When Hearts Are Freed

by oldenuf2nb

It was late and he was tired, but both habit and an excess of caution made Draco Malfoy take one last tour around the inside of his art galleria. He’d begun the venture on a whim; the war had been over and he’d aced his NEWT’s, but the idea of following a career in potion making had not appealed. Law enforcement was simply out of the question; his motivations for turning to the side of light near the end had always been viewed with suspicion, and the idea of chasing around random idiots with a case of Death Eater envy or the occasional psychotic who fancied himself the next ‘Dark Lord’ sounded about as entertaining as a case of Dragon Pox. 

 

It had been his oldest and dearest friend who had first suggested opening an art gallery. 

 

“You love art,” Pansy had said one morning over beignets at their favorite patisserie. “And honestly darling, there isn’t anyone currently taking the time or the effort to preserve magical art, at least not the way that it should be done. Hogwarts has the largest collection, but none of those pieces are for sale. And there are many pure-blood families who would probably be willing to sell off a few things. You know, to recoup their wartime losses. You could probably pick up some wonderful things —” she’d smiled at him over her Grey Lady Tea, “—for the right price.”

 

He’d met her gaze with a raised brow, but the idea had been planted and the more he thought about it, the better it sounded. He loved art; he always had. Especially magical art, which was an entity in and of itself. He could admit freely that there were some wonderful Muggle works, by great masters; Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Gainsborough. But they paled in comparison to the works created by the great wizard artists, and Pansy was right; the magical world was being rebuilt, but no one had endeavored to help re-build the arts. So when he’d reached his majority, he’d taken the percentage of the Malfoy fortune that had been kept for him in trust, entered into a silent partnership with Pansy, whose family fortune was undiminished, and they’d opened “le Gallerie du Ecouter Magie”.

 

In five years, the small upscale gallery had gained a reputation for both exclusivity and excellence, and he was very proud of it. It had not been easy in the beginning; people had long memories, and had not been especially quick to forgive and forget. The first three years had been hard, and more than once he’d been ready to close the doors. But as he walked the impeccable inlaid marble floors, and checked each charmed and locked display case, his sense of ‘rightness’ increased; it had been difficult, but he was proud of what he’d built. The portraits on the walls nodded to him respectfully as he passed, and a diamond encrusted snake necklace slithered across its bed of dark green velvet to greet him with a sibilant hiss. A set of charmed jade chess pieces in another case bowed in their places on a mosaic tiled chess board, a gesture he returned. He was ‘Mister Malfoy’ here, and he liked it. Long in the shadow of his powerful but flawed father, this place was his.

 

He was taking one last look around the spacious room when something flashed, and he turned. Nothing was moving; he was alone, but he’d been so certain. And then, it happened again. A sparkle of red light, there in the case in the very center of the room, and he moved towards it, frowning. 

 

Leaning over the immaculate glass case, Draco stared at the contents carefully. All appeared as it should; the white satin lining was untouched by stain, its rich folds gleaming. There were the portraits, all seven of them, lined up in their black frames; old-fashioned photos, tin-type in coloration, moving slowly now due to their age. He looked at the images of the stoic father, gentle mother, four laughing daughters, and one small, pale son who stared, wide-eyed into the camera. It was the image of the boy that always drew Draco: Fourteen-year-old Alexi Romanov, the Tsarevich, the little prince who would never live to sit upon his father’s throne, the sickly child who as at the heart of the famous legend surrounding his mother’s necklace. 

 

Draco’s eyes went to the image of the boy’s mother, wearing a fabulous ball gown and the famous necklace, its huge, perfect stones gleaming. His eyes then traveled to the intricate necklace lying on the white satin, the twenty-four carat filigree, complete with the royal emblem fashioned from tiny loops of solid gold, the seven dozen one karat diamonds catching and reflecting the light. But his eyes fixed on the seven larger stones; six perfectly round and nine karat’s, and one massive teardrop that weighed a staggering 25 karats. It was the very image of the necklace in the photograph, but for one startling detail; the stones were no longer pristine and clear diamonds, but red. Deep, dark blood red. 

 

Draco had heard the story as a boy, and knew of the legend and the curse, but it hadn’t mattered to him. He’d jumped at the chance to display it. The necklace itself was not for sale, but was there to bring attention to the items that were for sale, the rest of a once prominent Russian family’s large collection of jewelry, icons and art. 

 

The publicity around the display of the famous necklace had been all that Draco had hoped, and the majority of the other pieces had already been bid on. The Romanov ‘Diamonds’ were slated to return to St. Petersburg in August, and the entirety of the event thus far had been free of difficulties, despite warnings to the contrary and the nervousness of his insurance providers. And Draco had spent a good deal of time, late at night, leaning over the case and studying the necklace. It appeared spectacular, but harmless. But tonight, as he lowered his head and stared at the stones, he could see that they looked different. 

 

They were pulsating faintly, and he felt a chill run the length of his spine. The regular rhythm appeared almost like a beating heart, frozen within each stone, and Draco caught his breath. He’d never believed the legend; such a thing wasn’t possible. It was a necklace. At some point, someone had changed the diamonds out for rubies; it was as simple as that. And yet now, as he stared at it, he felt a trace of wonder. Could that be…? No, it wasn’t possible. But even as he stared, a small cloud appeared in the largest stone, the tear-drop. It roiled inside the gem, twisting and turning until with a startled sound of surprise, Draco saw an eye peering up at him. One wide, dark, long-lashed eye, studying him with the same intensity with which he studied it, and he spread his hands on the glass, his face almost touching the surface as he stared at the deep red gem and the eye in its depth.  It blinked slowly.

 

It was the last thing that Draco saw. When the blow hit him at the base of his skull and blood splattered the glass, his last thought as he lost consciousness was that it was exactly the same deep red as the rubies shining beneath his hands.

 

~***~

 

“I believe he’s coming ‘round, sir.”

 

Draco groaned, shifting uncomfortably. There was a faint buzzing in his head, and he was lying on something unforgiving.  When he moved pain shot from the base of his skull up and over to his forehead, and he groaned, one hand lifting towards the back of his head.

 

“Easy.” The voice was deep, calming, and faintly recognizable. Draco concentrated on opening his eyes, then closed them again immediately when the room pitched sickeningly. “The green potion, Smith,” the voice commanded softly, and Draco felt a hand slip gently beneath his head, pillowing it in a steady palm. “I don’t want to lift your head and aggravate that wound,” it said softly from very nearby. “I’m going to tip a bit of potion onto your tongue. All you need do is swallow.”

 

“What…?” Draco managed, his voice raspy.

 

“Pain potion.” The answer came unhesitatingly. “And something to settle your stomach. We’re fairly certain you’ve a concussion. Here, open up. Three drops. It’s quite strong.”

 

Draco obediently opened his mouth and felt a small amount of potion dripped into it, one drop at a time. The taste of licorice and cream spread over his tongue. He swallowed, and instantly the pain at his nape began to recede and his stomach settled. Trying once again, he opened his eyes, and looked up into the most fiercely green eyes he’d ever seen in his life. 

 

No, he thought a moment later, equilibrium in tatters as recognition dawned. They were no more fiercely green now than they had ever been. “Potter?” he managed weakly. The corners of the eyes crinkled as the face they were centered in smiled.

 

“Welcome back.”

 

No wonder that voice had seemed recognizable. He’d been hearing it in his dreams for more than a decade. From the moment Harry Potter’s voice had gone straight past high and thin to deep and slightly rough, Draco had heard it with pleasure. The man might be a git, but the voice was pure velvet.

 

“What happened?” Draco managed, still staring up into the face that hovered above his. Potter’s hair was shorter than he’d ever seen it, neatly trimmed above his ears and around his nape, combed back revealing the faded lightning bolt scar. He’d traded in the round glasses of his youth for a rectangular lens which more fit a face that had lost all its youthful softness, revealing the fine bone structure beneath. He could feel Potter’s palm still cupping his head, and could not think why he was lying on the floor, looking up at him.

 

“Well.” Potter turned and handed the still mostly full vial to a man crouching behind him. “It appears that you were assaulted, and your business robbed.”

 

Draco gasped, memory flooding back, and he shot up into a sitting position. He regretted it instantly when pain exploded behind his eyes and he cried out, his hand coming up to clutch his head.

 

“Careful,” Potter said. Draco felt hands curl around his upper arms and hold him. “That gash on the back of your skull is still open, and a potion is only so effective against the kind of hit you took. You need to move gingerly until we can have it assessed.”

 

“Oh, gods,” Draco moaned, stomach roiling, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

 

“Here.” He felt a hand on the top of his head, felt himself being gently directed until his forehead was resting against something firm and yet not unyielding.  The faint scent of pine and sandalwood engulfed him. “Deep breaths, slowly now. That’s right. Can’t have you fainting on us.”

 

Irritation flared. “I don’t faint,” he said tersely, moderating his breathing. It wasn’t too long before the worst of the nausea passed. “The rubies…” he finally managed, not lifting his head. There was a pause. 

“I’m sorry, Malfoy,” Potter murmured near his ear. “They got them.”

 

It wasn’t the blow to the back of his head that had him groaning now, just pure unadulterated despair. He could not have lost the Romanov rubies. He could not have… They were insured for a million Galleons. His business would never recover from the hit to his premiums, let alone the damage that it would cause to his hard won reputation. 

 

“Anything else?” he managed to croak out.

 

“No,” Potter answered. “They seem to have targeted just that case, and just that item.”

 

“Of course they did,” Draco muttered despondently. He forced himself to sit up and open his eyes. The room pitched for just a moment, then righted itself. He lifted his eyes and found Potter’s not far away, studying him carefully. “I need to notify my insurance carrier,” he managed. 

 

“There’s time for that,” Potter answered, sitting back on his heels. “First, you need to see a qualified Healer about that gash on the back of your head.”

 

Now that Potter mentioned it, Draco did feel the faint but present ache just behind his right ear, and the collar of his robes felt stiff and sticky. “What?” Draco said dryly. “The Chief Auror can’t do rudimentary healing spells?”

 

The man immediately behind Potter looked irritated, but Potter didn’t. “We can administer basic potions,” he answered. “But we never play with head wounds. Wouldn’t do to cause permanent damage, now would it?”

 

“One would have thought you’d jump at the opportunity,” Draco retorted, finding his equilibrium in the tried and true habit of baiting Potter. Unfortunately, one of them seemed to have matured, because the bloody man wouldn’t rise to the bait.

 

Potter shook his dark head, the creases at the corners of his eyes deepening. “I make it a habit never to hit a man while he’s down.”

 

“How fucking noble of you,” Draco groused. “Do something useful and get me up off of the floor, will you?”

 

“Let’s just make sure you’re steady first, shall we?”

 

“I’m steady enough,” Draco began to protest, but a shrill sound near the doors caught their attention. Draco winced; he’d recognize those dulcet tones anywhere.

 

“You will get the bloody fuck out of my way!” A woman was shouting. “I own half of this business, and I intend to find out what has happened. Now you go and get whoever is in charge here before I hex your balls into a nice pair of earrings!”

 

Potter looked at Draco, one brow raised in question, green eyes alight with humor. “Parkinson,” Draco answered flatly, and Potter nodded, pushing himself easily from the floor to walk towards the entrance.

 

“Let her through.”

 

“Potter?” Pansy shrieked as she entered the building. “What in the world is going on…” She looked around, and when her eyes fell on the shattered case, she went still and very pale. “Oh, sweet Merlin,” she said faintly, swaying slightly. “The rubies.” Her hand went to her throat, then she whirled on Potter, her fur stole flying around her like a sail. “Where is Draco? Is Draco all right?”

 

Draco was warmed that her concern for him had been only seconds behind her concern about the necklace. “I’m here, Pans,” he called, his voice weaker than he’d thought it would be. “Stop abusing Potter and calm down.”

 

“Draco!” She cried on seeing him on the floor, rushing to him.  She started to drop to her knees at his side, but there was glass on the floor. She settled for bending to look into his face, which caused the low cut of her dress to reveal more of her than Draco wanted to see. 

 

“Good Lord, Pans,” he said, gesturing towards her décolletage. “Do put those away.”

 

She ignored him. “Darling, are you all right?” Spotting the blood on his collar, she blanched. “Good heavens, Draco. You’re bleeding.”

 

“He took a rather nasty blow to the back of the head.” Potter had approached and now stood nearby, arms crossed over his broad chest. 

 

“Was it a curse?” Pansy asked, looking up at him.

 

“No.” He shook his head. “This was delivered by someone’s hand. We don’t detect any dispelled magic at all.”

 

“Muggles?” Pansy asked, clearly horrified. “We were robed by Muggles?”

 

“I doubt it,” Potter countered. “More likely by very clever wizards.  Any sort of magical signature could be traced if they’d used a wand. This way…” He shrugged.

 

“That’s your answer?” Pansy growled, mimicking Potter’s shrug.  “That’s the answer of the great Chief Auror, Potter? Of all the idiotic, incompetent…”

 

“Pansy.” Draco interrupted what he knew was going to become a tirade. “We need to notify the insurance.”

 

“You need to see a Healer,” Potter said pointedly. “Now. That wound is nasty, and you’re still losing blood.”

 

“Oh, Draco,” Pansy said, suddenly all solicitation. “He’s right. We must get you to St. Mungo’s.”

 

Draco nodded weakly, lifting his hand to Pansy so that she could help him to stand. Potter stepped neatly in front of her, taking the hand and putting his other beneath Draco’s elbow, lifting him easily to his feet. Once on them, Draco staggered a bit, and Potter steadied him. “All right?” he asked, and Draco looked into the watchful eyes and nodded raggedly.

 

“I’ll manage.”

 

Potter turned and looked at Pansy. “You can Apparate you both?”

 

“Yes,” she hissed, clearly insulted. She shouldered Potter out of the way and slipped her arm proprietarily around Draco’s waist. “Hold on, darling.”

 

He slipped his arm around Pansy’s shoulders, and looked up just in time to see Potter’s amused smile before he disappeared in a dizzying rush.

 

~***~

 

“The blue one at bedtime,” the elderly Healer instructed, holding up a vial. “The green one in the morning, and this one,” he held it up, and it was a warm buttery yellow, “is for pain as needed. The back of your head is going to ache for a day or two, but there shouldn’t be a scar.”

 

“Thank you, Healer Atkins,” Draco said. He was tired, and sounded it. 

 

“No problem at all, Mr. Malfoy. And now, if I cannot convince you to stay the night, I need to process your discharge papers. I’ll be back directly.”

