"I don't see that he's so brilliant," Auror Roland Cartwright was saying, the words clipped off so tightly that Harry could picture the lemon-bite purse of his lips. A combination of annoyance and curiosity made Harry pause outside the door. It was almost certainly him that Cartwright meant, as this was their transition review on the contraband Jobberknoll parts. Angelina had warned him that Cartwright had resisted relinquishing control of the case to a detective, despite having nothing to show for four weeks of investigation. "When you explain matters to him, he blinks like a particularly dim owl, and when he says anything, it's completely irrelevant."
That, Harry thought, would be because Cartwright never explained anything he didn't already know. Irritated, he strode into the room.
"Good morning," he said blandly. "Ready to start the hand-off?"
Cartwright blanched. Beside him, a woman in brown trainee robes coughed and hid her mouth behind an upraised hand. Harry couldn't place her, exactly, but he was pretty sure he had met her and liked her.
After clearing his throat, Cartwright launched into a totally unnecessary review of what a Jobberknoll was, and listed wing feathers, feet, and beaks, seemingly about to continue with describing their use in memory potions.
"I took Care of Magical Creatures at Hogwarts," Harry interrupted. "I also have a NEWT in potions. Let's move on."
This time he got to see the purse of Cartwright's lips. "It is relevant to the investigation," he said, "that before slaughter, the birds must be --"
"Which I know," Harry retorted. "Now, where have they shown up? Do we have any sort of paper trail? Suspects? Any information that I couldn't get from Scamander?"
Cartwright glared. The trainee cleared her throat.
"They're all over, sir," she said. "The sales into stores looked legit, with well-forged papers, most mentioning O'Brian & Fisk Limited, a known supplier of animal-based potions supplies. Their usual seller for this area is away on his honeymoon, so people weren't suspicious of a seller no one had seen before."
"Any leads on the seller?" Harry remembered now. She had been in his intensive defense seminar last summer. He hadn't expected to like her -- his sole Slytherin -- but she had been exceptionally astute, good natured, and diligent. Her ability to almost instantly identify effective positions for attack and defense had brought her through the final trial with flying colors. He'd followed her progress for a few months after that -- until the Avery case blew up, taking his last relationship out with it. All that, and he still couldn't recall her name. Masculine, in some way?
She shook her head. "No. We have a visual match -- Octavius Lincoln, the son of Tatiana Lincoln--"
"But he has an airtight alibi," Cartwright said loudly and slowly, as if they were both dim, "so someone was assuming his form, probably with Polyjuice Potion."
"Well, that's something," Harry said, finally opening the sheaf of papers on the table. Miranda Leroy, his mind supplied belatedly. That was the trainee's name. "Have you got a full report on him in here?" He riffled through looking for photos that weren't of bird parts, and Leroy reached past to pull a few out from the bottom.
"Here. This is Octavius."
The photo was grainy, perhaps because of the dim light in the restaurant, or the distance at which it had been taken. It showed two men, one older -- perhaps fifty -- and one of Harry's age -- mid to late twenties, at any rate. The younger man looked vaguely familiar, but Harry couldn't quite place him, so they might have been several years apart at school. The older man turned to speak to someone -- a waiter perhaps -- and his companion's expression of interest drained from his face, leaving him looking lost, but only for a second. Harry watched his face harden, and then the loop repeated.
Belatedly, he realized that Leroy was indicating the older man, and redirected his attention. The photo had been taken from one side and slightly behind him, so his face only showed when he turned. His features were bland and jowly, and the sleeve of his robes dark grey.
"This is at the Avalon Club in London. His mother inherited the Nimbus fortune, and they both breed show Krups, competing at the European level."
"Which doesn't matter, as we know he isn't involved," Cartwright argued. "He was negotiating the purchase of a bitch during one of the sales, and this is his location during another."
"Who's the other man?" Harry asked Leroy, ignoring Cartwright's huff.
"No idea," she said. "It's a private club, though, so if he isn't a member, he would need to be Octavius Lincoln's guest."
"See if you can find out."
"Are you listening to me?" Cartwright burst out.
"Not if I can help it." Harry winced at the words leaving his mouth, but he wasn't going to apologize. He turned to the trainee. "Miss Leroy, I'm keeping you on this case as my research assistant. Get me a full report on Octavius, and put the known sales points on a map, referencing dates and times."
"Sale, or delivery?"
"Good catch. Both, please."
"Look here!" Cartwright burst out indignantly. "She has a report to finish for me before--"
"Sorry, but if you need help, tell Personnel. This has been delayed enough." Some people he didn't mind outranking. "Dismissed, Cartwright."
Cartwright turned in a huff, but Leroy looked over, and Harry jerked his head at the chair. She took the hint, and was just sitting down as the door thumped shut behind Cartwright.
Harry turned the other chair around and sat in it, leaning forwards over the low back. "I want you to look into Octavius. Why?"
She met his eyes steadily. "Because multiple airtight alibis are suspicious."
"Exactly. What do they tell us?"
"The perpetrator knew a lot about Octavius's movements. He either spied on him extensively and effectively, or they were cooperating." She took a breath. "Either the seller or the person in the alibi could have been the one Polyjuiced."
"Good." Nodding, Harry straightened. "So, the curse hasn't got you yet, huh?"
"There is no curse." Her cheeks dimpled. "I'll prove it."
"No curse?" He couldn't keep the incredulity out of his quick reply
"Seven years ago, the government didn't want to hire Slytherins, and most Slytherins were too angry or afraid to apply. There were a few accidents, and people came up with this idea of a curse, so no one had to try too hard. It's not true. Saturday, I get my Auror robes and prove it, and then more people will try."
"I hope you're right." Harry stood up and clapped her on the shoulder. "Just take care this week, okay? And call me if you need any help, because I want you in this department."
"Report to my office in the morning, with whatever you've got." He grinned. "Not too early, just morning."
Miranda Leroy was good with records as well as defense -- or at least knew people who were. She showed up the next day with a full report of known purchase and delivery times and locations, and from the size of the folder, as much information on Octavius Lincoln as Harry had been able to get out of Romilda (his own best connection in records) in the same time.
She frowned at the height of his stack of notes.
"Was this just a test?"
"Not at all," he said cheerfully, pushing his folder into the place of hers. "I'm hoping we have different sources."
She grinned and tapped it "Most likely. My mum's cousin is also a breeder, and was delighted to spend all evening giving me dirt on a rival."
"Octavius is a gambler, in and out of debt, and once suspected of poisoning a young Krup -- not fatally, but to keep him out of a competition. He belongs to the Avalon Club, as you saw, and to the Mages of the North Sea."
Harry frowned, trying to place the name. "Some boat thing?"
"A yachting social organization, yes. He's also gay."
"Is that an issue?" Harry challenged.
"Probably not too much -- though he is older than us, you know --"
If she had just remembered that bit of gossip, it was a good recovery.
"-- but he handled it badly."
"I have some sympathy for that," Harry said wryly.
"Oh, right! You split up with some girl you were engaged to for that Quidditch player you'd been protecting, didn't you?"
Harry nodded into a shrug. "Yeah. We're friends again, though. She says at least I didn't cheat on her."
Leroy laughed. "Score one for you. Octavius married a Danish girl, left her at home most of the time -- someone needs to watch the Krups, you know -- and was eventually photographed with his hands all over the young man who was living on his yacht -- reputedly for money."
"Did the Danish woman divorce him?"
"Oh yes. And took his best bitch with her -- pregnant yet. The bitch, that is, not the wife. So he's without a direct heir. On the other hand, that doesn't matter as long as Tatiana is around and ruling the family. The reason I brought it up is his dinner companion. The chances are he was a date, and maybe a paid one. You might want to get a look at the Avalon Club guest book, either officially or unofficially. I wanted to ask if you had a preference before I tried to finesse an invitation."
