Draco cracked an eye open and inhaled deeply. It was a huge mistake because everything hurt: his throat, his lungs, his ribs… His wrist, too. He wondered if he had dislocated it in the fall.
And cold, he was terribly cold.
Harry was still sitting in the same spot he was when Draco had slumped onto his side and closed his eyes, vaguely thinking that it was only going to be for a tiny second. The light was dimmer, so either the blizzard was raging out there, or much time had passed since they’d found shelter in the shallow cave.
“ Incendio ,” Harry muttered, shaking his hands in front of him where a solitary log lay, his broken wand resting between them.
“Shame on you, Potter. One would think the mighty Saviour could do some basic wandless magic,” Draco said, his voice ragged and weak. He tried very hard not to cough, fearing the sharp pain that would come with it.
“I would help, but I’m severely wounded and my wand is missing, as you well know.”
“Could you cut the sarcasm for once?” Harry yelled, face red with anger.
“Whatever.” Draco closed his eyes again, too weak to argue properly. He didn't want to argue at all, not really, but bickering with Harry prevented Draco from succumbing to paralyzing fear. He hadn’t felt so helpless since the trials, when the Wizengamot refused to give him his wand back before they got a verdict. And Salazar, they took their time.
And now Draco lost it, the same hawthorn wand Harry had used back then . It could have become a relic, a revered object, but Harry insisted on giving it back. To him . On the condition that he used it for “good stuff.” Draco huffed softly and swore under his breath. It was the barest of moves, really, but enough to upset his bruised ribs.
He shifted until he found a comfortable position, ignoring Harry’s glance and regretting his past decisions. Kind of. Maybe a quieter career would have been more practical, but his good choices had made sense: enduring Auror training, abiding by the rules and working alongside the Ministry’s finest, using his magic — his wand — to catch Dark Wizards. Getting involved in that “good stuff.”
And now his wand was gone, lost somewhere out there in the snow, probably broken, too. Like his pride. He would blame his auror partner, but Draco knew he was to blame too. Somehow Harry's Gryffindor recklessness was contagious.
Draco could imagine Head Auror Robards’ recriminatory words when they made it back. If they made it back, an unhelpful voice in the back of his mind supplied. He felt sore and weak, and being stranded without their wands didn't add to his optimism.
He drifted off again, but a shout of triumph from Harry startled him awake. The once cold log miraculously smoked with flame. Draco smiled in his robes and scooted closer to the small fire as soon as Harry ran outside, presumably to gather more wood. Otherwise, they would be in the dark again in no time. But Draco refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing that smile. He was still angry at the git. And he was angry at Robards, too.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me, Malfoy.” Robards had that no-nonsense tone that always put Draco on guard and made him feel like he was treading in dangerous waters.
Draco looked at Potter, stiff as a pole at his side, seemingly unfazed aside from the muscle jumping in his jaw. Draco frowned, and then it dawned on him. Weasley had resigned last week. Potter needed a new partner. But that could only mean…
“ No. ”
“No?” Robards looked at him over the rim of his glasses.
“Sir. Sorry, Sir, but I’m a bit confused. I’m supposed to run over the testimonies again with my partner.”
Robards steepled his fingers and looked as if he was at his last thread of patience. “Mr Malfoy, you may not be aware that Mrs Solomon has filed a complaint. So, I’m re-assigning you to another partner and to another case.”
Draco’s hands trembled. This could not be happening.
He tried to remember his last argument with Edith and couldn’t find a reason for her to go to such extremes. He opened his mouth to argue, but Robards turned a red-tinted parchment towards him. He could read Edith Solomon written in neat letters at the bottom of it. And it stung because he trusted her. In all the months working together, he thought they were good partners. He thought that they were friends.
But she filed a fucking complaint, and he had been stuck with Potter since then.
“Say what you want, but you should take them off.”
Harry’s voice pulled him out of his daze. Staying awake and remaining lucid were getting more and more difficult.
“What?” Draco asked.
“Your robes, they're damp.”
Harry tossed aside the sticks and branches he collected from outside, peeling off his drenched robes and sitting in front of the lonely flame. Draco struggled to sit upright and do the same.
Before Harry could add more wood and stoke the fire, a gust of wind put out the fledgling bonfire.
Harry moved frantically to make the already dead flames catch again. Draco shivered, mourning its absence deeply.
Defeated, Harry hunched his shoulders and tried again with a wandless Incendio . Draco waited in silence, aware of all the aches in his body.
He snorted when a tiny spark sprang from Harry’s sturdy fingers. “Impressive.” He couldn't help it.
“Shut up. It worked before.”
“At this rate, we’re going to die before you get something out of it.”
