Draco taps a restless finger on a cherry wood side table, itching for a cigarette. Daphne’s engagement ball is excruciatingly dull and even Astoria’s scathing comments about the guests aren’t doing it for him tonight. Draco attends these social events on Astoria’s arm, taunting the stiff men with the booming laughs, shocking the snotty women gossiping behind raised hands, and taking the piss off their peers — girls who discuss the exact shade of white for proper debutante robes and boys talking about coming into their own vault when they turn twenty-one. He would be one of them, he knows, if his parents hadn’t fucked up so spectacularly during the war and if he hadn’t met Astoria. But for his parents’ blind allegiance to Voldemort, he’d be one of those arguing about the drain St Mungo’s is in the post-war economy, sucking up to guests in preparation for a career in politics, and sniffing coke in the loos with his hand down a man’s pants. Meanwhile, his “wife” would be mingling with guests, exquisitely dressed, and lamenting Granger’s proposal to curtail wizards’ rights over the ownership of house-elves.
Instead, he’s one of the few that knows deep in his bones how rotten things have become, and how hard it’s been these past four years to clean the festering wound in their society that gave rise to the war in the first place. The ally his parents unwittingly provided had taken it upon herself to introduce Draco to the joys of Muggle living and he hasn’t looked back.
He’s eager to leave the ball now. Love Muscle is a night that takes place on rare Saturdays, and underneath his robes he’s wearing tight jeans and a T-shirt that would give his mother a stroke. In the back pocket rests a platinum plastic card called Visa, which Astoria helped him acquire and which gives him access to anything he fancies in the Muggle world. He has the looks and the money and the breeding that propels him straight to the top of the Muggle food chain with the added bonus that no one knows who he is.
He checks his watch. The betrothal ceremony finished over an hour ago, Duncan MacDougal and Daphne holding hands as green stalks slithered around their wrists and joined them, while their mothers wept and their fathers looked proud. ‘Another hour and we’re out of here?’ he asks Astoria.
She’s been knocking back mead like water. There’s firewhisky aplenty from the MacDougal distilleries, but it’s a big occasion and the parents of the happy couple splashed out. The buffet is heaving with salmon puffs, Madeira-glazed veal and tuna tartare, but this mead is a rare treat: made by the vampire monks of an obscure monastery in Budapest, it brings up a happy memory with every sip, which makes it almost addictive.
‘This is quite something.’ Astoria offers him a taste. He sips and feels the rush of alcohol sliding down his throat, bringing to mind a memory of a particularly happy time in the male toilets of Heaven; one of the first clubs Astoria had dragged him to and still a favourite. His cheeks heat up as the memory washes over him and he smiles to Astoria, who smiles back, lost in a reminiscence of her own.
Draco’s happy memories are all about sex. And partying and Quidditch and Astoria. But mostly sex.
A wizard ambles past, throwing a frown towards Astoria’s partly-shaven head and her nose and eyebrow piercings, and shakes his head when he notes Draco’s eyeliner. Draco delivers his finest sneer, but he also holds Astoria’s waist tighter. It’s a reflex, automatic, part of the façade they’re putting on. To his surprise, Astoria steps back this time and abandons her empty goblet on a nearby table next to a bouquet of dusty pink peonies.
‘Need to talk to you,’ she says.
‘That doesn’t sound good.’
‘It is,’ she insists. ‘Or rather, it will be.’
Draco peers at her with curiosity as she deliberates, bites her lip, and sweeps back the long hair that covers half her scalp, brown locks with blond ends. Draco has never told her, but he fucking admires her. She’s bold and a little bonkers, and the two became great friends ever since their parents set them up on a date, one in a long row of matchmaking disasters that both had endured.
It makes sense to pretend they’re together. Draco is certain they would be if they weren’t both so very gay.
A wizard jostles him on the way to the buffet and Draco hisses under his breath, but returns his careless apology with a stilted smile. A flick of his wand makes the wizard trip and drop his spinach and feta tart on his silk robes.
Astoria rolls her eyes. ‘You’re a menace.’
Draco tucks his wand deeper. ‘Let me have my fun. This ball is killing my will to live.’
Astoria leads him away from the babble of the party and towards the open window, where long amber curtains flutter in a rain-scented breeze. The late autumn sky blushes violet and pink, and tips, ever so slowly, into night. Eyes and murmurs follow their progress through the crowded room. Astoria’s dress is exceptionally elegant, but Muggle, and Draco barely escaped prison, a fact people carefully avoid mentioning in polite conversation, but never forget.
Astoria takes his hands in hers. ‘Will you do me a favour?’
‘Anything,’ Draco replies.
She squeezes his hands. ‘This… thing we have. It has to end.’
Draco is startled. ‘What thing?’
‘Us. That thing. It’s just that — I want to meet someone, Draco. Yes,’ she stops him with a gesture, ‘I already meet girls, I know. But I want to stop pretending. Daphne says mum and dad might be OK with me dating a witch—’
‘Would they?’ Draco interrupts, genuinely surprised.
‘Daphne says that now is the best time. They’re so happy with her getting engaged that they might take the news better than we think. And I want to. I want to tell them.’
Draco shudders. His coming out to his parents, three months into his “relationship” with Astoria, was an occasion that the monks’ happy-memory mead will never elicit. ‘So, you’re — breaking up with me?’
‘I won’t be your beard anymore, is what I’m saying. We’re still friends. We’ll see each other all the time.’
Draco glances at his parents gliding majestically on the dancefloor to the sound of a waltz. They know he and Astoria are a sham, but as long as Draco appears to be attached in public, they can’t spring up another “unexpected” guest at dinner or drag him to a hunting weekend that the daughter of Such And Such also happens to attend.
‘You do realise you’re leaving me prey to my parents’ matchmaking attempts?’
‘You indulge them, Draco, and you know it,’ she says, and Draco drops her hands. They’ve had this conversation before. ‘I admire you for coming out to your parents and you’re the reason I want to do it. Coming out is the hard part; but you’re still allowing them to talk about marriage when it’s the last thing on your mind…’
‘They’ll stop, eventually—’
‘No, they won’t. You know Slytherins.’
Draco does. Communication is an intricate dance for them, alluding and hinting, deflecting and avoiding, circling around a topic but never quite discussing it.
‘Unless you’re more direct about your wishes,’ Astoria insists, ‘they’ll pretend you said nothing and keep bringing more of these insipid people to dinner. You need to be — dare I say it — a Gryffindor about this.’
‘Don’t be crass.’
Stars come out in the sky, shy at first, huddling together in the east. In the gardens, the house-elves are lighting a small fire. The betrothed couple will jump over it three times to signify their commitment to overcoming obstacles. Draco hopes Daphne has practiced her leaps. The music stops and a silver bell silences the chatter; heads turn to Duncan’s father who invites the guests to join them outside. Draco checks his watch again, impatient to get away. He feels slightly overwhelmed by Astoria’s request, their impending break-up, even if it’s all a show, and needs a proper drink.
She cups his cheek, her hazel eyes reading his face. ‘I can’t leave yet,’ she says. ‘But I know you’re eager to go. Say hi to Blaise for me.’
Draco nods and starts to leave, but Astoria doesn’t let go yet. ‘This is a good thing,’ she reminds him. ‘Let’s be brave and be happy.’
‘A very Gryffindorian sentiment. Not my style,’ he comments. ‘Hopelessly in love with the wrong man is more … me.’ He winks at her, pretends it’s a joke when it isn’t, and he sees in her eyes that she sees right through him. He kisses her cheek and Apparates to Blaise’s bar, pulling his robes off when he arrives.
‘What on earth are you wearing?’ Blaise asks when Draco approaches, pushing through the crowd of well-dressed, beautiful people, who sway in the rhythm of a sultry, smoky tune. His eyebrows rise as he looks Draco up and slowly down. ‘You look like a right tart.’ Knowing Blaise, that’s high praise.
‘That’s the idea,’ Draco winks.
‘Muggle clubbing later, then? I think I’ll branch out, you know. As soon as the bar is making enough profit.’
Draco commandeers the stool next to him and orders a Finnish vodka-soda from one of the Patils. Blaise opened this bar a year ago and it has become the latest sensation in the witching world. He employs the Patil twins, the Carrow twins he met in the Slug Club as well as an army of twinks to work behind the long wooden bar and serve the tables, while he mingles, drinking something expensive and flirting with scantily dressed witches, and calls this a job. Often Draco spends his evenings in a similar manner, drinking shots and flirting with wizards who’ll flirt back but won’t date him, and he also calls this a job — mainly in his parents’ hearing.
‘How was the ball?’ Blaise asks, gesturing to Parvati that Draco’s drink is on the house.
‘Hell is a mansion full of boring people and crystal figurines,’ Draco says. He sips his vodka, thinks for a moment and shrugs. ‘The food was nice, though.’
‘I don’t know if I should serve food here,’ Blaise thinks out loud. Conversation for Blaise is an elastic band, stretched for a brief time before it snaps back to him. He named the bar Blaze.
‘You could do chips,’ Draco teases and Blaise shudders. Draco swirls his glass and watches the ice cubes bump into each other. ‘I’m single now.’ The bitterness in his voice startles him, and Blaise revolves in his seat, attention — for once — snapped.
‘Do you mind it? It was a pretense, no?’
It was, but the pretense came with clubbing nights and cinema evenings, dinner at Muggle and wizarding restaurants and walks by the river on warm nights. Astoria knows about the thing he never told anyone else, although Draco suspects that Blaise might have guessed. She often comes to his flat in London after a night out, sometimes with a girl, spends the night in his guest bedroom and cooks breakfast in the morning. Draco feels bereft, a pang of loss, even though none of it needs to stop altogether. It’s just that Astoria would like a girl to do these things with, which leaves Draco with no one and certainly not the one he wants.
Blaise nods as he listens to Draco. ‘I can come crash at your guestroom with a girl, if it’ll ease the transition,’ he offers and Draco rolls his eyes.
‘And what’s worse is that my parents will be already conspiring to introduce me to someone before the week is out.’
‘Well, then, you’ll have to find yourself a new fake girlfriend,’ Blaise suggests and stands. ‘Or dare I say it, a real boyfriend.’ He pats Draco on the back and is off being a host. Draco pushes back his empty glass and Disapparates to south London where men are already queuing outside the club.
Harry likes the clubs. He likes dancing, being lost in a rhythm that makes his heart pound almost outside his chest. He loves the darkness, the writhing bodies around him, all together and alone at the same time, all surrendering to this peculiar music and its promise: oblivion. He closes his eyes and raises his hands and shouts with the rest of them — and for a moment, he’s not the Boy Who Lived but a boy like all the others. Ginny, her hair a long curtain of fire, laughs as she jumps up and down, holding the waist of some girl she pulled. Ron and Hermione dance together, laughing at private jokes whispered in each other’s ear. Harry can make out Luna’s bright hair under the strobing lights. This music is a godsend, he thinks, as the tune changes (it’s a good one) and the whole club whistles and rises to their feet, heaving as one, a beast of many hearts, furiously alive.
When they leave the club, they traipse down Charing Cross trying to find somewhere to get some food. London is dark and drizzly, full of the odour of car exhaust and rubbish. Saturday nights smell of lager and rain; they sound like car tires slashing the wet street, off-tune singing and a siren wailing in the distance. They taste like freedom, like forgetfulness, like life. There are moments that all thoughts of Will vanish like slippery dreams that can’t hold up to the daylight.
Shit, how he misses him.
The chip shop is full, lines of intoxicated people shoving, flirting, nibbling on too hot chips, the sharp smell of vinegar in the air. They get their food and sit down on the curb, after casting a discreet Scourgify. Ginny’s not with them. She’s stayed at the club snogging that girl, and Luna is half-asleep but she picks dutifully at her chicken donner. She loves the Muggle world, Luna. ‘Wilder than the steppes of Siberia where the Horned Corklarash lives.’ She likes watching the cars pass by, doing mental Arithmancy on the numbers of the licence plates, claiming she can predict natural disasters this way as well as the next Muggle chart hit.
Conversation turns to the event of the year and Harry groans. Not three months ago, he was thrilled to be asked to participate in the friendly Quidditch game between St Mungo’s and the Aurors, the proceeds to go to the Dementor Victim Clinic. He wanted to help raise money, but he also liked the idea of playing against his Healer boyfriend, a bit of good-natured rivalry and fun in the sky, before they would slink off to the flat they shared for some fun in the sheets.
Now the whole thing fills him with dread. ‘I can always pretend to be sick,’ he says.
‘Robards will fire you, Golden Boy or not,’ Ron says. He has an arm around Hermione’s waist, his fingers stroking the sliver of brown skin under her cropped top. Harry looks away, the intimacy making his heart ache. He wishes noticing their casual touching didn’t bring his ex to mind, but it unfailingly does. ‘Actually, no,’ Ron reflects, ‘he will kill you first and then fire you.’
Anticipation for the coming Quidditch game has reached fever pitch in both workplaces. The Aurors are in a frenzy and Robards rivals Wood — whom he hired as a coach — in his obsession, especially as he’s always at odds with the Head Healer, a woman he famously had a childhood grudge with. Half of the chalkboard in the Auror office with the active cases and shift schedule is now taken by Quidditch training times and diagrams of flying techniques. Ron is right; Robards will go for the Avada first, the dismissal second.
‘And then there’s the gala…’ Hermione says. ‘Who are you going with?’
Harry wraps his unfinished kebab and bins it, his appetite gone. He doesn’t want to admit that he’s every bit as incapable of finding a date to parties as he was in his teens. He’s never really had to — he and Ginny had been friends first. Then, working as an Auror, he kept ending up at St Mungo’s where the same handsome Healer treated his wounds and chatted with him about sports. It felt natural to ask Will to grab a coffee together when they bumped into each other in Flourish and Blotts, and before Harry knew it, he’d moved in with him and they were shopping for curtains together.
‘I’ll take Luna,’ Harry says, but his usual party companion turns her large eyes to him in remorse.
‘I’m sorry, Harry, but I’m leaving for Sweden the day after tomorrow. Rolf owled me to say that it’s mating season for the flying reindeer and two were spotted by some locals — admittedly, one of the blokes was exceptionally drunk when it happened, and the other is half-blind — but Rolf says we’re certain to catch them and witness the mating dance ourselves.’ She smiles blithely at him.
‘The event is in a month,’ Harry tries again, feeling a little desperate. ‘You might be back by then.’
‘I’ll be flying back and forth in the next four weeks, but I doubt I can make it that weekend. The Winter Solstice is the day with the most sightings.’ She yawns, and it’s the cue for the others to stand up as well.
‘You don’t have to take anyone,’ Ron says as they duck inside a dark alley.
‘Will might not come with a date either,’ Hermione offers and an acute hope of reconciliation stabs Harry’s chest.
The others say their good nights and Apparate home, but Harry can’t sleep. The night’s exertions are burning through his veins and he doesn’t want to return to the empty Grimmauld Place, which only serves to remind him of what he’s missing, so he trudges down Diagon Alley for the one place that stays open after four.
The bar Blaze is sleek, stylish and suave, like its owner. It’s also quite empty at this time and they’re still serving alcohol so it’s perfect. Hestia Carrow is at the bar as he takes a seat. There’s almost no one there. Blaise Zabini is chatting with two young women, sisters it looks like, in one of the brown leather sofas. Laughter is coming from a corner booth and the music is low and mellow, sweet like chocolate. He stares at the bottles on the shelves behind Hestia to decide what to drink.
‘Whenever you’re ready,’ Hestia says, tapping black manicured fingers on the polished surface, and Harry shakes his head to clear it, slightly tipsy and quite dazed by the selection. He’s usually a pint man, but he doesn’t feel like ale right now.
‘Try the Finnish dwarf vodka,’ says a familiar voice beside him. ‘Two doubles of Lempo, soda and lime,’ Malfoy tells Hestia and slides onto the stool next to him. He’s wearing something absolutely ridiculous that draws Harry’s eyes and keeps them there. Harry can’t help it, he’s only flesh and blood.
‘Or maybe I choose what I drink?’ he hears himself objecting.
Hestia turns and raises her well-plucked and not impressed eyebrow. ‘What will it be then?’
Harry swallows. ‘Um, vodka, soda and lime is fine.’
Malfoy smirks. He notices Harry staring at his top. ‘Too conservative?’
Harry snorts. ‘Just a tad.’
Hestia thuds their glasses in front of them and joins the laughing group in the corner booth. Malfoy fishes a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket and lights one, then pulls it out and stares at it. ‘These are not even mine,’ he laughs, checking the packet. He’s sweaty and flushed pink, his hair damp on his forehead, his pupils large, his lips swollen as if he’s just been kissed.
‘Good night?’ Harry asks.
Malfoy shrugs. ‘The usual. A dance, a snog, a blowjob in the toilets.’ He smirks again when Harry chokes on his vodka and stretches a hand to lazily pat him on the back. ‘Easy there, Potter. Did I shock you? I seem to remember seeing you in the gay clubs, back in the day. You know what those places are like.’
Harry knows. He wants to ask if Malfoy gave or received head, but doesn’t. Both mental images, Malfoy on his knees on the dirty tiles, or Malfoy leaning back on the cubicle wall, eyes shut and a smile playing on his lips, fill his stomach with a swirling unease. Something slow and heavy trickles in his veins. He sips his drink, Malfoy smokes and they share a silence as pleasant as stepping on crushed glass. Hermione and Malfoy’s enmity might have thawed during the time they’d worked on the Prison Reformation Scheme and after the Incident, but Malfoy has always kept his distance from Harry. The way he looks at Harry now is guarded, wary; as if looking at him is distasteful.
‘What about you?’ Malfoy says, staring at his glass. ‘Can’t sleep?’
‘Just wanted a nightcap. I was… too excited.’ He remembers why he came here, the beacon of hope that he might get back together with Will, a hope he’d never really relinquished, and smiles into his glass.
‘Astoria dumped me,’ Malfoy says unexpectedly. He slants a sideways look at Harry and smirks with malice. ‘Any tips? Dumpee to dumpee?’
The longing that’s been burning in Harry’s veins turns into rage so easily. They’ve always been close, those two feelings; a flip of a knife’s edge and one emotion turns into the other. Rows with Will ended up in sweaty sheets and a sated smile for both of them. If Harry was honest with himself, he’d admit that make-up sex retained its appeal for the first few months only; eventually the rows ended up in slammed doors. But he’s drunk and he doesn’t want to be honest. What he wants is to grab Malfoy and hex him into next Tuesday. ‘Once an arsehole, always—’
The door opens, letting in a gust of cool night air, and Harry turns automatically as he speaks, and then he can’t speak anymore.
Two men fall in, shut the door behind them, and flop on a chesterfield. One of them is a Quidditch player from the Wasps. Spanish, dark and lanky, a transfer from the Toledo Toros, and one of the best Chasers in Europe.
The other one is Will.
Malfoy has turned on his stool and is staring at the two men, who are so absorbed in each other that they haven’t noticed Hestia standing in front of them and clearing her throat twice. Harry expects Malfoy to taunt him, but he doesn’t. For once, he looks serious and holds himself still.
Harry’s heart has turned into ice. Pain is gutting him and it becomes more ferocious every passing second, every second Will smiles at Joaquin Whatshisname and brushes his lips against his cheek in a way that suggests that later they’ll be brushing other things against each other.
He can’t stand it; he bends over his knees trying to stem the pain, and senses Malfoy jumping from his stool and standing in front of him, covering him from sight. ‘Don’t give him the satisfaction, Potter,’ he says. He clasps Harry’s shoulder, and Harry takes several deep breaths before he rises. Malfoy is right in front of him, shielding Will from view. Harry wants and doesn’t want to see what his ex is doing, but Malfoy won’t budge.
‘Get a grip on yourself,’ he scolds Harry again. ‘Come. Let’s get you out of here so you can have your breakdown in private.’ He calls at Hestia to put the drinks on his tab and waits for Harry to stand.
The exit is close to the table where Will sits and Harry sees him lift his eyes from the Chaser’s, sensing their approach. In a moment of desperation, he grabs Malfoy’s hand and whispers out of the corner of his mouth, ‘Play along.’
Malfoy raises an eyebrow, but he doesn’t pull his hand away.
Will finally notices Harry and freezes, with the same apologetic expression he gives Harry whenever they cross paths. It infuriates Harry, every single time. Will’s eyes travel to Harry’s hand, clasped with another man’s. A shadow of shock or even anger crosses his face when he sees that man is Malfoy. A small flare of gratification flutters inside Harry; at least, Will isn’t indifferent. He nods hello, hoping he looks casual, Will nods back, and then Harry takes the last few steps and he’s outside.
The cold air does him some good. Malfoy pulls his hand free as soon as they’re out of sight and lights up another cigarette. ‘Joaquin Villena’s coaching the St Mungo’s staff team,’ he says as they walk down Diagon Alley. ‘For your charity match.’
Harry groans. ‘I’ll have to break my leg. Will you break my leg?’
‘It would be my pleasure,’ Malfoy drawls. ‘But first you have to give me a reason. I don’t break legs just for fun, you know.’
They’ve reached the Leaky, although Harry doesn’t remember getting there. He should Apparate home, but his limbs are shaking. ‘Because I’m playing in the match,’ he says, ‘and Will is playing, and now his—’ He stops, he can’t say the word.
‘The Spanish hunk he’ll be shagging later tonight is going to be present?’
Harry glares at him. ‘Are you enjoying this?’
Malfoy leans against the wall. ‘A little,’ he admits. ‘But I have a proposition for you, Potter, and it’s in your best interest to take it.’
‘I’m not sleeping with you. I’m not that drunk,’ Harry adds, because he’s furious and hurt, and Malfoy makes a good target.
Malfoy’s smile could freeze hell. ‘Charming. Perhaps I’ll reconsider helping you make your ex jealous.’ He takes his wand out and prepares to leave, but doesn’t go far. Harry grabs his arm.
‘What do you mean?’
Malfoy taps the wall, and the arch opens. ‘I live in Knightsbridge. Walk me home?’
As soon as they’re in the Muggle world, Harry relaxes, as if the more distance he puts between him and Will, the easier it is to breathe. The streets are empty at this time of night. Sunrise isn’t too far away.
Malfoy begins. ‘I suppose you don’t want to show up to the event of the year without a partner while your ex is shagging the hottest man on UK soil. Right? You want to make him jealous, you want to show to the world that you’re not pathetically pining over him, like an utter loser, and you probably won’t find a real boyfriend in a month, seeing as you are pathetically pining over Burke like an utter loser. Am I correct so far?’
Harry nods, disregarding the insults. He supposes Malfoy can’t help it, they’re like oxygen to him probably.
‘So you need to be a Slytherin about it. And I need to be a Gryffindor about … things. We could work together. Scratch my back while I scratch yours.’
‘What’s in it for you?’
They’re walking along Hyde Park now, the Albert memorial glinting in the street lights. The silence is complete; if it wasn’t for the wind, Harry would think this wasn’t real. There is a dreamlike essence surrounding them; the sunrise gathering in the sky, the empty streets and dark buildings, the eeriness of being the only moving thing in a still world.
Malfoy tucks his hands in his pockets. ‘Astoria wants to start seeing people and to do that she has to stop pretending she’s going out with me. Only that means my parents will resume matchmaking in the hopes I’ll settle down and become a good pureblood with a family, a job in law or politics and some influence over the government. So I find myself in need of a boyfriend. All pretense, of course.’
They turn left to a quiet avenue lined with expensive cars. ‘You could find a real boyfriend.’
Malfoy doesn’t look at him. ‘I’m not one for settling down, Potter. Want to have some fun while I’m young.’
Harry considers the proposition. Will was shocked to see Harry with Malfoy, but there could have been a little jealousy creeping in there. And jealousy is good; jealousy means Will still cares — a little. A pinprick of light pierces the darkness in his head; suddenly, he’s hopeful.
‘It’s perfect,’ he says, waiting at the traffic lights. ‘Will hates Death Eaters. His family had to flee to Norway during the coup to escape attack. He’ll be so pissed off if I’m seeing one.’ Pissed off is good, pissed off means fights, pissed off means not indifference.
Malfoy has a rather wooden expression affixed on his face, but the beeping alerts them that the light turned green. They cross the road, turn into a quiet, leafy street and reach a large building with a creamy façade. Malfoy hasn’t said anything for a while.
‘We have to talk more,’ Harry says, ‘to decide how to do this.’
‘Sure,’ Malfoy says. ‘Look, it’s late, and I’m beat. I’ll owl you.’ He quickly disappears behind the glass doors of his building.
‘You’re an idiot,’ Astoria says.
‘You can’t do this.’
‘You’ll have to pull out of this … deal.’
‘Salazar, when I’m not with you, Draco, you fuck things up.’
Draco presses his mouth against his pillow and repeats, ‘I know.’
‘Come, I’ll cook you breakfast.’
Light footsteps thud across the wooden boards. A moment later, cupboards bang in the kitchen and drawers slide open. Draco remains with his face pressed against his pillow and listens to the clang of the frying pan on the stove, the sizzle of sausages, and the murmuring rain on his window. The cooking smells finally drag him out of bed and into the bathroom where he stares at his reflection. He’s coming down something fierce, and he opens his cabinet and finds a half-finished bottle of Pepper-up potion, which dispels the sinking sensation of the drugs in his system, but does nothing for his state of mind.
