcissa says, her voice quiet, yet raw. She looks up at Harry, and he can see the anguish written in the lines of her face. "But I don't. I never have, even when I turned him in--" The words catch in the back of her throat, crack a bit.

Harry reaches for Narcissa with his good arm, pulls her up against him. She feels fragile and frail as she twists her fingers in his shirt. Harry holds back the wince. He hasn't been taking his pain potion the way he ought to have. He's been hiding that from Draco, but he's needed to be more coherent than the primary pain potion makes him feel, more able to handle the emotional waves that have been coming at him here in the small footprint of Draco's flat. He lets Narcissa press her face against his chest, gives her the comfort that he knows Draco isn't entirely capable of right now. "I'm sorry," Harry murmurs.

Narcissa breathes out. "Never mind me, Inspector--"

"Harry," he says gently, reminding her, and she pulls back, looks up at him.

"Yes." Narcissa wipes the corners of her eyes with one thumb. "Of course. Harry." She draws in a ragged breath. "I'm being a right fool, I suppose."

"One who destroys my kitchen," Draco says from the sink. He still hasn't turned around. "For fuck's sake, Mother." He sounds angry. Bitter.

At his wit's end, Harry thinks.

Narcissa looks away. She folds her arms across her chest, bends her head so a loose lock of her hair falls forward over her cheek. Harry wonders if she knows how much like her son she looks.

"I haven't anything for dinner," Draco says. He turns around and there's a bright, half-mad look in his eyes. "The pantry's bare."

It's not, but Harry thinks Draco needs to get out of the flat. And Narcissa needs a moment alone to compose herself. "We could go to Sainsbury's." He looks at Narcissa. "If you don't mind."

Draco nods, tucks his hair behind one ear. "You'll be fine, Mother. Just don't shatter all of my fucking dishes."

Narcissa's face flushes again. "I'm sorry," she says, her voice formal and flat. "It was rude of me."

Draco doesn't answer; he just walks past Harry and says, "I need to get my shoes."

And then Harry's left in the kitchen alone with Draco's mother. Narcissa doesn't look at him. She just takes her wand out and starts to Vanish away the tiny shards of broken pottery, shattered beyond proper repair.

"My apologies," she says after a moment. "I hadn't meant to lose my temper that way. I'm afraid I've angered my son."

"He'll get over it," Harry says. He watches her. Narcissa moves slowly, her shoulders bent, her hair slipping out of the loose knot at the nape of her neck. The dress she's wearing is clean but crumpled, and she hasn't put on any makeup. It's the first time Harry thinks he's seen her face entirely bare. Her brows are light, her lashes so pale they're almost nonexistent, her cheeks a bit blotchy. She still looks beautiful. Delicate, yet strong. Determined, he thinks, and he sees so much of her son in her. Harry hesitates, then he says, "Do you want to talk about it?"

Narcissa doesn't answer at first, then she glances over at him. She looks tired, worn out. "There's nothing really to say, Harry. I'm angry and sad, and if it weren't for me, my husband wouldn't have been in the place in which he lost his life, not to mention those other poor people..." She trails off, turns her head away from Harry. He can tell by the set of her shoulders that she's fighting back another wave of tears.

"It's not your fault," he starts to say, but she cuts him off with a sharp shake of her head.

"Their actual deaths? No." Narcissa stiffens, her mouth a tight line. "That lies fully on my brother-in-law's shoulders. Rodolphus always was a bastard." The word sounds strange from Narcissa's lips. She Vanishes the last bit of broken pottery. "But you might understand my uncertainty about whether or not I made the right choice to turn Lucius in." She rolls her wand between her fingertips; a faint spray of pale blue sparks flies out, dissipates in the air. "Perhaps it would have been wiser for me to handle him in a different manner. I could have forced him to stop associating with those idiots--"

'But could you have?" Harry asks gently, and she looks at him then. "Your husband kept being drawn back into it all. You never could stop him before. You did what you thought was right, and we…" Harry sighs, his heart heavy. "We didn't protect him well enough. The Ministry, I mean. Whatever the fucking Prophet says….they're right about that. We fucked up. We didn't see Lestrange coming, and your husband paid the price. So did Winston Chang and Phoebe Rayne and Lotte Marquandt and Achilleus Avery. They're all dead because Rodolphus Lestrange escaped our care. Not because you turned your husband in for criminal activity."

Narcissa's silent, and Harry thinks she's angry with him until she leans back against the counter, her arms crossed over her chest. "I blame myself," she says quietly. "And I think my son does as well."

Harry shakes his head. "He wouldn't."

"Grief does strange things to one's thinking," Narcissa says, and she gives Harry a small, wry smile. "Be careful with him, Harry. He's far more fragile than he understands."

"I know." And that's what worries Harry, if he's honest. He's waiting for Draco to fall apart. Wondering when it might happen.

There's a footstep in the hall, and Harry turns around just as Draco walks in, his white shirt still untucked over his jeans, his boots on, his hair slightly mussed. "Let's go," Draco says, not looking at his mother.

Harry gives Narcissa a sympathetic glance, but he follows Draco out of the flat, and down the staircase to the entrance hall of the building. Neither of them speak; Draco still has his arms folded across his chest. Harry wants to take his hand, but he doesn't think Draco wants to be touched at the moment.

"All right?" he asks instead, and Draco just shrugs.

"I will be." Draco holds the door open for Harry.

Harry thinks that's about as much as he'll get from Draco at the moment, so he lets him be.

Sainsbury's is two streets away. The walk's nice enough; it's pleasantly warm without being sweltering. The perfect Thursday afternoon, with the sun high in the sky and no chance of rain. The trees that line the street are the bright, vibrant shades of green that only happen in summer, their leaves casting shadows across the pavement. Harry likes the walk; he feels as if he's been cooped up inside far too much this week, trapped in the tangle of grief that's twisted up between Draco and his mum. Even being at the Ministry had been a bit of a relief, as much as Harry'd missed Draco, as much as Harry'd worried about him. He's starting to understand what Ron had meant about being overwhelmed by Draco's emotions, and he thinks maybe Draco's getting lost in them as well.

They're halfway to the market when Draco glances over at Harry and says, "I had an owl from Saul Croaker today."

"Oh," is all that Harry can say. He waits, uncertainly.

Draco looks away again. "They want me to come on board as an Unspeakable. Away from Seven-Four-Alpha."

"I know," Harry admits, and Draco doesn't look surprised. "Gawain told me Croaker wanted to offer it to you after the funeral. I didn't want to say with everything that was going on. Thought it might be too much for you."

Draco just nods. His arms are folded across his chest again, and he's worrying the fabric of his sleeve between his fingertips. "Are you angry?"

Yes, Harry wants to say, but he sighs. "Do you want to take it? It'd be good for you. The Legilimency bit."

Draco stops at the street corner, waits for the light to change before he steps into the zebra crossing. Harry follows him. "I don't know," Draco says after a moment. "I might." He looks over at Harry. "Then again, I'm not so certain they're going to give me a choice. Not after you and I…" He pushes his hair back behind his ears and glances away. "Well. I can't be under your command if I'm dating you, can I?"

"I suppose not." Harry's arm aches. He wishes he'd taken his pain potion. He stops in front of the trolley rack in the Sainsbury's car park and digs in his pocket for a pound coin to leave for the deposit. It takes him a moment, but he finds one and shoves it in the slot, pulling out a trolley with his good hand whilst Draco waits, looking off into the distance, his hands shoved in his pockets, shirt rucked up over them. Harry looks back at him. "Does it bother you?"

"A little," Draco says. He falls into step beside Harry. "I'm not certain I'm Unspeakable material. Much less Legilimency."

Harry wants to scoff at that. "Jake said you were the most natural Legilimens he's seen."

"I'm not certain I want to have your ex praising me," Draco says, but Harry catches sight of a soft smile curving his lips before Draco tips his head, letting his hair fall forward, curtaining his face.

They step through the sliding doors and into the cool crispness of Sainsbury's. Harry heads for the produce section first, tossing some fruit and veg into the trolley without really thinking. Draco wanders beside him, looking a bit lost.

"I'll miss Seven-Four-Alpha," Draco says finally, adding a bag of grapes to the trolley. He doesn't glance up at Harry.

Harry lets his hand catch Draco's. He squeezes Draco's hand gently before letting it drop. "I'll fight it if you want me to."

Draco hesitates, then he shakes his head. "It wouldn't work." He sighs, walking beside Harry as they head for the fish counter. "Besides, it's for the best, really. For you and me."

It is, and they both know it. "Doesn't make it easier," Harry says. "It didn't feel right, you not being there with us this morning." He wants to tell Draco it feels as if there's a hole without him, as if the entire team's been gutted. They'd all missed him. Even Whitaker. Still, he thinks that's the team's place to tell Draco. Not his.

Draco doesn't say anything. He just rests his hand over Harry's on the trolley handle, his pale, thin fingers covering Harry's thick ones. Warmth spreads through Harry at the touch. He loves this prickly bastard of his. Madly. And he'd do anything for him. Whatever he needs to do, Harry will. He hopes Draco knows that.

They've made their way through most of the store, adding things to the trolley basket, before Draco says, "I want jam tarts."

Harry glances back down the store and frowns. "I want to pick up some eggs. I'll meet you in over there?"

Draco nods, and Harry watches him as he walks away. Harry's still worried about Draco, but he's seemed better as they've wandered the Sainsbury's aisles. Harry's deliberately gone slower than he would have on his own. Draco needs this time out, needs to be able to be apart from his mother. Needs a chance to separate himself from her grief. It's good for him, Harry thinks, and, as he sorts through the eggs, picking out a decent half-dozen, he considers how else he can give Draco this space.

Which is why it takes him by surprise when he turns down the aisle for baked goods and sees Draco still staring at the packages of biscuits, his face pale, his hands shaking.

"What's wrong?" Harry asks, pulling the trolley to a stop beside Draco.

"They don't have them." Draco's voice is thin, strained. "They don't have the bloody jam tarts--"

Harry pulls a package of tarts from the shelf. "They're right here--"

"Those aren't the right ones." Draco draws in a ragged breath. "I like the Mr Kipling ones, not the store brand." He looks at Harry, pushes the package out of his hands. They drop to the floor with a soft thud. "These aren't fucking right, Harry." His voice rises.

"Draco--" Harry starts to say, but then Draco's face crumples, and Harry has just enough time to grab at Draco, not even caring that a jolt of pain goes through his wounded shoulder. He misses and Draco's on his knees in the middle of the aisle, his whole body trembling, and he's sobbing. Raw, angry sobs that make his shoulders shake, that echo in the silence of Sainsbury's in the late afternoon.

This isn't about jam tarts. Even Harry knows that. He looks around. They're alone in the aisle, so Harry does the only thing he can think of doing. He pushes the trolley away, and he kneels beside Draco. "We're going home," he says softly, and he wraps his arm around Draco. "Can you hold on to me?"

Draco nods, and his arms go around Harry's neck, his face pressed to Harry's bad shoulder. Harry draws in a deep breath against the pain, and then he does something no bloody Auror ought to do.

He Apparates them both out of Sainsbury's, hoping madly that no one turns the corner of the aisle.

They land in the front hall of Grimmauld Place. Draco's shaking against Harry, and his sobs feel as if they're being ripped from him, harsh and wild and furious. This is what Draco's needed, Harry thinks. To feel the grief of losing his father. He's been holding it inside too long, trying his best to be strong for his mother.

That sort of thing never bloody works. Not in the long run, Harry thinks. Even as much as he's managed to keep bottled up, he'd still spent days the summer after the war locked away on his own, letting the angry tears out. They'd come even when he wished they wouldn't.

Somehow Harry gets Draco to the kitchen, sits him at the table. And then Kreacher's there, pushing Harry away, putting the kettle on before Harry can ask him to.

Harry sits with Draco whilst he cries, his face hidden by his hands, and when the sobs finally slow, Kreacher sets a cup of hot, milky tea in front of Draco, resting one long, bony hand on Draco's shoulder. The kitchen feels warmer and brighter, Harry thinks, and then he realises it's the house itself, doing what it can to comfort Draco, to make him feel welcomed. Safe.

"Better?" Harry asks, and he feels a bloody fool when he does, but Draco just wipes the back of his hand across his wet eyes and gives Harry a faint smile.

"Somewhat." Draco's voice is low. Rough. He draws in a slow breath, then exhales. "I feel foolish."

"You shouldn't." Harry watches as Draco sips the tea, as the blotches of pink start to fade from his face. "You're grieving, Draco."

Draco sets his cup down. "For a bastard."

"For your father." Harry shifts in his chair, his shoulder twinging. "He was an arsehole, but he was still your dad."

They're silent for a moment, then Draco says, "I can't go back tonight." He stares down at his half-empty cup. "To my flat."

"I know." Harry sits back in his chair. "We're staying here."

"My mother--" A flush of guilt goes across Draco's cheeks.

"I'll handle it." Harry stands. "You finish your tea, then come up to the library and find me. Yeah? Kreacher'll pour you another cuppa if you need it." Kreacher's standing at the hob, watching them both, thin shoulders hunched, his face worried and drawn. Harry knows Kreacher will look after Draco without hesitation if only Draco will let him.

Draco just nods, but he doesn't look at Harry. Still, when Harry rests his hand on Draco's shoulder, Draco reaches up, brushes Harry's knuckles with his fingertips. "Thank you," Draco murmurs, and Harry just squeezes his shoulder gently before pulling away. He glances back at Draco from the doorway. Draco's leaning on his elbows, his face pale, a bit gaunter than Harry'd like it to be. He looks exhausted and emotionally drawn. Harry wishes there was something--anything--he could do to take the pain of all this away. He knows he can't. He can just be there for moments like this. Moments when Draco needs to break.

If nothing else, Harry can make him feel safe.

He goes upstairs to the Floo and firecalls Andromeda. She answers immediately, and when Harry explains what's happened, she sighs. "Poor boy," Andromeda says. "It was bound to happen, but still."

"We're staying here at Grimmauld tonight," Harry says. "He needs some space. Some time away." He hesitates. "I hate to ask, but can you take Narcissa on? For a few days? It's just they're not…" Harry doesn't know how to say it. "He's not letting himself feel things properly. He thinks he has to be strong for his mum, and, well." Today happens, he thinks. He falls apart in the middle of bloody Sainsbury's over sodding jam tarts.

"I've been waiting," Andromeda says. "I didn't want to push, but I thought this might happen. Don't worry. I'll look after Narcissa. You take care of Draco."

"Thanks," Harry says, and he means it. "Tell Narcissa not to fret about us. I'll send Kreacher over later to pick up clothes for Draco." And his own satchel, Harry thinks. He's not certain they're going back to Draco's flat any time soon.

Harry sits back on his heels after Andromeda says goodbye, taking a deep breath as he watches the flames shift from green back to orange. He wonders if he can do this, if he really can take care of Draco, if that's what Draco needs from him.

He wants to try. Wants to be here for the man he loves.

Slowly, Harry pushes himself to his feet, letting out a soft huff of pain as he does so. He turns, and Draco's in the doorway, watching him.

"Are you taking your pain potion?" Draco asks, his eyes narrowed.

"Yes," Harry lies, but there's a tenseness around Draco's mouth that lets Harry know Draco doesn't believe him.

"Bollocks," Draco says as Harry walks over to him. "Harry, you have to--"

"I will." Harry leans in and kisses Draco, slow and careful, his lips warm against Draco's soft mouth. Draco falls silent. Harry pulls back and looks at him. "You need to rest. We're going upstairs, and we're going to have a bit of a lie down, yeah? I'll even take something for the pain if it'll make you feel better."

"Please." Draco's hand settles on Harry's hip. "I'll only rest if you do."

Harry nods. "And then we'll get up and eat. Kreacher'll make anything you want."

"I'm not really hungry," Draco says, but when Harry gives him a frown, he sighs. "Maybe a cheese toastie."

"You hate cheese toasties," Harry says. "You mock me for eating them."

Draco starts up the stairs. "I mock you for only eating them, you idiot. You can't survive on nothing but a toastie." The staircase grows brighter as they walk up it, and the scent of roses starts to drift towards them. Draco smoothes his palm over one of the newel posts. "Your house missed me, Harry."

"Not really surprising." Harry takes the last few steps up to the landing. "I think it loves you almost as much as I do."

That makes Draco look back at him, his hand already on the doorknob to their bedroom. "You're a sentimental twat, Harry Potter," he says, but he's smiling faintly, and the look he gives Harry is warm and soft.

Harry touches Draco's face, leans in and kisses him once more. "But I do love you," he whispers against Draco's lips. "Madly even."

Draco breathes out, lets his cheek rub against Harry's. "I don't know why," he says finally. "But I do love you too." He pulls back, looks over at Harry. "Thank you," he says. "For being here for me."

Harry lets Draco lead him to the bed. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

"Liar," Draco says as he toes off his boots and his socks, then stretches out on his side of the bed. And, Harry wonders, when did he start thinking of it as Draco's side, anyway? But it is, and Draco looks right, all long and lean and pale against Harry's navy blue coverlet. Draco glances at him. "You promised you'd rest too. Potion first, though."

"I will." Harry takes his boots off, unsnaps his braces and sets them aside, then goes to the en suite and quaffs a paracetamol rather than a pain potion, rinsing it down with a handful of water. He climbs up on the bed behind Draco, taking care with his shoulder.

Draco's half-asleep already, and Harry's not surprised. That burst of grief had to have worn him out. Harry smoothes Draco's hair back, kisses his temple.

"You know, I really do love you, Harry Potter," Draco murmurs, his eyes still closed. "Probably more than's healthy." He yawns a bit. "Prat."

Harry can't help but smile. "I know." He rests his head on the pillow beside Draco's, breathing in the soft scent of sandalwood and clover in Draco's cologne. He rests his hand on Draco's side; he can feel the slow rise and fall of Draco's breath, can tell as it evens out when Draco finally slips into sleep.

To his great surprise, Harry does too.

***

Draco wakes to the sound of the shower in the en suite, soft golden light spilling out from the half-open door. The rest of the bedroom's cast in shadows; the windows are dark through the sheer curtains, and one small lamp flickers warmly on top of Harry's tall dresser, beside the small sex toy chest that Draco still remembers the password to.

He sits up, a bit groggily. Draco hadn't meant to sleep this long, and his head feels a bit thick and fuzzy. Still, his heart's a bit less heavy and tight, and his body's not as tense as it'd been before the ragged sobs wracked his soul.

The wooden floor's cool beneath his bare feet as he pushes himself up, pads towards the en suite for a quick slash. He also wants to see Harry, to know he's still here with him, even though logically Draco realises he must be. It's not as if anyone else is going to have turned the shower on, after all.

Steam fills the en suite, fogging up the mirror and making Draco's skin feel warm and wet. Merlin only knows what it's doing to his hair. At least he can't look in the mirror and tell. Harry's clothes are in a pile on the floor, his pants and arm sling on top. Draco leans down, picks them up. Folds them. He's tutted at Harry before about the way Harry treats his clothes, dropping them wherever he feels like. Draco sets them on the side of the sink, a neat stack of cotton and twill. He almost thinks about complaining again, but he doesn't know that he has it in him. At the moment at least.

And then Draco hears a soft noise from the shower. A half-groan, followed by a breath. He turns his head, catches a glimpse of Harry behind the curtain, his feet planted firmly in the tub, his back to Draco, hair wet, water pouring across his golden skin. Harry's beautiful, Draco thinks, his gaze drifting across the muscled expanse of Harry's shoulders, down to his narrow waist and hips, over the round swell of his taut arsecheeks. It's the first time Draco's seen Harry naked in a week, and his body responds, his cheeks heating, his cock starting to harden in his jeans. It surprises Draco. He hasn't even wanted to wank for days.

It's then that Harry shifts, turns just enough for Draco to see Harry's left hand on his prick, moving slowly. Awkwardly. His foreskin slips back, and Draco can see Harry's cock rising up, hardening with each careful, fumbling stroke. His wounded right arm hangs limp at his side, unable even to hold Harry up, and Harry turns again, pushing his back against the tiled wall as his left hand pulls harder at his prick, tugs his foreskin over the swollen, ruddy head.

Draco watches. Harry's eyes are closed. Water runs down his broad chest, rivulets forming in the scattering of dark curls, dripping from the hard nubs of his pebbled brown nipples. Harry breathes out again, a quiet, careful huff that opens his lips just enough to make Draco want to climb in the tub fully dressed and kiss him.

Harry's right shoulder is red and raw, the skin just barely knit together. Draco can barely look at it without thinking of that moment when Harry fell beneath Dolohov's hex, the fear that had overtaken Draco, the terror that Harry would never get up again. That he was gone. That Draco had lost him.

What does it mean, Draco wonders, that Harry's death would have destroyed him? Utterly and completely. Whereas he can live through his father's murder. He can walk through the day, can breathe, can let himself exist. But if he'd lost Harry….Merlin. The very thought makes Draco want to sink to his knees, his body bent with anguish.

This must be what it feels like for his mother, he thinks, and something around his heart loosens, a furl of sympathy twisting through him. If it'd been Harry, even this soon in their relationship, Draco wouldn't have been able to bear it. How much worse must it be for his mother, who'd spent thirty-two years of her life in love with Lucius Malfoy?

Somehow Draco must make a soft noise because Harry's hand stills. His eyes open, and he's looking at Draco, a flush going across his cheeks. "Oh." Harry's hand falls away from his prick. "I'm sorry--"

"Don't stop," Draco says, and his voice is rough and raw. "Please."

Harry just stands there, uncertain. "Draco--"

And then Draco's climbing into the tub, without shucking off his shirt or jeans, and the warm water pours over him from the shower, wetting his hair, his clothes, sticking them to his skin. Draco doesn't care. "Harry," he manages to say, and then he's kissing Harry, their mouths wet, Draco's hands cupping Harry's slick cheeks. He rocks his hips forward, lets Harry feel the swell of his own prick against Harry's, only the wet denim and cotton of Draco's jeans and pants separating them.

"Christ," Harry gasps against Draco's mouth, and his left arm wraps around Draco's waist, pulling him closer. "I didn't want--" He breaks off in a groan as Draco's fingers brush over the head of his cock. "You don't have to--"

"I want to," Draco says, and he does. "You could have asked, you idiot. If you needed this."

Harry buries his face against the curve of Draco's throat, breathing hard as Draco pulls at Harry's foreskin, tugs it over Harry's slick head. "You didn't need me adding to everything," he says. "I can wank--"

"Not well," Draco says, turning his head to nip at Harry's jaw. "Not with that arm."

"It takes a little longer," Harry admits. His breath catches as Draco's fingers stroke down his shaft. The quiet sound shudders through Draco's body. Makes him want, the way he hasn't for days.

Draco steps back, lets his hand fall away from Harry's prick. Harry bites off a protest and stands silently beneath the warm spray of the shower. Draco starts to unbutton his shirt, his wet hair falling into his face. Harry just watches him, eyes bright and hot. Draco lets the wet cotton fall off his shoulders, lets it land with a sodden plop against the porcelain bottom of the tub. "Harry," he says, his voice soft, and he fumbles with the button and zip of his jeans. It's only then he realises how stupid he was to get into the shower with them on. They stick to him, heavy and wet, and he nearly falls trying to shove them down his thighs. Harry catches him with his good arm, holds him steady with a soft laugh.

And then Draco's laughing as well, a well-spring of sharp, painful joy that bubbles up as he stands in the shower, his jeans down around his knees, until it twists like a knife, its edges opening Draco up, making his feelings roll through him, angry and harsh and raw, and his laughter slows, turns to hot tears that spill down his face, mixing with the warmth of the shower spray.

Harry holds Draco close as he sobs, one arm around him, their skin slick and wet and hot against each other, their swollen pricks bobbing between them, pressing together.

"I don't want to think," Draco manages to choke out, his face pressed against Harry's good shoulder, his hands tight on Harry's hips. "Please."

"Wait here," Harry says, and then he's gone, and Draco's standing mostly naked beneath the shower, his back pressed against the tiled corner, tears still leaking from the corners of his tightly clenched eyes.

It only takes a moment before Harry's back, but it feels an eternity to Draco. But he hears the shower curtain pull back, and the water turn off, and he's cold suddenly, even in the warmth of the steam. When he looks down, Harry's crouched at the side of the tub, his wand in his hand, and he casts a Severing Charm on Draco's jeans, cutting them from Draco's calves. The heavy, wet denim slides off, landing wetly beside his shirt, and Draco can step out of his pants. He leaves them there too as Harry holds out his hand, helps him step out onto the thick, plush bath mat.

Harry kisses Draco. It's slow and careful. Easy, almost, the way their bodies fit together. Draco's hair is sodden, lank against his cheek, his nape. He shivers against Harry's body, the chill of the air striking his wet skin. Harry smoothes his hand down Draco's back, still kissing him, and Draco could lose himself in the soft, gentle press of Harry's lips against his. It's not a desperate kiss, not wanton, but one filled with love, and care, and worry, the kind of kiss that promises not an night of passion but a lifetime of devotion.

And it takes Draco's breath away.

"Harry," he says. "I need…" He doesn't know what exactly. He just knows that he couldn't bear it if Harry didn't touch him, didn't hold him like this.

A shudder goes through Draco as Harry steps back, reaches for a towel. Harry dries Draco off, watching him with a kind, yet heated look. "All right?" Harry asks, as he slides behind Draco, drags the pale blue towel down Draco's spine, over Draco's arse.

Draco just nods. The towel's a caress against his chilled skin. "Yes," he manages after a moment, and his prick has never been so hard, he thinks. Not from a shower.

Harry presses the towel against Draco's hair, so light, so careful. Draco knows Harry could use a drying charm, but he's glad Harry doesn't. Draco needs to be touched like this, to be cared for as only Harry knows he needs. Draco feels something full and heavy in him shift, and his eyes start to grow damp again. He blinks the tears away, watches in the clearing mirror as Harry bends down to drag the towel up Draco's left leg, then over to his right, just barely letting it brush the underside of Draco's cock. Draco hisses, softly, and when he glances down, Harry's smiling up at him, his eyes so warm and wide without his glasses.

"Tell me what you want," Harry says, standing up. His prick is nearly flat against his belly, so large and ruddy and thick. Draco wants to put his mouth around Harry's head, to suck the slickness from it, to taste Harry's bittersweet saltiness.

Instead Draco holds out his hand, and Harry takes it, letting Draco lead him back into the bedroom. Draco stops beside the bed, turns to Harry, touches his cheek, his fingertips so light against Harry's warm skin. "I want you inside of me," Draco says after a moment. "I need to feel you--" His voice breaks. "I need to feel you fucking me." He draws in an unsteady breath. "Please."

Harry nods. "My arm," he says. "We have to take that into account."

"I know." Draco sits on the edge of the bed. He feels strangely shy. He covers by reaching out, dragging his thumb across Harry's slick head, then lifting it to his mouth, sucking the taste of Harry from his skin. Harry breathes in, sharp and rough. "I could ride you."

"You could." Harry steps back, turns towards his dresser. "But I thought we could start with something else." He opens the toy chest, pulls out a flared plug and holds it up. "All right?"

Draco's stomach flips. "All right," he says, and he scoots up the bed, pressing his feet against the edge of the mattress. He spreads his knees wide.

Harry's face shifts; Draco can see the pure desire in his eyes. "You're beautiful like that," Harry murmurs, and he pulls the phial of lube from the bedside table, uncapping it and pouring some over his fingers. It's slick and cold against Draco's arse when Harry touches him, but Draco stills himself, fights against the instinctive flinch when Harry presses a finger into his hole. It's a bit awkward; Harry's still using his left hand and he scrapes his fingernail across the inside of Draco's arse. Draco hisses. "Sorry," Harry says, and he starts to pull his hand away.

"No," Draco says. He tightens his arse around Harry's finger. "Keep going."

Another finger slides in. Harry's watching Draco, and Draco knows Harry's judging his reaction, his response, trying to make certain this is what Draco wants.

It's good. Draco lets the thought slip across Harry's mind, and he sees Harry relax.

"One more?" Harry asks, and Draco nods, spreading his knees wider, his elbows pressed into the coverlet. His prick bobs in the air, long and thin and pink. Harry presses a third finger in, and Draco lets his head fall back, his body starting to feel the stretch more intensely. Harry twists his fingers, pressing them deeper. It's slow. So very fucking slow, and Draco loves it, loves how he can feel every movement of Harry's fingers inside of him, loves how Harry's thumb strokes the soft skin between his arse and his bollocks. His prick's leaking, smearing across his skin every time his head hits his belly. Draco stretches his arms out across the bed, gives himself into Harry's touch. It feels incredible, like his whole body is on fire.

And then Harry's fingers are gone, and Draco can feel the harder silicone tip of the plug press against his arsehole. "Breathe in and hold," Harry says from between Draco's knees.

Draco does, and he can feel the plug sliding in, settling deep within his arse. It's almost too much at first. He holds his breath until his lungs burn, and then he exhales in a rush. He fills full, his arse heavy. He looks up at Harry who's smiling down at him.

"Okay?" Harry asks.

"It's nice." Draco shifts his hips, feeling the plug press against the ring of muscle around his hole. The pain's shifting, turning into something far more deliciously pleasant. "Very nice."

Harry's smile widens a bit. "Then you won't mind if I do this?" He casts a vibrating charm, and the plug shivers to life in Draco, making Draco fall back against the bed, his hips jerking slightly.

"Fuck," Draco says, and he bites his lip. "That's even better."

He can feel Harry's fingers sliding up the inside of his right thigh. "You know," Harry says, "the first time we used one of these--do you remember?"

Draco does. So well. He'd been spread against this very bed, clamps on his nipples, Harry leaning over him, urging him to come. "Yes," he manages to say. He twists his fingers in the coverlet, the plug's vibrations going through him, rumbling against his prostate. He doesn't know how long he'll last like this, if he's honest. He needs to come. Wants to, so desperately. "Why?"

Harry's lips ghost across the head of Draco's prick. "That was the night," Harry says, "that I realised how fucking in love I was with you." His mouth slides over Draco's cock, sucks him in, deep and hard in one smooth slide, and Draco cries out, his hands flexing against the mattress, his shoulders coming up. He can barely think with Harry's mouth on his prick, with the plug shuddering deep inside of him. It's too much, and he presses up, pushes his cock into Harry's mouth as far as he can. Harry pulls back up, almost to the point that the head might slide out, then he breathes out through his nose and pushes back down, his hand going down to cup Draco's bollocks, rolling them with his fingers.

For a moment, Draco thinks he might die. It'd be a brilliant death, sharp and bright and filled with pleasure, but he can barely breathe, can barely move. His whole body feels tight and hot, and he can't think, can't do anything but feel the way Harry's hand is on him, the way Harry's mouth moves along his prick, the way Harry feels between his spread thighs.

"Oh," Draco says, breathless. "Oh, Harry. I--" He cries out again as Harry's shoulder rolls against him, pushing one thigh wider, Harry's mouth taking almost all of Draco's prick into it. Draco digs his toes into the mattress, tries to ride out the shudders wracking his body as Harry sucks his cock, hard and fast and quick.

And just before Draco's certain he can't hold off any longer, Harry pulls his mouth away. Harry reaches down, casting the charm to turn the vibration off, and he pulls the plug from Draco's arse, tossing it to the end of the bed. Draco groans in frustration, his head thudding back against the coverlet, and then he feels the mattress shift as Harry shifts onto the bed, stretches out beside him, long and muscular against Draco's left side.

"Hey," Harry says, and he runs his good hand along Draco's chest, his thumbnail scraping over one of Draco's nipples. "Okay there?"

"You're a fucking wanker, Harry Potter," Draco chokes out, and Harry just laughs, soft and low, leaning over to kiss the side of Draco's neck.

"I'm wounded," Harry points out. "Arm's supposed to be immobilised, remember?"

Draco turns his head, looks at Harry. "Your mouth's not," he says, a bit more petulantly than he'd like.

Harry chuckles again, and Draco can feel the rumble of his laugh against his arm. "I'm tired," he admits, and Draco can see a slight spasm of discomfort cross his face. "It takes a lot to do this one-handed. You mentioned something about riding my prick." He looks over at Draco. "If you want?"

Fuck but Draco does. He sits up. "Can you make it to the pillows?" he asks, and Harry eyes the stretch of bed he'll have to cross.

"Help me?" Harry's abdomen tenses as he sits up, not using either of his hands. Draco doesn't know why Harry's strength always surprises him, but it does. Even after months of shagging him senseless. Draco holds Harry steady as he slides up the mattress, wincing every few inches.

"Are you certain this is a good idea?" Draco asks, suddenly worried. "I can wank--"

The look Harry gives him is sharp and a bit offended. "Draco, I swear to fucking God, if you don't ride my cock, I might actually sulk in disappointment. I was absolutely willing to use my hand until you put the option of your arse around my prick out there, so, yeah. It's a sodding good idea."

"You're an idiot," Draco says, but he gives Harry a fond look. "And your Healers will probably hex me."

"My Healers can fall off the bloody Dover cliffs for all I care." Harry settles himself against the pillows; Draco pushes another one behind him for a bit extra support. Harry slaps his bare thighs. "Now get your brilliant arse over here and fuck me, Draco Malfoy." He lets his shoulders sink back into the stack of pillows. "I want to feel that pretty prick of yours rubbing all over me until you pop."

Draco straddles Harry's thighs. "Such language, Inspector Potter." He lets his hands slip down Harry's chest. "Whatever would the Prophet say?"

"Probably write an editorial about what a slag I am." Harry smiles at Draco, touches his face. "More fool them," he murmurs as his good hand slips behind Draco's neck, fingers tangling in Draco's half-dried hair. He pulls him closer, brushes his lips against Draco's. "The better story'd be how bloody mad I am about a certain blond Unspeakable."

"To-be," Draco says, and he kisses Harry, soft and warm, his mouth opening to Harry's tongue. When he pulls back, he smoothes Harry's hair back from his forehead. "You're still technically my Inspector."

Harry's mouth quirks up on one side. "Does that turn you on?"

Draco bites his lip, then smiles back. "Have I been fucking you for weeks?"

"You terrible pervert," Harry says, with a warm, affectionate laugh. His thumb strokes along the angle of Draco's jaw. "We'll have to find other ways to get you worked up then."

Draco shifts his hips forward, lets his prick slide against Harry's. "I think we could do that." He looks down at Harry, taking in Harry's faint stubble, the warm shine in Harry's eyes. Draco's knuckles drag lightly across Harry's cheek. "Merlin," Draco says, his voice barely a whisper. "I love you, Harry."

At that, Harry turns his head, kisses Draco's hand. "Show me," Harry says, and the words are a quiet huff against Draco's fingers. "Please."

It's almost too much. A shiver goes through Draco, and he bends his head forward, presses his forehead against Harry's. He breathes out. "Lube," he says finally, and Harry Summons it wordlessly, the prickle of non-verbal magic shimmering across Draco's skin. Harry hands the phial to Draco.

Draco pours the thin liquid across his fingertips, leans back along Harry's thighs. Harry watches him, barely breathing, as Draco slicks himself up, twists his fingers deep into his already stretched hole. "You like that," Draco says, the words getting lost in small, quick gasps. "You like watching me fuck myself."

"I do." Harry swallows. "Christ, I do. Look at those fingers inside of you. Fuck, Draco…." He catches his bottom lip between his teeth, breathes out. "I love you so much," he says. "I'm so sorry--"

"No," Draco says and he pulls his hand from between his thighs. He pours more lube across his fingers, then slicks Harry's prick up, rubbing his thumb over Harry's swollen head, pushing his foreskin up then back again, just enough for Draco to work the tip of one finger into Harry's wet slit. "Don't be sorry. Not here. Not in this bed."

Harry just nods, exhales. His nipples are hard and tight; Draco leans in and licks one, revelling in the way Harry's body jerks at the drag of Draco's tongue. Draco strokes Harry's prick, his fingers tight around his shaft, just the way he knows Harry likes. It surprises him still, the way he knows Harry's body, the instinct he has now as to how Harry will react to a touch, to a nip. This is more than sex, more than fucking, more than a chance to get off with his very fit superior officer. Draco wants Harry to feel incredible, wants to see that lost, liquid look in Harry's eyes when he's seated deep in Draco's arse, wants to show Harry exactly how much he loves him.

"Can you hold your prick for me?" Draco asks, and Harry nods, reaching between them with his left hand to hold his cock steady. Draco reaches for the headboard, balances himself, before letting himself sink down, the head of Harry's prick pressing against him. Even with the plug having loosened him up, it still takes a moment for Draco to relax enough for Harry to breach him. Draco grips the headboard, breathes out, then back in again as he slides himself further down, bit by tiny bit, his eyes closed, his fingers digging into the solid wood.

When he's fully seated, Draco exhales, lets himself relax around Harry's prick. He's missed this, missed feeling Harry inside of him. They haven't gone this long without fucking since May; they're nearly at the end of July. Draco would never have thought he'd need Harry Potter this much. But he does. He opens his eyes.

Harry's watching him, his face soft. "Hey there," Harry says, and Draco smiles at him. "This is all right?"

"So very," Draco says. He doesn't want to move yet. He likes the feeling of Harry inside of him like this, likes being so close to him, likes how intimate this is. Draco lowers one of his hands to cup Harry's face, his fingers pushing back into Harry's dark hair. Harry's looking up at him as if Draco's the most beautiful man, as if he loves Draco. Worships him. Draco feels light, shivery, as if he owns the whole bloody world just because Harry Potter's looking at him that way. He lets his hand slide down Harry's throat, over Harry's chest. He wonders what he's done to deserve this. His Mark catches his eye, still dark and twisted across his scarred arm. They're so very different, he and Harry. It makes no damned sense sometimes.

"What are you thinking?" Harry asks, and Draco looks back up at him. Harry's brows draw together. "Draco?"

Draco shakes his head at first. He doesn't want to admit it. But Harry doesn't look away, doesn't turn his head. He just watches Draco, steady and even, and somehow Draco finds himself asking, "How can a Death Eater like me be loved by a man like you?"

Harry's good hand slips up, fingers carding through Draco's hair. "Oh, so bloody easily," Harry says, his voice almost a whisper. "And with all my goddamned heart, Draco Malfoy. Every sodding cell of it."

Draco closes his eyes again, rests his palm against Harry's heart. He can feel the soft thud of it against his skin. "Oh," he says, and then Harry's pulling him forward, kissing him, and it's rougher this time, not as gentle, a clash of teeth and tongues and mouths, and Draco's certain his heart is going to beat out of his chest, loud and staccato.

"Fuck me," Harry says into Draco's breath. "Please, baby." And there's such open need in his voice, such obvious want, that Draco groans, rolls his hips forward, his prick pushed between their two bellies.

He moves slowly at first, his hands still gripping the headboard for balance, and Harry's fingers dig into Draco's hip. The room feels warm, the air soft around Draco's body, almost as if the house itself is cushioning them, making it easier for Draco to slide up and then back down Harry's prick. Draco thinks he smells roses and lilacs, and he wants to laugh at first at the absurdity of the house, but then he looks down at Harry's face, at the way Harry is gazing up at him, his pupils wide and bright, his cheeks flushed, and Draco can barely breathe.

Draco rides Harry, harder now, and he spreads his knees, lets Harry look down at the way his cock is pressing into Draco's arse, and Harry groans.

"So fucking tight," Harry manages to say. Draco's head falls back; he holds onto the headboard with one hand, reaching back with the other to balance himself over Harry's thighs. It feels so good, impaling himself on Harry's prick, and he loves the wet slap of his cock against Harry's stomach. They're both gasping, groaning, and the bed's shaking beneath them, creaking with each slam of Draco's hips downward.

And Draco doesn't think about anything but Harry, and the way Harry feels inside of him, and how hard his prick is, and how he wants to come so fucking badly, but he won't--not yet, not until Harry does. Harry grips Draco's hip tighter, and Draco can feel Harry's other hand pressing into the mattress beside them, his fingers brushing against Draco's calf. Draco's thighs burn with the effort of holding himself up, of pushing his arse down along Harry's prick. He knows Harry's shoulder is hurting, sharp and burning; he can feel it spark across the surface of his mind, and he slows a bit, worried.

"Goddamn it, Draco," Harry says, loud and rough in the quiet of the room. "Don't. Fuck--" He pushes his hips up, rolls them against Draco's arse. "I need--"

Draco knows. He clenches himself around Harry's prick, moving faster, his breath coming in sharp, ragged bursts. He knows exactly when Harry falls over the edge, feels the tightness of Harry's thighs, the jerk of Harry's bollocks, the way Harry's whole body tenses just before he shouts, his head falling back, his mouth open and pink, and Merlin, he's bloody gorgeous when he comes like this, his spunk filling Draco's arse, slipping out with each press of Draco's body, slick and stick across Draco's skin.

"Yes," Draco hisses, and he leans forward, his body still rocking into Harry's. "You beautiful bastard--"

Harry kisses him, reaches down between them, grabs Draco's prick with his left hand and pulls. It hurts at first, but Draco gives himself into it, and he presses his swollen, leaking cock into Harry's hand as he feels Harry slip out of his arse, softening.

It's a stroke or two or twenty--Draco doesn't care, loses count. But his body shakes and trembles beneath Harry's touch, and Draco bites his lip, rocks forward into Harry's tight hand, a trickle of sweat rolling down his back, between his shoulder blades.

"Come for me," Harry says against Draco's ear. "I want to see you fall apart--"

Draco cries out, arches forward, his body doing exactly what Harry asks of it. He shudders, jerks, and then his spunk is spattering across Harry's stomach, over his hand, and Draco's gasping, begging Harry not to stop because there's one last spasm---he shouts, his voice ringing out through the room, his whole body shaking, his knees pressed into the mattress, his hands tight around the edge of the headboard.

He sinks forward, his body limp. Sated. He can barely feel Harry's kisses along the curve of his neck, can barely hear Harry's voice, whispering in his ear, telling him how good he's been, how amazing it was to watch him come like that. Harry's hand strokes down Draco's back, so featherlight until Draco slips back into his body and then it almost burns, and Draco shudders at the touch, slides away, rolls onto his side, breathing hard still.

Slowly, his trembling stills. Harry slides down the pillows, curls himself up around Draco's back, his good arm draped over Draco's waist. Draco knows it can't be comfortable for him, but when Draco tries to move, Harry holds him down and says, "Stay still."

Draco does.

They lie there together for a long moment, their breaths easing, slowing. The house settles around them, creaking in the eaves, the windows rattling just a bit. Harry presses his mouth to Draco's nape and nips, gently.

"Better?" Harry asks, and Draco can't help but smile, even though Harry can't see it.

"Much." Draco shifts, turns towards Harry. He watches him, studies the way Harry's eyes flutter closed, the way Harry exhales. "I'm sorry I'm so difficult right now," Draco says, something hot and tight crossing his chest, and Harry turns his head and looks at him.

"You're not." Harry reaches for Draco's hand, threads his fingers through Draco's. "You're grieving."

Draco rolls onto his back, stares up at the ceiling. "It's hard," he says, and he feels the burn of wetness in his eyes again. He blinks it away, breathing out. "I'm angry, but I miss him."

"I know." Harry doesn't say anything for a moment, then he sighs. "I don't remember my parents well. If at all, really. Sometimes I think the few memories I have might just be dreams." He looks over at Draco again. "I can't imagine how hard it is for you, to have the memories and to lose your dad like this. I am sorry, love."

The endearment warms Draco, cracks something in his heart. He rolls over again, curls himself along Harry's side, rests his head on Harry's chest. He can hear Harry's heartbeat, feel the way Harry's fingers slip through his hair. "You make me feel safe," Draco says after a moment. "Like I can survive this."

Harry's hand stills for a moment, then he goes back to stroking Draco's hair. "I'm glad."

Draco's throat feels tight. He splays his fingers over Harry's stomach. They're long and pale across Harry's golden skin. "You have to be careful," Draco say after a moment. He tries to keep his voice even, but it still trembles a bit. "If I lost you too--" He breaks off, choking off a swell of fear. Grief. He swallows. "Promise me, Harry." He doesn't look up.

Harry's silent, then he says, "I promise."

It's a lie. Both of them know it. It can't be otherwise, not in the career they've chosen. Harry can't be careful, not always. Neither can Draco.

But Draco needs the fiction right now. Needs to believe that Harry will be safe, that someone like Dolohov won't take him down, that Harry can be invincible.

"Thank you," Draco whispers, and Harry curls his fingers around Draco's, pulls them up to kiss them lightly.

Together they lie sprawled across their bed, Grimmauld Place rustling and sighing around them, both of them silent, lost in their own fears, their own hopes.

For now, it's everything Draco needs.

Chapter Text

Draco doesn't bloody well want to get up on Monday morning and go into the Ministry. He'd rather lie cocooned in the warmth of his and Harry's bed in Grimmauld Place, listening to the house settle around him, to the squeak of Kreacher's light tread on the staircase, to the soft rush of the shower from the en suite. He breathes out, tries to make himself give a damn, but he can't. Not really.

He hasn't been back to his flat since Thursday night. Harry'd stayed home with him on Friday, sending a message to Althea that she'd be in charge for the day--and isn't that an odd feeling, Draco thinks, that he's already been replaced on Seven-Four-Alpha by Althea bloody Whitaker of all people. He doesn't entirely like it, but he also doesn't know how to protest his transfer. Or if he has the bloody energy to do so. Ironic, he thinks, given that he'd been thinking of doing the same only a month past. He knows this is for the best, knows that it means he and Harry could eventually be public with their relationship if they choose to. There'll be raised eyebrows and whispers amongst the rest of the force if they do so, and the rumours would all likely be true.

But he and Harry haven't talked about that part of things. Not yet at least. That's another thing Draco doesn't want to do right now. This is all still too new in a way, everything between them, and he's not certain he even likes their friends knowing. Draco feels vulnerable and exposed and raw, and as much as he needs to wrap himself in Harry, to know Harry's beside him, ready to hold Draco close, that longing also feels like a terrible weakness.

The shower shuts off in the en suite. Draco buries his face in the soft press of his pillow, letting his hair tumble across his cheek. If he looks like he's sleeping, maybe Harry will leave him be.

Croaker's owl had come at half-eight last night, wide grey wings slapping against the library windows until Harry had opened them. It'd dropped the tightly wound scroll in Harry's hand, then flown out again, not bothering to wait for a reply. Why would it, after all? Croaker's neatly spiky handwriting had demanded--pleasantly and politely, of course--that Draco join him in his office at half-nine in the morning to discuss his future with the Department of Mysteries.

His future. As if Draco has any goddamned bloody choice in the matter.

Draco burrows deeper beneath the duvet. The cotton feels good against his bare skin. He's barely worn clothes for the past two days. Nothing more than a pair of joggers at least, and that only when Harry's convinced him to crawl out of bed to go downstairs for food. His arse is sore; his body aches. He's begged Harry to shag him, to keep him from thinking, to keep those feelings that threaten to overwhelm him at bay. Draco'd known it couldn't last. That Harry would have to go back to work eventually, and so would he. Draco doesn't want to, and that's an odd feeling. Work's been everything to him for eight years now. If he'd been offered this transfer to the Unspeakables six months ago, he'd have jumped at the chance. Positions in the Department of Mysteries rarely come open. Not without a death.

Although he supposes there's been one, hasn't there? Phoebe Rayne. Draco wonders what her family must be going through. She has a husband, he knows; he'd looked it up last week in her Prophet obituary. A husband and an eleven-year-old son. Almost ready for Hogwarts, and what will his first year be like, Draco wonders. Missing his mother. Angry at the world.

Draco's heart aches. He exhales again, his breath stirring the strands of hair that have fallen across his mouth. They tickle, catching on his lips chapped from Harry's kisses. The feelings twist through him again, sharp and biting, a knife-wound of grief that refuses to heal.

He misses his father. It's odd to think that. For years, Draco's half-believed that when this day came, when his father had finally shuffled off this mortal coil, he'd dance on Lucius's grave. He doesn't want to. He wonders what he'd say to his father if he saw him again. If he had one last moment. If he'd only known the last time he talked to Lucius that he'd never have another chance. Would he have done anything differently?

Honestly, Draco doesn't know.

The floorboards creak beside the bed. Draco closes his eyes, pretends to be asleep. Harry's hand settles on Draco's hip, warm and heavy through the duvet.

"You're going to be late," Harry says quietly.

Draco doesn't answer.

"Love," Harry says. His hand smoothes up Draco's side, over the length of his waist. He leans over, presses a kiss to Draco's jaw. A drop of water falls from Harry's still wet hair, hits Draco's cheek. Draco tries not to flinch, but he can't help himself. Harry's laugh is soft. "I know you're awake."

"Fuck off," Draco mumbles, but Harry's mouth is moving along the curve of his neck, teeth nipping lightly. Draco sighs and rolls onto his back, looking up at Harry. "I don't want to go in."

Harry's in nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist. "I know." He leans against the side of the bed, his bad arm pressed against his chest. Draco doesn't think he's gone into the Healers yet. That'll be something to argue about when Draco's not so bloody exhausted, he thinks. Harry's knuckles stroke along Draco's cheek. "It'll be good for you though."

Draco thinks that's bollocks. "Maybe," he says, and he rubs his hands over his face. He smells like sweat and sex and spunk, and he's in desperate need of a shower. Harry's palm smoothes over his chest, and Draco huffs a soft breath, looking over at Harry. "We could stay in bed all day."

"We could." Harry's face is regretful. "But Gawain'll have my bollocks if I'm not in today." He curls his fingers around Draco's wrist and helps him sit up. "Go shower. I'll have Kreacher make you breakfast."

"I'm not hungry." Draco knows he sounds petulant as he swings his feet over the edge of the bed. He scowls as he stands. "Just coffee."

For a moment he thinks Harry's going to protest, but Harry just hesitates, then nods, looking away from Draco as he moves towards his chest of drawers. "I'll get dressed and meet you downstairs."

Draco pads into the en suite, still frowning. He turns the shower on, then takes a quick piss, glancing over at himself in the mirror as he does. He looks pale and worn out, his hair dirty, touselled and sex-tangled, and there are love bites across his shoulders, down his neck. Draco won't bother to spell them away; he doesn't really give a fuck if Croaker sees them.

The water from the shower is still warm. Draco soaps himself up with his favourite citron verbena soap, inhaling its sharp, bright scent as the steam and spray swirl around him. He can't remember the last time he showered. Thursday perhaps, or Wednesday morning before the funeral. A shudder of pain goes through him at that thought, and he leans one shoulder against the wet, cool tile, breathing in the lemony mist of water. His wet hair falls forward, sticks to his cheeks. Draco closes his eyes, fights back the hot prickle of tears, his shoulders tightening. His whole body feels tense, taut, and all he can do is stand still beneath the warm spray, waiting for that spasm of grief to pass.

It does, and he feels himself relax, suddenly even more tired than before, his body almost unable to hold itself upright. Draco wants to sit in the tub, lift his face up to the shower and let the water wash over him. Instead he manages to rinse the soap off him, to lather up his hair and wash it clean.

Draco stands in front of the mirror for five minutes afterwards, just staring at himself. He doesn't know why. It just seems too difficult to move, to put one foot in front of the other. The steam on the mirror dissipates slowly, revealing Draco's thin, pale body, his lank, wet hair, the dark circles beneath his eyes and the spot on the bridge of his nose, tiny and red. He looks like shit, Draco thinks almost dispassionately, and then he reaches out and wipes his palm across the mirror, smearing what's left of the steam into small, uneven droplets before he turns away.

He dresses. A pair of dark grey trousers and a white shirt, drawn from where Kreacher had hung them in the new dressing room. He chooses a moonstone grey tie and braces. He doesn't care what he looks like today, but he won't embarrass Harry. Of that he's determined. His black brogues are polished, and he slips them on. The last time he'd worn them had been Wednesday at the Manor, Draco thinks. It's another twist of his stomach that he does his best to ignore as he pulls from its hanger the neatly tailored suit jacket that matches his trousers.

Harry's in the kitchen when Draco comes downstairs, in black trousers and red braces, his hair still damp around the ends, his arm in a clean white sling. He's made coffee, and he hands Draco a cup silently. There's a plate of toast nearby, butter smeared thickly across its brown surface, and Draco takes a triangle. Tries to eat it for Harry's sake. He knows Harry's watching, even though Harry's pretending he's more interested in the Prophet. Draco glances at the front page. There's another article about the Death Eater Registry, Griselda Marchbanks' photo up above the fold.

His father won't have to worry about that any longer, Draco thinks, and his toast sticks in his throat. He sets the remainder of the piece down, turns away, coughs.

"All right?" Harry asks, and Draco knows he's trying not to look too closely, trying to give Draco enough space to just be. He wants to tell Harry how much it means to him that he's being careful with Draco, but the words won't come. Not with Marchbanks staring at him from across the table.

"How are the Quidditch tables?" Draco asks instead, and he's relieved when Harry folds the paper, hiding the front page as he turns to sport.

They eat. Draco mostly sips his coffee and listens to Harry tell him about Puddlemere's rise to the top of the league after the Pride's most recent loss. The warm drone of Harry's voice is comforting, soothing Draco's jangled nerves as he watches Harry dip his toast soldiers into a runny egg. The sight makes Draco's stomach flip a little, and he pretends to nibble on the angles of his toast. He can't eat much. Doesn't want to, not really. He thinks Harry notices, but Harry doesn't say anything. Draco's glad. He can't tolerate an argument right now.

When Harry finishes eating, he sets the paper aside, then drains the dregs of his coffee cup. "Are you ready?" he asks Draco.

Not in the least, Draco wants to say, but instead he shrugs, with a sideways glance at his jacket hanging on the back of the side chair, Croaker's letter tucked in the front pocket. "As much as I'll ever be," he says finally, and he stands up, picks up the plate filled with crumbs and bits of torn toast rolled into smushed, buttery balls, and carries it to the sink. Kreacher will wash it later.

He feels the house around him, almost as if the very walls are turning towards him, doing everything they can to hold him inside, to keep him here. Draco wants to give in, wants to stay inside the comfort of Grimmauld Place, but he knows he can't.

Knows he shouldn't.

It's time to face the outside world again, whether or not he wants to. He can see it in the way Harry glances at him, a faintly worried frown between his brows. Draco takes a deep breath and reaches for his jacket. "Let's go," he says finally, and he turns away from Harry. He can't bear to see the look of pity on Harry's face.

They Floo into the Ministry. Draco doesn't look at anyone as he steps out of the green flames. He keeps his back ramrod straight, his gaze fixed firmly forward. This is the first time he's ventured out into the wizarding world since they'd Portkeyed back from New York, other than going to McIntyre and Mackenzie's and his father's funeral, of course. He doesn't want to hear the platitudes, the condolences, or the anger even. They'll all scrape across his already raw soul, make Draco desperately uncomfortable. He misses his anonymity in the Auror force, the way everyone wanted to look away from him, to let their gaze drift past him. Those days are over now. Draco recognises that, and he wants to curse his father; even in his death, Lucius has found a way to make his son the one to suffer for his own bloody sins.

"You'll be fine," Harry murmurs from behind him, and Draco feels the quick press of Harry's hand against the small of his back before it's gone. He looks back over his shoulder at Harry, gives him a faint smile.

"I wish I were going upstairs with you," Draco admits. It feels strange to stand in the middle of the atrium with Harry, the flood of the morning's Ministry workers starting to trickle off. They get a few curious looks, and Draco tenses. Steps away from Harry.

Harry frowns. "This is bollocks, you know." He's not happy about the whole Unspeakable situation. Draco's fully aware of that. They've talked about it a little, over the weekend, arguing about whether or not it's worth it to fight Croaker, to push back against Robards. I'm too sodding tired, Draco had told Harry last night, and it's true. But it's not all of it. Draco doesn't want to be the one to destroy Harry Potter's reputation, to be the one Harry's career might implode over. His past self would think him bloody mad, he knows, and perhaps he is.

Draco wants to lean in and kiss the bow of Harry's mouth, to tangle his fingers in Harry's hair and rut up against him until they're both breathless and hard in the middle of the goddamned Ministry. Instead he shifts on his feet and says, "We haven't a choice."

Really, Harry doesn't look convinced. "I suppose." He rubs his slinged arm, almost absently, and Draco knows it must be hurting him. Harry thinks Draco doesn't realise he's taking a reduced dose of his pain potions. Draco's not that much of a fool, but he's worried that if he shouts at Harry, the idiot'll just stop taking them at all. Harry's too worried about Draco, about being available for him, about being coherent even.

It's ridiculous, Draco thinks, the way they're tiptoeing around each other.

"Go on with you," Draco says after a moment. He doesn't want Harry to walk away from him. His satchel's heavy across his chest, the thick strap of it feeling as if it's strangling Draco, cutting off his breath. He exhales, then adds, "If I need you, I'll find you. I promise."

Harry hesitates, nods. "See you tonight?" he asks, and when Draco nods, Harry says, too quietly for anyone but Draco to hear, "I love you."

Warmth floods Draco's entire body. "You're a twat." He can't help the smile that tugs at the corners of his mouth. "Whom I might be fond of as well." He takes another step away from Harry, all too conscious of the looks they're starting to draw, standing here so closely together under the watchful eyes of the Fountain of Magical Brethren. Draco doesn't want to leave Harry, doesn't want to go down into the dark shadows of the unknown. He doesn't like the way his life's changing, twisting, turning in on itself in ways Draco can't control. He wants to be walking back into their incident room at Harry's side, wants to drop his satchel on his desk, wants to be mocking Pansy and Blaise and, fuck, even bloody Althea.

Instead he takes a deep breath and moves away. "Later, Potter," he says, letting his voice rise a little louder, and then he's turning, walking away from Harry, his footsteps ringing out in the quiet of the near-empty Atrium.

When he glances back over his shoulder, Harry's still standing there, watching him, his face shuttered, inscrutable.

Draco squares his shoulders and turns away, heading for the stairs that will take him down to the Department of Mysteries. His heart's pounding in his chest; his mouth tastes metallic; he can't seem to keep his hands from shaking. He wipes his palms against his trousers, staring down the winding staircase, each step wide and shallow, and then he takes the first one, making his way down into the shadowed depths of the Ministry.

The black marble lobby of the Department of Mysteries is empty. Silent. Draco had at least expected someone to be waiting for him.

Slowly Draco pushes open the heavy, carved black wooden door at the end of the lobby. He's surprised when it swings open, easily even, nearly crashing against the wall behind it. He steps into the empty hallway beyond, all black marble tiled walls and floor, faint glimmers of light from the sconces above, glinting against the dark stone.

"Hello?" Draco's voice echoes in the hallway. Fucking Unspeakables, he thinks, as he moves further down the corridor. It opens up onto a circular area, the black marble floor as thick and as shining as a pool of standing water. Draco's almost afraid to step on it, not certain that his brogues won't slide straight through the gleaming stone. He does, though, and the floor's solid. Draco breathes out, looking around him. Twelve black doors surround the room, each of them looking like the ones beside it. Draco pivots on his heel, and when he does, he realises the corridor behind him is gone, replaced by one of the doors.

"Right." Draco walks out into the middle of the room, where the bronze of the Ministry seal gleams faintly in the gloam of the floor beneath him. "Croaker!"

There's no answer. Draco's panic is starting to rise when the doors suddenly shift, spinning around him, almost dizzying until they slow, then still. The farthest door to his right swings open, and the shadows beyond are almost as dark as the door itself. The sconces on the walls flicker a pale blue-white flame that grows stronger as Draco hears footsteps approaching.

And then Granger's stepping out, her ivory sheath dress bright against the shadows. Her hair is pulled back into a thick pouf of curls at the top of her head; her brown legs are taut and elegant in a pair of ivory heels. "Malfoy," she says, and she's not smiling. "You're late."

It takes everything Draco has not to glance at his watch. "Only by a few minutes."

"Punctuality's important to Saul," she says, and she gestures for him to follow her back through the doorway. Draco does, but he's hesitant. He wonders if he'll ever get used to this place.

The hallway here is dark panelled wood, stained nearly ebony, and the black marble still gleams beneath his feet. "Where are you taking me?" Draco asks after a moment. He's never been into this part of the department. He's curious about the doors they're passing, some of them marked with large silver numbers.

"Saul's office." Granger looks at him as if he's lost his damned mind. Draco's not certain he hasn't. She's silent for a moment, then she says, "It's not the worst thing in the world for you to join us, you know."

Draco doesn't reply. He doesn't know that he needs to, really; he just gives her a long, even look, and she glances away.

They stop in front of a tall door, just as carved and heavy-looking as the first one Draco had passed through. Granger raises a thick, iron door knocker and lets it fall with a loud, solid boom. The door swings open.

Draco doesn't know what he expects, but it's not the simple office room filled with desk furniture from what appears to be the standard Ministry ordering form. His head aches; he thinks about turning tail and running away.

He doesn't. He takes a deep breath and steps in after Granger, feet sinking into a thick ivory carpet.

Saul Croaker looks up from where he's standing in front of a long row of dark wooden bookcases, each shelf filled with a row of thick leather-bound volumes. Draco can make out Thought, Love, Death, and Time engraved in silver over and over again along the black spines. "Sergeant Malfoy," Croaker says. "So glad you chose to join us."

"I wasn't aware there was a choice involved," Draco says. He takes one of the wide leather armchairs in front of a spindle-legged desk that Croaker gestures towards. Granger settles beside Draco in the other one, giving him a small, tight smile.

"Perhaps not," Croaker says after a moment. He sits behind the desk, his hands folded in front of him, his thick white hair a bushy halo around his head. "But in a way, there are, wouldn't you say? Each choice we make moves us in a new direction, takes us down a path that perhaps we might not have ever anticipated. You made choices that have directly led you to sit in this office today, whether or not you felt an obligation to attend to my request that you join us."

Draco just looks at him, waiting.

Croaker's smile widens. "You're a talented Legilimens, Sergeant Malfoy."

"So I've been told." Draco folds his arms across his chest. "But I'm certain you didn't call me in here to tell me that. You want me as an Unspeakable."

"I have you as an Unspeakable," Croaker says, amusement tingeing his voice. "It's a mere formality at the moment."

Draco raises his chin. "I haven't agreed to anything."

"But you will." Croaker leans forward in his chair. His gaze flicks towards Granger, then back to Draco. "I'm offering you a position of Unspeakable, Second Rank. Your base salary will be what, Granger? Double what the Aurors are paying Sergeant Malfoy at the moment?"

And that surprises Draco. It's not that money's important to him, except it is. Money equates to power, to feeling as if one's work is valued, respected. Draco tries to sit still, but his fingers twitch against the arms of the chair. Draco's certain Croaker notices.

"Close enough," Granger says. She looks over at Draco. "Along with the usual benefits. Pension, life insurance--"

"All that dull bollocks," Croaker says. His eyes are sharp and bright and fixed on Draco. "You have a skill, Sergeant Malfoy, that I'm very willing to pay for. We'll train you in Legilimency, allow you to pursue any outside professional development you wish. I understand you've already begun with Jake Durant--"

Draco frowns. "Only the basics."

Croaker's watching him, a faint smile on his face. "Which you picked up in a matter of days. Most other Legilimens take a six-month course to develop their skills to the point yours are at naturally."

Heat spreads across Draco's cheeks. "I'm not that good."

"But you are." Croaker shifts in his chair, tilts his head ever so slightly. "I'm not a fickle man, Sergeant. If I'm sitting here offering you this deal, it's because I think you have a talent unlike any I've ever seen. And I want you at Her Majesty's magical service."

The room's silent for a long moment, and then Granger says, "Your contract would be backdated." She looks at Draco, and he frowns, catching the intensity of her gaze. "To Harry's return in May. It would supercede any employment documentation currently on file with the Ministry, officially erasing your assignment to Seven-Four-Alpha."

That makes Draco sit up, his stomach twisting at the thought of losing that assignment on his record. He doesn't want that. And yet he's not fool enough not to see the benefits of the arrangement. "May." His gaze flicks towards Granger. She doesn't look away. "So two months of back pay at my Unspeakable rate?"

Granger's mouth quirks to one side. "Yes."

Some might see it as a bribe of sorts. Perhaps it is. But Draco understands what they're offering him. Protection in case he and Harry want to come forward with their relationship. Done so that if the Prophet came after them, they'd find no impropriety. Not without digging a bit deeper than they might wish to.

Croaker watches him. "You'd keep him safe," he says quietly. "And yourself as well."

"I won't give him up," Draco says after a moment. "If I come on board with you lot. There'd be nothing to keep me from being with him. Openly if I wish." He glances at Granger, and she nods, a look of something that might be relief flitting over her face. Draco turns, meets Croaker's gaze evenly. "I want that clear."

"Nor would I expect you to." Croaker leans back in his chair, crosses one ankle over his knee. Those eyes of his are quick, Draco realises. They can sift through Draco's thoughts with just the barest whisper of a Legilimens behind them. "I'm not asking you to stop shagging Potter. I frankly don't give a damn who you fuck as long as you do your job."

Draco hesitates, then says, "Which would be?"

Croaker's smile widens even further, bright and white and filled with teeth. "Anything I bloody ask of you, Sergeant. Within the strange and arcane twists and turns of British wizarding law, of course."

"There are a few grey areas we sometimes exploit," Granger admits, and it surprises Draco to hear the poster girl of Gryffindor admit that. At his raised eyebrow, she shrugs. "One does what one must for national security."

"I have my limits," Draco says, his voice flat. "Things I won't do." Nothing that will hurt Harry, he thinks, and he doesn't care if Croaker picks that up.

"Which we will take into account," Croaker says. He studies Draco's face. "You needn't be concerned."

But Draco is. There's something inside of him that's screaming at him to stand up, to walk out of this room, to refuse to give them any part of himself. And yet the curious, studious part of him wants to know what Saul Croaker has to teach him. Wants to train his mind in ways Durant could only begin to suggest to him.

"I'll also consider allowing you to cross department boundaries," Croaker says after a moment. "Should there be moments when we would like to work with the Auror force in an official capacity."

"Including with Seven-Four-Alpha," Granger says, and when Draco gives her a sharp look, she shrugs. "I think that might be necessary for our mutual benefit. I saw the way your team worked together, after all."

Croaker laughs, a low, throaty rumble that shakes his shoulders a bit. "So she insisted I agree to that." He leans on his elbows. "I'm not opposed to it. Our Unspeakables can be a bit more…" He hesitates, then says, "Unorthodox in the way we conduct our business."

Draco bloody well thinks they might be.

"So what say you, Draco?" Croaker asks. "Trade in your sergeant's bars for Unspeakable robes?"

It takes a moment, but Draco finally nods. What else can he do? Robards and Croaker have manipulated this for their own benefit, he's aware, but it was only a matter of time. Particularly after Harry stupidly, brilliantly decided to defy the Head Auror to his bloody face. And it was never Harry they were going to fuck over, was it? Draco's the expendable one in the Auror force. "I'll sign the paperwork," Draco says, his voice low. Something tight and hot constricts his chest.

Croaker looks far too bloody pleased with himself. "Excellent. Granger will get you started." He reaches for a quill before glancing Granger's way. "Arrange for him to start Legilimency training with Burke first thing tomorrow." He looks at Draco. "We'll have you ready for study at Tirésias before you know it."

Draco doesn't doubt it.

Granger stands, motioning for Draco to come with her. "You'll need robes for formal occasions," she says. "And second-rank stripes. That's as close as we can approximate your sergeant's rank. Our second-rank would also include the rank of inspector for the Aurors. First-rank Unspeakable is comparable to Chief Inspector in the Auror force, third-rank to the constabulary and trainees."

All of this feels surreal to Draco. He doesn't know how he's ended up here; he feels lost without Harry by his side. But he knows enough about the Unspeakables to realise this is a part of his life he can't share with his boyfriend. Not to any great extent. He wonders what that will change for them, if the secrets he'll be asked to keep will drive a wedge between him and Harry.

But once again, what choice does he have?

And if Draco's honest with himself, he wants to be a Legilimens, wants to foster that talent he hadn't known he has. Draco's never felt strong, never felt like he had something other than his name that made him special. He'd worked hard for his marks in school; he knows he's not a fool. But Legilimency is something that's his, something that's untainted by his father's idiocy, by the mistakes Lucius had forced upon his family over the years.

Draco knows he could be a good Legilimens. Perhaps even a great one.

And maybe then, his mind whispers, he'd be worthy of someone like Harry. Someone powerful. Someone who commands respect the way Harry does.

Draco craves that for himself. Is desperate to be seen as someone other than a former Death Eater. His hand settles over his Mark. Croaker notices.

"That means nothing to me," Croaker says, his voice soft. "That Mark of yours. It doesn't define who you are. Not as an Unspeakable. There are quite a few of us who have our own secrets, Sergeant Malfoy, who carry our own burdens. No one within these walls will judge you for that one foolish mistake."

Really, Draco thinks, that's a load of bollocks. His gaze flicks towards Granger, standing by the door. She bloody well judges him for it, he's certain. But she's also protected him. For Harry's sake, at least.

He stands. "Thank you," he says, and then he adds, belatedly, "Sir."

Croaker just smiles. It's thin and fierce and feral. "We're glad to have you on board." He meets Draco's gaze evenly. "You'll make a damned fine Unspeakable, won't he, Granger?"

"I'm certain he will," Granger says. She opens the door. "If you'll follow me, Malfoy?"

For a brief moment, Draco hesitates. The moment he steps through that door, his whole bloody life will change. He knows that. They all do. He'll no longer be an Auror. That's all he's known for the past eight years. It's the career he thought he'd pension out on.

Draco's never been good with change, and here he is, standing on a precipice, overlooking a wide gulf. His life is in a state of flux, of transmutation, and Draco's terrified.

"Malfoy?" Granger says, and there's a gentleness to her voice that he doesn't expect, as if she knows what he's feeling.

Perhaps, in a way, she does.

Draco takes a deep breath and, his hands shaking, follows her out, his choice made.

He clenches his fists. Circe, but he hopes it's the right one.

***

It's a properly shit Monday morning, and the whole of Seven-Four-Alpha's in a bit of a strop in Blaise's opinion. They're all sat awkwardly in the incident room--save for the guv himself--not speaking as the clock on the wall counts down to their usual morning meeting time.

9:27 and the clock ticks on.

Blaise glances over at Althea. She looks bloody well tired. Her face's grim and drawn, and she's not said a word since she nodded to Blaise when he came in. She's slouched at the desk near the corner, long legs spread out, her dark hair plaited into a braid coiled at the nape of her neck. It makes her look sixteen. Althea taps her quill against the desktop and stares at the door, almost certainly wondering what they all are: will the guv be in today?

Althea'd been in charge of the team on Friday, had even met with Robards to discuss the reports from MACUSA and their experience with the Death Eater networks there. The guv had owled in ill, and Robards had come down to tell them they'd be on their own. He hadn't been best pleased, but nothing untoward had been said directly. To be honest, Blaise thinks Potter should never have been so sodding obvious at this early a juncture, but he supposes that Draco being transferred to the Unspeakables will cover whatever charges of professional misconduct might be brought from now on. Still, it'd been terribly blatant of the guv to be absent two days after Lucius' funeral, and Blaise's feeling a bit grim himself about the future of their team.

Robards had been viciously unhappy, after all.

Still, Blaise supposes Althea's mood could also be something with her dad when he thinks about it. He knows that things are difficult with her father's health, that she's worried about him, even though they're back, but he doesn't dare ask her outright, of course. They're not that familiar. Not yet at least. Seven-Four-Alpha does have the tendency to blow through bloody boundaries, however. It's the nature of the work to some extent; one always starts to know the intricacies of one's teammates' lives. But their team is a bit different even so. Blaise thinks it's the web of history behind them. Eventually Althea's will be interwoven as well.

Pansy's sat at the desk closest to the door, nursing a large cup of coffee with a bitter scowl. She's likely furious with and simultaneously missing Goldstein, from what Blaise surmises, and she must be concerned about Eustace's upcoming trial in the States and what might be uncovered there. That whole business with the Tarrytown warehouse could affect her family adversely, particularly should MACUSA decide to share information with the Ministry, but Blaise hasn't had opportunity to talk to her yet. Privately, at least. Work's no place for a conversation like that, and Blaise hasn't had a night to go down the pub with her since they've been back in London. He's been too busy taking care of his own family, and in all honesty, he wishes his mother would go back to the Continent and drag his terrifying and imperious grandfather with her. They're driving him both mad. At least he'd managed to get his mother back into the Beaumont and out of his bedroom this weekend. Friday night he'd finally slept well for the first time since he'd come back from New York.

And, speaking of New York, there's Blaise's own rather unfortunate fixation on a tall, bloody gorgeous Unspeakable with a delicious Louisiana accent. Blaise's unsettled by his complete inability to get out of his mind Jake's cut prick and the impossibly debauched, glorious nature of what Blaise had done with Jake during that last weekend in New York--or let Jake do to him, really, if Blaise is honest. Blaise misses the wide, rumpled bed at the Millenium Hilton, misses the weight of Jake's long body over his, Jake's thick cock plowing deep inside him, misses the wrung out feeling of being fucked over and over again, of coming hard, in what felt like an endless series of intersections of their bodies until he couldn't tell where his own body stopped and Jake's began.

Of course, that's old news now, isn't it? Blaise hasn't heard from Jake since a quick text exchange on his second day back in London and really, he knows this is how the story ends. He's done it himself, more than once. It's not anything more than a one-night stand, even if it had stretched to four brilliant, sweaty nights spread out across his hotel bed, the sheets twisting beneath their gasping bodies. To hope for anything more is a delusion, and Blaise doesn't practice intentional self-deception. He knows that Jake was an itch that he scratched. That's all. If he's fortunate, perhaps Jake'll look him up if he comes to London, give him another chance at brilliant shag in Blaise's own bed. Still, Blaise had spent the past weekend wanking himself raw at night, looking at the photos of Jake on his phone. He doesn't want to admit he misses the arsehole, but he does.

Now Blaise's sucking on the end of his second sugar quill even though it's not even half-nine, rocking back on the back legs of his chair whilst Pansy's gripping her coffee tightly, swilling it with a certain bad-tempered cloud about her that only Pansy can manage. Blaise recognises it from Slytherin common room. He hopes nothing sets her off further--Pans can be vicious when she's out of sorts, and Blaise hasn't seen her quite this bad since she'd fought with Camilla about her Yule Ball attire in their fourth year.

Althea frowns and taps her quill lightly against the table, a soft repetitive click that only becomes louder as the minutes tick by.

The long hand of the clock hits 9:29. Still no guv. His office is dark; there's no jacket hung over the hook in the corner.

"Is he coming, do you think?" Pansy asks, a frown between her brows.

Althea shrugs. "He hasn't owled." She sounds unhappy. Blaise doesn't blame her. She's the one who'll be in Robards' cross-fire if Potter decides not to show up again.

Just as the clock ticks over to 9:32, the incident room door swings opens, and Potter walks through, his arm still in a sling, a scowl on his face. Blaise's heart leaps a bit to see him, his sense of what they're doing here in this close, stuffy room restored. And if Potter's in a fierce temper, well, it's only fitting given the general mood of the team, Blaise thinks. Potter stops to hang his jacket on the hook beside the door, then walks over and drops his things on the empty desk at the front--the one that had once been Draco's. He turns and frowns at them all. "Sorry I'm late."

He doesn't look sorry, Blaise thinks. He looks upset. And Potter has half-healed love bites on his neck, faintly purple and yellow above the edge of his collar. Draco's a bit of a biter--everyone'd complained about it at school, and if Blaise didn't know better, he might wonder at times if Draco's hasn't got a bit of a vampire heritage, what with the messes he makes of people's necks.

The guv doesn't seem to care, though.

"Glad you're here," Althea says tersely. She sits up, and the frowns she gives Potter is fierce. "Friday was a bit of a wash."

Potter shrugs his left shoulder, then winces a bit, his hand going over to his injured arm. "Thanks for taking charge. How did it go with Gawain?"

Althea scrubs her hands over her face and sighs. "Not much to say, really. Robards wanted to know about New York, so we went over the raid and Brighton Beach and the leads we'd been able to scratch at. He's chuffed at the Dolohov capture, I can tell you that much. Wanted a proper blow-by-blow."

She has the courtesy to glance over at Blaise, and he feels his cheeks warm. He glances down at his desk, trying not to smile. That just doesn't seem done. He can't help himself, though. Blaise still can't believe he got credit for that collar, can't believe he's the one who helped bring Dolohov to justice. It'd felt an eternity at the time, but over so quickly. Althea'd mentioned on Friday that Robards might be weighing some sort of commendation for him, but Blaise doesn't dare get his hopes up. He fixes his eyes forward again, on the guv.

Potter winces. "I owe him a report on that. I'd promised him it'd be on his desk Friday, but well…" He trails off, not finishing the sentence, and Blaise bloody well knows the guv hasn't a good excuse for that. Instead of working, Potter's been off shagging Draco all bloody weekend, which, really, Blaise shouldn't be so bitter about, but he is. If Blaise has to work and honour family obligations and not get fucked sideways across every surface in his flat, then no one else should have any joy either. He envies Draco that, he truly does, even with the murder of Draco's father. It makes him a shit friend, he supposes. Then again, Blaise hasn't ever known his father, so perhaps Draco has that on him.

"I'm sure Draco's most grateful," Pansy says from the corner, and yeah, Blaise almost forgets sometimes that her praise can be worse than her blame.

The pained look Potter shoots her speaks volumes, and Blaise almost feels sorry for the guv, but then, yeah, oh, wait, there's that bit about available cock and arse and getting to bugger someone senseless, and, really, Blaise has no pity at all. Potter can go hang. He deserves to, honestly, for everything he and Draco have done, and Blaise can't figure out why it hasn't happened yet.

Except it's Potter, so of course the bastards in charge won't touch him of course.

"In any case," Potter's cough is awkward, his eyes trailing over each of their stony faces in turn. Only Althea looks a bit sympathetic, and Blaise knows that Ravenclaws haven't got the bollocks for proper seething resentment. Unlike Slytherins. "We need to get started on building our case now that we're back, yeah? What did Gawain say about our next steps?"

"He didn't, really." Althea scratches lightly at her neck, under her collar. "He just asked us to document everything from the States. Said he'd talk to you about the rest when you were back in the office."

That's not entirely what Robards had said, Blaise knows. Althea'd been a bit more precise in her quote on Friday. There'd been less back in the office and a bit more when he pulls his sodding arse together and does his fucking job. But none of them are going to say that to the guv, now are they?

"Well, what have we got?" Potter looks over at Blaise, who raises an eyebrow.

"Not bloody much," Blaise says finally, taking pity on the guv. It really won't help solve his own sexual frustration to torment his boss. "We've got the raid we captured Dolohov in, the Brighton Beach connections, and yeah, the Old Man."

Pansy clears her throat, drawing the eyes of the room to her. "Not to mention my fucking brother-in-law and his bloody stupid shipment of Death Eater arms." She scowls at them all, then lifts her coffee cup back to her lips.

"And Dimitri Godunov," Althea adds. "We can't forget him, even though nothing stuck. Then there's Aldric Yaxley's connection to Graves and Quahog that Malfoy witnessed."

Blaise is half-certain he imagines the shadow that crosses Pansy's face at the mention of Godunov's name. Perhaps he's mistaken, he thinks, but he marks it down mentally for further investigation. He doesn't think Pans would have been so stupid to have shagged a known arms dealer, as charming as he might have been. Particularly with Goldstein around. But her father is Terry Parkinson, and Blaise's pretty sure he's in the business end somewhere in this affair. Probably up to his neck, given their current luck, and Blaise wants to put his head in his hands and bemoan the idiocies of all their parents. At least his father had the decency to get offed long before Blaise became an Auror. Although Merlin only knows what skeletons are rattling about in his family closet. Bad enough he's got his grandfather's reputation to deal with.

Thank Circe Seven-Four-Alpha has Althea. At the moment she's their only unblemished member. Blaise eyes her, hopes she doesn't cock anything up.

"Right," Potter turns to look at the board. "So let's start blocking out what we have, then divvy up who's going to take point on the different reports."

"We might be able to do a better search here in London for Yaxley's daughter," Blaise says. "And whomever got her up the duff. Family and other connections might be a good place to begin." He remembers belatedly, shooting Althea a quick smile. "Well. Present company excepted of course."

Althea holds up her hands, palms out in surrender. "No need to exclude anyone on my account." She gives him an even look. "I'm willing to delve into my family history if need be."

Blaise realises she means it, and he wonders for a moment if Althea shouldn't perhaps have sorted Gryffindor. But still, she shows too much cunning, forethought, and tact for that, he reasons. Ravenclaws are almost as subtle as Slytherins, if they can stop bloody revising for everything.

"The Malfoys were social with the Yaxleys before and during the wars," Pansy says over the rim of her coffee cup. "So shouldn't Draco also give a statement?" Her lips are a wicked, pink curve, almost as pink as the blush that stains Potter's neck. "You know, to help, ah, thicken the case, or what have you." The look she gives Potter is slyly innocent. It's clear to Blaise she's picked up on Potter's weekend activities as well. Neither of them have spoken to Draco since the funeral; he's been too wrapped up in Potter to return their calls.

Blaise is a bit annoyed by that fact as well. And if Draco doesn't talk to him soon, Blaise is going to just show up in the Floo at Grimmauld Place or wherever the bloody fuck Draco's hiding out and shout until Draco actually lets him through. It's not fair, Blaise thinks. They're Draco's friends. He needs them, whether or not he sodding thinks he might.

"Yes, well," Potter's saying, not looking at Pansy. "I doubt Draco can give us any information on a man old enough to be his bloody grandfather and who evidently left the country when Draco was an infant. However, Narcissa Malfoy might be a resource." He glances over at Althea. "Mark her down on our interview list."

Althea nods, the nib of her quill scratching across the pad of paper in front of her. Potter's flush is fading, but he still looks a bit discombobulated. Pansy just sits back, and takes a sip of her coffee, bright pink lippy print overlapping the already transferred pigment from her earlier sips at the matte plastic top.

There's a sound in the hall, something like raised voices and the sound of footsteps, loud and quick, and then two brief, terribly solid knocks on the door. Potter's hand goes instinctively to his wand, as do the others'. "Come in," Potter says with a cautious pivot of his body. He's minimising the target area, Blaise thinks, and wonders if he should perhaps get ready to cast. His brain's already calculating target distance and likely first deflections in an enclosed space.

The broad, tall figure of the Minister of Magic fills the open doorway. "Oh, for fuck's sake, all of you. Stand down," Kingsley Shacklebolt says in a tone of command, and they all slowly take their hands away from their wands and relax their postures as he strides to the centre of the room.

"Harry," Shacklebolt says, looming over the guv. There's a scowl on his face, and for a moment Blaise thinks it's almost as if the rest of them aren't there. "Where the everliving fuck were you on Friday? We needed you here."

Blaise sees the muscle twitch in Potter's jaw as he looks away. "At home. It was important."

Shacklebolt gives Potter an even look. "Much as you may like to think otherwise, Draco Malfoy's mental health isn't a priority for the Ministry at this moment. Whilst I do appreciate the difficulties he's facing, and he has my utmost sympathy, we have to get things done since we've Luxembourg breathing down our sodding necks, and the Prophet as well. I haven't time for the polite niceties now, do I make myself clear? So from now on, I expect you to be in the office, leading this team, unless you're bloody bleeding out in St Mungo's."

Fuck, Blaise thinks. The last thing they need is the guv throwing a snit in front of the Minister. He holds his breath, but to Blaise's surprise, Potter just looks at the floor, swallows, and sighs.

"All right," Potter says, his voice quiet. "Point made, Kingsley." He sounds almost like an errant schoolboy, but not resistant, just a bit bitter. Melancholic. Worried even. Blaise knows then that Draco is in much worse shape than he imagined, that things are definitely not well at all. Fuck it. Blaise is going to make Draco speak to him. Today even, if he can get the arsehole to pick up his mobile or open the sodding Floo. Because obviously the guv doesn't have it under control. Not given the look on Potter's face.

And as much as he loves Draco--and Blaise does, like the brother he'd never had--Blaise doesn't disagree with Shacklebolt. He's worried that the guv's too protective of Draco, that he wants to wrap Draco in cotton wool, instead of kicking his arse properly. Draco needs to be out in the world again. Needs to be interacting with people. Not hidden away, sinking into his grief.

Shacklebolt takes central position in front of the boards. Potter turns and sits down next to Blaise, his posture stiff. And there's the spark of anger Blaise had missed in his voice. Blaise glances over, and Potter's jaw is clenched. A file jacket on the corner of the desk starts to smoke just a bit. Blaise covers it with his palm, quenching it before it bursts into flame.

"Calm your tits, guv," he murmurs, and Potter leans back in his chair and exhales. He runs his good hand through his hair, smoothing it back from his forehead.

"I'm fine," Potter says. Blaise thinks that's complete bollocks, but it's not his place to point that out.

He turns back to the Minister who appears to be in a devil of a mood, if the fierceness of his expression is any indicator. Blaise can see the Auror in Shacklebolt emerging again, the iron backbone of practice underneath the smooth veneer of political politeness and superficial encounters he's developed over the past few years.

Shacklebolt pivots, his arms folded over his broad chest, his purple robe only slightly rumpled. He addresses them each in turn. "Sergeant Whitaker. Constable Zabini. Inspector Potter. Constable Parkinson. Since you've managed to bring in Antonin Dolohov without too much damage to yourselves, Potter's arm notwithstanding, you lot are officially taking over the hunt for Rodolphus Lestrange. We need to find that murderous bastard and get him back under our control." His mouth tightens. "Immediately. That will be your highest priority going forward. Understood?"

Potter nods. "Entirely."

"You'll have every resource the Ministry has available to you." Shacklebolt glances around, eyes them all. "Whatever Seven-Four-Alpha requires, I am willing to consider. Within reason, of course. But I'll expect your utmost dedication to the situation. All hands on deck, so to speak, until Lestrange is brought in. He's a wily bastard, even more so than Dolohov so this won't be an easy collar at all. However, I'm hoping your luck will hold and that we can bring him and the Dementors who escaped with him back in quickly and with minimal damages across the board."

There's a hush in the room as the enormity of the task sinks in.

"However, I'm also here to commend all of you," Shacklebolt says, turning to look directly at Blaise. It takes Blaise by surprise, but he squares his shoulders and tries to meet the intensity of the Minister's gaze without flinching. "Seven-Four-Alpha has done the first good thing for the Auror force since the start of this fuckery, and you should be justly proud of your achievements in the States." Shacklebolt smiles, and Blaise thinks that's even more unsettling than his scowl. "In fact, I intend to hold a commendation ceremony on Friday next in the Ministry Atrium to celebrate. You'll be given an award as team, which will go in your personnel files and be considered for any future promotions."

Blaise glances at Pansy, then Althea. They're all a bit surprised by that, he thinks.

Shacklebolt hesitates, then says, "Sergeant Malfoy will be excepted, should he take Saul Croaker's offer of employment with the Unspeakables." He looks over at the guv. "Draco's terms of employment will be backwritten to predate his assignment to Seven-Four-Alpha, as a protection for both you and him, Harry."

The room's silent, shocked. Blaise can feel the guv tense up beside him. Calm, Blaise thinks, hoping it'll somehow seep into Potter's thick skull. Don't implode the goddamned room.

"That's not bloody fair," Pansy says after a moment, leaning forward. "Draco's done more than any of us on this case--"

"I'm aware, Constable Parkinson," Shacklebolt says, evenly. "However, Saul, Gawain and I would prefer to protect Sergeant Malfoy from any charges of impropriety, should his relationship with Inspector Potter become common knowledge."

Potter's hands tremble on the desk in front of him. He clenches them tightly, folds them together.

"Everyone's going to know already," Althea says. "You can't just disappear him from our team." She glares at Shacklebolt, then adds, "Sir."

Shacklebolt looks grim. "I can and I will, Sergeant Whitaker. It's not without precedent when an Auror moves to the Unspeakables as it is. Saul prefers to make a distinction between their areas of service, anyway, and on occasion that requires erasing parts of their Auror past. For Sergeant Malfoy, that will require sacrificing any official recognition of his association with Seven-Four-Alpha as a sergeant in the Auror force."

"You're stripping him of his sergeant's bars?" Althea's mouth thins. She looks at Shacklebolt, her chin raised, defiant. "He earned those--"

"And he'll be given the equivalent status in the Unspeakables." Shacklebolt frowns at her. "Not that it's any concern of yours, Sergeant Whitaker."

Potter's silent, his face set. Blaise glances over at him, murmurs, "Don't set anything on fire, guv." Potter just looks at Blaise, and Blaise flinches away at the fury in Potter's eyes.

"I won't," Potter says quietly. "Yet." He looks back at Shacklebolt. "What are you giving Draco in exchange?"

"A second-rank Unspeakable position," Shacklebolt says. He doesn't avoid Potter's gaze. "A pay rise, and full funding for any Legilimency training he wishes to do. Including a degree at Tirésias, should he want." Shacklebolt hesitates, then says, "He'll go far in the Unspeakables. I can assure you of that."

None of Seven-Four-Alpha says anything. Pansy looks furious, and Althea can't meet the Minister's eyes. Blaise feels empty. Unsettled. None of this feels right to him. It's bad enough they've lost Draco. Blaise doesn't want to pretend he'd never been here.