"Could you find out, if you got in?"
"Probably. That was just a few weeks ago, and people -- guests especially -- do peek back to see who's who. I should do it this week, though, so I'm not thought of as an Auror."
Harry felt a shiver move down his back. "Right," he said. He wasn't going to fuss.
Still, he continued to worry about her. She seemed too confident of her chances.
Harry registered the words as a ladle full of fragrant stew came into his line of vision and upturned onto his plate.
"Yes," Hermione said. "That's the second time you've lost focus, and we just sat down. You liked my chicken tagine, last I knew."
"And well deserved!" Ron contributed.
"I do like it," Harry affirmed, using the tip of his fork to tease a chunk of apricot out of the muddle. "And it's not the case, really. It's this trainee...."
"A sexy blond who you can't touch?" she teased.
He ducked his head. "No, worse."
Ron struck a pose of shock. "You mean you have?"
"A young woman, and I'm not into her."
"Sharp as a tack."
"So, what's the problem?"
Harry took a deep breath. "Slytherin."
Hermione bit her lip. Ron shrugged.
"No problem then," he said. "The curse will take care of her."
"I want her to get her robes, Ron."
Ron scowled. "Why would you? A Slytherin in the Aurors is just asking for trouble."
"Actually," Hermione said deliberately, "some of the best investigative teams in Auror history were Gryffindor/Slytherin partnerships."
Ron looked over at Harry, clearly expecting a rebuttal. Deliberately, Harry nodded. "Yeah. It's not just bravery and guile, either. It's the different motivations each finds familiar. Though some of that is crap, of course. I told you about that barking motivational consultant who seemed to think that I needed to be told every damn assignment was hideously dangerous."
Ron snorted. "Right. Like you haven't had your fill of that."
"Did she just start?" Hermione asked.
"No. She was in one of my groups last summer. She's scheduled to be Robed tomorrow."
"Oh." Hermione swallowed. "Maybe.... They say the curse is getting milder. No one's died in the last three years."
"Not many are trying anymore."
"Yes, but my department -- well, the Experimental division -- had a candidate we badly wanted last year, and he just got a better offer from someplace in Iceland."
"What makes that the curse?"
"He'd never heard of the company before, much less applied there. A beautiful saleswitch hop-apparated down from their 'volcano' laboratory with a generous offer for him to do fascinating research in weather work."
Harry coughed. "All right then." He picked up a forkful of couscous. "So, what about you? Any fascinating research?"
"You have no idea, mate," Ron answered, his eyes nearly closing. Hermione was turning pink.
"Sex magic," she said quickly.
"Sometimes she needs to try things out."
Her red face schooled to innocence, Hermione looked up. "Well, the notes are often terribly unclear. You'd think the writers were having trouble marshalling their thoughts, or something."
"Whatever would cause that?" Harry said.
"Yes, exactly. Quite the mystery."
"Is sex magic a common thing? I don't think I've ever heard about it. Except for jokes, I mean."
"Well, it isn't taught at schools, of course, and it had a terrible reputation -- some of it deserved -- in previous centuries, so it's largely been passed on as folk practice, with most known works being relevant to running a farm -- which reinforces more urban communities regarding it as irrelevant. What intrigued us is a few known cases of it being used for healing curse damage in Eastern Europe. I've been doing mostly historical research, with the occasional structure for an adaptive trial, which someone on the team then takes to try with their established partner. That needs all sorts of confidentiality exemptions! We're trying to determine whether it can actually drain residual magic or if it redirects--"
A silver stream through the window seized everyone's attention. Harry had heard it called 'war message trauma' -- the presumption that any Patronus must portend danger or tragedy.
Angelina's greyhound stopped before him. "Message from St. Mungo's," she said crisply. "Miranda Leroy's asking for you. Didn't know you knew her. Your call."
"My notes are in my locker."
Those were her first words -- despite the soprano delivery; despite looking like she was ten; despite the cruel strike of the curse she hadn't believed in.
"Do you remember what happened?" The notes could wait.
She nodded, looking close to tears. "I staked out his mooring at the marina, and I saw some crates moved onto shore. Usually, it's crates going on, and not much coming off. I followed them to an old warehouse on the Thames, but when I got inside, I didn't know which crates they were, so I started casting History charms on each stack. One in the third exploded. The mediwitch thinks the History charm combined with the reversive nature of the Jabberknoll to de-age me."
"Crap." The edge of her bed sank under him as he sat. He took her hand. "I'll do what I can for you. I promise."
"Thanks." Her face twisted the way no child's should. "I suppose I have to believe in it now."
He nodded. "Unfortunately."
"What do they say about it?"
"You don't know?"
"I've been doing my best to ignore it. I mean, I know about Zabini. No one can do her best if she's thinking about dying all the time."
Harry nodded. That made perfect sense to him. "No one's sure who cast it," he said, "but everyone's pretty sure it was a Death Curse. If not, it would have faded when the caster died, and so many people of that era have died that the living ones have been eliminated to reasonable certainty. We're fairly sure it wasn't anyone who died at the Battle of Hogwarts, because Jeremiah Blake became an Auror that September. The prevailing theories are Sturgis or Savage, who died that October, or Williamson, who died that December in the Boxing Day Massacre."
"But it's not just the MLE."
"No. International Cooperation, Revenue, Healing and Potions, and the Minister's staff also appear to be affected." Harry shrugged. "The Department of Mysteries might be; it's not like they'd say. And Games and Sport is all Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, so I'm not sure anyone could tell."
She didn't even smile. "I will not let this stop me."
He gripped her hand. "What can they do? St. Mungo's."
"Nothing that I've heard. They're studying it." Her hand pressed his to the point of pain. "If they can't do anything, I wait seven years. Understood?"
Harry probably should have gone back to Ron and Hermione's place, but his stomach was twisted in knots, and he didn't think he could. He sent a message saying he was all right, and that his friend would live, and he returned to the Ministry with the override charm for Miranda's locker.
The folder had turned into three folders: Octavius Lincoln and Associates, Negotiations and Transfers, and Storage and Transport (possible).
Storage and Transport was the thinnest, and half the notes in it were ones he had seen her write the day before, when they were brainstorming possibilities. They had discussed the idea that if Octavius was involved, he might be using his pleasure yacht to keep either petrified birds or the plucked feathers chilled and protected from sound. Obviously, that was what she had gone to investigate.
Harry paged through Octavius Lincoln and Associates, trying not to think too much about Miranda. She would have been good at this job, and it wasn't fair, and had anyone ever tried to undo this curse, really?
He paused at another picture of their mysterious young man, and then shook his head. He was distracted; this was someone else. He had darker, curlier hair, and a rounder chin. But even as Harry listed the differences, he saw what had caught his eye: that fleeting lost look, replaced by hard scorn. Hair color could be changed even without magic, and glamour or creams could soften the lines of a face. Mannerisms were harder to change, especially ones keyed to emotion.
He wondered about the emotions, and the history behind them. This was a man who armored himself with scorn, but was vulnerable without it. Harry imagined his life must have been hard -- perhaps he had also been unwanted at home, or derided at primary school, and had not found friends to open his heart, as Harry had.
Was he involved in the smuggling ring? Or was he, as Miranda had speculated, a discreet prostitute of sorts, a favorite of Octavius? He was too old for the street, but fit and graceful. Harry watched again -- that twist of his body, that turn of his hand ... definitely graceful.
Had Miranda found out who he was? He looked for notes on the Avalon Club, but there was only a time -- 4 PM Sunday.
Sighing, he shoved the folder away from him. Miranda! Damn the curse anyway!
