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it is a strange thing to nourish what could kill you (in the hopes it does not kill you)

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Now

Harry smiled, and managed a laugh. It was convincing enough, he thought. That was the goal, anyway, even if it had got a bit difficult to laugh convincingly when they were having yet another variation on the same conversation they’d had eleven times before, this one in a restaurant so posh that Harry had barely kept himself from rolling his eyes at the decor. Or the menu. Or the waiter. Or Malfoy’s obvious delight in the extravagance of it all. Or the distinct possibility, if his initial reaction was anything to go by, that Malfoy was going to order the snails.

But he’d have withstood far riskier trials to solve a case. Had done, more than once. It was nothing, really, to sit across from Malfoy and make a bit of small talk and try to look the part of the happy couple. Bit strange to be doing it in hopes that a serial killer was watching them, but then, that was the whole point.

Across the table, Malfoy nattered on blithely. There had been, Harry learned, a cold front coming in from Wiltshire that had pushed a seasonal wind current towards London, and it was usually a particularly warm current, and Malfoy had missed it completely when, apparently, the meteorolowizard on the WWN had not only predicted a cold front, but had advised that the mixture of cold and warm air would produce showers across London, and Malfoy had been caught completely unprepared, soaked through too quickly to even cast an Impervius, and really, if the weather was going to be that unpredictable, shouldn’t there be some sort of alert system?

“Mhm.” Harry tried making his smile a bit toothier, and reached across the table to take Malfoy’s hands in his own. “What a brilliant observation. You’re completely wasted in your job, darling.”

Something flashed through Malfoy’s eyes so quickly that Harry couldn’t be sure it wasn’t the candle’s flickering reflection. “Yes, mon chaton, you’re completely right.” Malfoy leaned into the touch of Harry’s hand. “I am, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” Harry said. These moments, when they touched, had become far more distracting than he knew they ought to be.

Silence hung between them a moment longer than it probably should have. Than Harry thought it would have, between a happy couple on their regular night out.

Malfoy gave him a look that had a distinct hint of amusement to it. “How have you been enjoying the weather this week?”

“Erm?” Harry answered. “I’ve been mostly indoors, so, it’s really down to whatever Magical Maintenance decides.”

“Did you have the snow flurries on Wednesday, or was that just us?”

“Not just you, and it picked up to a squall around tea time.”

“Working late again?” Malfoy’s expression of concern looked almost genuine and Harry was impressed, not for the first time, at how well he was managing the role.

“Just until Quidditch practice. And there wasn’t any sort of snowfall out on the pitch, so that’s good.”

“Indeed.” Malfoy nodded and squeezed Harry’s hand, the way a boyfriend might, before withdrawing his own. “Unless you’re trying to understand how a particular strategy might work in inclement weather.”

“Yeah, true. We’re not, though.”

“Well.” Malfoy paused for a moment, and Harry felt a hint of nagging guilt. Mutually agreed-upon benefits aside, Harry had begun to think of his relationship with Malfoy as something verging on friendship. Friendly acquaintanceship, maybe? And he felt as though he shouldn’t leave Malfoy to pick up quite as many awkward silences as he inevitably did, even if Malfoy was adept at the kind of small talk that left Harry feeling like a troll in a china shop.

Rather than seeming especially put out, Malfoy gave him an indulgently warm smile. “Never hurts to be prepared, does it, mon petit chou?”

“No, of course not.”

“Exactly right. No wonder you’re rising through the ranks so quickly with insights like those.” Malfoy’s voice was shockingly free of sarcasm, and Harry’s appreciation for his acting grew just a bit more. “Have you thought about what you’d like for dinner, mon grand lion?

“Chicken, I guess?”

“Lovely.”

“And you?”

Malfoy’s smiled verged on mischievous. “You’ll be pleased to know I’m skipping the caviar. Though whether you’ll be able to fully appreciate the alternatives— Ah.”

Their waiter appeared alongside the table. “Sirs?”

Of course, Malfoy ordered the escargot and a foie gras starter before turning his attention back to Quidditch.

 

 

 

Then

The Aurors’ briefing room was warmer than the Unspeakables’. Much warmer. Draco could feel beads of perspiration collecting under the heavy wool collar of his robes. Of course, the Aurors wouldn’t think to adjust the temperature. It would be far too unlike them to be concerned with anyone’s comfort but their own. Though discomfort was another matter; he’d heard enough stories from their interrogation rooms to know they could take a certain pleasure in discomfort. Maybe they’d made it warmer, just to make him sweat.

Except that Unspeakable Wardwell was present, side by side with Robards at the end of the long oval table, and they’d hardly try it on a senior Unspeakable.

Or Potter, who was sitting across the table from Draco with his quill in hand, as instantly magnetic as he’d ever been, and Merlin knew they’d never do anything to make Potter the least bit uncomfortable if they could help it. It was a wonder they hadn’t assigned him a personal elf—or trainee—to ensure his constant contentment. Or maybe they had, and whoever it was just didn’t have the necessary authorisations for the meeting.

That, at least, was a comfort. That he might have more clearance than a glorified valet.

Robards cleared his throat. “Thank you for coming today.”

Draco sat up a bit straighter. It wasn’t that the greeting itself was unusual—most of his fellow Ministry workers seemed to understand that openly cutting a colleague would reflect poorly on them, no matter how much they thought they ought to be able to, such that perfunctory pleasantries were common enough—but Robards sounded like he meant it. Genuine thanks had been a far less common occurrence in Draco’s professional life than “good mornings” spat through gritted teeth.

Potter, all business, nodded at Robards and Wardwell in turn. “Of course.”

Right, Draco thought. That might also explain it; Robards’ thanks weren’t meant for him. Wardwell raised an eyebrow at Draco, who knew better than to ignore her signals. He returned Robards’ nod and sat up even straighter than he had been. He thought of adding a “Thank you, sir,” but didn’t think even Wardwell could force that sort of self-abnegating obsequiousness past his lips. Not when directed at Robards. Not in front of Potter.

Posture would have to do the diplomatic trick.

“As you are both aware,” Robards went on, “this is a matter requiring the utmost sensitivity and discretion. Underassistant Malfoy, how much has Unspeakable Wardwell told you?”

He folded his hands neatly in front of him and did not chance a look at Potter, who, from the sound of it, had already been brought up to date. “Only that the Ministry has urgent need of interdepartmental cooperation on an important matter, and that my skills and talents in particular would be required.”

“Right.” Robards huffed something a bit too sharp to be properly called a laugh. “Skills and talents.”

Draco’s stomach sank. He had thought… Nevermind what he’d thought.

“Not so much your skills, Malfoy, sorry. Wardwell?”

“Robards.” Wardwell didn’t budge, just held Robards’ steady gaze until he gave up on handing off the briefing.

“Well. We’ve got a killer on the loose, is the thing. Don’t think it’s one of yours.”

Draco did not flinch at “one of yours.” He did not, and he would not. Nor would he aim even his gentlest non-verbal Stinging Hex at Robards’ testicles for the implication.

“Thing is, the killer’s got a type. Types, plural. Potter?”

Potter shook his head. Was it that Potter didn’t want to admit to having been briefed, Draco wondered, or that Potter wouldn’t deign to speak to him?

Robards threw his hands up and shook his head. “As Potter could tell you, having seen two of five crime scenes fresh and done forensics collection on a third, they follow a strict pattern. Right?” He looked around the room for some sort of confirmation.

Wardwell hummed her agreement. Potter gave another brusquely professional nod, and Draco noticed that the tilt of Potter’s head seemed to include him in the gesture.

Still, Draco had not the slightest inkling of anything other than his own mounting nausea. They’d discovered a pattern, a serial killer’s pattern, and it required calling Draco into a heavily warded conference room with the heads of the DMLE’s two most important departments and one of their star Aurors.

“It’s always a pair of people,” Robards went on. “Three of the five have been romantic couples. The other two have been family members: a set of twins, and a mother and daughter.”

Draco resisted the urge to ask when he might expect an accusation.

“All of them have something else in common. Two or three things, actually.”

Draco nodded and did his best to make it look calmly attentive. A challenge, all things considered, but not an insurmountable one.

“First, they all had contrasts in physical appearance. Even the twins were fraternal—a boy with blond hair and a ginger girl. Second—second or third. They may be the same. We’re not entirely certain, hard to tell, you see…” Robards trailed off.

Wardwell turned slightly, looking at Robards with such cool composure that, by contrast, Robards’ agitation rang out like a warning charm.

“Er.” Robards scratched at the back of his neck. “Each of the pairs had, historically or magically — in some way, that is, been… different from each other. One of them, well. One of them good.”

Wardwell raised the same inquiring eyebrow at Robards that Draco had felt so acutely moments before.

“To be frank with you, one of them more like your sort.”

Draco’s stomach twisted as it sank. This was why they’d brought him here, then. It wasn’t a mission. It was an interrogation.

“That’s not possible.” Draco knew immediately that he’d said it too quickly. His father’s voice rang through his head. ‘Denials of guilt are as good as admissions, for some, Draco. Say nothing.’ He forced himself to take a breath. “I would assume you mean former Death Eaters.” It wasn’t a question; he didn’t wait for an answer. “However, all of those witches or wizards marked as Death Eaters are either in the ground, in Azkaban, or in this room, Auror Robards. Is that incorrect?”

“No, Underassistant Malfoy, you are correct I didn’t mean Death Eaters. More like… one young woman worked at a dodgy shop on Knockturn, while her mother was a well-known Mediwitch at St Mungo’s. In one of the couples, one had been tangling with some nasty sex magic, while the other was the Head of Nurturance and Care at the Bones Home for War Orphans. The twins, one of them specialised in Defence, the other in Dark Arts.”

“Ah.” What was left of his sunken stomach felt as though it was shredding itself. Not Death Eaters, then, but, “Bad, you mean. Dark.”

“Yes.” Robards stilled, seeming to wait for Draco’s reaction.

“And?” Draco prompted. ‘Say nothing, and everything is theirs to prove. Say nothing, Draco, and we may yet walk free.’

Dark and light.” Robards spoke slowly. Draco would’ve described it as deliberate, if he thought Robards capable of that sort of intentionality. “In their looks, in their magic, in their… activities. The contrast seems to be the killer’s focus. We’ve seen it in the way he treats the bodies, as well. He scars them, marks them with runes for… well, for balance, essentially.” Robards stopped again, as though waiting for questions.

Draco did not supply any. If Robards wanted to know something, he could damn well ask.

“We need to catch him before he strikes again. It’s been every few weeks, and people—the press—are starting to notice.”

“And?” Draco repeated, the tatters of his stomach seeming to settle into a leaden crypt at the bottom of his gut. This didn’t seem to be going in any predictable direction at all, and that was almost worse than waiting for certain doom.

“We need—well. We need bait.”

“Bait?” Draco couldn’t help the quickness of his response this time. “Beg pardon?”

“We’ve done a thorough survey of the Aurors, and there’s no one else who offers such an apparent and, to be entirely candid with you, Malfoy, well-known and historically important set of contrasts as the two of you. We don’t think the killer would be able to resist.”

“We’re similarly aged white men of similar height and build, we have the same educational history, the same employer—”

Robards cut him off. “The difference in your hair colours ought to be enough, given the cases we’ve seen. Especially since— Look, Malfoy. As you’ve said, you’re the only marked Death Eater—”

Former Death Eater,” Draco interrupted.