And then the guv says, his voice raspy and raw, "You give him everything he fucking asks for, Kingsley. Everything."

Shacklebolt hesitates, and then he nods. "Whatever's within my ability to give and within reason." He looks at Potter. "That's all I can promise."

Potter's hands are shaking. He flattens them on the desk, sinks back in his chair. "I'll hold you to that."

The Minister's silent, his face unhappy. He sighs, then glances back at Blaise. "On a more pleasant note, Zabini? A week from Friday, I intend to present you with a personal commendation. A Hesphaestus Gore Medal, to be exact, so be prepared to say a few words."

Blaise blinks. "Sorry, sir, but what?" He's surprised. A Gore's one of the highest service awards an Auror can receive. No one gets it at his age and rank. Bloody no one.

"You heard me." Shacklebolt's mouth quirks up at one corner. "You earned the collar. The Wizengamot wants to reward you, and to make a statement in regards to other Death Eaters that may still be at large."

It doesn't quite feel right, accepting the reward when Draco's being ignored. "I don't think I could--" Blaise hesitates. "It's just if Draco doesn't…" He trails off, runs a hand over his close-cropped hair.

Potter looks at him. "If you refuse this for Draco's sake, he'll never forgive you. You know that."

Even Pansy nods. "It's your collar, Blaise. Let them medal you."

All Blaise can think is, what is my mother going to say. He knows she's ambivalent about his choice of work, but surely she'll be pleased by this. He nods slowly. "All right." His face is warm as his team starts clapping for him, all but Potter, who's banging his left hand on the table, unable to clap against his damaged arm.

When the din settles down, Shacklebolt takes a board quill and scrawls Azkaban: Dementors along the top, then next to it, New York: Arms. He turns around. "Let's talk about what's next."

They all grow quiet.

"My question to you now, and I'm sorry to be the one to give you a challenge right as you've found your mark, but the one we must answer is what are we missing?" Shacklebolt shifts, writing a list on the side. It's painfully familiar.

Wrightson, Bates, Hopkirk, Selwyn. Underneath, he writes in all capital letters, L. MALFOY.

The guv shifts next to Blaise, and Blaise thinks that this is where it becomes a matter of duty. Potter can't keep Draco from any of this, as much as he might like to. They're Aurors, and this is what they've been tasked to do. Potter can be as bloody minded as he'd like, they've still got a case to solve, even if Potter has to investigate Malfoy's family.

Shacklebolt turns to face them, and really, he's not a bit intimidating in his purple formal robes with his arms crossed and keen glint in his eye. For the first time, Blaise thinks they might be able to cut through this tangle. He wishes he only knew how.

"We've become distracted by all the deaths," Shacklebolt says, and the Auror in him is back at full force. "And yes, we've had five prisoners killed in a fortnight, but we've two things still to figure out--" He holds up a finger. "What was the original plan---" Another finger goes up. "And how is Lestrange involved?" He looks around the room. "Anyone?"

A pin could drop in the room and you could hear it, Blaise thinks.

These are questions none of them can answer, but Blaise has the sense that they're the ones that are going to rule Seven-Four-Alpha's lives, at least in the immediate future. He sets the worn out husk of his sugar quill down and takes up a piece of paper and a real quill.

This is how proper policing begins, he thinks, and he starts a new header, scrawling down what Shacklebolt's writing on white board.

Really, all they have to do is start breaking things down.

***

Althea stands on the edge of a cliff overlooking Newgale Beach in Pembrokeshire, her broom clasped tightly in one hand. The sea stretches out in front of her, deep and blue in the early evening light, the beach a thin sandy beige curve between the water and a wide pebble break. A faint breeze ripples through her loose hair, crisp and cool enough in the fading heat of the day to make her wish she'd brought a jacket.

She hears the soft rustle and thump of a broom landing behind her, feels the whisper of a Notice-Me-Not Charm falling off. She doesn't turn around. She knows who it is.

"All right then?" Maxie says, coming up behind her. He has a small wooden box tucked beneath his arm, his broom clutched in his other hand.

"Well enough, I reckon." Althea gives him a small smile. "It's been a long Monday." She doesn't want to talk about the bollocking Kingsley gave Seven-Four-Alpha this morning, or the way Potter's face had been worried and grim all day, or strangeness of having Malfoy's desk empty beside her, knowing he won't be back to fill it. Not any time soon at least.

Maxie looks out over the water. "So this is it."

Althea nods. "It's where he always talked about holidaying." She can still recall the conversations in the bullpen, Marcus laughing, telling them about the summers his family had caravanned in Pembrokeshire, him with his mum and dad once Hogwarts had let out. He'd loved this place, loved the three-mile stretch of Newgale Beach where his mum had grown up, the last of her branch of the Griffiths family.

"I remember." Maxie drops his broom and sits, cross-legged, on the shaggy green grass. He sets the plain pine box on the ground beside him. Althea hesitates, then sits herself. They're silent for a long moment, watching the waves roll into the shore below, before Maxie glances over at Althea and says, "The other lads weren't interested in coming."

That doesn't surprise Althea. "They're still angry."

Maxie just shrugs. "Something along those lines." Uncertainty twists across his face. "I still say he was set up."

He needs to believe that, Althea knows. If she hadn't brought Marcus in herself, she'd probably be the same. It seems unfathomable to her even now that he was working with Selwyn. With Lestrange, too, she supposes. She just sighs, pulls her knees to her chest. "You know he wasn't."

Neither of them speak. Althea can hear the soft roar of the surf beneath them, the occasional cry of the gulls that float through the air, soaring past on a burst of breeze. The air smells salty from the sea and sweet from the grass, and she understands why Marcus may have loved it here. There's a peacefulness she's never felt in the depths of London, a quiet solitude on this spit of land at the edge of the ocean that tugs at Althea's soul.

She glances down at the box. It's small. Neatly polished. There's card charmed to the top, crisp white rag paper with black copperplate engraving. Marcus Brian Wrightson, 13 Jan 1959 - 29 June 2006.

Althea'd gone to Maxie on Thursday last, after the guv had pulled her aside, told her that Marcus' body still hadn't been claimed. It was the least they could do, she and Maxie agreed, and they'd made arrangements with McIntyre and Mackenzie to cremate Marcus's body so that they could bring it here. Have a memorial of their own.

Everyone deserves to be remembered in some way, she thinks. Even Marcus. No matter how much his betrayal still stings.

She opens up her satchel, slipping a hand into the pocket with the extendible charm on it. She pulls out two bottles of beer, handing one to Maxie.

"Old Wright's," Maxie says, looking at the brightly coloured label.

"His favourite." Althea taps her wand against the caps, popping them off easily. They fall into the grass, and beer froths up over the necks of the bottles. Althea licks it off her fingers, then taps her bottle to Maxie's. "To Marcus."

"To Marcus," Maxie echoes, and they both drink.

The beer's sour and hoppy, the way Marcus had always liked it. It'd been his go-to beer whenever they'd gone down the pub, the one he'd ordered for them all when he'd bought first rounds. Althea doesn't much like it herself, but it reminds her of him, and evenings spent with the lads at a corner table in the Leaky, and there's something about that memory that makes her heart ache.

She sets the bottle down in the grass, pushing the bottom into the soft earth so it won't spill over. The sky's only just starting to get a tinge of rosy pink to it, and there are still families along the beach, children playing in the shallow waters. She wonders what they might make of her and Maxie sitting up here at the head of the cliffs.

"He was a damned good SIO," Maxie says after a moment.

"If you overlook the secret treason." Althea looks over at him. Maxie's frowning. "Come on, Arthur. You know he wasn't set up."

Maxie glances away. Takes another swig of beer. He sighs, then rolls the bottle between his hands. "I can't believe he'd do anything like that. Not Marcus."

Althea knows. It's shaken her to her core as well. She reaches over, lays a hand on Maxie's knee. "People do things for stupid reasons." The horses, Marcus had said. Money lost at Ladbrokes on the bloody fucking horses, and look where it'd got him. Done and dusted and with no one willing to step forward to bury him. His mum and dad were already gone, and his brother didn't care enough to pick up his body from the sodding morgue.

"I don't want to end up like this," Althea says, her voice quiet. When Maxie looks over at her, she wraps her elbows around her knees, stares out over the water. "Alone. No one who cares enough to come bury me. Mum's gone. Dad won't be around forever."

Maxie just lifts his bottle to his mouth again and takes a swig. He sighs as he lowers it, settles the bottle between the bend of his thigh and knee. "You won't be. You've friends." He looks Althea's way. "Potter. That lot of his. Me."

"That's not what I mean." Althea blinks back a hot wetness in her eyes. Her voice sounds raw and scratchy.

"I know." Maxie's silent for a moment, then he says, "Marcus has us."

"We weren't his friends," Althea points out. "He was our SIO."

"And we're here grieving him, yeah?" Maxie rubs his palms over his thighs. "I reckon that's not leaving him alone." He bites his lip, then says, "I miss the fucking arsehole."

Fuck but Althea does too. She feels a bit traitorous at the same time. Marcus Wrightson wasn't a good man. Not entirely. But he wasn't evil either. He was a just a human being who'd made a stupid, mad decision that had ruined his life. Ended it even, at the end of Arnold Peasegood's wand.

"He was a good SIO," Althea says finally, and she means it. As fond as she's grown of Seven-Four-Alpha, Potter's a new guv, one who's uncertain at times, who makes the mistakes of a boss who's growing into his role. Marcus had twenty years on Potter, and he'd taken Althea under his wing, treated her like she was worthwhile in a force that eyed her askance for being a woman. Made her his protégé. She owes Marcus Wrightson a hell of a lot.

Even if she's still angry with him for what he'd done.

Maxie's quiet again. It's a comfortable silence between them, one that Althea's missed. Arthur Maxton's a damned good Auror and an even better friend. She looks over at him. "Thanks for taking care of Dad," she says, and Maxie just shrugs.

"He's a good one, Mitchell is." Maxie takes another swallow of his beer. "He worries about you."

Althea knows. Her father's never been keen on her being an Auror, even if he understands why she'd taken on the job. "It's just the two of us," she says. "He frets."

Maxie dangles his beer bottle between his fingers, lets the smooth glass bottom swing over grass, brushing against the stalks. "Rumour has it Malfoy's been sacked."

That makes Althea's head jerk up. She scowls. "Bollocks."

"Rowan Bottoms says Viola was doing the paperwork today." Maxie looks over at her. "Termination files. Saw Malfoy's name right there at the top. Something happen whilst you lot were away or is it just his dad?"

Althea rubs her thumb over her knee. She doesn't know how much she can say, but she doesn't want gossip flying around the bullpen either about Malfoy. "It's not like that," she says finally. "Croaker's pulling him to the Unspeakables." She picks up her beer, takes a sip before adding, "He has Legilimens talent."

Maxie just looks at her. "He's a fucking Death Eater."

"Come off it, Maxie," Althea says. "You know better."

"He has a fucking Mark." Maxie leans towards her, and she can smell the beer on his breath. "You can't be that bloody naive."

Althea looks away. She doesn't know how to explain it to Maxie, doesn't know how to say that she's seen the Mark, that she's watched it seep blood, that she's bandaged it for Malfoy, seen the pain he's gone through. The fear that's wracked him. "It's not the same."

"The hell it isn't." Maxie rummages in his pocket, then pulls out a rumpled packet of cigarettes. He taps a fag out into his palm, then settles it between his lips, lighting it with the tip of his wand. The fag glows a bright orange, then Maxie exhales a thin stream of grey smoke. "Once Marked, always Marked. You bloody well know that. Those bastards killed your mother--"

"Malfoy wasn't one of them." Althea's skin feels hot and prickly. She can't look over at Maxie; she's afraid she'll burst into tears. It's getting too close to the anniversary of the attack. Althea's been having dreams the past few nights about her mum, waking up certain Clio's watching her from the foot of her bed. It hadn't helped, going to Lucius Malfoy's funeral, Althea thinks. Seeing Malfoy's grief at the death of his father has only stirred up her own feelings of parental loss.

And then there's Dolohov, isn't there? Knowing that he's somewhere in the depths of the building she works in. Remembering the feel of his body as she'd chained herself to it in the transport nearly a week ago. No one had asked her how that felt, how it had been to be that close to one of her mother's murderers. Althea had pushed it all away, had told herself she'd been fine. She hadn't. So instead she wakes up with her mother's name on her lips, with her skin crawling, with the image ringing in her mind of Antonin Dolohov falling in an explosion of green light, his body going limp from the curse she'd cast from her own wand.

Her sleep hadn't been restful lately.

She holds her hand out, waits for Maxie to pass her the fag. Her fingers only tremble a little bit around the cigarette; she lifts it to her mouth and takes a long drag from it. The smoke burns her lungs, tastes sharp and acrid in her mouth. Althea exhales in a slow sigh. It's been a while since she's smoked. Years, really. She'd forgotten how calming it can be. Dirty habit though. She lifts the fag to her lips again, the tip glowing a bright orange as she sucks on it once more.

"Lucius Malfoy was a Death Eater," Maxie says, and he takes the cigarette back when she hands it to him. "And his son's Marked too. I know you're all cosy now, you and him and Parkinson and Zabini, but you can't trust that lot, Thea." He shakes his head and breathes out another stream of smoke. "Slytherins do and say whatever they think'll get you on their side."

Althea looks over at him. "Your dad was Slytherin, wasn't he?" She thinks about her own mother and the Slytherin scarf Althea has tucked away in a trunk in her flat. Before Seven-Four-Alpha, she'd compartmentalised her feelings about Slytherin, told herself her mum had just been mis-Sorted, that she'd been a good Slytherin, whatever that had bloody well meant, that her mother hadn't been like the others. Now she thinks she was a fucking arsehole about that. Slytherin wasn't fucking monomorphic, after all. Malfoy, Parkinson and Zabini have taught her that at least.

Maxie's hand shakes a bit as he taps the ash off the end of the fag. "Just means I know what I'm banging on about, don't it?" His cuff slips back; she can see the edge of the burn scar on his wrist. It goes up his arm, twisting around his elbow and up towards his shoulder. She'd seen the whole of it once, when Maxie was pissed. He'd taken his shirt off, shown it to her. Told her how his father cast a fire hex on him when he was sixteen. He hadn't told her why, just that it'd happened. All Althea knows is that Maxie hates his dad.

It's something she's never entirely understood. As frustrated and angry as she's been with her dad over the years, she's never hated him. Not like the way Maxie loathes his father.

She's never asked why. She's not certain she wants to know.

They sit in silence, watching as the rosy light of sunset starts to spread over the horizon, shimmering across the far reaches of the water.

Finally Maxie sighs and stubs the cigarette out beside his hip, grinding the stub into the loamy earth. "We need that fucking Death Eater Registry," he says after a moment, and he doesn't look at Althea. "I know you think I'm mad, but it'll help us do our job. The lads in the bullpen agree."

"The lads in the bullpen are fucking tits," Althea says. She picks up her beer again and takes a sip then grimaces. The bottle's not even half-gone. "That goddamn registration act doesn't give us anything we don't already know--"

"We could track families," Maxie says, and Althea gives him an incredulous look.

"Who haven't bloody done anything?" Althea shakes her head. "It's the criminals we're after, you arsehole. Not their mums and siblings and cousins. For fuck's sake, Arthur. You're better than that."

Maxie twists his bottle between his hands, rubs at the corner of the label with his thumb. "You don't know the families aren't trying something. Look at Selwyn's sister. She protected him--"

"That's a minor offence," Althea says sharply, and she surprises herself. A month ago she'd be on Maxie's side, saying the same thing the lads are. Working with Seven-Four-Alpha's changed her, she thinks. Shown her people can be more than one expects. "And it's not anything one of us might have done ourselves, if the shoe'd been on the other foot."

"But it wouldn't, would it?" Maxie glances over at her. "We don't have family who'd do that sort of thing. Except maybe my dad, and fuck, I'd turn in that old bastard in a heartbeat, no questions asked." His face twists, his mouth tightens.

Privately Althea thinks he wouldn't. Family can be complex. Those ties bind you a bit tighter than you'd like, really, whether or not you want them to. It's hard to untangle them sometimes. She suspects that's something Malfoy's finding out right now himself. All those expectations. All those wishes and hopes and dreams, the ways in which you wanted your parents to be different, to be better and stronger for you, to protect you, to not sink into their own ancient hurts, their own fucked-up pain.

She watches a seagull swoop over them, its grey and white plumage almost disappearing into the sky. Her chest feels tight; she breathes out slowly.

"Nothing's that black-and-white," Althea says finally. "Especially not so it can be legislated the way Marchbanks and Hawkworth want to."

Maxie just sighs. "Well, sixty-eight percent of the wizarding world disagrees with you, or so the Prophet's polls are saying. The Wizengamot are listening to that."

Althea takes another swig of beer. "Sixty-eight percent of the wizarding world are fucking idiots then. And the Wizengamot are goddamn wankers." She lowers her bottle. "So." She shrugs. "Not a strong argument, Maxie."

That makes Maxie snort in amusement and shake his head. "Bloody idealist for a Ravenclaw, aren't you. Sure you're not Hufflepuff?"

"Fuck off," Althea says easily, and the tension between them eases a bit. Althea doesn't think it'll ever go away now. Maxie's not comfortable with the way she's thinking, with the shift her beliefs have undergone in the past few weeks. She knows that. But they can still sit here together, drinking shit beer in memory of their corrupted SIO. That's something, Althea hopes.

She glances down at the box between them. "Reckon it's time now?"

Maxie frowns out at the water. "Close enough to sunset, I think."

It's a wizarding tradition, this. One that goes back centuries, Althea suspects, probably long before the priests with their rough robes and tonsured hair brought their Christianity to this island. The spirit leaves at sunset, Althea remembers her mother telling her, when she'd asked once why the window'd been open in the room Nan's body had been kept in. Althea had done the same for her mother, making certain there'd been a window that could be cracked an inch or two. McIntyre and Mackenzie hadn't batted an eye. The spirit needs a chance to escape, to keep from being tethered to this world for eternity.

Althea wonders if it'll work the same for Marcus. They've burned his body, charred it to ash and little bits of bone. Still, even if Marcus gets stuck here, she can't imagine this view wouldn't be what he'd like to see forever.

She certainly would.

They clamber to their feet, she and Maxie, and with their wands in their hands, their Diffindos slash into the grass and earth, leaving behind deep, loamy, dark streaks in the green stalks. They cross each other's paths, creating the intricate pattern in the dirt, the one they'd discussed, a quaternary knot on a closed path that twists and turns in on itself, the box sat in its centre. When it's done, Althea's sweaty and tired. She looks across the knot at Maxie, and he nods. Together they Levitate the box, then Althea murmurs the charm that opens it, sends the ashes scattering across the knot, falling into the brown loam.

"Dirt to dirt," Althea says, her voice quiet. "Dust to dust."

Maxie sweeps his wand across the knot, and it closes up, the earth sinking back into the ground, taking the ashes with it, the grass settling over the top. A moment later and it's impossible to see.

Althea thinks she hears a soft sigh behind her. When she turns, there's no one there.

"Sleep well, Marcus Wrightson, you bloody bastard," Maxie says, and Althea can hear the emotion in his voice. "You won't be forgotten by us, now will you?" He picks up their beer bottles, hands Althea's to her. They clink them together once more, take a drink, and then upend them over the ground in a libation for the dead. Althea's certain Marcus would approve.

The rosy light in the sky's beginning to take on orange streaks.

Maxie slides his arm around Althea's waist. They stand silently at the edge of the cliff, listening to the waves roll into the shore.

And Althea believes Marcus might finally be at peace.

***

Draco stands in the middle of the Grimmauld library, staring at the Floo. He's dressed and eaten, but he's still not certain he can do this, not certain he can go back into the Ministry this morning. He thinks about disappearing, about leaving the house and going to his flat. He could hide from Harry, if he wanted.

Granger would tell him, though. Draco's certain of that.

Still, he looks at Harry and says, "I think you should leave before me today."

"Are you going to crawl back into bed?" Harry asks, his voice light, but with a clear undercurrent of suspicion.

Probably, Draco wants to say, but instead he scowls at Harry, brushes his hair back behind one ear. "I'd think that, all things considered, you'd like our fellow Ministry employees not to notice we're arriving at the same time and from the same Floo every morning?"

Harry sighs, but he picks up his satchel and hefts it over his shoulder. "Don't take too long," he says, and he leans in and kisses Draco, his lips warm and soft. Draco wants to melt against Harry, to wrap his arms around Harry's neck and drag him back to bed. He can't. He knows that. Harry'd been tense all night about Shacklebolt's little fit in the incident room--though there's something about it Draco's positive Harry's not telling him--and Draco knows Harry's worried about the future of Seven-Four-Alpha. Part of Draco wants to tell Harry to walk away. He's better than the Ministry. But where would that leave Pansy and Blaise, he thinks. Not to mention Althea. If Seven-Four-Alpha's dissolved, it affects them as well.

So Draco'd just curled up in bed after dinner beside Harry, his head on Harry's shoulder, his palm flattened against Harry's chest, and he'd stroked Harry's hair, murmuring that everything would be all right until they'd fallen asleep wrapped around each other. Draco isn't certain he believes this bloody, godforsaken week will be fine in the end, not at the moment at least, but he wants Harry to, because it calms Harry down, and for that, Draco'll lie through his bloody damned teeth if he must.

Draco pulls back from the kiss reluctantly. He loves the press of Harry's body against his, the soft roughness of Harry's lips. He feels safe with Harry. More so than he ever has in his life, and whilst he misses the freedom of New York, the openness with which they could walk its streets, he likes the comfort of Grimmauld Place, the way the house welcomes him, settles around Draco like a warm, cosy blanket. It feels right to be here, next to Harry. Draco doesn't want to go back to his flat, doesn't want to sleep in his bed alone. He's never felt like this with anyone else he's shagged; Draco's always appreciated having his own space.

It's strange to need this intimacy. To want it, even.

"Go," Draco says, a bit thickly. "I'll follow." At Harry's raised eyebrow, Draco adds, "I promise, you twit."

"It'll get easier," Harry says. Draco looks away. It won't, he thinks, but he can't tell Harry that. So he just nods, his throat hurting. His hair falls into his face again, and he hears Harry sigh. "Right then."

Draco turns away, goes to sit on the edge of the sofa. He watches Harry toss the Floo powder into the hearth, sees the flames burst green, and then Harry's gone. Draco's shoulders slump. He leans back against the sofa, the leather creaking beneath his shoulders. Dust floats in a patch of sunlight that streams from the half-open curtains, pooling amongst the shadows stretched across the faded Axminster. Draco thinks he could stay here all morning, in the warmth of the sun, curled up in the corner of the sofa. Kreacher wouldn't mind; he'd just bring Draco a cuppa and a book. Perhaps even put some Celestina on the ancient phonograph in the corner.

Merlin but it's tempting. Much more so than pushing himself up, Flooing into the Department of Mysteries.

Yesterday hadn't been horrible, but it hadn't been good either. Granger had taken him around, introduced him to people, most of whom he couldn't recognise again if he walked past them in the hall. The Unspeakables seem to have plenty of witches and wizards of that sort. Draco supposes it comes in handy at times. He's been fitted for a uniform, given the password for the back entrance to the labyrinth of corridors, filled out the sodding paperwork for the departmental transfer.

And now he has to go back in.

This isn't what he wants. Draco leans forward, his elbows on his knees. He breathes out, trying to still the twist of emotions roiling deep inside of him. He wants to be back on the Auror force. Wants to be in the incident room with Harry, to be sat across from Blaise and Althea, waiting for Pans to walk up from the lab.

He can't even speak to them right now. It hurts too much to think of them together, to know he's not part of that any more. Blaise had rung Draco's mobile last night, then Pans had tried. Draco hadn't answered either time. He knows it's foolish of him to shut them off like this. Knows that they want to comfort him. Want to see him. But Draco can't bear it. He's no longer part of Seven-Four-Alpha, and he's feeling the loss far too deeply.

They'll never really understand, he thinks. But Harry does. In his own quiet way.

If he's honest, Draco's furious about it all. Furious that his life has changed so bloody much. He doesn't know who he is any longer. If he ever had in the first place. Everything he thought was Draco Malfoy is being stripped away, scoured off.

Everything except this goddamned Mark.

He can still feel it burn most of the time. The pain's not unbearable, like it'd been at first, but it's there, just below the surface, breaking through occasionally. Draco hasn't told Harry. Hasn't told anyone, really. He doesn't want to worry them. But it scares him nonetheless.

And so he lies awake at night beside Harry, worrying. Wondering when the Mark will flare again, when it will send him to his knees.

That's why Draco pushes himself off the sofa, picks up his satchel and walks to the Floo. Because if anyone is going to help Draco figure the Mark out, if anyone is going teach him what he can do to break it, to keep it from ruling his life this way, it's Saul bloody Croaker.

Draco takes one last, lingering look back at the comfort of the Grimmauld library, and then he turns back to the hearth, Floo powder in hand.

Harry's waiting when Draco steps through the Ministry Floo. Not terribly obviously, at least not for a Gryffindor, but Draco can't help but roll his eyes at the sight of his boyfriend leaning against the far wall, chatting with Miraphora Mina from the Runes and Symbols department. Harry looks up as Draco walks by, and his smile is wide. "Malfoy," he says, turning away from Miraphora, who looks a bit too disappointed by that for Draco's tastes. "Just the man I was waiting for."

"I'm certain," Draco says, and he nods towards Miraphora as Harry falls into step with him. "So very discreet," he adds, lowering his voice.

"Wanted to see if you'd actually come through." Harry gives Draco a sideways look. "Wasn't entirely certain you would."

Draco frowns, hooks his thumb beneath the leather strap of his satchel across his chest. "Your faith in me is inspirational." He won't say that he almost didn't step into the Floo. He doesn't need to; it's obvious Harry knows.

"I'm glad you did," Harry says, almost as if he hasn't heard Draco. It's how he deals with Draco in a snit; Draco knows that full well. He thinks he ought to be annoyed, but he's too bloody tired to care at the moment. Harry looks over at him. "I worry."

"I know." Draco sighs then, and he dips his head, gazing down at his booted feet as they stride across the Atrium towards the bank of lifts. "I don't mean for you to." He feels Harry's knuckles brush his leg, discreet and barely noticeable. It makes Draco feel warm. Grounded in a way. He glances at Harry then. "But thank you."

Harry just smiles, and Draco has to look away again, his breath nearly going out of him at the intimacy of Harry's gaze. Draco can feel his cheeks warm.

And then Harry bumps into a woman, small and dark-haired. "Sorry," Harry starts to say, but he falls silent when Cho Chang turns around. Draco can see the lines of grief etched into her face. Her brother, he remembers. Winston Chang. Died in the line of duty trying to protect Draco's bloody father. And failing.

Chang's face freezes, the comment she was about to make dies on her lips. And then she takes a step back, looking between them. "Oh," she says, and her face twists in a spasm of pain when her gaze falls on Draco. He stills. "You."

"Cho," Harry says, stepping forward as Chang starts to turn away. "I'm sorry."

At that Chang stops, and Draco can see the tautness of her shoulders, the wariness of her stance, as if she's ready to flee in her three-inch heels. "Sorry doesn't fucking bring Win back, does it?" she asks tightly, not looking at Harry, and then she's turning away again, her fists clenched at her sides, wetness forming at the corners of her eyes. She reaches up, brushes her fingers against her lashes, her head bent, her sharp, short bob falling forward to hide her face.

Draco touches Harry's arm before he can speak again. "Don't," Draco says under his breath. "Leave her be." She needs time with her grief, he thinks. It's not as if he doesn't understand. He does. All too bloody well.

Harry falls silent as Chang walks away from them, as quickly as she can, her heels clacking against the stone floor. Harry and Draco stand still in the middle of the Atrium, Ministry workers flowing around them, hurrying towards their offices and the drudgery of their daily work.

"I didn't mean to," Harry starts to say, and then he stops, a terrible, sad expression on his face that makes Draco's heart twist. He feels responsible for Harry's pain. Draco knows damned well Chang wouldn't have cut Harry like that if he hadn't been standing here. It'd been his father's fault.

"She's just angry," Draco says. He can still see Chang's small frame, over next to the lifts. A woman, tall and blonde, leans over to say something to her. Chang just nods, and the woman touches her arm gently. "At me more than you, I'd say." Draco licks his lip, breathes out. "What with the things the Prophet's been saying about Father lately." The latest is discreet speculation that Draco arranged the hit on his father for some perceived wrong. Which is bloody laughable. Until it isn't. Draco swallows, then looks away. The vultures are circling, he thinks, and eager to feed on any scrap they can pull off his father's rotting corpse.

"You didn't do anything." Harry's voice is hot, sharp.

Draco looks over at him. Harry's slinged arm is tight against his chest, the fingers clenched into a tight fist, and Harry's holding himself tense and taut, as if he's on high alert. Draco wants to lay his hand over Harry's, to settle him with a touch. He can't here. Not in the Ministry Atrium. Draco exhales. He feels as if a band's wrapped around his chest, constraining him, and his heart thuds heavily. He can feel the first tendrils of panic start to curl their way through him, and he closes his eyes for a moment, willing them away. Please, he thinks. Not right now. Not in front of everyone.

And then Harry's face softens. "Are you all right? Draco?"

He's not. Draco can feel his legs get wobbly, and he needs to sit down. Needs to breathe. There's a rushing sound in his ears, loud and filled with static, and his head buzzes unpleasantly. He can hear Harry saying his name, but all he can do is to give Harry a blank look, his mind starting to get caught up in the all-too-familiar loop, his anxiety swelling up, filling every corner of his being.

Somehow Harry gets him to the fountain. Draco finds himself sitting on the edge, Harry in front of him, blocking people from looking at him. Draco's hand's in the water, and it feels cool and good against his skin. He doesn't know if he put it in, or Harry.

"Breathe," Harry's saying, his voice soft.

The noise in Draco's head's easing, replaced by the quiet splash of water behind him. He inhales, and all he can smell is Harry and the powdery muskiness of his cologne. It settles him in a way nothing else can.

"I'm sorry," Draco murmurs. He can feel the heat of his face, the prickle of shame between his shoulder blades. He hunches himself, his arms crossed over his chest, his satchel banging against his hip. "I'm fine."

That's a lie, and they both know it, but Harry doesn't challenge Draco on it, for which Draco's grateful. Instead, Harry steps back, lets Draco stand. "Are you going to be all right at work?" His forehead's furrowed in worry.

Draco nods. "If I'm not," he says, "I'll go to Granger." He won't, but saying that will make Harry feel better.

Harry's shoulders relax. "Good."

Draco looks away. He rubs a hand over his face. "I need to get downstairs." Before I fall apart again, he wants to add, but he refuses to make Harry worry more than he has to. He wants to kiss Harry, to tell him everything will be all right. Instead he just dares to let his fingers brush Harry's injured arm, their bodies mostly obscured by the statue of the centaur in the fountain. "I'll see you at home."

And that's what Grimmauld is, Draco realises. Home for both of them. He looks over at Harry, sees the warmth and affection in Harry's gaze. The love. Draco's stomach flutters. Things aren't easy for either of them, and he's not certain why Harry's staying through all of this mess. But he is, and Draco's so damned glad of that.

"Home," Harry echoes, and his lips curve up in a smile. "That sounds good."

They stand there for a moment, half-hidden from the rest of the Ministry, and Harry's watching Draco in a way that makes Draco's toes curl in his boots, makes Draco's blood pound in his veins. He wants Harry. Needs him. Loves him. So goddamned desperately.

"I have to go," Draco says finally, because he knows he could stay here with Harry all bloody morning. He suspects Croaker might have charms on the Atrium, might be watching them. It's not as paranoid as it might seem. Croaker's that sort, Draco thinks. A man who sees information as power.

Draco doesn't trust the bastard any further than he can throw him. But he needs him. And Draco hates that fact.

Harry moves back; Draco brushes past him. "Tonight," Harry murmurs in Draco's ear. "I want to shag you senseless in our bed."

Draco turns his head, meets Harry's gaze evenly. "Maybe I'll ride your prick again," he says, his voice soft. "Make you fill my hole with your spunk?"

"Jesus, Draco," Harry says, his eyes wide. "That's an image to leave a bloke with."

Draco smiles. "I know." And he walks away from Harry, towards the staircase that leads to the back entrance of the Department of Mysteries, his heart a bit lighter.

He can feel Harry watching him the whole damned way.

Granger's waiting for Draco when the wards on the door shift for him and he steps into the narrow staff corridor. He's not expecting her, and he jumps when he turns and sees her, leaning against the wall, her dark blue dress almost blending into the shadow around her.

"Fuck, Granger," Draco snaps. "Don't give a bastard a fright."

"You're late again," Granger says, but her lips quirk up in a smile. She steps into the blue-white light cast by one of the sconces on the wall. It washes her brown skin out, makes her look a bit grey around the edges. "Really, don't do that; it honestly does nark Croaker off."

Draco gives her an even look. "I had to give Harry time to make it in first. Wouldn't look right, would it, both of us Flooing in together?"

Granger snorts. "Whatever you need to tell yourself, Malfoy." She quirks her finger at him. "Come with me. I'm to introduce you to your new Legilimens trainer."

I don't need one, Draco thinks, but he knows that's not true. Whatever Durant managed to teach him in New York is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Legilimency. Still, he doesn't like the idea of someone he doesn't know at all poking about in his mind right now. He'll have to keep everything about Harry walled off behind his Occlumens, and that's bloody exhausting sometimes.

Still, he falls into step beside Granger. "Who'll I be with?" He's curious, he has to admit. "I thought all your Legilimens were working on other projects."

"They are." Granger leads him down another empty hallway. Their footsteps are loud in the silence. "But Muriel's been called back, just for you." She gives Draco a small smile. "You'll probably hate her, but she's good at what she does."

"Brilliant," Draco says under his breath.

Granger stops in front of a plain black door, like all the other plain black doors in the Department of Mysteries. Draco doesn't know how anyone finds their way through this maze. He'll be lost by lunchtime. "Ready?" Granger asks.

"No." Draco frowns at her. "But I haven't a bloody choice, do I?"

An almost sad look shifts across Granger's face. "You don't really," she says quietly, and her gaze meets his. Draco's grateful for the honesty.

Granger opens the door, warm light spilling into the hallway; Draco follows her in. The room's long and boringly beige, a stark contrast to the darkness just outside. There's what looks like a sparring mat in the middle of the room, and mirrors on the wall in front of it. Draco wonders if anyone'll be sitting behind them, watching. He can't imagine Croaker won't want to check up on Draco's training.

A woman's sat on top of a table at the end of the room, a file jacket in her hand. She's small and broad-shouldered, her grey hair cut short. She glances up at them when they come in, and her face is lined with wrinkles. The look she gives them is shuttered.

"Draco Malfoy, I presume," she says, and she stands up. She's wearing dark trousers and a peacock blue shirt so bright that it leaves an afterimage on Draco's eyes when he blinks.

"Muriel Burke," Granger says to Draco. "She'll be organising your Legilimency training. She's been with the department since what?" Granger raises an eyebrow at Burke. "1956?"

"Thereabouts." Burke's looking at Draco, studying him. "Too goddamned long, probably, but every time I try to take my pension, Saul blocks me, the bastard. I'll probably die in this sodding job." She points a finger at Draco. "Don't let them do that to you."

"I'll try not," Draco says. His fingers curl around the strap of his satchel. Burke makes him feel uncomfortable, as if she can see straight through him.

Granger glances at Burke. "I'll leave you to it then?" At Burke's nod, Granger turns to Draco. "You'll be training with Muriel for a while, then we'll assess where best to put you in the department. Saul will want to meet with you again by the end of the week."

"Joy." Draco shifts uneasily.

Burke breaks into a smile. "That's an attitude I rather like. Saul's a right bastard, Malfoy. Best to keep that in mind when you speak to him."

Granger just sighs. "If you need anything, I'm available. I'll be Malfoy's SIO in the Unspeakables, Muriel, so I'll want reports on his progress as well."

"Whatever." Burke flaps a hand at Granger, then tosses the file jacket she's been holding onto the desk. She waits until Granger leaves, the door closing behind her, and then she turns to Draco. "Your first training was done by Jake Durant of MACUSA, I see."

Draco nods. He sets his satchel down next to the desk. "For Legilimency, yes."

"Right." Burke circles him, her gaze fixed on his face. "Occlumency done during the war under the tutelage of Severus Snape and Bellatrix Lestrange."

"Is that a problem?" Draco doesn't look away. He's not certain he likes this woman. Not certain he trusts her.

She's definitely not Jake Durant, that's for fucking certain.

Burke's smile is sharp. "Not unless you're a shit Occlumens, Malfoy."

And then Draco feels it, the press into his mind. Burke's not slow like Durant had been. She's quick and laser-precise, and Draco only just has a chance to slam his Occlumens in place. He can feel her pushing up against it, looking for weak spots. He won't let her find any.

"Not bad," Burke says after a moment. "Show me what you have for Legilimency."

Draco stills. He settles himself the way Durant had taught him. Breathes out. Burke's watching him, a faint smile on her face. Draco lets his mind brush against hers, feather-light across the surface. He can pick up her amusement, her boredom, her doubt that he's capable of doing this.

The latter annoys him. Intensely.

He waits, letting her just barely feel him. Getting her settled. Used to him. Burke's just watching, one eyebrow raised, her arms folded across her chest.

And then he strikes, instinctively knowing he has to go quick and fast with Burke, his mind finding a cleft in her Occlumens and darting into it before she's aware. He catches a memory that's close to the surface, of Burke in her kitchen, a cup of tea in front of her. The room's small and sunny and cosy, white cabinets and counters with a bright red bowl beside the sink filled with apples. He pushes harder on the apples, and the memory merges into another one, of a younger Burke, hand-in-hand with a child. A girl. They're standing in an orchard, and the girl points towards a tree, laden with apples and says, This one, Mum. It's got the best apples, I can tell. A boy runs past them, his dark hair ruffled by a breeze. I'm first, he shouts. Burke laughs, and Draco pushes into that laugh, lets it envelop him, lets it pull him into another laugh, a party this time, at a grand house, but not one that Draco recognises. It's Parisian, he thinks, looking at the tall, paned windows and the parquet floors, or Belgian, perhaps. The accents around him are lilting and he catches a few phrases in French. Burke's a bit older, and she's uncertain about being there. She turns to the man beside her and says, Darling, are you sure we have to stay? It's just the children-- The man with her touches her hand and smiles down at her. Only for half an hour, Mur. I promise--

And then Draco's thrown out of Burke's head, both of them breathing hard, and Burke's face is flushed, her expression cross. "Well," she says after a moment. "You're bloody well better than I thought, aren't you?"

Draco just looks at her.

Burke turns away, runs a hand through her short silver hair. "Durant's notes say you're a natural," she says after a moment. "I thought he was exaggerating, but I actually think he might have been downplaying your abilities." She looks back at Draco. "Here's the thing, sprog." She leans against the side of the desk, and she still doesn't look happy. "You're talented. You need to learn how to control it. What you just did there? Powerful but sloppy. I've a bloody headache now, and the point of Legilimency isn't to root around in your subject's brain until it implodes. So I'm going to work you hard, and you'll probably hate me for it. I could give a fuck about that, because my job is to turn a full-fledged Legilimens over to Saul Croaker in as short a time as possible."

"Is this the point where I'm supposed to fall on my knees and beg you to be my mentor?" Draco's hackles are up. He doesn't know why.

"Wouldn't hurt." Burke chuckles, but then she sighs, a frown settling between her brows. "But I can see why Saul wants you. Natural Legilimens are bloody rare these days. They can train us, but ones like you? It's like finding a true Seer, not just someone who's got a dab hand for divination." She's silent for a moment, watching Draco. "You're going to be good, sprog. I can tell that. Definitely better than me. Probably better than Durant, and he's one of the best Legilimens I've ever met. Natural, like you. But you're still going to have to work for it, and I'm not a kind bitch."

Draco nods. Her straightforwardness makes him feel a modicum better. "I'm fine with that."

"You'd better damned well be." Burke pushes herself off the desk. "Roll up your sleeves, and we'll get started."

Draco stills. Burke looks back at him, her blue eyes bright and sharp.

"I know about the Mark," she says after a moment. "Let's just put that on the table. I'm not a fool, Draco Malfoy, and I'm not frightened of you because of some bastard's bloody tattoo he put on your arm. I don't think you're a Death Eater. I think you're a stupid boy who made a stupid mistake." Her mouth tightens. "Just like mine did nearly thirty years ago."

And Draco gets an image of a dark-haired teenager, barely out of Hogwarts, standing in front of his parents, his Marked arm on display. Draco can feel his anger, his defiance. So far from the small boy so eager to climb the apple tree.

Burke just looks at Draco as the memory fades from his mind. "My boy Milo. Voldemort killed him in the end. They brought his body back to me, and he looked peaceful. For the first time in years." Her jaw tightens; her face is grim. "He wasn't an evil boy, my son. He was just easily led astray. For him it was his friends. For you, I'd say, your father."

All Draco can do is nod. His throat aches. "I'm sorry," he manages.

"Don't be sorry for things you've no part in, sprog." Burke walks past him. She smells of mint and tea. "Just roll your bloody sleeves up. You'll want to, because I've every intention of sweating your fool arse off today." She looks over at him. "Apologies in advance for whatever shit comes out of your mind today."

"That sounds like a threat," Draco says, but he rolls up his sleeves. Doesn't flinch when she glances at the Mark, at the way it's broken and jagged across the twists of scar tissue.

Burke just meets his gaze. "Anything you want me to stay away from?"

Draco lifts his chin. "You see Harry Potter, you walk away."

"Noted." Burke's eyes crinkle at the corners. "As for me? I'm a bloody open book." She takes a wide stance on the sparring mat, her smile bright and fierce. She draws in a deep breath, then exhales. "Right then. Come for me, sprog."

So Draco does.

***

It's later than he'd like when Harry Floos back into Grimmauld Place. He knows Draco's already gone for the day; Hermione'd come by his office at half-six to tell him Draco'd had an exhausting day. She wouldn't give him details, but she'd just given him a hug and said, "Go home to him as soon as you can, Harry. I think he needs you tonight."

Legilimency training is difficult. Harry knows that. He doesn't really think Draco should be undergoing it now, not in the state he's in. Kingsley might be right, that Harry ought to be back at work, but Harry's not so certain Draco should be. Zabini, of couse, disagrees with him. Harry's aware of that, but Zabini's not the one waking up beside Draco, is he? Harry's the one who sees Draco with his guard let down, the one who knows the sounds Draco makes in his sleep, soft and raw and filled with grief.

The lamps are on in the library when Harry steps out of the hearth, but Draco's nowhere to be found. Harry drops his satchel beside the sofa, then reaches down to pick up the half-empty glass of firewhisky on the side table. Harry takes a sip from it. The whisky's still warm, still steaming just a bit.

He walks into the hallway. "Draco?" Harry calls out, peering up the staircase. There's only silence. Harry frowns, and his heart quickens, worry suddenly twisting through him. He takes the stairs two at a time. "Draco?" he shouts again, and he thinks he hears a noise in the bedroom.

The bed's empty, the room's dark, but the en suite door's open, and a pool of golden light spills out over the wooden floor. Harry walks over, steps in, blinking. The air's warm and steamy, and it takes his eyes a moment to adjust. His glasses fog up for a moment, then Harry slides them off, setting them on the counter beside the sink.

Draco's stretched out in the bath, long and pale and pink from the heat of the water sloshing over his narrow hips. His clothes are piled beside the toilet, a pair of running shorts and trainers and a t-shirt that's soaked with sweat. "You shouted?" Draco says, shifting his legs beneath the surface of the water. He catches sight of his firewhisky in Harry's hand. "You brought my drink, I see." He reaches out. "Don't finish it, you tosser."

Harry takes another sip then hands it over, crouching beside the tub. "You went for a run."

"And this is why you're an Inspector," Draco says as he lifts the glass to his lips. He takes a drink, and lets his head fall back against the tiles. His cheeks are flushed; his blond hair's lank and limp against his skin. Draco closes his eyes and breathes out, his thumb stroking along the rim of the glass.

"Did it help?" Harry settles himself on the floor, leaning against the side of the tub. His arm hurts. He ought to take pain potions for it, but he knows he won't. A paracetamol or two will hold him off a bit longer. Perhaps he'll take something stronger when Draco falls asleep.

"The run?" Draco drains the firewhisky, then hands the glass back to Harry. "Not really." He lets himself sink lower into the bathwater. It smells like almonds, Harry thinks. He can see droplets of oil floating on the surface.

"What's wrong?" Harry asks. He sets the glass down, shifts so his good elbow's on the side of the tub. His fingers trail in the warm bathwater. "It must have been bad if a run didn't make things better."

A soft huff of annoyed amusement slips from Draco's lips. "You know me well."

"I try." Harry lifts his fingers, lets the water drip off, splashing lightly into the bath. He looks over at Draco. "Want to talk about it?"

Draco's silent for a moment. "I'd probably need more firewhisky," he says finally, and he turns his head to look at Harry. He gives him a small, pained smile. "Just bad memories coming to the fore. The usual with Legilimency training."

"Your dad?" Harry smoothes a hand up over Draco's chest. For a moment he thinks Draco's going to shift away, but he doesn't. Instead he relaxes beneath Harry's touch.

"Amongst other things," Draco says. He presses a foot against the edge of the tub and looks away.

Harry's hip hurts. He settles himself again, then lets his fingertips stroke down, over one of Draco's pebbled pink nipples. "I'm sorry." He knows better than to press. If Draco wants to tell him, he will.

They're quiet for a moment, then Draco sighs again, and glances over at Harry. "I signed the paperwork yesterday for the Unspeakables."

"I know." Harry watches him. This is the first time they've talked about it. Draco'd put him off last night, told him everything was fine. Harry'd been too furious with Kingsley to push Draco on it. Perhaps he ought to have. Sometimes Harry's not certain that he's handling Draco well. He feels at a loss here, uncertain. He just doesn't want to make things worse, if he's honest.

Draco smoothes a fingertip along the shower wall, cutting through the steam on the white tile. "They're making my employment with the Unspeakables retroactive." He glances over at Harry. "Probably causing no end of logistical nightmares for the human resources department."

Harry hides a smile. "Indubitably."

"It's just…" Draco bites his lip, then exhales, his breath stirring the water at his chest. "I won't ever be shown on the Seven-Four-Alpha roster." He doesn't look at Harry. "It's like that time's just wiped away." He sounds a bit broken, a bit angry. "As if none of it ever existed." He runs his hands over his face. "Circe, but more firewhisky would be brill just about now."

Harry's silent for a moment. He swirls his hand through the bathwater, letting it slide up to his wrist, wetting the cuff of his sleeve. "I'm not happy about it either, you know." He looks up at Draco. "Kingsley's giving the team a commendation next Friday. Zabini's getting the Gore Award."

"Oh," Draco says. "He rang me up last night. I didn't have it in me to talk." Draco brings a knee up through the water, droplets falling through the soft splash. Harry can see Draco's prick, soft and rosy and limp against his thigh. He wonders if Draco knows how beautiful he is. Even lying here, tired and sad, he takes Harry's breath away.

Harry pulls his gaze back up to Draco's face. "They won't be giving the commendation to you."

Draco looks away. His arm slides over his chest, but Harry can see the ragged shudder before Draco blocks it. "Of course not." Draco's voice is thin but steady. "It'd undermine their story about my transfer." He glances at Harry. "The one they say is meant to protect me, but I think we all know better."

And Harry can't answer. Draco's right. He knows that. Kingsley and Gawain and Saul--they're not concocting this lie to save Draco's hide. It's to keep the fucking Saviour of the Wizarding World blemish-free. Harry can't look at Draco. "I'm sorry," he manages to say. He's angry, so fucking furious, and he doesn't know what to do, doesn't know how to stop this. It's bloody unfair, and Draco's lost so much right now.

"I haven't," Draco says softly, and Harry looks up at him. Draco smiles faintly. "I heard it," he says, and he reaches out with a wet hand and touches Harry's temple. "You were practically shouting it in my head."

"But you have." Harry turns his face into Draco's touch, kisses his damp palm. "Your father, your job--"

"I still have you." Draco's voice is quiet. "And perhaps it's utterly mad of me, Harry, but I'd rather have this between us than be the highest lauded Auror in the force." His fingertips slide across Harry's stubbled jaw.

"You've given up too much for me." Harry's heart hurts. It's all starting to sink in, what this quick shag in a shower back in February's cost Draco. And Harry, the one who ought to have been punished, has got off without blame. "Fuck, Draco, I should have never started this between--"

Draco sits up suddenly, the water splashing off him. "If you finish that sentence, Harry Potter, I will hex your bollocks off." He's breathing hard, his eyes bright. "You're the only thing that's getting me through all of this, and if you walk away from me--"

"I won't." Harry's hand is on Draco, touching his slick skin, calming him. "I promise."

"I'd die," Draco says, his voice a harsh whisper. "I couldn't--" He bites the words off, looks away, wetness on his lashes. "I need you, you fucking bastard."

Harry leans over the edge of the bath, pulls Draco up against him. "I'm here," he says.

Draco's fingers twist in Harry's shirt. "I don't want to think right now, Harry," he says. "I don't want to feel these things--" He breaks off, his face pressing against Harry's chest. He draws in an uneven breath. "Fuck the goddamn Ministry."

And Harry knows there are things Draco's not saying, things he doesn't want Harry to know. "Do you want to talk?" he asks once more, and Draco shakes his head.

"Running didn't help," Draco says. "I went all the way to Primrose Hill and back." His fingers tighten in Harry's shirt. His voice rises a bit. "And it didn't fucking help at all."

Harry smoothes his hand over Draco's half-damp hair. He kisses Draco's temple. "What can I do?"

Draco stills. He breathes out, and then he pulls away. His cheeks are flushed, his eyes bright. "Fuck me."

A shiver of want goes through Harry at the look on Draco's face. It's sharp and hungry, fierce and primal. "Are you sure that's a good idea?" Harry thinks Draco ought to talk, to let himself feel these feelings that are twisting through him, but Draco's already shaking his head.

"Please," Draco says, and Harry knows he's going to give in. Just as he has for the past few days. He can't resist Draco, can't tell him no. Not when Harry wants Draco just as much. Draco swallows; his fingers brush across Harry's jaw, down his throat to the Windsor knot of Harry's tie. He loosens it. "Fuck me until I can't breathe, Harry. I want to feel you inside of me tomorrow, want to close my eyes and remember what it was like to have you split my arse." He leans forward, lets his mouth drag lightly over Harry's. "I want to think of you when the memories come up. Not my father's lifeless face. Or my mother's tears." He hesitates and a shudder goes through him. "Or my uncle whispering threats in my ear."

Harry worries he shouldn't submit, worries that this isn't a proper response to grief for Draco, but his cock is tenting his work trousers and the willing, begging face of his boyfriend makes him want to do terrible things to him. Harry draws in a long, shuddery sigh. "Yes. Okay. But we're going to have to be creative. And I want you to have a safeword, just in case."

"My safeword is peacock. You know that." Draco smile widens into a lean, feral curve of his lips when Harry snorts. His fingers pull Harry's tie loose, sliding it from his collar. "Exactly how creative were you thinking?"

"I don't know." Harry considers, then breathes out as Draco works free the first few buttons of his shirt. "Would you object to a spot of magical bondage?" He's almost hesitant as he asks. "Or not. I mean. Suspension really more than anything."

Draco's eyebrow goes up. "You kinky sod." He doesn't sound offended, though.

Harry nods his head towards his arm in the sling. "It's just I can't fuck you properly with this, can I? Not with the way you thrash about." He leans closer, lets his hand settle on Draco's wet, naked side. "And whilst I do truly love having you ride my prick the way you've been lately, I'm rather keen to give you a proper stuffing tonight. If you'll have me."

"I see," Draco tilts his chin up, his tongue darting out to lick his bottom lip, teeth following quickly before his lip pops free, pink and wet. "Well," he says a bit breathily, "what did you have in mind, Inspector Potter?"

Merlin but Harry's wanted to try this for a while with Draco, and he hasn't had the occasion until now. He shifts, rising up on his knees to lean further over the edge of the bath. Draco tugs Harry's shirt from his trousers, finishes unbuttoning it as Harry says, "Nothing intense. I'd just like to set up a sling, get you up in the air, maybe put a little motion spell on it to make it easier for me to fuck your brains out."

Draco shivers, and Harry can see the gooseflesh rise up on his arms despite the warmth of the bath. Draco's pupils dilate, his breath quickens. "All right," he says after a moment. "What do I do?"

Harry runs a thumb across Draco's soft lips, splitting them open until Draco mouths at the pad of Harry's thumb. Harry lets Draco nip, then suck at his thumb, watching the constrictions of his boyfriend's long, elegant throat as he does, thinking about how it's going to be to sink into the willing heat of his perfect arse. Harry's prick is already swelling just from thinking about it. He pulls his thumb away, a shudder going through him as it pops wetly from Draco's lips. "You do nothing. Stay here. I'm going to set up a few things."

Draco just nods and leans back in the bath. "Don't take too long," he says. "I need a good fucking."

That he bloody well does, Harry thinks. He pushes himself up from the floor, then walks to the door, his shirt unbuttoned. He turns back, looking at Draco's languid, pinkened figure in the water. "Oh," Harry says. "Get yourself ready. You might want to cast the prep spells."

Draco's sharp breath goes straight to Harry's prick, making it press harder against the flies of his trousers. Harry walks into his bedroom, wondering what's he's doing, whether it's too soon to do anything like this, to take Draco this way, but the rush of lust in his veins at the thought of Draco suspended before him, his arse ready for Harry's prick, moves Harry quickly through the motions of getting ready.

Awkwardly, carefully, Harry strips off his shirt, leaving the sling for now. He needs to remind himself not to use the arm. They'd had a few moments over the weekend when Harry'd forgotten and the pain had been so intense it'd nearly softened his cock. He opens his toy chest with his left hand, fumbling through it until he finds what he wants. For a moment, Harry fiddles with the nipple clamps--Draco seemed to like those rather well, he remembers--but then he sets them back into the drawer. He doesn't want to introduce too much right now.

He takes a fairly large plug out and sets it aside. He thinks about finding something for himself, setting a charm on it as well to fuck him whilst he fucks Draco, but he needs to stay focused and Harry knows damned well that would be too much for him. In the back corner of the bottom drawer, he finds the small, neatly folded package he's been looking for. When he lays it on the floor, it sits there, waiting for the proper charm. Harry remembers using this, how soft it is, of being fucked in it, of fucking. He catches his memories there, tucks them back away behind his Occlumens. Tonight is about Draco, after all. Not anyone else. Tomorrow he wants to remember what Draco felt like here in this room with Harry's prick splitting him wide.

When Harry waves his wand, the package opens, unfurling on the soft, smooth rug beside the bed. Harry maps out the swing, then casts the charms, tethering it to the ceiling and making sure to allow plenty of movement. He's not sure what his house thinks about this--the lighting is still neutral, and he doesn't smell roses yet. Perhaps magical houses aren't programmed with a bondage setting, he thinks, a laugh swelling up into his throat. Not romantic enough, it seems. And that's bloody ridiculous, Harry thinks. Everything he does now with Draco is filled with love.

Harry can't help but smile.

He's just checked the weight-bearing and mused about cuffs versus open placement when he hears a noise behind him. Harry turns. Draco's standing, fully nude, in the doorway of the bath, his body slick and gorgeous to behold, his prick already starting to bob in front of him.

"I was getting impatient," Draco says softly, and Harry nods. This isn't a full scene. Tonight's more about practical technique and not being able to shag his boyfriend as vigorously as he'd like any other way.

"Is that for me," Draco's face is a bit hard to read, not shuttered exactly, but wary. He comes up to look at the swing suspended in the free space, then cranes his neck to look up at the ceiling where the spell has the straps tethered to the ceiling.

"If you'd like," Harry says. "It's safe. I've put a cushioning charm beneath, but it won't come down." He's had enough practice over the years, he thinks, but he's not about to say that. He wants Draco to feel good, to want to share this experience with Harry.

Draco runs a palm over the soft, smooth black material of the sling. It's enchanted, pliant and supportive, and the fabric's lightweight but extremely strong. "This is nice," he says finally, and before Harry can say anything, Draco wraps a hand around the strap and hops up nimbly, his smooth arse pressing in to the edge of the sling.

"You've done this before, I take it?" Harry raises an eyebrow. Draco never fails to surprise him. Even when he thinks he knows what his boyfriend is going to do, something else happens to make Harry realise there's so much more to Draco Malfoy than Harry expects. He wants to ask him when and how, but those are stories for later, Harry thinks. Draco's asked to be fucked, and Harry's bloody well going to.

"A little." Draco's smile is wry, and Harry thinks of Nicholas Lyndon and that smug look on the bastard's face. He clenches his fist and turns away before Draco notices. "But never with you," Draco says. He holds himself steady with hands wrapped around the straps, his arse over the edge of the fabric, pressing his beautiful cock upwards. The round, rosy tip is right in Harry's line of sight, and he wants to suck it.

Not right now, Harry tells himself. But Merlin he wants to.

Harry's drawn forward, holding Draco's gaze. "Lie on your back, arse on the edge," Harry says, and Draco twists his hips, the sling smooth and cooperative beneath him. He rolls back, then shifts his arse up to the edge of the black fabric. Whilst Harry watches, he bends his knees, bracing his ankles against the straps.

"Like this?" Draco asks, and Harry just nods, speechless.

Looking at the lean, articulated curve of Draco's body, Harry thinks he's never seen such a beautiful sight. There's a pink line across Draco's thighs where the edge'd dug in, and Harry longs to put marks into his skin and then kiss them better. That's also not for tonight, he knows, but something about the perfection of Draco's pale skin makes him want to rough him up. Harry wonders how Draco feels about spanking again, if he'd let him leave palm prints on him one day.

"I might," Draco says, looking up at Harry and taking his breath away. "Not now. But maybe soon."

Harry laughs. "It's terribly rude to read someone's mind, you know. Isn't there some sort of Legilimens etiquette?" He says it before he remembers Jake, and he catches his lip between his teeth, heat rising on his cheeks.

"It's not as if you're a closed book, Potter." But the smile on Draco's face is soft and open. "And I'm well aware you've fucked a Legilimens before."

"You're hotter." Harry traces the swell of Draco's arse with his hand, stroking between his spread cheeks to the root of his prick, the softness of his balls.

"Liar," Draco says, but he shifts, opening his legs wider, letting Harry touch him. "But I shan't complain."

Draco's fully hard and the dark pink head of his cock is wet and slick. Harry lets his thumb slide over it, pushing back Draco's foreskin, dipping the tip of his thumb into Draco's slit. Draco exhales, his thighs trembling, and Harry can barely breathe out himself. "Merlin, you're gorgeous," Harry says, his voice low and rough.

Draco settles back on his back, hands clasping the far straps. His knuckles are tense, white. "Then fuck me," he says breathily. "And make me feel it, Harry." He looks up at Harry. "Please."

Harry summons the lube, dripping it through Draco's cleft, then spreading it, making Draco squirm with the chill of it against his skin. "I'm going to work you open, if you don't mind," Harry says, almost conversationally. "I rather like the view this way." He slides a fingertip along the rim of Draco's hole, loving the flutter of Draco's body, the awkwardness of trying to finger Draco open with his left hand.

Draco bites his lip and arches his hips as Harry's finger slides into him, then another. Harry twists them, and Draco groans. "Fuck, Harry." His eyes are bright, his body tense. "Fuck, I'd let you do anything to me, you know."

"You're such a beautiful bastard, aren't you? God, Draco, the things you make me want to do." Harry's almost blind with lust. This boundlessness, this trust is terrifying and elating. He settles for reaching for the plug on the bed, working it into Draco, fucking it back and forth into Draco's body until Draco's taking it easily, twisting his hips, rolling them into each thrust Harry makes until Harry pulls it out completely. Draco whimpers. "That's not--"

"Hold on." On a whim, Harry visualises and then summons a larger dildo, a thick black toy he picked up in one of the shops in Luxembourg. He holds it up. "This okay?"

Draco looks at the heavy length in Harry's hand, his face flushed. He hesitates, then says, "Yeah. I think so." Draco presses his eyes shut as Harry stretches him with it first, slowly fucking the smooth bulbous head of the fake prick into Draco's already widened hole, letting Draco feel the thickness before Harry presses it further, adding more lube until Draco's begging and shifting, his prick slick against his belly. It's a larger toy, difficult to take, and Draco's groaning. "You can do it, love," Harry says, and he presses his mouth to the curve of Draco's calf. He's never seen Draco like this, so open, so willing. "Open that pretty pink little hole of yours. I know you just want to be fucked, don't you?"

"Yes," Draco hisses, his body accepting more of the toy. He gasps, trying to push himself against the press of the silicone prick into him and failing. "I do. Oh Merlin, I do just want to be fucked."

Harry plays with the dildo, letting it go further and further into Draco's body. He doesn't want to stretch him out too much, but it's a wonderful visual, Draco pink and eager for Harry, spread out and letting his body open, letting himself go.

After burying a good six or seven inches in Draco's arse, Harry stops pushing forward, letting the dildo bob in and out a little. He braces it with his leg to hold it steady, Draco's body still straining around it, several inches away from flush with the flared base, then reaches forward, stroking Draco's cock with his hand. Draco cries out, his neck arching as Harry slides Draco's foreskin over his cockhead, gathering it in his palm, rolling it across his slick prick.

"Jesus. Fuck. Fuck me, Harry." Draco's voice is thick, throaty, and he's barely able to speak. His pale chest is flushed and his hair is already sex mussed and wild. "Please."

Harry pulls the dildo out of Draco's body and tosses it to the floor. He'll clean later with spells, but for now, he needs to get inside Draco immediately. Opening his flies left handed, Harry palms his own rock-hard erection, covering it with slick lube, then lining up to the soft, pink circle of Draco's arsehole.

He presses inside easily, Draco's body stretched to accommodate him. Harry groans as he sinks all the way home, Draco warm and soft beneath him. He stops, trying to get control, his body shaking, desperate. He loves being inside of Draco like this. He's missed the feel of fucking, of being slotted so deep in Draco's arse, of being able to lean over Draco, to see him move beneath Harry like this.

"Fucking hell," Harry breathes out, and Draco laughs, but there's a ragged rawness to the sound.

"I'm waiting, you wanker," Draco manages to say, and Harry sets a quick pace, the careful motion of the sling allowing him to thrust in and out whilst watching Draco writhe beneath him, taking his cock, cursing and biting his lips.

Harry says a quick rocking spell, one that he'd learned in Amsterdam on a particularly wild weekend a year or two after he and Gin broke up, and the sling begins to move on its own, impaling Draco on Harry's cock.

"Oh. Fuck. Oh. That's--" Draco's breath catches and his shoulders press back against the sling. "That's good." He's so turned on, and Harry knows he won't last much longer. Harry whispers the spell modification, and the motion picks up, bobbing Draco on his dick rapidly. The friction is incredible, and the pace is faster than Harry could usually achieve without much more effort. Draco's body is open and wriggling, his thighs shaking and spread, allowing Harry to thrust into him.

And then Draco's mind opens up to Harry. It's almost too much, the feelings that swell over him, the lust and the love and the fear and the anguish. Harry can barely tell them apart, and they twist and roil beneath the surface of his mind, everything that Draco's feeling, and he's looking up at Harry, his mouth open, his face flushed and beautiful, and Harry's never loved anyone as much as he loves Draco Malfoy at this moment.

"Please," Draco says, his voice soft and small, and Harry grips Draco's thigh with his good hand, and he thrusts harder, his eyes fixed on Draco's face, letting his own thoughts merge with Draco's, letting Draco feel all of his love, all of his worry, all of his need.

Draco closes his eyes, his body shuddering. "Harry," he says, almost in wonder, and Harry knows, can tell by the way Draco's emotions sharpen, crystallize, by the sharp bursts of pleasure exploding through Draco's mind, echoing in Harry's body.

And then Draco shouts, a rough, reedy cry as his body clenches around Harry, and Harry fucks him through it, watching as Draco's spunk spatters across his belly, and then Harry lets himself go, lets his hips pound into Draco's arse, lets his body give in to the tremors that are shaking them both.

Harry's body jerks, arches back, and he can feel Draco in his mind, whispering for him to come for him, pulling up a memory of their first fuck, of how it had felt to have Harry inside of him. And with a cry, Harry's coming, filling Draco's body with his spunk, falling forward against Draco's spread thighs, barely able to keep himself upright.

Somehow, Harry waits until the last tremors have shaken him to stop the spell. They're still, gasping, Harry looking down at Draco, wondering how he'd managed to end up with such a beautiful man in his bed.

"Just lucky, I suppose," Draco murmurs, his voice a whisper, his eyes barely open, but he's smiling, and Harry can't help but laugh.

"Wretch," Harry says. He breathes in slowly, then he gently pulls out, watching as his softening prick slips free from Draco's arse. He strokes Draco's hip. "Do you want me to levitate you over to the bed?" His own voice is thick in his throat.

Draco shakes his head, drowsy. "I think I can make it."

Harry helps him out of the sling with his good hand, letting Draco wrap his arms around Harry's neck and stepping him over to the bed. Draco's legs are shaking, and Harry knows he'll be sore in the morning. He casts a cleaning charm on both of them, then helps Draco slide beneath the duvet.

"That was amazing," Draco says, eyes closed, his hair spread out across the pillow. His face is peaceful, serene even, and Harry doesn't want to do anything but kiss him and make everything better. Draco breathes out. "Do I smell roses?"

Harry inhales. "Yeah." A small smile curves his mouth. "Fucking house."

Draco curls up beside him. "Your house likes me, Harry Potter."

"My house adores you," Harry says. He presses a kiss to Draco's temple. "So do I."

"Good." Draco smiles through a small yawn. He rests his hand on Harry's belly. "I'm rather fond of being adored."

Harry brushes Draco's hair back from his forehead. "I know," he whispers, and he's not surprised when the lights in the bedroom dim.

They lie next to each other, Draco hovering on the edge of sleep, Harry stroking him gently, helping him come back into his body. And when Draco finally falls asleep, Harry slides out of the bed, then pulls on a pair of joggers and pads down to the kitchen for tea.

To be honest, Harry's not just sure what happened. He feels open, raw, and strangely uncertain. He knows Draco wanted rough sex, wanted to be fucked until he'd lost control, but Harry's worried that it might not be the best for him, that he's only sinking his grief into pleasure and that Harry's only aiding him in hiding away from his feelings.

But fuck if Harry doesn't want to do it again.

He sits silently at the kitchen table, a mug of tea in front of him, staring off into nothing.

Harry wonders if Draco will regret it tomorrow, if he'll be horrified at how much he'd let Harry see, how deep Harry'd gone into how Draco's emotions. It frightens Harry, the fury of feelings that are twisting through Draco. Harry doesn't know what to do with them, how to help Draco through any of this.

It feels like hours before Harry stirs; it can't be more than forty minutes at most. His tea's gone cold; he pushes the dregs away.

Slowly he walks back upstairs. Draco's still sleeping, and for the first time in days, there's no furrow between his brows. The lights in the room are barely on, and Harry can hear the eaves murmur when he slips back into bed.

"Yes, I know," Harry says, looking down at Draco's pale face. "I'm worried about him too."

The house creaks and sighs before it settles around Harry, the last sconce flickering off, the only light in the room coming from the moon outside the window.

Draco shifts, rolls towards Harry, a soft murmur on his lips. Harry lies beside him, his hand on Draco's hip. He'd do anything for this man, he realises. Anything at all.

It's well after midnight before Harry slips into a fitful sleep, his dreams filled with images of Draco.

***

"It's been some time since I've seen you, Monsieur Potter," Freddie says, taking the chair across from Harry. She settles a cup of tea in a delicate saucer on the small table beside her, then looks up at Harry. "You're doing well?"

Harry doesn't quite know how to answer. He'd been glad Freddie'd been able to fit him in her schedule, here at the start of her Wednesday, even if it meant he'd had to leave Draco sleeping back in Grimmauld Place. It's early for Harry, just gone half-six back in London. Kreacher's promised to wake Draco before Harry gets home, but Harry doesn't know if he'll remember. And to be bloody honest, Harry's cranky, which annoys him because he ought to be blissfully shagged out. But he's sore from last night and tired from a lack of proper sleep, and he doesn't want to have to go back to Grimmauld and dress for work. Harry's not certain he has it in him to face the Ministry today. Not that he has a bloody choice. He turns his cup of tea on the arm of his chair, then takes a sip. It's milky and bitter, the way he likes it, and he feels a bit more human. For a moment, at least.

"Things have changed some," he says after a moment. He looks up at Freddie. "The bloke on my team…" He trails off.

"Ah yes." Freddie leans back in her chair, crosses her legs. "The one with whom you're having the liaison amoreuse."

Harry nods. He supposes that's one way to describe what he and Draco are doing. "We're together now. People know." He chews on his lip. "He's not under my command any longer, so that's good."

"But a change nevertheless," Freddie says.

"Yeah." Harry watches the lace curtains billow out a bit as a puff of breeze comes in through the half-open window. The courtyard's bright and sunny today, and even this early in the morning the air's warm and a bit close. "I miss having him around, even if I can go home and see him at night."

Freddie takes a sip of her tea. Her dark curls bounce a bit as she dips her head. When she pushes them back behind one ear, Harry can see the streaks of grey at her temple. "So you're living with him." Her gaze meets Harry's. "That's a large step, monsieur."

"It's not like that," Harry says, but he thinks maybe it is. He runs a thumb around the rim of his teacup. It's fragile and delicate, the sides painted with bright pink roses. He thinks it looks odd in his fumbling, large hand. "We haven't moved in together. Not really. It's just he's staying at my house because his dad died, and it's hard for him to be alone with his mum." When he puts it like that, it sounds ridiculous. Harry doesn't even want to add the part about his bloody house being arse over tit for Draco as well. He'd rather not have Freddie recommend him for the Janus Thickey Ward, after all. Or whatever the French equivalent might be.

"Is it?" Freddie quirks an eyebrow at Harry. "Your lover...he wants this?"

Harry frowns at her. "Why wouldn't he?" It comes out more defensive than he means it to.

Freddie doesn't say anything; Harry looks away again. It's a question he's been asking himself. If he's pushing Draco too hard, if being at Grimmauld Place together is too much, too soon. If he's taking advantage of Draco being in a vulnerable place to ease his own loneliness in that big house. If it's just another instance of Harry running away from himself, losing his fears in someone else's body.

If his sodding house itself is pushing them together in ways it shouldn't be. He studies his teacup, watches the way the milk swirls inside it.

"Harry," Freddie says gently, and Harry sets his teacup aside, leans forward, his left elbow on his thigh. He breathes out, and the tightness across his chest eases a little, his slinged arm still aching a bit.

"It's just…" Harry presses his lips together, looks down at his hand, resting on one knee. His fingers had been deep inside Draco last night; he can still feel the clench of Draco's body around them. "I don't know what to do for him sometimes. I try to be there; I listen when I can, but it's hard. I don't remember--" His voice catches in the back of his throat. "I don't remember what it's like to lose a parent. I've just...never had them. And maybe I've been envious of people who did." He stops, and he looks at Freddie. "Christ, when Dra--" He catches himself. He doesn't know why, but he'd rather not use Draco's name. Even here. "When my boyfriend would whinge about how awful his dad was--and he really was a complete bastard shit, I'm not discounting that…" Harry worries at his lip again, then sighs. "Sometimes I'd think, well at least you have a dad, yeah? Even if he's fucking evil incarnate." Except he doesn't think Lucius Malfoy was. Harry thinks Lucius Malfoy was a weak man who had no damned idea how brilliant his son was. Then again, Harry hadn't either. Not until recently. He wonder if that puts him on par with the bastard.

"That's not surprising," Freddie says, her blue eyes gentle. "For someone who didn't grow up with a parent."

Harry shifts, rubs his thumb across the thin wool of his trousers. He still feels like a shit. "Except now he doesn't." He looks up at Freddie, and adds, "Have a dad."

She gives him a faint smile. "So I presumed." Freddie takes another sip of her tea. "Except he does still, in a way, doesn't he? He has those memories of his father. Perhaps some good, perhaps some bad. But yet he still has them, oui?"

"Yeah." Harry falls silent, then he sighs. "It doesn't make me feel less of an arsehole, though." He runs a hand through his hair, sits back in the chair. "He's still grieving, and I'm half-resentful. Doesn't that make me a right twat?"

Harry wonders if he can even admit this to Draco. If he even wants to. If he even should. He watches steam curl from his teacup next to his chair, thinks about sitting in the kitchen of Grimmauld last night, worried about Draco. About whether Harry was actually helping him. He hadn't even told Draco he was coming to Freddie today. He'd just left a note in case Draco woke up. He doesn't know why. It'd just felt odd to talk to Draco about coming to a Mind Healer. Especially with everything Draco's going through. He sighs.

"It makes you human," Freddie says, and she's studying him with those sharp blue eyes of hers. "And it can be rather difficult to watch someone close to you go through the loss of a parent. You care for that person. You want them to be happy, but there's nothing you can do that can change the fact that someone important to them is gone."

"Except fuck him," Harry mumbles, and at Freddie's raised eyebrow, Harry shifts uncomfortably. He hadn't meant to say that. Except perhaps he had. It's not as if it hasn't been on his mind.

"He wants sex," Harry admits after a long pause. "A lot. He says it helps him not to think, and that worries me. He ought to be thinking, right? Not just numbing himself with orgasms?" He can feel his face heat, but he doesn't look away from Freddie's gaze.

Freddie's silent, and then she sighs. "Perhaps. But with an exception. When did his father die?"

"Two weeks ago tomorrow," Harry says, and Freddie's face softens.

"Your lover," she says, "is still in an emergency stage of grief, I suspect. The shock hasn't entirely settled for him, and he's, perhaps, not ready to deal with the emotions his father's death may be bringing up. It's not up to you to decide when he's ready to move to that point. Everyone grieves in their own way, Harry. What you have experienced at the loss of friends and family may not be the same as his. Give him that space. If he wishes to fill it sexually, then support him in that as you feel you can. He shouldn't push you into something you'd rather not do--"

Harry knows his face must be scarlet. "It's nothing like that." He clears his throat. "I'm not objecting to the sex." Christ is he not. In the least. "I've just been worried about him. And about whether or not I'm…" Harry hesitates, searching for the right words. "Using him, I suppose?"

Freddie gives him a faint smile. "You're not. And ease your mind about your lover. If it's six months down the road and he's still reacting in the same manner, then you might address it. But for now, he's turning to you physically because he can. Because he needs to. Because you give him something no one else can. A comfort, of sorts." Freddie's round face is kind. Gentle. "There's nothing wrong with sexual intimacy, Harry. And a sexual touch can be very powerful when one is experiencing intense emotions."

Something unravels a bit in Harry. He thinks of Draco last night, of the fierce abandon that Draco had given himself into. Of what Draco had let him feel. Of how beautiful Draco looks beneath Harry. Of how Harry would do anything to take the furrow of grief away from Draco's brow, of how soft and relaxed Draco had been when Harry's come back to bed. "I love him," Harry says, and he folds his good arm across his chest, over the sling. He laughs, a bit ruefully. "It's probably mad of me."

"Love is always a bit of madness, is it not?" Freddie picks up her teacup again. "That's the beauty of it, that wild rush of feeling that makes you certain you've lost a part of yourself, that convinces you that your mind's gone...how do you English say it? Round the twist?" She smiles, wider this time. "Love him, monsieur. Wildly. Completely. With all your heart, if you can. Give yourself into it, because love, real love, however long it lasts, is worth it." Freddie leans forward, her eyes soft. "Is this real love, Harry? Is this boy the one?"

The question takes Harry's breath away. He knows he loves Draco. Is certain of it. But is it real? Could he spend the rest of his life with Draco? "I don't know," Harry says after a long moment. He looks up at Freddie, and he knows his emotions are written across his face. He doesn't care.

Harry takes a deep breath and says, his heart pounding in his chest, his voice barely above a whisper, "But, Christ, Freddie, I fucking hope he is."

And Freddie just smiles.

Chapter Text

Jake hasn't been sleeping well.

He tells Martine it's the late July heat keeping him awake when he meets her in the foyer of the Woolworth Building Thursday morning with an iced coffee clenched in his hand--not one of the hipster small ones, but a plastic cup from Starbucks half the size of his head. He thinks she knows better, judging from the sceptical shake of her head as they ride up the elevator to the MACUSA Auror offices. Still he doesn't want to admit to anyone, much less Martine, for Christ's sake, that he's been waking up hard as fuck halfway through the night on a regular basis, thoughts of acres of smooth brown skin and soft, breathy, swallowed gasps drifting through his dreams.

It's been nine days since Blaise went back to London. Jake knows. He's been counting. Well. Eight days, twenty-two hours and some change, if you want to be precise. At least Jake's not pathetic enough to be counting the minutes. He's surprised by himself as it is; Jake had honestly thought if he fucked Blaise, he'd be fine. That it'd just be a fantastic rebound fuck to get his head back in the game after Harry screwed him over, that he'd get Blaise out of his system, be able to breathe out and relax a bit, not wondering what it felt like to be inside that gorgeous arse, that he'd at least be able to stop missing Harry, stop obsessing about what his asshole ex was doing with--and to--Malfoy.

The only thing Jake had been goddamn right about was the last bit.

Now he thinks about Blaise constantly, not Harry. It's classic transference, Jake's certain. That's the problem with rebound fucks, he tells himself. Sometimes the emotions get tangled up, pushed onto someone new. A few days, a few weeks, and he'll be fine again. He just has to make it to that point.

Fucking goddamn sleeping without waking up with a hard-on he could pound nails with would probably help. In the meantime, he has a text from Blaise still waiting unread in his cell phone. Jake's been too afraid to open it; he can't reply back. Not yet anyway. Not until whatever this is that's making his skin prickle and cock swell every time he thinks of Blaise goes away.

The elevator doors open, and Martine slides past him, her short hair rumpled and dark. Jake's uncharitably certain that he sees a bit of silvery grey hair peeking through at her temple. "You're not fooling anyone, mon ami." She looks back at Jake, her face oddly sober. "Tu es fuckée, and it's that boy, I'm sure."

Jake starts to protest, but what's the point? Instead he just shrugs and says, "It's just sex. Can't help it if I'm horny and he's hot."

"Yeah, keep telling yourself that, putain." Martine gives Jake a half-smile as they make their way down the corridor towards the MACUSA Auror bullpen. "And don't listen to me. I'm just the one who has to put up with you moping about because you're too fucking stupid to pick up the phone and call the asshole."

What Jake wants to tell her is that he's terrified to. He and Blaise, they'd left things loose, hadn't they? They'd fucked, it was great, no strings attached. Jake doesn't know what he'd do if he called Blaise and he didn't pick up. Or blew Jake off, and why wouldn't he? Blaise is fucking gorgeous, and Jake's...Jake. Not half-bad in the looks department, but not part goddamn Veela, either. And Jake knows how Veelas are. Monogamy isn't necessarily their strong suit, not until they bond with someone, and even then...well. Jake's not that hung up on monogamy himself, if he's honest. Harry wouldn't have even been a problem for him if the asshole hadn't obviously fallen for Malfoy and then tried to lie to Jake about it.

And that still aches a bit. Jake thinks it might for a while. He'd like to pretend otherwise, to tell himself that Harry hadn't left him wounded, with a scar that Jake suspects he'll always have. It's mostly his pride, he supposes, but he'd loved Harry in his own way, and it'd been two goddamn years for what? Harry'd never looked at Jake the way he looks at Malfoy. He'd never bothered to upend his life for Jake, not really. Even those couple of months Harry was living here, he'd had one foot out the door, and Jake thinks he'd known it even then.

Jake isn't a sentimental ass. He's good with a rough fuck and a great night where everyone comes and no promises are made. But if he's honest with himself, he's fucking jealous of Harry. Jake wonders what it'd feel like to be that in love with someone, to know that you'd do anything for them, that you'd move the goddamn world for them if you could.

But Durants aren't made for that kind of love, Jake thinks. Just look at him and Eddie.

There's another worry. Jake hasn't heard from his brother since that last night Eddie'd shown up in his apartment. Not that Jake expects to, really. Eddie goes months sometimes without checking in, but this feels different. Jake's worried about Eddie, worried that Eddie'll get his damn fool self killed doing something fucking stupid, and that maybe Jake wouldn't even know. Ever. There hasn't been a trace of Eddie on any of the Auror watchlists; Jake's been having Espinoza keep him up to date on the sly. It's like Eddie's disappeared into the wind, and Jake can't help but be concerned. He'd promised their mama he'd look after his feckless older brother, after all.

"Hey, boss," Espinoza says, looking up at him as he passes her cubicle. "Goldstein's still pestering us for another go-around with Eustace Fawley in the interrogation room--"

Jake swears, cutting her off. "Hasn't that asshole gone back to London yet?" It's not that he dislikes Goldstein; he rather likes the guy, if he's honest. But he's tired of goddamn Brits and their posh accents hanging around his fucking office, making him think about things he'd rather not.

Espinoza swivels in her chair, her dark brown hair loose around her shoulders. She gives Martine a sideways look as Martine sets her coffee cup on the desk beside Espinoza's.

"Don't look at me," Martine says. "Fucker's in a hell of a mood." She drops into her desk chair, her knees spread, arms folded over her chest, her gaze going to Jake, then back to Espinoza. Zabini, she mouths.

"Oh," Espinoza says, and the look she gives Jake is sympathetic.

"Fuck off, both of you." Jake leans against Espinoza's cubicle wall. "Alms, what the hell does Goldstein want?"

Espinoza shrugs. "Says he needs another go at Fawley." She taps a pen against her desktop. There's a stack of files perched a bit precariously against the back of the desk. Espinoza frowns at them. "I told him we were already going to throw the book at the bastard, but he says he needs more from Fawley for another case he's working back in England."

Jake sighs. "Fine. Clear him for that, but have Grimsditch or McGillicudy sit in with him. And for fuck's sake, find out when he'll be out of our hair. I'm getting goddamn sick of London fucking around with our process."

"Sure, boss." Espinoza exchanges a glance with Martine who shrugs and swings her chair back towards her own cubicle.

"You weren't saying that when you were sticking your dick in London, were you?" Martine says, almost under her breath, and Jake scowls her way.

Before he can snap back at her, though, he hears his name being called across the bullpen. When he turns, Tom Graves is standing on the steps just above the warren of cubicles, looking at him. Graves beckons him with a quick, curt curl of his fingers. The Director of Magical Security doesn't look happy.

"Someone's in trouble," Espinoza says lightly, but there's an undercurrent of worry in her voice.

"It's fine," Jake says. "He probably just wants to shout at me for going over budget on something." He sighs. "Again."

Still, he's uncertain as he makes his way across the bullpen. "Tom," Jake says, as pleasantly as he can, taking the steps up to the mezzanine just above the cubicles.

Graves is in shirtsleeves, his dark red Ilvermorny stripe tie slightly askew, his arms folded over his chest. He isn't smiling. "Walk with me."

That never bodes well. Jake falls into step alongside Graves. They're both silent for a moment, then Jake says, "Did you need something?"

"In a way." Graves turns the corner; Jake follows. Graves waits until they're far enough away from the bullpen to say, rather mildly for him, "You've been having Espinoza leak info about your brother."

Jake doesn't bother to deny it. "As I understand it, there isn't any info about Eddie."

Graves gives him an even look. "I could actually make a federal case about that, Jake."

"You won't." Jake glances over at Graves. "Is that what you wanted to talk about? Because we could have done that in the middle of the bullpen--"

"I'm taking you off the Godunov follow-up," Graves says, cutting him off.

Jake's surprised. "I thought that was a priority?" Graves had thrown that at his team last week as part of the Fawley case. Not that Jake's had any goddamn luck on that front. Godunov's decamped somewhere even Martine's not been able to trace, and they've had a shit time in trying to work their way through the financials. Godunov's family has enough shell corporations to tie up their investigation for weeks if not months. The only bit of information that even might be useful that Jake's uncovered is that somehow the Godunov family holds a forty-eight percent share in Picquery Apothecary down in Savannah. But he's a bit hesitant to dig too deep into that particular connection lest he uncover something that ties Eddie a little too closely to all this mess. Jake knows it's there. He just doesn't want to make it too official.

Graves turns down the hallway that leads to his office. "I've got something else that needs your attention." They walk past Angelica's desk. "Hold my meetings for the next half hour," Graves says, and Angelica just nods. She looks a bit unsettled. A bit pale. Graves hesitates, his hand on the doorknob. He glances back at Jake. "I'd like to tell you that you've the option of saying no to this," he says after a moment, "but you don't."

That sounds ominous to Jake. "Right," he says, and he studies Graves' face. It's sombre and sober, and something about the way Graves isn't quite looking at Jake's face makes Jake fucking uncomfortable. "What aren't you telling me?"

"A hell of a lot," Graves says, but his mouth quirks up on one side. "You're not quite eyes-only classification status."

"Might as well be." Jake keeps his voice light. "So what are you wanting me to do, Tom? Something a bit illegal or amoral?"

Graves smile widens a little more. "Maybe a bit of both?" He pushes open his office door and strides in, Jake on his heels. "Gentlemen," he says, and Jake's attention is drawn towards the tall Pakistani man unfolding himself from one of the chairs in front of Graves' desk, his Auror uniform pristinely pressed.

"Hassan Shah," Jake says, and he smiles. "It's been a few weeks."

Shah takes Jake's hand between his. "Durant." He looks tired, deep lines etched into his brown face. "Good to see you, mate."

And then there's another movement from the other chair, a shifting of a body, turning, not quite rising. Broad shoulders, dark brown skin, an amused expression on his face. "Unspeakable Durant," Barachiel Dee says, his hands folded over the head of his cane, and Jake stills, suddenly understanding Angelica's expression, his hand half-outstretched.

Dee doesn't take it, and Jake lets his hand fall to his side.

"Mr Dee." Jake looks between them as Graves moves around the corner of his desk, takes his seat. Jake sits in the empty chair beside Shah. He feels awkward, knows his cheeks are flushed. He can't quite meet Dee's curious gaze; all he can think about is the way Dee's grandson had felt beneath his body, the soft, small sounds he had made as Jake's dick slammed into his gorgeous arse.

Fuck, he hopes Dee can't see that particular mental image.

Graves leans back in his chair, a frown on his face. "Sergeant Shah and Mr Dee are here to make a formal request for your services." His gaze flicks towards Jake. "Again."

No wonder Graves is pissed off, Jake thinks. Jake hasn't even been back a month and the Brits want him again. "I'm not really certain why." He looks over at Shah. "Saul Croaker and Hermione Granger usually handle those particulars."

"I've been authorised to offer MACUSA and yourself monetary compensation," Shah says. He sounds a bit apologetic, a bit out of his league. Jake wonders how long he's been sitting here, playing Tom's mind games. He's fucking certain Graves didn't jump up at the request and come after Jake. That's not Tom Graves' style.

Jake considers before he speaks. He doesn't really want to be dragged back to London any more than Graves wants to lose him again to the Brits. "I don't really understand the necessity of that," he starts to say, but then Dee snorts, and they all three look at the old man.

"You know, boy," Dee says, and he's looking straight at Jake. "You've known since you heard the Dementors escaped again."

"Rodolphus Lestrange escaped," Jake says, but he doesn't look away from Dee. He'll be damned if he lets the old bastard think he's afraid.

Dee's smile is bright and white and quick, just like Blaise's. "Don't be thick, Legilimens." He leans forward on his cane. Jake thinks he can see the faint crackle of magic from around the shaft. "You know they went with him, some of them. You've read the file."

Jake has, and it unsettles him that Dee knows that. "It doesn't mean anything."

"It means we need your help," Shah says, his voice quiet. "There's something going on with the other Dementors--"

"They're unhappy," Dee says. He tugs at his crisp white cuffs. Amethyst cufflinks sparkle at his wrists, deep purple edged with gold. They set off his dark purple cravat, the ends tucked neatly in his black pinstripe vest. "Unhappy Dementors are restless, and restless Dementors are dangerous." His gaze meets Jake's. "I can't control them all. Not by myself."

Jake leans back in his chair, his stomach twisting. "You have Legilimens of your own."

"None as good as you." Dee's eyes are a deep, tawny gold, even in the shadowed dimness of Graves' office. "You see the Dementors, Legilimens, as they truly are. If I'm to keep them settled until this mess is cleared, I need your assistance."

"I already have a job." Jake looks at Graves. "I'm needed here."

Shah crosses an ankle over his knee. He looks young, Jake thinks, and fucking overwhelmed. Azkaban had been breached under his watch; Jake's certain the pressure on him at the moment is high, poor bastard. "Robards is willing to triple your usual consulting fee, yeah?"

Goddamn. Jake's a bit taken aback; he can tell that Graves is as well. The British Ministry must be desperate.

"Luxembourg's breathing down your necks, I suppose?" Graves steeples his fingers, presses them to his chin.

