iii. Rocky Ground
“For God’s sake, Severus,” Harry yelled up the stairs.
“I am coming,” Severus shouted back.
Harry made an exasperated noise and resumed pacing the foyer. He’d been waiting for Severus for almost ten minutes, and he’d told Ron and Hermione they’d meet them at the Minister’s mansion at seven.
A noise on the stairs made him turn around. “Finally,” he started to say, but the word was cut off when he caught sight of his lover. Severus was wearing a set of dress robes that Harry had never seen before. They were the same conservative cut that Severus favoured, buttoned tightly up to his neck and down to his wrists, but the material was a rich velvet – soft and supple, an inky black that gleamed in the candlelit foyer.
The robes made Severus look commanding, regal, at once inviting and forbidding, and unmistakably powerful. Harry swallowed, his irritation forgotten.
Severus descended the stairs and stopped in front of Harry with his eyebrows raised. “You were saying something?”
“Those are… new.”
Harry couldn’t resist. He ran his hand over Severus’ chest; the robes were just as soft to the touch as they looked. He smoothed both hands over Severus’ shoulders, wondering what it would feel like to rub his bare cock against the material.
“I trust they meet with your approval?”
Harry fisted his hands in Severus’ robes and pulled him into a kiss. Severus’ arms slid around his waist, holding him close. He let out a surprised grunt into Harry’s mouth when he felt Harry’s erection against his thigh.
“They’re only robes,” Severus said, administering a small bite to Harry’s lower lip.
Harry replied by rolling his hips against Severus’ leg, satisfied when he felt Severus starting to respond even through their many layers of clothing.
Severus gripped Harry’s arse with both hands, guiding his thrusts. “Perhaps we should tender our regrets to the Minister.”
Harry pushed him away abruptly. “You tricky bastard,” he said, equal parts amused and annoyed. “You’re just trying to get out of going to the fundraiser.”
“No way. If I have to go to this thing, then so do you.”
“And don’t think you’re not going to pay for this later.”
Severus looked more intrigued than concerned by that. Harry took his arm and Apparated them both, not trusting Severus to follow him on his own.
They landed on the gravel outside the large wrought-iron gates that guarded the entrance to the Minister’s official residence. The wide, sweeping lawn beyond the gates was lit up with decorative lanterns and swarming with well-dressed people, the sounds of laughter and happy chatter filling the air. The mansion itself glowed with welcoming light from every window, the front doors standing open.
Harry showed his and Severus’ invitations to the guard at the gate, and they were waved through. They walked up the lawn towards the house; even from this distance, Harry could see Ron’s red hair on the porch.
Hermione looked beautiful, glowing with the pregnancy that gently rounded her belly under her dark blue robes. “We’d almost started to think you weren’t coming,” she said, giving Harry a hug.
“We wouldn’t miss it,” said Harry, giving Severus a sideways glare.
Fortunately, Severus behaved himself, shaking both Ron and Hermione’s hands and enquiring after Hermione’s health. He and Hermione got along well – even better than he and Harry did, at times – but the relationship between Severus and Ron was still quite strained. It’d been months since their last public blowout, but the possibility of another one was ever-present.
They entered the mansion, making their way to the ballroom, which had been fully decked out for the occasion. Dozens of round tables had been set up throughout the room, pure white tablecloths brushing the floor and gold and silver china gleaming in the light of hundreds of floating candles. Roses of every colour spilled over the tables and on the decorative trellises set up against the walls. House elves – paid, of course – circulated the room with trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvres.
Harry snagged a couple of glasses of champagne and passed one to Severus, who accepted it gratefully. He really did have a difficult time at big social events like this.
Dinner wasn’t due to be served for another hour, so the four of them mingled with the other party-goers. Eventually, Ron and Hermione broke away to talk to one of Hermione’s co-workers that Harry wasn’t familiar with. He made sure to stick by Severus’ side; Severus would never forgive him if Harry abandoned him in the middle of all this.
“Harry. Severus. Thank you for coming.”
Harry smiled and shook Kingsley’s hand. “Of course we came. You know we’re big supporters of the CWL.”
Kingsley shook Severus’ hand as well, looking sombre. “Yes, but with this new resurgence of the Reapers… I thought it might keep you away.”
Harry had in fact spent the majority of the day poring over the profile the Mind Healers had finally managed to put together, cross-referencing it with the exhaustive list of people who’d lost relatives to the Death Eaters. But the worst thing you could do with a case like this was let it take over your life. He’d learned that lesson the hard way.
“I’m not rearranging my life for them,” he said.
“Glad to hear it.” Kingsley turned to Severus. “I know you refused protection, Severus, but if you change your mind –”
Severus waved a dismissive hand. “I will not. Those idiots would not dare to attack me.”
“I hope not. By the way, I hear the first trials for your new potion went very well. Auror Hathaway was raving about it.”
Severus and Kingsley were drawn into a discussion about the new potion, which Harry knew very little about. He loved Severus, but he still thought potions were dead boring.
As Harry looked around the room, his eyes fell on a distinctive white-blond head. Malfoy was standing near the opposite wall, dressed in silky, dark green dress robes. Michael Corner stood next to him, one arm flung over Malfoy’s shoulder. They were dating, Harry recalled. Malfoy never talked about his personal life, but Harry had heard it from Seamus, who had married Lisa Turpin.
