Chapter 1: If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.
First of December
Prompt: Christmas tree in the snow.
“Oh, there you are, I was just asking your young man where you got your lovely scarf from.”
Draco pauses in the doorway, juggling hot, leaking toasties and coffee. “It’s a ‘Sharp Echarpe’. Gladrags import them from France.”
“I only asked because my nephew would quite like one. Mr Potter didn’t seem to know.”
Draco shrugs - hopefully casually. “You know Harry, he's not really interested in clothes.”
“Funny isn’t it,” says the old lady. “Well, I suppose you’re all different.”
“I’d better get back to the shop,” says Draco, trying not to bristle. “We get so busy in the run up to Christmas.”
“Yes, of course, dear. I’ll be in again next week - My grandson has been asking for the new Nimbus but -,” She pushes open the door.
“Sold out, I know,” says Draco. The Christmas broomstick consignment cannot come soon enough. He’s even heard of Muggleborns ordering the new Nimbus from America on the Internet. Thankfully the vast majority of Wizards still can’t tell their internet from their intercom, so Quality Quidditch Supplies is unlikely to lose much business. Still... “Don’t worry, we’ll be getting some in next week at the latest.”
Walking back to the shop through Christmas shoppers and fluttering snow he’s grateful for the coffee warming his frozen fingers. The street is even busier than earlier and if this goes on they should probably think about getting extra help. He’s been gone longer than he expected, thanks to the queues, and Harry will be wondering if he’s been lured into an early winter-wear sale again, even though it only happened once in all the time they’ve had the shop together.
Old and middle-aged ladies are their biggest supporters, it seems. Draco’s always assumed it has something to do with the dramatic potential of their supposed love affair. Romeo and Juliet, Kevin and Sadie - loving against the tradition of family, and across the barricades, so to speak. Throw in the thrill of a previously forbidden love and well, you’ve got an epic romance. If only it were true.
By the time he’s cashed up, the shop, if it were possible, looks even more like one of those Santa’s Grotto abominations Teddy loves, and he suspects it’s still only half done. ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ is wafting out from the stock room so he has time to rearrange his face before Harry appears, lugging the cast iron tree base. Draco positions himself, arms crossed, foot tapping, ready.
“We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way - Ah, there you are. Can you help me get this up to the flat?”
Draco sighs, tuts, and eventually, with as much reluctance as he can manage to convey, he bends down. “I suppose you’ll only go and hurt yourself if I don’t. What's an Eskimo anyway? It’s a very strange word.”
Harry holds the door open with his foot. “It’s an old, not very p.c. name for people who live in the Arctic. Shall we get the tree tonight?”
“It’s only the First of December,” Draco demurs. “It won’t last and we’ll have pine needles all over the floor for the next month.”
“Scrooge,” says Harry, as they manoeuvre the base up the stairs, but he’s smiling.
Draco sighs. He knows Harry’s got wise to his bah humbug persona by now, but it’s tradition, so he grumbles and groans with enthusiasm as Harry scatters pink and blue lights over the chimney breast. What he doesn’t know is whether Harry realises just how much he, Draco, depends on this, and every other tradition they’ve established together over the last decade. For whatever he might say, to Draco, the Christmas decorations - well, they just make the place feel like home.
Over recent years he’s become aware that, actually, what makes this broom shop, this shared flat, home is not the place but the people. Person. Which leads him inevitably to the question of what he would do if Harry left. It hasn’t seemed likely in years - Harry seems to have taken the ‘bachelor’ in ‘confirmed bachelor’ to heart; he’s not, to Draco’s knowledge, had a date since 2006 - and it’s lulling him into a false sense of security. A sense of security he cannot afford to take for granted. He can’t - doesn’t want - to even think about what he would do, if -
Looking at the fairy lights, the singing elves and the enchanted tinsel he plays with the idea of inviting his mother over for tea again, or maybe curry, just to see her face. Perhaps he’ll ask her tomorrow, at Claridge's, when she’s softened up with fine champagne.
After they’ve shut up shop he allows himself to be bribed into walking over to the magically enlarged courtyard at the back of the Leaky Cauldron. Harry stands beside him, hands on hips.
“It’s too - too, I don’t know - symmetrical.”
The Christmas Tree guy glances up, clocks who it is, and suddenly finds himself very busy wrapping trees in netting. Draco sympathises.
“Most people prefer their trees symmetrical. Me, for instance.”
Harry pulls a face. “I don’t. Aunt Petunia always wanted the tree to be perfect, and if it wasn’t I had to take it back and get another.”
“Should you really still be letting your idiotic aunt influence your festive decisions?” Draco looks out over the rows of firs. Surely there's one...
Harry flashes him a wry look. “Probably not, no,” he admits. “But I just like things that are - not perfect.”
“You want to love the things that no one else wants,” hazards Draco. It’s been blatantly obvious for a long time, but Harry’s Muggle relatives are a delicate area and he prefers to tread carefully.
Harry’s mouth twists. “Don’t be silly, Draco, it’s just a tree.”
“I thought that was my line,” says Draco, moving on to a fir that lurches drunkenly to one side.
“Changes are good for you,” says Harry seriously, before nodding.
Thank bloody Merlin for that. “This one please," calls Draco. There’s still the mistletoe to choose but they’re on the home straight now, he can feel it.
They’re lugging the tree along the pavement - and it’s bloody enormous and apparently lightening charms interfere with the non-shedding charm so they’re doing this the traditional way; that is to say, Harry, humming happily, does the physical work while Draco directs operations - when his musings are broken by a thoughtful voice.
“If you’re so picky about your perfect, symmetrical tree, how come we always end up with a lopsided one?”
For a second, Draco freezes. After all these years, why now? He brushes snow from his gloves.
“Well, you had the most tragic sob story- ‘Oh Draco, my evil aunt made me drag the tree - ‘. I can’t compete with that,” he says lightly.
“You probably could," says Harry, with meaning. “Honestly, if you feel more comfortable having a symmetrical tree, I don’t mind, not really -."
It’s time for a distraction, and actually, he has been wondering - “We’re almost there now. What is the 'Eskimo way'?”
Harry looks at him, eyebrows raised. “From the song? ‘Frolic and play the Eskimo way’? I haven’t really thought about it. It probably means play in the snow, or, I dunno, an Eskimo kiss.”
“Eskimo kiss?" asks Draco, inspecting his gloves for bark and needles. Whereas once Cashmere gloves were practically a disposable item, these days his income from the shop has to go much further, especially as his appreciation of the finer things in life has endured.
Harry drops the tree and leans against the door to wipe his brow. “I swear they get heavier every year.”
“Probably because you insist on buying a bigger one every year.”
“It’d be fine if you’d let me use a lightening charm,” says Harry, as he does every single time. He pulls out his wand -
Draco twitches the wand out of his grasp and pockets it. “Oh no you don’t. I’m not having pine needles sticking in my feet and infecting me with some strange tree disease.”