He trudges into the kitchen and sits at the island. The tea Astoria places in front of him is steeped just as he likes it. He takes a grateful sip.
‘Will you marry me?’ he says and she laughs.
She brings over the plates and sits across from him. ‘So what happened?’
Draco stares at his eggs and sausages and the swirl of ketchup on the side. ‘He was upset. He saw Burke with a Quidditch player, all lovey-dovey, and he went white. I feared he’d faint. And I took him out of Blaze and thought that perhaps we could help each other. He can make his ex jealous and I can get my parents off my back.’
Astoria gives him the look he hates. He calls it pity, she says it’s sympathy. Bollocks. It’s pity. He hates it as he hates her being the voice of reason right now. ‘You do know this is a huge mistake. Be around him when he’s mooning for that guy? How masochistic is that?’
‘I’m aware it means nothing. We haven’t even agreed—’ Draco rubs his face. ‘If we do go ahead with it, we’ll just turn up to a few events as a couple or something. Nothing too bad. We already sort of hang out together anyway.’
‘And you never speak to him.’
Draco is a semi-regular friend to Potter’s group, especially after Astoria began volunteering at Granger’s pro bono law firm. It could have been worse. Weasley is annoying, but also quite funny since he stopped aiming his jabs at Draco, Granger is sharp and ambitious and he appreciates her brand of ruthlessness, and Lovegood is — well, she’s Lovegood. She’s entertaining. Longbottom is at Hogwarts and Potter’s other ex is training in Europe more often than not. Draco has made an art of holding conversations with everyone but Potter and making it appear natural, accidental. Sitting beside him at the bar yesterday was a decision he hadn’t made consciously — or sober.
‘He might change his mind about it,’ Draco says, pushing his eggs around. ‘It’s not a big deal.’
Astoria puts down her fork. ‘I don’t want to see you get hurt. And you will be. This is a mistake,’ she repeats as if Draco hasn’t heard her the first million times. ‘If he contacts you, tell him you were drunk and high.’
‘I was drunk and high.’
‘Well, there you have it. You were in no position to consent to anything.’
They say no more of it. Draco finishes his breakfast and puts some music on. Astoria takes a cup of tea to the living room and opens her books. They both attend a Muggle university, in secret of course, where Astoria is pretending to study European History, but she’s in fact learning to be a Muggle, and Draco is studying architecture. He casts a dishwashing charm and leans on the counter, rubbing his eyes. He should pull himself together; have a shower, or catch up with uni work, but he can’t stop thinking of the way Potter’s hand felt in his.
He’s toweling his hair when the owl comes with an invitation to lunch with his mother.
‘It’s a trap,’ Astoria says at once.
Of course it is. Astoria told her parents that he left the ball early because they broke up. His parents must have heard the news, if not everyone by now. Talking with his mother about it is the last thing he wants, but he can never say no to her.
Nonetheless, he dresses as a Muggle.
The bistro is all brick walls and chalkboards with specials and house-elves in black aprons. Glass doors lead to an enclosed patio where his mother waits for him, looking exquisite in lilac robes. She smiles warmly at him, even if the smile turns stiff when she takes in his jeans, loose white t-shirt and black beanie.
‘Look, I bought you a book,’ she says, a gambit that means she has something up her sleeve.
Draco leafs through it as his mother orders for both of them. It’s a Muggle novel about a doomed love affair and the title suggests forgiveness — he likes books that tear his heart into pieces and his mother knows it. The fact she shopped from the Muggle section of Flourish and Blotts means he’s not going to enjoy lunch.
Muggle is the hottest trend these days and every shop, boutique and restaurant is competing for the most Muggleness. The wireless plays Westlife and Robbie Williams, and Muggle kettles sit side by side on shelves with magical ones. It’s the thing to do now, the way to show to the world that you’re not like them, not like Draco and his ilk, that you were always on the winning side — even if you weren’t.
So Muggles it is, and damn if any of them venture outside Diagon Alley to check out what Muggles are really like. Muggleness is a curiosity, an exotic fad that will eventually fade and be replaced by a new trend, perhaps Scandinavian ice-magic or Russian peasant folklore.
‘So.’ Draco recognises the determination in his mother’s voice. ‘You and Astoria decided to end the charade, I hear. Your father and I are quite pleased about it. It doesn’t do to lie, Draco.’
Draco snorts in his wine.
‘If you’d told us earlier that your preferences lie… elsewhere, then your father and I would have arranged more suitable matches for you,’ she continues. ‘And please don’t smoke, you know I detest it.’
Draco lights his cigarette, looking into her eyes.
Their order comes in, but Draco is staring at his mother. The food is a prop really and he doesn’t want to take his eyes off the game.
She places her napkin on her lap. ‘You behave like this is something outrageous when we only want you to be happy. Marriage for us isn’t a fickle thing like the Muggles with their divorces—’
‘I see you’ve done your research.’
She ignores him. ‘—it’s a bond of love and magic. It strengthens you; your magical prowess, your physical health, your position in society—’
‘Spare me the lecture, I’ve heard it before,’ Draco cuts her off, aware he’s being rude, and tucks in his mushroom risotto.
She sighs, but follows his example and takes some bites of her salad.
The patio fills gradually with the clinking of silver on china and the tinkling of glasses. Polite murmurs float in the background, soft white noise, and his mother has changed the subject and is talking about the fire leaping ritual he missed. Draco doesn’t let his guard down one inch.
‘Mrs Malfoy!’ a stocky young man exclaims.
‘Todd!’ she says, delighted. ‘What a surprise! I thought you were on your Grand Tour!’
‘Back as of last week.’ The man glances at Draco with a speculative look and Draco clutches his fork and gives a look to his mother, which she thoroughly ignores.
‘Join us, Todd, and tell us all about it! You remember my son, Draco?’
Draco can be very obnoxious when he wants to be. He chain smokes, putting his cigarettes out in his risotto, mocks Todd’s overuse of the word “splendid”, and fifteen minutes later, excuses himself for the loo.
It’s not that Todd is unattractive per se. It’s that Draco can’t find common ground with those who fled during the war only to return after Voldemort was dispatched. Half of the MacMillans had run off to Switzerland, the Burkes — including Potter’s boyfriend — to Norway, the Shafiqs to Morocco, the Selwyns to Germany. The moment his Aunt Bella and the others were busted from Azkaban, most of the pureblood families not involved with the Dark Lord or the Order had packed bags and were gone. Draco doesn’t blame them, he’d have done the same. But he can’t take this soft boy seriously, who’s just come back from Greece and Italy and Egypt, and assumes he has anything in common with Draco.
Todd sends a long look down Draco’s legs as he rises. ‘Those jayns look nice on you.’
Draco doesn’t correct him. He heads inside and finds the manager. ‘Is there a way to place a Floo call?’
‘Absolutely, sir.’ The man leads him to a private room with a merry fire and a pewter jar of Floo powder. Draco is shaking with — he doesn’t know if it’s rage or frustration or what. He can’t tell his parents that he doesn’t mind marriage as such, in fact he’d be happy to, for all the reasons his mother mentioned, but he can’t lie to himself and pretend he loves someone when he doesn’t.
Potter’s elf is in the kitchen when Draco sticks his head in, and bows with great deference. He’s quick to fetch his master. Potter’s hair is sticking up all over the place, he looks sleepy, and he’s wearing a threadbare pair of grey joggers and nothing else. Perhaps this was a bad idea.
‘Malfoy? What’s up?’
‘Can you meet me at the Young Mandrake in, maybe, ten minutes?’
Potter stares, open mouthed. ‘Why?’
‘Do you remember us talking yesterday? The … deal?’
‘Ah yes,’ Potter says. He doesn’t seem excited about it, like Draco suspected.
‘Even if you’re not up for it— look, I need a favour. Just come pick me up as soon as you can. Be presentable.’
Back at the table, Draco proceeds to flirt with Todd, because he’s malicious like that. His mother looks increasingly wary, because she knows her son. Eleven minutes after the Floo call, Potter strides through the glass doors, sees Draco and approaches, looking bemused.
Draco takes his hand and murmurs a shy ‘Hey there,’ which makes Potter’s eyes widen ever so slightly. Standing, he grabs his ciggies and basks in his mother’s astonished glare and Todd’s openmouthed shock at seeing Draco holding hands with the saviour. ‘Thank you for lunch, mother. I’m really sorry, though, I forgot I had a date with Harry. Totally slipped my mind. Will you excuse me?’ He touches Potter’s back lightly and says, ‘Should we go somewhere else? How about you choose for us, darling?’
Potter looks slightly dumbstruck and Draco furtively pinches his rib.
‘Yeah, yeah, let’s— Sure, I know a place.’
As they leave, Draco turns and says in a sweet voice, ‘It was splendid meeting you, Todd.’
Exiting the bistro, they turn into a side street and Malfoy crunches his packet of cigarettes in his fist. He throws it on the ground with fury. ‘Not even twenty-four hours. They didn’t even wait twenty-four hours after my supposed break-up to throw me to the wolves.’
‘I wouldn’t say that bloke was the wolves,’ Harry says, remembering the freckled round face. ‘More like a sheep. Who was it?’
Malfoy shrugs. ‘A Todd. A Ravenclaw in name only.’
He strides down the narrow street and, unsure what to do, Harry follows. They pass second-hand bookshops and slightly dodgy apothecaries, delving deep in the back streets of Diagon, drawing looks and murmurs as Harry always does, and Malfoy says, ‘Given it any thought?’
Harry has. He had a lie-in this morning and woke up feeling relaxed and warm, the morning rain singing outside his window. For a brief, blissful moment, he pretended Will was in the kitchen, cooking breakfast and whistling, about to return to the bedroom to wake Harry up with a kiss and a cup of tea. Then, the Prophet owl arrived and the morning’s bliss vanished. Will and the Spaniard had been papped snogging. Chucking the paper in the fire, Harry lay back in bed, his mind obsessively picturing the kiss, like a wound he couldn’t stop prodding.
He casts a furtive look at Malfoy in his black beanie and Muggle attire. He’s pretty enough to make Will jealous, but Harry doubts anyone will believe the two of them are an item. He has so little in common with someone who drinks his nights away and faffs about all day. Will never warmed up to him those times Malfoy came out with them, called him a “good for nothing rich playboy” and perhaps he was right — but then Harry remembers Ron’s face when Hermione announced she was taking Cormac to Slughorn’s Christmas party.
‘I know a place where we can discuss it,’ he says and offers to Side-Along Malfoy to Richmond.
The Roebuck pub sits on a hill and looks out over a curve of Thames and an expanse of wet green fields. Inside it’s buzzing with talk. They linger at the bar, checking the pints on offer and ordering chips to share. It could be a date.
But it isn’t.
‘Page eleven of the Prophet was interesting this morning,’ Malfoy says when they perch on a stand. His mouth crooks, a devilish smile.
Harry presses his lips. ‘This makes you happy, doesn’t it?’
Malfoy doesn’t meet his eyes. ‘Still pining, I see.’
‘None of your business.’
‘You know,’ Malfoy says, ‘I fear people won’t believe we can be a couple.’
‘You don’t say.’ Harry deadpans.
They’re interrupted by the waiter, who brings the chips and a basket of condiments. ‘Enjoy your meal, lads.’ Neither of them even glance at him.
‘Why would I go through with this?’ Harry continues. ‘Who’d ever believe we’re seeing each other when you can’t keep from insulting me for five minutes?’
Malfoy drowns half the bowl of chips in ketchup. ‘You’re right. But you needn’t be afraid. I’m a good actor.’
Harry doubts it but says nothing. He pours vinegar over the other half of the bowl. Malfoy mumbles something about peasants.
Harry shouldn’t really be considering this. It’s mad. It’s stupid. It’s not going to work. He had no time to check in with his friends, although he knows what their advice would be. However, showing up at the charity gala without a date or with some random guy, clearly a last minute resort—
Will’s kiss floats back in his mind and he clenches his fists. He’s desperate and when people are desperate, they make deals with the devil.
‘How is this going to work?’ he asks, eating a chip from his side of the bowl.
Malfoy stretches his long legs. He rests one on the bottom of Harry’s stool. ‘Quid pro quo. I attend one of your parties, you attend one of mine. I pretend to be awfully in love with you, you pretend to be atrociously enamoured with me. My parents back off, your boyfriend seethes with jealousy. Everyone wins.’ He says it lightly, but there is a hint of bitterness in his tone; something Harry can’t quite make out.
‘We show up together then? Holding hands?’
‘You could put your arm around my waist,’ Malfoy says. ‘I’m sure I won’t faint.’ He gives a fake shudder and then chuckles, and Harry wants to punch him. It’s all a joke to him.
‘What about — the rest?’
Malfoy slides an amused look at him. ‘Do you want to fuck me, Potter?’ His eyes travel down Harry’s body suggestively and he licks his lips.
‘No! You prick.’ Harry finishes his pint, feeling stupidly flustered. Malfoy’s giving him a headache and he’s not sure he can do this one-on-one for long. But at least in parties, it’s not going to be just them. He hopes. ‘I meant… kissing, or, I don’t know, caressing…’
He suspects more mockery will be coming from Malfoy and he’s one second away from storming out of this pub and this stupid, stupid idea, but Malfoy surprisingly hesitates. For once, he looks as if he’s giving the matter serious thought. ‘I’d be down for some hair stroking, back caressing… Merlin, let’s be daring. If you want, you can grab my arse.’ He picks up the coaster and is making short work of it. Shreds of it fall on their feet. ‘But no kissing. Not on the lips.’
‘OK. I wanted to be sure,’ Harry says, watching Malfoy tear a napkin in pieces now. He’s so fucking weird. ‘It’s good to be clear about these things. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.’ As I clearly am.
They lapse into silence and for the first time since they walked into the pub, Harry becomes aware of his surroundings. He glances at the wood-panelled walls and leather booths, as if surprised to find himself there. Malfoy has always had the ability to make him forget about anyone else. One of the most common annoyances that plagued Harry after the war — besides the Potterettes and the WWHPD crowd — was that Malfoy got on swimmingly with everyone else — even Ron — but not him. During evenings out, when Malfoy happened to tag along, he’d talk to everyone except Harry. It’d been Luna who’d first noticed. They were at the Leaky that evening; Malfoy had been at the bar for some time, there was an empty seat beside Harry, and Luna had moved to take it. ‘He won’t come back otherwise,’ she whispered, making no sense until Harry noticed Malfoy end his conversation with Hannah, take his drink and return to the vacant seat at the other end of the table where two minutes later he had Ron laughing about some piece of gossip. Will had often told Harry to stop worrying about feeling rejected ‘by a slimy Death Eater’ and assured Harry it was Malfoy’s pathetic attempt to still think of himself as devious and Machiavellian.
Malfoy clears his throat. ‘I was thinking— it might be a good idea to be seen out and about before the gala. Have a meal together, or drinks. We’re sure to be photographed and, who knows, perhaps we’ll find a way to tolerate each other. Simply by force of habit.’
Harry can’t find fault with this suggestion. They shake on it and arrange to meet in three days’ time.
Their first “date” is at a wizarding restaurant in Diagon Alley two doors down from Blaze. Malfoy shows up in Muggle clothing — Harry realises he hasn’t seen him in robes for quite a while now: slim charcoal suit, narrow trousers and a white shirt open at the collar. He looks like a rock star, his hair styled to look like he just left the bed — or maybe he did just leave his bed — and wearing silver rings on his fingers, and well, Harry can’t pretend Malfoy doesn’t look nice, he has eyes. He tries to run a hand through his hair, not that it ever makes a difference, and smoothes his tie, which he now regrets wearing. Next to Malfoy, he feels frumpy.
The restaurant is one of those which have jumped on the Muggle bandwagon and Barry White croons from the speakers; the owners probably consider it mellow enough for eating. Harry blames the music for the thoughts that run in his head.
‘So why so keen on Burke?’ Malfoy asks him once they order. ‘Does he have a huge cock or something?’
‘Can you shut up?’ Harry glances around but no one seems to have heard. ‘We were together for eighteen months. We lived together for a year. Is it so hard to understand that I might have feelings?’
Draco shrugs. ‘I wouldn’t know. Feelings aren’t my forte.’
‘Blowjobs in the gents’ is what does it for you then?’
‘No, sometimes it’s a cock up my arse. It depends on the bloke, I guess. You know.’ His eyes are keen on Harry’s. ‘I saw you at the clubs a few times. At Trade, G.A.Y., Love Muscle. The scene too much for you? Couldn’t handle random blokes touching the saviour’s sacred cock?’
‘Fuck off. Just because—’
The waitress pauses by their table, holding their starters, and stares in astonishment at Harry’s vitriolic tone, and Harry worries he’s fucked everything up before it’s even started. She glances at Malfoy, who smiles back, gloriously unconcerned. ‘Not to worry. I like him like that,’ he confesses, voice low and sexy. His expression becomes sultry, so lustful and intense that Harry feels his blood boiling, especially when Malfoy turns from the waitress and casts that look on him. Harry feels thrown back by the force of the longing and lust in Malfoy’s eyes, his skin scorching as Malfoy’s gaze glides over him.
Malfoy’s a good actor after all. The waitress stares gobsmacked at this blatant expression of sexual attraction, her mouth in a small o. Her eyes on Harry light up with a new appreciation, as if Malfoy’s look has revealed something about Harry she never suspected, and she whispers something along the lines of ‘I get what the Potterettes see in you’.
Harry is unable to tear his eyes from Malfoy’s expression, which turns cold and ferocious when the waitress leaves. ‘You fucking imbecile,’ Malfoy hisses. ‘You have such a pole up your arse that you can’t even take a joke.’
‘Everything’s a joke for you,’ Harry throws back. ‘Not for me.’
‘You know shit about me, Potter.’
This looks like it’ll end in a fist fight with Barry White singing about the trouble with him, but Malfoy sighs, shifts in his seat and picks up his fork. ‘I didn’t mean anything by it. Not everyone likes casual sex. I get it. I’m not a huge fan either, but it’s not like I have a choice.’ He stabs at his pigeon and blackcurrant terrine.
Tension diffused, curiosity takes its place. Harry picks up his tomato and basil bruschetta and asks, ‘Why don’t you?’
‘Hmmm, not sure if you remember, but once upon a time I allied myself with the wrong side. Got myself almost thrown in prison for it.’
‘There’s no need for sarcasm,’ Harry says, rubbing his temple. Conversation with Malfoy is a fist fight.
Malfoy’s eyes flick on his gesture. He sits back. ‘I apologise. It’s hard to— I find it hard to be … open with you.’
‘But that’s how we should be with each other,’ Harry insists. ‘So we can sell this.’ Malfoy lowers his eyes on his plate. Harry continues, ‘Have you thought about dating a Muggle?’
Malfoy smiles ruefully. ‘Unfortunately, although I devote a large part of my time to London clubs and the King’s Road shops, I suspect I’m unable to spend half an hour talking to a Muggle without breaking the Statute. And — you might think it’s offensive — but I can’t picture myself with a Muggle forever. A chasm separates us. Not to mention the magic of the betrothal won’t work with a Muggle. It’s wizards for me, I’m afraid, and those who fought during the war hate me.’
‘That Todd was keen,’ Harry points out.
‘Ah, the dates my parents select! Inane conversations about where to summer and which tailor makes the best robes. I can’t even begin to imagine I have anything in common with people who weren’t here during the war.’
This admission stirs memories in Harry. God, the fights he and Will had about the same issue. The gnawing, nagging suspicion that Will would never get it. What it’d been like for Harry and his friends; for every one of his peers actually. They might have put the war behind them, but it’s not gone; it’s simply buried inside them, dormant. Malfoy might not have been on his side, but he knows. He met Voldemort and was touched by him almost as much as Harry was.
Perhaps they do have something in common after all.
The waitress reappears, checking first to make sure they’re not at each other’s throats again, bringing the mains and a fresh bottle of wine.
‘You’ve changed,’ Harry says. ‘Hermione wouldn’t be friendly with you if you hadn’t. Eventually, someone you like will see that and ask you out.’
‘Stranger things have happened,’ Malfoy says and changes the subject to Harry’s job. For once the conversation ticks along smoothly, Harry talking about arrests and successful convictions and Malfoy appearing genuinely interested.
Night has fallen when they leave the restaurant. Music is pumping from Blaze further down the street and Malfoy gestures towards it. ‘Let me buy you a drink. Come on. It’s still early.’
It isn’t really, considering tomorrow is Thursday and Harry has to work, but he imagines any time is OK for someone who probably spends his days doing fuck-all. Still, he follows Malfoy to Blaze, which is busy, but not heaving. They grab a sofa, and a smart looking young man takes their order. The music is a seamless blend of wizarding and Muggle, and curious looks stray towards them. Blaise Zabini is holding court by the bar in a striking red suit and he waves at Malfoy, frowning a little when he sees Harry with him. Harry can’t blame him. It is surprising.
Maybe the papers will stop sliding sly digs about him being dumped and concentrate on this new shocking development. He laughs.
‘What’s funny?’ Malfoy asks. He’s sprawled on the sofa, languid and golden in the light of Blaze’s ornate lamps. His unbuttoned shirt stretches to reveal the sharp angle of his collarbone. Harry momentarily forgets what he was about to say. He taps his fingers on his glass to dispel his nervousness.
‘I’m laughing because this — our being together — is one of the most horrendous things I’ve done after the war. For the papers. I don’t think it’s horrendous,’ he clarifies when Malfoy’s face tenses. ‘I mean, we’re friends. Friend-ish. Anyway.’ He clenches his glass — Malfoy’s attention is wholly on him and it makes him edgy — and blurts out something he tells few people. ‘They’ve been painting me as this perfect guy ever since the war and it’s suffocating. I hate the word saviour. You can’t imagine how much. That’s why I snapped at you. The expectations… Those WWHPD people do my nut in with their pins and their leaflets — and if I leave the bar drunk or something, if I snog some bloke and never owl them, I get so much shit about it. As if I’m disappointing people when I just want to — live.’
He doesn’t know if Malfoy will make fun of his confession. Harry’s probably had quite a bit to drink. It dawns on him how quiet it is, the roar of the chatter distant; Malfoy’s probably cast a Silencio without Harry realising. It emboldens Harry to continue. ‘That’s why I like going out in the Muggle world. There, I’m allowed to make mistakes. I don’t have to pretend I’m perfect.’
In Zabini’s mood lighting, Malfoy’s gaze seems warm, almost tender. He knocks back his drink. ‘Stick with me, kid. No one knows you're not perfect better than I do. Let’s do shots.’ He gestures at their waiter and gives Harry a dazzling, teasing grin.
Harry laughs. When he complained to his friends, Hermione had considered legal solutions, Ron had suggested they never step foot in Diagon Alley bars again and Ginny had offered to blow up the Prophet offices in the dead of night. Trust Malfoy to offer to lead him to debauchery.
‘It was a source of strife between Will and me,’ Harry admits twenty minutes later, empty shot glasses on the table and both leaning back on the sofa. His shoulder is touching Malfoy’s and Malfoy hasn’t moved away, but Harry supposes he’d better get used to it. For the time being, this is what it’ll be like for them: shoulders touching and thighs pressed to one another.
Malfoy tilts his head towards him. ‘Hm?’
‘My reluctance to socialise in the magical world.’ He gestures at the space in front of them, the witches and wizards chatting animatedly, pixie dust raining from the ceiling. ‘He begged me to go to that restaurant. He’ll be pissed off I went without him.’ The thought cheers him up.
‘Speak of the devil…’ Malfoy says.
Harry follows his gaze to a departing group of people, which leaves an unobstructed view towards a table at the back. Two men are gazing lovingly in each other’s eyes. Harry’s face heats up, his chest tight. ‘Nibble my ear.’
‘I mean— If-if you’re OK with this?’ Harry’s not sure if ear-nibbling falls in the jurisdiction of kissing.
Malfoy hesitates but only briefly. A light in his eyes makes him look feverish. He leans closer, nuzzles Harry’s neck, his breath hot on his skin, and Harry closes his eyes for a moment. It feels good; god, it’s been a while. Malfoy licks his earlobe, smiling against his skin when Harry gasps. Harry moves closer and his hand brushes Malfoy’s thigh. He can’t remember if Malfoy had included thighs as areas to be touched, but reckons he’ll leave his hand there, since Malfoy’s not complaining. No snogging, that was the one thing Malfoy objected to, really.
Will’s golden-brown curls gleam as the light falls on his face, illuminating his soft stubble and long eyelashes. He and his date are standing now, preparing to leave. He’s a handsome man. Everything Harry could want: twenty-eight years old, educated, with a job that helps people, and not a Death Eater. He cooks well and has a dog and — oh, Malfoy’s biting his ear now… Harry’s brain stutters to a halt. Will’s ear licking was perfunctory; a couple of strokes before he moved lower. Malfoy’s licking his neck and ear as if he’s worshipping them.
Fuck, he’s feeling aroused now. He links his hand with Malfoy’s, wanting to tell him to stop maybe, take a break, take a breather, but Malfoy misunderstands and splays his other hand on Harry’s throat, holding him in place with open fingers, while his mouth is working Harry’s neck. Harry gasps, and squeezes Malfoy’s hand and Malfoy moans in his ear.