 

He left the room in a swish of pale green robes, and Draco closed his eyes, rubbing his right temple with his fingers. He had a horrendous headache, and all he really wanted was to go home, have a stiff drink, and climb in to bed. That was not to be, however, and he sighed. “We must notify the insurance company, Pans,” he said wearily. “And I have to go back by the store and make sure that the wards are re-set once Potter and his team are done.”

 

“It doesn’t have to be done tonight,” Pansy said calmly, and Draco opened his eyes and looked at her. She was seated in a chair in the corner, an undeniably glamorous figure in her black evening gown and mink stole. Pansy was not conventionally beautiful; she still had the small face and pug nose of their youth, but the veneer of polish she’d added during her early and mid-twenties looked good on her. “There won’t be anyone in the office this late, anyway. You can go over to Gringotts and see the agent tomorrow.”

 

Draco sighed heavily. “By then they’ll know about it, anyway.” He shook his head. “I doubt there’s any way we can keep this out of the papers. Gods, Pans.” He dropped his face into his hands. “The Romanov Rubies. I let someone make off with the Romanov Rubies.”

 

“Oh, stop it,” she scolded. “You didn’t let them do anything. Someone knocked you over the head and stole them. You’re lucky all you have is a concussion. And honestly, Draco, that’s why you carry insurance. In case something like this happens.”

 

She sounded completely dismissive, and he could only stare at her in consternation. “Pansy, do you have any idea what this is going to do to business? That’s only the most famous piece of jewelry in our world! And it was stolen--” he spread his hand on his chest, “--from me.”

 

“Oh, stop being such a drama queen. It was stolen from us,” she said pointedly. “And who knows?  Maybe big bad Chief Auror Potter is as good as everyone says he is.” Her expression turned sly. “He certainly looks as if he might be.”

 

Draco sighed again and ran his hand through his hair. “Yes, that was just the cherry on the sundae that was my evening. Waking up, looking up into Potter’s eyes.”

 

Pansy’s smirk deepened. “I can think of worse things,” she mused. “The man certainly has improved with age, hasn’t he? And here I thought the Prophet had been retouching his photos for the last five years. Apparently not.” Her dark eyes were sparkling, and for some reason, that aggravated Draco.

 

“Well, as far as I know, he’s single, and he may be the only man in London that you haven’t slept with. Give it a go.”

 

Her eyes narrowed. “That was more than just a wee bit bitchy,” she drawled. “And frankly, my dear --” she batted her long eyelashes, “-- I do believe that St. Potter may play Beater for your team.”

 

Draco stared, his open mouth reflecting the startled surprise that he felt. “He does not,” he argued. “If he did, there would have been something… I’d have heard…”

 

“Draco, sweetheart,” she interrupted. “How often in the last ten years has my gaydar malfunctioned?” He frowned. He couldn’t think of a single time. Pansy always seemed to know, even before he did. “Now that I think about it, how many times in the last ten years have you heard anything about Potter at all?”

 

“Oh, for fuck’s sakes,” he scoffed. “We hear about bloody Potter all of the time. He’s always in the papers. Chief Auror Potter this and Chief Auror Potter that. It’s nauseating.”

 

“I meant,” Pansy said pointedly, “when is the last time you heard anything about Potter’s personal life.” She stared at him, brows raised, and waited.  He started to speak, then stopped, forehead furrowed. “Ah ha, you see? You can’t think of a single time, can you? Not even when he broke up with the ginger tart; just a notice that she was marrying old flame Dean Thomas, instead. I tell you, someone got to Skeeter and Potter has been in the biggest closet in wizard history!”

 

“But… what makes you think that? I mean, he was completely professional.” His voice trailed off.  He had been, completely professional. He’d also held Draco’s arms to steady him slightly longer than he’d needed to, and he’d even pressed Draco’s head into his shoulder when he felt dizzy…

 

“Draco, look at me,” Pansy ordered. “What do you see?” She let her stole slip off of one bare shoulder, slowly crossed her legs so that the slit in the side of her dress revealed her shapely thigh, and smirked.  Draco studied her dispassionately.

 

“Your hair looks very nice that way,” he said, admiring her elegant French twist, “and the jewels are lovely.  So is the gown…”  Her smirk deepened.  “What?”

 

Instead of answering, she rounded her shoulders, which pressed her artificially enhanced breasts so far forward that it appeared as if they might burst from her dress.

 

“Oh, good gods, Pans,” he said, grimacing. “Knock it off. I’ve seen the tits, thanks much. They don’t do it for me, and you know it.”

 

“Exactly!” she said triumphantly, leaning back so that her dress settled more demurely over her assets. “And, my dearest friend, you aren’t the only one that they don’t do anything for.”

 

He stared at her smirk, and his eyes widened. “Potter?” 

 

“Didn’t even glance, and when I was bending over, if he’d tried, he could have seen all the way to the promised land.”

 

“I noticed,” Draco said dryly. He shook his head.  “I don’t think so, Pans.  Maybe he just has more self-control than most straight men.”

 

She shook her head knowingly. “No straight man has that much self-control, my dear. Trust me. I know men. My date spent the entire evening talking to my cleavage. I actually had to remind him that my face,” she pointed to her chest, then to her chin, “is up here.”

 

Draco eyed her wryly. “If you didn’t want him to look, why did you wear that thing?”

 

“Oh, I don’t mind if he looked,” she said airily. “I just wanted him to have enough self-control to look and still be able to hold a conversation. He failed. But we’re not talking about my date, we’re talking about Potter. And he didn’t even glance. In fact, he was far too busy being pre-occupied with you.”

 

Draco rolled his eyes. “Now I know that you’re delusional,” he scoffed. “He wasn’t anything but extremely business-like. Besides, we hate each other; remember?”

 

“That was a long time ago, Draco,” she said, her eyes fixed on his. “And I think if you asked him, you’d find that he left that behind about the same time that you did.”

 

He frowned. “Who says I did?”

 

Her slight smile was indulgent. “Try that on someone who hasn’t known you since the pram, darling. I saw your face when he testified at your mothers trial, I watched you when he gave you back your wand. You stopped hating Harry Potter about the same time that he killed a certain rampaging megalomaniac.”

 

He didn’t argue with her, because he knew that it was the truth. He might have hated Potter all of the way through their first five years at Hogwarts, and for most of their sixth, but at some point he’d come to understand that Voldemort was seriously unhinged, and the only thing between the wizarding world and disaster had been skinny, visually impaired, mop-haired Harry Potter. Who was now ten years beyond the defeat of Voldemort, and no longer skinny, or mop-haired; he assumed from the presence of the glasses that his vision was still an issue.   

 

 A soft knock sounded at the door, and Draco turned to look, assuming it was the healer returning. When it was the topic of their recent conversation that opened the door, he felt his face grow hot and knew that he was blushing. Gods, he hoped the walls were thick enough that Potter hadn’t heard any of that. He stepped into the room and Draco wondered if it was merely his presence that made it suddenly feel very small. He nodded to Pansy politely, then turned to Draco.

 

“How are you doing?”

 

“Dandy, Potter,” he answered dryly, hiding his embarrassment behind sarcasm. “My business was broken into, someone stole the most famous necklace in Europe out from under my very nose and to top it off, tried to top me off. All in all, it’s been a lovely evening. You?”

 

“Bitchy, bitchy,” Pansy crooned under her breath, and Draco shot her a dark look. 

 

But Potter didn’t seem to be insulted. He just watched him with that steady, unblinking regard.

 

“What did the Healer say?”

 

“That if he had a brain in that battered head of his, he’d spend the night,” Pansy answered.

 

“Traitor,” Draco hissed, and she smiled at him brightly. “I don’t need to stay,” he said resolutely. “Besides, I’ve got to go back to the shop and make certain that the wards are in place; wouldn’t do to have them make off with anything else.”

 

“That’s part of why I’m here,” Potter said. “I wanted to let you know that we put special wards around the building, and that you won’t be able to re-enter until we take them down.” Draco’s mouth dropped open, and he began to speak, but Potter held up his hand. “I’ll meet you there tomorrow and admit you, but for tonight, it’s a crime scene and will be secured accordingly.”

 

“That’s extraordinarily high-handed,” Draco retorted, anger surging.

 

“It’s procedure,” Potter replied mildly. “Especially when something of immense value is stolen. It also is the practice when there’s an attempted murder.”

 

Draco’s eyes widened, and Pansy gasped. “Murder?” she gasped. “You think they meant to kill him?”

 

“I think they meant to incapacitate him, which they did,” Potter answered, eyes shifting to her. “But that blow to the back of his head, had it been two inches higher and above his ear, could have killed him. Whether that was their intent or not, that is the reality.”  Draco felt cold clear through. Potter’s eyes came back to him. “And if the Healer says that you should stay the night for evaluation, you should. Head injuries can be tricky things, Draco. Stay and let them observe you, just to be safe.”

 

Draco blinked at the use of his surname. He didn’t think that Potter had ever used it before without scorn attached, and it caught him off guard. “My mother…” he whispered.

 

“I’ll tell Narcissa,” Pansy said, standing, sweeping up her bag and settling her stole around her shoulders. “And I’ll bring you some clean robes in the morning. You be a good boy and do what you’re told.” She crossed to Draco, putting her arms around him and squeezing him. “Listen to the man,” she said next to his ear, then leaned back, her hand coming up to his face. “Forget about the rubies. They don’t matter. I’m just grateful that you’re going to be all right.” She kissed him softly, then turned to Potter. “Don’t let him leave,” she ordered sternly. “Tie him to the bed if necessary.” Her expression turned sly. “Or perhaps you should save that until he’s feeling more himself.”

 

Potter blinked behind his lenses, and Draco knew from the renewed heat in his face that he was blushing. “Oh, go home, you mad cow,” he said darkly. She laughed and kissed him again quickly, then left the room to the accompaniment of the click of her high heels.

 

Silence settled. Draco stared at the floor; anything not to have to look into Potter’s eyes and see that he’d finally processed just what Pansy had meant. He made a mental note to kill her the next time he saw her. Finally, Potter cleared his throat, and Draco had no choice but to look at him. 

 

“I do have a question,” Potter said, his eyes averted towards the corner and a reddish tint across his cheekbones. Oh, good heavens, Draco groaned inwardly, he truly was going to make her pay…“In most magical crimes, wizards shy away from doing actual physical violence unless it’s personal. Anyone angry enough at you to hit you in the head with something?”

 

Draco grimaced. “Not that I can think of. Unless you did it.”

 

“I don’t hold grudges, Malfoy.” Potter looked as if he were fighting a smirk, some of his embarrassment fading. “I haven’t wanted to hit you in the head in years.”  Draco sneered at him, eyes narrowed.

 

Further conversation was disrupted when the Healer re-entered the room. “I ran into Ms. Parkinson in the hallway, and she tells me that you’ve changed your mind about availing yourself of our hospitality,” he said brightly, pausing when he saw Potter. “Auror Potter,” he said jovially, offering his hand. “Good to see that you’re not the patient, this time.”

 

“Hello, Atkins,” Potter said warmly.

 

The Healer turned back to Draco, holding out another vial. “Since you’re joining us for the night,” he said with a smile, “I’d like to monitor the blood flow around your brain. This will illuminate the veins and arteries for me, and alert us to any excessive bleeding. I want to make sure that we didn’t miss anything.  I’ll bring you back a sleeping draught in a moment; that way our tests during the night won’t disturb you.” He handed Draco the vial and watched expectantly until he’d swallowed all of it. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with the other potion and a gown.” He smiled at Potter. “I’m certain I’ll be seeing you again, Auror.”

 

Potter smiled a bit sheepishly in return and the Healer swept from the room.

 

“I should go and let you rest,” Potter said. “What time shall I meet you in the morning?”

 

“Meet me?” Draco frowned, wondering what he’d missed.

 

“I need to take the wards down for you,” Potter answered. 

 

“Oh.” Draco brought his hand up and absently rubbed at the ache on the back of his skull. His hair felt slightly stiff and he grimaced. “Nine, nine-thirty?”

 

“Nine-thirty.” Potter nodded. “I’ll see you then.” And he turned to go.

 

“Potter.”

 

He stopped at the sound of Draco’s voice, and turned back. 

 

“I appreciate what you did tonight,” he said haltingly. “I just…” he paused to slide his tongue across his lower lip. He didn’t miss how Potter’s eyes mapped the motion. “I’ve heard that you’re really very good at what you do, and I hope that’s true, because if we can’t get the necklace back…” he shook his head. “I’m ruined. I might as well close the doors forever tomorrow.”

 

Potter’s eyes were level, his expression composed. “I am good,” he said calmly. “We’ll get it back.” He paused for just a moment longer, then nodded and left.

 

Staring at the door as it swung silently closed behind him, Draco thought that he might just believe him.

 

~***~

 

A cool breeze tugged at Draco’s hair as he walked along Diagon Alley, and he pulled the collar of his robes more tightly around his neck; it was April, and still cool in the mornings. 

 

Pansy had brought his favorite soft grey robes with the charcoal satin trim to the hospital. They were beautiful, soft to the touch, but not really heavy enough for the cooler weather. When he’d pointed that out, she’d merely smirked knowingly.

 

 “The color is a perfect match for your eyes,” she said, straightening his collar fussily. “And you want to look good today for your ‘meet-up’ with the Chief Auror.” Her eyes had sparkled wickedly, and Draco had rolled his.

 

“For fuck’s sake, Pans,” Draco groused, pulling away from her hands. “It’s just Potter.”

 

“For fuck’s sake, Draco,” Pansy retorted.  “Have you looked at the man?  Because he’s looking at you.”

 

“You are delusional,” he scoffed. “He’s just doing his job.”

 

“Potter would like to be doing you,” she countered. “Trust me.” Draco didn’t respond. 

 

An hour later he was walking towards the building that housed his shop, the cool breeze cutting through the silk to chill his frame.  He still had a faint headache, and even after a night spent sleeping the deep, uninterrupted sleep provided by a strong potion, he felt both tired and depressed. Of course, that might have had something to do with the headline on that mornings Daily Prophet.

 

“Romanov Rubies Stolen” the bold faced print had screamed.  “Security at Malfoy Gallery questioned.”

 

He’d known it was coming, but it was still a blow to see all of the old rhetoric brought up. The public was once again reminded of the Malfoy’s unsavory connections during the war, followed by speculation that it must be someone from the old Death Eater gang who had initiated the robbery. Who else could have so easily broken through the security wards? Skeeter had done everything but come right out and say that it was an inside job. It had made him both furious, and despondent. He’d known it was what people would probably believe, but it still cut him to the quick. The only bright spot in the article had been the quote from Chief Auror, Harry Potter.

 

“It would be both reckless and inaccurate to insinuate that Draco Malfoy had anything to do with this,” Potter was quoted as saying. “Mr. Malfoy was badly hurt and forced to spend the night in hospital.”