"You want what?" Hermione said dumbly. Blinking, she looked to the side. "Harry! It's two in the morning!"
"And I won't be able to sleep until I get an answer!" He edged a little further into the grate. "Hermione, do you think sex magic could lift the curse? Not just on Miranda -- I mean, it won't do any good to help her if she gets hit again in September -- but the one on Slytherin applicants?"
Hermione sighed and rubbed her eyes. "Harry... I don't know enough to say. You'd need to know who cast it. You'd need a proxy for the caster. You'd need some sort of reparations or reversal -- and again, for that, you need to know the circumstances of the curse."
"That's the next step, then."
She rubbed her face. "Of course. The Ministry hasn't figured it out in seven or eight years, but you will." She softened the sarcasm with a loving smile. Harry just nodded.
"I'm willing to bet that a lot of people in the Ministry never wanted to figure it out, and it's certainly no one's priority. I'm in Magical Law Enforcement, you're in Experimental Charms, and Ron's in Games and Sports -- we can all collect information. If we narrow down the time period it might have been cast, we can look for people who were killed then."
She nodded sleepily. "All right. Though I'm not likely to get anywhere until Monday -- I know the MLE never sleeps, but Records in my division is open standard office hours."
"Do what you can," he said. "At least Miranda has plenty of time."
Draco headed for the counter at Slug & Jiggers, stopping in annoyance when he saw another customer already there, slowly explaining a problem with the selection of beetle wings. Damn Octavius anyway! He had expected to have two days alone to work on some brewing, and now he was expected to not only attend some overwrought opera, but to do it with a new appearance. He could only come up with so many of those that were convincing. He wondered if Octavius knew that he sold potions and intentionally disrupted his brewing time to keep him financially vulnerable. While the customer in front of him droned on, Draco considered that possibility and what it would mean. That Octavius was delusional, probably. He wasn't that important anymore, and uncertified potions wouldn't make him enough to get by -- not unless he specialized in prohibited potions, and he wasn't about to risk that.
Belatedly, he focused on a newly arrived customer -- an Auror. Worse, Potter -- Auror Potter -- and he had honed in on Draco like a Bludger.
Draco did not look in his basket. Glumbumble treacle was a perfectly legitimate purchase. "Auror Potter."
Potter seemed to be plotting. Draco couldn't imagine any other reason for the evaluating look he was getting. "Do you know Octavius Lincoln?" he asked suddenly.
Draco tensed, and silently cursed himself for doing it. Didn't the Aurors have anything more important to worry about?
"Is this an interrogation?" he drawled. "Because you're hardly someone with whom I would share idle gossip."
Potter frowned. "I'm not accusing you of anything, Malfoy."
"I have no idea what you're doing, but I certainly don't trust you."
That hit a nerve. Potter bristled. "I can understand if you distrust Aurors in general," he said indignantly. "But the last time we were at Hogwarts together, I saved your life. And I helped keep you and your mother out of Azkaban. You can't think I'm out to get you!"
That stung. Draco straightened his spine. "Then leave, Potter."
Potter blinked. He cleared his throat. Waving vaguely beyond Draco's shoulder, he said, "Well, I do need some, er, Murtlap essence."
Draco stepped aside. He hoped his cheeks weren't as red as they felt. Of course Potter was here as a customer. He wasn't that important anymore. "Then don't let me detain you further," he said haughtily. He tossed down two Sickles on the counter and hoped he was trusted enough here to get away with it. It was almost enough, and he couldn't bear to stand here any longer after having been so thoroughly humiliated.
Harry was halfway back to his office before realizing he had left Diagon Alley without buying a new hat for the Robing ceremony. He had spent the whole damn time wondering about Malfoy. He had seen him in Slug & Jiggers, looking off into the distance, and then he had seen that change -- the lost-to-scornful transition of the young man with Octavius. Still incredulous when Malfoy had focused on him, he had gone with his instincts and asked outright if he knew Octavius. It was an interrogation move that you could only use once, but often it bore fruit. Indeed, Malfoy's response was telling. He hadn't looked puzzled, or asked "Octavius who?" or said, "Good morning to you too, Potter." He had refused to answer, and he had acted as if the question itself was an accusation. He was so tense that Harry had checked his wand hand, only to find Malfoy's knuckles white from gripping his robes, instead.
Octavius didn't know -- or shouldn't know -- that he was under investigation. The only way it all made sense was if Octavius was guilty, and Malfoy was involved.
Harry didn't like that thought, and he wasn't sure why. He'd never been reluctant to consider Malfoy the guilty party before. He wondered if it was that lost look he had seen in the photographs, and again today. What sense did that make? Malfoy had grown up with everything and come to Hogwarts securely arrogant. Harry remembered later -- Malfoy crying in the bathroom; Malfoy, his face white with fear, returning to Voldemort and his parents. Malfoy had lost his trust late, rather than early, but after his family's precipitous fall, the hurt would be deep. And with that in his past, and everyone knowing it, he might prefer to go about as someone else.
He had been himself today, though.
His face was as angular as it had been in sixth year -- when, in retrospect, he probably hadn't been eating much. His hair had not darkened with age, and he had grown it -- not to the length of his father's, but slightly past his shoulders. It was actually probably the same length as Snape's, Harry thought, and as straight, although different in every other way. Clean, and fine, and bright as sunlight, it shifted with every movement of his head, as if it would be soft to the touch.
Without thought, Harry took the turn to Records, but the empty lift reminded him it was Saturday. He could still go through the MLE Records clerk on duty, whoever that was this weekend, but he needed to attend the Robing ceremony in less than twenty minutes. He briefly considered skipping the whole thing, rather than spending it fuming about Miranda, but Calvert and Finella were getting their robes, as well, and both had worked with him longer than Miranda had, and seemed to look up to him as a mentor.
Scowling, he stopped back to his office and grabbed his old hat. He felt ridiculous in wizard hats, but one was expected for formal occasions. This one would have to do, as he was nearly out of time.
The rip at the top gaped open as he lifted it, and he knew the faded color would show as pink in the sea of other hats. Sighing, he turned on his heel and Apparated back to Diagon Alley.
One thing went right, at least. The weekend clerk, when he finally had time to go, was Romilda. Her adolescent infatuation had become a joke between them, now that she was happily married to an accountant for Mrs. Scower's cleaners.
"Harry!" she exclaimed, setting her chin on one hand and batting her eyelashes at him. "Did you come to see me?"
Despite the lack of an audience, he gave her an ostentatious wink. "Of course! But since I'm here...." He sat against the front of her desk-- "I want every thing we have on Draco Malfoy."
"Malfoy!" Surprise made her drop the act. "Is he into something? I wouldn't think he'd dare."
Harry shook his head. "Not a suspect. A person of interest."
Of course, that wasn't entirely true, he thought, as he looked at the most recent item in Malfoy's folder -- an investigation for sales of unlicensed potions. It had gone on for several months, with Malfoy's facilities being raided twice, before concluding that everything he was known to produce for sale was permissible without certification, as long as the lack of certification was made clear to the purchaser. The case had been bumped up to Setton for permission to close, which he had done with the exasperated conclusion "possible harassment by anonymous accusation." Somehow, however, the folder had lost the blue HA sticker that would alert later investigators to that possibility. Growling, Harry pulled one out of his drawer and slapped it on the front.
Why was Malfoy uncertified as a brewer? He hadn't come back to Hogwarts, but he had taken his NEWTs in the permitted subjects -- Harry remembered seeing him on the grounds -- and Harry was sure he would have scored well in Potions. He couldn't have messed up the Gryffindors' attempts in lessons nearly so spectacularly if he hadn't known what he was doing. Harry flipped back to the beginning of the folder, paging though Malfoy's post-war write-up as an "aspiring Death Eater" -- he had never been given the Mark, apparently -- and to the first entries after his probationary year ended.