Shah hesitates, then shrugs, his irritation practically radiating from him, Jake thinks. "Not like that's top secret, is it?" He clears his throat, then adds, with only a modicum of politeness, "Sir." His jaw's tight; his whole body's tense.

Jake's curious about that. Something's going on back at the Ministry. He thinks about prodding lightly at Shah's mind, but that'd be a bit unethical, wouldn't it? Besides, he doesn't really need to. He can put it together himself. Luxembourg's probably shitting itself over Lestrange's attack. The bastard might have taken out Brits primarily, but Lotte Marquandt lost her life too, and the attack was conducted on Belgian soil, within the confines of the International Wizarding Court of Justice. They have to be asking themselves how that happened.

And then there's the question of Dementors wandering about at Rodolphus Lestrange's side. Jake doesn't know the man, but he's guessing any Death Eater willing to go after his own brother-in-law like he did wouldn't really have qualms about ordering the Dementors to Kiss individuals. He looks over at Graves, drops his Occlumens just enough to let his thoughts drift into his boss's mind. Graves just nods, ever so slightly.

Barachiel Dee's watching them both with those sharp, golden eyes of his. "You understand, I think, the necessity of maintaining calm amongst the Dementors." He leans forward in his chair, balancing on his cane. "There are some who wish to join their siblings. Controlling them is becoming more…" He frowns, considering, then says, "Challenging."

There's something else he's not saying. Jake's certain of that. Dee meets his gaze evenly, but his eyes flick ever so slightly towards Shah before returning back to Jake. Dee's eyebrow rises, just enough for Jake to get the message. Whatever it is that Dee wants Jake for, he's not told the Ministry the whole story, and that intrigues Jake more than he wants to admit.

Graves runs his hand over his jaw, settles back in his chair. "So you want me to release my best Legilimens to come help you get your goddamn house back in order." He's watching Shah, not Dee, and Jake's glad of that. Whatever Dee's up to, Jake's not certain he wants Tom Graves aware of it.

Shah's silent for a moment, then he sighs. "We're in a bit of a mither," he says. "Stretched thin ourselves, yeah? We wouldn't be asking if it weren't necessary." His mouth thins a bit at that. Jake knows it's the truth; Gawain Robards has obviously authorised Shah to give Tom Graves anything he wants, and Graves is well aware of that. He looks like the cat with the proverbial cream right now, and Jake's heart sinks. He knows that expression. When Graves gets whatever it is he wants, Jake'll definitely be out on the next Portkey to England again, no matter how much he protests.

Goddamn it.

"Of course," Graves is saying, a bit of warmth creeping into his voice, and Christ, Jake knows to be suspicious of that. Shah's too green though, and Jake sees his shoulders relax. Fuck, Robards should have sent someone with more negotiating experience, Jake thinks. Harry, maybe, as awkward as that might be, but then again, Harry's probably busy with Malfoy. Jake doesn't even have it in him to be irked by that thought. Malfoy's lost his dad, after all. Jake just hopes Harry's not shutting him out right now, the way he always does when emotions get complicated.

"So you'll agree then?" Shah asks, and Grave's smile widens, his gaze shifting towards Jake. Dee snorts softly from beside Shah.

"I didn't quite say that." Graves leans forward, his elbows on his desk, his shirt pristine white against the polished dark wood. "I scratch your back, you scratch mine, right?"

Shah doesn't blink. "Yeah, I reckoned you'd say that." He crosses one booted ankle over his knee and flicks at an invisible piece of lint on his trousers. "You want information. I can give you that."

And Jake's a bit impressed, really. Shah goes up in his estimation.

Graves eyes Shah, swiveling slightly in his desk chair. "How valuable?"

Shah reaches into his pocket, pulls out a small flash drive and holds it up. "All the data our Unspeakables have on the potions trade we're fairly certain ties Dimitri Godunov to the Abadzhiev family. Well mint, the whole of it. It'll help you build your case against him." Shah's mouth quirks up at one corner. "If you can ever find the mingin' bastard, yeah?"

Jake can practically see Graves salivate. He wonders who talked Saul Croaker into handing that particular info over. Hermione, probably. She's worked enough with Graves to know exactly what he'd be interested in. And if Tom Graves has been warned off Aldric Yaxley and his fucking family, then he's going to want to take Dimitri Godunov down instead. Jake shifts in his chair, wondering what the weather's like in middle of the North Sea in July. Probably cold as goddamn fuck still, knowing Jake's luck.

Graves eyes the drive. "I'll want to verify that before I send Durant back with you." Once again, Jake half-resents that he's not being consulted in this decision, but he knows better than to object. Publicly, at least.

Shah tosses the drive; it lands on Graves' desk with a soft, metallic thunk. "It's all yours."

"Angelica," Graves shouts, and a moment later she appears in the doorway. He waves her into the office, over to his desk; Angelica's footsteps are near silent on the thick carpet. Graves hands her the drive. "Get this to Alma Espinoza and have her verify the contents immediately." He turns back to Shah as Angelica slips out of the office. "I'll release Jake for a week to help."

"Might take longer," Dee says, his voice mild.

Graves turns a sharp look on the older man. "Then after a week, we'll reassess. But for now, a week of Durant's time is what I'm willing to agree on."

"Fair enough," Shah says, and he glances at Jake. "If it's fine by you."

Jake just shrugs. "Not really certain I have a choice in the matter, man."

"Then I think we're done here," Graves says, standing. The others follow his lead, although Jake notices it takes Dee a moment longer to push himself to his feet, his face twisting, if only for an instant, in a grimace of pain. "I'm certain Angelica can find a comfortable spot for you gentlemen to wait until our verification is complete."

As dismissals go, it's fairly polite for Tom, Jake thinks, which can only mean he's certain he's one-upped the Brits. Jake wouldn't be so certain. If there's one thing he's learned about the Ministry through working with them over the years, it's that the whole damned place is filled with canny fuckers, and Jake's starting to think Gawain Robards has something else up his sleeve. Shah'd been prepared a bit too well for Jake's liking.

He turns to find Barachiel Dee watching him, a small smile playing across his mouth. "I'll be pleased to work with you again, Legilimens," Dee says, and he studies Jake's face in a way that makes the skin between Jake's shoulder blades prickle with unease. Jake doesn't like how much Dee can see, even without Legilimency. And then Dee's smile widens, splitting his long, narrow face with an almost feral flash of white teeth. "I'm certain my grandson will be thrilled as well."

And fuck but Jake doesn't half-wonder exactly what that means, what Blaise might have said to his grandfather. But Jake won't let himself flinch, won't let himself look away. "I hope Blaise is doing well," he manages to say, and Dee's eyebrow rises just the tiniest fraction.

"Well enough," Dee says, but the look he gives Jake is careful, almost searching. For what, Jake doesn't know, but he's relieved when Dee finally turns away, towards Shah. "Lead on, Hassan, my lad," Dee says, and he's stiff when he moves, a bit slower than Jake remembers him being. Shah's careful with the older man, holding the door open for him, making certain he's steady on his feet. Whatever the Dementors had done to Dee when they'd broken free has left a mark on the man, Jake thinks, a bit unnerved by the thought.

"Durant." Graves points a finger at Jake like he's an errant dog. "Stay."

Jake lingers beside the grouping of chairs in front of Graves' desk, waiting until the door closes behind Dee and Shah. When it does, he turns back to his boss, scowling. "Jesus, Tom, I've got too bloody much work to do here--"

"Shut the goddamn fuck up," Graves says. He rests his fists on his desk, leans on them, still standing. "Like I told you before you walked in here, you're going."

"I suppose it doesn't matter if that flash drive's even--"

"No." Graves cuts Jake off. "That's posturing and you fucking well know it." He frowns at Jake. "I don't trust the Brits, fucking special relationship or not. They haven't got their own goddamn house in order, and they know it. So if they get the chance to throw this shit on us--how I don't fucking know, but I've seen it happen before--they will. And Aldric goddamn Yaxley might have already given them cause." Graves rubs his hand over his face and swears.

Jake just looks at him. "I thought we weren't looking at Yaxley," he says, his voice careful. Even. "What with him being one of Quahog's major backers."

"We're not." Graves turns, paces behind his desk. "I'm not the one going down in history for imploding this presidency, Jake. Fuck that shit." He looks over, his eyes sharp and blue. "But if you don't think Gawain Robards or Saul Croaker isn't going to have one of his assholes digging into the Old Man from their end…" Graves shakes his head. "I want to know what they know."

And this, Jake realises, is where he comes in. "You want me to spy on them."

"I want you to do your goddamn duty as an Unspeakable for the Magical Congress of the United States, you jackass." Graves runs his hands through his hair, and Jake thinks he looks unsettled, as much as Tom Graves ever can. "So yes. I want to know what they have on the Old Man, and I want to know if and when it's going to blow up in our fucking faces."

Jake's quiet for a moment, but he doesn't turn away. "One question," he says finally, and Graves' eyebrow goes up. "Aldric Yaxley. Are we protecting him for Sam Quahog's sake or are we actually going to follow up on anything London might know?"

Graves lets out a slow, unhappy sigh and glances away. He doesn't answer immediately, and Jake can see his shoulders tense. Jake's certain he's going to get a blow-off, going to be put in his place. Instead, Graves just fiddles with a few papers on his desk before saying, "I don't know." He looks at Jake. "I'd like to say yes, but…"

"The destruction of an political administration is complicated?" Jake asks dryly, and Graves shrugs and glances away.

"Something along those lines, yeah." A muscle in Graves' cheek tenses. "So what I want you to do is to go to fucking England and do your fucking job. And if that means you bring me back shit on the Old Man, then that's what you do. You're not going to be friendly, you're not going to helpful. Got that, Durant?" Graves mouth thins out. "You're going to go over there, and you're going to bring back information. None of that shit you tried to pass off to me before."

Jake feels his cheeks heat. "It was all good intel, Tom."

"It was bullshit, and you know it." Graves drops into his desk chair again. He scowls up at Jake. "I let it slide back then because we didn't need it. But now?" An expression flits across Graves' face that Jake's never seen. He almost thinks it might be fear. "Knowledge is power, and I'll be goddamned if I'm not going to make sure we have all of both we can possibly gather. Do I make myself clear?"

"Absolutely, Tom." Jake doesn't like any of this, and the very fact that Graves is unsettled by it all doesn't give him any peace of mind. He draws in an uneven breath. "So I suppose I should go home and pack a bag for a week."

Graves nods. "Maybe two." He reaches for a stack of paperwork Angelica's left in the tray on the side of his desk blotter, then glances up at Jake. "I'm guessing they'll want to keep you a bit longer than I've allowed."

And that's how you play the game, Jake thinks. Tom Graves is a master of it. "Right." Jake turns, starts for the door.

"Jake."

Jake turns, glances back. Graves isn't even looking at him; he's frowning down at the first document on the pile. "Yeah?"

"For fuck's sake, keep your dick in your pants this time." Graves gaze flicks up, but only for a moment. "You've got a goddamn job to do."

Jake's mouth tightens. "I'll keep that in mind, sir."

When he strides out, he lets the door slam hard behind him.

***

Pansy's sat at her workbench, turning Daisy's scroll between her fingers. It's nearly the end of the workday, and she's winding down her examination of the fibres and residue from the Portkey cabin Draco's father had been ambushed in. Most of them are already in the system; the techs in the Department of Mysteries are thorough, Pansy has to grant them that. But there are still connections to be made. Her eight years in the Auror force have taught her never to assume something new can't be found, even from old evidence.

She rubs her thumb along the seal of the scroll. Eventually she'll have to pass it on to her father. Pansy doesn't know why she's so hesitant, except there's something inside of her that's worried about how deep into this bollocks both her father and her sister are. Daisy's hiding something. Pansy'd known that in New York, that last evening. But she's not certain she wants to push further.

The scroll's cool and slick against her fingertips. Pansy can feel the spark of magic across the parchment, the charm that's protecting it from being opened by anyone except Terry Parkinson. Pansy thinks she could break it, not that doing so would be easy. And if Daisy were smart--and Pansy knows damned well she is--she would have set a secondary charm on it to destroy the parchment before it could be read by anyone other than their father.

Still. Pansy frowns down at the small curl of paper in her palm. She supposes she could just go and ask her father point-blank what he thinks he's doing. But her father knows how to evade her questions, and she's not certain she wants specific answers. Especially not any that might cause her to move against her own family. Draco may have had to bollocks to do it, but Pansy's fairly sure she doesn't. She can't imagine doing so, not really.

And yet, here she is, having not yet delivered her sister's missive after being back in London for over a week.

Maybe it's a test, Pansy thinks. Some sort of trial her sister's putting her through, to test her loyalty. But that's bollocks. Daisy wouldn't do that; she'd just ask Pansy bluntly what the fucking hell she thought she was doing.

Pansy smiles. She can almost hear her sister now.

She sighs, bites her lip. These are the times Pansy's not so thrilled about being a Parkinson. She wonders if her mother feels the same. Camilla's always been like Pansy in this regard, never interested in knowing the full details of Terry's business dealings. It's one of the few things they share. Daisy, though. She's always been thick as thieves with their father, and Pansy can't help but think that phrase might have some truth to it. Perhaps not thievery outright, but dodgy business deals aren't that different, at least in the eyes of the law.

And Pansy is the law. In a sense.

Sometimes she wonders if her mother's discomfort with her work in the force has less to do with her distaste at Pansy's job and more to do with her fear of what Pansy might be forced to choose between if her father's business dealings come to light. It's not outrageous, Pansy supposes, but up until now the Parkinson name's been kept off the Auror radar.

Until fucking Eustace Fawley.

Pansy curses her brother-in-law under her breath. Whatever he's done, he's fucked up. Badly enough that her sister's chosen to go on the run, and Pansy doesn't want to think about Daisy under Dimitri Godunov's thumb. She looks down at the scroll again. She also doesn't want to consider that Eustace may have been Daisy's patsy, that her sister might have been a hell of a lot more involved in Antonin Dolohov's plans than anyone suspects.

Running away with Godunov hadn't helped any of that, Pansy's certain. The Americans aren't idiots. It won't take long before Boucher or Durant or Espinoza takes that leap, starts looking into Daisy as well.

If they haven't already. Pansy's been careful, kept an eye on the law enforcement databases, particularly the international ones, waiting to see if a request for information on her sister or her father comes through. So far, nothing, but Pansy knows that won't last. And then she'll have a choice to make, won't she?

Pansy presses her thumb to the scroll's seal, feels the thrum of magic that's trying to push her hand away. Her stomach hurts a bit; she tries to breathe in through her nose to settle it. That doesn't help.

The fact is, Pansy knows, she'll do whatever she needs to do in order to protect her family. She understands that, deep down inside. As much as she'd like to be as brave as Draco, she's not. She loves her father and her sister dearly. Her mother too, as different and as alike as they both are. They're hers. They're all she has, and she knows they're not always perfect. She knows they've made bad decisions. All of them. But Pansy can't bear the thought of any of them in Azkaban, and she swears to Merlin and all the sodding Hogwarts Founders that she'll do whatever she must to keep them out of that hellhole.

Seeing them there would tear her apart.

That makes her a terrible Auror, she thinks. Pansy doesn't really care. Not entirely.

When the door to her lab opens, Pansy slides the scroll into the pocket of her lab coat, then turns on her stool just as the guv steps in.

"Parkinson," Potter says agreeably, stopping just inside the door. "Any precautions I should take?"

Pansy leans an elbow on the workbench. "You're fine as is." She watches as Potter closes the door behind him, then walks towards her. "What brings you down to the depths of magiforensicology?"

"Just checking in." Potter stops at the edge of the table, his hands in his pockets. He's smart enough to know not to touch anything. Pansy half-wonders if that's part of the Inspector's exam, given how often she has to remind Draco and Blaise both. "How's things?"

"Well enough." Pansy glances at the evidence bags and sample slides that are neatly lined up along the edge of her workbench. A file jacket's spread open with her paperwork on top of it. "Just a few more write-ups to go through."

Potter nods. "Anything interesting?"

Merlin but Pansy wishes. She shrugs. "Just the usual. Everything's identifiable so far except for a few bits of residue around the entrance to the Portkey cabin, but I'm going under the assumption that they can be traced to Lestrange. We'll see if that holds."

"You think he might have had accomplices?" Potter sits on one of the extra stools. He's in his shirtsleeves, the cuffs rolled up his muscular forearms, the white cotton bright against golden skin peppered lightly with dark hair; his right arm's still in the sling. He's lost his tie at some point during the day, and the first two buttons of his shirt are undone. With his hair rumpled he looks like a schoolboy, even down to the fading yellowish love bite just above his collarbone that Pansy gets a glimpse of when his shirt gapes open.

"I don't know," Pansy says after a moment. "I couldn't say with any certainty, at least not yet. But I wouldn't think it's out of the realm of possibility." She frowns, considering. "I mean, he did intercept the Portkey cabin inside the Court of Justice, so how exactly does someone escape from Azkaban and find himself in another secure location within half an hour, forty-five minutes?"

Potter nods. "Especially with Dementors in tow."

"Yeah." Pansy chews on her bottom lip, considering, then she looks up at the guv. "Luxembourg hasn't sent over any of the surveillance footage of the attack."

"None that I've seen logged in." Potter swivels a bit on the stool, going back and forth, the heel of his boot hung over the rung. "But I'm having Zabini and Whitaker put in another request for it." He glances over at the clock on the wall. It's nearly quarter to five. "It might even already be submitted."

Pansy snorts. "Just in time for them to ignore it."

"Most likely." Potter gives her a wry smile.

They sit quietly for a moment, both of them lost in their own thoughts, then Potter sighs. Pansy glances over at him. "All right, guv?" she asks, and she means it. Potter looks tired and a bit drawn.

He doesn't answer; she just waits. She's learnt that it's better sometimes to give Potter a bit of space, to let him say whatever he needs to on his own time. She doesn't even look at him; she just shifts through the papers on her workbench.

"It's fine," Potter says, and he runs a hand through his hair. "Just…." He shrugs. "You know. Everything."

Pansy glances over at him. "That's terribly vague."

"It's meant to be." Potter's mouth quirks a bit higher at one corner. "Just chalk it up to worry."

"About Draco." Pansy tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear, and Potter nods. Pansy sighs herself. "He won't talk to Blaise or me, you know. Not really."

Potter hesitates, then he says, "He's having a hard time."

"Obviously." It annoys Pansy when Potter states what they all know. He's better than that. "But he doesn't have to shut the rest of us out."

"I know." Potter looks uncomfortable. He glances away, and Pansy feels a spike of irritation. She also doesn't like that he's taken her place. Blaise's place. They've known Draco since they were children, and now Draco's keeping them both at arm's length, wrapping himself up in Potter instead as if only Potter can comfort him. It makes Pansy's heart hurt, makes her furious with them both.

"He's my friend too," Pansy says, and she knows she sounds petulant. Pained. She swallows past the sudden tightness in her throat, turns back to her stack of evidence bags. Arcturus Lipman will have her arse if she fucks them up before they get returned to the evidence room. She picks one up, makes sure the seal's back on it before she sets it aside.

Potter shifts on his stool. It creaks a bit. "He's trying, you know."

That's bollocks, Pansy thinks. "He won't take my calls." She looks up at the guv. "Blaise's either. And it's not like we can just pop over and force him to talk to us. Not any longer. Not whilst he's staying with you." And that irks her as well. She'd gone to Draco's flat two nights ago, determined to at least make him look her in the face. It'd been empty. Dark. Not even Narcissa's staying there any longer; Blaise had told Pansy he was fairly certain Draco's aunt had taken her in over the weekend.

None of that's like Draco, and that worries Pansy. Potter wouldn't know that. Potter wouldn't understand that for Draco to push his mother away, to ignore his friends like this means that Draco's in a bad place. A dangerous place.

One that Draco hasn't been in since just after the war, when they'd first started Auror training.

Pansy'd been there for that. She'd shared her flat with him, had watched as he'd stopped eating, as he'd sunk into a deep depression, stopped talking to anyone, even her and their bedrooms had been a wall apart. The only thing he hadn't done was give up Auror training. Being on the force had pulled him through that rough patch, not to mention others. Like the time he'd sliced his bloody arm up after Althea had gone for him.

There's still a part of Pansy that hasn't quite forgiven Althea for that. She's not entirely certain she ever will, as much as she's grown to like the cow.

Potter looks unhappy. "I'm not trying to shut you both out--"

"Then tell him to pick up his sodding mobile," Pansy says. She sounds harsher than she means to, and she sees the guv flinch. "Sorry."

"Don't be." Potter's voice is quiet. He rubs his thumb over his knee, the wool of his trousers shifting beneath his touch. "You're not wrong. I just…" He trails off, then says, "It's not easy to make Draco do things."

This Pansy knows all too well. "Sometimes you just have to force him into it," she says. "Shame him. He can be a stubborn prat."

Potter smiles a bit. "Understatement of the year."

"He's a Slytherin." Pansy just shrugs. "We can be known to be arseholes."

That makes the guv's smile widen. "It's what I like about the lot of you."

"Liar," Pansy says, but she keeps her voice light. She misses Draco. Terribly. "I hate that he's not here with us," she admits after a moment. "It doesn't feel right."

Potter looks away, but not before Pansy catches the pained expression on his face. "There's nothing I can do."

"Didn't say there was." Pansy picks up one of the fibre reports and stares at it blankly before setting it back down again. She feels uneasy. Unhappy. Like her skin's a bit too tight, like something's hovering over her unseen, an invisible sword of Damocles. "I just want to see him, I suppose." She wants to make sure Draco's all right, that he isn't getting too close to that point again where he'll end up in the bath, drunk and clutching his wand. Not over his fucking prat of a father. Not this time.

"I'll do what I can," Potter says after a moment, and Pansy just nods. She knows he means it; she's just not certain Draco will pay any attention.

And she can feel the scroll in her pocket, her own hidden secret from the guv, tucked away, waiting. Pansy feels guilty about that. She knows she should tell him, should show him, ask him what to do. She won't. He's far too Gryffindor for her to trust with her sister's ciphers.

They're silent, the emptiness of the room almost overwhelming between them, until Potter stands up. "Can you get me a report tomorrow on this?" He nods towards the pile of evidence.

"Probably." Pansy thinks so at least. "I can try."

Potter nods, and he starts towards the door.

"Guv." Pansy turns on her stool again, swinging her knees towards him. Potter looks back at her. "Your arm."

"What about it?" Potter seems uncomfortable, and Pansy wonders why.

She frowns at him. "It's been two weeks. More than, really, so why aren't you out of that sling?"

Potter just looks at her. Pansy studies his face, her eyes narrowing. "I'm fine," he says, but she knows he's lying. She can tell from the small furrow of pain that's been between his brows for days.

And then she knows. "You're not taking all of your potions," she says. "You idiot."

The guv doesn't deny it. "I have to be coherent," he says. "In case he needs me."

Pansy shakes her head. "Potter. Harry...." She exhales, trying not to lose her temper. "You can't make that choice. He wouldn't want you to. It's your wand arm. If you don't take care of it, you could lose functionality--"

"I won't," Potter says firmly. He catches her gaze, holds it. "I'm fine, Parkinson. Really."

"Bollocks." Pansy doesn't look away. "It's mad, you know. Have you even gone to the Healer--"

"You don't have to worry." Potter touches the sling. Winces just enough to make Pansy certain he's a fucking liar.

"Guv," she starts to say, but he cuts her off.

"I'll want a full report of all evidence by tomorrow afternoon if you can," Potter says. "Whitaker and I are going in tomorrow morning to interview Dolohov, so if you've anything you think we should see before then, owl it to me tonight."

Pansy wants to protest, but she knows it won't do any good. "Fine."

Potter's face softens. "Thanks, Parkinson." He hesitates, his hand on the doorknob. "Look, I'll talk to Draco tonight, yeah? See if I can get him to ring you, at least."

"That'd be brill." Pansy's tired. She doesn't know what to do any more. What to say.

The guv just studies her, quietly for a moment, before saying, "I've read Goldstein's reports he's sending back from New York."

Pansy looks up. She doesn't want to think about Tony, about how he could destroy her family. "He's still there?" She hates the faint waver in her voice.

"Yeah." Potter drops his gaze, and she can tell he's heard it as well. Her cheeks go warm; she looks away. "It doesn't look good for Eustace. Oudepoort's probably in his future. And your sister's disappeared, hasn't she?"

"I wouldn't know, guv," Pansy says, but it's a raw, harsh whisper. She can't look at him.

Potter sighs. "If it makes it any better, Goldstein's downplaying that part of it all. But the Americans are after Godunov, who's disappeared as well. Are they together, Parkinson?"

She looks at him then, tries to keep her gaze even, her mouth from trembling. "I wouldn't know that either." The lie comes far too easily. Pansy never lies about work. She can't. Until now, it seems.

The guv's just watching her, almost as if he knows. But when he speaks, it's not to give her a bollocking, to Pansy's surprise. He just says, "Well, if you hear anything from her, tell her to be careful. Stay the fuck out of the States for a bit."

Something twists and wobbles inside Pansy. Fear for Daisy, perhaps, mixed with an unexpected pride that she works with Potter, that he seems to understand the complexities of this for her. "Why?" she can't help but ask.

Potter looks grim. "Because Tom Graves is going to want a scapegoat. Especially if we're right about them not going after the Old Man." He runs his hand through his hair and sighs again. "Which, reading between the lines of Goldstein's report, I think it a strong possibility."

"Are we going to then?" Pansy asks. "Even now? Shacklebolt wants Lestrange--"

"And if there's not some connection between Lestrange and Aldric Yaxley I'd be bloody stunned," Potter says. "Gawain agrees. So yeah, we're focussing on Lestrange, officially, but I think it's worth prodding into the Yaxley family history. Don't you?" He gives her a steady look. "See if we can undermine the Godunov search."

Pansy smiles, small and slight. "I'd be in favour of that, guv." Circe, would she ever. Anything that could keep her family out of the line of fire, Pansy'll support. Even if it goes against the directive set by the Minister of Magic himself.

"I thought you might." Something slips on Potter's face, softens his expression. "Go home soon, Pansy," he says, his voice almost gentle. "And trust the rest of us to do what we can to protect yours, yeah?" He hesitates, then adds, "Well. As much as we can, at least. You're ours too." He meets her gaze, and Pansy nods, her heart aching a bit. She wants to do as the guv says. She's just not so sure he knows what he's offering.

"Thanks, guv," she says, her voice thick. "I'll try."

And then Potter's gone, the door snicking shut behind him, and Pansy's left with her stack of paperwork and her evidence files. She glances across the worktable, her lip caught between her teeth. It feels as if the weight of the world's resting on her thin shoulders, crushing her, and then she shakes her head, trying to breathe out.

It'll all be fine, she tells herself. She pulls the scroll from her pocket, rolls it between her fingers again.

Pansy has to believe that. What other choice does she have?

***

Harry wants to hold Draco's hand as they walk down the pavement, the heat of the summer sun still radiating off the concrete around them. He doesn't, though. Draco looks uncertain as they walk past the shops a few streets away from Grimmauld Place. Harry'd managed to coax him out, promising him dinner at Antonio's, just off Islington High Street. It's the first time since New York that they've been out in public like this, off on a date. If you could even call it that.

But Harry's in his best jeans and a crisp, white t-shirt beneath a lightweight olive green jacket that makes his eyes look brill, even if the line's still marred by his sling, and he's done his best to tame his curls. He glances over at Draco. His hair's pulled up in a knot on the top of his head. Harry likes how severe it looks, how it makes the angles of Draco's face seem sharper. More delicate in a way.

"You're staring at me again," Draco says, but his mouth is a soft curve, and he seems more relaxed than he's been in days.

"Can't help myself." Harry gives Draco a cheeky grin in return. "You're the best looking bloke on this whole street."

Draco throws a half-amused look Harry's way. "You're an idiot, Harry Potter."

"For you." Harry likes walking beside Draco like this, the bright green leaves of the trees arching over them in spots, the hustle and bustle of Islington around them. He lets his knuckles brush the back of Draco's hand, and he's surprised when Draco's fingers catch his, twining almost carefully between Harry's.

Harry feels like a bloody teenager again, utterly mad for the man beside him. He won't say that, he tells himself. He doesn't want Draco to think him a complete fool. But still, Harry's missed this openness. He knows they can only really have it around Muggles right now. Neither one of them want to put their relationship on display within wizarding society. It feels too new, too fragile to subject it to the public scrutiny they'll face when the Prophet or Witch Weekly get hold of the fact that the Saviour of the Wizarding World's dating a former Death Eater.

Christ but Harry hates the way they're both distilled down to nothing more than their adolescent actions. He wonders if the world will ever let either of them move beyond that, become the men they're meant to be, not the boys they once were. Draco had once told him it was difficult being Draco Malfoy, but Harry thinks it's just as hard to be Harry Potter, to live up to the impossible expectations the world places on him. He can't be that hero any more, the one they want. Perfect. Flawless. Untouchable.

Harry doesn't want to be that boy. He never has. Freddie's helping him see that, one session at a time. Helping him understand that his life isn't for public consumption. That he can let himself be happy with Draco, that he can let himself be open. Trusting even. That he doesn't have to close himself away.

It's fucking liberating, Harry thinks.

When Draco's fingers slide from his, Harry misses their warmth. He doesn't protest, though. He knows it's harder for Draco to put himself out here like this. He has more to lose if someone sees them.

Besides, London isn't New York, is it? It's home, not some fanciful place where no one knows them, no one cares.

Antonio's is nearly empty at this hour. It's early still for dinner, and Delia waves at Harry as they come in. Only a couple of tables are taken; Harry leads them back one next to the brick wall, fairy lights draped over it.

Harry hasn't been here since May, he realises. That night he'd left dinner with Ron when Draco had texted him, drunk and randy. How things have changed in just a few weeks, he thinks, taking his seat.

"Your birthday's on Monday," Draco says, his elbows on the edge of the white-clothed table. "Mother's already reminded me twice." He laughs. "Once by firecall, once by owl."

Harry glances up at him. "How the hell does your mother know when my birthday is?"

Draco rolls his eyes. "Harry. Don't be thick. One." He holds up a finger. "Everyone in the bloody wizarding world has known your birthday since the first time you took out the Dark Lord as a baby. And two." Another finger goes up, long and elegant. "My family was rather entwined with said bloody mad Dark Lord for quite a while, after all, and there might have been a bit of an obsessiveness about a child who--how did it go? Was born as the seventh month dies?"

"Right." Harry falls silent as Delia comes up, menus in her hand. She sets them down in front of them, with only the faintest quizzical look at Draco. Instead, she frowns at Harry.

"What happened to your arm, love?" Delia asks.

Harry'd almost forgotten it for a moment. He glances down at the sling. "Work accident," he says, "but it's getting better." Draco snorts at that, and Harry scowls at him. "Not a word from you."

"I said nothing." Draco picks up the menu, ignoring Harry studiously. "Except perhaps if you'd actually take your poti--" He stops, with a sideways glance at Delia, then says, "Your medications properly, perhaps you'd be out of that damned sling by now."

It's been a point of contention between them since this morning, standing in the en suite, Draco lecturing Harry about proper potions use. They'd nearly argued, but Harry'd taken the damn pain potion before it could get too heated. Or at least he'd let Draco think he had; half of it he'd Vanished when Draco'd looked away.

And then Parkinson hadn't helped this afternoon. Harry knows they're both right, but he's never been keen on being under the influence of potions. Not when he needs to be sharp at least. And between work and Draco--well. Harry can't afford to be off his mind, can he? Still, he supposes he might go see a Healer. Tomorrow, perhaps.

He sighs, eyeing Draco's blond topknot above the edge of the menu. "A bloody drink is what I really need."

"Shall I bring a house pinot grigio then?" Delia asks, and Harry nods.

The menu lowers at that, and Harry catches a glimpse of Draco's flaring nostrils. "You're an absolute philistine, Potter," Draco says, with a glare of horrified disgust, and Delia's mouth twitches a bit. Draco turns to her. "Do you have a Vernaccia di San Gimignano?"

She looks surprised, but nods. "I could pull a bottle, but it's expensive."

"That one," Draco says, pointing at Harry, "can afford it, so please do see if you can find it. No house pinot for him. The idiot really has to learn better wines."

"I like the house stuff," Harry protests.

The look Draco gives him is scathing. He turns back to Delia. "We'll have an antipasto platter to share for starters." He waves his hand before Delia can speak. "Whichever one's the best as long as there's meat and veg both. What fish do you have that you'd recommend?"

"The sea bass," Delia says, and her mouth twitches in amusement. "It's what Harry usually orders."

Draco eyes Harry speculatively. "I'm sceptical about eating anything Harry enjoys." Harry flips two fingers his way, and Draco just smiles in return.

"We also have a black ink tagliatelle," Delia says. "With prawns." She raises a perfectly groomed eyebrow. "You look like a prawns bloke."

"You'd be correct," Draco says. He picks up the menus and hands them back to Delia. "That sounds brilliant."

Delia glances at Harry. "Sea bass?"

"You know me well." Harry leans back in his seat, waiting until Delia walks off. He unfolds the thick white cotton napkin and drapes it over his lap before looking up at Draco. "So how was work?"

"I can't tell you that." Draco sits forward, his hands folded in the table in front of him. "You know that."

Harry snorts. "More training then."

"Muriel's working me like a dog." A stray wisp of Draco's hair slips forward, over his cheek. He tucks it back behind his ear. The votive candle on their table flickers, sending shadows dancing across Draco's pale skin. Harry wonders if he knows how bloody gorgeous he looks like this, his slightly rumpled black linen shirt open at the throat, showing a small vee of pale skin. "But I'm getting better."

"Maybe you can practise on me later," Harry says, and a quick smile lights up Draco's face.

"Naked?" Draco asks.

Harry shrugs. His shoulder only half-twinges. "Or half, if you prefer. You could show me what you'd like whilst I do it."

Warmth flares in those cool grey eyes of Draco's. "Oh?" He leans on his elbows. "I could always start right now, if you'd like."

And an image slides effortlessly into Harry's mind, almost as if it's of his own volition. Draco draped across their bed, naked and flushed, legs spread wide and lifted up, prick hard and ruddy and wet, the swollen head pushing out from beneath the velvety stretch of his foreskin, his arse already slick with oil, soft pink furl fluttering and pulsing.

"Jesus, Draco," Harry breathes out. His cock swells in his jeans, pushes against his flies. "You horrible slag."

Draco just laughs, and it's a sound Harry's missed, that bright, soft burst of amusement. He hasn't heard it very often the past few weeks, and it softens Draco's face, makes his eyes brighten in the candlelight. "You like it when I am."

"Obviously." Harry reaches across the table with his good hand, lets it rest over Draco's for a moment. His thumb traces a small circle across Draco's skin. Draco lets him for a moment before he pulls back, his gaze flicking around the near-empty dining room. Harry sits back, only slightly disappointed.

"Anyway," Draco says, and his cheeks are flushed. He doesn't quite meet Harry's gaze. "We were talking about your birthday." He clears his throat. "On Monday."

Harry shifts in the small wooden chair. His jeans feel too tight; he almost wishes they'd stayed home for dinner. He could have thrown Draco across the kitchen table, sucked his prick to distract him. Harry doesn't like thinking about his birthday, if he's honest. "It's not a big deal."

Draco frowns. "It's your birthday. What do you normally do?"

"Nothing much." Harry falls silent as Delia comes back with the bottle of wine and two glasses and the antipasto platter on a tray. She pours them each a half-glass then sets the bottle and the antipasto between them.

"Eat," Delia says with a smile, and then she's gone again, and Draco's just looking at Harry from across the table.

Harry reaches for an olive and pops it into his mouth. "What?" he asks, glancing away. He can feel his face warm.

"You can't tell me," Draco says, "that Granger and Weasley don't make a fuss over your birthday."

They used to try. Once they'd all been out on their own, at least. Hermione had thrown a party for Harry a few times, invited all their friends around, but Harry hadn't cared for it. Not really. Then they'd settled for going out to dinner, but the past few years Harry hadn't really been around. He and Jake hadn't bothered with anything elaborate; Harry's idea of a birthday present had been a good shag and that was it.

Draco's face twists into a grimace. "That, I didn't need to know."

Harry feels his cheeks heat up again. "Stop pushing into my mind then."

"You wear your bloody thoughts on your sleeve," Draco says with a frown. "It's almost like you're shouting at me sometimes."

Still, Harry feels something slip from his mind, an almost imperceptible presence that he immediately misses.

"I'm sorry," Draco says after a moment. "Sometimes I forget to close a connection."

"You're still learning." Harry studies his boyfriend, takes in his faintly embarrassed expression. He knows that was an honest mistake on Draco's part. Harry doesn't mind, not really, but he slips a stronger Occlumens in place, just in case. He knows Draco can feel it; Draco gives him a relieved look.

"Thanks," Draco says. He picks up his glass of wine, takes a sip. "I really didn't mean--"

"I know." Harry takes a piece of salami from the platter; he rolls it between his fingers, then takes a bite. They're silent for a moment before the awkwardness fades. "So," Harry says finally. "I don't really do birthdays up."

Draco takes an olive and bites into it, chewing before he answers. "You're twenty-six on Monday which means you've officially left your youth behind and joined me on the slow downfall to thirty." He finishes the olive, licks his thumb clean with a quick swipe of his pink tongue. Harry's prick jerks in his jeans. "We're doing something," Draco says. He studies Harry thoughtfully. "Maybe a dinner."

"Maybe I can just do you," Harry says, and something sparks in Draco's eyes. He gives Harry a slow smile.

"Maybe."

Harry reaches for his wine, takes a sip. It's crisp and dry, almost peachy with a faint mineral taste. He licks his bottom lip as he lowers his glass. "Fuck," he says, the after-taste still bright and a bit bitter in his mouth.

"Better than your house wine?" Draco's smiling at him over the rim of his own glass.

"A bit." Harry wants to lean over the table and kiss the wine from Draco's mouth. "Not a bad pick."

Draco snorts and takes a sip. "Like I said, Potter. You're pure philistine."

Harry watches him, a wave of affection twisting through him. "Christ, I love you," he says, almost impetuously, his voice low, and Draco sets down his glass, looking over at him. Harry meets his gaze. "I do."

"I'm glad." Draco doesn't look away from Harry. "I'd rather hate it," he says lightly, "if my feelings weren't returned."

Harry still marvels that they're here at this point, he and Draco. After all they've been through. He wonders sometimes if it'll last. If this will just be a flash in the pan, a brief moment of happiness. Harry's trying to learn to accept it, whatever it might become. To be here for Draco now, to not worry about anything else. Still, there's a part of him that wants so much more, even this early into their relationship. That unsettles him in a way. Harry's never wanted something like this. He's not entirely certain what to do with it, if he's honest.

They sit silently, comfortably together.

"So do you have any leads on Uncle Roddy?" Draco asks after a moment, and Harry gives him a pointed look. Draco sighs and sets his wine glass down. "I know. I'm not supposed to be told." He rubs his thumb over the rim of the glass. "It's just…" He trails off, looks away. "It's hard," he says after a moment. "Not an insider any more."

Harry's heart twists a bit. He knows Draco's struggling with being left out. "We haven't much joy in the investigation," he says after a moment. "Yet."

Draco nods. "I thought as much." He looks down at the pile of olives in front of him, chooses another one and eats it slowly. He drags his tongue along his bottom lip, then sighs. "It feels strange not being part of Seven-Four-Alpha," he says after a moment. He looks up at Harry, then adds, "Not ever being part of it now, I suppose."

"I don't like that." Harry rests his good elbow on the table. Picks up a piece of bread and dips it in the oil on the platter. It's almost sweetly nutty when he tastes it. He swallows. "It's not fair, erasing you like that--"

"If it protects you in the end," Draco says, his voice soft and fierce, "then I don't give a fuck."

Harry falls silent. He doesn't know what to say.

Draco looks away. "I just miss things," he says finally. "People." His face is sad, pale in the candlelight.

Harry knows Draco's lonely, knows that as much as they want to be together, he and Draco, that they've been isolating themselves in a way. Maybe they've needed to, he thinks. Maybe it's been safe for them both. But he thinks of Parkinson's expression, of the lost look in her eyes when she'd spoken of Draco. She misses him too, he thinks.

"You should see your friends," Harry says, almost before he thinks. "I know you want to."

Draco glances over at him. "They're busy."

"Not too busy for you." Harry watches Draco as he shifts in his seat, his gaze slipping from Harry's. "You know that."

"I suppose." Draco picks up his glass of wine. He's still not looking at Harry.

Harry hesitates, studies him. "What are you afraid of?"

Draco's hand only shakes a bit as he sets his glass down again. "I'm not."

That's a lie, and they both know it. "Draco," Harry says, as gently as he can. "Come on."

"It's nothing." Draco's staring at the candle, watching as the flame flickers inside the mercury glass holder. Harry waits. He thinks Draco needs this space. The silence stretches out, taut and tense, until Draco breaks it with a soft sigh. He looks up at Harry. "They know me," he says quietly. "They know my father. I'm worried that it'll make it harder, them seeing me like this. For all of us." He chews on his lip. "I'm not myself these days."

"You are more than you think," Harry says. He wants to touch Draco's hand, but he thinks it's the wrong time. So he keeps still, his gaze fixed on Draco's pale, worried face. "And they're your friends. It's not as if they don't know you're grieving."

The word hangs heavy between them for a moment, and then Draco swallows, looks away again. His hands are curled around the stem of his wine glass; his thumb strokes along the smooth surface.

"I'm not exactly fond of myself right now," Draco says. "I'm terrible company. I've no idea why you put up with me."

"Brilliant sex," Harry says lightly, and Draco gives him a small smile.

"Prat."

Harry just makes himself relax in his chair. He takes a sip of his wine, sets the glass aside. "You don't have to be good company. None of us need that. I think Zabini and Parkinson just want to see you. Make sure you're all right." He pauses, then says, "You haven't been returning their calls."

"No," Draco admits. He's not looking at Harry. "I've been too afraid to." He worries his lip between his teeth again. "It's one thing for you to see me like this--"

"Like what?" Harry asks. "Human?"

Draco just looks over at him.

"You act as if you shouldn't be upset," Harry says, leaning forward. "As if you shouldn't be sad your father was murdered by your fucking uncle--"

"My father was an arsehole," Draco says.

"Yeah." Harry glances at him. He's not going to lie to Draco. That won't help anything. "He was. And he did some fucked-up, shitty things. Put you and your mum in danger over and over. I'd pound his goddamned face in for that if he were still alive."

Draco's gaze flicks up to meet Harry's. "How very Gryffindor of you," he says, but there's no bite behind the words. Harry knows that.

"None of that means you can't be upset that he's gone." Harry doesn't look away from Draco. He can feel his heart thudding against his chest, his stomach twisting. He's worried about Draco, terrified that he's going to say the wrong thing, that he'll make everything worse. "Even with all the shit Lucius did, he was still your dad."

"Was." Draco's voice is thick, tight. Harry can see the brightness in his eyes before he looks away, blinking. "That's the hard part of it all, you know." He twists his wine glass in his fingers. "Nothing is ever going to change now. He's gone. He's never going to…" Draco trails off, presses his lips together.

"Never going to be the dad you wanted him to be," Harry finishes, and Draco hesitates, then shrugs, lifting his wine glass to his mouth.

Draco takes a long drink, swallowing the dregs, then sets the glass down and reaches for the bottle, pouring another glass, then topping Harry's off. When he puts the bottle aside, he breathes out, a soft exhale that lifts his shoulders ever so slightly then relaxes them. "It's strange how much that thought hurts," he says finally.

"I know." Harry just watches him. "It's why you need all of us, you know. As much as I love you, I can't give you everything you need. Zabini and Parkinson, they've known you for years. They can help in ways I can't--"

"You help more than you realise," Draco says, and his voice is sharp.

Harry nods. "I'm glad." And he is. Having Draco say that eases some of Harry's worry. "But that doesn't mean you don't need them too."

Draco's silent for a moment, then he says, his voice almost inaudible, "I know."

They sit there, not speaking, Draco not looking at Harry.

Delia arrives with their food. She sets the plates in front of them, spotless white pottery platters filled with pasta and seafood and bright vegetables. It smells brilliant, Harry thinks, and he hadn't realised how hungry he is.

"All right then?" Delia asks, and Harry nods. He catches her curious glance Draco's way, knows she's taking in Draco's bent head and slumped shoulders. Her gaze shifts to Harry, and he gives her a small smile.

"We're good, Del, thanks."

She hesitates, then nods. "Let me know if you need anything." Her hand settles briefly on Draco's shoulder, then she's gone before he looks up.

Draco watches her walk away. For a moment, Harry thinks he's going to be angry, but his face softens. "She's nice," he says finally.

"I like her." Harry watches Draco. "Are you all right? Should we go home?"

"No." Draco shakes his head, reaches for his fork. "I'll be fine."

Harry's not so certain. He knows Draco now, can tell that he's struggling to keep his emotions under control. "We can eat at home--"

"I'm fine." Draco's voice has an edge to it; he's gripping his fork tightly. "Just sit."

"Okay." Harry settles back in his seat. He looks down at his plate. Delia's had the kitchen debone the sea bass for him, slicing it up into manageable bits instead of leaving it in its usual filet. He picks up his fork in his left hand, grateful he doesn't have to cut anything. When he looks up again, Draco's watching him. "What's wrong?"

Draco shakes his head, drags the tines of his fork across his pasta. "I'll talk to them," he says after a moment. "Pansy and Blaise. I'll ring them both up when we go home, if that's all right."

Harry's surprised. "I think that'd be good," he says, and Draco dips his head just a bit, takes a bite of prawn.

"So," Draco says, looking up at Harry, and he tries to give Harry a faint smile. "Tell me more about your day, if you can."

And Harry does.

***

Althea really doesn't want to go up against Antonin Dolohov at half-ten on a Friday morning, but she hasn't a bloody choice, has she? Not after the guv had told her yesterday that she was on deck this morning and waved away her protests. He wanted her by his side. She supposes she should be pleased, but she's not.

Instead she feels as if she might just sick up, right here at her desk. She eyes her bin, wondering how badly Zabini would mock her if she did. She'd probably never live it down, and he'd be sure to bring it up in front of Parkinson, and Althea just doesn't want to deal with that humiliation. So she breathes out through her nose, trying to calm her roiling stomach.

Until Potter comes out of his office, a frown on his face and his arm still in that damned sling, and says, "Whitaker, we're up in five minutes. Get your notes."

Zabini looks up at her from his stack of file jackets. "Good luck," he says as Althea's pushing herself out of her chair, reluctantly.

Althea grimaces. "We'll need it." Frankly, she thinks Zabini should be part of this interview. He'd taken the collar, after all, and that makes him more of a threat to Dolohov, at least in Althea's eyes. The guv hadn't agreed, and neither had Zabini. She's more skilled in interviewing, they'd both said, and Althea thinks that's a bit of bollocks.

What she won't admit is that she's fucking terrified of Antonin Dolohov. Anyone with half a brain would be, she thinks. He's a vicious son of a bitch, and Althea's feeling a hell of a lot more fragile at the moment than she wants anyone to know. It'd been hard to say goodbye to Marcus this week; it'd brought up feelings she'd rather not have right now. Anger. Grief. Betrayal. All things that are drawing Althea's focus away from her work, making her sloppy and slow. In her eyes at least. She knows sometimes she can be harder on herself than anyone else might be.

And then there's her father. The second of August is next Wednesday, and Althea knows her father's struggling with memories of that awful night. They'd talked about her mum when she'd gone to Bristol yesterday to take him to dinner. She'd sat in a Muggle chippie, pushing mushy peas around her plate whilst her father teared up, telling her how much he missed her mother, how he's been waking up at night, screaming, begging Dolohov and Corban Yaxley to leave his wife be. To kill him instead. It'd been awful, really, and Althea'd gone home and taken a sleeping draught afterwards just to keep her own grief over her mother from overwhelming her, to hold her own nightmares about that night at bay. She can't fall apart right now, not in the middle of a case, but it's all so close to the surface and she's having a hard time fighting it back.

Honestly, she doesn't know how she'll be able to sit across from Dolohov today. How she won't reach across the table and slam his face into it.

She wants to. So fucking badly.

The guv would probably switch her out for Zabini if he knew. Althea thinks about telling him as she shrugs into her jacket, picks up her file jacket filled with notes. But she doesn't want him to know. Doesn't want to admit any weakness to Harry Potter. Doesn't want to see his face filled with pity.

And so Althea finds herself walking down the back staircases, Potter at her side, their footsteps loud in the silent stairwell.

"You're all right?" Potter says halfway down, and Althea just nods. Potter doesn't say anything for another floor or two, and then he glances over at her. "I know this isn't going to be easy for you." He hesitates, then adds, "What with your mum and all."

To be honest, Althea's surprised that Potter's even considered that. "I'm fine." She's not, but she'll be damned if she tells him otherwise.

Potter stops on the landing outside the door to Level Six. "That's bollocks."

Althea's a few steps in front of him. She turns around, her fingers tight around the metal bannister. "If you're so fucking concerned, sir," she says, her irritation starting to well up, "why didn't you have Zabini take over?"

"Because I thought you deserved this chance." Potter's looking at her evenly. "That you might want to face this bastard down. Was I wrong?"

Althea looks away, her stomach twisting again. She holds her file jacket close to her chest. "I don't know," she says after a moment. "Marcus. My mum…" Her voice cracks; she swallows, exhales. "It's a lot."

Potter's hand settles on her shoulder. "You have this, Whitaker. You're bloody good at interrogation, and if I didn't think you'd be brill, I'd have left your arse in the incident room. I want you to do this. I know you can."

"I'm not so certain," Althea says, and her throat feels so tight and raw. "It's been nine years. Nine years and that bastard's been walking free and I never knew--" She breaks off, bites her lip. Exhales again. "I want to hurt him," she says softly, and she can't look at the guv. Her face burns. She can't believe she's saying this, admitting it out loud.

"Yeah." Potter takes a step down from the landing. "You think you're the first Auror who's felt that way?"

She looks up at him. "No?"

"No," Potter repeats. He's watching her closely, she can tell. She tries to straighten her shoulders, to pull herself together. "We've all had those cases where we get a bit too involved. You know that."

Althea does. She's heard the seasoned Aurors talk about them before. "This is a bit different, sir."

"It doesn't have to be." Potter takes another step down, then another. They're even now. "I trust you to do your job, Whitaker. You're good at it. And whatever personal feelings you have, you'll put them aside. Tuck them away until we get out of that interview room. After that, I don't give a shit what you do. Punch the goddamned wall if you need to, yeah?"

"Yeah." A small smile curves Althea's mouth. "Sounds like you speak from experience."

"I've had my moments." Potter starts down the stairs again. Althea follows him. "Back when I was a sergeant myself." He looks over at her, and Althea realises how young he really is compared to the grizzled Aurors she's worked with before. She forgets sometimes that he's barely older than herself. Something about Harry Potter is almost larger than life, Althea thinks.

"It's the kids that were hard for me," Potter admits. "I had a case once where a wizard was going after Muggle boys…" He sighs, shakes his head. "I wanted to kill that bastard. Gawain had to pull me out of the room, tell me to calm the fuck down, to do my job so we could actually put the arsehole in Azkaban, instead of sending me along with him."

"That must have worked." Althea's hand skims along the bannister as they take the turn around a landing. "You're still here."

Potter's quiet for a moment, then he says, "Barely. I nearly set the whole room on fire."

"Oh." Althea watches him. "I've noticed you…" She hesitates, unsure as to how to broach the matter. "Well." She pushes her fingers up, mocking an explosion with them.

"Get a bit smoky when I'm angry?" Potter gives her a small smile. She nods. "It happens," he says. "I have a temper."

And a hell of a lot of magic to fuel it, Althea wants to point out, but she doesn't. Sometimes the guv frightens her a bit, if she's honest. He's powerful, probably more so than he really understands, and she doesn't think she'd ever want that anger of his directed her way.

They stop outside the doors to Level Nine. These aren't like the others they've gone past. They're large and heavy and a rich, dark black, like looking at the absence of something, a deep, inexplicable void in the smooth white line of the wall. Potter reaches out, grabs hold of a knocker that Althea hadn't even realised was there. It blends perfectly with the wood of the door itself. When Potter lets it fall, the sound it makes is loud and heavy, fathomless in a way.

It takes a moment, but the door swings open. Granger's there, in a crisp apple green dress, and her cool gaze sweeps over Althea, making her feel frumpy and plain in her dark tailored suit. "He's ready," Granger says, letting them step past her.

The carpet in the hallway is plush and thick, swallowing the sound of their footsteps. They move silently past tall, dark doors set into the black wood-panelled walls, none of them marked. And then the carpet gives way to marble, and the sudden click of Granger's heels is startlingly loud in the quiet of the corridor.

Althea's nerves feel frayed. Frazzled. She draws in a slow breath, then lets it out. It sounds louder than she expects it to, and Potter glances over at her, gives her a small, encouraging smile.

Granger stops in front of a nondescript door. It looks the same as the others lining the hall. She turns towards Potter. "Saul's letting you both have the room to yourselves," she says, and the guv nods. "We'll be watching from the observation area and recording, of course."

"I expected," Potter says. He doesn't look best pleased, Althea thinks. "Will there be Luxembourg representatives?"

"Nadia Daifallah," Granger says. "Along with Aurélie Fontaine."

Potter frowns. "Better those two, I suppose."

"They've done their own interrogation," Granger says, "but they haven't shared the transcript yet."

"Do you have an unofficial one?" Potter asks, and at Granger's raised eyebrow, he smiles, wide and easy. "Come on, Hermione. You can't tell me Saul Croaker doesn't have recording spells on every fucking room that bastard in there walks into."

Granger's mouth quirks up at one corner. "I'm not telling you that, Harry," she says. "But I'm also not not telling you that either."

The guv laughs. "So what's the likelihood that transcript might get shared?"

"If such a thing did exist," Granger says carefully, her voice soft, "then I would expect it could possibly make its way into your files. But only with Croaker's permission." She gives him a pointed look.

"You'll look into that for me?" Potter asks, and Granger shrugs. Althea glances between them, curious. They're not really paying attention to her, and she's glad of that.

"I'll see what I can do." Granger pauses, then adds, "It wouldn't be admissible in court, though, without Brussels providing an official copy."

Potter puts his hand on the doorknob. "I just want it for informational purposes. For now at least."

"Then I'll talk to Saul." Granger takes a step back. "If you need any of us, knock on the wall. I have Unspeakables at the ready if Dolohov gets nasty."

That doesn't really make Althea feel any better.

Potter opens the door and walks into the interview room. Althea takes a deep breath, then follows him in, letting the door fall shut behind her.

Antonin Dolohov's chained to the single black table in the middle of the room, watching them calmly through narrowed eyes. He looks more unkempt than when she saw him last, her arm chained to his as they Portkeyed from London. His beard's ragged, his hair rumpled but washed, she thinks. He's lost his orange MACUSA robe for a grey jersey robe that hangs limply from his shoulders.

"Hullo, Antonin," Potter says as he sits down at the table. He gives Dolohov an easy smile. "How's things?"

Dolohov just looks at him, his face inscrutable. He doesn't seem to notice when Althea sits beside Potter. She's nothing to him, she realises, and that thought's a relief.

Potter hasn't brought a file jacket with him. He just leans back in his chair and casts the recording charm before he clears his throat and says, "Inspector Harry Potter and Sergeant Althea Whitaker of the London Auror force interviewing Antonin Ioannovich Dolohov at…" Potter glances down at the watch on his left wrist. "Ten thirty-six a.m. on the twenty-eighth of July, two thousand and six. Mr Dolohov's fingerprints and magical signature have been recorded and confirmed within the Auror database as per the Wizengamot Justice and Courts Act of 1999." He sits forward; the feet of his chair scrape across the black marble floor.

The room fees odd to Althea, different from the bright, concrete chill of the Auror interview rooms. The walls here are a black shiny tile that almost matches the floor, and the only light comes from three bronze lamps hanging from the black-painted ceiling, pooling warm puddles of light across the smooth black surface of the table. Two long, darkened windows are on either side of the room; Althea can't help but wonder from which side they're being watched.

"Mr Dolohov, " Potter's saying, his voice even and clear, "I'll proceed by reading you the following caution: you do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?"

Dolohov just looks at them.

"For the recording, please, Mr Dolohov," Althea says, and she's relieved that her voice doesn't shake when Dolohov's cold, obsidian gaze flicks towards her.

"Yes," he says after a moment, his accent a curious mixture of Russian and British. It's the same as Althea remembers from that night nine years ago, and for a moment her head swims, her breath catches. She can feel the thud of her pulse in her body, and she thinks she's going to tilt to the side, fall off her chair, but then Potter's elbow is against her side, and she inhales sharply, the sound ragged and rough in the quiet of the room.

Althea covers it with a cough, turning away for just a moment to gather herself. When she twists back in her chair, the guv's giving her a sideways look. She just nods, trying to tell him she's all right. She'll make herself be.

"You obviously know why you're here," Potter says, and Althea busies herself with opening her file jacket, pretending to rifle through her papers and notes. Dolohov's not even looking at her, she realises, and she relaxes, tries to breathe out. The guv leans forward. "But I don't really give a shit about any of that right now, Antonin. I've plenty of evidence to tie you to the charges we've filed against you. Enough to put your sorry arse right back in Azkaban again."

Dolohov just raises an eyebrow. "So."

"So," Potter repeats. He settles back in his chair, crosses his ankle over his knee. Althea envies the guv his ease. She's afraid to move lest Dolohov see her hands shake. She sits as still and upright as she can, her shoulders stiff and tight. She can't stop looking at Dolohov's face, studying it, remembering how it'd looked that August night when he'd shown up in her sitting room, a few steps behind Corban Yaxley. She swallows. Presses her lips together.

A silence stretches out in the room. Dolohov and Potter are watching each other, waiting to see who'll break first. The guv just smiles, faint and calm, and Dolohov finally looks away.

"What do you want?" Dolohov asks. "All of you want something. It's growing quite dull, really, but eventually you'll tire of it and transfer me." His smile is razor-sharp. "And we all know how that'll go. Albeit a bit differently this time."

Potter quirks an eyebrow. "You think you'll survive."

"I know I will, Harry Potter." Dolohov doesn't look away. "I'm far more useful than Malfoy ever was."

"So you think." Potter doesn't lose his temper, Althea notices. She wonders if Dolhov knows about the guv's relationship with the younger Malfoy. She doesn't think he does; if he did, he'd be more pointed, twist his words a bit more.

It calms her to analyse Dolohov, Althea realises. To make him just another suspect to break. The trembling in her hands settles. She flattens them over her papers.

Dolohov just shrugs. "I suppose we'll see when the time comes."

"Right." Potter watches Dolohov for a moment. Althea glances down at her notes, trying to pull her thoughts back together. "So tell me," the guv asks, not breaking his gaze, "does your friend Rodolphus have someone helping him in Brussels? Because I find it quite odd that he managed to just, I don't know, pop into the Courts of Justice and back out again after massacring an entire Portkey cabin of law enforcement officials."

"That'd be telling, wouldn't it?" Dolohov smiles again. "Ruins the fun of it all, I think."

Potter nods, a bit affably, but Althea can sense the fury building behind it. "I suppose it does." He glances at Althea. "But it also rather answers the question in its own way, doesn't it, Sergeant Whitaker?"

"Might do, guv," Althea says. She lets her gaze drift to Dolohov. "The implication being by a non-answer that yes, he does have an accomplice in a position to help in that way."

Dolohov's eyes narrow at her. "That's not what I said."

Althea scrawls a note in her file. "But that's what you implied. So." She looks over at the guv. "I think we ought to poke into that."

"I agree." Potter turns back to Dolohov. "Thanks for that tip. I'm sure Lestrange will be thrilled you're helping us out."

"Fuck you," Dolohov says, and his mouth twists over the words. "It's not me you should be worried about."

Althea glances up at him. "Then who? We already know about Lestrange, so who the fuck cares about that? Eddie Durant? That's laughable. So who else is there, Antonin? Les Harkaway?" When Dolohov's face tightens, she knows she's hit a nerve. "Harkaway then. What? You're angry he escaped?"

Dolohov just snorts, his eyes shifting towards her. "You're a stupid bitch, aren't you?"

"Maybe." Althea doesn't look away. Her heart thuds in her chest, but she's not going to flinch. Not to this goddamned bastard. "Want to tell me how?"

Her breath catches a bit, though as Dolohov studies her face. "I know you," he says. "Your mother was Clio." His eyes are cold. "Clio Yaxley. You look like her, except she was prettier." His gaze drifts down her body. "More fuckable."

"Watch it," Potter says, and Dolohov's smile turns feral.

"As if he's my type," Althea says, with far more bravado than she feels. She hates the sound of her mother's name falling from this bastard's lips. She wants to grab him, slam him forward, wrap those chains holding him still around his neck and pull them tight. Her fists are clenched in front of her, her short nails digging into her flesh. "So what is it about Harkaway that narks you off, mate?"

Dolohov laughs, and it's a horrible, vicious echo against the tile walls. "Ask your great-uncle, girlie." His smile gets uglier, and he leans forward. "He knows a hell of a lot more about things than you might think."

"You mean Aldric Yaxley." Potter's voice is quiet. Firm. "The Old Man."

"That's what they call him." Dolohov leans back in his chair.

Althea doesn't trust this shit. "He's sending us off on a wild goose chase, guv," she says, not looking away from Dolohov's face.

Dolohov just shrugs. "Whatever you want to think, bitch." He looks over at Potter. "You've no goddamned idea what you've stumbled into, you idiot. It's more than your stupid half-blood brain can comprehend." His gaze shifts to Althea, turns even more contemptuous. "Either of you."

"Then explain it," Potter says.

"I'm not that much of a fool," Dolohov spits out, and his gaze shifts to one of the windows, then the other, almost as if he thinks someone might be there, might be listening. "You'll get nothing from me."

Potter's silent for a moment. Althea waits, almost holding her breath, and then the guv says, "I already know you're frightened of someone, Antonin. Is it Lestrange?"

Dolohov just looks at him.

"So maybe." Potter's voice is almost gentle. "But maybe it's Aldric Yaxley as well?"

That makes Dolohov snort. "He's a fool. Nothing else." Still, Dolohov shifts in his seat. Althea thinks he's uneasy. She wishes Malfoy were in here, thinks of what they might pick up with his Legilimency skills in play. He'd know if Dolohov was afraid, know which name made him feel more unsettled.

"Is it someone else then?" she asks, and Dolohov doesn't look at her, doesn't even acknowledge what she's said.

Althea thinks she's right. That it's not just those two. There's someone closer by, she thinks. Someone Dolohov is afraid might be listening.

He's afraid, she scrawls on her notepad. Someone here? She holds it so Potter can see it, and he nods.

"We can protect you," the guv says. "If you're worried about your safety."

Dolohov's mouth twists. "Like you protected Lucius Malfoy, yes? And Selwyn? And all those other ponces?" He gives Potter a scathing look. "I'm not a fucking fool. You want to know what's going on, Potter?" He leans forward, pressing his long body against the edge of the table. "You fucking figure it out yourself."

His spittle strikes Potter's cheek. The guv just wipes his shirt cuff across it, not looking away from Dolohov.

"Just think about it, Antonin," Potter says. "You'd have my word. We'd do everything we can to keep you safe."

Dolohov looks away. "Fuck off," he says, and the guv sighs, leans back in his chair.

"Interview terminated at ten fifty-one," Potter says, and he pushes his chair back. Stands. He glances down at Dolohov. "You're not getting out of this. Whomever you're afraid of? You're going to go to Azkaban for them as well, and they'll be walking free. Keep that in mind, will you?"

He doesn't get an answer.

"Let's go, Whitaker," the guv says, and Althea closes her file jacket, stands as well. She's certain Dolohov will stop them before they get to the door.

Dolohov doesn't.

The guv closes the door behind them; the moment he does Althea's legs go wobbly. She leans against the wall, her whole body shaking.

"You did well," Potter says, and he's next to her, holding her steady.

Althea wants to cry. Wants to scream. Wants to put her fist through the dark-panelled wall. Instead she takes an uneven breath, closes her eyes. "Fuck," she says after a moment. "He's a bastard."

"Rather." Potter's shoulder is pressed against hers. It's warm and solid and oddly comforting.

Althea opens her eyes. Looks over at him. "He's hiding a hell of a lot."

Potter nods his agreement. The light from the sconces glints off his glasses. "We'll break him. Eventually."

"Maybe." Althea's not too certain of that.

The door down the hall opens; Granger comes out, followed by two women Althea doesn't recognise, then Saul Croaker.

"Fuck," Potter says under his breath as Croaker raises his hand, beckons them. He looks over at Althea. "You want to go back upstairs and let me handle this?"

It's an out Althea desperately wants to take. She still feels shaky, still thinks she might vom right here on the marble floor. She wants to go back upstairs, wants to sit at her desk, calm her thoughts, have Zabini tell her she'll be fine. Maybe even wander into Parkinson's lab. Flirt a little until she feels steadier, more herself. But Potter's her guv, and she's not going to leave him to be grilled alone by the Head Unspeakable. "No," she says, her voice a bit too loud, a bit too high. Potter just looks at her. Althea shakes her head. "I'll stay."

"Good," Potter says, and she knows she's pleased him. He draws in a deep breath, squares his shoulders. "Let's go see what the fucker has to say." He puts on a pleasant smile, one that Althea knows is entirely fake. She hides her own as she watches Potter stride down the hallway.

She'd follow him anywhere, she realises with a start. Whatever he told her to do, wherever he told her to go.

Harry Potter's her guv now, Seven-Four-Alpha's her team, and she trusts them all implicitly. Of that much Althea's fucking certain.

She lifts her chin and walks after her guv, finally feeling worthy of her sergeant's bars.

It's a damned good feeling, she thinks.

***

Draco sits cross-legged on the sparring mat, opposite Muriel Burke. Her eyes are closed, she's breathing out slowly, then inhaling again. He's supposed to be following her lead, but he feels a right fool.

"Are you certain this'll help?" he asks, and his voice is loud in the quiet of the training room.

Burke opens one eye. "Only if you fucking let it, sprog."

Draco's sceptical, although he knows he shouldn't be. Durant had told him practically the same thing back in New York. But Draco hates this part of his training, this expectation that he'll be still and quiet, that he'll let his mind settle, become at ease, tap into some unexplained bollocks that will make him one with the universe or some sort of twaddle.

"It's not like that," Burke says, and Draco frowns more.

"Stop poking into my head," he says.

Burke just exhales. Her hands are resting on her knees, her back is ramrod straight. She doesn't say anything for a few breaths and then she lets her eyes slide open, looks at Draco. "The whole point," she says, "is that you need to control your abilities. You're the one who can't shut it off easily, sprog. Not me. So that wasn't me poking about in your head, but rather you projecting into mine."

"Whatever," Draco says, and he knows he sounds sulky. He's tired and worn out. It's been a long week and a longer day, it feels like. His head's hurting, his body's tense. He rolls his shoulders, trying to work out the kinks in his neck. His hair's pulled back into a ponytail, and it's drenched with sweat. He wants nothing more than a good shower, maybe a bit of a kip on the sofa at Grimmauld Place before he has to go out to dinner with Blaise and Pansy. He'd rung them both up last night, like he'd promised Harry. Made arrangements to see them after work. It'd been oddly difficult; he'd felt distant from them both at first. He still does in a way that he can't really explain, but that he doesn't like. He doesn't want to go out, not really. He wants to stay home, to curl up in bed with Harry and read for a bit, maybe even fuck if Harry's up for it.

Which Harry always is.

But he knows he needs to see Blaise and Pansy. Later maybe he'll ring up Millie and Greg. Theo even. He misses his friends. Harry's right about that. It feels like forever since they've been together, all of them. May at least, he thinks. For now, though, he can handle Pans. Blaise. Maybe his mother and Aunt Andromeda later this weekend. If he's not too tired.

Draco knows what being tired means, really. It's a deep sadness that wears him out, a quiet, constant grief that saps his energy, makes him less willing to drain himself by seeing people. He can stomach work because he has to, and really, Burke's tucked him away in this room all week, just the two of them. Draco's been glad of that. And Harry never wears him out, not really. Going out for dinner last night had been hard, but Draco's glad they'd gone in the end. And after he'd talked to Pansy and then Blaise, he'd gone upstairs to bed and wrapped himself around Harry, drifting into sleep as Harry sat up in bed, going through work files that he'd Levitated in front of him. It'd been good, Draco thinks. Calming.

He hadn't even woken up in the middle of the night this time.

"Breathe, Draco," Burke says, and Draco blinks at her. He hadn't even realised he was holding his breath. She looks at him, her brow furrowed in worry. "You're thinking about your father again," she says.

"Not really." Except he had been, in a way, he supposes. The nightmares that have been waking him have been about his father. He doesn't want to think about them, doesn't want to remember the fear, the horror, the moment when he realises that he is his father, standing in the middle of an empty Portkey cabin, staring Rodolphus Lestrange in the face, knowing that raised wand is going to end his life.

When he wakes up screaming Harry's always there.

Draco exhales. Tries to clear his head. Burke tells him he has to learn to keep his thoughts in control. It's the only way to learn how to direct his Legilimency properly. He's developed so much this week, learnt how to be more precise, how to be nearly undetectable. Harry's let him practice on him at nights, giving Draco nearly full rein inside his mind. Draco thinks it's bringing them closer. He hadn't realised that was possible, if he's honest. He's never felt like this with anyone before, never been this willing to lay himself bare.

It's so very not Slytherin of him, he thinks, and that worries him more than he'll admit. And so he keeps some parts of him back, tries not to give all of himself to Harry, but that's harder than it seems.

"Good," Burke says. "Except you're still thinking too much. I can feel it all the way over here. Empty your head, sprog. Try to keep it clear. Toss out the clutter."

Draco shifts on his arse, closes his eyes. Breathes in. Breathes out. Doesn't think of anything. Just a blank nothingness, a grey-white space behind his eyelids, stretching out into the distance.

He holds that in his mind the way Burke's taught him. Flicks away stray thoughts that slip through. Focusses. Breathes.

Time seems to still. Holds fast. Draco can feel the steady rise and fall of his chest with each deep breath, but he loses count of them until he almost feels as if he's drifting out of his body, as if magic's twisting around him, pulling him loose in sudden wash of power.

"Sprog," he hears from a distance, but he's slipping into the grey-white nothingness, into the even thrum of his pulse.

And then there's a sharp pinch on his wrist, and he slams back into himself, his breath catching, his eyes opening, and Burke's crouched beside him, a frown on her face.

"Oh thank Circe," she mutters, and she sits back on her heels, the navy cotton of her ankle-length trousers stretching across her knees. "You can't go that bloody deep, you twat."

Draco just blinks at her. "What?" He feels sleepy, his limbs heavy and thick. He turns his head; it takes a moment.

Burke pinches him again, harder this time, and Draco yelps. He looks down at his forearm; there's a red patch just above his Mark. "That's going to bruise," he snaps.

"Good." Burke's glaring at him. "Maybe when you look at it, you'll remember to keep a happy medium. Just beneath the surface, you idiot. Not diving deep into it. Keep that up and you'll lose yourself in your magic." She looks a bit unnerved. "You've too much power to tap into, you realise."

Draco doesn't, not really. "I'm just tired."

Burke snorts. "Stop pretending you're not a strong wizard, sprog." Her face softens a bit. "I know things are hard for you right now, but you're good at this. Brilliant, really, and I don't want you to do anything stupid that's going to implode that brain of yours." She reaches out and taps Draco's temple. "Safety first, remember?"

"I know." Draco rubs at his forehead. It's starting to ache. "But I am tired."

"All right." Burke glances over at the clock. It's nearly half-four. "We'll call it a day?"

Thank fucking Circe. Draco nods and pushes himself to his feet. His body feels a bit shaky, a bit stiff. Burke, on the other hand, is nimble as a bloody teenager. Draco half-hates her in a way.

But he doesn't. Not entirely. Burke's hard on him, but Draco likes her. More than he expected to, really. And he trusts her. She's been careful in his training, hasn't pushed into areas of his mind he's marked as private. And when he slips, she slams the door for him. Lets him have his space.

Draco's glad of that. It makes this easier than it might be.

He picks up his satchel, hefts it over his shoulder. "Monday then?" he asks, and Burke nods.

"Saul wants to see us then too," she says. She looks a bit annoyed. "Bloody prat probably wants to make certain I haven't turned you against him."

"Would you?" Draco asks with a smile, and Burke grins at him.

"Probably," she admits. "So he's not entirely paranoid."

Draco's just turned towards the door when it opens and Jake Durant steps in. Draco blinks in surprise.

"Hey, Muriel," Durant says with a wide, easy smile.

"Jake bloody Durant, as I live and breathe." Burke beams at him. "What the fuck are you doing back here? I thought you'd been sent back to New York."

Durant shrugs, his hands shoved in his pockets. He's in shirtsleeves and flat-fronted trousers that do nothing to hide the bulge of his prick, Draco notes. He feels his face heat, and he glances away as Durant turns that quick smile on him. "I'm back to help Barachiel Dee with the Dementor issue," he says. "Shacklebolt's orders, I guess. Heard you'd taken on Malfoy's training and I wanted to see how things were going."

"He's a smart little bastard." Burke comes up beside Draco, rests her elbow on his shoulder. "Aren't you, sprog?"

"I try." Draco doesn't want to smile at her, not in front of Durant, but he can't help himself. He glances Durant's way. "I'm better than I was."

Burke snorts, and she moves, coming to stand between Draco and Durant. "He's good. As natural as you were, Jake, and I never thought I'd see another like you."

Durant's looking at Draco, studying his face. "I'm glad." He folds his arms across his chest. "I'm sorry about your dad," he says to Draco. "I know that must make all of this that much harder."

It does, but Draco just shrugs, unwilling to admit it. "I'm fine," he says. He's fairly certain Durant doesn't believe him. Draco's all right with that, he thinks.

Burke frowns at him. Draco looks away.

"Well," Durant says after a moment. "I'm glad things are going well."

There's an awkward silence that Burke breaks by saying, "I'm going down the Leaky for a pint. Jake, you interested?"

"I might be," Durant says. His gaze shifts to Draco. "You up?"

Draco shakes his head. "I've dinner plans," he says. "With Pansy and Blaise." Durant flinches a bit at that, and Draco's mouth tightens. So that's the lay of the land then, is it? Blaise is good enough for a shag or two but not to keep up with. Fuck Jake Durant, Draco thinks. He decides to turn the knife a bit. "Shall I say hello for you?" he asks, his gaze fixed on Durant's face.

He's not surprised when Durant hesitates, then says, "Don't worry about it. I should probably be in touch myself."

"I'm sure you should." Draco lets his voice go arch, then cold as he asks, "Have you spoken with Harry?"

Durant meets his gaze then. "No."

That ought to make Draco happy, but it doesn't. Not really. He's not certain he wants Jake Durant back in London, back in Blaise's life, or Harry's for that matter. Draco's worn out, and he feels plain and dull standing here beside Durant. He doesn't like feeling that way again. Still, he squares his shoulders and says, "I'll send your regards to him then."

"If you want." Durant's smile is back again, and Draco's unease grows. "But I really did just want to stop by and see you, Malfoy. Make sure you were doing all right."

Draco feels a bit of a heel. He doesn't entirely care. "I am," he says, and he lifts his chin a bit. He knows he's being an arsehole, knows that Burke's watching him with a curious, contemplative look on her face. He can't really stop himself.

"Good." Durant studies him for a moment, then turns his gaze to Burke. "Muriel, I'll buy you that pint."

"Won't hear me refusing that," Burke says cheerfully, but the glance she gives Draco is a bit worried. "Go home and rest this weekend, sprog. Whatever Saul has planned for us on Monday, we'll deal with it then."

Draco nods stiffly. "Thanks." He walks past them both, trying not to look back as he steps through the open door. He knows they're watching him as he walks away.

He thinks he should care. He's too damned tired.

***

Blaise stretches his arm out to stroke the soft plum velvet of the banquette, half-listening to Pansy tell Draco about the latest advances in wizarding lipsticks and new formulas that don't rub off no matter how long you wear it--or how many blow jobs you give. Both of his friends are laughing, their heads bent together, silver-gilt and ebony, and Blaise thinks maybe all might just be right with the world for this little moment in time. The hum of the club is mellower now for a Friday night--it must be past ten, and the crowd at the bar is thinning out, couples going home for a half-drunken shag, groups wandering off to the sleazier nightclubs that stay open later, all dim lights and pounding music and lovely, lithe bodies swaying into each other.

They're back at the spin-off bar the young members from Blaise's club opened in Soho during the spring--they'd gone out for a lovely Thai in Kensington, then needed a more intimate place to drink. Blaise supposes they could have gone back to his flat, or Draco's, even--no one cares for Pansy's and the scent of burnt weed that drifts up from the flat below through the registers in the floor once the weekend begins--but really, he's enjoying being out too much to go home. London in the summer is glorious: the weather's not horridly wet, the tourists aren't too awful this year, and he's not missing Jake or New York at all. Terrible city, full of heat and concrete and sweating people. Blaise tries not to remember the view from the Millenium Hilton, the silver ribbon of the Hudson and the faint rosy hint of dawn on the glass buildings whilst Jake was biting at the inside of Blaise's thigh, his large hands cupping Blaise's arse possessively, tilting his hips up to meet Jake's mouth.

Blaise would never think of that. Not in the least.

"The new shades are just divine," Pansy's saying. "There's this pinky-brown nude lippie that would look incredible on you," Pansy eyes Draco, her gaze speculative. "I could dust your cheekbones with a contrast powder, or perhaps a bit of glitter. You've got such a lovely bone structure."

"No glitter," Blaise says, reaching to pick up his glass and drink out the bottom of his gin and tonic. He signals to the bar for the runner to come for the next round. It's a dark-haired witch today, trim and athletic, not the twink who gave Draco his number last time. Thank Circe. That would have been bloody awkward all around, Blaise thinks. "That shit gets bloody everywhere and stays." Blaise knows from experience--his own and that of a beautiful boy he'd fucked for two weeks after London Pride a few years back. He'd finally just thrown the whole bedding set out. Not even the strongest Scourgify had been able to get the glitter out of 400-count cotton. He wouldn't wish that on anyone. Especially not the guv.

Pansy shifts on the velvet banquette and frowns at him. "This is just highlighting powder, darling. The glitter effect's subtle." She pulls a bit of wine-soaked apple from her glass and eats it. It's a bit gauche, but Pansy always knows exactly what she can get away with. It's a signal that she doesn't care what you think, and it's devilishly attractive. In Blaise's opinion, Pans' fuck-off attitude is one of her very best traits.

Blaise sniffs at her now, the bite of lime and juniper from his drink still sparkling on his palate. "Do we even know if the guv's into drag? Some people run screaming at anything out of the ordinary."

"Oh, I doubt Potter's that sort--he strikes me as a kinky sod." Pansy's mouth quirks up at the corners. "Right, Draco?"

Draco huffs at her words, but it's only a mock-protest. They all know it. Frankly, Blaise thinks the guv probably is kinky, perhaps even kinkier than Blaise suspects he might be. Draco's sat across from Blaise, fiddling with his cocktail napkin, fraying the pressed edge, his distraction a clear confirmation of Blaise's suspicions.

It shouldn't be a surprise, Blaise supposes. Blaise fucked Jake as well; he has a fairly decent idea what the guv might have done during those two years he was off shagging that particular Durant.

Pansy eyes the blood red remnants of her sangria. "Besides, everyone likes a bit of gender play, don't they? Merlin knows I do." She looks over at Draco. "What about you two? Do share, darling."

Draco drops the shredded cocktail napkin onto the table and takes a sip of his Boulevardier. He toys with the stem of his glass, the Campari staining his lips pinker. "Harry doesn't do it himself, I don't think, but I doubt he'd complain if I dressed up."

From the studiously blank expression on Draco's face, Blaise thinks it might be a bit more than not complaining on the guv's part, and he's mildly curious, though he really has no desire to follow up on that line of thought. Blaise remembers Draco dressing as a witch on up several occasions, from a Hogwarts dare to a debauched Halloween during Auror training when they all went on a two-day bender over the weekend. Really, Draco looks amazing in drag, almost undetectable really. Blaise still has a small scar under his left elbow from that Halloween, and he still doesn't quite know how he arrived at it. He supposes a broken beer bottle was involved at some point, but Pansy and Draco don't remember either.

Blaise wonders for a moment if Jake is into drag too, if he and Potter had played around with it, if he'd fuck Blaise now if Blaise showed up on his doorstep in Brooklyn wearing a pair of Pansy's high heels and her shortest skirt. His heart twinges, and he pushes the thought down as quickly as it rises, but he's too late. Draco blinks at him wide-eyed and rather shocked. That's unexpected, drifts through his mind in Draco's posh accent.

Stop it, Blaise says mentally, uncomfortable and a bit randy, if he's honest. Draco only looks away, cheeks flushing. They're halfway to drunk, and Blaise supposes it's harder for Draco not to read their thoughts. Plus they do know each other so well. Still, he wonders if he ought to start learning Occlumency.

Probably.

Blaise gives Draco a sharp glare.

"Sorry," Draco murmurs, lifting his drink.

"Isn't it Potter's birthday on Monday?" Pansy glances between them with a frown, then she turns to Draco, her lips curving. "You could surprise him in that lovely black lace gown you lifted from the Manor attic when Theo dared you to wear it for fancy dress." Really, Blaise half-approves that idea; Draco'd been bloody stunning in it. Pansy props her chin on her hand. "Does your mother know you've got it yet?"

Draco laughs. "Of course not. And I've no idea where that is--it might be in my Hogwarts trunk. But yes. Maybe." He hesitates, then says, "By the by, I'd thought of doing a dinner party on Monday for Harry. At Grimmauld. You'll both be invited, of course. Along with Althea."

Blaise is startled and starts to speak, but Draco raises a hand, glancing to the runner approaching their table. Once they've given their orders, Draco lowers his hand covertly and folds it with the other in his lap. "Mother and Aunt Andromeda and Teddy will be there, I hope." He chews his lip, turns his glass in his hand. "And I suppose I'll have to ask Granger and Weasley." Draco looks a bit uncertain, then he shrugs. "I'll send owls over the weekend."

"This is a big step," Blaise says, eyeing his old friend's face. "You're officially a couple now, aren't you?" He's proud of Draco and the guv, in a way, even if it's impossible to actually spend time with Draco now that he's shacked up with Potter, and Blaise is willing to admit he's envious too. He wouldn't mind someone to come home to either. And the guv's well fit--he looks like he could slam you up against the wall when you needed it. Although not nearly as fit as Jake Blaise's mind supplies, and fuck but he's got to stop thinking like this. Blaise has stopped checking his texts, although he can't bring himself to delete the conversation Jake never responded to.

Pathetic of him, he knows.

Draco fiddles with the cuff of his grey silk shirt, frowning. His face pinkens a bit, in a charming way, Blaise thinks. "I suppose. It makes it easier that I'm in the Department of Mysteries now, although I hardly think we should take out an announcement in the Prophet, all things considered." He smiles, but it's a bit fragile. "Although I suppose I should be glad that my father's gone. He'd have thrown a strop for the ages once he realised I really have no intention of settling down." Draco looks away, his smile fading. "The way he wanted at least."

But Blaise has already caught the haunted look in Draco's eyes. He glances at Pansy; she shakes her head almost imperceptibly. They're not talking about Lucius tonight, not unless Draco changes his mind. At the beginning of the evening, over spring rolls and tofu triangles, Pansy'd broached it, tried to ask how he was doing. Draco'd shut that topic down right away, said he wasn't really ready to talk about it, thanks ever so. They've been trying to respect his wishes all night.

"So, how is the Department of Mysteries going, old man?" Blaise knows better than to mention Lucius again. "Is it really so mysterious as they'd like us to believe?"

Draco nods, raising his eyebrows. "More than, really. I couldn't possibly explain." He pauses. "I'm mostly still learning Legilimency, of course. It's a bit dull, if I'm honest." He looks away, doesn't meet Blaise's eyes, and Blaise thinks it's obvious that Draco's lying. Blaise supposes it's going to become a habit, now, this secrecy between them. Draco clears his throat, glances back at Blaise. "How was Althea's first week as a sergeant?"

It's awkward, isn't it, this trying to talk about work when they don't share it any longer. Blaise wonders if it'll get easier when they all get used to it, or if it'll just push them apart, keep Draco at a distance from them. He sighs and reaches for his fresh gin and tonic.

"She's quite good at tearing strips off of us," Blaise says after a moment. "And chiding us for the slowcoaches we are." He takes a sip of drink--this one's even stronger than the one before. He looks over, raising his glass to the barkeep. Merle's on tonight, and she's a heavy pourer. He's never been more grateful.

"But she's not you," Pansy puts her hand on Draco's arm for a moment, then drops it to the table. "You know that."

And Blaise doesn't dare add that he knows Potter's obviously been missing Draco at work, that the guv's been looking up and then frowning every time someone else comes into the incident room. They've got to make a clean break, the two of them: Potter and Draco've made their bed--evidently together--and they've got to lie in it now. However hard it might be for them both.

Draco runs a finger over the rim of his glass. "Any news about my arse of an uncle?" His tone is light, but he's definitely fishing for information. "Is the murderous bastard anywhere nearby?"

"Yeah, we can't tell you anything. You know that," Blaise says, eyeing him. "Not without breaking about fifty interdepartmental rules."

With a sigh, Draco says, "I know, but you can't blame me for trying." He looks over to Pansy, who's sizing up a handsome bloke at the bar. Blaise thinks he's much too short for his tastes, but he does bear a passing resemblance to Goldstein, which he supposes is why Pansy's looking. "Any news about Eustace, Pans?"

Pansy turns back to the table, a faint frown on her face. "The guv said he's fucked. In official parlance, he's heavily implicated in the case. They think he'll go to Oudepoort." She sips at her sangria, then dabs a napkin at her lip. A blood red drop stains her finger near the nail.

Blaise is fairly certain there's something Pansy's not saying, probably about Eustace and Daisy. He'd bet good money her family's deep in the business with Dolohov in the States, but it's no good pushing right now. She'll tell them when she's ready, or once it's no longer dangerous. Blaise wonders when it became so dangerous for them to know things. As Slytherins, they were raised to trust no one, but the last weeks have been a testament to just how hard that can get, particularly with official duties in the mix.

"Tony's evidently staying in the States for now," Pansy says after a moment. "From what your boyfriend told me." She quirks an eyebrow at Draco again, who has the decency to blush.

"We're not--" Draco stops. "You know what, fuck it. We are. We're dating. He's my boyfriend." His face softens, his mouth curves up at the corner. Circe but Blaise has never been more jealous of his best friend. He has to look away, has to take a sip of his drink to steady his shaking hand.

Pansy waves generously with her wineglass, but somehow manages not to baptise the table. "Hey, at least you can be open. It's good that you've not got Titus sodding Gideon breathing up your arses for improper fraternisation or what have you."

"Well, the guv's been looking well tended to." Blaise purses his lips a bit, and there's a sharp edge to his teasing, more so than he means to come out. "So, yeah, you'd better be boyfriends, or there's something else going on."

Draco looks a bit angry, not that Blaise blames him. He's a shit, he knows, and he feels a stab of shame whilst Pansy tries to cover the sudden discomfort with a too-bright laugh.

"As if Potter can glance at anyone else," she says. "Draco's got him wrapped around his little finger, haven't you, darling?"

Draco stares down at his drink, his cheeks flushed, then he looks up at Blaise, eyes narrowed.

Sorry, Blaise thinks, and he doesn't shift his gaze away. He knows he's forgiven when Draco's shoulders relax back against the banquette, and he reaches for his Boulevardier.

"Well," Draco says, "he does need a bit of ordering about. But at least he's become more biddable."

Blaise raises his glass, clinking it against Pansy's and Draco's. "Here's to biddability and Gryffindors doing what they're told!" They all drink, united for a moment in a uniquely Slytherin sentiment.

Draco smoothes a hand over his temple, long fingers following the loose fall of his pale hair. "I am worried, though," he says in a low voice, looking around for a moment to make sure no one is listening. "Especially in the current climate. It can't possibly be good for Harry to be seen with me, much less if our…" He hesitate, bites his lip. "Our relationship becomes public knowledge."

The look on his face is grim and sad. Blaise is surprised to find his heart clenches. Fuck, but it's mad how goddamned in love with the guv Draco is--putting Potter above himself like a bloody fucking Gryffindor, and Draco doesn't do that for many people. Just Blaise and Pansy, mostly, and even then that's not a given.

"He's lucky to have you, old man," Blaise says finally. "Happiness isn't an easy thing to find, no matter what people say." Blaise should know, he thinks.

Pansy covers Draco's hand with her own, squeezing lightly. "Don't worry about Potter. He'll be fine, Draco. If it comes out and people are shits, he'll just punch something or set it on fire, and then they'll give him a fucking medal."

They all laugh, although it's not far off true in Blaise's opinion. He takes the opportunity to beckon the runner for another round. He wishes it didn't beggar the imagination, the guv's ability to escape danger. He only hopes that Draco's wrong, that these feelings between them aren't going to be the thing that tarnishes the reputation of Harry Potter. Public opinion is a fickle thing, and the registration movement isn't helping at the moment. Perhaps a quiet summer will let some of the hatred die back down. Or someone might want to shut Barnabas Cuffe the hell up, he thinks.