He almost misses it, but Will’s looking at him. Harry meets Will’s eyes, an almost smile on his lips. Will’s thunderstruck, glaring at Malfoy as if Malfoy killed his mother, which, since Harry knows all of Malfoy’s intended or not victims, he didn’t. So he’s jealous. He drags Joaquin with him out of the bar, the door banging behind them.
Harry exhales and turns to Malfoy, an action which brings him close to his face. He can feel his smoky breath on his mouth, and gives Malfoy a lazy, blissful smile. The look he gets in return is heated, similar to the one Malfoy pulled to convince the waitress that he likes cranky Harry. His fingers are still on Harry’s neck, soft, stroking him.
‘It’s working,’ Harry says.
Malfoy removes his hand. It’s shaking as he reaches for his drink on the low table. ‘Of course it is. I knew what I was talking about.’
‘You know,’ Harry says, his hand lingering on Malfoy’s back when they leave the bar, ‘after all this we might even become friends.’
Malfoy’s back in scathing mode. ‘That statement’s made my day, it has.’
Harry’s too mellow to feel insulted. ‘Idiot.’ Harry bumps his shoulder and smiles, and Malfoy reluctantly smiles back.
The next evening, Harry finds Ron in the kitchen making jam, a pastime he got into after Fred’s funeral and has now developed into a full-fledged obsession. When he’s not at the joke shop, Ron can be found fondling fruit at the Borough Market or bent over a steaming, fragrant pot, eyes intent on the bubbly surface. Hermione has long since given up complaining about the astounding number of jars cramming their pantry, although she makes a point of bringing two to Harry each time they visit.
‘Is it jam today again?’
It’s their inside joke. Ron often talks of opening a tiny shop next to the joke shop, ‘a few shelves and a counter is all I need’, or a stall in one of the London markets, and Hermione was the one who suggested “Jam Today” as the name of the hypothetical company. She’s been reading her childhood books to him.
‘Cranberry and port,’ Ron says, peering inside the copper pot. The surface of the jam looks glossy and thick, which means it’s almost ready. ‘Perfect for Christmas morning.’ He is poised over the pot with a wooden spoon, alert and focused, a hand on the heating knob.
‘I’ll wait for when you’re done.’ Harry wanders into the living room. It’s raining again, wind blowing through the bare trees outside, but the fire is lit, Oasis follow the Weird Sisters on the wireless and two table lamps cast a soft light in the room. Hermione is bent over a stack of letters, loose parchment and cut-up articles, her wand hovering over her, casting a beam of bright light towards different parts of parchment. She follows the wand’s movements, biting her lip. Astoria is on the carpet, flicking through a pile of files and putting them in order, before she levitates them to the groaning bookcase in the corner.
Harry kisses Hermione. ‘Still working on the creature abuse case? Hey, Astoria.’
‘Hey.’ Astoria gives him a bright smile, her nose piercing glinting in the lamp light. Harry likes her a lot. She’s cheerful and passionate about the same causes that Hermione is and he has no idea how she’s friends with Malfoy. ‘How was your date yesterday?’
‘Date?’ Hermione looks up, intrigued. Her wand clatters on the table.
‘It’s nothing,’ Harry tells her. ‘It’s not real.’ He glances at Astoria, who’s looking at him intently. ‘You must know, right? Me and Malfoy. We’re faking it. He’s going to be my date at the Christmas charity gala.’
‘Huh,’ Hermione frowns when he explains. ‘Couldn’t you have asked him as a friend? Like you did with Luna? This sounds awfully complicated and time consuming…’
Harry leans forward. ‘But this way I can make Will jealous,’ he says, his voice eager. He tells them about the night before and how upset Will looked. ‘Who knows? He might… he might…’ He doesn’t say what Will might do (get back together with him), because he can hardly admit it to himself.
He doesn’t need to. A reflective look on Hermione makes him regret he opened his mouth, but Ron saves him. He runs into the living room with the wooden spoon. ‘Try this.’ He gives everyone a taste. Harry smacks his lips. Ron’s come a long way in jam making.
‘It’s ready, isn’t it?’ Ron asks Hermione, who knows, through prolonged experience, when jam is done.
‘Take it off the heat,’ she agrees and Ron runs back to the kitchen.
Hermione sits back and wraps her knitted blue cardigan around herself. ‘I can see why making Will jealous might appeal to you, but it’s not like you want to get back together.’
Harry says nothing. He stares at Hermione’s collection of wooden statuettes and ceramic animals, which Crookshanks likes to knock off the shelves. Ron’s told him Hermione likes to rearrange the order when she’s thinking about a case.
‘Harry!’ She insists he look at her. ‘Don’t you remember those last three months? You argued all the time. Will wants different things— he likes being in the thick of wizarding life, and you don’t, not really.’
‘I might be OK with wizarding things,’ he lies. ‘I can compromise.’ He stares at his fingers now, listening to the crackling fire and the shuffling of paper. Astoria murmurs something about filing. A long moment passes.
‘Draco eh? I thought he didn’t like you,’ Hermione says. ‘He’s hard to read, though…’
‘No, he certainly doesn’t like me much,’ Harry agrees. ‘But he has his reasons, too.’
‘Draco is prickly when he feels nervous,’ Astoria chimes from the floor. ‘If he feels threatened or insecure in some way, he’ll go on the offensive. He’s like a hedgehog.’
‘Hedgehogs are cute!’ Hermione laughs. ‘I used to have a couple of ceramic ones…’ She glares at Crookshanks, lying by the hearth and looking superbly unrepentant.
‘Draco’s Patronus is a hedgehog,’ Astoria blurts out and covers her mouth with her hands. ‘Shit, don’t tell him I told you that! He’ll murder me!’
Harry and Hermione are laughing too hard to listen to her. Ron finally comes in, wiping his sweaty brow. ‘I cast the potting charm and it’s… wait for it… jam today!’ He chuckles at his joke and notices them giggling. ‘What’s so funny?’
Half an hour later, Ron and Harry sit by the fire with a cider, allowing the two women to get on with work. The talk revolves around the joke shop and the Ministry until the Evening Prophet owl knocks on the window. Astoria browses through the paper and hands it to Harry. ‘Check you two out.’
The photograph takes most of the page. He and Malfoy are leaving the restaurant last night, close to each other, but not touching. The article describes the date in some detail, including Harry’s “violent” outburst that the “clearly disturbed former Death Eater seemed to find arousing”. That waitress must have talked. He’d sue if it made any difference. People always talk.
He hands it to Ron.
‘It’s been a while since you were papped,’ Ron says. ‘Are you sure this is a good idea? You’re doing this for Will, when you should be moving on. Looking to the future, not the past.’
Harry stares at the fire. ‘I miss what we had,’ he confesses. ‘I want to go home and find someone— I don’t know, making jam or spreading their papers all over the place…’
He hates the longing in his voice, and how understanding Ron’s eyes look. ‘You’ll find it. But only if you take your eyes off your ex for a moment, eh?’
Harry shrugs. He knows all this, he’s not stupid. But what his mind is explaining rationally is a whole different beast to what his heart and body are driving him to do. In his darkest moments, he dreams of Will crawling on his feet and begging to be taken back, only for Harry to laugh and declare he feels nothing. He hates that he feels like that. So mean and petty.
Ron clears his throat. ‘I-uh, I’m thinking of asking Hermione to … um…’
He doesn’t have to say more. ‘Really?’ Harry beams. ‘That’s amazing! That’s beyond amazing!’
‘You’re the first I’ve told,’ Ron exhales. ‘I feel ready. Shit. Will you come with me for a ring?’
Harry gives him a look, which has Ron chuckling. ‘Yeah, I know, me neither. No idea about rings.’ He hesitates and says, ‘Do you think Malfoy might have a clue? He must, he’s posh, innit? And he’s fashionable…’ He casts a look at the paper on the carpet, where Malfoy looks like a star and Harry like his assistant.
‘Sure, owl him.’
It’s getting late and Harry and Astoria are saying their goodbyes when the fire flares emerald and Ginny appears. ‘Hey, brother of mine!’ She steps on the carpet, tossing ash and scaring the kneazle. ‘Hi, everyone!’
‘Astoria, this is Ginny,’ Hermione says. ‘Don’t think you’ve met yet.’
‘I’ve certainly heard of you,’ Astoria drawls in an accent reminiscent of the one Malfoy uses when he’s insulting Harry. She casts an eye over Ginny’s plaid t-shirt and ripped jeans as she offers her hand.
Ginny takes it. ‘Oh, I’ve been flying with the Lux Vixens for the last couple of years,’ she smiles. ‘That’s why I’ve come,’ she turns to Ron, not quite dropping Astoria’s hand. ‘I’m going back tomorrow and wanted to say goodbye.’
She hugs Harry (‘it’ll get easier, mate, promise,’ she whispers in his ear) and releases him with a smack on the cheek. Harry can’t stand the Floo so he takes the stairs to Apparate past the building’s wards. Astoria follows him, wrapping herself in her fake-fur coat.
At the street, she scuffs her boot on the ground before turning to him. ‘Give him a chance.’ At Harry’s questioning look, she adds, ‘Draco. See past whatever he’s … projecting. Get to know him. I think you’d be surprised.’
It’s Saturday, three days after the fake date, and Draco can’t stop thinking about Potter’s ear. It’s irritating and distracting and making his limbs heavy, his brain fuzzy. He’s wanked to the memory of nuzzling Potter’s skin for days now. It’s frankly ridiculous. It’s just an ear, no big fucking deal.
Blaise gives him a nudge with his foot and Draco tries to focus. He’s at brunch with him, Pansy, Daphne and Duncan and he’s listened to only a third of the conversation.
‘I always knew it’d happen,’ Pansy is saying now. She casts an eye at Draco and smiles. ‘Should’ve put money on it.’
‘Knew what?’ he asks.
‘You dating Potter. It all makes sense. He was crazy about you, even in school. Couldn’t leave you well alone.’
Draco almost chokes on his mimosa. He’s decided to confide only to Blaise about the true nature of his relationship. He knows Pansy and Daphne will tell Millie, even if they swear to keep it a secret; and Millie tells her girlfriend, Tracey, everything, and Tracey is the biggest gossip in town. Draco suspects she’s behind the Blind Items in the society pages every Sunday.
Deep down Draco would like to be a Blind Item, but for something like “Guess which astonishingly handsome Slytherin the Boy Who Lived has gone and fallen for” rather than “Disgraced former Death Eater fakes relationship since no one will ever love him”.
He ignores Pansy’s self-satisfied smirk. ‘Can we go back to your nattering about your honeymoon? Traitor.’
Pansy smiles. ‘You’d be Mrs Cadwallader, too, if you knew the size of Eurig’s…’ Daphne sniggers and Pansy bats innocent eyelashes, ‘What? I was going to say heart.’
‘That’s not a reason to marry a Hufflepuff,’ Draco objects, but Blaise gives him a look.
‘People do stupid things when they’re in love. Truly idiotic.’ His eyes on Draco are fierce and Draco resists the temptation to squirm.
‘So tell us,’ Daphne leans in. ‘Is Potter a good kisser?’ Duncan makes a noise to indicate objection as to the direction this conversation is taking, but it’s just for show; he’s listening eagerly.
‘We haven’t kissed yet.’
‘Are you serious?’ Pansy asks, eyebrows rising. ‘I’d have thought you’d be shagging him halfway through the first date.’
Daphne and Duncan are nodding and why the fuck does Duncan think he has anything to say about this. He wasn’t even in school with them. Draco blows smoke in his face, accidentally, because Duncan is a health-nut and hates smoking. His family’s distilleries will go wasted on him.
‘I’m taking it slow,’ Draco says.
Blaise decides to spare him, and draws attention back to himself. They haven’t talked about him for the last thirty minutes, he must be suffering. ‘I’ve got news,’ he announces. Pansy, for some reason, sits up straighter. ‘I’m taking the next step. Opening a club. Something glamorous and sexy and totally decadent. A type of establishment sorely missing from the array of dingy nightclubs one finds in Knockturn Alley. I’ve got a construction crew on it as we speak, and our lovely Mrs Cadwallader here,’ Pansy simpers, ‘will be managing it.’
They all go ooh and aah over the news and Draco’s back to his daydreaming of Potter’s ear when a spectacled owl drops a parchment on his eggs benedict. He scans the note and hisses. ‘Mother!’
Throwing some Galleons on the table, he makes his excuses.
Potter is staring at his invitation when Draco tracks him down at Quidditch practice. They’re on a break. Oliver Wood is talking with the Head Auror, making wild gestures to explain a feint and the Head Auror’s nodding earnestly, his jowls moving.
‘Oh, Draco,’ Potter says. ‘I got—’
‘You said.’ Potter’s teammates and colleagues are not-so-furtively looking at them so Draco kisses him quickly on the cheek to keep up appearances. ‘I had no idea Mother would do this. I’ll go have a word with her right now.’
‘The invitation is from the Nithercotts,’ Potter says, who is obviously clueless.
‘Yes, Mrs Nithercott invited you plus one, but she’s a Pu.Fo.P. like my mother.’
‘A … pooffup?’
Draco rolls his eyes. ‘They’re both on the board of Purebloods For Peace. I bet my mother made her invite you to see if I’d be your plus one.’ He grabs Potter’s hands, which startles him and Draco both. Potter’s windswept and sweaty and looks—
Well, never mind that.
‘You don’t have to go. Please disregard this. Ignore Mrs Nithercott and her stupid orphans.’
Shit. ‘She runs an orphanage. Her parties sometimes have performances by the kids or raise money by selling the children’s artwork or some rot like that…’ He can tell by Potter’s look that he’s fighting a losing battle.
Potter glances at the invitation again. ‘I’ve never been invited to a musical soiree before. It sounds like it’s for a worthwhile cause.’
‘Worthwhile, my arse. The dress robes of the women on the board could fund the orphanage’s yearly expenses.’
Harry shrugs. ‘I guess I’ll go and see. Besides, I owe you one, don’t I? Quid pro quo. I’ll take you as my plus one.’
‘My mother will be there,’ Draco grits out.
‘I know your mother. She helped me once.’
Draco rolls his eyes. Potter has no idea what he’s getting himself into.
‘It’s not until the thirteenth,’ Potter notes. ‘That’s two weeks away. Nothing to worry about.’
Draco’s laughter is a little hysterical.
Probably wanting to sell the dating thing, Potter asks him to stay and watch the practice if he wants, and Draco has nothing better to do, so he agrees. He huddles on the cold bleachers, casting the warmest charm he can, and watches the Aurors train. Aurors tend to be in far better shape than the Healers, but only those who didn’t lose an arm or a leg in action so the pool of selection for the team is smaller. Potter is the only decent player and Robards as a Keeper is simply ghastly. Wood is looking pretty desperate. Draco suspects the Healers will thrash them and makes a note to himself to place some bets.
An hour later, the players are exhausted, Wood is hoarse and Draco has dozed off in his heat bubble. Something shakes him and he opens his eyes to see a pink Potter over him, his hand on his shoulder. He’s grinning. ‘Was practice that exciting?’ Potter offers a hand and pulls Draco up. ‘Wanna grab a bite?’
Draco can’t think of a reason to refuse so he doesn’t. He has nothing better to do, anyway, since Astoria is taking some girl to the cinema tonight and his other friends will have finished brunch and will be spending time with their spouses. Besides, Potter might need to parade his fake boyfriend if they go to Diagon.
It doesn’t make his wait at the reception less nerve-wracking. He taps his fingers on his jeans. Last time he behaved like a total dick and he knows he has the tendency to say the first thing on his mind, which is usually the most unkind.
Perhaps we’ll end up friends, Potter had said the other day. Hanging out with him might even push Potter off the pedestal Draco has him on. He’ll see all Potter’s faults, of which he’s sure to have many. In fact, the way he sees it, Draco’s bound to fall out of love within a week. Nothing to be nervous about.
Potter strides out of the locker room, his hair damp and curling on the nape of his neck. He smiles at Draco, his eyes bright.
‘Your team is pathetic. You’ll be annihilated,’ Draco says.
Potter is startled, but he snorts. ‘Don’t let my boss catch you saying that.’ He offers an arm for Side-Along. ‘Chinese OK?’
They Apparate not to a restaurant, like Draco expected, but into a living room with a tapestry of a sprawling genealogical tree covering one wall. Potter asks him about his preferences, ‘I eat everything,’ says Draco, which is a blatant lie, and stays in the middle of the carpet when Potter heads out of the room. Draco feels at ease with the snake candelabras and hissing door knobs, the silk green wallpaper and antique sideboard, but at the same time averse towards the part of him he’s trying so hard to leave behind. The name of his mother on the tapestry catches his eye next to Aunt Bella’s; he turns his back to them. He can’t find a trace of Potter in the room, except perhaps the stack of books on Defense on the shelf from his Auror training.
Potter returns, apologetic. ‘Had to go to the roof to make the call. Phones don’t work in this house. Too magical.’ He flops on the sofa and gestures at Draco to take a seat.
‘I know.’ Draco removes his black coat and chunky scarf and hands them to the elderly house-elf, who pops in the room to take them, looking rather grumpy. When he pops out of the room, Potter explains that his elf hates it when he orders takeaway. ‘Believes he should be doing all the cooking. But he won’t take a holiday, no matter how much I insist.’
Draco sits far from Potter. ‘My building has its own house-elf team. One of them comes in twice a week.’
‘Is it a wizarding building?’
‘Yes,’ Draco says. ‘But I’ve a magic-proof den where I keep my TV and phone.’
Potter’s staring at him in an odd manner. Probably because Draco is feeling too shaky by the fact they’re alone in Potter’s house to be his usual self. ‘I still can’t get over the fact that I’m talking about these Muggle things with you, of all people.’
Draco shrugs. They discuss Wood’s probable descent into depression due to the Auror team for a while before Potter Disapparates to pick up their order from the Muggle shop and returns carrying enough food for five. He spreads the containers on the low table, pushing aside a — possibly priceless — porcelain vase with little care. The house-elf provides a bottle of wine, glaring at the food as if he wants to incinerate it with his eyes. Draco gradually relaxes. The fire keeps the room toasty and the sounds of the city die down as night falls in a hurry. He can’t stop his heart from beating fast every time Potter glances at him, but he’s used to that.
‘What are you so happy about?’ Draco asks. A smile has been playing on Potter’s lips as they eat.
At Draco’s words, it turns melancholic. ‘We — me and Will — used to have Chinese food on Saturdays. Pasta on Tuesdays and Indian on Thursdays — when our shift schedule allowed us to be both at home for dinner, which wasn’t often, to be honest.’ He stops and peers into his wine glass.
‘When was blowjob day? Was rimming part of the weekly schedule or a treat for Christmas and birthdays?’ Draco wants to kick himself.
Potter purses his lips. ‘Must you be so vulgar?’
‘I must. It’s my one talent. A blessing and a curse.’ Draco keeps his tone light, to take the sting off his earlier words, to show he was joking.
Potter still looks unhappy. ‘You might think my life was dull. But— I never had a home before. My childhood home never felt like one, not like Hogwarts did. But that was my school. This place,’ he takes in the dim, ornate room, ‘is the house I own, but doesn’t feel like much of a home. Not like I’d always dreamed of. And then with Will—’
He glances at Draco and stops. ‘You’ll make fun of me.’
‘No, I won’t.’ Draco’s voice comes out earnest, keen. He’s riveted by this insight into Potter’s psyche. He’d never imagined he’d have the privilege to be a party to Potter’s confidences.
His tone of voice must have encouraged Potter, who bites into a spring roll. Chewing (that’s vulgar, Draco’s upbringing reminds him), he says, ‘Will’s flat felt like a home pretty early on. Perhaps because I lived with someone I cared about. That’s what I miss the most. Having a home.’ He thinks, chewing on another roll. ‘This place did feel better when Ron and Hermione lived with me. Now they’re over at Kilburn.’
Draco wants to offer something in return for this confession. Quid pro quo. ‘I’ve always had a home. But then that home was—’ Judging by Potter’s look, he understands what Draco wants to say. ‘When I came into my own vault last year, the one held in trust for me…’ — Merlin, Draco is exactly like the people he despises — ‘I bought my flat in Knightsbridge and am slowly making it mine. It feels more like a home than the Manor, now.’
He eats another bite. ‘Having Astoria around this past year helped. I’ve given her full access to the wards, she can come and go as she pleases. She used to come and have dinner with me most days of the week. Or we’d walk by the river in the summer. She dragged me to Muggle museums a few times and helped me get a bank account, and—’ So many moments of his life in the last year he shared with her.
He doesn’t want to look at Potter, because it feels idiotic to say this when Potter’s mourning a true break-up. ‘I know we were pretending to be a couple. We didn’t shag, sure, but we did a lot of things together. And now—’
The firelight bounces on Potter’s glasses and makes it impossible for Draco to see the look in his eyes. Potter’s been very still while Draco poured his heart out, and he wishes it didn’t make him so tense. He feels like he should make a rude joke, insult Potter’s green jumper or something.
‘Wanna go clubbing tonight?’ Potter asks. ‘I’m meeting Hermione and Ron for drinks in a couple of hours in Angel.’
Draco exhales. Clubbing is something he can deal with. ‘Tell me when and where.’
The noise is loud so Harry has to lean close to Ron’s ear. ‘Did you ask Malfoy to help you pick a ring?’
‘I did. But he can only do Friday afternoon or the weekend. We’re going Friday.’
‘What the fuck does he have to do all day that he can only do Fridays?’
Ron doesn’t respond to that and Harry glances at Malfoy chatting with Hermione, grinning as Malfoy tells her some joke. Harry had never expected this. The world after the war is a topsy-turvy place, a dark mirror of what life was before. He recalls the Incident, as he and Ron call it, during the early days of the P.Re.S. campaign. He’d been with Ron at The Ticklish Thestral in Hammersmith when Hermione’s owl arrived, saying she was fine but wouldn’t come home that night. They’d run to her office to find it locked, Silenced, fully warded. They’d waited outside for hours; Ron even dozed on the carpet. Harry, Kingsley, Ron, everyone tried to break in, but the door wouldn’t budge until, late on Saturday, Malfoy stormed out red-eyed and ghostly pale, his mouth twitching, and Ron dashed inside to find a deflated Hermione. She never told them what they’d discussed for almost sixteen hours in a locked room, why Malfoy looked like he’d been scraped raw, and why she spent a day in bed afterwards. Whatever it was, it brought them to this.
Harry glances at his former enemy surreptitiously. Malfoy looks like someone’s wet dream. He wears a shirt, unbuttoned and untucked, over a flimsy grey vest that reveals a lot more of his chest than Harry is comfortable with. He’s not sure why the sight of Malfoy’s nipples when he leans over the bar should irritate him, but they do, especially when they draw the eyes of other men and women in the bar. He’s brazen, unabashed and Harry wouldn’t be surprised if he dragged the barman into the gents’, the way he’s flirting with him.
Merlin, Harry needs a shag. It’s been two months and three weeks since his break-up, but he and Will hadn’t had sex for at least the month before. Gulping his drink, Harry takes in the blokes around him, wanting to see if anyone stirs something in him. He feels restless, his skin feverish, too tight.
‘Hey, do you want to go to Trade?’ he asks Hermione and Ron, and Malfoy, who’s back from the bar, smiles deviously as he hands out their drinks.
‘That’s the best thing I’ve heard you say, Potter,’ he says. ‘Ever.’
It seems that Malfoy knows Laurence Malice, the club promoter, and they’re ushered in without waiting in the queue. It’s as busy as Harry remembers it from his first excursions into gay nightlife; heaving with topless, sweaty men grinding against each other, working boys, girls in bright dresses, Malice himself in a top hat, drag queens in fuchsia wigs. Malfoy, clearly in his element as he secures a corner for them, throws his shirt to Harry and is off dancing.
After some Dutch courage, the three of them dive onto the dancefloor. The music is pumping, pummeling Harry and reshaping him. Harry knows how to dance to — well, to this, this deep funky house that’s fury and passion and something unspeakable that pours out of him along with his sweat. He loses himself in the rhythm, smiling at the men who try to catch his eye, and he dances with one, then another, all of them handsome and attractive, but not what he needs right now. He thinks of his confession to Malfoy and how a realisation had come to him, half-formed and painful.
He doesn’t want to think. The music speeds like a train, taking him along for the journey. He sees Ron dancing, oblivious to the looks he gets, and Hermione in conversation with a drag queen, who seems to admire Hermione’s blue and yellow dhuku.
People move out of the way and suddenly Malfoy is there. The bass thumps like a punch and he gazes, helpless, at Malfoy dancing, his body loose, his limbs moving with a grace that is almost animalistic — a grace that reminds Harry of panthers and bloodshed, of dark rustling nights, of survival. A grace that he finds himself responding to, moving towards Malfoy, not stopping until he’s close.
He isn’t the only one. Others eye the lithe figure, and one of them, a hunky dark man touches Malfoy’s wrist to get his attention.
Malfoy’s eyes snap open, travel with an indifferent smile over the man and lock onto Harry’s. Ignoring everyone, he approaches Harry.