“Former Death Eater,” Robards corrected, “outside of Azkaban. Potter is… well, Potter, you know.”

Draco did not admit to knowing, though he full and well did.

“We think—we strongly suspect—that if the killer has reason to believe that the two of you are… in association, it would be impossible for them to ignore. And of course, you’re both very strong wizards, and will be provided with emergency backup. The moment the killer strikes, we’ll have them. The wizarding world will be safe once more, and so on.”

“And so on?”

“We don’t expect catching the murderer will resolve petty crime, but it’s a fair sight better than a serial killer who mutilates his victims.”

“Right.” Draco swallowed. He was parched. “This requires Auror Potter and I to be in…. association?”

“Err.” Robards looked suddenly abashed and glanced at Potter, and Draco’s chest tightened around the ashen remains of his stomach. “We think the killer will be especially unable to resist any indication that the two of you are in a romantic relationship. Auror Potter agrees.”

Draco felt the blood drain from his face. Perhaps it could revive his stomach.

Potter nodded. “I do, yeah.” His voice was quiet, but firm. He looked at Draco directly. “I think it’s the best shot we’ve got.”

Robards picked up where Potter left off, and Draco had to force his attention back to the front of the room. “At best, we’ll catch the killer in short order. At worst, we’ll be in the same position we’re in now. Either way, we’re short on time and it’s high stakes stuff. Worth a shot, I’d say.”

Draco glanced back towards Potter, whose firm nod almost distracted from a beseeching sort of expression.

“We’ll reveal everything to the press once it’s over, of course. We think they’ll probably catch on to the, uh, associating.” Robards had the good grace to look a bit sheepish at the enormity of his understatement. “Relying on it, a bit. But it’s not— Our background checks reveal that you both have the appropriate proclivities for such a mission.”

Proclivities. Draco almost laughed at that, though he could feel the creeping hysteria that would emerge if he started. A sterile word for it if ever there was one. Proclivities.

Robards forged on, oblivious. “It won’t mislead the public about who you are. And of course, once it’s over we’ll tell them that the Ministry is in your debt, that the public owes its safety to you.”

The remnants of Draco’s stomach lurched curiously.

“And to be clear, Underassistant Malfoy, we would be. In your debt, that is. We understand that this is an exceptional request. We hope that you will consider the good of the wider wizarding world in making your decision.”

Decision. There was another funny word. As though Draco had one. The closest thing he’d have was the next minute or two to think on his feet. “What safety precautions will you have in place?”

Robards launched into what Draco hoped would be a lengthy explanation. The fact of the matter, though, he quickly realised, was that there wasn’t any real choice at all. If he declined, they’d assume he was motivated by a selfish interest in putting his safety above everyone else’s. They’d recruited him because he was dark, the bad sort of wizard this killer would go after. A no would only confirm it.

If he agreed, the Head Auror would tell the wizarding press that they owed their safety and peace of mind to his sacrifice. He could be known, again, in all the right ways. No longer relegated to an open-plan office in the far reaches of the Department of Mysteries. The spotlight would warm his face, as it once had, and so would the praise of grateful witches and wizards across Britain. He would be their saviour, for once. The power he’d been promised, the access… Circe. It was everything he’d been working for, hoping for when he fought so hard to get his lowly underassistantship. It was everything he thought he would have to spend decades more trying to attain.

He locked eyes with Wardwell, who was as placid as ever. There was nothing there to see, no secret communication.

He chanced another glance at Potter, who was watching him intently. Curiously. Hopefully, even.

Potter… that was another point of intrigue. There was the reputational piece, of course. Being seen out and about with Potter on his arm, seeing his name tied to Potter’s across the press, first as his beau, then as his partner in crime-fighting, then as the self-sacrificing hero who’d saved a nation from terror. And then there was Potter himself, which… well.

He could do this. Merlin knew he’d done much worse for much less.

If the silence in the room was anything to go by, Robards had finished. Draco cleared his throat. “I appreciate your thoroughness, Auror Robards. Given those precautions, and the obvious benefit to the larger wizarding world, of course I shall be happy to participate.”

In his periphery, he could see—could feel—Potter staring at him in surprise. And, he thought, in interest.

Robards paused for just a moment, his own astonishment evident. “Well. That’s— That’s wonderful, Underassistant Malfoy. That’s excellent.”

“My honour, Auror Robards.” He swallowed back the hint of bile that rose in his throat as he forced deference. “When do we begin?”

 

 

 

Now

The escargot, Harry found, he could cope with. It was still disgusting, but he was meant to be gazing lovingly into Malfoy’s eyes anyway, and actually doing it was one way to stop himself from looking at the snails. Which made for two things that were easier than he’d expected.

Malfoy had moved on to a thorough recounting of a key Wronski feint in the 1971 World Cup qualifying matches. Neither of them had been alive to see it, and it involved the completely unlegendary seeker of a Lichtensteinian team that no longer existed, yet somehow, Malfoy had found a way to make it something passably close to interesting. He was describing the weather conditions—“a southerly wind gusting at up to 37 knots per hour made for exceptionally difficult conditions, given the ease with which a 70s-era Snitch could be buffeted about”—when Harry felt, not for the first time, the urge to ask a question.

There were good reasons, excellent reasons, why they stuck to these things—to the weather, Quidditch, sometimes a particularly benign news item, usually something from the arts section, which Harry would know only a little about and Malfoy would explain at length—and Malfoy was an absolute master of small talk. Harry almost admired it; it was a fair sight better than the old codgers at Ministry dos who were happy to drone endlessly for the pure pleasure of hearing themselves talk. Malfoy seemed to make some genuine effort to be engaging. Charming, even. Which was all well and good, except when it hit him that he knew very little about Malfoy, and that he felt as though he should have known more after a dozen dinners together. Or when Malfoy’s storytelling accompanied content that remained so firmly in the territory of “passably close to interesting” for such extended periods of time that Harry started to feel as though he was back in History of Magic, except that nobody had ever expected him to take Binns’ hand and whisper sweet nothings to him across candlelit hors d’oeuvres. For which he was eternally grateful, but still. If Malfoy could be passably interesting about vintage Lichtensteinian weather conditions, Harry thought he might be downright fascinating on topics he cared about.

“How’s work?” It was out before he’d thought better of it.

Malfoy stopped short halfway through a sentence about the effect of dewy grass on low-flying snitches, snapping his jaw shut so sharply Harry thought he might’ve heard a crack.

“Pardon?”

“Work,” Harry said. “How’s work?”

“Work?” Malfoy repeated. “I imagine you’re as familiar with the task as I am.” Malfoy gave him a considering look, then scanned the room, seeming to judge the distance of the diners closest to them. “Not that I’m averse to a more in-depth discussion. I would, for instance, be curious to know what evidence was sufficient to convince the higher-ups to propose certain recent initiatives.” Malfoy punctuated the question with a raised eyebrow that looked so much like Wardwell’s that Harry wondered, momentarily, if the Unspeakables gave lessons.

But they couldn’t talk about this. Not here, when the killer might be anywhere, might be able to hear them, and then this would all be for naught. Except from the look of it, he’d been right; Malfoy had a spark to his eye that hadn’t been there before, and it promised fascination at the very least.

“I’m sure you have a guess or two.”

“Perhaps.” He almost jumped when Malfoy leaned in and grasped his hand, blinking coquettishly up at him and lowering his voice to something clearly meant to resemble a sultry whisper. “But a guess is hardly an answer. Tell me everything, mon ange. Who doesn’t love a bit of gore with their entree?”

Surely, Harry thought, an admiring gaze and a bite of chicken would be good cover during the search for an explanation that would redirect Malfoy without leaving hints for any nearby murderers. “Did you know, Hermione once caught Rita Skeeter in a jar?”

Malfoy pulled back, his face hard to discern, though Harry thought he saw some soupçon of amusement and perhaps a note of surprise. “A jar?”

“Yeah, you know, one of the glass ones? With a screw-top lid?”

Definitely amusement. “And why did Granger take such barbaric action?”

“She cut air holes in the top!”

“Of the jar in which she held a woman hostage? Potter, are you quite sure Granger isn’t the… well.”

“Quite sure.” Harry heard the chill in his voice, and wasn’t sure whether he was glad for it. “It was because Skeeter was writing those articles about me.” He paused. “As you may recall?”

Draco’s face went entirely blank. “I do.” And then, a hint of amusement; Harry couldn’t tell if it was forced. “As I recall, they were very well sourced.”

These were, Harry knew, among the very good reasons they did not discuss anything personal. But then, he hadn’t been wrong that this made things more interesting. “Then you may also recall how she got her scoops? And how Hermione was able to fit a witch into a jar?”

This time, Draco’s expression was clear. Realisation dawned, and he glanced across the tablecloth; Harry saw him reach down for his napkin, as though to shake it out, before he stopped himself. “Of course I do, yes. As an Animagus, she could go anywhere.”

“Listen to anything,” Harry agreed. He caught Malfoy’s eye and held it for a moment, just long enough for mutual understanding to pass between them. “Or anyone.”

Draco paused, and neatly lifted his tongs and fork from the table, balancing a snail shell neatly between them. “I imagine you’re telling me this… anecdote because you’ve heard the Department of Mysteries is expanding its work on Animagi.”

“Yes, exactly.” Harry hadn’t, but didn’t think that mattered. Malfoy had understood. “And I wanted to hear about your work. With the Department that’s also working on Animagi.”

Malfoy trained his attention on extracting his escargot. “Did you.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, sounding, even to his own ears, entirely more enthusiastic than he’d meant to.

Malfoy looked up this time and met his eye, abandoning his work on the snail. He tilted his head. “Did you?”

“Yeah,” Harry repeated, aiming for just a bit more calm.

“I’m not on the Animagus project.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Generous of you,” Malfoy said below his breath, and extracted his snail so smoothly that Harry was suddenly sure his earlier attention to the task had been a ruse. He chewed thoughtfully, looking inscrutably at Harry, and swallowed. He set his silverware down and dropped his hands to his lap. “I work in spell repurposing.”

“Repurposing?” That was a new one.

“Yes. I have certain… expertise, as you may be aware.”

Harry nodded, trying to train his face towards the same neutrality he’d managed, if barely, at their first briefing. Expertise was an understatement in every possible sense. “Yeah. I’m aware.”

“As a result,” Malfoy specified, “of having received extensive training in the Dark Arts from a young age, far before I could choose my own school subjects.” He paused. “As such expertise has become increasingly rare, it has also gained some value, in its way.”

“Oh?” Harry leaned forward, resting his elbow on the edge of the table and his face on his palm. “So then…?”

“Spell repurposing uses that expertise in innovative ways. My work, in particular, focuses on dissecting curses, to see if we can understand their component parts.”

“Component parts?”

Malfoy hummed. “Take a Severing Curse, for instance. Its effect is clear, but there are several different ones that build from the same basic magical function. If we can separate the strands of the curse, we might use them to provide Healers with a new tool. They can’t repair curse damage from Severing Curses at the moment, but if we could isolate the part of the curse that has to do just with cutting, rather than with cutting destructively, or cutting in a way that can’t be stopped, they might be able to. Curses respond to other curses in a way they don’t to healing magic, such that, for instance, using a modified curse might allow Healers to cut out a section of cursed bone and then regrow it using Skele-Gro, such that the curse damage is effectively cured.”