A half-hour later, the bar nearly empty, after they've toasted once again, this time to friendship, and set their drinks back down, Draco sighs heavily. "So."

"Oh, now, that's a tone I don't enjoy hearing," Pansy says. "What's wrong? You look a bit miserable, darling."

Draco comes to some sort of inward decision. "I'm going to tell Blaise something neither of you are going to like." He looks at Blaise. "And I shouldn't tell you, but we're half-pissed as it is, and I can't be a part of keeping it from you." He rubs the back of his neck and frowns. "Merlin, I hate this."

Blaise's stomach drops. His mind would race, if he weren't nearly two and a quarter sheets to the wind at the moment. He tries to imagine what might have Draco so worried, and comes up blank. Pansy leans in, her gaze fixed on Draco's face.

"Just say it," she says. "Is this about the guv? Althea? Work?"

Draco shakes his head, takes a deep breath. "Durant's back in London. He came into my Legilimency session today." Draco takes a sip of his drink whilst Blaise stares at him, gobsmacked. "It seems Graves sent him over to work with us at Croaker's request. And your grandfather's, I think."

As the fading tatters of his drunken serenity swirl around him, all Blaise can think is that his bloody mobile is still as blank as it has been all week. He takes a vicious swill of his drink, his stomach churning, his good mood ruined. "Oh," is all he can say.

"I'm sorry, Blaise." Draco looks contrite. "Really I am."

Blaise takes another sip of his drink, his fingers tightening around the slick glass. Bloody fucking arsehole, he thinks. Why the hell hasn't he texted back?

Draco just looks at him, and Blaise knows he's heard those thoughts. He doesn't fucking care.

"Blaise," Pansy says, but he pulls away when she touches his hand.

"Don't." Blaise sets his glass down with a thunk, gin spilling out over his thumb. He draws in an unsteady breath, his heart shattering inside of him. "Fuck that sodding bastard." He looks at Draco, his mouth tight. Blaise doesn't trust it not to tremble. "Fuck him to hell and back."

"I agree," Draco murmurs, and Blaise wants to punch him, wants to scream, wants to hate him for having everything Blaise wants, everything Blaise needs.

Instead, he raises his hand for another round, looking away. Jake motherfucking Durant can fuck the fuck off.

Blaise doesn't know what else to say.

***

Harry's sat on the sofa in the library at Grimmauld Place, Hermione curled up at the other end, Ron in the armchair next to them both. A half-empty bottle of wine that Kreacher swore the house had spit out from some unknown space--probably the bloody still-hidden wine cellar, Harry suspects--perches on the end table, its cork beside it. The wine's good, and forty-one years old, if Harry can read the Roman numerals on the dusty label correctly. He reaches up, rubs his aching shoulder. It's not in the sling any longer. The Healer at St Mungo's this afternoon had lectured him about that. Hermione watches him, sympathetically, her wine glass dangling from her fingers.

"So they said you'd be all right, didn't they?" she asks. "I mean, with the potions. You'll get full movement back soon?"

Harry sighs. His wineglass is nestled in the small vee between his thigh and his bent knee. He picks it up, takes a sip before setting it back. "Yeah. Evidently I ought to have stopped immobilising it a week ago," he admits. "Let it move some." His shoulder twinges again. "I've cocked it up doing this, it seems." Locked his shoulder, the Healer who'd seen him had said, and Harry doesn't want to tell Hermione that if the potions don't work he's been threatened with physical therapy twice a week. Harry doesn't have bloody time for that, he thinks.

"And you'll actually take your potions this time?" Ron's slouched in the armchair, his legs stretched out in front of him, knees spread wide. He sets his empty glass aside. "Not be a right twat about it?"

"Yes." Harry frowns, still thinking about how the fuck he'd manage to juggle work and two afternoons a week at St Mungo's, along with Freddie. And then anything Draco might need from him. Christ, he hopes it doesn't come to that. He looks over at Ron. "But I had them give me ones this time that won't fuck up my head. I told them I couldn't be foggy at work."

"More like for Malfoy." Ron gives Harry a long, steady look, and Harry feels his face grow warm. He shrugs and reaches for his wine glass, taking a sip. He's not going to deny it.

"If he needs me," Harry says quietly.

They're silent for a moment, then Hermione says, "He's doing well at work." She turns her glass between her hands, looking down as the pale wine sloshes up the sides. "Muriel Burke told me so. She thinks he's one of the best Legilimens she's seen in ages."

Harry feels a warm twist of pride. "Of course he bloody is." He hesitates, then asks, "How long are you lot going to keep him on a training schedule?"

"I don't know." Hermione takes another sip of her wine, looking at Harry over the rim of her glass. He knows she's contemplating how much she can tell him. When she lowers the glass, she just sighs. "Saul wants him out in the field quickly. He's qualified for defensive and offensive magic, so that helps. We'll just need to teach him a few Unspeakable tricks before he's released into the wild."

That makes Harry uneasy. "You'll keep him safe." He doesn't like the thought of Draco out there, doing dangerous things without Harry by his side.

Hermione's face softens. "As much as I can, Harry. I promise."

"I'm a tit, I know." Harry gives her a small smile. "It's just…" He trails off, uncertain as to what to say. How to explain it.

"He's yours," Ron says quietly from his chair, and Harry looks over at him. "It's bad enough he's torn up about his dad. You don't want him hurt on top of it."

Harry nods, then says, "Or worse." And that's not something he wants to consider, Draco coming back from the field in a body bag. But it happens. Harry knows that. They all do. It's part of the job, as much as they all try to ignore it, to pretend it doesn't happen.

Look at Winston Chang. Phoebe Rayne. Lotte Marquandt.

The last thing Harry wants is to have Hermione standing in front of him, giving him that sort of news. He draws in an uneven breath, lifts his wineglass to his mouth. Ron's watching him, and Harry wonders how much he sees.

He's glad his friends are here, though. Glad he'd asked them over for dinner whilst Draco was out with Parkinson and Zabini. He wonders if he and Draco have been too wrapped up in each other lately, if perhaps it's better for them to have some time apart. Harry misses Draco though. Wishes he were here beside him, curled up against Harry's side, that pale blond head resting on Harry's shoulder.

"Mum wondered if you wanted to come over to the Burrow on Monday," Ron says, and Harry looks over at him. "For your birthday, since you're actually in the country this year."

"I can't." Harry shifts and his shoulder twinges again. He winces, tries to relax into the corner of the sofa. "Draco wants to do something for it." And that sounds so odd to him, he thinks. Draco Malfoy celebrating Harry's birthday. He gives Ron a faint smile. "Evidently I do it all wrong."

Ron snorts. "I can't say I disagree with him there." Ron's always told Harry's he's mental for not caring about his birthday; Hermione throws Ron a big party every year, and he loves it the whole of it. The people, the presents, the drinking.

Harry's a hell of a lot more introverted than that. He rubs his palm against his jaw, the slight scruff scraping across his skin. "Fuck only knows what he has up his sleeve. It's Draco so I'd expect almost anything."

"Well it won't be tacky, I'm sure" Hermione sys. "Your boyfriend does have good taste." She smiles. "To a dogmatic degree."

"I can't argue that." Harry laughs, a warmth spreading through him. He's missed this, these nights with Ron and Hermione, and it feels good to have them here at Grimmauld. It's been too long, Harry thinks, and he's grateful that Draco had suggested it whilst he was dressing for dinner, looking over at Harry and telling him he needed to not be alone himself, that maybe it might be good for Granger and the Weasel to stop by.

Ron had been surprised when Harry'd firecalled shortly after Draco'd left, but it'd only taken ten minutes for him and Hermione to show up. Harry'd thrown together some spag bol in the kitchen with Ron's help, as Hermione'd sat at the kitchen table, laughing at them both as they'd argued about the current Quidditch tables. It'd felt like the old days, back before they'd married and Harry'd gone off on his own.

Harry's not certain how he's managed since without them. He looks over at Hermione, then at Ron. "I've missed you both," he says after a moment. "I'm sorry I've been such a prat lately."

"You've had things going on the past few months," Ron says easily. "Nothing wrong with that. Life gets in the way sometimes, doesn't it, love?" He stretches a hand out to his wife; she takes it with a fond smile. Ron looks back over at Harry. "You're coming back to yourself, mate. Malf--" He frowns and says, "Draco's been good for you, I reckon. Much as I hate to admit it, given how much of a fucking wanker he was when we were kids.'

"He makes me feel more grounded," Harry says, his voice quiet. He shakes his head, laughs a little. "Mental to say that about a Malfoy, isn't it?"

Hermione shrugs. She's dropped Ron's hand, sat forward a bit, her bare feet crossed on the sofa. She looks young with her tight curls wild and loose around her head, her work makeup wiped off and her tailored dress swapped out for black yoga pants that hug her hips and a drapey, sleeveless purple top that gapes just a bit across her tits, giving them all an eyeful of her cleavage, which her husband rather likes, Harry thinks, judging by how he's been eyeing Hermione for the past hour or two. "I think he always did in a way," she says. She cups the bowl of her wine glass between her hands. "You were constantly obsessed with him at Hogwarts. Maybe that's part of it. For you and Malfoy both." She looks up at Harry. "Now that I'm used to you together, it doesn't seem quite as mad. Not really."

"I suppose," Harry says. He listens to the house settling around them. He thinks it's grousing a bit that Draco's not there, the stairs creaking a bit unhappily, a rustle that sound almost like a sigh coming from the hearth. It's got used to having Draco about too, Harry thinks, and without him around, there's a quiet emptiness that Harry can't quite get entirely comfortable in.

Ron shifts in his chair; the leather creaks beneath his thighs as he pushes himself up a bit straighter. "How's he dealing with the Marchbanks and Hawkworth shit?" he asks. "I saw Cuffe's editorial today in the Prophet suggesting it's time the Wizengamot bring the Death Eater legislation to the public floor instead of arguing about it behind committee doors."

Harry had too, over his toast and sausage this morning. He'd binned the Prophet before Draco'd come down from his shower, setting it alight with an Incendio charm. It's not that he thinks Draco won't hear about it; he'd just not wanted Draco to start off the day with that bollocks hovering over him. "We're not really talking about it," he says after a moment. "If we can help it at least." The whole mention of the Registry just makes them both tense and angry and worried. Harry wants to pretend it doesn't exist, that the Wizengamot would never do anything that goddamned stupid, that they'll realise Marchbanks and Hawkworth as well are both off their fucking nut.

But Harry's not so certain that'll happen any longer. Not with the rumblings he's been hearing this week in the Ministry, the whispers over the tea kettle in the Auror break room that maybe it's not the worst idea, maybe it would help them do their jobs better. Harry'd shut that down whenever anyone'd been idiot enough to say it in front of him, but that doesn't mean he's changed their minds, he knows that full well. They're just careful around him now, and he's seen the sideways looks when he's walked through the bullpen.

Hermione presses her toes against his thigh. "Hey," she says, and Harry glances over at her. "We'll do what we can to keep it from happening, yeah?"

Harry knows the smile he gives her strained. "Yeah," he says, and they all fall silent for a moment. Harry picks up his wine glass and takes another sip, then sighs. "It's just this isn't what we fought for, you know? This kind of shit."

"Lestrange's escape isn't helping," Ron says. He rubs his hand over his face, pushes his hair back from his forehead.It falls back over in a tumble of red-gold. "People are talking about it in Diagon. The Shopkeeper's Association's already sent out flyers about what to do in case of an attack. They're worried he's going to show up in a public place. Do something bloody stupid, you know?"

"We're watching that," Hermione says, but there's a troubled frown creasing her forehead. "Croaker's put a rotation of Unspeakables walking through--"

"Yeah, and they're not bloody obvious at all." Ron wrinkles his nose. "You can practically smell the spook seeping off them."

For a moment Harry thinks Hermione's going to lose her temper, but then she just huffs a laugh and settles back against the arm of the sofa. "He's put the newer ones in for now, and they're all bloody terrified they're going to cock up. I suppose I should tell him to add in some of the more experienced Unspeakables. Help them blend in a bit more."

Ron shrugs. "Maybe it's just me, being used to the two of you. I do have superpowers when it comes to sniffing out law enforcement."

"Which comes in handy," Harry says, "whenever George is pushing the magical experimentation laws in Diagon."

"Never truer said, mate." Ron grins at him. "At least we've gone nearly three years without him blowing up one of the load-bearing walls and singeing half the stock of Flourish and Blotts, so there's that for the coffers."

Harry shakes his head. George doesn't give a damn about the fines, they all know that. Not once he's caught up in figuring out a new product line.

The Floo flares to life in a rush of green flame, and Harry glances over just in time to see Draco stumble out of the fire, blinking owlishly at them all.

"Oh," Draco says, and he sways just a bit. "You're still here."

Harry checks his watch. "It's not half-eleven yet." He hides a smile as Draco catches himself on the back of a chair. "Are you pissed?"

"Only tipsy," Draco says, enunciating far too clearly for someone who's sober. His eyes are bright, and the lamplight in the room catches in his hair, makes it shine. He looks over at Hermione and Ron, and Harry can tell by the look on his face that his better self's struggling with his years of Slytherin training. The former wins out. "Granger. Weasley. How lovely to see you both."

"He's definitely pissed," Ron says with a grin that only widens as Draco elegantly flips two fingers his way then stumbles over to the sofa and flops down beside Harry. He takes Harry's wineglass from between his legs and drains the last bit of the dregs, handing it back to Harry who shakes his head, then sets it aside, beside the bottle itself.

"Sod off," Draco says, but Harry can tell he doesn't mean it, especially when he looks up at Harry, a crease between his carefully groomed brows, and presses his hand to Harry's shoulder, ever so gently. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

Harry cards his fingers through Draco's loose hair. "No, love," he says with a faint smile. "I'm fine." He's not, at least not entirely--Draco's drop onto the sofa had been a bit jarring--and Hermione gives him a knowing look. Still, Harry likes the way Draco curls against him, tucked beneath Harry's good arm, his aching shoulder pressed into the sofa cushions. He kisses the top of Draco's head. "Did you have fun?"

"Mostly." Draco's eyes close, and he breathes out softly, and Harry almost thinks he's dozing off when Draco says, "Have you been talking about me then? You're all terribly quiet."

"Arrogant of you, don't you think?" Ron asks, but he gives Draco an amused look.

Draco yawns behind his hand, then opens his eyes, frowning at Ron. "It's not out of the realm of possibility."

Harry smoothes Draco's hair back from his forehead. "I think we're all just tired. It's been a long week."

"A long lifetime," Draco murmurs as Harry's fingers comb through his silky locks. He falls silent again.

Hermione watches them both, a curiously gentle look on her face, and then she meets Harry's gaze. She smiles faintly, sets her wine glass down on the ground, and unfolds her long legs. "We should go home."

Ron's already pulled his mobile out of his pocket. He points it at Harry and Draco, snaps a picture, looking down at it. "Oh that's brill," he murmurs, then he glances up at Harry. "What? A bloke needs to have blackmail material on that one." He nods towards Draco who just opens one eye and frowns at Ron.

"You've an odd idea what constitutes blackmail, Weasley," Draco says, and then he stretches, long and lean in his slightly rumpled grey silk shirt and his dark trousers. Harry wonders if Draco has any idea how beautiful he looks, especially when his hair falls in his face like this, and he's biting his lip, suppressing another yawn. Harry can't stop himself from touching Draco's cheek, smiling over at him, his breath catching at the heated look in Draco's eye. Draco's not that terribly pissed, Harry can tell, and he thinks some of it might be put on for Ron and Hermione's sake.

But Hermione's already standing, reaching for her shoes. She doesn't bother to put them on; they're only Flooing back to their own flat, Harry knows. She bends down to kiss Harry's cheek, and he smells roses on her soft brown skin. "Have a good night," she murmurs in Harry's ear, softly enough that Draco can't hear her, and when she pulls back, she's smiling down at them both.

Ron comes up behind her, wraps his arm around her waist. "Home, then, darling?" he asks, and he nuzzles her ear. "Malfoy might be pissed, but I'm not." His other hand goes down to her arse, cups it, and Hermione laughs and swats it away.

"Don't be awful." Hermione glances over at Harry, reaches out and touches his cheek. "We should do this again."

"Yeah." Harry means it. He lets his hand run across Draco's shoulders. "I'd like that."

And then Ron's bundling Hermione into the Floo, both of them calling back their farewells before disappearing in a flash of green flames, their laughter still echoing in the quiet of the library.

Draco breathes out, settles back against Harry's shoulder. "Sorry," he says after a moment. "I could have stayed out longer, I suppose, but Blaise was starting to sulk."

"Really?" Harry looks over at him. "I thought you had fun."

"Until I was stupid enough to mention Jake bloody Durant was in the Ministry today," Draco says, and he glances at Harry when Harry stiffens. "You didn't know either."

"Why would I?" Harry frowns. He doesn't like the idea that Jake's back without him knowing. "Hermione didn't mention it either."

Draco sighs and sits up, pushing his hair back out of his face, tucking it behind his ears. "Maybe she doesn't know. He said he was back to help Blaise's grandfather with the Dementors." Draco shrugs, but the glance he gives Harry is tinged with unhappiness. "Does it bother you?"

Harry takes his time answering. "Not for the reasons you're thinking." He doesn't look away from Draco. "It's just odd, having him show up like this." Harry'd known it would happen eventually. He'd just hoped it might take a bit longer, if he's honest. Jake's a cloud over their relationship in a way, and as much as Draco's more confident in what they have together, less jealous of Jake to an extent, Harry knows it's not easy for him either. It's not as if Harry'd be thrilled if Nicholas sodding Lyndon walked in his office door and sat down.

"I suppose." Draco twists a lock of his hair around a finger, frowning. "But I'm more worried about Blaise, if I'm honest." He gives Harry a cautious, sideways look. It's a subject they skid away from usually, the fact that one of Draco's best friends has shagged Harry's ex, wants to shag him again. And it only complicates matters that Zabini's under Harry's command. Harry wonders what Titus Gideon would have to say about that, if Professional Standards would see that little wrinkle as an issue to be considered. Probably, Harry thinks, but then again, if they were to get hung up on Aurors shagging other Aurors' exes, half the force would be brought in on conduct charges, wouldn't they?

Harry frowns. "I'm not going to be angry with Zabini, you know that."

Draco shakes his head and sighs. "It's not that." He chews on his lip, then says, "Durant didn't tell Blaise he was coming. He hasn't even rung him up, texted, anything. Not since they've been back."

"Oh." Harry rubs his hand along the back of his neck. His hair curls over his fingertips. "Zabini's upset then."

"He won't admit it," Draco says, "but yeah."

Harry doesn't really know what to say. He feels awkward and uncertain, so he just looks at Draco. "That's rough."

"It is." Draco falls silent, leans back against the sofa cushions. There's an odd space between them now, both physically and in some way Harry doesn't really know how to describe. He doesn't like it, though, but when he puts his hand out, Draco doesn't take it.

The house grumbles around them, the eaves creaking overhead.

Harry glances over at Draco. He looks sad and tired. "Hey," Harry says finally, and Draco looks up. "Stop worrying."

Draco doesn't say anything at first; he just looks back down at his hands, his fingers tugging at each other, rubbing across his knuckles. Harry can hear them crack lightly when Draco pulls at them. Draco sighs. "He makes me feel…" Draco trails off, then shrugs. "I don't know. Wanting in some way."

"Jake?" Harry asks, and Draco nods.

"I don't hate him," Draco says. "He's not awful. But he's...him." Draco looks over at Harry. "And I'm just me."

Harry wants to touch Draco. He doesn't dare. Not yet, at least. "And you're the one I'm arse over tit for."

Draco gives him a half-smile. "I know. But I still feel…" He stops, obviously searching for the right word. "Less," he says after a moment.

"That's bollocks and you know it," Harry says, sitting up. His shoulder hurts; he ignores it. He's glad his sling's gone when he reaches for Draco, his hands closing over Draco's elbows. He pulls Draco forward, over his lap, and he doesn't give a damn how badly it makes his arm hurt, especially when Draco's twisted across his thighs, looking up at Harry. "You bloody thick arsehole," Harry murmurs, and he lets his fingertips slide over Draco's cheek. "To me, you're worth a million of Jake. You always came first, don't you know that? You're the one I was trying to replace with him, the one I've evidently been mad about since I was fifteen. Even my friends agree."

Draco's breath catches. He's watching Harry, his eyes bright and oh so very grey, his hair spilt across Harry's denim-clad thighs. "Am I?"

Harry snorts. "Don't be a twat. You know this. You're my original blond prat." He smoothes a palm over Draco's temple, lets his fingers tangle in Draco's hair. "I evidently have a fucking type. Arrogant, arsehole gits with perfect blond hair and the ability to read my sodding mind." He leans forward, lowers his voice. "Wonder how that particular fetish developed in my adolescence."

"I'd never know." Draco's smiling up at him, and that furrow of unhappiness is easing from his brow, to Harry's relief. And then Draco says, in a quiet voice, "Tell me you love me, Harry."

"Christ, Draco." Harry can barely speak. "You know I do."

Draco's smile shifts. Fades. "Say it."

Harry realises this is important to Draco, understands that he needs to hear the words. "I love you," he whispers, and Draco's eyelids flutter closed for the briefest of moments.

And then Draco's shifting, sliding off the sofa onto his knees, pressing himself between Harry's thighs, his hands sliding up Harry's legs, his mouth soft and slightly open.

"Merlin," Harry breathes out, when he looks down and sees Draco pushing at Harry's t-shirt, reaching beneath it for the buttons on Harry's jeans. He lifts his hips when Draco tugs at the denim, his fingers hooked through Harry's belt loops, and the jeans slide down just enough for Draco to see the white cotton of Harry's y-fronts and the curve of Harry's already swelling prick through them. "You're not sober, love."

"More than you think." Draco looks up at him. "Pansy cast a Sobering Charm on me half an hour ago. I just drank a bit more before I came home." He gives Harry a wry smile. "Stupid of me."

Harry just watches him. "I just--" And then Draco shushes him, and Harry falls silent.

Draco leans forward, mouths at Harry's cock through the soft fabric, his fingers still caught in the folds of Harry's jeans. His hair falls forward, over his face, and Harry shivers as he feels the light scrape of Draco's teeth across his pants.

When Draco leans back, Harry wants to protest, but he catches himself. Draco pushes his hair back; his cheeks are pink, his mouth full, and his voice is a bit rough as he looks up at Harry and says, "I really want to suck your prick. Quite enthusiastically."

Harry just nods, and he helps Draco push his y-fronts down, tucking the elastic beneath the swell of his bollocks. His prick is half-hard already, the head pushing out from Harry's foreskin, ruddy and starting to get slick. Harry wants to feel Draco's mouth on it, wants the flick of Draco's tongue across his wet slit. But Draco just looks at Harry's fattening cock, his rosy lip caught between his white teeth.

"Merlin," Draco murmurs, and he reaches out with one fingertip, lets it drag across the swell of Harry's prick, down along the velvet sheath of Harry's foreskin. "No one has a cock like yours, Harry." His finger slips along Harry's shaft, down to the root, then over the soft fur of Harry's bollocks. His gaze flicks back up to Harry's face. "You've no bloody idea how beautiful it is, do you?"

Harry swallows, then shakes his head. No one's worshipped his cock the way Draco does, no one's looked at him that way, as if Harry's prick is a goddamned priceless treasure, more so than the Queen's bloody jewels locked away in the Tower.

Draco's barely touching him, but Harry's so fucking hard he can't stand it. The lightest shift of Draco's fingertip across Harry's skin makes Harry want to shudder, to jerk. He can't tear his gaze away from Draco on his knees, the flush on Draco's cheeks spreading, slipping down his throat, beneath his collar. Draco's mouth is half-open, his lips soft. Harry wants to push his hips up, to shove his cock deep into Draco's throat, to feel Draco suck him, work the length of him with his lips and his teeth.

A tremor goes through Harry at the thought. He licks his lips, breathes out. "Draco," he whispers, and Draco looks up at him again. "Please."

"Ask me again," Draco says, his voice so bloody soft. He's watching Harry, and the tip of his tongue slips out, slides across his bottom lip. Harry's chest hurts; he breathes in sharply.

"Suck my prick, Draco," Harry chokes out. "For fuck's sake."

Draco's smile grows a bit sharper. "You forgot something."

Harry closes his eyes, exhales. When he opens them again, Draco's still watching him, his hands splayed wide across Harry's thighs. "Please," Harry says, and the word catches in the back of his throat. His hand curves around Draco's cheek; his thumb strokes along the sharp angle of Draco's jaw, over the soft swell of Draco's mouth, pulling lightly at Draco's bottom lip. "Please suck me off, baby."

"Fuck," Draco says, and his eyes are wide. He nips at Harry's thumb, sucks the tip into his mouth, and Harry swears his heart stops for a moment. And then Draco pulls back, lets Harry's thumb pop free. "I want…" But he doesn't finish the thought. Instead he dips his head forward, his mouth closing around Harry's shaft. Harry's head falls back, his shoulders sink into the sofa, and he gives in to the shuddering sensation of Draco's lips moving down the underside of his prick, Draco's tongue tracing the path of his vein.

It feels incredible, Harry thinks, and Draco licks him slowly, one hand cupping Harry's bollocks in his palm, soft and warm and pliant against Draco's fingertips. Harry stretches his arms out, despite the shiver of pain that goes through his bad shoulder. He grips the back of the sofa, breathes out. "Jesus," he says. "You're the best cocksucker…" He breaks off into a sharp breath as Draco's tongue slides over the head of Harry's prick, the tip pushing into Harry's slick slit.

Draco's looking up at him, his tongue pink and wet as it flicks across the fat head of Harry's cock. His breath is warm against Harry's skin when he asks, "Am I?" His hands slide up, beneath Harry's t-shirt, his fingers soft and smooth as they move over Harry's skin. "No one's sucked you better, have they?"

"No," Harry says on a quiet exhale. He thinks the lights have dimmed around them, but he can't tell; he doesn't want to tear his gaze away from the sight of Draco between his thighs, mouth soft and wet against Harry's prick. "No one ever has."

And he means that. It's never been like this with other people, and Harry's had his cock in plenty of willing mouths. Draco's different. More open, more intense. It's almost as if Harry can feel the soft slide of Draco's thoughts against his, the sensations of how he tastes and feels against Draco's tongue mingling with Harry's own swells of pleasure each time Draco takes him into his mouth. Harry swears he can taste the salty-sweetness of his prick, can feel the velvet hardness as Draco's mouth slides down his shaft, pushing Harry's foreskin back with his lips.

"Oh God," Harry says, and his fingers tighten against the worn leather of the sofa. It's almost too much; he closes his eyes, tries to push his Occlumens back into place, but it's halfhearted at best. Draco's all around him, overwhelming his sense, making him feel so sharply, so intensely.

Mine, he hears in the deepest recesses of his mind, the soft, quiet echo of Draco's voice. You're mine.

Yes, he thinks, and his fingers dig into the leather again as Draco's mouth slides further down. He can feel himself go deeper, and he looks down, sees the way Draco's eyes are watering. "You don't have to--"

Shut up. Draco's voice is louder now. And for God's sake, fuck my throat, you bastard--

Harry groans, and then his fingers are twisting in Draco's hair, pulling Draco down further onto his prick, his hips pressing up. Draco swallows around him, and Harry shudders, letting Draco pull back just enough before he pushes up again, feeling Draco's excitement rising with each quick roll of Harry's hips.

"Kinky sod," Harry manages to get out, but Draco's pulling Harry's hands to the back of his head, and Harry knows what Draco wants, can see it in his mind. He pushes Draco back down again, filling Draco's throat with his cock, and Harry can feel the hot prickle of desire spreading across his skin, making his breath catch.

Draco sucks him harder, his fingers digging into Harry's hips, holding on as Harry presses up, so hard that Draco gasps and groans, his own hips canting, twisting to rut against Harry's calf. It's nearly enough to send Harry over the edge, the feel of Draco's hard length rubbing against his leg through Draco's trousers, the knowledge that Draco wants him this much, needs him.

"I love you," Harry gasps, and his hands twist in Draco's hair, pulling him down again as Harry's stuffs his prick into Draco's wide mouth. "Christ, Draco, you've no fucking idea--" Harry arches his back, twists his hips up. He's so close; he can feel it sparking across his body, bright and hot, pounding through his veins, his heart, his throat.

Come for me, Draco whispers into Harry's mind, and that's all it takes for Harry's whole body to shake, to clench, and he's shouting, his fingers scrabbling at Draco's hair, at the sofa cushion beneath him, his hips bucking up, his shoulder screaming in a burst of pain that's lost in a wave of shuddering pleasure that wracks through Harry's body, lifting him up, spilling himself into Draco's mouth, down his throat, and Draco swallows and swallows more, choking on Harry's prick, sucking him down, Harry's spunk smearing over Draco's mouth, his cheeks, his chin.

Harry falls back against the sofa, spent. Gasping. His mind's shivering, bright and cold and hot and sparkling. "Oh, God," Harry says finally. "Oh, fuck."

Draco lets Harry's softening prick slip out of his mouth. He looks smug, pleased, despite the sticky slickness covering his face. "You're welcome," he says, and his voice sounds raw and rough, and Harry knows his prick did that, and he groans softly.

He's tired, but he can't stop himself from reaching for Draco, pulling him up over him. He takes his glasses off, folds the legs in, sets them aside. "Straddle me," Harry says, and Draco does, Harry's hands already tugging at Draco's zip, pushing his silk shirt up. "Get this out of the way, for Christ's sake."

"Fuck, Harry." Draco's breathing hard, and his fingers fumble with the buttons of his shirt, pulling them free, letting the shirt slide from his shoulders, held in place only by the cuffs at his wrists.

And then Harry has Draco's trousers open, pushed down over the swell of his pale arse. "No pants," Harry says, looking up at Draco, and Draco just blinks down at him, already too far gone to care.

"Please." Draco's holding himself up with one hand on the back of the sofa, the other on the arm. His shirt stretches out behind him, a soft silk wing across his back, fastened to his forearms, holding him bent forward, arched above Harry.

Harry slides down, his hands on Draco's bare hips, his body slipping beneath Draco's spread thighs. Draco's prick bobs in front of Harry's face, long and pink and wet and beautiful, just begging for Harry's mouth to envelop it.

Draco shudders when Harry sucks him in, his tongue swirling beneath the rim of Draco's foreskin, pushing it back, flattening against Draco's slick head. Harry can feel Draco's slit flutter against him, can feel it opening against his tongue, can taste its seeping saltiness.

"Merlin," Draco says on a soft exhale, and his body arches forward, pushes his prick deeper past Harry's lips. He looks down at Harry, his hair falling forward, his arms flexed against the sofa, and he's breathless, his chest heaving slightly. "Harry," he whispers. "Look at you. Stretched around me…" He draws in a shivering sigh, and Harry sees a flash of himself in his mind, slouched down beneath Draco, his mouth open around Draco's cock, cheeks hollowing with each slow suck, his eyes so very wide and green without his glasses.

Harry's hands move around to the soft curve of Draco's arse. He presses and grasps, pulling at Draco's arsecheeks, holding him wide as he trails the flat, wide pads of his fingers through Draco's crease, over the velvety pucker there. Draco catches his lip between his teeth, rocks his hips forward with a quiet moan as Harry strokes across Draco's hole, the tip of his smallest finger just barely pushing in.

"Oh." Draco presses his lips together, and Harry can feel the tremble that goes through Draco's muscles. "Yes."

Say the spells, Harry thinks, looking into Draco's wide eyes, and Draco stills, his quick, shallow gasps loud in the silence of the room. And then Draco says them wandlessly, the ones that loosen his hole slightly, that slick it just enough for Harry to work his finger past the tight ring. He has more power, Harry thinks, since he started working on his Legilimency, and he wonders what else he has to see of Draco Malfoy.

Draco doesn't move for a long moment. He licks his lips, watching Harry, who lifts his head just enough to take Draco deeper into his mouth whilst pushing another fingertip into Draco's arse alongside the first.

And then Draco breathes out, and says, "Please fuck me, Harry," pressing his arse back against Harry's hand, and Harry starts moving his fingers, twisting them, pushing them further into Draco's tight, slick hole, feeling Draco's prick filling his mouth, stretching his lips wide.

Harry loves this, loves looking up and seeing the way Draco's shoulders flex and arch, the way Draco's head falls back, his neck long and pale in the lamplight. He fucks Draco harder, works another finger into him, pressing and pushing and twisting until Draco's skin is slick with sweat, flushed pink with want. He looks beautiful above Harry, so wanton, so needy, and Harry thinks he can lie here forever, watching this gorgeous creature writhe and moan over him.

"Your mouth," Draco's gasping. "Circe, I'm going to fuck your perfect mouth, Harry." His head falls forward, his hair catching on his damp cheek. "Look at you, taking me in--" He breaks off into a groan as Harry twists his fingers inside of him, making Draco's thighs shake. "Fuck, I love you, you bastard." His breath is coming in sharp, ragged gasps. "Make me come, Harry. I want to--" Another twist of Harry's fingers, and Draco's shoving his cock into Harry's mouth, keening sharply, brightly, his shoulders hunched and shaking. "I--fuck, oh, Harry--"

And Harry can feel it building in Draco, can feel the way his body's shaking, can see the way his eyes lose focus, the way his mouth opens. Draco trembles, tightens, grips the back of the sofa. "I'm--"

Let yourself go, Harry thinks, and he doesn't even know if Draco can hear him, if Draco even notices because Draco's body jerks at that very moment, spasms above Harry, and he's crying out, loud and wild and full of need.

Harry drinks him down, holds Draco's hips firm, keeps him upright as Draco's prick spurts in his mouth, his spunk bitter and sweet. Harry loves the taste of Draco, loves the feel of him in his mouth, loves the slump of Draco's still shaking body above him, loves the way Draco lets Harry drag him down until they're both on the floor, Harry's back against the sofa, Draco still straddling his thighs.

When Harry presses his face against Draco's throat, he can smell the muskiness of their sweat, the sharp tang of the liquor Draco's drunk through the night, the powdery spice of his cologne, the faint odor of their spunk on each other's breath. Draco turns his head, catches Harry's mouth with his. The kiss is slow and easy, careful and sweet.

Draco pulls back, and his face is soft and relaxed, his shirt still half-off his arms. He laughs softly, his hands cupping Harry's face. "Circe, you're amazing. You know that, yes?"

"I think you might have screamed it out a time or two recently." Harry smiles up at him, runs his hands along the smooth curve of Draco's back.

"Prat." Draco unbuttons the cuffs of his shirt, lets it drop to the floor. He looks beautifully debauched, his softening prick hanging out of his trousers, his hair mussed and rumpled, his cheeks high with colour. He sighs, but it's one of relief. Satisfaction, even, Harry thinks. "Fuck, I needed that."

Harry traces the pink of Draco's areola, lets his thumb scrape over Draco's still-hardened nipple. Draco hisses, then pushes Harry's hand away.

"Don't be a twat," Draco says.

Harry raises an eyebrow. "Feeling a bit less threatened by Jake now?"

Draco kisses him again, quick and hard this time. "After that, I'd say there's no reason for me to be."

"Not particularly, no." Harry watches as Draco shifts back over Harry's thighs, pushes himself to his feet, wriggling out of his trousers in the process. He looks incredible naked, Harry thinks, and he lets his gaze drift down Draco's long, pale body. "Going somewhere?"

"To bed." Draco hides a yawn with the back of his hand. "If you'd care to join me."

"I might be convinced," Harry says, hooking a foot around Draco's bare calf, trying to pull him back down, wanting to feel that smooth expanse of skin pressed against his body once more, but Draco sidesteps him and gives him a frown.

"Harry. Bed."

The lights go out in the library, then glow bright in the hallway.

"Have I mentioned how much I hate it that my house likes you best?" Harry pushes himself to his feet, strips his own clothes off as Draco moves towards the doorway. He drops them on the floor beside Draco's, then follows.

Draco looks back at him from the staircase, a small smile curving his lips. "It's not my fault it's mad about me."

Harry comes up behind him. "It just has good taste?"

"Something along those lines," Draco says with a laugh, and he starts up the stairs, Harry on his heels. Above them the bedroom door opens, warm light spilling onto the landing.

The rest of the house grows dark, quiet.

And Harry's certain he smells the delicate, fragrant scent of roses drifting down the staircase.

"I'm happy too," he murmurs, his fingers brushing the bannister.

Draco looks back. "What was that?"

Harry just shakes his head. "Bed," he says, and he trails Draco into the bedroom.

The house settles quietly, contentedly around them.

Chapter Text

The air's cool but humid when Draco steps out the front door of Grimmauld Place early on Monday morning. Once the sun's high, it's going to be a warm day. Draco can feel that much in the weight of the air around him. He's left Harry still asleep in bed; dawn's only just started to break across the tops of buildings and trees. Draco stretches on the steps, loosens up his body, makes certain the laces on his trainers are tight. He twists his hair up off his face, secures it with a simple black hair tie. It'll come loose soon enough, sticking uncomfortably to the sweaty nape of his neck, or worse yet, his cheeks, but for now he likes the feel of faint breeze on his skin, ruffling the small hairs that can't be pulled high.

When Draco steps onto the pavement his whole body lights up. He hasn't run enough lately; he knows that. It's felt too difficult, too much to pull himself out of bed this early. He'd rather spend it curled around Harry, trying to gird his loins for the day ahead, telling himself that he's had plenty of exercise through shagging. Which is not wrong, in a way. Harry's ridiculously fond of athletic sex, and Draco's feeling muscles being used that he hasn't felt in years really. His abdomen's taut, his arse tight and high. Still, he's missed this, the slow slap of his trainers against the dry pavement as he starts off, easing into a brisker pace as he rounds the corner, away from the row of tall grey townhouses trimmed in white.

He's not certain yet where he's going. It feels odd to run these Islington streets, if he's honest. He's used to his routes near his Regents Park flat, the northern ones that wind through Chalk Farm and Highgate Road, taking him up to Hampstead Heath, or the southern routes that bring him towards the Thames and Westminster, right to the Ministry's doorstep. Islington feels different. Quieter, more still in a way, and Draco finds himself making his way towards the canal path, turning towards Camden and its locks. The water laps against the canal sides, a soft, wet slap that echoes the sound of Draco's trainers against the pavement. He passes canal boats moored alongside the path, jewel-toned with names like Clementine and Betty and Lambkin painted in elaborate script on their prows, their flat tops covered with solar panels and small gardens filled with veg and bright flowers.

The path rises as Draco nears the first lock, and he feels the stretch in his calves, the strain in his breath. Merlin, but he needs to run more, he thinks, cursing himself for falling out of practice. He'd used the hotel treadmills in New York, but it's not the same as being out in the streets, feeling the twists and turns of the terrain beneath his feet.

Still, Draco can feel the rush of endorphins going through him, pushing him along the path. Past the retaining walls he can hear the city starting to wake around him, the blare of lorry horns, the rumble of traffic through the unseen streets. He runs faster, his breath coming rough and uneven, his mind filled with nothing but the pleasure of running like this, his t-shirt starting to stick to his back, his shorts hitting the sides of his thighs with each long, steady stride. He runs past the slick black painted facade of the Con Cellar Bar, with its bright white and fuchsia mural of jazz musicians beside the black and white steel curve of the St Pancras Way bridge.

The graffiti beneath it is stark and sharp against the flat brown bricks, curled and curved white letters outlined in black, marks that mean nothing to the passers-by. But Draco can feel their power as he runs by, that simple magic that even Muggles can do when they try, the way they claim bits and pieces of the city as their own, imbue the very bricks and earth with their presence, leaving behind their own imprint on the face of the city itself.

And Draco remembers how he loves London, how it's his city, his home, his place. New York had been exciting, different, fresh. A temptation in a way, he thinks, a space he could be with Harry, free and open, and Draco misses that desperately.

But he knows these streets that his ancestors helped to build for centuries, feels them deep in his soul with every smack of his trainers against the pavement. As much as Draco loves Harry, he loves London too, and it feels good to be back. Comfortable in a way that he's only just now allowing himself to indulge.

Draco takes the ramp up to Royal College Street, dodging a ginger woman in a battered Vauxhall when he crosses the street, then makes a sharp left at the bright blue bridge, Camden Road spelled out in tall, white letters. He feels more comfortable here, in this part of London he'd lived in just out of Hogwarts. Pansy's flat is nearby, and he wonders if he should pop in, have a cuppa whilst she's waking up. But the burn in his legs and his lungs is too enticing. He runs through Camden, pushing himself as hard as he can, and his feet find a solid rhythm that carries him through the streets without him noticing, that focuses him on nothing but his breath and the flow of the traffic around him on the not-quite-as-empty roads.

He's surprised when he finds himself on his own street, standing outside his building, looking up at the tall front windows of his sitting room. He bends over, breathing hard, his hair sliding loose from the tie, catching on his sweaty skin. He hasn't been here in over a week. Not since the day after his father's funeral, when he'd fallen apart in the biscuit aisle at Sainsbury's and Harry'd refused to let him come back here alone.

Slowly, Draco straightens. Walks up the two steps to the door. He doesn't need a key for the building. The wards open to him immediately when he touches the doorknob.

His breath sounds loud in the silent foyer; the boards creak beneath his feet as he walks down the hallway. Draco tries to be quiet; the last thing he wants is to rouse Frances Rosetree from behind her bolted door. He's certain she's noticed he's not been in his flat, and he'd rather not answer any probing questions. She's a terrible gossip; one wrong word and his whole personal life will be spread across the Ministry.

When he opens the door to his flat, the silence is nearly overwhelming. It's clean and tidy inside; his mother had evidently cleaned it before leaving for his Aunt Andromeda's house. But it has that slightly disused smell now, that faint funk of a closed-up house. Draco walks in, lets the door fall shut behind him in a too-loud clatter of locks and bolts. Even his pile of trainers beside the door looks neat, each pair lined up along the baseboard instead of being kicked free. Draco squats beside them, pulls out his second favourite pair. He'll take them back with him, he thinks, and he sets them on the chimneypiece above the hearth before moving down the hall.

The curtains are drawn on the sitting room; the cooling charms have still held, and the potted plants don't look worse for wear. His mother must have set a self-watering charm on them, Draco suspects, sticking his finger into the damp earth filling the thick white-glazed pots.

"At least I haven't a pet," he murmurs, and he steps across the hall into the kitchen. Everything looks spotless. Pristine. All the dishes have been put away, although he knows the cabinets are missing a few plates and bowls his mother'd shattered that last day. At least the ones that had been beyond a Reparo.

Draco walks over to the window, opens it. There's a small pile of post that's been left in the wire basket hanging from the windowsill. He rifles through it, bins most of the adverts. His hand stills, though, on one thick, heavy-paper envelope. There's a name written in black ink on the corner. Archibald Burke. His father's solicitor.

For a moment, Draco wonders how closely old Archie's related to his Muriel. Not by blood, he supposes. He thinks Muriel was married to a Burke, not one by birth. Still. It's one of those odd twists, the realisation of how small the wizarding world truly is.

He closes the window and wards it, the letter still clenched tightly in his hand. It feels thick and expensive, and Draco can almost smell the musty wood panelling and polished floors of Burke's ancient offices.

Draco sits at the table, staring at the envelope. His stomach twists; he turns it over, his thumb smoothing across the raised imprint of Burke's seal, the gold wax cold and hard beneath his touch. He knows what it is; he's surprised the owl hadn't delivered it to Grimmauld Place, but Burke had always been a stickler for propriety. If the letter was addressed to Draco's flat, the owl would deliver it there. None of this new-fangled forwarding for Archie Burke, thank you ever so much.

To be honest, Draco doesn't want to open the envelope. Doesn't want to make any of this more real than it already is. He's been living in a fantasy world this past week, hiding away from all of his responsibilities when it comes to his father's death. He's barely even spoken to his mother. Just a few firecalls, usually at times when Draco knows she won't want to linger and chat. He's promised her he'll come over, that they'll have lunch soon. Draco'd meant to this weekend, even, but he hadn't wanted to leave Harry's side.

Harry keeps Draco calm. Makes him feel less overwhelmed. Draco knows he can't hide behind Harry forever, but for the moment it's been a relief. Still, Draco knows he has to do his duty. Has to be the one who steps into his father's shoes, who looks after the family interests. Not that his mother couldn't, if she wanted, but Draco knows she won't want to, at least not yet.

So it's up to Draco isn't it? Even Archie Burke thinks so.

Draco takes a deep breath and breaks the seal, bits of wax scattering across the table. He pulls the letter out. Unfolds it, the elegant rag paper substantial against his fingers. It's only a few pages, the first one a letter requesting Draco's presence at his earliest convenience to discuss the practicalities of his father's estate. The other two sheets are neat facsimiles of ledger pages, ones Draco recognises from his father's accounts. They're not detailed, but it's enough to sketch out the net worth of the Malfoy fortune.

It's higher than Draco expects. Not by much, but Draco remembers the empty spaces along the Manor walls, missing paintings and sculptures, bits and pieces of his family history sold off supposedly to pay Ministry reparations. He frowns down at the papers. The date on the ledger pages is recent. Just before his father had been brought in by the Unspeakables--by Draco himself. Just before Burke's firm had refused to take on his father's case, forcing Draco to turn to Achilleus Avery, and how Draco wishes he hadn't ever done that. It's his fault the solicitor's dead; Draco wants to go back in time, to tell Millie not to introduce them. It wouldn't change anything, though. Draco knows that. What's meant to be will be.

He frowns down at the ledger pages.

Something doesn't feel right. It pings every instinct Draco has as an Auror--an Unspeakable now, he reminds himself. He's not certain what to do with it though. Draco runs a fingertip across the letter, over the inky black spikes of Burke's handwriting, stark against the white paper, and then he sighs. Perhaps he's just too unsettled, he thinks. It's not as if Draco hasn't been expecting this letter. But it feels so final now, one last reminder of his father's death, of that gaping hole in Draco's psyche where his father had once stood. It'll be there forever, he knows, a wide Lucius-shaped emptiness that no one will be able to fill. Perhaps the edges will soften with time. He hopes they might; he feels as if he's being sliced open, blood seeping from his heart every time his mind goes close to that particular void.

Draco folds the letter and the ledger pages, sliding them back into the envelope. He ought to talk to Harry about it, he thinks. Not yet though. Today's not about Draco and his ridiculous grief.

He stands, slides the envelope into the waistband of his running shorts, then glances at the clock. It's nearly half-six, and he'd meant to be back to wake Harry up soon. Draco thinks about running to Grimmauld, but he's feeling tired and oddly bleak.

So he looks around his flat, wanders through the rooms, pulls a few more outfits from the wardrobe, more pants from the drawers. It doesn't feel like home any longer, Draco realises, even if it's filled with things that belong to him, things that Draco loves. That's not something Draco wants to think about too closely; he lets what it might mean flit around the edges of his understanding before he pushes it all away and pads into the loo, pulling a few pots and phials from his stash of skincare products. Friday night Blaise had been more than a bit of an arsehole about the spot or two Draco's developed, and now Draco's bloody self-conscious. Harry'd just laughed at him and told him he could barely even see them, but every time Draco'd looked in the mirror this weekend he'd seen the pink splotches on his nose and cheek. He hadn't dared to hex them away; he's seen firsthand how badly that could go. Greg had tried it once in fourth year and his whole face had broken out in response. The last thing Draco wants is spots galore.

His trainers are still on the chimneypiece. Draco picks them up, sets them in the top of the small shopping bag he's filled with clothes and toiletries. He looks back at his flat, almost wistfully, and then casts a Nox. The rooms fill with shadows again, sunlight only just beginning to filter through the curtains.

"I'll be back soon," he murmurs, but it's more to placate his flat than anything. Draco doesn't entirely want to come back; he wants to stay in the comfort and solace of Grimmauld Place. He knows he can't, though. Not forever. Harry'll tire of him soon enough, will want the solitude of his own space back. Draco can't blame him. He's never been able to live with people for long. He'd lasted a few years with Pansy, but that'd been by sheer force of will on both their parts. Slytherins do better on their own, Draco thinks. It's far too easy for them all to be at each other's throats. Hogwarts had taught all of them that, at least.

Draco steps into the burst of green flame in his flat, then out of it in the library of Grimmauld Place. He's almost at the staircase when he hears a clatter from the kitchen below; instead of heading up for Harry and their bed, Draco takes the steps down, walking into the brightly lit kitchen to find Harry at the hob, a pair of joggers hanging low on his hips, his chest and feet bare, his hair a snarled, tangled mess.

"You're supposed to be in bed," Draco says, setting his bag on the kitchen table, as Harry turns, smiling at him. "I told Kreacher specifically--"

"Kreacher tried." Harry turns back to the sizzling pan, flipping the omelette in it with a deft hand. "But I couldn't sleep after you slipped out."

Draco slides the letter from Burke out of his running shorts, tucks it into the side of the bag. He'll deal with it later. Tomorrow perhaps. "Sorry. I wanted a bit of a run." He pulls out one of the chairs and sits, toeing off his trainers.

"I figured." Harry walks over to the fridge, opens it up, peering into it. "Was it good?"

"Well enough." Draco pulls a foot up to the chair seat, rubs his fingers beneath the edge of his sock. "I think I'm getting a blister." He'll have to use a different cushioning charm next time, he thinks. "Not enough running lately."

Harry has a carton of apple juice in his hand. He holds it up, and Draco shakes his head. He can't stomach the thought of it right now. Harry pulls a glass from the cupboard and pours himself some juice, then sets the glass and the carton down on the table. "Fancy a bit of omelette?"

"I ought to be cooking for you," Draco says. "It's your birthday, after all." He catches Harry's hand, pulls him closer, between Draco's thighs. "Happy birthday, by the way," Draco murmurs, and he tugs Harry down into a slow, easy kiss.

The hob pops and hisses behind Harry, and he pulls back, his face regretful. "Eggs," Harry says. "Want some?"

"A bit," Draco says. "I'm not famished."

"You just ran." Harry's already back at the hob, cutting the omelette and putting it on two plates. He stops the heating charm, then carries the plates over to the table, setting one down in front of Draco before he sits in the chair next to him. "You need to eat."

It's an argument they've been having all weekend. Draco knows he should want food, but he doesn't. He's not hungry, and he doesn't see the point in it. Still, Harry's giving him an even, steady look, and Draco knows he has to at least try.

The omelette's good. Fluffy and buttery and with just the right amount of cheese folded into it. Harry gets up after a moment to plunge the French press and pour two cups of coffee, handing Draco one. "What're your plans for the day?" Harry asks, sitting again.

Draco swallows a forkful of egg. "The usual, I suppose. Training with Muriel until she decides it's best not to melt my brain into a pulp." He looks up at Harry. "You?"

Harry doesn't answer at first, then he sets his coffee cup down. "Trying to find your sodding uncle." He shrugs, but his gaze is sharp as it slides over Draco.

"Good luck with that," Draco says, and he knows his tone's a bit bitter. He thinks about telling Harry about the letter from Burke, but something stops him. He's not certain what. He knows they'll be asking for his father's financials soon. If they haven't already. But Draco's loath to bring it up here, in their kitchen with the sunlight shining through the high windows, the hob only just settling down.

Harry just scoops up a bite of omelette. Draco's no bloody idea how he manages to get it into his mouth; Harry's table manners sometimes are appalling, at least when it's just between the two of them. Draco won't admit it, but he finds that fact terribly charming, that Harry feels comfortable enough with him now to let his guard down. He doesn't know if he could return the favour.

"We're having dinner here tonight," Draco says, and Harry looks up at him, eyebrow raised. Draco picks up his coffee. "Don't argue, but I've invited a few people over for your birthday." He'd meant to keep it a surprise, but he also knows Harry's not fond of those. Better to lay it out than have Harry throw a strop in front of everyone.

"I don't like parties," Harry says, and Draco tuts at him.

"It's not a party." Draco takes a sip of the coffee. It's nearly undrinkable; Harry brews it far too strong for Draco's liking. He grimaces, then sets the cup down again. "It's a dinner, and if you want your birthday present from me, you'll suffer through it politely."

Harry's mouth twitches. "So it's more for you then, is it?"

Draco looks up at Harry. "It's for us," he says, his voice quiet. "Together."

"Oh." Harry just watches him, and Draco thinks he understands, thinks Harry can see why this might be important to Draco, this public declaration of his place in Harry's life. Even if their friends already know. Draco needs to stake his claim, to mark Harry as his. Harry reaches over and takes Draco's hand in his. His fingers are warm and thick as they curl around Draco's. "Thanks," he murmurs, and he doesn't look away from Draco.

And Draco relaxes. He hadn't been certain if Harry would protest, or how loudly. Granger had warned him when he'd sent the invitation on Saturday that Harry wasn't fond of these sorts of get-togethers, but Draco'd told her this was different. That Harry would understand.

Draco thinks he does.

Harry gives him a small, quick smile. "I do," he says, and Draco realises he's been projecting again. His face warms; he'd thought he'd been getting better.

"Sorry," Draco says, and Harry shrugs.

"It wasn't much this time," Harry says, and he finishes off his omelette, scraping the tines of his fork across his plate. He looks at Draco sideways. "I don't mind, you know. I like hearing your thoughts sometimes." His smile quirks a bit to one side, grows a tad more cheeky. "Especially certain ones."

Draco's cheeks burn hotter. "Well, it's rude of me." He looks down at his half-empty plate. He doesn't know how much more he can eat. He sets his fork down, pushes his plate away, pretends he doesn't notice Harry watching. "I have a meeting with Croaker this morning."

Harry glances over at him. "What about?" He stands up, carries his plate over to the sink and rinses it off.

"Training, I suppose." Draco twists in his seat, arm over the back. "Muriel says he's interested in his investment."

"Unsurprising." Harry nods at Draco's plate. "You done with that?"

Draco hands the remnants of his omelette over. "It's strange. I've never been seen as a commodity before."

"You're a Legilimens now." Harry scrapes the scraps into the bin. "You've a skill that's one, rare, and two, in high demand in certain quarters."

"The Department of Mysteries," Draco says with a sigh. "At least they're paying me well." Not that Draco's seen a pay packet yet. Unlike Aurors, Unspeakables are paid on a monthly basis. Draco's not certain he likes that; he'd been fond of having money thrown into his Gringotts account every fortnight. Which reminds him. "Have you filed the paperwork for our per diem in New York yet?" Draco's still not certain how his erasure from Seven-Four-Alpha's going to fuck him over financially, particularly with this last bit of pay. No one's bothered to tell him anything about that, even when he's asked, and it's Draco's experience that if the Ministry can cock something up, it will.

Harry laughs and rinses Draco's plate, setting it down on top of his in the sink. "I have." He dries his hands on the tea towel hanging from one of the cupboard knobs, a ridiculously colourful one, splattered with faux paint droplets in primary colours, that Harry says he'd bought from the Tate Modern gift shop ages ago. Draco suspects he'd gone with Durant; Harry's not the type to indulge himself in modern art without some other reason such as the possibility of sex afterwards, but that's not the sort of thing Draco wants to push Harry about. There are still things they're trying to be careful about, particularly when it comes to past relationships, things that are still kept a bit secret.

"For me as well?" Draco asks, and he knows he sounds a bit sulky.

"In a way." Harry turns, leans against the sink, his arms crossed over his bare chest. He only winces a little now; Draco'd made certain all weekend he was taking his potions, and Harry's arm seems a bit better now. The idiot. Draco'd been so bloody furious when he realised Harry'd been stupid enough to do exactly what Draco'd suspected, bollocksing up his arm by refusing to take his proper potions.

"Have you taken your potions?" Draco demands, and when Harry rolls his eyes and nods, Draco scowls at him. "Forgive me for being a bit sceptical, you lying wanker. You know I'll check the phial when I go up for my shower."

Harry's mouth twitches. "I took my potions." He holds up his hand before Draco can ask his next question. "Yes. All of them. And as for your per diem, Gawain's letting me fold it into mine with a bit of creative paperwork. I'll just have to transfer your amount into your Gringotts account when it comes in. All right?"

Draco huffs. "I suppose it'll have to be." It makes him feel a bit odd to think of his money going into Harry's account first. That feels oddly intimate in a way he hadn't quite expected. He looks away, rubs the back of his neck. His damp hair's dried some, and it feels slick and disgusting beneath his fingertips. "I should shower." He catches a whiff of himself and wrinkles his nose and pushes himself upright. "Sooner rather than later."

"I don't know," Harry says. "I like a bit of sweaty Draco." He reaches out, catches Draco's waist as he passes, pulling Draco up against him. "It's sexy."

"You're an idiot," Draco says, but he can't help his laugh when Harry wriggles his eyebrows at him. "Really, Potter. A sodding twat even."

And then Harry's kissing him, and it's soft and warm and tingling, and Draco slides his arms around Harry's neck, lets Harry turn him, press his back against the edge of the counter.

"It's still early," Harry murmurs against Draco's lips. "And you haven't showered yet." His hands slide down Draco's sides, thumbs hooking in the waistband of Draco's running shorts.

Draco thinks he should protest, should point out that they'll be late to work, but Harry's mouthing at his neck, and Draco's prick is already responding, swelling, pressing up against Harry's. "I hate you," he says, a bit breathlessly, and they both know that's a lie, particularly when Harry's hips push forward, trapping Draco against the counter. Draco turns his head, captures Harry's mouth with his in a rough, quick kiss that ends with Draco's teeth dragging across Harry's bottom lip. "Make it quick," Draco says, and his hands tangle in Harry's already snarled hair, his forearms resting on the broad width of Harry's warm shoulders. "And if I walk into Croaker's office with a visible love bite, I'll hex you, birthday or not."

"A challenge, I see," Harry says with a laugh. He works his hands into Draco's shorts, then past the waistband of Draco's y-fronts, fingers smoothing across Draco's arse. "I rather like those, you know." In one smooth motion Harry shoves Draco's shorts and pants down to his knees, freeing Draco's hardening prick.

"Arse." Draco's breath catches as Harry lifts him, almost effortlessly, dropping him onto the counter. "What are you--"

Harry jerks Draco's shorts and y-fronts off, tossing them both to the floor. "Birthday present," Harry says a bit breathily, looking down at Draco's ruddy prick. "All for me."

"Oh," Draco says, the word catching in the back of his throat as Harry leans down, shoulders flexed and swallows Draco's cock in one eager, quick slurp. Draco's head falls backwards, bangs against the cupboards as Harry pushes Draco's knees wider, settles himself between Draco's thighs. "That's--" Draco groans when Harry's hand cups his bollocks, squeezing lightly. "Fucking brill."

And Draco gives in, his hands sliding through Harry's hair, pushing Harry's head down, his eyes closing, his chest heaving.

Happy bloody birthday to them both, Draco thinks, and he breathes in sharply, spreads his thighs wider as pleasure prickles through him, sparks across his skin.

Circe but Draco loves this Gryffindor fool.

***

Blaise has the worst goddamned hangover he's had in months. Or weeks, perhaps, if he's honest with himself. Mainly because he's run out of fucking hangover potion, and he'd spent the whole of yesterday going through the largest bottle of Ogden's he'd been able to find in his pantry. Saturday he'd polished off the wine. And on Friday, he'd been out with Pans and Draco, so really he's been pissed in some form or another all sodding weekend, which might not have been the best life choice he could have made, but he's twenty-six for fuck's sake, and Blaise thinks he's entitled to a few bad decisions when it comes to alcohol consumption.

He rubs at his forehead. He's kept his sunglasses on, even in the middle of the Ministry Atrium. At least for now. At least until he can make his way to Pansy's lab to see if she has a potion or two he can take. He'll even submit himself to her Sobering Charm if he must.

A whiff of a sausage roll from Greggs wafts by as a witch passes him, hurrying towards the lifts. Blaise's stomach lurches, and he stops, willing himself not to sick up into the Fountain of Magical Brethren. He sits on the edge of the circular pool, near the statue of the house elf, listening to the water splash behind him, cool and wet and soothing.

It's a mistake, he realises, when he catches sight of a tall, lean, familiar figure striding from bank of Floos, a brown leather satchel slung over his shoulder.

"Fuck," Blaise murmurs, and he tries to turn away, tries to hide himself behind the hindquarters of the centaur statue, but it doesn't work. Jake slows, hesitates as he draws up alongside Blaise.

Blaise stills, but doesn't look over. He won't give Jake the satisfaction, he thinks, his fingers tightening on the strap of his own satchel. This is not what he needs today. Fucking, bloody hell.

"Hey," Jake says, his voice low and uncertain. Blaise thinks about ignoring him, not even answering, but that'll make it look like he gives a damn that Jake's standing in front of him, like he cares that Jake hasn't bothered to contact him in almost a fortnight. He does, of course, but Blaise would rather bloody die before letting Jake know he's been drinking his bitterness away.

And so Blaise glances over at Jake, as calmly as he can, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses, and Merlin, isn't he grateful for them right now? "I heard you were in town," Blaise says, keeping his voice cool.

"Yeah." Jake has the grace to look ashamed. Uneasy. He shifts on his feet, and Circe, Blaise thinks, why is he so damned attractive in his dark suit and his mint green tie and his stupid, rumpled blond curls that make him look like he just rolled out of bed? Which he probably had, and Blaise swears to God if he finds out anyone was there with Jake, he'll kill them both. Rip the skin off them, snap their heads from their bodies--something sharp and angry and vicious rises up in him, spreads its wings, spikes hot, furious flares of jealousy through him.

Jake takes a step back, his eyes widening a bit. "You're angry."

"Whyever would I be?" Blaise can hear the cold rustle in his voice, the sound of a thousand Veela feathers ruffling in a frigid breeze, bright and gold and scaly. He can feel his mother's heritage twisting and coiling inside of him, in a way that's almost frightening. It's like nothing he's ever experienced, this wanting to lash out, to cause pain and destruction and agony, and he wonders now if the rumours about his mother are true, after all.

Blaise looks away from Jake, tries to focus on the soft, steady slosh of water in the fountain. It settles the resentful roil in his belly, pulls back the creature inside. He breathes out, slow, even.

Jake moves closer, almost hesitantly, an odd expression on his face. Blaise fights the urge to strike him, but his shoulder blades prickle, tense. "I'm sorry," Jake says, his voice low. "I thought…" He trails off, and he stands still, just watching Blaise with those bright blue eyes of his that see too goddamned much.

"Forget it," Blaise says, and his throat is tight and raw. He won't look at Jake. He can't, not even from behind his sunglasses. "It's fine. You've your life and I've mine, and it's fine."

"I don't think it is," Jake says, quietly. He sits on the edge of the fountain beside Blaise, and Blaise tenses. They're silent for a long moment. "I should have called," Jake says finally.

Blaise just shrugs. "I don't give a fuck." But he does, and they both know it. When Jake looks over at him, Blaise thinks that between Draco and this blue-eyed bastard he really does need to learn Occlumency. "Don't," he says the moment he can feel Jake brush against his mind. At least he's more used to the feel of it now. He should thank Draco for that, he supposes.

"Sorry." Jake sighs, looks away. "I didn't think…" He breathes out in a soft huff, shaking his head. "Look, I assumed it was a one-time thing. You and me."

"Maybe it was." Blaise's shoulders are tight. He grips the edge of the fountain, leans forward. "I really don't want to talk about it, yeah?"

"Fair enough," Jake says, and then he adds, "I wanted to, you know." When Blaise glances over at him, Jake says, "Call you. I just thought…" He trails off.

Blaise scowls at him. "What? That I'd let you fuck me for a whole weekend and then brush you off? When I specifically told you to look me up if you were in London?" He shakes his head. "Fuck you, Jake. Don't give me that rubbish. If you wanted to ring me up, you would have. End of bloody story."

"It's not--"

"Not what?" Blaise can feel that press of anger again, sharp and too bright. He tries to push it back down, tries to ignore it, but it seeps into his voice anyway, cold and steel-edged. "Because the way I see it, either you're a fucking goddamned coward or I'm not that important in your life." He shrugs. "Either way, I don't give a damn any longer."

Tension stretches and crackles between them, angry and fraught, and Blaise wonders for a moment why he even thought there could be something between him and Jake Durant. He feels ill, his stomach twisting again, and he looks away as Jake rubs his wide palm across the angle of his jaw.

"Everything all right, Zabini?" The guv's there, and Blaise doesn't know how. Potter's alone; when Blaise looks around he doesn't see Draco at all, just the guv in front of them, in his charcoal suit and red tie, his smile fixed and too polite as he glances between them, a bit awkwardly. "Hi, Jake," Potter says after a moment, and Blaise feels a flutter of that viciousness at the guv's familiarity.

"Harry." Jake looks over at the guv. He's silent for a heartbeat, and then he says, "I guess I should wish you a happy birthday."

And oh, that burns hot and sharp in Blaise's chest, and he wants to reach for his wand, wants to hex them both, flay their skin--

"Zabini," Potter says, and Blaise blinks up at him, only just realising that his fingers are digging into the edge of the fountain again, and bits of the stone are starting to crumble beneath them. Blaise unclenches his hands. They hurt, and he can't quite straighten them for a moment. He stares down at them, thinks he sees the hint of talons in the way his fingers are curved, but that'd be madness, wouldn't it?

Potter's watching him thoughtfully, and then Jake's standing, and Blaise thinks there's a faint tremble in Jake's hands as he pushes himself up. "I should go," Jake says. "I've got a meeting." He glances over at Blaise. His face is inscrutable. "Maybe we could talk soon."

"Maybe," Blaise says, and his voice sounds old. Rough. Tired. He swallows, flattens his palms against his thighs. They're fingers again, long and flexible, and Blaise doesn't really understand what's happening to him.

But he's so very aware of Jake as he walks away. He turns his head, watches, incapable of stopping himself even with the guv standing beside him. Jake doesn't look back, doesn't pause as he strides across the Atrium, his dark blond hair shining in the light that filters through the glass dome, so high above them. Blaise's whole body feels as if it's on high alert, tingling and shivering, and it's all he can do to keep his prick from swelling when his gaze drops down to Jake's arse and the way it moves beneath the swing of his jacket.

"Interesting," Potter says after a moment, and Blaise forces himself to pull his gaze away from the doorway Jake's just disappeared through. He looks up at the guv, and Potter's looking down at Blaise, his face curious. "This isn't just you fancying a shag, is it?"

Blaise unfolds himself, manages to stand. His whole body hurts, feels as if it's pulling and pushing against itself. "I've no idea what you mean," he says, but when he glances back at where he was sitting, there are two small grooves in the stone lip of the fountain, each of them looking as if something sharp and hard had been dragged through them.

Potter raises an eyebrow. "All right," he says, a bit too agreeably for Blaise's liking. He trails Blaise to the queue waiting for the lifts. They stand silently, stiffly for a moment, two men who'd once shagged Jake bloody Durant, Blaise thinks, and he feels that sharp twist again, that urge to launch himself at the guv, to fight him down, to drag his fingers across Potter's thick throat, see the blood well up--

Blaise catches himself. Breathes out. Blinks slowly. When he turns his head, the guv's just looking at him. Blaise's stomach drops. He doesn't want the guv to know, to have seen those thoughts. "I'm fine," he says, and Potter's mouth quirks up at one side.

"I didn't ask," Potter points out, and Blaise feels his face warm. He looks away.

"Sorry." Blaise doesn't know what else to say. He doesn't like the way his body hurts, the urge he has to follow Jake down into the Department of Mysteries. To argue with him. To push him up against the wall and press himself against Jake, to feel Jake's warmth and solidness, to pull him into a rough, angry kiss.

The guv just shrugs. "He's not mine anymore," he says after a moment, his voice low. He eyes the two men in front of them in the queue. "So whatever's in you that's making you jealous...well." Potter looks over at Blaise. "There's nothing between me and Jake."

Blaise isn't so certain about that. Lovers leave a mark, he's learnt. Whether or not you know it, there's still a part of them burnt into your psyche. The guv might think there's nothing there, but those memories can still be activated, can still be messy and complicated.

Maybe it takes a Slytherin to recognise that, Blaise thinks.

But he realises Potter means well. Realises that Potter's arse over tit for Draco, not Jake. So Blaise nods, and murmurs, "I know," his face feeling hot and prickly.

Potter glances at him, a unsettled expression on his face. "Do you really?" Potter asks, almost beneath his breath. "Because sometimes I wonder."

Blaise doesn't look his way. He can't. He feels too raw, too exposed. He straightens his suit jacket, pulls at his cuffs. At least his headache's gone away.

The queue moves forward, and Blaise just breathes out.

Whatever this is, it'll go away.

It bloody well has to, Blaise thinks.

***

Jake's hands are shaking as he presses his palm on the back entrance to the Department of Mysteries. He waits a moment for the ward to read his biometrics and magical signature before the door clicks open. He steps through, into the familiar corridors. He knows this floor of the Ministry almost as well as he knows his own department in MACUSA. He's spent a hell of a lot of time here over the years. Especially when he and Harry'd been dating.

This is the first birthday in two years he's not spending with Harry, sprawled across a hotel bed, Harry's naked body beneath his.

Fuck but he'd rather be with Blaise tonight, Jake thinks, and he feels that warm shudder go through him again, the same as when he'd been sitting beside Blaise, the fountain splashing behind them, feeling the aftershocks of the emotions roiling through Blaise, almost overwhelming in their intensity. There'd been anger and jealousy and a heavy twist of lust that had put Jake on his back foot and, if he's honest, turned him the goddamn fuck on.

He stops for a moment, leans against the wall. Jake feels breathless, his prick hard in his trousers, and he reaches down to shift himself, to will his cock into a soft submission. It doesn't work. His trousers are tented, the head of his prick pushing up against the zip, and Jake's just grateful he has a suit jacket on to at least hide some of his hard-on.

Jake's never seen Blaise like that before. It's the Veela in him, Jake's certain. He'd seen a bit of it in Moira back in high school, that sharp, vicious edge that had made their fucking so goddamn great, and, really, there'd been a reason he'd spent a whole goddamn weekend inside Blaise Zabini's arse, hadn't there? Something about Blaise had kept him turned on, ready to roll Blaise over and fuck him whenever he asked. It's the same thing that's made Jake so uncertain about calling Blaise, about starting this up between them again.

Goddamn, Jake's fucking terrified. He wants to lose himself in Blaise, wants to bury his dick inside of him, fuck him until they're both sweaty and aching, waves of pleasure pushing them forward. Jake wants those three weeks from high school again, those nights when he'd wanted nothing but Moira, but this time he wants Blaise spread beneath him instead, wants to feel the hard ridge of Blaise's prick rubbing against his belly as he pounds into Blaise, hearing those soft, ragged gasps and groans coming from the back of Blaise's throat, seeing that long, brown neck arched for Jake, begging to be bitten, sucked, licked---

Jake swears, his whole body trembling. He presses his palm against his aching dick. It'd only take a moment, he knows, for him to get off, to come right here in this hallway, staining his trousers, spilling over his hand. He wants to. He wants to jerk himself off to thoughts of Blaise, then show him that memory, let him know how very goddamn much Jake wants him, wants to push those long legs wide and sink into that plush arse of his. Jake's breathing hard now, and his fingers find the outline of his cock through the thin wool of his trousers. The hall's empty. Silent.

It'd be so easy, Jake thinks. Blaise has no fucking idea how the slightest look from him can get Jake hard now, no idea that Jake wakes up in the middle of the night, his sheets wet with spunk, Blaise's name on his lips. It's worse now that he's in London again. Now that he's closer to Blaise, inside Blaise's sphere, so to speak. Jake's obsessed with Blaise, and that fucking scares him because Jake's done this before, he's fallen for a Veela and watched her leave him behind when the right person came along, and that had taken Jake years to get over.

He doesn't know what it'd be like if he let himself fall for Blaise.

Jake leans his head against the wall. Fuck. Just fuck. He lets his hand fall away from his cock, presses both palms against the wooden panelling behind him. He breathes out slowly, then back in again, over and over and over until he feels calmer, until his body starts to settle.

Better, he thinks. Whatever this is between him and Blaise, he'll deal with it later. He has work to do this morning, and he can't let himself be distracted. Not like this, at least.

A shiver goes through him again at the thought of Blaise's mouth against his. "Get your shit together, you asshole," Jake murmurs to himself, and he pushes himself off the wall, taking one step, then another down the hallway.

Goddamn, he's losing his mind, Jake thinks as he turns the corner, and that fucking worries him, if he's honest. There's a good likelihood that Tom Graves will have Jake's bloody badge if he screws this up. That's one thing Graves had made fucking clear to Jake before he'd Portkeyed over on Friday. Jake glances down at his watch. And somehow he has to find a safe place this afternoon to call in to MACUSA and give the Director of Magical Security an update on what he's learned so far about what's going on with the Brits. Which is goddamn zilch right now, Jake thinks with a frown. That's going to piss Graves off for sure.

"There you are, Durant. In here."

Jake glances over; Muriel Burke's in the doorway of an open office, beckoning to him. There's a small table beyond her with a few uncomfortable-looking, ancient chairs set around it. It looks like a conference room, but, being the fucking British Ministry, there aren't any windows, of course. Not like the ones they have at home in the Woolworth Building, tall and airy, even the offices like his unlucky enough to be along the building's long sides, set deep within the Manhattan canyons. To be honest, Jake finds the Department of Mysteries a bit uncanny, tucked away in the Ministry's depths, all black marble and slick tile and dark panelled walls, cold and silent and shrouded in shadows. The only thing close to it Jake's ever seen are the hidden offices of the Wizarding Secret Service near the President's House in New York, and he's only been in the reception area there. Even Luxembourg had been bright and modern, flooded with sunlight. Trust the Brits to think it perfectly fine to have a dark, airless, claustrophobic space to work in, Jake thinks, perhaps a bit uncharitably.

With a sigh, Jake walks into the conference room, trying to gather his thoughts.

Muriel shoots Jake a wry look as he closes the door behind him. "Should I ask why the glower, my boy?"

Jake shakes his head, hoping he's been able to tuck the more pornographic images away. He's still half-hard, his body yearning to go after Blaise, and he tries to take another breath to settle himself before he folds himself into a chair. "Not much to say, really. It's not a happy tale, all things considered. I wouldn't want to waste your time."

Or give her anything to use against him, he wants to add, but Jake's smart enough to keep his tongue. He likes Muriel, quite a lot, if he's honest, but she's sharp and quick, and Jake knows from office gossip that she has no compunction about putting people over the proverbial barrel if it suits her needs.

"Good," Muriel says, sitting down opposite him and cupping a half-full tea mug emblazoned with corgis between her hands. A grey-cloth diary sits open at her elbow, a rather lovely eagle owl quill set across this week's spread, filled with scrawled notes. A well filled with dark green ink sits next to them both, the top hanging half-off. Muriel takes a sip of her milky tea and studies him. "I'm rather terrible at playing the agony aunt."

Jake raises an eyebrow. "As I recall, your advice was always sound." That much is true, for the most part. She's never given Jake anything that's misled him. To the best of his knowledge at least, but there's always a first time for everything, isn't there?

Muriel rolls her eyes slightly, enough to make Jake smile. "And you always were a flatterer." But her mouth quirks up on one side.

"Are we expecting Malfoy at this meeting?" To be honest, Jake hadn't expected to run into Harry in the Atrium, and he hopes Malfoy's not still sour with him about Blaise. Or Harry. Or whatever else has crawled up his shorts since Seven-Four-Alpha left New York. Hell, so much has happened in the past weeks, Jake's not sure he can muster the energy to be angry about any of it himself. Water under the bridge and then some.

Muriel glances over, her smile slipping, replaced by a frown that scores her hard-lined face. "No. I've left the poor sod with Saul for the nonce, and I'll need to rescue him soon. Hopefully before that perfidious blowhard of a department head ruins him for life." She sighs. "But first, we talk, you and me, boy."

Jake leans back in the chair, trying to get comfortable and failing. He stretches his long legs under the table. "I'm all yours."

"Hardly," Muriel fires back. "And even if you were, I'd doubt I could find time in your busy schedule, Jake Durant." She sets her tea mug down, folds her arms across the table, a sharp gleam in her eye. "You're a right bit of a Casanova, aren't you?"

This surprises Jake, and he has to stop himself from flinching at the steel in her tone. They'd shared a pint at the Leaky on Friday, and it'd been amicable. Or at least Jake had thought so. He sits up with a frown, taking a moment before answering. "What's this about?"

"I just had a chat with Saul about your love life." Muriel studies him, her fingers tapping lightly against the tabletop. "Vis-à-vis Malfoy, specifically."

Jake's sure his eyebrows are going to jump his hairline, he's raised them so high. "First of all, Malfoy doesn't figure into my love life, thanks. Secondly, what the actual hell, Muriel? Saul Croaker cares about who I fuck?"

Muriel wrinkles her nose and leans back in her chair. "Enough to speak to me rather frankly this morning before Malfoy came in about the ethics of you supervising the sprog."

"The sprog," Jake echoes.

"Malfoy, of course." Muriel looks annoyed. "You are a Legilimens, Jake. Keep up for Circe's sake. Everyone in this bloody department knows you were shagging Harry Potter two months back. And now we've Malfoy the Younger down here with all record of his time under Potter as his SIO being erased--"

"What?" Jake stares at her. "That can't be done." Well, it can. But it's not very frequent.

Muriel just watches him. "The sprog's in bed with Potter now, isn't he? Saul didn't say outright, but he wasn't really beating around the bush either, and I'm not an idiot. Not to mention I've had a few glimpses in his training. Nothing I wanted to linger on, mind." She looks a bit uncomfortable. "It was enough, though."

Jake doesn't know what to say, so he shrugs and glances away.

"Then Saul's right." Muriel sighs. "Well. When I realised you were here, I thought perhaps you might be willing to take him back on, but I think that's a shit idea now. And do you know how fucking much it pains me to even admit Saul Croaker has a bloody point?" She slaps a hand against the table. "Bloody hell, Jacob." She sounds disgusted.

It's Jake's turn to scowl. "Right. Well, please feel free to tell Saul that I'm sorry I helped identify a Legilimency talent that had escaped the Ministry. I'll try harder to leave any resources undiscovered next time." He stops, then says, half-to himself. "Focus on my love life, maybe." Like that will help.

Muriel just sighs again and slumps back in her chair, running her hand over her face, pushing her hair back off her forehead. "I trained his aunt, you know. Malfoy's. She was extraordinary." She looks over at Jake. "Bellatrix, not Andromeda. Lovely girl, Andy was, but a bit boring. At least until she grew a backbone and ran off with that Muggleborn."

"Bellatrix?" Jake sits up, leans forward. "The one who was in bed with Voldemort? She was with the Department of Mysteries?" He can't help himself--it's so unusual to hear Brits volunteer something new about either of their Wizarding Wars. It's as if they want to forget they happened, he thinks. Sweep it under the rug, pretend everything's still fine.

"Yes." Muriel looks over his shoulder, her eyes focusing on something Jake can't see. "Bellatrix came to us right out of Hogwarts. I worked with her before she went to Tirésias for her coursework, helped her get ready." She picks up her mug, takes a sip, cupping it between her palms. She's silent a moment, then she says, "Bella was very powerful, I have to admit."

"What happened?" Jake's never heard this much before. He'd known about the Occlumency practice, but didn't know that Malfoy's aunt had been at Tirésias. It explains a lot, if he's honest; raw, natural talent for Legilimency tends to run in families, although there's always the odd outcropping no one can explain. "How'd she go from here to Voldemort's Girl Friday?"

"I'm not entirely sure." Muriel's gaze settles on Jake. "I do know she fell in love with Lestrange in Paris. Met him through another family connection. A Rosier, I believe. A cousin, perhaps?" Muriel shakes her head. "Over the years the details get a bit fuzzy, my boy. But even at eighteen Bella was a headstrong girl, willful and unpredictable and always a bit detached, but not the way she was later. Something must've ruined her. Broke her a bit. She never finished her course."

"Perhaps that's a good thing, given what happened after," Jake suggests. He's not quite sure what Muriel's angle is.

"Yes. Perhaps." Muriel straightens, sets her mug down. "Her father was furious, particularly when she turned back up with a wedding ring on her finger and Rodolphus Lestrange at her side." She runs a finger around the rim of her mug. "Her mind never was quite right after that." She looks up at Jake. "Mad as a hatter, that one."

"So I've heard."

Muriel's silent for a long moment, and Jake knows she's lost in old memories. He sits quietly, waiting for her to come back. She exhales, finally, and glances over at him. "In any case, I'm certain you know how strong Malfoy is from your own work with him."

Jake nods. "He punched through my defenses the first session I had with him." And that hadn't been awkward. Not in the least.

He knows Muriel's picked that thought up, the way he'd intended. Her smile is thin. "Mine as well," she says. "I think he's the strongest natural talent I've seen, and I didn't think I'd see anyone stronger after you." She looks a bit apologetic. "Sorry, boy, but with training, he'll put even you out to pasture." Her gaze catches his. "But you know that already, don't you?"

Jake feels a bit uncomfortable with this, even as he recognises the truth of Muriel's judgment. He wants to be furious with Malfoy, for taking Harry, for having unchartable levels of magical potential, for surpassing Jake himself at the one thing he prides himself on. But Jake finds himself feeling sorry for Malfoy instead, the poor bastard. "Does he know?"

Muriel shakes her head. "I've mentioned it, but he doesn't believe me. Probably a good thing. The sprog's arrogant enough as it is." She looks over at Jake. "But that much power? It's going to make it bloody hard for him to learn control, especially as he's already twenty-six."

"I started Tirésias at twenty-six," Jake says. "It's not impossible." But he knows what she means. Legilimency talent ought to be discovered in school, or right out of it. It's easier to find it early, to shape it while the mind's still malleable.

"No, but you'd already worked professionally and had American field training." Muriel frowns. "Up until you, Malfoy's not had any development past his early Occlumency work with Bellatrix."

Jake thinks he sees a wave of sadness cross Muriel's face when she says the name of Draco's aunt, but he's not certain. "He's in good hands with you. I'm amazed you let Saul pull you back in to train him."

Muriel clicks her tongue, a soft, sad tut that disappears into the silence of the room. "There's no one in England left, Jake. I lost so many students to the wars, on both sides, really, and the ones who didn't die took lucrative contracts with the private security firms, the ones working in the offshore prisons." She looks at him. "You know the ones I mean." He does. All too well. Muriel shakes her head. "And the unlucky ones ended up on the Thickey Ward with permanent neurological damage."

They're both quiet for a moment; they know the dangers of Legilimency. The neurological overload is one of the reasons natural Legilimens are so valued; something about their abilities helps to shield them from the magic overwhelming their mental faculties. Jake wonders about Malfoy's aunt, what could have happened to her, then, to twist her mind the way it obviously had.

Finally Muriel sighs and leans forward, her elbows on the table. "We're building up from the ashes here."

Jake runs a hand through his hair, then lets it fall back to his thigh. "If it's any consolation, I don't think Graves feels much different. We're desperately short on trained Legilimens at MACUSA. They all get shunted into Special Ops." He doesn't want to think about that long term toll on his fellow Legilimens, the stories that crop up about those who want leave but can't, and then collapse under the strain of their work.

"We can train them," Muriel says, "but a true, natural Legilimens such as you or Malfoy?" She shakes her head. "The likelihood is so much lower that they'll suffer harm. That's why I was so perplexed with Bellatrix, but no one could tell me why she'd changed. I want to make very, very certain nothing similar happens to the sprog."

A rap of knuckles comes at the door. Jake shifts, surprised, looking over his shoulder, but Muriel doesn't seem at all perturbed by the visitors. He supposes it's Malfoy and Croaker.

"Come in," she calls.

Hassan Shah smiles as the door opens, and he makes his way over to clasp Jake's hand. "Durant, so glad you've come."

The tap of Barachiel Dee's cane draws Jake's attention. "Legilimens," he says, his voice raspy and deep. "And Ms Burke, of course."

Muriel has an imperturbable calm to her demeanour as she swivels slightly to acknowledge him. "Mr Dee. How lovely to see you again." Her voice is calm, perfectly pitched, as if she were greeting a neighbour. Jake envies his senior colleague her composure--most people are wary around the legendary necromancer, unsettled even, but not Muriel Burke. If Jake didn't already respect her highly, this alone would raise her in his estimation.

Jake and Muriel shift their chairs further down to let Barachiel Dee and Shah sit. Dee grunts softly as he takes his chair; Shah steadies him on one side, Jake on the other, and Dee frowns, obviously unhappy at being seen with a weakness.

"So," Muriel says after a moment. "Azkaban." She looks over at Jake. "You were to be the Legilimens on record, but Saul wants the sprog to be part of the team. Or so he's telling him at the moment. Merlin knows how that will go."

Dee snorts, but there's a small smile playing around his mouth. "My grandson's friend is volatile, I've heard."

"Spend five minutes with him," Muriel says. "That comes through loud and bloody clear. But Malfoy's a good lad and a strong Legilimens already. Saul wants him to have this experience, given our current shortage of Legilimency practitioners at the moment." She looks around the table. "Are there any objections?"

"Malfoy's sound," Shah says, scratching the side of his nose. "I reckon he'll be brill, so none from me, yeah?"

Dee only shrugs. "The more Legilimens the better, one would hope. Although I worry about his inexperience."

"As would I," Jake says, and he realises this is what Muriel means about his supervision of Malfoy. "But Muriel's planning on being there, aren't you?" He watches her, takes in her small, wry smile.

"You have it in one, Jacob." Muriel rubs at a green ink stain on her thumb. "Saul wants me to be the head of the team. It's the first sensible thing he's suggested in years, so I'd prefer you lot not argue with him in that regard. I've no interest in micromanaging anything you're up to. I just want to keep Malfoy safe, make sure his head doesn't explode."

Shah's looking at her with wide eyes. "Seriously? His head could just…." He moves his hands, mimicking an explosion.

"Theoretically, yes," Muriel says, and Shah looks horrified. "But I'd prefer to keep that from being a possibility, hence my assignment."

Jake's pretty fucking sure it's more than that. Saul Croaker's no damn fool; he's not about to let an American, an Auror, and a fucking exiled necromancer bollocks Azkaban up for the Ministry. Not with Luxembourg looking over the Brits' shoulders. Muriel might be focusing on Malfoy's training, but she's been around the Department of Mysteries for decades. She knows what the fuck she's doing, and whatever ill will's built up between her and Croaker himself, Jake's willing to lay Dragots and Galleons on Croaker trusting her a hell of a lot more than he would the rest of them.

Muriel's just looking at him calmly. "Jake?"

Jake sinks back in his chair, trying to look unfazed. "No skin off my teeth," he says. This is something to report to Graves, he thinks. Even if he's not entirely certain why. He glances over at Shah. "What's the situation there?"

"Bad," Shah says bluntly. "The containment unit's faltering--"

"Utterly broken," Dee says with a frown.

Shah rubs the back of his neck. "He's not half-wrong, yeah? It's keeping the Dementors at bay for now, but it's--"

"Nothing more than a stop-gap." Dee leans forward, and Shah shrugs. "They're unhappy, Legilimens. Wouldn't you be, trapped in a single room like that? You saw them. You know who they are. What they are."

In his mind, Jake can still see those poor damn souls; they haunt his dreams sometimes, those two sailors, one Spanish, one Norwegian, that bent, grey-haired witch who'd wanted nothing more than to share her life with her Muggle family. "What do you want to do?" he asks, and he's curious when Dee's gaze flicks towards Muriel, then back to Jake.

"To make them comfortable," Dee says with a sly, quick smile. "Nothing more than that, Legilimens."

And that's bullshit if Jake's ever seen it, he thinks. He watches Dee look at Muriel again, and there's something there, Jake thinks. Something Dee's hiding, and he's damn well not going to say anything in front of Muriel Burke. Not when she's Croaker's representative. Jake leans back in his chair, arms folded across his chest. "Yeah?" he asks, and he doesn't turn his gaze away from Dee. "Just comfortable."

Dee's smile widens. "I think you understand my concerns."

"The Wizengamot's threatening to have the lot of 'em removed," Shah says, and they turn to look at him. Shah's face is grim, unsettled. "Me, I say, they all need to give their heads a wobble, yeah? But Luxembourg's well narked at us, aren't they, and they're wanting us to fix it, and the Wizengamot's solution is to take 'em all away, and have done with 'em." He draws a finger across his throat. "Kill the whole lot, and that doesn't sit well with me."

"Or me," Dee says with a sharp look at Jake. "Nor should it with you, Legilimens."

"No," Jake says, and his stomach flips unhappily. "It doesn't."

"What do you need us to do?" Muriel asks Shah. "How long do we have?"

Shah picks at the cuff of his jacket. "No clue. One of the Luxembourg solicitors is trying to stop it, yeah? On human rights grounds, but she doesn't know if she can."

Jake's shoulders feel tense and tight. He leans forward, his elbows on the thin metal arms of his chair. "There's some precedent, I think. International protections have been placed on centaurs using human rights legislation even though the centaurs themselves prefer to be classified as Beasts within the wizarding world."

"Same for merpeople," Muriel says. "It's tricky, but it's been done before."

