Story written for: alwayzefree
Summary: Harry never falls for the nice guys.
Warnings: slight BDSM
Thanks to my beta. For this, and for the fact of her existence in general.
Zacharias' exit from Harry's life had none of the drama that either his entrance or most of his presence had contained. There was no yelling or violent sex or anything that might have suggested two and a half years of arguing and then making it up to each other, only to do the whole thing over again. No, instead Zacharias got up one morning and made coffee and kissed Harry after the first few sips. He asked, "Is this as bollocksed up for you as it is for me?"
Harry said, "I don't know what you're on about," despite the fact that he knew perfectly well.
Zacharias threaded his fingers through Harry's hair. "There was a time when I liked seeing you happy."
"Was there?" Harry asked.
"I'd like to remember how that felt." Zacharias kissed him again, sweet and slow and unfamiliar. "Then I'd like to see you happy."
By the time Harry got home from work that evening, Zacharias had cleared out his clothes and affects and seemingly everything that he'd left lying around over the course of their relationship. Sometimes, Harry hated magic.
After finding the coffee gone--which was fair, Harry supposed, as he never drank coffee except when he was missing Zacharias, or when he wanted to make Zacharias mad by using up his freshly ground custom blended Ethiopian beans--Harry went over to Ron's. Ron was at the Burrow, Harry knew. He'd spent all day receiving owls from Ron about how Molly was eventually going to run Angelina off with all her talk of grandchildren. That was, if Fred didn't manage it first with his special brand of she-was-my-girlfriend-first bastardy.
Angelina, as far as Harry could tell, was accomplished at smiling and nodding and ignoring Molly. She also gave two times as good as she got where the twins were concerned.
Harry was not concerned for Ron's relationship, not even on a good night. He had eventually written back, "Sometimes I actually work. How about you?"
Ron showed up, as he was wont to do when Harry was waiting on his couch in his apartment. Harry was busy looking at all of Ron's family pictures without really seeing any of them. Magic pictures were, in their own way, more predictable than Muggle ones.
It was clear from the way Ron said, "Hey mate," and Angelina said, "Oh, hello Harry," that he'd interrupted well-thought-out plans for a considerable amount of sex, but as he wouldn't be getting any tonight either, he was hard-pressed to care.
Ron looked at him for a few minutes and said, "You were too good for him anyway."
"Yeah, always," Harry said.
"Wanna play some chess?" Ron asked.
"Yes, because what I really need right now is to lose at something."
"Just as I thought. Sit down. It's that or I call Hermione, and I'm pretty sure she's out with that professor she's sweet on, so you're taking the blame if I have to pull her away from the closest thing she's had to a date in--"
"A month," Harry said.
"That teammate Viktor set her up with?"
"Didn't count, she said he had scary teeth."
"Hermione's picky," Harry said.
"Lucky for me," Angelina said, nodding. "Want me to play instead? We can pretend it's you."
"Why? It's not like you ever beat him."
"There was that time--"
"I was very, very drunk," Ron said.
"He was," Angelina agreed, as if Harry hadn't been there.
Harry shook his head and sat down across from Ron. "Sorry for, y'know."
Angelina sat down next to him and rested her head on his shoulder. "Sure, we know."
Ron shook his head. "Play, mate."
Harry moved his hand to a piece. Angelina knocked it away. "Try again."
Harry did. Again and again and again until she finally approved of where he was thinking about going.
Harry had tried the Auror thing, but it was really best left to Ron and Angelina, who cared these days about things like good and evil, or at least still believed that the two existed separate of each other.
He'd also tried the playing Quidditch thing after the war, because it hadn't taken any imagination on his part. What it had taken was a willingness to have his face plastered on even more magazines in more countries than previously.
When Zacharias had found him hiding in his room, unwilling to leave even to get himself food, he'd called in Ron and Hermione. Hermione had told him, in no uncertain terms, that it was time to find a new career. Harry had asked, without any particular desire for an answer, "Have any suggestions?"
Zacharias said, "You're Harry Potter, so you're never going to disappear entirely, but--" he looked at Ron who nodded and said, "Coaches aren't half so harassed, mate."
Harry frowned. "I've played for less than a year. What kind of arse-backward team would have me on as a coach? And why would I want to coach for them if they would have me?"
Hermione, good at finding solutions, said, "Assistant coaching, then?"