“Really?” Harry dropped his arm to the table and leaned closer still. It was interesting work; he could see the potential. “Could it work with other curses, too?”

“We think so, yes. Hexes, Blasting Curses, Entrail-Expelling Curses. Most recently, I’ve started research into the spells used to create Inferi.”

Harry couldn’t stop the twist of disgust at the mention of them.

“It’s not the most pleasant work, perhaps.” Malfoy had clearly noticed. “But understanding the link between magic and animate states, the space between something animate and something inanimate, we might better understand death.” Malfoy trailed off, and Harry found himself worrying that Malfoy thought the disgust was directed at him.

“Of course,” Malfoy went on, shaking his head as if to clear it, “that has implications for Healers as well. And, just as importantly, for Squibs; if we understand Inferi as existing in a state of magical limbo, wherein they are surrounded by magic but are unable to access or use it, we might understand what limits Squibs’ abilities and, ideally, one day, give them magic.”

Harry wasn’t sure where to begin. The idea of using Inferi… He could practically feel their cold fingers wrapping around his ankles just for hearing the word. And then, the idea that someone might think that Squibs should be changed, that Malfoy’s research might be used that way…

Clearly, Malfoy noticed his discomfort. “Intent matters, you know. The line between light and dark isn’t as clear cut as people like to make it out to be. It’s about what you intend to do with your magic.

“And anyway,” he went on, “using Inferi, creating them, is completely out of the question anywhere in the DMLE, as I’m sure you recall from training, as is doing anything to the state of anyone’s magic without their fully informed consent. We have very strict internal research protocols, and the intent of our projects is always to improve our understanding of the magical world. In spell repurposing, we also aim to improve it.” By the end, he sounded like he could have a promising career in writing Ministry training manuals. But it wasn’t just small talk; it was real. Real interest, real passion.

He wanted to see more. “Is it really improving things to use those sorts of spells? How can you know it’s right?”

“It isn’t all Inferi and Severing Charms, anyway,” Malfoy replied. “We’re also looking at how components of the Babbling Curse could help people with a fear of public speaking. It’s very promising.”

“Oh?” For all that Harry wanted to know more, he’d be glad enough to leave talk of Inferi behind. “Is it?”

“It is,” Malfoy said. “Just last week, we were able to isolate the strand of the curse that is coercive from the strand of the curse that encourages speech.”

 

 

 

Then

Potter wasn’t especially talkative, and, if nothing else, Draco was fairly certain that mute awkwardness was not the sort of show Robards had had in mind.

He had sometimes wondered if the legend of Harry Potter wasn’t just a bit overblown. Not that Potter hadn’t saved them all, not that he wasn’t clearly a very powerful wizard with a remarkably strong moral compass, not that he hadn’t done a superb job at acquiring all the power and influence anyone could want. It was simply that, in Draco’s opinion, that combination of traits didn’t actually qualify someone for deification. Particularly someone who seemed so determinedly determined to make an uncomfortable situation into an excruciating one. It wasn’t even that he seemed particularly nervous, which Draco might’ve forgiven more readily than usual, not least of all because his own stomach had revived itself only to transform into a line of anxious can-can dancers at the prospect of this mission. Potter’s attention seemed simply to be elsewhere.

It wasn’t that Draco was disappointed, per se, or that he’d expected more. He’d just thought that perhaps it might’ve gone another way. That in the service of catching a killer, Potter might’ve given him at least the courtesy of polite notice. That perhaps it might have become something more than that.

Regardless, Draco was determined to make an effort. He’d worn Muggle clothes, as instructed, and picked a particularly becoming outfit, of the sort one might wear on a first date. He’d been punctual, and greeted Potter with the sort of shy, warm smile he’d often seen an adolescent Pansy practising into her hand mirror when she thought no one was looking. He’d held Potter’s hand a moment longer than was strictly professional, and leaned into it so that their bodies were closer than would befit colleagues out to a business dinner. He’d tried to make conversation; he’d asked about Potter’s weekend plans, and his thoughts on goings-on at the Ministry.

Through it all, Potter’s eyes kept glancing towards the passers-by outside—any of whom could, in theory, be the killer—and Draco didn’t miss the way Potter’s hand rested in his lap, where he could fidget furtively with his wand holster. All of which was perfectly reasonable for an Auror on any other sort of mission, but Robards had been quite clear that this one was meant to garner public attention, and the only attention this would garner would inevitably paint Draco as a lacklustre conversationalist shunned by the Chosen One.

The only thing worse for his reputation would’ve been declining the task altogether, thereby proving to Robards and Wardwell (and the Ministry water-cooler crowd, and the Prophet and every gossipy old aunt making the rounds of Hogsmeade come Monday morning) that he was still Draco Malfoy, Death Eater, and wholly unconcerned with the well-being of others or the safety of the greater wizarding world.

Still, there were only so many affronts to his dignity that might reasonably be included in the job description.

He set his silverware down neatly at 4 o’clock and leaned back in his seat. “Potter.”

“Mmm.” Potter was staring out the window, his eyes scanning the horizon for, Draco assumed, the first sign of threat.

“If you’d forgotten, the point of this mission is not to stare at unknowing and insignificant passers-by, but to entice significant passers-by into staring at us.”

Potter frowned at the windowpane.

“Your attention to the crowds is hardly going to convince anyone that we’re embarking on a love affair.”

Potter closed his eyes and exhaled deeply through his nostrils. “Right.”

“And if that wasn’t problem enough,” Draco went on, attempting a gamble, “your attention to the server’s rear end rather undercuts the entire premise.”

At that, Potter jerked around, eyes wide and attention fully focused on Draco for the first time.

Draco felt—and promptly quelled—a wave of smug satisfaction. He hadn’t noticed any such thing, but clearly he’d hit a nerve. “Goodness, Potter, did you think it was subtle? Does Robards need to send you back to remedial covert ops?”

Potter had the good grace to look chagrined.

“For Merlin’s— There’s no need for that, Potter. Nor is it helping our cause.”

“Right,” Potter said again. “Yeah.” He blinked and seemed to force himself to turn his head towards Draco.

“I do understand, Potter, that this may all be very nerve-wracking. Clearly, you’re as agitated as a new trainee at his first stakeout.”

“I’m fine, Malfoy.” Potter’s voice was steadier than Draco would’ve expected. “Just focused on the actual mission, instead of batting my lashes at you over spaghetti carbonara.”

“Batting your lashes at me over spaghetti carbonara is the actual mission, Potter.”

“Doesn’t the mission also involve not talking about the mission?”

“Doesn’t the mission involve making some good faith attempt at fulfilling the directive?”

Potter frowned “I’m an Auror, not an actor.”

“Clearly. It’s a performance worse than Gideon Crumb’s avant-garde solo bagpipe-classics-meets-performance-art tour of the Midlands. Look—” he held up his hands as Potter made to interrupt, and held them steady despite the escalating pounding in his chest, “—anyone could see that you’re jumping out of your skin. You’re barely sitting still, let alone managing even the poorest imitation of a man enjoying his evening out.”

“I’m trying, okay?” Potter sighed. “It’s not exactly the usual.”

“Yes,” Draco said. “As is the case for me; people in my position are…well, certainly not sent out to advertise it at dinner.”

Potter’s mouth quirked up at the corners. Draco’s chest thrilled at the sight of it.

Perhaps there was still some potential in the evening.

“You know,” he began, “there are much more pleasant ways to manage the source of whatever anxiety has you practically up in arms.”

“Oh?”

“Indeed. Activities that lower blood pressure, improve mood. Panaceas, really.” His stomach somersaulted at the possibility that Potter would punch him in the nose. At the possibility that Potter would say yes. “I could help you with that.”

Potter’s eyebrows shot up so abruptly Draco half-imagined them launching themselves onto the ceiling and sticking there.

“Come now, Potter. You clearly need the release. I happen to be rather an expert in such matters.”

Potter’s eyebrows climbed still higher. Draco couldn’t be certain if it was scepticism or intrigue, but he could feel the taut tension in the air between them. It certainly wasn’t a no. Perhaps with a bit of convincing…

“Robards will tell everyone this has been a ruse once it’s all over. There’s no need to contradict him, or form any sort of attachment. Simple release. Well worth it, if it will keep you from throwing the mission.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Not in the least.” Draco leaned back and steepled his fingers. “I’m a problem-solver. Cunning, I believe was the old hat’s preferred term.”

“This is absolutely mad.” Potter crossed his arms. He also bit his lip, worrying it between his teeth.

It still, Draco noticed, wasn’t a no. Perhaps it would take a bit of Gryffindorish straightforwardness. “What’s mad about meeting mission criteria, maintaining plausible deniability, and getting your cock sucked in the process?”

Potter gaped at that. It was delightfully guileless, and Draco’s stomach graduated from somersaults to cartwheels.

He leaned back and folded his napkin neatly in his seat. “Take a moment, Potter. Consider your options. I’ll give you until the cheque comes.”

 

 

 

Now

Harry almost startled out of his seat when the waiter appeared. Babbling Curses had never meant much to him, outside of the time Ron had caught one in a duel and told him way more than he’d ever wanted to know about life in the Weasley-Granger household. But Malfoy’d managed to make them intriguing enough that he’d lost track of time.

Which he didn’t usually do. Ever—too many years of constant vigilance—and especially at this point in the evening, after the smiling and the small talk. After the public show. When Malfoy extended his long fingers for the cheque, and made a show of balancing the quill between his fingertips and moving it across the slip of paper.

He closed the bill presenter with a snap. The sound of the leather seemed, to Harry, to resonate far more than it should.

If there was any part of these evenings that could convince a serial killer that the two of them were really together, Harry was certain it was this.

Malfoy leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow. Harry wasn’t sure he was going to ask the question. Wasn’t sure he even needed to anymore, that it hadn’t just become an understanding between them. Malfoy still asked. “Shall we?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, and downed the last of his wine.

Malfoy had already started towards the door, and Harry rushed to catch up, even though he knew Malfoy would be waiting right outside for him, like he always did, and would take his hand, as he always did, and call him something ridiculous — tonight it was “mon doudou,” with a wink saucy enough to almost convince Harry that he meant it — and then take him to the nearest alley, and press him up against the wall, and kiss him while the squeeze of Apparition pulled them together.

 

 

 

Then

With Potter’s body against his, Draco found it supremely difficult to hang on to any coherent thoughts at all. But he had to. Had to stay in control. Had to remind himself that this had been his idea, and that—since the age of eighteen or so, anyway—he had a sterling track record of brilliant ones. That this was, in fact, one of his brilliant ideas. That it was, if he were going to be more honest with himself than he generally liked to be, something that had crossed his mind before the opportunity arose. Certainly, more frequently than Potter should ever know. The conga line in his stomach had progressed to something more like the height of the Veelan waltz; Potter should never know that, either.

So he pressed Potter into the wall next to his fireplace and held him there. Potter’s pupils had dilated. Draco leaned forward until their lips were a finger’s width apart. “Pleased with your decision?”

He kissed Potter before he could answer, pressed into him with all he had, and thrilled at Potter’s response. Potter’s lips parted and he let out the first hint of a moan, and when Draco pulled back Potter’s pupils had gone so big that they were rimmed by only the finest ring of Slytherin green.

“Thought so,” he said, at a whisper, pushing the words out to stop them catching in his throat, which was suddenly so dry he might not have bothered with his three glasses of wine in the first place. He thought it sounded confident enough, though. Sounded like he’d always known Potter would react like this. “Thought you’d like it.”