Harry sighs and rubs his gloved hand over his jaw. “I’m never letting you read the Wizarding Mail again. Next time they run out I’ll just bring you back The Quibbler.”
“Eskimo kiss?” Draco reminds him. There is no way he’s reading The Quibbler, even if he and Luna are on friendly terms these days.
“Just a sort of nose to nose kiss I think, I suppose it’s the only bit of skin that’s exposed up there.”
“Up in the Arctic.”
“Oh.” Draco has only a vague idea of geography. It’s not taught in Wizarding schools and frankly, from what he’s heard from Harry and Hermione, it all sounds a bit unnerving. Last time he tried to imagine himself as a little dot spinning on a big ball in a big universe it left him unsettled and queasy for hours.
“It’s cold in the Arctic,” says Harry. “Very cold. So they wear furs and cover everything but their mouth and nose. You wouldn’t like it.”
“No warming charms?” He shivers.
“Muggles, Draco. Merlin, Rosie probably has a better grasp of this than you do.”
“So they’re cold and they, what, wipe their noses on each other? It doesn’t sound very pleasant to me. Insanitary actua -”
“Like this,” says Harry, and suddenly he’s close, much closer than Draco had realised, and -
“Mmmffgh.” He starts back and rubs at the cold damp patch on his cheek. “Merlin Potter, you were sneezing earlier, you’d better not have a cold. If I catch some awful bug and have to miss Claridges I will personally shred your Christmas stocking.”
“You asked for it,” says Harry, grinning at him.
“I did not. If you recall I just asked what they were, I didn’t ask for a re-enactment.”
“I’ll re-enact you in a minute,” says Harry, grabbing him by the arm and pushing his nose in for another rub.
There’s a wolf whistle as two teenage boys push past them with a much more sensibly sized tree. Harry flips them the finger, which gives Draco his opportunity. Turning to hide his flushed cheeks he avoids the amused gaze of the homeless girl on the step, ducks under Harry’s arm and unlocks the door.
Chapter 2: A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. (Ecclesiastes 3:7)
Second of December
Prompt - Three owls bearing post.
He rolls over in bed, and realises with a jolt that for once he’s over slept. Harry will never let him live this down, and there’s no chance he’s going to get away with it because he can already smell Harry’s shower gel wafting down the hall, which reminds him -
Shoving his feet into slippers, he unlocks his desk drawer. His mother’s present is waiting and ready and all he has to do is remember to wrap it for tonight. She hasn’t worn perfume in years - the sense memory was too much - so one day in November, when he was experimenting with his potions for Harry’s gift, he created a new scent for her.
“Do you think we should take on more staff?” Harry asks, holding out a cup of freshly brewed tea.
Draco curls himself onto the kitchen chair and pulls his dressing gown closer. “I’m late one day and you want to replace me already?” The tea is hot and delicious and just how he likes it.
“It was just so manic yesterday, I dread to think what it’ll be like in a few weeks.”
“I don’t know. We work so well with Sophie, and we’d have to train up someone new. We could always open later,” Draco suggests. “Just on Thursdays, like some of the other shops.”
Harry pulls a face. “I don’t mind working a bit later, but Thursday night’s Scrabble night.”
“We can always change it.”
“Hmmm.” Harry taps his teaspoon against the table. “Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask if we could postpone the game this week - the ice rink opens on Thursday.”
Draco holds himself very still. “Did you have plans?”
“Not really,” says Harry, pulling his bare foot up onto the chair. “Just thought it would be fun. I’ve never been ice skating, and it would be hilarious to see you try.”
Draco lets out a long breath. “Oh, well, if it’s public humiliation you want, how can I refuse.”
Later, as he runs his bath, he wanders over to the window overlooking the street. She’s still there, the homeless girl who arrived on Diagon Alley a few weeks ago and was kicked off every doorstep until she reached theirs. At first he’d thought it was only a matter of time before Harry and his saviour complex rushed to the rescue, but she’s either too proud, or too scared, to be saved so easily as that.
The knowledge that in an hour or so he and his mother will be working their way through a tasting menu at Claridge’s, whilst the girl eats the leftovers that the kinder stall-holders have donated, is all too much for his guilt complex, which, though it developed late in life, has ever since been a force to be reckoned with. Harry’s in his room, scrambling to change for his dinner at Ron and Hermione’s, so fortunately there’s no one to see him.
When he opens up the heavy shop door the girl on the step jumps in fright.
“Sorry,” he says, keeping well back. “I wondered if there was anything we could do for you. We have some soup upstairs. It’s home-made, and it wouldn’t take a second to heat up...” he trails off as she looks at him with startled brown eyes. Her gaze watchful, she draws even further inside her ratty, smelly sleeping bag, but says nothing.
“What’s your dog’s name?” he tries, and as if in response the bedraggled, comical looking mutt pokes a twitching nose into the cold December air.
He waits a few seconds in silence, and then, seeing there’s nothing for it, he wishes her goodnight and walks slowly back upstairs. In the years after the war, when there were so many people on the streets, made homeless by the war, or so traumatised they were unable to return to normal life, there were all sorts of charities and shelters and that girl wouldn’t have been sleeping rough for more than one night before counsellors, doctors and shelter staff descended on her. It looks like it’s down to him and Harry now, although perhaps Sophie will succeed where they’ve -
Oh, honestly, he’s as bad as Harry, who always leaves the bathroom swimming in water after he’s had a bath. Irritably, he siphons off the leak, and pours in one of his own oils. It’s a scent he rather thinks Harry will like, and though Harry is probably going to love his new aftershave, Draco can’t help but wonder if he’s just making life more difficult for himself.
He has wallowed almost - almost - to the point of wrinkliness, when three owls sweep through the partially open window. One, nondescript except for a pair of unusually bushy ear tufts, alights on the bath. Relieving it of a mysterious package addressed to Harry - no doubt some bizarre invention he’ll discover in his stocking on Christmas day - he opens the envelope and takes out a card.
“He won’t break your patience, or control or your spirit; but he may break your health. You look like a person pushed to the last verge of endurance.”
It is, of course, from Hermione, though she has not signed it. Only Granger would send a postcard complete with full citation details. If only she weren’t so cryptic. He’s not entirely clear whether this is simply a comment on his state of mind, or the forewarning - or reporting - of an intervention. The only thing to do now is wait, and see. And get out of the bath before he turns into a prune.
Spying his mother, an unusual sight in her Muggle clothing, although she has, of course, managed marvellously, he pulls his scarf from his neck and greets her with a kiss.
“Mother, you look beautiful.”
“Hello, darling. I’d say the same to you except for that scarf. Must you always wear those convict stripes, Draco.”
“Harry likes it, and so -”
“I can’t help feeling that, in the circumstances -”
He hushes her, “No one worries about that any more, and I think my scarf is a success. You wouldn’t believe how many compliments I’ve had in the shop.” Whilst she has accepted his descent into trade with reasonable equanimity, mentioning it is guaranteed to head her off.