The music lulls for a moment: a slow melody to allow them to catch their breaths, before the beat starts again, relentless, increasing in ferocity, unstoppable, a beat that gives no mercy, the way Malfoy’s eyes are merciless in their hunger. Harry feels like he’s being eaten alive, that gaze is so familiar, biting into him. He dances with Malfoy, close but not touching, staring at the fair, lightly haired chest, the sweat gathering on Malfoy’s collarbone, gleaming in the lights, the damp vest sticking on his torso, the feel of his expensive jeans under his fingers — he hadn’t realised he’d moved closer, but Malfoy has his hand lightly on Harry’s waist now, slipping under his t-shirt — and he drinks in Malfoy’s Marlboro breath and his cedar mixed with sweat scent. A vein pulses on Malfoy’s throat, right in front of Harry’s eyes, so close, and Harry’s breathing hard as the song — this never ending song — floods every last one of his arteries. Malfoy smiles, his mouth is parted, a hint of teeth showing, and Harry feels this maddening urge to devour, to bite his fucking neck, and also to be devoured, and he closes his eyes in bliss because there is nothing sweeter than welcoming your own annihilation.
When the tune changes, something shifts inside Harry, a tremor of sorts, and he steps away, his hands unsteady. ‘Going to get a drink,’ he mumbles and walks away without offering one to Malfoy. He downs a whisky in two gulps and tries to drown the fire in the pit of his stomach. He can’t see Malfoy anymore on the dancefloor. His breathing is ragged.
A topless man slides near Harry and smiles at him. He’s shorter than Harry, with dark blond curls and the face of an angel. His naked torso is covered in glitter and Harry wants to touch him. The man knows that. He leans in and whispers in Harry’s ear, ‘You’re absolutely gorgeous, honey.’
Emboldened by his proximity and the overt flirtation, Harry trails his hand down the man’s chest, lightly flicking a nipple. He could pursue this. It’d be nothing, just some mindless fun between consenting adults, some way to take the edge off of whatever the fuck’s coursing through his veins.
‘Do you want to dance?’ the bloke says again.
The word dance reminds him of Malfoy and he squints towards a white blond head on the dancefloor, but can’t be sure it’s Malfoy. He turns to the man. He’s interested and looks delectable, but something about the look on his cherubic face — sexy, uncomplicated — gives Harry pause. ‘No, sorry,’ he says, stepping back.
The man shrugs and moves on, and Harry orders another whisky.
Harry’s drunk. He’s washing his glitter-covered fingers in the loo, thinking he might try to track down Ron and Hermione — he hopes they aren’t doing it in a dark corner, he’s caught eyefuls of quite a few minor acts of debauchery as he was coming here — when he hears a breathless laugh.
He pauses, the water running cold over his hands.
The low chuckle is heard again, coming from the last stall. Then a gasp; a soft moan and a murmur in a fucking posh accent. None of the other men blink; this isn’t unusual. Harry wouldn’t have cared either, he knows what these places are like, but he can’t move his legs and he has no fucking idea why he’s enraged.
He should leave, but he doesn’t. He stays there, ears pricked on the smallest of sounds from that stall, until eventually the door opens and Draco fucking Malfoy stumbles out of it followed by that dark man who’d tried to dance with him. The bloke’s got a geometric tattoo on a shoulder, a tight white vest, and bulging arms. A blissful smile is on Malfoy’s face, not a care in the world, as the man kisses him lightly on the mouth, something Harry isn’t allowed to do. Malfoy turns, notices Harry and freezes for a second before he strides towards the sinks and thrusts his hands under the same tap Harry’s using.
‘All right there, Potter?’ he says lightly. ‘How was your shag?’
Harry is seething and has no idea why. ‘I’m not in the habit of picking strange men and blowing them in the loos.’
‘Oh? Sorry, did you have a polite conversation with that bloke after you ran your hands all over him? My mistake.’
Harry’s had it up to here with being constantly mocked by fucking Malfoy. ‘You think you’re so cool, don’t you?’ he hisses. ‘Giving it up for just about anybody. Pissing your life away.’
Malfoy’s face slams shut like a vault door. ‘You know shit about me, Potter.’ The ferocity in his eyes is incandescent and Harry almost steps back. ‘You’re so fucking blind.’ Malfoy storms out of the toilets, leaving Harry to stare at the running water. He rubs his fingertips, but the glitter won’t come off.
Draco spends all Sunday in front of the TV in his pyjamas, eating junk and ignoring any owls that knock on his window or any Floo alerts. He’d like to spend the whole week like this, wallowing in self-pity with a whiff of self-hatred, but Astoria won’t allow him to skip school, so come Monday he Apparates to Kent Uni.
It’s a relief being there. Lectures serve as a welcome distraction, and the Muggle campus, untainted by any memories of his real life, is a balm to his blistering soul. Draco keeps his head down, takes copious notes and interacts with no one. At lunch, he buys a bacon sarnie from Essentials and heads down to the stone bench overlooking the labyrinth etched in the grass. It’s a wet day, grey and miserable, and no one without magic is stupid enough to sit outdoors. Only a few rabbits munch on grass and hop away when he walks past. Draco casts a couple of discreet spells and sits crossed-leg on the bench. Canterbury cathedral is visible down the hill and misty woods surround the meadow. The endless space around him, the enormous sky and the view over the rolling countryside, make him breathe a little easier.
He knew it wouldn’t last, he tells himself. It was a foolish idea, born of desire and booze and pure recklessness, and he can’t imagine their pretense will survive this. This savage display of contempt. Draco knows he gives a certain impression, but he’d hoped that Potter might have seen past it. What a ridiculous thought.
Biting into the sarnie, he takes out his sketchbook. His pencil moves with his breathing and eventually he’s absorbed, lost in the angles of the structure that emerges on the paper, like a photograph developing, inch by inch.
He’d thought he and Potter had something — something that was real, because in the Muggle club there was no need to pretend. Potter danced with him and touched his hip and looked at him with dark, hankering eyes and Draco hoped that—
Well. Potter soon put paid to that idea by flirting with a rando. Newly single, he probably wants to have fun, and Draco can’t blame him, but. But it’d hurt, nonetheless.
In the evenings, he stays in his flat. November has slid into December, and the night sparkles gold and red outside his windows. After two days, Blaise shows up in his fireplace, worried. Draco hasn’t missed three nights in a row since the bar opened. He doesn’t say ‘I told you so’, although he clearly thinks it, and returns to Blaze once Draco assures him that he’ll be back in form by the weekend. For now he just wants to sit in the bay window seat, with a roaring fire and a glass of port, and sketch the house of his dreams. Insistent owls keep coming, and Draco suspects they’re from his mother. He refuses to let them in.
Thursday night is freezing. He drops his books on the coffee table when he returns from Canterbury and rummages inside the cooling box. He and Astoria had a coffee and a baguette at Nero’s, but that was hours ago. He pulls out some brie and a quince preserve with the handwritten label Jam Today and considers opening a bottle of white, when the doorbell rings.
‘Blaise, I said I’m—’
It’s not Blaise.
‘How the fuck did Temples let you in?’ His receptionist has troll ancestry and never allows anyone in the building without the residents’ say so. ‘He’s dedicated to keeping riff-raff out.’
Potter says nothing. He doesn’t have to. He probably flashed his name or his scar and got what he desired, like always.
‘What do you want?’ Draco asks, the flesh of his hand biting into the doorknob. He wants to slam the door in his face.
Potter clears his throat and points to the bag he carries. ‘I er… brought some Thai.’
What fucking audacity. ‘You’re trying to recreate your stupid Burke traditions with me, after…?’
‘Will and I had Indian Thursdays; I brought Thai. I wouldn’t—’ He pauses, closes his eyes briefly. ‘I’ve sent you owls. Many. Look,’ he continues, his voice more urgent, ‘I want to talk to you. Can I please come in?’
It’d take a stronger man than Draco to say no to Potter, especially when he trains ardent eyes and that stupidly handsome, pink from the cold face on him. Draco wordlessly leads him to the kitchen, but stays at the threshold. Such a bad idea to have Potter in his flat. He’ll touch things and then Draco will have to burn them.
Potter unloads containers on the kitchen island. A mix of fragrances escapes once he opens the lids, lemongrass and ginger and chilli wafting in the room. Once again he brought enough food for a small army.
‘I don’t know why the owls I sent couldn’t reach you. But it’s better in person, I suppose.’ He glances at Draco, who’s watching him silently. ‘I want to apologise. I was so out of order that night. I didn’t mean any of it.’
‘But you said it.’ Draco’s pleased at how cold his voice sounds.
‘I did say it, and I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said it, I don’t actually believe— I felt so angry when you—’ He takes a deep breath and a step closer to Draco. ‘I can’t explain why. I can only apologise. I hope you forgive me.’
Draco doesn’t know what to say. They stand frozen for a moment as if someone’s painting them, Harry with a hand on the counter, Draco leaning in the doorframe, arms crossed. Something untangles inside Draco. There’s no question about forgiveness — Draco was forgiven for so much worse, by Granger, by Weasley, by everyone. Besides, the admission that his little tryst provoked anger in Potter and not contempt lodges in the back of his mind, a pebble inside a shoe.
He moves into the kitchen, swishing his wand to Summon plates. ‘Apology accepted. Pureblood norms suggest we dine in the formal dining room, but how about we get a tray in front of the TV?’
‘Sounds perfect,’ Potter smiles, looking relieved — at the TV suggestion or the forgiveness Draco isn’t sure.
They pile the containers on an enormous tray (‘didn’t know what you liked so I got a bit of everything’) that floats ahead of them into the living room. Potter lingers there, takes the space in, and Draco watches him, palms sweaty. Draco poured everything he is into this flat and it scares him, not knowing what Potter might notice. The eye tends to fall first on the understated opulence, the Italian white leather sofas and the crystal ashtray, filled to the brim with cigarette butts, next to an empty bottle of wine. Or, he hopes, he desperately hopes, Potter is the kind of person who’ll see how the cream colour scheme of the walls matches the antique herringbone tiles on the fireplace, and how Draco attempted to bring the nature he grew up with in his city space: a moss-green rug, a cashmere throw in heather, a bold, teal ceiling from which hangs a white sculpted lamp. The artwork on the walls is his: sketches of Hogwarts and the Manor in black pencil, and there are several thriving gardenias by the windows — his mother’s favourite flower — lending their sweet fragrance to the room.
Potter smiles wistfully. ‘You’ve got a lovely home,’ is all he says. Draco is about to enquire for more when he notices his university textbooks on the coffee table. Potter follows his gaze, but Draco has already sent them hurtling into his bedroom. He lowers his wand with an exhale, not ready to share that part of him yet; the habit of keeping things close to the chest is a hard one to beat.
Potter gives him an apologetic look. ‘I wasn’t going to pry.’
He looks sincere, shy and unfuckingreal, standing there in his red hoodie like a fire burning in the middle of Draco’s carpet, and Draco regrets everything about tonight. He regrets opening the door, he regrets suggesting this deal, he regrets even going to Hogwarts. All his life is a series of regrets, because he can’t bear the thought that Potter will leave his flat; not now when he looks so good in it.
Swallowing, he points to a door in the corner, taking the levitating tray in his hands. ‘The den is through there.’
‘Cool!’ Potter pronounces when he enters the compact, grey and blue room, charmingly cluttered compared to the airy, open space of Draco’s living room. A tingling at the entrance warns that magic is restricted.
‘Glad my décor has the approval of someone who’s wearing those shoes.’
Potter has been checking the assortment of Hogwarts textbooks, treatises on alchemy and Muggle novels on the bookcase, but turns at Draco’s words. ‘Do my shoes offend you?’ He unlaces the scruffy trainers and takes them off. ‘Better?’ he asks, his smile teasing and challenging at the same time. He insists on not taking Draco’s insults seriously, which irks Draco. He likes to rile Potter.
But he also likes the smiles.
They sit on the enormous grey sofa. Draco dims the lights to comfortable (not romantic, he tells his mind, which snorts in response), flicks the TV on and places the tray between them — a barrier or a bridge.
‘I’d like to turn a room in Grimmauld Place magic-proof,’ Potter muses, mixing a little of each curry on his plate. ‘I miss TV, especially when I’m hungover.’
‘Pretty sure that’s what TV was invented for,’ Draco agrees. He spoons some som tum on his plate. ‘So, what’s with all this? Is this how you normally apologise?’
Potter shrugs. ‘I find people don’t slam the door in your face when you show up with food.’
‘This a regular occurrence with you?’
‘Sometimes I show up with flowers,’ Potter says. ‘Will and I … well, we had a lot of rows,’ Potter replies, moving the conversation to Draco’s favourite topic: William sodding Burke.
‘How did Burke apologise?’
Potter chews for a long moment, a cloud darkening his face.
Ah. ‘How often did you fuck up then, Potter?’ Draco asks, trying to keep his tone teasing and not hint at the indignation that sweeps over him at the suggestion that Burke thought himself too good to apologise to Potter.
‘A lot, apparently. He’s right, though — I handled certain things badly. I’m not used to being part of a … team. I tend to do things on my own.’
‘And he wanted to go couples grocery shopping? How utterly dull.’ Draco aims for teasing, he wants to lighten the mood and dispel the cloud on Potter’s face, but his valiant effort fails.
‘Last February he begged me to go to his uncle’s Imbolc ball. I’m not big on pureblood balls—’
‘Too stiff and boring, full of politely cruel remarks and serpentine conversations that seem to make no sense until a week later you find out you somehow agreed to invest in someone’s harebrained scheme, marry someone’s daughter or support someone’s father’s political campaign?’
This attempt wasn’t fruitless: Potter laughs. ‘That’s precisely it.’ He casts a look of intrigue to Draco. ‘If you don’t like them, why do you go?’
‘I turn down loads of invitations, if you must know. Malfoys still top any guest list worth its salt. The amount of gold one has is proportionate to people’s desire to ignore some rather unsavoury aspects of one’s past. And there are certain obligations to be fulfilled, anniversaries and betrothals and the like. Besides, that’s my turf. Pureblood snobbery is in my blood, you must have noticed.’
He’s sarcastic, but Potter gives him a smile. ‘I’m not sure I’d say that’s completely true, now.’ He gazes into Draco’s eyes, which is very unfortunate for Draco’s heart and lungs.
Dragging his eyes from Potter’s so he can give his organs a fighting chance, Draco forks some rice and says, ‘Well, what’s the story with the Imbolc ball? Do tell.’
Potter settles back, the cloud back on his face. ‘That was our first major row. I agreed to go to the ball, bought new dress robes, everything. I wanted to make an effort. But the day before, this hostage situation came up in Inverness and I spent three straight days there. I completely forgot about it. I returned — exhausted, sleepless, having failed to save four people — and the whole argument escalated pretty quickly.’
Draco wonders if he could get away with murdering Burke. ‘He pounced when you had just come back from a harrowing case?’
Apparently, dishing out any negativity towards Burke is a no-no. Potter hurries to justify his ex and adds, ‘The make-up sex was brilliant, though. The best ever probably.’
Draco pretends he doesn’t feel what his insides are doing. He really is a phenomenal actor, if he can sit there calmly and listen to all this with his own ears. He’d spent the last year and a half pretending Burke and Potter were celibate and possibly Mormons.
He attempts to change the subject, but apparently Potter thinks he’s in the confessional. ‘I told him I was sorry and he said, it’s fine. I’m disappointed, but it’s fine. And once I heard the ‘but’, I couldn’t unhear it.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘He’d say things like, I like going to the Muggle pub, and I’d also hear: but it’s not our world; I enjoy spending time with Ron and Hermione (but not too much); Of course I want you to catch the bad guys (but I wish you’d spend more time at home).’
‘So why the fuck are you still pining?’
Potter shifts into a defensive pose. ‘It wasn’t all bad, Draco, even you must realise that. I liked cooking with him and walking the dog together; he’d leave me notes on the fridge: “We need milk. I love you, W” and he held me and soothed me when— you know, nightmares and stuff. You’ve no idea how supportive he was in that respect. Will cares. He wants to help people. I admire that.’
If Draco ever entertains the stupid idea that Potter might be interested in him, he’ll remind himself of this speech. Draco cares — for his own. He’d give his life (and he almost did) for his parents. He’d do anything for Astoria and Pansy and Blaise and he’s the one paying for Greg’s rehab even if nobody else knows. He cares for his people. But the nobility of spirit that Potter admires, that irrepressible need to save everyone everywhere, a one hundred per cent Potter trademark, is not a Draco trait.
He feels Potter’s eyes on him, but ignores it. He wants him to go and also to never leave. Potter’s always had the knack of making him feel pulled into two directions, threatening to tear Draco apart.
‘I er… also brought something else.’ Potter balances his plate on his knees and pulls a package from his pocket. Draco takes it from his proffered hand, unwraps it and stares at a small, silver-backed mirror. He knows what these things are. He’s not sure he can speak.
‘It’s a communication mirror,’ Potter explains when the silence stretches for too long. ‘I have its twin and we can talk to each other through this in magical spaces. Like the Muggle mobiles. Mobile phones are phones you can take anywhere.’
‘I know what they are,’ Draco says, his voice low, and points at the sleek black Nokia on the shelf. He caresses the smooth cold surface of the mirror. He can’t fathom why Potter would want to talk to him regularly. ‘Thank you.’
‘Next time I won’t have to send owl after owl,’ Potter says. ‘Although we could communicate with Patronus…’ He glances at Draco, who chews his bite of rice and Massaman thoroughly before replying that he never managed to achieve anything more than an incorporeal Patronus. Potter seems amused.
‘Now I can reach you whenever I need you,’ he adds, slanting a sideways look at Draco.
Draco’s ears are ringing. His heart is thumping at the words of Potter needing him—
‘—like you did, at the bistro.’
Ah. Draco shakes his head at how foolish he’s being. His voice is cold as he tosses the mirror on the table and says, ‘Of course. You might require my fake boyfriend services and I might be in need of yours. Good thinking. Who knows when my mother will surprise me with a suitor again.’
Potter looks at his plate. He spears a baby carrot. ‘Yeah, that’s it.’
Draco feels something has trickled through his fingers, but he can’t tell what, but then Potter launches into a tirade about the upcoming Quidditch match and the Aurors’ chances — miniscule — and conversation moves to safe topics.
An hour and a half later, half of the dishes are empty and the tray has relocated on the floor. Draco leans back on the sofa, his stomach full, relishing the contentment that good food brings. Potter’s similarly sprawled beside him, feet on the sofa, face soft with relaxation. They watch one soap opera after another, all named after locations, and Potter laughs at the rude things Draco has to say about the acting and storylines. It sends little thrills down Draco’s spine every time. They amuse themselves by imagining a soap called Hogwarts.
‘—and then, McGonagall will have an evil twin who’ll try to take over the school—’
‘Whom our McGonagall will defeat until — until she has an accident and needs a brain transplant so she gets her twin sister’s brain, who’s dying anyway from a mysterious illness, and then becomes really evil…’
‘No, no, she has a split personality, so she says one thing to Sprout and something else to Flitwick and they fight all the time.’
‘You mean Flitwick who has a secret lover?’
‘A secret, centaur lover.’
‘Who turns out to be Slughorn’s real father come back from the dead!’
They laugh at the absurdity, deep belly laughs, while Muggle news — always dire — and commercials — impossibly happy — play on the screen. Sometime in the evening, snow starts falling outside, soft and light, barely visible, not enough to settle. Draco has provided some craft beers that Potter made fun of, but drank nonetheless. Potter rests his head back on the sofa, eyes closed. Draco has no idea how they’d moved this close to each other.
‘Do you wish you were back at school?’ Potter asks.
‘Yes,’ Draco says. ‘And no.’
Potter remains with eyes closed. His left hand lies between them, and Draco stares at it, wanting to trace the knuckles with a finger. He allows his own hand to rest next to Potter’s, but is careful not to touch it. ‘You?’ he asks.
‘The same. Yes. And no.’
A Christmas jingle drifts from the TV. Draco should put up the Christmas decorations one of these days. He breathes slowly and watches Potter. Perhaps he’ll fall asleep and have to spend the night. Draco has a guest room.
‘I miss the structure of it, I reckon,’ Potter whispers, barely audible. His thumb moves imperceptibly, touches Draco’s palm. Draco doesn’t move his hand away.
‘Your work gives structure to your day,’ Draco says. He’s staring at Potter’s fingers: not as long as Draco’s, bony knuckles, a smudge of ink on the index.
An almost unconscious movement by Potter — who does seem to be falling asleep — brings half his hand on top of Draco’s. He doesn’t draw it back and Draco doesn’t, either. He takes deep breaths, as quietly as he can, so Potter won’t realise that Draco is slowly dying next to him. He wants to stroke Potter’s skin. Just a little.
He does. He moves his index almost absent-mindedly and strokes a tiny part of one of Potter’s fingers. His heart is thundering. Potter doesn’t seem to have noticed it. They’ve held hands before, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but this feels different; alone, in Draco’s flat, just the two of them.
‘Work helps a lot,’ Potter says, and Draco tries to remember what they’re talking about. ‘I enjoy it, I’m good at it…’ Potter continues. ‘Outside of work— There are so many possibilities, so many things I can be and do, and I’m not sure if I’m being or doing any of those things, and if I should. Sometimes I wonder if I’m failing at living.’
Potter moves a finger against Draco’s and Draco’s heart stutters. He’s well on the way to a heart attack, simply from Potter’s, accidental probably, tiny finger movements.
He should say something to Potter, something comforting and clever, something impressive, but his brain isn’t cooperating. He tells himself it’s the drowsiness of a heavy dinner and beer. He closes his eyes, every sense focused on his hand, and strokes Potter’s finger again. A second later, Potter strokes back, ever so slightly.
When he opens his eyes, Potter’s looking at him. His eyes gleam in the soft light of the table lamp, and he’s looking at Draco as if he’s someone new and strange to him. The snow keeps falling and Draco is gathering the courage to link his fingers with Potter’s and to hell with—
A thump echoes from the living room. ‘Draco!’ calls a high, clear voice. ‘Where are you?’
The moment shatters. Draco heads to the living room, intending to murder his friend. The room’s dark, lit only by the streetlamp and the street’s Christmas lights, and she stands in front of the fireplace. With a wave of Draco’s wand, the lights come on, just as someone else tumbles through the Floo after Pansy.
‘Darling!’ Pansy exclaims and moves to greet him, but stops short when she spots Potter, coming from the den. ‘Well, well, well. Hello, Potter. Sorry for the intrusion, Draco; I had no idea you were entertaining.’ She leers at Draco, just as the fireplace spews more people out.
They’re all there, his friends: Pansy in diamonds, holding Eurig’s arm, Blaise in a purple pinstripe suit, Daphne with a bottle of champagne in each hand, Duncan in a fedora, even Astoria in a tuxedo jacket over an impossibly short black dress. They’re noisy and slightly tipsy, dizzyingly glamorous, like they jumped from the pages of a glossy magazine. They all eye Potter with curiosity and give Draco leers — except Astoria and Blaise, who frown. Eurig lights a cigar, Blaise puts some music on, Astoria apologises for bringing them all in without checking if Draco had company, and Pansy holds his hands and says, ‘We’re going clubbing in Luxemburg! There’s a new club with Veela dancers and satyrs for serving boys. Blaise bought a European Portkey, leaving in an hour. Can you come?’
Draco knows of the club they mean; he heard talk of it in one of the balls he attended. The entrance fee costs as much as a month’s rent in Chelsea. He’d be sorely tempted if it wasn’t for his desire to lock himself and Potter in his flat and never leave. Pansy’s keen, smoky eyes stray to Potter. ‘You could come, too,’ she tells him. ‘Lots of space on the portkey. Unless you two want to stay alone…’
Potter dismisses the invitation. ‘No, that’s fine. I was going to go anyway. Early shift tomorrow. Er… enjoy your night, guys. Bye, Draco.’
Draco feels everyone’s eyes on them and obviously Potter does too, because he leans in and kisses Draco softly on the cheek. ‘Have fun,’ he whispers in his ear, his hands on Draco’s waist. The next moment, he waves goodbye, finds his coat, and eschews the Floo for Apparition down the street.
Draco doesn’t know what his face is doing, but judging by Astoria’s look, it isn’t good. He takes a deep breath, pushes everything Potterish deep down, and turns to his chattering friends. ‘An hour for the portkey? No time to lose, people. Blaise, pick a shirt for me; Astoria, fix my hair; and Daphne, pass me that bottle of Cristal, I want to get sloshed tonight.’
The Luxembourg club is set up as a boudoir of the early 20th century, all deep reds and gilded mirrors. Astoria immediately abandons them to talk to the Chaser of the Lux Vixens, who also happens to be present: Ms Weasley herself. Draco chuckles when he realises whose idea it really was to come here tonight, even though he initially thought it was a reconnaissance mission for Blaise. Holding her waist, Draco whispers in Astoria’s ear, ‘You’re such a Slytherin’, and she gives him a wicked grin before she finds Weasley and chats with her, lightly touching her wrist. Well, good for her. Astoria deserves all the happiness in the world, especially after the reaction of her parents to her coming out. Draco can’t help but feel a twinge of reluctant gratitude that his parents — unhappy as they were at the news of no future Malfoy heirs — quickly accepted him, even going as far as setting him up with that Todd.