Potter huffed a laugh. “Fuck off.”

Draco snorted to cover his shock, and then naked thrill of Potter’s fingers digging into his flesh. “Surely there are better things you could fuck.” He trailed a finger across the thin line of bare skin above Potter’s collar, running his fingertips backwards until he was cupping Potter’s neck, until he could wrap his hand around the top of Potter’s spine and pull him in for another kiss. For all his readiness with a retort, Potter came into it easily, pressing his mouth hard against Draco’s, then rolling Draco’s bottom lip between his teeth, and that—that, Draco had never expected, and the nerves in his stomach melted into a pool of something searing and urgent. It was just a hint, but a hint of something he’d never imagined coming from the Golden Boy, who he’d been sure was given to either embarrassed fumbling or tender romance.

His hands slipped down to Potter’s waist and he untucked Potter’s shirt, sliding his hands over the warm skin beneath, and Potter rolled his hips to meet Draco’s fingers, and fuck, Draco thought, Potter was starting to get hard. Potter liked it.

And then Potter flipped them over, and it was Potter coming at him, hard and aggressive. It was Draco’s shoulder blades pressing into the plaster and Potter on top of him, warm and solid and rolling their hips together.

Potter’s hands were firm on Draco’s arms, holding him in place while Potter licked into Draco’s mouth, and when Draco’s knees went weak, he let them, and sank to the floor with his face in front of Potter’s trousers. Circe, but Potter was hard, so hard Draco could see the outline of it through his flies, and he wanted to press his mouth to it, wanted to taste Potter, to take him apart.

So he did. He opened Potter’s trousers and trailed his fingers over the hint of Potter’s erection and Potter moaned, properly, loudly moaned, and let out a guttural, “Oh, fuck,” and rolled his hips again, pressing towards Draco’s mouth. Draco scrambled to pull Potter’s trousers down and he barely managed to bite back his own exclamation, because oh, fuck indeed; the outline of Potter’s cock was pressing against his pants, and it was Draco’s, in this moment, Draco’s to touch and suck and lick, and he wasted no time in pulling Potter’s pants down to his thighs and sinking his mouth around the heat of Potter’s shaft.

He didn’t manage to suppress a second moan, and couldn’t bring himself to give a bloody fuck about it. Potter’s cock was thick and hot and Draco’s mouth felt so deliciously full that all other thoughts departed immediately. It was just him and Potter, and when he brought his hands to Potter’s arse, Potter moaned and let Draco pull him forward until Draco could taste telltale saltiness at the back of his throat. When he moaned again at that, Potter shuddered above him, and Draco’s cock twitched in his pants, begging for attention that Draco couldn’t be arsed to give it. Not when he was on his knees with a mouthful of cock, and certainly not when Potter began, tentatively, to fuck into his mouth. Definitely not when Draco dug his fingers into Potter’s arse and Potter moaned and moved faster, nor when Draco leaned back against the wall and relaxed his throat and Potter started fucking into him properly, and he could look up and see the mindless bliss written across Potter’s face. There was nothing bored or distracted about it. He was present, all of him, with Draco, in Draco’s mouth, in Draco’s throat, looking like the whole world had vanished except for this, like this was the only thing in the world that could ever touch him.

When Potter pulled back, the cold air around them rushed in, and for one long moment Draco felt frozen down to his bones.

Then Potter pulled him up to his feet and said, “Bedroom,” and it was Draco’s turn to take charge, to push Potter backwards towards the hallway, to smirk when Potter slammed him into a wall, to throw Potter off and yank him down the hall by the shirtfront until he could shove him through the door to his bedroom.

With the curtains half-open, the London street lamps cast a glow over the room just bright enough for Draco to see Potter’s face, to see the way his chest heaved, the way his knuckles tightened around Draco’s arm when Draco pulled him in and walked him backwards until his knees hit the bed. He was expecting Potter to push him back, to climb on top of him. It was far more agonising when Potter turned his attention to Draco’s clothes, slipping each button through its buttonhole with such slow focus that Draco would rip them off himself, if not for the novelty of Potter’s attention on his body. Of Potter looking at him like he was something worth looking at, and fuck if it wasn’t more than he had ever imagined. A bit of cock-sucking he could do any day of the week; the intensity of Potter’s focus wasn’t anything he’d seen in an age, maybe ever, and it wasn’t rough so much as raw, and he was nothing so much as relieved when Potter finished stripping him off and pushed him back onto the duvet and climbed on top of him, his desire warring with a more acute awareness than he would’ve liked that he’d been maybe ten seconds away from trembling under the weight of Potter’s gaze.

But that was nothing to worry about in the moment. In the moment, Potter was biting his way down Draco’s chest, his teeth pressing into and releasing Draco’s flesh, and it felt incredible, felt like Potter had a straight line to his heart, to his stomach, to his aching, dripping cock. When Potter’s teeth sank into the skin above his hipbone, it was all he could do not to scream for the sharpness of it, for how close it was to Potter’s mouth on him. For all it brought into clarity: that Potter liked this. Liked it messy and unrestrained, liked it about give and take, liked a bit of playing with power.

Circe, but Draco would be happy to let him play. He arched into Potter’s body, moaned when Potter nipped at his collarbone and grabbed at his sides. Grabbed back, and gasped at Potter’s throaty moan resonating through their chests. Slapped Potter’s arse, and lost his breath when Potter pressed back into it. Flipped Potter onto his back and held him there, settled his hips onto Potter’s hips and his hands onto Potter’s shoulders and felt all reason slip away when Potter arched up in search of touch. In search of Draco’s touch.

He wanted to ask what Potter wanted, wanted to hear him admit it, but not so much that he was willing to risk snapping the taut, silent agreement between them. Instead, he dropped one hand down to take Potter’s cock in hand alongside his own, and gave a tentative stroke. Potter grunted at the contact, but he didn’t moan or arch into the touch when Draco tried again, and Draco’s stomach sank. He had to— It had to be great, had to blow Potter’s self-righteous mind. He lightened his touch, and Potter didn’t react except to wrap his hand around Draco’s fist and guide him into a rhythm that seemed to move Potter towards a sort of efficient masturbatory familiarity. That was all well and good in most circumstances; well and good wasn’t good enough for this one. He needed to make Potter scream.

He rolled his hips as he stroked again, and saw Potter’s breath hitch at the pressure of it. He did it again, and again, Potter reacted. He pressed more of his body down, slipping his thigh between Potter’s, pressing their stomachs together, bracing himself on his elbow so he could breathe into Potter’s neck, could feel Potter’s heartbeat against his own. So he could grind down on his hand, on their cocks together, and feel it when Potter’s chest caught.

Potter’s skin was warm and soft beneath his clothes, and the hair on his chest scratched blissfully against Draco’s own, and none of that compared to when he heard, just barely, Potter whisper, “Yeah,” and then, “Fuck,” and then, “More.”

“More?” He barely dared to whisper it back, but then Potter nodded and Draco had to bite down on his lip to keep from moaning. He gave him more, rolled his hips heavily into Potter’s and felt it when Potter pressed up into him, seeking the friction, the weight, of their bodies together. Potter moaned properly, then, his neck bared as he arched his head back.

Draco’s cock ached with want, and he thought he might not last when he felt Potter’s arms wrap around him, languorous at first, and then tighter. Potter moved his whole body into Draco’s, rolling them over until Draco found himself underneath Potter’s weight.

Above him, Potter took a shuddering breath. It only made Draco want him more.

“Can I?” Potter asked, and ran a hand up Draco’s side, as though to roll him over.

There were so many things that could mean. Draco found that he’d be fine with any one of them, so long as it was the sort of thing Potter would never be able to forget.

He turned over and pressed up to kneel beneath Potter, and reached back, threading his fingers through the nest of Potter’s hair to pull him into a kiss, humming his assent into the end of it.

Draco barely had time to wonder what might come next when he felt Potter reach for something and heard him cast, and then felt the telltale warmth and wetness of a very particular spell.

Draco kept to his knees and Potter met him there, nestling his hips behind Draco’s, and when Draco rocked back, Potter met him, sliding his cock between the fleshy curves of Draco’s arse. As Draco pushed harder, so did Potter, until his shaft was a constant pressure against the ring of nerves at Draco’s entrance. It was a tease, and it was pleasure, and it was fucking brilliant, and Potter clearly thought so too. He was moaning louder and louder, and if Draco’s cock hadn’t been almost painfully full that alone might’ve got him there.

He was almost ready to beg—for Potter’s hand, for his mouth, for any path to release—when he felt Potter speed up behind him, heard him go quiet. And then he dug his fingers into Draco’s hips, pulling him close with such force that Draco thought he might leave a bruise as a souvenir, and Potter let out a low, guttural moan that Draco was sure he’d remember for the rest of his days. Draco felt the wetness of Potter’s ejaculation run down his arse and onto his thighs, then felt Potter collapse forward onto him. He felt the way Potter’s thighs shook with the intensity of it, the way Potter was still struggling to catch his breath.

His satisfaction at Potter’s orgasm was almost as good as his own would be. Almost. Though, Draco wondered, with Potter’s skin still damp against his back, if Potter was the sort of man who fell asleep right after. If maybe Potter was a selfish lover. If maybe, on some level, every part of him save one wanted that to be the case.

He felt Potter sit back, felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end as Potter’s hands roamed over his thighs and up his back and down again to his arse. He canted his hips, pressing into Potter’s touch when Potter grazed a fingertip over his hole. He realised he never should’ve doubted; it might not have been saving the world from Nundus, but of course Potter would be the sort of man who made sure his partner came.

Draco almost gasped when he felt Potter press up to nestle his hips behind Draco’s again. He could feel the outline of Potter’s softening cock against his thigh, wondered what Potter was thinking, how soon he might be able to make Potter hard again, when Potter slid a hand around Draco’s body. Potter took Draco’s cock in hand, and Circe it was perfect — Potter’s calloused palm just rough enough against his shaft, his skin warm, grip hard. He started so slowly at first that Draco might have mistaken his technique for laziness; then Potter added a twist of the wrist that had Draco letting out a moan he couldn’t hold back. Potter did it again, and again, pressing forward with his hips and running his rough fingers over Draco’s shaft until heat gathered in Draco’s thighs and his toes curled against the sheets, and he was coming too. He was coming to Potter’s touch, with the taste of Potter on his tongue, with Potter’s come drying on his thighs, and if it was as intense as any orgasm he could remember having, he was sure he could find a way to ascribe it to something other than Potter. To the circumstance, to the intensity of sex whilst on a mission. If it would be a lie, nobody needed to know.

Potter might’ve been the sort to see to everyone’s needs, but even he wasn’t impervious to the lull of post-orgasmic sleep. He moved, still sticky, to lie flat on his back, his eyelids clearly struggling to stay open, and Draco barely resisted the urge to study every inch of his skin. Instead, he lay down beside him, watching how easily he moved when Draco pulled the covers over them, and surely that was a better thing to focus on than the way the duvet rose and fell with Potter’s chest as he passed into unconsciousness.