“Looking forward to your first meal in a Muggle restaurant?” He pulls out her chair.
“Mmmm,” she says, looking round at the other diners. “It’s so quaint, the way the waiters bring the food, it’s rather like eating in a pub or something.”
He hides a smile. “This is one of the best Muggle restaurants, although it may not be up to your standards.”
“How is Mr Potter?” she asks, admiring her reflection in the mirror lined wall.
Chapter 3: Not even a manger
Third of December - Not even a manger
Prompt - Regent Street
St George’s is, of course, absolutely freezing, and warming charms would be all too obvious so Draco has dressed for the occasion in his thickest jumper, coat and, of course, his new scarf. Finding seats on the second row between Hermione and his Aunt Andromeda, he squeezes in beside Harry, who, as he has all day, skips at the touch like a startled goat. Something has clearly happened, he just wishes he knew what. Hermione has been uncharacteristically hard to contact all day and his only hope is to catch her alone after the carol service.
They are surrounded by Muggles of all types, presumably the belongings of the massed choirs filing onto the stage. Harry chats with Andromeda, leaving Draco to study his brightly coloured programme and discover that Teddy’s Primary School will be singing in the first half. The children are still being pushed into place by harassed looking teachers, so closing his eyes, he breathes deeply for the first time in a chaotic day. The smell of beeswax and wood have, as ever, a calming effect, whilst the warmth from Harry’s body, pressed closely against his, begins to soothe his tired muscles and anxious mind.
His relaxation is short-lived as the up and down dance of a Muggle Church service begins, and when the congregation stands to sing ‘Away in a Manger’ Draco can think of nothing but the girl in her sleeping bag, crouched on their doorstep. No crib for a bed and not even a manger.
After the lighting of the first candle, Teddy - face scrubbed and hair brushed to perfection - steps forward and stands quietly waiting while the previous choir retreats to the wings.
Harry nudges him.
“He looks just like you.”
“I was a particularly good looking child,” Draco admits, scrutinising his cousin. “But I’m not sure I was quite so angelic at that age.”
“Not according to my memory, no,” says Harry, gingerly feeling his nose.
“Your mother once told me that she'd tried to enter you for a Wizarding Wonders competition,” puts in Andromeda, adjusting her hat. “But your father put his foot down, of course.”
Harry splutters against him.
Hermione leans forward. “Ron wanted to enter Rosie for that. She was only two weeks old and covered in those little spots babies have - honestly, I was terrified she was going down with Dragon pox, but Ron thought she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.”
“What happened?” asks Harry, pulling away.
Hermione snorts. “Well, they were also running a Weird Wiccans and Ghastly Ghouls competition. Ron bought about twenty copies of The Prophet, because they print pictures of all the babies, and I think he secretly thought she’d win.” She pauses and grins. “He went through every single photograph, and finally there was Rosie in the horrors section, with the caption ‘Weird is for Weasley’. Personally I always thought Rita Skeeter had a hand in that," she adds.
Draco fights to restrain a laugh. “Well she’s a very beautiful child now.”
“You wouldn’t have said that at three o’ clock this morning.”
“Shhh,” says Andromeda, gripping her programme as the familiar music begins. “I think it’s starting.”
After the last note of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ has faded, and Teddy, brimming with pride, takes his place with his classmates, the local choristers step forward. Fluttering programmes still as a young girl with a divinely pure voice sings the refrain -
“I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was cold and lonely and you invited me in,”
- and for just a moment Draco meets Harry’s eyes in a glance of perfect comprehension, before they both turn back to the stage.
Later, as the children file off and the collection for the church roof is passed from row to row, he looks round at the congregation and feels sudden anger at their smug satisfaction. Who here has lived through a war and homelessness, and how many will give any more to charity this winter than the pound they proudly toss in the collection bucket.
When Andromeda has taken a tearful and over-excited Teddy home to bed, and Hermione has evaded every attempt to get her on her own and Apparated home to another tearful child, they stand silent in front of the church.
“I didn’t realise how close we were to Soho,” says Harry after a moment. He blows into his hands and rubs his arms.
Draco looks at him askance. “Why? Did you want to go clubbing, or something?” He hardly looks in the state - even Andromeda noticed.
“God, no.” He looks up at the church. “Bugger.”
Draco snorts and takes his arm. “Come on, let’s get you off hallowed ground before you say anything else.”
At the gate which opens onto Dean Street and theatre land he stops. “Where do you want to go?”
“Not clubbing,” says Harry with emphasis. “I think I’m getting a bit too old for that. But I’m not quite ready to go home yet. Let’s just wander through Regent Street, look at the Christmas lights.”
“Not more bloody Christmas lights,” says Draco, but he allows himself to be led along paths crowded with theatre goers, the stone-flagged pavement already crisp with frost. As they pass in front of the bright lights and tempting smells of a row of Chinese restaurants he asks, casually -
“So how was your meal last night?”
And there’s that startled goat thing again.
“Um, fine, yes,” Harry replies, developing an uncharacteristic interest in a planning consent poster.
“That’s all you have to say?” asks Draco. “Normally you give me a blow by blow account of every course.”
“Ah, well, Rose was teething, and we had a Chinese takeaway, actually, in the end” says Harry. “So we only had one course, unlike your eight.”
“My figure can take it. And I, unlike you, do a great deal of exercise, what with the Under Eleven’s Quidditch squad,” says Draco, patting his stomach complacently and ignoring Harry’s muttered ‘that’s what you think’.
As they pass down Regent Street the beggars huddled in dark shop doorways are incongruous against the brightly lit windows full of expensive clothes and the sparkling, garlanded Christmas lights above. Or perhaps it’s the other way round.
“I know what you mean," says Harry, quietly, and Draco realises he has spoken aloud.
“I saw her when I was shutting up shop,” Harry continues. “She was standing in the street, all alone, looking up at the windows. She must be so cold and lonely. I thought we had it bad when we were on the run, but at least I had Ron and Hermione.” He pauses, and Draco can feel Harry’s eyes on him. “Did you, after the war?"
“Get lonely?” Draco feels in his pocket. He thinks he has, ah - good. “I did. Until I met you."
“Oh," says Harry. “Good. Well, not good. But good that you aren't. Now, I mean."
“I know what you mean, idiot." He bends down and puts a few pounds in the plastic cup held out to him in expressive silence.
“Isn’t that going to be rather confusing? And useless,” says Harry, as they cross over to view the shop fronts in Savile Row.
“Muggle money, Harry. I paid at the restaurant yesterday." Drunken students push between them, almost pushing Harry off the curb.
“I still find it bizarre when you do Muggle stuff.”
“So does my mother, she was hilarious last night,” says Draco, pausing to inspect a very well cut pair of trousers. “I lived in Muggle London for nearly a year. I think I can remember all about pounds and pences and pebbles. Although I’ll probably be stuck if they change to the Euro," he adds.