Harry remained silent and tried again. This time he didn’t even say the incantation aloud.
“Are you really trying?” Draco asked.
Harry whipped around and faced him, jaw set. “Why don’t you try to help ? And if that's easy for you, when you finish, maybe you can cast a wandless Patronus and get us some help.”
Draco pressed his lips into a thin line as rage bubbled in his throat. “Fuck off!” he spat with all the venom he could muster, and lay down again on his side with his hood down to hide his face from him. Fuck his damp robes, fuck his bruises and fuck Harry Potter and his fucking fire.
He closed his eyes and didn't care if he was being childish.
His partner Edith Solomon stormed into the Auror Office like an erumpent in a china shop.
From the corner of his eye, Draco could see Potter and Weasley frozen in their chairs, each at either side of Potter’s desk, food halfway to their mouths. It should be past midday, then. That explained the emptiness in Draco's stomach — that and the remnants of fear.
“You should have warned me!” Edith yelled from inside the room, like she expected Draco to follow her. Which he did, out of need to defend himself. “You jeopardized the whole mission!”
Outraged, Draco snapped back. “Excuse me? I didn't barge head first into a menacing, dark forest like someone expecting a surprise party!"”
Eidth knew, just like he, that the forest wasn’t safe. They weren’t privy to the actual cause behind the disappearances, but the field reports had some basis. Yet she had ignored Draco’s misgivings and entered unguarded. When she finally admitted they needed to call for backup, it was too late. He didn't think their scare and subsequent row was serious enough for her to fill a complaint. One that would set him with a new partner some days later.
He didn't expect her involving Potter and Weasley in their argument either.
"Can you believe it?" she asked their involuntary audience. “He can't cast a very important protective spell and didn't think it relevant enough to tell me."
Potter looked between the two of them.
A humiliating blush burned Draco’s cheeks. He berated himself, it wasn't something to be ashamed of, there were plenty of people who couldn't cast a Patronus. But, at that moment Potter’s gaze bore a hole in his pride and, as it had many times before, left Draco feeling inadequate.
"They're not supposed to be on British soil," Draco argued weakly.
"What aren't?" Weasley asked.
Weasley’s eyes widened. "You found one? Here?"
"Not the point!" Edith bellowed.
"Malfoy, you're shivering."
"Observant, aren’t you?" he said through clattering teeth.
"You should take your robes off. You're going to catch a cold."
"How kind of you, thinking about my well-being."
"Prick," Harry said. Draco heard him moving close and startled when a warm hand pressed against his forehead. "You're freezing, you berk."
Draco protested weakly when Harry manhandled him into a sitting position and started to undress him. He felt disconcertingly dizzy and clumsy; everything hurt, his chest most of all.
Harry put Draco's outer robes in front of the fire, now burning with all the might that the humid branches could provide. He did the same with the heavy Auror robes, leaving Draco in nothing more than his thin, tailored shirt.
Draco doubted they would be completely dry anytime soon, but he supposed Harry had a point. The shivering was severe now, and the pain made him clench his teeth and grunt. He closed his eyes and felt Harry's hands on his shoulders, steadying him. Draco hadn't realized he was losing his balance until then.
"Easy!" Harry exclaimed. "Are you ok?"
Draco opened his eyes and didn't reply immediately, sorting through all the reasons he couldn't answer in the affirmative. "It hurts.”
Draco waved his hand in the general direction of his body, from his head to his toes and all the parts in between. It was easier to tell where it didn't hurt, actually.
Harry snorted. Draco didn't blame him. He admitted he was prone to dramatics, and that went against his credibility at this point. But this time he wasn't exaggerating one bit.
“You did take the blow directly and fall from a height,” Harry admitted.
“No shit,” he muttered in answer. Every cell in his body ached as proof of it.
Suddenly Harry sank his fingers in Draco’s hair, searching his scalp for swelling. Draco knew his head hadn’t hit the ground, but didn’t protest; the soft touch felt like a caress and eased his incipient headache a bit.
Harry, satisfied with finding no damage, started to prod his torso. He brushed a rib, and Draco flinched. That made Harry freeze. His touch had been soft, but it hurt, nonetheless.
“Let me see,” Harry murmured.
Draco’s first reflex was to refuse, just for the sake of being contrary — old habits die hard, he supposed. But something was definitely wrong. After some hesitation he complied, lifting his shirt as much as he could. His arms felt like lead, so Harry reached out and grabbed his shirt, sliding it up to expose his torso.
Harry frowned and pursed his lips. Draco watched with a strange sense of detachment. “That bad?” he asked, swaying on the spot.
“How do you feel?” Harry asked.