 

But of course, Skeeter had spun even that. “Perhaps the perpetrators merely got carried away. But one thing remains clear: The Romanov Rubies, one of the truly priceless antiquities in the Wizarding World, has disappeared from Draco Malfoy’s showroom, and I, for one, find it hard to believe that he is completely blameless. And for the record, Ivan Chekov, the owner of the necklace, agrees with me.”

 

He sighed again, straightening his shoulders as he rounded the corner that led to his shop. It wouldn’t do for anyone to see him with his head down, and he lifted it. He was glad that he had, for up ahead, leaning against the brick wall outside of his gallery door, was Potter.

 

He wasn’t wearing the red Auror robes today. Instead, he had on a pair of Muggle denims and a black jumper covered by a short black leather jacket, and Draco was reminded that it was Saturday and he was probably off duty. He also couldn’t help but notice that the man was very fit, and wore the snug clothing extremely well. 

 

“Good morning,” Potter said, straightening away from the building. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Just marvelous,” Draco answered wryly.  “I’ve a splitting headache and been labeled a thief in the media.”

 

Potter grimaced. “I tried to talk to Skeeter, but she had her angle and was determined to run with it.”

 

“I saw your quote,” Draco said, stopping in front of Potter. “I want you to know that I appreciate the fact that you tried to dissuade her. I’m somewhat surprised she printed it at all, frankly. She’s been after me for years; including your quote was surprisingly even-handed of her.”

 

Potter shrugged. “I wish I could have done more.”

 

“Careful, Potter.” Draco smirked. “Someone’s going to get the idea that you actually were defending me, and we can’t have that. Planets might collide, constellations explode, that sort of thing.”

 

Potter’s lips quirked up at the corners. “Well, certainly, I wouldn’t want to bring on the apocalypse.”

 

Draco’s brow arched. “My, we have picked up some big words, haven’t we?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “So.” He stared into the angular face expectantly.

 

“So?” Potter parroted, frowning slightly.

 

“Are you going to remove the wards so that I can enter the building, or not?” Draco said, then fought a grin when Potter’s face flooded with embarrassed color.

 

“Oh, of course,” he said, turning to the door. Draco watched as he reached back to withdraw his wand from a holster under his jacket, and his gaze dropped slightly to linger on Potter’s arse, snuggly encased within dark blue denim. Potter had a rather remarkable arse, and fine solid thighs, and Draco felt himself grow a little warm as he studied the shifting muscles. Potter waved his wand and muttered the incantation that would remove the wards, then opened the door and turned back, and Draco lifted his eyes to his face with studied nonchalance.

 

“Let me just do a quick walk through to make sure that everything is in order, all right?” Potter said over his shoulder, and Draco agreed, lingering near the door. He heard Potter walk through the vacant store, booted feet echoing on the marble flooring. After a moment, the lights flared to life within. “Everything looks undisturbed,” Potter called. “You can come in now.”

 

Draco stepped into his store and glanced around. Everything appeared to be in order; the glass and the blood from the night before had been cleared away, and the broken case still sat where it had been. Draco walked to it slowly, gazing at the place where the rubies had been, his heart heavy. He’d known that they were gone, but that expanse of white satin seemed to mock him.

 

“Are you certain that you should be here today?” 

 

The voice startled him out of his reverie and he glanced over to find Potter standing not far away, watching him.

 

“This is my place of business,” he said, clearing his throat when his voice came out sounding rough. “Where else would I be?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know,” Potter said. “Home, in bed perhaps?  You’re as pale as that satin.”

 

“If that’s your idea of a charming come on line, Potter,” Draco shot back, “your approach needs some work.”

 

“When I decide to be charming and come on to you, Draco,” Potter retorted, “you’ll know it. That was merely concern for your welfare.”

 

Draco swallowed heavily. The sudden twist in the conversation had both startled and caught him off guard. He blinked.  “I… why do you give a shit?” he managed. Potter didn’t seem offended.

 

“Because you got your head bashed last night,” he replied, stepping closer. “Because you’ve suffered a significant business set-back. Because you’ve worked hard to restore your family’s reputation, and a nasty bint from a newspaper undid about a decade of good works with some unfounded accusations.” His expression softened. “Close it up for today. Go home, let your mother fuss over you. It will all still be here tomorrow.”

 

Draco let his eyes drift closed. That sounded perfect; his bed, a long bath, tea, his mother’s calming presence. “I can’t,” he finally said regretfully. “I need to see the insurance adjustor, and I… I just…”

 

He stopped, his hands clenching at his sides. 

 

“You what?” Potter prompted gently. Draco’s eyes opened, and he found Potter studying him. It was surprising how it didn’t seem intrusive to him, and how strong the impulse was to lean his head on Potter’s shoulder and just let himself be held. He straightened instinctively.

 

“I can’t just… go home, pretend nothing happened.” He shook his head. “I’d rather be here, be busy.”

 

“Look,” Potter said.  “I’ll walk with you to Gringotts to see the adjustor. After that, I’ve an appointment with a magical historian. They’re going to give me a complete background on the rubies. I think it might help me get a feel for what should come next. Why don’t you come with me, instead of coming back here?”

 

Draco frowned. “I know the history of the rubies.”

 

“This researcher is actually quite remarkable. I imagine she’s found out things about the necklace you’ve never heard before.”

 

 “It’s Granger, isn’t it?” Draco grimaced.

 

Potter’s smile widened. “It is. And if you promise to behave yourself, I’ll buy you dinner after.”

 

Draco stared at him, startled. “Did you just ask me out?”

 

Potter’s lips quirked at the corners. “It certainly sounded that way to me.”

 

“Potter, why are you doing this? Surely, this isn’t part of usual Auror protocol.”

 

“Buying a crime victim dinner?” He said with an amused chuckle.  “No.” Most of his amusement faded, leaving just the trace of a smile behind. “I just think it’s time we acted like grown-ups. So, you’ll close up and come with me?”

 

Draco looked around the silent gallery, thinking that he really hadn’t the energy to deal with the curious or the shattered case. He took a deep breath, and nodded.

 

 “Excellent,” Potter said with something that sounded like relief. “First Gringotts, then Hermione. And remember,” he shot Draco a level look. “You promised to be nice.”

 

“I did no such thing,” Draco sniffed, then cut Potter off when he began to speak again. “But… perhaps it’s time for that, as well.” 

 

The softening in Potter’s eyes was worth the knowledge that his father must be spinning in his grave.

 

~***~

 

“So, was I right?”

 

Potter sat across from him at the small table, the light from the single candle at its center catching in the golden frames of his glasses and highlighting the edges of his black hair. They were seated in one of Draco’s favorite Italian restaurants, which had come as something of a surprise. Potter picked up the bottle of excellent Shiraz he’d ordered, (another surprise; the man was just full of them) and was pouring Draco a glass.

 

“Right about what?” Draco asked gruffly, feeling significantly off guard. The last two days had been faintly surreal, and he was having a problem finding his place in any of it. First, Potter was being nice and buying him dinner, and second, Granger had been surprisingly friendly when they’d met with her at her home.

 

“That she knew something about the necklace’s history that you hadn’t.”

 

Draco frowned thoughtfully.

 

“Actually,” he admitted reluctantly, “you were right. She did.”

 

Potter merely nodded and poured himself a glass of the red wine, as well.

 

Like most pure-blood children, Draco had grown up hearing the story of the rubies. In most households, it was told to remind children that the thirst for power, and the misuse of it, led to disaster.  His father had an entirely different spin on it; he’d used it to show Draco that Muggles were inherently bad, and killed the rich and magical because they didn’t understand or appreciate their superiority. Either way, the fundamentals of the tale had been the same.

 

The exquisite diamond necklace had been a gift from Queen Victoria to Alix of Hesse on her marriage to Tsar Nicholas the second of Russia. The fire from the diamonds was legendary, and Alexandra, which she was renamed on her marriage, had been photographed wearing them at her coronation. She was wearing them in the photo on display in Draco’s gallery; seven enormous, brilliant stones, clear as ice, glittering about her throat.

 

Another part of the tale was that the Romanov’s were magical. Most of the royal families in Europe were. Muggles did not know that, only knew that royals were somehow different, and therefore superior. It was what had kept crowns on their heads for generations, even when some of the royals weren’t very good leaders. And by all accounts, Nicholas hadn’t been a very good Tsar.

 

“I have a question,” Potter said, and Draco looked up at him. “This… Rasputin. He was a wizard as well, then?”

 

Draco nodded, shuddering slightly. Lucius Malfoy had always cast Rasputin as just another magical victim of the piece, but from the moment that Draco had first seen a photograph of him, he hadn’t believed it.

 

“A very powerful one,” he answered. “Yes.”

 

“So, with all of these witches and wizards about,” Potter said, frowning. “How is it that none of them could prevent murders that they clearly knew were going to happen?”

 

Draco pondered the question for a moment. “This is where you’d have to understand the Russian mind set, and the involvement of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian wizards of the time walked a tight rope between their knowledge of magic, and their belief in the foundations of their faith. In their minds, the two went hand in hand. They were magical, but they also believed in their divinity as taught by the church. Rasputin told the Tsarina that the murder of the Romanov’s was inevitable, and Alexandra believed him, but Nicholas never really did. He was the Tsar, ordained by God; who would dare to touch them?”

 

“And so, he condemned his children and his wife to be slaughtered, because he believed in his own divinity?”  Harry shook his head. “He was a fool.”

 

Draco knew that it was more complex than that, but at the heart of it, Potter was right. Nicholas had been warned for years, but he had not listened. He’d believed that with the birth of his son Alexi, after four daughters, the Romanov reign was secured.

 

But Alexi Romanov, like many of the members of royal families in Europe, had been born with hemophilia, the disease of the blood that prevents normal coagulation and can result in death. The child was sickly, and the Healers of the time were not equal to treating him. It was that illness that had first brought Rasputin to the attention of the royal family. The Tsarina, desperate to cure her young son, had turned to ‘the mad monk’ as a last resort.

 

“So, Rasputin was also a Healer,” Potter said, taking a sip of his wine.  Draco nodded.

 

“A Healer, a seer, a mystic, a potions master. And very, very powerful.”

 

“He would have had to be,” Potter agreed. “If he was responsible for that spell, and it actually worked…”  He shook his head. “That’s an inconceivable amount of skill.”

 

Draco nodded, his thoughts once again going back to the doomed family. 

 

According to the legend, Alexandra, unlike her husband, knew that the uprisings within Russia by the Bolsheviks, (or the unwashed Muggle masses, as his father had called them) were growing more and more serious. By early 1916, she was certain that they would not live to see the end of the revolution, and she went to Rasputin in desperation. If he could not save her children, she begged him, could he at least save their immortal souls from the stain of what would no doubt be done to them? They were the family of a despised Tsar; their deaths would be heinous. In response to her plea, Rasputin and brewed a powerful potion that would do just that scarce weeks before he, himself, was brutally murdered.

 

The Tsar was forced to abdicate in March of 1917, and he, his wife and children were taken hostage. They were moved several times over the next few months, finally to a home in Ekaterinberg. Alexandra knew that their time was running out. She had sewn the famous diamond necklace into the hem of one of her gowns, and gave it to a trusted servant. After telling the servant that the necklace must be hidden at all costs, she reportedly gave the secreted potion to her children, then her husband, then took some herself.

 

It was the evening of July 16, 1918. The servant watched in horror as the souls fled the bodies of the family, and the precious stones, one after another, turned blood red. The Bolsheviks arrived in the middle of the night to carry out the execution, and on finding the family apparently lifeless, savaged the bodies in an act of mindless rage. As Alexandra had wished, her children were saved the horror of their murders, their souls protected within the stones.

 

The necklace disappeared for fifty years, along with the bodies of the family, but the legend had taken root and grew. In 1958, when the house in Ekaterinberg where was under renovation, the necklace was found, secreted within a space in the foundation.

 

Many thought it a well grafted forgery, made to look like the original diamond necklace, but no more than that. But there were an equal number who believed that it was, in fact, the famous diamond necklace and now contained the entrapped spirits of the Tsar, his wife, and his children.

 

It had changed hands through mysterious circumstances several times over the following years, and finally came into the possession of a private collector. It had been on public display just once before, in 1998 when the bodies of the Romanov’s were found and interred in St. Petersburg. The necklace had gone back into the vault, and it was a surprise when the owner had agreed to let it be part of the “Imperial Russia” display in his gallery, but Draco had jumped at it. The thieves had by-passed two Fabergé eggs and a dozen priceless Russian icons, but they had stolen the ‘jewel of the collection’, the Romanov Rubies.

 

Draco rubbed the back of his neck, the reality of it causing a fresh jolt of regret. The rubies were gone, and they’d been stolen while on loan to him.

 

“Is your head bothering you?” Potter asked solicitously, watching him. Draco dropped his hand and shook his head.

 

“No,” he answered. “Just trying to decide how to proceed. How do I explain to the owner that the enhanced wards weren’t sufficient?”

 

Potter took another drink of his wine and set the glass on the table.  “You did what you could to protect them, Malfoy. There was nothing wrong with the wards.”

 

Draco looked into his eyes and found Potter studying him calmly.

 

“If there had been nothing wrong with the wards, Potter, they wouldn’t have been able to steal the necklace. The entire building was under additional protection, or so I thought. If I’d thought for one moment that the wards were penetrable, I’d have made the case of unbreakable glass. I should have anyway. It was a stupid impulse.  But the unbreakable glass isn’t as clear, and the stones didn’t shine like I wanted.” He scowled and hit his fist lightly against the table. “It was vanity, pure and simple. I wanted the bloody stones to shine…”

 

“Malfoy,” Potter repeated more stridently, and his tone caught Draco’s attention. “You aren’t listening. There was nothing wrong with the wards.”

 

Draco frowned at him. “What are you saying?”

 

“I’m saying,” Potter said carefully, “that the wards were more than sufficient. The problem is that they’d been taken down.”

 

Draco stared, his mouth slightly open. “What?”

 

“They’d been removed, right before you were struck in the head, right before the rubies were taken.”

 

“But that’s… how can you tell…” he stopped, flabbergasted. “Did you plan to tell me this?” He ground out.

 

“I did just tell you,” Potter answered imperturbably. 

 

“What… I…”  Draco stopped, fuming. He couldn’t even form a coherent sentence. “You could have mentioned it before now!”

 

“There was no need.” Potter took another calm sip of his wine.

 

“No need?  No need?” Draco repeated, his voice rising. “For fuck’s sakes, Potter. If someone dismantled the wards, then there would be a magical signature left behind, but that would have faded within the first twenty four hours! What the hell are we doing here?!” He started to stand, but Potter held up his hand.