 

 

 

Now

It was pitch black when Harry woke, coughing. Malfoy must have drawn the curtains after he’d fallen asleep, and Harry had to grope for his wand on the bedside table. Panic rose as his fingers found the wooden tabletop, and the legs of an ancient alarm clock, but not the smooth, familiar grip of his wand until… there, wedged between the table and the wall. His exhale of relief turned into another round of coughing; Malfoy kept the place drier than the Sahara—probably something about preserving whatever invaluable Malfoy heirlooms the Ministry had deigned to leave him—and Harry hated it so much he would’ve made a habit of going home if he weren’t so reliably exhausted by the end of their evenings together. And if he weren’t inclined to avoid rocking the boat with Malfoy.

Wand in hand, he whispered a “Lumos,” taking care not to make it so bright as to wake Malfoy, and crept towards the kitchen, trailing his fingers over the posts at the foot of the bed, and then the doorway, and then the wallpaper lining the hall.

He’d only been into the kitchen once before, on the pretence of having a drink, which quickly turned into Malfoy pulling them both off against the worktop. Still, drinks had been poured, and Harry found glasses in the cupboard over the sink, where he’d thought they’d be. He cast an Aguamenti and drank the glass down, and then did it again.

Still, something scratched at the back of his throat. His arrangement with Malfoy hardly extended to anything resembling friendship, but surely a biscuit would be permissible, if he could find one.

The cupboards were immaculately tidy, and not a single one had anything resembling middle-of-the-night snacks. He turned to the drawers. Silverware, neatly folded cloth napkins, tea towels… not a biscuit in sight. He coughed again, and opened the final drawer.

It was a mess. Slips of parchment were crammed haphazardly on top of each other, some crumpled at the edges as though they’d caught while being shoved away in a hurry. Harry shifted the top few pieces, lowering his wand so the small ball of light hovered over them.

He turned one over, and felt his blood go cold. At the next, and he almost dropped his wand.

He levitated the stack of them, careful, now, not to touch them, and laid them out across the worktop.

They were sketches. Each was drawn in pencil, and somewhere amidst his shock, Harry noticed that they were beautifully done. Each one captured an aspect of a crime scene. The crime scenes for the case they were supposed to be helping solve.

The crime scenes that Harry had witnessed, and that Malfoy had not.

He leaned forward to study them. The twins were exactly as Harry had seen them, as Turner had found them, laid out in the street almost parallel to one another, except that their bodies were so twisted they no longer looked anything like straight lines. The mother—the Mediwitch—and her daughter, the Knockturn shopkeeper, were slumped on opposite sides of Diagon Alley, the mother with vacant eyes open and staring upwards, head tilted back against a store front and her blonde hair stuck to the glass with her own dried blood. And on her forearm, Uruz, for strength and good health, and on her daughter’s the same rune reversed, for sickness. He turned back to the twins. The woman had Algiz, for defence, on her left wrist, twisted and splayed out away from her body. The man, the same rune reversed, for danger, on his right wrist, the only part of him left reaching for his sister.

Robards hadn’t named the runes in front of Malfoy. Harry was sure of it. It was classified, on a need-to-know basis, and Harry only knew because he’d seen the bodies. He didn’t know which symbols had turned up at the other two crime scenes, though when he looked at another drawing, Malfoy seemed to; there was a couple, laid out across a field, with a rune carved into one of their bare stomachs, and its inversion on the other’s.

Harry scoured the rest of the drawings. Some were barely outlines. Some were sheets of parchment covered in runes, some of which Harry had never seen before, and some of which he’d come to know all too well. Others depicted the crime scenes in astounding detail, down to things Harry had thought he’d forgotten.

He only realised he’d stopped breathing when his head began to pound. He backed away, then, gripping his wand tight between his fingers. He scrambled to the hearth and, looking over his shoulder for movement, whispered Ron’s name into the Floo.

It was barely a minute—a panicked, breathless, never-ending minute—before Ron’s face appeared before him, groggy and concerned. “Harry?”

“Shh!” He hissed. “I’m at Malfoy’s and—”

“You’re—” Ron’s brow creased, and then parted, and he looked much less tired and much more awake. “You’re at—?”

“Troll bogeys,” Harry said, still at a whisper, evoking their long-standing secret code for ‘shut the fuck up and go with it.’

Ron’s mouth snapped shut.

“I’m at Malfoy’s, and I found this drawing of—they’re crime scene drawings, from the case, but Malfoy wasn’t at the scene, and—”

“Merlin’s pants. Crime scene drawings?” The coals spluttered as Ron whistled, low and shocked.

“Yes,” Harry said. “With all these details that only the people who were on-scene should know about.”

“I’ll be right there. Don’t move.”

And like that, Ron retreated from the Floo.

 

 

 

Then

Pansy stepped through the Floo first. They’d been friends long enough that Draco could tell by the particularly staccato click of her heels on the hearth that it was not going to be their most uneventful evening together. The slow drag of Blaise’s heavy woollen robes followed immediately thereafter, and confirmed it. But then, neither would it, could it possibly, be their most eventful, for which he was eternally grateful. The most eventful evenings they’d shared were not the sort that one generally wanted to repeat, all spent cowering in wine cellars in hopes that megalomaniacal madmen would find other quarry and debating the veracity of threats against their parents’ lives. Which was yet one more reason why he’d been uneasy about concealing the plan from them, far more so than he was about actually executing it. Deceit and social performance were practically family pastimes; lying to Pansy and Blaise was another beast altogether, no matter how certain he was that they’d approve of the motives behind it.

Which he was fairly certain they would do, once they knew. Except that, for now, they couldn’t know anything but what they’d read in the Prophet, which was, Draco noticed, sticking out of Pansy’s handbag.

He sighed, and glanced up from his book. “Pansy. Blaise. Evening.”

Blaise folded his arms and quirked an eyebrow. Pansy cleared her throat loudly and made a show of flipping to a page halfway through the paper. “'Death Eater Eats Lobster; Boy-Who-Lived Lives to Watch’ This reporter spied known Death Eater Draco Malfoy out to dinner with an out-to-lunch Harry Potter, Auror extraordinaire, who seemed barely able to take his eyes off his former foe. Watching him for signs of evil, or is there something more afoot?’”

Draco looked her dead in the eye. “Care for a cocktail?” He rose and set his book on the end table. “I could certainly use one.”

Blaise’s voice was deep and, though usually calm, held a bit of an edge. “I’d wager we all could.”

“Ogden’s?”

“25-year, oak-aged,” Blaise answered.

“Mine neat,” Pansy added. “Though an explanation wouldn’t go amiss.”

Draco scoffed. “The waiter’s arse was the only thing he couldn’t keep his eyes off of, and I doubt they’re foes of any sort. Rocks, Blaise?”

“No, thank you, but—”

“Do sit down, would you both? This—” he waved at them “—is a bit too much like getting a dressing down at school. Next you’ll start deducting house points.”

“Would it convince you to stop this madness?” Pansy’s voice had even more of an edge to it than Blaise’s, though she did as he’d asked, crossing her legs neatly as she sank into one of the armchairs flanking the hearth.

“For Circe’s sake, are you really so concerned? We had a spot of dinner.” It sounded smooth enough, but Draco’s stomach curdled at the lie. “The hyperactive gossip columns got ahold of it, as they’re wont to do when Potter so much as sneezes in public, and exaggerated terribly, as they’re wont to do every time they set ink to parchment. As you both know perfectly well.”

“Yes,” Pansy said, “and that’s always gone brilliantly for us.”

“Indeed,” Blaise added. “It’s been consistently wise and productive for our lot to do things that end up in the press. As we all know dinner with Potter would certainly do.”

Draco sighed and levitated their drinks towards them. Pansy snatched hers so firmly that her ring echoed against the crystal. Blaise was more composed, though first among them to take a sip.

Draco followed his lead, drinking deeply and focusing on the cool glass under his skin, and then returned to his place on the settee. He took another sip, and said nothing. Neither of them had asked a question. He wasn’t inclined to volunteer an answer.

They sat, in a silence that would have been comfortable under other circumstances, for several long minutes before Blaise sighed and spoke. “It would, you realise, be terribly inconvenient for you to get tarred in the press all over again, or, worse yet, carted off by the DMLE for tampering with their beloved poster Auror. We’d have to change our entire drinks rotation, and Pansy’s only got the Ogden’s 18-year at the moment.”

“And Blaise has only got the 12-year and his collection of vodkas, the heathen. Plus, your chairs are far more comfortable than the torture devices he tries to pass off as furniture.”

“And Pansy,” Blaise retorted, “has no appreciation for the avant-garde. We’d have to resign ourselves to spending long evenings on the overstuffed chintz dustrags she tries to pass off as antiques, bickering about the comparative propriety of various alcohols while you rot in a cell in Azkaban.”

“Which would still be more comfortable than Blaise’s ‘chaise lounge,’” she sent up exaggerated air quotes, “but honestly, even his ‘avant-garde’ cocktails have to be better than whatever swill the Ministry is serving up in the North Sea.”

Draco took a deep, deep sip of his Ogden’s. “I have no intention of going to Azkaban. Nor could I confess to understanding how you get from dinner with a former schoolmate to prison sentences.”

Blaise rolled his eyes. “You know perfectly well that spending time with Potter will draw attention. Scrutiny. And scrutiny brings risk.”

“You two are certainly paranoid this evening. It was a dinner, not an inquisition.”

“Fine line,” Pansy replied.

“It was not,” Draco said. “It was a useful dinner, during which I was able to learn quite a few interesting tidbits. And I do hope you both realise that, sensationalistic headlines aside, being seen with Potter isn’t likely to be terrible for my reputation.”

“Sensationalistic headlines are rarely so easy for people to set aside,” Blaise said.

“Then I suppose I ought to have dinner with him again and hope for more charitable ones. At the very least, the public can be convinced that I haven’t poisoned him.”

“And,” Pansy asked, “how’s the sex?”

Draco froze, and pushed through it as quickly as he could. “I believe the headline you read so beautifully upon your arrival mentioned lobster, not cock.”

“Yes,” Pansy said, “but we’ve known you for aeons. You only slouch when you’ve gotten laid within, oh, 24 hours?”

“Plus,” Blaise adds, “you’ve got a stain on the leg of your sofa.”

Draco snapped his head to look. He’d known freeing the elves would lead to disaster sooner or later. Though, upon examination, there wasn’t anything there.

He looked back up to find Blaise smirking at him. “Thought so.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” He exhaled heavily. “It was fine. Adequate.”

Pansy and Blaise were silent. Pointedly silent.

Finally, “Adequate?” Pansy asked.

“Passable,” Draco tried. “Satisfactory. Tolerable.”

“Tolerable?” Blaise asked.

“Would you like any additional synonyms?”

“No,” Blaise answered. He leaned back, thoughtful, and took a drink.

“You’ve never had less interesting things to say about a lover.” Pansy picked up. “Or a more interesting lover.”

“I guarantee you, I’ve had more interesting lovers.”

“And you’ve told us about them in great detail. One might say you’ve made a bit of an art out of nicknames alone, and I was almost concerned that Blaise was going to laugh himself into an early grave at your description of Galvin Gudgeon’s orgasmic exclamations.”

“Your point being?”

“Fine?” Pansy said, at the same time as Blaise said “Satisfactory?”

Draco waited expectantly.

“One might think,” Blaise began, “that Potter is different in some way. That you may have formed the sort of attachment that may… disincline a person from sharing the intimate details.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes, that’s the clear and obvious conclusion.”

“Is it?” Blaise asked. His brow was creased in real concern, and Draco wished again that he could tell them the truth and be done with it.