Harry snorts. “I’m sure the Ministry will be head-hunting you for their Muggle-Wizarding Monetary Committee any day now.”
“And leave you and the shop?” he says, looking at a frosted boot which is all he can see of the next shop's resident He ventures a quick warming charm. “Never. You’d run it into the ground within three months.”
They continue in comfortable silence until they reach their own door.
“I’ll put the kettle on," says Harry, heading upstairs whilst Draco knocks the snow from his boots.
He stands outside for a long moment before sighing and pulling off his scarf. Charity begins at home. Literally, it appears.
Chapter 4: The rich sent empty away
Fourth of December - The rich sent empty away (The song of Mary)
Prompt - 2 men in morning suits.
It’s cold without his scarf but there’s no point buying one because he clocked Harry eyeing him speculatively this morning when he complained about the cold. He is fairly sure he will be opening a stripy scarf on Christmas morning.
When he first became friends with Harry he was almost embarrassed by the number and, well, sheer thoughtfulness of the presents Harry gave him, but he soon came to understand that to Harry, who never had anything as a child, presents are love. Draco actually has to watch his tongue from June onwards, because if he expresses the slightest desire, he can be sure he’ll get it. One year, early on, he experimented with wishing for increasingly outlandish gifts, but the sight of Harry’s expectant face on Christmas morning put paid to that. And feigning delight at a musical gnome doorstopper rather taxed his dramatic abilities, not to mention the glass-encased, chime-bell playing steam-train hideousity that lived on their mantlepiece terrifying guests until a freak indoor Quidditch accident.
He’s been working all morning with Sophie, and usually Harry pops down around lunchtime with delicious pasties or homemade soup, or whatever he’s been making upstairs on his day off. Today, however, Harry is nowhere to be seen. At least it gives Draco the perfect excuse to leave the shop, and if he should happen to Apparate over to Hermione’s en route to the sandwich shop, well, it’s not that much of a detour.
“You’re avoiding me,” he says as she opens the door. Her eyes are tired and there’s an unpleasantly stained muslin tossed over her shoulder.
“Ah,” she whispers, finger to her lips. “I was wondering when I’d see you.”
“You saw me last night,” he points out, as he follows her down the hallway and into the sitting room. The fire is burning low and one of the three stockings has dropped off the chimney and onto the hearth. He reattaches it before stoking up the fire.
“I’m sorry,” she says, sinking onto the sofa. “I wasn’t avoiding you, honestly, I’m just so tired and I was just thinking about whether Rosie would be ok.”
“It’s alright,” he says, chagrined. “I’m sorry, I should have known better.”
“Yes, you should have.” She looks at him. “I think we’ll need a cup of tea for this.”
Stomach sinking unpleasantly, he stands up. “I’ll make it. You have a rest.”
“We’re out of teabags." She leans back against the cushions and shuts her eyes.
He shakes his head. “You should know by now that I never use teabags.”
“You would if you had a baby,” she replies.
When he reappears with a steaming pot of darjeeling, he wonders at first if she’s actually fallen asleep.
An eye opens. “I’m awake, honestly.” She spots the tea. “Oh, you life-saver.”
“Now,” he begins. “Are you up to this, or should I come back another time?”
“It’s all right,” she says, wrapping her hands around the mug. “Well, we told Harry.”
Even though he’s been expecting it, the anxiety tightens further around his throat. “I guessed as much. How did he, um, react?”
“It wasn’t intentional,” she says. “He was moaning about how all your customers keep asking him where you got your scarf, and how’s he supposed to know when you don’t exactly do your shopping together.”
“What happened?” he asks, trying not to show his impatience.
“Well you know Harry - he laughed, thought it was a joke, and when it finally sunk in he was - surprised. Definitely surprised. And a little humiliated, I think.”
“Humiliated?” For a moment all he can hear is the roar of his blood as it pounds in his ears.
“Oh god.” She closes her eyes. “I’m not awake enough to be having this conversation. Not because it was you, more because he didn’t know, I suppose, and every one else did. It’s always been a sore spot with him you know - what with everyone knowing more about his family than he did at Hogwarts, and Dumbledore and his infernal schemes.”
“What, exactly, have you told him?” asks Draco, holding his cup tightly even though he hasn’t yet managed to take a sip.
“Nothing about you,” she hastens to reassure him. “Just that most people assume you two are a couple - have done for a long time. And that you act like you’re a couple, a very in love couple,” she adds, flushing. “Although I’ve no idea what Ron said while I was upstairs with Rose.”
He takes a deep breath. It could have been a lot worse, and he’s always known it would have to come out one day. Really it’s only thanks to Harry’s complete and utter cluelessness, when it comes to such matters, that he didn’t find out years ago.
“Is he acting a little strangely?”
Draco nods. “Jumping whenever I touch him, going red and gazing off into space for no -,” he stops. “Actually he often does that. He’s just twitchy and nervous. What next, do you think?”
“Hard to say.” She purses her lips. “Denial at first, I assume. Then he’ll start wondering. I can pretty much guarantee it won’t even occur to him that you -." She pauses. “Honestly, these days you know him far better than I do. I don’t want to hold out false hope, Draco.”
And with that, he has to be content.
Back at the shop Sophie eyes him curiously. “That took a very long time. Not that I’m ungrateful.” She sniffs her toastie appreciatively.
He turns to hang up his coat. “Sorry, I got talking to someone I knew.”
“I bet you’re not even hungry after your meal last night. How was Claridges?"
“What? Oh, nice. Very nice, actually. My mother was funny though - well, actually it was rather embarrassing." He laughs until Sophie pokes him in frustration. “She was doing all right until a crowd from the theatre came in, still in costume, celebrating their first night.”
“I don’t see what’s so funny about that.”
Draco leans against the display cabinet. “Well, apparently Snow White was on at the Bloomsbury.”
She raises her eyebrows, “Oh, oh, yes, I can see how that might go.”
“Yes, it was very nearly an non-magical relations incident. Fortunately I was able to convince them that she’d had a little bit too much to drink.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t throw them a little Confundus.”
Draco drops his paper napkin on the counter. “Sophie! I’m surprised at you. That would be highly unethical.”
She grins unrepantently. “You did, didn’t you?”
He scoops the foam from his coffee cup with his little finger. “Well, maybe a tiny one. Nothing traceable.”
“Merry Christmas young man,” says one of his favourite customers, bustling in. A lovely old lady with a small white terrier and any number of Quidditch obsessed grandchildren.
He smiles. “Merry Christmas to you too. Are you looking for anything in particular?”
She pulls out a lengthy list. “I’ve got some new additions this year,” she confides. “Both Wulfran and Eberhard have finally proposed to their young ladies. Lovely girls, both of them.”
“Congratulations.” He puts down his cup. “You’ll be needing a new hat next year then.”
“Oh, two, definitely two hats,” she says. “I’ve been meaning to ask where your mother gets hers. We don’t see her around very often, but she’s always so beautifully dressed.”