 

“Stop, sit back down, and listen.”

 

Draco stared at him in consternation, but did as he was bid. 

 

“We knew that the wards had been tampered with the first night.” Potter’s voice was soft, but direct. “The problem is there would only be evidence of a magical signature left behind if it were different from the ones that had been used to set the wards to begin with.”

 

Draco stared, blood rushing in his ears. “They were… the same?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“But… that’s impossible…” he said weakly. “The only magical signatures on those wards should be mine, and McMillan or his crew.” Standish McMillan was the foremost expert on protective wards in all of England, and had been responsible for the protection on Draco’s shop from the day he’d opened his doors. 

 

Potter’s eyes held level. 

 

“You’re saying it was McMillan,” Draco breathed.

 

“No, I’m saying that the wards were not tampered with by someone with a different magical signature.”

 

“That’s splitting hairs, Potter, and you know it,” Draco said heatedly. “If it was either McMillan and his crew, or me, then…”  He paused, his eyes widening as a chill racked the length of his spine. In spite of what he’d said to Skeeter, did Potter…? “You don’t think I had anything to do with this?” he said breathlessly.  “Do you?”

 

“No.”

 

It was a simple statement, spoken without any particular inflection, but its very straightforwardness sent relief flooding through Draco. “Have you spoken to McMillan?” he asked.

 

“He’s been from the country on another job,” Potter answered.  “We’ve spoken to members of his team. And that’s all I’m at liberty to say right now.”

 

Draco sighed, fiddling with his flatware. His eyes finally lifted to Potter’s. “You will tell me, won’t you, if something turns up?” He didn’t mean to sound so needy, but he couldn’t quite hide his anxiety.  Potter’s face softened.

 

“I’ll tell you what I can, that won’t jeopardize the investigation.”

 

Draco smirked. “How very professional of you.”

 

Potter merely smiled. “So, what did you think of the new information that Hermione had about the necklace?”

 

Draco sat back in his chair, recognizing the changing of the subject, but going with it. “It was interesting. Another new twist in an already winding mess.”

 

According to Granger, there was an additional bit of information about the spell on the necklace that had not been widely known. 

 

After Rasputin’s death, most of his personal affects had gone to his family. It was rumored that a page in his diary described a spell that was used for ‘transference of the spirit’ into an inanimate object. Rasputin had written that the spell would last for ‘ninety years, and then, the spirits would be free’ to move onto the next level of existence, but only if ‘the gems had been returned to their rightful owners’. On July 17th, in just three months, it would be exactly ninety years since the day that the Romanov’s had died. 

 

“You don’t think that has anything to do with the theft of the necklace now?” Potter asked casually. 

 

Draco frowned. “I don’t know that enough people have ever heard that part of the legend for it to figure in at all. And even if it did, to what end?  Who are the rightful owners? Alexandra is dead, so is Queen Victoria. First you have to believe the bloody myth to begin with.”

 

“And, you don’t.”

 

It wasn’t a question. Draco started to state that he didn’t, but then a vision of that dark eye appeared in his mind, and he paused. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I’d have said at one time that it wasn’t possible for a man to divide his soul into seven pieces, but we both know that’s not true, don’t we?”

 

“Touche,” Potter replied. After that, their meals arrived and they tucked in, conversation becoming more casual.

 

When their plates had been cleared, Draco gazed across the table at Potter. He looked completely comfortable, his posture relaxed, his handsome face at ease. He was a commanding presence, and Draco would be lying if he said that he wasn’t affected by it. Potter caught him looking, and lifted his brow in question.  

 

“So, what was this?” Draco asked the question that had been on his mind throughout the meal. “I mean, I know that you said you’d buy me dinner if I ‘behaved myself’.”

 

“Which you did, by the way.”

 

“I am capable,” Draco retorted. “I’m not fifteen anymore.”

 

“No, you certainly aren’t.” There was no mistaking the admiration in the deep voice, and Draco leaned back in his chair.

 

“You know,” he said thoughtfully. “I’d like to know how you’ve managed to fly under Skeeter’s radar for all of these years.”

 

 “Meaning, what?”

 

“Meaning, how has it escaped her notice that the Golden Boy, the Saviour of Wizarding Kind, the Boy who Lived, the Man who would be King if he’d a political bone in his body --” Potter shook his head, “-- the mighty Chief Auror himself.” Draco paused.  “How has the fact that this paragon of virtue is queer escaped the acid-tinged Quick Quotes Quill?”

 

Instead of appearing insulted, Potter’s lips curved up in a slow smile. “I’m discreet.”

 

“You’re discreet,” Draco parroted, and Potter’s grin widened.  “That’s the answer. You’re discreet.”

 

“And, I don’t date wizards.”

 

“Ah, Muggles then.”

 

Potter nodded. 

 

“Very many?” Draco was on a fishing exhibition and he knew it, but he was curious. 

 

“Very few,” Potter answered. “And very rarely. I’ve really not had the time for anything more serious, and I’ve no desire for the inevitable distraction.”

 

“How very cold-blooded of you,” Draco drawled, thinking that Potter’s philosophy wasn’t really that different from his own. He didn’t allow entanglements; they were messy. One night stands had filled the bill. It had only been lately that he’d wondered if he hadn’t wanted something more, but there had been no time to pursue it.

 

“So far, it’s been mutually satisfying for everyone concerned.”  There was that disconcerting smirk again, pulling at the corner of Potter’s lips, and Draco felt a thread of heat coil through him at the thought that it probably was immensely satisfying.

 

“So what is this then?” Draco asked, displaying a studied self-possession. “A mercy date?” Potter chuckled.

 

“Hardly,” Potter replied. “I’d be willing to bet you’ve never needed anyone’s ‘mercy’ in that regard.” The heat in his gaze as he took a sip of his wine made Draco’s toes curl.

 

“So, if this isn’t pity for the poor head-bashed gallery owner,” he said, “and you don’t date wizards, then what are we doing here?”

 

“Well, we were eating,” Potter said with an infuriating sparkle in his eyes. “And now we’re sharing an after dinner drink.” He paused.  “And, I’ve been thinking lately…”

 

“Don’t strain yourself.”

 

Potter shot him a look, but his amusement didn’t fade.  “…that it might be time to change my policy, and maybe date wizards. Or, a wizard.” As flattering as that was, Draco was a realist. 

 

“Skeeter will out you like a shot,” he said flatly. 

 

Potter set his glass on the table, his fingers lingering to toy with the rim. “I’ve found I don’t care as much now as I used to.” 

 

“And, just to clarify; you want to come out to the Wizarding world by dating… me?” 

 

“Well, we are here, on a date…”

 

Draco dropped his chin and shot Potter a look from beneath his fringe, which made the other man laugh. 

 

“Okay, in answer to your very direct question…” he paused. “I think that… maybe I do.”

 

“Maybe?”  Draco asked ironically. Potter just shook his head.

 

“You aren’t going to be easy, are you?”

 

Now it was Draco’s turn to look sly. “That depends entirely on your definition of easy.”

 

“I imagine it’s the same as yours,” Potter countered. “I do have to tell you, though, that I can’t really pursue something with you until this case it solved, or until I’m not actively working on it. I wanted to buy you dinner, but I can’t mix my professional life with my personal life.”

 

“Well,” Draco answered, battling disappointment. “I suggest you get the case solved then. It will be mutually beneficial, on a number of levels.”

 

They shared a long look as the waiter brought their check. Potter paid it, then came around the table and held Draco’s chair as he stood.

 

“I gather from Parkinson’s comment that you’re living at the Manor with your mother?”

 

Draco nodded. “She asked me to move back in when Father died.”

 

Potter led as they wound through the tables towards the exit. There were several interested looks cast their way, and Draco tried to ignore them. 

 

“I had heard about your father,” Potter said when they were on the sidewalk outside, his deep voice low. It was cool, and Draco wrapped his arms around himself. “I didn’t like him, but I am sorry for your loss.”

 

Draco accepted the condolences and looked down as they began to walk along Diagon Alley. It was later than he’d realized, and the street was mostly deserted. They arrived at the corner that led to the Leaky Cauldron, and Potter paused. “So, are you going to Apparate, or use the Floo?”

 

“I’ll Apparate,” Draco answered. “Less mess, and I won’t disturb Mother.” He paused. “This was… nice, Potter. Very civilized.”

 

Potter grinned. “We’ve improved with age.” 

 

“So, we have.” 

 

They stood for another long moment, staring at one another, until it began to feel uncomfortable. Finally, Draco took a step back.  “I should go.”

 

“I’ll stay in touch,” Potter said.

 

“Good.” 

 

Draco started to take another step back, but Potter reached out then and caught his arm just above his elbow. Draco went still, waiting, feeling the heat of Potter’s hand through the sleeve of his robe.

 

Potter was very smooth; he had to give him that. Without hesitation, he took a step in, pulled Draco closer, and kissed him.

 

It was not a ravaging kiss. It was surprisingly soft and appropriately brief, considering that they were standing on a street corner. But the scent of Potter filled Draco’s head and the taste of him filled his mouth, and in just the few seconds that their lips were joined, his heart surged and his body quickened. Then Potter was taking a step back, his eyes very dark, his full lips slightly parted.

 

“Good night, Draco.” He let his hand slide down Draco’s arm to his hand, which he squeezed, then with a small smile, he turned and walked away.

 

It took Draco several seconds to gather the composure to Apparate home.

 

~***~

 

In the week since their dinner date, Draco had gone over the conversation, and that promising kiss, dozens of times, finding a curl of pleasure making its way through him each time he did. It helped as he dealt with the insurance company, and the owner of the necklace, and the dozens of howlers he’d received in the days immediately following the robbery for allowing the iconic piece to be stolen. Business was falling and his accounts were dwindling. It was the memory of that kiss that kept him hopeful, in spite of the interview Chekov gave Skeeter, specifically blaming Draco for the necklaces disappearance.

 

He’d had two notes from Potter, very official, telling him that while there were no breaks in the case they were gathering some vital information. The only sour note had come when he’d sent a missive to Potter, telling him that he was going to pay a visit to McMillan, and had been asked rather bluntly in a response to please ‘stay out of it and let me do my job’. While he found Potter surprisingly charming and undeniably sexy, he chaffed a bit at being told what to do. And so at the next available opportunity, he’d decided to drop ‘round and pay the old man a visit’.

 

He was leaving ‘McMillian’s Magical Security’ when he heard a throat cleared roughly and turned, startling a bit when he saw Potter leaning against the wall, his arms crossed over the red Auror robes, his expression mildly irritated. 

 

“Potter,” Draco said, forcing a smile. “Fancy meeting you here.”

 

“Indeed.” The response was tinged with irony. 

 

“I, uhm… just dropped by to visit with Standish,” Potter straightened away from the wall. At the moment he was radiating annoyance, and Draco swallowed. “He’s still away on business.”

 

“I know,” Potter said flatly. “Can I escort you back to your store?”

 

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” Draco said, taking a step back. “I’m quite sure that I can make it on my own.”

 

“I insist.”

 

Draco took a centering breath as Potter fell into step beside him, and they walked toward the street that led to Draco’s shop.

 

They were passing a narrow alley when Potter grabbed his arm and yanked him into the shadowy space between the buildings, pushing his back against the brink wall. 

 

“Hey,” he said in protest. “What…?”

 

“Don’t talk,” Potter ordered, propping his hand on the wall near Draco’s head, standing very close, his chest just inches from Draco’s. “I asked you to stay out of this investigation, and let me do my job.”

 

“And I don’t like being told what to do,” Draco retorted. “It was my business that was robbed. I’ve known Standish McMillan for a long time…”

 

“And how many times have you visited his place of business before?”

 

Draco paused. “I… never have before,” he admitted.

 

“And you don’t think McMillian’s associates are going to find it unusual that you just happened to drop by?” Draco stared mutinously into his eyes, but wouldn’t answer. “Draco,” Potter finally murmured. “We’re making progress, but if you alert them to the fact that we’re looking at them, you’re going to undo everything we’ve done.”

 

“So you think it is them.”

 

“I don’t know that yet,” Potter said, sounding vaguely exasperated.

“But if you tip them off, we’ll never find out.”

 

“Potter,” Draco said softly. “The longer this goes without a resolution, the worse it is for my business. I’m getting at least half a dozen howlers a day, and some of my biggest accounts have pulled their merchandise, not to mention what that Russian nitwit is saying to the papers…”

 

Potter’s face relaxed into lines of concern. “I saw that,” he said quietly. “And I’m sorry about it. I wish that things were moving more quickly.” He paused, his eyes dropping to Draco’s lips, as if he’d just realized how very close they were standing to one another. “For several reasons.”

 

“Me, too,” Draco murmured, his heart beginning to pound. Potter was so close that Draco could feel his body heat, smell his cologne. It was something earthy and rich, and it made Draco’s mouth water. “Potter,” he whispered, whether in warning or in supplication, he wasn’t sure, because Potter had stepped closer yet, and their bodies came together from chests to knees for the first time. They both caught their breath at the surge of heat.

 

Potter’s hand slid up Draco’s arm and then around his nape, his eyes intent as he angled his head to one side, and then he was pulling him in and pressing his lips over Draco’s in a demanding kiss that made his heart slam hard against his ribs.

 

Draco had long ascribed to the belief that there really was only enough blood in a man's body to operate either his brain or his cock, and his was erect in a dizzying rush, canceling his ability to think. His hands gripped Potter’s hard biceps and his legs spread instinctively, and Potter slipped into the resulting v.  Though Draco couldn’t really feel Potter’s cock, the pressure on his erection was enough to make him moan in his throat. Potter’s tongue surged into his mouth, and their heads reversed angle as Draco closed his lips around it and sucked. It was Potter’s turn to moan, and he surged forward, pushing Draco’s arse against the wall. The length of their robes was the only thing preventing Draco from lifting his leg around Potter’s thigh, and he angled his hips forward in frustration.

 

Potter pulled his lips away with a harsh breath. “We can’t do this,” he said, pressing his forehead against Draco’s. “Not here and not now.”

 

Draco’s heart sank, but he knew that it was true. It was the middle of the day, in an alley. Anyone might walk by.

 

“I know,” he said, closing his eyes. “I know.  I just wish…”

 

“Me, too.”  Potter took a step back, and Draco couldn’t help himself. He glanced down, and the subtle but unmistakable tenting at Potter’s groin was gratifying. “Go on,” Potter said raggedly. “I’ll owl you.”

 

Draco nodded, then impulsively pressed a fleeting kiss to Potter’s lips and left before the exasperated man could scold him.

 

~***~

 

 

“So, let me get this straight,” Pansy said. “Pardon the pun.”