He sips his Manhattan and observes the satyrs, brought to Lux City by one of the Med countries, and exuding a wild magic, a vibrating energy that contributes to the hedonistic, decadent ambiance. Blaise spends most of his night conversing with a satyr in order to see how he can hire one for his club. Pansy and Eurig exhibit frankly obscene behaviour, snogging rampantly like the newlyweds they are, and Draco wants to smack them upside the head. In fact, with Astoria and Blaise busy with love and business affairs, he is left alone with the couples. Gratitude for Daphne’s prim and proper pureblood poise vanishes when he sees Duncan slip his hand under her skirt.
Draco finds refuge on the dancefloor, dancing to music different to the deep house tunes he’s used to back home. The men differ, too: more polished, smoother and sexier, in a sleek sort of way. Draco can’t take his mind off a scruffy sort of someone.
The thought he entertained last week, that hanging out with Potter would make him less desirable, was ludicrous at best. Draco can’t imagine having to go back to staring at Potter from a distance. The idea that Potter might get back with his ex, or fall for someone new makes Draco ache so much that he feels physically sick. He drinks some more.
He hears from Potter the next night. Draco’s putting up fairy lights around the windows when a voice yells his name in the empty living room. He jumps out of his skin and swears profusely at Potter, whose green eyes meet his in the mirror.
‘You can Silence the volume,’ Potter says when he stops laughing, and teaches him how to do it. But Draco doesn’t Silence it. He takes the mirror everywhere and sleeps with it on his bedside table. Potter calls him the next night, too. He’s busy with a case, something about a series of home invasions with a high body count. He sounds exhausted.
‘Tell me about the club,’ he says.
‘I might have swung from the chandelier at some point in the night,’ Draco replies truthfully — he was assured that he didn’t imagine it, but he’s yet to see photographic evidence — and Potter bursts in a surprised, delighted laugh. Draco tells him about the topless satyrs in bow ties and the Veela women in cages in silver bikinis, and Potter seems to like listening to Draco’s stories. He asks questions and laughs at all of Draco’s jokes and falls asleep first.
Draco doesn’t sleep for a long time.
His reflection gives him the thumbs up. Harry straightens his cuffs and smoothes his lapels one last time, but despite the nerves, he’s pleased with his purchase. Kreacher even said Harry reminded him of Regulus, ‘if Regulus were to lower himself to wear Muggle clothing’, which is, nonetheless, the highest praise Kreacher has bestowed on him. It gives Harry some confidence about tonight. Malfoy’s anxiety about the Nithercott soiree is rubbing off on him. Malfoy had spent their dinner at the Young Mandrake yesterday tapping his fingers on the tablecloth, smoking like a fiend and schooling Harry about his likes or dislikes in case his mother questions him. Harry now knows that Malfoy had a stuffed dragon as a child that he beheaded in a fit of anger; that he’s allergic to kiwi; that he takes his tea with one sugar and a splash of milk; that when he has bad dreams, he needs to have his hair stroked to fall back to sleep.
Harry doesn’t want to admit how long he’s fixated on that last piece of information.
What he’ll admit to himself is that the last couple of weeks have taken his mind off Will a little. Seeing yet another picture of him and Joaquin in the Prophet (“the happy couple shopping for groceries together,” read the caption) doesn’t hurt as much as it did before. Perhaps he has been desensitized to it; the shock of seeing Will with someone else isn’t new anymore and, therefore, not as hurtful.
Perhaps talking about it has made a difference. Harry didn’t have to explain much to Hermione, Ron and Ginny, mainly because they had lived through the death throes of that relationship with him. Putting into words the details that Malfoy, unlike his friends, isn’t aware of makes Harry recall things, like the fact that arguments were always Harry’s fault, or how often he and Will were apart due to their schedules. Things he’d pushed aside during the first two months of his break-up when the Will-Harry Best Hits were all that played in his mind: gilded memories of a bliss that he felt he’d let slip through his fingers.
One of the things that had bothered Will was Malfoy. Will had disliked him on sight, much like Harry had all those years ago, which Harry took as another thing they had in common. ‘He’s everything I despise, all money and style and no substance,’ Will had said, and Harry had agreed because that’s all he saw then, too.
When Harry griped that Malfoy seemed to dislike him, only him out of everyone, Will would ask why he cared. Sometimes Harry snapped back, I don’t, I’m just saying, and Will would say, why do you let him get under your skin, and Harry would say, you have no idea of what Malfoy has been like to me for years and years, what we went through during the war, and Will would huff loudly, enough with the war, it’s all about the war, and Harry would fume, how can you say that, when you know— you know what I— and then he’d storm out and slam the door behind him.
Fights about Malfoy turned into fights about the war, and fights about the war never ended in sex.
The doorbell rings and Harry glances one last time at the mirror. The gentle sheen of the jacket (classy, the assistant assured him) contrasts smartly with the velvet lapels. The assistant helped him choose the right tie and a silk kerchief. Harry might have spent more money than he’d ever spent on a suit — or a couch — but he’s not going to be shown up by Malfoy this time.
The bell rings more insistently. Harry takes the stairs two at a time, rubs his palms on his trousers, and yanks the door open.
Malfoy’s on his doorstep, lighting a cigarette, hands cupped around the flame. He glances up and smiles, smoke curling out of his lips. ‘Hey.’ He’s in a teal suit.
A fucking teal suit.
‘Hey,’ is all that Harry can say. Malfoy looks absolutely unreal, a mirage in the burnished street light, the teal shade bringing out the best in his skin tone. He made his look edgier by messing up his hair and adding a hint of eyeliner and a couple of silver rings: he’s absolutely striking. Harry feels a dazed smile on his face and a rush of blood that he’s careful not to examine too closely. Malfoy steps closer, runs a long finger on Harry’s jacket and murmurs, ‘Not bad.’
He smells nice, that cedar-lime fragrance of his that shouldn’t be hypnotising; but it is. Harry swallows. ‘Shall we?’ He offers his arm.
Malfoy seems fazed by the reminder of where they’re headed, but recovers instantly. ‘Into the fray we go,’ he says cheerfully, takes Harry’s arm, and they Disapparate to Mrs Nithercott’s Lake District house, an Elizabethan style mansion according to Malfoy, who peers at the gables, while Harry rings the bell.
Mrs Nithercott is a short, chubby woman with several strings of pearls around her neck, inexpertly pairing her cyan robes with a Muggle bomber jacket. Harry has seen a lot of these combinations now that Muggle is the flavour of the day and they never stop being amusing. She smiles broadly at Harry, ‘pleased to make your acquaintance’; a smile which transforms into a scowl when she notices Malfoy on her doorstep.
‘She invited me once, three years ago,’ Malfoy murmurs in his ear as they follow her through to the living room. ‘Caught me smoking a doobie with her nieces in the master bedroom.’ Malfoy shrugs. ‘No idea why she blamed me. It was their weed.’ He gives Harry one of his crooked smiles. ‘Perhaps she thought I had a mind to deflower them. She needn’t have worried. Obviously.’
Harry turns to him. ‘Is this the first time you’ve attended one of these parties with a man?’
Malfoy dismisses it. ‘Pfft. The paparazzi have already outed me, Potter, if you might recall from today’s rather lurid headline.’
‘You call me Harry in front of others,’ Harry says, as their host ushers them into a well-appointed drawing room with a huge Christmas tree in one corner.
‘In front of others I’m your boyfriend,’ Malfoy remarks as he bows his head to a witch with a bright yellow pointed hat.
‘You could still call me Harry, though.’
Malfoy doesn’t reply, but steers Harry gently but firmly towards the bar, greeting the guests in their path, all of whom appear startled to see Harry. Harry’s not sure if the surprise is because he’s with Malfoy, or because he’s attending one of these pureblood gatherings in the first place. The looks and murmurs, the unfamiliar faces and crystal sharp accents, the polite, curious nods shake him, make him feel like an impostor. He’s glad for the armour the expensive suit provides. Relief washes over him when they reach the bar where his drink of choice appears the moment he makes a decision. The spiced ale slips hot through his throat, making him cough a little.
He turns to look at the mingling guests. A harpist is playing in one corner, notes tinkling over the chatter. Some guests are traditionalists, wearing robes and pointy hats; others have made an effort to accessorize with Muggle items; in most cases unsuccessfully, if Harry’s to judge by the pudgy man in black velvet robes and a glitter waistcoat. Malfoy’s parents perch on one of the sofas, elegant and refined, wearing not one thing Muggle. Narcissa’s eyes stray to him and her son, and Malfoy exhales noisily. ‘I should go say hello.’
‘Want me to come with you?’
‘Custom says I should introduce you, but perhaps we can eschew the formalities for now. You know each other.’ A grim smile, and Malfoy weaves through the guests, a teal Muggle vision, attracting attention like a magnet.
Harry sips his ale and gradually relaxes. Now that he has a moment to take the room in, he realises that the party is a rather intimate affair, nothing like the dozens of guests he’d expected. Robards arrives shortly afterwards, waving jovially at Harry before his wife pulls him towards a cluster of guests. A year after the war Harry had attended a similar event as a favour to Neville, who dreaded going alone to his grandmother’s gatherings. The average age of the guests then had been about forty years higher than here, but the rest was the same: good food, expensive alcohol, some gossip, some politics, some fashion disasters.
Malfoy’s on his way back to him when Mrs Nithercott engages Harry in a conversation, which has Malfoy swerve sharply towards a pair of wizards. Harry bites a smile at his hasty retreat and replies to her enquiries about his Auror career and what he thinks of the harpist. ‘Brilliant,’ he tells her, glancing at the girl trailing fingers on the harp.
‘She’s one of ours,’ she beams, not explaining what that means. Mrs Nithercott’s clever or polite enough to avoid asking intrusive questions about the war. When Harry excuses himself to find Malfoy, he realises he’s also promised a donation to her orphanage that might have been slightly higher than he’d intended.
Harry circles the room, clutching his glass tightly for support, and wonders how Malfoy does it. How he stands there, relaxed and confident, holding conversations with anyone about anything. How he knows the right thing to say. Harry can tell, though, that his smiles are practised. He knows that much about Malfoy, now.
‘Hey,’ he says when he reaches him by the fireplace.
Malfoy gives him a real smile, elusive like lightning and just as brief. ‘Bored to death yet?’
‘No,’ Harry shrugs. ‘It’s all right. The food is amazing.’
‘The food is always amazing. Don’t tell your elf, though; he’ll be jealous.’
‘Always lie through your teeth about the quality of other elves’ cooking. That’s almost a law, Potter.’
Harry laughs. ‘I had no idea. I’ll make sure I’ll tell Kreacher the food was awful here.’
Malfoy nods, his eyes wrinkling in a smile. ‘He’ll appreciate it, trust me.’
Harry sips his ale. ‘I do.’
‘Hm?’ Malfoy’s picked up a photo frame and is tilting it, trying to coax the portrait out.
Harry gazes at his face. ‘Nothing.’
The harpist has been replaced by a clarinet player, whose instrument conjures pale blue snowflakes with each note, which float around the room. Soon everything’s covered in the fake, glittering snow and the guests laugh as the flakes land on their hair and shoulders. Malfoy asks Harry to dance in the fake snowfall. Harry refuses. Malfoy sulks. They have more drinks. Harry watches Robards, red-cheeked from the elf-wine, talking animatedly about Quidditch to a witch, whose eyes are frantically looking for a way out of the conversation. Malfoy blows kisses to Mrs Nithercott’s nieces and Mrs Nithercott glares at him. It’s fun.
Until Narcissa sidles next to Harry the minute Malfoy is absorbed in a discussion about St Mungo’s funding with someone who Harry thinks may be in the Wizengamot.
‘Enjoying the evening?’ she asks Harry. Flakes shine through her bright hair.
‘I am,’ Harry replies, tensing instantly. Malfoy’s behaved like Harry meeting Narcissa would give away their deal, but it turns out that she doesn’t question Harry as to how Malfoy drinks his tea or about his childhood toys, but chats about his work and the Pu.Fo.P’s various projects. Harry relaxes and even laughs when she relates an amusing anecdote from one of the board meetings.
‘So,’ she says, smile sharp on her face, ‘I was wondering if you and Draco would like to have luncheon with us next weekend.’
Cheerfulness vanishes. Just the idea of stepping foot in the Manor covers Harry in cold sweat. That’s one line he won’t — can’t — cross for his pretend relationship. ‘Forgive me,’ he tells her, ‘but I’d rather not visit the place I was held a prisoner.’
‘I understand,’ she concedes after a pause. ‘Of course, that might be an impediment to your relationship with my son, not willing to visit the home he grew up in.’
Harry thinks he might have made a wrong step somewhere. He feels like he’s dancing on a landmine. ‘It’s early days,’ he says as diplomatically as he can. ‘If Draco and I become serious, then it’s something I’ll have to deal with.’
‘So this isn’t serious?’ she asks. ‘Simply a rebound fling for you, perhaps?’
Fuck. ‘No, I er… I’m very fond of Draco. Not a rebound, no. We’re very close. Really. Awfully in love, if I may be so bold. Head over heels. I er… make him tea in the mornings. One sugar and a splash of milk.’
Harry’s vaguely aware he’s fucked up. Narcissa Malfoy smiles as if Harry has confirmed something she suspected. ‘It was lovely talking to you.’
A second after she leaves, Malfoy arrives and interrogates him. He runs a hand through his hair, messing it up even more. ‘Fuck’s sake, Potter, how could you fail so spectacularly? She’ll know it’s a sham.’
‘And the matchmaking will start?’ Harry picks up a blue cheese canapé from a passing, floating tray and decides to stuff his face and stop worrying about the weird games Malfoys play.
‘I’m talking about the gossip pages. It’ll only take a comment from Mother to the right ear and our charade will end up in the Evening Prophet. “Rumour has it all isn’t what it seems with a famous new couple.” Is that what you want? A week before the game against your ex? A week before the gala of the year?’
Harry stiffens and abandons the canapé. If this is exposed, he won’t be able to face Will ever again and, unfortunately, with the number of injuries he sustains in his work, avoiding him forever isn’t feasible. ‘What can we do?’
‘It’s time for drastic measures.’ Malfoy pulls Harry out of the living room and into a corridor of thick carpets, green potted plants and snoring portraits. ‘Here is fine.’ He drags Harry in a shadowy corner.
‘We’ll pretend we were caught in a sexual act. The papers will be more interested in printing this kind of gossip instead of whatever my mother decides to tell them.’
‘And so we have to … fake…?’
Malfoy blushes. ‘Is that OK? It only has to appear real, I wouldn’t ask you to—’ Looking at his feet, he says, ‘Actually, it’s a silly idea—’
‘Someone’s coming,’ Harry interrupts him and pushes him against the wall. Malfoy’s deep blush spreads to his neck. ‘Never had you for a prude,’ Harry says, his voice low.
‘I’m not a prude,’ Malfoy murmurs. ‘Hm, that was Mrs Glendows, blind as a bat. Not much help—’
Harry doesn’t move back. ‘Well, someone else will come along now. I think I can hear footsteps.’
They stay still, but no one comes. Harry breathes against Malfoy’s jaw. The desire that coils in the pit of his stomach doesn’t surprise him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he’s aware he’s craved this for some time now. He knows he can’t kiss Malfoy, though. It’s the one thing he’s not allowed to do. Hesitant, not sure if he’s overstepping his mark, he lifts his hand and traces Malfoy’s lips with his thumb. Malfoy gasps, his chest rising and falling, his eyes wide. He parts his mouth just a little.
Harry would like to slip his finger inside Malfoy’s mouth, but he realizes how inappropriate it is. He steps back, but then someone is truly coming and Malfoy cranes his neck and confirms. ‘Mr Witherbore. Biggest gossip in town.’ He sounds breathless.
‘How do we do this?’
Malfoy’s voice is low and raspy and yet he still manages to sneer at Harry. ‘How do people do this, Potter? Need instructions?’ He unbuttons three buttons of his shirt and unzips his trousers. Holy moly mother of Merlin. Harry forces himself to stare at Malfoy’s eyes, and not the line of golden hair disappearing under the waistband of his Calvins.
‘Make some noise,’ Malfoy advises.
Harry moans, a little too loudly, and Malfoy snorts. ‘Not like that. More… natural.’ He smirks, a little affectionately.
Harry retorts, ‘You do it then, if you’re so good.’
Malfoy wraps an arm around his waist. Nuzzling Harry’s neck, he lets out a soft moan, which makes Harry’s hair stand on end. Malfoy moves his hips slowly, keeping them an inch away from Harry’s, and gasps in his ear, just like the time Harry overheard him in the club toilets. He runs a hand in Harry’s hair and moans again.
Fuck. Harry’s getting hard. He’s got a fucking boner and Malfoy will taunt him forever if he catches wind of it. The footsteps are coming closer and Harry leans in and smells Malfoy’s neck, his enticing scent emanating from the smooth skin. A kiss on Malfoy’s neck has Malfoy gasp — this time for real, Harry thinks — he’s starting to confuse what is real and what isn’t. Lust sweeps through him at the sight of Malfoy’s lean hips grinding slowly, not quite touching Harry, and he slips a hand under Malfoy’s shirt, tracing his back. Back caressing is allowed, he reminds himself. Malfoy’s skin is hot and Harry shivers. He leaves a trail of kisses on Malfoy’s neck.
‘Harry,’ Malfoy murmurs.
Their clothes rustle as Harry presses closer, chest to chest, but he tries to angle his hips away, desperately hoping Malfoy won’t feel his hard-on. The footsteps have faltered and he knows he needs to give a good show, but all he can do is restrain himself from humping Malfoy for real. His nails leave marks on Malfoy’s back in an effort to rein in his hunger for more.
Malfoy gives Harry a look that has his heart fluttering. How can he fake such lust? ‘Harry,’ he breathes again, his face an inch away.
Fuck it. Fuck all of it. Dizzy with desire, unable to stop himself, Harry presses his pelvis against Malfoy’s thigh and grinds, the feeling of bliss making his knees weak. His fingers bruise Malfoy’s arms, his mouth sucks at his neck. Malfoy’s panting now, and Harry’s thrilled to feel him hard as well. He wants to touch his cock, he’s desperate, but Malfoy hadn’t mentioned cocks in their agreement and Harry’s sure it’s out of the question, but he wants it, he wants it so badly. He bites Malfoy’s neck in frustration and Malfoy gasps, loud and excited, a grin on his face, which turns soft and yearning. He cups Harry’s chin, his eyes flicking on Harry’s mouth.
Another cough. Insistent this time. Harry becomes aware that a figure is on the edge of his sight, just a couple of feet away from the corner they’re in. Reality rushes in. Harry draws back. Malfoy buttons himself up, his hands shaking, hair falling on his forehead, looking thoroughly debauched. ‘Mother,’ his voice rings out. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’
Harry surreptitiously adjusts his trousers to hide his erection. The fact that this was a performance hasn’t wilted it one bit. He’ll need to excuse himself for the nearest loo and take care of it.
‘Mr Witherbore saw fit to tell me that my only son has succumbed to his “animal urges” by the south staircase. Well. I must congratulate you, Draco. It was quite a show.’
‘It’s unfortunate that Mr Witherbore had to bear witness to my desire for my boyfriend. I do hope he won’t talk to any reporters. Now if you’ll excuse me.’
He disappears down the corridor, leaving Harry alone with Narcissa.
‘I wonder what he has on you,’ she muses, not really expecting a reply. ‘It must be big.’ Swishing her robes, she returns to the drawing room. Harry ducks inside the nearest toilet and has a furious wank, scandalising the mirror. It chastises him in an elderly aunt’s voice for pleasuring himself during a party and also throws in a few choice comments about the state of his hair.
He returns to the party, hoping he’s imagining the smirks he gets. Malfoy’s lounging in an armchair, dangling a glass of champagne in one hand and biting his thumb in thought, his mouth pouting deliciously and warming up Harry’s groin again. Instructions to his newly interested cock to stand down fail. Pleas ditto. Threats achieve nothing. Glancing desperately around the room, he catches Lucius watching him, which manages to kill his half-erection admirably.
Well, at least Malfoy Senior is good for something.
Harry dithers choosing a drink at the bar, hesitant to sit by Malfoy. He wonders if Malfoy will taunt him; or if he’s angry. He felt Harry’s erection, but Harry knows Malfoy was hard as well. He catches Malfoy looking at him and then glancing away. Downing his ale, Harry squares his shoulders and approaches his fake date. It was only natural, he tells himself. Any decent bloke would get hard if someone who looked like Malfoy in that fucking teal suit gasped in his ear and gazed at him with such—
He abandons that line of thinking swiftly and flops in an armchair. ‘What’s happening?’ He points at a group of excited children around a tall woman in green embroidered robes.
‘The orphans are about to torture us with Christmas carols,’ Malfoy tells Harry without looking at him. ‘Wanna scram?’
‘No, I want to listen to them.’
Harry’s temper flares. Everything about Malfoy is complicated, confusing, fucking exasperating. ‘Sometimes you’re such a dickhead.’
Malfoy shrugs, an eyebrow raised in disdain.
Harry wants to punch him when he’s being like that. He wants to lay his hands on him and— Vexation and lust course through his veins, blending in a potent, heady emotion that, combined with the alcohol, makes him a little dizzy. Trying to relax, he grabs a canapé without even checking what it is and bites into it. Brie with pear preserve. Ron would have loved it.
The choir comprises of twenty-odd children of various ages, including the harpist and the clarinet player. Three little ones go first, singing the Cherry-Tree Carol, muddling through the lyrics, and then they run around the guests’ legs while the older ones continue.
A small girl flashes past like a hurricane, and pauses, drawn by the colour of Malfoy’s suit. After the fourth time she’s circled them, she reaches tentatively to touch the jacket Malfoy has on the back of his seat.
‘Do you like the colour?’ he asks. When she nods, he wraps it around her. ‘Let’s see if it suits you.’
She giggles. ‘It’s like I’ve got the sky around me.’
Harry leans back and watches Malfoy grinning at the girl. He’s fascinating; the way he can go from nasty to affectionate in the same breath. Malfoy gives her a mischievous look. ‘How about I transfigure it to … would you like a dress or a cloak?’
She ponders, hand on her chin and face frowning. ‘A cloak please.’
‘Let’s do it then.’ Malfoy pulls his wand out of his pocket and mutters the incantation. The jacket transforms into a thick teal cloak with a silver clasp.
‘You did it!’ She swirls around herself, a bright blue blur, and the cloak billows around her.
She stops, stumbles, but Malfoy catches her with an arm around her shoulders. ‘It’s yours now.’
‘But won’t you be cold?’
‘Nah. I can Apparate home, just like that,’ he clicks his fingers.
‘Thank you!’ She runs to the tall woman in green and points at them. Malfoy sits back and resumes listening to the carols.
‘That was nice,’ Harry breaks the silence.
Malfoy shrugs. ‘It was nothing. A simple spell.’
‘It wasn’t nothing. Not many people would have done it.’
Malfoy shrugs again. ‘Just a jacket, Potter, no big deal. I have many.’
Harry pretends to listen to the carols, but he can’t help watching Malfoy, who smokes and applauds at the end of the songs and sometimes glances at Harry. Harry doesn’t know how to put into words the messy knot of thoughts and feelings in his mind; he figures he might try and leans forward, when the girl returns. Completely taken with Malfoy, she decides to tell him about the carol she learned and her first ride on a broomstick. Harry stands. He chuckles at Malfoy’s wide-eyed, wordless plea for Harry to stay and help him with this little human. ‘She’s your fan. You deal with her.’
He ambles around the room, half-listening to the carols, and ends by the window where the tall woman in green stands. The view of the lake is magnificent. Mrs Nithercott has enchanted several orbs of light to float over her gardens like small moons, illuminating the manicured lawn.
The woman in green is Elaine, the orphanage’s matron. ‘Lily Wang,’ she says, glancing at the girl climbing over Malfoy. ‘She’s a darling. A bit of a troublemaker, but always follows orders when you explain things to her. Smart for her age. Four,’ she answers Harry’s unspoken question. ‘Half-blood. Not an orphan as such, but her mother is in St Mungo’s with irreversible mental damage.’
‘Are the other kids war orphans?’
She sighs. ‘War orphans. What does that mean? Children that lost their parents during the war? We have eleven out of the twenty-three. But the rest… Those two over there,’ she points at two small, dark kids. ‘Their father assisted the Death Eaters. Not a purist, never hurt anyone himself, just— turned a blind eye. Three years ago he committed suicide, couldn’t bear the guilt when all the crimes came to light. When that mass grave was unearthed… Terrible business. Pearl over there — the redhead, yes — had parents who sustained curse wounds during the war. Both succumbed a year ago. Are these kids not war orphans?’
Harry feels a cold hand squeeze his chest, a feeling that rears its head every so often. The war is a dark ivy, its roots and branches tight around every aspect of their lives. Those who weren’t here during the war can’t detect its legacy. But it’s there, pulsing under the glorious façade of peace.
‘Does the war ever end?’ he asks Elaine, his voice low.
She has kind eyes. ‘Eventually it will. For most of us. Maybe not for you. Not for the Malfoys. It doesn’t matter. We all soldier on, as best we can. But there’s hope. Love can help us figure out how to fix things after the war,’ she says, reminding him of Dumbledore. ‘And maybe,’ she nods towards Malfoy, who’s coming their way, ‘find some happiness while we’re at it.’
Malfoy reaches them with a sleeping Lily on his chest, looking positively alarmed. ‘She asked me for a story. I told her the Babbity Rabbity and she fell asleep in my arms.’ He gives a stunned look at the dark head.