Malfoy had sent Harry a copy of the first crime scene’s spell record that morning, even though it was a Saturday; Harry really should thank him for it. Besides, he hadn’t spoken to Corner in years. He might as well say hello. It was better than standing here feeling like an idiot while Severus and Kingsley talked about things he didn’t understand.
He put a hand on Severus’ arm. “I’ll be right back,” he said, knowing Severus wouldn’t mind. Kingsley was one of the few people Severus felt comfortable being alone with.
Severus nodded, and Harry made his way across the room.
“Malfoy, I didn’t know you were coming to this. Good to see you, Corner.”
Corner removed his arm from Malfoy’s shoulder to shake Harry’s hand. “Potter. How’s the Auror trade?”
“Good and bad. More bad than good, lately, but I’m sure Malfoy’s told you all about it.”
“Horrible business,” Corner agreed, shaking his head in disgust.
“Speaking of which,” Harry said to Malfoy, “I wanted to thank you for the spell record. It was good of you to work on this over the weekend.”
“You’re welcome,” said Malfoy. His voice was unusually subdued.
Corner must have noticed Harry’s concern, because he was quick to say, “This case is really taking a toll on him. I’m sure you understand.”
“Of course.” Harry wondered why Malfoy was letting Corner speak for him, instead of speaking for himself. It seemed unlike him.
“In fact, this is probably going to be Draco’s last case. He’ll be quitting soon.”
“Really?” Harry said, surprised. Every impression he’d ever gotten was that Malfoy loved his job.
Malfoy dropped his eyes to the floor and said nothing.
“Yes. We’re getting married.”
Malfoy’s entire body stiffened and his head snapped up, looking at Corner with an expression of shock that was incongruous with the situation. Maybe he’d asked Corner not to tell anyone?
“Er, congratulations,” said Harry. He was gripped with a feeling of unease that increased with every second. There was something… off about the whole thing. Malfoy wasn’t acting like himself at all.
“Thanks. Once we’re married, Draco won’t need to be fooling around with dead bodies all day. He’ll have better things to do at home. Right, baby?”
Then, to Harry’s complete and utter astonishment, Corner smacked Malfoy’s arse. It was so inappropriate that for a second Harry thought he might have imagined it, but Malfoy’s startled breath and sudden blush made it clear he hadn’t.
Harry waited for Malfoy to tear Corner a new one, but all he did was give his boyfriend a strained smile. “Yes.”
Harry only just managed to keep his jaw from dropping open. This was not the Malfoy he knew.
A bell chimed, signalling that everyone should take their seats for dinner. Harry had never been so glad to get away from a conversation in his life. “See you at work, Malfoy,” he said. “Corner.”
Both men nodded. Harry practically ran back to Severus, who was taking his seat at the table they were sharing with Ron, Hermione, and a few other couples.
Severus took one look at Harry’s face and said, “What’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you later,” Harry said under his breath.
Kingsley gave a short speech, thanking everyone for coming, and then the first course appeared on their plates. The meal was accompanied by a succession of speakers from the Children’s Welfare League. Harry pushed his thoughts about Malfoy and Corner to the back of his mind, focusing instead on the speakers, who were only moderately boring, and the food, which was fantastic.
By the time dessert rolled around, the last speaker had wrapped things up, leaving the occupants of each table to converse amongst themselves. Unavoidably, the discussion turned to the Reapers.
“Do you have any idea yet who’s behind the attacks?” asked one of the women seated at their table.
“We’re not really allowed to discuss the case,” Harry said.
“My cousin is one of the parolees,” said the woman’s husband, a Mr. Naylor. “We’ve never gotten on very well, but I’d certainly hate to see her fall victim to those animals. And now that she’s gotten one of their calling cards –”
That got both Harry and Ron’s attention. “Their what?” said Ron.
“The cards they send to their future victims, to frighten them.”
Harry and Ron stared at him.
“Ah,” Mr. Naylor said. “You didn’t know?”
“No,” Harry said. “Nobody’s ever come forward.”
Another of the women shrugged. “Probably thought no one would care.”
“I didn’t know you were unaware of the cards’ existence,” Severus said to Harry.
Something about the way he said it made Harry frown. “Did you know about them?”
“I received one the day before yesterday.”
A sudden silence fell over the table.
“You what,” Harry said flatly.
“If I had known the Aurors did not know anything about them, I would have brought it to your attention.”
“Brought it to my attention?” Harry couldn’t help raising his voice.
Severus bristled. “We can discuss this later.”
“We’ll discuss it now.”
“This is not the place.”
Harry rose. “Ron, could you –”
“Sure thing.” Ron moved around the table to sit by Mr. Naylor, conjuring up a roll of parchment and a quill. “About this cousin of yours…”
Harry stalked away, knowing Severus would follow him. He was familiar with the house, having visited Kingsley here many times, so he headed in the direction of the library. It was far from the ballroom, private and quiet.
Halfway through the hallway that led to the library, though, Harry whirled around. “Are you insane?” he spat. His stomach was seething with anger and fear.
Severus’ jaw was set. “It means nothing.”
“It means they’re going to come after you!”
“That is not a certainty.”
“It’s damned more than a possibility!”
“I would like to see them try.”
“Stop it!” Harry said, shoving Severus’ chest so that he stumbled backwards a few paces. “God, you always do that. You think that because you cheated death once, you’re invincible? You can die just like anyone else.”