 

“You truly are a vicious harpy,” Draco sighed, standing back and watching as the showcase in the middle of the gallery was replaced.

 

“Am not,” she countered, her smile teasing. “But, just so I understand; no sex until he’s found the necklace?”

 

He turned and gave her an irritated glare. “Could you say that a little louder, Pans? I don’t believe the workmen heard you clearly.”

 

“Oi, we did,” one of them joked, and the other laughed. Pansy cackled, and Draco grabbed her arm and pulled her unceremoniously into the back room.

 

“Dammit, Parkinson,” he scolded. “If you fuck this up for me, I will never forgive you. I shouldn’t have told you anything.”

 

“Oh, like those two men are going to trot off to Potter. They didn’t even know who we were talking about. It’s not like we haven’t exchanged stories about everyone we’ve ever done. I’ve told you mine, you’ve told me yours.”

 

“And I still have nightmares about you and Goyle.” He shuddered as she laughed again.

 

“Oh, old Greg wasn’t so bad. But Potter… well, now he’s a whole different species, isn’t he?”

 

Draco looked down, but he could feel the smile that was pulling at the corner of his mouth. That kiss in the alley had been… well, it had been something else, again. “He could be,” he said finally, and Pansy batted him playfully on the arm. 

 

“Look at the sickening grin,” she teased. “Good heavens, you’re a smitten kitten if ever I saw one.”

 

“Fine, but we aren’t discussing this any further.” He settled himself in the chair behind his desk, and she perched on the corner. “And I find it hard to believe that you popped in here today just to find out about my sex life, or lack thereof.”

 

“But, darling.” She crossed her legs. “Sex with the savior; that’s not your everyday blow job, is it?”

 

He shook his head. “You are incorrigible, and there have been no blow jobs.” He studied her face carefully. “So, when are you going to tell me why you’re really here?”

 

She held the grin for another moment, then sighed and shook her head as it faded. “Why is it exactly that you can see right through me?”

 

“Because you’re as transparent as glass?” he countered. She stared into his eyes, nibbling at the corner of her lip.

 

“All right,” she finally said on a burst of air. “I’m going to tell you, but you have to swear to me, positively swear, that you aren’t going to do anything foolish.”

 

His eyes narrowed. “What are you on about?”

 

“Promise me, Draco. Promise me on your word of honor that you aren’t going to go off half-cocked.” She rolled her eyes. “As it were.”

 

“Pansy,” he warned, his tone tight. “Enough with the bad puns. Just tell me.”

 

She studied his face for a long moment.

 

“Chekov is in London.”

 

Draco stilled, his eyes on her face. She watched him carefully.

 

It had been nearly two weeks since the robbery, and on almost every one of those days, there had been a new incendiary quote in the Prophet from the owner of the rubies, defaming Draco and his security company, doing everything but coming right out and accusing him of stealing the gems himself. Draco’s jaw hardened.

 

“Why is he here?”

 

“Apparently, he’s trying to see if he can’t speed up the release of the insurance funds,” she answered. “He’s meeting with the Minister this morning, to see if the Aurors won’t sign off on it.”

 

“They won’t,” Draco said flatly. “Potter won’t do it.”

 

She shrugged. “Well, he’s determined to try.”

 

Draco stared at her. “How do you know this?”

 

She sighed heavily, plucking at the clasp on her purse. “I had a visit from Skeeter this morning.”

 

Draco frowned. “Skeeter came to see you? Why?”

 

“Well, I am your business partner, darling. And apparently, she’s been warned rather sternly that she’s not to bother you.” Her lips twisted at one corner. “And that has the twat’s little mind teeming, let me tell you.”

 

“What did she say?” Draco asked, anger thrumming through him.

 

“Just that Chekov was in town, staying at the Waldorf Astoria, and she wondered if we had a comment.”

 

In spite of his anger, Draco managed to smirk. “Did you give her one?

 

She snorted indelicately. “Not that she could print.” Her dark eyes fixed on him. “I only told you because I didn’t want you finding out from someone else.”

 

He was fuming. He should have found out from someone else. He should have found out from Potter, the bastard. 

 

Pansy glanced down at her watch. “And now I’m late for brunch with our mothers.” She shuddered, then looked into his eyes imploringly. “Come with me? You can run interference for me over the fact that I’m not married yet. I can bemoan the fact that my one true love has been lured away by homosexuality.”

 

He grimaced. “Tempting, but no, thank you.”

 

“Coward,” she huffed, standing, straightening her designer suit. “All right, I’ll owl you later.” She started for the door, then stopped and looked back. “Swear to me, Draco, that you won’t do anything foolish.”

 

He held up his hand. “I absolutely swear that I will not do anything even remotely foolish.”

 

She nodded and left the office. He waited exactly two minutes before he stood and Apparated away.

 

~***~

 

The Bentley-Waldorf Astoria was a beautiful hotel, its white Georgian façade elegant and stately. It was also a completely Muggle establishment, and so Draco had detoured to the Manor to change out of his robes and into a gun-metal grey Savile Row suit with matching shirt and tie before Apparating into the Leaky Cauldron and taking a cab from there. Because of his business dealings, Draco had grown more comfortable moving about in the Muggle world in the last five years, and usually kept Muggle currency available for just such an outing. He paid his driver, and entered the opulent lobby when the doorman, in his distinctive dark livery and tidy hat, held the door for him.

 

“Sir,” the man said deferentially, bowing slightly. Draco nodded regally. He’d not yet figured out how he was going to find out what room Chekov was in, but he was bound and determined to talk to the man somehow. He was glancing around the lavish lobby when he caught site of very attractive young man standing behind the marble concierge desk. He had clearly already noticed Draco, who paused and began to smile. The young man smiled back, and Draco felt a surge of excitement. Could it really be that easy?

 

He made his way to a comfortable chair and picked up a newspaper, pretending to read, actually watching as an older couple stood at the desk, conversing with an attractive young woman. The young concierge watched him covertly, sending small secret smiles his way. When the young woman came out from behind the counter and led the couple away, chatting animatedly, Draco folded the paper and stood. Dropping his hand into his jacket pocket and making his way to the counter, he leaned against it casually.

 

“Hello.” He smiled his most charming smile

 

The young man returned it. “Hello. Can I help you?”

 

Draco made a display of checking him out rather thoroughly. It was no hardship; he was attractive. Not as attractive as Potter, but then, few were. Forcefully reminded of his mission, Draco’s smile widened. “Oh, I think so.”

 

The young man never knew what hit him. The spell was so subtle that Draco doubted he even felt it. And yet, from that moment forward, if Draco had asked him to get down on all fours and bark like a dog, he would have. With eyes now a little glassy, the young man merely continued to smile.

 

“I was wondering if you could tell me which room Ivan Chekov is in?”  Draco asked softly.

 

“Mr. Chekov is in a suite,” came the immediate answer. “The Royal Suite. Eighth floor.”

 

“Ahh, of course,” Draco mused. “I don’t suppose you have a key?”

 

Still smiling vacantly, the young man opened a drawer, took out what looked to be a credit card and slid it through a machine on the counter, entering a few numbers on the keypad. He then placed it on the marble counter and slid it across into Draco’s waiting hand.

 

“Thank you so much,” Draco paused and studied the man’s name badge, “Steven.”

 

“You’re welcome, sir. Thank you for joining us at the Bentley-Waldorf.”

 

Draco nodded and turned away, moving casually towards the lifts. When the doors slid open and he stepped on and turned, he found Steven studying him with a bemused expression his face. Draco waved as the doors closed.

 

When he stepped off of the elevator on the eighth floor, he paused and glanced around the corner. He saw a man standing outside of the suite, legs planted, arms crossed casually in front of him. Wearing an ill fitting Muggle suit, he might as well have been wearing a sign that said “Auror” in bight red letters. Draco paused for a moment, then carefully withdrew his wand from his pocket and peered around the corner, sending a silent spell toward the man. He flinched, then began to fidget. A moment later, he glanced back toward the door nervously before turning and entering the suite. Draco re-pocketed his wand, hoping he could slip into the suite unnoticed while the guard was still in the loo. He hadn’t used that spell since Hogwarts, he thought with a quirk to his lips. He used to send poor Longbottom to the loo with phantom stomach cramps at least twice a day.

 

Moving to the door, Draco glanced up and down the hallway one more time before using the sliding card on the lock. A small light flashed from red to green, and he turned the knob carefully, pushing the door open a few inches. Stopping immediately when he heard voices, he leaned forward to listen carefully. They didn’t appear to be in the room on the other side of the door, and he pushed it open, peaking around the edge.  It opened into a marble entryway with a large sitting room beyond. He stepped through and closed the door quietly at his back, then caught his breath when he heard footsteps approaching. His heart pounding, he saw a doorway to his right and stepped into a darkened cloak room just as the steps rounded the corner. Putting his eye to the slight crack he’d left, he watched as the sentry he’d spelled opened the door and left the suite. Taking a deep breath, he pressed his hand over his galloping heart. That had been too close for comfort. Apparently, his old hex didn’t last as long as it used to.

 

He waited in the shadows until his heart rate returned to normal, then took a deep breath and silently opened the cloak room door.  Moving cautiously, he made his way through the large suite, through the sitting room and a small dining room, staying near the wall as he hesitated just outside of another door. Here the voices were louder, and he recognized Potter’s. He paused, stepping closer to the doorway, his back pressed against the wall. There was a mirror hanging on the wall inside of the room, and he could see that Chekov was sitting on the edge of the bed looking at someone out of Draco’s range of vision, his florid face an irritated mask.

 

“You’re fishing, Potter,” he sneered. “And you’re wasting my time.”

 

“I don’t think so, Mr. Chekov,” Draco heard Potter reply. “I believe that you had the rubies stolen yourself, then tried to make it look as if Malfoy were responsible.”

 

Draco caught his breath, his eyes going very wide. Chekov? But…why?

 

“That is ridiculous,” Chekov countered, his accented voice scoffing. “Why in the world would I do such a thing? It makes no sense. I own them; I do not need to steal them.”

 

Draco frowned. He couldn’t help but agree.

 

“That’s true,” Potter concurred amiably. “On the surface it appears a far-fetched theory. I certainly thought that it was. Until I had an interesting conversation with Standish McMillan.”

 

McMillan? Potter had talked to McMillan?

 

“It seems,” Potter went on, “that one of his primary assistants recently left his employ, a man who was instrumental in installing Mr. Malfoy’s enhanced security wards for the exhibit.” Potter paused, and Draco watched Chekov’s face. He appeared supremely unruffled, his arms crossed over his barrel chest. “Imagine my surprise when I found out that this same man is now working… for you.”

 

There was a charged silence, then Chekov shrugged. “So?  It means nothing. I needed a security expert and he was not satisfied with what McMillan was paying him. Hiring someone is not a crime.”

 

“No, you’re right about that,” Potter agreed, his voice growing slightly louder, as if he’d approached the door where Draco stood.  Draco pushed his back against the wall, holding his breath.  “People certainly do have the right to change employers. It’s just the timing of it I find somewhat suspicious. Considering he came into your employ three days after the final install on the elevated wards for the necklace, and two days before Mr. Malfoy was robbed. You can see how that might raise questions, can’t you?”

 

Chekov grunted. “I cannot hope to understand the working of your mind, Potter,” he said shortly. 

 

“Well, let me help you,” Potter said, sounding almost jovial. “You made Mr. McMillan’s former associate an offer he couldn’t refuse, in the way of financial incentive. The two of you then robbed Mr. Malfoy. You hit him over the head, and the security expert shattered the case; that way, there would be no unusual magical signature left behind, because he was already keyed to the wards. You took the necklace, paid off your accomplice, and then began making statements to the press to turn suspicion onto Draco Malfoy.”

 

“Preposterous.” Chekov shook his bull shaped head. 

 

“Is it?” Potter asked, his voice softening. He paused. “He already rolled over on you, Ivan.”

 

A muscle in the old man’s jaw flexed as he clenched his teeth. “He’s a liar.”

 

Potter laughed, and the sound was tinged with scorn. “I don’t think so. He has too much to lose. And we made him an excellent offer; he told us about you in exchange for a reduced sentence.” Potter moved, and suddenly Draco could see one square shoulder covered in black wool. Potter was wearing a Muggle suit, as well. Draco pulled his head back even further, peering around the corner carefully. “He told me several interesting things. For instance, I’d been wondering how Skeeter was getting her daily quotes from you. It’s a long way for an owl to fly from Russia, and I just couldn’t see you and Skeeter chatting it up on a Muggle mobile. It wasn’t really much of a surprise to find out that you’ve been in the country all along, at an estate in Derbyshire.”

 

Chekov snorted. “I have not.”

 

“Yes, you have. We spoke to the owner this morning. Nice touch, by the way. Suddenly ‘coming to England, checking into the Waldorf’. If we hadn’t already had Bradshaw, it might have actually worked. But we do have him, Ivan. We didn’t even have to use Veritaserum on him.” Potter’s voice dropped to a low growl. “But we will on you, if necessary.”

 

Chekov’s eyes bulged and his florid face grew dangerously red. “You can’t, Potter,” he spat. “I am a Russian national. I have diplomatic immunity.”

 

Potter laughed, but he didn’t sound even remotely amused. “You have to be a diplomat to have immunity. As far as I can see, you’re little better than a common thief.”

 

Chekov’s eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth. “I am not awed by your reputation, Potter, and I know that the use of Veritaserum is illegal in your country…”

 

“No, it isn’t. Not under Ministry supervision.”

 

“You will not take me in,” Chekov scoffed. “If you thought that you had cause, I would be in custody already.”

 

Potter’s profile suddenly appeared in the mirror, and Draco reared back, startled at how far out he’d leaned unconsciously. Potter’s eyes were narrowed and his jaw was hard, his face inches from the obstinate Russians.

 

“Listen to me, Chekov. You will either tell me what I want to know of your own free will, or you will do it in a Ministry holding cell, under Veritaserum. I am not impressed with diplomatic immunity, nor will I recognize it until I am ordered to. And trust me,” Potter’s voice dropped and his eyes grew flinty, “I have no compunction about finding out  all of your dirty little secrets.” Chekov dampened his lips nervously. “By the time I’m done with you, I will know everything you’ve done for the last forty years. I’m certain that your Ministry would be very interested to know about some of your former business dealings. And I’ll know it all. Every dirty little secret, every single dishonest deal, every swindle, and where every single body is buried. I imagine that kind of list would interest my counterpart in Moscow. I’ve met Yevgeny Volkov; he’s not a forgiving man, Ivan, and I understand he doesn’t like you much. People he doesn’t like tend to disappear into Siberia until there’s no one left who remembers them.”