“Like a pack of erumpents have run all over me?”
“I’m serious, Malfoy.”
He let Harry glare at him, a comfort of sorts. He wouldn’t mistreat a colleague on the brink of death, right? So maybe he wasn’t dying. When the glare morphed into something different, and Harry clenched his jaw as if trying to control himself, Draco felt compelled to talk. “Okay, everything hurts, my chest and my head more than anything else. I’m dizzy and I —” He coughed “— I would kill for a drink.”
“You’re in no condition for a firewhisky.”
“Water, Potter. I’m parched. Is there something useful in that backpack of yours? Or is it just for decor?”
Harry didn’t answer and stared at Draco’s ribs for too long, breathing deeply, frown again in place. Draco knew by now that Harry being like this meant he was running all the scenarios in his head. That brain of his would come up with a plan. A good one, usually, even if Draco often protested and argued. Draco would admit, to himself at least, that Potter’s big head was far from empty.
He wasn’t in top form to argue and let himself be laid down and covered with Harry’s warmed robes. He wanted to protest for water, but his eyelids felt heavy. Before he could ask for it, he had dozed off.
“Could you just stop arguing for a second and work with me on this?”
“I would if it made any sense, Potter. We need a plan, you can’t just barge in and fight every curse they throw at you! It’s a wonder you have survived for so long without a scratch. We need a strategy.”
“Ron was the strategist —” Harry cut himself off, teeth clacking.
Draco stared at him. That was a first. He raised his nose and basked in Potter’s admission of inadequacy. “Well, you’re stuck with me. Lucky you, I have a brain.”
“I’m not stupid.”
“Stop acting like it and maybe one day I’ll believe you." He paused. "And I didn't mean it like that, you sensitive prick."
Draco turned to look at the guarded house, mostly to hide his blush. It was true, he knew Potter wasn't stupid, but he wouldn't admit it out loud, lest it go to Potter’s head. Or worse, Potter would think he had Draco's respect.
Draco frowned and risked a glance at Potter. He seemed lost in thought. Draco hoped he was reconsidering using brute force to get the Dark Wizard and his unsuspecting companions out of his meeting place.
"Okay, what about this?" Potter started.
Draco couldn't help the spread of his smile while his rather brilliant partner explained his plan.
Potter’s plan needed some polishing, but it was admittedly a really good one.
Harry shook his shoulder. Draco's eyelids fluttered open.
"C'mon, Malfoy. Let's get out of here."
"What?" Draco asked lamely, barely a whisper.
"We can't stay here. You need a healer."
"Harry, I don't think I can walk." The pulling and prodding ceased for a brief moment. He fought against his lazy eyelids and tried again to open his eyes. He thought he may throw up.
"Just sit up a bit, I'll help you."
Draco made the effort and, for a moment, feared he would pass out cold. One moment he felt the weight of the clothes over his shoulders and the next, not really knowing how, he found himself hauled up and resting uncomfortably on Harry's back. Uncomfortably, because everything hurt. Under any other condition, he would have appreciated the broadness of that back and the necessary strength to get him up from the ground with little to no help on his part.
He was like a ragdoll. A ragdoll that could puke if treated too roughly. He hoped he wouldn't though. He wouldn't hear the end of it. And he would be endlessly embarrassed.
Harry got them out of the cave. The blizzard had abated, and in its wake had left a thick cover of soft and traitorous snow that made Harry stumble every few steps. As they got further from the cave, Harry's feet sank deeper in the snow, at times all the way to his knees.
"You must be thrilled," Draco said when a gloomy thought hit him like a brick.
"What for?" Harry grunted.
"You may get another partner out of this."
"What are you talking about? You're my partner." After a pause, he added, "And you're not going to die."
"Well, I was thinking along the lines of being incapacitated, but there's that… I mean, that's a possibility." Draco frowned as the words left his mouth and the reality of it reached his brain.
"Shut up, Malfoy. You're gonna be fine. I'm not going to let you die."
He complied and closed his mouth, even when he had a lot still to say. But only the tiny possibility that both of them would make it out of this alive held his tongue back, because all the things he wanted to say were utterly ridiculous. And embarrassing.
Things like, if anyone could save them both, it would be Harry; that he trusted him with his life; that he would rather die if it would prevent Harry from having to suffer the same fate.
And other things he didn’t dare to even put into words in his own head.
"Robards, that's ridiculous!" Potter yelled, his deep voice carrying all the way down the corridor that led to the Head Auror's office.
Draco sat at his desk, a cold cloth pressed over his black eye, soothing and effectively blocking the glares from Edith and the other Aurors.