“Paris,” he says. “She spends a lot of time in France. Let me write down the name. I believe they do fire-call consultations.”
She takes the card. “And when will your mother get to wear her mother of the groom outfit? Isn’t it time you made an honest man of him, Mr Malfoy.”
Trying to ignore a dirty giggle from the gift-wrapping station at the other end of the counter, Draco feels his ears burn. He’s been dreading this moment all year.
“We’re very happy as we are,” he tries. “But thank you for the kind thought.”
“It’s legal now, you know. There’s no place for bigotry in the Post-war Wizarding World,” she quotes with a motherly smile he finds hard to resist.
“It’s, um, complicated -.” He’s tried and tried and denied and explained, over and over again. But when it made not a blind bit of difference he finally decided to let it wash over him and smile along, unless asked a direct question. This, though, is a bit much.
“I believe Rubnik’s has a pre-Christmas sale on, and I saw some very nice rings in there. Just a little hint,” she says. “But I won’t tease you any more, you look like you’re going to explode with embarrassment. Let’s work through this list.”
“Sophie,” he calls. “Please can you come and help. I believe we have most of these items in the stockroom, so I’ll go and see what I can find.”
He’s still hiding in the stock room when he hears loud voices. He looks up in dismay. Sophie always bellows and they haven’t been able to train it out of her, but she’s got a quick temper and Christmas customers can be very trying.
“Have you seen whose scarf that horrible vagrant outside is wearing. She probably stole it.”
He puts down his pile of miniature Snitches and prepares to enter the fray -
“She’s not horrible, she’s homeless. It could happen to anyone - it could happen to you -”
Too late. Although he can’t exactly blame her.
“How dare you speak to me like that? Get me your manager,” the woman shouts.
“Can I help you?” he asks, as calmly as he can. Then he sees who it is. That awful, opinionated and entitled woman on the City Council.
“You’re talking to the wrong person,” he says. “If you want to talk about the homeless, you can take it up with me. I know all about it.”
“I -” begins the woman, refusing to meet his gaze. “But you’re a respected member of society now, Mr Malfoy.”
“Thank you for that assessment,” he says gravely. “And how is that extremely young and vulnerable girl going to fulfil her potential in society if nobody helps her?” He leans forward on the counter. He thinks he might enjoy this if it weren’t for the fact that through the window he can see the girl sink lower and lower until she has contracted herself to take up as little space as possible. She must know this is about her.
When he finally makes it upstairs, salivating over the prospect of a chicken and tarragon casserole, Harry is waiting for him with a determined expression.
“I thought we could have dinner when we get back."
“From where?” he asks, momentarily confused.
“Ice skating. Come on, get your warmest clothes on.”
“I’m already wearing them,” he grumbles, hiding his surprise. “As you won’t let me light a fire downstairs.”
Harry sighs as he pulls on his coat. “I only said that the other day when the display cases were steaming up. If it’s quieter of course you should light a fire. Anyway, you can do what you want, we’re equal partners.”
At the ice rink there’s already a lengthy queue.
“You wait here,” says Harry before disappearing into the crowd.
Draco rolls his eyes. Still, at least they’re still doing this. He’d assumed that, in the circumstances, Harry would quietly drop his plan. He leans against the edge, watching small children, muffled expect for their eyes and shrieks of delight, as they push some sort of plastic penguin around the ice. He assumes it’s to help them balance.
“Here you are.” Harry shoves a steaming cup of mulled wine into his hand.
“Is this supposed to dull the pain or compromise my balance.”
Harry looks at him consideringly. “Actually I fear you might be rather good at this. It’s all a question of balance, and you’ve always been good on a broom.”
“I thought I got my father to buy me way onto the Slytherin team,” he observes wryly. It’s hard to believe the emnity they once held, but they thrashed things out often enough in the early years and now they’re long past the point of holding such things against each other. When he stops to really think about it, it’s quite remarkable, and it’s all thanks to Harry that he has these friends, this annoying, charming, really rather marvellous flatmate, and this unexpected but ultimately satisfying position in life.
“I’ve seen you on a broom often enough to know that you’re naturally talented,” says Harry before turning away, but not before Draco catches sight of his flushed cheeks. Oh damn.
“Our turn,” he announces brightly, and Harry grants him a constipated smile as they pull on their boots.
“Tuck your socks inside, and make sure you wear your gloves - they’ll protect your hands when you fall."
Draco looks up. “I thought you said you’d never done this before?”
Harry shows an intense interest in his bootlaces. “Well, I did go on a date with a Muggle once. Ages ago. He thought it would be hilarious. I fell over. He laughed. So I got in a huff and left.”
“You were rather prickly back then,” Draco observes.
“I know - Hermione always said I had too much testosterone. But really, he was a wanker. And I did have a very wet arse.”
Draco nods. “And you thought you’d like to recreate this wonderful evening. I can’t say I follow your thought process, but that’s nothing new.”
“It’s not a date,” says Harry, looking at him with startled eyes.
Draco gives a long-suffering sigh. “Yes Harry, I am aware of that. Come on - last one to the end’s a wet arsed skater.”
He throws himself onto the ice just as Harry shouts ‘hey’, and scrambles to his feet.
Fortunately it all comes back to him and aside from a little stumble he hopes Harry missed, he manages to glide all the way to the end fairly gracefully, if he does say so himself. At least on this ice he has no fear of falling through and into the lake. Finally realising that he’s alone he looks back, and eventually spots his friend and colleague clinging to the side-rail as he’s overtaken by a pack of small children and penguins. At his shout Harry gives a sheepish wave. Draco rolls his eyes and pushes off to complete the circuit.
“Yes, it appears I am a natural,” he announces, gliding up beside him and doing a little pirouette, just because he can.
Harry pushes his lower lip out, looking for all the world like Teddy in a strop.
“You bastard. Why didn’t you tell me you could skate?” He pokes Draco in the side.
“And spoil my fun? You brought me out here with the express purpose of humiliating me. That’s not very nice, Harry.”
“I did bring you mulled wine and a mince pie.”
“Yes, yes you did,” Draco admits. “So I will very graciously share my skills and knowledge with you.” He holds out his hand. “Come on. You’re not going to get anywhere clinging to the side like a drowning sailor.”
Harry hesitates. It’s just for a second but Draco feels it. He raises an eyebrow.
Hand in hand they set off across the ice. With Harry leaning on him Draco becomes very aware of the differential in their weight. Harry’s not particularly tall, but years of Quidditch and plentiful food have broadened out previously skinny shoulders, and where once Draco was the bigger, he reckons Harry’s got a good stone and a half on him now. Still, he’s never going to learn if he won’t let go of the side.
“Come on,” he says, tugging Harry out into the middle. “Try to do this with your feet.” He demonstrates a slide and motions Harry to follow.
“Draco I’m really not sure -”
“You’ll be fine, come on, I’ll, oh fuck-.” He grabs but he’s too late and they’re going down.