“How can you care so little about yourself? About me? Do you think I want to come home to find you with your heart torn out of your chest?” Harry could hear the rising note of hysteria in his voice, but he couldn’t stop it.
“Harry.” Severus pulled him into an embrace, refusing to let go even when Harry tried to push him away. “That will never happen.”
“You don’t know that.” Harry sagged against Severus’ chest. He could feel Severus’ heartbeat, strong and steady.
The sudden sound of footsteps made them both tense. Was someone coming to check on them? Ron and Hermione would know better, but other people must have seen them leaving the ballroom. Severus was an intensely private person; getting caught like this would humiliate him and make him impossible to live with for days. Harry looked up and down the hallway. None of the doors were close enough, and there was no guarantee they wouldn’t be locked.
The footsteps grew closer. Making a split-second decision, Harry backed up against the wall, dragging Severus with him and casting a wandless Disillusionment over them both. His Disillusionment was almost as strong as Dumbledore’s had been; so long as neither of them made any sudden movements or too much noise, they would be invisible.
“We shouldn’t be here,” a voice said.
“Relax,” said another voice. “The Minister’s a good bloke, he won’t care. Besides, I wanted to get you alone.”
The speakers rounded the corner, and Harry was surprised to see Malfoy and Corner. He and Severus hadn’t been followed, after all.
Malfoy stopped in the middle of the hallway, scant metres from where Harry and Severus stood against the wall. “You can’t be thinking…”
“Come on. It’ll be fun.”
“Yeah.” Corner put his hands on Malfoy’s hips and kissed his neck.
Malfoy didn’t look thrilled, and he didn’t respond to the kiss. “Why did you tell Potter we were getting married?”
“I didn’t like the way you were looking at him. You might as well have been begging him to fuck you right there.”
Severus looked down at Harry with raised eyebrows. Harry shook his head, frowning. Malfoy had done nothing of the sort; he’d barely looked at Harry at all. What was Corner’s problem?
“Besides, don’t you want to marry me?” Corner asked.
“Of – of course,” said Malfoy, the hesitation so slight it was almost unnoticeable. “I just… I wish you’d asked me first.”
Harry’s eyes widened. God, no wonder Malfoy had seemed so surprised.
Severus was frowning now too, eyes on Malfoy. Harry knew he was experiencing the same feeling of not right as Harry had earlier.
“I’m sorry, baby,” Corner said. “You’re right, that was awful of me. But you know how carried away I can get when I’m jealous.” He nuzzled Malfoy’s neck, kissing him again, and this time Malfoy relaxed into the embrace.
“You have nothing to be jealous of.”
“No? You don’t think Potter would love to get a piece of your sweet little arse?” Corner reached down and squeezed the arse in question.
The crude words were like a punch to Harry’s gut. He couldn’t believe Corner would speak to Malfoy like that, or more importantly, that Malfoy would let him.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Malfoy. “He and Severus –”
“Like you wouldn’t love to get in the middle of that.” Corner backed Malfoy up against the wall, almost directly opposite from where Harry and Severus were standing. “Don’t forget that I know all about your little professor crush.”
The hallway wasn’t very wide, and Harry and Severus could see the other couple clearly. When Corner pushed Malfoy’s robes open and slipped a hand between them to rub Malfoy’s cock through his trousers, Harry looked away. His eyes met Severus’.
We should go, Harry mouthed silently.
Severus made a helpless gesture, as if to say, How?
He was right. If he and Harry tried to walk down the hallway, the spell wouldn’t be enough to conceal them – not when they were the only other people here. The only viable option they had, disturbing as it might be, was to wait until Malfoy and Corner were so distracted that they wouldn’t notice.
“That was years ago,” Malfoy said.
Corner laughed, not pleasantly. “You’d still spread for him if he told you to.”
“I wouldn’t.” Malfoy’s voice held a note of futility, as if he knew he wouldn’t be believed.
“I bet the bastard would love to play ‘detention’ with you. Isn’t that what you used to fantasise about?”
The sound of Malfoy’s zipper being lowered was loud in the hallway. Harry could feel his own face heating. He and Severus had played that particular game plenty of times. He chanced a glance at Severus to see his lover staring at Malfoy as if he’d never seen him before. Apparently, he hadn’t known Malfoy’d had a crush on him in school.
A sudden bout of insecurity twisted Harry’s gut. Would it have changed things if Severus had known?
Corner was still talking. “Maybe he’d let Potter have your mouth. I know how much you love getting it from both ends.”
Malfoy closed his eyes, as if trying to deny Corner’s words, but he was breathing quickly, and his cheeks weren’t flushed with just embarrassment.
“Turn around. Lift your robes up.”
“I don’t want to do this here.”
“Your cock’s hard as a rock. Turn around.”
Malfoy turned, bracing himself against the wall with one hand and lifting his robes with the other, tucking them around his waist. Corner pushed Malfoy’s trousers and pants down to mid-thigh.
Harry sucked in a sharp breath even as he felt Severus doing the same beside him. Malfoy had a perfect arse, firm and exquisitely rounded, the kind that just begged to be fucked. And on top of that, he was wearing a plug. The thick black handle was visible between his arsecheeks.
“God,” Harry breathed out, so quietly that only Severus would be able to hear him. He was hard. He was actually getting hard, watching. This was so wrong.