Harry suspected that Falmouth only took him on because he was guaranteed press--even when it was bad press. He didn't much care. The coach never treated him like anything other than an assistant and the players were largely friendly once Harry proved his mettle.
Occasionally, though--all right, more than occasionally, but usually Harry didn't much mind--the coach would pull rank and send Harry on errands such as first draft recruiting. Harry always felt gawky and immature and like a complete fool when trying to convince some new phenom that Falmouth was the place to spend at least a season. At least.
It was on one of these errands that he found himself in London roughly a week after Zacharias left. He was hopped up on coffee, which he hadn't been able to stop drinking since, and not much else. His appetite was diminished.
He didn't think he managed so fantastically with the potential player. She was older than they usually were; she had a job she liked. Some recruiter had discovered her playing for a local league one weekend and she'd had the dubious pleasure of team representatives visiting her ever since. She opened her door to Harry with reluctance, even though his coach had sworn he had an appointment.
He said, "Sorry to bother you on a weekend."
She said, "I didn't make tea."
He smiled. "All right. Mind if I sit a bit, though?"
They didn't talk about Quidditch. He asked her about her job and let her talk. Her familiar was a mouse who climbed up on her shoulder and nuzzled her neck. She laughed softly and said, "Don't mind Timothy."
Harry said, "I like animals."
She asked, "You want some tea?"
"If you wouldn't mind." It wasn't as bitter and acidic and comforting as the coffee, but it was hot.
Harry said, "Let the team buy you dinner."
She said, "I'm not going professional."
He said, "All the more reason."
She laughed and let him take her to dinner on the team's sickle. By the time they left the restaurant it was late. Harry offered to walk her back to her flat but she shook her head. "I can do magic, you realize?"
He waved her away. "See you around?"
"I wouldn't mind," she said, and Harry got the feeling that was the nicest compliment he was going to get, short of her actually signing a Falmouth contract.
He'd had coffee with dinner which meant that he was now practically flying broomless under the influence of caffeine. It wasn't worth going home, since all he would do was pace from room to room, aimlessly trying to outrun his own mind. Instead he turned down Diagon Alley, a street he rarely graced anymore, as it was a sure way to get himself mobbed. It was dark now, though, and he had a craving for ice cream, or perhaps just for the creature comfort of Fortescue's and its accompanying nostalgia.
Harry made his way through the crowds--mostly young couples out for a Saturday night on the town. He wished horrible, nasty breakups on all of them before miraculously arriving at the ice cream parlor without one random person having accosted him. The place smelled of fresh-baked waffles and churned cream and Harry wished he had Hermione and Ron with him. Which was better, at least, than wishing Zacharias along.
His moment of near-happiness came to an abrupt end, sliced off by a rather sharp, "Oh, brilliant."
Harry's gaze snapped up. "Malfoy?"
For a moment, a blissful, short moment, he had thought that he had misheard, that the caffeine high was making him a bit crazy in unusual ways, but no, the man behind the counter was definitely Draco Malfoy. He did not appear quite as. . .replete was the only word Harry could come up with, as he had in their school days. He was whittled down, the lines of his eyes and cheeks and neck sleeker and stronger. His eyes--darker than Harry remembered them being--held something Harry couldn't identify. It was something that felt disturbingly familiar, and he stopped poking at it before he found a word for the unknown element.
"Can I help you?" Malfoy asked, with such an edge to the offer that Harry looked around to make sure that the other customers were still alive, and eating their ice cream safely. They were. They were also watching the exchange.
Harry, always sleek and debonair in times of shock, said, "You work here?"
"No, I just stand behind the counter on my Saturday nights, catering to the whims of morons and mudbloods."
Harry had learned quite a bit in the years since facing off with Malfoy was a daily occurrence. He gazed to his side, just enough to catch sight of some of the families casually enjoying their sundaes and said, in an almost friendly manner, "Want to name-call just a bit louder?"
Malfoy scowled, but stayed silent.
Harry thought about saying something else, pressing his advantage. Malfoy had one hand curved tightly around an ice cream scoop, one clenched over the rim of the counter. Both were shaking, a fine, controlled tremor. If he had been sixteen again, Harry would have uttered another insult, flaunted his awareness of Malfoy's humiliation, the taste of it on his tongue far better than coffee or ice cream.
Harry was not sixteen, anymore, though. He was almost four years beyond it. "A double pumpkin brittle, yeah? In a waffle cone."