‘I’ll take her.’ Elaine pulls the girl to her. ‘And thank you for the very generous donation, Mr Malfoy.’ She gives a warm smile to Harry. ‘I enjoyed talking to you.’
When they’re alone, Harry looks at Malfoy, who’s ironing the wrinkles of his shirt with his wand. Seeing him with Lily in his arms stirred something inside Harry. If there’s one thing he’s certain about, it’s this: Harry wants kids. It was one of the things he loved about Will: he was fabulous around children; Teddy adored him.
‘You made a donation?’
‘That’s what we Malfoys do, Potter. Throw gold around. That’s what people like us for.’
‘I don’t like you only for that,’ Harry murmurs.
A pause. Malfoy stares outside the window, his voice low when he speaks. ‘Why do you say things like that?’
‘Why not? It’s true,’ Harry replies, feeling a little shaky. He’s unused to socializing with people who remind him of the best and the worst of their world. He’s unused to being around a person who elicits so many tangled emotions in him. Restless energy tingles at his fingertips.
Malfoy turns and examines his face. ‘Are you all right? Do you want to leave?’ He sounds concerned.
Harry rubs his temples. ‘No, I’m fine. I want— I don’t know.’ He knows what he wants, but he can’t say it. He doesn’t want to return to Grimmauld Place with this tension running through his blood — or at least not alone. But he can’t ask Malfoy back to his for a nightcap. He’ll probably have more glamorous places to be, anyway.
Malfoy gives him an impish smile, not quite successfully. There’s a hint of uncertainty under the wickedness as if he can’t quite be himself around Harry either. ‘Want to explore the house? I’ve a joint if you want it.’
‘Sure, and then I’ll arrest myself. I’d rather not know of the drugs you carry.’
This time Malfoy’s smile is truly sly as they discreetly leave the room. ‘Wizarding law only prohibits potions and powdered shrivelfig, not Muggle drugs. A small oversight of our illustrious lawmakers.’
‘And how very convenient for you,’ Harry remarks.
For some time they roam dark living rooms, studies and parlours. The music drifts behind them as they delve deeper in the mansion; an echo that, progressively, fades away.
‘What did Mrs Nithercott tell you to upset you?’ Malfoy asks as he opens a door. ‘Ah, here we are.’ He heads towards a large piano, bathed in the silver light from the enchanted orbs in the garden.
‘I wasn’t talking to Mrs Nithercott, I was talking to Elaine.’
‘Who is Mrs Nithercott.’
‘Is she? Who’s the woman who came to the door?’
‘Mrs Nithercott.’ Malfoy grins; he’s enjoying this. He sits at the piano bench and lifts the polished fall board. ‘Figured it out yet?’ He presses a few keys softly.
Harry sits beside him. ‘They’re married.’
Malfoy nods. ‘Same sex marriages are uncommon, but they do exist. Elaine’s the one with the money, but she took Portia’s surname.’
‘So if we were to get married, you might take my name?’ Harry teases and instantly freezes, realising what he said. Malfoy’s expression is pure shock and Harry feels his cheeks burning. ‘So, er… do you play?’ he asks quickly, ramming a few keys and grimacing at the jarring noise. God, everything about Malfoy’s strumming his nerves tight and he can’t think straight.
‘A little,’ Malfoy replies, blinking fast. ‘I’m not that good.’
‘Go on. Play something.’
Eyes intent on the keys, Malfoy positions his hands. ‘Let’s start with something easy. If I can remember it.’
The melody fills the room and allows Harry’s breathing to return to normal. Malfoy plays with poise and some detachment, an unlit cigarette hanging on his lip, but gradually he relaxes into it. He launches into a faster melody, a tempo that reverberates in the empty room, and then — taking the cigarette off his mouth — he plays a slow, aching sequence, his fingers soft on the keys. It’s not perfect, some parts are clumsy, but Harry can’t take his eyes off him.
These two weeks it’s as if Harry has been granted a peek behind the curtain. Malfoy’s dazzling in every sense of the word, glamorous and blinding, but there’s something awfully quiet and soft about him when his barriers are down. It intrigues Harry. He wants to take a closer look at the softness.
When Malfoy stops, his eyes meet Harry’s. Neither says anything for a long moment.
Harry’s knee is pressing against Malfoy’s. He coughs. ‘Can you teach me?’
‘Sure. Place your hand like this.’
Harry follows his example and Malfoy lays his hand over Harry’s. ‘Relax. Let me.’ He presses Harry’s fingers in turns producing a short tune like a lullaby. His hand is warm over Harry’s and Harry feels overwhelmed with a profound, sweet ache. He twists his hand slowly, the melody fading, and traces his fingertips over Malfoy’s palm.
Malfoy stills, except for his hand: it caresses Harry’s, fingers on fingers as if they’re comparing them. Harry keeps looking at the slow dance of their hands, fingertips trailing soft skin, and when Harry lifts his eyes, he sees Malfoy staring at him.
Harry’s chest rises and falls, trying to find a way out of those eyes. Malfoy is close, so very close. Harry leans in an inch, his pulse racing. Malfoy shifts closer so that Harry smells the champagne on his breath. His lips part, soft and full, and Harry’s tongue licks his own, his mouth suddenly dry. Lifting his other hand, he traces Malfoy’s cheek, soft under his fingers and warm, and Malfoy lets out a small sigh. Harry’s restraint is hanging by a thread. ‘I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do,’ he whispers.
‘This is what—’
Someone clears their throat by the door, startling them.
‘Mother. I didn’t see you there,’ Malfoy says in a strangled voice.
‘Draco, Mrs Nithercott’s looking for you. She’d like to formally thank you for your contribution,’ Narcissa Malfoy says, and Harry has never hated her more.
‘Of course, Mother.’ Draco gets up and leaves, a shaking hand running through his hair. Harry sits and stares at the piano keys, his whole body trembling. A click of heels and Harry realises Narcissa hasn’t left; she’s come inside and stopped by the piano, a slim finger trailing the dark mirror-like surface.
‘I admit I’m more than a little surprised,’ she mutters, looking at Harry. Harry blushes. ‘I’d honestly thought my son was trying to deceive me. That you — for whatever reason — indulged one of his caprices; his jokes. I see that I was wrong.’
Harry understands why she says so. He also knows Malfoy has managed to fool her after all; this might not be a pretense to Harry anymore, not completely, and he’d have thought the same of Malfoy — until a minute ago. Perhaps he’d seen his mother standing outside the room before he’d almost let Harry kiss him.
She continues, unaware. ‘How silly of me. Draco never jokes when it comes to you.’ Her eyes shine brighter. ‘You make him happy. I can tell.’ She sweeps out of the room, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.
He pushes back the fall board gently and lays his forehead on the cool wood. The fact Will has been little in his thoughts all evening doesn’t surprise him. Malfoy’s taken up almost all of his headspace. Harry wants to kiss him quite badly, and he thinks Malfoy would like that, too. He tries to dissect the moment they had, trying to figure out if Malfoy had seen his mother; if he’s, like he said, such a good actor that he fooled Harry into believing his crush is reciprocated.
But Harry doubts Malfoy could fake the look in his eyes so convincingly. He recalls the evening in Malfoy’s flat where Malfoy had stroked his fingers with an almost there touch. If they hadn’t been interrupted, Harry suspects they might have kissed that night. No question about acting then; they’d been alone.
Shutting the door of the piano room behind him, he heads back. Voices drift from an ajar door on his left. Narcissa is hugging her son. Malfoy’s saying, ‘No more marriage talk, OK?’, his voice shaky, and his mother strokes his hair and says, ‘No more, my love, no more.’
Harry doesn’t mention this when Malfoy returns to the drawing room. Malfoy speaks briefly with Mrs Nithercott — the one with the pearls — and shakes her hand. His eyes keep straying to Harry and he ignores various guests eager to talk to him in favour of reaching Harry.
Harry’s heart is pounding. Malfoy looks hesitant, a rare expression on his face, and glowing as he smiles at Harry. Harry smiles back. A loaded silence blooms between them.
‘Want to come back to mine for a nightcap?’ Harry asks.
‘Want to come back to mine, watch TV or something?’ Draco asks at the same time.
They laugh, exhilarated. Harry bites his lip, unable to stop smiling. ‘TV sounds—’
A silver bear lands on the persian carpet at the same time as a bright hawk flies to Robards. The bear speaks with Maggie’s voice, Harry’s Auror partner. ‘New home invasion. It’s bad this time. Need you to come in.’
Harry exchanges glances with Robards, who appears to have received the same message. Harry nods to him and turns to Malfoy. ‘Raincheck? I’m really sorry. Really sorry.’
Malfoy looks sorry, too, but he hides it under a bracing smile. ‘Keep the mirror with you. Call me when it’s done. And don’t do anything stupid.’
Harry gives him a peck on the cheek. ‘I won’t.’
The voice is familiar. So is the smell. Harry tries to open his eyes but they won’t budge. He forces them open only to close them again when the brightness hurts his head. He’s not at home. A whirring ceiling fan; lots of white; calm voices still talking on the edge of his hearing: he’s in St Mungo’s.
Harry groans as he recalls solving the home invasion case, the duel, the curses bouncing everywhere, him jumping in front of one to save a crying, terrified wizard.
The familiar voice talks to a non-familiar voice. He should know the familiar voice, but his head is fuzzy and heavy, slow to respond. Images of rumpled sheets, cups of steamy tea, a dog’s wagging tail blink in his head as the voice explains something.
Will! Harry turns his head fast, grunting at the pain in his neck. The voices pause. Footsteps reach him.
‘Are you awake, Harry?’ Will’s face hovers over him. His ex takes Harry’s hand in his and smiles. ‘All right there, old boy? You gave me quite a scare.’
‘She’s fine, she was the one who brought you here last night. You hit your head pretty hard. Bad concussion and you strained your neck, but the curse only grazed you.’
Will’s still holding his hand. It takes several moments for Harry’s sluggish brain to remember they’re not together anymore. He pulls it back abruptly, noticing Will’s vaguely hurt expression before he turns to the nurse and asks her for the standard potions.
Harry’s had concussions before. Not unusual in his line of work. He sits up, takes his potions when they’re handed to him and tries to suppress the feeling of nausea. Will’s still there, watching him intently. ‘Can I go home?’ Harry asks.
‘Not yet.’ Will dismisses the nurse and sits on the edge of his bed. He takes Harry’s wrist in his cool palm, the touch bringing to mind a hundred happy memories. ‘You’re not in a too bad shape, considering.’ Will traces his thumb on Harry’s inner wrist, sending shivers in his spine. ‘Remember when you fought that troll against your boss’s orders? Three broken ribs, a fractured wrist, sprained ankle, Merlin knows what else…’
‘The smell.’ Harry smiles despite himself. ‘You forgot the smell. You made me have a bath for the third time that day — only then you came in the tub with me and…’ The memory is sweet and painful at the same time.
‘You smelled like peaches for days afterwards.’ Will smiles.
‘I never knew what made you buy that soap.’ Harry had been teased incessantly by his colleagues and Ron.
‘You love peaches!’
Their laughter fades as they stare into each other. So many things unsaid. So many things Harry had wanted to tell Will these past three months, to shout at him or seek forgiveness for. Harry had thought he was leaving the past behind him, but looking at Will with his hand on Harry’s wrist makes it all too present. Too real.
Harry clears his throat. His brain is a muddle and he needs to change the subject. ‘Can I play on Saturday?’
‘Always keen.’ Will lets go of Harry’s wrist and casts a complicated swirl over Harry with his willow wand. ‘I wouldn’t advise it. Your balance will be shit for a day or two. You might have recovered by the weekend, but not fully. Shame,’ he smiles, putting his wand away and making a note on a pad. ‘I was looking forward to playing against you.’
Harry’s heart clenches. He’d been looking forward to it, too, until Will decided they “weren’t working out.” Pain and anger swirl with the nausea, adding to the fogginess in his brain. ‘Afraid you’ll lose if I play?’
Will laughs — how can he remain so fucking calm — and explains that he holds his professional oath higher than his desire to win the match. ‘Besides, I heard your team sucks. You’re a great flyer, Harry, but just one player.’
‘How do you know? Did you send spies?’
‘Didn’t have to. You invited one. Malfoy’s been placing bets in the bookies, telling the world how bad your team is.’
Malfoy. A fresh flood of memories assaults Harry: watching TV while snow fell outside the window, dancing in a club, the piano, the almost kiss. The last time they spoke through the mirror, the day after the soiree, Harry was still in the office, going over the evidence for the millionth time, and Malfoy read him the gossip pages and the reference to “the new couple you’ve all heard about, who are so hot for each other that any place will do: even a not-so-dark corridor in someone else’s house during a busy party.” It’d made Harry laugh and at the same time tingle with anticipation.
‘I have to say…’ Will’s voice rings in his ears. ‘I’m quite surprised you started dating Malfoy. Never thought you’d take up with a Death Eater.’
Harry tenses. ‘Perhaps I’ve seen more of him and realised that he’s more than a former Death Eater.’
‘Well, he certainly seems to have a nice body.’
‘As does your Quidditch player.’ Harry clenches his fists, his temper rising sharp and hot through the fog. ‘What’s it to you anyway? Last words you said to me were “I can’t take the fighting anymore, move out”. Am I misremembering?’
Will gazes steadily at him. ‘No. But I still care about you. Breaking up… felt like the right choice to make at the time. But I loved you, Harry.’ His earnest voice washes over Harry and he has to shut his eyes. Will continues, ‘Just because I ended things doesn’t mean I stopped loving you from one day to the next. This has been hard for me, too. I’ve missed you.’
The words Harry had wanted to hear for such a long time finally fall from Will’s lips. Harry gazes at his handsome face, the thick eyebrows, the stubble, the full lower lip. He knows what it feels like to kiss every inch of that face. Under the lime robes, there’s a body he knows as well as his own. Will’s familiarity is a cocoon, so easy to fall into, to allow it to envelop you. Harry’s rage simmers down as the potions take effect and he’s left deflated.
‘Bella missed you, too.’ Will gives him a rueful half-smile.
‘How is she?’
‘Chasing squirrels as always.’ Will purses his lips. ‘Look, I know it’s not my business. But I’m really hoping you’re not making decisions based on anger or — or pain. I know you have a temper. I’ve experienced it. I just pray it isn’t leading you to the wrong choices.’
Will’s presumptuousness cuts through the memories that are tugging at Harry. Before he can reply, Will stands, picking up his notepad and ending the conversation. ‘You can go home in about twenty minutes. The headache should be easing by now.’ He cloaks himself in his professional manner, detached and cool. ‘Take the week off work. Maggie knows, said she’ll kick your butt if you show up at the office. I’m afraid I can’t allow you to Apparate out of here today. I’d take you home myself, but I have the victims of your case to check up on. If you can’t find someone to Side-Along you, please use the Floo in reception.’
He pauses by the door and gives him a wistful smile. ‘You look really good, Harry.’
Harry’s alone in the room. It’s a ward for Aurors, secure and restricted to the public. He lays his head back and tries to stop his mind from going over his conversation with Will again and again. Will’s jealous, that much is clear. The scheme has worked. Harry should be pleased, but he’s not sure what he feels. The fuzziness in his head retreats enough to allow him to get up and find his clothes. The Floo is usually a no-no, but a glance at his watch reveals that it’s just gone one in the afternoon and Hermione will be in the courtrooms all this week, while Ron is keeping the shop on his own as George has to take care of the baby for a few days.
He dresses slowly, resigned to suffer the fireplaces, when his fingers brush against the mirror in his back pocket. He could ask Malfoy to Side-Along him. He’s probably still in bed anyway. Peering in the mirror, he calls Malfoy’s name.
Startled grey eyes look at him. ‘Shh!’
The mirror moves, showing a ceiling, possibly Muggle, probably institutional. ‘Where are you?’ Harry asks.
‘Quiet,’ Malfoy hisses. The way he holds the mirror shows a door opening and closing, then more ceilings, definitely Muggle, and then another door. Tiles. A bathroom probably.
‘I thought you’d be in bed still,’ Harry says when Malfoy’s grey eyes appear in the mirror. He feels a flutter in his chest that he tries to ignore.
‘Why would I be in bed at this time of day?’ Malfoy asks. ‘What do you take me for? On second thoughts, don’t answer that.’ His expression changes as he takes in Harry’s face. ‘Are you OK? Where are you?’
‘St Mungo’s. Solved the case. Er, I need someone to Side-Along me home, but if you’re busy…’
Malfoy disappears from the mirror entirely. Harry blinks. He calls his name a few times to no avail. There’s no time to wonder what happened, because approximately thirty-five seconds later, Malfoy bursts into his room, followed by two yelling nurses.
‘… not allowed!’ one of them says, but Harry lifts his hand and she stops.
‘He’s here for me,’ he says, and they retreat, not particularly happy. Harry sure hopes he beats them on Saturday.
‘What happened?’ Malfoy says, rushing forward. He grabs Harry’s arms, eyes running over him. ‘Did you do something stupid?’
‘Depends on your definition of stupid.’
‘I take it that Granger’s tales about your reckless bravery, which might better be described as infinite stupidity, were not an exaggeration then. How are you feeling?’
He fusses over Harry, patting his arms and his back, and Harry smiles and relaxes into his touch. It feels nice to be fussed over.
‘Let’s get out of here.’ Malfoy puts an arm around Harry’s waist. ‘Lean on me, shortie.’
Harry snorts. ‘I’m not even two inches shorter than you.’
‘Still shorter.’ Malfoy smiles to show he’s teasing and pulls him tight. Harry relaxes into his arms and allows Malfoy to lead him out of the room. His fingers curl around Malfoy’s waist and a thought slices bright through the fog: how he could let go, truly let go, and Malfoy would catch him.
They’re almost at the lifts when Will emerges from a room and calls to him. ‘Harry, turns out after all I can— Ah.’ A hint of ice colours his voice. ‘I’m glad you found someone to take you home.’
Harry’s too slow to respond, unlike Malfoy. ‘Not someone, Burke. His boyfriend.’
‘Pardon. I didn’t recognise you without a drink in your hand.’
Malfoy gives him a truly terrifying smile. ‘I recognised you. That big head of yours. Hard to miss.’
Malfoy shoves past Will and enters the lift, his arm tight around Harry. Will is still looking in their direction when the door shuts. Even then, as the lift clanks downwards, patients and Healers entering and exiting on each floor, Malfoy doesn’t relax his hold. Harry rests his head on his shoulder and wraps both arms around Malfoy’s waist. ‘You’re good at this,’ he murmurs against his woolen coat. He’s not sure what he means: the pretense or the actual comforting. He feels drowsy, the brief excitement giving way to fatigue. Malfoy is silent until they reach the Apparition point. There, he clutches Harry, his fingers bruising. ‘I’d be so good at this, Harry,’ Malfoy whispers, his lips brushing his forehead. ‘So good, I promise.’
Harry has no chance to ask him what he means. Before he knows it, they’re at home, and Malfoy takes him upstairs, barking orders at Kreacher, who looks delighted with the bossy guest. Before Harry can thank Malfoy or scold him, he’s asleep.
Night has fallen when Harry stirs in his warm bed. The fire crackles merrily accompanied by a soft snoring. Malfoy’s asleep in an armchair, covered by a woolen throw.
‘Draco?’ he calls out gently, but he’s peaceful and Harry lets him sleep. He sits up, finds his glasses and examines the vials on his bedside table. He’s to take two potions every six hours or so. He swallows two hearty sips, scrunching his face at the acrid taste, and heads to the loo. When he returns, having changed into a T-shirt and pyjama bottoms, he sees Malfoy’s awake.
‘How’s your head?’
‘Better.’ Harry slips back in bed, leans on the headboard and stares at him. Malfoy stayed with him all day, well into the evening it seems. Harry feels his throat choking. ‘Were you here the whole time?’
Malfoy shrugs, always uncomfortable when Harry catches him being kind. ‘I popped home to get some things. But I left your elf here to keep an eye on you while I was gone,’ he adds anxiously, as if to reassure Harry that he didn’t abandon him.
Affection surges in Harry’s chest. Malfoy’s wearing a blue shirt, hair ruffled as if he ran his hands through it a lot, and Harry recalls the party and the piano room. The desire to touch Malfoy is overwhelming. ‘Sit with me?’
‘Of course.’ Malfoy sits on the bed next to him and Harry slips his hand in his. Malfoy traces the old scar. I must not tell lies. ‘So many scars,’ Draco whispers. He’s Draco now, Harry’s privileged enough to see the person behind the façade, the tenderness under the spines Draco likes to aim at the world.
‘I like this,’ Harry says.
‘This?’ Draco replies quietly. He strokes Harry’s scar with his thumb. ‘Or maybe this?’ He links his hand with Harry’s, fingers light on fingers. His smile tries for casual; his eyes betray him.
‘All of it,’ Harry murmurs. He shifts closer, his shoulder bumping Draco’s, and nuzzles his hair. ‘This is also nice. Your hair…’ He lowers his head to Draco’s neck. ‘… and your smell. I like your smell.’
Draco’s breathing hard. He turns to Harry and removes his glasses before he strokes his brow. ‘I like your eyes,’ he says, his palm flat on Harry’s cheek.
They’re face to face, gazing at each other, hands travelling on arms and slipping through hair. Harry’s mouth is dry. He caresses Draco’s cheek and reaches his lips. Tracing them, like he did before, he says, ‘I like your lips. I really like your lips.’
Draco swallows. ‘I-I like yours, too.’
Harry’s heart is about to burst. ‘Can I kiss you on the lips, Draco? I’d really like to kiss you.’
‘Yes,’ Draco breathes and Harry kisses him.
Perhaps it’s the concussion that makes him delirious, his body trembling with excitement, his skin tingling. Or perhaps it’s Draco’s taste, sweet and smoky and new and addictive. Harry can’t imagine ever removing his lips from Draco’s, or stopping his tongue from exploring Draco’s mouth. He’s dreamed of this kiss for days now and it’s better than he’d imagined; the wetness, the heat, the softness are thrilling in a way he hasn’t felt in a long time. He hauls Draco closer and tilts his head and the kiss turns deep, slow, rapturous.
Harry’s blood is heating up, waking up every part of his body. Draco grabs at him almost painfully, rising on his knees to kiss Harry as if he can’t reach deep enough, as if he’s trying to burrow inside. Harry pulls him on his lap, pausing to stare at Draco’s flushed face above him, hair on the forehead, eyes shining, lips wet. The happiness on his face is spellbinding.
Harry relishes his warm weight on his lap. Draco’s thighs are strong on his and he runs his hands along them and up Draco’s back to his shoulders, which he pulls towards him to kiss Draco again. ‘Where can I touch you?’
Draco’s expression turns filthy. ‘Well, seeing as it’s you…’ he smiles and breathes in Harry’s ear, ‘… everywhere.’
Harry instantly lowers his hands, squeezes his arse.
Draco chuckles. ‘What about you?’ He trails his hands on Harry’s chest over his T-shirt.
Harry meets his eyes, aroused and breathless. ‘I’m all yours.’
For a brief moment, Draco stares at him, breathing heavily. Then, a wild hunger spreads on his face and he bucks his hips, rubbing his erection against Harry’s. He pulls Harry into a filthy kiss and ruts against him, his hands scrambling to get Harry’s top off. Harry tugs at Draco’s shirt blindly as heat gathers in his groin, making him harder. He rolls Draco onto his back and rips his shirt off, unzips his trousers, but in-between the kisses and the grinding and the touching undressing gets messy. Half their clothes end up on the floor, the others are in shreds and, with an impatient grunt, Harry grabs his wand and vanishes the rest. Propped over Draco, he presses his hips down and grinds. ‘I want you so much,’ he rasps. He nips Draco’s neck, wanting to brand him, to make him his. ‘Merlin, I want you.’
‘You’ve no idea,’ Draco says, panting. His thighs envelop Harry’s hips and he grinds back, hot and flushed pink all over. ‘I’ve wanted this for a long time,’ he confesses, his hands kneading Harry’s arse, pressing him harder against him. ‘Fuck, I want you inside me,’ he gasps. ‘I can’t wait, I want you now.’ He grunts when Harry grabs his arse without delay and dips his fingers inside the cleft, tracing his opening. ‘Yes,’ Draco rasps, ‘yes, Harry, do it,’ and he’s sweaty and desperate and Harry knows it’s all true: Draco wants him, he wants Harry so very much that it makes Harry’s head spin.
‘My dirty, blond boy,’ Harry murmurs against his lips as he slips a lube-coated finger inside Draco rather bluntly, but Draco doesn’t complain. He arches his back and takes it, and Harry finger fucks him urgently until it slides easily in, and then he adds another. Draco’s a vision on his bed, his white locks a mess on Harry’s pillow, his chest glistening with sweat, neck arched, mouth swollen, honey-sweet when Harry captures it in his. Draco looks divine, an obscene golden angel, and Harry tells him how gorgeous he looks. He says, ‘You look perfect here in my sheets, you look like a fucking angel,’ and Draco laughs, startled, rolls Harry over and straddles him. ‘I’m the filthiest angel you can imagine,’ and impales his arse on Harry’s cock.