He turned to the side, towards Severus, tearing his eyes away from the sight of Malfoy’s gorgeous backside. Severus turned towards him in the same moment, and Harry recognised the look in his dark eyes. He pressed his thigh between Severus’ legs, just to be sure, and wasn’t surprised to find Severus hard as well.
Severus made as if to pull away, but Harry pressed his own erection against his hip. Surprise battled with arousal on Severus’ face.
A soft moan made them both look back across the hallway. Corner was playing with the plug, pushing it in and out of Malfoy’s body in shallow thrusts. “Or maybe,” he said, “they’d share you. Hold you up between them and fuck you together, two cocks in your arse.”
Severus’ cock jumped against Harry’s thigh. Harry dropped his head on Severus’ shoulder, overwhelmed by the mental images Corner’s vulgar words produced. He’d never had a sexual thought about Malfoy in his life, but he had given more than passing thought to having a threesome with Severus. And now that he’d seen Malfoy’s arse, he couldn’t help imagining what it would feel like wrapped around his cock.
Across the hall, Corner unfastened his own trousers and buried his cock in Malfoy with one quick thrust. Malfoy made an incredible noise, a sort of half-gasp, half-moan that had Harry grinding even harder against Severus’ leg. He badly wanted to kiss Severus, but part of him was so ashamed of what they were doing that he couldn’t bring himself to look Severus in the face.
Severus’ hands were tight on Harry’s hips, pulling him into a steady mutual rhythm of cock against thigh. Though their harsh panting sounded loud to Harry, he knew they couldn’t be heard over Malfoy’s moaning and Corner’s growled obscenities. He tried not to watch, he really did, but every few seconds his eyes were irresistibly drawn to the sight of Malfoy getting fucked up against the wall. Corner was being rough – far rougher than Harry would have enjoyed himself – but Malfoy was pushing back into every brutal thrust with unmistakable eagerness.
God. Malfoy loved being fucked. Harry couldn’t see his face, but it was obvious in every line of the man’s body, in every noise that came out of his mouth. The knowledge made Harry’s cock throb and tripled his frustration with all of the clothing separating Severus’ body from his own.
Malfoy cried out, the unexpected sound shockingly loud in the small hallway. He’d come; Harry could tell from the way his body was trembling and starting to slump against the wall. Fuck. He’d just watched Draco Malfoy come from getting fucked up the arse.
Harry bit Severus’ shoulder to muffle his own groan as he came, hips jerking wildly against Severus. The velvety material tasted odd in his mouth. Severus grunted at the bite, a full-body shudder running through him, and Harry could feel his cock pulsing with release between them.
Harry released Severus’ shoulder but didn’t lift his head. He felt hot and shaky and embarrassed; he was dumbfounded by the strength of his own reaction to watching Corner and Malfoy fuck. He’d never considered himself a voyeur.
It was that thing Corner had said about him and Severus fucking Malfoy together. That had done it. The very thought was so… Harry didn’t know the right word. Naughty. Forbidden. Intriguing.
All of the above.
Corner pulled out seconds after he came. Instead of dropping his robes, Malfoy obediently kept them up around his waist, so that Harry and Severus had another perfect view of his now well-fucked arse. Corner slapped one cheek and then pushed the plug back in without cleaning Malfoy up first.
“You’ll keep my come in you for the rest of the night,” he said. “I want to feel it when I fuck you later.”
Malfoy moaned, and not in objection.
Corner helped Malfoy set his clothing to rights, the tender way he touched and kissed Malfoy completely at odds with the rough treatment of earlier. Even his voice was different, soft and pleasant, with none of the hard edge that had troubled Harry before.
Rather than reassure Harry, the sudden change only increased his disquiet. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what was bothering him, but he knew that there was something wrong with the way Corner treated Malfoy. He hadn’t been outright abusive, but the way he’d humiliated Malfoy – first in front of Harry and just now when they’d been alone – was not normal boyfriend behaviour.
And who the hell told people they were marrying their partner without even asking said partner first?
Corner and Malfoy walked back down the hallway, returning to the ballroom. Once they were out of earshot, Harry pulled away from Severus and ended the Disillusionment. Severus flicked his wand, cleaning them both.
They stared at each other for a long moment. Harry was at a complete loss for words. What could he possibly say about what they’d just done? Inappropriate didn’t even cover it. He adjusted his glasses, which were skewed from pressing his face against Severus’ shoulder.
“There’s something weird about their relationship,” he said.
The second the lift doors closed behind them, Michael pushed Draco against the wall and kissed him hungrily.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what’s inside you all night,” he said.
Draco arched against him. “Me neither.”
He’d been reluctant to have sex in the Minister’s mansion at first, both because he was afraid they might be caught and because he’d been angry with Michael over the whole marriage business, but the experience had been undeniably hot. And the plug, teasing him for hours afterwards with promises of better to come…
Michael slapped his hand against the sensor without even looking at it. By the time the lift reached their flat, he had Draco’s dress robes unfastened and hanging off of his shoulders.
They stumbled to the bedroom, shedding clothes and stealing kisses as they went. Michael laid Draco back on the bed and kneeled over him, placing a line of fervent kisses across Draco’s collarbone.
“It was beastly of me to rob you of the proposal you deserve,” he said. “Can you ever forgive me?”
“Of course,” said Draco, his attention more focused on the tongue laving his nipple than on Michael’s words.
“I’ll make it up to you, I promise. You’ll get the best proposal anyone’s ever had. But I think I can start my apology tonight.” Michael slid down Draco’s body and licked a path up the underside of his cock before taking it into his mouth.