"Potter, you're overstepping your —"
"If you're going to expediently sanction Malfoy, you should sanction me, too!"
"Very well," Robards said, his tone dangerous. Draco wished that he didn’t fear expulsion from the MLE for attacking a fellow Auror. Otherwise, a fist in Harry’s face ought to shut him up. "Two weeks of suspension of work and salary! Both of you!"
Draco groaned and put his head in his hands.
Potter thumped down in a chair. "Say something."
Draco raised his head and glared murderously at his idiotic partner. "Haven't you said enough?"
"It was unfair!"
Draco tossed up his hands. "I would have got verbal admonition and maybe a couple weeks of community service! That was all! But now , thanks to you and your —!"
"He hit you first!"
"And I hit back."
"But he played dirty."
"And you hexed him."
"That's why if they punish you, they should punish me, too."
"As much as I appreciate your sense of justice, it would have been better if you had advocated for getting me out of this, not getting yourself into it."
Potter scowled and crossed his arms.
Draco let him sulk for a bit, then his resolve faltered. "I admit the strength of your slug-vomiting charm is impressive," Draco mumbled.
Potter raised his thick eyebrows and said, smugly, "Nobody messes with my partner."
Draco smiled against his will. He didn't voice his gratitude. He didn't even admit to himself that he thought, deep down, that he had acquired a better partner out of the debacle with Edith Solomon.
Maybe it was in that precise moment he started calling him Harry, even if it was only in his head.
Harry moved brusquely. Draco felt a stab of agonizing pain in his chest, sharp and disorienting. He grunted in protest.
Short of breath, Harry stopped and leaned his shoulder on a nearby tree, his hold on Draco's legs wavering.
Draco spoke, soft and low, but so close to Harry's ear that he heard him anyway.
"You should leave me here." And save yourself .
"Shut up. I just need a second to rest."
Draco hummed and closed his eyes, his cheek resting on Harry’s neck. He counted the beats of Harry’s pulse, like an anchor. He barely noticed when Harry moved and resumed his unstable advance.
"For Merlin's sake, Potter, what is that for?" Draco said the moment Harry Apparated at their meeting point and took a good look at him. The small pouch that hung from Harry’s neck clashed awkwardly with his red robes and darker cloak.
"This? Something Hermione insisted I carry with me. There's one for you."
Draco scoffed. "I'm not going to wear some weird amulet from Granger. It would probably hex my bollocks off."
Harry laughed and started walking in the direction his wand pointed. "Probably," he said, then scrunched his nose. "She got upset with Ron when he joked about this mission."
"What did he say?"
"Something about me missing Neville's rant tonight at the pub — about the correct way to recollect wolfsbane blossoms or something — only because of us being in mortal danger."
"Ha! Longbottom is a menace.” He quipped. The young Herbology Professor was intense whenever someone mentioned his “field of expertise,” but Draco thought he wouldn't mind listening to that. It would be useful to know. Although, he supposed that wasn't interesting enough for a pub night conversation, or was it?
Draco wondered how everyone didn’t go bonkers when the mismatched group reunited every week. He liked his quiet nights with a bottle of wine, maybe a book, or some music playing...
Draco wouldn't mind going for a pint with the lot of them, though. Well, with Harry, at least. A normal Friday involved pubs, didn’t it? He doubted that Harry’s friends would welcome him, though, so he'd never asked. Harry had never offered, either.
As his smile faltered, he attempted to change topics. "And why the backpack?" he asked, trying not to feel morose and failing.
"Just in case we get hungry."
Draco scoffed again. "Haven't you had lunch?"
"Of course, I did."
"Do you think that we're not going to make it back for dinner?"
Grey clouds loomed in the darkening sky, a biting cold wind licking at the back of Draco’s neck. It might snow later. Hopefully after their little excursion, when they were home in front of a warm fire — or at a pub, in Harry’s case.
Harry shrugged. "Maybe the man is a chatter and will hold us up way longer than expected. Maybe I get hungry in the middle of the way there."
"You're a bottomless pit. I wonder how you're not overweight."
"Believe me, I know. Remind me never to do another training session with you. I still have aches in muscles I didn't know I had. Still, what's with you and food?"
"I get hungry, I eat. Simple."
Draco eyed him sideways. Nothing was simple with Potter , but he lost his chance to ask.
Ahead on the muddy path, a little cloaked figure appeared briefly before disappearing again between the trees.
"Potter," Draco said, reaching out to shake Harry's arm.
"I saw it."
"Where were we supposed to meet with the confidant?"
"All the way up the hill, in an isolated cabin. There isn't supposed to be anyone else around. Maybe they have some wards set, or some confounding charms… Maybe it's not real."
