“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language, and the last, and it always tells the truth.” – Margaret Atwood
There were numerous unusual things Draco had learned about Harry Potter in the two years they had been working together.
Some were initial observations that seemed obvious once they’d been realised, like the fact that he hated being hounded by the press. During their years at Hogwarts, Draco had been sure Potter ate up being the centre of attention all the time. He would unfold the Prophet during their fourth year and see Potter’s face splashed across the front page and he would scowl and toss it aside.
In retrospect, it was quite clear that much of his malice was rooted in jealousy, however he didn’t fully understand how much Potter detested media attention until they were partnered up.
He still didn’t know exactly why Head Auror Robards thought that was a good idea, considering their history, but surprisingly, they had made an efficient team once they had gotten past the bitter pettiness of the first few months. Draco now referred to it as an “adjustment period,” but whenever he did so aloud, Potter would just laugh and roll his eyes and say, “You mean how you were a pretentious git who kept making snide implications that I hadn’t earned my spot as an Auror?”
And, well, yes, Draco had done that, admittedly. But Potter had been just as prickly back, refusing to share his thoughts on cases with Draco, and purposefully leaving their shared office a mess in order to irritate him, and leaving him all of the paperwork.
It was only after their first serious case that the frostiness between them had begun to thaw.
They had helped track down the headquarters of a notorious potions smuggling ring that the Aurors had been chasing for months, and as a reward, they were given lead on the takedown—their first as rookies. Draco’s anxiety was high, and Potter’s apparent cockiness only worked to irritate Draco further, as he worried that Potter wasn’t taking it seriously enough and that his arrogance could endanger them in a potential fight. The two had bickered about their approach, about whether to try and go in stealthily or call in the Hit Wizards and go in full force, but in the end, the strategy didn’t matter because the smugglers had been expecting them.
It had been instantly overwhelming, curses flying at them from every direction, made no simpler by the thick steam that seemed to fill the warehouse. They had reacted instinctively, their Auror training only made stronger by building on old muscles from the war. Draco had to admit, Potter was impressive—non-verbal spells flying out of him as if on their own—but it was still only them two against a whole group, and they didn’t even have the home advantage. They knew they couldn’t beat them, so it was just a matter of holding them off until their back-up arrived. By the time it did and the smoke was cleared, the two of them saw that they had managed to take down seven members of the ring, who were then taken into custody, along with four more who had surrendered once the other Aurors had arrived.
For their first time in the field, it was damn good work, which was a direct quote from Robards, and Draco and Potter both sagged against the wall of the warehouse, catching their breath as their colleagues transported the smugglers out. They had to soon follow, for their mandatory curse evaluation, following the conflict, but as soon as they ducked out of the warehouse, flashing lights were upon them.
Someone had alerted the press that Auror Harry Potter was on duty, fighting evil or whatever it was they thought he did, and they descended upon them like hungry vultures.
Potter had gone rigid by his side, eyes flitting from camera to camera, looking like he was on the verge of panicking. Without really thinking, Draco had firmly gripped his upper arm and pulled him over to where Robards was standing, supervising the transport of the smugglers via Portkeys.
“We’ll meet you at the Department,” Draco had said to him, curtly, barely waiting for Robards’s nod before swiftly Apparating.
As soon as they had appeared on Whitehall, Potter tore out of Draco’s grasp.
“What the hell was that?” he demanded.
“What?” Draco asked, not expecting the sudden hostility.
“You do not just Side-Along someone without their permission, Malfoy!” exclaimed Potter.
Draco gaped for a moment, before he was able to school his expression into a sneer.
“Pardon me, but you didn’t even seem capable of speech. You were clearly uncomfortable with the presence of the press so I got us out of there before we had to make any sort of excuse.”
It was Potter’s turn to gape, and the anger seemed to sizzle out of him, his shoulders drooping and his whole body seeming to deflate.
“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t—that…that was decent of you, Malfoy. Thanks.”
Draco blinked, slightly taken aback at the abrupt shift in tone, but then nodded amiably.
“Yes, well. We’re partners, aren’t we?” he said, beginning to lead them down to the underground toilets that led to the Ministry.
Potter’s eyes remained on him for a moment, and then followed him down the stairway.
“Speech is the beginning of love, touch its consummation.” – Marty Rubin
Two years later, incredibly, Draco could actually call them friends. They worked well together, Potter’s intuition lending itself to Draco’s logic, Draco’s methodical approach complementing Potter’s gut instincts.
Despite himself, Draco couldn’t help but find Potter interesting. He had always had a bit of a fascination with Potter—Pansy called it an obsession, but Pansy was a bint whose main hobby was getting on Draco’s last nerve—and now that the two were spending so much time together, he often found himself observing the other man. There was nothing unusual about that, he reminded Pansy, as they were co-workers in an occasionally dangerous job, and thus it was important for them to be familiar with each other’s habits and traits. And well, if Draco was particularly observant regarding Potter…he was his partner. It only made sense.