“Oh.” Draco lifted his hips, pushing his cock deeper into Michael’s throat. “Oh, that’s so good…”
Michael sucked him with consummate skill, one hand rubbing circles on Draco’s hip and the other playing with the plug in his arse. Draco gripped the coverlet with both hands while his body moved with restless pleasure, Michael’s mouth hot and tight on his cock, the plug pushing against his prostate just enough to make his toes curl.
He moaned in protest when Michael pulled off and moved back up along his body, lips travelling over Draco’s skin and hand still working the plug.
“You taste so good,” Michael whispered. “You’re so fucking beautiful, Draco. You’ll make such a good husband.”
Draco twisted his hips in an attempt to get some friction on his aching cock. Michael chuckled and started sliding back down, his hand abandoning the plug in favour of fondling Draco’s balls, rolling them and squeezing gently.
He pressed a kiss against the centre of Draco’s stomach. “I can’t wait to put a baby in here.”
Draco froze. “What?”
“We can start you on the potions before the wedding.” Michael’s tongue dipped into Draco’s navel. “That way I can get you pregnant on our honeymoon and we can start building our family right away.”
Draco sat up, arousal forgotten as his blood ran cold. “You never said you wanted children.”
“Of course I do.” Michael sat up as well, a frown on his face. “It's our duty as purebloods to bring new witches and wizards into the world.”
He was right, of course, and if he'd been anyone else, Draco would have agreed with him. Draco did want children, and he wasn't even opposed to carrying them himself if there was no other option, but... it had never occurred to him that Michael would want that, too.
If Michael was an abusive lover, Draco couldn't imagine what he would be like as a father. Draco would never inflict the man's insanity on an innocent child. Never. He'd die first.
“I – ” Draco's voice cracked with a thin tremor of fear, but he forced himself to say it. This was one issue on which he'd never give in, no matter the consequences. “I don't want children.”
Michael laughed. “Don't be silly. Of course you do.”
He reached out to touch Draco's stomach again, but Draco caught his hand. “I'm serious. I don't like children, and I don't want that kind of responsibility.”
Michael stared at him for a few seconds, during which Draco's spine seemed to turn to ice water. When he finally spoke, it was in a low, warning tone. “You will give me children, Draco.”
Draco almost gave in, just to prevent what he knew was coming, but he couldn't. Better him than a child. He got off the bed, wanting to put as much space between himself and Michael as possible. “No.”
“What did you just say?”
“I said no.” Draco whispered it, but it still came out clearly.
Michael's handsome face twisted into something ugly. He stood up so fast that Draco jumped backwards, heart hammering. “You do not say no to me.”
Draco's mouth was too dry to speak. He said nothing.
Michael crossed the distance between them and grabbed Draco's wrist. “You'll do as I say.”
Draco shook his head, and Michael slapped him in the face with his free hand.
“You little bitch. How dare you deny me anything, after everything I've done for you? You should be on your hands and knees every day, thanking me for putting up with you for this long.”
The words always hurt in a way that the physical blows never could, and Draco flinched. “Michael – ”
Michael hit him again, this time with a closed fist. Draco's head snapped back, and he cried out as his lip split against his teeth.
“Worthless piece of trash. You think you can say no to me? Who the fuck do you think you are?”
A few more punches had Draco's ears ringing, his nose dripping blood. When Michael released his wrist, Draco fell to his knees. A swift kick to his ribs sent him sprawling on his back.
“You're nothing.” Michael kicked him again. “Just a pretty face and a tight arse. That's all you'll ever be.” Kick.
Draco curled up on his side, trying to protect himself. “Michael, please – ”
Michael knelt over Draco, forcing him onto his back again with a hand around his throat. Draco's own hands instinctively rose up to grab Michael's wrist, trying to keep himself from being strangled.
“You belong to me,” said Michael. “When I tell you to do something, you do it.”
Draco didn't respond, and Michael's hand tightened on his throat, lifting his head and then slamming it down on the mercifully carpeted floor. Dark spots danced in Draco's vision, and when Michael did it again, Draco's arms fell to his sides, useless.
“Do you understand me, whore?”
It was on the tip of Draco's tongue to say yes, but a sudden image flashed across his mind – a young child in Draco's place, Michael choking him, smacking his small head against the floor. Merlin, no. Never.
“No,” Draco gasped out. “You don't own me.”
Michael was so surprised that his grip on Draco's throat loosened. Draco had never stood up to him before, not when things had gone this far. For a breathless moment, Draco almost thought he was going to back off.
Then Michael's eyes hardened, and he backhanded Draco across the face. Draco coughed and spat blood on the carpet.
“If you've forgotten who you belong to, maybe I should remind you.” Michael reached between Draco's legs and pulled the plug out, tossing it to the side.
Draco struggled as Michael forced his legs open, trying to push him away, but there was no use. Michael was just too strong. Draco turned his head; his wand was somewhere in the pile of discarded clothing by the door. It wasn't too far away to summon...
No. Draco could survive this. He couldn't survive being alone again.
Michael drove into him with one savage thrust. Draco shrieked, body squirming futilely. It didn't hurt as much as it could have, thanks to the plug and the slickness of the come and lube already inside him, but it wasn't pain-free, either. Michael grasped Draco's wrists and held them against the floor on either side of his head, pinning him down.
“Get off,” Draco said, even though he knew it was pointless. “Get off me.”