Malfoy had applied to the MLE research division.
Harry stared at the familiar form. Malfoy had applied to the MLE research division. After his father was killed? Harry checked the date and thought back. No, it would have been about a month before. That was 1999, and he remembered it was in December, because he had been Christmas shopping when he was called in for the meeting. Reading on, he saw the application had been tossed upstairs multiple times -- no one wanted to approve a possible Death Eater sympathizer. Despite Malfoy's assertions that working for Voldemort had been the worst year of his life and had entirely changed his outlook, his first interviewer had pointed out that he knew several fugitives personally. Kendall, the new head at the time of the application, had actually interviewed him again, and his comments were mostly positive. He had passed the application on to Kingsley for advice, and it looked like Kingsley had never responded. Of course, he'd been busy with reforming the Ministry at that point. Harry shook his head. At least this one wasn't the curse; Malfoy would have withdrawn his application after his father died in Auror custody.
Or maybe not. He scanned through the comments, but didn't see any place where it was actively withdrawn. Now, at least, that would get a large stamp at the bottom of the last page and another across the front.
The next item was an application for certification as a brewer, nearly a year later. It had been declined due to inadequate facilities, which seemed odd until Harry used a searching spell and found a 1998 injunction barring Malfoy Manor from "habitation or other use" pending the conclusion of a Ministry investigation. He wondered when that had been lifted. Further searching showed no closing of the matter, although he would really need to go to Property and Revenue to be sure. He did find a March 2000 order exempting the Malfoys from further taxes on the property for the duration of the injunction.
Across from that, the word "prostitution" jumped out from the page. Prostitution as in "arrest on suspicion of." Harry stared at it. Malfoy? Prostitution? Of course, Miranda had said that Octavius's companion might be paid. With men, then? They were more likely to pay than women, as far as he could tell, though Malfoy at that age might have appealed to certain matrons.... He needed details.
He went looking, but again, he was disappointed. The charges had stemmed from a raid on an escort service which was known to play both sides of the law. All the individuals they had made payments to were charged, but only a few of those charges stuck. Malfoy, in particular, had insisted that the bank transfer to him was in payment for cosmetic potions. There had been nothing to indicate otherwise, and the charges had been dropped -- no, allowed to expire. However, the red stain of an index charm marked the conclusion, and touching that pulled the corners of two other sheets out of the stack. One was the sale of a cursed tiepin that Malfoy claimed he had not realized was in the lot of items offered to an estate dealer. The dealer likewise protested innocence, and -- again -- the charge was dropped. This time, a curse breaker had testified that someone not affected by the curse -- i.e., a member of one of the old British wizarding families -- could easily fail to notice it. The other was a second application -- this a recent one for testers in Questionable Substances, rejected by Angelina with the note "will not be able to uphold a professional image."
He wondered if there was anything here on Malfoy's finances.
Harry noticed the door open, but barely. This was a safe space, in the heart of his domain. The person approaching moved like a friend.
He looked up into Hermione's frown, but her eyes were on the papers spread out in front of him "Malfoy?" she asked. "Is he in trouble?"
"I don't know." Harry shifted the list of Malfoy's meager accounts away, and frowned at the lightly glamoured young man at the Avalon Club again. Now that he knew, he could see that it was Malfoy. "He's showed up in a lot of places lately, that's all."
"Harry." Her voice was almost pleading. "Let it go."
"I know he bullied you -- more than me, even. That doesn't mean you should bully him."
"But you pulled all the files on him? On Sunday afternoon, when you're supposed to be at the Burrow?"
"It's just weird, that's all."
"Harry." The tone of her voice was enough to bring up all the times he'd been convinced Malfoy was the shadow he was fighting. Sometimes he'd been right. This time, though, he was hoping he was wrong. Bullying was a good word for the whole record.
"I don't think he's involved, okay? He's just connected to more people than he should be." Ignoring Hermione's doubtful look, Harry gathered the papers into a neat stack and locked it in a drawer of his desk. He might not be after Malfoy himself, but it wouldn't do to leave those out, not with the number of enemies the man had. "Let's go. I need to leave early enough to see Miranda before visiting hours are over."
"So," he explained, tapping a biro against his leg and trying to picture Miranda as an adult, rather than a child not old enough for Hogwarts, "I suspect St. Mungo's can't help you until the Death Curse is out of the way."
"Probably." Miranda leaned over the window sill, staring out at the bright sunshine. "But my magic has gone unstable, so they want to keep me here until my parents get back from vacation. My parents!"
"Frustrating, but better than hurting yourself." Harry swallowed. Miranda might be nineteen in her head, but he couldn't bring himself to mention sex magic. "Anyway, I have a friend in Experimental Charms who says she'll help."
Miranda spun around, her eyes gratifyingly wide. "Hermione Granger? Hermione Granger will help me?"
"Oy! I didn't get that reaction!"
"Oh, I'm astounded by you too, believe me. But we've at least met."
"And Hermione always helps me."
Miranda grinned, her teeth looking large in her child's face. "Sir. You are influential, a brilliant dueler, keen, and as unstoppable on a case as a Krup after an Erkling -- everyone says so -- but I don't know that you're much of a curse-breaker."
"Point," he said. "But I know some -- including the legendary Hermione Granger. But first, I need some help from a Slytherin."
She looked down at her body, and then at her hands. "You seem to have one."
"Good. Before we can do anything, we need to know who cast the curse, and for that, we need to know when it was cast. Zabini was impaled by that malfunctioning broom in June 2000, but I'm pretty sure it affected Malfoy more subtly before that -- in late 1999 or early 2000. I know several Slytherins were hired -- newly or out of the full employee review -- in September of '98, but the next fifteen months were active and highly dangerous, as fugitive Death Eaters and collaborators were being hunted down for trial. The list of people who may have died cursing Slytherin is fairly long -- even if we assume it was someone in the Ministry. We need to find the last Slytherin hired."
She nodded. "Hm. Adrian is the last one I can think of, but that was '98, I think during the review. Everyone I was in school with was after 2000, though, so it's really just, well, cousins."
"Do you know anyone I could talk to?"
"Didn't you go to school with Slytherins?"
"Not ones that are talking to me. I ran into Draco Malfoy in Diagon Alley the other day and he tried to throw me out of a shop."
She shook her head. "And you seem so nice!" she quipped. "Have you asked Horace Slughorn? He keeps in touch with everybody."
Harry knocked his head with his hand. "Of course he does! You're brilliant, Miranda! Would you contact him about it?"
"He'd far rather talk to you, I'm sure."
"Yes, but he'll keep me for hours."
She punched his shoulder like a teammate. "Suck it up, Harry. Go for the best information."
He laughed, only afterwards realizing that she had tensed at her own cheek. "All right," he said. "But only because I think this is costing us good people."
"For what? You can call me Harry if you like. As long we're not in some official meeting with Angelina and people from other department."
"Thanks." She bit her lip. "For thinking of me as 'in your department,' too."
Harry Potter was making Draco nervous. He had seen the man cross straight from Slug & Jiggers to the Leaky Cauldron, behaving as if he were leaving, but fifteen minutes later he had come out of Hamilton-Kent Gentleman's Accessories just across the street from where Draco was emerging from the second hand shop. Draco thought that he'd lost him after that, but it may just have been that Potter was good at not being seen. Now it was Sunday, coming on sunset, and that was clearly Potter, strolling down Bare Alley as if he owned the place -- which he probably could, if he'd wanted to. Draco was torn between walking down to the street and hiding under the covers. He couldn't afford getting arrested again! If he didn't make another ten Galleons in the next two weeks he'd miss rent, and it would be the third time this year, and the last one had got him a warning.
