All the wrong choices. (Ch8 – Hybrid theory)

Draco flopped, unceremoniously, at his desk. He closed his eyes and wished that he was back in bed.  It hadn’t even occurred to him that this morning, his face would be gracing the front of the Prophet as a seducer of the chosen one. Even now, in his secluded part of the office, he could feel the eyes and glares of his co-workers on him. If this was even a taste of what Harry had been going through since the final battle, then he could understand his loathing of the media. He wondered what kind of welcome Harry had received this morning. He took a deep breath at the thought.

He hadn’t realised anything until he had stepped out of the floo network and then all hell had broken loose.  They had surrounded him barraging him with questions and statements only some of which he heard. It had been a battle trying to get to the lifts to escape. He felt his chest getting tight and his breath coming quicker but surprisingly it hadn’t developed into a full-blown panic attack. He had repeated the words Harry had muttered to him the night before.  The constant mantra of soothing words, which brought a small, secret smile to his face. He put his pen back to paper to send his support to harry and to also insinuate that he was thinking about him.

He chuckled slightly to himself, that was an understatement that only the bags under his eyes could understand.  He had tossed and turned in bed all night analysing ever interaction and comment, every look and expression. When he awoke his eyes felt gritty and tight and every muscle in his body ached. As he rolled his shoulders to reduce some of the tension, he put his quill back to parchment.

“Harry, saw the Prophet this morning, sorry for the media frenzy. I can’t believe how crazy they are going over two men having a cup of tea. The photo wasn’t even on my best side, you looked good in it though. Just wanted to offer a kind word on something that promises to be a trying day. If you need to talk, you know where I live. Yours, Draco.”

He smiled as he read it back, he wondered whether Harry would get the subtle hints, probably not, as he could be as dense as a post sometimes, but it made Draco happy that the hints were in there. As his quill curved around the letters of the word ‘yours’ he imagined in what way. He knew he had always had a thing for the chosen one, but now he felt he was falling hard.  It was difficult not to with so much positive attention directed straight at him.  He sighed again as the letter whisked away from his desk.  He watched it fly off hoping to get a response quickly as he turned back to the stacks of paperwork on his desk.

~~~~~

It was lunchtime and Draco sat still looking at report after report.  With each second that passed, another drop of insecurity and panic seemed to poison his bloodstream.  He tried to concentrate on the work in front of him but found his eyes wandering to the office door awaiting a reply to his note.

He sighed again as there was no sigh. Had Harry been put off by the media? Did he think Draco wasn’t worth it? The question that Draco was trying to avoid was what he would do if Harry thought he wasn’t? He needed a break.  He stood up and removed the glasses which he wore begrudgingly, and squeezed the bridge of his nose against a headache that was building.

“Mr Malfoy” came the unexpected voice.  Draco looked up surprised. Rolf was striding towards him, a look of sympathy on his face.

“Draco, please!” Draco replied.

“Draco, right!” Rolf smiled, “How are you holding up?” Draco felt a twinge in his heart as the genuine concern.

“I take it you saw the newspaper?” Draco asked raising an eyebrow.

“I did, and I don’t believe a word of it” Rolf replied, “The photograph is hardly incriminating either”

“Thank you, sir” Rolf smiled.

“after all the stories I’ve heard, Harry doesn’t sound like the sort to cheat either, so it sounds like a large misunderstanding.  If you ever need to discuss anything you know where my office is.” Draco nodded his head and smiled.

“Thank you”

“Anyway, I did have another reason for coming over.” He smiled kindly, “Just wanted to know how far you’ve gotten, what are your observations so far.”

Draco felt all of the drama and insecurities of the last forty-eight hours fall away and felt his brain engage, the passion for his work emerging.

“Well it’s a very interesting case, I’ve been going through some of the eyewitness accounts and it doesn’t sound like and breed of dragon that we currently have on record. Sharp ridges down the spine and bat wings suggest a Hebridean Black, however, other accounts report it being over 40 ft in length with red eyes which suggests a Ukrainian Ironbelly. The colours reported were also unusual for a Hebridean.” Draco leant forward, replacing his glasses on his nose to check some notes he had made. “colours reported have ranged from charcoal grey to silver and metallic,” He straightened up again and looked at Rolf solidly, “I think we may be looking at a hybrid”

“That’s not the answer I wanted to hear,” Rolf said anxiously.

“Didn’t a Ukrainian Ironbelly escape from Gringotts back a few years ago?” someone in the office piped up. Both Draco and Rolf turned around to the witch.

Cosima Pruitt was a portly woman with short dark hair, styled in a way which wasn’t complimentary to her features.  Her skin was blotchy and red like a frequent drunk and her eyes seemed too small to her wide face. she opened her small beak-like mouth again “Didn’t your boyfriend unleash it, in fact?” Draco’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I’m sorry Cosima, I was under the impression that everyone hired for this project had an academic background and mindset and therefore were used to knowing the difference between fact and hypotheses,” Rolf said sternly. “Unless Mr Malfoys “boyfriend” is hiding the dragons, I don’t see what use Mr Potter has to this investigation. Therefore, logic dictates that Draco’s personal life is none of your concern and until it becomes pertinent to the case at hand, does not need to be discussed. If you have anything useful to add, I will be happy to listen in my office” Rolf turned his back on the shocked looking woman and continued to talk to Draco.  Draco knew that his eyes were wide with surprise at his boss’s outburst, but he said nothing.

“Cosima may be onto something Draco. Mr Potter and Mr & Mrs Weasley did escape Gringotts on a dragon, it may be useful to speak with them and get their descriptions of the beast for reference. Cn I leave that in your hands?” Draco nodded

“Thank you, sir” Rolf smiled again kindly.

“Luna sends her love again, by the way.” Rolf nodded as he walked away. Draco glanced over to Cosima and noted that her face looked redder and blotchier than normal.  He smirked slightly as he sank down behind his desk. He grabbed up his quill and parchment, excited to be given a legitimate reason to need to contact Harry again.  He felt a small knot of doubt in his gut again but decided to ignore it.

“Harry, I need to discuss something about the project I am working on at work. When are you free to meet up again so that I can pick your brain? I look forward to your reply. Yours, Draco.”

He read it over a couple of times and nodded. It read like something official but also came across as personal it also suggested that he was expecting a swift reply. The letter flew off his desk and Draco watched it go before Cosmina blotted out the door.

“Don’t let that show fool you, death eater!” She said as she leaned low on Draco’s desk. Her greasy face inches from his. “We know what you are up to and we won’t let you get away with it, not again” Draco felt the anger building up inside of him and he stood up.

“Oh Cosmina, I am sorry but compared to Lord Voldemort, you’re just not that intimidating.” He smiled wider as she cringed at the name “It’s strange, I didn’t see you in the Wizengamot courts there when they acquitted me, Thanks to Harry Potter’s own testimony fifteen years ago, I might add!”  Draco pointed at her, her eyes going wide, obviously not expecting him to talk back to her “Now If you will excuse me, I’m going to go and get some work done, I suggest you do the same.” He turned, grabbed his notebook from his desk and walked off, leaving her open-mouthed and shocked. He smiled to himself as he left the office, a few other wide-eyed witches and wizards watching him go.