Malfoy snarled at him, holding still for long enough that Harry began to think he wasn't going to serve him the ice cream. Then he slammed the scoop into the correct bucket so hard that Harry nearly jumped. Quicker than Harry would have imagined possible from one as pared down as Malfoy, he was handing Harry the treat, demanding, "Fourteen sickles."
Harry hadn't been to Fortescue's in a while, but it hadn't been that long. "It's seven, Malfoy."
Malfoy's jaw set and he held out his hand; he didn't argue. Harry looked down at the hand, fingers too slender by half and the hem of his sleeve showing signs of wear. He handed over fourteen sickles. Malfoy looked down at the amount. Before Harry knew what had happened, all fourteen coins fell to the floor with a rather explosive volley of noise. He asked, "Malfoy?" but Malfoy was far too busy clutching his hands to his middle, biting his lip to keep from screaming.
Harry had never seen the effects of the mind-control charm the Ministry had placed on all "pardoned" Death Eaters. He knew the details of it--Hermione had made sure of that. The few Death Eaters who managed to avoid a sentence in Azkaban were placed under what was known as an Unbreakable. A charm so strong that its residue was found even in the long dead.
This particular Unbreakable had an element of mind control in that it reacted to violent thoughts with a current of pain. The level of violence considered corresponded to the level of pain inflicted. Hermione had told him that she was relatively sure even the impulse to swear at another person caused a low-level hum of it. It mattered not a whit whether the other person would have actually followed through on the thought, simply that he had it in the first place.
Harry imagined that, in a life of retail, Malfoy spent a good percentage of his time in some amount of pain.
The thought was not as pleasing as it by all rights should have been. In fact, it was no more pleasing than watching Malfoy try to bring what was evidently wrenching agony under control. Without knowing why, Harry threw up an opaque wall between them and the rest of the shop. It seemed more efficacious than telling the rest of the world to stop their bloody staring.
Malfoy glared at him. "You could have had the courtesy to exclude yourself as well."
"Whatever else, you wanted me to suffer," Harry said, and kept his eyes on Malfoy.
"Saint Potter," Malfoy sneered, straightening some.
Harry's gaze flickered to the floor, where the money still lay sprawled in every direction. "I shouldn't have done that."
Malfoy laughed, wholly without amusement. "You have your ice cream. Would it be too much for you to just get out?"
Harry did as asked. It wasn't until he got home, crunching away at the point of the cone, that he realized he wasn't craving the taste of coffee.
Harry knew he was in trouble when he didn't say anything to Ron over beers the next afternoon, or Hermione when she brought dinner to his house several nights later. Harry told Ron and Hermione everything, except when he was planning on doing something he already knew was stupid. As such, it was somewhat inevitable by the time Thursday rolled around that he was headed back to Fortescue's.
Harry handed seven sickles over the counter to a very wary Malfoy and said, "Cherry Sour Twist in a cone, please."
Malfoy stood there for a moment. "Since you haven't come in to buy ice cream during the hours of five to ten in the past four years, may I assume that this is simply some sort of sadistic impulse on your part?"
Harry wasn't really feeling up to thinking too closely about his motives, so he said, "Yes. Can I have my ice cream?"
Harry was pretty sure the scoop was smaller than it should have been, but he took the treat with a fair amount of grace. Then he took a seat and stayed for three hours until Malfoy walked over to his table and said, "We're closing, do you mind?"
Harry, who had been sitting, watching Malfoy control himself for three hours, threw all of his own control to the wind. "If I hadn't rejected you on that first day at Hogwarts, do you think we would have been friends?"
"No," Malfoy answered without hesitation, but his eyes flickered to the side as he said it.
"Why not?" Harry asked.
"Because you were already hopelessly Muggle and plebian, and I would have figured it out shortly enough."
"But by that time perhaps you would have liked me because we both liked Quidditch, or whatever. Maybe my name and my background wouldn't have meant anything."
Malfoy cupped a hand over the back of his neck. "Potter, it's ten o'clock at night. I will be here for at least another hour doing paperwork. I will then be expected to return at five in order to help prepare our product for sales, which begin at noon. I can leave at that time for five hours, and despite the fact that I would much prefer to take a nap, I go home hoping that the Headmistress will have seen fit to send me her paperwork to go through, and fill out what I have the knowledge to fill out and file the things that need filing. Because when she has, she pays me, which ensures that I can manage rent along with food for the month.