Potter’s aversion to the press was obvious; anyone who met him more than once could see he was uncomfortable being fawned over and photographed, and didn’t trust reporters with any information, usually choosing to let Draco make any sort of comment regarding a case, or else let the PR people handle it.
There were other things about Potter that were like that—a very clear and often loud part of his personality. His fierce and unwavering loyalty to his friends was one of them. He would never speak ill of them behind their backs, even in a joking manner, and he would stand up for them in front of anyone, even his supervisors. At first, Draco had thought this somewhat foolish, and haughtily thought that Potter thought he could talk back to whoever he liked since he was the Chosen One and all that rot, but over time he realised that Potter lacked the sense of superiority that Draco had always accused him of having. Pansy said he was projecting and when he turned up his nose at her, she just cackled and insisted he’d just proven her point.
It didn’t matter who it was, Potter would stand up to anyone who dared badmouth his friends because that’s just the kind of person he was. When Draco confronted this fact, he became uncomfortably aware of the yearning deep, deep inside of him. The desire that someone defend him like that, that someone believe so truly in him that they would stand by his side no matter what, even when he wasn’t around. He wanted to be Potter’s friend.
Potter, for all his awe-inspiring magical power and his staunch support of his friends and refusal to back down on something he believed in, was also absolutely terrible at saying no to people. It was as though he felt like he owed the world something, the way he would bend over backwards to do any favour asked of him. He was constantly running errands that were not his responsibility, and taking on more work than he needed to. The only way Draco was able to snap him out of it was by telling him that his actual Auror work was suffering as a result, and that he needed to learn to focus on his own job instead of trying to do everyone else’s for them. Nevertheless, when someone asked him for anything, it was as if he couldn’t deny them. Draco had responded by saying no for him, whenever he was witness to one of these situations.
“Harry!” Roger Davies would say, with a familiarity he most definitely hadn’t earned. “Are you headed up to see Robards? Would you have a word with him about our office? We’re right by the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office and the noises coming out of there make it impossible to work. Besides, Grimson’s just retired, so her office will be available. It would sound much better coming from you; Robards actually listens to you!”
And Potter would just be about to nod and open his mouth and say something stupid like, “Sure, Davies, I have no problem being your personal message boy to our boss!” when Draco would cut in.
“The reason Robards listens to Potter is because he knows Potter will only come to him with issues that are of importance and need addressing by a senior Auror, not whiny requests about wanting a bigger office because you can’t handle the sound of a whistling teapot from next door.”
And Davies would scowl and mutter some disparaging comment about Draco being a prat or a Death Eater or what have you, but then he’d leave and Potter would shoot Draco a sheepish, thankful smile.
Potter’s smile was worth being called a Death Eater, frankly.
His inability to say no reached beyond just doing co-worker’s unnecessary favours. Whenever he was accosted by fans, he struggled with ripping himself away from them, even spending over an hour letting people come up to him and tell him horrific war stories about how their families had died or else thanking him profusely. The worst had to be when women came up to him, ranging from Hogwarts-age to parents-of-Hogwarts-age-children-age, gushing over him with praise about his heroism, about what a handsome adult he’d grown into, and oh, wouldn’t he want to come by for some tea.
And Potter would go pink in the face and stumble and stutter and “oh, er, thank you, I—” until someone rescued him. Despite his annoyance at Potter’s incoherent mumbling, it did strike Draco as rather amusing that the great Harry Potter needed to be rescued from his simpering fans.
Potter was nothing if not a walking contradiction. Terrifying and formidable to criminals in the field, overly helpful and generous to his co-workers, unresponsive or else downright antagonistic towards the press, fiercely loyal to his friends, and a bit of a doormat when it came to his fans. He also, to Draco’s delight, had quite a bit of cheek.
Draco had always picked fun at Potter’s intelligence, often implying that Granger was the brains of the group, but he knew that Potter wasn’t really stupid. He had proven that time and time again on their cases, providing insight that Draco wouldn’t have thought of. Draco was more knowledgeable, more well-read, but Potter knew people, something that had always evaded Draco.
Nevertheless, being witness to Potter’s attitude but not being on the receiving end of it filled Draco with a wicked joy. Like the time that Potter had been arguing with Officer Hitchens from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad about how they had snatched a case from the Aurors in a shifty way, going behind their backs to the Department heads and insisting it was in their wheelhouse and that the Aurors weren’t needed to investigate it. It was all politics, Draco had said to Potter, since the case involved a high-profile victim (“four time cover star of Witch Weekly,” Draco had said, quickly following it up with, “Pansy told me,”) and the M.L.E.S. was angling for more recognition, thanks to how the sacrifices and success of the Aurors during the war had made them far more popular among the public. Members of the M.L.E.S. were often bitter about it, feeling like they were trapped in the Aurors’ shadow, and it led to rivalry between the two sub-departments.