Shah nods. "That's the idea, yeah. Merlin fucking knows if it'll work, but…"

"Maybe it can buy some time," Jake says.

They're silent for a moment, then Dee says, "Or put off the inevitable." Jake looks over at him, and Dee adds, "In their eyes at least." His face is shuttered, his mouth tight. "Poor sodding arseholes." He shakes his head, his hands folded over the top of his cane.

Shah crosses an ankle over his knee. "I can get you into Azkaban tomorrow," he says. "Luxembourg's there today. Acting like our bessies, aren't they, going around telling us what we've fucked up?" He rubs his thumb over the slick, polished leather of his boot. "But they're back here to London in the morning, so I reckon I could have you in by half-ten, if you wanted. All of you."

Muriel nods. "A walkthrough, at least."

"Something like that." Shah exchanges a glance with Dee, who nods.

"That can be arranged," Dee says, and once again, Jake gets the distinct feeling that there's something not being said here in front of Muriel. He doesn't know if he likes that fact, but he supposes he can't object. It's not as if he's being entirely honest with the Ministry himself, now is he?

He turns his head; Muriel's watching him, her face still, steady, thoughtful. She doesn't look away.

"Tomorrow," Muriel says finally. "Hassan, make the arrangements. We'll meet you and Mr Dee at the site." She closes her diary, caps the inkwell. "I think we're done here, gentlemen. For today at least." When they start to stand, Muriel looks up at Jake and says, "Jake, wait."

Jake sinks back into his seat, nods to Shah and then Dee as they leave, the door closing behind them. He looks back over at Muriel. "What?"

Muriel fiddles with her quill. "I have to collect the sprog. Spend a bit more time mucking about in his head." She lets the quill fall onto the desk with a soft clatter. "But I wanted to make something clear to you."

There's a shift in her voice that Jake doesn't particularly like. He tries to keep his cool, tries not to let her know he's picked up on it. "What would that be?"

"Don't you fucking go after him," Muriel says, her voice low. "He's under my care now, so if you think about--"

"I'm not going to," Jake says, cutting her off.

Muriel doesn't look convinced. "Potter and Malfoy--"

"Yeah, I know." Jake leans forward. "And I don't care, Muriel." He doesn't. Not with Blaise out there, but that's a different thorny question filled with its own morass of professional ethical dilemmas that Jake's no goddamn interest in sharing with Muriel Burke at the moment. "I'm not going after Malfoy."

"All right." Muriel studies his face. "But if you did--" She cuts off his protest with a raised hand. "Just let me get my threat out, you arsehole."

Jake sinks back in his chair, motions for her to continue.

"Thank you," Muriel snaps. "Merlin's tits. Anyway. If you did, I'd go after you as well. So we're clear. There's plenty of ammunition out there. I've read his file. You were the Legilimens of record for his sergeant's interview."

"I didn't tank him there." Jake meets her gaze evenly. "And I didn't know what was going on at the time." Not until he'd goddamn seen Harry in Malfoy's head, at least, begging to be fucked.

Muriel shrugs. "Don't care. Who'll they believe? I've been in this job for decades, boy. You're just a little Yank upstart."

Jake grins at her. "That I am." He likes Muriel's forthrightness, if he's honest. "Besides," he says. "Malfoy needs someone to watch out for him." Someone who isn't Harry, Jake thinks. Because when that comes out, when their relationship becomes general knowledge, all goddamn hell's going to break loose. Jake's not even a Brit, and he can see that coming a fucking mile away.

Maybe more.

He looks over at Muriel. "Are we good now?"

She smiles. "Only if you get off your lazy arse and walk me down to Saul's office. Protect me from that sodding menace."

Jake pushes himself out of his chair. "What the hell did he do to you that's put you off him so badly?"

"Love," Muriel says, standing, "you don't even want to know."

But he does, Jake thinks, eyeing her. Muriel Burke's an enigma to everyone, and Jake's pretty damn certain she likes it that way. To be honest, he doesn't blame her. Not entirely.

With a shake of his head, Jake follows her out of the office, letting the door swing shut behind them.

***

When Pansy looks up from her workbench at the faint knock on her door jamb, the last person she expects to see is her mother. For a moment, she's certain she must be hallucinating, and she frowns down at the tracking spell she's running on a scrap of fabric the Luxembourgian detail insists might be from Rodolphus Lestrange's Azkaban uniform. It's not the sort of thing to cause fumes or any secondary charm that might cause her to think Camilla Hirsch Parkinson in the doorway of her laboratory, Jonesey decidedly ill-at-ease beside her, his lab coat rumpled and his hair looking as if he's run both hands through it in distress.

"Hello, Pansy," her mother says, and Pansy just blinks at her.

"She insisted on seeing you," Jonesey says, and the look he gives Camilla is distrustful at best. Pansy suspects he's suffered a bit of a measured tongue-lashing if he tried to deny her mother entrance.

"Mother," Pansy says, her gaze taking in Camilla's nearly tailored red dress, tight around her narrow waist, and her shiny black heels that perfectly match the small bag hanging from her bent elbow. Her short, dark curls are swept away from her face, and she looks impeccable as always.

Pansy, on the other hand, has a tea stain on her lab coat, just above her left breast. She can tell by the flick of her mother's gaze that Camilla's already noticed it. It must be driving her mad not to point it out, but Jonesy's presence is making her mother hold her sharp tongue. For now.

"I'd like to take you to lunch," her mother says, and that surprises Pansy. Particularly when Camilla adds, "But only if you've time."

For a moment Pansy thinks about refusing. Her mother wants something, that much is clear, and when Camilla Parkinson wants something, Pansy's learnt to be uneasy. Still, she looks over at Jonesey, who just shrugs and says mildly, "I'll watch your charm for you if you'd like." He looks eager to get Pansy's mother out of the lab.

Pansy's certain she's going to regret this, but she shrugs and says, "All right." She slides off the stool and slip out of her lab coat, walking over to hang it up on one of the hooks in the corner. She grabs her bag from off the small table beneath, then glances over at her mother. "I'm assuming you're not interested in the commissary."

Camilla's nostrils flare. "Most decidedly not." She hesitates, then says, "I've booked us a table."

Jonesey's eyebrows go up. "How posh," he says, to Camilla's amused look. Pansy just glares at him. The idiot grins back at her, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Have fun," he says as she walks past.

"I'll be back," she says, and she follows her mother into the hall. The door's only just closed behind them when she says to Camilla, "I can't be gone all afternoon."

"Neither can I." The sharp tap of her mother's heels echoes along the hallway. "Your father's having friends for dinner, and the elves are going mad."

It's never just friends, though. Pansy knows that. Anyone her father invites to the Norfolk house that sets the kitchen elves into a tizzy is a business associate. Someone he wants to impress, to wine and dine in highest style with every pain taken and no expense spared. Pansy feels sorry for the elves. She'd hated those evenings as a child, especially if she'd had to be scrubbed within an inch of her life and bundled into her best frilly, fussy dress to socialise with the other families' brats. Her mother had kept a formal playroom on the second floor for Pansy to entertain important children in with Jinksy hovering nearby, her elven brow furrowed with worry. Pansy'd loathed the tidy decorum of the whole evening, with the toys and books she was never allowed touch otherwise lest they seem worn and torn for guests, the fakeness, the polite chit-chat and the underlying tension of having to be on her best behaviour for people she didn't know. Or want to know. But so much rested on good impressions, didn't it, and Pansy had been taught early on to keep her mouth shut and her eyes down. Hogwarts had been a fucking relief from all of that, a place where Pansy could be headstrong and angry and as cutting and cruel as she liked. All the things her parents would never let her be, not when she was on display.

Pansy thinks, however, she might have gone to an extreme even then. She won't flagellate herself over it though. If she hadn't lashed out, hadn't had a sharp tongue and a bitter attitude those years, Pansy thinks she might have crumbled, might have lost herself to her parents' revision of her into the polite, quiet woman they expected her to be.

Then again, Daisy'd been the one to bend her head and smile sweetly, and look where her sister had ended up. Running off with Dimitri bloody Godunov to Circe knows where whilst her husband looks set up to spend the next decade in Oudepoort. Not exactly the perfect scion of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, Pansy thinks. Either of them. It must be the Hirsch coming out in them, and that thought actually cheers Pansy, if only a bit.

"Where are we lunching, then?" Pansy attempts a stab at politeness for her mother as they pass out of the hallways and into the lift.

Camilla smiles over at her, her red lips curving, and it softens her face. Pansy's always a bit awestruck by her mother's beauty. If she had half the elegance Camilla Parkinson has in her smallest finger, Pansy'd be thrilled. "I rather like the Northall, and as I recall you do too."

"Oh, lovely." Pansy still dreams of the terrine of salmon she ate there once; she hasn't been to the Northall in years. Her mother doesn't come to London as often as she used to, and Pansy certainly doesn't splash out on power lunches. Not on her small pay packet.

Still, something in the back of Pansy's head tells her that her mother knows something, that she's trying to console her. Pansy's not quite certain what, exactly, but her mother hasn't taken such care of her since Tony and Eva's wedding was announced. And that turned out so well, Pansy thinks tartly.

They make small talk on the short walk down Whitehall to the Corinthia Hotel, trading comments on the weather, the heat, the small details of streets they pass through on their way to Trafalgar Square. Once inside the vaulted lobby, Pansy lets herself be led to a cozy table in the bustling restaurant. A sort of calm creeps over her, as she's seated across the heavy linen tablecloth from her mother. This is familiar. This is the rhythm of childhood, of family, of days out in London with her mother. She resists the urge to fiddle with her place setting, keeping her hands firmly in her lap and watching her posture.

After a spot of Prosecco--Pansy's decided if Jonesy's minding the spells, she can bloody well drink--her mother opens up a bit. Pansy's tucking into her smoked salmon and smashed avocado starter when Camilla says lightly, "I suppose you've heard from your sister."

Pansy's fork has just pierced the thick, creamy green of the avocado. She stops, sets the fork down, and reaches for her glass. "I might've done." She doesn't look at her mother. "Briefly."

Her mother's red-suited shoulders shrug. "I don't mind, dear. And you don't have to tell me what Daisy said." She looks up at Pansy, takes a sip from her own tall flute of bubbly wine. "Or didn't say. I know where she is. More or less." Her eyes are sharp as Pansy meets her gaze, and Pansy remembers just how much it takes to rattle Camilla Parkinson. She wonders how much her mother knows, if she has any clue what sort of trouble Daisy's about to get herself into. Her mother sets her wine glass back down. "But I want to make sure you're all right."

She wants nothing of the sort, Pansy's sure. "I'm fine." Pansy stabs at the avocado, breaking off a bit and shredding the salmon. She swallows it, the grassy creaminess welcome on her palate. She'd forgotten breakfast this morning, and, frankly, this is a bloody brilliant way to recover from a dull, mindless morning in the lab. Her gaze flicks back up to her mother's face. "Why shouldn't I be?"

The look her mother gives her is a bit too knowing. "I realise it's hard, Pansy. Sometimes they ask a lot of you, your father and your sister, just keeping their secrets." Her smile slips off her face; she looks down at her untouched plate, and Pansy thinks for once she's seeing her mother as she is, not as she'd like to present herself.

Pansy isn't hungry suddenly. "I'm not keeping secrets." She stops, the tines of her fork dragging through the smashed avocado. "How much do you know about what Daisy gave me?" She doesn't look around exactly, but she's been keeping a careful eye on the tables around them, to make sure no one's listening in. She's fairly certain her mother's cast a discreet Muffliato; the stools at the bar look a bit blurrier than when they'd sat down.

"I've no idea what you mean." Camilla falls quiet as the waiter returns, bringing their mains and then taking away the Prosecco flutes and bringing out the white wine they'd ordered for lunch.

Pansy waits until he's well away from the table to turn back to her mother. "She told me to give it to Daddy."

"Give him what?" Camilla's face is impassive and wary. Pansy realises this isn't a put-on; her mother genuinely has no idea. "I assume it's business related?"

Pansy nods, in a way grateful that her mother actually doesn't know everything. "A scroll, heavily spelled. Daisy had me carry it back for her."

She doesn't need to mention that she didn't tell anyone about it or declare it, doesn't point out that she used an official Portkey to bring her sister and father's most certainly dodgy business correspondence back into the country, not to mention whatever else the spelled-shut parchment contained.

"What are you planning on doing with it?" Camilla fiddles with her sea bass, not really eating it. She is drinking wine, however; her glass is nearly empty already. She looks up at her daughter, a furrow between her brows. "I wouldn't keep it for too long, Pansy, unless you have another plan for it. You know how your father is."

Pansy does. Terry Parkinson's a good man in many ways, but he has a temper on him, particularly when he thinks someone's trying to fuck him over in business. Pansy's not entirely certain he'd stay calm with her, not if that damned scroll has anything important--or incriminating--in it.

She takes a bite of her own main--a lovely Dover sole with lemon that might almost restore her faith in humanity and British cooking. "I want to open it first. I'm fiddling with the protective spells, but I need to be careful." She glances up at her mother. "Daisy almost certainly put an anti-tampering charm on it."

It feels surreal to be having this conversation with her mother, Pansy thinks. They've never talked about any of this. Not really. She and her mother have always stayed in the shadows, never asking questions, never pushing too hard for answers about where the money comes. Pansy wonders now if that was foolish of them, if they'll both be dragged down by her father and her sister and whatever idiotic decisions the two of them have made.

Camilla raises a perfectly arched eyebrow. "Well." She twists her fork between her fingers. "If that happens, I'd blame it on Customs, if I were you."

"I was thinking of saying it got mixed up with evidence, but you're right. Customs is a possibility as well, even for an Auror arrival." Pansy takes a bite of fish, swallows. "You know they could be in trouble, Mother."

Her mother hesitates, then nods. "I'm aware. Hence my desire to speak with you today." She studies Pansy for a long moment, then says, "I never wanted you to be in this position, you know. Choosing between your job and your family. It's why I fought you over Auror training."

Pansy bites her lip, sets her fork down. She reaches for her wine glass and takes a sip. "Do you know what Daddy's doing?"

"No." Camilla tucks a curl behind her ear. "I've never wanted to. As far as I know it's not illegal--"

"Mother," Pansy says, and she gives Camilla an exasperated look. "Daddy lives on the edges of legality. You can't say you don't know that."

Her mother's silent for a moment, then she says, "I love your father, Pansy. Even when things have been difficult between us. Even when he's made choices and decisions that I thought put us at risk. That I disagreed with."

"The war," Pansy says quietly.

Camilla's mouth tightens. "My mother's family barely escaped a man like the Dark Lord," she says, and her voice is tight. Angry. "Your father knows how I felt about that. It's the only time I ever thought about leaving him, you know. Even with everything he's done. The business. The other women." She meets Pansy's gaze evenly.

"I didn't know you knew," Pansy murmurs.

Her mother looks away. "I know more than I'd like," she says after a moment. "But I also know that I love your father, and for all his faults and vices, he loves me. We've worked through things. We've made a good life together." She glances back at Pansy. "We have two beautiful daughters. And that, Pansy, is the point I draw the line. Terry's involved Daisy now, and you, in a different way, and I'm furious with them both for drawing you into this." Her hand shakes as she reaches for her wine glass, lifts it to her mouth. "They're both bloody fucking idiots."

Camilla almost never swears. Pansy just watches her; her mother sighs and meets her gaze. "I'm not asking you to protect them," Camilla says after a moment.

"You know I will," Pansy says, taking another bite of fish, and her mother sighs.

"I know." The small smile on Camilla's face is brief, replaced with a motherly look of concern. "Daisy was worried about you when I talked to her last. Before all…" Camilla frowns, then shakes her head. "This. She said you'd been with Tony again."

The fish tastes like ash in Pansy's mouth. She swallows drily around it, taking another swallow of wine. Perhaps she shouldn't try to eat at this luncheon, despite the impeccable food, but imitate her mother's form instead and drink her lunch. "He was in New York." Pansy stops for a moment, thinking about what to say next, weighing the likely impact of her words. "Did you know he was an Unspeakable? Because I bloody well didn't until he showed up in the MACUSA offices."

Camilla waves her wine glass, and Pansy relaxes. "Michal was terribly coy about what he was doing," her mother says, "and it wasn't too hard to put together." She looks up at Pansy, understanding suddenly dawning across her face. "Oh, love. Are you worried about your father? He's known about the investigation for ages."

This puts Pansy on the back foot. She tilts her head. "Daddy knew that Tony was investigating him?"

Her mother laughs. "Of course he did. It's not as if the Unspeakables are discreet. Frankly, he said better the devil you know than the devil you don't. And he was always careful." Her mother's face hardens a bit. "Until recently, it seems."

And in these moments, Pansy can see her mother's resemblance to Saul Croaker, and she makes a mental note to ask her mother next time she's at home more about what exactly the Hirsch family did in previous generations. Pansy's heard a bit from her grandmother, but she's sure there are interesting tales out there that were censored for her ears.

"You honestly didn't know until New York?" Camilla's expression softens. "It's just we all assumed…" She trails off with a soft sigh. "Oh, Pansy, darling."

Pansy's humiliated. "I didn't know about Daisy and Godunov either."

The flick of her mother's eyes away is all Pansy needs for confirmation. Her mother's known everything all along. Pansy would curse if they weren't in the quiet respectability of the Northall. Her mother tears at a scrap of bread, rolling it up and setting it on the side of her plate. "I'd worried about it, of course, until Eustace betrayed us all."

"As much as I hate to defend him," Pansy says, "Euey didn't betray us, Mother. He made a deal with Dol-"

"Don't say that name at this table." Her mother's whisper is fierce, her eyes flashing.

Pansy nods meekly, feeling all of five years old again. It's amazing how quickly her mother can bring her to heel, even just with her voice. "All right."

"I'm sorry, for what it's worth." Camilla leans back, frowning. "I wanted to keep you entirely out of it, but then, well, you were sent over there so quickly I didn't have time to speak to you alone, and then you were back again." Her mother's frown deepens. "You didn't even visit your cousins whilst you were there."

"There wasn't time," Pansy protests. She's known she'd get in trouble for this when she came back, and she's far more ready for this particular argument. "MACUSA kept us busy."

Her mother gives her an incredulous look. "Really." One eyebrow goes up. "You have time to let Tony Goldstein shtup you, but you can't go up to Westchester to see your Aunt Mariska and Uncle Jerome. Your cousin Albert's wife just had twins."

Pansy's far too familiar with these particular knives of maternal guilt, and she twists to avoid them. "How lovely," she says, then adds, "which means I'm sure they're quite busy with their grandchildren, and not up for visitors."

The moment she says it, she feels the trap closing around her, and she knows there's no escape. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, buggering bloody fuck, she's usually so fucking careful about not giving Camilla this to use against her.

"And who knows how long I'll have to wait for grandchildren." Her mother's eyes are sad. Pansy's struck by the emotion in them, and she tries not to let it affect her. "Unless you've done something stupid and haven't told me yet?"

"I'm sorry. Not expecting at the moment." Pansy's just finished her period, thank goodness. She doesn't need another pregnancy scare with Tony.

"Baruch Ha-Shem." Her mother's prayer is fervent, and Pansy tries not to roll her eyes. "I don't think I could stand sharing a baby with Michal. She'd try to turn my own grandchild against me, you know she would." Camila's mouth twists downwards, and Pansy doesn't want to point out that she's fairly certain Michal Goldstein wouldn't do that. Evidently her mother and Michal are in one of their falling-out phases again. "You know, she's already upset about Eva not giving her one, and really, with the divorce coming that's a blessing, isn't it?"

Honestly, that's something Pansy can definitely agree with her mother on. And it probably also explains the animosity between Michal and Camilla, Pansy thinks. She's fairly certain Tony's mother is blaming her for the divorce. Tony hadn't said so directly, but Pansy knows when to read between the lines.

Which means her mother's stood up for her at some point, and that warms Pansy's heart.

And then Camilla eyes her, and Pansy knows what's coming. She closes her eyes as her mother says, "But you know, Pansy, you're not as young as you were. It's time to start thinking about it. I know you have your career now, but you'll want to give it thought."

After they wave away dessert menus and order coffee, Pansy knows she's in the final stretch. If she can just make it to the door, she won't have to answer any more questions about her future or when her mother will get her yearned for grandchild.

"Maybe Daisy will give you a grandchild yet," Pansy jokes, pouring sugar into her espresso.

"With that mamzer, Godunov?" Camilla's mouth is a thin line, then she sighs, sadness wafting across her face. She looks over at Pansy. "I just wish she'd come home to us."

Pansy nods, putting her hand on her mother's briefly, surprised at her own affection. "I do too. I told her not to go with him."

"I stopped talking to your father for a bit." Her mother daubs the corner of the napkin at her mouth. "He's going to buy me a bracelet, but there's nothing that can replace a daughter." She looks over at Pansy. "Either one of them."

The espresso is bitter, as is the knowledge that her mother shares her worries.

Pansy drinks slowly, her heart heavy.

***

The commissary's quiet towards the end of the lunch rush. Draco sits alone at a table in the back, nursing a cup of tea, his plate empty in front of him save a few scraps of rocket from his salad. He should have gone out for lunch, he thinks. Perhaps to Pret in Trafalgar. It feels strange to be sat here by himself. He'd thought perhaps he might run into Pans or Blaise or perhaps even Harry, but none of them had come in. Probably for the best, Draco supposes. Especially Harry. They're trying not to be seen together in the Ministry more than absolutely necessary at the moment.

He glances around again, looking for a friendly face. He hasn't even seen Althea yet, and that makes him wonder if the whole of Seven-Four-Alpha's gone out for lunch, maybe even celebrating Harry's birthday. Draco doesn't think he likes that, if he's honest. Not out of jealousy, really, but more loneliness. He hates that he feels so set apart from his team, that he's no longer part of Seven-Four-Alpha, but adrift in the Department of Mysteries with only Muriel Burke to tether him at the moment. At least in the Auror force he'd always had Blaise or Pansy beside him, friends who he could turn to when he was feeling uncertain. Unhappy.

Now he hasn't anyone. He can't even tell Blaise or Pans that he feels this way; Draco's making the choice himself to be apart from them, choosing Harry and whatever this is between them over being with his best friends.

And even sitting here alone over the remnants of his lunch, Draco knows he'd make the same choice again. He thinks of Harry on his knees this morning in the kitchen, looking up at Draco as he swallowed Draco's prick down, sucking Draco until he'd shuddered and cried out, arched over Harry's shoulders, his long, pale fingers tangling in the thick snarl of Harry's dark curls.

Draco wonders what Harry'll think of his birthday present tonight. Draco needs to go by Madame Malkin's after work, pick up the last bit of it that she's set aside for him. A soft, quiet, almost uncertain thrill goes through Draco; he's never shared this side of himself with Harry. They've never talked about it before, and perhaps they ought to have, Draco thinks, but he wants to see the look on Harry's face when their guests have all gone home, wants to know firsthand what Harry thinks when he sees Draco walk down the stairs. He takes a sip of tepid tea, imagining it, hoping that the other order he'd put in with Philippe will arrive from Paris before their guests show up.

He's lost in thought when a shadow falls over him. He looks up just as Bertie Aubrey sits down, taking the chair across from him. "Haven't seen you in a while, lad." He hesitates. "Outside of your dad's funeral, I suppose. I'm sorry about that, you know."

"Bertie," Draco says, and he feels his cheeks warm. He's been avoiding his old mentor, he knows, as much as he hasn't wanted to admit it. He's still a bit angry at Bertie for telling him to end things with Harry before he'd left for New York, and he doesn't know what to say. He settles for, "Thanks," and an awkward, uneasy silence.

"I hear you're doing well down in Croaker's realm," Bertie says, and he leans back in his chair, draping his arm over the one beside him. He looks good, Draco thinks, sharper, more spiffy. Bertie's traded in his worn Aran jumper for a bright yellow tie and a proper dress shirt, even if the shoulders are creased and the sleeves are rolled up over his forearms.

Draco sets his tea mug down. "Well enough, I suppose." That's what Croaker had told him this morning at least before informing him he'll be joining Muriel at Azkaban at some point tomorrow. They need an extra Legilimens, and Draco doesn't want to think about the fact that he'll be working again with Jake Durant. It'd been awkward enough in New York at moments, and Draco'd just had to deal with the fact that Jake was his boyfriend's ex. Now he has to add Blaise into the mix and be annoyed with Durant over that particular cock-up. It's frustrating, but he supposes he ought to bloody well get used to it. Muriel's already warned him that the Legilimens world is a small one and filled with feuds, and by the time his career is even halfway through he'll have irritated half the Legilimens across the globe. He should just expect that.

Bertie's just watching him, and there's a wistful, almost sad, expression on his face. "That's good."

They sit silently, just looking at each other, and Draco can feel the gulf between them, the shift in their relationship that Draco can't quite explain. He bites his lip, then says, "You look good as a Deputy Head Auror."

That makes Bertie chuckle and shake his head, and for a moment it's almost as if Draco's back in Bertie's office, a young Auror still wet behind the ears, sipping tea and asking for Bertie's advice. Bertie smoothes his hand down his tie and shrugs. "Rather have my jumpers, if I'm honest, but Gawain insists on full Auror uniform for us both." He gives Draco a wry smile, his bushy moustache twitching. "If he sees me here, he'll whinge about me being jacketless in public. Right old bastard that one can be."

Draco crumples up a paper serviette, shredding the edge, and gives Bertie a half-smile in return. "Price of the job, though."

"Something like that." Bertie's quiet for a moment, then he says, his voice low, "So you didn't take my advice about Potter, I hear."

"I didn't." Draco glances over at him. "It's worked out, though."

Bertie frowns, then looks at Draco. "He kept his rank and position. You've been sent to Croaker. Not a promotion in my book."

"It pays better." Draco rests his elbows on the table. "And I'm being trained in Legilimency, so I suppose I can't complain."

"So was your aunt," Bertie says, rubbing the back of his head. "And look how fucking mad she went. Legilimency isn't something to play around with, lad. It'll send you to the Janus Thickey in a heartbeat."

Draco blinks, trying to take in what Bertie's just said. "Aunt Bella was an Occlumens," he says, and Bertie snorts.

"Your bloody aunt was trained by Muriel Burke." Bertie eyes Draco, his thick eyebrows going up. "You didn't know that."

"No one's bothered to mention it," Draco says, and that unsettles him. "Bella was an Unspeakable?" It sounds utterly mad when he says it out loud, and Draco thinks Bertie must be mistaken. "I don't believe it." Draco thinks he'd bloody well have heard that from someone. His mother if no one else.

Bertie shrugs. "Not for long, I reckon, but I heard she was on the rolls." He studies Draco, leans closer. "Muriel didn't tell you?"

Draco shakes his head, picks up his tea mug. When he takes a sip, it's cold. Almost undrinkable. He swallows it anyway, sets the mug back down. His gaze flicks back to Bertie. "Perhaps it slipped her mind."

"Not bloody likely." Bertie sighs, runs his hands over his face. "This is what I was afraid of when Gawain said he was signing your transfer papers. That lot down there, Croaker, all of them. They're bloody liars, lad." He looks over at Draco, worry furrowing his brow. "You remember you're a copper first and foremost, Draco Malfoy. Not one of them. You're a good Auror. I trained you. John Dawlish trained you. Don't let them get in your head; they'll burrow down and make you doubt everything you used to know about law enforcement. They bend rules down in Mysteries, and you know I don't mind looking the other way now and again, but Saul Croaker takes that to a goddamned art form. Don't fucking trust him."

And Draco doesn't know what to say. It's not as if he disagrees with Bertie; he's already realised that Croaker will use him for whatever he wants, won't even give a fuck about Draco himself if a case was more important. The Department of Mysteries isn't like the Aurors; Saul Croaker's nothing like Gawain Robards. The Aurors are cutthroat, but Draco suspects the Unspeakables are worse, and he doesn't know who he can trust any more on either side. He looks up at Bertie. "I'm not tapping out," he says after a moment. "I want to be a Legilimens, Bertie."

Bertie nods. "And you should. Just…." He trails off, looks down at his folded hands. "Trust Potter if you need to," he says after a moment. "Parkinson and Zabini too. Maybe Granger, although I've a feeling that girl's working her own game down there herself."

"And you?" Draco says, and there's a sharp edge to his voice that surprises him.

It surprises Bertie too. He glances up at Draco, eyebrows going up, and then a wide smile breaks through his moustache. "Circe, no, lad. I'll use you too if I can, but I'd like to think it's for your own benefit."

And that makes Draco's mouth quirk at the corner. "Refreshingly honest."

Bertie's laugh rings out through the commissary. Heads turn their way. "I try." His face sobers though, and he sighs. "Will it help if I admit I may have been wrong about you and Potter? Even if it's ruined your promising Auror career." He scowls at that, and Draco knows Bertie's disappointed in him. Bertie'd always wanted Draco to follow in his footsteps, to be the son he never had.

Merlin but Draco's so bloody tired of failing his father figures because they want him to be some sort of paragon, to strive for an impossible level of perfection he can never attain. He looks at Bertie and says, "I'm not yours to shape, you know. I wasn't my father's either."

"I know, lad." Bertie's voice is soft. Gentle, even, and the look he turns on Draco is kind. "I'm proud of what you're becoming. But you can't fault me for being worried as well, particularly with you in the middle of that mysterious pit of vipers."

"They're not all that bad," Draco says, but he knows he hasn't met the whole of the Unspeakable team yet.

Bertie just snorts. "Just wait." He studies Draco's face, then sighs again. "Be careful. And don't trust Muriel Burke further than you can throw that mangy cow. She's a canny one, she is, and she'll chew you up and spit you out the moment you're not worth anything to her. Do you understand?" His eyes are bright, worried as they search Draco's face.

Draco nods, suddenly uncertain. He'd thought he knew his place, thought things had worked out for him and Harry both, thought he'd landed on his feet.

Now he doesn't know if he has.

"Right then," Bertie says. He pushes himself out of his chair. "You need anything, lad, you come to me. Yeah?"

"Yeah," Draco echoes, and the word catches in the back of his throat. "I will. I promise."

Bertie exhales and gives Draco a faint smile. "Good." He glances around the commissary, then back at Draco. "We'll keep this to ourselves, yes?" He looks a bit unsure of himself. "If word gets back to Croaker that I've said anything…" He trails off, frowns. "Well, you know how things go around here."

And the thing of it is, Draco does. Croaker would go after Bertie, and Draco doesn't think Bertie's solid enough yet as Deputy Head Auror to withstand an attack from the Head Unspeakable. It'd get ugly, and Draco knows damned well who'd go down first. And who Bertie would fucking take with him.

Draco'd do the same in his shoes.

"Don't worry," Draco says after a moment. "I'll keep my gob shut."

Bertie's smile is warm. Fatherly. It goes straight through Draco's heart, and it nearly takes his breath away at how much he's missed that. "Well done," he says, and then he's gone, leaving Draco alone once more.

Merlin, Draco thinks, watching Bertie slip out between the commissary doors. What the hell has he got himself into?

He rubs his hands over his face and sighs.

***

Althea's stood in the middle of her tiny sitting room for a good ten minutes, just summoning up the courage to Apparate. She's nervous about tonight. It's one thing to meet her team for drinks down the pub after work. It's entirely different to be invited to her guv's house for dinner on his birthday. She looks down at the bottle of firewhisky in her hand. It's an idiotic gift, she thinks, but it's the only thing she could think of. She doesn't know Potter well enough yet to figure out his likes and dislikes, and a copy of Rita Skeeter's unauthorised biography seemed like a bad choice. So she picked up a bottle of firewhisky. One of the more expensive ones; the bloke in the shop down Diagon had told her yesterday it was one of their best. Althea just hopes it won't be the third or fourth bottle he receives tonight.

"Fuck it," she murmurs. She could dither about this all bloody night if she lets herself. So she draws deep breath, fixing the address Malfoy'd given her in her mind and on the exhale, she Apparates.

Althea lands on the doorstep of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place in Islington, feeling the house's wards shift and curve around her, blocking her arrival from view. She waits for a moment, then shakes her head. "Come on, Whitaker," she murmurs. "It's just a bloody dinner party. Who cares if the fanciest do you've ever been to was Marcus' annual Crimbo booze-up?" She reaches for the heavy doorknocker and lets it fall, wincing a bit as a boom echoes inside the house. She waits, smoothes down the front of the red silk blouse that she's tucked into her best flat-front black trousers. The nice thing, Althea thinks, about not having tits is that she can leave the top three buttons undone and still look put together. She's twisted her hair into a thick plait that she's wrapped into a knot at the nape of her neck, so she thinks she's presentable at least. Or she hopes she is.

When the door opens, Althea looks up into Malfoy's surprised face. She's grateful she chose her best shirt for tonight; Malfoy's dressed in a charcoal suit and slate grey tie that complements his eyes. "You could have used the Floo," he says, stepping back into the cool, shadowed foyer, and Althea shrugs.

"Don't have one," she says. "My flat's too small." And too Muggle, Althea wants to say, but she thinks better of bringing that up. "Didn't want to go back to the Ministry just to Floo over."

"No," Malfoy says. "I'd think not." As Althea steps into the house, the wards spark lightly across her skin, taking her magical signature, she suspects. She wouldn't expect anything less from a house owned by Harry Potter. Security must be an absolute nightmare.

Althea turns, taking in the shining chandelier and the pale grey walls. "Nice place."

Malfoy smiles faintly. "Harry's done a bit of work on it. According to my mother it wasn't anywhere quite as modern when her aunt and uncle owned the place."

"Oh." Althea holds out the firewhisky. "Brought this for the guv."

"Good bottle," Malfoy says, and he actually looks impressed as he takes the bottle from her. "Harry will love it." He hesitates, then says, "Don't look so worried, Althea. You know most of the people here."

She knows. It's the ones she hasn't met that are making her nervous.

Althea follows Malfoy up the polished walnut staircase and into what looks like a library, filled with bookcases that stretch from floor to ceiling on either side of the rather impressive hearth. A mirror hangs over the mantel; it's old, Althea can tell from the spots on the glass, but the frame's gold and lovely, carved in scrolls and swirls, and there's a huge vase of pink and white roses and peonies in front of it, their scent drifting across the room, mingling with the faintest traces of beeswax and lemon oil. It reminds her of her mother and the way they'd turned over the sitting room every week she'd been home from Hogwarts, rubbing the wax and oil into the wooden floors and furniture until they all gleamed.

"Wine?" Malfoy asks her. "Or something stronger?"

"Neither." Althea shakes her head. She's too nervous to keep herself to one drink, she knows. Better to avoid it all, for now at least. Malfoy eyes her as if he wants to say something, but he catches himself, then nods without making an issue of it. Althea's grateful.

Potter's in the wide leather armchair opposite the hearth; the two long sofas on either side are filled with Granger and her husband on one side, and, on the other, Narcissa Malfoy along with a woman Althea recognises from the funeral of Malfoy's father and a young boy with turquoise hair who looks utterly bored as he flips through a comic book. Zabini's slouched in another armchair, and he raises a glass of something amber her way when she walks in.

"Welcome, Althea," Zabini drawls, and Althea wonders if he's in a better mood than he'd been in at work. He'd snapped her head off twice, but she hadn't cared that much, not when the guv had pulled her aside, and just murmured, he ran into Jake. Althea hadn't pushed after that; she'd just let Zabini be, scowling down at the stacks of paperwork they've been sorting through, sightings of Lestrange that have been reported through Europe. One had even come in from Malaysia, but Althea's fairly certain it's just mistaken identity. Like all the others, really. In her opinion, Lestrange would be a fucking fool to be out and about anywhere right now. He'd know they were looking for him, casting their net wide. And as mad as he is, Rodolphus Lestrange is anything but a complete idiot. Even Althea knows that.

Malfoy perches on the arm of Potter's chair, passes over the firewhisky. "Althea brought this for your enjoyment," he says, and the look he gives the guv is soft and fond. It makes Althea's heart twist a bit, especially when Potter glances up at Malfoy, a soft smile curving his lips, before he turns to Althea.

"Thanks, Whitaker," the guv says. He twists the bottle in his hands, looks down at the label before whistling softly. He's in a suit too, this one charcoal, his white shirt unbuttoned at the throat. "Nice bottle."

Althea's face heats. "Hope you like it," she says, a bit awkwardly. She doesn't want to admit she didn't pick it out herself, but it also feels a bit gauche to let them think she's a firewhisky connoisseur. "It came recommended," she settles on. It's close enough to the truth, Althea thinks.

Granger pats the sofa cushion next to her. "Come sit," she says, and the smile she gives Althea is warm and welcoming. "You know Ron, of course." Weasley bends past his wife and waves at her. He gives her a quick wink, and Althea feels her stomach calm, at least a little bit.

The sofa's more comfortable than Althea would think, even with three people on it. She nods towards Narcissa. "Mrs Malfoy," she says. "Good to see you again."

"Sergeant Whitaker," Narcissa says, and she's stopped by a sharp tut from her son.

"No titles tonight, Mother," Malfoy says, and his hand's resting lightly on the guv's shoulder. It's intimate and possessive, and Althea envies them both that careful, public touch. "First names only." His gaze flicks towards Weasley. "Or surnames, if one must."

Narcissa shakes her head, but she's smiling as she turns back to Althea. "Well then. Althea. Allow me to introduce my sister Andromeda Black and her grandson Teddy Lupin. I'm not certain you've officially met." She glances at her sister. "Althea's on Draco and Harry's team."

"Harry's team, Mother," Malfoy says quietly, and there's an undercurrent of pain there that makes Althea glance over at him. He's looking down at his hands, folded in his lap, and Althea thinks it must be difficult for him to be with them right now, to know that he's not part of Seven-Four-Alpha.

And she can't stop herself from saying, "Still yours too."

The guv looks at her, and he's smiling now, his hand settling on the small of Malfoy's back. "She's right," he says, and Malfoy sighs, but he nods, his hair falling over his cheek.

Malfoy looks over at Althea. "Thank you," he says quietly.

"It's just the truth." Zabini leans forward, his mouth a thin line. He grips his glass between his hands. "You're still ours, Draco. Always bloody will be. Whatever the fucking DMLE might think."

Malfoy draws in a ragged breath, then gives them all a faint smile. "The Unspeakables might protest," he says, looking over at Granger.

Granger shakes her head. "I already told you," she says. "I never wanted to break up this team."

They're all silent for a moment, and then Narcissa turns to her sister. "Althea's mother was Clio Yaxley, do you remember?" The change of subject is welcome; Althea can feel the whole room relax.

Andromeda gives Althea a small smile. "I do. Clio and I spoke quite frequently over the years." She hesitates, then says, "It was more difficult at that time to be intermarried." Her sister stiffens beside her, and Althea can tell there's something there, something neither of them are quite comfortable with, and then Andromeda reaches over and squeezes Narcissa's hand before glancing back at Althea. "I was so very sorry to hear what happened to her," she says. "Her Prophet columns were always my favourite part of the paper. Your mother was a very talented journalist."

"Thank you," Althea manages to say, but her throat's a bit tight. She's never really spoken to anyone who knew her mother like that, and she wonders what Andromeda Black could tell her about Clio Whitaker, what she might remember. Althea wants to ask her, but it doesn't seem the place right now, here at the guv's birthday dinner.

Teddy squirms beside Andromeda, and she looks down at her grandson. "Say hello to Althea, Ted."

"Hello." Teddy doesn't look up from his comic book; his grandmother sighs in fond annoyance, and Althea can't help but smile. She tilts her head, gets a glimpse of the comic title.

"Oh," Althea says. "Spider-man. I read those when I was your age."

That catches Teddy's attention. "Did you?" He gives her a curious look, and his turquoise hair turns a deep teal. "Are you a Muggle?"

For a moment, the room stills, but Althea just laughs. "My dad is. He's the one who bought me my first comic; he's a whole closet of them from when he was younger."

"Wicked," Teddy breathes, and his eyes are wide. "Nan, can I have a closet for my comics?"

Andromeda's mouth twitches. "We'll talk about it later, love." She glances over at Althea. "I think you've won yourself a fan for life."

The Floo bursts into life, green flames twisting through the burnt logs in the hearth, and Malfoy says, with more than a bit of annoyance, "That'd best be Pans or I'll go through myself and drag her--"

"It'll be fine," the guv says, his hand settling on Malfoy's thigh, and Malfoy settles back against him.

Parkinson steps through, stumbling just a bit on the edge of the hearth, her high heel catching on one of the bricks. "Sorry, I'm late," she says breathlessly, and she tugs at the hem of her short, plum silk dress. She looks bloody smashing in it, Althea thinks, the drape of the neckline showing off her tits, her legs long and pale beneath the mid-thigh skirt. Her dark hair's down and rumpled in a way that makes it look as if she's just rolled out of bed, and Althea thinks she's never seen anyone as fucking gorgeous as Pansy Parkinson. She knows Zabini's watching her as he lifts his glass to his lips, and she tries not to stare, but she can't help herself. Particularly when Parkinson glances around the room and realises there's not a seat left for her.

"Althea, darling," she says cheerfully, and she settles herself on the arm of the sofa, her smooth, bare legs draping over Althea's knees. She smells brilliant, like orange blossoms and salt water, and when she leans forward, the silk of her dress stretches across her tits, making the round nubs of her nipples rather prominent. Althea feels Granger nudge her husband beside her, and when she glances over, Weasley's face is pink, and he's looking away, much to his wife's amusement.

Well, Althea thinks, at least she's not the only one affected.

"Happy birthday, guv," Parkinson says, and she throws him a small package, tightly wrapped in linen.

Potter frowns down at it. "What's this?"

"Pressie for later." Parkinson beams at him, and the guv unwraps the linen, his eyebrow going up as it holds a small tin in his hand. Parkinson just raises an eyebrow, a small smile playing across her purple-plummy lips, and Malfoy sighs.

"For Merlin's sake, Pans," Malfoy says just as Potter opens the tin and the very distinct scent of Gillyweed drifts across the room, in front of an entire group of Unspeakables, Aurors, and Malfoy's female relatives.

Teddy's the only one who doesn't turn to look at Parkinson. She shrugs, and there's a wicked look on her face. "A little birdie told me you enjoyed it."

The guv bursts into laughter. "Oh, did he?" He glances up at Malfoy, whose face is nearly scarlet.

"I hate you," Malfoy says to Parkinson, his voice low, and for a moment, Althea thinks he might just be serious. "You're a horrible wench."

And then Narcissa leans forward and sniffs, her nose wrinkling. "That smells lovely, don't you think Andy?" She glances at Parkinson. "Pansy, darling, you'll have to tell me where you found your supply. Andromeda and I always did like a bit of a smoke when we were younger, didn't we?"

"Mother," Malfoy says, his voice high and scandalised. "Honestly--"

"Oh, your generation," his aunt says with a smile. "Always so shocked that your elders indulged as well."

Weasley's snort of laughter is barely muffled, and they all look over at him. "What?" he asks. "I don't know why you're all so surprised. The first time Bill and Charlie ever lit up was when they found Mum and Dad's Gillyweed stash in the back of the pantry. I think I was five."

"That explains so much about your family," Granger murmurs as the guv closes the tin and sets it aside.

Weasley just shrugs and winks at his wife.

Parkinson shifts, and Althea's all too aware of the press of long, pale calves against her thighs. "Sorry," Parkinson says, and Althea just nods, unable to speak for a moment, fighting the urge to slide her hand across Parkinson's soft skin. She looks up, and Zabini catches her eye.

Careful, he mouths, but he's giving her a small smile.

Althea feels her cheeks warm, and she turns away. Parkinson presses a heel into the sofa cushion, her foot arching in the purple scrap of matte ostrich leather. Althea wonders what it would feel like to slide her fingers beneath the sole of Parkinson's foot, lift it out of the shoe, work her thumb and her knuckles along that tight tendon. Wonders if Parkinson's head would fall back, if she would sigh and moan softly, if her tits would press up against the silk of her dress, full and round and perfect.

Fuck, Althea thinks, and she shifts beneath Parkinson's legs, the folds of her labia already slick in her knickers. It's going to be a goddamned long evening, she thinks. Followed by a night of wanking in her bed like a pathetic idiot. She sighs and tries to focus back on the others. It's harder than she'd like it to be.

"I can't believe Harry actually agreed to dinner," Weasley's saying. "He never wants to celebrate his birthday." He glances over at his wife. "When's the last time we managed something like this?"

Granger takes a sip from her wineglass before answering. "Four years ago, maybe? So cheers to Malfoy for bringing us all together."

"Hear, hear," Zabini says, lifting his glass, and Malfoy's face pinkens again.

Potter catches Malfoy's hand, lifts it to his lips, kissing his knuckles lightly. "He's persuasive," the guv says, and the way he's looking at Malfoy makes Althea's heart ache.

The room's silent for a moment, then Parkinson says, "Oh Merlin, don't be such sops about it," and a soft chuckle goes around the sofas. Potter just flicks two fingers her way, then pulls Malfoy into a quick, soft kiss. There's nothing sexual about it, not really, but Althea looks away, feeling as if she's seen something too private, too intimate.

A cough comes from the doorway. Althea glances over; there's a wizened old house elf standing there, in a ratty but clean tea towel with a heraldic crest stitched on it in black, the words toujours pur embroidered beneath. He's obviously trying to look proper; he ruins it all by lifting the edge of the tea towel to scratch his arse.

"Dinner's served," he says, his voice croaky and rough.

Malfoy sighs. "Thank you, Kreacher."

His mother's knuckles are pressed to her mouth, and she's trying not to laugh. She holds it in until the house elf shuffles away, and then her laughter fills the air, bright and sparkling, and when Malfoy glances her way, he almost looks relieved, Althea thinks.

"Mother," Malfoy says, but his own lips are twitching, and the whole lot of them are laughing and smiling as they stand. Althea misses the warmth of Parkinson against her.

And then Parkinson slides her arm under Althea's. "Walk me to dinner," Parkinson says lightly. They follow the others down the hall towards the dining room.

Perhaps, Althea thinks, her nervousness receding as she takes the seat beside Parkinson at the long, polished table, dinner at the guv's isn't that terrible an idea.

***

Harry's sat at the glossy, dark dining table, a good two fingers of Althea's excellent firewhisky waiting for him in a heavy glass on a cork mat near his right hand. He's toying with the glass, not really drinking it yet, watching the steam hover in the cool air of the now empty Grimmauld formal dining room. The plates have been cleared, the glasses removed, the guests have been bid farewell, and it's just him and Draco left in the comfortable quiet of the house.

Dinner hadn't been so bad, really. Harry'd been surprised at how well Narcissa, Andromeda, and Teddy had got on with Ron and Hermione and Seven-Four-Alpha. The food had been simple but nice, Harry thinks. Exactly what he would have wanted, no fancy dishes or elaborate courses. Draco'd done well with the arrangements, picked everything that Harry would have himself. A solid roast and potatoes, a salad and bread. Harry'd particularly enjoyed the summer pudding for afters. Kreacher'd brought in Harry's with a small candle flickering above it, and everyone had sung and cheered. It was the only moment in the evening that screamed this is Harry's birthday, and really, Harry'd been surprised to find he enjoyed it. He supposes he's finding his real family now, if what he and Draco are building can be called that. It's one of the first times Harry's felt truly welcome on his own birthday, and he's grateful for Draco's pushing him to have the party.

Now he's waiting for his present, or, rather, what Draco'd promised him after the party if he'd been a good boy. And Harry thinks he has been. Very, very good.

Still, Draco's been upstairs for half an hour, and Harry's getting a bit impatient. He's already half-hard, even though they'd started the day with blow jobs at breakfast so that ought to have taken the edge off at least a little bit. But that doesn't seem to be the case when it comes to Draco, does it? Christ, but Harry's counting on some part of this evening giving him the chance to pound Draco into the mattress. Or the sofa. Or perhaps even the dining table. Harry eyes the glossy surface, imagining Draco spread out across it. He hopes that's what's in store for tonight, but he's no idea what's taking Draco so long.

The lights in the dining room have dimmed and warmed--the house seems to respond to Draco even more than it responds to Harry's cues. In the low, diffuse golden light Harry shifts in his chair, his elbows pressing into the padded wood armrests. He's a bit eager, but too relaxed to be truly impatient. Wine with dinner and the brandies they'd had after in the library had been delightful, and now Harry just wants his boyfriend.

He's thinking of calling up the stairs, maybe teasing Draco a bit, although it goes against what he'd promised. Draco'd threatened to blindfold him if he came peeking, and yeah, that hadn't half been a turn-on. They'll have to try that some time, preferably when Draco's up for topping; Harry bloody loves sensory deprivation when he's being fucked. It makes everything else so intense.

Harry picks up the glass and takes a sip, letting the whisky burn down his throat, clear his head a bit. Fuck, but it's good. Althea knows how to pick a bottle, he thinks, and he'll have to ask her where she'd found this one. He settles back in the chair, his hand warm from the glass, his elbow cool on the wood of the table. He's sprawled out a bit, legs in front of him, his shirt sleeves rolled up, another button or two undone at the collar. He'd hung his jacket over the chair next to him when Draco'd first disappeared upstairs, telling him to wait here for him. The house is quiet, anticipatory. And then Harry thinks he hears Draco on the stairs, and he sits up a bit straighter, hoping it's not just the creaking of the house teasing him.

It's not, thank Christ.

But when Draco appears, Harry almost drops his drink into his lap. He has to react quickly so as not to douse his prick with the fiery, stinging liquid, putting a premature end to his birthday night. He sets the glass hastily to the side and gapes open-mouthed at his boyfriend.

Draco's stood in the doorway, a hand curled against the decorative woodwork around the entrance to the dining room. He's taller than usual, and Harry's astonished mind registers that Draco's wearing strappy black high heels and smooth, silk stockings. Harry's eyes go up from Draco's slim calves to the black silk encasing his thighs. His mouth waters a little as his eyes hit the edge of the tiny black lace dress Draco's wearing, sheer with nothing beneath it save the suspender belt and a little frill of what looks like black silk and lace in the vee of Draco's thighs. Harry can make out the bulge of Draco's prick through the constraining layers of lace, and he wants to free it, mouth Draco's long, pretty shaft, suck at his heavy bollocks. Draco's sharp hipbones jut through the lacy black of the dress, and his chest is flat, the drape of the neckline framing his gorgeous, wing-like collarbones. A single strand of luminous pearls nestles against his pale skin, echoing the plunging line of the dress' neck, and Harry realises that these are the pearls the house'd given Draco on his own birthday, now reappearing on Draco for Harry's birthday present. He doesn't know what to say, so he breathes out, and whispers, "Fuck."

Draco shifts, tosses his head a bit. His hair is loose and wavy, brushing across his shoulders, a long, pearlescent blond fall in the candlelit dining room. He's biting his lip, not moving, letting Harry rake his hungry gaze over him. There's a bit of pink on Draco's lips and cheekbones, a light touch of mascara on his dark lashes. Harry realises that Draco's made himself up, subtly, so he looks the part of the young society witch.

The mistress of Grimmauld Place, Harry realises. Fucking hell.

Harry's body shivers with lust, shocked and delighted that his boyfriend would do this for him, realising that he's being offered a side of Draco he's not sure many people have seen. Draco looks shy now, almost hesitant, as if he's waiting for Harry's approval.

Draco looks goddamned delicious. Harry pushes back his chair, his prick pressing against his flies, letting his hand fall down into his lap, cupping his erection. He's so bloody hard now, his trousers tented, and Draco's mouth opens slightly.

"Oh," Draco murmurs. He's looking at Harry's cock as if he wants to devour it. Fuck, Harry hopes he does.

"Jesus, you're beautiful." Harry doesn't mind that Draco can see how turned on he is. He opens his legs a little more, beckoning Draco. "Come here, you gorgeous creature."

Draco saunters over, his walk smooth and seductive in heels, his arse pushed out just enough to drive Harry bloody wild. Harry's amazed at how natural Draco looks, how beautifully turned out, and how capable he is at this. Harry's not minded a spot of drag here and there over the years. He doesn't like dressing up too much himself, unless it's for Pride or a carnival and then he throws himself into the carefree spirit of it all, but Harry loves seeing the art and the genderplay of drag, loves the place it has in his community, the subtle rebellion of undercutting social standards, of subverting straight ideals of feminine beauty and masculine presentation.

Harry also bloody well knows from personal experience how hard it is to walk even somewhat gracefully in heels.

And now, here, in his own home, with Draco, the artistry and the sincerity of Draco's presentation of himself takes Harry's breath away. Harry knows this whole night has had serious overtones of claiming one another in front of their circle of family and friends, of coupling and joining their lives together. Harry doesn't want to rush anything, doesn't want to name what this is between them, but he knows Draco offers himself to Harry every night, and now he's giving himself to Harry like this for his birthday, taking on the mantle of mistress that the house wants so terribly to wrap him in and twisting it, queering it, making it his own, the way he's taken on the pearls that sit so beautifully along his throat.

The very thought of it makes Harry's head swim, more than firewhisky or brandy or wine. He's drunk on Draco Malfoy, he thinks, and he hopes he doesn't ever have to live without him. He doesn't know what he'd do without being able to touch Draco, to feel him, to continue to be surprised and amazed by him on a daily basis.

Draco smoothes the pad of his thumb across Harry's lower lip. "You're pensive tonight, birthday boy." He's even modulated his voice a little--it's still Draco's voice, but lighter somehow, a bit more melodic and subtly teasing. "Don't you like your present?" He smells like roses, although that may also be the bloody house, Harry's lust-addled brain supplies.

Harry reaches up both hands, putting them on Draco's narrow hips, his palms rubbing across the surface of the lace. "I fucking love my present," he says simply. "I'm just figuring out how to unwrap it."

Carefully he pulls Draco into his lap, Draco's long legs folding over the arm of the chair. Harry's strong enough to support him like this, kiss those lovely, pink lips whilst Draco gasps softly, arching his throat to let Harry's mouth slip along it. Something in his hand falls to the table, making a hard sound on the wood.

"What's that?" Harry looks over at Draco's outstretched hand.

Draco shifts, sitting up, putting his feet on the floor. He rubs his lace covered arse against Harry's prick as he bends to retrieve the fluted glass phial that's rolled on its side, and Harry groans from the faint pressure, the sight of Draco's pale skin through the lace. He can't get enough of Draco, doesn't want to wait any longer, wants to sink into him until they're both writhing on the table and sweaty with bliss.

"Patience," Draco says, and Harry realises he saw what Harry was thinking. Harry laughs in response, unashamed of how much he wants to fuck his boyfriend. Draco gives him a disapproving look. "I want to make sure this doesn't break."

"What is it?" Harry asks distractedly, his hands on Draco's sides, his cheek rubbing against Draco's lace-covered arse. Fuck, but he does smell like roses, Harry thinks, and he wants to unhook the straps holding Draco's stockings with his teeth.

Draco pulls away and turns around, forcing Harry to drop his hands. Draco waves the open phial under Harry's nose. More roses. And vanilla, and the faintest whiff of musk and sweat.

"That smells like you," Harry murmurs, and Draco laughs.

"It's French courtesan's lube," Draco says. "Delicious, smells like Amortentia, and you'll never come harder. Plus it's guaranteed to last for hours."

Harry blinks up at him, intrigued by the self-satisfied smile on Draco's face. "I've never heard of it, but it smells incredible."

"It's very hard to get. I know someone in Paris who brews it privately." Draco tucks a lock of hair behind his ear, and Harry frowns at him.

"Do I need to be jealous?" Harry asks, but it's more of a rhetorical question, given the flare of irritation that goes through him, twisting his stomach, tightening his shoulders.

Draco's eyes are bright, amused. "Phillippe's an old friend," he says. "But it's Blaise he shagged, not me."

"Oh," Harry says, and he relaxes, a bit taken aback by his own surge of possessiveness. "Well. Good." He thinks he ought to apologise, but Draco touches Harry's cheek.

"You've nothing to worry about," Draco murmurs, and his fingers are soft against Harry's skin. He leans in, kisses Harry, slow and careful, letting his tongue swipe lightly against Harry's lip before pulling back. Harry's whole body aches for Draco. "Shall we?" Draco dangles the flask in front of Harry.

Harry takes flask and sets it aside on the table. He licks his bottom lip, a not quite unconscious mimicry of Draco's kiss. Draco shivers; his chest heaves slightly, a flush staining his cheeks. Harry breathes out, and says, "I'm going to fuck you here. Any objections?"

"Not at all." Draco's lips curve in a slight smile.

Harry smacks the side of Draco's thigh playfully. "Then get your gorgeous arse on the table."

Draco slides up onto the table--gingerly, Harry notes, and that's curious--and sits on the edge. His knees are together, the short skirt ruched across his thighs.

Harry says, "Spread your legs." Draco's flat belly curves in, and then he does what Harry asks.

Between splayed, stocking-covered knees, Harry can see the fastenings of the suspender belt, the wet, swollen head of Draco's prick pushing out of the black lace knickers. He exhales, then stares at the amazing vision spread out in front of him for a moment.

Draco leans back on his elbows, his hair across his face, his eyes shadowed in the low light. "Like what you see?"

"Immensely." Harry puts his hands on Draco's hips, sliding the lace of the dress up further. When he looks, he can see the strap of Draco's black thong and the curve of a thick silver ring nestled in Draco's crease, one that Harry knows full well comes from the toy chest upstairs in their bedroom. His own prick swells at the thought of Draco opening himself for Harry's enjoyment. His gaze flicks up to Draco's face. "Jesus. Did you wear a plug all night?"

Draco shrugs. "Of course." He raises an eyebrow. "Although I wore a smaller one during the party. This one's a bit bigger. And heftier."

Harry's cock is so hard, he can't see straight. Fucking goddamned hell. He breathes out, his hands shaking a bit. He flattens them against Draco's thighs. Draco wore a plug all night for him, in front of his mother, his best friends, and Harry's friends.

"I fucking love you." Harry does so goddamned much, he realises, his heart swelling almost as much as his cock. "You're unbelievable."

"Happy birthday, Harry," Draco whispers, and the look in his eyes is soft and warm and filled with love.

Harry stretches a hand down, pulling Draco's stockinged calf up. He unbuckles the high heel, dropping it gently to the floor, then mouths at Draco's silk-covered arch, his ankle, up his calf to the inside of his knee. He repeats the process with the other leg.

"Fuck." Draco's voice is thick, raw with need. He drops his head back, letting Harry see the long arch of his throat. "Oh, Harry."

Harry trails his thumbs over the gap of thigh between the top of Draco's stockings and his knickers. Christ, Harry wants to mouth at Draco's slick prick, take the wet head between his lips and suck until Draco's writhing beneath him, but he has a sense that it'll be game over, at least for the first time, if he does so. And Harry wants to come inside Draco. Badly.

Instead, Harry pushes the narrow crotch of the knickers aside, holding it away to keep it from constricting Draco's cock. He plays with the flared stainless ring of the plug's base, circling it with his fingers, petting Draco's wet, stretched arsehole, listening to Draco stutter a moan as the heavy plug moves inside him. Harry pulls it out of Draco's arse in a careful, wet, sliding motion, marvelling at the weight and girth of the plug as it emerges. It's a large stainless bulb tapering to a narrow connection before the smooth, broad ring at the base. Harry's entranced with watching it come out of Draco's arse, slowly, slowly, oh so fucking slowly. The ring of Draco's muscle is already stretched, and the plug goes back in easily when Harry pushes it into Draco's hole.

"Jesus, how you look," Harry says. He stretches Draco with the plug again, pulling it out then pushing it back and forth a bit, Draco groaning and shifting and spreading his legs, his silk-clad ankles hooked over Harry's shoulders. Draco's cock is slick against the valley of his hip, a pool of wetness when Harry strokes the lace over it. Harry pulls the heavy plug out reluctantly and sets it aside, sticky on the glossy dark wood of the table they'd just eaten dinner on and that Harry plans to debauch Draco on.

"Fuck me, Harry." Draco tosses his head, his body shivering under Harry's touch. "The lube's right there. Make sure to put a lot on your cock."

Harry uncaps the phial and draws in a lungful of the scent. Now it smells like burnt sugar mixed with roses and a powdery, musky hint of Draco's cologne. Harry undoes his trousers, just thumbs the buttons open, pushing his heathered grey y-fronts down enough to free his engorged prick. The lube is beautifully viscous but not heavy, sliding over the hot skin of his prick like a whisper of wet and promise. He uses a bit more than he might usually, stroking the extra into Draco's stretched hole whilst Draco pants.

"Ready?" Harry asks, more to make sure Draco's still with him than wondering whether he wants this. Draco's body is strung tight, legs stretched, neck arching back, arms flung over his head now, his bony wrists crossed.

"Yes. Fuck. Please, Harry--I need you in me." Draco draws in a ragged breath. "Fucking me with that perfect prick of yours." Draco's lipstick is smudged, as is the mascara, and the effect that was chaste and refined before is now delightfully smeared and inviting further debauchery.

Christ but Harry's more than happy to oblige.

Harry keeps Draco's ankles hooked over his shoulders as he stands, leaning in to bend Draco's knees to his chest, Draco's arse coming up off the table with the stretch. Harry fists his prick, slick and--if he's honest--harder and larger than he thinks he's ever been in his life. It must be the effect of the lube, but it's disconcerting.

Draco just laughs at the surprise on Harry's face. "It's working, isn't it?" He lifts himself with his core muscles to look down at Harry's prick. "Circe. I should have ordered this from Phillippe before. Blaise has been raving about it for years."

"Baby," Harry says, his voice a bit rough, his body quivering with need, "you need to lay the fuck back down so I can get in you before I come all over that pretty pink prick of yours."

Draco catches his lip between his teeth, looking up at Harry through a tumble of hair. "Only if you promise to fuck me hard with that monster--"

"Goddamn it, Draco," Harry chokes out, and Draco just laughs, his eyes shining. "You're killing me."

"Tormenting you, you mean," Draco says, and Harry just looks at him. Draco reaches up and plucks Harry's glasses from his nose, folding the legs and setting them aside. "All right," Draco says, and his voice is a bit breathy, a bit soft. "Fuck me, Harry. Please."

When Draco lowers his shoulders again, Harry lines his prick up, swollen and slick, then pushes it into Draco's arse. He slides in one, long, unbelievable motion and Draco keens as Harry slots home, deep within him. Harry's panting and amazed--he's never, ever had this smooth of an entry into Draco's body. Draco's arse feels like velvet and the scent of Draco and the lube and the roses is driving him mad. The lace scratches against his hands as he smoothes them up Draco's chest, bracing himself over Draco.

Draco pushes himself up slightly and Harry kisses him, their mouths meeting in a rough exchange of I-love-I-need-yous and furious kisses. Harry bites at Draco's lips, his hips circling against him. His body is on fire with want, his prick enormous and straining in Draco's stretched hole. Harry thrusts hard, then harder, hips slamming into Draco's body, his prick sliding easily in and out of him. The effect of the lube is nothing short of miraculous, and Harry's determined to find out more about it when he has a mind to think with again. Draco's rolling his head, writhing against Harry with each thrust, and Harry loves the abstract pattern Draco's pale hair makes spread against the dark wood as he shifts, loves the gasps of pleasure and the bite of Draco's short nails in his shoulders.

Their mouths meet again, in one rough thrust of their bodies together, and Draco whispers against Harry's mouth, "Take me, Harry. Please."

Harry's body explodes into spasms; with each thrust his prick spurts spunk into Draco's writhing body, his hips shuddering against Draco's. Draco holds his breath, one hand fisted into Harry's shirt, the other stroking his own prick desperately, his arse split open by Harry's thick length. Harry feels Draco's entire body clench around him as Draco's spine arches and Draco shouts a rough, broken, triumphant cry. They fall together against the slick table, the wood cool against their heated skin, spunk smeared across Harry's shirt, over the thin lace of Draco's dress.

"Fuck," Draco says in a soft huff, and Harry laughs against Draco's throat, pressing his mouth to the sharp angle of Draco's jaw.

"I'd have to agree," Harry says. Draco cards his fingers limply through Harry's hair; Harry can hear the heavy thud of Draco's heart through his chest, the ragged edges of Draco's breaths. He raises his head. "You all right?"

"Never better," Draco murmurs, and he turns his head, catches Harry's mouth with his. "Merlin but you're a brilliant fuck. You know this, yes?"

Harry laughs against Draco's lips. "So I've been told by a hot blond a time or two."

Draco nips Harry's jaw, slides his hand across Harry's shoulders. "This blond ought to know." He rubs his fingertips over Harry's shoulder blades, smoothing Harry's shirt across his skin. "Think you could get me upstairs? It's just I think you've fucked me into a Jelly-Legs Jinx."

"Is that what this is?" Harry smiles down at Draco. "I think you're just lazy. Besides, I'm injured, remember?"

"You took your potions this morning," Draco says. He looks up at Harry, a frown on his face. "Or did you lie to me?"

Harry rolls his shoulder forward. It barely aches tonight. "I took them. And the ones this evening too, before the party."

Draco just scowls up at him, a distrustful look on his face. "Liar."

"I'm not lying," Harry says. He raises an eyebrow. "You're going to make me carry you, just to prove it, aren't you?"

That earns him a sly smile. Fuck but Harry loves this wily Slytherin of his. Draco pleats the front of Harry's shirt. "I don't want to walk."

Harry huffs another laugh. "Lazy, like I said." But he holds Draco, gently helping him wrap his legs around Harry's hips, then lifting him to carry him upstairs. His shoulder only protests a bit. Draco's clutching the lube in one fist, his body limp and sated against Harry's.

Harry can feel his prick swelling against Draco again, or maybe it never really went down from his orgasm? He's not entirely sure, but he likes the way it swells with each step he takes, carrying his boyfriend up to their bed.

"Do you like your birthday present?" Draco asks, nipping at Harry's earlobe as they crest the second floor stairs. The house creaks and shifts around them, the lamps going off in the rooms below, their bedroom door swinging open, golden light spilling out into the hallway.

"I adore my present," Harry says, still somewhat amazed by his luck. "I hope to spend every birthday like this." He pauses, then says. "With you."

The look Draco gives him is hot and bright. "That could be arranged," he says lightly. "If you'd like."

Harry's certain he would. Very much so in fact.

And as he carries Draco into their bedroom, the scent of roses grows stronger. Bloody house, Harry thinks fondly. He looks down at Draco. "Up for another round?" he asks, and Draco smiles.

"Only if you help me get out of this dress," he murmurs as Harry drops him onto the bed.

Harry lets his gaze drift down Draco's body. He looks rumpled. Debauched. Utterly divine.

"Keep the pearls on then," Harry says, reaching for the hem of the dress. "You look fucking lush in them." He lets his hands slide down to the stockings, fingertips dipping beneath the edges. "These too, my little posh totty."

Draco laughs and spreads his legs wider. "Whatever you like." He hooks a foot behind Harry's arse and pulls him closer. "But I want you starkers, Potter. Starkers and hard and fucking me in our bloody bed." He reaches up, smoothes his hands over Harry's chest. "You're my perfect present," he murmurs, and Harry pushes him backwards, pressing him into the mattress.

Not a bad birthday, Harry thinks, as the bedroom door drifts shut behind them.

Chapter Text

This is NOE posting from Femme's account. Femme suffered a concussion and is off of computer screens and reading per doctor's advice. I've had to sit on her to keep her from writing since her accident, but she needs to recover. Special Branch will be back on Sunday, 10/8, assuming all goes well this week. Sorry for the delay, but we're hoping that a little bit of recovery time now will pay off in the future, i.e. if she rests now she'll be able to keep writing later this week. Many thanks for your indulgence and please send her your good thoughts! <3 Noe

Chapter Text

Draco's uncomfortable in his Unspeakable kit. The collar of the jacket feels a bit too tight, the shoulders a bit too wide. He'd thought himself a bloody fool in it this morning, looking at himself in the mirror, his face pale, his hair almost colourless above the unbroken line of summer-weight black wool. Even the two stripes on the sleeve indicating his status as a second-rank Unspeakable are black, albeit a shinier, more textured slash against the fitted jacket arms.

He hadn't wanted to wear it, but Muriel Burke had owled at half-six when he was still lying in bed, curled drowsily up against a still sleeping Harry, and informed him that she expected him to be in uniform for the Azkaban visit.

To be honest, Draco had nearly forgotten that. Most of his focus yesterday had been on Harry, on making him happy, on showing Harry how much he means to Draco. He'd done his best to push aside the anxieties of work and the still-rawness of his grief for the night, letting Harry take him over and over again until they were both trembling and gasping, the sheets twisted beneath them, damp from sweat and spunk. His arse is still sore this morning, and he's moving a bit carefully as he and Burke land solidly on the cold cliffside in front of the dark, grim towers of Azkaban.

Draco's been awake since just after five. It been a dream that had pulled Draco abruptly from his sleep, a dream he hadn't wanted to have, one that had left him breathless and shaking, his heart pounding. He still doesn't want to think about it, not really. It's not that it's surprising. Draco's been having bad dreams of one sort or another since his father died. Still, this one had been worse than most, a twisted, illogical montage of moments from those years with the Dark Lord mixed in with images of Harry. Not the Harry of his childhood, but the Harry of now, tall and broad shouldered, with those bright green eyes that Draco's certain can see right through him. The image that had woken him, however, had been one of Harry falling in a burst of green light, Rodolphus Lestrange standing behind him, his wand raised, his laughter mingling with that of the Dark Lord, moving from the shadows to stand over Harry's limp body. And in the Dark Lord had looked at Draco, those horrible red eyes gleaming, and said, his voice soft and frighteningly triumphant, "Thank you, boy, for bringing him to me at last."

And those words still echo in Draco's ears, still make his heart skip a beat in unease. He’d lain in bed beside Harry for a good half hour, his mind twisting, roiling fearfully, the image of Harry sprawled lifeless in front of him taking over his thoughts each time he closed his eyes. Draco had felt the panic rise up in him, had fought it off, but he could still feel the lingering sickness in his stomach, the metallic taste of fear in the back of his throat at the thought of Harry being hurt or worse, killed, because of Draco. It had only been when Draco had pressed himself against Harry's side, his head on Harry's chest, Harry's steady heartbeat a quiet, comforting thump in his ear, that Draco's breath had evened, the constriction in his throat loosening. Draco doesn't want to think about what that means, about how intertwined his and Harry's lives already are, but he knows that he couldn't bear to lose Harry. Not right now. Not in that way.

"All right there, sprog?" Burke gives him a curious, sharp look, and Draco wonders how much she can read off of him. He knows she's seen glimpses of Harry in his mind, as much as he's tried to keep those thoughts hidden away from her. Still, Burke's never said anything about it, not really, and she's always given him that extra second or two to press his Occlumens back into place. "You look a little green around the edges."

Draco shakes his head, trying to clear it. He still feels a bit fuzzy from lack of sleep, a bit nauseous from his panic. He takes a deep breath, steadying himself as he looks up at the tall, dark towers in front of them. He doesn't like Azkaban; he never has, not from the first time he'd come here this summer after his fifth year to see his father. "It's just this place," he says. "Bloody awful and grim, if you ask me."

Burke sighs. Her mouth tightens a bit, and she folds her arms across her chest. "Used to be worse than this," she says. "You should have seen it when Harold Minchum was Minister. He's the one what brought in more Dementors, you know." She glances over at Draco. "Always wondered where he got them from."

That makes Draco curious as well. "When was he Minister?"

It takes Burke a moment to reply; she's frowning as they move towards the tall, arched iron gate, their shiny boots splashing in puddles of seawater caught in the dips and ridges of the rocky cliff. "Right before you were born, I'd say. Late Seventies. Bit of a shit Our Harold was, but then he'd have to be, wouldn't he, to keep up with that wanker of a Muggle PM." She shakes her head. "You wouldn't have liked him. None of us did, really, but it was a different time, and we were all so bloody fucking scared." Burke's face is pale, her mouth set, and she stops beside the smaller, less imposing staff entrance, taps her wand against the flat metal plate set into the matte black stone. The crisp, cold wind off the North Sea ruffles her hair, bites through the thin wool of Draco's jacket. "And frightened people do whatever they can," Burke says, "whenever they're facing down someone as sodding mad as Voldemort, whether or not it's the best for society as a whole." She gives Draco a long, even look, and he can't hide his flinch at her use of the Dark Lord's name. Burke's faint smile is grim. "But I'd say you know something about that, sprog, now don't you?"

The door opens with a creak before Draco can answer, and he's not half glad.

When they walk into the courtyard, Durant is there, along with Blaise's grandfather. Barachiel Dee looks tired, unhappy. He leans on his cane as if his hip is hurting him, and for the first time, Draco realises how old and worn out the man is. Whatever's going on here in Azkaban, it's affecting Dee, Draco thinks. His cheeks are gaunt, his shoulders hunched, and his mouth is a tight twist across his dark face.

"You're late," Dee says, and Draco tries not to take offence at the sharpness of his tone or the inaccuracy of his accusation.

Burke just shrugs. "Got here as soon as the Portkey activated." Her glance is sharp and quick, and Draco certain she’s sizing up Dee as well. Judging by the furrow between her brows, Draco doesn't think she's happy with the way Dee is looking either. Burke turns to Durant. "What do you lot have for us today?"

Durant's not looking at Draco. To be honest he's not looking at any of them; he squints across the courtyard, tall and broad shouldered and oh so very American in his dark blue wool suit and red silk tie. "Just waiting for Shah right now."

"Of course," Burke says, but she's studying Durant with those bright, curious eyes of hers. Draco can't help but wonder what she might be picking up from Durant, particularly when Durant frowns at her, his eyes narrowing. Burke just smiles and glances away, her shoulders squared beneath the dark wool of her Unspeakable jacket.

And then the main doors of the prison are swinging open and Shah’s there, gesturing for them to come in.

Draco hides his flinch as he steps into the foyer. Azkaban has always made him uncomfortable; it's worse now that his Legilimens is sharper. He can feel the centuries of despair and desolation seeping from the very stones of the walls around him, cold, grim, unrelenting. Burke's hand settles on his shoulder.

"Use your Occlumens," she says. "It'll help."

All Draco can do is nod. The emotions are almost overwhelming, twisting around him, tugging at the edges of his mind, seeping into his own troubled thoughts. He takes a deep breath and pushes his Occlumens back into place. It's a relief when the riotous swirl of sadness settles back into the quiet familiarity of his own worry and grief. He glances over at Burke. "Thanks."

The smile Burke gives him his thin and tight. "It's harder for folk like us to come into Azkaban," she says. "You'll need to make sure you keep your Occlumens up the entire time we’re here. You're still learning, sprog. If nothing else, this is damned good practice in bleeding off feelings from outside of you." She frowns, runs her hand through her short silver hair, pushing it back from her pale forehead. "There's been more than one good Legilimens sent over to the Thickey ward for failing to learn that."

Really, Draco thinks, that's not exactly comforting.

Dee's cane taps loudly against the stone floor as he limps into the prison, Durant at his side. The two Hit Wizards at the guard desk are watching him warily, Draco notices, and he wonders what exactly Blaise’s grandfather has done to put them on their back foot. Dee glances their way, a small, tight smile on his face, and both Hit Wizards glance away. Quickly. Dee snorts softly, then turns towards Shah. "And how are our Dementors this morning, Sergeant?"

A sharp, wistful twinge goes through Draco at the title. He’d worked hard to be a sergeant himself, and he’s not certain he’s happy to have given it up, even for an Unspeakable’s pay rise.

Shah doesn't look particularly delighted himself. "Fucking spooky bastards are in a bit of a strop. I'd say it's well bad, but that's every day, now, yeah?" He glances over his shoulder as another man steps out from the guard room. He's tall and dark-haired, dressed neatly and precisely in a black suit and pale blue tie. He's attractive, if you like that sort of thing, and Draco does. But in his defence, even Burke is giving this man an appreciative glance.

"Tomás," Durant says warmly, and he steps forward, his hand outstretched. "Glad to see you back."

"You're the first one around here to say that," the man says with a wry smile as he shakes Durant's hand. There's a Spanish tinge to his accent. He looks over at Draco and Burke. "Tomás Furtado da Luz, at your service. Please, call me Tomás."

Burke just nods at him. "Burke and Malfoy," she says, a bit curtly, and Draco knows that's an Unspeakable tactic. He's learned that much at least in the past week. "You're from Luxembourg."

"Brussels, actually, by way of Madrid. I'm with the Courts of Justice." Tomás’ mouth quirks up at one corner as Burke snorts. He glances over at Durant. "And there it is, that bit of suspicion once one discovers whom I work for."

"Healthy, I'd say," Burke says, but her shoulders relax a bit. "All things considered."

"I'm here as an observer only." Tomás shoves his hands in the pockets of his trousers. The look he gives them is apologetic. "Mr Dee has had to suffer my company more than once in recent weeks, I'm terribly afraid."

He's charming, Draco will grant him that, which is precisely why Draco doesn't trust him in the slightest. Draco's rather certain he's not alone in that, given the way Burke is studying Tomás. Draco tries to let his Legilimens slide lightly across Tomás’ mind, but he doesn't pick up anything more than a bit of amusement, tinged with a touch of sympathy.

"Sorry," Tomás says to him with a shrug of the shoulders and a small smile. "Everyone in Legal received a bit of Occlumens training, didn't they, Jake?"

Draco's face warms as Durant glances over at him and says, "Well, I did do my best." Durant looks back at Shah. "Should we check our wands?" he asks, unbuttoning his jacket and reaching for his shoulder holster.

Before Shah can answer, Tomás says, "Saul Croaker's had you all cleared in advance." There's a bit of tension between him and Shah, Draco thinks. Tomás lets his smile widen just a smidge, and it's enough to make Draco want to hex his bollocks off. "The ICW doesn't see you as a threat."

And isn't that a cautiously placed slap in the face. Even Durant seems rather taken aback, and, in the ensuing silence, Tomás' smile slips just enough to highlight the gulf that's widening between the British Ministry and their Luxembourgian counterparts. Draco glances away. He doesn't want to get involved in the politics of it all. It won't do him any good. He's well aware of that.

Shah clears his throat. "Would you lot like to go in now?" he asks. He looks uncomfortable; Barachiel Dee, on the other hand, is scowling at all of them, his fingers tight around the head of his cane.

"I think that might be a good idea," Burke says, her voice quiet. The look she gives Draco is unhappy at best. Enough, sprog, Draco hears in his head. Leave the solicitor's head alone. Or at least don't be so bloody goddamned obvious about it all.

Draco just looks away, trying to hide his embarrassment, only to see Durant watching him inscrutably. Draco just lifts his chin, meets Durant's gaze. He knows better than to try his Legilimency skills on Durant, but he refuses to let the other man cow him. Durant looks away first, his arms folded across his chest, a faint flush rising on his cheeks.

What a ragtag little band they are, Draco thinks, as he follows Shah and Tomás deeper into the belly of Azkaban, the sounds of their booted footsteps swallowed by the thick shadows oozing from the prison walls. The dark, narrow passageways twist and turn on each other, pulling them deeper into the fortress prison, and Draco’s sense of direction is entirely fucked by the time Shah stops in front of a tall wooden door, pulling a set of blackened, ancient skeleton keys from his pocket.

Shah looks back at them, his face uneasy. "Never gets easier, right," he says as he fumbles through the keys, the clank of metal against metal echoing through the silent hallway. Draco can almost feel it here, that cold seep of unhappiness across his skin, its tendrils twisting through his mind, almost taking away his breath.

And then Burke pinches Draco, a burst of unexpected pain in his upper arm, and Draco winces, pulling away. "Watch your bloody Occlumens," she says, scowling at him. "Don't let it get to you, remember?"

Draco just nods, and he rubs his palm against his still aching arm. "Fine, you mad old bint," he says, and Burke rolls her eyes. Still, Draco settles his Occlumens back in place, barricading his mind from the swirl of misery that curls up around him. He glances over at Durant and Dee; they're both calm, their faces set. At least Tomás looks a bit nervous as well, Draco thinks. But then again, Draco can tell the ICW solicitor doesn't have a strong Occlumens. It's adequate, as far as Draco can tell with his burgeoning Legilimency, but it's not enough to block all of the centuries of unhappiness this damned place is steeped in. Draco catches the shift of Durant's eyes towards him, and he looks away first, draws in a deep, unsteady breath. All he can think of is the last time he was here in Azkaban like this, with Harry by his side, back in May. He can still see Theodore Burnham slumped against the wall, his guard robe askew, his face slack, his last breath slipping from his lips into the cold, empty darkness beneath a Dementor's hood.

A shudder goes through Draco, one he can't suppress. He tries to hide it, tries to keep his hands clenched at his side instead of folding his arms across his chest. But Barachiel Dee just looks over at him with those tawny eyes of his, and Draco knows he sees past Draco's bravado. Dee doesn't say anything; he just watches Draco with a curious expression on his face, and Draco turns back to Burke as Shah twists the stubborn lock open, metal shrieking in the silence of the corridor.

The door swings open. Shah leads them down another hallway, this one so narrow they can only go down it single file. Shah has his wand out, his Lumos reflecting off the damp stone walls, so roughly hewn that the arm of Draco's jacket snags against it at one point. Draco doesn't like closed, confined spaces. They make him tense, make that swell of anxiety rise in him again, bitter and metallic in the back of his throat. He forces it back down, tells himself to breathe as he follows Burke down the corridor, his gaze fixed on her narrow, sloped shoulders. He realises, with a small jolt of surprise, that he trusts Muriel Burke. Not entirely. But enough. Draco's glad to have her with him on this assignment, at least, and that means a hell of a lot in his book.

Draco hears a faint humming noise as they turn the corner, and there's a pale bluish light glowing from a small open doorway. Draco has to duck his head to go through, and when he stands up straight again, his breath catches at the sight of the wall across from him, a swirling screen of spellwork in blue and green and grey that stretches from floor to ceiling, the colours twisting and spiraling across the wall, almost as if they're alive.

And they are, in a way, Draco realises, particularly when Durant leans over Draco's shoulder and murmurs, "It's a Spirit Screen."

"Those actually exist?" Draco watches the colours spin and spread across the wall in small, slow pulses. He's read about them before, but he's never seen one in action. Then again, when would he ever have had a chance? This is old-fashioned necromancy, Victorian at least, if not earlier. He wants to reach out and touch it; he doesn't dare.

"Haven't seen one of these since Minchum's Ministry," Burke says. She's standing beside him, and the colours glow and ripple across her pale skin, her silvery hair. "I'd heard they'd pulled one out of the archives for this." She looks over at Shah. "The Dementors broke through the screen during their escape?" She frowns. "It's too stable."

Shah rubs the back of his neck. "Wouldn't say they broke through." He's silent for a moment, then he glances at Tomás and sighs. "It went offline for a moment. We don't know how yet--we haven't figured it out."

"I was inside," Dee says quietly. "The screen faltered; a handful of Dementors took the chance to push through, despite my best attempts to control them." He's looking at the screen, and his face is stony. Sober. "It wasn't all of them. Some tried to stop the rogue Dementors from attacking me." He exhales, and his fingers tighten around the head of his cane. "They obviously failed."

Draco studies Blaise's grandfather. Even though he looks less commanding at the moment than the first time Draco'd met him, his shoulders are still squared, his back rigid, and Draco understands where Blaise gets his bloody-minded determination from. "How," Draco asks, "did you control all those Dementors in there by yourself?" That's been bothering Draco since he'd first heard about it, if he's honest, niggling at the back of his Auror mind. They can force him into the Unspeakables, he thinks, but they can't make him stop thinking like an Auror. He doesn't give a fuck how they try.

Barachiel Dee glances over at him, one eyebrow raised. "One can draw on the magic imbued within Azkaban," he says after a moment. "The elemental forces that Ekrizdis left in the walls of his fortress here. It's not something one would wish to do for long, or in perpetuity, but it's a raw power that can be harnessed to keep these poor damned souls at bay." His gaze drifts over to Shah and then to Tomás. "For now at least."

"It'll fucking kill you at some point, you old bastard," Durant says. He's watching Dee, and Draco thinks he catches a modicum of concern.

Dee just smiles once more. "Most likely, Legilimens." He looks over at Shah. "Sergeant, if you will? I'm tired, and I'd rather like to get on with this visit." Draco turns his head just in time to see Shah pull out a small compass from his pocket.

"If you could tap your wands to this, it'll help you pass through the screen," Shah says, and they all comply, with the exception of Barachiel Dee.

Draco gives him a curious look, and Dee leans on his cane, the light from the Spirit Screen flickering shadows across the brown planes of his face. "I'll have no trouble passing through. The screen knows me by now, Mr Malfoy." He nods towards the wall. "As do the Dementors you'll encounter."

"And they don't seem to be all that keen on you," Draco says before he thinks, but Dee's smile just widens.

"Some of them, no." Dee looks over at the screen, and he sighs. "Then again, spirits aren't always the most logical creatures, are they? Particularly not when they're frightened." He looks almost unhappy at that, and he shakes his head. "And they've been rather unsettled these past few weeks." He glances over at Draco. "Let go of your fear, boy. It won't serve you well in there. You won't see them as they are. Not like Durant and I do. But you'll feel them. If you move past your own emotions, perhaps you might feel theirs instead."

Draco's not so certain he wants to, but he nods and takes a deep breath. He feels Burke's hand brush against his, and for a moment he thinks it must have been nothing, but then she's looking at him, studying his face, and he can feel the light press of her mind against his.

All right, sprog?

He nods again. It must be enough because she turns away and says to Shah, "Well. Let's go in then."

Dee's the first one to go through, touching the tip of his cane against the screen. It ripples, and then he steps through. Durant follows, his wand lightly tapping across the swirling colours before they envelop him.

And then it's Draco's turn. He doesn't want to. He wants to turn around and walk down that corridor again, as fast as he can. His whole body's thrumming with fear; he's not certain he can do this, not certain he can force himself to press his wand against that mesmerising coil of blue-green-grey.

Somehow he manages to.

He steps into a cold courtyard, wide and circular, iron bars rising up along the walls, arching overhead to form what feels almost like a cage, delicate and fragile for all that each bar is thick and heavy and black against the slick, frosted glass set over them. Draco takes a step down the wrought iron staircase, his palm barely skimming the freezing bannister. He can hear Burke come in behind him, hear her say something to Tomás, but then a ringing rush fills Draco's ears, and he nearly slips on the steps, his fingers gripping at the cold iron railing. He exhales; his breath is a white puff in the chilled air. His chest aches, hot and tight, and he can feel the emotions pulling at him, the despair, the anger, the sadness---

The grief.

It brings him to his knees as he staggers off the last step, and the stones are hard and cold against his palms as he catches himself before he falls forward. His hair swings into his face, and the pain twists through him once more, raw and burning, that empty ache where thoughts of his father would be. Draco's shoulders shake; he can feel wetness against his cheeks. He doesn't care. There's nothing but a Lucius-shaped hole in him, gaping, ragged, and nothing will ever fill it again. Draco knows that, knows that he'll spend the rest of his life with that horrible gap in his psyche, and the realisation makes him cry out, press his forehead to the filthy stones of the courtyard. The rustling, dry sweep of the Dementors robes comes closer.

Draco doesn't care.

And then there are hands on him, pulling him up, strong and wide, and Durant's voice is in his ear, murmuring something that Draco can't entirely make out, not until he hears Harry's name, and that brings Draco back, makes him look blankly at Durant.

"If you give in," Durant's saying, "Harry won't forgive you. You know that, you asshole. Come on. Put your Occlumens back up."

Burke's on his other side, and her fingers are tight on Draco's chin, turning his face towards her. "Pull yourself together." Her voice is kind but firm, and Draco can feel himself coming back to himself, can feel the embarrassment rising inside of him.

His voice is a rasp when he says, "I'm fine." He's not, but he needs to be, and that's enough for right now. Draco pushes himself to his feet. Dee's watching him from the centre of the courtyard, and the Dementors are behind him, a throng of hooded faces turned towards Draco.

A shiver of fear goes through Draco at the sight.

"They're starving," Dee says, and there's anger in his voice. He looks past Draco towards Tomás and Shah, both of whom have stayed up on the steps, close to the glittering glass wall. "You've kept them away from humans for too long; they haven't fed."

"We're not going to risk--" Tomás breaks off at the vicious look Dee gives him.

"You fools." Dee steps forward; the Dementors move with him. He holds out a hand; they stay back behind him. "They feed off human emotions, and you've kept them from the prisoners for weeks now, and I haven't been able to come to them…." Dee turns towards the Dementors, murmurs something quietly in a language Draco doesn't really understand. It sounds old and formal and almost melodic to his ears. The Dementors sigh, a soft breath that seems to huff across Draco's skin, cold and sharp, and for a moment it feels as if it's pulling deep into Draco's soul, tugging at that tight coil of sorrow that's settled in his belly. It loosens a bit, wells up, and then it sinks back into Draco.

And yet it feels a bit lighter, a bit emptier. The Dementors breathe out again, and Draco can feel Durant tense beside him, then Burke, and Draco realises that Dee is pulling emotions from them, spreading them out across the hundreds of Dementors that fill the courtyard. It's not much, but it's enough, and Draco can't help but wonder if this is why Dee looks so tired and drawn, if he's been giving them little bits of himself to help keep their hunger pangs at bay.