“Certainly not, and I’ll hear no more about it,” Draco said, though he knew, from the look they exchanged alone, that he certainly would. Trying to push their concern from his mind—and, more to the point, the conversation—he rose and made for the Ogden’s.

 

 

 

Now

Harry heard something creak behind him and snapped around, wand in hand. There was nothing there. He crept towards the hallway, but there wasn’t any movement. Malfoy might still be asleep, just as he had been, arms splayed across the bed, head turned to one side, just as Harry had left him.

Hand against the wall for support, he turned his back to the bedroom and moved towards the kitchen. The drawings were undisturbed. He felt as though his heart might pound through his chest. Malfoy, knowing this, knowing all of this, drawing it so lovingly— He thought if he moved, he might vomit.

A bright green flash from the living room meant Ron had come through, and then there was a second, and a third, and Harry felt less like he was about to throw up and more like he’d been hit with a Stunner.

Ron found him, standing there, and it was only then that he realised he wasn’t in anything more than his pants. Even still, Ron’s surprise registered before his state of undress.

“Shit, mate.”

Harry couldn’t think of anything to say. Couldn’t be sure anything other than half-digested coq au vin would come out of his mouth if he were to open it.

Ron walked past him and looked over the drawings. They’d been on one of the scenes together, and when he heard a low, furious, “Merlin’s saggy fucking drawers,” behind him, he knew Ron was seeing the same thing he had—the same details, the same resemblance.

“Stay here.” Ron’s voice was all Auror. He turned away. “Bones, Finnigan, fall in. Stay behind me, goal is capture or Stun. Suspect should be asleep—right?”

Harry nodded mutely. His tongue had turned to moss and sand.

“Right,” Ron said, “but he may be armed and dangerous. Move out.”

Their footsteps retreated. Harry saw the edges of a flash, and heard a door slamming open, and a bang, and then Malfoy’s posh, indignant tones asking what the bloody hell was going on, and then Susan’s brusque pronouncement that, “You’re under arrest.”

Harry couldn’t hear any more of Malfoy’s voice, after that. He pictured Malfoy’s face travelling through shock and anger and resentment and cold fury.

When he saw it—when he realised he’d walked to the doorway, when Susan and Ron marched Malfoy from the hallway to the Floo with Seamus behind them, when he saw that Seamus’ wand was raised and pointed at Malfoy’s spine, when Malfoy, flushed and wearing only loose pyjama bottoms and with the lines of the pillowcase still imprinted on his cheek, turned his head and caught Harry’s eye—all Harry saw was betrayal.

 

 

 

Then

Draco’s heart betrayed him every time Potter fell asleep first. Which was to say, every time they did this. It was just that the only time Potter looked anything close to peaceful was when he slept, and Draco couldn’t help but look.

He’d never imagined—given a thousand years, given the infinite time of a philosopher’s stone—that he’d see Potter like this. He wasn’t even sure it had ever occurred to him, truly occurred to him, that Potter really did sleep, that he wasn’t in constant heroic motion at all hours of the day, rescuing Kneazles from trees while the wizarding world slumbered peacefully under his watch, and then (he might have thought, in his younger days) calling the Prophet to suggest that they’d actually been Nundus just to ensure that everyone remained aware of his perpetual heroism. But Potter did sleep, and he slept well. Which was, Draco figured, the wages of goodness. Guiltless, guileless, peaceful sleep. The kind of sleep that meant sinking into the pillows, exhaling deeply, and ceding to rest.

It had become his second favourite part of their routine—the sex really was quite a bit more than adequate—and he was certain it was the most dangerous. He’d be perfectly happy to indulge—to celebrate—any sort of base hedonism Potter might suggest. He’d revelled in it every time, for the acts themselves and for the precious knowledge that Potter wasn’t above a bit of dirty fucking, that he could want something messy and rough and just as filthy as Draco was.

Never mind that he didn’t want anyone else to know it, even Pansy and Blaise. Or that he couldn’t seem to come up with any sort of reasonable explanation for why that should be the case. Or that it preoccupied his thoughts only as much as this did, these moments where Potter lay defenceless before him, unconscious and dead to the world, for Draco’s eyes only.

Except that he thought, insofar as he’d let himself think it, that that’s what made it so dangerous. That it was seeing Potter like this that had got him hooked, that had him wanting there to be some reason for this mission to last. For it to bring them together at least long enough for him to memorise the smoothness of Potter’s sleepy brow and the rise and fall of his chest as his breathing grew shallower in the night.

 

 

 

Now

Harry could barely breathe at the sight before him. Malfoy was shackled to one of the interrogation room’s heavy wooden chairs. Someone had got him one of the coarse grey uniforms prisoners wore while awaiting trial. Harry didn’t even know if that’s what Malfoy was now. A prisoner. Or if it has been a nod towards propriety, or if it was meant to make Malfoy look guilty from the off, or if someone else had got as distracted by the bare planes of Malfoy’s chest as Harry had.

He wasn’t sure it mattered. Malfoy’s eyes were blank. His chest rose and fell evenly. When he crossed his hands on the table, the chains clattered against the wood, and Harry had to restrain himself from jumping at the sound of it. He tried to think of something to say, something to ask. But he’d been doing that for what felt like hours, and there was nothing that didn’t feel too stupid, too facile, to be worth asking.

It was—it felt to Harry, anyway, like it was—another hour before the words made their way past his lips. “Why did you have those pictures?” It wasn’t even the right question, a question that would get him a useful answer.

All it got him was a withering stare.

“Those details—” He tried again. “How did you know?”

“Is there any point in telling you, Potter?” Malfoy’s voice was brittle. Sharp. “Given the Ministry’s predisposition towards former Death Eaters and these charming shackles, I’d say you’ve already played Auror, Wizengamot, and Dementor without feeling any particular need to solicit alternate perspectives.”

Harry’s throat was so tight he thought he might choke. “Are you saying you did it?”

“I’m saying that it hardly matters what I have or haven’t done when you’ve already drawn the sort of conclusions that compelled you to have me arrested in our post-coital bed.”

“They’re pretty bloody damning, Malfoy.”

“And if that’s your position, I’m hard-pressed to see what playing at interrogator and prisoner is going to accomplish. I’d rather speak to my barrister, if it’s all the same to you.” It felt like Malfoy had been replaced with someone else. Like their dinner might have happened on another planet, in another lifetime.

“You won’t even say it?” Harry asked. His heart pounded. He hadn’t realised he needed to hear it. “You won’t even say that you’re innocent?”

“Would you believe me if I did?”

“I…” He struggled for the words. It was all too much to wrap his head around. “You…”

“Would you have believed me earlier this evening? Say, around ten?”

Heat rose on Harry’s face. Malfoy had been on his knees around ten, his eyes dark and seductive as he moaned around—

No. It was an interrogation, Harry reminded himself. Malfoy was a suspect.

Besides which, a quieter voice added, he would have believed him, then. Five hours and several lifetimes ago.

“That’s irrelevant,” Harry said, instead of ’I don’t know’ or ’I wasn’t capable of coherent thought at the time’ or ’Maybe if you’d told me first’ or ’Maybe if you tried to tell me now’ or ’Maybe if you’d seem like you gave a damn.’

“Is it?” Malfoy quirked an eyebrow, and there was a hint in it of the Malfoy Harry knew. Thought he knew.

“Yes,” Harry said. “It is.” That much was true. Whatever he would’ve believed under other circumstances wasn’t meant to matter in the face of evidence. Not when his job was to find the truth and protect the innocent. Not when the only cold, hard facts he had to go on were a drawer full of incriminating sketches, Malfoy’s expertise with the kind of dark magic that would make it easy to kill, and the sort of long history that meant carving runes into a corpse’s skin had probably been his idea of child’s play. Not when the Malfoys had never been much for either truth or protecting the innocent when power was on the table. Not when Malfoy’s best defence had more to do with sex than innocence, or when he couldn’t be sure that he’d ever known Malfoy at all.

The door scraped open. “Auror Potter?” Susan’s voice.

He pushed back from the table, eyes still trained on Malfoy. “Yes?”

“This way please. You’re needed.”

“Excuse me.” He looked at Malfoy once more, then stood and followed Susan from the room. He barely resisted the urge to look over his shoulder.

He only lasted until the door to the interrogation room closed behind him, then turned to see Malfoy through the charmed one-way wall.

Malfoy was slumped forward, his arms resting heavily on the table, his head hanging between his bent shoulders. He looked exhausted, Harry thought. Defeated.

They’d been drinking wine barely eight hours ago. He’d chased it down with Malfoy’s spunk more recently still.

He couldn’t understand it. Not any of it.

Behind him, the door to the observation room scraped open.

“Mate?” It was Ron.

“Harry?” And Hermione. “We’ve brought some food.”

He didn’t turn to look at them. Wasn’t sure he could stand to. “Thanks.”

Through the charmed window, Harry saw Malfoy straighten, and every trace of weariness was wiped away. His face was so blank, so haughty and proud, that ten years ago Harry might’ve sworn it was Lucius. Malfoy held himself stiffly, hands folded neatly and back ramrod straight, as though he was waiting for a tardy business associate rather than an indictment.

His stomach turned to ice.

“Come down to Ron’s office for a tick?” Hermione sounded almost nervous to ask. “We thought you might need a break.”

 

 

 

Earlier that evening, say around ten

“You know you need it.”

“What, secondhand escargot?”

Draco laughed. Surprised himself with it, and really laughed. Something about this—about Potter’s curiosity, about his interest in Draco’s work, about the spark of connection between them—felt… something. He didn’t want to do anything as perilous as naming it; he wanted to press Potter into a wall and have his way with Potter’s mouth. “Hardly, you haven’t the palette for it.”

Potter had long since stopped looking defensive at the barbs they traded back and forth. Draco almost thought he heard a hint of amusement in Potter’s voice.

“Maybe,” Potter said, and changed course away from Draco’s mouth and towards the spot he’d discovered at the base of Draco’s earlobe. “Maybe it’s just bloody disgusting.”

The vibrations sent a thrill down Draco’s spine. “Are you suggesting, mon caneton, that I find something else to put in my mouth?”

“I’d never,” Potter said, and ran his tongue down the length of Draco’s neck until he was nipping at the sliver of skin accessible past Draco’s collar. “Unless you’ve got a particular craving.” He nudged the fabric away and bit down. Draco felt it to his toes. “An after-dinner mint, perhaps.”

“If you’re so averse to the taste of my mouth, you could always find somewhere else to put yours.”

“Yes, I’d gathered,” Potter said, trailing his teeth up the side of Draco’s neck. “Or hadn’t you noticed?”

Draco gave an exaggerated sigh. “I might notice if you were putting it to more interesting—fuck.”

Potter had sucked the skin at the base of Draco’s neck into his teeth, and Draco discovered a new precariousness to his grasp of the English language.

His linguistic skills—exceptional though they generally were—threatened to disappear altogether when Potter dropped to his knees.

“Guess I’ll have to stay away from your mouth, then.”

Draco swallowed hard. “Probably for the best.”

“It’s either that,” Potter said, moving his hands to Draco’s flies, “or cast a cleaning charm so powerful you’ll be tasting mint for a week.”

“Show off.”

“Man of many skills,” Potter corrected.

Draco couldn’t bring himself to argue the point when one of his favourite among Potter’s talents promised to make itself known. He hummed instead, and leaned his head back against the wall. “Get on with it, then.”