"My landlord wasn't thrilled about renting to a Malfoy, but for a considerable amount, he was persuaded to sign a lease, which was more than I could say for most of the landlords I approached. So, if it's not too much to ask, do you think you could stow your curiosity in some place it will never be found and get the bloody buggering hell out of my life?"
"And if I bought you dinner? Would you talk then?"
Harry didn't regret the impulse to ask upon doing so, but he did when the pain in Malfoy's eyes--present if muted for most of the conversation--flared, along with a mishmash of hunger and rage that, had Harry garnered less experience dealing with people who wanted him dead, probably would have caused him to back up a bit.
Malfoy's jaw barely moved as he said, "I am not for sale, Potter."
Harry said softly, "I didn't mean it like that." He hadn't.
"Because you think my mind or my feelings are any less valuable to me than who I fall into bed with?"
Harry closed his eyes for a second. "All right. Let's do it this way. What does Minerva pay you?"
Malfoy shut his mouth and glared daggers.
Harry sighed. "One of my players needs some extra one-on-one practice in bludger avoidance. He's a brilliant Chaser, he just has a tendency to concentrate a little too much on getting the quaffle through the hoops. We've been assigning team members weekly duty to help him out, but it's taking them away from other things they really need to be doing. An hour a day is all I need, and I'll pay you double whatever she's giving you, plus dinner on me, one night a week. The only catch is that, until I decide otherwise, dinner is with me."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "And I suppose your coach is just going to allow a Registered Threat to the State to practice with one of his darling Chasers?"
"You'd be amazed what I can get away with," Harry said. He hadn't exactly tried to get away with anything in this particular job so far, and his coach was mostly even-handed about the whole Harry Potter thing, but he was pretty sure this was one favor he could get granted. It didn't hurt that if Malfoy was anywhere near to the player he had been in school, he was exactly what Kurt needed.
"Not really," Malfoy said, his annoyance clear. Then, after a considerable pause, "I haven't a broom."
It was Harry's turn to roll his eyes. "Somehow, I think we can scrounge one up."
"I get to pick the place."
"For dinner. It's my choice."
"Well then," Malfoy's eyes were cold, but free of pain for nearly the first time since Harry had first run into him. "Go see how far being Harry Potter gets you."
Harry turned to leave. When he got to the door he asked, "What do you do with all the ice cream that doesn't get eaten?"
"For fuck's-- Go!"
Malfoy picked somewhere predictably ostentatious and expensive. Harry got the sick feeling that if he'd used one of the pseudonyms he usually pulled out for things like dining plans--he wouldn't have gotten a reservation. He had the even sicker feeling that if they knew who he was bringing along, even his own name might not have been enough.
His coach fought him on the arrangement up until Harry said, "He was good at this. He'll be good for Kurt. And if you think I would endanger one of our players for whatever my supposed ulterior motives might be, well then maybe that's what we should be talking about."
The coach blinked. "Hadn't thought of it in those terms."
Harry backed away a bit, rubbed at his forehead and said, "Sorry. I shouldn't have--"
"He was good?"
Harry smiled a bit, knowing he was going to get his own way. "Have I made any completely horrific mistakes yet?"
"You're more trouble than you're worth, Potter."
Harry thought that statement was probably true in general, so he didn't argue. He did draw up contracts with the wage he'd promised. It had taken speaking to Minerva to figure out what Malfoy was making and it was then that he realized he possibly should have promised three times the amount, but Harry remembered the incident with the sickles and stuck to his word.
Malfoy, likewise, stuck to his. He showed up at the times Harry owled him to, and despite the fact that Harry was fairly certain he took a slight malicious pleasure in pegging Kurt with the bludgers--being able to define violence in practical terms evidently allowed him to indulge in it with only trace amounts of pain--he also quite clearly took even more pleasure from maneuvering on a broom once again. Within the first week, the team healer was already nodding in grim satisfaction at the lessening of welts and bruises layering Kurt's body.
Malfoy showed up for dinner in robes that were well-kept, if far out of fashion. Harry wouldn't have noticed, really, except that the team's publicist was always lecturing him about the need to appear up-to-date. He liked to argue that he wasn't one of the faces of the team. She liked to roll her eyes at him.
The maitré'd was very careful not to stand too close to Malfoy. Harry wanted to say something, almost did, but Malfoy just smiled a smug, superior, bland smile and Harry let that stand. It was better than anything he could have come up with. Better than, "He was pardoned," or, "What were you doing at the time?"
