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Father's funeral. It was a lovely ceremony. Or so I'm told.

Pansy managed to crawl out of the woodwork and half-carry me home from the pub. Kind of her.

It's been four hours. He can't bother reading the clock but he can tell by the level of burnout dragging his limbs that it's sometime between two and four, in those blurred-together late and early hours of silence and solitude. There is something terrible about the early hours of the morning, when the windows are so black it seems like the world disappears beyond the glass. He's been sitting at the cigarette-scarred desk in his office since he got home, descending into a stinking pit of self-indulgent despair. He's been alternating between mocking himself for his uselessness and running in circle in his head trying to figure a way out of the crack he's been stuck in, his thoughts getting wilder and more repetitive as he works his way steadily through the open bottle of Firewhiskey before him. It's not a very productive use of his time but he's got nowhere to go and nothing to do, no brilliant ideas.

He's resting his elbows on the desk before him and he's so numb he doesn't at first notice when they start to cramp in protest. He leans back in his chair and closes his stinging, bloodshot eyes, rubbing his palms against them and feeling the sick sweat of the booze slick against his forehead. He can see his own reflection in the blackness of the night outside, fuck, he looks bloody terrible, his skin flushed and sickly and his hair sticking out in all directions, his eyes just red, bleary suggestions on his face. He's no fucking use to anyone in this state, no use to anyone anyway, it seems, since he can't manage to think of a way to hold on to the only thing worth having in this farce of an existence. It's like the punchline in the joke that is Draco Malfoy, Hey, look, watch me let her down, the only time she's ever needed anyone and it's going to be me, and I'm the prat with his face in the whiskey and no wand, isn't that funny? Isn't it just bloody hilarious? God, he has to stop drinking this crap before he really loses his mind, not like it has far to go anyway, he spend half his time in waking nightmares and the other half playing riddles. Pansy, Pansy, poor twisted Pansy, there is never anyone there to catch you when you fall.

She had seen from an early age the ugly facets of love and longing. Her father dead, her mother a well dressed widow seeking solace in the arms of a married politician. The man didn't like Pansy much, a dark girl with dark eyes that knew too many dark secrets. He liked the bottle better. She held dreams of freedom tightly in her unyielding hands, wanted nothing more than to be somewhere else, to wander, to see what the world had to offer her as its consolation for so much wasted time. And then there was Draco, cool confidant and the only guardian of her trust. And when he too let it slip from his grasp and crumble, when her mother died silently and all the dreams withered with her, Pansy built herself anew. She learned how to conceal truth with the glittering mask of an appealing lie. She learned how to distort and twist herself, too, to fit into whatever pretty picture she was tasked to fill. The first time he had seen her with one of them, some Quidditch player, his arm tight around her elbow, she had held her chin high and afterwards, when he yelled, when his furious words washed over her in ugly torrents, she had fixed a look of such perfect disdain on her face that he was almost convinced. Let the world see the unashamedly contorted creature it had allowed to flourish within her.

And he cannot even save this warped and fragile balance. It, too, will be stolen from them and he wonders if it was punishment for his sins or hers. He gets up and stumbles his way to the sofa, where he collapses with very little effort onto his side. Just a few hours of sleep, sleep with no images of death or destruction, that's all he wants. Everything will look better in the morning, and he'll wake up with an answer. He wasn't given an immediate deadline; there will be time to figure something out. It makes so much sense in his addled state that he is content to close his eyes, still in his robes, and ignore the uncomfortable aching in his back because he doesn't fit on the threadbare seat. Just a few hours.


He opens his eyes and immediately wishes he hadn't. The ache in his head it matched only by the ache in his back from sleeping on the too-short sofa, his limbs are numb, and his mouth feels like sandpaper. He tries not to make too many observations through slitted eyes as he gets up and stumbles for a glass in the cabinet, before remembering that he has no wand. He could go back to his flat for water but the feels like too long a journey. Instead, he collapses back onto an armchair and rests his head in his hands, feeling like a helpless child again, and takes a minute to feel sorry for himself.


The voice is muffled by the wooden door to the office and the shape of the person on the other side is blurred through the beveled glass. They pound on the door and Draco wonders how long they've been standing out there. He's content to pretend he isn't in; he has no desire to speak to anyone at the moment, least of all about business. But they continue pounding on the door and so for the sake of his aching head and the sharp pain that jolts through it with every knock, Draco clears his throat.