“You had no right to take our case like that,” Potter said, firmly. “You could have come to me as a fellow member of the department and asked if the Aurors and the M.L.E.S. could cooperate and work together on this case, but instead you went over our heads and are shifting authority on a case in progress. Do you know how much work will be lost that way? We have a rapport with the witnesses! We have potential leads!”
“And we will follow up on those leads as procedure dictates, Auror Potter,” Hitchens said, in his boring, official voice. Honestly, hearing him talk made Draco want to fall asleep.
“Procedure dictates that cases are not transferred unless absolutely necessary. You wanting to get your names in the paper is not a matter of necessity!”
At this, Hitchens looked affronted.
“That is all very well for you to say, Auror Potter, up here in these brand new offices with all of your resources paid for! We’re still down in the cubicles at the M.L.E.S. Think about it from my perspective!”
“Sorry, but I just can’t fit my head that far up my own arse,” Potter said and Draco led out a loud snort before clapping a hand over his mouth. After Hitchens had angrily stormed off and Potter had fallen into his chair with a frustrated sigh, Draco couldn’t help but grin.
“Potter,” he said, “You’re witty.”
Potter’s lips twitched.
“I don’t know if swearing at an officer from the M.L.E.S. is really what constitutes wittiness, but cheers, Malfoy.”
Draco was constantly learning about Potter, about his strange eating patterns and his dedication to his work, about his idiosyncrasies and his habits, and even his magic. The more time they spent together, the more Draco got used to Potter casually casting nonverbal or wandless spells, and the more familiar he got with how powerful Potter’s magic was. They had become close, closer than Draco had ever dared to imagine they would, to the point where he was even invited to dinner with Weasley and Granger, to the point where they would occasionally grab a pint together after work—or, in Draco’s case, a glass or two of wine.
But every so often, Draco would hit a wall, something untouchable that made Potter close up at once. He’d learned that talking about Potter’s childhood before Hogwarts was off-limits. Even the casual mention of the Muggles who raised him was enough to end the conversation.
Talking about the war was also touchy. There was some leeway, but Draco sensed that it was mostly because Potter wanted Draco to feel like he could talk about whatever he wanted. In conversations about the war, Potter’s sentences were short, his replies often monosyllabic. Long periods of silence would often follow these conversations, and Potter would pretend to be looking over a report, but his eyes would be glassy and unmoving and his brow furrowed deeply.
Potter also didn’t seem to like being touched. He avoided handshakes, preferring a curt nod or even a wave. He ducked away when fans tried to hug him, and flinched at casual physical gestures, like being clapped on the back by Robards after closing a case, or a comforting squeeze on the shoulder by a colleague after a rough day. Draco could understand it, he himself didn’t much like being manhandled by strangers or acquaintances, and he supposed that being chased by overeager fans the way Potter was would only make one more averse to that sort of thing.
Truthfully, Draco liked getting to know Potter. Pansy teased, saying he was collecting a wealth of information on Potter like a stalker, and frequently made comments like, “Any new reports in your Potter database?” or “what’s the latest Potter trivia? There’s going to be a quiz night at the Leaky.”
But Draco valued that Potter was letting him see these parts of himself. He liked knowing what made Potter tick—what made him angry, what relaxed him, what made him laugh, what made him upset. He felt like he was being allowed in to some sort of exclusive club—the people that Potter trusted. It felt good, having Potter’s trust. He didn’t want to lose it.
“Something in your past wants to be touched, healed.” – Tiana Clark
“Have you signalled for back-up yet?” Draco murmured, his wand clenched in his fist. Potter gave the slightest shake of his head.
“Not yet,” he whispered back. “I don’t want to scare him off if he’s here.”
Draco nodded, and followed Potter as they carefully made their way around the back of the house.
They’d been working on this case for months now, and it had been one of the darkest, most frustrating ones yet. Someone had been hunting and murdering Squibs in some of the most brutal ways Draco had ever seen. The victims had all been women, and there was always an element of sexual assault, however the killer was disturbingly good at covering his tracks. It had seemed like no one had seen him, and, unfortunately, his choice in victims made it even more difficult, as many of the women had been cast away by their families and had been forced to live as Muggles. Draco and Potter had interviewed countless Muggles, even checking if they’d been Obliviated, but there wouldn’t have even been a need, as in a Muggle area, all the killer would have needed was a simple Disillusionment Charm.
Finally, they had caught a break—a wizard had come forward, the younger brother of one of the victims, and admitted that without the knowledge of his parents, he had been keeping in touch with his sister. He told them how she had mentioned that she had met a wizard who had invited her out for coffee, and how excited she had been that she may have found a link to the wizarding world. Draco had felt his heart sink at that, sympathy he never in his childhood would have expected he’d have for a Squib filling his heart at the same rate the disgust at the killer rose in his throat. These women had been disowned by their families and had to give up everything they had ever known to start a new life for themselves, and this evil man tricked them into thinking they could find a connection back to the world they’d grown up in, only to betray them and inflict the worst kind of cruelty imaginable.