 

Chekov was breathing heavier, and he swallowed heavily. Truth be told, Draco was having a little trouble getting a deep breath, himself. “You… don’t do things like that,” Chekov wheezed. “You’re Harry Potter. It’s not in your character.”

 

Potter’s face looked as if it had been hewn of stone. His eyes were flat and hard and his mouth was tight. “You know nothing about my character,” he said in a clipped tone. “I will do what I deem necessary.” He straightened, and Draco could no longer see his face, but he could hear the finality in his voice. “Enough of this.  Dawlish, read him his rights. I guess we’re going to do this the hard way.”

 

“Wait,” Chekov said. He reached out a hand, and Draco could see that it was trembling. “Potter, please. You don’t understand…”

 

Potter’s face was back, his jaw still hard. “So, enlighten me.”

 

“I never should have bought the cursed thing,” he whispered finally. Draco was startled to see tears fill his eyes. “People tried to warn me, but I thought that I knew better. I thought that because I didn’t believe, that I would be safe.”  His lower lip began to tremble, and he seemed to collapse inwardly, his head dropping forward. “From the moment I bought the necklace, everything fell apart. My businesses began to fail, my house burned, and my wife… my beautiful Yelena…” He dropped his face into his hands, sobbing. Draco saw Potter reach back, and someone handed him a handkerchief, which he in turn pressed into Chekov’s hand. “It was my fault,” he cried brokenly. “It was all my fault. If I’d just never bought the curse-ridden thing…”

 

For several long moments, nothing was said. Chekov seemed to remember himself finally, and mopped at his eyes with the handkerchief, then blew his nose. He sat leaning forward despondently, and Draco saw the corner of a wooden chair placed before him, saw Potter straddle it from behind.  He crossed his arms on the top and leaned forward.

 

“Tell me what happened,” he said to Chekov, not unkindly. Chekov sighed deeply.

 

“I should have known that there was something evil about it from the beginning. I bought it for a fraction of its value; the last owner was so desperate to be rid of it. I hadn’t had it a week when my first business venture went under. At first, I refused to credit it to the rubies, but as time went by…” He shook his head. “So much could not go wrong so quickly, not unless there were evil forces at work…” He lifted his eyes to Harry, his face imploring. “I had to be rid of it, Potter. But everyone was smarter than I had been. No one would buy it. And then Malfoy wanted to show it in his business, and I thought… perhaps there is a way. If it is stolen while it’s not in my possession, then the insurance will pay off. I can be rid of the blasted thing, and no one is hurt. You see? I had no choice!”

 

“But someone was hurt,” Potter said, his voice stark. 

 

“Who?” Chekov spread his hands. “Who is hurt?”

 

A muscle flexed in Potter’s jaw. “Draco Malfoy.”

 

Chekov snorted and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Oh, him. Who cares? Son of a Death Eater? It’s not as if he were a respectable business man. And what’s a bump on the head?”

 

Draco gasped in outrage, then clapped his hand over his mouth. It hadn’t been very loud; maybe no one had heard. He stiffened, horrified when Potter’s head turned and their eyes met in the mirror. 

 

By no outward sign did Potter indicate he’d seen Draco. He stared at him, then slowly turned his head back. “Dawlish, keep an eye on our friend, will you?” he asked casually. “I’ll return shortly.”

 

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” Draco muttered, turning and moving quickly down the short hallway. Maybe if he made a break for it…

 

“Don’t even think about it.”

 

The voice was next to his ear, and a hand closed hard around his arm.

 

“Potter, I just…”

 

“Shut up,” Potter whispered in a clipped tone. “Do not say one word.”

 

Both embarrassed that he’d been caught out, and chaffing at being treated like a recalcitrant school boy, Draco held his silence as Potter escorted him none too gently out of the suite, past the startled guard at the door and down the hallway to the lifts. Potter continued to grip his arm as he stabbed the button with his other hand.

 

“Unhand me,” Draco hissed, trying to twist his arm away, but Potter’s grip was unbreakable. 

 

“I told you not to speak,” Potter said, his jaw so tight it scarcely moved. “If you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to me.”

 

Draco turned his head back towards the lift doors, fuming. When they slid open, and Potter saw that the lift was empty, he shoved Draco forward and followed him into the small space, turning his back and punching the button for the lobby. He stood with his back to Draco, shoulders stiff, head high and arms crossed, his body radiating irritation.

 

About fed up with the entire business, Draco did the only thing he could think to do. He reached out and batted Potter in the back of his head.

 

Potter stiffened, then turned slowly, green eyes ablaze behind the lenses of his glasses. “I cannot believe,” he ground out through clenched teeth, “that you just did that.”

 

Draco crossed his arms, his own shoulders stiff and his jaw tight. “And I cannot believe that you just manhandled me like one of your… suspects. How dare you?”

 

Potter’s eyes widened. “How dare I?” he parroted. “How dare I? What did I tell you, Draco, about interfering with this investigation?”

 

“How was I interfering?” he shot back, lifting his chin. “I didn’t say a word. Not a word.”

 

“What,” Potter snarled, “were you doing there to begin with?”

 

Draco blinked, straightening. “I…” he paused, and swallowed.  “I wanted to talk to Chekov, to get him to back the hell off.”

 

Potter shook his head, incredulous. “What part of ‘stay out of this and let me do my job’ did you misunderstand?”

 

“I just wanted to talk to him,” Draco protested.

 

“How did you even know where he was staying?” Potter asked, eyes narrowing. “How did you find out what room he was in? How did you get past the guard? For fuck’s sakes, how did you get in the room?” Draco didn’t answer, just lifted his chin, his teeth clenched. Potter ran his hand through his hair in exasperation.

“Gods, Draco, how many laws did you just break?”

 

“I just wanted him to stop blaming me,” Draco shot back. “Do you know what this has done to my business, and my reputation? It’s a shambles, Potter. It’s costing me a bloody fortune just to stay open every day. And to be honest,” he sneered. “I was tired of waiting. Boy Wonders who kill off Dark Lords may not have needs, and you may not be in any hurry, but I’d like to get laid sometime before I’m fifty.”

 

Potter’s eyes bulged, and if he hadn’t been so exasperated, Draco might have found his expression comical. What was not amusing was when Potter lifted his right hand a moment later and waved it in the air, and the elevator jolted to a stop between floors. The silence that followed was daunting.

 

“What did you say to me?” Potter hissed, taking a step forward. Draco pushed his back against the wall, suddenly realizing just how small the lift actually was.

 

“Very impressive,” he said instead. “Am I supposed to be scared, now?”

 

“If you’re smart, which appears to be in question,” Potter growled, still advancing. “What did you say?”

 

“Which part,” Draco retorted, fighting to keep his voice steady. Potter continued to advance, finally stopping right in front of him, not an inch between them. Draco could feel the anger rolling off of the man in waves. 

 

“You know which part,” Potter insisted. “The part about ‘Boy Wonders not having needs’.” He grabbed Draco’s right hand in his left and pinned it neatly to the wall above his head, then curled his fingers around his left wrist. “I have news for you, Malfoy, I have needs.” He jerked Draco’s hand forward then, and startling a squeak out of him, pressed his palm flat against the front of his trousers and held it there. “Does that feel as if I don’t?”

 

Draco’s eyes were bulging, but he couldn’t help it. Under his palm, Potter was unmistakably hard. Very hard. 

 

“Why, you kinky bastard,” Draco sputtered. “Is this what does it for you? Fighting? Or was it brow beating old Chekov that got you so riled up?”

 

“Oh, for gods sakes, shut the fuck up,” Potter growled, and pressing his cock harder into Draco’s hand, he took his lips in a kiss that was both angry and unrestrained, his teeth bruising Draco’s mouth, his tongue thrusting forward in an emphatic possession. And though he wanted to be angry, and the thought crossed his mind to bite Potter’s tongue, instead Draco caressed him and kissed him back with every ounce of passion and anger and need inside of him. It became something of a battle for domination; whose hands were stronger, whose push more forceful, whose needs were greater. It was beginning to spiral out of control when Draco felt Potter pull back, reel it in, begin to withdraw, and he nearly wept in disappointment.  

 

Potter ended the kiss and let his head fall back on his neck, catching Draco’s hand and removing it from his groin, holding his wrist out and away from his body. He took several deep breaths, then brought his head forward and met Draco’s widened eyes. 

 

“Go home,” he said hoarsely. “Go home, and stay there until I come to you. Do you understand me?”

 

Draco began to protest, but Potter leaned in and took his mouth again, swallowing his words. Once again Potter’s tongue and the taste of his mouth silenced any protests. When Potter pulled back this time, his eyes were imploring. 

 

“Draco, please. Go home. Let me finish this.”

 

Draco stared into his eyes. “I don’t like it.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I can take care of myself.”

 

“I know that, too. Just, let me do this.”

 

The impasse held for a moment longer, until Draco finally nodded begrudgingly. Potter sighed, then lifted his hand and with a wave, the elevator began to move again. Potter turned and leaned against the wall, visibly reconstructing his composure and buttoning his suit jacket closed in the front. When the doors slid silently open on the lobby, he gestured towards the opening with his head. Draco stopped just before exiting and turned back.

 

“You’re a right bastard, you know that?” he hissed at Potter. “If we’re to have any future at all, you’re going to have to work on that.”

 

Potter eyed him expressionlessly, then nodded curtly. “Duly noted,” he snapped. “Now go home.” 

 

Potter punched the button and the doors started to slide closed, necessitating Draco to take a quick step back as they sealed silently in front of his face.

 

“High-handed son of a bitch,” he muttered, turning to make his way through the lobby, chaffing, but doing what he’d been told.

 

~***~

 

Draco sat in a chair next to the fireplace in his mother’s sitting room, legs crossed, one foot bouncing as he chewed on the cuticle of his left thumb. He’d been at the Manor for nearly four hours, begrudgingly doing what he’d been told, and still there had been no word from Potter. 

 

He glanced at the clock on the white marble mantle and saw that it was nearly seven. He’d picked at his dinner, pushed his desert around on the plate, and declined his mother’s offer of an after-dinner sherry. Now he fidgeted, torn between being absolutely infuriated that Potter had not contacted him yet, and terrified that he’d made the man so angry this time that there would be no contact at all. Huffing loudly, he let his head fall back against the top of the chair.

 

“Draco, darling.”

 

He lifted his head and found his mother watching him, her pale blue eyes calm but her expression faintly irritated. 

 

“If you are not going to share with me what’s got you so agitated, the least you can do is attempt to control yourself.”

 

Draco straightened, taking and releasing a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Mother. I’ve a lot on my mind.”

 

“So I gathered,” she said with one artfully raised eyebrow. He’d known for most of his adult life where both he and his father had gotten the expression. She picked up a lovely round hat box with climbing roses painted around the sides from the floor and set it next to her on the small chaise.  Opening the lid, she withdrew an embroidery hoop and settled against a small stack of throw pillows at her back, withdrawing a needle. Draco watched as she took a neat stitch, pulling the dark blue thread away from the hoop, inserted the needle and took another small stitch, then another. It was almost hypnotic, the slow, steady motions.

 

“I don’t suppose,” she said softly, her pale hands moving skillfully, “that your pique has anything to do with the handsome Chief Auror.”

 

Draco blinked, caught off guard. “Pardon?” he asked, his heart beginning to beat more quickly. He’d not said a word to his mother about Potter; not only did he not discuss his liaisons with her, he’d hadn’t a clue how to even approach it. Narcissa had long ago accepted that her son was gay, but he couldn’t imagine beginning this conversation with; ‘guess what, mum? Your little dragon has a hard on for the golden boy.’

 

“I’ve no idea what you mean,” he said, quite proud of the fact that he only sounded faintly breathless.

 

She shot him a wry look. “Draco, please. I’ve always been very proud of how bright you are. Let’s not play dumb now.”

 

He stared at her as she returned her eyes to her embroidery and continued to stitch calmly. Draco’s eyes narrowed.

 

“Parkinson,” he huffed finally. The corner of Narcissa’s mouth twitched slightly. “I’ll never tell that vapid cow anything again as long as I live.”

 

“Be nice,” his mother scolded mildly. “And you mustn’t blame Pansy.” She shot him a sly smile and went back to her needlework. “You know how persuasive I can be.”

 

“And smooth,” Draco said. “She probably had absolutely no idea she was being grilled.”

 

“Well, of course not,” his mother agreed amiably. “That would just be common. And honestly, darling, if you would tell me what’s going on in your life I wouldn’t have to find out from your friends.”

 

Draco huffed and crossed his arms. “There’s nothing going on.”

 

Narcissa didn’t even look up, but that brow arched again, and Draco sighed. “Fine. There’s… not much going on.” His mouth twisted. “Not as much as I’d like, anyway,” he muttered under his breath. Again, Narcissa’s lips quirked.

 

“Well, according to Pansy, he’s certainly shown some interest.” She looked up at him, her face faintly assessing. “I must say I never imagined the two of you as a couple. He seemed so very…”

 

“Straight?” Draco provided with a wry smirk.

 

“No,” Narcissa said primly. “Although he does seem a bit…”

 

“Masculine?”

 

She settled an irritated look on her son. “I do wish you’d stop putting words in my mouth, Draco. I wasn’t going to say that, either. I was going to say ‘earnest’.”

 

“He’s earnest, all right,” Draco groused. “Earnest and upright and straightforward.” He shook his head. “Honest as the day is long. A bloody paragon!” He threw his hands up in exasperation. 

 

Narcissa didn’t even attempt to hide her small smile. “You say that as if those are bad things, sweetheart.”

 

“Not… bad, exactly,” Draco replied. “Just exasperating.” His mother stopped her stitching and watched him expectantly. He sighed heavily. “He likes me,” he began.

 

“Of course he does,” she said imperturbably. “He’s not stupid.” She looked back down at her embroidery. “And, in spite of the glasses, I’m quite certain he’s not blind.”

 

Draco’s irritation faded a bit. “Thank you,” he murmured. She nodded regally. 

 

“Do go on,” she prodded.

 

“He likes me,” he repeated. “He just won’t date me until the mess with the stolen rubies is sorted. He thinks it’s unprofessional.”

 

She shrugged. “Well, he is a Gryffindor, darling,” she said sagely. “This can’t be a surprise to you.”

 

“It isn’t.” He kicked lightly at the ottoman near his feet. “I just…” he paused. His mother’s eyes came up again.

 

“Yes?” He grimaced, and muttered something under his breath.

 

“I’m sorry; I didn’t catch that,” she prodded, but the twinkle in her blue eyes led him to believe that she was merely goading him. 

 

“I like him, too,” he repeated more loudly, his lips turning down at the corners. “Quite a lot, actually. The idiot.” He exhaled loudly. “I’ve no idea how much longer it’s going to take for him to get this squared, and…” he propped his elbow on the arm of the chair and rested his chin in his hand. “I’ve never been much good at waiting for something I wanted.”