Some of Draco's fear bleeds away. He steps forward, haltingly, letting himself move closer towards the first row of Dementors. Dee says nothing, but Draco knows those bright golden eyes are fixed on him. Draco keeps his Occlumens up, and it takes all the courage he can scrape together, but he forces himself to look at the Dementors, to push out with his Legilimency enough to feel what's behind those hoods.

It's not much. Just flashes, here and there, of human emotions. Fear. Love. Confusion. Wistfulness. Loneliness.

There's so much loneliness. It takes Draco's breath away. He focuses harder, can almost feel different personalities as he lets his gaze drift across the crowd of ragged black robes. "Oh," he says, his voice so quiet he can barely hear himself.

Dee hears him though. "You understand?"

"I think so." It's not that Draco didn't realise that the Dementors had been made from human souls. But it's one thing to comprehend that fact and another thing entirely to feel it. To walk towards Dee and sense the humans that the Dementors might once have been, even if it's muffled, like hearing the screams of a drowning man through the thickness of water.

Dee's silent. Burke and Durant move up beside Draco, the three of them standing shoulder to shoulder, each of them studying the Dementors in front of them.

"Poor bloody bastards," Burke murmurs. "They never deserved any of this."

"Most of them, no," Dee says after a moment. "And even those that did, well." He shakes his head, leans on his cane. "Death would have been a kinder punishment."

Draco looks over at him. "Punishment?" he asks, and Dee doesn't answer.

"You worked for Minchum, didn't you?" Burke asks.

Dee sighs, his gaze fixed on the Dementors in front of him. "One of my more foolish choices." He's silent for a breath or two, and then he says, almost reluctantly, "A business partner and I helped create some of these wretched creatures." He looks over at Burke finally, ignoring Draco and Durant. "Only from prisoners who agreed. They thought it better than being Kissed."

"Circe," Draco says. Burke just shakes her head and turns away, her face twisted in disgust.

"I think I agree with that sentiment." Durant's tense next to Draco, his hands pressed into his pockets.

Draco looks over at Dee. "They exiled you for doing their dirty work?"

"Not quite." Dee won't look at him. "But my relationship with the Ministry has always been…" He hesitates, then says, "Complicated." A muscle in his jaw twitches. "They exiled me for acting outside of their wishes, but that's a story for another day." He glances over at Draco finally. "It's not one I wish to relive at the moment."

Draco doesn't know what to say other than, "All right." He looks back at the Dementors, a twist of fear going through him at the realisation that they could, if they wished, overpower all of them. Kiss them, even. Burnham's face flashes into his mind again, and he feels the roil of panic in his stomach.

"Steady," Durant says.

For a moment, Draco wants to tell him to sod off, to stay the fuck out of his head, but the Dementors' hoods turn towards him again, and he knows they can taste his anger. He tries to settle himself.

"So we're here to keep these half-ghosts from going mad?" Burke folds her arms across her chest.

"From starving themselves into madness, yes." Dee reaches out, lets his hand settle on the fluttering sleeve of one bony Dementor's arm. The Dementor's shoulders sink a bit, and Draco almost thinks he feels a wave of relief coming from beneath that bent hood. "Whilst the legislators argue about what to do with them." His voice grows cold. "I'd rather the side angling for their destruction not win out, to be honest. Our track record as wizards for respecting other magical creatures hasn't been stellar, particularly in regards to creatures formed from Death magic." He lets his hand fall from the Dementor's sleeve, steps forward. The Dementors shift, moving to let him in amongst them. Dee's cane taps lightly against the courtyard stones.

Durant follows him; the Dementors widen their half-circle. "You can't really blame people for that," he says mildly. "Fear of death's healthy."

"To a certain extent." Dee glances back at Durant, and Draco suspects they've had this argument before. Dee looks rather pleased with himself. "But dying is a natural process and a powerful magical force. One we set ourselves at odds with far too quickly."

"Spoken like a true necromancer," Durant says, but he's smiling at Dee. Draco has the distinct impression that Blaise's grandfather likes Jake Durant. A hell of a lot more than he likes Draco, and that bloody well irritates Draco.

Immensely.

"So we're nourishment for this lot, are we?" Burke says, a bit too sharply, and Dee stills, pivoting towards her.

"If you wish them not to riot, then yes." Dee scowls at her. "They need sustenance, just as any living creature does."

Burke just frowns back at him. "They're barely alive."

"Perhaps by your standards," Dee says. "But they are living, Unspeakable Burke, and as such are still protected by British wizarding law." His scowl deepens as he glances back towards the steps Shah and Tomás are standing on. "For now at least."

"I don't like the idea of these things dining off me," Burke says, and she's eyeing the half-circle of tattered robes stretching out in front of them, a sea of dark hoods that fills half the courtyard, all the way to the other side of the cage. Through the dirty glass curving over the iron bars, Draco can make out the dark stone walls of the prison rising up around them, the cloudy grey of the sky above. He thinks he sees the steady rise and fall of the Dementors shoulders, breathing together, a soft, slow sigh that sounds like the whisper of dry grass in an autumn breeze, the quiet rustle of dead leaves beneath a boot.

Draco tries not to flinch, tries not to remember the way the Dementors had moved through the corridors at Hogwarts during his third year. He'd been frightened of them even then, too young to understand them, but old enough to feel their misery. It'd been worse in the war. The Dark Lord had brought them into the Manor more than once, and Draco had hidden himself away in his room, doing everything he could not to encounter them in the hallway.

A memory of himself in fake Dementor's robe, hovering beside Greg and Vince and Marcus Flint on the edge of the Quidditch pitch, rises up, along with a wash of shame. Circe, what an arse he'd been, Draco thinks. He's no bloody idea why Harry's even forgiven him for being a tit like that, for making him fall from a broom for what? A childhood prank drawn from the lingering hurt of a boy's rejection? Merlin, how stupid and prideful he'd been. Draco looks away, his chest tightening, his skin prickling. He wants to run from this room, wants to get as far away from Azkaban as he possibly can. It could have been him here, he knows that. Trapped within these walls, caught with these creatures eating away his soul bit by bit.

His life might have been so very different.

"Malfoy," Durant says quietly, and Draco looks over at him. Durant meets Draco's gaze evenly. "You'll be fine here."

Draco wants to say he knows that, wants to snap something at Durant, wants to preen himself like one of the Manor peacocks, to intimidate Durant, to push him away. But he can't. Instead he just nods, rubs his damp hands across his jacket. "All right," he says, and his voice only wobbles the slightest bit.

The image of Durant on his knees slips through Draco's mind. The surroundings are the same, and he can feel the fear and the misery that make Durant's hands tremble. It's almost overwhelming, that memory sliding up against his Occlumens, seeping in through the cracks until Draco shoves it away, gasping with the intensity of it all.

You're not alone, Durant whispers faintly in the recesses of Draco's mind, and Draco looks over at him, his mouth tight.

And then Draco lets the fight go out of him, lets himself accept the reassurance. He exhales. "Thank you."

"The first time's always the worst," Durant says. "That's what Barachiel told me."

"Not incorrect," Dee says, and Burke snorts from Draco's other side. Dee ignores her, gestures for Draco to come closer. The Dementors fall back a bit as Draco does. Dee studies Draco's face. "Perhaps I was wrong about you," he murmurs.

That makes Draco uneasy. "What does that mean?"

Dee just shakes his head, but he reaches out with one gnarled, if perfectly manicured hand and touches Draco's cheek. His fingers are soft. Warm. Draco can't look away from Dee's golden gaze; he feels caught, like a small prey in the sightline of a much stronger predator. Draco swallows, senses the movement of the Dementors around them, drawing closer.

"Careful," Durant says, his voice soft, filled with warning, and Draco catches a glimpse of Durant's drawn wand out of the corner of his eye. "Barachiel, they're coming."

"There's something about you," Dee says, and then he drops his hand, and the moment shifts, the Dementors withdraw. Draco's body relaxes, but only slightly. Dee gives him a tight, quick smile. "You're an interesting one, Unspeakable Malfoy. Perhaps even more so than our Legilimens over here."

"I rather doubt that," Draco says, but he steps back, away from Dee. Blaise's grandfather's unsettled him, made him feel on his back foot, which Draco hates. He looks back over at Shah and Tomás. Shah's forehead is furrowed with worry, and the glance he gives Dee is hesitant, uncertain. Tomás just looks at Draco, appraising, steady.

That unnerves Draco more than Dee ever could.

Draco turns to Burke. "We've work to do here, don't we?" At her nod, he steels himself. "Then let's get to it." He looks over at Dee, standing beside a pensive Durant. "What exactly is it you want from us, sir?"

And Dee just smiles.

***

Althea sits across from Antonin Dolohov, silently watching him. He looks worse for wear, she thinks, in the five days since she's seen him last. She's alone with him; Granger's just stepped out of the interview room for a moment, called away by a knock on the door and whispered conversation with someone just outside. Althea thinks it might have been the guv.

They haven't suspended the interview although Granger's in the hall. It seems the Unspeakables can bend that particular rule. Not bog-standard Auror practice, she thinks grimly, not at all.

Dolohov looks over at her. "They're using you, girl," he says, and there's a raw rasp to his voice that wasn't there before, along with a bruise that extends along the side of his narrow, angular face. Officially he'd had a run-in with a faulty door charm; Althea's heard the rumours though, that one of the Unspeakables had slammed Dolohov into the door of his cell last night, over and over and over again. Granger wouldn't confirm it, but the way her eyes had slid to one side, the way her mouth had turned down in frustration when Althea had asked had told Althea everything she needed to know. She hopes the Unspeakable's being disciplined. Not even a bastard like Antonin Dolohov deserves that sort of treatment. Especially in the current climate, with questions of prisoner endangerment already swirling around, and the ICW peering over the Ministry's shoulder.

Still, Althea thinks she could understand the urge to hurt Dolohov. He's a sodding manipulative bastard on the best of days.

"And so says the man who's being charged with what?" Althea folds her arms across the tabletop and leans forward. "Grievous bodily harm on Constable Blaise Zabini, the murder of Luka Abadzhiev, and the murder of Richard Thomas?" She raises an eyebrow. "Your own cousin. What a shit you are."

Dolohov's mouth twists up on one side. "You ought to know about cousin murders. It's just part of being family, really."

Fuck if Althea'll let this bastard see the way that stung. She just looks at him. "I assume you're referring to my mother."

"The Yaxleys never have been particularly close," Dolohov says. He leans back in his chair, and Althea knows he's toying with her. Probably more out of boredom than anything. The Unspeakables have Dolohov in solitary, for the most part. Not even a book or a wireless allowed in the room with him. If he wasn't such a fucking prick, Althea might feel a modicum of pity for him. She doesn't in the slightest. Dolohov studies her, then says, "Plenty of secrets buried in your mother's family tree."

"Yours, too, I'm certain." Althea doesn't enjoy games like this. She's too damned Ravenclaw for it.

Dolohov smiles again, and she knows he thinks he's scored one on her. "Not talking about mine. Besides, the Dolohovs are boring. Old and staid and if they had the chance to bring the Tsar back from the dead, they would." Dolohov's nostrils flare. "Idiots."

"I take it you don't care for mum and dad." Althea rubs a thumb over a ridge in the table. Part of her thinks that Granger left her in here alone to see what might happen. It wouldn't surprise her if Granger was on the other side of the mirrored glass to her left, just watching. Waiting to see what Althea might do.

Dolohov laughs, and it's a sharp, bitter echo in the room. "Trying to connect with me now, girl? Hope that I'll crack beneath your pathetic wiles and tell you how terrible my upbringing was and how it's scarred me for life?"

Althea shrugs. "You could, but I'd think you a giant, lying wanker."

They both fall silent, eyeing each other from across the table.

"You know we're going to put you away," Althea says after a moment. "The murder charges against Abadzhiev are going to stick, as are the racketeering and arms dealing. We caught you red-handed in Eustace Fawley's warehouse, and Our Eustace is talking, old man, so it's only a matter of time--"

Dolohov snorts, shifts in his chair. His hands are bound to the table with an Incarcerous; he pushes his palms against the smooth, dark wood. "I won't be in here that long."

Althea watches him. "You sound certain of that."

"Maybe I am." Dolohov's eyes are bright and sharp, but there's a heat in them that makes Althea uncomfortable. The man's half mental, she thinks, but then, he'd have to be to do the things he's done, wouldn't he? No one sane would have followed the Dark Lord as blindly and rabidly as Antonin Dolohov had done. Not even Lucius Malfoy was that much a believer from what she's gathered.

"You think the Old Man's going to get you out of here?" Althea asks, her voice soft in the silence of the room. "Because Aldric Yaxley hasn't any fucking pull on this side of the pond--"

"I wouldn't be so sure of that, bitch." Spittle flies from Dolohov's lips, shining in the warm light from the lamps hanging above the table.

Althea pauses, tilts her head ever so slightly. "Really?" She thinks he's lying, trying to throw his weight around, but she's not certain. There's something about the way his eyes narrow at her that makes Althea wonder. "Do tell."

Dolohov looks away, pressing his thin lips together. The bruise on his face looks purple-yellow in the lamplight, his eye swollen and puffy, the skin scabbed over at the corner. There's another mark on his throat where the edge of the door had pressed against his windpipe, nearly strangling him in the process. Althea wonders who the Unspeakable was who'd done this to the bastard. No one's mentioned names so far, not directly at least, but Althea suspects Phoebe Rayne's brother, who's also an Unspeakable. If so, she can hardly blame the poor sod. She might have done it herself.

"Come on, Antonin," Althea says, keeping her voice light, pushing away thoughts of violence. Still, she can't help but press a bit deeper. "You can't drop that little bombshell without backing it up. Wouldn't want anyone accusing you of telling porkies, yeah?"

For a moment she thinks Dolohov's going to lunge for her, and she's fucking grateful for the magical dampeners he's still wearing, tight around his wrists. She doesn't blink, doesn't let him see that flicker of fear. Althea just looks at him, keeping her face as bland and emotionless as she can, and Dolohov sinks back into his seat with a disgruntled huff. He watches her, and Althea can see the shift of emotions across his face. Anger. Disgust. Uncertainty.

"Fuck you," Dolohov says, and his hands twitch against the tabletop, his long fingers nicotine-stained. Althea wonders how long it's been since he's had a smoke. Weeks now, she thinks, and it has to be hell for him.

"You want a cig?" she asks, and Dolohov's eyes flick towards the mirrored wall, then back towards her. Althea leans forward, her shoulders hunched. A wisp of her hair slides out of the tight bun at the nape of her neck, falls across her cheek. She pushes it back behind her ear. "Tell me more about Aldric Yaxley and I'll make sure you have an entire pack."

Dolohov snorts. "Who's the liar now?" Still, his fingers drum lightly against the table, and for a moment, Althea thinks he might crack. Instead, he looks away, falls silent again.

Althea doesn't push. Not yet at least. She sits patiently across from Dolohov, her gaze fixed on his face. "Does it hurt?" she asks after a moment, then she gestures towards her own face. "You must have walked into that door terribly hard."

"Yes, and so many times," Dolohov says, with almost no affect. It's almost as if he doesn't care about the pain, Althea thinks. Dolohov just looks at her. "Funny how that happens."

"But Aldric Yaxley'll make whomever it was pay, right?" Althea lets her scepticism colour her voice, and Dolohov's shoulders tense. "Why? What the fuck does he have to do with Richard Thomas or Luka Abadzhiev or anything you've been doing over here with fucking Rodolphus Lestrange?"

Dolohov doesn't answer.

Althea's starting to get annoyed. "The grandson? Is that it? Les Harkaway--"

"Please." Dolohov sounds almost offended. "That twat?"

"You know we'll find it out soon enough," Althea starts to say, but Dolohov just laughs, a sharp, angry burst that echoes against the black tiled walls.

Dolohov leans forward. "This sort of rubbish is what got your mother killed, you idiot," he says, and then his mouth snaps shut, and he turns his head, almost as if he's surprised himself.

Althea stills, studying him for a long moment before she says, her voice soft and vicious, "My mother was killed by you and Corban fucking Yaxley because she married a Muggle--"

"Was she." It's not a question. Dolohov's not looking at her.

And Althea's brought up short by that. It's what she's always thought, what her father had told her as he spiralled into the bottle, certain that his wife had died because of him. "What exactly are you saying?"

Dolohov glances over at her. His face is gaunter than it'd been when they caught him in Tarrytown. She wonders if he's been eating, and then the question of whether or not the Unspeakables have been feeding the poor bastard flits through her mind. She tries to push it away, but she can't. She doesn't trust Saul Croaker not to put something like that into place to break Dolohov, although it'd be bloody stupid of him with Luxembourg watching them as closely as they are.

But it's not really the Department of Mysteries the ICW is after, is it? The DMLE's what they're focusing on, and that makes Althea nervous. Particularly given Seven-Four-Alpha's mandate to use whatever means necessary to close their cases, or what's left of said mandate, at least. Now that they're back from New York, Althea doesn't think any of them know what they're meant to be doing. Other than finding Rodolphus Lestrange and the result of that search has been a bloody giant fuck-all right now.

"Well?" she demands, and Dolohov's smile is thin and feral and so very unsettling. He doesn't answer, and Althea's certain that he's trying to push her, to get her to react. She looks down at the open file jacket in front of her, draws in an unsteady breath as shallowly as she can so Dolohov doesn't hear her. "Fine. Let's talk about Rodolphus Lestrange then. What sort of operation was he running from Azkaban?"

"Is that what he was doing?" Dolohov asks, his voice careful, deliberately light. "I wouldn't know, given that I wasn't in Azkaban."

"No," Althea agrees, and she doesn't take her gaze off him. "You were supposed to be dead."

Dolohov raises an eyebrow, shrugs. "Misidentification happens."

Althea can't help but laugh at that. "A corpse transfigured to look like you, purportedly killed by an Auror who later died in custody and whom we know was working with Rodolphus Lestrange somehow." She leans an elbow on the table. "Who took your place, Antonin? Who died for you?"

Dolohov's silent.

"And how does Rodolphus Lestrange connect to Aldric Yaxley?" The edge of the table digs into Althea's ribcage. She barely notices. "Give me something to work with. I'll tell the Unspeakables you're helping with the case; they'll be more careful with you. Feed you, even. And I'll make sure you get a packet of cigs."

Something flickers for a moment, deep in Dolohov's eyes, and Althea knows she's right about the Unspeakables. Her stomach twists, sharp and painful. Fucking Croaker. She looks at Dolohov, every muscle in her body tight and tense. "You have to break sometime. Let me help you."

"You know what I remember about that night?" Dolohov asks, his voice soft, his gaze sweeping across Althea's face, down her body. "How charmingly your mother begged for us to spare her whilst you cowered in the corner. Such a pretty thing you were back then. So soft and trembling--"

"Stop," Althea chokes out, and her hands are shaking against the dark wood of the table. She clenches her fists, so tightly that the pale skin across her knuckles goes nearly colourless.

Dolohov's smile widens a bit more, and Althea knows he's heard the quaver in her voice. "We thought about taking you, Corban and I. Bringing you back to His Lordship. Bella would have liked playing with you. As would we." He raises an eyebrow, flicks his tongue towards her. "In different ways."

Althea shoves her chair back. "We're done here," she says, slamming the file jacket closed, and Dolohov throws back his head and laughs.

"You needn't worry, girlie," he says with a flash of bright teeth. "I wouldn't put my prick anywhere near that cold cunt of yours now--"

For a moment, Althea's fingers tighten around the file jacket. It'd be so easy to sweep it forward, to let it strike Dolohov's bruised face. She can see it now, can see the way his body would jerk back, the Incarcerous keeping him bound to the table, can see the blood welling up from the slash of the file jacket's edge across his skin. She closes her eyes, breathes out.

"Sod off, you fucking shit," she says, and then she turns on her heel, striding towards the door as Dolohov laughs behind her again, his bound hands clapping.

"Well done, you," he says as Althea reaches for the doorknob. She hesitates, refuses to turn around. "But you're asking the wrong fucking questions, aren't you?"

She hates herself for it, but Althea glances back over her shoulder. "And what questions should I be asking then?"

Dolohov's eyes are cold. Sharp as a Diffindo slicing into Althea's soul. "Why your mother had to die, of course." His mouth quirks up at the corner. "And why we let that snivelling shit father of yours live."

Althea stills, her fingers curled around the doorknob. "You leave my father out of this. I know damned well you're full of shit--"

"But am I?" Dolohov leans forward, his elbows resting on the table. His voice is low. "If you don't want to play, darling, then perhaps you oughtn't fuck with me."

Their gazes meet, hold. Althea can feel Dolohov's malice rolling across the room, making her skin crawl. He hates her, she realises, and she has no bloody idea why. She exhales, doing her best not to let her shudder show.

"Sit tight," Althea says. "Maybe Granger'll come back for you." She shrugs. "Then again, maybe she'll leave you in this room to rot. Not really certain I give a fuck one way or the other."

She slams the door behind her as she steps out into the corridor, her whole body shaking, her fingers still gripping the doorknob tightly.

Granger looks over. She's just down the hall, standing beside the guv and a tall, brown woman with long, tightly woven braids pulled back to a knot at the nape of her neck. Nadia Daifallah, the Senior Advisor to the International Wizarding Court of Justice in Brussels. Althea's seen her around the Ministry the past few weeks, always looking a bit grim. Judging by her expression at the moment, her mood hasn't really improved.

"Everything all right?" Granger asks, and Potter glances back at Althea as well, his brow furrowing in concern.

"Whitaker?" Potter's voice is low and a bit urgent. "What'd he do?"

Althea shakes her head, inhales, calming herself. "Just his usual bollocks." She's not ready to talk about Dolohov's claims about her mother. Or his threats to her, really. It'll be on the transcript in a day or two. She'll deal with it then. She smoothes back the wisp of hair that's come loose again, tucking it behind her ear. Her hand barely trembles, but she thinks the guv's caught her out by the way his gaze goes between it and her face. Please, don't push, she thinks, and somehow he must read it from her expression, because he just nods, his mouth an unhappy slash. Althea moves away from the door, towards the other three. "Is something up?"

"Nadia's telling us that Luxembourg is pushing again to move Dolohov," Granger says, and she doesn't sound pleased.

"Because that went so well last time." Althea looks over at Daifallah. "Lestrange is still out there."

Daifallah's arms are folded across her chest. She's wearing a scarlet dress, tailored and trim, belted at her waist, the hem just skimming her knees. Her lips and fingernails are the same colour, the latter oval and talon-long in the way that only straight girls' can be. Althea runs the pad of her thumb across her own short fingernails, trimmed so they don't scrape anything too tender. And Merlin but Althea needs a good shag. Lucy had been brilliant, back in the States, but Althea hasn't wanted to go to her usual haunts now that she's back in London. Instead she's been thinking of dark hair and pale limbs tangled around her own, of red lippie smeared across swollen lips, and the scent of expensive perfume, jasmine and roses and just a hint of lime blossom. It's bad form, Althea knows, to wank whilst thinking of your colleague, but every time she tries not to, she fails. Parkinson's always there in the back of her mind, with a small smile and a flash of perfect, creamy tits.

Althea pulls her gaze from Daifallah's hands. Circe, she really can't keep on like this.

"We've been putting secure measures into place," Daifallah's saying. "We know the dangers, but the ICW believes, as do I, that, all things considered, Antonin Dolohov is safer within the Brussels court than here." She looks at all three of them, her full, red mouth pursing slightly. "You know I'm right. We've already heard about Dolohov's most recent incident."

"The Unspeakable responsible for that is being sacked," Granger says, and that's something Althea hasn't heard yet. She glances at Granger in surprise; Granger doesn't meet her gaze. "Croaker's currently recalibrating the wards on Dolohov's cell himself, and I'm culling through the roster of Unspeakables who have contact with him--"

"Not enough." Daifallah shakes her head. "Your entire Ministry is in shambles. All of you realise this."

Potter sighs. "She's not wrong, Hermione." He runs a hand through his hair, leaving it rumpled and messy. He's in shirtsleeves and blue braces, his tie loosened at his throat.

Granger's silent; she breathes out in a soft, annoyed huff. "The ICW can fuck off," she says quietly, and she glances over at Daifallah. "Present company excepted."

Daifallah's smile is wry. "It's not that I haven't thought the same myself at times. But with Lestrange still out there--"

"We'll find him," the guv says, his voice tight, and Daifallah looks over at him.

"You haven't yet," she says. Her face is calm. Sober. "You might not before...." She trails off. "Well."

Potter flinches, and Althea catches her bottom lip between her teeth, worrying it. That's a conversation they've had in the incident room more than once. What might happen if they don't catch Lestrange before he does whatever he's broken out of Azkaban to do? And fuck if any of them can figure out what that might be. This is when Althea wishes Malfoy were back with them. He might come up with something. Lestrange is his uncle, after all.

Daifallah glances over at Althea. "I also don't think it's legally wise to have Sergeant Whitaker interviewing Antonin Dolohov given his history with her family."

"I'm fine," Althea protests.

"And it's not you I'm concerned about." Daifallah taps a finger against her elbow. "He's been tied to your mother's murder. Any barrister worth their salt will bring that up in court."

Potter lifts his chin; Althea can tell he's about to do something stupidly stubborn. "Whitaker's one of our best--"

"I want her kept out of that room," Daifallah snaps. She turns towards Althea. "No offence, Sergeant. I'm just looking ahead to my case. The last thing I need is to have it cocked up on a technicality."

"You still don't know he'll be tried in Brussels," Granger points out. "The Wizengamot--"

"It's an international case now, Hermione." Daifallah sounds tired. As if she's had this argument before. The two women frown at each other. "Between Dolohov's actions in the States and here, not to mention his ties to the Abadzhievs and Prague--there's no way in hell the ICW is going to leave him here for prosecution."

Granger looks away first. "Merlin," she says, almost under her breath. "This isn't something we need to be arguing about in the bloody hallway."

"I concur." Daifallah shakes her head, holds her palms up. "But my hands are tied. He's coming back to Brussels. If you'd like to discuss it further--"

"My office," Granger says. She glances over at the guv. "Harry?"

Potter shoves his hands in his pockets. "Whitaker and I should head back upstairs. I have Zabini running traces on the reports we've received in the past couple of days about Lestrange's whereabouts. I think that's more important for us to be focusing on right now."

"Right." Granger nods, then turns to Daifallah. "Do you need Croaker involved in this?"

"Only if you're going to be foolishly stubborn," Daifallah says, but there's a faint quirk to her mouth that makes Althea think she's half-enjoying sparring with Granger. Althea's not so certain Granger feels the same.

Granger heaves a sigh. "Harry, we'll talk later about that other thing." And that piques Althea's interest. She looks between Granger and the guv, but she can't read anything from their faces. She wonders if it has anything to do with Malfoy.

"Yeah." Potter nods, and he lingers back as Granger and Daifallah head off, both of them still arguing about jurisdiction and legalities. Potter huffs softly. "I don't know why she bothers," he says after a moment. "She knows Nadia'll win this one. Croaker must be putting her up to it."

"Is Croaker also putting her up to prisoner mistreatment?" Althea asks before she can stop herself. She folds her arms, cradling her file jacket to her chest. Fuck it, she thinks, and she gives the guv a defiant look.

Potter frowns. "What are you talking about?"

Althea almost doesn't answer, then she glances back at the door to the interview room. Dolohov's still sitting there. If Croaker's having his holding cell refitted with security charms--and Althea's fucking certain some of that is for the Unspeakable's own benefit, not out of any sense of duty to their prisoner--then Dolohov will be cooling his heels there for a while. She chews on her lip, then says, "I think they're withholding food."

"What?" Potter follows her look back to the interview room. "They wouldn't--"

"Lucy told me the Americans were doing it," Althea says. "In their extrajudicial prisons. Not for long, but they use it as a tactic to…" She hesitates, then rubs a hand over her cheek, her stomach twisting with unease. "It breaks prisoners faster. Starving them, then giving them food as a reward for information."

Potter's eyeing her. "We wouldn't do that."

"He's lost weight," Althea says. She keeps her voice low, quiet enough to avoid the listening charms she's certain Saul Croaker's put on this hallway. She doesn't trust anyone with this information except the guv. He'll do the right thing, she thinks. "Enough to be noticeable in the past week."

The guv's face is troubled. "You're sure."

"Call it a hunch," Althea says. "Granger has to know."

"Hermione wouldn't stand for that sort of thing," Potter says, but Althea's not so certain. She likes Granger, but she's an Unspeakable, after all. Althea doesn't consider them the most trustworthy lot.

Still, she's not going to argue with the guv. "Maybe," she says, and she tries to keep her voice neutral. From the look Potter gives her, she's not certain she's managed. "You'll look into it?"

"Yeah," the guv says, and she knows he means it. "I will."

And that, Althea thinks, is the best she can hope for. She follows Potter down the black tiled hallway towards the Unspeakable guard standing beside the heavy double-doors at the end. Potter stops, looks back towards the interview room.

"Dolohov helped kill your mother," the guv says quietly.

Althea knows what he's asking. She just looks over at him. "He's still a human being, and we're better than that. Whatever Saul Croaker and his lot might think."

Potter gives her a small smile. "You're a good Auror, Althea Whitaker."

"I have a good guv," she says, and she nods towards the doors. "Want to go see if Zabini's stumbled on Lestrange yet?"

"More like he'll hex us for leaving him to it alone." Potter starts down the hallway again, Althea at his heels. He pauses at the doorway. "After you, Sergeant."

Together they walk out into the cold, black-tiled lobby, the doors to the Department of Mysteries swinging shut behind them.

Good fucking riddance, Althea thinks.

***

The bedroom's still dark when Harry wakes up. He's tired; today had been utter shit at work--he still hasn't had time to talk to Hermione about Whitaker's concerns, but it's been weighing on his mind since this afternoon. He doesn't want Hermione to be part of something like that. He doesn't think she would be. Still. He's uncertain, and he doesn't trust Saul fucking Croaker further than he could hex him. Then when he'd finally come home Draco hadn't been here. Harry'd panicked at first, firecalling Andromeda to ask if Draco was visiting his mother, then, when Andromeda had bemusedly pointed out that she hadn't seen Draco since Harry's birthday dinner the night before, Harry'd rung off without saying goodbye before Flooing over to Draco's flat.

No one had been there.

So Harry'd come back to Grimmauld and poured himself two fingers of whisky, nursing them as he sat in the library, his worry growing. The Floo had sparked to life at half-seven, green flames swirling up from the logs, and Draco'd stepped through.

"Where the fuck were you?" Harry'd demanded, and Draco had just given him a blank look as he slipped out of his Unspeakable jacket, draping it over the arm of the sofa. Kreacher'd been there a moment later, sliding it off, then disappearing.

"Azkaban mostly," Draco'd said. "Then I had an appointment with Archibald Burke about my father's estate." He'd sounded exhausted. Worn out. "Don't whinge at me, Harry. I can't bear it right now."

So Harry hadn't. They'd eaten dinner in near silence, Draco just shrugging any time Harry'd wanted to start a conversation. Draco hadn't wanted to talk, hadn't wanted to fuck, hadn't wanted to do much of anything other than lie in the bathtub after dinner for an hour, then wrap himself in a robe and curl up on the bed, reading.

Harry hadn't pushed. He knows better, knows that doing so will just infuriate Draco, make him shut down even more. Really, if he's honest, he'd just been bloody grateful that Draco'd come back safe and sound. Harry doesn't know what he would've done if Draco hadn't stumbled through the Floo. He'd already been half out of his mind with worry as it was.

And now Harry's been pulled from sleep by a noise. He sits up, peers at the clock on the nightstand, his vision blurry without his glasses. It's nearly two; he's been asleep for three hours. He glances over at the window first; it's still closed, moonlight filtering through the sheer curtains, pooling across the bed. Draco's pale hair glints in the light; he's curled on his side, his back to Harry, the coverlet tugged up over his bare shoulder.

Harry's just reached for his wand and glasses on the side table when the noise comes again. A soft exhale, then a cry, and Draco's shuddering next to Harry, his body jerking, his breath coming in quick, almost keening gasps.

For a moment, Harry's on high alert, and then he realises that Draco's having a panic attack or a bad dream. He's not certain which, but he doesn't want to wake him too quickly if it's the latter. Harry knows from experience how jarring it can be to be pulled from a nightmare abruptly. He reaches out a hand and lays it carefully against Draco's shoulder blade, hoping not to make anything worse with the touch of his fingers.

"Hey. Draco." Harry doesn't know whether Draco's asleep or not, but he doesn't want him to startle awake. He spreads his fingers across Draco's warm skin, keeps his voice soft and gentle. "It's okay."

Still, Draco jolts upright when Harry repeats his name, his hands scrabbling in the covers, his breath a harsh, quick puff. Harry can see the moment when Draco comes fully to consciousness, his grey eyes wide in the dimness of the bedroom, his head raised above the coverlet, blond hair tousled, tumbling over his flushed cheek.

"Harry. I..." Draco's voice is raspy and raw, his face haunted, his body stiff as he holds himself up, uncertain. He licks his bottom lip, blinks as his eyes adjust to the faint light. He looks back over his shoulder at Harry. "What…" He exhales, pushes his hair off his face with a trembling hand. His pupils are wide, his face pale, the pinkness draining slowly away.

"It's all right." Harry shifts closer, trying to soothe Draco, his palm sliding across Draco's back, placing a gentle weight on Draco's shoulder. "You've just had a bad dream. I'm here."

Draco sinks back against his stack of pillows and lets Harry drape an arm over him, his body still shaking slightly. Harry runs his fingertips over Draco's forehead, murmuring softly beneath his breath, telling Draco over and over he'll be fine, that Harry won't leave him alone. Draco's skin is clammy and his breathing's still too quick for Harry's liking. Harry molds himself carefully around Draco's side, the mattress dipping beneath them both.

"I think you've had a bad dream." Harry's hand slips over Draco's heart, willing it to slow down. He keeps the pressure against Draco's chest light, but firm, and he shifts a little, making space for Draco to curl back against him. "But you're here at Grimmauld, with me, and it's all right now."

Harry knows from his own nightmares and terrors how hard shaking off the reality of a truly horrific dream can be. He's woken by himself more than once, unable to move, unable to scream, a heavy weight on his chest, holding him down, pressing into him until Harry's certain he'll suffocate. He doesn't want that for Draco. "Just breathe," he says quietly. "It'll pass. I've got you. Yeah?"

"Yeah." Draco's still holding his body stiffly, if yielding a bit more as he wakes, his body sinking back against Harry's. He licks his lips, and takes a deep breath. "Fuck. That was terrible."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Harry pauses, trying to figure out what to say to be as supporting as possible. He knows better than to push, particularly in the mood Draco'd been in before they'd fallen asleep, but he wants Draco to know he's there nonetheless. "You don't have to, of course. But, if you do, I'm happy to listen."

"I'm not sure." Draco sounds a bit far away, a bit wobbly. "I'm still trying to find the words."

"Let me get you a cup of tea." Harry has an urge to do something--anything, for Christ's sake to keep that awful shakiness from Draco's voice--and he hopes a nice, warm mug of milky tea will pull Draco out of his dream lethargy. If Draco's dreams are anything like Harry's, he's still physically reeling from the sensations of it, Harry thinks. Besides, the walk to the kitchens will do Harry good, if he's honest. His own pulse's quickened from worry now, and he needs to do something concrete to dispel the tendrils of horror that have crept into their quiet night. "Would you like that?"

Draco hesitates, and then he nods. "Please," he says, and he shifts in the bed, turning towards Harry. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

"Don't be daft." Harry smoothes Draco's hair back from his face. Draco can't quite look at Harry; that worries him. "You'll be all right here for a moment?"

"I'm fine," Draco says, but Harry knows that's a lie. Harry wonders if he should leave Draco alone, if it's foolish of him to slide out of bed right now. Then Draco takes a deep breath and says, "I'd rather like a cup of tea, I think." He lets his fingertips brush against Harry's bare chest. "Thank you."

Harry exhales, leans in and brushes a kiss against Draco's forehead. "Then a cup of tea you'll have, love." He pulls back, searches Draco's face. "I won't be long. Just enough to set a boiling charm on the kettle and pop a tea bag in a mug."

"You Philistine," Draco says, and his mouth tugs up ever so slightly at one corner. "Not a proper brew, but it'll do for this hour of the night. Milk first, if you please."

And if Draco's being demanding like that, Harry thinks in relief, he must be feeling a bit better. Harry slips out of bed, reaching for the joggers he'd left crumpled on the floor before climbing into bed a few hours ago. "Back in a tick." He sets his glasses back on the bridge of his nose; the world shifts back into focus.

However, when Harry steps into the hallway, Kreacher's already standing there with a frown on his leathery face, his thin arms crossed. The effect's almost comical; the ancient house elf's wrapped in a tattered plaid cloth that stretches down to his bony ankles, over a tunic of sorts fashioned from what looks like a repurposed, quilted tea cosy in a colour that might once have been dark red. To crown it all, Kreacher's wearing a cap that'd once been a fuzzy knit Cannons potholder Ron had given Harry yonks ago, back before he and Hermione'd tied the knot and Harry's presents from them both had become significantly less orange and far more tasteful. Harry can still see the burnt edges where he'd singed the damned thing in a kitchen fire when he'd forgotten his cheese toastie on the hob. Really, he'd thought he'd thrown it out. Harry suppresses the unfortunate urge to laugh.

"Kreacher, what's wrong?" he asks, trying to sidestep the elf.

"The house is waking Kreacher with a bang." Kreacher's raspy voice is terribly earnest as he adds, "Is Master Draco being all right?"

A surge of gratitude hits Harry, leaving him a bit breathless in its wake. He's so thankful to Kreacher for his concern, to the bloody house for not leaving Harry alone to wrestle with whatever it is that's unsettling Draco enough to wake him like this. Harry doesn't quite know what to say. He wants to squeeze the wizened old elf's shoulder, tell him he's utterly brill, but Harry thinks that might horrify Kreacher. Possibly even stop his poor, shrivelled heart. Instead Harry says gently, "Thank you. He's all right. But I was going down to the kitchen to make him some tea."

Kreacher looks mortally offended for a moment, then his scraggly brows draw together and his eyes flash in irritation. And there's the house elf Harry's more familiar with. "You is not. Kreacher is making Master Draco tea, and Harry Potter is staying with him."

"I--" Harry starts to say.

"Bedroom. Now." Kreacher snaps, and then he's shuffling off, his plaid cloth sliding off one narrow shoulder, muttering to himself about propriety and wizards being knowing their places, thank you ever so much.

Harry watches him stomp down the stairs, bemused and almost fond.

"You is not leaving the Master alone, Harry Potter," Kreacher shouts from the landing below.

"I'm going," Harry says, wondering how he's found himself with a house that he's fairly certain is mad for his boyfriend and an elf who seems to think said boyfriend is more his master than Harry himself is. He shakes his head, huffing a soft, wry laugh, then he turns to go back into the bedroom.

Draco's sitting up against the pillows, a small light lit on the side table. Harry's bed has changed since Draco started staying here. Harry likes a pillow, perhaps two if he's ill, but Draco can't sleep without three stacked behind him, propping his head up with their softness. The coverlet's different too, still a dark blue, but thicker and more plush instead of the serviceable cotton Harry's slept beneath for years. Harry doesn't even know how that happened or when.

"Hey," Harry says, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Was that Kreacher shouting outside?" Draco asks, one eyebrow going up.

Harry nods, scanning Draco's face. In the soft golden light, Draco's ethereal, his hair shining and tousled around his angular, weary face.

"Has this confrontation put off my tea?" Draco leans his head back against the pillows. He looks so bloody tired. Harry takes in the dark circles carved beneath Draco's almond eyes, the contrast almost too stark against the bloodless pale skin of his cheeks.

"Not really." Harry shifts under Draco's gaze, gesturing towards the door. "Kreacher's making you a cup. Evidently the house woke him when you..." Harry trails off, looks over at Draco.

Draco's face scrunches as though he's tasting vinegar unexpectedly. "This sodding house is really a bit too vigilant. I just had a bad dream. Nothing else." He sounds petulant. Unhappy. "There's no sense in the lot of you being so concerned."

Harry slides beneath the coverlet, then shifts closer, smoothing the wrinkle between Draco's brows with the pad of his thumb. "Hush, you berk. Let us all worry about you, yeah?"

For a moment, Draco still looks a bit mulish, but he allows Harry to pull him against his chest and card his hand through Draco's hair. It's soft, like a toddler's, really, the way Teddy's had been when he was younger, and Harry's never admitted out loud how much he likes touching Draco's hair. It seems strange, he supposes, and, really, Merlin, it probably is strange, if Harry's honest. Still, the gilt softness of Draco's hair sliding through his fingers surprises Harry every time.

"What woke you up?" Harry asks.

"Nothing," Draco says. At Harry's incredulous look, Draco frowns. "It was just a dream."

"About?" Harry waits for Draco to speak, cradling him against his chest, giving him time. Draco sighs, leans into Harry's touch. He folds the coverlet between his fingers, pleating it before letting it spring free. Harry just watches him, waits. He knows Draco well enough to realise Draco needs time to think, to form what he wants to say.

They have time, Harry thinks. All night, if Draco needs it.

"Being in Azkaban," Draco begins after a long silence. Then he stops. Harry can hear the soft tick of the clock on the side table, the careful, quiet huff of Draco's breath, warm against the bare skin of Harry's chest. And then Draco says, "Really, being around the Dementors reminded me of visiting my father in there. In Azkaban." He looks up at Harry. "That was the summer before sixth year."

Harry knows. He remembers how pale and wan and angry Draco had been when he'd come back to school, how he'd locked Harry in a compartment on the Hogwarts Express after stomping his booted foot on Harry's face. It surprises Harry sometimes that he's lying here in bed with the same boy, that somehow they've managed to overcome all their differences, make peace with their pasts.

"I can't imagine having to visit someone you loved in a place like that," Harry says quietly. He supposes it's almost worse than death, although at least they're still here among the living. In a fashion. But Harry's not certain that matters in the end. Not when you're locked away, surrounded by creatures that feed off the slightest happy emotion, that thrive on your despair. Harry knows that Sirius had survived years in Azkaban, and he'd never really talked about it, other than saying that, in a place like that, you had to give up a bit to keep your mind--though not entirely. Harry can still see the fear that had filled his godfather's eyes. He'd been too young to understand it then, but now he knows. Sirius would have done anything to keep from going back to Azkaban.

Draco shuts his eyes, presses his face against Harry's chest. "I could also could feel their loneliness and sadness." The words are a soft whisper across Harry's skin. "The Dementors, I mean. Circe, Harry. It was awful." He draws in a ragged breath. "I've never felt anything so bloody overwhelming. Like…." He hesitates, then sighs. "Like I was lost. And angry. And I couldn't get back to where I'd come from, but there were people waiting for me--" He breaks off, falls silent for a moment. His hand settles against Harry's stomach, long, pale fingers splayed wide across Harry's golden skin. "I don't know how they keep from hurtling themselves into the North Sea. I would if I had to feel that every day."

It's all Harry can do not to tense himself. He's still so goddamned angry with Croaker for sending Draco into the field--and to Azkaban of all fucking places--so soon after his father's death. Draco's not ready for it. That much is bloody well clear. But it's not Harry's say anymore, is it, and if Harry gets furious right now, rages against Croaker and his idiocy, it'll keep Draco from having the space he needs to talk. Harry wills himself to calm down, focuses on Draco's breathing which has now slowed, steadied a bit. The house is quiet around them.

The knock comes at the door then, softly, and Harry says, "Come in."

Kreacher pads around the end of the bed, coming to Draco's side, and Draco sits up, leans over to take the cup from the elf. "Thank you, Kreacher," he says, his hands curling around the white porcelain mug, and Harry's sure he hears warmth in Draco's tone.

"Is nothing, Master Draco. I hopes you rests well now." Kreacher frowns up at Draco for a moment, almost fondly, his worry written across his face. "If you is needing anything--"

"Don't worry," Draco says. "I'll send for you."

Kreacher nods, the Cannons potholder flopping over his ears. He looks grimly at Harry. "You is staying with Master Draco."

Harry tries not to smile. "I give you my word, Kreacher."

Kreacher harumphs, then shuffles away, the bedroom door closing behind him with a soft snick.

Draco gives Harry a half-smile, warm and yet awkward, and it punches the breath out of Harry's chest. "Kreacher didn't even look scandalised, finding us like this. We're going to have to work harder, I fear."

"Well, I did shag you across the dining room table last night," Harry points out. "And in your great-aunt's pearls at that. How shameful of us."

"Far more disgraceful than the frock," Draco says, and he laughs, soft but real.

Harry's prick twitches in his joggers. "You looked bloody gorgeous," he says, his voice louder than he expected in the quiet of their bedroom. "You know that."

Draco's cheeks pinken. "Thank you," he says, and he looks away, his hair falling over his face. He sips at the steaming mug of tea, the white porcelain monogrammed in gold with the Black family crest.

They're both silent for a long moment, then Harry reaches over, smoothes Draco's hair back again. "Do you want to talk?" he says.

Draco sighs. "Not really." He runs a thumb over the rim of his mug. "It's just a bloody dream."

"That doesn't mean it didn't upset you," Harry says. He watches Draco. Waits.

"I know." Draco's staring down into his milky tea, watching it swirl against the sides of the mug as he tilts it just a bit. He takes another sip, breathes out, presses the lip of the mug against his mouth, the steam curling around his long, sharp nose.

Harry doesn't say anything.

Draco sighs and lowers his mug. The coverlet's around his waist; his legs are crossed, his pyjama bottoms ruched up around his narrow hips. He turns the mug in his hands, then looks over at Harry. "In the dream, Father had become a Dementor. He was reproaching me for abandoning him." Harry can tell Draco's fighting back a shudder. He wonders what it'd be like to see your father that way, to think of him as a rotting wraith, one who could suck the slightest bit of joy from your soul.

"That makes sense," Harry says carefully. He pulls his knees up to his chest, glances over at Draco. "I mean, you'd seen him before in Azkaban, all those years ago, and you put the two visits together."

Draco nods, looking out over the mug into the corner of the room. "I suppose." Draco bites at his lip, worries it between his sharp, white teeth. "I don't know how I knew it was him, but I did. I could see him, beneath the hood, could see his face and the way his mouth moved when he said my name…" He trails off, draws in a shaky breath. "Merlin. It was…." Draco lifts his tea, takes a long sip before lowering the mug again. He exhales, not looking at Harry. "The worst of it was when Father looked at me and said, 'You did this to me, Draco. I would be free if it weren't for you.'" Draco's fingers tighten around the mug. A bit of tea splashes across his thumb. He lifts it to his mouth, licks it clean. "It wasn't pleasant," Draco says, his gaze on the window, and Harry thinks that's rather an understatement. The tree outside sways in a faint breeze, its branches scratching lightly against the glass panes, shadows stretching across the sheer curtains.

Harry takes a deep breath, lets it out. "I suppose it's a kind of logic, if a bit twisted." Fucked up, Harry wants to say, but he doesn't think that'll help Draco right now.

"I do feel guilty." Draco chews his lip again. "If I hadn't brought him in he wouldn't have been killed." He holds up his hand as Harry protests. "But I also know it's not my fault."

That's a relief at least, Harry thinks. "There's nothing you could have done." Harry brushes a hand over Draco's arm, then lets it fall. "It really isn't your fault what happened. Any of it."

Privately, Harry wants to kill Lestrange at least twice, once for ambushing the prison transport and taking so many lives including Lucius', and once for laying this burden on his boyfriend's shoulders. Instead, Harry'll focus on bringing Lestrange to justice, on locking that bastard back up into Azkaban with no chance of playing these stupid games again--which is a crueller punishment by far for someone of his sort.

For a few moments, they're both quiet, the house still and soothing around them. Then Draco says, "I also went to see Archibald Burke before I came home."

Harry's been expecting it. "You said earlier." And then had promptly refused to discuss it when Harry'd brought it back up again. He says carefully, "How was that?"

"Well, for one, there's a lot more money than I'd thought, given how Father had been selling off assets from the Manor." Draco pauses, lifts his mug of tea to his mouth again. He still isn't looking at Harry.

A keen sense of misgiving comes upon Harry, a thought that this might lead them further if he could only figure out what's going on. It's like a beam of light, and he thinks it's Draco's thought, but he's not sure. "Are you suspicious?"

Draco nods slowly. "Yeah." He's quiet for a moment, then he looks over at Harry. "What's even stranger is that it's in some sort of untouchable, possibly offshore account."

"I didn't think Gringotts did offshore accounting." Harry's fuzzy on the details, but he remembers something about stricter rules in wizarding finance per ICW regulations, although there can be other loopholes through banks in countries who aren't part of the wizarding confederation.

"They don't." Draco scowls into his tea. "Burke was a bit cloudy about the details, but, to be honest, I think he didn't know about the fund until recently. Very recently. He seemed as surprised as I was by the report in Father's accounts, didn't know how it'd got there." He lifts his mug again. "It wasn't a wizarding bank."

"So, wait." Harry's too tired to think properly, but his Auror brain is still trying to tick through the details. "Are you suggesting your father hid money in a Muggle account?"

The look Draco shoots him gives Harry pause. Draco looks fierce, but also fragile, and Harry's suddenly worried about the strain this is placing on him. "That's the thing. My father would never have money in a Muggle bank. It's so uncharacteristic of him. I thought Burke was joking at first when I saw the balance sheet, even though I don't think he's made a jest in at least fifty years."

"But Lucius did have money in a Muggle account?" Harry's not sure he's following, and he knows that it's upsetting Draco to talk about it. Still, he doesn't want to miss something important. "You're sure of it."

"Yes." Draco sets his mug down on the side table, then leans back against the pillows, folding his arms over his chest. "I am sure. I just have no fucking idea what it means."

"I'm sure you could find out, though. If you wanted to." Harry's worried though, that Draco can't handle finding out more about his father right now, that he shouldn't push himself yet. He knows Draco's as eager as he is for new details about the case, but he doesn't want Draco to be disillusioned in the process. This is his father they're talking about after all, Harry thinks. As much as Harry hated Lucius Malfoy at times, he did do something right in helping produce this lovely, contradictory, maddeningly beautiful man who's sharing Harry's bed.

Draco turns his gaze on Harry, as if he can hear what's going through Harry's mind. And Harry realises his defenses are down, his Occlumens a bit tattered by exhaustion and worry, so Draco might just be able to, although Harry bloody well hopes he's been less emphatic about the negative thoughts.

"Stop it," Draco says a bit crossly. "It's not my fault if your brain's all shouty."

"I'm sorry," Harry says, and he is. He knows it's not easy for Draco to be adjusting to his Legilimency. "You know I don't mind."

Draco frowns over at him. "Sometimes I do." He runs his hands over his face, lets them fall back to his lap. "He was my father, Harry. I know you hate him, but…" His voice catches, and he looks away.

"I hate that he was a sodding wanker," Harry says. "I hate how he makes you feel. Even from the grave. I don't hate that you love him. He's your dad. You knew him in a way the rest of us didn't."

They fall silent. Harry wants to reach out for Draco, wants to pull him closer. He doesn't. Besides, this isn't about him. He can almost hear Freddie's chiding in his mind, reminding him of that fact. He wants to do what Draco needs him to do, not what makes Harry feel better about himself.

"Are we doing the right thing?" Draco asks after a moment, his voice quiet.

Harry looks over at him. "What do you mean?"

Draco hesitates for a moment, then says, "I just feel like we're getting more and more people killed, and there's no justice. I'm worried about you. I'm worried about Blaise and Pansy and Althea. I'm worried about my mother. I'm worried about everyone these days."

"We're going to be okay," Harry begins.

Draco's eyes are fierce. "Don't offer me bloody platitudes, Potter. I can't take you lying to me too right now." He stops, his voice cracking, and it reminds Harry of the years of space between them, this unexpected, now unfamiliar signal of his last name.

"I'm not trying to lie to you," Harry says, his hands up in a placating gesture. "I'm just trying to tell you that I think it will be. Okay, I mean." He sounds foolish to his ears, but he has to believe it. It's something he's willing to fight for, whatever the costs.

"What if I don't?" Draco's voice wavers. "I'm sure those poor sods who ended up as Dementors thought they'd be fine one day too, walking down the street, brilliant as you can be, and then bam, you're a nether being of the space between life and death."

Harry shrugs. Draco does have a point, even if Harry thinks it's a bit more complicated than all that. "I guess so. I mean, I guess they didn't expect to be hit with Death magic that'd tie them to Azkaban for eternity."

"They were so lonely," Draco says. "So confused about why they were where they are. It was terrible, and yet, I also know what it's like."

"You do?" Harry pauses, wondering if he should change the subject.

Draco waves a hand. "Don't worry, Harry. I'm not going to disintegrate just because I had a bad dream. I'm an Auror, for Merlin's sake." He pauses, a look of surprise on his features for a moment. "I mean, I was an Auror. And I'm an Unspeakable now."

"I still don't like Croaker sending you there," Harry says under his breath. "It's not right. Beady eyed old git."

"Dangerous old git, more like it." Draco shifts. "And it's not like he has a bloody choice. Luxembourg's trying to take the situation over. Someone has to look after them. Barachiel Dee's been feeding them off of his own emotions."

"What?" Harry's stunned for a moment. "They feed off of emotions?" He remembers the horror, the fear, the coldness of being around the Dementors. He wishes he had something positive he could say about them, but he doesn't. They still frighten him some nights, when he's caught in nightmares of his own.

Draco nods, his face grim. "And they were starving. They need to be around humans to survive."

Harry's brought up short by this. It's oddly logical, and yet, strangely distasteful. "That's kind of brilliant, in a very sick sort of way."

"They're not really hurting anyone," Draco says. "I mean, not exactly. Not in their current state. And they are usually following orders if they Kiss someone." He hesitates. "Except the mad ones, Dee says, and they've often gone round the twist whilst they were still human." He shakes his head. "Circe, I never thought I'd know this much about Dementors back when they were at Hogwarts."

A chill runs through Harry, leaving him cold. It's like the terror strikes deep into the heart of everything safe, everything protected. He remembers this feeling from the war. "I can't exactly imagine Amnesty International taking up their cause." The puzzled look Draco turns on him reminds Harry that Draco can't possibly know what that is. "Never mind. It's a Muggle thing."

"I felt sorry for them," Draco says slowly. "And I suppose I feel sorry for my father as well."

He looks so miserable that Harry doesn't balk this time. He takes Draco into his arms, folding Draco against him, Draco's hair settling against Harry's nose. Harry knows he can't offer Draco empty assurances, but he would protect him bodily. It's all he has. He tries to transmit that with the way he holds Draco, with his thoughts, letting Draco see whatever he can in Harry's mind, feel how much Harry needs him, loves him, wants him. Harry hopes it's enough.

"I don't know what I'd do if I lost you." Draco says in a small voice, his head leant against Harry's shoulder. "It's an enormous fear of mine. I have dreams about that too, and they're awful. Worse than this, really." He picks at the coverlet, not looking up at Harry before he adds, "I think I'd rather die than hear that something'd happened to you."

"Jesus, Draco. Nothing can happen to either of us." Harry tightens his hold on Draco, pulling him closer until Draco's all but sprawled across his lap. "I won't allow it." Harry feels powerless, but incredibly determined. He won't let anyone take him from Draco. In any way. They've fought too hard for each other. Harry can't imagine Draco not being here with him like this. He wants Draco to stay, wants Draco to be part of Grimmauld, the way he's meant to be.

Harry almost tells him this, but the words stick in his throat, refusing to take shape.

Draco squirms, turning in Harry's grasp until they're facing each other, their noses almost touching on the pillow. "Nothing can happen to you, Harry. I mean it." His breath is soft and warm against Harry's lips. "Promise me that."

Harry kisses him softly as a reply, and for a few moments, that's all he needs to say.

"You know I worry about you too," Harry says when Draco draws back, looking at Harry, his mouth swollen and wet. "You're not allowed to get hurt on this mad thing Croaker has you doing."

"Oh, don't worry," Draco's look is a bit sly--more so than Harry likes. "I'm sure Durant will protect me."

Harry's nostrils flare, but he catches the smile on Draco's face before his temper gets the better of him. "Arsehole."

Draco laughs in response, and Harry's glad Draco's back to his regular self. An earnest Draco Malfoy is a worrying sight indeed.

"Barachiel Dee trusts him, though." Draco frowns as Harry shifts, his arm resting on Draco's waist. "It's like they can both see the Dementors, not just feel them. Can tell what they are--who they are." His brow furrows. "I want to know what they see."

Harry's hand curls around Draco's hip, his fingers dipping just beneath the elastic of Draco's pyjama pants. "Does it matter that much?"

Draco's quiet for a moment, and then he nods. "I think so," he says slowly. "Burke doesn't seem to care--Muriel, not Archibald--but it's like there's something, just out of sight, playing about in my peripheral vision. I want to know what it is, and I don't trust Dee and Durant to tell me."

"What are you going to do?" Harry asks.

"I don't know yet," Draco says, and he sighs, burrowing closer against Harry's body. "I'll figure it out. Eventually."

They lie together quietly, their breaths evening out. Harry tries to stop worrying, tries to still the thoughts roiling around his mind, twisting into a tangle of confused threads pulling Lucius Malfoy and the Dementors and Azkaban together. He closes his eyes, sighs.

"You can turn off the light," Draco says after a moment, his voice a bit sleepy. "I promise not to have another nightmare."

Harry leans over, switches off the lamp. Darkness wraps around them, moonlight shining through the window. He dozes for a bit, Draco's head warm against his shoulder, Draco's soft breaths slipping into quiet snores.

Bloody hell, Harry thinks, before sleep pulls him under, he'd do anything for this brilliant bastard.

Anything at all.

Chapter Text

At half-ten on Friday morning, Harry pops down to the tea shop in the Ministry atrium for a cup of what passes for coffee amongst British wizardingdom. It's far too weak and far too thin, and with one sip of it, Harry grimaces and adds another glug of milk into it from the pitcher on the side bar. He'd rather have coffee-flavoured milk than this watery slop.

Still, it's warm, and there's at least a modicum of caffeine in it, which is all that Harry bloody well cares about at the moment. He'd been up late last night, unable to sleep after fucking Draco into the mattress, their sweaty bodies tangled together, Draco's head on Harry's shoulder. Harry'd watched him for what felt like hours, Draco's soft, snorting snuffles warm against Harry's skin, his pale hair tumbling over his cheek, spreading across Harry's bare shoulder, tickling Harry's nose.

The past two days have been exhausting, really. Harry's barely seen Draco; his boyfriend's been up at Azkaban for hours on end with Burke and Dee and Jake, and when Draco comes home, he looks weary and wan, the colour gone from his cheeks, his eyes drooping with exhaustion. To be honest, Harry's surprised Draco'd been up for a shag last night; it'd been a bit of a shock when Draco had crawled into bed beside Harry and pushed him into the pillows, plucking off Harry's glasses and tossing them aside, along with the file Harry'd been skimming through.

"Stop sifting through my father's accounts," Draco had said bluntly, his mouth twisted in an uneasy grimace as the file'd slapped onto the floor, its contents spilling out across the threadbare rug with its worn spots and faded blue swirls around muted mauve roses. He'd straddled Harry's hips, his hands sliding beneath the hem of Harry's t-shirt. "I'd rather you fuck me raw, Harry."

Harry had, with Draco's long legs wrapped around him, Draco's fingernails digging so deeply into Harry's shoulders that he'd left scratches Harry hadn't bothered to heal this morning. Harry likes the feel of his raw, scraped skin against the cotton of his shirt, reminding him how Draco had looked spread out beneath him, his throat flushed and arched, his teeth biting into his lip as he'd shuddered and groaned with each quick thrust of Harry's prick into him.

Afterwards, Harry'd lain awake as Draco'd drifted off to sleep, and he'd watched the rustle of the tree branches move outside the window in a faint breeze, sending shadows dancing across the bedroom ceiling. Harry doesn't know why he hadn't slept. Perhaps it's the stress of the Lestrange manhunt, and how bloody little they've managed to track down in the past three sodding weeks. Harry knows he should be further along in the case, knows that each day that slides by leaves the trail colder, harder to follow. But nothing Seven-Four-Alpha's done of late has been any fucking help, he thinks grimly, and if he's honest, he suspects they don't really have their heart in any of this, not the way they had when Draco had been in their midst. Even Whitaker's off her game, and that worries Harry more than he'd like to admit.

He turns on his heel, his paper cup filled with milky coffee clutched in one hand, and he promptly collides with a tiny witch, her grey hair in loose waves around her shoulders.

"Fucking bloody hell," Griselda Marchbanks says, looking down at the open front of her black Wizengamot robe, now spattered with a good half of Harry's coffee.

"Sorry," Harry manages, and he tries to rub at her robe with the handful of serviettes wadded in his fist. She bats them away, frowning up at him. Harry knows the moment she realises who's stumbled into her; he's familiar with the widened eyes, the way the look of annoyance shifts, slides into an ingratiating smile.

"Inspector Potter." Marchbanks' sharp gaze sweeps over Harry, and he thinks she's taking in the wrinkles in his shirt, the way the sleeves are pushed up his forearms, the looseness of his tie. Her mouth tightens ever so slightly around the corners, and then she forces herself to relax. "So lovely to see you out and about. I'd have thought you to be holed up with that team of yours, tracking down Rodolphus Lestrange."

And this is why Harry hates the bloody Members of the Wizengamot. They always think they know how to do his fucking job. He manages to give Marchbanks a cool, tight smile. "We're working on every lead we have."

"Of course." It's clear from her tone that Marchbanks is sceptical. She hesitates, then says, "I'm certain you'll have it all sorted in no time." The look she gives him is appraising. "Gawain assures us your team is top-notch." Her gaze doesn't leave his face. "Particularly now certain personnel changes have been made."

Harry's smile thins. He's bloody certain Gawain'd said no such thing. Not to a fucking cow like Griselda Marchbanks. "I stand by the work of all the members of Seven-Four-Alpha. Past and present."

Marchbanks just looks amused. "Well, to be honest, I understand the Wizengamot is no longer aware there were any past members," she says. "Officially, at least." She reaches across him and takes a serviette or two from the side bar, dabbing at the spilled coffee across her flat chest, wiping away the small milky droplets. Her gaze flicks back up to Harry's face. "That being said, one does prefer not having former Death Eaters in the ranks of British law enforcement, particularly given recent events."

It's all Harry can do to keep his temper. "Sergeant Malfoy was a valued member--"

"Yes," Marchbanks says, her voice sharp. "I'm quite aware of Draco Malfoy's usefulness to the Ministry. How very convenient that you're now hunting his uncle--"

"Who bloody well killed his father, so I really don't think there's a point to your implication." Harry looks at her, and he can feel the swell of anger rising up. He tries to tamp it down, tries to keep his temper. Griselda Marchbanks isn't worth it. Not today. "If you'll excuse me, I've work--"

"I do hope," Marchbanks says as Harry steps past her, "that I can speak with you soon regarding the legislation Ernest and I have been putting together."

Harry turns, looking back at her. "The Death Eater Registry," he says flatly, and she raises an eyebrow.

"Your support would be most appreciated," Marchbanks says, and Harry can't really believe she's asking this of him, here. There's one of the Wizengamot clerks at the till, small and mousy, and she's watching them both from the corner of her eye, as are the man and woman behind her, both from the Pest Advisory Board, judging from their coveralls. Harry lets his gaze swing back to Marchbanks, who's regarding him with an air of faint amusement tinged with more than a smidge of suspicion. "If it helps," she says, "we've already gained the endorsement of your dear friend Percy Weasley."

And that feels like a punch to the gut, doesn't it? It must show on Harry's face because Marchbanks' smile widens just a bit.

"George Weasley as well." Marchbanks lowers her voice. "He's donating quite a bit to our cause. Helping us get the word out to the public about our goals. As you could, if you'd like." Her eyes gleam in the bright lights of the tea shop. "It'd be quite the coup to have the Saviour of the Wizarding World on our side." She tilts her head slightly, studying him. "As one should hope you would be, all things considered."

Harry can't breathe, can't move, can't think. It's been too long since he's been to the Burrow, he realises. Since Midsummer, really, and none of the Weasleys except Ron and Hermione know about him and Draco, do they? But if they did, would they care? Would it change Percy's mind--or George's--to know that Harry's fallen arse over tit for Draco Malfoy of all people?

And Ron hasn't said anything to him. Neither has Hermione. Harry wonders if they know, if they've always known, if, perhaps, they even agree with Percy and George. But they can't. They wouldn't. Ron'd told him the legislation was bollocks, that it oughtn't pass, that they'd fight it however they could. Harry knows Ron wouldn't lie to him. Not about this.

But that doesn't mean Ron would oppose his own family on it. A niggle of doubt worms its way into Harry's mind, makes him question everything his best mate's told him in recent weeks. It's mad of him, he knows, but he can't help himself. He remembers Ron telling him the Diagon Shopkeepers' Association was getting uneasy about Lestrange being on the run. Harry wonders if they've turned Ron, made him think twice about the Registry. They've obviously done so with George. Harry's certain Percy's twattish enough to have supported the legislation from the beginning.

Harry looks over at Marchbanks, manages to choke out, "The Weasleys wouldn't…" before trailing off. He's not certain of that any longer.

"They want revenge," Marchbanks says softly. "Can you blame them, Inspector Potter? They lost a brother, thanks to those evil bastards--"

"And I lost a godfather," Harry says, and he can't keep his voice from rising. "And my parents. My godson was left an orphan. Don't tell me what people lost in the war, Griselda. I fucking well know."

Marchbanks looks triumphant. "All the more reason for you to support our legislation. We could make them pay for what they did, make certain it never happens again--"

"By forcing them to register." Harry's fingers tighten around his coffee cup. "By tracking their families, for fuck's sake." His stomach twists; Harry can taste the sour bite of bile in the back of his throat. He knows the whole tea shop's listening to them now, even if they're doing their best British and pretending not to. Harry doesn't care. He wants them to hear him. "Fuck that bollocks. I'm not for revenge, ta ever so." He gives Marchbanks an even look. "In my experience, it never goes the way you want it to. You just end up fucked over, all in all, and looking like a bloody tit in the process. So thanks for the offer, but no." He lets his voice ring out through the shop. "I'm not interested in supporting your legislation. Ever."

"Ah." Marchbanks' eyes narrow; the corners of her mouth draw down. She looks old and bitter, Harry thinks, like a storybook witch ready to shove his worthless carcass off the nearest cliff. "Well." Her gaze flicks towards the Wizengamot clerk. "How very disappointing, Inspector Potter. Perhaps you're not the wizard I'd hoped you to be." She glances over at the woman behind the counter. "My tea?"

The woman flushes, then reaches for a paper cup. "With you in just a tick, ma'am."

It takes a moment for Harry to realise the smell of smoke's coming from his hand. He drops his coffee just as the flames hit his skin, hot and sharp and painful, and the whole tea shop's looking at him, horrified, as the entire cup burns at his feet, small licks of fire twisting around the remnants of the thick paper, consuming the milky liquid that seeps across the wooden floor. Harry stares down at it in surprise, his hand throbbing, and then Marchbanks lifts her robe, stamping down on the fire with her small, polished boot until it's quenched, only the faintest curl of smoke swirling up from the singed bits of waxed paper.

The entire tea shop's silent, then Marchbanks says, her gaze fixed on Harry, "Perhaps you ought to have that hand looked at, Inspector Potter."

Harry opens his palm, glances down at it. Blisters are forming on his fingers, across the creases of his thumb, over the folds of his lifeline, heartline. They hurt, more than he realises at first, and the skin's a bit charred. He knows he's fucked up here, knows deep down inside that Marchbanks is going to use this against him. Somehow. He doesn't know where or when, but the way she's watching him with those sharp, angry eyes lets him know he'd be a fool to trust her not to.

And so Harry does the only thing he can do. He turns on his heel and strides out of the tea shop, all too aware of Marchbanks' gaze, of the murmurs and whispers of the others still waiting for their tea or coffee. He's bollocksed up, and he knows it, and he doesn't go for the lifts back up to the DMLE.

Instead he takes the steps down to the Department of Mysteries. Harry tells himself he wants to see Draco, but he knows that's not the case. Besides, Draco's not in the Ministry today. He's back in the middle of the sodding North Sea, surrounded by bloody Dementors that'll suck every last bit of joy from him before he comes home to Harry tonight, and Harry doesn't know how much longer he can take that, how many more nights he has to spend with Draco looking so drawn, barely speaking to Harry, just lying curled up on the bed next to Harry, silent and grim.

It's too goddamned much, Harry thinks.

When the Unspeakable guard comes out of the doorway, face blank, body tight and taut, Harry looks at him and says, "I need to speak with Hermione Granger." His voice cracks ever so slightly, and he adds, "Please."

Harry sees a flicker of something cross the Unspeakable's face, sees his gaze slip down to Harry's blistered, burnt hand, and then the Unspeakable's gone again, the heavy black door closing behind him with a soft, muffled thud. Harry slumps against the wall, the coolness of the marble tile seeping through the back of his shirt. For a moment, he feels as if he's fifteen again, finding his way through the darkened corridors of the Department of Mysteries, a ragtag band of teenagers behind him, none of them smart enough to realise what they'd stumbled into, not even Hermione. Christ, but they'd been so stupid back then. So naive. So certain that they could stop a madman, and no one had tried to tell them they couldn't.

Except Snape, Harry supposes, and look how that had gone. Harry'd thought him a traitor, nearly to the very end. He turns his palm over, winces as pain flares through his hand when he tries to close his fingers. He's never lost his temper like this before. Not so publicly. Not so quickly. Harry hadn't even noticed that the cup was burning, not until the moment he'd dropped it. He rubs a thumb across one of the blisters. It stings; the fluid beneath his skin bubbles and slides from one side of the blister to the other.

The door swings open again. Hermione's there, her teal shirt bright against the dark wood and black tile. "Harry?" she asks, and her brow furrows when she sees him. "What've you done?"

Harry holds up his hand. "Griselda Marchbanks," he says, and he feels oddly blank inside. "I think she made me angry."

"Oh, Harold." Hermione's voice is soft, and then she's pulling him into the corridor, leading him through a twisting, turning maze of halls that Harry knows he'll never remember again. She stops in front of a plain, black door, and Harry's no idea how she knows it from the ones on either side. Hermione pushes it open. "Go on with you," she says, and Harry steps through.

The office is small but tidy, and it's much nicer than any of Harry's ever have been, with a thick grey carpet and a compact but heavy dark wooden desk filling most of the space. Hermione waves Harry into a chair, and then she takes his hand, turning it one way then another.

"Did she notice?" Hermione asks, and Harry gives her a faint, wry smile.

"The whole tea shop upstairs did," he admits, and Hermione sighs. She turns away, towards a cabinet in the corner of the office. She rummages in it for a moment, then pulls out a small blue tin and hands it to Harry.

"Just a bit," Hermione says. "Too much and it'll wear off your fingerprints." At Harry's raised eyebrow, she adds, "It's experimental. We're trying to keep it out of criminal hands, so to speak."

Harry twists off the top and takes a small scoop of the thick, sticky salve. It smells like ginger and hops and something a bit sharp and acrid. "Foul," Harry says.

"Dragon's blood." Hermione sits on the edge of her desk. "If you're this narked off at Marchbanks, it has to be over the Registry."

For a moment, Harry doesn't answer. He rubs the salve into his burnt hand, pressing it into the blistered bubbles. He sighs as the pain starts to fade, if only a bit, and then looks up at Hermione. "She says Percy and George are supporting her."

Hermione's silent. She looks away, and she folds her arms across her chest. It's all Harry needs to know. He caps the tin and hands it back to her.

"Why?" Harry asks. Something sharp and unpleasant roils deep inside of him, the burn starting to rise again. He pushes it back down. "You knew." She should have told him, Harry thinks. Hermione owes him that, at least.

"I did." Hermione runs a hand over her hair. She's wearing it twisted back today, her curls smoothed against her head, knotted high up. She's not looking at Harry. "Ron's been arguing with them, you know. For weeks now. Telling George he's wrong. They had a terrible row at the shop the other night about it all. Angelina says George didn't come home until nearly half-eleven." She sighs, worries her bright red lip between her teeth. Her lipstick smudges against the edges; she drags her tongue across her teeth and the crimson stain disappears. "Percy's a lost cause."

Harry watches as the blisters start to disappear, one by one, the pockets of fluid sinking back into his hand. "How…" He doesn't really know what he's asking. Harry's tired, worn out. He looks up at Hermione, and her face softens.

"George doesn't mean to be a shit," Hermione says after a moment. "It's just Fred…" She sighs again. "Well. You know."

And Harry does. George hasn't ever really come to terms with Fred's death, and Harry doesn't think he ever will. Losing his twin had changed George, made him quieter, quicker to lose his temper. They'd all thought he might get better when he'd started dating Angelina. Well, all of them except Hermione, who'd been a bit worried about what it meant that George was shagging about with his brother's ex-girlfriend. It's not healthy, she'd said, and Harry wonders if they should have all listened to her. But George really had seemed more stable with Angelina, and he'd actually started laughing again, his shoulders straightening, his eyes getting brighter. And with the baby arriving any day now...

"It's the baby, isn't it?" Harry says, realisation hitting him. "It's bringing it all back for him. The war, I mean."

"Something like that." Hermione's voice is soft, gentle. "Ron says he's having nightmares again." She glances over at Harry; her fingers pleat the soft fabric of her shirt. "It started after the Morsmordre pictures were in the Prophet. George was fine before then; he even thought the Registry was a ridiculous idea. But then…" She trails off.

Harry twists the top back onto the tin. "Lestrange escaped."

"It's frightened him," Hermione says. "He's worried Lestrange will come after Angelina and the baby--"

"That's bollocks," Harry snaps. "Lestrange has no reason to. Fuck, he's more likely to come after Draco the way things are bloody going. Not George's family."

Hermione just looks at him. "You know that, and I know that," she says. "But sometimes we're not always rational about the things that frighten us."

"I know." Harry closes his fist. The blisters are nearly gone; it barely hurts to curl his fingers in. Draco will shout at him if he finds out what Harry did in front of Marchbanks; Harry thinks he'll probably deserve it. He's been trying so hard to work on his temper, trying so hard to hide what happens when it flares. He ought to bring it up with Freddie again--he's another appointment scheduled for next week--but Harry's not certain he wants to admit the intensity of that white-hot rage. It unsettles him, this violent twist of magic and fury, and now that it's fading, Harry just wants to pretend that it hadn't happened.

Harry has a suspicion Griselda Marchbanks won't let him, though, not the way she was watching him at the time, and that was fucking stupid of him, wasn't it?

When he looks up, Hermione's studying him, lines of worry creasing her forehead. "Are you all right?"

"Just tired," Harry says, and it's a half-truth at least. "It's been difficult this week. Work and home." He shrugs, not really wanting to talk about either.

Hermione's silent for a moment, then she says, "The Dementors."

"A bit." Harry hands the tin of salve back to her. "But Draco won't talk about any of it when he comes home at night." He looks up at Hermione. "Do you know what they're doing up at Azkaban with Dee?"

"No." Hermione shakes her head. "Jake's only filing reports with MACUSA this time, not us, and Muriel Burke's writeups are vague at best." She hesitates, then adds, "I suspect she doesn't want Saul to be too well-informed about the matter. There's…" She frowns, exhales. "History, I suppose you might say, between them."

"Really?" Harry raises an eyebrow, but he knows from the look Hermione gives him she's not going to be any more forthcoming. He falls silent, rubbing his thumb across his healing palm. It doesn't hurt any more, only tingles as the singed skin fades, replaced by new, healthy cells. He sighs and slumps back in his chair, looking around Hermione's office. He's been in here before, but rarely. Hermione prefers to meet him out of work or upstairs in the DMLE. There's little here that even seems like Hermione. A small, narrow glass-fronted bookcase sits beside the door, more books piled on top of it, an eclectic mix of legal codes and research tomes on magical theory along with the occasional Muggle book on, oddly enough, neuroscience. Her desk is bare, save for a paper calendar blotter with a Ryman logo on the bottom and a small framed photograph of Ron waving at them both from a Tuscany hillside.

Harry glances back over at Hermione, thinking back to what Whitaker'd told him the other day about Dolohov. He hasn't brought it up yet, hasn't wanted to know what Hermione knows about it. It's moments like this when he realises she's an Unspeakable, that she keeps secrets from them all, and Harry wonders how long it'll be before Draco does the same, how long before Harry gets that quick and furtive glance from his boyfriend when Harry asks something about a case, then an easy, friendly, but firm change of subject. Perhaps it's already happened, and Harry hadn't noticed because he'd been so worried about Lestrange this week. He scratches a thumbnail across one bent knuckle. He wants to ask Ron how he does it, how he learnt to trust Hermione again, to let her have those secrets from him. The thought of Draco's gaze sliding away from Harry's, of Draco giving him a half-answer to his questions about work tightens Harry's shoulders, makes Harry's stomach hurt. He doesn't want this job to come between them; he suspects it already has.

"Are you torturing Antonin Dolohov?" Harry asks bluntly, and he knows the anger behind his words is partially from his unease at Draco being a part of this all, being caught beneath Saul Croaker's thumb.

Hermione blinks. "What?"

In for Knut, in for a Galleon, Harry thinks, and he sits forward, his elbows tucked tight against his chest, as if he can protect himself from her answer. "Are you feeding him?"

"Of course we are." Hermione looks genuinely confused. "There was that unfortunate incident with the door and Pan--" She stops before she finishes the name, and her eyes narrow. She folds her arms, mimicking Harry's own posture. "But that's been taken care of." She watches Harry, and her brow furrows. "What exactly are you implying?"

"Whitaker thinks Dolohov's not being fed," Harry says, and he doesn't take his gaze from Hermione's face. He doesn't always know when she's lying, but he thinks he might this time.

She stills, looking at him. "That would break the Lausanne Conventions regarding prisoner treatment. We'd have the ICW on us--"

"In a gnome's heartbeat, yeah." Harry studies her. He thinks she's surprised by the accusation. "So you're saying you're not starving him."

Hermione's face closes off; the look she gives him is venomous. "I can't believe you'd even suspect I'd go along with something like that, Harry James Potter." She pushes herself off the edge of her desk and strides around the side, her chunky heels thudding softly against the thick carpet. Her shoulders are hunched, her mouth a thin line. "Antonin Dolohov is being treated like any other detainee--"

"You lot bang about all your prisoners then?" Harry asks, his voice soft, and Hermione flinches, looks away. "Bruise their faces up that badly on the reg?"

She sits across from him, the tidy, smooth surface of the desk only highlighting the wide gulf between them. "I hardly think you can be throwing stones, Harry, given what's happened in the Auror holding cells as of late." Hermione doesn't look at him; she flattens her palms against her desk blotter. There's a tea stain in the bottom corner, a neat khaki circle surrounded by droplet spatters. "And as I said, our issue's been taken care of." Her voice is cool and just sharp enough to make Harry know that pressing the issue would be a very stupid decision.

Then again, Harry's not really known for making the best life choices, is he?

"Whitaker's not wrong though, is she? About your lot starving him?" Harry watches Hermione closely; the corners of her mouth go down. "Hermione, are you--"

"No," Hermione says again, a tremor of anger underlying the word, and this time she looks over at Harry. Her gaze is troubled, uncertain. "If that's happening, it's not under my command."

"But Croaker." Harry stops. He leans forward in his chair. "He might."

Hermione hesitates, then she nods. "He might," she agrees. "He won't have stopped feeding him entirely, but there are procedures that are occasionally put into place…" She trails off, not looking at Harry. "It's almost never done," she says after a moment, and she rubs at a non-existent smudge on her desk. The furrow's back between her brows. "I've never seen it be instituted, but when it is, there are supposedly papers that the Minister has to sign off on. I've read the Wizengamot act about it." She glances up, and Harry can tell she's getting agitated. "With certain prisoners, the Department of Mysteries would have the legal right to apply…" She bites her lip, then says, "Pressure. But only in times of national crisis and only with the Minister's approval. There's an entire protocol in place, Harry. There's no way Saul would start something like that without me knowing."

To be honest, Harry's not so bloody certain of that. He just looks at her, and Hermione glances away, reaching up to tug at the small golden hoop in her earlobe.

"He wouldn't," Hermione says again, but there's a hint of doubt in her voice. She drops her hand, leans forward across her desk. "Would he?" The question's almost a whisper.

"I don't know," Harry says, and Hermione glances at him, her lips pressing together. "But are you angrier that he might not tell you or that he might be doing it?" He doesn't look away.

Hermione's silent at first, then she takes a deep breath, exhales. "It bothers me more that you don't know the answer to that question," she says, her voice quiet. She meets Harry's steady gaze. "But then again, perhaps I haven't been the most forthcoming friend in recent months."

"Being an Unspeakable changes you in a way," Harry says. He understands. It's the same for Aurors. You're exposed to a certain type of criminal element for a while, and you get jaded. Start to put people into boxes. Criminal. Upstanding citizen. Death Eater. You forget, perhaps, that human beings are a bit more complicated than those boxes. That sometimes criminals can do the right thing, that sometimes upstanding citizens can be viciously cruel, that sometimes Death Eaters can hate their Marked skin. Draco's reminded Harry how complex the world can be; Harry will always be grateful to him for that lesson.

Hermione gives Harry a faint smile. "It does," she says, and she twists her fingers together, looking down at them. Her nails are a bright red, each one filed into a smooth, shiny oval. Harry wants to reach across the desk, to lay his hand over hers. He doesn't. Not yet at least.

"I'll look into Dolohov," Hermione says after a moment. "He's a bastard, but he shouldn't be treated like that. If Saul's condoned it, I'll make him back down." She looks up at Harry. "Does that answer your question?"

Relief rushes through Harry. He hadn't thought Hermione of all people would countenance prisoner mistreatment, not like that at least, although the fact that she's not fazed by the protocols being available bothers him a bit. But, then again, she's an Unspeakable. It's different down here, he thinks, where they're hidden away from everyone else.

"Thanks," Harry says, and he pushes himself out of his chair. "I'm glad."

"I can't promise anything." Hermione stands as well. "Saul sometimes does whatever he wants to do, the consequences be damned."

Harry's aware of that. "I can have Whitaker file a report with the ICW if it'll help."

"Not yet." Hermione rubs the back of her neck. She looks tired. "Let me handle it first." Harry's nearly at the door when Hermione says, "This job will change him, you know." When Harry looks back, she adds, "Malfoy."

"I know." Harry stops, his hand on the doorknob. "I've already dated an Unspeakable."

Hermione shakes her head. "It wasn't the same. You never really lived with Jake. He might have shared your bed, but he never really shared your life, did he?"

"I'm not living with Draco either yet," Harry says, and Hermione gives him a half-smile. Harry doesn't think about Grimmauld Place and the way it lights up when Draco's there, the way the wood gleams and the lights are warmer and the whole damned house practically purrs the moment Draco steps through the Floo. Harry understands; he feels just as empty and cold when Draco's not around. Still, there are things Harry doesn't want to admit, doesn't want to say out loud. Not even to Hermione, despite the gentle look she's giving him. Harry turns away.

"Tell yourself whatever you need to, love," Hermione says softly. "But I'm not blind."

Harry wants to protest, wants to tell her she's wrong, that she's no idea what's between him and Draco. Except he thinks perhaps Hermione does, in ways that make Harry uncomfortable and uncertain. He hesitates, then says, "Be careful with him. He's fragile right now. More than he'll admit."

"It's to be expected." Hermione folds her arms across her chest. She looks a bit pensive. "Muriel's keeping an eye on him."

Frankly, Harry's not certain that's enough. Not the way Draco's been the past few days. He doesn't think protesting will help, though. Draco's training is Unspeakable business, and there's only so far Hermione will let Harry interfere. He doesn't blame her. He'd be the same if the shoe was on the other foot.

So he nods, and says "Thanks" again as Hermione comes around the side of her desk. She puts a hand on his arm.

"Don't worry so much," Hermione says. "I won't let anything happen to him. I promise."

Harry doesn't really know if that's a promise she can keep. Still, he's grateful to Hermione for the sentiment at least. He sighs. "All right." It's not the most gracious response, he thinks, but it's all he can manage at the moment. "Walk me back out?"

"You know I have to." Hermione smiles up at him. Harry wonders what would happen if an Unspeakable found him wandering the hallways on his own, how angrily he'd be escorted out, his status as the Saviour of the Wizarding World notwithstanding. Saul Croaker's still narked at him for the whole debacle at the end of fifth year, and the destruction of all those bloody prophecy spheres. To be honest, Harry's half-surprised the man agreed to hire Hermione, given her part in that cock-up.

And then Harry feels a stab of guilt. Lucius Malfoy had been arrested in the Department of Mysteries, sent to Azkaban for a year. Would Draco's life have been different if Harry hadn't come here that night? Would Sirius still be alive?

Sometimes Harry remembers how young and foolish they'd all been, all the mistakes they'd made, so certain that no one else could stop the war, that the adults weren't listening. He doesn't know how Dumbledore could have let them do the things they'd done; Harry would try everything he could to keep kids away from any of this. He wouldn't fucking throw them into the middle of it all with no help, no information, nothing to keep them safe.

Maybe that's something to talk with Freddie about as well, Harry thinks, and he folds his arms across his chest, hunches his shoulders. He's still so bloody angry about it all.

The corridors are still empty as they walk back to the lobby. Harry wonders how he almost never sees anyone in them when he's down here, wonders if there's some sort of warning for strangers in the hallways, keeping the Unspeakables safely tucked away behind these rows of identical doors. He'd hate being one of them, he thinks, and he doesn't know how Draco stands it. The Unspeakables are a cold lot in Harry's opinion. There's no pickup Quidditch league like there is amongst the Aurors, no gatherings around the tea cart. Do they even have tea service down here? Harry considers asking Hermione, but she'll think it frivolous, he's sure. So he walks silently beside her, losing track of the twists and turns of the corridor until they're back at the tall, carved ebony door that leads to the stark, deserted lobby.

Hermione stops, looks over at Harry. "Stay away from Griselda Marchbanks," she says, her voice low. "You don't want to get tangled up in that bollocks, Harry. Everyone thinks her a dotty old fool, but she's a viper." She glances down at his hand. "She'll use that against you, if she can."

That's what worries Harry, but he's not going to let Hermione know. "I'll be fine." He gives her a small smile. "I'm Harry Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World, yeah?"

Hermione doesn't laugh; the furrow in her forehead just deepens. "And that's precisely the problem."

A shiver goes through Harry. "Do you know something I don't?"

For a moment, he thinks Hermione's going to tell him, but then her gaze shifts, and she shakes her head. She's lying, he knows, but it won't do any good to press her. Not at the moment at least. Not here. "Just be careful, Harry. You and Malfoy both. Keep your heads low." She stops, then adds quickly, "Don't come in at the same time from the same Floo. You'll be noticed. Understand?"

Harry does. "We're trying--"

"Try harder." Hermione's face is sober. Worried. "Trust me on this." She pushes the door to the lobby open. "Please."

"But--"

There's a noise down the corridor, the echo of laughter, and Hermione pushes Harry through the doorway. "Just go."

And then Harry's on the other side of the door, and it's closing behind him, shutting Hermione away in the bowels of the Ministry. Harry stands in the cool, darkened lobby for a long moment, his thoughts swirling. He doesn't know what to do, what to think.

Harry's never thought himself entirely good or bad at the politics of his job, but he's never really had to be one or the other. Not until now. Not until Draco. And the only thing he can think of actually doing is heading back upstairs and throwing himself back into the search for Rodolphus Lestrange. Nothing else seems bloody productive enough, if he's honest. He supposes he could fling himself into Kingsley's office, demand to know what the hell is going on with Marchbanks, and Dolohov, and fuck, whatever it is that Hermione's intimating about his and Draco's relationship. But that won't help, he suspects. What will, however, is finding that sodding uncle of Draco's. And that's proving bloody harder than Harry likes.

With a heavy sigh, Harry turns, heading for the steps up to the Atrium and its bank of lifts.

He'll find Lestrange. Whatever it takes. He'll find the goddamned bastard.

Harry bloody well has to.

***

Jake makes his way through the last lingering throngs of the lunchtime rush in the Ministry commissary, all hail fellow well met, nodding and smiling and clapping the backs of the handful of Ministry workers he knows--almost all of them associated with the DMLE in some form. He's tired and drained and fucking starving, and he just wants to grab food and sit for a moment before he has to squirrel himself away in one of the secure-connection diplomatic Floo rooms on the Minister's floor to firecall Tom bloody Graves and tell him...what, exactly? That he's spent the past few days feeding the Dementors off his own energy force? Tom'll be thrilled about that, Jake thinks, and he steels himself for another round of arguing with the Director of Magical Security.

He fills his tray with plates of rice and curry chicken, potatoes and roast, thick browned sausages. A limp salad makes it on as well, the bits of arugula--rocket, they call it here--mangled, the tomatoes a bit squished and soggy. Still, it's vegetables, a splash of green and red against the muted pallor of his other food, and Jake's grateful for it. It's better than what he's been eating in the Azkaban staff rooms lately, and really, commissary food's commissary food wherever the hell in the world one finds oneself.