It wasn’t only Draco who was taking this case personally. Potter was as serious as Draco had ever seen him, and they seemed to have an unspoken agreement to do everything in their power to find this man and make him pay.
They had managed to identify him as a Clarence Price, a former employee of broommakers Beyond Brooms. By digging into his history, they had discovered that he had had an older sister, Claudia—a Squib. Their parents had gone the old-fashioned route—locking her up in the basement and pretending to the world that she didn’t exist. It had been Clarence’s job to bring her food and to generally take care of her, as their parents wanted nothing to do with her.
At the age of nineteen, Claudia killed herself, leading to an investigation by the M.L.E.S. There had been significant signs of abuse, she had been malnourished and kept in an extremely tight space, however there had also been signs of sexual abuse. Many suspected Clarence of being responsible, however, perhaps due to the prospect of a media outcry at a sixteen year old wizard being brought up on such charges, especially against a Squib, the Wizengamot chose to prosecute the father on that charge, along with counts of child abuse and reckless endangerment. The parents went to Azkaban, and Clarence moved in with his estranged uncle for the next year until he finished at Hogwarts and came of age.
“It was him,” Potter had said, staring down at the photograph of the deceased Claudia they’d found in the old case file, as if unable to tear his eyes away. It almost looked like a Muggle photograph, her pale face unmoving.
“I agree, Potter,” Draco said. “And he’s been trying to relive it with these women. But it will never be enough for him, because none of them are his sister.”
Potter finally looked up at him, a fire in his bright eyes.
“He’s a sick fuck, Malfoy.”
“I know,” said Draco. “Let’s go get him.”
So here they were, steadily taking down the wards around the house so that they could enter, Draco whispering spells as Potter kept his eyes peeled for any movement. They were careful and meticulous, aware of how important this case was with every step they made. They couldn’t afford to mess up.
With the wards dismantled and the coast clear, they encroached upon the house, Draco checking for curses along the way. His nerves were on edge, they always were in the field. Draco excelled at investigative work, but fieldwork was really Potter’s forte. It just seemed to come naturally to him, he fought like he was born for it, his movements almost seeming choreographed, almost graceful in a way, but still emanating with intense power.
“Slow down, Potter,” Draco muttered, catching up to Potter as they stepped across the threshold into the house.
“Homenum Revelio,” Potter cast, quietly, and the two of them waited with baited breath. A moment passed and nothing happened.
“Doesn’t mean he’s not here,” said Draco. There were ways to hide from the human-presence-revealing spell, after all.
“I know,” Potter said. He would, seeing as his Invisibility Cloak was one of those ways. Potter began to venture further into the house, and Draco followed, feeling the sweat on his palm as he gripped harder onto his wand.
“This doesn’t feel right,” he breathed.
“Malfoy, come look at this,” said Potter. Draco looked up to see Potter a few feet away, gazing upon a portrait on the wall.
“Is that Claudia?” asked Draco, walking over.
“It looks like her,” Potter replied. It did, she had the same heart-shaped lips, the same delicate, curly brown hair. She seemed to be asleep in the portrait, her hands folded in her lap, and her chest moving slowly as she breathed.
“Her parents would never have had a portrait done of her,” said Draco, thinking out loud. “They didn’t even want to acknowledge she existed.”
“Do you think Clarence had it done?”
“Not while she was alive,” said Draco.
“Does that make a difference?”
Draco nodded, gazing upon the sleeping woman in the portrait.
“Magical portraits capture a bit of your essence. The magic relies on who you are when the portrait is being made, your magical core and energy; the artist weaves that into the portrait. But if you make a portrait after one’s death, there isn’t much to draw from. They’re often based on Pensieve memories from family and loved ones, but memories are rarely completely accurate and are often biased, as they’re from someone else’s perspective. I highly doubt this portrait is an accurate depiction of the real Claudia.”
“I bet it feeds into Clarence’s delusion as well,” Potter said. “Especially if he’s convinced himself that Claudia would support what he’s doing.”
“Merlin, that’s revolting,” Draco shuddered, looking back up at the portrait, at the luxurious velvet chair she sat upon, at the opulent looking dress, the jewels that adorned her neck. He very much doubted Claudia had ever worn such a thing in her short life.
“Do you think we should talk to her anyway? See what she has to say? Maybe we’ll learn something about Clarence.”
“I don’t know, Potter. Something doesn’t seem right about this. He’s not this careless. It was far too easy to get inside, and wouldn’t he be trying to hide this portrait harder? It’s just right here in the open.”
“You took down at least twelve separate wards around the house. I don’t know if I’d call that easy. Look, we need to know as much as we can about this guy. We already know she’s going to be biased based on his perspective, but she still might be able to tell us something useful.”