 

Her face took on a thoughtful expression, and she was silent for so long that Draco began to grow uneasy. 

 

“You know,” she mused finally, her fingers still calmly stitching. “Sometimes I think that the things that are the most difficult to acquire, the ones that try our patience, are the ones we most need.” She glanced up at him. “And are of the most value, ultimately.”

 

Draco’s mouth curled. “Trying your hand at philosophy, Mother?”

 

She sniffed. “No, I just know you. And you would never appreciate someone that was easy.”

 

Draco blinked, then opened his mouth to retort but was interrupted by the soft, concussive popping sound of a house-elf Apparating nearby. He turned and saw his mother’s ancient elf, Agatha, standing just inside the double doors that led to the hallway.

 

“Yes, Aggie?” Narcissa said. “What is it?”

 

“There be a man at the door, Miss Cissa,” the wizened little elf answered, her voice soft, trembling slightly. Her rheumy eyes were wide. “He be saying that he’s here on ‘official Ministry business’ and that he needs to be talking to the young Master.” The elf began to wring her hands, her large green eyes blinking. “What do you be wanting Aggie to do?”

 

 “Did he tell you his name?”

 

“Oh, I be knowing who he is, Miss Cissa. Everybody be knowing who he is.” She glanced over her bony shoulder. “It be the Head one,” she whispered. “The Potter one.”

 

Draco straightened, and looked at his mother, and she met his eyes with a slight smile. “Show him in, Aggie.”

 

“You be sure, Miss Cissa?” The elf asked nervously. “He is being very stern. Maybe the young Master should go to his room first?”

 

Narcissa shook his head. “I’m sure everything will be fine. Go, bring him in.”

 

Draco stood nervously, straightening his tie, making certain that his shirt was tucked in. He’d abandoned his jacket when he got home, but was still wearing the Muggle shirt, tie and slacks. He heard the sound of footsteps coming along the long marble hallway outside of the door, and glanced in the mirror above the fireplace to check his hair when he caught sight of his mother smirking at him from the chaise. He let his hand drop self-consciously just as Aggie stepped into the doorway. 

“Mr. Head Auror Harry Potter to be seeing Miss Cissa and the young Master,” she said formally, bowing, and Draco cringed. Oh, dandy, now he sounded like Little Lord Fauntleroy. The only thing missing was the velvet knee breeches.

 

Potter stepped into the doorway behind the tiny elf, and he was wearing the dark red formal robes of the Aurors. Draco had noticed vaguely the night of the robbery that Potter’s were different than the others, however. The robes were double breasted, more like a coat, mid-calve length, fitted and belted at the waist, with stiff epaulets on each shoulder and the embroidered insignia of the Ministry of Magic over his heart. Beneath them he wore fitted black trousers tucked into knee high black dragon-hide boots, and he was wearing black leather gloves. Save for the lack of a beaver hat, he looked like a Cossack, and Draco swallowed.

 

“Actually,” Potter said, his deep voice controlled, “I’m here to see ‘the young Master’. But, it’s a pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Malfoy.”

 

He crossed to her, and when she held out her hand, he took it and bowed over it. She looked at Draco over his dark head, her lips pursed. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, as well, Mr. Potter,” she said smoothly. “I do hope that it’s nothing dire that’s brought you to the Manor this evening.”

 

He straightened and shook his head. “Just some unfinished business with your son, regarding the robbery at his gallery.”

 

“Well, I know that Draco is most anxious for that to be wrapped up.” She looked at Draco. “Most anxious.” Draco felt his face flood with heat, and his mother smiled graciously. “But if you’re here to discuss business, I believe that I will go on to my rooms.”  She crossed to Draco and took his hand. “Good night, darling,” she murmured. 

 

He bent his head and pressed a soft kiss to her cheek. “I’ll stop by on my way up to say good night.”

 

“Don’t be a dolt,” she whispered in his ear, then straightened. “That’s not necessary,” she said more loudly. “I’m actually quite tired.” She turned to Agatha. “Aggie, if you’ll bring me some warm milk?”

 

“Of course, Miss Cissa.” The small elf bowed. 

 

“Good evening, gentlemen.” Narcissa gave them each one last smile, and sailed gracefully from the room. Agatha disappeared with another soft pop.

 

Potter turned to Draco, his eyes inquisitive. “Warm milk? Really?”

 

“Liberally laced with brandy,” Draco replied, and Potter’s lips quirked at the corner. 

 

They stood staring at each other. Potter didn’t seem inclined to speak immediately, and Draco’s palms began to perspire. He fought the urge to wipe them on his slacks.

 

“So,” he said finally, “we’ve ‘business’ to finish?”

 

Potter nodded, taking a couple of steps closer, his hands linked at his lower back, his face impassive. 

 

“Well, first of all,” he said casually. “I’ve decided not to arrest you for obstruction of justice.”

 

Draco’s mouth dropped open in outrage. “I did no such thing!”

 

“Or breaking and entering,” Potter went on, unruffled by Draco’s outburst. “Or using a modified Imperious on the desk clerk, even though that should carry a mandatory sixty day sentence.” Draco grimaced. “I’ve decided that you must have been affected more by that bump on the head than I realized. It’s the only explanation for your somewhat reckless behavior.”

 

Draco huffed. “I have not been reckless…”

 

“Reckless,” Potter repeated, “and borderline irrational behavior. In fact,” he went on, holding up his hand when Draco made a strangled noise, “I’ve decided to leave your adventure this afternoon out of my report completely, in deference to your impaired status. At least, that’s what I told the guard outside the door when he told me about his sudden stomach cramps. And the manager of the hotel when was he contemplating sacking the desk clerk for giving you a key to Chekov’s room.”

 

“I was not irrational,” Draco said tightly.

 

“But even you’ll admit to recklessness?” Draco crossed his arms tightly across his chest, but didn’t say anything else. “At any rate, I’ve made the decision not to mention your presence at the hotel this afternoon at all.”

 

“I suppose you expect me to thank you,” Draco said peevishly. Potter surprised him by chuckling.

 

“No,” he said. “I don’t.” Potter shook his head. “If you did, we’d be back to talking about beginning that stream of cataclysmic events.”

 

Draco rolled his eyes, and Potter’s grin ripened. The silence resettled, Potter watching him in amusement, Draco’s irritation growing. 

 

“Well, are you going to tell me what happened, or not?” he finally burst out. 

 

Potter chuckled. “How much did you hear before I caught you?”

Draco scowled. “Enough to know that the Russian bastard engineered the theft himself, then had absolutely no compunction about trying to pin it on me!”

 

Potter nodded, his grin fading. “And he’ll be paying for that Draco, one way or another. I promise you that.”

 

“What does that mean, one way or another?”

 

Potter looked thoughtful. “Well, it’s up to you, actually.”

 

Draco straightened. “Up to me?”

 

“You have a choice,” Potter replied. “You can press charges for the assault and for the defamation in the newspaper. Or,” he paused. “You can agree to drop the charges in exchange for something else.”

 

“What?”

 

The corner of Potter’s lips began to curl, and he reached into the deep front pocket of his robes. When he pulled his hand back out, Draco gasped. There in Potter’s hand, glittering against the black leather of his glove was the ruby necklace. Potter held it up, and the huge stone at its center swung lazily, gleaming in the firelight.

 

“Where was it?” Draco breathed, staring at the sparkling gems. 

 

“In a Muggle safe deposit box, believe it or not,” Potter answered. “Placed there the morning after the robbery, by someone who has already admitted in a written statement to being in Chekov’s employ.”

 

Draco continued to stare at the necklace. “Please, tell me.”

 

Potter nodded, curling his fingers around the stones. “Chekov confessed to everything. Grand theft, assault, I could even make an attempted murder charge stick, if that’s what you want.”

 

“You said I could get something else, if I chose not to do that.” Draco frowned. “What did you mean?”

 

Potter gestured towards the chaise. “Can we sit?” Draco nodded, and they did, facing each other.

 

“After we recovered the necklace this afternoon,” Potter said, his voice soft. “I went to see Hermione. I wanted to know more about the ‘so-called’ curse Chekov was talking about, but I also wanted to know something else. According to her, this necklace has been owned by a series of people who were either struck with very bad luck while they owned it, or fell victim to some sort of curse. Several have died. Others have faced catastrophic business losses. From all appearances, this necklace has a curse on it, and a powerful one.”

 

Draco stared warily at the rubies. “Who does she think cursed it?”

 

“Well, do you remember what she first told us, the addendum to the legend?”

 

Draco nodded. “That the souls of the Romanov’s could not be freed until the necklace was returned to the ‘original owner’. Yes.”

 

“Well, according to Hermione, the British crown jewels do not belong to the monarchy. They are in fact the property of the British people.”

 

Draco’s widened eyes found Potters. “She thinks the rightful owners of the necklace are the Russian people?”

 

Potter nodded. “She does. She also thinks the curse is the result of the necklace being ‘stolen’ from those rightful owners.”

 

Draco rubbed his hand over his chin. “What happens to the necklace if I press charges?”

 

Harry leaned into the back of the chaise. “Chekov has confessed to attempting to defraud the insurance carrier. Under the terms of your policy, it would become theirs, to dispose of as they saw fit. They would most likely offer to sell it to you, and if you didn’t want it, they’d probably auction it to the highest bidder.”

 

“Meaning another private owner.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Draco frowned. “And, if I choose not to press charges?”

 

Potter angled his head to one side. “If you choose not to prosecute him, Chekov has agreed to apologize publicly, in a full page announcement in the Prophet for any harm that he might have done to your business with his ‘unfortunate and inaccurate’ statements.”

 

“He’d have to admit responsibility,” Draco said, emphatic. “Just an apology won’t be enough; I can take out an announcement, too, Potter.”

 

“Oh, he’ll admit to culpability,” Potter replied.  “I won’t let him out of the country if he doesn’t.”

 

Draco looked into the hard green eyes, and felt a chill run the length of his spine. In that moment, he was very grateful that he wasn’t still on the wrong side of Potter; he’d seen the man in action. “Also,” Potter went on, “he will pay you an unspecified amount in damages, and return the necklace to your gallery for the agreed upon duration of the exhibition, with one key difference.  He is going to quite publicly donate the rubies —” he paused, “ —to the Russian people.” 

    

Potter stopped, waiting.

 

Draco looked towards the fire, his mind working. He could decide to make Chekov miserable; press charges, keep him in the country, keep his fortunes tied up with the rubies indefinitely. It might be more satisfying that way; the vengeful part of him enjoyed the prospect of Chekov’s luck being tied to the necklace for years. And yet…

 

He’d been unable to shake the image of that blinking eye from his mind. He’d seen that eye, seen that the rubies had begun to pulsate in the rhythm of a beating heart. He knew, instinctively that the legend was true, and that there were seven souls trapped in the unforgiving stones; a family separated, possibly forever. He rubbed his hand over his jaw as he stared at the flames.

 

He closed his eyes for a moment, then turned to Potter. “While I find the idea of making Chekov pay into perpetuity immensely satisfying—“ Potter smirked, “—I don’t think it’s necessary. Tell him that I will drop the charges in exchange for the concessions he’s already agreed to, with the addition that he admits guilt.”

 

Potter nodded, his eyes beginning to shine with approval. 

 

“What?” Draco huffed, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. “It’s the right thing to do.”

 

Potter’s lips curled upwards in a smile. “It is the right thing to do,” he murmured, shifting towards Draco on the chaise, dropping the necklace back into his pocket. He reached out and cupped Draco’s jaw in his large hand. The leather glove was warmed to his body, and felt soft and supple against Draco’s skin. “It looks good on you,” he murmured, his eyes studying each of Draco’s features, coming to rest on his slightly parted lips.

 

“What does?” Draco whispered, studying Potter as intently as he was being studied himself. 

 

“Compassion.” Potter’s thumb stroked his lower lip, and Draco could smell the soft, alluring scent of leather. He felt a powerful stirring in his groin. 

 

“It’s not for him,” Draco muttered. 

 

Potter’s eyes sparkled. “I know who it’s for.” He leaned forward to run his nose along the line of Draco’s jaw. Draco swallowed deeply. “I won’t tell anyone,” Potter went on, teeth taking a soft nip of Draco’s earlobe. “But you’re a very nice man.” He leaned into Draco, pushing him back onto the chaise.

 

Draco huffed weakly as he let Potter maneuver him onto his back. “I’m nothing of the sort.”

 

Potter smiled against his neck, shifting so that he was lying on top of Draco, his knee urging Draco’s legs apart, pressing him into the small couch, and Draco exhaled shakily. Potter’s body was solid, and Draco loved the crush of his weight. He lifted his arms around Potter’s shoulders and angled his head when warm lips opened on his throat.

 

“You do know what this means, if he agrees to your terms?” 

 

Draco sighed when he felt Potter’s tongue trace a line above his collar. “What?” he murmured absently.

 

Potter lifted his head and looked down into Draco’s eyes. “It means that the case is over.” He began to smile. 

 

Draco couldn’t help it. His lips followed the same course as Potter’s, until he was grinning back at him. “Is that so?”

 

“It is. And, just so you know…” Potter dropped his mouth down to Draco’s ear again, and Draco’s breath caught when he felt one of Potter’s hands insinuate itself in between their body’s. “This ‘boy wonder’, and I really hate that term for future reference, –” his hand slid over Draco’s hip and across his lower stomach, “ – definitely has needs.” His palm came to rest over the bulge at Draco’s groin, and he squeezed. Draco hoped the involuntary gasping whimper he gave wouldn’t be used against him at a later date.

 

Potter’s mouth closed over his, and Draco eagerly opened in response, accepting Potter’s tongue, wrapping his around it in return. Draco arched up into Potter’s touch as the hand on his cock began a rhythmic stroking, and Draco groaned into Potter’s open mouth.

 

“Bedroom?” Potter said against his lips.

 

“Here,” Draco answered raggedly, already near the edge. “Now.”

 

“Your mother?”

 

“East Wing. Miles away.” 

 

Immediately the intensity in Potter’s body heightened, seemed to focus. Careful teasing done, he gave Draco another scorching kiss, his free hand lifting to the buttons of his shirt. Leaving the tie in place, he opened the closure down the front, yanking it from Draco’s slacks, pushing it aside to reveal his chest. With a soft, satisfied sound his head lowered and he mapped the sleek musculature of Draco’s chest with his mouth. When he reached a tight, dusky nipple, he took it in his mouth and sucked hard, and Draco arched up with an inarticulate cry, his hands fisting in Potter’s hair. Potter squeezed Draco’s cock again, and Draco shuddered. 