Potter’s skills weren’t always matched with virtues, particularly where patience was concerned. Perhaps Draco shouldn’t have been as surprised as he was to feel the wet warmth of Potter’s mouth take him in all at once. Perhaps he’d never be able to stop being surprised by it. Maybe it didn’t matter. Potter was all tongue and lips and the perfect hint of teeth and, even better, naked enthusiasm for the task at hand. He sucked Draco down like he was starving for it, and his mouth was wet and sloppy and loud, and he moaned beautifully, as though he was—as though it was remotely possible for him to be—enjoying this half as much as Draco was.

Draco didn’t think it was possible, actually. Not when he was fucking Potter’s face. Not when he was lacing his fingers through the bird’s nest of Potter’s hair. Not when he tugged and could feel the vibration of Potter’s whimpers straight down his shaft.

He thought the only thing he might like more than the feel of it was the sight of it. Of Potter on his knees for him. Willingly, enthusiastically, sucking him down. Kneeling before Draco solely to give him pleasure. It was a better reason than any he’d ever found before for putting off an orgasm. To look down and watch his cock disappear into Potter’s mouth, Potter’s eyes closed in reverie.

Only, Potter’s eyes were open. He looked down, and Potter was looking back at him. His eyes were the deepest green Draco thought he’d ever seen, and so fiery that, for an impossible few seconds, Draco forgot that Potter was sucking his cock. It was the two of them, together, and something passed through Draco’s chest, through his stomach, and he wondered if what he felt with Potter had ever been nerves. If the kicking, twisting heat he’d taken for unease hadn’t been pure molten gold, waiting to be shaped into something more valuable, more precious, than he’d ever managed to be.

It seemed possible, like this. Seemed like maybe he could be a better man. It didn’t have to be a show, a game. Climbing the ladder. Restoring the Malfoy name. Influence. The ear of the Wizengamot. Control. Power. In Potter’s mouth, with Potter’s eyes looking into his, he thought, maybe it could be something else.

Potter pulled off with a pop. He didn’t look away. “You know you like it, too.”

Draco didn’t bother disagreeing. He caught Potter’s hair between his fingers and tried to pull him back to the task at hand. “Yes.”

Potter resisted. He ducked to the side and stood, pressing the full length of his body against Draco’s. He held Draco’s eye. “You know you want it, too.”

“Yes,” Draco repeated. He didn’t look away, though it was harder and harder to stand Potter’s eyes boring into his. “I want it.” 'You,’ he’d almost said. ’I want you.’

Potter cupped Draco loosely in his hand. “Could make you wait.”

Circe, but Draco loved this. Potter’s secret kinks, his displays of power and his obvious pleasure in them. This side of him no one else could see. “Could do.”

“Could,” Potter said again, sliding his hand back to rub a finger over Draco’s hole.

Draco’s hips bucked forward, and then Potter pulled away. Draco whined at the loss before he could think better of it.

“But where’s the fun in that?”

Draco could feel Potter’s grin against his neck for a split second before Potter dropped to his knees and sucked Draco down again.

It was a matter of minutes, then. Seconds, even. Potter kept his eyes open, and Draco looked back, and saw the flush on Potter’s cheeks and the hint of a smile at the edge of his mouth, and Draco came so blindingly hard the world flared at the edges and distilled down to just that image, burned into his memory forever.

He sank to the ground, and when his eyes flickered back open Potter was there, his smug grin less aversive than it had ever been before. “Needed that, did you?”

“Merlin,” Draco said, barely managing not to slur his words. “Yes, Needed it. Fuck.” He let his eyes fall shut, and when he opened them Potter was still there, looking back at him. Seeing him. He drew a deep breath. “Now. What do you need?”

 

 

 

Now

“I just need a minute to think, okay?!”

Hermione slid lo mein across Ron’s office desk. They’d all long since learned that passing Ron the food was a more effective strategy than any quelling glance. Harry was grateful for that, at least. That they’d give him a second to breathe.

Ron took it from her, and took his time wrapping the noodles around his chopsticks. “Malfoy though, mate? Really?” He held the container under his mouth as he took a bite, and chewed slowly, and only raised his eyebrows a little bit. It was Ron’s version of giving him a moment, he knew. Maybe more of one than he deserved.

“No point denying it,” Harry said, so low he wasn’t sure they could hear him. Knew it wasn’t an answer to the question Ron was really asking.

Ron swallowed, stuck his chopsticks in the carton, and pushed it across the desk, away from him. Not a good sign.

Hermione jumped in before Ron could clarify. “No one’s asking you to. It’s more…” She trailed off.

Harry wasn’t sure what was worse: that Hermione was lost for words, or that the few she’d managed were brimful with the particular mix of hurt and reproach and compassion that made him want to break things. Or maybe burst into tears.

“It’s just,” she tried again, “Malfoy, Harry. After everything?”

“It’s been a while?”

“Tell that to Bill’s face.” It was almost under Ron’s breath. But not quite. Harry knew he’d been meant to hear it. He just didn’t know what to say.

Hermione rested her hand on Ron’s arm. Harry strongly suspected Ron would pull away if he tried the same.

“You didn’t even tell us,” Hermione said. “You started… seeing him? Whatever it was? It wasn’t just for the case? And you hid it from us. Don’t you think that should’ve been a sign?”

“It wasn’t—” Harry stopped. He’d needed more than a moment. He needed a time- turner. Better yet, he needed time to stop completely, until he could begin to figure up from down. “It wasn’t like that, we didn’t— I didn’t ask him out on a date, he didn’t ask me. It was a mission, and then it sort of…”

Ron shook his head. “Turned into you in your pants, in his flat, discovering evidence of murder in the middle of the night?”

Harry nodded miserably. “Yeah. Basically.”

“And that was, what, a surprise to you, mate?” Ron sounded angry; Harry couldn’t blame him. “After everything? All of it?”

“It’s not— He works at the Ministry. He was assigned to the case. He wanted to help.”

“Harry.” Hermione had added a note of disappointment to the mix, and the urge to cry solidified into chest-aching guilt. “They may’ve made Malfoy a junior underassistant, but, well. Don’t you think that might be about keeping tabs on him? The Wizengamot may not have been able to convict—” she paused, and Harry knew it was meant to remind him that he’d been the one to get in the way of Malfoy’s conviction, that he’d insisted on testifying while Ron and Hermione flatly refused even to corroborate his story of their time at Malfoy Manor “—but that doesn’t mean he’s grown a conscience, or that someone didn’t decide it was best to keep him close enough to know if he was in contact with anyone he shouldn’t be, doing anything he shouldn’t be.”

The guilt in Harry’s chest sank to his stomach like a stone. It hadn’t occurred to him. It should’ve, and it hadn’t.

“I’m not saying he’s guilty, per se, Harry. But Ron’s entered the evidence, and you can’t deny that it looks… well.”

“A lot like he’s the bloody murderer?” Ron had folded his arms and was slouching low in his chair and giving Harry a withering sort of look. At least, a look that left him feeling as though he wished he could wither into nothingness.

“It doesn’t mean he is, though. Not for sure.”

“Right.” Ron snorted. “He’s got accurate hand-drawn pictures of crime scenes he’s never seen, with details he’s got no way to know about. What else would that mean, exactly?”

“I don’t know.” Harry felt frustration building, felt as though he needed another moment, or needed to leave. To run until this was all a distant memory. “He’s an Unspeakable, who knows what sort of information they get? Plus…” He trailed off. He thought ‘Plus, Dumbledore said he wasn’t a killer. I saw him lower his wand. He couldn’t do it.’ But then he thought, too, ‘Dumbledore was being kind, was offering him an out; that’s what threw him. All Malfoy’s ever known how to want is power.’ “We don’t have all the evidence.”

Ron raised an eyebrow higher, and it was clear that his restraint was wavering. “We have a stack of detailed crime scene drawings, all of which were restricted to a small group of Aurors with high-level security clearance. The only other person who could have seen them is the murderer. Malfoy’s not an Auror with high-level security clearance. How the bloody hell else does he know the scenes? Down to the details? The position of the bodies, Harry. The way they bloody died.”

Harry thought he might be sick. “Why would he agree to investigate the case if he’s the killer? Why help them solve it?”

Hermione jumped in before Ron could answer. “There have been several recorded cases where killers have volunteered information to law enforcement offices, Harry. Even worked with them. There are some serial killers for whom it’s part of the thrill. Getting close to the case, keeping track of the investigation, planting false information.” Hermione pulled a fortune cookie towards her and started playing with the corner of the wrapper, looking at it instead of at Harry. “There’s no way to know that’s not the case here.”

“So ask him,” Harry tried. “Give him Veritaserum and ask him.”

“Right,” Ron scoffed. “Like the Malfoys aren’t trained up from birth to talk around it. Practically a family party game, if the rest of that lot are anything to go by.”

“It’s true, Harry. The Wizengamot could barely get the Malfoys to answer a question directly. Or the Lestranges, for that matter. It does seem to have been a family exercise. Even if he took it, there’d be good reasons to question any testimony he gave while under the influence.”

Harry turned away. The smell of the food was turning his stomach. He rubbed his temples. “There has to be— Fuck.”

“Don’t disagree.” Ron paused, and Harry could hear him try, with mixed results, to steady his voice. “Look, mate, whatever you were doing with him, don’t let it cloud your judgment. We’re here to do a job. That’s what’s always mattered. Still does.”

“I know,” Harry said. “I know that.” He did—he had to. A couple of blow jobs—a couple of nights of blowing off steam by mutual agreement—didn’t hold a candle to the mission. Or to anything Ron and Hermione were saying. They weren’t wrong about any of it, and if Malfoy was guilty, Harry would never stand in the way. He couldn’t. Couldn’t be responsible for even the possibility that he’d be responsible for letting a killer walk free.

Could barely breathe at the thought that he might’ve already done just that.

“And Harry,” Hermione said. Her voice sounded like it was crossing water instead of air. “It’s not just that.” Her voice shook. “It’s that… We…”

“He could’ve fucking killed you, mate.”

It hit Harry like a Bludger. A Bludger crossed with a Stunner. He wondered if that was the sort of thing Malfoy could have made down in the Department of Mysteries. He felt as though the thought should’ve occurred to him. Wasn’t sure what it meant that it hadn’t.

“Could’ve left us to find—” Ron stopped then, and Harry felt as much as he heard the tension, the fear, in Ron’s voice. “Don’t even want to think about it. Merlin.”

“He wouldn’t have,” Harry said, without knowing why he said it. What would make him believe it.

“No?” Ron sounded more furious than querulous. “Who knows what sort of games he’s been playing? What he could’ve done with you? What he might’ve done tonight, or the next— Fuck, Harry. Did you see the evidence? Are you really giving that ferret—that murderous, Death-Eating ferret—the benefit of the doubt?”

Harry heard Hermione whisper to him, try to calm him down. He wasn’t sure he should have. He had seen the evidence. Had seen the evidence and his first thought, his very first, automatic, instinctive thought, was to call in the Aurors. He had seen the evidence and known exactly what it meant. His most trusted colleagues had thought the same. His most trusted friends—his family—thought the same.

What was there to doubt, Harry wondered, when all of this was right in front of him?

 

 

 

Between then and now

The book was right in front of him, but Draco wasn’t ready for it. Not yet. He knew just enough, he thought, to figure out what the Aurors knew. To put the pieces together.