“Potter, I—” Draco started, but Potter seemed to have made up his mind. He turned back to the portrait and spoke in a clear voice.
“Claudia? Claudia, wake up!”
Claudia’s eyes snapped open. At the sight of them, her expression transformed into one of horror.
“No,” she said, under her breath. “No, no, no. Who are you? Why are you here? You cannot be here! It’s dangerous!”
Her voice was rising in alarm and Draco’s head whipped around, terrified that the noise was about to get them caught.
“Why?” Potter asked. “Why is it dangerous?”
“He’ll kill you,” Claudia whispered, her eyes filling with tears. “If he finds out you’re here, he’ll kill you.”
“Do you mean Clarence?” Potter continued. Claudia nodded frantically.
“Didn’t he have you painted?” Draco asked. At this question, Claudia’s nose curled in disgust.
“No,” she said, sharply. “I painted myself. It was one of the only things I was allowed to do—paint.”
She looked down at her dress and waved her arm, gesturing at the lavish room around her.
“It was my only form of escape. I painted things I couldn’t have.”
“I’m so sorry, Claudia,” said Potter.
“You need to leave,” she said. “If he finds you, he will kill you. He’s…he’s clever and he’s tricky. He doesn’t play fair, he sets traps. He’s…pure evil.”
Her voice began to tremble.
“Does he keep you here on purpose?” Potter asked.
“He brings the girls here. He makes me watch.”
Draco saw as Potter’s jaw clenched.
“We’ll get you out of here, Claudia. We’ll put you somewhere beautiful.”
Claudia just shook her head.
“Just get out, before he finds you.”
“Is he here, Claudia?” Draco asked, a thought occurring to him. “Can you visit the other portraits to see?”
“There are no other portraits. That would give me someone other than him to talk to.”
Draco felt himself swell with rage. It wasn’t enough to torture her in life; after she had died, he had found a way to torture the last essence of her that remained, beyond the grave.
Potter’s eyes met his, and somehow, Draco could tell they were thinking the same thing.
“We’re going to get him, Claudia,” Draco said. He wasn’t normally one to make promises regarding cases; in fact, he often scolded Potter for doing so. But in this case, he had to make an exception. They were going to get him. They had to get him.
“Wait, what is this?” said Potter. Draco looked down at where Potter’s gaze was directed, at the bottom of the golden frame Claudia’s portrait lay in. Something was leaking out from the bottom of it, something that looked like…
“Is that paint?” Potter asked. Draco looked closer and sure enough, it did appear to be an oil-based paint, dripping from the bottom of the portrait, a combination of the colours that made up Claudia’s portrait.
“Is her portrait disintegrating?” Potter demanded. “Is this some sort of fail-safe? Malfoy!”
Draco squeezed his eyes shut, trying to remember what he had read about portrait magic, raking his brain for anything like what was currently happening.
When he opened them again, Potter was leaning closer, reaching out a hand towards the paint and—
It was too late.
“What the—? Where are we?” Potter exclaimed into the sudden darkness around them.
“We’re in the wall,” said Draco, feeling a sense of dread take him over. “We’re in the wall behind Claudia’s portrait.”
“How?” Potter breathed.
“It’s a modification on a very old spell,” Draco said, tucking his wand into his holster and beginning to feel around him to see what he could find. He could hear Potter’s breathing, feel the heat coming off of his body. His arm couldn’t even fully stretch out before it hit a wall.
“What does it do?”
“Originally, it was created to trap would-be robbers as well as create a saferoom of sorts. If a member of the household touched the part of the portrait that triggered the spell, they would be transferred to a saferoom within in the wall, enlarged using wizarding space. But if a stranger did the same, they would be taken to a room like this.”
Potter’s voice was shaky, something so rare that Draco felt alarmed at the very sound of it.
“How big do you think this room is?”
Draco stepped backwards, hitting a wall before he could plant his foot down.
“It can’t be more than three by three feet,” he said. “We won’t be able to sit.”
“Sit?” The word came out of Potter like a wheeze, and his breath seemed to be picking up. “Why would we sit? Can’t we get out of this?”
Draco bit the inside of his cheek, hard.
“No. Only the owner of the house can release us.”
“Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Potter was taking big, loud breaths now, and they were coming out far too quickly and heavily.
“Potter,” Draco said. “Potter, what are you doing?”
Potter didn’t speak, only kept breathing hard and fast, and then it dawned on Draco. He was hyperventilating. It seemed so obvious, but Draco would never have expected it of Potter.
“Hey, hey, Potter,” he tried to speak in a calm voice, knowing how important it was that Potter get his breathing under control. “Hey, it’s alright, it’ll be alright. Slow down, Potter. Slow breaths.”
It had no effect; Potter’s rapid breathing continued and in the small space, Draco could feel his body sway ever so slightly.
“Potter, please,” he said, feeling desperate. “I need you to keep it together right now, you wanker.”