 

“Now, Potter,” he gasped, thrusting into the touch. “Please.”

 

“What do you want?” Potter asked, his voice dark, seductive. 

 

“Your mouth. Gods, I want your mouth.”

 

Their hands met at Draco’s belt, and Potter lifted his head as Draco tore at the belt and buttons, nearly coming spontaneously at the heat in Potter’s eyes. When he lifted his hips and shoved his slacks and pants down, his hard cock sprang free, bouncing wetly against his flat stomach. Potter’s gloved hand circling the base, and Draco’s mouth dropped open at the sight of the strong hand encased in black leather around his aching length. When Potter stroked him slowly from base to tip, and Draco felt the smooth fabric on his sensitive skin, he gasped and began to thrust into the touch.

 

“Easy,” Potter murmured, his other hand splayed over Draco’s sharp hip bone, holding him down. “We’re not in a hurry.”

 

“Says you,” Draco ground out between clenched teeth. “I’m dying, here.”

 

“Well, we can’t have that,” Potter crooned, index finger circling the leaking head of Draco’s cock teasingly. “Maybe we should let you release a little of that pent up pressure.” He lowered his head and took Draco’s cock into his mouth and then his throat in one smooth, practiced motion.

 

“Oh, gods!” Draco cried, his hands fisting as he tried to thrust up into the wet heat. Potter’s hand firmed on his hip, his mouth creating sweet, wet suction from base to tip, pulling at him, caressing him. He felt Potter’s tongue whirl around him, felt the slow glide as he lifted his dark head, then lowered it again until his nose was in the golden curls at the base of Draco’s cock. When Potter swallowed around him, heat shot from the base of his spine to the tips of his toes and he cried out. Potter pressed one of his gloved fingers behind Draco’s balls, and he came with a startling rush that shook and ravaged him, then left him limp and light-headed.

 

“Holy shit,” he panted, still trembling.  “Sorry. I usually have a bit more self-control.” Dimly, he felt his slacks being yanked off along with his shoes. 

 

“It’s all right. You were wired pretty tightly,” he heard Potter say from somewhere near his knees.

 

“I told you,” Draco sighed. “I’ve been tied in knots since the first time you kissed me.”

 

He heard a dark chuckle, limply complied when Potter pushed his legs apart.

 

“That is immensely flattering.”

 

“Don’t let it go to your head.”

 

“I’ll try to maintain perspective.”

 

He looked up blearily and saw Potter pulling off one of his gloves with his teeth, and made a disappointed sound. Potter shook his head with a wry grin. “And you think I’m kinky? Got a thing for leather, have you?”

 

“And dragon-hide boots. I nearly came on the spot when you walked in the door.”

 

Potter’s grin widened. “Tough to explain that to Mum.” He had a small tube in his hands, and Draco watched as he squirted some of the clear content onto his index finger.

 

“Mum is alarmingly perceptive,” he mused. “And you’re certainly full of yourself. Or, do you travel with lube all of the time?”

 

“Oh, I figured you were a pretty good bet,” Potter said lightly. His hand disappeared, and Draco stiffened for a moment when he felt the cool lube against his furled opening. “Relax,” Potter murmured, and Draco forced his legs to go limp. When Potter pressed his finger inside and curled it, Draco’s neck arched when he unhesitatingly found his prostate.

 

“Proctologist much?” he gasped. Potter laughed, pulling out to add a second finger, then pressing back in. Draco’s hands scrambled for Potter’s biceps and he curled his fingers into the red wool, hanging on for dear life. “Christ!” he whimpered, startled when his cock surged with renewed life. 

 

“You like this,” Potter mused, pressing up with his fingers. Draco hissed as white lights exploded behind his eyes. Potter withdrew his fingers and Draco nearly moaned at the loss, but he grew distracted watching Potter shove the hem of his robes up and his fingers go to work at the closure of his own slacks. He had just a glimpse of Potter’s hard cock, dark and straining in Potter’s fist, before Potter moved closer, and he felt it against him.

 

Forcing himself to relax, pressing down against the entry, it still stung. Potter was not small and the burning caused him to clench his teeth and hiss. 

 

“Want me to stop?” Potter asked, pausing.

 

“No,” Draco shook his head. “No, it’ll pass. Just… go on.”

 

Slowly but smoothly, Potter moved forward, allowing Draco’s body to adjust but not stopping. When Draco felt the front of Potter’s thighs against his arse, he exhaled raggedly. 

 

“No one told me that you were quite so heroic… everywhere,” he managed. Potter’s laugh sounded startled.

 

“Flattery will get you rogered,” he shot back.

 

“Already getting that, so I guess I can save the flattery for when I need it.”

 

Again, Potter laughed. “My God, you’ve got a mouth on you. Who’s witty with a cock up his arse?”

 

“It’s called composure, Potter.”

 

“Is that right?” Potter began to move shallowly within him, and Draco’s mouth dropped open slightly. “What if I want to shake that composure a bit?”

 

Draco managed a smirk. “Then you’ll have to do better than that.”

 

Potter raised one eyebrow, then grabbed Draco’s knees and shoved them unceremoniously to his chest. Draco blinked, but that was his only response before Potter was lifting himself further over his spread body. He began to move in earnest; sharp, emphatic thrusts that rocked Draco to the core. He gasped. 

 

“Oh, fuck,” he wheezed, his eyes widening. He reached up and caught at the ornamental epaulets on Potter’s shoulders, his knuckles whitening. He wanted to move, to thrust back, but in the position he was in, he could only hold on and let Potter take him.

 

“Better?” Potter smirked. Draco couldn’t even respond with words, but he was moaning with each hard jolt. He looked helplessly up into Potter’s face, saw the concentration there, saw a single drop of sweat slip down his cheek, and realized that in Potter, he’d finally met his match. And the realization was as powerful as what was being done to his body.

 

“Potter,” he gasped out. “Potter.”

 

The green eyes stayed fixed on his. “Close?”

 

Draco nodded, startled to find out that it was true. He hung there at the pinnacle of almost agonizing arousal, his body thrumming, his prostate throbbing. Potter reached between them and curled the hand that still wore the glove around Draco’s painfully hard cock, and electricity roared through him. He keened, his body tightening down around Potter’s hardness, his head arching forward as his second orgasm rushed from him. “Harry!” he shouted as he was swept away.

 

“Ah, Christ!” he heard Potter growl. 

 

Draco’s release shot through Potter’s fist, onto his own chest and neck. He was still blinded and gasping when he felt Potter stiffen, felt the last brutal thrusts through the clenching ring of muscle, felt the powerful body above him go rigid. Potter hung there for a moment, trembling, then collapsed on top of Draco with a shattered sigh. They lay that way for at least a minute.

 

“Legs, Potter,” Draco finally managed.

 

“Oh, sorry.” He withdrew gently and lifted enough for Draco’s legs to fall limply to the chaise, then settled on top of him again.

 

Draco lay beneath him, spent, trying to catch his breath. Potter turned his face into Draco’s neck, and swamped with sudden and surprising tenderness, Draco wrapped his arms around Potter’s trembling shoulders. They were quiet for a long time. When Potter’s voice came, it was muted.

 

“You called me Harry.”

 

Draco’s eyes opened and he stared at the ceiling. “I did not,” he protested weakly, but he vaguely recalled that he had.

 

“You did,” Potter reiterated softly. “I heard you.” Draco felt Potter’s hand slide down his side and over his hip. “I liked it.”

 

Draco huffed. “Well, don’t get used to it,” he drawled. “It’ll probably only happen when my mind is clouded by sex.”

 

Potter lifted his head and looked down into his face, a grin curling his lips. “I guess we’ll just have to have lots of sex, then.”

 

Draco affected a put-upon expression. “If we must, we must.”

 

Potter was still chuckling when he covered Draco’s lips with his.

 

~***~

 

Epilogue

 

At approximately nine o’clock p.m., on the evening of July 16th, the only light inside of “le Gallerie du Ecouter Magie” was provided by several candles that hovered, burning brightly, in the air. Soft music played, soft murmurs accompanied the strains of Rachmaninov. 

 

“It’s nearly time,” Draco murmured, checking his watch. Harry smiled at him over the rim of his wine glass, green eyes shining. Draco felt himself flush, but he straightened his spine. 

 

He knew that Harry thought all of his preparations for this evening might be… excessive, but he’d gone along regardless. He was standing there, looking immaculate and intensely masculine in his formal uniform, his handsome face all planes and angles in the candlelight. His boots shown with a dark gleam and his hair was tamed, and all in all, he was a stunning figure. The urge to jump the man right then and there was faintly distracting.

 

Draco wasn’t quite sure why he thought it necessary that they both be formally attired. He couldn’t even say why he was playing the Russian music, or why he and Harry had carefully removed the lid of the glass case where the rubies were once again displayed. He only knew that something told him that this was what he should do. 

 

He glanced once more at the necklace where it gleamed darkly against the white satin, then crossed to Potter, who held out a glass of wine and pressed a soft kiss to his lips when their fingers brushed.

 

It had been an interesting three months, to put it mildly. Save for his mother and Pansy, most of the wizarding world had gone into paroxysms of shock when Harry Potter had quite publicly started dating Draco Malfoy. A few articles had appeared in the Prophet but with a surprisingly Slytherin sense of timing, Potter had released the information about Chekov being the mastermind behind the theft of the necklace, and his very contrite apology just days later, effectively taking their love life off of the front page. Weasley had apparently had something of a fit, but the rest of his family didn’t seem much fussed one way or the other. Granger had actually sent him a note, something along the lines of ‘it’s about bloody time’. 

 

They didn’t discuss their feelings; it wasn’t the way either of them operated. But Draco had quietly moved some of his clothing into Harry’s flat, and his favorite coffee and wine were both in a kitchen cupboard. And several red uniforms hung, immaculately laundered and pressed by a fawning Agatha, in Draco’s wardrobe at the Manor, where Harry was a regular fixture at Sunday brunch with Narcissa. Draco couldn’t point to the moment that ‘Potter’ had become ‘Harry’, but he had. Unless Draco was annoyed, which was just often enough to keep things interesting. All in all, they had fit into one another’s lives with seamlessly, and when Draco thought about it, he couldn’t imagine his life without Harry in it. Of course, he didn’t tell him that, but he rather thought that Harry knew without a grand declaration.

 

“Draco,” Harry said softly, sudden urgency in his voice, and Draco looked up to find Harry’s eyes fixed across the room. He turned, and stilled.

 

Just as they had on that night in April, the color in the rubies was pulsating, flickering in the rhythm of a beating heart. Both men set their glasses aside and approached the case that held the necklace, staring down at it. The rhythm of the beats, at first unison, began to change, separate, until each stone flickered with its own pace. 

 

Draco’s breath caught, and he heard Harry gasp at his side when the eye appeared again in the largest stone, open, watching. He felt Harry’s hand curl around his arm just below his elbow protectively, but Draco wouldn’t be dragged away even if he tried. Another startled inhalation of air sounded when slowly, in each of the stones, a different eye appeared. They seemed to watch them calmly, blinking at odd intervals. It was like watching people slowly awake from a long sleep, and Draco’s hand spread over his pounding heart.

 

There was a soft hiss when the first light flew from the first stone, and both men stepped back, startled. A ball of light, the size of a grapefruit, hovered in the air about five feet above the case. Draco looked down.

 

“Harry,” he gasped. “Look.”

 

One of the round stones was now as clear as glass, and Harry made a soft sound of wonder in his throat. There was another hissing rush of sound, and another ball of light exploded from a ruby, leaving a diamond behind. They watched in awe as five of the round stones cleared, as five balls of light hovered, floating like bubbles in the air. The tear drop began to pulsate irregularly, and the spheres lowered slowly, growing brighter, almost as if they were combining their energy to help lift the weakened soul of Alexi Romanov from its tear dropped shaped prison. Both men held their breath.

 

Finally, finally, the ball of light erupted from the stone, burst up towards the ceiling, spinning wildly, and the other’s swirled around it. 

 

“Oh,” Draco gasped, blinking quickly, “oh, yes.”

 

They watched what could only be a celebration as the gleaming orbs danced through the air, weaving around one another in reunion. Draco had to keep blinking in order to clear his vision; he heard Potter clear his throat roughly at his side. But then the balls of light slowed and formed a perfect circle, lowering slowly to hover over the case, and that was when they saw her.

 

She was floating; that was the only word for it. They’d both grown up with the ghosts of Hogwarts, so they knew what they were seeing. But she was… something else again.

 

Proud of bearing, her head high, she was not beautiful but she was handsome. Her elaborate Victorian gown was tightly cinched at the waist and high at the collar, and on her head she wore a gleaming coronet. She nodded regally, a slight smile pulling at her lips.

 

Immediately, Draco bowed. When Harry didn’t follow suit, he reached out and smacked his arm.

 

“What?” Harry said, turning to frown at Draco.

 

“She’s a Tsarina, you twit. Bow.”

 

“Oh!” Harry quickly bowed, doing a rather credible job of it for a peasant.

 

“Please, rise.”

 

Her voice was deep, faintly accented. Both men straightened slowly, their eyes on her faintly glowing form. She studied them both before her eyes settled on Draco. He had to fight not to fidget under that unblinking regard.

 

“Thank you,” she finally whispered. Her mouth did not move, but they could hear her clearly. “Thank you, for my children.” Her smile reached her eyes. “Love frees us all.”

 

She nodded again and then she disappeared, a brilliant orb hovering where her figure had stood. This ball joined the others, and they once again began their joyous dance as they floated towards the ceiling and abruptly disappeared.

 

Draco stared where they had been, his mouth slightly open. 

 

“Amazing,” Harry murmured, his hand slipping down to grasp Draco’s. “Just bloody amazing.”

 

“Yes.” Draco nodded, then looked at the case. “Harry, look.”

 

Lying on the white satin, the stones flashing, was the necklace, restored to its original state, the massive diamonds gleaming like fire. Draco reached out and touched the tear drop with his finger.

 

“If I hadn’t just seen that, I never would have believed it,” Harry murmured. He turned to Draco. “That was incredible.” He looked down at the diamonds. “But, how do we explain that?”

 

Draco stared again at the necklace. “We tell the truth.” He laughed lightly. “Maybe I’ll write a book.”

 

“You should.” He felt Harry move behind him, his arms encircling his waist and his chin coming to rest on his shoulder. “Do you know what she meant?”

 

Draco covered the hands at his waist and leaned back into Harry’s broad chest. “When?”

 

 “When she said ‘love frees us all’.”

 

Draco closed his eyes, his hands tightening as he rested against Harry’s strength. “Yes,” he murmured.  “I believe I do.”

 

 

Fin