It was obvious Malfoy wasn't going to make this easy on Harry--and really, when had he ever made anything easy on Harry? (Harry ignored the part of him that reminded him there were reasons Malfoy had been granted pardon, times when he had helped just enough.) But Harry had done this, had made this a condition for a reason, even if it wasn't entirely clear to him at this moment what that reason had been. Grasping for something to say, for some way to make this more than two people sitting at a table together, Harry asked, "What's your opinion on the broom? It's a prototype."
Clearly, Malfoy hadn't expected Harry to come up with a question that he would actually deign to answer. He stared at Harry for a few minutes before saying, "The pick up is brilliant, but there's a sharpness to its curves. A little bit too much."
Harry nodded. "That's what I keep saying. Marina backs me up, so Coach thinks it's a Seeker thing, but you've been Chaser-training Kurt."
"I was a Seeker."
"Oddly enough, I remember. Maybe it's that Marina, you and I were all trained with Firebolt or Nimbus. Higher-end British brooms. Marina's got this great story about it. They were hard to get in Italy. Her family scrimped for the second Firebolt model because it was so clear she was some sort of prodigy. Kurt, Bradley and Caleb all grew up on Cleansweeps, and the rest of the team on an assortment of American and French brands."
"Who makes the prototype?"
"Upstart company out of Sweden, Kvast. These are their newest, the Genista series. I like their stuff, I just think they need to work out the kinks."
The waiter came. Malfoy ordered. Harry didn't check to see if it was the most expensive thing on the menu. He knew it would be, but he could afford it. And he'd noticed Malfoy's surreptitious glances at other people's food. They weren't the glances of someone who was wondering what to order. They were the glances of someone who was thinking about walking over to the other table and stealing someone's entree for himself.
When the waiter had left, Malfoy surprised Harry by speaking without having been directly addressed. "You didn't put the dinners in the contract."
"No," Harry said. "None of the team's business."
"Then I presume you're paying?"
Harry didn't say anything.
"So this is a bit like a date under the guise of a not-very-business-like-business arrangement?"
"Don't you have any friends?" Harry felt sort of guilty once he realized what he'd asked. He knew what had happened to most of Malfoy's school friends, and if the description of his life he'd given Harry the other week was at all accurate, it was unlikely he had the time or ability to cultivate new ones, even assuming the presence of his Dark Mark didn't entirely inhibit the process.
"If I did," Malfoy said, with perfect equanimity, "they wouldn't be likely to take me to dinner at a place like this."
"You chose the place."
Malfoy smiled coldly, beatifically at Harry.
Harry said, "You're a right pain in the arse."
"And yet, you want to have dinner with me."
"You look like your ribs are trying to eat your spine. It's pity, Malfoy."
There was a small flicker of shock, and then a bit more anger, and then quite a bit more pain in Malfoy's eyes before he settled all of that and said, "Evidently destitution has its advantages," without so much as a tremor to his tone. His hand was clenching the knife though, and his breathing was a little too deep, a little too even.
Harry said, "You seem to do all right by yourself. Given the circumstances."
"You're horrid at apologies."
"I don't owe you any."
"But you presume I owe them to you."
Harry looked at Malfoy, drawn up into himself, perfectly still and stiff as stone. He said, "No, I'm not particularly interested in apologies at this point."
"What are you interested in, Potter?"
For a second, prompted by the question into places he hadn't thought about, hadn't imagined, Harry felt the sharp curve of Draco's jaw in the center of his palm--a wisp of sensation related to absolutely no experience. He blinked down at his hand and then up at Malfoy. The only thing to say was, "A friend."
Malfoy snarled. "You have those."
"You think there's a point where it feels like too many?"
Malfoy considered him. "You don't like me, Potter."
"I didn't like you when we were sixteen."
"There's no reason for you to now."
"I do. But I have an instinct for this sort of thing that found me Ron and Hermione and things look hopeful in your case."
"You saved Granger from a troll."
"That too. But she seemed promising."
"No she didn't."
"Well, she seemed lonely, and that had promise."
Malfoy said, "Making attempts at being your friend is almost as humiliating as working at Fortescue's."
Harry smiled. "So, one step up then?"
"Have you actually gotten more insipid since the last time we were in regular contact with each other?"
"It's possible; I don't ask Ron and Hermione to monitor the situation."
Malfoy took a deep breath. "So now you're paying people to consider friendship with you?"