He settled for answering the firm knock at his door.
"Hello," Potter said mildly, as if he was a normal visitor. "May I come in?"
"I'd rather you didn't." Draco could see Potter looking over his shoulder at the clutter of cauldrons and jars, flasks and tubes, that he used to brew potions. The Ministry wasn't going to start going after him about that again, were they?
"I have a few things to ask you about." Potter's voice was still mild, even as the first threat came. "Your landing isn't the place, really."
Swallowing, Draco stepped back. "Try not to break anything," he said bitterly.
Potter looked around the room with a poor attempt at disdain. "It is a bit crowded." When the door clicked shut behind him, he leaned against it. "So. Octavius."
"I assume you mean Lincoln?" Draco asked, as breezily as he could manage. Potter wasn't fooled.
"That might have worked the first time, Malfoy," he said. "I've seen you with him. I can't prove it's you, but I know."
"Delusional as always. You have nothing on me."
"Didn't say I did." Harry scuffed one foot through the dust from the street. "Rather hoping not to, to be honest."
Malfoy felt his lip curl in disdain. Why couldn't he pretend to cooperate? It shouldn't be that hard -- just think of the Auror as a professor -- but this was Potter. "I'm sure."
"The problem is how you keep showing up. Someone might think you were involved."
Draco laughed. "Back to your research, Potter. Octavius does not do involvement."
Potter blinked, looking genuinely startled, but only for a moment. "In the business, I mean."
"Krups?" Now it was Draco's turn to be confused. "In a two-room flat?" His brain caught up, and flooded with relief. He had been misreading everything. "Oh, is this some new gambling scandal? I have no idea, Potter. He doesn't talk business with me."
Potter started to nod, and then caught himself. "Good enough. I did need to ask, you understand. Oh, and I suggest you don't meet with him for the next few days."
Draco quelled a surge of panic. He would just ignore that. He would ignore it, but not say anything about this conversation, and then he could pay rent, but maybe wouldn't get beat up. Maybe.
Potter seemed to feel any overt threats unnecessary. For one wonderful moment, it looked like he would just leave. Then, hand on the doorknob, he turned.
"Oh, by the way--"
That was never good.
"If I need a Slytherin for a sex magic working, shall I give you a call? Since you do that sort of thing."
All the air left Draco's lungs. He had to swallow and breathe before he could speak, schooling his face and voice to ice.
"Come back when you can do better, Potter. I'm perfectly willing to report you to Shacklebolt for attempted intimidation. I may not be in society, any longer, but one thing I can still command is media attention."
"I didn't mean--"
Potter fled. As he leaned against the newly closed door, Draco realized that he had looked startled. Startled! As if he would just lie down and take it without any protest. He growled. Potter was trouble, and if it came down to it -- well, he probably would take it, if it kept Potter from filing new charges.
"How did your visit to our former professor go?" Hermione asked, as she followed Harry into the living room. "Was it worth putting up with the fawning?"
He sighed. "Yes and no. After hours of agonizing chitchat, I was able to narrow down the time to three months. Urquhart started in International Cooperation in October 1999, but Antwiler spontaneously lost the ability to recognize numbers or runes the night before starting in Revenue in January 2000."
"But Harry, that's excellent progress! There can't have been many Aurors killed in that period."
"That's the thing. There weren't any."
"Oh." She sank to the sofa. "That's a problem. Are we sure that International Cooperation is affected?"
"One death, two bizarre disabilities. And from Malfoy's file, I think some curse effects may be more subtle."
Sighing, she nodded. "Not an Auror then. We'll need to go through obituaries for that time, looking for Ministry employees. If we each take a month, it won't be too bad." She frowned. "Wait. Draco Malfoy applied for a Ministry job?"
"Twice!" Harry answered. "I know, I was shocked too."
"After what happened to his father? I mean, I know that the Aurors involved were all disciplined, and the one who killed him went to prison, but it was awful!"
Harry closed his eyes. This is costing us good people. A candidate we badly wanted. Some of the best investigative partnerships.
"Lucius," he said.
He opened his eyes to her puzzled frown. "The curse isn't on Slytherin. It's on the Ministry -- and just happens to take out Slytherins who won't back off applying. It was Lucius Malfoy making sure his son wouldn't work for the people who were beating him to death." He stood up, pacing to the wall and back. "The time works. It works exactly. December 1999."
"Oh!" Her eyes widened. "Right. Which is why there were some mild effects at the beginning too. If they were people he liked or didn't know...."
"The ones he was angry at would mostly be gone by now."
"I think you may have it."
He nodded. "I need Malfoy, don't I?" He winced, remembering the response his offhand suggestion had got. He'd been thinking of it as a favor -- a way to throw some money Malfoy's way without being obvious. "I mean, he'd be the most effective at representing his father."
She rolled her eyes. "And you finally get to screw him."
She laughed as his shock. "I can be vulgar when it's called for. I just don't overuse it."
"I'm not sure that was called for!"
"Of course it was," she said placidly. "Although -- the other way might be more effective. Certainly if there's any play of aggression. Unraveling a curse by reversal is one of the strengths of sex magic."
He sighed. "Any other ways?" he tried.
She bit her lip. "If you loved him, there would be other ways to structure it, but--."
"We've scarcely talked."
"I don't suppose this apprentice...?"
"No! And anyway, she's currently ten! No, I'd much rather Dra-- Malfoy." He could tell by her smile that she hadn't missed his slip.
"Bring a good lube, then."
"Hermione, I think this sex magic project has been really bad for you."
"Do you? Ron thinks it's been excellent."
When Malfoy opened the door, the switch to contempt was almost instantaneous.
"I told you no," he said, his hair swinging from the force of lifting his head.
Harry took a quick breath. "No," he said, holding out his empty hands. "You told me to come back when I could do better. This really is your business, Malfoy. Hear me out, please."
"Do go on," Malfoy drawled mockingly.
Malfoy swept him up and down with cold appraisal. For a moment, Harry thought he would slam the door, but he just leaned into the door frame, his long, lean body stretching up on one side, and curving slightly on the other from the cant of his hip. "Court precedent has established that not wearing Auror robes does not remove the aspect of intimidation."
"As if I could intimidate you!" Harry snapped. "For once in our lives, we need to actually talk, Malfoy, and I'd rather not do in some unlit hallway. Let me in, hear me out -- actually listen and think it over -- and I'll accept your decision."
With a dramatic sigh, Malfoy shifted to the side. "How could I refuse such a gracious request?"
Harry snorted. "Gracious is your department."
One of Malfoy's eyebrows lifted. "Do you think so?"
"When you choose to use it, yeah. Not that I've ever had that directed at me."
"Oh, is that what you want, Potter?" Malfoy's voice was sticky sweet over the click of the door closing. "Grace? Or just flexibility?"
"Look, I'm sorry I brought it up like that. I didn't intend it as an insult, or whatever you thought it was."
Malfoy froze for a moment, and then spoke carefully. "A threat, if you want to know."
"Definitely not that." There was really no place to sit, here -- well one chair, but that would only make things worse, whichever of them used it. "I was thinking through something, and we've already established I'm not gracious, so don't read too much into it. Do you know about the curse?"
"The curse? I'm afraid you'll need to be more specific."
"The one that keeps the Ministry -- well, at least four departments of it -- from being able to hire Slytherins?"
Malfoy snarled before regaining control. "Yes, of course, Potter. You all would love to hire Slytherins, I'm sure."
"We certainly want to hire some of them! Malfoy, I was working with a trainee who was supposed to be Robed Saturday. She's great. Intuitive, deductive, adaptable -- and she got hit by a freak interaction of half-dead Jabberknolls and a History trace on Friday night, and is currently ten years old. I'm furious! Zabini is dead; do you recall?"