~~~~~

As he strolled through the corridors he realised that his sudden bout of confidence was short lived as he saw and felt every single pair of eyes on him as he waited for the lift. The feeling of unease increased tenfold as he felt people gathering at his back. He gripped his notepad in his arm and fought to maintain the Malfoy aloofness and solemnity as he pretended that the point between his shoulder blades didn’t feel like someone was burning a hole through him.

The golden gates opened in front of him and he walked in. Every muscle in his body wanted him to run, wanted his to rush around and face his enemies head-on. His hands ached to reach for his wand. He turned around slowly as he pushed his back against the rear wall of the lift. As he looked up to see who had been stood behind him, he realised there was no one there. He quietly breathed a small sigh of relief as the lift doors closed.

As the lift started to move he felt his throat starting to close up. He could hold it together, he could do this.  He felt the anxiety building up as his breath echoed through the walls.  He grabbed his wand and waved it, halting the lift.  He’d be damned if anyone saw him like this. He sat down on the floor with his head between his knees. He tried to remember the warmth of Harry’s hands on his face, the words tumbling out of his mouth in a smooth, calming whisper. “He’s not going anywhere, you’re safe, just breathe, He’s staying, Harry’s here, it’s all going to be alright” he muttered it to himself. He felt warm hands on his shoulders making him look up. He jumped, expecting to see Harry.  A shock of red hair caught his eye first.  His chest grew tighter and tighter, He couldn’t breathe. He heard voices but couldn’t focus on anything. He started to fight with his collar, his tie was too tight.  He couldn’t breathe.