His landing is happily softened by a good few layers of Harry and coat. Harry, glasses askew is panting and grunting beneath him. He’s not entirely sure what happened but the results speak for themselves.
“Draco - gerr-offf.”
“Oh, sorry.” He pushes himself back on his heels and looks down. “I wish I’d had one of you to fall on when I was learning.”
Harry gives him a crooked smile. “So glad I could be of service.”
Draco folds his arms. “Would you like me to get you one of those penguins? I just used to hold on to my house-elf’s ears for balance, but I think they’ll be a little too short now, even for you.”
Harry grins and pushes him away. “Does Hermione know about that? No, Draco, I will not use a penguin, I’m not five.”
Draco pushes himself to his feet. “How about a modifiable friction charm?” he says. “Most helpful, I think you’ll find.”
“Oh, for fuck -.” As a passing child and disapproving mother look down at them he stops. “I’m so going to kill you.”
“Have to catch me first,” calls Draco, skating backwards across the rink before giving a little twirl and speeding off.
Chapter 5: Man hands on misery to man, or The graves of our fathers
Fifth of December - Man hands on misery to man (Philip Larkin)
Prompt - Holly wreath
“I’ve come to remind you about the December SODA meeting, Mr Malfoy.”
Draco, building towers with Rosie on the counter, looks up and sighs. SODA, or, the Shopkeepers of Diagon Alley association, is the bane of their existence. Ever since they missed just one meeting, every single bloody time Hector comes by to remind them, a pompous and portly harbinger of doom.
“But that’s not until the 16th,” he demurs. Hopelessly. He picks up the fallen blocks.
“I wouldn’t like you and your boyfriend to forget. Again.” Hector hands over a sheet of parchment. “I’ve brought you last meeting’s minutes and the agenda for December. If there’s anything you wish to raise it’s too late, so you’ll have to put in a-”
“Yes, I know, an AOB,” Draco says.
“Have you filled in a Health and Safety form? ‘Children are not permitted to work in Diagon shops’, as its your responsibility to know."
Oh for - “She’s only a toddler. I’m just looking after her for an hour, while her mum’s in town, and it’s a bit quieter so Harry and Sophie are out the back unpacking.”
“I didn’t imagine she was yours, Mr Malfoy,” says Hector, snidely.
“Bye bye,” says Rosie, waving her little hand vigorously. “Bye Bye man.” Draco’s not sure if she remembers the last time Hector came around bothering them, or if she’s just an excellent judge of character.
“Hello young lady.” Hector leans towards them and as his bulbous eyes and red cheeks threaten to come even closer, Rosie whimpers.
“Bye bye. Bye man.”
“Good day, Hector.” Draco scoops her off the counter until Hector has retreated into the street. Fortunately the girl from the step is nowhere to be seen.
“Cwayn,” says Rosie, all sunshine now, pointing at his peacock quill.
He looks at her. “Well, you’re not having this one, it’s my very favourite.” Then, as her mouth wobbles he sighs. “Let’s look in the stock room. I’m sure Uncle Draco has some Muggle crayons.”
“Cwayn, cwayn. Aggagg. Dagadaga,” she says, as he balances her on his hip.
“Yes, you’ll need paper too.” He smiles, spotting the agenda. “This will do.
He’s grateful for the light relief, to be honest, even if he wouldn’t consider himself a natural with children. When Harry emerged from his bedroom this morning he looked like he might actually vomit, or even faint - and then insisted on coming in to work, the stubborn bugger. He’d suspect the takeaway they had the other day, if not for the sight of a perfectly healthy Hermione this morning.
And the Fifth of December is never a pleasant day. Aunt Andromeda had decreed that this is the day he should take Teddy on his Christmas visit to his parents’ graves, her own grief so raw at this time that she prefers to go alone. So, after picking Ted up from his Muggle primary school, at half three, they Apparate over to the war memorial gardens.
His cousin Nymphadora’s grave lies next to her husband’s, a pure white block of sandstone which remind him of the rows of Muggle war graves over in France. Uncle Ted’s memorial is here but his grave lies somewhere else, his body never recovered.
Teddy, his face solemn, always insists on getting the flowers from the Muggle florist near his school, and this year he has chosen purple pansies for his mum, to go with her hair. As soon as they reach the Wizarding graveyard transforms his own hair, and despite himself, Draco smiles. He never got to know his cousin, but from what Harry and the others say, Teddy lost a really fantastic mother. Andromeda has done wonders, despite her own grief, and especially given Ted’s inability to control his Metamorphmagus abilities for so long, resulting in her having to home-school him until recently. He’ll be off to Hogwarts before they know it, and quite how Andromeda will cope when that happens, they are unsure.
When they pass on to his father’s stone, Teddy gravely sets a bunch of silver dust over the tomb.
“These are silver, like the moon.”
He stands in sombre silence, so Draco tiptoes backwards to give him some privacy. He’s a big boy now and perhaps he wants to speak to his parents in peace.
“Draco, your dad died too, didn’t he?" Ted's still standing over the tomb.
Draco nods and his hands, laced behind his back, tighten.
“Why don’t you ever go to your dad’s grave? Is it lost, like Grandad’s?”
Forcing himself to speak, he tries, “It’s not lost. But, my father wasn’t like your daddy. He wasn’t a very nice man.”
“Oh,” says Teddy, looking up at him with big eyes. “Was he horrible to you? Did you tell someone?”
Draco pulls him over to a nearby bench. If they’re having this conversation they’re going to do it in relative comfort. It also buys him time to think.
“He was quite nice to me, especially when I was little. Usually, anyway. But he did bad things, with Voldemort, and he got me to do bad things too.”
“That’s leading people into evil,” says Ted, very seriously. “We learnt about that at school.”
“Yes,” he says. “It is.”
“But you’re not evil, are you? Harry says you’re one of the best people he knows, and he fought Voldemort.”
Following the logic, he can’t restrain a smile. “I try not to be evil, Ted. But when I was younger, I didn’t think I had a choice.”
“Grandma says we always have a choice.”
“She’s right,” he admits, rubbing his face. “We do. But some choices are harder than others.”
Teddy subsides into thoughtful silence and Draco sincerely hopes he’s dropped the uncomfortable subject, when -
“But your dad loved you. Aunt Hermione said that your parents’ love helped save us all.”
He will be having strong words with Aunt Hermione next time he sees her, and he wonders what else has been discussed in his absence.
“My parents loved me, yes,” he says. “And because of that my mother - your Great Aunt Narcissa, though I’d stick with ‘Aunt’ if I were you - saved Uncle Harry, which saved everyone.”
“Because she knew you loved him,” says Teddy, softly, turning to look at him.
“That’s not quite - look, shall we go home? It’s getting chilly.” He stands.
“Let’s go to the flower shop.” Teddy takes his hand and pulls him in the direction of the gate.