"He was an arse anyway." Despite the words, Malfoy looked a bit queasy.
"And then there's your application," Harry said, watching closely for the flinch. He saw it. "The first one. I found it, when I was looking into you."
"I doubt that had anything to do with a curse, Potter." Malfoy was standing as stiff as a board, looking slightly away. Harry took a step closer.
"Really? I think it did. Two interviews, two largely positive sets of comments ... and then it was never approved. Not rejected, just ... lost. Mislaid."
"I wasn't harmed. Not like Zabini or Nott."
"But I know who cast the curse."
Malfoy, who had been ignoring him, turned at that, grazing the edge of a table and nearly knocking over a condensing tube. They both reached out and caught it. Harry grinned at him. "Seekers!" It was what his friends said when he caught things, but Malfoy didn't seem to find it amusing.
"Get to the point." There was a certain desperation to his voice, now.
"It was your father."
"What?" For a moment, Malfoy's mouth gaped. "My father wouldn't curse Slytherin!"
"He didn't," Harry said. "He cursed the Ministry. We couldn't have you."
"Wouldn't back down. And your family couldn't stand him at that point, true?"
Malfoy stared. "You're serious." He leaned against the chair.
"Yes. Your father cursed the Aurors so they couldn't have you -- and couldn't have any Slytherin. It's more and more of problem for us, and it doesn't look like you're doing so well either."
"I--" Malfoy's mouth twisted. "You really don't mean any harm, do you? You're just barreling around like a baby dragon, and you have no idea what you're doing to me."
"Doing-- Oh. I'm sorry to bring up your father--"
"It's not that! It's ... I've had very bad interactions with Aurors."
"Yeah, I saw that." Harry sighed. "I actually tagged your folder as a potential pattern of harassment, if it helps."
"But since you do that," Malfoy repeated mockingly.
Harry bit his lip. "I didn't mean-- It's just... Hermione's been working in sex magic. She thinks we can break it. You and I -- with everything each of us represents."
The change came in slow motion this time -- lost, to despairing, to hard.
"You just need to fuck me," Malfoy said coldly.
Harry scratched behind an ear. "Er -- actually, she says it will work better the other way round."
"Excuse me?" That seemed to have derailed his cynicism. Harry pressed on.
"It would work bestif you bound me -- to put me in your father's position for balance, you understand -- except I'll never be able to take that.
"Oh really? I thought you could take anything."
"Not that." Harry tried to shrug. "Because it's Voldemort, and Dumbledore dying, and my uncle, and all those things, and I'll flip out, and my magic will take over, and it won't work."
Malfoy leaned back against the wall, evaluating Harry. "Voldemort? Oh, this would be that Quibbler interview?"
Slowly, he nodded. "I couldn't imagine it at the time, but yes. Dumbledore?"
"I was petrified and invisible when you were trying to kill him."
Malfoy's mouth twisted. "No wonder you were hysterical afterwards."
"Your uncle?" Harry had hoped he would miss that one. "Was it as bad as Rita Skeeter said?"
"I'm not weak, Malfoy. I've never been some weepy, self-pitying dishrag."
Malfoy nodded. "Oh, I'm quite aware you externalize everything. That's still yes."
Harry turned away, fists clenched at his sides. He couldn't take that bait. This had been an awful idea. He didn't know why he was here, in this dump of a flat, with someone who had always hated him.
Malfoy stepped close, so close that his shirt brushed lightly against Harry's, but Harry refused to look. He wasn't intimidated. Malfoy wouldn't kill him. He wouldn't dare.
"Potter." The name puffed against his ear. "Harry." Unexpected and softer. "I know how we can do it."
Harry pivoted in alarm. Malfoy's face was mere inches away, his breath warm on Harry's lips. "Do what?"
"Bonds," Malfoy breathed. "You're right -- it is far more likely to work, but it can't be by force. I know enough magical theory to see that. To claim the energy of the Death Curse, you need to be bound, but to truly change it, you need to willingly submit to your restraint."
"Draco," Draco breathed, close -- far too close. "Call me Draco."
"Draco, you don't understand. I'll panic. I can't--"
Streams of paper shot out of Draco's wand as if raining down on a parade. As he twirled it in little circles, they curled, one into another, to make a chain.
"I'll bind you," he breathed, lips brushing against Harry's ear and neck. "But you? You need to not break it -- such delicate bonds."
Harry closed his eyes. He felt like something inside him had melted. "Oh."
"Here." Soft paper whispered around his neck, the circle closing and continuing to form a lead in Draco's hand. "Come to the bedroom before I bind your wrists. I think this should be on my territory. What else do we need?"
"I--" Harry's voice tensed high, and he took a few seconds to bring it under control. "I think I should wear my Auror robes."
"In your satchel, I presume?"
Nodding, Harry laid his satchel on the small table, and fumbled it open. He couldn't sweep the robes open and duck under them -- it had to be done with care for the chain, which meant unfastening them all the way, something he scarcely ever did. Draco watched, smirking slightly, as Harry awkwardly fastened buttons. Once they were set, Draco gave him a mocking -- or possible ritualistic -- bow, and led him to a curtained door.
Harry followed Draco into a tiny room -- no, a small room that was almost all bed. A glorious bed, at that. It had probably come from Malfoy Manor, and was worth more than the entire flat.
"Crawl onto it then," Draco urged. "Be careful of the bonds! We wouldn't want to undo our work."
"We haven't started yet," Harry protested, with what little control he had left. He wasn't sure if Malfoy -- Draco -- was taking this seriously.
"Oh? I though I just needed to bind you and fuck you."
"No. You need to represent your father and Slytherin."
"You genuinely mean this." Draco sounded incredulous.
"Of course I mean it! We both want this curse gone, right?"
"I thought you might just want a fuck."
Harry sighed. "Draco, I'm a Gryffindor. I wouldn't come up with some insanely elaborate excuse to ask you to bed."
"Hm." Draco studied him carefully for a moment. "All right. I'll take you seriously. You are the Auror, and I am the Malfoy, with roles reversed."
"As Malfoy, both the caster of the curse and the first affected."
Draco shuddered. "I'll change my clothes as well then. Any other elements?"
"You need to be good to me, or at least not hurt me. And at the end I need to ...." Harry stopped, feeling his face heat.
"To invite you to my office -- or maybe my home -- Hermione wasn't sure of that part."
Draco smirked. "Better make it both, then."
"That seems safer," Harry agreed. This was all moving too fast. "Don't make me regret it."
"Oh, I won't." Draco pressed up behind him, unbalancing him forward. Harry had to throw out a hand to slow his fall toward the bed until Draco caught up. The paper chain stretched out, but nothing broke. He exhaled in slow relief.
"This trainee --" Draco reached past him to secure the paper chain to the headboard -- "just how fond of her are you?"
"I see. No, don't turn around. I'm becoming the Malfoy patriarch." Harry could hear the shush of fabric and the jangle of hangers behind him. "And me, Potter? Am I the Slytherin you would most like to have in bed, or the best symbol of my father?"
"Both, of course."
His laugh was low and soft. "So forthright, Harry. It's delightful, now that I've noticed." His hand curved over one cheek of Harry's arse. "I should have had you take those trousers off when you put on the robes. Let me get them now."
He spread out the wide skirts of Harry's Auror robes, but rather than turning them up, as Harry expected, reached under the heavy folds of cloth. He leaned into Harry's back as he unbuttoned the trousers. Harry had to put his knees closer together to let the garment slip down to his knees. In the meantime, Draco's hand had encircled Harry's cock. Harry pushed into the touch.