Potter’s breaths only seemed to become shallower and even faster. Frantic, Draco reached out and grabbed Potter’s face in his hands.
“Look at me, Potter,” he said, firmly. In the darkness of the room, he could only make out the bare outline of Potter’s face, but his green eyes still stood out and Draco locked onto them.
His grasp was firm, but gentle, feeling the slight prickliness of the five o’clock shadow on Potter’s face, and the soft sheen of sweat trickling down from his forehead.
Potter seemed to melt in his hands, his body sagging, eyes closing, and head tilting so that his cheek pressed further into Draco’s palm. To Draco’s relief, his breathing began to slow. Draco didn’t dare take his hands away, instead stroking his thumbs upwards against Potter’s cheekbones. Potter let out the quietest of sighs, and seemed to somewhat come back to himself, opening his eyes to look at Draco again.
“I—” before Potter could get more than a word out, an agonizingly loud screeching sound caused both of them to jump, Draco’s hand immediately shooting back to pull out his wand. The wall in front of Draco seemed to clear, a portrait-sized hole appearing, bringing with it the light from the room they had just been in.
“Chang,” Draco sighed in relief, taking the woman’s offered hand and climbing out of the hole. He turned back to help Potter, but Potter didn’t take his hand, instead pulling himself out alone.
“I thought you didn’t call for backup,” he said to Potter.
“He didn’t,” said Chang. “I saw it in the log that you two were coming here. A bit dumb to come on your own, isn’t it?”
Draco didn’t respond to that. It was possible that he and Potter had gotten somewhat emotionally invested in the case and allowed that to cloud their professional judgment. Slightly.
“Where’s Clarence?” Potter asked, shortly. “Was he here?”
“Yeah, we had to have him remove the spell in order to release you,” Chang confirmed. “He was upstairs, Transfigured himself into a bed.”
“Have you taken him in?” asked Draco.
“Corner just took him out, Robards is outside with the Portkeys.” Chang paused and looked at them. “Are you two alright?”
“Yeah,” Potter was quick to respond.
“Don’t worry about who took him in,” Chang said, seriously. “This was your bust. You guys found him. Good job.”
“Yeah, you too. Good work,” Draco said, and Chang offered him a smile, before patting his shoulder and nodding at Potter.
“I’ll be outside,” she said, and walked off, leaving them standing by Claudia’s portrait.
“Is…is he gone?” Claudia spoke up, looking rather frightened. Potter managed a smile for her.
“He’s gone, Claudia. Hang in there a little longer, and I’ll file a request to have you officially placed somewhere. Where would you like to go?”
Claudia practically beamed.
“Anywhere with windows. Somewhere where I can see the sun.”
Potter’s eyes were sad, but he looked at her with such kindness, Draco felt an ache inside him.
“I’ll do my best to arrange that.”
“Thank you,” she said, tears running down her cheeks but a wide smile still on her face.
“We should go,” Potter said, not facing Draco. “They’ll be expecting a report and we’ll have to do a curse evaluation.”
“Potter,” Draco said, looking at him, waiting for him to look back.
“Let’s not keep them waiting, Malfoy,” Potter said, starting to walk away. Draco followed him out of the house, where they saw Robards and Chang and nodded at them.
“I’ll see you there,” Potter said, and before Draco could say another word, Potter had vanished with the familiarly loud crack of Apparition.
He didn’t look Draco in the eye once.
“Touch has a memory. O say, love, say,
What can I do to kill it and be free?” – John Keats
Potter had been avoiding Draco for days. After they’d conducted their separate curse evaluations and interviews, they’d gone to their office, however as soon as the door was closed and Draco wanted to bring up the incident in the wall, Potter had declared that he was going home.
“Paperwork can wait until tomorrow,” he had said. “I’m exhausted.”
“Potter, listen, we—”
“I’ll see you,” he’d interrupted, and bolted from the office like he couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
The next day, he’d been singularly focused on filling out the paperwork and reports for the case. Potter had never been that focused on paperwork, letting Draco handle the bureaucratic side of things. But he’d made a comment about this case being special and about putting in a request to relocate Claudia’s portrait and then had shushed Draco any time he tried to speak.
The weekend was quiet for Draco, no bored owls from Potter inviting him for dinner with the rest of his Gryffindor gang or else complaining about the blokes from the M.L.E.S. trip-jinxing his locker or some other nonsense he was prone to writing.
Come Monday, Draco was determined to speak with Potter regarding what had happened at Clarence Price’s house. It wasn’t just a matter of curiosity, Potter was his partner, if something like that was going to happen in the field again, Draco deserved to know.
He marched into their office with purpose, a whole speech planned in his head about the importance of open communication in their partnership and the trust they had to have in one another, only to be completely taken aback to find Cho Chang sitting in Potter’s chair.
“Chang, what are you doing here?”
“It’s great to see you, too, Malfoy.”