“What for? Oh, Teddy, I really don’t think -”
“Christmas is a time for loving and forgiving,” says Teddy, his small figure almost comical in its obstinacy.
“Who turned you into Tiny Tim?” Draco grumbles, giving in.
They side-along Apparate to the flower shop on Diagon Alley, and after a few minutes of thought he finally chooses a small holly wreath - the prickliness is symbolic, he tells himself. But he won’t take Teddy to his father’s grave. No one needs to see this and only Harry will hear about it.
After a day like this he’s always counted on going home to Harry and his happy, uncomplicated affection. He’s not quite sure what he’ll be facing tonight, but he doubts it will be that.
But that night, when he recounts his day, Harry lies back against the sofa and considers him thoughtfully.
“If you can forgive your father, you can forgive yourself,” he says at last. “Think about it.”
Scrubbing away the last traces of Harry’s cooking from the kitchen worktop, Draco does think about it. Uncomplicated indeed.
Chapter 6: I hold his dear and mine he cannot miss
December Sixth - I hold his dear and mine he cannot miss (Sir Philip Sydney)
Prompt - Impressive building with staircase
It’s only when Harry has a good night that Draco realises just how badly he must have slept the last few nights. He’s sure Harry doesn’t intend to crash about the flat in the wee small hours but, for someone who can fly like he does, he’s awfully clumsy. As he rolls over to sit up the streetlight is still shining through his curtains, bouncing off the polished wood of his desk. He has an idea. If Harry can’t find sleep, he will bring sleep to Harry.
Yesterday they held their postponed Scrabble night. He’s previously played with the idea of planting subliminal messages - ‘unrequited’ with a triple word score was a particularly pleasing example - but Harry has always been oblivious. Last night Harry himself managed to play ‘upheaval’ for 32 points on a double word space, but though Draco looked at him sharply, it was clearly accidental and just goes to show that there’s little point in being anything but upfront and obvious with someone like him. And he won, the serendipitous git.
When lunch time comes he hurries out of the shop, noting that the girl is back on their step and looking marginally warmer in her new red jumper. Harry will be delighted with the effect of his gift. Perhaps more importantly, she looks just a little bit more confident.
He decides to try again. “I’m heading out to lunch. Do let me bring you something back.”
“Thank you,” she says, her voice cracking with disuse. “We’ll be fine.”
He sighs. “I can’t force you, but I wish we could help.”
For a moment he thinks she’s going to say more but the little three-legged dog - and how in Merlin’s name did Harry manage to miss that - jumps onto her lap and snuggles into her chest.
He shrugs and heads over to Covent Garden to pick up the flowers he needs for Harry’s peaceful sleep draught. Passing the concert hall on his way from Leicester Square to Covent Garden he spots a large poster for the LSO Christmas Concert, and pauses to read the programme. The London Symphony Orchestra with the Cambridge City Singers, doing Rutter’s Magnificat. There’s a cathartic orgasm in the making. He only hopes they still have tickets.
Inside, the queue for the box office stretches all the way up one sweeping stone staircase and down the other. His stomach starts to rumble when he’s only halfway round and he regrets not picking up a sandwich earlier. Hopefully there’ll be some leftovers from Harry’s Thai curry dish. Edging closer to the desk he realises that those in front are coming away dissatisfied and his excitement starts to fade. Maybe he’s too late - it’s only two days away, after all.
“I’m afraid we only have single seats left sir, it’s a very popular concert.”
He stands and considers. Harry isn’t a big fan of classical music and given the effect Magnificat had on him the only other time he heard it, fifteen years ago, he thinks he’ll be better off doing this alone.
Back in the days of his Muggle bedsit the bright lights and excitement of the West End had often attracted him on his lonely walks. One afternoon, out earlier than usual, he was surprised to find people lining up outside theatres and concert halls. Screwing up his courage to approach a Muggle, he discovered that they were waiting for stand by tickets. Cheap tickets. Tickets even he could afford. The first concert had been a revelation, the second had blown away every misconception he held about Muggles, and by the third concert, he was hooked.
“I think we should offer to take Rosie for the night. I saw Weasley earlier and he looked dreadful. He barely seemed able to get a word out,” Draco tells Harry at closing time.
Harry fumbles and drops the broomstick he’s buffing. “You saw Ron earlier? Where?”
Draco picks up the broom and examines it. “I think you’ve almost polished the wood off. Oh, he was just on his way to Mulpepper’s for some Chamomile. Hermione was all for using some sugar-free Muggle teething remedy but apparently Molly blew up about it and insisted they try herbal remedies first.”
“Did he say anything else?” asks Harry as he carefully puts his polish away, in the tea drawer.
Draco shrugs; not that Harry can see him. “He had a thousand yard stare and dropped his shopping when he saw me. I didn’t have the heart to do anything beyond ask him if he’d recovered from the other night.”
“You asked what?” says Harry, turning at last and at what he sees in his face, Draco sets the broom carefully on its cabinet and goes to stand behind him.
“I think you’ll find the polish goes in this drawer. Harry - is there, has something -,” he pauses. “Are you all right?”
Harry casts him a startled glance. “Um yes, fine, absolutely fine. Is that the timer? I’d better go and check on dinner.”
As he watches his colleague and flatmate take the stairs two at a time he calls, “And Rose?”
“Fine, yep.” The door slams and Harry’s head reappears for a moment. “I’ll tell Ron, you’re far too busy cashing up. I’ll, um, I’ll Firecall Ron, alright.”
Draco waits for a moment but there’s nothing more. He returns to his till in silence. He’s always found the steady rhythm of counting to be therapeutic and he’s long resisted Harry’s attempts to install automatic counting charms.
When he’s closed the shutters, with a last apologetic look at the desolate scene on their door step, he mounts the stairs, rising through successive wafts of saffron and tomato. At the landing he’s surprised to hear the sound of a wailing baby, and forgetting all about the girl and her dog, he hurries inside.
“She’s already here?”
Harry nods, as he paces the floor, Rose wailing over one shoulder and a tomato splattered dishcloth on the other. “They leaped at the suggestion, although apparently you are in charge of monitoring and medication.”
“Do they need me to brew a soothing draught?” Draco asks, taking his god-daughter - and what a weird concept that is - in his arms. “You finish that casserole. I’m starving.”
“Maybe later. Hermione sneaked me a bottle of Calpol - a Muggle painkiller.” He pauses at the window. “Do you think I should take some dinner down to her?”
Draco joins him to stare down through the gently fluttering snow, resting his chin on Harry’s shoulder.
“It’s probably best to let her sleep. Set some aside and we can heat it up if she wakes.”
Harry sends down a quick warming charm. It won’t last all night, but it’ll help. “I wonder what happened to her.”
Draco shrugs. “I don’t like to ask. She seems to shrink from me and I did wonder if she’s afraid of me - or my family.” He touches his hair.
He’s grateful for the brief hand on his arm. “Don’t take everything to heart. She’d hardly have settled on our doorstep if she was. She flinches whenever I speak to her, so it’s either men she’s scared of, or people in general.”