Tonight he'll treat himself to a proper dinner, Jake thinks. A good thick and bloody steak at the hotel restaurant, along with a bourbon, both horribly overpriced, but it'll go on his expense account. He stops at the beverage station to fill a thick pottery mug with hot tea from a steaming teapot. That's one thing he appreciates the most about London. You can't get a decent tea in the States; the limescale in the water here just makes the tea fucking better. Jake's thought about how to replicate it back home, wondered if there was some way to add a bit of lime to his mug with the water, but he doesn't think it'd work the same. And he'd probably poison himself or something fucking stupid in the process.

He sighs. Goddamn, but he's exhausted. It takes it out of you, dealing with the Dementors the way they've been. He knows why Dee wanted a team of Legilimens. It's not just being able to feel the last remnants of humanity in them--much less see them, the way Jake can. It's also the fact that Legilimens can control their energy in ways other wizards might not be able to do, can siphon off bits of it without being overwhelmed and overcome by the creatures' hunger.

Or at least Jake and Muriel Burke can. Jake's not so certain about Malfoy. He's a new Legilimens, one who only barely has a handle on that fucking enormous well of natural talent he has, and Jake's been watching him struggle for the past two days. He's even argued with Muriel about whether or not Malfoy should be there with them. He knows why she's doing it. It's like being thrown into another country when you want to learn a language; being forced to communicate, however brokenly, when you want to eat builds up fluency faster than classroom learning. It's the same with Legilimency in a way. You can learn all the magical theory you'd like, but that's no substitution for actually using the skills in the field.

Still, this isn't like language immersion. It's more dangerous, and Jake's worried that Malfoy's spreading himself too thin, taking too much on this early in his training. Sure, Malfoy's better than he'd been on Tuesday morning--he's not falling to his fucking knees every few minutes--but Malfoy's a seeping spring of grief, and anyone who thinks Dementors only feed off of happy emotions is a goddamn idiot. They take them all, sucking them in hungrily, remembering as they do so what it'd felt like to be human once. The problem is that you only notice the happy feelings being gone, don't you? Nobody really pays attention to the sadness or anger the Dementors might bleed away; the loss of any happiness along with them is so much more profound.

Besides, it's Jake's experience that most humans have a hell of a lot more negative emotions lurking beneath the surface than anyone's willing to admit. It's a rare person who's truly happy, enough so that they notice that sadness being pulled away as well. Jake himself's only caught it faintly, felt the tug of it sliding out of his mind while he's concentrating on keeping part of himself bottled away from the Dementors.

Muriel'd told him to fuck off when he'd worried about Malfoy's state of mind. Fair enough, he thinks. She's his trainer, after all. Not Jake. But it doesn't keep Jake from checking in on Malfoy when he can. The poor bastard's grieving after all. Even setting aside his fledgling Legilimency skills, Malfoy's a writhing mass of emotion. Jake can see it written across his goddamn face, can see the way the Dementors turn to Malfoy first, their hunger sending them drifting towards him. Malfoy's giving too much, and it worries Jake, especially with how drawn and pale Malfoy looks at the end of the day when they walk out of that goddamn grim fortress, still carrying the trauma of all those fucking souls on their shoulders, the lot of them.

Jake wants to tell Malfoy to go home, to not come back again for a day or two, but it's not his place. And Malfoy wouldn't listen, Jake's sure of that. He brushes off Jake's concern as it is, brusquely telling Jake he's fine, thanks ever so. Jake hadn't wanted to leave him at Azkaban today, but Malfoy hadn't given him a choice. He'd insisted on staying with Dee and Muriel, and Jake had finally thrown up his hands and left.

Goddamn stubborn Brits. That fucking asshole's going to push himself too far, and then Jake's going to have to deal with Harry on his ass about it, and that's the last thing Jake needs right now. He already has Tom Graves coming after him for being goddamn useless, but Jesus, what's Jake supposed to do? All he can tell Tom today is that he's growing more and more certain that Azkaban's going to fall soon, that the prisoners inside of it are going to be moved into ICW custody for the foreseeable future. It'll be a diplomatic slap in the face of the British Ministry, and Jake's pretty sure it's not going to go over well here in London. Even Tomás is aware of that, but he's told Jake quietly that his hands are tied, as are Nadia Daifallah's. Their bosses in Brussels and Luxembourg are furious with the Brits, and they're wanting to make an example of them.

Frankly, Jake thinks it's more an interest in embarrassing the UK, of putting the country back under the thumb of the ICW itself. The British Ministry's been throwing its weight around for decades in the confederation, and there are folks who have long memories tucked away in the inner offices of Luxembourg, ones who haven't forgiven them for the death and destruction brought about by Voldemort. Germany's only just coming out from under the cloud of Gellert Grindelwald, after all. Jake's heard enough quiet murmurs in the Luxembourg corridors over the years about Britain putting its house in order, none of them said directly to any of the British delegation, of course. Jake had tried to warn Harry once, but he'd brushed it off, said that Britain hadn't done anything, that they'd brought the Death Eaters down, for Christ's sake.

Really, Harry's never been any fucking good at the underhanded politics of international wizardom.

Jake turns towards the tables. Most of them are emptying out, the lunch hour starting to draw to a close. He thinks about sitting in the corner by himself, enjoying the quietness of solitude for a bit, and then a familiar face catches his eye.

Fuck, Jake thinks, and he almost turns away, but he's not that much of a coward. Not quite.

So he walks over to where Blaise is sitting across from Althea Whitaker.

"Hi," Jake says, and they both look up at him, Blaise's face going instantly blank, the smile he'd just turned towards Althea sliding away. Jake doesn't blame him; he's been a shit lately, he knows that.

Althea looks between them, a bit uncomfortably, then starts to stand. "On that note," she says, "I've work to do."

Blaise grabs her wrist. "It can wait."

"No," Althea says, pulling away as she shakes her head. "It really can't." She picks up her tray and glances over at Jake. "Good to see you, Durant." Jake's not so certain she means it, especially when she looks back at Blaise and says, "Come find me when you're done."

"Traitor." Blaise isn't looking at Jake.

"It's for your own good." Althea steps away, her chair still pushed out a bit. "And I reckon a public confrontation's less likely to leave one of you maimed." Her gaze flicks towards Jake, and he knows full well she's sceptical about his ability not to be the one hurt. Frankly, he doesn't disagree. He can feel Blaise's fury from across the table.

And then Althea's walking away, and Blaise sinks back in his chair, the perfect picture of bored irritation, if Jake didn't fucking know better.

Jake sets his tray down, and Blaise eyes it. "You're going to go to fat if you keep eating like that," Blaise says, with more than a bit of a spiteful tone.

"Durants have a high metabolism," Jake says as he takes Althea's empty chair. It's still a bit warm from her ass. "And Legilimency makes me hungry." He scoops up a forkful of the curried chicken and shoves it in his mouth. At least if he's eating, he doesn't have to talk. The chicken's surprisingly mild, and he frowns down at it, wishing the kitchen'd done more than drag a chili or two through the sauce. He misses his mother's Cajun food, with its spicy heat, and the sudden wash of grief that goes through him is surprising. He ought to have expected it, he thinks. Working this closely with Dementors brings old pain to the fore sometimes.

Blaise is just watching him from across the table. Jake thinks it's a good thing that Blaise hasn't left yet, or gone for his wand, but Blaise's unhappy silence sets Jake's nerves on edge, more than he'd like.

"Aren't you supposed to be at Azkaban?" Blaise asks, after a moment. He lifts his glass of water to his mouth and takes a sip.

Jake pushes his fork through the limp arugula. "Left early." He glances up at Blaise. "It's nearly nine New York time." At Blaise's blank look, Jake adds, "I have a firecall scheduled with Graves."

"Here's hoping he calls your pathetic arse back home," Blaise says, and there's a raw, rough edge to his voice that makes Jake's shoulders tense. He tries to shake the unease off, but he can't. Not entirely.

They sit silently across from each other for a long moment, and then Jake puts his fork down and sighs. "We should talk."

Blaise looks away. "I've nothing to say."

Oh, but Jake thinks he does.

Jake can feel the emotions shifting through Blaise, the faint curls of them twisting up, coiling over the edges of Blaise's mind. Anger. Unhappiness. Desire. Jake takes a deep breath, leans forward.

"I wanted to call you earlier." He's been thinking about Blaise since he'd seen him Monday morning, perched on the edge of the Atrium fountain. Every night when Jake's slipped beneath the thick white comforter on his hotel bed, he's remembered what it'd been like in the Millenium Hilton, their bodies tangled together beneath those rumpled sheets, Blaise hot and gasping beneath him, pushing himself against Jake's body. It nearly takes Jake's breath away, even now, sitting here beneath the cold bright lights of the commissary. Jake runs a hand through his hair, feeling the thick, coarse curls slip over his fingers. He drops his hand and sighs.

Blaise turns his water glass between his fingers, pushing it across the worn birch tabletop. It leaves behind a smear of wetness. "You've had a few days." He picks up his glass and takes another sip from it, again, not looking at Jake, but he hasn't stood up yet, which Jake still takes as a good sign. Maybe.

Christ, sometimes Jake doesn't know what to think when it comes to Blaise. He's fucking contrary, and, really, Jake shouldn't find that so goddamn attractive. Eddie's right. Jake's always had shit taste in men.

"Been at Azkaban," Jake says after a moment. He's watching Blaise, studying the slope of his shoulders beneath his white shirt, the crispness of the fabric against his brown skin. Blaise's black tie is knotted at his collar, the silk perfectly folded and puckered in a half-Windsor. Jake reaches for his mug of tea. "That place wears you out."

"I suppose." Blaise looks over at him then, a flicker of interest in his eyes. "My grandfather says the Dementors are difficult."

"They take a lot of energy." Jake sips his tea. He feels like he's working with a skittish colt here; it's all he can do to keep himself steady, trying his best not to spook Blaise too much. "I've been coming back to the hotel in the evenings and falling asleep over room service." It's not far off the truth, really. Jake's just omitting the few times he's jerked off beforehand, coming with Blaise's name on his lips.

"Poor you," Blaise says. He doesn't particularly sound sympathetic, Jake thinks.

Silence stretches out between them again. Blaise looks down at his plate, drags his fork through the remnants of sausages and mashed potatoes. Comfort food, Jake realises, and he glances up at Blaise's set face. Jake exhales, then says before he can think better of it, "I've missed you, you know."

Blaise's gaze flicks up towards him. "You've an odd way of showing it." He takes a bite of sausage, but Jake thinks it's more for something to do than anything else. Blaise chews slowly, looks back down at his plate. "Look," he says after a moment. "We don't have to do this. I know you're working with my grandfather--"

"And your best friend," Jake says, and he regrets it the moment Blaise glances back up at him. Jake sighs again. "That's not what I mean. I want to talk to you, but not because of them." He picks his fork back up again, spears a bit of curried chicken. It's lukewarm now and just as bland, but Jake eats it. He's hungry and tired, and his head's starting to throb from all the tension roiling off Blaise. He swallows. "I don't know what to do here," he says finally. "This is complicated, Blaise--"

"That's not my fault." Blaise shifts in his chair, and fuck if there's not a hint of feathers and sharp talons in the way he moves. Jake knows what an angry Veela looks like, the way the creature can ripple beneath the human surface. He'd seen it years ago in Moira, and fuck but it'd turned him on. It still does. There's part of Jake that foolishly wants to push Blaise, to make him angrier, to hear that harsh rasp in his voice again.

Jesus, Jake thinks, what a fucking stupid idea.

Still, he watches Blaise, feels the roil of the Veela rising up, and it takes Jake's breath away. This isn't healthy, he suspects, but he doesn't care because Blaise is glorious, beautiful and powerful, and Jake can't tear his gaze away.

Jake's throat is dry. He coughs, then sips his tea again, drawing in an uneven breath. And then he meets Blaise's bright eyes, and Jake gives in, lets his mind open up, lets Blaise feel how goddamned turned on Jake is, how much Jake wants to drag Blaise back to his hotel, to bury his prick inside of Blaise, to let Blaise ride him until they're both breathless and sweaty, their hearts pounding with want.

Blaise breathes in sharply. Looks away. "You arsehole," he says, and there's a brokenness to his voice that makes Jake want to reach across the table, to pull him close. "That's not what I want."

It is, though, and they both know it. Blaise's hand trembles as he pushes his plate back. It hits his water glass with a soft clank against the pottery, and Blaise catches the glass before it tips. Water sloshes up the sides.

Jake can't stop himself from reaching out, his fingers curling over Blaise's. Blaise stills. They look at each other. Blaise's skin is warm and soft beneath Jake's hand, and Jake can feel the soft thud of his pulse in his throat. "I want you," Jake says. "It's never been about that."

Blaise doesn't answer, but he doesn't pull away either. A shiver goes through him as Jake rubs his thumb over Blaise's knuckle; Jake can feel the faint tremor in Blaise's hand. Jakes doesn't want to let go. He wants to hold on, to keep Blaise still for as long as he can.

"Then why?" Blaise asks, and Jake can hear the whisper of Veela wings in the quiet words. It frightens Jake a bit, pulls at him, and Jake wonders if this is a compulsion, if somehow Blaise is pulling him to him, if this isn't about what Jake wants any longer. But he knows it is, knows that this feeling has been the same, deep inside of him, for days, with Blaise and without him. "It's not as if I've shoved you away. Rather the opposite, in fact." Blaise's mouth twists down into a frown. "You're the one who's been a shit--"

"You're working for my ex," Jake says, giving in to his exasperation. "You can't tell me that's not complicated."

Blaise just looks at him. "And you're working with the man who replaced you in Potter's bed," he says after a moment, "so tell me how that's going, yeah?"

Jake lets his hand slip away. He misses the warmth of Blaise's fingers beneath his. "Point made," he says, his voice quiet. It surprises him a bit how little that jab hurt. Jake watches Blaise across the table, and he wonders if he's moving past Harry finally. It's been almost three months now, Jake realises in surprise, and he glances up at Blaise, studying his high cheekbones and dark eyes. He's beautiful, Jake thinks, and so goddamn out of Jake's league.

"If I asked you to dinner," Jake says, not looking away from Blaise's face, "would you go?"

Blaise is silent. Jake can feel the soft thump of his heart, the hot prickle of embarrassment going across his skin as Blaise doesn't answer. Jake leans back in his chair.

"Forget it," Jake starts to say, and then Blaise leans forward, pulls a quill from his pocket.

"Napkin," Blaise says, and Jake hands over one of the paper napkins from his tray. Blaise scrawls something on it, then pushes it across the table to Jake. There's an address scrawled across it, one Jake doesn't recognise. "My club," Blaise says, looking at Jake. "I'll be there Saturday evening by nine. You can buy me a drink. We'll see what happens after that."

Jake folds the napkin, tucks it into his pocket. "All right." He doesn't know what else to say.

Blaise pushes his chair back, stands. "I'm not sure I should trust you, Jake Durant." His voice is a soft rumble, rough and raw across Jake's skin, making goosebumps rise across Jake's arms. He looks vicious and gorgeous, and Jake's prick's swelling already, pushing against the zipper of his trousers. Jake can't look away.

"Maybe you shouldn't," Jake says, and he swears he sees a flash of tawny gold in the brown of Blaise's gaze, bright and quick and oh so reminiscent of his grandfather. Jake thinks he ought to be afraid. He isn't.

There's the soft clink of cutlery against the plate as Blaise picks them both up. "It's stupid of me, I'm certain," Blaise says, and then he hesitates, his fingers curling around his nearly empty glass. He studies Jake. "The funny thing to me is that everyone thinks I just want a tumble here and there. That I'm not interested in anything else." His voice cracks, but just barely, and Jake can feel the unexpected misery seeping out, a faint, careful curl of sadness that settles around Blaise's shoulders. "But it's not true. It's just the Veela they feel. What I want is something more. I want what my best friend has," Blaise says, and he doesn't look away from Jake. "Someone to look at me the way Potter looks at Draco."

If he's expecting Jake to flinch, Jake doesn't. The words don't even sting. "I wanted that, too," Jake says quietly. "Harry couldn't give it to me."

"But will you ever let anyone else?" Blaise asks. "Because the way I see it, Jake, I've been pretty fucking upfront about us--"

"About the sex," Jake says, and he knows it's the wrong thing the moment the words come out of his mouth. Blaise's face closes off. "I didn't mean--"

"You did." Blaise picks up his glass. "Because that's all I'm good for, right?" He shakes his head. "All right then. Buy me a drink on Saturday, and I'll shag you, Jake Durant. Because I like your prick, and I'm randy as fuck."

Lonely, Jake thinks. The same as he is. "Blaise--"

Blaise takes a step back. "You know, for all you went about sniffing after the guv, saying you wanted something more permanent from him...well. I don't think you actually did." He's watching Jake, his mouth a thin line. "You didn't fight for him when the time came. You let him go, like you were glad to be free again, and I don't think you were ever in love with him like you claim you were. Not really. Not the way you ought to have been." His voice softens, ripples across Jake like the flutter of feathers. "But that's the problem, isn't it? You're afraid of that. Afraid of love, you poor bastard."

Jake can't look away from Blaise. His throat's tight, his hands clenched on the table, his fingernails digging into his palms.

"Sex is all you know," Blaise says, and there's a tinge of contempt in his voice. "So if that's what you want from me, that's what you'll get."

And then there's an image pushing into Jake's mind of Blaise on his stomach, arse in the air, knees spread wide, a thick plug pressed deep into Blaise's hole, stretching him, the skin of his crease slick with lube. It's intimate, erotic, and Jake can barely breathe, can barely think, can only feel the lust rushing through him, tempting him to reach for Blaise, to pull him across the table, to have him here. Now. In front of the whole goddamn Ministry if he has to.

Jake draws in a ragged gasp as the image fades, and he's looking up at Blaise, his cheeks hot, his body shaking. Blaise is stone-faced. "That's not," Jake tries to say, but the words catch in the back of his throat.

That's not what I want.

But it is, and he knows it. And Blaise is right in a way. Jake's afraid. He'd fallen for Harry because Harry was safe. Harry wouldn't push Jake, wouldn't make Jake uncomfortable, wouldn't ever send Jake's pulse racing like this in the middle of the fucking Ministry commissary.

Blaise Zabini's not safe. Not at all.

Jake could fall for Blaise, and he probably has already. He knows this, and he shoves that thought into the deepest recess of his mind. Blaise terrifies Jake; Jake wants to think it's nothing but sex, that he could fall into bed again with this man and it'd mean nothing. He knows that's a goddamn lie.

And now Blaise is looking at him, like Jake's a fucking jackass, and Jake probably is, he thinks. If Jake had any goddamn sense, he'd run. Go back to New York. Take whatever punishment Tom Graves might hand him for being such a fucking shit coward. But he can't. He can't even look away from Blaise, can't deny anything he's said. Jake licks his bottom lip, watches the way Blaise's eyes narrow at him, the way Blaise's jaw tenses. He wants to tell Blaise he's wrong, wants to tell him how fucking scared he is of what this is between them, wants to tell him about the pull Jake feels, the need he has to be pressed against Blaise, to breathe in the scent of him, to taste his skin against his tongue.

Jake stays silent.

Blaise sighs. "Tomorrow then," he says. "You sodding arsehole."

He's gone.

Jake sinks back in his chair, his hands trembling as he flattens them against the table. He looks around. No one's noticed them, he thinks. The handful of other Ministry workers nearby are talking amongst themselves, completely unaware of what's happened here. Jake feels ill, shaky. He wants to get up, wants to run after Blaise, wants to beg him to understand, to take Jake wherever he wants, to do whatever he'd like. Jake closes his eyes and breathes. The ache of it fades, but only a bit.

He's losing his mind, Jake thinks. And yet he knows where he'll be on Saturday evening.

The sharp twist of hunger through his stomach pulls him back to his food. He eats, quickly, barely tasting what he's shovelling into his mouth. Food is just fuel right now, and he wants to finish, to put his tray back and to lock himself away for a few minutes before he has to face down Tom Graves. Jake doesn't know if he can deal with MACUSA today; he thinks about forgetting to make the firecall, wonders how furious Graves would be with him. He doesn't really give a fuck right now; he wants to back to the hotel, wants to fall into his bed and wank himself raw before slipping into a deep sleep.

It'd be so damn easy, he thinks.

The cell phone in his pocket rings. Jake frowns, then fishes it out, flipping the clamshell open to check the number. His heart stutters when he sees the digits scrolling across the screen.

"Eddie," he says into the phone, and he hears the pop and hiss of magic interfering with the connection. He stands up, carries his tray to the bins on the side of the commissary. "Eddie, can you hear me?"

His brother's voice crackles in his ear. "Asshole, I finally got you." Eddie sounds relieved.

"You did." Jake sets his tray down, glances around to make sure no one's listening to him as he slips out of the commissary. "Where the goddamn fuck are you?" He hasn't heard from his brother in weeks; he's at least relieved Eddie's alive. That's more than he'd hoped for, really.

"Can't say." Eddie hesitates, then he adds, "You alone?"

Jake heads out into the Atrium. The reception's better here, he knows, and if he stands near the fountain, he should block out most of the listening charms set by the Department of Mysteries. "Pretty much." He hesitates, then says, "Tell me you haven't done anything stupid."

Eddie's silent for a moment, then he says, "Aw, Pichouette, you know I can't do that."

"Goddamn it, Ed." Jake sits on the edge of the fountain. It splashes behind him. "What have you done?"

"What I told you I was gonna do." Eddie sighs over the popping connection. "Make things right. For Billy. And you--"

Jake's fucking tired of this. "Dis-moi la vérité, asshole."

There's silence for a moment. "I am, vieux."

Frankly, that's a load of shit, and they both know it. Jake sighs. "I can't do this." He's too fucking tired. "Don't play games with me."

"I'm not trying to," Eddie says. "But I'm--" He breaks off, and Jake's heart stutters in his chest.

"Ed--" Jake's voice rises.

And then Eddie's back. "I'm all right. Sorry. I just have to be careful--"

"What the fuck are you up to?" Jake's done with his brother. "I swear to God, I'm going to slap the shit out of you, and then call up old lady Delafosse and tell her to put a gris-gris on you--"

"I'm doing what I have to." Eddie sounds pissed off now. "I don't want to be doing it, Pichouette. I want to be sitting on the goddamn beach down in Tampa, smoking a bowl, but I fucked up and now I'm caught."

That draws Jake up short. "Caught how?"

"Better you don't know." There's a regretful tinge to Eddie's voice. "You still in London?"

"How'd you know I was here?" Jake's suspicious. He looks around the Ministry Atrium. No one's paying attention to him. No one's listening in. "Eddie?"

Eddie sighs. "I've seen you."

Which means… "You're in London." His brother's silent, and Jake swears. "Where are you?"

"Just shut up for a goddamn minute," Eddie snaps. "They're coming back, and I don't have much time--"

"Who?" Jake's voice is sharp.

Eddie ignores him. "Something's going down, Jakey. I'm not exactly sure when or where, though I've got a good idea, and I'm pretty fucking sure you can't stop it, but I'll do my best. If I can't, well. I'll try to give you a heads-up or something, yeah? Whatever I can."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Jake's standing now, gripping the phone so tightly that the edges are biting into his fingers. "You can't just--"

"All I know is there's a vault," Eddie says, "and they want something from it. I'll do my best, but--" He swears softly in French. "They're here. I'll call you back, Pichouette," and then he adds, "If I can."

The line goes dead.

"Goddamn it," Jake says, and he tries to call his brother back, but the line goes straight to voicemail.

Jake sinks back onto the edge of the fountain, looking down at the phone in his hand. A faint bit of smoke's curling out around the edges; Eddie's put up a hex around his number now, sending it back through the cellular lines.

Fucking asshole, Jake thinks. It's going to take him all afternoon to stitch his phone wards back together.

But first he needs to find Hermione. He doesn't know what the fuck she can help him do, but he can't just sit on this information, and Eddie damn well knows it.

He slaps the phone closed, his fingers tightening around it. Fucking goddamn hell, he thinks, and he starts off towards the steps leading down into the Department of Mysteries.

Tom Graves will just have to wait.

***

Draco's cold and exhausted when he stumbles through the Floo at Grimmauld Place. It's only half-five, but he'd been fading towards the end of the afternoon, and Burke had forced Dee to pack up and send them both back to the Ministry. She hadn't let Draco linger in the training room; she'd waved him away when he'd sat at the desk, expecting their usual debriefing.

"Go home," Burke had said, her voice a bit scratchy, and Draco'd thought she'd seemed worn out herself. He worries about her, being up in the middle of the North Sea at her age. The cold of the stone fortress gets to her more than the others, and she'd spent more of her energy today than usual re-upping the warming charms on her jacket. "I'm certain there's someone waiting for you there on a Friday evening."

They've still never spoken of the flashes of Harry that Burke's seen in Draco's mind. Draco's not certain they ever will, not directly at least. But he's grateful to Burke when he sees Harry on one of the long, tufted leather chesterfields, his tie off, the collar of his shirt unbuttoned, his sleeves rolled up. He has a glass of whisky in one hand, and he looks up as Draco shrugs out of his jacket, draping it across the arm of the sofa.

"Hey," Harry says. His hair's rumpled, his jaw's a bit stubbled. Harry hadn't taken the time for a shaving charm this morning, Draco thinks, but he doesn't mind. He likes Harry a little scruffy and unkempt, not that he'd ever admit that to his friends. Or Harry. "How was work?"

Draco doesn't bother to answer at first. Instead, he walks over and plucks the glass from Harry's hand, taking a sip. The whisky burns his throat, smooth and quick, and Draco closes his eyes and breathes out before he hands the glass back to Harry.

"That bad then," Harry says with a faint smile, and Draco sits beside him, unbuttoning the cuffs of his sleeves, then loosening his tie, sliding it off. He tosses it on the coffee table in front of them.

"It could have been worse." Draco rubs at his face, not even caring that his sleeves are flopping open. He pushes his hair back, lets it slide through his fingers. Harry's hand settles on Draco's back, warm and wide and comforting, his thumb tracing slow, lazy circles across Draco's shoulder blade.

"Want to talk about it?" Harry asks, and his voice is gentle.

Draco drops his hands, rolls up his sleeves. He frowns down at the mangled Dark Mark on his left forearm, folding the white cotton of his shirt back from it. The Mark hasn't really hurt for a bit, at least not badly, and Draco's grateful for that, but it's still a twisted stretch of black ink across his scarred skin. He rubs a thumb over it, feeling the slickness of the skin, the faint ache of the Mark itself as he presses his thumbnail into it. Draco wonders when it'll flare to life again, whether it'll take him by surprise like it did before. It's still thrumming beneath his skin; he can feel the magic of the curse deep inside of his arm. Sometimes he thinks it throbs when he's in Azkaban, but he can't be certain, at least not enough for him to want to mention it to Harry, to see that worried furrow form between Harry's brows again.

"It's just tiring," Draco says after a moment, and he lets himself lean back, settle against Harry's side. He toes off his boots; they fall to the floor with a soft thud, and Draco pulls his socked feet up onto the chesterfield. The leather of the cushion creaks beneath him, and Harry's arm slips around his shoulders.

The telly's on in the corner, the volume soft and muted. The screen's bright, the lush green of a football pitch filling it, broken by the blues and whites of the players' uniforms. It's an older match, Draco realises, one that Harry's charmed to record from one of the channels earlier in the week.

"Who's playing?" Draco asks. He's growing used to Harry's rituals, the way Harry likes to relax after work here with a bit of football and a glass or two of whisky. Sometimes Draco reads, curled up next to Harry like this. Sometimes he goes upstairs for a bath whilst Kreacher bangs about in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Harry's finally stopped objecting to that, once he'd realised that it made Kreacher happy. Draco knows that Harry gives Kreacher money each week--twenty Galleons or so--and that Kreacher takes it, bemused, and just tucks it away in his room behind the pantry because, as he'd said to Draco once, what use does he have of it? Still, it's a sign of Kreacher's devotion to Harry that the elf doesn't protest, Draco thinks.

Harry looks over at Draco. His fingers are toying with the ends of Draco's hair, wrapping it around his thumb before letting it slip free. "Tottenham and Chelsea," he says, as if that means anything to Draco, but he smiles, and the warmth of it nearly takes Draco's breath away. Draco loves these quiet moments between them, this feeling he has that their lives are twining together. He's never had this sort of intimacy with a lover, never wanted to share his time and space this way. Pansy and Blaise would think him mad, Draco's certain, if they knew Draco hadn't been in his own flat in days. He ought to, he supposes, but each night he finds himself Flooing here instead.

Draco wonders if there'll be a night Harry objects, tells him to go home. Merlin, but he hopes not.

He leans back into the warmth of Harry. When he's here like this Draco doesn't feel so unsettled, the way he has all day. Harry grounds him, makes Draco feel safe, keeps his thoughts from spinning off into the petty neuroses Draco knows he indulges himself in. Harry's solid and stable, and Draco can hear the soft beat of Harry's heart when he turns his head towards Harry's chest.

They sit quietly for a while, and Draco blankly watches the figures moving across the telly's screen. He doesn't understand football. It seems far more complicated than the simplicity that's Quidditch, but he knows it's something Harry enjoys, so he doesn't protest, not even when Harry groans and shifts beneath him, berating his Spurs, whatever they might be, for doing something idiotic, which they seem to do quite frequently.

Harry's hand settles on Draco's shoulder, cups it. He finishes his whisky and sets his glass aside. Draco stays still, inhales the subtle smells of Harry, the peaty whiff of the whisky on his breath, the faint powdery musk of his cologne, the slight sour sweatiness of his skin, the lavender remnants of washing powder on his clothes. Draco likes the scent of Harry, the sharpness of him when Draco breathes Harry in. Harry smells like Harry, and Draco finds it bloody intoxicating, if he's honest with himself.

"I'm glad you're here," Draco says after a moment, and he looks up at his boyfriend. "I like coming home to you."

"Yeah?" Harry smoothes Draco's hair back from his forehead. He smiles at him. "I like it when you do."

Warmth unfurls deep inside Draco. He feels his face flush, and he looks away, sighs a little. He rests his hand against Harry's shirt, twists his fingers a little in the folds of cotton. Harry's chest is firm against his palm. Strong. Draco wonders how he'll ever go on without Harry, once this is all over between them. He can't imagine it, doesn't want it to end. He knows it will. Harry will tire of him, the way everyone has. Draco can't imagine any other ending for him. He'd once thought Malfoys only had fairy tale lives. He'd outgrown that ridiculous fantasy soon enough. Lucius had helped with that, hadn't he?

The thought of his father sends a ripple of sadness through Draco. He rubs a finger over one of Harry's shirt buttons, rolling the edge across his fingernail.

"What's wrong?" Harry asks, his voice soft. Draco almost wants Harry to shout at him, to not be so bloody careful with him, and he knows how idiotically contrary that is, but he can't help himself. He frowns, presses his face into Harry's chest, and breathes out.

Draco doesn't know what to say, doesn't know how to tell Harry what it's like in Azkaban, how he has to try to shut himself off, keep his emotions at bay whilst letting a few of them trickle through to satisfy the Dementors crowding around him. He doesn't know how to explain what it's like to be fed off of, to open himself up even the slightest bit to these creatures that he fears. He wants to hate them, wants to push them away, but he can't. And the more he lets the Dementors pull at his emotions, suck them from each breath he exhales, the more he feels connected to them, which unsettles him even more.

Harry's fingers card through Draco's hair. "Love," Harry murmurs, and his thumb strokes along Draco's temple. "Tell me."

The lights dim around them, just a bit, shifting to a warmer glow, and Draco can hear the house settling, shifting. The sitting room feels cosier, more comfortable, and Draco wants to roll his eyes, but he doesn't dare. He knows the house is worried about him as well. Draco can smell dinner, roast and onions and potatoes, he thinks, drifting up from the kitchen. Harry's lips brush his forehead, and Draco feels oddly protected here, tucked away in Grimmauld Place with his boyfriend. He breathes out, lets himself relax.

"It's just hard," Draco says after a moment. "With the Dementors. The things I sometimes feel…" He trails off, not certain how to describe it. Harry just waits, listens, his fingers still stroking across Draco's hair, a soft, steady caress. Draco sighs. "I'm never happy there," he says. "Not that I thought I'd be, but it's strange, standing with all of them around me, and knowing that whatever I think of that would make me happy outside of those walls--my mother, my friends…" He looks up at Harry. "You. I can't feel any of it. I just feel empty, I suppose."

"Sad?" Harry asks, and Draco considers.

"A bit," he admits. "But it's not as if it's overwhelming. Not like it was the first day." Draco bites his lip, lets it slide out from between his teeth before he adds, "Burke says I'm better at keeping them at bay."

Harry's knuckles brush Draco's cheek. "That's good, yeah?"

"I suppose." Draco watches the embers glow in the hearth, shimmering between orange and green. He pleats Harry's shirt between his fingers, his thumb sliding beneath the placket, smoothing across Harry's warm skin. "I'm not as good as Durant."

"You haven't trained as long as Jake has." Harry looks down at him.

Draco shrugs. He's not certain how to explain that Harry's ex makes him nervous, that he wavers between liking Jake Durant and feeling as if he'll always be lacking in comparison. Perhaps he might have been able to make his peace if they didn't both share this Legilimency bond, Draco thinks. But it's not just measuring himself against Durant as Harry's lover now; it's also weighing himself now professionally against Durant's skill set, certain that he'll never be as talented, whatever the hell Muriel Burke might say.

Harry'll never understand that. Harry's always been special, always been good at everything he'd touched. Except for Potions. That'd been the one thing Draco had clung to in their school days. Potter could never best him in that cold, rancid-smelling classroom. Until he had in sixth year, and Draco'd been so bloody angry at that, raging about Potter in Severus's quarters until Severus had thrown him out, telling him to calm down before he'd made a bloody fool of himself.

Draco's not certain he'd managed that. Not in the end.

They're both quiet now, then Draco sighs and says, "You'd think I'd hate them. The Dementors, I mean."

"You don't?" Harry sounds a bit surprised.

"I feel sorry for them," Draco says, and he's a bit taken aback himself. It's not something he expected when he'd first walked into Azkaban. "I can feel them, you know. The people they once were." He falls silent for a moment before looking up at Harry. "You'll think me mad, but sometimes I think I can see them when they look at me. It's ridiculous, and I'm not stupid enough to say anything to anyone else, but it's almost as if I can get a glimpse of a face beneath the hood."

He waits for Harry to laugh at him, to tell him he's being a fool. Harry doesn't. Instead he just watches Draco. "Does that frighten you?" Harry asks finally.

Draco thinks. "Not really. Perhaps it should."

"Maybe." Harry twists a bit of Draco's hair around his fingertip. It's silver-gilt against his golden skin. "You know," he says quietly, "Sirius once told me that he survived the Dementors for so long by transforming into his Animagus form. As long as he could be a dog, they couldn't drain him the way they did the others. It kept him from going mad like your aunt."

"I'm fairly certain Aunt Bella went round the bend long before they threw her into Azkaban," Draco says. He thinks of what Burke told him about his mother's older sister. "She was a Legilimens too, you know. Burke said something happened to her. Broke her."

Harry's finger stills. Draco's hair slides off it, falling against his shoulder. "Does that worry you?"

A bit, Draco wants to say, but instead he shakes his head. "I'm not her, am I?"

"Thank fuck," Harry murmurs, and Draco smiles faintly. He understands the sentiment. Harry pulls Draco closer, leans in and kisses him softly before he says, "I wouldn't stick my prick in that mad bint," and then Draco's sputtering, torn between laughing and pushing Harry away.

"You're horrible," Draco says, and Harry just grins at him, kissing him again. Draco thinks he ought to pull back, tell Harry off for being such a twat, but instead he slides his arms around Harry's neck, lets Harry pull him across his lap as their kiss deepens. Draco could lie like this for hours, really, opening himself to Harry's lips, his tongue, arching up as Harry's hands slide down Draco's body, his fingers feather-light as they slip over the buttons of Draco's flies.

Draco's half-hard already, and he nips at Harry's bottom lip, twists his hips as Harry's thumb strokes the length of Draco's prick through his trousers. He wants to fuck Harry here, sprawled across the wide leather cushions, his legs wrapped around Harry's hips as he whispers in Harry's ear, tells him how badly he wants Harry's cock splitting him wide. A shudder goes through Draco, hot and quivery, and he sighs softly into Harry's mouth, licks the edges of Harry's teeth.

And then Harry's mobile is ringing, sharp and loud in the shadowed silence of the room, and Harry whispers, "Fuck," against Draco's lips.

"Ignore it," Draco says, and his fingers are tangled in Harry's hair as he pulls him into another kiss.

But Draco's mobile goes off then, buzzing in his pocket, the clang of its ringtone jolting in its suddenness, and Harry's pulling away, reaching for his mobile as Draco sits up, swearing and digging for his own.

"What?" Draco snaps into the grey bit of plastic, and he stills when he hears Granger on the other end. He's half-aware of Harry's conversation beside him.

"There's been a break-in," Granger says, and then Draco just listens as she tells him what's happened, where he's to go. He closes his mobile and looks over at Harry, whose face is grim and set.

"Gringotts?" Draco asks, and Harry nods, already rolling his sleeves down and buttoning them. Draco can see the Auror coming out in Harry, taking over, settling on his shoulders.

"You?" Harry reaches for his boots, set neatly beside the chesterfield.

Draco's pushing his feet into his own, wincing at the tightness. He's been standing too much today, he thinks. "Same."

And then they're both on their feet, pulling on their jackets, Harry's with his white inspector's piping, Draco's with his black Unspeakable stripes. They look at each other; Harry's face is as troubled as Draco thinks his must be.

It's not that different for the two of them, Draco realises. They may not share a uniform any longer, or a team, but they're after the same end goal, really. To find Draco's sodding uncle and bring him in. The only question is which one of them will do it first.

Draco's certain it's less likely to be him, if he's honest.

"Ready?" Harry asks, reaching for the tin of Floo powder on the chimneypiece, and Draco nods.

As much as he ever will be. Draco takes a breath, steels his shoulders.

Together, he and Harry step into the Floo. It doesn't matter how bloody tired they might be, duty still calls.

In a burst of green sparks, they whirl away.

***

The vault at Gringotts is already filled with Aurors and Unspeakables when Harry walks in, Draco right behind him. They haven't bothered with staggering their arrival; neither one of them gives a fuck if anyone notices. Not right now, not tonight. Harry catches sight of Parkinson in her white clean suit, crouched beside a pile of Galleons, already casting detection charms and ordering the other magiforensicologists about. She looks over at Harry and nods before going back to her work, her dark hair twisted back off her face, hidden away beneath a white cap and the hood of her clean suit.

Harry stops next to Whitaker and Zabini, Draco at his side. "Give me details," Harry says, his voice grim. He already knows the bare bones; Zabini'd been the last one in the office and had taken the initial call before ringing Harry at home. The vault belongs to Rodolphus Lestrange; at ten past five the goblins had reported a breach, and by the time the security protocols had kicked in thirty seconds later, the perpetrators had escaped.

Zabini glances over at Harry, his face sober. "Not much more than I told you already, guv." He's already pulled on a clean suit of his own; Harry takes the one of the suits Whitaker hands him and Draco. He hates the bloody things, hates the sharp tingle of magic across his skin as he zips it and pulls the hood up over his hair.

Draco pulls his hair back in one hand, tugging the suit hood forward so the strands are caught by the sealing charm as his fingers slip free. Zabini tosses Draco a pair of white paper booties to put over his shoes, then holds another pair out to Harry.

"The goblins raised the alarm with us two minutes after it happened," Zabini says. "Althea and I managed to get down here…" He glances over at Whitaker. "By twenty past?"

"Something like that." Whitaker crosses her arms across her chest. "We secured the perimeter and got Parkinson here with a response team as soon as possible. One of the goblins is bringing us a copy of their security readings to see what their charms caught."

Harry nods, his gaze sweeping the wide berth of the vault. The stone floors are covered with coins, piles rising halfway up the high, granite walls of the vault cave. It's cold in here, and Harry wishes he'd thought to cast a warming charm. He looks over at Draco. "All right?" he murmurs, and Draco just shrugs. He looks pale against the stark white of the clean suit, and Harry knows it has to be hard for him to be here, standing in his uncle's vault like this.

"Malfoy!" Hermione's voice echoes across the vault, and Draco turns towards the door. She's standing there, Jake a step or two behind her, and she gestures towards Draco, only giving Harry a quick frown. Harry fights back a roil of annoyance; he doesn't like Hermione pulling Draco away from him so publicly, making it clear that he's under her command now.

Draco just glances at Harry. "It's fine," he says, and his elbow brushes Harry's arm, the only bit of comfort he can give Harry with this many people around.

"Fucking Unspeakables," Zabini says beneath his breath, rather unnecessarily in Harry's opinion, but Harry's also a bit surprised by the scowl Zabini sends their way. Harry wonders if it's the territoriality over jurisdiction or Jake that's causing Zabini to bristle the way he is. Probably both, really, Harry thinks. This ought to be an Auror case, to be honest. He'd thought that the moment Draco'd been called in as well, but he's not stupid enough to say that to his already high-strung boyfriend.

"Wait here and do what you can to keep Parkinson and her lot from getting pushed aside," Harry says to Zabini and Whitaker, and he follows Draco over to Hermione, his hands shoved in the pockets of his clean suit, the paper boots on his feet a soft rustle against the stone floor. "What's the Department of Mysteries want with a vault break-in, Hermione?" Harry asks, keeping his voice easy and light. "Wouldn't have thought Croaker wanted to sign off on overtime for something like this."

Hermione exchanges a glance with Jake. "It's a bit more complicated," she says. "We almost had a team in place before this happened." She sighs. "Forty minutes faster on the paperwork, and we would have."

Harry frowns at her. "Why?"

"We had a tip off that something might happen," Hermione starts to say and then Jake's speaking over her, cutting her off.

"Eddie called this afternoon," Jake says, and Harry realises Jake's shaken, his gaze darting around the vault, searching the shadows. "Said something was going down soon. I just didn't think he meant today…" He trails off, and he takes the clean suit he's handed by one of the magiforensicologists.

"I was trying to get permission to place Unspeakables in the bank," Hermione says, "but the goblins dragged their feet." She pulls on a clean suit, tightening it around her wrists. "If Eddie'd given us some bloody details, we might have caught them."

"What's Eddie got to do with this?" Harry asks, but Hermione just shakes her head. One of the Unspeakables at the door calls her name, and she places a hand on Jake's arm, squeezing gently before she hurries off.

Draco's studying Jake. "Your brother's with them, isn't he?"

Jake rubs a hand over his face. "Yeah," he says after a moment. "I think the fucking bastard is." Harry swears softly; Jake gives him a wry smile as he zips his clean suit over his dark grey jacket. "Had the same reaction," Jake says. He sighs. "I don't think he wants to be. The goddamn idiot's trying to play hero." His mouth twists to one side. "Make things right, he said, and, Jesus, Harry, you know Eddie. He's going to get his fool self killed, and--" Jake's voice cracks. He looks away from them.

It's Draco who rests a hand on Jake's shoulder. "He'll be all right."

"These aren't men," Jake says, his voice quiet, "who take kindly to being swindled, Malfoy. You know that as well as I do. And my jackass brother doesn't know how to do anything but swindle." He looks over at Draco. "He might be a criminal, but Eddie has his own fucking moral compass. He's never killed anyone, and nine times out of ten, if he's stealing from someone, they're an asshole." He folds his arms across his chest. "Bastard thinks he's goddamn Robin Hood or something, except the poor he's usually giving to is Edward Fontenot Durant. I don't know what the fuck he thinks he's doing with these fuckers." His face creases. "Goddamn it, Eddie."

Hermione's walking back over to them, a goblin by her side, and Harry looks at her, asks, "Do we have magical signatures yet?"

"Nothing that'll hold up in a Wizengamot hearing," Hermione says. She has a sheaf of papers in her hands; she flips through them. "Griphook here just gave me what their system's recorded." She frowns down at one of the parchments. "Three humans--two men, one woman--"

"And a Dementor," Griphook says. He looks up at Harry. "Hello again, Mr Potter."

Harry gives the silver-haired goblin a small smile. "Sorry we have to meet up like this."

Griphook's mouth quirks to one side. It's not exactly pleasant. "Last time I saw you we were in the vault next door. Madame Lestrange's, as I recall." He looks Harry up and down. "You're the last wizard to have broken into Gringott's before now. Well. You and Unspeakable Granger."

"With your help," Harry says, and he catches the sharp look Draco gives him. That's a story Harry'll have to share later, he's certain. "Although as I recall you also tried to betray us in the end."

"Yes." Griphook gives a little shrug of his narrow shoulders. "Well, one does have a loyalty to one's employer, doesn't one?" His eyes are bright and sharp. "But all's well that ends well, I would say. You did escape with your cup."

Harry doesn't quite know what to say. Yes, they'd made it out of Gringotts with the Horcrux hidden inside of Helga Hufflepuff's goblet, but they'd nearly died in the process, clinging to a Ukranian Ironbelly's back. Harry wonders how Aggie's doing now, off with Charlie in his dragon preserve.

Jake clears his throat. "Do we definitely know that one of the men was Eddie?"

"No," Hermione says, her voice gentle, "but we do know that they used a Hand of Glory to get in."

"A strong one," Griphook says, and he looks unhappy. "Stronger than usual, and worked with darker magic; our wards would have held back a more readily available Hand. We've tested such things."

Harry and Draco exchange a glance. "We lost the Hand of Glory in New York," Draco says quietly, and Harry looks over at Jake.

"Could Eddie have amplified it?" Harry asks. "Fixed what Dolohov bollocksed up?"

Jake's face is grim. "Probably, but he wouldn't have done it for them without being forced. Not after Billy was killed."

The guard at the Greenpoint holding centre, Harry remembers. Eddie's friend. "Do you know that Eddie was with them out of his own free will?"

"I don't know." Jake worries his lip between his teeth. "He said he'd got caught, but he's also enough of a fucking asshole to think he could bring them down from the inside."

"All they took," Hermione says, "is a grimoire. Fifteenth century Italian." She looks up from the sheaf of papers, frowning. "No money, which is odd. If Lestrange is on the run, he'll need dosh--"

"Unless he's pulling it from other accounts," Draco says, and he sounds weary. He touches Harry's arm. "That Muggle account of my father's--"

Harry swears. "Zabini!" He waits for Zabini to trot over, barely noticing how Zabini glances at Jake, then back away again. "Those financials of Lucius Malfoy. Where are you with them?"

Zabini shrugs, his hands in the pockets of his clean suit. "Was waiting for the past year's transfer documentation when all this went down. Why?" He looks between Draco and Harry. "How does that tie into this?"

"You're trying to get into the Muggle account through Gringotts transfers?" Draco asks, not bothering to answer, and Zabini nods.

"Figured it'd be easier than Imperiusing the Muggle bank manager, all things considered." Zabini rocks forward on the balls of his feet. He's still ignoring Jake, Harry realises, and he wonders what the fuck that's about until he decides he doesn't really care. "Gringotts hasn't sent the files over yet, though."

Harry snaps his fingers at Griphook. "Can you push that request through for us?"

Griphook scowls. "There's paperwork and protocol--"

"And your bank was just broken into," Harry says, as mildly as he can.

"One might debate that," Griphook says, his frown deepening, and Harry knows he's about to be served goblin rubbish on a fucking silver platter. They never want to admit to any issues with their security; the Head Goblin's always afraid it'll cause a run on the bank itself. Frankly, Harry thinks that's bollocks. Security breaches hardly ever happen in Gringotts. It's nearly bloody impossible to break in. Harry of all people ought to know. "Should the vault have been accessed by Master Lestrange himself, albeit in an unconventional manner--"

Harry draws himself up, trying to look as intimidating as he can in a puffy white paper suit. "Documentation, Griphook. Constable Zabini's going with you, and you're going to bloody well make certain he has everything we need, understood?"

Griphook's ears twitch. "Most extraordinary," he protests, but at Harry's glare, his shoulders slump. "Fine," he says, "but it'll be your careers the Head Goblin comes after. Not mine."

What a fucking jobsworth, Harry thinks. "I'll go on record as being the one responsible for forcing you to help the Auror force, don't worry."

That only makes Griphook harrumph. Still, he quirks a long, crooked finger towards Zabini. "Follow me," he says, "but you don't touch a thing."

"I'm not a bloody fool," Zabini snaps back, and he rolls his eyes as he trails Griphook out of the vault. Harry's not entirely certain whom he feels sorrier for, Griphook or Zabini, if he's honest. He shakes his head, then looks back at Hermione.

"What's this grimoire they took?" Harry asks.

"Just listed as a grimoire." She hands over a paper, her finger trailing down the long column of spidery handwriting. "Here. We'll need to track down what exactly it might have been, although if it was handwritten, that might be difficult. Still, it's the only thing the wards caught going out of the vault other than the three people."

"And Dementor," Jake adds.

They all look at each other.

"Because that's not bloody weird," Harry murmurs.

Draco rubs his hand over his paper-clad elbow. "Uncle Roddy took a few Dementors with him when he broke out of Azkaban. It's not entirely mad that one might have tagged along here. He could have used it like a weapon. Kissing any sentient creature in its way."

Harry can't suppress the shudder that goes through him. "Nasty."

"My uncle isn't the nicest man," Draco points out. "As I believe we've established already."

"Guv!" Harry looks back at the shout; Parkinson's standing up now, behind stack of what looks like antique furniture. She gives him a somber look. "I think you'll want to see this."

Harry strides over, Jake and Draco and Hermione coming after him. Whitaker walks over as well, and they gather behind Parkinson. She kneels down next to a Jacobean armchair and sweeps away a scattering of coins from the floor. Harry sees what's caught her eye immediately.

It's carved into the floor, glittering silver-white against the black granite. Harry crouches beside Parkinson.

"Fresh?" he asks.

"Within the hour." Her face is pale; her eyes flick back to Jake standing behind her, his gaze caught by the shimmering mark. "Preliminary magical signature matches Eddie Durant's."

Harry can hear Jake's sharp intake of breath behind them. He doesn't look back. His stomach's twisting; he can't take his eyes off the lines etched into the stone. Harry reaches out a gloved finger and traces along them. A small circle inside of a triangle bisected by a line. Around the edges is another circle, a bit flatter and wider, scalloped along the edges, the center of it filled with small sweeping, scrolling curlicues that almost look like a floral pattern, or, perhaps, stylised fleur-de-lis.

"The Deathly Hallows," Harry says, his voice barely a whisper in the quiet of the vault. He looks up at Jake then. "Why'd your brother carve their rune--"

But Jake's shaking his head. "No," he says. "That's part of the Robichau family crest." He squats down beside Harry. "Left gore of the field, set slightly off centre so it bleeds off the shield itself." He looks over at Harry. "My mama was born Élodie Robichau Fontenot. Saw that all the time on Mamère's best china back in Thibodaux, the plates that were passed down every generation, the ones that came over from France three hundred years ago. Maybe more."

Harry looks back at the carved lines. "Jake." He doesn't quite know what to say, so he glances back at the man he'd spent two years of his life with, the man he's now not entirely certain he ever really knew. "Take all that fiddly rubbish out of the back, and that's the rune for the Deathly Hallows."

"Gellert Grindelwald carved it all over Durmstrang a century ago," Hermione says from behind both of them. Her voice is hushed. "It's been found in necromantic grimoires since Paracelsus' day."

But Jake's shaking his head. "My mama didn't come from necromancers," he says sharply. "Mamère was furious with her when she got mixed up with Daddy--" He breaks off, falls silent. "No," he says after a moment, and his accent thickens, slips a bit into a drawl the way it only does when he's thinking about Thibodaux, Harry knows. "I don't know what the fuck is going on, but Eddie left that, and fuck if he knows about these Hallows of yours. He wanted me to see this, wanted me to tie it to Mama's folk."

Harry frowns. "That makes no bloody sense."

Jake's jaw takes that stubborn tilt that Harry knows all too well. "He called me, Harry. He knew I'd find this."

Parkinson looks between Harry and Jake. "That's all well and good," she says, "but I think the questions we should be asking ourselves are, one." She holds up a finger. "Why the hell did Eddie Durant put this here, wasting valuable getaway time and risking getting caught, either by the goblins or his conspirators?" Another finger goes up. "And two, how the fuck did that symbol show up in his--" Her fingers point towards Jake. "Family crest? Because you can't tell me that's some sort of weird coincidence." She shifts on her haunches, steadies herself against a chair back hanging over the edge of a table, looks around at all of them.

"Don't forget three," Hermione says softly. She glances over at Draco. "What the bloody hell would Rodolphus Lestrange need with a Renaissance grimoire?"

"Bloody hell if I know," Draco says. He's still looking at the Hallows rune, his forehead furrowed, his arms crossed over his chest, the clean suit wrinkled beneath them. Harry wants to reach out and take Draco's hand, hold it tight. He doesn't. He can't.

The rest of them are silent, the enormity of this all settling over them. Whatever this is, Harry thinks, it's far more complicated than it first seemed.

"Jesus," Whitaker says finally, and they all turn her way. She looks at them evenly. "In my professional opinion," she says, her voice calm and steady, "I'd say things just got really goddamned bloody strange."

Fuck if any of them can disagree.

Chapter Text

By half-ten on Saturday night, Blaise is sat alone at a table at his Soho club, sipping at the end of his second whisky and refusing to get mad. He's more weary than anything else, if he's honest; it's been a bloody long day, and he'd spent too much of it in the office. Besides, Blaise hadn't really expected Jake to show, not with the excitement over the Gringotts break-in, not to mention his brother's involvement. From what Blaise could tell from a distance last night, watching him from across Rodolphus Lestrange's Gringotts vault, Jake'd been pretty fucking shaken by Eddie showing up in a high-level crime on British soil. So, yeah, maybe it's no surprise he hasn't shown his face. Blaise isn't sure he would either, if the situations were reversed.

Still, Blaise knows he's fooling himself, telling himself being stood up like this doesn't matter. It's not something that happens often, but when it has before, Blaise has always been able to laugh it off. But this time it's different. He can feel a strange, uneasy energy roiling just below his skin, a quiet rage beginning to seep like magma through his veins. He'd wanted this night to go differently, wanted Jake to admit just how much he wanted Blaise, to be on his knees begging Blaise for just one fuck. Then again, Blaise's also been fantasising about getting Jake hard, then refusing the goddamn bastard and going the fuck home alone just to prove a goddamn point, which is probably not the healthiest way of handling whatever the hell this is between the two of them, Blaise supposes, but right now it's the only fucking thing keeping him sitting at this bloody bar, watching the bright young things around him flirt and laugh their way through this thrice-damned evening.

Blaise turns his glass in the light, watches the whisky sparkle against the cut sides. He's tired; the guv had him sorting through a decade of Gringotts data on Lucius Malfoy's financial transfers. He's going to see goblin ledgers in his fucking sleep tonight. At least he'd been able to stay in the incident room. The guv and Althea had been back and forth between the Ministry and Gringotts all day; Althea'd had to reschedule a lunch with her dad. Blaise had heard her on her mobile, quietly trying to tell him everything'd be fine, that she'd see him later in the week, she promised, but Mitchell Whitaker was having nothing of it. Blaise hadn't been trying to eavesdrop, but he couldn't help himself. Mitchell's voice had been bloody loud, and Althea's face had been grim and set when she'd finally hung up.

"Bad week for all this," she'd said, and Blaise knew she'd been talking in a way about her mother's death. Clio Whitaker'd been killed on the second of August. Blaise had looked it up afterwards. Today's the fifth, which means Wednesday had been the anniversary. Althea hadn't said anything about it, but she'd been quiet and reserved, and Blaise thinks maybe they should have all known, should have done something to distract her. Potter's useless lately; he's far too caught up in worrying about Draco, which still stings sometimes. If it weren't for him, Blaise would have been the one with Draco these past few weeks, looking after him, making sure he kept his head above water, didn't give into those fits of depression he's prone to, or the panic attacks and swells of anxiety. Blaise thinks he should be glad the guv's there, that Draco has someone to lean on, that he and Pansy and Mills and Greg and Theo aren't all on call for those late nights when Draco can't sleep, when he needs someone to talk to, or to smoothe back his hair and tell him everything's going to be all right. Blaise has done that before, and he knows how hard it can be, how difficult Draco is. But at least then he'd felt needed. Wanted. Useful. Now Blaise isn't certain where he fits in Draco's life, not anymore. It's different now with Potter taking Blaise's place, and Blaise knows he shouldn't be jealous, knows the guv is good for Draco, knows that Draco's needed someone to love him the way Harry Potter loves him.

That doesn't mean Blaise doesn't miss his best friend. Far too much, he thinks.

With a sigh, Blaise swirls the glass again, watching the whisky slosh up the side. He feels guilty for not being there for Draco. Even more so for not realising Althea was shutting herself off, walling away her own grief. He doesn't know what to do there. Althea's sharper and pricklier than Draco in her own way. Far more private and reserved. He'd tried to ask if she was all right; she'd just shrugged and nodded, then told him she needed to get back to work. He takes a sip of whisky

Blaise is Slytherin enough to both recognise a bald-faced lie when it's told to him and to respect the need for it. He'd given her space today, as much as she'd needed, and he'd kept his mouth shut when Potter'd asked him if Althea seemed a bit distracted in the afternoon. No sense in sending a bloody Gryffindor after her. Potter'd only stomp around in those scuffed boots of his, crushing Althea's fragile feelings beneath them as he blundered about, trying to make things better. Instead, Blaise wants to pull Pansy aside when he can, ask her to look after Althea. He thinks it might be better coming from her; Blaise has seen the way Althea still looks at Pans when she thinks no one's watching.

He sets his glass down, drags his tongue along his lower lip, catching the sharp bite of the whisky still lingering on his skin. He wonders if anyone sees him when Jake's in the room, if they notice how his gaze is drawn to that lanky frame, those tousled blond curls and wide shoulders, the perfect curve of that arse. Blaise closes his eyes, breathes out. He can almost feel the softness of Jake's skin beneath his palms, the press of Jake's body against his, hard and solid and bloody intoxicating in the way it feels, the urges it pulls out of Blaise. His skin prickles; he shifts uncomfortably on the banquette. Blaise feels hot, uneasy, as if there's something missing deep inside of him. He hates this, hates the way his stomach roils and his back tenses, the way he has to grind his teeth to keep from shouting out his anger at Jake's betrayal.

Blaise breathes out, open his eyes. It surprises him that no one's looking his way. These feelings seem so overwhelming, so intense that it's almost laughable to him that no one notices them. Then again, everyone in this bloody bar is more concerned about themselves and what they want, aren't they? They could give a fuck about Blaise, about the anguish that's shifting through him again, the humiliation, the anger. He closes his fingers around the glass of whisky and tries to draw in a slow breath. It feels almost impossible. He wants to scream, wants to throw this table over, to lash out at anyone who crosses his path.

He doesn't. It's time for him to leave, Blaise thinks. To give up on this ridiculous farce. He wants his bed and a good wank before he falls asleep. Potter's already told him to be back in by noon on Sunday. Thanks to Rodolphus Lestrange, there'll be no bloody weekend for Blaise. Fucking tosser. Blaise lifts his glass again. Fuck him, and fuck Jake Durant, too, whilst he's at it.

Which is why he's a bit taken aback when he glances over the door and sees Jake's broad shoulders and inimitable lanky, American slouch at the membership desk. Blaise had left Jake's name earlier when he'd first come in, and he watches as Jake gets motioned through and then glances away quickly so Jake won't realise he's seen him come in. There are many things Blaise is eager to appear, but desperate is not one of them.

Blaise counts to ten, trying to calm his temper, lets Jake approach the table cautiously, then finally looks up when Jake's only a pace or two away from his table. Blaise tries to look impassive. He thinks he does a decent job when he sees Jake shift nervously in front of him, one foot to the other.

"This seat taken?" Jake gestures to the empty side of the banquette across from Blaise.

Blaise shrugs, his mouth pulling down at the corners. He's quiet for a moment too long before saying, "Please. Do sit down."

Jake sits, puts an arm on the back of the banquette, his long, wide fingers not too far from Blaise's shoulder, and really, Blaise wants Jake's hands on him yesterday. He hates himself a little for that, even as Jake clears his throat and says, a bit contritely, "Sorry I'm late."

Fuck you, Blaise wants to say. The sleeve of Jake's white shirt is creased from being rolled up, then smoothed back down, obviously over the course of the day, and there's a fleck of tomato sauce on the edge of Jake's green tie that he'd missed whilst in the loo trying to get his hair under control. Blaise is more cross than before. Jake hasn't even made a bloody effort to dress nicely, and really, given that, Blaise knows exactly where he stands in the scheme of things. He reminds himself that Jake's looking for a fuck, nothing else, and Blaise shouldn't delude himself that anything else is on offer.

"Would you like a drink?" Blaise asks, swallowing the rest of his whisky in front of Jake. Two can play the game of casual offence, after all.

Jake's eyes watch Blaise's mouth for a moment, bright and heated. "Not really." His voice is soft, a bit rumbly, and Blaise feels his traitorous body respond almost instantaneously. He takes a moment, tries to settle his racing pulse. Jake's nearness is overpowering, the intensity of his gaze has Blaise struggling to breathe normally. Whatever this is between them, this hot, angry need, it's not dying down, but flaring up stronger than before, burning through Blaise, pushing him towards doing something stupid and rash. Blaise is better than this; he knows it. He's never allowed himself to be this out of control with anyone he's ever taken to his bed. Even if this is only sex, it's still dragging them both into its flame, destroying them both. Blaise makes his decision.

Merlin help him, but he's a goddamned fool.

"Would you like to come back to mine?" Blaise glances slightly to the right, making sure the no one's coming their direction. The buzz of the bar is subtle but thank Circe it masks sound. Blaise doesn't want to be thought a complete slag. Not here, at least.

The smile that splits Jake's face is filthy and full of intent, and Blaise half-hates him for that. "Yeah," Jake says in that slow soft drawl of his. "I'd like to, if you'll have me."

Merlin, would Blaise. For a moment, he wonders what he's invited into his home, but he pushes the thought away. It's not as though Jake's a vampire, after all. And they've already fucked, for Circe's sake--in New York Jake had Blaise on his back and on his knees and hanging from the bloody headboard, begging for Jake to fuck him harder. It's not like they haven't done this before, so why is Blaise struggling to stay calm in the face of it, a wild, keening cry threatening to well out of him? He wants this, wants Jake, perhaps a little too much. It frightens him, worries him. Blaise knows he ought to walk away, to go home alone, to tell Jake Durant exactly where he can put that gorgeous prick of his. And that's the rub, isn't it? Blaise wants it inside of him; the very thought of that, of seeing Jake move above him, lost in the planes and angles of Blaise's body, sends a rush of need and want prickling through him. He wants to claim, to be claimed, to mark Jake as his and his alone, in a way he's never wanted to with another lover.

Still, he reminds himself again, for Jake, this is only a fuck.

Blaise stands, sliding from between the table and the banquette, smoothing down the front of his jacket. He'd made the attempt at least, in one of his better suits with a sharply pressed white shirt and deep plum tie that he knows matches the velvet banquette. "Well," he says, barely looking at Jake, "the Floo's this way."

He doesn't wait for Jake to follow. He knows somehow that Jake will have no trouble catching him up, and true to form Blaise has barely reached the narrow corridor where the Floos are hidden away before Jake's at his heels, a little too close, a little too obviously watching Blaise's arse. Blaise would be offended, but he's not, not at all. He wishes he were, but he's too bloody eager. Blaise wants this, wants Jake snapping after him, following him home, fucking him across his giant, grey, Belgian linen-covered bed. Blaise wants this, and he wants it more than he wants the empty, bloodless thrill of turning Jake down.

Blaise throws the silver Floo powder in the fire, sending green flames shooting high against the blackened brick, and gives his address loudly enough that even an idiot like Jake Durant could catch it. He steps in and whirls away, his stomach hooking with lust and slight disorientation.

"Lumos," Blaise says, stepping out of the hearth, adjusting the level of his lights to low and forgiving. He can't do this in bright light--he's still a bit ashamed of himself for giving in so readily to Jake. He'd spent a family holiday with this man at the Belmont, not two months past, but he still doesn't know if he's ready to have Jake in his private space. Blaise doesn't do this often, doesn't invite men back to his flat like this. He'd rather go to theirs or find a hotel. He supposes he could have insisted Jake take him back to his, to whatever dull hotel room MACUSA's paying for near Westminster. They could have shagged across an anonymous bed, then Blaise could have left, come back to his own place, his own refuge, his own bed. One that wouldn't remind him of Jake Durant every time he slipped between the sheets. But it's too late now, he supposes, cursing himself for his stupidity.

The Floo sparks to life behind him, flickering green flames lighting the pale grey walls. Blaise turns, watches Jake step out of his Floo. It feels strange and yet oddly familiar, Jake shaking the dust of the Floo off his boots, one hand on the white chimneypiece, and Blaise doesn't know how it could seem so right when it's never happened before.

Jake looks around at the bookcases, the family portraits, the heirloom clock, the pastel sketch on the far wall of Blaise as a child that captures an impishness he's forgotten. "Wow, this is nice." Jake's voice is quiet, catching roughly on the words, and something warm and liquid swirls through the pit of Blaise's stomach.

"Would you like a drink? I do have decent whisky." Blaise is hoping for some sort of distraction, a moment to think or just recover his composure. He feels like he's run a marathon and they've not done a thing yet. He slides out of his jacket, drapes it over the back of the white leather sofa.

"Thanks, but I'm good." Jake shakes his head, his blond curls shifting. Up close, Blaise can see a bit of stubble at Jake's jaw, a bristly warm tawny gold, and Blaise knows he's going to feel the scrape of it against his skin in a few moments and the thought makes him shiver.

Despite the need building in his blood, Blaise waits, lets Jake look at him good and hard, his heated blue gaze shifting from Blaise's chest to his crotch to his thighs. Blaise' prick is swelling against his flies, and his knees are halfway to melting at the thought of what he's about to let Jake do, how much he wants Jake to fuck him into the mattress, but he's not going to make the first move. He's going to make Jake cross the distance and come to him. There may not be much of his pride left, but Blaise is going to bloody well cling to the shreds. He won't be the first to ask to be fucked. He won't beg.

"You'd do a gorgeous job," Jake says, taking a step closer. Blaise's breath catches. "Especially on your knees. But I'm really not here to make you beg. Unless that's what turns you on."

And Blaise realises he must have transmitted that last thought a bit too strongly. His face heats--how much of what he's thinking can Jake hear? He doesn't look away. Well?

"Enough," Jake says in answer, eyes scanning Blaise's face curiously. "Not everything, but enough filters through, the closer I am to you. It's like picking up a radio frequency, I guess." He takes another step towards Blaise. "The nearer I am to you, the louder it gets sometimes." He reaches out; his fingers brush along Blaise's jaw. "When I'm inside of you, it's like…" Jake licks his lip, breathes out. He drops his hand. "Fucking overwhelming almost. I really can't explain why. It's not quite Legilimency, at least not the way I know it."

"Oh," Blaise says, his voice thin and odd to his ears. He can still feel the soft pressure of Jake's fingertips against his skin. He thinks of Jake's hands sliding down his sides; Jake's gaze follows, and Blaise can't hide his shiver. He feels exposed, too much so, and he lifts his chin, almost defiantly. "You want to fuck me, then?" He gestures over his shoulder, towards the still dark hallway. "My bedroom's back there."

Jake moves closer, the warmth of his body radiating across the space between them. It's been a reasonably warm August, not horrid yet, but Blaise's flat is cool and shaded by lime trees. "I do." Jake runs his thumb along Blaise's jaw, cupping it slightly as Blaise closes his eyes, his body sparking at the touch. "I really fucking do." His voice is almost a whisper as he leans in, hand pulling Blaise closer, and he brushes his lips across Blaise's.

The first touch of their lips is bloody electric, like a thunderclap or the echo of a spellblast that leaves Blaise shaken and vibrating with want. Jake's skin smells of lemongrass and something musky and masculine, and Blaise wants to swallow him whole, wants Jake to take him right here in his own front room, bend him over the sofa, thrust into him with just the barest amount of prep. It's all Blaise can do to keep from climbing Jake right now and wrapping himself bodily around him.

Blaise pulls back from the kiss, puts a little bit of space between them. "I--" He breaks off, looks away, his lips pressing together, caught by his teeth, his tongue darting along the crease of his mouth. Blaise needs to take this in stages, needs to keep everything under control before he does something ridiculously stupid. He breathes out, smoothes his hands along the sides of his trousers. The sensations rolling through him are almost overpowering. Whilst Blaise is distracted by trying--and failing--to push down his own surging desire, Jake grabs him and hoists him easily over his shoulder. Blaise dangles in the new position as Jake carries him out of the room, his body slung over Jake's, and wonders what the fuck just happened.

"You arsehole," Blaise finally gets out halfway down the hallway, his leg held steady by Jake's arm, but he doesn't mean it. Not entirely.

The vibrations of Jake's laugh travel from his chest into Blaise's leg and cheek. "Sorry. I got impatient," Jake says, and then they're in the cool, spare space of Blaise's bedroom and Jake lays Blaise down on the bed, still fully clothed, then casts a Lumos, the lamp on the nightstand flaring to life, casting shadows on the creamy walls. "All right?" Jake asks, and Blaise just nods. To be honest, all he can think right now is, how the goddamned hell am I supposed to maintain a sense of decorum through this?

Jake steps back takes off his shirt, letting Blaise watch him pop the buttons to reveal a swathe of tanned, beige-pale skin, pink-brown nipples, and a dark gold trail of hairs across his flat, muscular belly, leading down to his navel. Blaise's relieved to see the substantial bulge in Jake's khaki trousers, to know that Jake wants him at least as much as Blaise wants Jake.

This knowledge gives Blaise the courage to lean back against the pillows, to smile slightly, to say with only the faintest catch in his voice, "By all means, carry on."

To Blaise's surprise, Jake does. He bends to unlace his cap-toe oxfords, then toes them off, removing his socks afterward. With Blaise watching him hungrily, Jake strips off his trousers, laying them over the bedroom chair. He stands there in light blue boxers, his prick straining at the slit. Blaise gives himself time to feast with eyes, noting a scar on Jake's knee that looks like surgery of some sort, or a bad curse blast, following the turn of his ankles, the powerful flare of his thigh muscles, the cut vee of muscle visible above the low-slung elastic of his boxers. His body is familiar, and yet, it's terribly strange to have him here, in Blaise's own bedroom, not just the stuff of fantasy and fond memory any longer.

Jake steps forward, his eyes fixed on Blaise. "May I?" He gestures to Blaise's shoes and when Blaise nods, Jake unlaces them, gently slipping them off of Blaise's feet and lining them up to the side of the bed. He runs a thumbnail along the arch of Blaise's right foot and makes him gasp, does the same with the left before rubbing each softly in turn, then removing Blaise's socks.

With a bit of prompting, Blaise undoes the buttons of his trouser flies, and Jake reaches beneath Blaise's arse, his nose grazing the swell of Blaise's prick briefly, before pulling Blaise's trousers and his pants off in one go. Blaise's cock springs free, bobbing wetly in the space between them, and Jake's smile is sharp and white, almost feral. "I like you like this."

"I look a right tit," Blaise protests, suddenly uncomfortable in his shirt and tie still, his nether parts bare and his body trembling with want.

Jake folds Blaise's trousers, putting them on the chair, then leans in to slip the knot of Blaise's plum silk tie, his lips brushing close to Blaise's ear. "Hardly."

The word rasps across Blaise's consciousness, makes him shiver with possibility. Jake pulls at the silk length of Blaise's tie, tugging it free, then he unbuttons Blaise's shirt, slides it from his shoulders before draping them both carefully across the chair. The assessing, possessive look he gives Blaise makes Blaise feel more off-kilter, more loose and liquid than the two glasses of whisky he'd finished while waiting for Jake to show up.

"You're so fucking gorgeous," Jake murmurs, his face soft as he takes in the length of Blaise's naked body, spread out over his grey linen coverlet.

Blaise doesn't want the compliment to affect him. It does, a lot if he's honest. His firm resolve is weakening under the intensity of Jake's focus, his obvious desire for Blaise. If Blaise had been uncertain before, he's sure now that Jake Durant wants him. The bloody hell of it is that Blaise knows full well he's perilously close to trusting Jake again, in this moment at least, and this infuriates him. He can't afford trust, not when this is just a fuck, although he really wonders if that's what it is, if anyone who looks at him the way Jake is at this moment could want nothing more than a quick tumble and tug. That hope, that weakness unsettles him, makes him want to strike out, to hurt Jake before Jake hurts him. Again.

"Are you looking or buying?" Blaise asks crassly, and he spreads his legs wide, gives Jake a good look at the swell of his prick, the tightness of his bollocks.

Jake's eyes regard Blaise with lazy amusement, refusing to be baited by the bite of Blaise's words. "Getting impatient, darlin'?"

Blaise shivers at the unexpected term of endearment. "And if I am?" he counters. He shifts, leans up on his elbows. "What exactly would you do?"

Jake's still laughing as he stretches his body over Blaise's, his nose pressing close to Blaise's jaw, his palms holding his weight just above Blaise, his knees bracketing Blaise's thighs. "Relax," he says in a low, warm voice that raises goose bumps on Blaise's arms. Jake nuzzles Blaise's neck, his lips dragging along Blaise's jaw. Blaise draws in a ragged breath, stretches out his throat so Jake can move closer. Jake shifts his weight; his fingers rub circles across Blaise's shoulder.

"Gorgeous bastard," Jake murmurs. Blaise's hips buck up, but his prick only meets air. Jake's teeth bite into the skin of Blaise's neck, teasing, nipping, and Blaise arches again to give him more surface to work with. He might have to heal the bruises before meeting his mother for brunch in the morning and definitely before he goes back to the Ministry, but it's worth it for the delicious scrape of teeth against skin, followed by the softness of Jake's lips soothing the spot he's just worried.

Blaise groans as Jake keeps mouthing his neck, down to his collarbone, keeping Blaise lightly pinned but not giving him nearly enough friction to even take a bit of the edge off. Jake's still wearing those stupid boxer shorts; Blaise wants to feel Jake naked and pressed against his body. Jake sucks across his chest, making him moan as he licks his sternum, then downwards.

"Fuck. Jake." Blaise isn't even able to be coherent. It's like all of his brain is in his body, his cock, his writhing in response to Jake's mouth. "More."

Jake slides down in answer, sucking a bruised, dark oval into the delicate skin over Blaise's hip. He manages to perfectly avoid Blaise's aching prick, and really, it's unfair, like an epic cocktease. And Blaise might just have said that out loud or loud enough in his head because Jake is laughing again, his warm, wide hands pressing Blaise's legs even further apart.

"You're so goddamn impatient." Jake sucks along the inner surface of Blaise's thigh, and Blaise spreads his legs as wide as he can, wrapping his fingers through the slats in his modern, white wood headboard to keep from pleading. "Good things come to those who wait."

"As long as I come, you arsehole." Blaise's voice is hoarse and oh so needy, and he doesn't bloody care. Jake has him nearing the edge already, and he's not even touched Blaise's prick. Fucking Jake Durant and his brilliant mouth--Blaise's missed it so much.

"If you stick your gorgeous ass in the air, I'll eat you out." Jake pulls back, grins down at Blaise, and Blaise wants to smack his smug, infuriating face. Or shoot spunk all over it. He takes about a second to flip himself over, shifting his hips against the mattress, his slick cock dragging against the linen coverlet. It'll stain, he thinks, but Blaise doesn't give a damn. There are cleaning charms for that. Jake was the first person Blaise has ever really tried rimming with, and the only one to make him think the embarrassment of the act might be worth it. After his memorable initiation, sprawled across his bed in the Millenium Hilton, arse pushing desperately against Jake's tongue, he'd only regretted waiting until their last night in New York to give in. Now that he has a second shot, he's bloody fucking taking it. Blaise Zabini is many things, but a damned fool isn't one of them.

"Okay if I say the spells?" Jake murmurs, his teeth grazing the back of Blaise's thigh. When Blaise nods yes, he feels the familiar, cool sensation brushing across his arse and balls, followed by a hollowness and a strange, empty ache. Then it feels a bit… slick.

"What was that last one?" Blaise shifts, and his insides feel a bit odd.

"Just a deep lube spell." Jake moves behind Blaise, the mattress dipping as he does. "You'll thank me later." Jake licks the crease where Blaise's arse meets his thigh.

And really, Jake Durant is a cocky motherfucker, isn't he. Blaise wishes he had the stones to throw Jake out of bed. But not before he nails me to the sodding mattress, Blaise thinks grimly. Still, he knows a rough fuck's not going to make any of this better, that he's just going to want more. He can never get enough of Jake Durant, and he hates himself for it.

The long, rough slide of Jake's tongue across his arsehole robs Blaise of all ability to think. He pushes his arse back as Jake pulls his cheeks apart, burying his face between them. And his mouth! Blaise is gasping, his bollocks heavy, his body on fire as Jakes sucks and licks and spits, thrusting his tongue deep inside him. Jake eats Blaise out like it's the only place he wants to be in the world, and if Blaise is gasping, if he might have his fingernails digging into the wood of his headboard, if his prick is wet and slick against the coverlet and it's all he can do not to jerk himself off and end this agony, well. It's worth all of the shame he'll feel later for spreading his legs for Jake and moaning like a wanton hussy.

"Really?" Jake says, against Blaise's fluttering arsehole. "A hussy? What are you, eighty?"

'I will fucking murder you," Blaise manages to get out, "if you stop, you bastard." And Jake just laughs and presses his tongue back against the aching pucker of Blaise's hole, his hands tight against the curve of Blaise's arsecheeks.

Right when Blaise thinks he might start heading up for the peak to orgasm, Jake pulls back, wiping a hand across his face. "Did you really think I was going to let you come before I fucked you?"

All of Blaise's nerves are tingling and his shoulders are tight and itchy, as if the sharp press of feathers and bone might break through the skin and sinew. He wants to cry out, to shriek in protest. His arse is throbbing and dripping with spit and now lube. Jake leans over to grab something from the night table, and yeah, he's brought his own lube, thank Merlin. He's also finally managed to lose his boxer shorts. Blaise is far too randy to care about Jake's impertinence, or the assumption that Blaise would let him get a leg over.

"I don't care what you do right now," Blaise says, and his voice is hoarse and raw.

Jake smacks Blaise's arse, lightly but enough to sting. "So I should leave?" he asks, a teasing note in his voice.

"No." Blaise possibly growls the syllable like a threat. He's not proud, but he might actually kill Jake with his bare hands if he leaves him like this.

"Oh good." Jake strokes a large hand, filled of lube, across himself, palming his cock from base to swollen, purpled pink tip. "I wasn't sure I was welcome."

"You tosser," Blaise grits out. "You'd really better fuck me soon or else I'm going to throw you out on your ear." He'll die of lust, if Jake doesn't do something soon. He doesn't know if he's furiously angry or about to have the best orgasm of his life. Perhaps both.

Jake slides a warm hand over the base of Blaise's spine, urging him up. Jake helps him onto his knees, Blaise's arse still pushed out, his long-fingered hands wrapping around the top of the headboard now. Jake is on his knees behind him, lining up.

"Here, come back a little," Jake says.

Blaise feels the head of Jake's prick nudging between his arsecheeks, the tip sliding through his crease, and oh, doesn't that feel brilliant, Blaise thinks, not giving a fuck if Jake hears him. Jake holds his cock steady, and Blaise shifts a little, circling his hips to find the right angle, going by sensation, as Jake wraps a hand around his hip, and then Blaise feels his body split open, the heady, quick rush of endorphins as Jake's cock enters his body, slow and careful and Merlin, it hurts and burns, and Blaise has forgotten how big Jake is, how impossible it feels at the beginning. He's so glad that Jake licked him open, that he said the prep spells and got him ready, but there are more than a few moments of discomfort where his arse feels like it's on fire, where Blaise can only breathe raggedly, holding still as the pain settles around him. Jake is still behind him, unmoving, and Blaise can tell he's waiting, trying to read Blaise's signals.

Finally, the stretch eases a little, and Jake groans as he slides deeper into Blaise. Blaise pushes back, then breathes. His body is willing, more than really, but the mechanics are a bit of a challenge. Blaise circles his hips experimentally, and is rewarded with another thick inch or so of prick sliding home. It takes his breath away and simultaneously, it's the only thing he wants. He needs this, needs Jake Durant inside of him, his heart pounding against his chest as Jake shifts ever so carefully deeper into Blaise's body. This feels right. This feels like everything Blaise has ever wanted. Everything he's ever needed.

"Fuck, you're tight," Jake says, a note of awe in his voice. He's being really good, Blaise knows, pressing in carefully , then not moving while Blaise adjusts. In fact, he's keeping himself still in a way that must involve a lot of exertion.

"You shouldn't have stayed away so long," Blaise says, gritting his teeth.

"Sorry, babe. I really am." Jake nuzzles the back of Blaise's neck, and Blaise pushes himself against Jake's hips, fingers clenched around the headboard still for balance. Jake's hand wraps on top of his, his other on Blaise's hip still, holding him close and keeping him balanced.

"Perhaps you can make up for it by fucking me properly." Blaise's stomach shivers as the tips of Jake's fingers graze it. It feels so odd to be impaled like this, so close and yet, not there yet.

"Mmmmm." Jake exhales into the short hairs of Blaise's neck. "You know you've still got three inches or so to go, right?"

Blaise levers his hips up a little, letting his body shift forward, and then leans back into it again, his body stretching around Jake. "I'm greedy. I don't make a secret of it."

"You're devastating," Jake says. He leans forward with Blaise, putting both of his hands on the headboard, his tanned fingers twining through Blaise's. "Here, let me try this." His hips pump slightly, and Blaise swears he sees stars. "Is that okay?"

Blaise breathes. "Yeah. Just go slow."

He's surprised how long it takes, Jake patient and unyielding at his back, his own body pressing towards Jake's hips and then forward again when it's too much. His erection wilts a bit, but Jake kisses him, stroking his prick and sending waves of pleasure through him until he thinks perhaps he can do it. The last inch is almost a hopeless disaster, and then it's not at all.

"Oh, shit, that feels amazing," Blaise gasps. Jake is holding him close, warm against his back, his hand ghosting over Blaise's prick still. This is easy between them, this melding together of their bodies, and Blaise has never had it be like this, a slow, steady press of pleasure, the perfect way Jake pushes into him, the shuddering delight that ripples through Blaise's body as Jake splits him wide.

They find a rhythm together, Blaise letting himself bob lightly with the motion of their bodies, letting Jake thrust into him until he can't think, until he thinks he'll blow apart into a million glowing-hot pieces or burn entirely to ash.

"I'm so close," Blaise says, his hands bracing now, his body moving with Jake's, the need coiling deep within him, spiralling until he thinks he can lose himself in this feeling forever.

Jake moves faster, shifting, chasing, until Blaise is suddenly consumed by a flare of pleasure exploding inside him.

"Oh," Blaise says, and his voice trembles. "Fuck, yes. I--" He breaks off in a groan that's swallowed by a gasp.

"That's it?" Jake asks, and the words are rough against Blaise's ear. All Blaise can do is nod, and then Jake's moving faster, pushing deeper.

Blaise's fingers tighten against the headboard, the edges of the wood digging into his skin. He starts shaking and hears Jake's body, skin slapping against his. It's not that Blaise loses consciousness; it's more that he stops thinking, starts feeling, and his body convulses as he shouts, his spunk shooting across the pillows, his arse clenching around Jake's length, his nails digging into the headboard. Madly, he thinks they might be claws. He's not sure of anything anymore, other than the way his body's trembling, prickling so hotly, so angrily.

And then Jake's crying out, his body shuddering against Blaise, and Blaise feels him come, wetly, deeply inside Blaise's body.

Afterwards, there's silence. Jake detaches, then gently rolls onto his side, pulling Blaise against him on the clean side of the bed. They're warm, and even though Blaise knows he has to Scourgify the sheets, he doesn't give a flying Hippogriff at the moment. It's too good, the cocoon of warmth and soft forgetfulness that is woven around them, the harmony of their breath and the quiet of his bedroom around them, the silence that is deeper than any words could be.

Jake is strong at his back, warm and draped loosely against him, his arm thrown across Blaise possessively.

It only takes a moment for Blaise to ruin it all. "You should leave," he says after a moment, and he knows he's being a fool the moment Jake tenses behind him. Still, Blaise can't stop himself. "You've got what you wanted, after all."

The only sounds in the room are Jake's soft breath, the quiet tick of the Wedgewood clock on the chimneypiece, the one Blaise's mother had given him when he'd first gone off to Hogwarts. Jake's hand moves away, and Blaise feels empty. Cold.

"You don't mean that," Jake says finally.

"I do." Blaise knows he's lying. He can't help himself. He's terrified to lie here with Jake, to sleep beside him. He doesn't trust himself not to fall for this man, doesn't trust himself not to get hurt.

Jake doesn't move. "Blaise."

"I promised you a fuck, not a sleepover," Blaise says, as coldly as he can. His fingers twist in the sheets, and they tear beneath his touch, almost too easily. He looks at the ripped cotton in surprise, his fingers sliding through the ragged holes.

"That's not what you…" Jake trails off, huffs out a quiet, irritated breath. "Do you really think that's all I wanted?"

If you wanted anything more, you wouldn't have stayed away, Blaise thinks. He can feel Jake still behind him.

"Blaise," Jake says again, softly. "It's complicated."

"Not that much." Blaise hates the way his voice catches on the last word. He coughs, shifts, pulling away from Jake, settling at the edge of the mattress. "Look, I'm tired. This was great, but I want to sleep now." He tries to keep his tone light but firm. "Alone."

Jake hesitates, and Blaise can almost feel the uncertainty rolling off of him. What is this? What do I do? Should I go? The words slide through Blaise's mind; it takes him a moment before he realises they're not his.

"Please." Blaise doesn't want to fall apart. Not here. Not in front of Jake Durant. He feels stripped raw, uncertain. He doesn't like the feelings that are sifting through him, the deep, unhappy ache that's welling up now that the frissons of pleasure are fading. He feels a fool. A stupid, idiotic fool.

The mattress dips; Blaise can feel Jake pull away, roll over. Tension stretches between them; Blaise knows he's made a mistake. He should never have gone to the club, should never have waited for Jake. This won't go well. It can't. He wants too much from someone who isn't willing to give it.

You don't know that. The whisper through his mind is almost imperceptible.

"I do," Blaise says, and he doesn't turn around. He looks at the pool of light across the night stand, the bright shine of the lamp against the whitewashed wood. "Just go, please."

He hears Jake gather his clothes, put them on in silence. "Blaise," Jake says quietly.

Blaise closes his eyes. Doesn't answer.

After a moment, Jake walks out; Blaise listens for the soft fall of his footsteps down the hallway, the whoosh of the Floo.

The flat falls silent. Blaise breathes out, his body aching, his heart heavy and hard in his chest. He presses his face against the clean pillow; he can still smell the musk of his spunk, still feel the stickiness of Jake seeping out from his crease. He pushes himself up out of bed, goes into the en suite and cleans himself up. When he looks in the mirror, he studies his face, sees the greyness of his skin, the dull pain in his dark eyes.

"You're a bloody fool, Blaise Zabini," he says to himself, and then he pads back into the bedroom, crawling back beneath the coverlet. He closes his eyes. Exhales. It'll be better in the morning, he thinks, but he knows it won't be.

He thinks he's fallen for Jake Durant, like a sodding idiot schoolboy with a disastrous, unrequited pash. It's nothing that Blaise has ever felt before. Not really. Not like this.

Blaise opens his eyes, stares blankly at the wall, a swell of uncomfortable feelings rushing through him.

He doesn't sleep.

***

Draco watches Durant from across the cold courtyard filled with Dementors. There's something off about him this morning, Draco thinks, more than just the trial of being forced to endure these creatures at such an early hour on a Monday morning. It's a certain set to Durant's jaw, the way his mouth turns down at the corners, the sharp glance he gives Draco the moment he feels Draco's Legilimens sweep against his mind.

To be fair, the latter had been an accident. Whilst Draco's control has grown by leaps and bounds each day he's found himself here in this grim, ghoulish gendarmerie, he still sometimes slips, lets his mind brush past the others, particularly when he's curious. Burke's lectured him more than once about the impoliteness of such an act. Draco tries to be careful, but it's harder when he's tired, and he's so very worn out this morning. He's still reeling from Friday night, from his uncle's breaking into Gringotts and the aftermath. The Aurors had pulled him in for questioning--to help the search, they'd said, but Draco thinks there's a bit of worry that Draco'd somehow helped. As if he would. At least Durant had gone through the same on Saturday, or so Pans had told him when she'd firecalled last night. Althea'd been the one put after him, early in the evening, which Draco doesn't think is fair since he'd been forced to endure Arthur Maxton asking ridiculously pointed questions until Bertie'd shown up and insisted they had more than enough of a statement from Draco, thanks ever so. Maxie hadn't been able to argue though. Not with the Deputy Head Auror.