“It’s lovely to see you, as always, Chang,” Draco recovered from his surprise as smoothly as he could. “But where is Potter?”
“Apparently he’s finally taking out some of his vacation days. Told Robards he needed a bit of a break after the Price case. Can’t say I blame him, that was a nasty case. Are you alright?”
“Yes, of course I’m—” he paused, an idea popping into his head. “Do you know, Chang, you’re right. That was a dark case. I think I might speak to Robards about taking some vacation days myself.”
“Go ahead. Today’s just busywork anyway since we’re fresh off a case. You filed all the paperwork yesterday—thanks for that, by the way, that’s always a nightmare—so it’s just a matter of officially closing the case and handing it off to the Wizengamot.”
“Right,” Draco nodded. “Great. Well. Until next time, then, Chang.”
“See you later, weirdo,” Chang waved him off and Draco turned on his heels and walked right out the way he came.
"That's what it feels like when you touch me. Like millions of tiny universes being born and then dying in the space between your finger and my skin. Sometimes I forget." - Iain Thomas
Not thirty minutes later, he was standing by the front door to number 12, Grimmauld Place, his fist rapping on the old wood.
The door swung open to reveal Potter’s face, looking utterly exhausted. He had dark circles under his eyes and he was wearing a Muggle t-shirt and boxers.
“What, Malfoy?” he asked in a sigh.
“We need to talk, Potter,” Draco said, firmly. Potter closed his eyes, leaning his head against the door.
“Okay,” he finally said, stepping back and letting Draco in. Draco followed him into the sitting room and waited until Potter threw himself onto a couch before sitting down in the armchair beside him.
“Are you alright?” Draco asked. It hadn’t been what he had planned on started with, but Potter looked so drained that it spilled out of his mouth nonetheless.
Potter ran a hand through his messy hair, leaning forward with a sigh.
“Potter,” Draco said, his voice softening. “I’m not trying to antagonise you. But we’re partners. I need to know what happened at Price’s.”
He braced himself for Potter to shoot him down, for him to get up and demand Draco leave his house. But Potter just leaned his elbows on his knees and rubbed his hands over his face.
“I know,” he said, not meeting Draco’s eyes. “It’s hard to talk about.”
Draco remained silent, wanting to give Potter the time to work up to what he was going to say. He felt an anxious stirring in his stomach, the one that always came up when the war was brought up, and he felt like that was probably where the conversation was headed.
“It’s just…something from when I was small,” Potter said, causing Draco to blink in surprise. “I don’t like feeling stuck, like in tight places and…when it’s dark.”
Potter’s voice seemed to hitch and Draco watched as his fists clenched and unclenched.
“You’re claustrophobic,” Draco said.
Potter shrugged and cracked his neck.
“I don’t know what it’s called. It’s just…I don’t like feeling trapped and closed in.”
Draco watched him.
“Where did this come from?”
Potter let out a long, shaky breath.
“I spent…a lot of time in a small space as a child.”
Draco’s eyes narrowed. That would sound suspicious even if Potter hadn’t said it in a slow and careful tone.
“You…spent time there? Or were you kept there?” Draco felt his heart rate pick up. The very thought of a young Potter being locked up somewhere tight and cold and dark had Draco’s blood boiling.
“I…it wasn’t like…it wasn’t that bad, I just—”
“Potter,” Draco interrupted. “You were a child. It was bad. What happened?”
“Before I got my Hogwarts letter,” Potter began, speaking slowly and taking deep breaths. “I slept in the cupboard under the stairs. It wasn’t…it wasn’t as small as where we were, at Price’s, and…it wasn’t always dark, but it just…I dunno, maybe it’s stupid, but it just felt like I was back there again.”
“It’s not stupid, Potter,” Draco said. “And trust me, I’m always the first to tell you when you do something stupid.”
Potter cracked a weak smile at this, and Draco reached out a hand to place comfortingly on his knee. As soon as he did, however, Potter jerked away violently, and Draco pulled his hand back as though he’d been burned.
“I—” he began to apologise, but Potter cut him off.
“Sorry!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t mean—I just—”
He groaned and buried his head in his hands again.
“I’m sort of a disaster right now,” he said, his voice muffled through his hands.
Draco paused, trying to figure out how to best phrase his thoughts.
“I know you don’t really like being touched,” he said. “But at Price’s, it seemed to help so I just thought—”
“Wait, who said I don’t like being touched?” Potter asked, his head snapping up again.
Draco furrowed his eyebrows.
“You…well, you don’t let anyone touch you,” he said, confused. “You don’t shake hands and you always move away when someone gets too close.”
Potter stared at him.
“I…I didn’t realise I was doing that.”
Draco observed him: the exhaustion in his face, the way he picked at his bottom lip with his teeth, the nervous twitching of his leg.
“Potter, do you trust me?”
Potter eyed him.
Draco rolled his eyes.
“Answer the question.”