Michael ignored him. He bent his head and bit the side of Draco’s neck, hips pumping ruthlessly between Draco’s thighs. Draco closed his eyes, swallowing hard. He’d never once cried in front of Michael, not even the time Michael had dislocated his shoulder, and he wasn’t going to start now.
“Don’t pretend you don’t want this,” said Michael. He squeezed Draco’s wrists until Draco grunted in pain. “I know you only act out because you need me to put you in your place.”
Draco didn’t respond. He didn’t even open his eyes.
“Mine,” Michael muttered. His breath was coming in fast pants, a sure sign he was nearing release. “Mine, mine, mine….”
The last utterance was accompanied by a low groan and a flood of hot come inside Draco’s sore hole. Michael sank down on top of Draco, and Draco sucked in a shaky breath when his boyfriend’s weight made his kicked ribs sing with agony.
Michael ran gentle fingers over the bruises on Draco’s face. “You know I hate having to do this, Draco,” he said. “Why do you keep making me?”
Harry whistled to himself as he strolled through the near-empty hallways of the Ministry. The vast majority of Ministry employees didn’t come in on Sundays. Harry himself hadn’t found occasion to work on a Sunday in months, but this case was too important to let it slide over the weekend.
The DMLE was deserted but for the weekend skeleton crew, and the quiet was a refreshing change from the usual weekday chaos. Despite the gruesome nature of the case he was about to delve into, Harry couldn’t help feeling a sort of contentment. He’d had some of the best sex of his life the night before. Once he and Severus had gotten over the awkwardness resulting from their unintentional voyeurism, they’d been at each other like animals. Harry had even been able to fulfill his fantasy of frotting to completion against Severus’ sinfully soft robes.
There was nothing like a few mind-blowing orgasms to give you a more optimistic outlook on life. Harry planned on spending a couple of hours poring over the reams of financials he had on potential suspects, then meeting Ron for a late lunch to discuss the new development of the calling cards and trying to tease out some leads. He was confident that they’d find something to go on.
Harry let himself into his office and sat at his desk, pulling his inbox tray towards him out of habit. He always tried to clear it out before getting down to work, because otherwise the mess of it distracted him.
He’d half-expected it to be empty – he’d been in yesterday, after all, and not much could have happened over Saturday night – but there was a thick sheaf of papers sitting in it. Harry picked them up and flipped through them. They contained the spell report for the second crime scene, including the highlighted detail that two of the dampened sigs taken from the second crime scene matched those taken from the first.
The timestamp on the document indicated that it had been delivered only twenty minutes earlier. Harry wondered if Malfoy was still in the building. He’d have had to have worked on the report all morning to have finished it so quickly.
Deciding the financials could wait, Harry left his office and headed for the Forensics wing. He told himself it was just so he could thank Malfoy and see if he had any other insights into the case, but the truth was, he still felt uneasy when he thought about how Malfoy had behaved the night before. It would be reassuring to see Malfoy in his natural environment and back to his old self.
The door to Malfoy’s lab was closed. Harry knocked on it. “Malfoy?”
A muffled curse and a soft thump sounded from inside the room before Malfoy said, “Who is it?”
“Harry Potter. Can I come in?”
“Er…” There was another thump, this one louder than before. “Give me a second.”
Harry frowned as the words were followed in short order by the sound of shattering glass, another curse, and then what sounded like something heavy hitting the floor. “Malfoy, are you okay?”
There was no response.
“I’m coming in,” Harry said.
Fortunately, the door wasn’t locked. Harry pushed it open and stepped into the lab. To his relief, Malfoy looked fine – he was crouched on the floor next to his fallen chair, wand in hand.
“I knocked my chair over,” Malfoy said unnecessarily.
“I thought I heard something break.”
Malfoy stood, righting his chair and holstering his wand before gesturing to the pile of shattered glass on his desk. “Just an experiment. I lost my concentration when you knocked.”
Harry winced. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine. I’ve already had a breakthrough; I’m just refining the technique. Is there something I can help you with?”
Harry found himself staring at Malfoy’s face. There was something wrong with it, but Harry couldn’t figure out what it was. It looked fine. Malfoy seemed more like his usual self, too, though perhaps a bit flustered by Harry’s unexpected visit.
Malfoy noticed him staring and lifted a hand to his face self-consciously. “What?”
Malfoy’s fingers came to a rest against his cheek, but they weren’t connecting with the skin properly – a sure sign of a poorly or hastily applied glamour. Harry suddenly realised why Malfoy looked so strange.
His entire face was glamoured.
Harry understood glamouring a small section of skin to hide a spot or a wrinkle, but there was only one reason a person cast a glamour over their whole face.
“Nothing,” said Harry, looking Malfoy in the eye. He let his wand slide down his sleeve to rest in his hand. “I just came by to thank you – again – and to see if you’ve made any progress on identifying the perpetrators.”
“It’s funny you should ask,” said Malfoy, glancing at the mess on his desk.
It seemed as if Malfoy might say more, but Harry’s wordless Finite took him by surprise. His entire body stiffened in rage and shock for a split second before he whirled around, turning his back on Harry.
But Harry had already seen.
“Potter, you bastard, how dare you?”
“Jesus fuck, Malfoy, what happened to your face?”