Bertie'd pulled Draco aside, made certain he was all right. It'd felt strangely awkward, Draco thinks, in a way that he hadn't expected. He's proud of Bertie, proud of what his mentor has accomplished, the place in the hierarchy Bertie's achieved. But Draco'd been so very aware, standing in the hallway, with Bertie studying him, of how the gulf between them is widening now that Draco's an Unspeakable. It's not as if he doesn't feel it with his old team. Watching them work together at Gringotts had only made it so very clear that he's no longer part of Seven-Four-Alpha. Draco misses them. Misses being an Auror. Misses arguing a case point with Harry at the white board, misses seeing Pansy's face light up when she's explaining an obscure point of magiforensicology, misses Blaise looking up from a file, eyes shining when he's made a connection, his mouth stained blue from sucking on the tip of a sugar quill.

Fuck, but he even misses Althea eyeing him warily from her desk as she flips through a box of file jackets.

Draco reminds himself it's worth it in the end. Legilimency fascinates him, and his skill with it makes him feel good. Useful. Talented, even. And then there's Harry. Draco'd give up anything to be able to lie in bed with Harry on a lazy Sunday afternoon, both of them dozing together. He knows that.

But it doesn't mean Draco doesn't miss what he's lost.

His gaze drifts back to Durant, who just says, "Don't," without looking over at Draco. Durant's surrounded by Dementors, and if Draco squints just a bit, he can almost see the wisps of energy curling off of Durant's exposed skin, wafting towards the Dementors' bent heads. Draco exhales, and his breath is a soft white puff in the cold air.

"I didn't mean to," Draco says, and his voice is a bit too loud in the quiet of the containment unit. They're here alone, him and Durant, at least for the nonce. Burke and Dee have gone off with Shah, leaving them behind, to discuss the fate of the Dementors with the Luxembourgian delegation that'd arrived a half hour ago, Tomás Furtado da Luz on their heels. Draco can only imagine the shouting that's going on in the warden's office, Dee slamming the metal tip of his cane against the floor to make a particular point, Burke's face getting redder the more idiotic the solicitors are. He's half-glad they'd told him to stay. To be honest, he'd rather be with a contingent of Dementors than a roomful of politicians.

At least the Dementors have souls. Of a sort, Draco supposes.

For now, though, he rubs his cold hands together and just says, a bit petulantly, "It's not as if I could get past your Occlumens anyway."

Durant's mouth twitches slightly. "Better for both of us," he says, and he turns, moving towards another pack of Dementors. They have to feed them quickly this morning; they're due back at the Ministry by half-two for a debriefing on dear old Uncle Roddy. Merlin but Draco hates his family sometimes. They're off their fucking nut, he thinks. The whole bloody lot of them.

He feels the cool brush of a Dementor against his arm, and Draco pulls away, scowling towards it. Not that the Dementor gives a damn; the quick flare of his temper is only that much more enticing to it. Draco does his best to tamp that back down, but the Dementor's already inhaling the sharp twist of anger, breathing it in with a dry, rattling gasp.

"Careful." Durant glances over at Draco, and when he does, Draco catches a glimpse of love bites on the side of his neck, small, purpled marks that disappear beneath Durant's collar. Draco wants to ask about them, wants to know exactly what Durant did after Althea let him go. To be honest, Draco's not certain if he'd rather those marks come from Blaise or from someone else. Neither option seems all that appealing to him.

So he holds his tongue and turns back to the Dementors surrounding him, turning his palm up as he concentrates on it, letting that faint twist of curiosity in him rise up, seep out of the ridges of his fingertips. The Dementors lean forward again, drinking from the tiny push of Draco's feelings and thoughts. It's barely enough, Draco knows, and they're so damned hungry. Still, he's surprised by their restraint, by the careful way they take what he's offering, sharing it amongst themselves. If he doesn't look at them--not directly at least--Draco can almost get glimpse of who they used to be. A quiet, uncertain woman, her dirty blond hair pulled back from her gaunt face. A sharp-nosed man, shifting uneasily from foot to foot, watching Draco carefully as he lets another puff of pity slide off his palm.

Draco moves through the Dementors; they make way for him, their robes sweeping out of the way with a soft rustle, the faint stench of dead things drifting from the folds. Draco's learnt not to be afraid of them--not entirely at least, although he thinks a certain worrisome caution is perfectly acceptable, not to mention healthy--and they've grown careful with him as well, realising, like a throng of feral cats, that sustenance comes with Draco. They come close, but they don't touch, don't give him cause to flinch, to run away.

Not that Draco will admit it to anyone, but he's almost grown fond of the wretched creatures.

And yet there are some that linger at the edges, watching him almost warily. Sometimes they'll feed from Jake, or Burke, or Dee, but if Draco comes close, they flinch away, turning towards the iron scrollwork and glass panes that mark the boundaries of their cage.

Today, though, one of them moves closer. It's hungry, Draco realises, and an unexpected rush of empathy washes through Draco. He reaches his hand out towards the Dementor, holding still. The Dementor hesitates, the frayed edges of its sleeves fluttering ever so slightly, a slow, uneven breath shuddering its shoulders.

Draco lets a soft, wispy whiff of pity waft from his wrist. The Dementor leans in, its hood falling forward, nothing but a dark blankness.

Until it's not.

A familiar face forms in the depths of the void, round and rattish, with scraggly grey-white fuzz across plump cheeks and bright, nervous eyes. Draco knows this face, saw it over and over again in the shadows of the Manor, watching him, peering out at him from behind doors and corners, always looking for Draco to cock up, always waiting for some titbit of gossip with which he could scurry back to the Dark Lord, using it to shore up his crumbling status.

"Peter Pettigrew," Draco says, his voice barely a whisper, but the Dementor jerks back, pulls away, and then the moment's gone, the man's faded away.

Draco stares at the Dementor, neither of them moving, neither of them breathing. He tries to push out with his mind, feel the remnants of the man, but there's nothing there anymore. Just an emptiness that's worse than the horror of looking a dead man in the face. Draco wants to turn away, wants to run for the hallway, leave Durant behind, but he can't.

He won't.

Instead he closes his eyes, breathing out. He thinks of Pettigrew, of the silver hand the Dark Lord had given the man, of how it had strangled him when he'd allowed Harry to escape the Manor. Draco remembers his father and Rodolphus pulling Pettigrew's limp body from the dungeons, laying him at the feet of a raging Dark Lord. How could Pettigrew have gone from that to this?

Draco's eyes flutter open. The Dementor's pulling back, pushing into the throng. Draco thinks about stopping him, thinks about trying his Legilimens again, pushing into whatever consciousness is still there behind that tattered hood.

He can't bring himself to do it.

The Dementor looks back at Draco. For a moment, Draco thinks he sees the face again, as through a darkened mirror, a murky reflection of a dead man's features before they slip away again.

Draco can't move. Can't think. His hand is shaking; he drops it to his side.

"Malfoy," Durant says, his voice a bit sharp. When Draco turns towards him, slow, uneasy, Durant's frowning at him. "You all right there?"

"Yeah," Draco says, but his voice rasps against his throat. Durant's just watching him, his brows drawing together. Draco breathes out, shakes his head, trying to clear it. He looks back towards the Dementor, but it's gone now, lost amongst the others. "Just a ghost."

And then Durant's by Draco's side, solid and warm and oh so very human. His hand settles between Draco's shoulder blades, and the wide press of his fingers calms Draco, settles him. "Did you see something?" Durant asks, leaning forward, and Draco can smell the bright notes of his cologne, the bite of lemongrass and the warmth of musk. Draco closes his eyes and remembers that smell on Harry's sheets three months past, the angry twist of jealousy when he'd first found out about Jake Durant. His life's changed so much, so quickly. Look at him now, taking comfort from Harry's ex. Or calling Harry Harry, for that matter, or giving up his career to be with his boyfriend. He wonders if he should be more uncertain about all of this, but then he thinks of the gentle kiss Harry given him this morning, standing barefoot and barechested in the middle of the Grimmauld kitchen, a cup of coffee in one hand, his hair rumpled, his jaw still unshaven, his eyes sleepy and soft. When Draco had pulled back, smiling, and asked what that'd been for, Harry'd just laughed, then kissed him again, pulling Draco closer, murmuring against Draco's lips that he just liked snogging him.

Draco thinks he'd give anything up for this Harry. Not the irritating prat he'd gone to school with, or the polished bastard who'd walked through the corridors of Auror headquarters as if he owned the whole bloody place. But his Harry, the one who looks at him as if he hung the moon, the one who gives him those slow, heated smiles, the one who holds Draco close when he doesn't want to think, who wraps his arms around Draco's bent shoulders and holds him when the grief starts to overwhelm him again.

When Draco looks at Jake Durant now, he doesn't see a rival. Not for Harry at least.

"Malfoy," Durant says, his voice quiet, a bit troubled.

Draco nods after a moment. "My mind's playing tricks on me," he says, and he runs his hand through his hair, pushing it back off his forehead. "I thought I saw a face I knew."

"Right." Durant's silent for a breath, and he studies Draco with cool blue eyes. "You can see them then." He doesn't sound happy. "What they used to be."

"A little." Draco gets the distinct impression that Durant's not thrilled about that. He shrugs. "Just a glimpse, I suppose."

Durant nods, and his frown deepens a little more. "You shouldn't, you know. Muriel can't--"

"But you can." Draco meets Durant's gaze. "Dee can."

"Because he's a fucking necromancer," Durant says, a bit sharply. He looks around them at the Dementors holding back, a few steps away from them, their hoods turned to watch. "He knows how these poor bastards are made. Of course he can see them--"

"And you?" Draco's mouth tightens. "You're some sort of super-Legilimens, the id of neuromancy--"

"I don't know what I am," Durant says, and his voice goes low. Bitter. "Christ only knows what my daddy dabbled in, and my mama's kin…" He trails off, looks away. "Seems like the Robichaus might have been a bit less upstanding of a family than they claimed to be."

It's not as if Draco doesn't know how that realisation feels.

They stand silently for a long moment in the midst of a crowd of Dementors. The surrealism of it all isn't lost on Draco. He can feel the Dementors pulling at his emotions, trying to siphon off whatever he's let slide free of his Occlumens. He remembers his Aunt Bella teaching him to keep his mind clear, to put up those defences to keep the Dementors at bay when they glided through the Manor hallways, following Greyback to the upper salon where the Dark Lord was holding court.

"Pettigrew," Draco says finally. He looks over at Durant. "That's who I saw. A Death Eater named Peter Pettigrew who died at my father's house eight years ago." Draco folds his arms over his chest, suddenly cold, despite the warming charms he'd sunk into his jacket as soon as he'd arrived at Azkaban this morning. He tightens his fingers in the thick wool, his shoulders hunching slightly. "Which is bloody ridiculous, so I must be mistaken."

Durant doesn't answer, but Draco can feel the whisper of Durant's Legilimens against his mind; he opens up just enough to let that memory seep through, the image of Pettigrew's rodenty face shadowed beneath the hood. Durant frowns, then glances away. "I don't think your mind's messing with you," he says finally, and he rubs at the back of his neck, before looking over at Draco again. "Which makes me wonder how the fuck someone you knew eight years ago ended up here."

"That," Draco says unhappily, "is precisely what I'm asking myself."

He's bloody well certain neither of them have an answer.

They both look up as the Spirit Screen sputters. Burke steps through, the screen sealing shut again behind her. She looks furious as she stomps down the stairs that lead down to the courtyard, her booted steps echoing in the quiet of the containment unit.

"What's wrong?" Durant asks as she stops at the last step, her hand clenched around the black iron railing. The Dementors start to move towards her; Burke stops them with a wave of her hand, and they draw back again.

Burke looks over at Draco and Durant. Her cheeks are flushed, her eyes bright with anger. She looks almost regal in her black wool jacket and trousers, the jacket cinched in at her narrow waist with a thin black belt. "Those sodding idiots," she says, and then she stops, pressing her lips together, breathing out through her nose. She draws in another breath before she says, "Luxembourg are taking these poor bastards. We're not fit to look after them, it seems. As if Barachiel Dee hasn't been nearly killing his fool self to take care of this lot."

Durant walks across the courtyard; Draco follows, not wanting to be left behind in a throng of Dementors, some of them starting to close in around him, a sighing rustle going through the group. "They have more resources," Durant says. "Maybe--"

"Fucking rubbish and you know it." Burke folds her arms across her chest. "If you think the ICW plans to do anything other than figure out their own way to weaponise these cursed souls, you're a damned fool, Jake Durant. And that's the last thing I think you are, so…" She trails off, and she looks away, her face crumpling. "They ought to be cared for," she says after a moment. "They never asked for this, any of them."

Draco thinks of Pettigrew, and he wonders. He glances back behind him, his gaze sweeping over the multitude of Dementors gathering together, their hooded heads bent towards one another. He thinks he sees faces, but they fade away before he can catch them. He looks back at Burke. "We can't fight the ICW. If they want to take them--"

"I know," Burke says, crossly. Draco's surprised, if he's honest. He hadn't thought her the sentimental type. She gives him a sharp look. "If they can't use them, they'll destroy them, you know. Kill them."

"Wouldn't that be better?" Draco's confused. "If they're already dead, wouldn't that set their souls free?"

Durant shakes his head. "Not the way Dementors are killed." He looks over at Draco. "The one that Kissed Theodore Burnham? You think they let it come in here?"

A chill settles across Draco's skin, colder than the air around him. "But…" He trails off; he doesn't quite understand. "They're immortal."

"They're not," Burke says, her voice quiet. "There's a spell that kills them. Destroys that bit of soul still left inside them, that last whisper of humanity. They blink out, become nothing but a pile of tattered rags. That human part of them? Snuffed out. Destroyed." Her voice quavers. "It's a second death, sprog. There's nothing of you that lasts through that. Nothing that can go over, right? Nothing that can pass through the Veil."

Draco's silent. He's not certain he believes in an afterlife. "Don't we all go into nothingness, though?" He looks back at the Dementors, a twist of worry going through him.

"It's not just that," Durant says. "What Muriel means is that with a second death like that…" He rubs the back of his neck, then sighs. "All memory of them goes as well. Anyone still alive who knows them, forgets them. It's as if they never existed. They're wiped out, any trace of their humanity gone forever. It's a damnatio memoriae of the worst sort."

"Circe," Draco breathes out. He feels a bit ill, a bit unsettled. He doesn't want to think about that kind of curse, about how horrible it would be to be forgotten in that way.

"It's what Dee's fighting against," Burke says. "Sometimes I think he's the only wizard who remembers this lot used to be like us." Her brow furrows; she looks out over the Dementors again. "I might not like them, but I certainly don't want them erased entirely. No one deserves that, sprog. Not even these poor wankers."

Draco can't really disagree.

***

Harry hates crisis meetings. He's been in too damned many of them as of late. Still, he squares his shoulders and walks into the conference room just down the hall from the Minister's office, Zabini, Whitaker and Parkinson on his heels.

The room's large and grand, meant for diplomatic functions and meetings of all the Minister's senior undersecretaries and department heads. Four tall arched windows line one wall, looking out onto the sunny Atrium below. The walls are three-quarters panelled in a dark walnut, the wood matching the gleaming table that stretches out along the length of the room. Upholstered-back chairs fill the sides, one after another, with their deep purple brocade and neatly turned arms polished a deep brown. Portraits of Ministers past hang on the wall opposite the windows, their oil-painted faces frowning down at the gathering, frustrated by the rules that keep them from speaking aloud during official business.

Harry's boots barely make a noise as he crosses the plush purple carpet towards Gawain Robards and Bertie Aubrey. Still, Aubrey turns, and he smiles, holding out a hand to Harry. His bushy white moustache seems even bigger than usual, Harry thinks.

"Inspector Potter," Aubrey says. "Well done this weekend." He nods to the rest of Seven-Four-Alpha behind Harry. "The whole lot of you."

"Only doing our job," Harry says, but honestly, he doesn't think they've done a hell of lot the past few days. They still don't know where Lestrange is, although Whitaker's narrowed it down somewhat, or what the hell Eddie Durant's up to. Or why Rodolphus Lestrange needed a bloody fifteenth century grimoire, for that matter. "But I'll admit I'd be a bit happier if we had Lestrange in custody."

Aubrey claps Harry on the back. "We'll catch him, lad. Never fear."

They take their seats, Seven-Four-Alpha to Harry's left, Gawain and Aubrey to his right, all of them facing the windows. A couple of undersecretaries are on the other side, close to the head of the table. Harry can always pick them out of a Ministry crowd just by the suits they wear, all nattily tailored, with perfectly knotted silk ties. He'd almost think Draco might fit in well with that lot, except their hair's far too close-cropped, their mouths too tight and prudish. Even dressed up, Draco has a raw sensuality about him that Harry's certain would set the undersecretaries' teeth on edge. It's one of the things Harry loves most about his boyfriend.

Luxembourg comes in next; Harry nods to Nadia Daifallah as she passes. She gives Harry a faint smile; he knows she's still annoyed about the whole bloody Dolohov situation. There's the rustle of paper, a cough here and there, the soft murmured hellos across the table, then the quiet conversations amongst factions. Zabini shifts beside Harry, smoothing the front of his jacket down. He seems a bit nervous, Harry thinks. Unsettled maybe. Harry gives him a sideways look.

"All right?" Harry asks, and Zabini glances up, his surprise evident.

"Fine, guv," is all Zabini says in reply, but then the door opens and Saul Croaker strides in, all bony shoulders and lanky gait and rumpled white hair. Harry senses, rather than sees, Gawain tense on the other side of Aubrey, and Aubrey bends towards the Head Auror, murmuring something Harry can't quite make out. Gawain just nods.

Hermione's behind Croaker, and then Jake, and Zabini shifts again in his chair, turning his head away as Jake walks beside Hermione, laughing at something she's just said. Harry's gaze doesn't linger on them; Draco comes in next, along with Muriel Burke, and he looks uncertain and unhappy to be caught up in these proceedings. Harry doesn't blame him. There's nothing worse than combining politicians with law enforcement, then throwing the spooks into the mix as well. He settles in his chair. It's going to be a long afternoon.

Still, Harry smiles at Draco as he takes a seat across the table, a few chairs down from Harry. Draco tucks his hair back behind his ears, pretending to ignore Harry, but Harry can tell by the faint quirk of his mouth upwards that he knows exactly where Harry is and what he's doing.

Zabini's knee nudges Harry's. "Stop being so obvious," Zabini says, under his breath, and Harry just frowns at him, even as he knows Zabini's right. Particularly since Muriel Burke's watching Harry with an unblinking, steady gaze. She doesn't look happy. Harry glances away from her first, his face warming. He shifts his shoulders against the brocade of his chair, then folds his hands in front of him, neatly, on the table.

And then Kingsley's walking in, his pale lavender shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He's not in official robes, Harry notes, despite most of the rest of the individuals at the table--Hermione and Seven-Four-Alpha excepted--being in uniform. Kingsley's followed by a retinue--his aide Michael Cressy leading the group, and Harry catches sight of Mia Nussbaum just behind him, tall and elegant in her tailored suit, her short, greying hair smoothed back from her high forehead, her sallow cheeks almost gaunt in their sharpness. Harry'd like to know what the aide to the ICW's Supreme Mugwump is doing here, particularly when she looks his way, her dark eyes settling on Harry before she smiles, thinly, tightly. Mia never has been fond of Harry.

"Tell me things," Kingsley says, taking the seat at the head of the table as Michael puts a file jacket in front of him. Nussbaum sits beside Kingsley, her face impassive. Kingsley looks towards Gawain. "This grimoire that was taken on Friday night. Do we know what it is?"

"Our team is still working on that," Saul Croaker says before Gawain can answer, and Kingsley glances his way. Gawain's lips thin, his nostrils flare, but he doesn't push back. At least not yet. Croaker doesn't look across the table at the Aurors; he puts all his focus on the Minister. "Granger's been doing some research with the magical theorists downstairs, haven't you, Granger?"

Hermione looks distinctly uncomfortable, but she sits forward in her chair, her sleeveless pink floral dress a bright splotch of colour against the dark wood and plummy upholstery. "We've been trying to track down any potential references to a fifteenth century Italian grimoire. The vault manifest Gringotts supplied us with isn't incredibly forthcoming about the provenance, but we can't find any supporting evidence that would indicate that Rodolphus or Rabastan Lestrange purchased such a grimoire."

"Parents?" Kingsley asks, and Hermione shakes her head.

"Nothing in the probate records submitted at the time of their deaths. Nor could we find any record of purchase by either of their wives." Hermione flips open a grey file jacket, the tab on it marked with a bright red strip of Spellotape along the edge. She frowns down at a paper before looking back up at Kingsley. "Although, with a bit more pressure on Gringotts, we did get a date for when the grimoire was put into Rodolphus Lestrange's vault. The seventeenth of April, nineteen-ninety-eight, and the deposit was made by Bellatrix Lestrange. She moved it from her vault."

There's a silence around the table until Harry breaks it by saying, "That was just before we broke into her vault for the Horcrux." He doesn't look down the table at Draco; it feels strange to be talking about that with him here.

Hermione nods. "Roughly two weeks before. And it'd only been in her vault for the previous six months." She flicks her wand to the top piece of parchment in her file jacket; an image of it floats in the air above the table. "We found this in her vault record. It's a slip detailing the initial deposit of the grimoire, which gives us a title at least. De morte fugienda, written by Paolo Biondo in the mid-fifteenth century. He wasn't well known amongst magical theorists, but he did have a certain amount of influence on the latter works of Agrippa and Paracelsus." Another sweep of her wand, and the image changes to the frontispiece of an antique book, roughly printed. "This is a partial copy, published in 1603 by a Dutch printer. By this time the work itself had disappeared, with only bits and pieces of it appearing in the writings of other magical philosophers. We don't even know if this printed copy is actually really part of the grimoire itself. Without a verified copy of the original we have no way of knowing if Geert Kloet actually saw the real grimoire before he published it or if he was full of bollocks."

Kingsley nods, then glances down the table at Draco. "Malfoy. Any recollection of something like this being in your family possessions?"

Draco's silent for a moment, and Harry can almost feel the discomfort rolling off him, then he shakes his head. "Not from the Manor. My mother might know if it belonged to her family."

"Find that out," Kingsley says, and he looks back at Hermione. "So I'm assuming if Lestrange wanted this grimoire, it's not soft and fluffy family recipes."

"It's a necromantic grimoire, sir," Hermione says, and she lets the flickering frontispiece fade away. "As I said, none of our theorists have seen it, but it's referenced in other works. Including those of our own Dr John Dee, necromancer extraordinaire." Even Harry's falling asleep on a regular basis in History of Magic hadn't kept him from learning about the court magician, astrologer, and would-be necromancer to Elizabeth I. He'd always wondered if Zabini's grandfather came from that particular line of the Dee family. Judging by the way Zabini tenses beside him, Harry'd say that's a probable yes.

Kingsley rolls his eyes. "Of course." He leans back in his chair, his knuckles pressed to his mouth for a moment before he says, "Is Barachiel Dee aware of this grimoire?"

No one answers for a moment, and then, just as Kingsley sits forward again, a furrow digging in between his brows, Muriel Burke says, "Probably."

"Explain." Kingsley folds his hands on the table. His brown fingers are interlaced, his thumb rubbing against the ball of his palm.

Muriel hesitates, then she says, "If anyone's going to know about the existence of a necromantic grimoire, we all know it'll be Dee." Her gaze flicks towards Zabini, then back to Kingsley. "Pardon my bluntness, sir, but fuck our magical theorists downstairs. Between Barachiel Dee and Draco Malfoy we've the best resources on this bullshit right at our fingertips. Dee's a morbid bastard, sure, but he's a bloody good necromancer, whether or not we're keen to admit it. And Malfoy here, well, it's his uncle we're after, the one what killed his father, so...." She sits back in her chair. "Just my two Knuts."

Kingsley's gaze shifts down to Draco again; Draco's looking down at his hands, his cheeks flushed. Harry wishes he could spare him this; he half-hates Muriel Burke for pointing out Draco's relationship to Rodolphus Lestrange in front of a room full of sodding politicians.

The room's quiet again, and Harry watches Draco swallow, shift slightly in his chair. "Uncle Roddy," he says after a moment, "wasn't the one interested in things like that, though." He looks up at them all. "He was more about getting pissed and smashing things, not really the finer points of necromantic theory. My aunt, on the other hand…." He pauses, and Harry can see the way his face shifts a little bit, the wrinkle of disgust that twitches his nostrils just so. No one else seems to notice, though, except perhaps Zabini and Parkinson, the latter of whom's frowning at Draco, her mouth pinched with worry. Draco draws in a deep breath, twisting his quill through his fingertips, before he says, "Aunt Bellatrix would have thought that a volume like that should be protected. What my uncle wants with it now, though, I can't really say."

That's not entirely true, Harry thinks. Draco has suspicions, ones they've discussed over the weekend. Just not ones he's willing to admit here. Neither Harry or Draco want to put words publicly to their deepest fear, to their worry that all the signs are starting to point to Lestrange being fool enough to try to bring Voldemort back. Harry hopes they're wrong, hopes that Lestrange isn't that big of a fool. But Draco thinks his uncle might be. Rodolphus was a true believer, Draco says, one who would have given his life if Voldemort had required it of him. Fanatical, Draco had called him, and Harry remembers the shudder that had gone through Draco's shoulders when he'd said that. Draco doesn't have much love for his uncle--or for his aunt either. He's glad she's dead, he'd told Harry. He only wished she'd have taken his uncle with him.

"So," Kingsley says after a moment, "Rodolphus Lestrange uses your brother--" He nods towards Jake. "--and his fucking Hand of Glory to break into his own Gringotts vault to get a necromantic grimoire that his wife deposited there from her own vault before the end of the war." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "For what reason we've no fucking bloody idea, not to mention with whom--"

Parkinson clears her throat; heads turn her way. "Actually, I've been able to track the magical signatures of the individuals in the vault." She glances at Harry, and he nods. "I can say with certainty that Eddie Durant was in the vault, and most likely the one to use the Hand of Glory, which would make sense if he was the one to create it. Whatever he did to it definitely juiced it up. Additionally, I've cross-referenced another magical signature to one MACUSA had on file for Les Harkaway, our little recently Marked American friend." She doesn't glance Draco's way; Harry catches Draco's quick brush of fingertips across his forearm. He says it hasn't been hurting lately, not the way it had in New York, but Harry's not certain he believes him.

"And the woman?" Aubrey asks, turning his head towards Parkinson.

She leans forward, the better to see him. "I don't have a definitive match, but I have strong evidence to support her identity as Astrid Yaxley Harkaway, Our Les's mummy and Aldric Yaxley's daughter."

Draco looks over the table to Harry, his surprise written across his face. "Are you serious?"

Harry nods. "Parkinson's matched it partially off Astrid Yaxley's old Ministry records."

"I've put a request in," Whitaker adds, "for any official MACUSA files on her." She pushes back a loose lock of dark hair that's fallen from the thick braid wrapped around her head. Her narrow shoulders are hunched, the pale blue striped cotton of her shirt pulled tight across them. She hasn't been doing well the past few days, Harry thinks, and he's certain it has to do with her mother's death. The anniversary was last week, but Harry doesn't know what to say to her, whether she wants it acknowledged. He knows he doesn't like to think about his parents' deaths when October comes around. Whitaker looks over at Harry, almost apologetically. "With the way MACUSA's protecting Aldric Yaxley, though, I don't know that I'll get them."

"But this is the first solid tie we have putting Lestrange and Dolohov together with Aldric Yaxley," Harry says, turning back to Kingsley. He can feel Aubrey and Gawain watching him. "It's not much, but it's something to work with."

Gawain nods. "With apologies to Sergeant--" He stops, then says, "To Unspeakable Malfoy, but do we have any information about the Muggle account linked from Lucius Malfoy's Gringotts vault?"

"It's a Swiss banque privée," Zabini says. "And one not exactly forthcoming about its clientele, as you might imagine." He nods towards Nadia Daifallah. "I'm working with the ICW legal team to get past that, but it might be tomorrow before I have that information. It's not an account in either Lucius Malfoy or Rodolphus Lestrange's name, though. I'm fairly certain we're going to be dealing with an intermediary of some sort. There are just far too many levels of protection in place."

"Such as?" Nussbaum asks, her German accent faint but still detectable. She looks truly interested for the first time, one perfectly groomed eyebrow going up above the rim of her glasses. Harry's never really liked Mia, not that much. She's cold at best, manipulative at worst, and he's never trusted her not to fuck him over. He still doesn't.

Zabini rubs at the corner of his jaw. There's what looks like a bruise there, just above his collar, Harry notices, and then his gaze flicks towards Jake. That's always been the place Jake had liked to mark him, Harry realises. Just high enough to be seen if someone looked the right way. It annoys Harry, if he's honest, but he doesn't know why. Not because he's jealous. More because he doesn't want Jake to be toying with Zabini. Using him as a convenient rebound. He'll have to keep an eye on that, he thinks.

"For every transfer there's at least two bounces to other banks across the Continent," Zabini says. "Random ones, I think, but the money shifts two to three to four times in a twenty-four hour period before landing in Switzerland. It took a while to figure that out, but once I did, it's a pretty solid pattern if you know what to look for."

Croaker drums his long, parchment-coloured fingers against the table. "The Department of Mysteries might be able to track them faster.'

Before Zabini can object, Gawain snorts. "Fuck off, Saul. This part's ours." He gives Croaker a steely look. "Keep your spooks digging about in your own rubbish, thanks."

For a moment, Harry worries that Croaker might pull his wand, but Hermione leans over, murmurs something in Croaker's ear, and he relaxes back into his chair, shooting Gawain a thin smile. "As you wish."

Hermione shifts in her chair. "The Unspeakables will be shifting some of our current focus away from the Dementor issue within the next few days." She doesn't look at Harry; she catches her bottom lip between her teeth, worrying it for a moment before letting it slip free. "Luxembourg has decided--and Mia, correct me if I'm wrong--that the Dementors currently in Azkaban will be moved into ICW custody by next week."

Burke and Draco exchange a guarded glance; Jake's mouth tightens ever so slightly. None of them like this idea, Harry realises. Frankly, neither does he.

"That would be my understanding," Nussbaum says, nodding. "The final paperwork should be filed at the court in Brussels by noon tomorrow."

Something twists uneasily through Harry at her smug tone. "You can't take the Dementors," he starts to say, but Nussbaum turns her cold, steady gaze on him.

"We can, Inspector Potter," she says, "and we will." The other Luxembourgian delegates are nodding along with her, save for Nadia Daifallah, who's turning her long, black quill between her fingers. "Merlin knows with the issues your prison has had as of late, there's no proper plan in place for caring for the creatures. Having observed their interactions with Barachiel Dee and his team, it seems the better choice to move them into our care. "

Harry glances Draco's way; all Draco does is shake his head, ever so slightly. Muriel Burke looks bloody furious, but she's keeping silent for once, Harry realises. This is worse than he'd expected.

"In any matter," Hermione says after a moment, and the look she gives Harry is sympathetic. "Unspeakable Muriel Burke will remain with Barachiel Dee and Hassan Shah to facilitate that transfer out of Azkaban, whilst Draco Malfoy and Jake Durant will join me in working alongside the Auror Seven-Four-Alpha team to put all our available resources towards capturing or neutralising Rodolphus Lestrange."

This isn't something Harry's been told yet. His gaze shifts across the table to Draco; judging by the way he's calmly smoothing a thumb across the arch of his quill, Harry'd say Draco'd known that before he walked in the room. Curiously it's Jake who seems the most uncomfortable at Hermione's announcement. Well. Jake and Zabini, Harry thinks. Zabini's shoulders have tightened; he stares down at the papers on the table in front of him, his hands flattened to either side.

"I think that's a brilliant idea," Kingsley says, nodding. "Whatever resources we can share the better." He pushes his chair back a bit. "Let's find these bastards as quickly as possible."

"There's still the question," Nadia Daifallah says, her voice quiet, "about the transfer of Antonin Dolohov into ICW custody."

An awkward silence falls across the room.

"I'm not certain this is a good time," Nussbaum starts to say, but Nadia interrupts her.

"There's been a formal complaint made in regards to prisoner treatment," Nadia says, and she looks around the table, her face defiant. "I myself have concerns about the manner in which Dolohov has been--"

"He's being coddled like a fucking prince," Croaker says, and he holds up a hand when Nadia tries to protest. "One incident, girl. One, and it's been handled. We might as well have wrapped the bastard in cotton wool now, what with the bloody procedures we've put in place, eh, Granger?"

"Dolohov is being monitored," Hermione says, but the words don't carry her usual forcefulness of belief. Harry thinks she's having doubts of her own. He glances over at Whitaker; her sharp features are composed, calm. Harry wonders if the complaint came from her. It wouldn't surprise him, to be honest.

Nadia just looks at Hermione, her lips pressed together. They've always liked each other, Hermione and Nadia. This has to be putting strain on the two of them. Hermione won't turn towards Nadia; she closes her file jacket instead.

"You know," Nadia says, "that we can't let this go. Not after a complaint's been filed. We have to follow it through. Have to see where our investigation takes us. And our preliminary inquest suggests that Dolohov would be safer in our custody--"

"Like my father was?" Draco asks. His tone is sharp, probably more so than he intended, given the way his cheeks flush. Harry knows Draco's tells now, knows when he's embarrassed, when he thinks he's revealed too much of himself. Still, Draco lifts his chin, meets Nadia's gaze head on. "Not that I'm Antonin Dolohov's biggest fan, all things considered, but I'd hate for him to be ambushed the way my father was three weeks ago."

And Merlin, Harry thinks, has it not even been a month yet? He studies Draco's face, the thinness of it, the shadows that are still purple beneath his eyes. Draco's too sharp, too fragile still, at least in Harry's opinion, and Harry worries about him, especially when Draco wakes in the middle of the night, sliding out of bed and padding downstairs for a cup of tea in the darkness of the kitchen.

Harry's gaze shifts towards Nadia. She has the grace to look embarrassed at least, but she won't back down either. Harry knows what she's like when she's stubborn. It's one of the things he likes about Nadia.

"We've put extra security protocols in place," Nadia says. "Dolohov would have a safe transfer."

To be honest, Harry's not certain of that. If Lestrange could get to Lucius Malfoy, he can get to anyone. Especially Antonin Dolohov.

"We'll revisit this discussion later," Kingsley says, his voice firm. "I'm more interested in focusing our efforts on Lestrange at the moment, though, Nadia, I recognise that Dolohov is a priority for your team. For now, I won't allow him to be extradited to your custody, and as I recall from the ICW Treaty of 1928, my signoff is required, without a unanimous vote by the ICW Security Council."

"True." Nadia leans back. "But I'll wear you down, Minister."

Kingsley gives her a warm smile. "I hope you do." He stands, and Nussbaum does as well. "If you'll excuse me, I've other duties to perform, other meetings to attend." His gaze sweeps across the table. "In the meantime, I expect everyone in this room to work together, do I make myself clear? No more petty rivalries. I want Lestrange brought in, and I could give a fuck whether his arse is dragged in alive or dead." He looks at Gawain, then Croaker. "Shut this bollocks down, my friends. Before it brings all of us down with it."

And then he's gone in a flurry of senior undersecretaries and ICW officials, Nussbaum trailing after him.

"Well," Aubrey says after a moment. "That might have gone worse."

Gawain snorts from his other side, then looks over at Croaker. "Potter leads the Lestrange investigation. Not Granger."

Croaker's smile is sharp and wide. "Thought I'd suggest Malfoy to head it up."

Draco's face is horrified. "I'd really rather not, sir."

"Just a lark, lad," Croaker says, and Harry thinks that's worse. He wants to ball his fist up, slam it into Croaker's face, but he doesn't. Instead he gathers his papers, tucking them back into the file jacket. Croaker's watching him, before he sighs and says, "I won't object to Potter, but Granger has full rights to share information with me."

"Done," Gawain says, and Harry has the distinct feeling his life is being signed away. He looks across the table towards Draco.

"Only if the others agree," Harry says, but he knows they will.

Merlin only knows where it will lead. Harry doesn't know what board they're playing on any longer, he's only sure that they're pawns in a much larger game.

The meeting breaks up; Harry stands, taking his time to gather his things, watching Draco from the corner of his eye. When Draco moves around the table, Harry falls into step with him, keeping enough of a distance between them to not be overly noticeable. Still, he catches the frown on Hermione's face; Harry chooses to ignore it.

"Hey," Harry says quietly, and Draco looks over at him, giving him a faint smile. "You all right with working with me again?"

Draco's mouth twitches. He folds his file jacket against his chest. "I think I can survive," he says. "Managed it once, didn't I?" His voice is light, but there's a faint furrow between his brows. He's worried, Harry knows. To be honest, Harry is too.

"You don't have to," Harry says. They walk out into the corridor, towards the lifts. Zabini and Parkinson are already waiting for them, along with Whitaker and one or two of the undersecretaries. Harry knows Hermione and Jake are following behind; he can hear the soft rumble of Jake's voice. "I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

"Honestly?" Draco slows, draws to a stop. "I won't be." The look he gives Harry is warm, soft. "I've missed Seven-Four-Alpha." He reaches out, almost as if he's going to touch Harry's arm, but he catches himself before he does, and his hand drops back to his side. He glances back towards Hermione and Jake, and his face closes off a bit. Harry hates that, but then Draco looks at him again, and something settles in Harry at the warmth of it. "I'll be fine."

"Good." Harry starts walking again; Draco falls into step beside him. "How late are you working today?"

Draco checks his watch. "Maybe half-five. No later than six. Why?"

Harry shrugs. "Just curious." Draco snorts at that, and Harry quirks an eyebrow. "What?"

"You're incorrigible," Draco says, but they're at the lift now, and he lets Parkinson lean in and kiss his cheek. "I'm fine, Pans," he says before she can ask.

Parkinson tuts at him. "I was just expressing my joy in working with you again. At least for a little bit."

"I wish you were the only Unspeakable we had to deal with," Zabini says, half under his breath, and he's watching Jake walk towards them with Hermione. Definitely something to keep an eye on there, Harry thinks, and he's certain Parkinson agrees, given the frown she shoots Zabini's way.

Jake doesn't say anything when he comes up, but his gaze flicks towards Zabini before he turns towards Draco. "Muriel's going back to Azkaban," he says. "She wants me to go over a few things this afternoon with you, if you're up for it."

Draco just shrugs. "If we must."

The lift dings open; they all step into it, Seven-Four-Alpha and the Unspeakables together. There's no room for the undersecretaries, so they wait. Harry stands in the middle, Draco pressed against one side of him, Jake on the other. Zabini's as far from the all as he can get, whilst Hermione frowns between Harry and Draco.

"Christ, I've missed you," Harry murmurs into Draco's ear, and Draco smiles as the lift doors slide shut in front of them.

Harry doesn't care if everything goes to hell around him. He has Draco back on his team, even if only for a few days, and the world feels as if it's back in order again.

***

Draco's elbows are aching on the carpet, and he's stretched forward at a rather awkward bend, but he doesn't much care as Harry's plowing into his arse. The stairs shift and creak beneath them with each press of Harry's hips, and Draco thinks he might just come undone if only he could get more comfortable.

It had started, of course, with Draco coming home from a ridiculous day at Azkaban and then that wretched crisis meeting followed by an hour and a half of training with Durant, which is not something Draco'd been expecting when he started out the day. Still, they work well together, he knows, nearly as well as he does with Burke, and Durant's good at pushing Draco with his Legilimency. But by the end of the day he'd been aching and empty and a bit heart-sore. All he'd wanted ten minutes ago had been a hot bath and a lie-down and then perhaps something to eat before bed, but Harry'd surprised him on the stairs on the way up to bathe, coming up from the kitchens, his feet bare, already changed into a pair of joggers and t-shirt.

"Hey, baby," Harry'd said, and then he'd pressed Draco against the wall, his mouth on Draco's, his hand sliding down to Draco's prick as everything heated up. Draco doesn't know quite the moment that led from it being a hot, slow kiss on the stairs to the current state of affairs. The only thing he knows is that it feels like it's been ages since they've had sex, though it's probably only been a day or two--both of them have been too tired, and he's had anxiety attacks at night more than once this past week. But he really wonders what he'd been thinking about when he'd walked into the house, now that he has his arse up in the air, his elbows braced on the stair above, and Harry's got one hand on the railing and the other on his waist. Really, Draco's certain this is a bloody brilliant way to get rid of all thinking for a bit.

"Spread your knees a little." Harry grunts the words out and pulls Draco back just a bit onto his prick. It's a deep angle, and Draco can feel the thrust of Harry's hardness almost in his gut. He usually likes it like this, fast, relentless even, but he's a bit worried about slipping and ending up at the bottom of the stairs in a heap.

Draco tries to shift his knees, but it's more difficult than one would think. He doesn't want to have to explain at St Mungo's exactly how he broke half his bones sliding on his face down the stairs.

"Maybe we need to move up to the bed," Draco says, although he loves wantonly fucking here with no concern for decency. Draco'd worried for a few moments about Kreacher wandering past when Harry'd pushed him down, then decided it didn't much matter. It's not as if house elves don't know what goes on, anyway. Draco's quite sure the Manor elves have had an eyeful over the years.

Harry smacks Draco's arse. "I quite like debauching you here. I just want to raise your arse a bit. I think you'd like it better as well."

And of course Harry would like this position, Draco thinks. He's not the one receiving the brunt of the thrusts on his forearms. Draco's got his trousers and pants shoved under his knees. The padding of the carpet on the stairs is making all the difference, although Draco thinks it could be cleaned--more than a bit musty when one has one's face shoved into it.

Halfway through the kiss, Harry'd started stripping Draco's clothes off and then pushed him down on the stairs, taking great joy in being a bit toppy--and really, Draco's rather fond of it as well, if he's honest. Harry'd shoved his joggers down, rubbed his cock against Draco's crease before saying the spells for quick prep and lube. Of course the lube spell's not as good as a bottle, but really, Draco's not complaining about the friction. That feels bloody incredible, and Draco loves being taken like this, loves having Harry take control from him, make him want to be shagged raw in the front hall. Draco's less concerned about all of that and more worried about the prospect of carpet burns on his elbows or a broken face from one wrong move.

"Careful," Draco manages to get out when Harry rocks his hips forward a bit too eagerly.

The stairs make an odd noise and Harry halts his next thrust, his lovely, thick cock buried deep in Draco. "Is the house shifting?"

The stairs adjust in front of Draco, the angle smoothing out just a bit so he can rest more comfortable on his elbows. The padding on the stair also feels thicker. Suddenly the pressure in his arms is less. Draco spreads his knees easily, angling his arse up, and Harry sinks deeper. It's astounding, utterly lovely, in fact, and Draco moans in delight with the shift. "Fuck, like that. Don't stop, Harry. Put your back into it."

"I love how much my house is in love with you," Harry says with a laugh, the words punctuated by deep, slow thrusts that take Draco's breath away. "It just made you more comfortable, didn't it?"

"Yes." Draco moans softly, pushing his hips back against Harry's. His hair's in his face, sticking to his sweaty cheeks, and he doesn't care. "I wonder if it's hoping we'll conceive an heir on the stairs." Draco does think the house doesn't quite understand the logistics of having two men as the primary couple, and yet, he has heard the odd story of pregnancy among wizards, so perhaps the house knows more than he thinks. Draco's thought about asking Granger about it, but he doesn't want her to laugh at him. Pansy would make his life a living hell if he asked her. His mother is not even an option, although she'd probably know some hair-raising stories about Grimmauld Place and the Black family that would make him never want to have sex here again. Although, to be honest, he's fairly certain even then Harry could convince him. He's that bloody good.

Harry picks up his stroke as Draco flattens his forearms against the step, his body bowed and his skin prickling. "Let's not tell it that's impossible so it keeps trying. I'd do this again."

So would Draco. Now that his arms don't hurt and the position's better, he's skittering closer and closer to climax, his body throbbing with the stretch and the delightful pressure of Harry fucking him open. There's something about being head down, arse up that's the perfect remedy's for today's stupendously gruelling work.

"Shit. So close." Harry's pace is staccato now, quick, hard thrusts, and his prick is impossibly hard and thick in Draco's arse. Draco is floating, pinned only by the weight of Harry's body.

Draco shifts his shoulders, managing to get an arm under himself to wrap his palm around his dripping prick. He just needs a little more friction, and he pulls quickly in time with Harry's thrusts, barely needing to do it thrice before he can feel his pleasure take wing. "Fuck. Oh. There. Don't you dare fucking stop, Harry."

Draco's eyes close as his body starts to shake, and then he's clenching around Harry, his arse throbbing, and Draco hears himself shouting--how long, he doesn't know, but when he comes back to himself, his chest is hot and his throat is raw and sore. Harry bites off a curse, his fingers digging into Draco's waist, and then he's spilling inside of Draco, his spunk filling Draco's arse, seeping out with each slow roll of his hips. He slumps over Draco, catching himself on his palms so he doesn't crush him against the edge of the stairs.

"You're fucking amazing," Harry mumbles against the back of Draco's neck, sounding drunk. "How the fuck did I get so lucky?"

Draco blows a strand of hair out of his face, his shoulders shivering still and his arse clenching with afterspasms. "I don't know. You were evidently born under a fortunate star."

Harry just laughs, the sound muffled against Draco's skin. "You'll be the death of me, though, I think." He kisses Draco's shoulder blade. "Can you shag yourself to death?"

"Supposedly Raphael did," Draco manages to say. "Although Pansy says that's bollocks."

"Well, she ought to know," Harry says, and Draco thinks about getting angry and defending Pansy's honour, but to be honest, Harry has a point, even Pansy would admit that, and Draco's too bloody tired to care. Harry slides out and then helps Draco up to standing. The upper stairs shift back to their usual position and the light on the landing brightens. Draco hadn't even realised it'd dimmed whilst they shagged. He thinks he ought to be a bit disconcerted that the house is so cognizant of their sexual needs, but he's starting to get used to it. Draco can see their clothes strewn along the staircase, his shirt draped across the stairs below, Harry's joggers slung over the railing. He should care, but he'll gather them later, he thinks as Harry puts an arm around him and lifts Draco's legs up to wrap around his hips. Draco drapes his arms over Harry's shoulders, letting himself be held like this, boneless and tired and deeply sated. There are things Draco should tell him, he knows. Pettigrew for one, and his worries about the Dementors. But right now, right here, Draco feels warm and cared for and safe. He doesn't want to bring the outside world into this space; he wants to be drunk on Harry.

"You smell lovely," Draco murmurs against Harry's skin. "All salty and sweaty like a lovely shag."

Harry kisses him softly. "Let's go up to bed. I might even let you bathe first before I wreck you again."

Draco shivers as his prick rubs against Harry's stomach. It's spent, but reviving. His arse is sticky with Harry's come, and he realises it might be a long night. He can't complain; the last thing Draco wants right now is to think. He'd rather lose himself in Harry.

"Carry me to bed," Draco says imperiously, hiding a private smile as Harry follows his command and begins climbing the stairs with Draco wrapped around his waist. In all truth, Draco thinks, it's he who was born under a fortunate star if this is his life now.

It's almost enough to make him forget the darkness around them for a bit.

Chapter Text

It's just past dawn when Draco wakes up. He can hear the quiet hiss of tyres against wet pavement outside, the faint tap of rain against the window panes. The light filtering through the sheer curtains is pale and grey and watery, and he thinks about just lying here in the comfortable warmth of the bed, Harry snoring quietly beside him.

But he's been trying to get back into his running schedule, which has been blown to bloody bits over the past few months. Draco blames Harry, of course. Back when he wasn't being shagged raw, he'd had no problems at all getting up in time to get a few miles in before work. Now he's feeling rather lazy and languid, his arse deliciously sore from the night before.

When Draco sits up, Harry stirs. Draco stills, not wanting to wake him. Harry needs his sleep; he's a rotten arsehole if he wakes up too early. But then Harry curls onto his side with a soft snuffle and a sigh, and Draco can't help the faint smile that quirks his mouth at the corners. Harry presses his face into the pillow, his rumpled hair falling across his forehead. He looks so young, Draco thinks. Sleep's softened Harry's features, made him look as if he ought to be in Hogwarts still, and Draco wonders what it would have been like back then to wake up beside Harry Potter. His gaze slips down the curve of Harry's spine, down the long stretch of golden skin that disappears beneath the crumpled white sheet wrapped around Harry's hips.

Harry's bloody beautiful, Draco thinks, and he wants to reach out, to run his hands along the solid muscles of Harry's back. He can't. Harry'd wake up, and Draco knows he wouldn't be able to go for his run then. For a moment, Draco thinks about it, thinks about Harry looking over his shoulder, annoyed at first, until he realises Draco's still naked beneath the sheet. It'd almost be worth it, really. Almost. With a sigh, Draco slips out of the bed, his bare feet hitting the worn woollen rug. He stretches, his body long and lean and naked, reflected in the mirror over the chest of drawers. Draco takes a moment to look at himself. He might not be in the best running condition of his life, but fucking Harry's been good for other parts of his body. His arse looks bloody phenomenal, if he does say so himself.

Draco pads over to the dressing room. "Quiet," he murmurs as he touches the door, and it swings open almost silently, the house seeming to know Draco doesn't want to wake Harry. Most of the drawers and hanging space are still empty, but more and more of Draco's clothes are starting to make their way here, he realises, and that makes him feel a bit uncomfortable, as if he's losing a bit of himself and his autonomy in Harry and Grimmauld Place. Draco pushes that thought away, tells himself not to be ridiculous. He's happy here, and besides, if he wants to stay at his own flat, he can, whenever he chooses. It's not as if Harry's holding him here hostage, after all. That thought makes Draco snort. As if Harry could. Or would.

The third drawer down holds most of Draco's running gear. He dresses quickly, pulling on pants and running shorts, then a breathable long-sleeve polyester t-shirt Pansy'd given him last Christmas, before working his feet into thick socks and his favourite trainers. Draco hesitates, then rummages for a work outfit, folding the shirt and trousers and tie before he carries them out into the bedroom. Fuck if he remembers where his wand ended up the night before. Probably still out on the staircase, to be honest, wherever Harry'd tossed Draco's clothes.

Harry shifts in the bed, breathes out. Draco looks over at him, his brow drawing together in worry. He hopes Harry doesn't wake. Draco really needs this bloody run. For a moment, Draco thinks Harry's going to lift his head, but instead he presses his face into the pillow, his hair dark and rumpled against the white cotton. He snores lightly, and Draco relaxes, his mouth easing into a fond smile. Harry swears he never snores; Draco thinks he ought to record this for future argumentative purposes.

Kreacher's out in the hallway when Draco steps out of the bedroom, his work clothes tucked under one arm. "Master Draco is leaving?" Kreacher croaks, a bit too loudly for Draco's comfort.

"Hush," Draco says with a frown. "You'll wake Harry." He starts down the stairs, Kreacher thumping behind him. Honestly, Draco has no idea how an elf so small and scrawny can make that much noise when he wants to.

"Master Harry Potter is being very unhappy when he is waking and Master Draco is being not here." Kreacher trails a long, thin hand along the bannister.

Draco stops on the landing next to the library. His clothes are still strewn across the floor. "Tell him I'm running into the office this morning." There are a few things Draco wants to do before he heads from the Department of Mysteries back up to the DMLE. Besides, he'd promised Burke he'd stop by; he thinks she wants to make certain he's all right with Durant and Granger taking over supervisory training for him. She hadn't been bloody happy about it yesterday afternoon, that had been obvious. Draco likes that Muriel's worried about him. It makes him feel a bit less like he's off on his own, reminds him of Bertie and the way he'd looked after Draco from his early days on the Auror force.

Kreacher watches Draco unhappily as Draco finds his wand and his work shoes, using the former to miniaturise his work clothes before he tucks them into the pocket of his running shorts. He'll have to cast a charm when he gets to work to smooth out the wrinkles, but Draco's thrilled to be running back into the Ministry. He can feel the faint thrum of excitement through his body, the anticipation of muscles burning and a runner's high.

"Master Draco is eating first?" Kreacher's stood on the second step, tugging at his ear. "Kreacher is making eggs--"

"I'll grab something when I get to the Ministry," Draco says. He's impatient to get going, but at the miserable look Kreacher gives him, Draco relents. Only slightly. "Fine. An oat flapjack then."

Kreacher's face brightens, and with a snap of his fingers, a small, flat rectangle of oats and sultanas and golden syrup zips from the kitchen and stops right in front of Draco's face, floating in mid-air. "Master Draco is being not as cranky with food in his belly."

Draco doesn't know whether to laugh or snort at the self-satisfied look Kreacher's giving him. Or, if he's honest, to be a bit taken aback. Draco knows from living with house elves all his life that the moment they start worrying about feeding you, you've become theirs. It's just another reminder at how entwined his life has become with Harry's, and that makes Draco a tad more discomposed. Restless, in a way. He wonders if they're moving too fast, if three months or so together is really enough for him to be practically moved into Grimmauld when Harry hasn't even suggested it as a possibility. Not really. Not officially. And that makes Draco's chest tighten with worry, his breath catch in the back of his throat. He doesn't know that this is what he wants, doesn't know if he's comfortable with the way Harry's house opens up to him, with the way Harry's elf is watching him clutch the flapjack in his fingers so tightly that bits of it are falling off, skittering across the floor.

So Draco tries to breathe, tries to eat the dry, crumbly oat cake, the sultanas a bit too sweet against his tongue. "Thank you, Kreacher," he manages to say, and he wants to flee the house, to feel the cool morning air on his face as he runs. He slides his wand into the pocket of his running shorts, feeling the expansion charm close around it, almost brushing his fingertips as he lets the hilt of the wand go. Draco wishes he had music to run to, but he's left that at his flat, and he doesn't want to go over there. Not right now. Not the way he feels. He looks back over at the house-elf. "Let Harry know I'll meet him at work."

Kreacher just frowns from the steps, still tugging at his ear as Draco makes his way down the darkened entrance hall, out onto the steps of Number Twelve, the door shutting behind him with a solid thunk. Draco rolls his shoulders, tries to displace the feeling of unease that's just settled over him as he stretches, making sure his calf muscles won't tense up on him as he runs. He looks around, the odd feeling that he's being watched popping up in his mind, but that's madness. There's no one on the street, no one in the small park across from the row of white-trimmed, dark brick townhouses. It's just him being ridiculous, Draco thinks as he pulls his hair back, securing it with a hair tie, and he pushes the worry to the back of his mind, and starts off down the street.

It's easy to lose himself in the steady thud of his trainers against the pavement. Merlin but Draco's missed this, the stretch in his muscles, the feeling of the air against his skin. It's only a bit sticky this morning, still cool, and even though the promise of August heat hangs in the humidity, it hasn't yet hit the city streets. There's a bit more traffic than Draco would like as he runs down Islington's high street, but Draco doesn't mind, not that much. The city's waking up around him, the sky still a bit grey and overcast, the rumble of lorries going past familiar and soothing in its own way. He loses himself in the joy of running through the city streets, of sidestepping wheelie bins left out for collection the night before, of pausing at intersections, waiting to make certain the red bus barrelling down the street misses him. He takes Rosebery Avenue through Finsbury, then Clerkenwell, running past shopkeepers arriving to roll up the gates on their entrances and the first small stream of workers stepping out of Tube stations, still a bit bleary, yawning as they clench paper cups filled with coffee or tea, steam curling from the small holes in the lids.

Draco feels glorious, his feet striking against the filthy cement of the pavement, sweat rolling down his back. He'll shower in the Department of Mysteries when he gets there; there's a private loo with a full shower hidden behind the sparring room that Draco's made use of more than once. For now, though, he revels in his stink, in the musky smell of sweat and sex that still lingers on his skin from the night before. He runs past the garden in Bloomsbury Square, that tree-lined stretch of green between two streets of Georgian townhouses. He turns down Shaftesbury Avenue, his steps taking him past the Odeon, with its classical, carved-stone frieze high above the brightly coloured cinema posters. Draco's breathing hard, his lungs straining, his muscles protesting as he takes a left onto Charing Cross Road, headed down towards Trafalgar Square.

The endorphins are hitting, making Draco push through the burn, and he's missed this so bloody much. It's almost as good as sex, not that he'll say that to Harry, of course, but even if he did, Draco thinks Harry might understand. He knows Harry's been slack on going to the gym as well, not that it's made much of a difference in his body. Harry's still solid and muscular, his hipbones a sharp, gorgeous cut that defines the flat ridges of his abdomen. Draco bloody loves Harry's body, the way it fits against Draco's, the heat of Harry's skin, the shift of his muscles as he presses Draco into their bed.

And maybe it's the thought of Harry that makes Draco less attentive than he should be. He's only just passed the darkened facade of the Leaky, running around the metal scaffolding that's bolted against the half-renovated Muggle building beside it, when he hears the sharp pop of Apparition behind him, and he nearly stumbles when he hears a familiar voice say, "Draco."

Draco turns, his heart pounding, his Mark starting to ache underneath his sleeve.

His uncle steps out of the shadows of the scaffolding, tall and broad-shouldered, his once dark hair now bright silver from his time in Azkaban, thick and shoulder-length and perfectly clean. His gaze sweeps over Draco, lips turning down at the sight of Draco's Muggle running clothes. There are wrinkles around his dark brown eyes, scored around his thin mouth. Rodolphus Lestrange had always been a handsome man, had always cut a dashing figure beside Draco's Aunt Bella. Their's hadn't been a marriage of love, more of convenience, at least on Bellatrix's end, Draco thinks. His aunt had never made a secret of her feelings for the Dark Lord, ones that Draco suspects were returned in whatever cold and empty fashion a bastard like that had been able to feel. But his uncle had been loyal to his aunt, if not faithful, more than willing to stand by her side, a step behind their mad leader.

"Uncle Roddy," Draco says, and he already has his wand in his hand. "And here we've been looking everywhere for you." He raises his arm, trying to ignore the dull throb that's growing in his other forearm, just beneath the Mark. "Petrifico--"

And then his uncle flicks his fingers, tutting softly. Draco's arm twists, bends, painfully jerking behind his back. "None of that, Draco," Rodolphus says with a frown, and Draco's heart skips a beat. His uncle's never been that powerful, never been able to cast wandless magic so easily. Rodolphus moves forward, the edges of his open robe trailing across the pavement, dark grey against the stained concrete. Beneath the tailored wool, he wears a black suit, perfectly fitted and bespoke, along with a pale, dove-grey tie knotted neatly at his throat. He's not the filthy prisoner any longer, Draco realises, and a frisson of fear goes through him when he looks into his uncle's icy blue eyes. There's a touch of madness in there, Draco thinks, a vicious anger twisted through with the ragged edges of a broken mind. Rodolphus Lestrange is bloody dangerous, more so than even Draco had thought, and that realisation makes Draco still, makes him stop fighting against the spell that's keeping his wand arm pulled taut behind him.

"The whole Ministry's looking for you," Draco says after a moment. "And you're a half-mile from them--"

"Amusing, isn't it?" Rodolphus eyes Draco. He still doesn't have a wand in his hand. "But I wanted to have a talk with my favourite nephew--" Draco snorts at that, and Rodolphus's mouth twists up on one side. "Yes, well, my only nephew, unless Rabastan's sired some brat secretly in the past, which I rather doubt, all things considered. And given you're such a difficult boy to track lately, I thought I'd make use of a surveillance system we've had in place for quite some time, courtesy of His Lordship." Rodolphus glances up towards the rooftop of the Leaky; Draco swears he sees one of the gargoyles holding up the cornice turn its head towards him, stone eyes flashing green.

Draco glances back at his uncle. "So you thought I'd be by the Leaky, did you?" He takes in his uncle's clothing. "At half-six in the morning, and you fully dressed to the nines?"

"Everyone comes through the Leaky Cauldron at some point." Rodolphus looks half-amused. "Besides, who said anything about the hour?"

A snap of Rodolphus' fingers jerks Draco's left arm up, the magic forcing his muscles to move as much as Draco strains against it. Another twist of his uncle's hand through the air, and Draco's sleeve ruches around his elbow without Rodolphus even touching him. Draco flinches. The power rippling around him is almost overwhelming; the only other person Draco's felt this level of magic from is Harry, and that frightens him. His uncle has never been this potent magically before. The Mark throbs angrily, an ugly black smear twisted across Draco's scarred skin. Rodolphus looks almost furious, his gaze flicking back up to Draco's face.

"You defaced it," Rodolphus snaps.

Draco lifts his chin. It takes everything he has not to look away. "And I'd do it again." For a moment, he thinks his uncle might strike him, but then the Mark flares, fierce and white-hot, almost sending Draco to his knees with the pain of it. His uncle's murmuring something, in a language Draco doesn't recognise, but it's almost melodic in a way, and then the gargoyle above moves, turning towards Draco, sharply teethed maw opening just as the world melts away, the shops and traffic along Charing Cross fading into a whirling darkness that pulls Draco away in a cacophonous rush.

He lands in a shadowed room, his forearm throbbing and his wand gone. It takes Draco's eyes a moment to adjust to the gloom. The windows are dirty; the faint light that shines through isn't natural, he realises. It's golden, tinged with a warmth that can only be from a Muggle sign outside. He walks over to the window, the floorboards creaking beneath his trainers. The street below is dark; Draco doesn't think it's in London. It's narrow and twisting and the Muggle bus making its way around the lamplit curves isn't red. He turns back to the room. The flat's small, he thinks, and filthy, with a rickety round table surrounded by straight-backed chairs on one side of the room and a worn leather chesterfield on the other, centred in front of the crumbling hearth. The mirror hanging above the chimneypiece is old, spotted in places where the silver's peeling off the back. It smells musty and damp, as if the place hasn't been aired out in years.

And then the lamp floating over the table flares to life, casting a soft yellow glow across the scarred wood.

"Welcome," his uncle says, stepping out of a doorway. The suit is gone now, replaced by a black velvet dressing gown that sweeps against Rodolphus' bare ankles. He walks into the kitchen, takes a mug from the cupboard, glancing back at Draco. "Tea?"

The very normalcy of the question makes Draco uneasy. "Where are we?" His fingers itch for his wand; he wonders if he could Summon it from wherever it's disappeared to. Somehow he suspects his uncle has thought about that.

His uncle picks up a teapot, steam still rising from the spout, and pours it into the mug. "At a bolthole the Dark Lord set up for our use back during the war." He glances around, his mouth twisted in distaste. "Not quite up to standard, but still better than Azkaban, I suppose."

Draco's mouth feels dry. He watches his uncle lift the mug of tea. "Why am I here?" The words scrape across the back of his throat. "And where's my bloody wand? And why aren't you dressed like you were before?"

Rodolphus takes a sip of tea, just watching Draco over the rim. "So many questions," he says after a moment. He walks back into the main room, takes a seat at the table, looking up at Draco. "I have some of my own." He points to the chair opposite him. "Sit." The word is sharp; it echoes in the silence of the room.

And as much as Draco doesn't want to, he feels a compulsion to walk over and drop into the seat his uncle's indicated. He glares at him. "You're controlling me."

"Perhaps." His uncle shrugs, sets his tea on the table. "You tried to destroy the Mark." He studies Draco, his brows drawn together. "It can't be done, you realise."

Draco doesn't answer. He's frightened and fighting off the panic that's welling up in him at being so close to the uncle he despises, the uncle who had tormented him, threatened to bend him over, to take him for his own cruel pleasure. The uncle who'd killed his father.

They sit silently for a moment, and Draco tries not to look away. Tries not to show his fear. He knows he hasn't managed when his uncle smiles, that thin, vicious curve of his lips that Draco knows all too well. "You've been looking for me." Rodolphus' voice is soft, and it sends a shiver of revulsion down Draco's spine.

"Only to put you back in Azkaban." Even Draco can hear the faint quaver in his voice. He looks away, and his uncle chuckles.

"As if you could, boy." Rodolphus leans forward in his seat. His dressing gown gapes open at the front; Draco can see his broad, muscular chest, the faint grey fuzz across his pale skin, the pink nub of a nipple. "As for what you saw in London, well." He takes another sip of the tea, his hands curled around the white pottery mug. "Seems I've learnt to project myself, haven't I?" His smile's sharp. "Excellent skill to have, I've discovered. Keeps me safer, tucked away in places like this whilst I'm sending a part of myself out and about."

That's a difficult magical process, Draco knows damned well. Only a few Unspeakables can manage it, and even then it exhausts them. And here's his uncle, looking bright as a button and bloody well-rested. More so than Draco. "Interesting party trick," Draco says, knowing it'll irk his uncle. Merlin but he's spent too much time around Harry, he thinks.

He's right. Rodolphus' face flushes; he slams his hand against the table. "Watch your tongue, boy."

Draco knows he can't push his uncle too far. Not if he wants to make it out of this unscathed. He falls silent, just looking at Rodolphus. Waiting.

"You're family," Rodolphus says after a moment. "It's only right I give you a chance to join us. Your aunt, wretched cow that she is, insists." He lets his gaze slide down Draco's body. "She always did think highly of you. Thought you'd be a pretty little toy."

And that makes Draco's skin crawl. He refuses to look away. "My aunt's dead, you gormless shit."

"In a manner of speaking, yes." His uncle's smiling again. He rests his elbows on the table. "You asked why you're here. I'm offering you a chance to join me. To work with power you'll never experience again, Draco." His eyes are bright, shining with madness. "I've already learnt so much--"

"The grimoire," Draco says, the thrum of magic taking shape in his mind as though it had a consciousness of its own. "You've been using it."

Rodolphus raises an eyebrow. "The things I know now…" He trails off, leans further over the table. Draco can smell his sour breath. "The world will be ours."

"You killed my father." Draco gives Rodolphus an incredulous look. "You killed him and destroyed my mother's life, and you expect me to what? Join up with whatever mad plot you're percolating?" The fear's receding a bit, replaced with fury. "Has Azkaban addled your mind that much?"

"Don't be a fool." Rodolphus is on his feet now, moving around the table. "I would give you power--"

"For what?" Draco flinches as his uncle comes near him. "There's nothing you have that I want--"

"The Manor, or rather, the funds to keep it up." His uncle smiles, a sharp, feral flash of yellowed teeth, as Draco stills. He leans over Draco, the musky scent of his cologne wafting across the air between them. "I would give you the whole of your inheritance back, the monies your father invested with me. For you, I would make the Malfoy name respected again. Feared even."

Draco looks away. Doesn't let himself be tempted. He shakes his head. "You killed my father," he says again, and his grief swells up again, sharp and bitter in the back of his throat.

There's silence for a long moment, then Rodolphus says, "That was a pity." When Draco glances over at him, his uncle seems almost regretful. "I didn't wish to, you realise. I rather liked your father at times. Lucius could be…" Rodolphus frowns, then sighs. "Amusing, in his own way." He hesitates, then adds, "Not to mention useful."

"Until he wasn't," Draco spits out, and his uncle raises a shoulder, lets it drop.

"He was going to break," Rodolphus says, and his jaw tightens. "Tell the Ministry things best left unsaid, all because he was worried about you."

Draco's throat aches. "That's not true."

"Isn't it?" His uncle studies him, a small, unpleasant smile curving his mouth, and all Draco can think about is dinners at the Manor with the Dark Lord sat in his father's seat at the head of the table, his aunt at the place his mother would have occupied, and Rodolphus beside her, his gaze flicking between Draco and his mother, that same expression on his face. Rodolphus Lestrange had always wanted to destroy Lucius Malfoy. Draco knows that, whatever his uncle might say. He'd wanted to punish Draco's father, to take his wife, his son, to use them both in whatever way he wanted.

He'd never had the chance. Not really. Until now.

And Draco can tell the moment the madness shifts in his uncle, the moment Rodolphus sees Draco's fear. His uncle's smile widens, his eyes narrow. "Oh," Rodolphus says, and he trails a fingertip across Draco's cheek, and Draco's seventeen again, unable to breathe, his terror rising up in him. "Such a lovely boy you were," his uncle murmurs. "A pretty little morsel I'd have consumed. And now look at you. Bent and broken, with so little power that you can't even find your wand…" He snaps his fingers next to Draco's ear. There's a soft clatter on the table; Draco sees his wand roll across it. He tries to reach for it, but he can't move. He's held in place, and his uncle's fingers are stroking down his throat, over his collarbones.

"Please," Draco hears himself say. "Please don't."

His uncle's laughter rings in his ears, and then Rodolphus' fingertips are pressing into Draco's throat, pushing his head back, his sharp nails digging into the soft flesh beneath Draco's jaw. "I would give you the world, boy," he whispers into Draco's ear, his lips brushing Draco's skin. "All the power you'd hope for, but you're too weak to take it, aren't you? To do what your blood calls out for you to do, to destroy this pathetically foolish Ministry and bring back our own glory the way His Lordship promised?"

Draco's still in his chair, and he can't breathe, can't shift, can't anything. His heart's pounding; he makes a soft noise when Rodolphus' thumb presses against his windpipe.

"I could kill you here," his uncle muses. "Wouldn't even need magic. Just one push…" His hand tightens on Draco's throat. "But that wouldn't give me the information I want, would it?" And then his hand's gone, and Draco's gasping in lungfuls of air, the sound harsh and ugly in the quiet of the room.

"Get in here," Rodolphus shouts, and Draco hears a door opening behind him. He can't turn, can't move, can't see the person walking towards him, their boots echoing against the floorboards. His uncle steps away. "Find out what he knows about the investigation," Rodolphus says, his voice scathing. "However you wish." He gives Draco an angry look. "He's an Occlumens. Break him."

And then there's a man moving alongside Draco, a brush of something against Draco's mind that's oddly familiar.

Eddie? Draco thinks, just as Eddie Durant steps in front of him, wand in his hand.

Deep in Draco's mind he hears a familiar, soft Louisiana accent, rueful and unhappy. Sorry, man. I've got to make this believable for your sake and mine. Eddie raises his wand, takes a ragged breath. "Crucio."

The pain explodes in Draco's body, arching him from the chair with a shout. And yet he knows Eddie's not putting his full force into the Unforgivable, that Eddie's holding back. Still, it hurts, pain shuddering through his muscles as he slumps against the straight back of the chair, an angry fire burning across his skin. He's breathing hard.

Eddie leans forward. "What do the Aurors know?" Give me something, Eddie whispers in Draco's mind. Nothing important, but anything he'll believe.

You'll have to Crucio me again, Draco thinks. He knows I won't break that easily. And then he shakes his head, looking up at Eddie. "Fuck you."

"Goddamn son of a bitch." Eddie lifts his wand again; Draco tries to brace himself for the pain. It doesn't help. His fingers scrabble at the edge of the seat, trying to hold on as he twists against the waves of agony. He wants to call out for Harry, to beg to be let go, but he doesn't. Instead he clenches his jaw, his teeth digging into his lip hard enough to draw blood that he only tastes as the pain leeches away from his body. It's metallic and salty against his tongue; he can feel a drop roll down his chin.

And then his uncle is there, and the back of Rodolphus hand strikes Draco's face, turning his head, another swell of pain going through Draco as the cartilage in his nose bends, a snapping noise accompanying it. Draco cries out; the tears welling up in his eyes slip out even as he screws them closed. Fuck, he thinks, and he feels a twist of sympathy from Eddie.

"Answer the man, Draco," Rodolphus snarls, his spittle hitting Draco's cheek. "Before we deliver you to St Mungo's half-dead."

"Only half?" Draco asks, and his uncle's hand slams against his face again, nearly knocking him from the chair.

"Hey," Eddie says, catching Draco before he falls. "Take a goddamn step back, man, and leave this to me. You're going to fuck him up so bad he can't speak." And you, he whispers in Draco's mind, stop being a little bitch.

Draco wants to laugh through the blood he spits out. His hair's come loose from the tie; locks fall across his cheek, sticking to the bloodied skin. What the fuck are you doing here?

Trying to fix something I fucked up. Eddie shifts, pushing Rodolphus out of the way. "Go sit on the fucking sofa," he says to Draco's uncle, and Draco's surprised that Eddie has the bollocks to speak to Rodolphus like that. Eddie snorts. Son, you ought to have grown up with Jasper Durant and his family. Your uncle's just a whiny jackass.

Frankly, Draco doesn't disagree. Can I get out of here if I had my wand?

No. Eddie's voice sounds apologetic in Draco's mind. This place is hidden away in a temporal wrinkle. It's a hell of a lot more complex than just Apparating away. Hold your breath. I'm going to hit you with something new. And Draco finds himself upended in mid-air just before a rush of water hits his face, knocking the breath out of him, making him cough and sputter. He twists his body away, trying to avoid the spray, but he can't, and he's starting to inhale it when Eddie rights him again. "You ready to talk now?"

"Sod off," Draco says, but his voice is weaker. Eddie gives him a concerned look, and Draco tries to draw in an uneven breath. It hurts, more so than he wants to admit.

And Eddie lifts his wand again. Sorry. Another Crucio wracks Draco's body, and this time he lands on the filthy floor, tears seeping down his cheeks, his body shaking, his fingers clawing at the stained floorboards. He breathes in the dust and mold, and it catches in the back of his throat, making him hack. He can taste blood again, and when he spits onto the floor, it's thick and red.

Eddie crouches next to him, wraps Draco's hair around his fist, jerking Draco's head up. "Now," he says, and Draco recognises the command in his voice.

"What the fuck do you want to know?" Draco's voice rasps against his throat. He looks up at Eddie, but it's his uncle who answers.

"Antonin Dolohov," Rodolphus says from behind Draco. "What has he said so far?"

It takes Draco a moment before he says, "Nothing." And then his ribs explode in a riot of pain that makes Draco roll onto his side, gasping for breath.

His uncle stands over him. "Draco," he says, his voice soft and almost gentle. "You know you'll have to do better than that."

Draco breathes out, his hand clenched to his side. He doesn't know what to say, what Harry won't kill him for letting slip. He drags his tongue over his split lip, smearing blood and spit across it. "He told us about the money, about Yaxley.” It's a dicey move, he thinks, but maybe it'll get something out of his uncle. Draco lifts his head. One of his eyes is swelling shut, and his vision is blurred, but he tries to catch sight of his uncle's expression, to see if he can glean anything useful from his reaction. “He said he'll tell us how to find it all. Croaker’s been torturing him.”

For a moment, there’s nothing, and Draco wonders if his uncle even cares about the offshore accounts and the link to the Old Man. And then a fireball bursts over his head, hot and wild, striking the kitchen wall, exploding into an inferno that shoots up to the ceiling.

"Goddamn it," Eddie shouts, sending a jet of water towards the flames with a flick of his wand. "Are you trying to fucking kill us all, you dickhead?" He turns on Rodolphus. "If you don't keep hold of your fucking temper...Jesus. You're worse than my asshole grandfather."

Draco thinks his uncle's going to turn his wand on Eddie, but Rodolphus finally looks away, his mouth tight. "One day I'm going to kill you, you realise."

"Yeah, well, it's not going to be today," Eddie says. Draco thinks it's mostly bluster; he can feel Eddie's fear roiling through him. Eddie looks back at Draco. Stop worrying. He needs me.

That's precisely why I'm worried. Draco studies Eddie's scruffy face. He needs a good shave, and he looks like he hasn't slept for days. What the hell does he want from you?

Eddie's gaze slips away. Draco can feel Eddie's Occlumens fall into place. Later.

And that's the best Draco's going to get, he realises as his uncle jerks him to his feet, slams him against the wall without even trying. Draco winces, pain shooting through his battered body. Rodolphus' pins Draco up with his hand around Draco's throat; his uncle's only inches from his face. "You'll find nothing, you little shit. Do you hear me?" Rodolphus' eyes are wild, furious, and Draco tries to pull at his uncle's hand as it tightens around Draco's windpipe.

Draco's gasping for air and getting nothing, and only a raw, rough sound is coming from his throat when he tries to shout. Darkness starts to close in at the edges of his vision, and all Draco can think is that this is how it's going to end, with him lying dead in this shitty Death Eater bolthole. He thinks of Harry, still asleep at Grimmauld Place, and he wishes he'd woken him up, kissed him goodbye.

Grim desolation seeps across Draco's skin, his body starts to go limp. And then something moves behind his uncle, and Rodolphus is jerked back, letting Draco fall to the floor again. For a moment, Draco thinks it must have been Eddie, but when he looks up there's a Dementor leaning over him. Draco shudders in fear, trying weakly to push himself back against the wall, desperate to get away from the empty depths of that dark hood.

Deep inside the shadows of the tattered cloth, a face forms, pale and sharp, a vicious, haughty face Draco knows so well. One that's almost like his own, pointed and thin, the mouth a cruel, amused twist.

"Aunt Bella," Draco whispers, horrified, and then the darkness takes him, curling around him until he's lost in its depths.

***

"Oi." A hand shakes Draco's shoulder, sending waves of pain rolling through him. "Oi! Get off my front step, you bloody pissed wanker."

Draco's eyes flutter open, or as open as one will go before the pain spikes even more. It takes a moment for the world to settle around him from a blur of colours and shapes into a sharper focus, at least in monocular vision. He blinks, wincing again, and a wrinkled face is frowning down at him. Draco swallows, then says, in a croaky voice, "Tom?"

The proprietor of the Leaky Cauldron's giving him a suspicious look. "Yeah?"

For a moment, Draco closes his eyes. Feels the throb of his whole body. He didn't imagine any of this, he tells himself. It actually happened. When he opens his eyes again, Tom's face is a bit more concerned.

"You're not mad, are you?" Tom asks, and Draco laughs, a rough, bitter sound that catches as soon as he starts. Maybe he is mad. He lets Tom help him to his feet. "Malfoy, right?" Tom's frowning at him. "Did you get jumped by the youths?" From the way Tom says it, Draco thinks that he's hoping that might have actually happened.

Draco shakes his head; Tom looks disappointed. Draco checks his pockets. His wand's still gone. Instead there's a piece of paper with nothing but a string of numbers on it, followed by a scrawled E. Eddie, Draco thinks, and he knows he's right. He frowns down at it, then folds it back up, tucks it into his pocket again.

"May I use your Floo?" Draco asks Tom. He needs to go home, he thinks. Needs to feel Harry near him, to tell Harry what just happened. He doesn't know why his uncle let him go, why he's still here, still alive. And then he thinks about his aunt's face, swallowed up by that Dementor's hood, and a chill goes through him. She saved him, he realises. She'd been the one to pull his uncle away. His stomach twists at that. He doesn't know what to think. None of this makes sense. He presses a hand to his aching head.

Tom eyes him uneasily, then shrugs. "It's public," he says after a moment, and he leads Draco into the Leaky. He's obviously just opened up. No one's there, and the embers in the hearth are smouldering faintly from the day before, waiting to be stoked. Tom looks over at Draco as he closes the door behind them. "Sure you don't need St Mungo's?"

"No." Draco touches his aching throat. He wonders how bruised it is; when he glances at himself in the mirror behind the bar, he understands Tom's worry. There are purple finger marks beneath his jaw, down his neck. His nose is tilted at an awkward angle, his face is battered and bruised, his lip scabbed over, his left eye nearly swollen shut. Blood's caked in his hair, dried on his skin and his shirt. He looks like bloody hell. He glances at Tom. "Thanks, though."

"Your life." Tom just shrugs as Draco limps over to the Floo, dips into the pot of silver powder.

Draco throws some into the Floo, says "Number Twelve Grimmauld Place," as quietly as he can. He still thinks Tom might have overheard, but Tom just looks away as the flames leap up. Draco doesn't give a damn any more. He needs to see Harry.

He takes a deep breath, every part of his body aching, a sharp stabbing pain going through his side, and he steps into the Floo, letting it whirl him away.

***

Althea watches as Granger and Parkinson comb through the section of Charing Cross Road just outside of the Leaky. Granger's Unspeakables have put up a perimeter. To Muggles it looks as if the road's been blocked off for repair work; magical folk can see the Ministry paperwork posted to keep them from walking through. Faces appear from time to time at the Leaky's windows, peering out at them, more now that the lunch crowd is starting to trickle in.

She scrubs her palms over her face, tries to hide a yawn. Althea hadn't slept well last night; really she hasn't for days now. Part of it's the anniversary of her mother's death last week. She knows that. It's never been easy, especially not when her worry for her father's sky-high. Althea's been spending a good portion of her free time in Bristol, visiting Mitchell. He's told her she doesn't have to, but she knows she does. He's all she has left now, and maybe some of it's for her more than anything else. She misses her dad, and work's kept her away from him more than she'd like.

"Oi, Whitaker." Granger motions Althea over. She's looking up at a gargoyle on the front of the Leaky, high up at the cornice. Althea strides over, her thick braid striking the back of her shoulders when she tilts her head back to look.

"Is that it?" Althea glances over at Parkinson, who looks bloody furious and has since Granger called them up on this trek. It'd just taken Granger saying Malfoy'd been hurt for Parkinson to fly into high gear. Zabini'd stayed behind to help Durant go after Dolohov, to see if he might know anything about these Death Eater boltholes Malfoy'd discovered, and Granger said the guv was with Malfoy at St Mungo's, insisting he be checked out by Healers. That'll probably nark Malfoy right off, Althea thinks. She fucking would be if it were her.

Parkinson's dark hair is twisted up in a messy knot, her concession to the day's heat, along with the sleeveless plum shirt she's wearing tucked into her black pleated skirt. Althea feels a bit dull and boring in her Breton striped shirt and dark blue trousers. Parkinson looks over at her. "It's as Draco described it," she says, "and if you watch it carefully enough, you can see it turn, if only a bit. Keep your eye on it, and I'll show you." She steps to one side, then forward a bit, and Althea thinks she can see the gargoyle's head follow, ever so slightly. Parkinson turns back to her and Granger. "I'm fairly certain it'd be more obvious if it'd been programmed to look for me."

"How would it?" Althea asks. "Magical signature? Lestrange would have to have a record of that for Malfoy--"

"Or his Mark," Granger says. Her arms are folded across her chest. Her hair's loose around her face today, the tight curls moving in the faint breeze that sweeps down the street. There's a sheen of sweat on her temples already; it's supposed to hit thirty by the afternoon. Althea thinks it might already be heading there. Granger frowns. "Harry's asked if we can block it."

"Can you?" Parkinson looks over at Granger, who shakes her head.

"I've got a team working on the magic behind the Mark already," Granger says. "They think it has some elements of the Fidelius Charm in it, but it's tangled up with some nasty magic that they haven't been able to isolate yet. I had them take readings of Malfoy's forearm the moment he transferred to us, just in case something like this happened."

For a moment, Althea thinks Parkinson's going to object, but she just looks away, back up at the gargoyle. "Well, that's the one," Parkinson says, almost to herself. "I just wish I could get a closer look at it."

"Robson," Granger calls out to one of the Unspeakables, a tall sandy-blond man with narrow shoulders and an aquiline nose. He leaves the team he's been speaking with and walks over.

"Yeah, boss?" The smile he gives Granger is warm, though it fades when his gaze slides to her and then to Parkinson. There's tension between the Unspeakables and Aurors working on this. It doesn't surprise Althea. All of them are feeling a bit territorial lately. He glances back the team. "We've most of the magical signatures collected along the street."

Granger nods, then points up to the gargoyle. "Get me that statue up there. The one with the wide wings. I want to see it up close."

"Sure thing." Robson turns back to the Unspeakables. "Everrett! Awojobi! Get your arses over here and help me out."

It only takes five minutes to leverage the gargoyle out of its place beneath the cornice and lower it to the street, the three Unspeakables sweating by the end of it, their wand arms trembling as the gargoyle thuds softly against the pavement. Robson transfigures a few of the bricks into a makeshift gargoyle to take its place. It's not perfect, but it'll fool most people's eye, Althea thinks.

"Careful," Granger says as Parkinson squats beside the stone beast, and Parkinson gives her an irritated glare.

"I'm quite certain I'm not a complete idiot, Granger," Parkinson snaps, and Althea hides a faint smile. Granger just rolls her eyes.

They watch as Parkinson casts recording charms on it, frowning at the symbols that appear in the air above the gargoyle before fading away. She's silent a moment, then she sighs. "There's definitely a surveillance charm on the stone," she says. "Along with a few others that I'll need time to isolate. But I can tell you it's not a solitary; this charm's tapped into a system of some sort."

"Can you break into it?" Granger asks.

Parkinson looks back at the gargoyle, twists her wand through her fingers the way she does when she's deep in contemplation. "Eventually," she says. "But it won't be easy. There's at least a confabulation charm on this thing, as well as other misdirection and secrecy spells. It'll be like peeling an onion. I'm just going to find another layer underneath, I think."

Granger sighs. "All right. We'll pack it up and put it in your lab for you. But I want a report as soon as you give one to Harry."

"Of course," Parkinson says, but there's a gleam in her eyes that makes Althea think that the guv will have his write-up long before one makes its way to Granger's desk. Judging from Granger's snort, she's realised this as well.

"Wrap it up, Robson," Granger says. "But don't touch the bloody thing."

Robson nods, and he moves closer just as Parkinson starts to stand. They collide and Parkinson flails out with her wand hand, the supple willow striking the stone brow of the gargoyle just as Granger and Althea both reach for her. The gargoyle's eyes glow green.

"Fuck--" Parkinson says, and then all four of them are drawn into a swirling vortex of darkness, the street seeping away from around them until they land with a series of bumps and thuds in a silent, shadowed flat.

Althea already has her wand in her hand as she rises into a crouch. Parkinson's knelt beside her, her hand on her ankle. Twisted, she mouths to Althea, and Althea nods, glancing over Parkinson's head to Granger and Robson. Granger jerks her chin to the two doors off the sitting room, points to Althea, and then one, before turning to Robson and motioning him to the other. Quietly Robson and Althea rise to their feet, as Granger shifts towards Parkinson, blocking her with her wand.

The floorboards creak beneath Althea's boots, and she hesitates, her heart pounding. Robson looks over at her, nods encouragingly. She takes another step, lighter this time, and she makes her way to the door, glancing at Robson, waiting for his signal to push it open. He stops beside his own door, his hand on the knob. He holds up one finger, then two, then a third, just as his hand wrenches the door open.

Althea's door slams against the wall, an echo of Robson's. Her wand's at the ready, and she swings into the room, in defensive stance. It's empty, not even a sheet on the bed. The mattress sags in the middle, the lace curtains at the windows are yellowed and tattered in places.

"Lumos," Althea says, and a faint light fills the room, pushing the shadows back. She casts a charm to make certain it's empty. Nothing shows up, not even under the bed. She moves back into the main room. "All clear."

"Same." Robson steps out of the second bedroom. "Also the loo."

Granger's already casting a Lumos on the sitting room. "Kitchen's empty as well. No one's here."

"They were." Parkinson's limping to the table. "And they want us to know." She picks up the wand that's lying in the centre of it. Althea recognises it.

"Malfoy's," Althea says, and Parkinson nods.

Granger walks over to look out the window. "Malfoy said this was hidden away in a temporal charm." She frowns down at the street. "That's a Manchester bus coming around the corner." She turns and looks at them. "Narrows down the neighbourhood a bit. Robson, come over here and record this for me."

"If we're in a temporal loop," Robson says, "I won't be able to send them back to the office until we're out."

"That's fine." Granger moves out of the way, lets him take her place at the window. He lifts his wand, murmurs a spell, and there's a flash of light from his wand tip, almost as if he's just taken a photograph.

Althea kneels in front of Parkinson. "Sit your damn arse down," she says a bit gruffly, but Parkinson does, landing in one of the rickety chairs with a soft huff. Her fingers are still curled around Malfoy's wand as well as her own, and she doesn't object when Althea lifts her foot, although she winces when Althea turns it to one side. "You idiot," Althea says, not looking up at Parkinson. "I keep telling you these shoes aren't made for fieldwork." She draws off one of Parkinson's kitten heels, her thumb stroking lightly along Parkinson's swollen ankle.

"But they look bloody fantastic," Parkinson says, then she hisses when Althea presses her thumb into the back of her ankle bone. "Fucking hell--"

Her feet are soft and small, the toes painted a bright, vibrant red. "Your fault, Parkinson," Althea says, and she glances up, her wand hovering above Parkinson's foot. "Hold on to the table. This is going to hurt like a motherfucker."

Parkinson shouts at Althea's Episkey, her foot jerking up as the ankle cracks back into place. "Circe, I hate you," she breathes out afterwards, and her face looks pale.

Althea just pats Parkinson's ankle, then stands, a bit awkwardly. "You'll be glad of it later." She glances over at Granger, who's walking around the room, her wand sweeping into the corners. "What are you looking for?"

Granger glances back over her shoulder. "Anything that will tie this rathole back to Lestrange."

"Shouldn't you be trying to figure out how to get us out of a temporal loop?" Althea asks, her irritation surging. They already know Lestrange was here. Malfoy'd said so, and they'd found Malfoy's bloody wand, so that's fucking good enough for her.

"Temporal loops are bog-standard Unspeakable work," Granger says, turning back to her examination of the flat. She steps into the kitchen. There's an empty mug in the sink, washed clean. Granger picks it up. "Robson can break that in five minutes." She glances up at Althea. "If not less. This, on the other hand…" She lifts the mug, casts a charm on it. And Rodolphus Lestrange's face rises out of the rim, looking half-mad and furious. "Now we have him."

Althea frowns. "We already knew that."

"And now we can prove it," Granger says. "Which gives me reason to ask Saul for the resources to tear this bloody place apart if we need to."

"She has a point," Parkinson says from the table, "although she'