“I—yeah, I trust you.”
“I want to try something,” Draco said, standing up and walking over to sit beside Potter on the sofa.
“Er…okay,” Potter said, turning slightly to look at him. “What?”
Draco held out his arms.
“Let me hug you,” he said.
Potter looked at him like he was crazy.
“What?” he exclaimed.
“Humour me, Potter,” Draco said, beckoning him forward with his hands. Potter’s expression didn’t change, but tentatively, he nodded.
Draco leaned forward, wrapping his arms around Potter’s middle and resting his hands with his palms flat on Potter’s back. For a moment, Potter was frozen, his body still as a statue as Draco rested his head on his shoulder, his face turned in so that his nose just barely grazed the soft skin of Potter’s neck. Potter’s breath was unsteady, but after several seconds, he let out a long exhale, his body ever so slightly relaxing into the embrace. Hesitantly, he lifted his own arms and placed them delicately around Draco’s shoulders, barely resting any weight on him.
“It’s okay, Potter,” Draco murmured, softly. “I won’t break.”
It was as if he had opened a dam. Potter’s arms relaxed, their weight and warmth leaning comfortably around Draco. His shoulders fell, causing Draco’s face to nestle further into his neck. He leaned his own head forward, until they were truly wrapped around each other.
“I—I don’t—Malfoy, I—” Potter seemed to struggle to get the words out, and Draco began to rub his hand across his back in soothing circles.
Draco almost couldn’t believe the way Potter nearly collapsed into his arms, his grip tightening and his hand finding a place on the back of Draco’s neck.
After several long minutes, Draco pulled back somewhat, just enough to look at him face to face.
“Potter,” he paused, thought for a moment, and then, “Harry. Am I making you uncomfortable?”
Potter shook his head, his eyes looking brighter than Draco had ever seen them. He was looking at Draco as if he had just seen him for the first time, eyes wide and jaw slightly slack.
“Did you…” Potter spoke in a hushed tone. “Did you to that just to make me feel better?”
Draco looked into his eyes, desperately wishing he could tell what Potter was thinking. His heart thumped manically against his chest.
“When have you ever known me to have purely selfless intentions, Potter?”
To his relief, Potter’s face split into a smile.
“Harry,” he said. “You called me Harry, you can’t take it back now.”
“Harry,” Draco said, and as strange as it sounded, it felt right coming out of his mouth.
“Draco,” Potte—Harry said, his hand on Draco’s neck moving upwards into his hair.
Draco swallowed. He certainly hadn’t been expecting this when he stormed over to Grimmauld Place, but Harry had such softness in his eyes, his lips stretched out in a smile---all directed at Draco.
“Harry,” said Draco again, his voice coming out as barely above a whisper. “Can I kiss you?”
Harry’s eyes widened and he seemed to only hesitate for a moment before nodding. Draco, trying his best not to tremble, gripped Harry’s t-shirt and leaned forward, his eyes fluttering closed.
His lips brushed Harry’s, softly, delicately. He felt their shaky breaths mingle, and the gentleness of Harry’s lips against his. He felt Harry’s hand tighten its grip in his hair, and he himself bunched up the fabric of Harry’s shirt, his knuckles just grazing against the hot skin of Harry’s back. Harry gasped at the contact, his mouth opening slightly to let Draco in further. Draco licked into his mouth, revelling in the quiet whimper that came out of Harry as he pushed himself closer and sucked on Draco’s bottom lip.
A sudden, terrifying thought occurred to Draco, and he pulled away at once. Harry seemed to startle, blinking his eyes open and looking confused.
“What—?” he started, but Draco interrupted.
“You want this, right?” he asked. “I’m not overstepping? You’re not just…I don’t know, going along because you don’t want to say no?”
“Draco, what are you—?”
“You don’t let anyone touch you and I just don’t want to make you feel like—”
“Draco,” Harry said, firmly, cradling Draco’s face in his hand. “I haven’t…I’m not used to being touched. To being held. It’s just…another thing I didn’t have as a kid. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. It doesn’t mean I don’t crave it. I just…I don’t know what I’m doing, when it comes to that. When it comes to affection.”
Draco felt his heart almost break at the words, a vicious anger for Harry’s Muggle relatives rising up in him along with a sudden desire to give him everything he could possibly want.
“You want to be touched,” Draco phrased it as a statement, but Harry nodded.
“By you,” he added. “I want you to touch me.”
The rollercoaster his heart had been on today would require a good night’s sleep and some chamomile tea to recover from, as it suddenly felt like it was soaring. He stared at Harry, unable to believe what he was seeing, that this beautiful man in front of him wanted him.
“Draco?” Harry asked, and Draco blinked, realising he’d just been gazing at him.
“Sorry,” he said, sheepishly, offering a smile.
Harry beamed back, looking happier than he ever had.
“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “Just come back and kiss me. Touch me.”
Draco did just that.