“You’re doing really well” came a woman’s voice. “It’s not the place that’s scary it’s the thought, Just breath, that’s it. Well done, It’s scary but it’s not dangerous,” He felt it begin to fade, so painfully slowly, but fade it did. He sat gasping for air, determined not to cry in front of whatever audience he had accumulated. It was obvious that his spell hadn’t worked and that the lift had continued to rise. He kept his eyes closed.  While his eyes were closed he knew that he had deniability. He took another deep and shaking breath as he opened his eyes.

“There we go, that’s it,” Said the witch as she smiled down at him. He noticed her bushy brown hair first and was confused.  Hadn’t he seen red hair before?

“What happened?” he asked croakily

“You tell us Malfoy? We found you like this” Came a man’s voice. As his thoughts reassembled he saw Ron and Hermione in a locked lift between floors.

“Oh, thank Merlin! Did anyone else see?” Draco asked weakly.

“I don’t think so,” said Hermione “Are you alright” Draco nodded staying sat on the floor.

“I take it you’ve seen the papers this morning?” Ron asked as he leant against the lift. Draco nodded again.

“I didn’t know you suffered from Panic attacks,” Hermione said weakly as she sat on the floor next to him.

“Funny isn’t it?” Draco snorted “I can face dragon’s but humans freak me out” he laughed in a sort of hysterical way as the air filled his lungs. He heard Ron smother a laugh.

“Ron!” Hermione snapped.

“So were you bombarded by reporters this morning?” Ron asked as he cleared his throat. Draco nodded.

“As soon as I left the floo.”

“What actually happened last night?” Hermione asked.

“Nothing” Draco replied. “Harry returned my jacket and tagged along while I viewed some flats. There was a gap between viewings, so we had a cup of tea.” He shook his head. “Pansy saw us and must have called the prophet, we got assailed as we left the café” Draco rested his head against the wall of the lift, closing his eyes again. He could almost feel them swapping a look. “Don’t look at each other like that, nothing untoward happened, I haven’t seduced the great Harry Potter, and if it makes you feel any better, he’s not returning any of my messages today, so even if there was anything happening, it appears he’s put a stop to that”

“Don’t be stupid, will you? If they mobbed you and us, imagine how many must have been waiting for Harry at the hospital?” Said Ron, arms crossed his chest with ease.

“He’s right, I imagine that Harry isn’t at work today, he wasn’t the last time something like this happened before” Hermione continued.

“But then why hasn’t he replied to my notes?”

“Malfoy, If Harry has anything to say, he’ll say it, He isn’t the type to just ignore you and hope you go away. He’s probably apparated somewhere and it’s taking the notes a while to find him, don’t worry! You’ll have another attack if you’re not careful”

Draco nodded. He saw them both look at each other for a second and rolled his eyes again.

“What now?” He asked as he began to pull himself up.  He offered a hand to Hermione.  She looked at it in shock for a moment and then took it, climbing to her feet. Hermione looked back at Ron as she spoke.

“We were just going to go to lunch, did you want to join us?” Draco stopped in mid-thought as he looked at them both. He raised an eyebrow at them both.

“Why are you being nice to me?” he asked. He cringed internally as he heard a slither of vulnerability slip out with the question. The look on Hermione’s face suggested that she’s heard it, even if Weasley hadn’t

“After seeing that picture on the front of the paper, we haven’t seen Harry that happy with his friends in a while and we don’t want that to suddenly stop,” He watched as she talked and knew that she knew more than she was letting on, maybe she knew about the divorce too.

“Not only that If you’re seen with us as well, it’ll take some of the heat from Harry, it won’t be assumed that you’re targeting someone” He raised his hands as both he and Hermione looked at him. “It’s not what I think anyway, I’m just telling it like the Prophet will see it.”

Hermione sighed, and with a wistful smile said “He’s not right that often, but when he is…” Draco felt his lips curl up at the ends and felt looser in the chest than he had before.  He didn’t think that that conversation would be easy, but it beat eating alone.

“I was actually coming to find you both when I had my attack,” Draco said as Ron got the lift moving again.

“Really? Why?”

“I need to talk to you about dragons, one in specific”

“Sounds intriguing…” commented Ron as they entered the atrium. The swarm of reporters washing over them as they walked to the floo.

“Come on guys, back up! We only have a short time to get lunch you know!” Ron shouted and some of the reporters backed away. Draco felt his chest tightening again as he caught Hermione’s eyes.  She offered him a reassuring smile, after a second he returned it as they flooed from the ministry, the reporters left behind for a moment.

Accio Next Chapter

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