"You think it's a trap?” Draco asked, voice wavering at the end.
"Let's check," Harry said, starting to walk towards the edge of the forest
"I'm not — I think we should call for backup."
They reached the point where the figure had disappeared. Draco gulped. The snow outside the path was marred with clear footprints, too deep for the little frame under the cloak.
They shared a look of confusion and held their wands up, Draco with a stunning spell on the tip of his tongue. Better safe than sorry, he thought. The footprints continued deep into the forest and up to the top of a gentle slope. There, in a clearing covered with purple vines, a tower stood, menacing and imposing.
"This doesn't make sense."
"It wouldn't be the first time that the confidant lied."
"Robards said they used Veritaserum. I don’t think…” Harry turned to look at him. He frowned, but didn’t say anything before walking towards the building.
Draco understood nevertheless: Be careful.
They found some stairs on the farthest side of the tower, open to the void that seemed to crave victims falling from the uneven steps. The snow covered half of the steps, and Draco reached out to the wall with trembling fingers.
He never considered himself brave, but he was adept at hiding his fears. Vertigo wasn't one of them, but he couldn't help a shudder when his foot slipped.
“You okay back there?”
“Yes,” he answered simply. He didn't trust his voice not to waver.
They reached the top of the stairs and found an oak door, its frame carved with symbols and intricate vines.
"Er, you studied runes, right?"
Draco sighed dramatically. "Seriously, though, how did they let you graduate?"
"You know I didn't take my N.E.W.T.s, right?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "Precisely." He stressed, but his mocking grin softened the edge of his words.
Peering out the corner of his eye, Draco noticed Potter already looking at him and turned to face him. They were standing close. Too close. He could distinguish the faint freckles on Potter’s nose and the copper-coloured hairs in his stubble. Draco exhaled, the mist of his breath hanging between them. If he had been going to say something, he forgot it before his brain could connect with his tongue.
Then Harry blinked and turned his attention back to the door. Draco felt off-balance, as if something had changed right then and there.
"This seems like a repetition," Harry said.
"What?" Draco frowned. Usually he was more verbose than this.
Harry pointed his wand at the runes.
Draco saw the pattern, then his brain clicked and the angular letters made sense — Inimicum depulso. Regretfully, not before Harry's wand brushed the wood.
Everything happened too quickly and too slowly at the same time: the runes lit and the ingrained charm splintered the door, and, to Draco's horror, Harry's wand. A warning died in his throat when he felt the blast hitting him, and the anguish of losing the grip on his wand was nothing compared with the fear at the sensation of losing balance and falling.
“Wake up, please, wake up.”
Draco’s eyelids fluttered, but refused to comply. He wanted to rest, but the urgency in Harry’s voice prompted him to make the effort.
“What's wrong?” he mumbled
“What’s — ? You idiot. I thought you had stopped breathing.”
Breathing was hard, definitely, but thinking was harder. Why would he have stopped breathing? Wouldn’t that be detrimental? Draco tried to focus, but the pouch around Harry’s neck dangled distractingly in his line of vision. He tried to grab it, but his clumsy fingers caught on the tie that kept it closed. With an incongruous sound, like a clasp of a wooden chest when unlocked, the pouch opened and released a bunch of leaves and dry flowers. As they fell on him, he felt tendrils of magic on his skin, a sense of comfort and assurance that somehow reminded him of Granger.
A weak bubble of laughter caught in his throat. He groaned. "We are a pair of idiots.”
They had possessed the answer to their troubles with them since the beginning.
"So Granger put a location charm on that pouch in case we got in trouble?"
"And you forgot?"
"She didn't tell me!"
Draco rolled his eyes. He doubted Granger would omit information like that. When he got his energy back, he would have a serious conversation with Harry about listening to his friends.
He was also touched that she made an amulet for him, even if it had been left unused because of his partner's stupidity. Salazar, he'd buy Granger a bouquet so big that he'd embarrass her in front of the whole Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
He suspected that even when she complained about the futility of Divination, she believed that Weasley had an involuntary knack for it.
"What I don't understand," Draco said, licking his lips and looking up to the ceiling in his room in Saint Mungo's, "is why I'm so battered and you don't have more than a scratch."
He turned towards Harry, who sat on a striped armchair, tired but unharmed save for some bandages on his fingers where splinters had landed. "Is that another example of your legendary luck?"
Harry stared at him, gobsmacked. "You pushed me away," he said, looking at Draco in the eye.
Had he? Merlin, Draco supposed he had. His memories of the events were a bit fuzzy.
He shrugged, feeling both proud and self-conscious. "Nobody messes with my favourite partner."