“None of your fucking business!” Malfoy’s voice shook with fury as he fumbled with his wand. “You have no right –”
“Who hit you?” Harry started forward and grabbed Malfoy’s arm, meaning to turn Malfoy towards him, but Malfoy shoved him away with such strength that Harry stumbled into the desk.
“Get out!” he shouted.
“Fine,” Harry said, straightening up. “Where do you live again? That fancy building at One Thousand Rosehall, isn’t it?”
Malfoy, who had finally managed to draw his wand, almost dropped it at Harry’s words. “Why?”
“Because,” Harry said over his shoulder as he headed for the door, “I’m going to arrest your scumbag boyfriend for assault.”
“No!” This time, it was Malfoy who grabbed Harry’s arm. “You can’t.”
Harry turned to face him. “Don’t tell me it wasn’t Corner who did this to you.”
Malfoy let go of Harry and took a step back, but he made no further attempts to hide his face. Though Harry had caught a brief glimpse of it before, looking at it straight-on was worse. Malfoy’s lower lip was split and his whole mouth was puffy. His nose was swollen, the bruising spreading from the bridge out to his cheekbones, and both of his eyes were blackened.
“It’s not what you think,” Malfoy said.
“What do I think?”
“That he… beats me. It’s not like that. We got in a fight, and things got out of hand, but it was mutual.”
Harry crossed his arms. “So if I were to track down Corner right now, he would look as bad as you do?”
Malfoy’s voice was calm, his eye contact steady. There were no signs that he was lying. Harry wanted to believe him – the Malfoy he knew would never let a man beat on him without giving back as good as he got.
Of course, the Malfoy Harry knew would never let his boyfriend slap his arse in public, either.
“Fine,” said Harry, deciding to give Malfoy the benefit of the doubt. “Why haven’t you gotten those healed?”
“You know healing spells don’t work right when you cast them on yourself. And I didn’t want to explain the situation to a Healer.”
“Good thing I’m here, then.”
“You don’t have to –”
Malfoy huffed out an exasperated breath. “All right.”
Harry knew the basics of field Healing – all Aurors did – and he was more than capable of taking care of a few bruises and cuts. Malfoy’s face was returned to normal within minutes.
“Thank you,” Malfoy said.
“No problem.” Harry spent a few seconds internally debating whether he should mention what he’d noticed before saying, “Er, is there something wrong with your ribs?”
Malfoy frowned. “Why would you say that?”
“You’re holding yourself kind of stiffly.” When Malfoy didn’t respond, Harry added, “I’ve been there myself.”
Malfoy stared at Harry for a few seconds before tugging his shirttails out of his trousers and unbuttoning his shirt from the bottom up. He looked away as he spread the panels apart, revealing his lean torso.
Harry bit back the curse that sprang to his lips. Malfoy’s pale skin was mottled with an enormous bruise that covered half of the right side of his ribcage. Harry knew the difference between punching and kicking when he saw it. His suspicions that Malfoy had lied about the fight being mutual increased.
Malfoy’s body was strung with tension, but he kept his eyes on the wall. Harry healed the bruising without a word. It wouldn’t do any good, anyway.
As Malfoy rebuttoned his shirt, Harry said, “Before… all this… when I asked if you’d made any progress, it seemed like you were going to say something.”
“Oh. Yes, I think I might have some good news. It’s a little early to say, though. I’d prefer to present my findings at the meeting tomorrow morning.”
“Of course. Sorry again for breaking your concentration.”
Malfoy smiled tightly and nodded. Harry took a step towards the door, paused, and turned back around. He dug in his pocket for the small, snake-shaped pin he kept there, then handed it to Malfoy.
“What is this?” Malfoy asked.
“It’s an emergency Portkey to my house.” Harry held up a hand to forestall the objection he could see forming on Malfoy’s lips. “If you ever feel like you’re in danger – for whatever reason – please use it. The activation phrase is ‘Take me home’.”
Malfoy looked down at the pin. “I can’t take this from you.”
“I can have another one made. It’s not a problem. Please keep it.”
Rubbing his thumb along the metal, Malfoy said, “A snake?”
Harry smiled. “Severus’ is a lion.”
Draco sat down the moment the door shut behind Potter, lest his shaking legs land him on the floor.
That had been too damn close. He’d seen that look on Potter’s face before – that righteous ire – though it was a novel experience being the beneficiary of it rather than the target. Potter hadn’t been bluffing. He’d really been ready to storm Michael’s flat and arrest him.
A small part of Draco wished he’d let him go.
He sighed and turned his attention to the mess on his desk. He’d been so absorbed in his work that the knock on his door had practically given him a heart attack. The test tube had shattered, and Draco had been so rattled that he’d almost forgotten to glamour himself at all.
Things were not proceeding as he’d hoped. The results of his experiments the day before yesterday had excited him – until he’d realised that, at his current rate of progress, it would take weeks to fully strip even just one of the signatures. The samples he was using were simply too small.
Perpetrator A’s violet signature filled only a centimetre at the bottom of the vial Draco was using to collect it. Mocking him. Taunting him with his failure.
Draco dropped his head into his hands. It would help that he no longer had to contend with the pain in his face and ribs distracting him, but his arse still throbbed. At least Potter hadn’t demanded to heal that.
A surge of anger made Draco’s body tense. Potter had everything – a job he enjoyed, genuine friends, a lover who was a true partner to him. And how had he gotten all that? Through being brash, impetuous, foolhardy – by acting without considering the consequences, by doing what he thought was best regardless of logic or reason. It wasn’t fair.