Perhaps it’s the concussion. Or perhaps it is Draco, but whichever it is, Harry’s drowning under a wave of lust unlike anything he’s known. Draco’s the first man Harry has touched since Will, but he’s also Malfoy, the boy he’s known forever. It’s new and familiar, bewildering in the best way, fucking exhilarating. Draco gyrates over him, a hand digging in Harry’s chest, the other around his leaking cock, his arse hot and tight around Harry, and Harry can’t hold back any longer. He grabs Draco’s hips and fucks him breathlessly, pounding his sweet arse, drenched in sweat, his orgasm approaching like a fucking bullet. ‘Yes, harder, Harry,’ Draco gasps over him and Harry comes with a drawn-out gasp. Draco arches his back as Harry fills his arse, moaning yes, yes, yes, and comes in long stripes on Harry’s stomach and chest. He licks his lips, eyes half-closed, and lies on Harry like a cat, sticky and sweaty and utterly wanton.
Draco rises eventually, cleans them up, but Harry won’t let him stray far. He’d like more, much more than this, he’d like to kiss Draco all over and taste his cock and maybe fuck him again, longer and slower, but a slight headache starts pounding behind his eyes and Draco forbids more excitement. He slips under the covers and Harry pulls him in an embrace.
‘Figured you were the cuddly type,’ Draco mocks.
‘Yeah,’ Harry laughs, his eyes closing, as Draco clings harder and tangles his leg with Harry’s, ‘I’m the cuddly type.’
Draco has no idea what the fuck is happening. He could be dreaming. Maybe he’s the one with the concussion. Maybe he dreamt that he was in a lecture on Vernacular Architecture and Harry called him from the hospital and had sex with him later that night. Maybe it’s all a lie, a delusion, a cruel fiction.
But Draco feels the solid body against him, his skin against Harry’s warm skin, tangible, real; and when he opens his eyes in the grey dawn light, he sees Harry’s face right there, on the pillow next to his. Although Draco has a lot of sex, it’s always a fleeting affair and he never sleeps next to anyone. A sense of wonder washes over Draco as he savours the intimacy; the sight of Harry’s long dark eyelashes and his lovely mouth, soft in sleep; the perfect trust Harry exudes by sleeping peaceful and defenseless next to Draco. Even in his dreams, his fantasies of passionate snogs and furious, fast sex, Draco never imagined he’d be allowed this: witnessing the serenity on Harry’s face as he sleeps naked and quiet in warm covers.
Draco’s happy. He’s so very happy he could cast a hundred Patronuses.
A murmur alerts him that Harry’s stirring. Harry’s eyelashes flutter open, his lips part in a smile; he’s about to say something, but Draco leans forward and kisses him. He holds on to him and kisses him and almost wishes time would stop and capture them like this: insects trapped in amber, preserved for eternity.
‘Sleep well?’ Draco drags his lips on Harry’s neck. Harry smells of sleep and sex, of sweat, of something woodsy. His morning erection is poking Draco’s thigh.
Harry runs a hand along Draco’s spine and gives him a lopsided smile. ‘Best sleep in ages. Though, waking is shaping up to be pretty great, too.’ He shuffles closer and bucks his hips against Draco’s. His touch is tender, his kisses sweet and a little dazed. They’re both a little dazed. They move in tandem, rubbing against each other, slow and sweet like treacle, sighing softly in the other’s ear, and leaving lingering kisses on smooth skin. It’s unbearably beautiful and Draco feels utterly lost. He’ll never recover, not from this. He moves his leg over Harry’s hip, bringing him closer, and feels fire spreading from his groin to every nerve ending in his body. Harry’s cock is hard and hot against his, and the friction is the loveliest torture, bringing Draco to a toe-curling orgasm. When he comes, it’s like something has cracked inside him and split him open and made him new.
They take breakfast in the cavernous kitchen; a stack of toast and some of Jam Today’s finest. Harry offers him a mug of tea, ruffling Draco’s hair as he does so.
Draco feigns irritation at the hair-messing and takes a sip. ‘One sugar and a splash of milk. You remember.’ Suppressing the urge to smother Harry with kisses, Draco affects a casual, nonchalant tone that fools precisely no one, not even the elf mending his ripped shirt in the corner.
‘It was drilled into me,’ Harry teases. He stretches a leg to Draco’s chair. ‘What are your plans for the day? Where were you yesterday when I called?’
Draco taps a finger on the mug; then he says, as casually as he can make it, ‘I was at university. I had to leave a lecture to take your call.’ He smiles at Harry’s stunned look and says, ‘I’ve an assignment to hand in today so I’ll need to Apparate there for an hour or so.’
Draco wanted to keep Kent University for himself alone. His place, his secret, his refuge. Nothing about the campus reminds him of people or incidents he’d rather forget. It’s untainted by anything magical, anything that has to do with Voldemort, Death Eaters, werewolves, the war. It’s a very precious location to him, which he shares with the one person who knows him inside out: Astoria. But now he wants Harry there. He wants Harry everywhere. ‘Want to come with me?’
They Apparate into the woods at the border of the campus, startling a crow, two magpies and a cyclist, who Harry quickly Obliviates. A biting wind hisses through the trees and the air smells of snow. Draco points at the buildings as they trudge up the slope across the frosty field. ‘That’s the library,’ he says, ‘and over there Eliot College…’
Harry seems delighted to be there; perhaps he realises how important this place is for Draco. How this is where he’s trying to discover who he is besides — or despite — his surname and his past. Harry’s cheeks and nose are pink from the cold and he’s wrapped in one of Draco’s chunky scarves since Harry’s wardrobe is sorely lacking in — well, everything. When they reach the School of Architecture, Draco points at a red canteen parked in the square. ‘How about you get us some pad thai while I drop my assignment off?’
Draco’s almost bouncing when he dashes to the computer room, prints his work and slips it inside his professor’s pigeon hole. He greets a couple of familiar faces, wishes Merry Christmas to the secretary and returns outside. Harry is sitting at a picnic table in the square with two overloaded, steaming cartons and Draco pauses, his chest tight. He curls his nails in his palms, biting deep, but it’s not a dream: Harry Potter is here, at Draco’s university, with Draco. He swallows hard and allows himself to luxuriate in this: this unexpected, intense joy that makes his stomach flip. Taking a deep breath, relaxing his shoulders, he strides towards the picnic table. A Warming charm envelops him as he sits down and accepts his pad thai kung.
‘I don’t know what to ask first,’ Harry says, gesturing at the space around them. ‘Architecture? Muggle? Kent?’
Draco explains while they eat. ‘Kent has a decent Architecture department and I liked the campus. Architecture was—’ He pauses for a moment before continuing, but Harry gives him time. He doesn’t pressure Draco, and Draco likes that. ‘After the war I thought long and hard about what I wanted. Sometimes it’s hard to separate one’s desires from … from one’s family’s wishes. I always liked to draw and buildings interest me and, well, here we are.’
‘Muggle, though?’ Harry asks.
Draco sighs exaggeratedly. ‘Blame Astoria. I do.’
Harry chuckles. ‘You as a university student is the cutest thing I can imagine.’ His expression slips from amusement to affection and then to desire. It’s all Draco can do to retain any sort of dignity and stop himself from leaping across the table.
‘We Confunded the Admissions Officer,’ he confides to Harry — who says, ‘A felony, but I didn’t hear that’ — and Draco relates how he pays fees, attends lectures, hands in assignments and tries to blend in as best he can. ‘No one would hire me as an intern after the war,’ he tells Harry, ‘but now I’ll have something to offer that few can. Magical construction is prohibitively expensive. By integrating Muggle techniques with magical theory, affordable housing for witches and wizards is possible. Granger and I have discussed it; theoretically. She doesn’t know about my studies. We’re sure, though, it’s possible to create houses which combine the best of both worlds.’
Harry looks impressed. ‘I can’t believe you kept all this secret. You give the impression that you just party all the time—’
‘I stopped caring about the impression I give a long time ago,’ Draco says. ‘First, yes, I do like to indulge in my vices. Life’s jam today, Harry. Not “jam yesterday and tomorrow but never today”. Although, yeah, in my case, it’s mostly fags, booze and blow...’ He looks at his food, throat tight, and decides to take a leap. ‘And second, I’d rather share what’s important to me with the people who are important to me.’
He keeps his eyes lowered until the silence stretches a little too much. Nervously, he glances at Harry, who’s pushed aside his empty carton and is staring at Draco, his eyes bright. ‘I’m important to you?’
Draco clutches his wooden fork for support. ‘Very,’ he whispers.
Harry reaches out and takes Draco’s hand in his. ‘I like you a lot, Draco Malfoy. I kinda want to snog you right now, but I know some Muggles can be stupid about it and I don’t want to have to use my wand. But I’d also like to see your favourite spots here. Will you show me around?’
This day is becoming the best day. Draco shows him everything: the cinema, the rose garden behind Darwin college, the view from the library. They explore the School of Architecture and snog inside a dark lecture theatre, Harry mouthing at Draco’s neck and softly biting his skin, adding to the collection of lovebites Draco woke up with. Draco leads him to the laundry room, which confuses Harry, until he realises how exciting washing machines are for Draco and he bursts into laughter. Then, he cradles Draco’s face and kisses him in the midst of a cloud of Ocean Breeze and Patchouli while the machines rumble in the background.
Draco tells him how Astoria first conceived the idea of attending a Muggle university as a way of learning about Muggles. ‘She wants to teach Muggle studies in Hogwarts one day. She even befriended some students and two of them invited her to their dorm. It was rather awkward,’ Draco says, ‘when someone asked her to find the can opener so they’d heat up some beans and she had no idea what it was. Apparently, can openers are very popular. Every household has one.’
Harry bites his lip in an obvious attempt not to laugh. ‘Yes, can openers are a big thing here.’
Draco swats his arm. ‘Stop taking the piss. I had no idea what the blasted thing was, either. I still don’t actually. A hundred gadgets to replace a single wand…’ Harry’s grinning, but the fatigue is clear on his face and Draco touches his arm. ‘We’ve been here for a while. Do you need to go back for some rest?’
‘I want to go back, but not for rest,’ Harry says.
Draco takes him to his flat and informs Harry no sex will be forthcoming until he naps for an hour. Leaving Harry to get ready for sleep, Draco texts Astoria from the magic-proof den to tell her to make herself scarce today, and returns to his bedroom where Harry’s not sleeping. Instead, he’s lying on his side, naked, sporting an impressive hard-on and leering at Draco. Well, Draco’s not a saint. He removes his clothes in the blink of an eye and pushes Harry on his back. ‘I’ve heard of this experimental treatment for concussions.’
‘Really? What? Oh— oh…’ Harry gasps when Draco takes his cock in his mouth and sucks him dry.
They have a lot of sex that week, alternating from one’s house to the other’s flat and going from bed to sofa to shower to — once, memorably — Harry’s pantry. Kreacher doesn’t speak to them for days. They spend an evening with Granger and Weasley playing Exploding Snap in their flat. Granger’s sporting the ring Draco helped Weasley choose and after the cards, they gather around the fire with elf-wine. Talk revolves around their upcoming betrothal.
‘Not a ball,’ Granger’s saying, ‘we want something small, intimate. Just the families and some friends.’
‘On New Year’s day,’ Weasley adds. ‘Symbolic and shit.’
Draco glances at Harry in the firelight and tries to get rid of the images of Harry and him leaping over a fire hand-in-hand. It’s unfathomably ridiculous. They’ve only been shagging for four days, and he’s not even sure what Harry wants from him — besides Draco’s cock and arse. Draco has never had a relationship that lasted over a week and he fears he’ll fuck up and lose Harry; he also fears Harry’s just after some fun, nothing serious. Neither fear stops Draco from imagining a life with Harry as if they’re starring in a fucking Muggle commercial. He blames his mother and her lectures on love magic. ‘Betrothals are best done while young,’ his mother had always advised. ‘They involve delicate magic, bonding the partners but also testing them. Many couples fail to last a year and a day. But for the ones who do, a happy marriage is almost always guaranteed.’
Harry nudges his foot and smiles at him, and Draco knows he’s doomed. He can’t imagine ever loving anyone as much as Harry. Harry’s made of everything that’s good in this world, a coruscating galaxy of fairness, passion, blazing devotion and a surprisingly wry humour, and if this doesn’t work out for Draco, well — it doesn’t bear thinking about.
To no one’s surprise and everyone’s exasperation, Harry insists he’ll take part in the Quidditch charity match, egged on by his obsessive boss. ‘Of course I’ll play,’ he says, sitting at Draco’s kitchen island over bowls of carrot and coriander soup, ‘the team needs me and besides, practice went fine; the first two days were hard, now I feel A-OK—’
‘I’m going to fucking tie you in bed until after the game,’ Draco tells him. ‘What if you fall off your broom? Your balance has been—’
‘Afraid I’ll win the game and you’ll lose your bet?’ Harry crosses his arms.
‘I’m mostly afraid you’re a bigger idiot than I’d thought,’ Draco snaps.
They glare at each other for a moment. Harry tilts his head. ‘Draco Malfoy, are you by any chance worried about me?’
‘Ha! Of course not!’ Draco lies through his teeth. ‘I’d just hate to see the Healers win when you fail to catch the Snitch due to your broken neck. I don’t like Healers. Annoying, pedantic, pompous little shits.’
‘Are you talking about all Healers or a particular one?’
Draco purses his lips and stirs his soup. Burke’s name hasn’t been mentioned in the last five days he and Harry have been … shagging? Seeing each other? Draco doesn’t want to utter it; it feels like a curse that would break the spell of whatever is happening between them. So stupid. He doesn’t want another You-Know-Who between them, yet he feels unable to ask Harry about what’ll come after tomorrow, after the match and the gala. Harry hasn’t mentioned anything either, any plans for the Christmas holidays, nothing, as if the world will end tomorrow.
Harry comes and wraps his arms around Draco. ‘I can do it,’ he says. ‘I can win the game. I can beat the Healers.’ He kisses the top of Draco’s head. ‘I also wouldn’t say no to the tying up, FYI.’
‘Duly noted.’ Draco shoves his fears to a dark corner and pulls Harry for a kiss, which turns hot and filthy. The carrot soup goes cold, but Draco is warm all over, perched on the counter with his legs around Harry, hips undulating slowly and mouths soft on each other’s.
Saturday dawns cold and steel grey, threatening sleet, but the stadium is decked in festive colours, fighting against the gloominess. Pine-green banners with the Dementor Victim Clinic logo whip in the fierce air. Recovery is possible, it reads in curly letters, but Draco’s father hasn’t spoken since his second sojourn in prison, and Draco knows recovery isn’t always possible when Voldemort has broken you good and proper. He shakes the unpleasant thoughts out of his head and climbs the steps, trying to find his friends in the din. There are almost a thousand excited people, laughing and yelling and greeting each other. The families of the Healers and the Aurors occupy opposite sides of the stadium, waving banners with the St Mungo’s or the DMLE’s logo.
Granger’s bouncy curls catch his eye behind the family of an Auror, their faces painted scarlet. He climbs the last two steps, sidestepping raucous children and loud teenagers, and flops on his seat with relief.
‘Just in time, the match is about to start,’ Granger tells him.
Astoria, in black denim and cherry red Doc Martens, gives Draco a wave from the row behind. Ginny Weasley sits next to her, brushing her fingers through Astoria’s undercut and then sliding them deep in her hair. If it wasn’t this loud, Draco’s sure he’d hear Astoria purr. Pansy is in Eurig’s family’s private box, to which Draco’s been invited, but Draco would rather not make small talk with the Parkinsons and the Cadwalladers, and Blaise is somewhere with some witch he’s started seeing.
The seats are charmed against the cold, but not the pitch. Frost sparkles on the ground. The wind howls; it’ll be easy to unseat players, especially anyone who’s hit his head recently. Draco has his wand at the ready.
‘There’s a last minute change,’ Weasley informs him, as the crowd clamours at the sight of the teams entering the pitch. Weasley has to yell in his ear to be heard. ‘Maggie’s on instead of Stevens.’
‘That’s good, he was atrocious,’ Draco yells back. He takes out his Omnioculars and focuses on the two Captains shaking hands.
The teams kept the colours of their professional uniforms: lime green and scarlet. It’s almost a Slytherin-Gryffindor game, and like in school, Draco only has eyes for one figure. Harry’s fierce and beautiful, gorgeous in his leathers, his hair lashing in the wind, his eyes blazing as he stares at—
Burke. Harry’s face doesn’t betray any longing, but a mixture of emotions that Draco can’t decipher. The intensity in his eyes should be burning Burke’s skin, but Burke is giving back as good as he gets, staring right at Harry, and Draco removes the Omnioculars and lights a cigarette, trying to calm his racing heart. Jealousy is unnecessary. Burke is seeing someone else. Harry’s happy, he thinks. Harry’s happy with Draco. He thinks.
The players soar in the sky and the game starts.
‘Firsh from the Healers has possession of the Quaffle, passes to Bhatti, she misses — but Burke catches it, nice dive — dodges the Bludger — speeds to the goalposts — and another Bludger runs him off course, this one by Auror Baptiste. Quaffle is with the Aurors, Rashid to Wilson, back to Rashid, she swerves — she’s fast, look at that, almost at the goalposts — Baptiste sends a Bludger out of her way — Aurors score!’
Half of the stadium erupts in a deafening roar. Confetti falls on Draco’s leather jacket and he brushes it off, as he sees the Healers regroup and launch a series of attacks. Robards lets in three goals in quick succession. Lime-green banners wave from the other side and the Weasley siblings groan every time Wilson from the Aurors fumbles a catch or Craine fails to feint convincingly. Robards proceeds to miss every single goal the Healer Chasers aim at him, bringing the score to ninety-twenty, but the Aurors’ Beaters are not to be trifled with: these people know aggression. The last minute change has helped. Maggie Baptiste, Harry’s partner, is small and in her forties, but she’s truly bloodthirsty. Draco smirks when he notices how often she sends Bludgers at Burke’s head and decides he might buy her some flowers.
Halfway through the game, the sky delivers what it promised and sleet starts pouring in heavy, freezing sheets. It has the surprising effect of bolstering the Aurors. It makes sense, when Draco considers it. Aurors do spend a lot of time tailing suspects or chasing criminals in adverse conditions, unlike Healers who work in a cushy, heated hospital. Even more surprising is a surge in Robard’s Keeping skills. He saves three goals, eyes like slits against his opponents, and Wood is shouting from below, ‘Yes, Gawain! Use your killing instinct! Crush your enemies!’
The game continues. ‘Auror Wilson has the Quaffle — and drops it — Rashid dives, catches it — Firsh tries to block her but fails — and ouch! That collision must have been painful. Still hundred-forty for the Healers, and Healer Davidson is in possession—’ All the while, Harry’s circling the pitch, closely tailed by his Healer counterpart.
‘If Harry doesn’t get the Snitch,’ Astoria tells him, when she comes to sit next to Draco for a bit, sharing her hot crup, ‘the Aurors will lose.’
Not only will the Aurors lose, but the increasing ferocity of the wind is affecting play. Players are blown off course, missing the goalpost or passing to mid-air where a team player used to be before the wind shoved them somewhere else. Harry’s swerving a little, unsteady on his Firebolt, but he keeps his seat. Draco discovers he can be concerned about Harry falling off his broom and at the same time aroused by the way Harry clenches his glorious arse and thighs to keep balanced.
And suddenly he’s gone — diving so fast towards the ground that Draco thinks he’s fallen and whips out his wand. A collective gasp is heard by hundreds of mouths as Harry careens straight to the pitch, blurry in the sleet, tailed by the other Seeker.
‘Potter’s speeding down — too fast, I think, he won’t brake soon enough — but yes, he pulls out of the dive — he’s caught the Snitch! Aurors win, a hundred to a hundred and ninety!’
Cheers and horns shake the stadium as Harry rises with the silver wings beating in his palm, a grin on his face. His team flies towards him for a mid-air hug, but Harry quickly disentangles himself, speeds towards the bleachers and comes to a stop in front of Draco.
The commentator is still blabbering. ‘—oh, would you look at that, people, the Boy Who Lived is—’
Draco ignores the speaker’s voice, because Harry’s grinning at him, pale and tired and windswept, but radiant with joy. He offers the Snitch to Draco. ‘This is yours. I got it for you.’
An audible awww from the spectators reverberates around the stadium, as Draco closes his hand around Harry’s palm and kisses him. Harry’s lips are freezing cold, and Draco’s doing his best to warm them up with his own lips and his tongue. His white shirt and designer jeans are getting all wet from contact with Potter’s soaking uniform, but Draco doesn’t stop. He kisses Harry until he has no breath and then he kisses him some more.
Celebratory drinks are in order. Down in reception, they all split up. Granger and Weasley leave to reserve tables in a Muggle pub. Ginny Weasley needs to “pick up something from her place” with Astoria, which is a euphemism if Draco ever heard one. Before she leaves, Astoria gives him a hug. He’s missed her. He’s been so busy with the last couple of days of term and Christmas gift-buying and Harry-shagging that he’s only told her of the new development over a quick cappuccino in Shoreditch. She gives him a kiss on the cheek and grins. ‘And you owe it all to me!’
Draco huffs. ‘Excuse you, but the—’ he drops his voice, ‘—deal was my idea.’
‘You only came up with it, because I broke up with you. You’re welcome.’ Her eyes twinkle and she lets the crowd swallow her as she follows Ginny out of reception.
Draco lingers, waiting for Harry. He greets acquaintances from his parents’ social circle, flips off the reporters asking for a quote, and smirks at Todd, who’s with a handsome man waving a small scarlet flag; Draco thinks he might be Rashid’s younger brother. The lifts from the private boxes open to reveal Pansy and Eurig. Pansy’s matched her short leather skirt with a long cardigan, ankle boots and a Muggle baseball cup, because if there’s one thing Pansy can do, that’s accessorizing.
She grabs his shoulders. ‘That was the most romantic shit I’ve ever seen. Should’ve bet money back in school, honestly. You two are meant for each other.’
Eurig on the other hand is none too pleased about Draco’s tips that the Aurors sucked.
‘They did suck,’ Pansy says. ‘One of them kept dropping the Quaffle.’
‘I lost quite a bit of money today,’ Eurig says, sounding unconcerned. ‘Everyone I know bet against them based on what Draco said. You must have lost money, too.’
Draco smiles. ‘You were in school with us, Eurig. We’ve all seen Harry in action. I for one learned never to bet against him.’ Draco would like to be the person who would donate his immense earnings to a charity, but he’s thinking he’d rather take Harry for a trip. Somewhere in Europe maybe. Somewhere warm.
Eventually, the reception empties. Draco plays with the snitch in his hand, marvelling at how such a mundane thing can become so precious to him. Robards exits in high spirits, telling a reporter, ‘Winning was never our priority. We were happy to do our part for charity.’ The reporter abandons him for Joaquin Villena, who gives a short speech about participation being what matters and some such rot, and follows, looking somber, the Head of Healers, who’s not a happy woman. Most of the players soon cross the reception, answer some questions for the reporters and head out in the insistent sleet for the nearest pub.
Silence finally descends. Harry’s taking ages, and Draco wonders if he can surprise him in the showers. He shoves the snitch in his pocket and walks down the corridor.
The changing room door is ajar. Draco pauses when he hears murmurs, peeks in.
Harry’s dressed, his backpack by his feet, talking to Burke, who’s in a pair of grey trousers and nothing else. They’re standing very close.
‘Ever since the other day, I can’t stop thinking about you,’ Burke says. ‘I worry that letting you go was the biggest mistake of my life. What do you say, Harry? Do you think you could give us a second chance?’
Harry takes his ex’s hands in his. ‘You’ve no idea how long I’ve wanted to hear that.’
Draco takes a step back, then another until his back bumps into a wall. He can’t hear what they’re saying now, but he doesn’t need to. He should have known it wouldn’t last. How dare he think that Harry was going to choose him; him instead of a Healer who was on the good side when it mattered. Sex with Draco and a relationship with a Death Eater are two very different things. A small bell at the back of Draco’s head warns frantically that he might be going into shock, he might be having a heart attack, he might be doing something, because he literally can’t breathe or think or move. His only thought is “home”. Go home. He Apparates instantly, Splinching himself only a little.
‘You’ve no idea how long I’ve wanted to hear that,’ Harry tells his ex. ‘For over two months, I dreamt about us getting back together.’
‘I’m so happy to hear you say that,’ Will exhales. ‘I was afraid I’d blown it. See, the thing with Joaquin… He’s a great bloke, but — but with you I felt I was building a future. Perhaps, perhaps even a family.’
Harry clutches Will’s hands one last time. He closes his eyes, memorises the feel of his skin so he’ll remember what his first boyfriend’s hands felt like, and lets them go.
He lets Will go.
‘Will,’ he says softly, ‘I’m not saying yes.’
Will’s eyes snap to his face and Harry takes a deep breath. ‘We were building something. But the foundations were shaky. You were right; it wasn’t working out.’
‘I-I see.’ Will takes a step back, looking confused, shocked. Hurt. A crack echoes outside and they snap their heads in unison, but no one is out there. The corridor is empty.
‘So… that’s it for you? You feel nothing now?’