"I've been hard since you breathed on my neck."
"Oh really!" Draco's lips brushed under the paper chain collar. When Harry whined, he sucked the flesh up against his teeth.
"Yeah, that," Harry muttered. He could feel magic gathering around the touch, making the hairs at the back of his neck stand up into the shift of the paper chain.
"Not worried about enjoying it?"
"Works better that way, Hermione said."
"Granger again! Have you always let her run your sex life?"
"No. This is weird." Still, his eyes closed as Draco's long fingers stroked up and down his erection.
"If this works," Draco murmured, "will you help me get hired?"
"Try," Harry managed. He could feel the magic setting the words as a contract, but couldn't bring himself to care. "Angelina hates you. I might be able to persuade her to recuse herself."
"But you won't recuse yourself."
"Can't. I just said I'd help, and the magic heard me. You know, this isn't fair. You're far more in control."
"But I need to be, don't I?" Draco let go and slapped him lightly on the thighs. "Lie down so I can pull those off." He pressed down to kiss the back of Harry's neck again, while Harry complied. "I need to remain in control as my father's murderers did not."
Harry stayed silent, struggling to clear his head.
"You realize that you're trusting I want a job more than revenge."
"I'd be a bad choice for revenge," Harry managed. "I gave half a dozen interviews -- and I hate interviews -- saying the Ministry needed to authorize an independent investigation. Without that, do you think anyone would have gone to Azkaban?"
"No." The trousers came off, and his pants and socks with them. "Why, though? I expected you to stand for office, but you didn't."
"Because malice isn't justice." Draco's hand was resting on the back of his knee, and, deliberately, Harry wriggled his arse back against him. "We probably have to talk this out sometime, but the energy's fading. Tell me what you want right now."
Air hissed in between Draco's teeth. "Skin," he said. "Your arse soon. First though, turn. Look at me."
Harry evaluated the slight curve in the chain. "Turning will be difficult."
There was laughter in that tone, but it wasn't derisive. Draco had shifted back and stood. Harry crawled up the bed to give himself a little more slack, and then carefully turned to his side, readjusted, and moved to sit, leaning back on his elbow.
Harry blinked. Draco, in front of him, was not his father, but he looked like he'd raided his father's wardrobe from fifteen years ago. He was wearing long, formal blue robes over a lace-fronted shirt, and his hair was pulled back in a blue lace tie. A signet ring glittered on his thumb.
Harry swallowed. "Mr. Malfoy."
Draco's mouth twitched, but his voice, when he spoke, was hard. "The Ministry took from us, Auror Potter. Dignity, a home, a livelihood, a life. What do you give?"
Harry knew his answer was important, but he didn't have any chance to think it out at all. His mouth opened before he thought he was ready and words came out.
"Respect in willing submission, refuge in my body, and in the ending of this curse, a chance at new livelihoods for all those of your house."
Draco leaned in, one knee on the bed, and met him in a crushing kiss. Harry grabbed onto his shoulders and tried to pull more the rest of him as close. He wanted to press forward, but couldn't break the chain. Draco's teeth scraped Harry's lips as he drew his head back.
"Merlin, I need to fuck you," he breathed. "Stay still."
"Get back here!"
Draco's eyebrows flicked up. "Now, now. You promised submission."
But I'm really bad at it, Harry wanted to protest. He sighed. "Yes, Draco," he ground out.
"That's better. Now, I've had enough of winter robes in June. The signet ring should be enough." As he spoke, Draco was deftly undoing the dress robes. He paused to hang them up, but the shirt he dropped to the floor, the lace of the cuffs and front fluttering as it fell.
Harry licked his lips. Draco's body was long and lean. He could possibly use a little more food and a little more exercise, the trainer part of Harry's brain assessed, but the basic form was stunning -- flawless skin and clean lines, the smooth sweep of his ribs like a parting curtain above the flat oval of his abdomen. His hands were at the front of his trousers, now, undoing the hook there.
"Do you like what you see?" he teased, unfastening further down.
"Yeah," Harry said.
"Undo your robes," Draco ordered. "You have to leave them on, but they needn't cover everything."
Harry complied, his fingers working unsupervised as he watched the tip of Draco's cock appear, and then the shaft, and then the blond curls at the base. He parted his own robes and wished he'd had the sense to change out of his T-shirt.
Draco tsked. "I'm going to cut that off you."
Harry liked this shirt, but some things were worth sacrificing. "Go ahead."
He shivered as the smooth tip of Draco's wand slid under his shirt, and along his skin from navel to collarbone. Then Draco tipped it out, whispered an incantation, and drew it back, making a smooth cut from collar to hem.
Harry bit his lip. This shirt might just have become his favorite. "Thank you," he said, and Draco smiled.
"Very good." He climbed onto the bed and edged forward, his knees close to either side of Harry's legs, so they were held together. It was another kind of restraint, and Harry tensed under it, but he wasn't actually afraid. He really didn't have the focus for it, not with the way Draco was idly fondling his own hardening cock a mere foot away.
"May I...?" Harry pleaded, sitting up as much as the chain would allow and stretching his tongue suggestively out.
"You want this in your mouth?" Draco rose up on his knees and leaned obligingly forward -- but not quite enough. Harry could barely flick the tip of his tongue across the head of Malfoy's cock and the side of his fingers.
"Oh, you are eager. Any other day -- but I really need to fuck you, Harry. Nothing else will do." With an impatient huff, Draco swung one leg to the side. "And you're far too much at liberty. Roll over."
"But--" Harry modulated his tone. He had promised respect. "I mean, I'd rather see."
"And I would rather you saw where you're bound."
Shivering, Harry reversed the cautious turn until he was back on his hands and knees. Draco called up more paper strips and made a short chain from one wrist to the other.
"I'll break that."
"You'll have to be careful."
"I'm not careful during sex. I'm all over. I move."
Draco tsked. "If it was easy, the magic wouldn't be strong. You'll have to work at it, but I'm confident you can manage."
Harry closed his eyes. He was going to explode. He knew it.
He kept them closed when his Auror robes were pushed up to his shoulder blades, lying across them like some sort of yoke. He kept them closed when Draco started stroking his body and telling him what a magnificent back he had and it was a pity it was obscured. When slicked up fingers slid around his hole, he twitched, and his eyes flew open. He hadn't moved too much. He hadn't broken anything. Quickly, he clasped his hands together and set his elbows out. That worked. Draco was now rubbing in little circles, and Harry found he could lay his head down between his arms and stretch his bum up. He could just see Draco's arm over his shoulder as something finally eased inside.
"A thumb is a good way to start, I think. Are you familiar with this?"
"Of course!" Harry said indignantly, than hastily corrected: "But not recently."
"Eight months? Nine maybe."
"Ah. I'll take that into account."
And he was obligingly gentle. Too obligingly, Harry decided, after a long time of a gentle twist of two, then three fingers. He couldn't say it wasn't good; he wasn't even bored, really, but the strain of wanting was wearing on his nerves, and there was a place where the sheet was mended under one of his knees, and the magic had gone from a pleasant hum to the buzz of a station too far away to bring in.
"More!" He caught himself. "Please, Draco?"
"You've been waiting for me to ask?"
Draco leaned the full length of his body against Harry's back. "Not coercion," he whispered into Harry's ear. "Your will is an important element. Now, do you want me?"
"In your arse?"
"Yes, in my arse!" Harry had relaxed his hands and nearly gestured back. He clasped them again.
"Say it. Ask."
Harry licked his lips. "Fuck me, Draco. Please. Now."
He missed his warm weight for an instant, and then the ridges of fingers were replaced by the broad smoothness of a cockhead pressing against his entrance.