"Come in," he calls loudly, not bothering to get up from his slumped position.

The door opens and Draco doesn't look up, but he can tell by the gait of the visitor that they're male. Draco sees, from the corner of his eye, the man take off his cloak and remain standing in the center of the room.

"Malfoy, you look like shit," says the man, and his voice is familiar. But not immediately recognizable. Because it certainly sounds like, but please, for the love of Salazar, let it not be-


Draco looks up and for a second he wonders if maybe he's still in the grasp of fevered firewhiskey dreams, because this would be too much, on top of everything else, too much irony. The other man is looking down at him with an expression of distaste in the eyes behind the stupid glasses, and he stands with his hands in his pockets and, Draco would bet, his fingers gripping his wand. He looks the same, right down to the uncombed hair and the heroic puppy-dog expression that Draco has a strong urge to curse off his face.

"Malfoy," Potter nods stiffly.

Draco stands up and makes a slight effort to compose himself, ignoring the dizzying nausea that rolls in his stomach. He waits for Potter to explain his presence, but the man seems to have gotten, if possible, even dimmer than the last time they had met. Draco doesn't have the patience for delicacy.

"Mind if I ask what the hell you're doing in my office?"

Potter shifts uncomfortably on his feet while Draco turns around and smoothes back his hair as best as he can, glancing out the window as he passes. The day outside is grey and colorless, the clouds the color of dirty pavement and promising neither rain or shine.

"It's... er, kind of a long story. Do you mind if I sit?"

Draco is seized strongly be the urge to reply Yes, but he's a big boy now and he has to restrain his impulses. "Go ahead," he shrugs instead, still not inclined to be polite. He takes a seat behind the desk as Harry sits in front of it, subtly moving his chair back an inch or two as he does so, so that they face one another with a good five feet between them, like soldiers on the opposite sides of a wartime trench. But they're not anymore, and Draco reminds himself of that. Still, that doesn't mean they have to be great mates, either.

"Get on with it," he says impatiently, gesturing at Potter to begin. He doesn't look at the other man's face, he's looking out through the window at those clouds, and wondering like a fool whether she can see them.

Potter makes a meal out of clearing his throat and adjusting the cross of his legs. "I hear you do a lot of business with the Dynasty," he says slowly.

Draco laughs derisively, shaking his head. This is the least of his concerns at the moment. "Is that what you're concerned about, Potter? You can tell your dogs in the Auror offices to take their noses off the trail. I don't dance with them at the Club. I'm an independent contractor," he explains, leaning back in his chair.

Potter's look hardens. He's got that look that says he's about to play hero and Draco doesn't like it. "Oh yeah? What are you doing going back and forth between their drop points then, Malfoy?" he says, and pulls a file out of the pocket of his robes. He opens it and withdraws a few photographs, which he flips onto the desk in a manner which he must have copied from someone with more finesse than he. They're all pictures of Draco leaving the various sites he's been inspecting, all taken from strange vantage points- doorways, bushes, rooftops.

"You've had someone following me?" Draco hisses, and now he's paying attention, leaning on the desk.

"What, did we violate your rights?" Harry laughs this time, mockingly. "Don't act outraged, Malfoy. We know what you've been doing. I'm surprised you're running errands for them like meat, and not sitting comfortably with the rest of your old Death Eater friends."

Draco's hand twitches but he has no wand to withdraw, and Harry sees the movement, and instantly tenses. Draco calms himself. No point in getting into a one-sided duel. He settles for glaring in his coldest manner at the man who sits across from him, looking infuriatingly smug, as though he knows what he is talking about.

"Well congratulations, Potter. You've managed to screw yourself over more thoroughly than usual. This time, not only have you come to threaten the wrong man, you've also completely bungled the operation you have accidentally uncovered. How did you get to be an Auror, again? Oh, and not to mention the fact that in this instance, when we might, for once, be on the same side, you've made me much less likely to tell you anything. You know, if anyone had seen your little photographer friend, you'd have gotten me and probably a few other people killed."