‘Of course I have feelings,’ Harry says. ‘It’s just—’
How can he tell Will that he feels a surge of affection every time he glances at him, but (and it’s a big but) all Harry can think of right now is running to Draco, who’s waiting for him at reception. He’s breathless with the need to kiss Draco, to hold him and taste him, even though it’s been only half an hour since the last time they kissed. Harry’s need for his touch is so acute that it has caught him unawares this past week, rearranging his insides until only the force of it remains.
Will seems to read all of this in Harry’s face and he leans against his locker, rubbing his face. Harry wishes he knew if he made the right decision. Will’s trustworthy. He gave Harry a home and he wants a family and Harry knows his good and his bad sides by now. He knows what he’s getting with Will, unlike with Draco, who’s a loose cannon to put it mildly. Harry has no idea if he and Draco have a future — if Draco wants a family, like Harry does. If he wants to continue their “deal” and see where it takes them.
But Harry wants to take the chance. He’ll never forgive himself if he doesn’t try.
‘Is it Malfoy then? You’ve fallen for that … that bastard?’ Will’s anger cuts through Harry’s thoughts and stirs his own. It’s always been like this with them. Conversation with Will is a tennis match, each flinging shots at the other.
‘You don’t know anything about Draco,’ Harry says, his voice icy. ‘You’ve no fucking idea what he’s like. And how dare you talk about my boyfriend like that.’
‘You’re such a fucking hypocrite, Harry. All that going on about the war and you go and fuck the man who did Voldemort’s bidding.’
‘See,’ Harry says, completely incensed now, ‘once again you prove how fucking ignorant you are about everything. While you were skiing in Oslo and waiting patiently for people to finish killing each other and for the dust to settle, we had to make some fucking choices. And Draco made a whole lot of wrong ones, I grant you. But if Hermione’s forgiven him, if Ron’s forgiven him, if Bill’s forgiven him, if Katie’s forgiven him, if Luna’s forgiven him, then your opinion counts for fuck-all.’
Harry’s blood is boiling. Every time he fights with Will proves how disastrous their arguments can be. Harry grabs his backpack and is about to storm out of the room, but stops at the door, rage still burning through his veins. ‘When you know what it’s like to have people dying because of your choices, then you can come and talk to me about Draco, or tell me I’m “always going on about the war.” Until then, you can fuck off. Go suck your bloke’s dick to amend for your pathetic performance today. We fucking beat you.’
He slams the door behind him and stalks to reception. His rage still flares bright and he wants to find Draco, Apparate home and ravish him. And then hold him tight all night, and to hell with the gala.
The reception is empty. Draco’s nowhere. Harry checks the bleachers, but only the cleaners are there, vanishing the confetti and food wrappers. Despite Harry calling his name several times in the mirror, Draco doesn’t answer. Suppressing a feeling of unease, Harry Apparates to the pub where the others are expecting him.
‘Our champion!’ they call when he enters, breaking in applause and cheers, garnering looks from the Muggles. Food and beverages litter the table and his friends are well on the way of intoxication. Everyone’s there, Hermione and Ron, Maggie with her husband and her eldest daughter, Ginny and Astoria, even Neville, who had a “Herbological emergency” and missed the match, but has come down for the gala. Everyone’s there but Draco.
After greeting everyone, patting Neville on the back, and sipping from a pint Ron hands him, Harry drags Astoria from Ginny’s lap to a quiet corner. ‘Have you seen Draco?’
She’s got all her piercings on display today and grins at him with a knowing look. ‘Draco? Your boyfriend? The boyfriend you’re snogging and shagging and loooving—’ She’s a little tipsy and isn’t taking this seriously.
‘Yes, that Draco. Is he here? Is he in the gents’ or something?’
She shrugs. ‘Haven’t seen him. He was waiting for you, last I saw him.’
‘Great, thanks, you’ve been a big help.’
She sticks her tongue out at him, but as she leaves, she turns and walks backwards. ‘Don’t worry, he’ll be here. He’s probably somewhere crying over that Snitch you gifted him. He’s such a sop, I swear. Ahem, don’t tell him I said that, though.’ She flashes a last smile at him before she sits down.
Harry wishes she was right, but he has a niggling suspicion that something else is going on. He checks the loo just in case, and returns to interrupt a hushed conversation between his two best friends. ‘Draco,’ he tells them, leaning over their chairs. ‘Where the fuck is he?’
‘Would he be with his friends? Astoria said that Pansy had reservations at Morton’s for six. Maybe he’s gone with them.’
‘I don’t think so,’ he murmurs. ‘He’s never not met me when he said he would.’ It’s baffling.
‘Have you checked at his place?’ Ron suggests. ‘Maybe he went to change or something. He does like his outfits.’
Harry snorts. ‘That’s an understatement.’
‘Why don’t you go and have a look, and if he comes here in the meantime, I’ll Patronus you,’ Hermione offers.
Harry nods, grateful. He kisses Hermione on the cheek, fist bumps Ron, and finds an empty toilet cubicle to Apparate to Knightsbridge.
Harry stops to buy flowers first. The feeling of unease is stronger now he’s alone and the flowers provide some support. As he opts for rare blue tulips — although Draco has gardenias at home, Harry noticed several drawings of tulips in Draco’s sketchbook — he wonders if the unease is simply a product of Harry’s conversation with Will. Harry’s made a decision that leaves him exhilarated when he considers it. He’d wondered, those first couple of days of sleeping with Draco, what he’d do if Will offered to have him back. Now he knows: he’s all in.
‘Auror business again, Mr Potter?’ Temples, the receptionist, asks when he sees him. Harry had flashed his badge the first time he visited Draco with Thai food and an apology, and Temples had been tactful enough not to enquire as to what Auror business involved takeaway.
Harry points at the bouquet. ‘Not today.’ Climbing the stairs, he can’t shake off the memory of that first visit and clutches the tulips harder. If Draco’s not at home, he’ll have to surprise him with flowers at Morton’s. The press will have a field day. Surprisingly, the thought doesn’t bother him that much.
He knocks on Draco’s door and waits for some time, tapping a foot on the welcome mat. Just when he’s about to leave, it creaks open. Harry smiles nervously, feeling as if he’s on a first date, only for his smile to fade when he takes in the sight of Draco’s cold demeanour. His breath falters, but he assumes a light-hearted tone. ‘Hey, I thought you’d wait for me.’
‘I had something to do.’ Draco doesn’t invite him in so Harry offers the bouquet.
‘These are for you. Can I come in?’
‘So many gifts.’ Draco goes back inside his flat, leaving the door open. It’s not an invitation, but he didn’t shut the door in his face, so Harry takes it as half of one, and enters. He leaves the tulips on a side table since Draco’s made no attempt to take them and follows him in the living room, feeling as if he took a wrong turn somewhere and has found himself in an unfamiliar land. He tries to steer the conversation to something concrete and familiar, like what time he’ll pick Draco up for the gala.
‘Hey, so about tonight…’ Harry starts but Draco interrupts him.
‘Tonight is ideal, isn’t it?’ he says casually, examining his nails. He leans back on the sofa, a leg crossed over the other in a relaxed pose, but the tendon pulsing in his neck betrays the tension running through him.
‘Er, for what?’
‘For breaking up.’ Draco’s voice is light, emotionless. ‘I’d say the gala is the best place to end our little charade.’
Harry’s gone icy all over. ‘Charade?’
‘Well, wasn’t it?’
Every word Harry wants to say stops in his throat and chokes him. He breathes hard and looks at Draco, immaculate on his pristine white sofa, and tries to reconcile the past week’s events with the man staring at him calmly, unconcerned. A finger tapping on the leather sofa is the only sign Draco isn’t as relaxed as he appears to be. A long moment passes. When Harry speaks, his voice is strangled. ‘So there never was any future for us.’
‘And this past week—’
For a fleeting second, Draco’s expression becomes wounded but shifts, mercurial and fast, to one Harry’s rather familiar with: crystal sharp cruelty. ‘Listen, darling,’ his accent a hot knife cutting into Harry, ‘it was all good fun, wasn’t it? I mean, I am giving it up for anybody. I was bored. You were there.’
Harry’s head is spinning. ‘Your mother was right. This was a joke for you.’
‘It was.’ Draco turns vicious eyes on him. ‘I just wanted to fuck the saviour. Memorable; but I’ve had better.’ Every word coming from Draco’s mouth is a cruel, calculated slap.
‘You’re lying.’ It’s all Harry can think in the tornado of feelings that is laying pure devastation inside him: Draco’s lying, lying, lying.
‘Whatever gets you through the day, sweetheart. I’ll meet you at the Ministry at nine, like promised, and am willing to break up spectacularly in front of everyone. I can make a good scene if I want to. Then you’ll be free to pursue—’ Draco gulps and tenses, his body coiled. ‘One last night and I’ll never have to see you again,’ he says, voice really low, and shuts his eyes.
Harry stands and staggers towards the door. A crunched noise under his foot makes him look: it’s the communication mirror, shattered in a thousand pieces. It’s the sight of it, glittering shards on the wooden floor, which drives the point home for Harry. Draco wants nothing more to do with him.
He pauses by the door and glances back at Draco, who’s gone to the fireplace and is poking the fire, his back to Harry. Nothing makes sense. Harry has no idea how he could be so mistaken about what Draco really felt.
Draco’s voice is raspy. ‘Just go, Harry.’ He won't even look at him.
Harry’s not sure he can manage to Apparate. He staggers down the steps, hails the Knight Bus and rides to Islington, clutching his stomach, sure he’ll be sick any minute now.
Numb. That’s what he feels. As if the fight has gone out of him. Harry wears his fancy suit from the soiree and stares at his mirror, not frowning or anything, just numb. Despite his aversion to wizarding parties, Harry had been looking forward to the gala, because he liked to watch Draco work a crowd. His caustic remarks and amusing bits of gossip made Harry laugh. Draco could make a party worth going to.
Taking the staff entrance, Harry mingles with the crowd pouring towards the atrium. Draco’s dusting the ash off his shoulders by the Floos. He’s worn no rings today, no accessories, nothing but an austere black suit over a black shirt, which makes him look ghostly pale. He doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes. They head towards the din down the corridor, stiff next to each other, not talking; two statues on a date.
A cacophony of voices, a whirl of movement, a riot of colour pummels Harry when he reaches the razzle-dazzle of the party. The Ministry has pulled out all the stops: blinking fairy lights, clumps of mistletoe, overflowing champagne, the throbbing sound of a bass, gaudy garlands snaking around the room, squeaking wishes to partygoers. There must be a thousand people there and each one is adding to Harry’s headache. His temples are throbbing, an insistent, dull ache he ignores. Faces slide close to him, talk to him, shake his hand; cameras flash in his face; someone shoves a glass in his hand; someone else asks for a quote. Harry replies in monosyllables, ignores the reporter, downs the drink. He and Draco have parted ways in the swarm. Draco is at the bar, downing shots, and Harry finds a corner to lean on and stare at him. He can’t help it — he’s always stared at Draco, even back in school when he hated him. Uninvited memories assault him: Draco’s body under him, pale, arching in ecstasy. The ‘wanted you forever’ Draco whispered in his ear. The way he pressed close to Harry when they slept. How could he—? It doesn’t make any sense. It just doesn’t, but the more Harry tries to figure out what happened, the more his chest hurts. Better to be numb.
Draco’s eyes search the crowd until they land on Harry. He stares for a moment, his mouth working, and turns to the bar. An older man, late thirties probably, says something to Draco. The man grins at Draco’s reply, slides his eyes over him. Harry burns with the desire to hurt the man. The idea he might be the one laying hands on Draco is destroying him.
He shouldn’t have come. Fuck Draco’s wish for a public break-up. Harry heads to the exit, unable to tolerate this party any longer. In the street, he breathes in the night air. He starts to walk.
Draco thought he knew torture. He’d been sliced open — by Harry no less, he’d been Crucioed by Voldemort, he’d been terrorized by his aunt. Agony isn’t an abstract concept for Draco, it’s a reality he endured in his very bones for a long time. He’s familiar with it just as he’s familiar with the ridges of his wand.
But he’s never been in quite such pain before. At the gala, he’s mostly immobile by the bar, because his blood is lead. The food is ash in his mouth. He lights one cigarette after the other and forgets to smoke them. He can’t feel his body, except for the pulsing, bleeding wound in his chest.
The man flirting with him at the bar disgusts him. He’s not bad looking, sexy in an older man way, but the idea of touching anyone other than Harry — of having to go through life knowing what it feels like and then losing it— Draco feels sick. He excuses himself and escapes to the toilets.
He splashes water on his face, bent over the sink and trying to stifle a wave of nausea. Draco wishes there was a potion for heartbreak, something that could make everything better, but not even magic can help there; nothing can. He’s got to survive this all on his own.
The door lets in a man, who heads to the urinals. Draco straightens but doesn’t leave. A hot spear of jealousy lances through his chest as he examines him from the corner of his eye. The bloke zips himself up and comes to the sinks, turns the tap on. Their eyes meet in the mirror.
‘Malfoy,’ Burke says.
‘Burke.’ Draco doesn’t know what’s keeping him there, next to the man Harry prefers to be with.
‘You must be happy,’ Burke says.
‘Delighted. About what?’
Burke scowls. ‘Did you think I had no idea all this time? Harry didn’t, but it isn’t the kind of thing he notices. Ever since I met you, I knew you fancied Harry. You wanted him. And,’ he shakes his fingers to dry them off, ‘now you have him.’
‘Oh yes,’ Draco says, ‘I have him.’ The mockery is stinging. ‘You must think I’m an idiot. I overheard you asking him to get back together in the changing rooms.’
Burke’s astonishment — Draco notices with some surprise — seems genuine. ‘I did. And he turned me down. We had a blazing row,’ he continues, turning back to the mirror and running a hand through his curls. ‘To be fair— I think he’s right after all. I miss him, but— he’s too hung up on the past.’
The fact that Draco is still on his feet is nothing less than miraculous. ‘He turned you down? You’re not going to get back together?’
‘Didn’t he tell you?’ Burke asks, curious.
Draco hastens to sneer, even as his heart is pounding. ‘I’ve put his mouth to a different use all afternoon, Burke.’
Burke’s eyes run over Draco in distaste. ‘No idea how he fell for you.’
When he leaves, Draco clutches the porcelain sink for support. Harry came to see him with flowers and he — oh shit. Draco fucked everything up.
He weaves through the crowd, bumping into people, shoving them out of the way. Harry’s not in the corner he saw him last. He dives onto the dancefloor around the swirling couples, attracting curious glances, and checks the other set of toilets. Harry’s not at the bar or the buffet, nor with Kingsley or Robards. Maggie hasn’t seen him. Finally, Draco finds the two people who are sure to know where he is and barely manages not to stomp his foot in frustration when they have no clue of Harry’s whereabouts either.
‘What’s it with you two today?’ Granger says. ‘He was looking for you at the pub and now you lost him, too…’ Her words trail off when she takes in his expression. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I might have fucked things up.’
A sudden bubble of silence balloons around them. Weasley’s tucking his wand back in his pocket. ‘Explain.’
Draco does, his eyes still searching the crowd for the tell-tale mess of hair. ‘… but turns out Harry refused him, and I went and said—’ He can't bear to say more, furious and ashamed of the cruelty he unleashed towards Harry. He doesn't need to, though. Both their faces seem to understand and swift action ensues. Weasley casts a Patronus and Harry’s stag appears a moment later, saying he’s “out for a walk.”
‘When he’s upset,’ Granger says, ‘he walks by the river. He likes to look at the London Eye.’
‘Thank you, Granger.’ Draco lands a quick peck on her cheek, but she grabs his forearm.
‘What did we say?’
He bows his head a little. ‘Hermione.’
‘There, there. That didn’t hurt, did it?’ She beams at him.
Weasley gives him a light shove. ‘Go on then, mate, go get him.’
Draco smiles at the stupid Gryffindors he’s come to be so fond of, and runs.
Outside it’s dark as only the darkest night of the year can be. Draco runs through little-travelled roads, past brooding government buildings, sulking guards and a frozen park. His breath puffs out like a cloud and his lungs are burning up with the effort, but he doesn’t stop. He jogs along Thames, glancing at the few passers-by.
The Eye looms across the river, but he’s almost at Whitehall gardens before a figure leaning on the balustrade catches his eye. He can’t make out hair or face in the darkness, but the man isn’t hunched up as he should have been, out in this freezing night in just a smart suit.
Draco catches his breath, his heart beating fast, as a light snow starts falling. He’s not sure he can take it if Harry rebuffs him, but he has to try. Draco approaches slowly, the caress of Harry’s warming charm brushing against Draco’s right side. Harry glances at him and immediately stiffens. He turns back to the Eye, but the warming charm expands to cover Draco.
‘Do you want to hear a story?’ Draco asks.
Harry doesn’t say yes, but he’s not leaving either, so Draco plunges in. ‘There was once a man, who was in love with a guy he knew from school. I mean, madly, head over heels, desperately in love. He never thought they’d date, not in a million years, but somehow they got together. The man was the happiest man on earth. But, one cold morning, he decided to surprise the bloke he loved in the showers after a game—’
Harry snaps his head back at him, starting to say something, but Draco presses on. ‘The man he loved wasn’t alone. He was talking to someone from his past, who was telling him they belonged together.’ Draco can feel Harry’s gaze burning on him, but he keeps his eyes across the river on the eternally spinning wheel. ‘Our man, the hero of this story, fell into pieces. He left — Splinched himself, the idiot — and missed the second half of the conversation and then behaved like a total wanker to the man he loved.’
Silence descends, soft as the snow dusting the boats bobbing gently on Thames. Draco dares to glance at Harry, who’s staring at him. His expression is softening as he considers Draco’s speech. Finally, Harry speaks. ‘Where did you Splinch yourself?’
Draco pouts. ‘Here.’ He shows the wound in the flesh of his palm. ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to wank for a fortnight.’
Harry purses his lips as if he’s stifling a snort. He turns to gaze at the Eye and speaks in a casual tone. ‘You could ask someone else to wank you. That other man in the story, maybe.’
‘I don’t know if he’d up for it,’ Draco admits. ‘I fear I might have ruined things completely.’
The snowflakes melt in their heat bubble, but the boats, the pavement and the balustrade are slowly turning white. A man walking his dog passes them, huffing into his hands. Draco waits, his heart pounding.
Harry’s still staring at the London Eye. ‘About four-five months after the war, me, Hermione and Ron rode the Eye. We were so wound-up that day. We’d been to Fred’s grave, and we were pissed off at the Ministry still using Dementors, and I was hounded day and night by the press… We got a capsule on our own and sat on the carpet and looked at London falling away. All those huge buildings looked tiny. And I thought that perhaps we were too close to the ugliness, the war and the funerals and the trials, but once we had some distance from it, it’d all feel small. It gave me hope, you know? That things would get better if only we were patient. That’s why I come here when— It reminds me that pain can one day become so small that you can carry it inside you without breaking.’
Harry’s voice cracks a little. Draco presses closer, clasps Harry’s hand, and Harry allows it. Draco is familiar with the pain he means; he squeezes Harry’s hand tight, wanting to let him know he shares it. When Harry continues, his voice is steady. ‘That was the day Hermione decided to start her anti-Dementor campaign even though she had no scrap of support from the Ministry. She’d no idea you’d step in and offer her money and connections. None of us truly believed we’d ever manage to banish Dementors from Azkaban, but we did — you and Hermione did. Ron was in a bad way, too. He wasn’t doing well those days, god, he wasn’t. That’s when he decided to quit Auror training and work with his brother. He grew close to his mum, helped her at home, and— who’d have thought Ron would start making jam of all things. But it kept him sane. It kept him going. And the Prison Reformation Scheme kept Hermione going, and time passed and we’re all happy now. We’re doing OK, I think. And no,’ he turns to Draco, ‘you haven’t ruined things.’
‘Thank fuck,’ Draco exhales, overwhelming relief crashing over him like a wave. Harry’s already turned to him and Draco pulls him close, as close as it’s possible for two bodies to come without merging. ‘I was sure I fucked everything up — I didn’t mean a word I said before in my flat, it was all a lie… I was so hurt when I thought— and I hurt you and I’m so sorry—’ He’s blabbering and kissing Harry’s cheeks and his mouth, and Harry’s kissing him back and snow is swirling all around them.
Draco doesn’t know if Harry’s aware of doing it, but the temperature of the warming charm has risen, making Draco almost sweat in his suit. Draco likes to think it’s because Harry’s happy. He kisses him again, deep and urgent, his hands roaming Harry’s body, wanting to touch every part of him at once. Eventually, one of them slides into Harry’s hair. He tugs it and Harry moans and drags his mouth from Draco, lowering to suck at his neck.
‘That was quite a declaration of love,’ Harry tells him, licking his ear. His hair is tickling Draco’s face and his hands slide under Draco’s jacket, strong and greedy.
Draco cradles Harry’s face and looks him in the eye. There’s a time for honesty and the time is now, no matter how terrified it makes him. ‘I do love you, Harry Potter. I’ve loved you for a long time. I can’t imagine ever not loving you. The only thing I pretended was that I pretended I pretended.’
Harry grins, his eyes dazed, full of joy and wonder. Draco kisses him again, not expecting a reciprocation of love. He knows Harry isn’t there yet, but he’s happy to wait. He’s happy to try and make Harry love him. ‘I couldn’t bear the thought I’d lost you. That I couldn’t touch you again.’
Harry clutches him tighter. ‘Same. I know why you’d think— but this week— what you make me feel—’ He drags warm lips over Draco’s jaw. ‘It’s always been you on my mind, Draco. Ever since I was eleven, when all I wanted was to punch you.’
Draco laughs. His chest is light and he kisses Harry, because he simply can’t stop. ‘I can’t wait to properly date you.’
‘I thought that’s what we were doing,’ Harry says. ‘Only now you won’t be lying to your mother.’
‘I’m not,’ Draco confesses. When Harry looks at him questioningly, he explains. ‘I told her the truth at the Nithercott party. After she saw us at the piano, she told me how happy she was for me, and I couldn’t bear lying anymore. It stopped being one of our games. So I confessed the lot: the arrangement and that I loved you and how it hurt; thinking you’re feigning your attraction to me, hoping you’re not. I was very much a Gryffindor,’ he informs Harry, who laughs. ‘I was all honest and direct and everything. Mother promised no more matchmaking.’
‘So now everyone knows.’ Harry has pushed Draco against the balustrade and is slowly unraveling him with his kisses and his caresses. ‘Everyone knows you’re mine.’
‘And you’re mine, too,’ Draco says, still a little stunned that this is real.
A voice at the back of Draco’s mind suggests they should be finding a less public place, somewhere to kiss and love each other, somewhere to celebrate. The warming charm starts fading. Snowflakes powder Harry’s hair and the cold creeps in. Draco holds Harry tight. ‘Do you want to go back to the party? Or home?’
‘Home,’ Harry says, nuzzling Draco’s hair. ‘Take us home.’
8 months later
‘Now, listen again: Elaine is the Hufflepuff, Portia is the Slytherin. You will talk to Elaine, not Portia. Repeat after me…’
Harry rolls his eyes. ‘I won’t speak with Portia.’
Draco smoothes down Harry’s shirt. It’s one of Draco’s actually, but Harry likes to borrow them, as if he doesn’t have enough of his clothes lying around in Draco’s flat. ‘Good. Not Portia. Elaine. You remember what happened the last time you talked with Portia.’
Two hours later, Draco glances at Harry standing in the doorway and knows. ‘You talked with Portia.’
Harry just drops his head.
‘So what’s the damage?’ he asks as Harry flops next to him. ‘Go on, spill. Promised her the contents of your vault, your kidney, your firstborn?’
‘Haha. Nothing so terrible. Just… er… Grimmauld Place,’ Harry says this very low.
‘Grimmauld Place?! You gave them your house?’
‘Not to own! Just… er … to use it for the kids. The building they’re housed in is awful, very draughty. Half the children have colds, the others asthma…’
‘It’s like I can hear Portia’s voice,’ Draco comments. ‘Let me guess: you asked for a ridiculously low rent…’
Harry drops his head lower.
‘No rent? No rent?!’
‘I don’t need the money,’ Harry shrugs, and as always it melts Draco’s heart even as he wants to smack him on the head.
‘So I wanted to ask,’ Harry continues, ‘if I can… er… move in with you? Seeing as I’m homeless and all?’
Draco leans back and stares at Harry. He had found the timing of Harry's visit suspect (only three weeks after the last time they both met the kids at their Quidditch game where Lily had clung on to Draco for the entire visit) and now it’s clear why. ‘You fucking Slytherin-wannabe. Did you plan this?’ It’s not like Harry had to ask; he already spends most of the week at Draco’s flat.
Harry gives him a smile. ‘If I’d planned this, I might have bought— hey, what’s this in my pocket — I’d have bought this.’ He opens the velvet box.
Draco stares at the elegant platinum band. He can’t breathe, he is literally dying of asphyxiation just when he’s about to get engaged.
‘Will you marry me, Draco?’ Harry says. He looks serious, and really really intense. ‘I know it hasn’t been that long, but I really hope you’ll say yes. Because I’m homeless.’
Draco snorts, finally finding some air, and hauls Harry close. ‘Of course I will, you conniving, adorable idiot.’ He pushes Harry back on the sofa and kisses him breathlessly, while making a note to himself to exchange the ring hidden in his sock drawer for two sets of silver cufflinks. He wants them to look smashing at the betrothal.