"If it makes you feel any better, you're not precisely cheap."
Malfoy doubled over on himself at that, one hand scrabbling against the white top of the table. Harry said, a bit desperately, "Malfoy, come on, I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"
Malfoy's gaze shot back up. His eyes were a bit over-dilated and he said, "I am not a whore."
"No," Harry said, shaking his head to emphasize his agreement.
"Do not ever suggest otherwise."
"No," Harry repeated, unsure of what else to do. "Please, I really am sorry."
"Please don't," Harry said, as softly as he could with Malfoy still being able to hear. "We don't have to talk for the rest of the evening. Or we could stay with Quidditch. Your choice. Just stay."
After a moment, Malfoy slowly lowered himself into his seat. He said, somewhat stiffly, "I love this restaurant."
Harry nodded. "Why?"
To his surprise, Malfoy told him.
In the second week that Malfoy attended practices, one of the bludgers being thrown out for the sake of Kurt's acclimation hit Malfoy so hard that he didn't just slide off his broom, he hurtled from it. Harry barely even thought the words of the slowing spell and then he was under Malfoy, catching him before the ground did.
By the time he had Malfoy back on terra firma, there was already a brawl taking place mid-air, Kurt against Caleb. Harry noted that the Coach was doing well enough breaking it up with the aid of Suhaila and Edward. Harry looked back down. "You conscious?"
Malfoy had curled to one side, his breathing heavy. His head bobbed, just once.
Harry asked, "What'd he hit?"
"Hip," Malfoy gasped.
Harry said, "Easy, Malfoy, I'm gonna see if anything's broken."
Harry had seen the impact. If nothing was broken, Malfoy was made of titanium. He placed his hand carefully above where the hipbone should have been and Malfoy mewled. "Stop, please stop."
"Yeah, we're gonna have to get you to a Healer."
"Team Mediwizard?" Malfoy asked, clearly struggling to focus.
"Not for this. A sprain or even a broken arm, but I'm not entirely sure there aren't internal injuries. We have to get you to Mungo's."
Malfoy moved his head again, this time a shake. "Have the right to refuse ex-Death Eaters."
"They won't refuse me."
"Mal- Draco, you need to trust me. Tell yourself whatever you need to in order to manage it, but just let me take you to get this fixed."
"Potter. I can't afford it."
"The team will take care of it."
"No. Contract. Injuries incurred at own risk."
Harry knew he should have read it. He'd meant to. It was just that he kept getting distracted. "I'll take care of it."
"No," Draco said. "No." And then, as if he couldn't stop himself, "No."
"Don't be an arse. Your hip is broken, you might be bleeding internally, you need a Healer. Nothing else is going to do."
Harry opened his mouth to try and find something to say, some way to make Draco rational about this. In the end he didn't need to, as Draco finally gave into the pain and passed out, his body going wholly limp. Harry had a moment, less than a second, really, of feeling guilty about going against Draco's obvious wishes before he carefully spelled him off the ground. He had to pull back on the power of the spell, Draco being considerably lighter than any man their age should rightly be.
His coach was at his side by that time. Harry said, "I'm taking him to Mungo's."
"Caleb will pay the bill," the coach growled.
The tone of his voice soothed Harry's ire slightly. He said, "Yeah."
Harry Apparated without even acknowledging the permission. When he got himself inside Mungo's he ignored the greeting witch who screamed at him that he was going the wrong way and made his way up to the second floor as quickly as he could while still controlling the spell to keep Draco from jarring himself as they moved. He found Zacharias with ease, checking on the worst of his patients. He said, "Zacharias," from the door.
Zacharias turned. "Harry, what the-"
Harry knew the moment he recognized Draco. His eyes widened. Voldemort's followers were responsible for the deaths of a considerable number of his aunts, uncles and cousins. Harry said, "He says you're allowed to refuse treatment."
Zacharias nodded, slowly. "I am."
"I'm asking you not to."
"For fuck's sake, Harry, a whole hospital of Healers--ones who actually handle that sort of damage--you could bat your eyes at and you have to ask me? For Malfoy? Of all the bloody people in the world you could walk through that door with--"
"I trust you to heal him."
That stopped Zacharias.
"I trust your compassion. And your sense of what is right and wrong."
"You are a right utter bastard."
"Which would explain why you left me, but I'm actually worried that he's bleeding to death, so could we have this conversation later?"
"That's not why I left you," Zacharias said.