Potter looks uncomfortable indeed, shifting in his chair, while trying to make sense of what Draco is saying. He gives up after a minute. "What are you on about, Malfoy?"

Draco savors his success in confusing the man for a second before answering. "I'm not in with the Dynasty. I was looking into their business for someone else. And I've got nothing to do with their little operation at the University. I happened upon it in the course of my inquiries."

Draco is growing impatient with the meeting. He has other things he needs to be doing, more important things, though he has no idea what they might be yet. He needs to move fast if he wants to try and out-think Theodore Nott's diabolical plan. But he can't move the wheels in Potter's brain any faster and so he waits, tapping his quill against the desk insistently.

"What were you inquiring about?" the dark-haired man asks, and Draco sighs.

"Like I would tell you. Nothing for you to worry your head about."

"Look," Potter says, and he takes off his glasses to polish them on his robes for a second, looking weary. "If, as you say, we may be on the same side, then you may as well tell me what you know about the University and the drugs. We already know a fair amount, but we can't get them for anything. No one will talk to my Aurors, no one will talk to them undercover."

"That's because these people can spot an Auror in about a half a second," Draco points out with a shake of his head.

"But they talked to you, didn't they?" Harry Potter says, uncharacteristically shrewd. "You're just like them."

"Why thank you," Draco replies sarcastically. "Look, I need to take care of this my own way. It's a delicate situation."

"We could help," Potter offers, looking as though he doesn't quite know why he is saying the words. "Whatever you're trying to do, if you really aren't working with them, we might be able to offer you something. Resources."

Draco lets out a chuckle. "No thanks, Potter. I don't want backup from the dream team."

The other man's forehead is creased in consternation; he is struggling to hold back his frustration. "If you're trying to mess with the Dynasty, Malfoy, I have to ask you to back off. If they get spooked, our investigation is finished. We need to do this right, legally, get a solid handle on it before we go anywhere. Just give us a chance."

Draco stands up, turns his back on the other man, and contemplates. His eyes are outside, his mind farther still. If he lets Potter go on this one, he'll take Teddy and his whole operation down, and Draco won't have to do a thing. But where will that leave her? She isn't innocent. She has business mixed up with them and there will be no mercy for her. Sure, she won't be dead, but they'll lock her up for conspiracy, among other things. And even if she escapes the law, where would she go? He wants her out, sure, but that is her choice. And if she is forced into it, she could disappear like smoke, gone with the first draft of winter wind. He hopes she wouldn't do that. He can't be sure.

He turns around. "Sorry, Potter," he says, shrugging. "I'm doing this my own way."

"I could just arrest you now," Potter says boldly, standing up as well.

"For what?" Draco sneers. "Being an arse? Deliberate obstruction of the Potter hero brigade? And don't go sending anyone after me, either. I don't want or need your backup. But maybe I'll give you a push, if I decide to let you have a piece of it. No guarantees."

"Great," Potter sighs, grabbing his cloak. "Bloody fantastic. Thanks. Do me a favor, will you? Try not to kill anyone. I know that will be a stretch for you-"

"Enough, Potter," Draco snarls. He doesn't need to hear it, not from Harry fucking Potter.

"Look, you can't blame me. You look..."

"Yeah, you said."

"I was going to say you look like a man who's not sure how far he's going to go," Potter says slowly. Draco raises his eyebrow in wry acknowledgement. He turns around and allows Potter to let himself out, waiting until he hears the door slam a little more loudly than necessary.

"Potty," he adds quietly to his reflection, and enjoys the childish satisfaction it brings him. He sits down at the desk once more and sighs, leaning back in his chair, staring up at the ceiling. He still has no idea, nowhere to start, even. The only thing that will get Pansy out is Rose, and at this point, even if he wanted to bring Rose in, he has no idea where she might be. He's sure she'll have gone under by now, and besides, he's not sure he wants to get that ugly. He needs better leverage on them. He needs something they'll give him anything for.

That's what Potter doesn't understand, really, is how to operate in a world like this. He thinks he can just march boldly in and read them a statement. It's a dirty world, one where the line between good and bad, and right and wrong, is hidden beneath layers of gold and politics. But still, if Potter can get anything on them, maybe he'll succeed.

If he had a little leverage.

And there it is, in one quick spark, the beginning of an idea.

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