Potter wouldn’t recognise delicacy or finesse if they kicked him in the bollocks. In Draco’s place, he would have told Michael to go to hell long ago. If he were confronted by the same problem Draco was facing now, he would have tried stripping the entire magical signature at once, rather than taking tiny bits of it at a time –
Draco bolted upright.
No. It was a ridiculous thought. The spells he had developed demanded subtlety and precision; they were designed to be used on small samples. There was no reason to believe they would have any effect on a large one – and if they did, it was more likely to be destructive than anything else.
Draco picked up the vial that held the original dampened signature, weighing it in his palm.
It was a risk. It was a huge risk. If he destroyed the sample, it would be gone for good. He never gambled like that in his professional life.
Funny, considering that he risked his actual life every time he went home.
Before he could talk himself out of it, Draco summoned a larger test tube and transferred half the dampened sig to it. He clamped the tube into the stand, moving the magnifying glass into place even though he wasn’t sure it would be needed.
The first spell in the procedure was intended to weaken the bond between the dampening shell and the signature beneath. Draco drew his wand, took a deep breath, and cast.
Nothing happened. That was good. This particular spell’s effects weren’t meant to be externally observable, so the fact that the sig hadn’t self-destructed was a good sign.
Draco realised he had been holding the breath he’d taken before casting and released it in a slow exhalation. There was a fine tremor in his hand as he placed the tip of his wand against the glass and began to intone the spells that would peel away the casing.
After a few such spells aimed at what Draco judged to be the stress points in the sig, there still appeared to be no effect – aside from the anxiety that had made his neck and shoulder muscles hard as rock. He set his wand down and sat back, rolling his neck to release some of the tension. His spine cracked.
Except it hadn’t been his spine. The cracking noise was coming from the test tube.
A fissure had formed in the sig, and it spread as Draco watched, zigzagging down the length of the sig and slowly widening. The whole thing began to pulsate, squirming like it was alive. Draco stared at it, transfixed; he was reminded of nothing so much as the time his mother had made him visit a wizarding farm to show him how lucky he’d been to be born a Malfoy. He had seen a chicken egg hatching, the baby bird cracking the egg open from the inside. In his childish naiveté, Draco had wanted to help it, but the witch whose farm it was had put a hand on his arm and told him to be patient. After all, she’d said, the chick wanted to come out…
The sig convulsed violently. Draco scooted his chair back a little in case the tube shattered, but he didn’t look away.
In a flare of brilliant purple light, the signature burst through, not just shedding the dampening casing but destroying it. Only a few bits of brown haze were left to settle at the bottom of the tube. The violet sig with its black and silver undertones shimmered in all its glory, and if Draco’s scientific mind hadn’t firmly rejected the notion of ascribing human emotions to an inanimate object, he would have said it looked triumphant.
Gods. He was such an idiot. There was a reason magical signatures were so difficult to obscure in the first place – they resisted dampening. How many times had Draco heard his own father discussing that very dilemma? If signatures resisted dampening, it stood to reason that any attempt to remove that dampening would be augmented by the power of the sig itself. The only caveat was that there needed to be enough of the sig for its power to really have an effect.
Shaking with excitement, Draco decanted the sig into the collection vial and set to work on the other half of the dampened sample. He was careful not to let his exhilaration get the better of him, proceeding as carefully with the second half as he had with the first. Within forty minutes, he was rewarded with the same results and, at long last, the fully unmasked signature of one of the Reapers.
“I’ve got you, you fucking bastards,” he whispered.
The procedure was still a lengthy, painstaking one, requiring about an hour to cast the necessary spells on a full sample. Once the spells were in place, however, the signature did the rest of the work. Repeated trials with the dampened sigs of Perpetrators B and C proved equally effective.
It was mid-afternoon before hunger finally forced Draco to take a break. He ate lunch at his desk while he finalised the patent paperwork for his technique. Most of it had been filled out weeks earlier; he needed only to adjust the description of the procedure slightly and sign the papers before sealing them. Since the Patent Office was inside the Ministry building, he was able to send the paperwork through the in-house delivery system rather than having to go in search of an owl.
Draco was just pulling the fourth signature to himself to start work on it when a small package appeared in his inbox. It was a little cube wrapped in white paper, bearing the green seal that marked it as having been rerouted from the Ministry’s owlery. When Draco picked it up, he saw the paper was embossed with the shiny silver logo of Bello Fiore, a high-end florist that Michael favoured. Draco sighed and unwrapped it.
The package unshrank itself, sprouting a tall crystal vase filled with pristine white orchids. A square card made of heavy, cream-colored paper was nestled among the blossoms.
Draco, please come home. I’m nothing without you.
Love always, Michael
Draco ran his thumb over the card, remembering the dozens, if not hundreds, of similar apologies he had received over the years. I’m sorry rather lost its meaning when heard every day.
He carefully set the card back in the flowers, drew his wand, and set the entire thing ablaze. Once the flowers had burned to ash and the vase was a twisted, melted lump, Draco banished the mess to the wastebasket and returned to work.
It took him until after five to strip the remainder of the collected signatures. Knowing it was imperative to return home while Michael was still in an apologetic mood, Draco plugged the sigs into the Ministry’s database to be processed overnight, straightened up his lab, and left the Ministry filled with an elation that not even Michael would be able to steal from him.
On to Part Three.
Back to Part One.