"I know," Harry said. "Please."
"Come on, there are some empty beds in 204."
Harry allowed Zacharias to take over the holding spell, and followed him down the hall to the room with the promised beds. He sat on the bed next to the one where Zacharias settled Draco and went to work on him. Zacharias whistled and asked, "What hit him?"
"It was aimed. Short distance. Just enough to pick up speed."
"You were right. There is a bit of bleeding. I think it's the spleen. Shut up for a bit and let me work."
Harry hadn't really been the one to initiate conversation, but he did as he was told. It took Zacharias the better part of an hour to get Draco sorted. Then he straightened, rolled his shoulders and said, "Should I even ask?"
"He's been contracting for the team, Caleb evidently had a grudge."
"He and a good three-fourths of British wizarding society."
"You know as well as I do what he did for us. I would never have gotten close enough to manage Nagini. Never. And if I hadn't, I would have been able to kill Voldemort."
"He did it for revenge, not because he cared a whit for you, or what you stood for."
"But he did it. Just like you healed him. The motivations don't always matter."
Zacharias sneered a bit, although it wasn't as nasty as it could have been. "Always the optimist."
Harry shrugged. He wasn't, not really, but the parts of him that were had fought hard to be that way. Something Zacharias already knew. Harry said, "I maybe should have told you this before you left, but I'm sorry."
"For the part where you made me think it could work or the part where you were always going to want someone who needed you more?"
"For hurting you," Harry said. He couldn't change who he was, the way he had wanted Zacharias to depend on him just that touch more, but he hadn't meant to hurt anyone. Certainly not Zacharias.
Zacharias ran a hand through his hair. "Why were you the one to bring him in?"
Harry could have said a million things. He could have said that he was the only one who had connections, or could overcome objections to treatment, or that he was nearest, or that the coach had told him to. Being honest about the situation for the first time since he had walked into Fortescue's nearly a month earlier he said, "Because he needed me to."
"You are all sorts of fucked up, Potter," Zacharias said, with the same tone he used to have when he said, 'I love you,' pressed along Harry's back, buried so deep inside him Harry was fairly certain it was a state of permanence.
Harry nodded. "I miss you."
"But it's getting better."
Harry looked at Draco. "Thanks."
Harry did not think about what debt there might have been, about the feel of Zacharias' blood pouring over his hands, about dragging him to safety simply because he was familiar, nothing more. "We already were."
Zacharias smiled at that, a little bit bitter, a little bit dark. The way he liked his coffee. "I'm going to get back to my job."
"He should stay here?"
"For a bit. Just to be sure."
"Yeah. I'm gonna stay as well, then."
Zacharias huffed. "No kidding, Potter."
Draco woke with barely a change in his breathing. He opened his eyes slowly, took in his surroundings and said, "I hate you, Potter."
"Coach says Caleb is responsible for the bill. That sound all right to you?"
Draco took a tentative deep breath. "He the bastard who hit me?"
Harry didn't trust himself to say more than, "Yeah."
"What time is it?"
Draco sprang up. There was no other word for it. And Zacharias was good, but broken bones and torn organs took a bit of time to pull themselves back together--even with magic--so it wasn't surprising when he fell back on the bed with a gasped, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, bugger-all, fuck."
"What in the bloody world is wrong with you?"
"Besides being two hours late to a job that I need? Nothing."
"I flooed Fortescue's."
"Flooed. And he said to tell you to take a couple of sick days."
"Not one of my benefits."
"Evidently he feels it should be," Harry said blandly. Fortescue had been worried. It hadn't taken much of a suggestion on Harry's part for him to extend some leave to Draco.
Draco's eyes dropped shut. "My hip was broken?"
"Among other things," Harry said.
Draco made a sound that might have been laughter. Only it wasn't, exactly. "Thanks, I suppose."
"I should have been keeping an eye out. That's part of my job. Even when I haven't introduced a new player to the team." Harry left out the part where that player had a considerable number of people who hated him on principle. They both knew what Draco's crimes were.
"Still enjoying your martyr complex? I really imagined you'd have grown past that by now."
"Well, you still enjoy being an arse, so I suppose we've both managed to surprise the other."
Draco did laugh at that, then gasped. "That's really very sore."