"It would be my pleasure," Draco replied, and slowly pushed in, stretching and filling, while the magic thickened and roared like wind.
Harry wanted to reach back, to touch, to hold. The most he could manage was a stray lick at Draco's arm, where he braced against the bed, and then not even that, as Draco knelt up to grip his hips and thrust deeper.
Harry panted and said things -- he wasn't sure what and it probably didn't matter, but he thought Draco was calling him beautiful, which was pretty nonsensical too, and the magic swirled and thickened until he thought they could swim in it, and Draco came screaming, which was possible the best thing he'd ever heard.
He expected that to be the end of it, but the power continued to grow around Draco's hand on his cock, and then his mouth when he knocked Harry to the side to get at him, one hand gripping his wrists as he went down. Harry expected the chains to break, but Draco's hold was enough to get them through it, and just after, or later, he felt the build in his brain and his groin.
"I'm going to--"
In answer, Draco took him deeper, shaking his head as he pulled up, and Harry let go.
At his first cry, Draco reached out, seized both paper chains and tore.
The moment after orgasm was often like rising from a dive, but Harry didn't think he'd ever been that deep
before. The magic was settling around them in golden ripples as he reached
out in contentment, and pulled Draco to him.
"I get to hold you," he said wonderingly, and Draco pressed close, his head under Harry's arm.
It took a minute for Harry to realize he was crying.
"Draco? What's wrong?"
"I...." Draco looked up, hurriedly wiping his face. "I don't know. Nothing. Everything. It was just intense."
"Intense is right. I don't know if we broke the curse, but we definitely did something. Did you feel it?"
Draco nodded. "I ... yes. But...."
"It was a Death Curse. It was a little like him leaving again." Draco seized a handkerchief from the side table, blew his nose, and then waved it with incongruous grace while he gave Harry a lopsided smile. "It's all right. It was long ago. I just have this leftover bit to get over."
"Don't be. It was an awful curse --" He collected himself. "If you're right, of course."
"You did want to help, right?"
Draco's incredulous look was answer enough. "Yes, Potter. Actually, I probably would have done it just for the sex."
"You don't get, er, tired of that?"
He laughed outright. "I don't know what's in my file, but I'm an escort, not a prostitute. I mean, sometimes I have sex with them. But mostly I'm paid to be an attractive and refined companion who can intelligently discuss culture and arts ... or at least pretend that my customer is intelligently doing so."
"So you only go on to sex if you want to?"
Draco hesitated. "If the person expects it ... well it would be bad for business to not pretend to want to as well. But mostly they don't."
"What is your obsession with Octavius? Yes, he usually does. But he often requests me for other people, and I'm not even sure they're all gay. Sometimes they meet me looking like him, which is completely strange, because I can always tell."
"Wait -- other people meet you looking like Octavius Lincoln? Meet you where? Was one of these the Avalon Club, about a month ago?"
Draco shifted away enough to sit up. "I'm starting to think I shouldn't be talking about this. But yes."
"Would you say so in court?"
"Oh no!" Draco waved his arms between them. "No, I can't afford that."
"Maybe if the curse is broken?"
"If I can afford it, I might say so in private testimony. Saying it in court could ruin my chances at a job."
Harry considered that. "Anonymous testimony might work, if other things fall into place." He reached out. "Now, come and lie down again. I have an hour before--"
Draco's eyes widened, and Harry twisted to see silver mist forming into a small, graceful silver horse. It pawed silently at the narrow strip of floor beside the bed.
"Harry!" it chirped. "Sir. St. Mungo's has a treatment! I'll age a year each dose -- one per day -- and my magic is normal now. And Head Auror Johnson said she looked over my file, because you thought highly of me, and has some ideas for getting around the curse. Have you made progress on it? Please let me know, because this solution from the healers seemed very sudden, and possibly something they should have thought of right away."
Draco took a shaky breath as the horse silently pranced away, dissolving as it crossed the threshold. "We did it?" His voice caught. "Do you think we really did?"
"Yes!" Harry surged forward and hugged him. "Thank you! We must have at least softened it. Are you on the Floo network?"
"No unnecessary expenses, Potter."
"None of that!" Harry retorted. "After that, I think I should stay Harry, even if--" He shrugged, unwilling to say the words. It wouldn't hurt to pretend a little longer. "Hold on." He lunged to hang off the side of the bed and scrabble through discarded clothes. When he raised his wand, his stag exploded from it with no marshalling of memory. "Miranda," he said to it, "that's excellent. Yes, Draco Malfoy and I may have broken the curse. Give me ten minutes to get home, and then Floo me there, if you can. Oh -- it's 'New Life House.'"
The stag's hooves, unlike the horse's, clattered against the floor, but the window stayed whole as he leapt through it and vanished into the night.
"So," Harry said uncertainly, "that invitation." He met Draco's eyes. Coming with me?"
"As we decided."
With no more consultation, Harry apparated them from Draco's bed to his own.
"Harry!" Draco yelped. "At least let me get clothes!"
Harry waved at his wardrobe. "Resize something. We can drop by your place if you want to go out to dinner."
Belatedly, he realized that was awkward. "Or not," he said, pulling out jeans and a red striped oxford shirt.
"I'd love to," Draco said, "but it won't work."
"You'd get upset about business engagements, wouldn't you?"
Harry stopped with one cuff done, trying not to stare or to growl. "Probably," he admitted. "Maybe less if you were happy about it."
"Happier than if I were starving."
"I won't keep you," Harry said, though a part of his brain was objecting that would be perfect, and he was an idiot. Draco, however, nodded.
"It would be a disaster, I'm sure."
Harry had just got the shirt buttoned, and was making a token attempt to smooth down his hair, when he heard the buzz of the Floo. He hurried out and found a chipper, first-year version of Miranda grinning out from his grate.
"Harry! What did you do?"
"It was complicated."
"And Draco Malfoy? Was that why you had his file out? I saw the HA. You were starting to write up an HD?"
Harry recalled the Potential Harassment by Department form he had been working on that morning. "Yeah, but I think I can't finish it -- my objectivity is shot. Would you review the folder and add your observations?"
"Um, okay, but ... what's your connection to Draco Malfoy?"
"Complicated," Harry said. "But most recently, he helped me undo the curse."
Draco, no doubt listening from the bedroom, chose that moment to stroll out, Harry's longest shirt open over sleek grey trousers.
"Hello, darling. Oh -- is this your young apprentice?"
The Floo gave the shattering buzz of someone being blocked by the call. "I'll go!" Miranda said, as Harry shooed Draco out of sight. A moment later, Kingsley's bald head appeared in her place.
"Harry! Why aren't you in the office? Angelina had to go to an emergency meeting in Oslo, and she appointed you and Wentworth her contacts for local investigations, and when I was looking for your Floo name I found a half-dozen applications that Kendall sent me years ago." At Harry's stunned look, he pressed on. "Would you have any objections to Draco Malfoy? I know he was a little rat as a teenager, but his qualifications are excellent, and we have a half-dozen openings where he'd have to be better than nobody. I'll give you the right to nix it, though, because I do remember. We have the whole trainee year to evaluate, of course."
"Of course," Harry said. "Um, no objections."
"Great. Now have your arse back here by three. You have Angelina's triage meeting."
When he had vanished, Harry closed the grate to calls. Draco's hand settled tentatively on his shoulder, and Harry touched it lightly as he turned.
"I suppose I should go," Draco said, but he didn't pull away as Harry's hands settled at his waist.
"Yeah. You'll be getting an owl soon."
They looked at each other in silence.
"So." Draco's voice caught, and he cleared his throat. "I think, perhaps, we should get to know each other better. Since we both misunderstood so much."
Harry smiled. "What about that dinner?" he suggested. "My treat."
"I'd be delighted."