He started with the mother and daughter. Their murders had created the biggest upset, and some of the details had made it into the papers. They’d been found on Diagon Alley, blown away from each other by the force of a spell. Draco thought a Blasting Curse would be the Aurors’ likeliest guess, Confringo or Reducto. They shared the same magical foundation, and the Aurors wouldn’t think to look for variants unless there was something unusual about the scene. They’d figure that mother and daughter had been thrown twenty feet by a classic Blasting Curse. The Aurors would have found them banged up on the store fronts and assumed their injuries came from impact.

This wasn’t what his drawing lessons had been meant for, but it was far more interesting than recording the progress of the Manor’s gardens or new techniques with potions ingredients ever would have been. He charted the bodies’ course with his quill. Thought of how they’d hit the glass, how they’d fallen.

The twins were next. Robards hadn’t said as much about them, but he knew the Aurors had found them in closer quarters. They probably would’ve assumed the same combination of a Blasting Curse and impact. Even if they’d thought to do a more thorough investigation into possible variants, the corpses were too mangled for it to be detectable. That sort of damage to the bodies would’ve hidden more evidence than it revealed, not least of all since it could so easily have produced effects similar to Crucio or Transmogrifian Torture, and if they were going to suspect anything else, it would have to be that.

Either way, the Aurors would know how bodies cracked and twisted with the force of that kind of magic. Extremities first, then the neck, then the base of the spine down through the torso. Destroyed before they hit the ground. He thought about how they’d have looked on the ground after several hours, how the Aurors would’ve discovered them once they’d started to go cold. Would they have gone pale by then? He started to draw them like that, pale, blood pooling towards the ground without hearts beating against gravity. But no, something about that didn’t seem right. Not when he couldn’t know for sure how long they’d lain there before someone had found them. He threw the paper onto the dwindling coals and started anew.

In his periphery, the edges of the discarded parchment sparked and smouldered but didn’t catch. He cast at the fire, and was overwhelmed by the wave of heat that came from the hearth. The room had grown cold, and he hadn’t even realised. He looked up at the clock and was surprised by the hour. The array of sketches in front of him seemed to confirm how much time had passed. He’d have to go to sleep, soon.

But first, he reached for the book. Selwyn’s Compendium of Runic Alphabets had gathered dust in his library for years, among the other volumes the Ministry had deigned to leave him, and there was something calming about having found a use for it.

Towards the back, there was an index of runes and their related symbols, across eras and languages, and accounting for inversions. Of course Robards would’ve described inversions as balance. That’s how he—how almost all of them—saw it. Light and dark, good and bad. Opposites. Not complements. Not parts of a larger whole, a larger message. They would have assumed that if Uruz, on the mother’s body, meant strength and good health, it’s inversion, on the daughter’s meant weakness and sickness. That if Algiz, on one twin’s left wrist, meant defence, then its inversion, on her twin’s right wrist, meant attack. Nevermind that anyone with a working knowledge of the Dark Arts could have explained how much more it meant. There was barely anyone left who could’ve told them, even if they’d shown any indication of wanting to know.

Draco checked Selwyn’s Compendium once more for reference, and put the last touches on his work.

Quietly, he gathered his drawings into a tidy stack, running his thumb over the edges as he walked towards the kitchen. He’d been at it for hours; he needed a nightcap, and so, a tumbler. He shoved the pile of parchment into an empty drawer near the relevant cupboard, jamming them back as they caught on the edge, and left the room, glass in hand, to walk towards the bar and the glow of a roaring fire.

 

 

 

Now

The light shining down on Malfoy was so bright, and everything else in Courtroom Eight so dim by comparison, that Harry found it hard to see anything other than the glare off Malfoy’s white-blond hair and the outlines of the Wizengamot’s murmuring masses. He only recognised Penelope Clearwater when she came close enough to administer Harry’s oath.

“I do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm,” Harry said, repeating after her, “that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

He only wished he was surer of what that was. As sure as Ron and Hermione and Susan and Seamus, as sure as Dean, who’d analysed the work for them, or Robards, who’d gone apoplectic when he’d seen them. He even wished he was surer of why he wasn’t sure.

Penelope nodded at him, and gestured for him to take a seat on the raised dais between Malfoy and the Wizengamot.

He did know, if not whether or not Malfoy was guilty, that it couldn’t be as dark as it felt. He’d been in all the courtrooms before, had given testimony dozens of times. He’d always been able to see the whole council, and had never felt as though his attention was so unavoidably drawn to the suspect. He’d never had to hold on to the railing to keep himself from tripping as he took his seat. It had never been the case that the accused was the only thing he could see.

“Auror Potter.” It was Penelope’s voice again; he knew that, too. “We are here to examine the charges brought against Draco Lucius Malfoy. He is accused of killing ten members of the magical community, and of conspiracy to commit additional murders. Given the serious—indeed heinous—nature of these crimes, we are bound by duty and morality to find and punish the perpetrator. Towards that end, it is vitally important that you share any information that may be relevant to the proceedings. Do you understand?”

Underneath the spotlight, Draco was as inscrutably stone-faced as Harry had ever seen him. He sat tall and proud, every inch a Malfoy, even against the weight of the shackles that bound his forearms and ankles to his chair.

Malfoy wasn’t the boy he’d been at school. Harry thought he was sure of that. He was less petty. Softer around the edges. He was excited about his work and what it might mean for the world; the excitement was more of a change than the work, as far as Harry knew, but still. And Ron was right—Malfoy could have killed him. Which meant Malfoy could have tortured him, drawn runes all over him, any of it, while Harry was asleep in his bed. He hadn’t. That had to count for something.

Malfoy wasn’t his father, either, as much as he might look the part. Malfoy senior had never looked excited about anything other than cruelty.

But then, Harry wondered if he had. If in bed, if at home alone, if at private dinners, if in the throes of sex, Lucius Malfoy, with all his blood supremacy, all the pleasure he took in humiliation and viciousness, was every bit as excitable, as exciting, as his son. If Lucius, like Draco, could make people feel good. Feel lots of things.

It didn’t seem nearly as impossible as Harry would’ve liked.

“Auror Potter?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I understand.”

“Very well. In what capacity do you know the accused?”

It shouldn’t have been as difficult a question as it was. “We went to school together.”

“And?”

He thought of Malfoy’s face, eyes fluttering and head thrown back in orgasm. “We have worked together as Ministry employees.”

“And?”

“I gave testimony on Malfoy’s behalf following the Second Voldemort War.” Some of the members of the Wizengamot still cringed at the name. “And,” he added, “we have had some social, interpersonal interactions on several occasions.”

“On behalf of the DMLE, is that correct?”

Harry paused. “Yes,” he said. “In addition to some other, um. Personal interactions.” He thought of Malfoy and his snails, of Malfoy and his quick wit, of Malfoy’s sly smiles, of the way Malfoy’d made him admit to what he wanted, of the ways they’d touched each other. Of the ways Malfoy’d made him come, and how much he’d liked it, and how much he’d liked returning the favour.

Penelope moved along quickly. “Please describe the evidence you recovered from the accused’s residence.”

Her wording obscured so many things. Harry couldn’t tell if it was intentional, though he was certain that Ron and Susan and Seamus would’ve considered it a favour to keep the particulars out of the official record.

“There were a series of sketches depicting crime scenes related to the murders the DMLE has been investigating.”

“Was the accused present at these crime scenes in his capacity as a Ministry employee?”

Malfoy hadn’t moved an inch, as far as Harry could tell. Not a muscle. He might’ve been made of ice except, Harry thought, ice would’ve melted under the spotlight and Malfoy hadn’t even begun to break a sweat.

“Not to my knowledge,” Harry answered.

“How would the accused have acquired the knowledge necessary to produce sketches which, we members of the Wizengamot are given to understand, are highly accurate renderings of crime scenes?”

“I don’t know.”

Harry looked toward the light. He saw Malfoy move this time—just his eyes. He glanced towards Harry. Harry looked back.

Malfoy might not have been the boy he had been, but it didn’t mean that he’d stopped loving power; Harry knew for a fact he got off on it. It didn’t mean he wouldn’t manipulate and lie. Didn’t mean his instinct towards cruelty had disappeared, nor the same desire to control and punish that had had him running to apply for the Inquisitorial Squad. It didn’t explain the sketches. It didn’t explain how Malfoy had known what to put in them.

It didn’t mean he wasn’t a killer.

Did it mean that he was?

“In your professional opinion,” Penelope went on, “do you believe that someone without first-hand knowledge of the crime scenes could have depicted them so accurately?”

“I…” Harry stopped. He couldn’t see anything behind Malfoy’s eyes. They were grey, and they were looking into his, and that was all. Harry didn’t think it should have been like that. If it had been Ron or Hermione, he would’ve known what they were thinking from a thousand feet away as well as he did when they were huddled together in a tent. If it was any of his friends, he thought, he would have known. But then, they didn’t have anything to hide. “It’s unlikely, but I can’t be certain.”

He looked away from Malfoy then, down to his hands. It was too different, too strange, to be catching Malfoy’s eye across a courtroom rather than a dinner table. Rather than one of their naked bodies.

Penelope hummed disapprovingly. “In your professional opinion, Auror Potter, is the accused guilty of the ten murders attributed to a single killer, and which follow the pattern previously described by Head Auror Robards?”

“I don’t know.”

Harry thought, for a moment, he saw a flicker of movement from Malfoy. From “the accused.” That was what Penelope kept calling him. But when he looked again, there was nothing.

“Auror Potter, we must impress the seriousness of these proceedings upon you. You have been one of the primary investigators at several of the crime scenes related to this case. In your opinion, is it possible that the accused has committed the murders in question?”

Harry caught Malfoy’s eye again. He thought he saw something there. He wanted to.

He swallowed. Looked away. Opened his mouth to answer. Closed it again.

“Auror Potter? In your professional opinion—”

“I don’t know,” he said again. “I can’t know.”

Silenced echoed through the room.

“Auror Potter.” Penelope’s voice was ripe with annoyance. “Are you suggesting that you are, for some reason, unable to testify in this case?”

“Yes,” Harry said, and that, at least, felt true.

“Can you explain to the Wizengamot why, in spite of serving as one of the primary investigators at several relevant crime scenes, in spite of the pain so many wizarding families have felt at the loss of their loved ones at the hands of this killer, you would be unable to offer your professional opinion on the guilt of the accused?”

Harry’s heart felt as though it might break his rib cage. Blood raced through his ears. “I—” He stopped.

The room fell silent again.

“Auror Potter, do you wish to be held in contempt of the Wizengamot?”

He shook his head. “No, Member Clearwater.”

“And yet you refuse to explain why you are unable to testify.”

Harry looked at Malfoy. He thought Malfoy’s eyes looked darker, thought his lips looked fuller. Wished he’d picked up Legilimency at some point along the way. It was too late for that now.

He stood and grasped the railing. “Yes. I’m sorry. I just— I can’t say one way or another.”

“Auror Potter—”

“If that’s what you need from me, I can’t.”

He stepped down from the witness stand and into the courtroom.

“Auror Potter!”

“I’m sorry,” he said again, and walked towards Malfoy, whose whole head turned this time to watch him and who, for one split second, gave him a look of such bewildered fondness that Harry thought he might stop.

But then Malfoy’s face went blank again, and Harry didn’t stop. Didn’t stop when he reached the door, or the corridor, or the lifts, or the atrium, or the entrance, or the streets of London. Didn’t stop when his feet hit the pavement, one after the next, after the next, after the next.