Harry had survived enough Quidditch injuries to know that Draco wasn't just whinging. Luckily, he'd expected this and prepared for it. Loathe to ask Zacharias for anything else, and afraid of what Hermione or Ron would say, he'd put in a floo to Angelina, who had sneaked him a topical analgesic potion. She'd said, "If Ron asks where I was, I'll tell him."
"If Ron asks were you were, send him through the floo to my place," Harry told her. He did wonder if he'd have a guest waiting for him when he returned this evening.
Harry said, "I've this," and held out the offering.
Draco took it, popped the cap and sniffed it. "Not up to Snape's standards."
"I can always take it back."
Draco scowled and hiked up his shirt. The touch of his fingers to the injured area was obviously still quite painful, and it took a bit of concerted application for the lines of pain to ease from Draco's forehead. Harry asked softly, "Shall I, erm, help with your back?"
There wasn't any bruising, there wouldn't be, not after Zacharias' treatment. Harry knew that appearances didn't mean anything. Draco held the vial of potion tight in his hand. "Just my back."
Harry frowned, but didn't say anything. The frown deepened when he pressed his fingers--coated in the potion and then warmed--lightly to the skin covering Draco's kidneys only to feel how stiff Draco was beneath his touch. "Draco," he said.
"Why are you calling me that?"
"It's your name." That was the best Harry could do on short notice.
"Not to you."
"Stuck in the past?"
Quietly, Draco answered, "I liked it better than I do now."
Harry, who had almost always wanted to move forward, who had almost always seen the future as having more possibility than the past, wasn't sure what to say to that. He wasn't at all sure how to make the world seem less cruel, or less hurtful, except to be as gentle as he could.
At some point, Draco fell back asleep under Harry's ministration. Harry took a moment, a small, small moment, to let his hands still, to allow himself to feel the smooth heat of Draco's skin. Then he pulled Draco's shirt down, and the thin hospital blankets up.
Harry fell asleep in the chair next to Draco's bed and woke up to find the bed empty. "Bugger."
Harry rubbed the sleep from his eyes and wandered down the hall to Zacharias' office. It was empty, but the spell Harry used on the wards still worked, so he used the floo to contact the Falmouth secretary who promised to get the message that he would be late to the team.
Then Harry went to Fortescue's, knocked on the door, and ignored Draco's shouted, "We open at noon."
He knocked until Draco answered the door.
"If your plan is to get me fired, I swear to you there are more straightforward ways of going about it."
Harry stepped inside and allowed Draco to lock up behind him. He nodded to the shopkeeper. "Morning, Mr. Fortescue."
Fortescue grinned at him, "Lad." He said, "I'll be getting those cherries, Draco. Take your time. You know it takes me a while to find anything these days."
Draco turned to Harry, "You are an obnoxious arse."
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine. Was that all?"
"I reserved us a spot at Cecille's for Tuesday evening. I don't know if that's up to your standards, but I asked around and it seemed like the sort of thing you would have requested."
"You're not charming. And I'm working Tuesday to make up the time."
"He paid you for the lost time, and I know I'm not."
Draco looked as though he doubted it. "I am neither your pet nor your project, Potter."
"Dare you to say that three times fast," Harry said in a half-hearted attempt to lessen the tension.
"Pet nor project, pet nor project, petnorproject."
"All right, well, you lost points by taking the Potter out, but--"
"If I asked you, looked you in the eyes and asked you to please stay out of my life and my business, would you do it?"
Harry kept his gaze even. "I suppose if you put it to me that way."
Draco met his eyes dead on and opened his mouth and stood like that for quite some time before biting out. "You coach Quidditch while I scoop ice cream for morons. You take the presence of your very alive friends practically for granted. You can think, 'I'd really like to garrote that bugger,' without so much as a bloody twinge. I hate you, Potter. I hate hate hate abhor despise you."
Harry waited for Draco to breathe a few times before saying, "None of that was a request for me to leave."
Draco just kept breathing, the sound ragged and unnervingly loud.
Harry took the chance of stepping slightly closer. "I don't think of you as a project."
Harry shook his head. "No."
"Then why won't you leave?"
"For the same reason, maybe, that you won't ask me to."
"I don't know what that is," Draco said.
Harry nodded. "I know the feeling. Just-- Just go to dinner with me. Like before."
"Cecille's has a good potage au cèpes."
"That's, ah, I look forward to that."
"You don't even know what I'm talking about."
Draco's smile managed to be haughty and unsure all at once. Harry was quite sure his was goofy. Draco didn't call attention to the fact.
Continued in Part 2.