Draco shudders: He knows all too well what could make a girl shrink from every man. He really hopes it’s not that because it will make it very hard for them to help her. When he first got to know Harry they volunteered at the homeless refuge just off Knockturn. After a number of distressing encounters with the refuge’s clients, the director had gently but firmly suggested that Draco stay out of sight in the kitchens, brewing up calming draughts and Dreamless Sleep. Morosely cutting, stirring, and bottling in the basement where even the other volunteers looked at him askance, he had been unspeakably grateful when Harry decided his own skills were best used in the kitchens.
“I’ll lay the table.” Harry wanders off into the kitchen but Draco stays at the window, watching the girl, and as Rosie snuggles into his shoulder he hopes with everything he has that she will never live through a war.
“Draco, Draco, I need you.” Draco buries his head further into the soft pillow. For once he’s having a lovely dream - Harry’s gazing at him across the sofa and he knows, just knows, that all it will take is -
Dragged back to consciousness by Harry’s tentative hand on his arm, and the rising wail of a cranky baby, he blinks into the light.
“What’s up?” He sits up, rubbing bleary eyes.
“It’s Rosie, she’s - oh, god, sorry, I didn’t realise. Are you naked?” Harry stutters to a halt. Now Draco’s eyes have cleared he can see his flatmate, glasses askew and hair on end.
He pulls back the covers, “Trousers,” he says, succinctly and reaches out for his god-daughter.
“She’s really hot, and her breathing sounds weird. I don’t think it’s just teeth,” says Harry, voice close to panic, and Draco doesn’t need to be told. Rosie’s cheeks are red and hot and her breathing has a hoarse, croaky sound to it. She leans limply against his shoulder.
“Have you tried that Muggle stuff?”
To Draco’s surprise, Harry looks flustered. “Yes, but most of it didn’t go in, and -”
“I may have spilled it on the carpet. It’s pink.”
Draco rolls his eyes, “I know I’m anal, Harry, but I’m not going to worry about that yet.”
For the first time he realises that Harry is dressed only in his boxer shorts, and he really doesn’t need that kind of distraction just now.
“You’ll freeze.Take my jumper,” he says, picking up his favourite blue sweater.
Harry catches and pulls it over his head, apparently giving it a good sniff too. Oh honestly, he’s not the person who leaves dirty clothes all over the floor.
“She’s been like this for hours. Should we call ‘Mione?”
Taking the baby out into the hall he looks her over. “It’s croup, I think. I was with Aunt Andromeda once when Teddy had it.”
“What do we do? She sounds really bad -”
“Steam,” says Draco, decisively. “Run the shower and the bath. You go back to bed.”
Harry shakes his head, even as he turns on the hot tap. “I couldn’t sleep now.”
As Rosie’s breathing eases, Draco leans his head back against the tiles. Wonderful, he’s now stuck in a bloomin’ sauna with a yet again half naked Potter and his glistening, sweating - oh god. He distracts himself with wondering just how big that stain is, and how he’s going to get it out.
Chapter 7: And besides me let there be non else
December Seventh - And besides me let there be non else (Shakespeare misquoted)
Prompt - Fireworks and Big Ben
They’re on the bridge, Ben has chimed twelve and the old year is over. Harry’s just looking at him as the fireworks bang and shatter around them.
“Have you made a wish?” Draco asks. “Or is that Christmas puddings? I’m never quite sure about these Muggle traditions.” Oh god, he’s babbling, he must be delirious, but Harry’s just staring, and he seems - is it, can he-
“Yes,” says Harry, looking him full in the eye. And there’s nothing left to say.
He leans forward even as strong hands grip his arm -
“Button it before you wake the whole street!”
Sitting up in bed Draco stares at the white, cracked wall of his bedroom, his hands still gripping the duvet. From outside comes the barking of a dog and the mutter of voices, before a cart rattles and clanks across the cobbles. Oh. As his breathing settles, Draco closes his eyes again. Two dreams in one night. It’s been years since that happened and he really wishes it wouldn’t. Harry is temptation at home and work, and he’s not sure he’ll be able to cope if his nights are also full of Harry, a Harry always just out of reach.
He runs shaking fingers through his hair and breathes out slowly. It was quite bad enough when he first had the dreams about Harry, back when all this was just a case of simple attraction and friendship. When it was still deniable and when he still had hope that it would all go away if he ignored it hard enough.
Harry looks, if anything, worse than Draco feels. Whatever is wrong, it’d better not be contagious. Although, Draco reflects, as he looks disgustedly at the drizzle, Harry has always been better at looking after Draco than Draco is in return. At the moment though he’s not sure he could cope with a solicitous, caring Harry bringing him hot lemon and honey in bed, and reading him stories when his own eyes are too swollen and tired to see a book. Still, if Harry’s going down with something awful he really shouldn’t be out in this weather.
Looking at his coat he apologises mentally before shrugging it on and heading out into the lowering grey mist. They had a lovely word for that in Scotland, he remembers. Dreich. It’s definitely dreich today. Skipping to the side to avoid a small lake that’s forming on the pavement, he startles a large snowy owl in the window of the Magical Menagerie. It looks a little bit like Hedwig, and he’s even more grateful that he sacrificed himself and his coat - one look at that owl and Harry would be down in the dumps for days. Even more, so, anyway. Acting, for once, on impulse he pushes open the door. Perhaps he can persuade them to move the owl away from the window, though under what pretext, he’s not sure.
The lengthy queue causes him to reconsider, and he’s about to withdraw and let the owl and Harry take their chances when he spots a kneazle and an idea begins to form. Hermione still has her kneazle, or half-kneazle or whatever the ginger menace is, and Pansy has her ill-advised pug. His mother always said it’s not a proper home without a pet, but his father had a fur allergy and apparently the red eye look is only good on Dark Lords.
Perhaps not anything furry, just in case, and an owl is out of the question. Looking at the cages of Puffskeins, toads and firecrabs nothing is quite right for what he has in mind. They’re all a little too fluffy, scaly or slimy, as the case may be. Sighing, he’s about to give up and head in search of sandwiches and tea when he catches sight of a little black fish, no bigger than a gobstone, with one long trailing fin and one stubby crooked fin. It’s not-perfect. And therefore absolutely, utterly, perfect.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like one of the others, Mr Malfoy? This one’s a bit deformed, I’m not even sure how he got in there. You choose a proper one and I’ll just scoop this little chap up and flush him down the loo.”
Draco reaches out and grabs the man’s hand before he can stop himself. The shop keeper looks up in confusion. “Mr Malfoy?”
“He’s perfect. I want this one.”
The man is looking at him strangely now as he edges across the room, keeping the counter between himself and his possibly deranged customer.
He walks across the road humming to himself, no longer minding the drizzle and splashing happily through puddles. Perhaps he has gone a little mad. And that would completely explain why, instead of just giving the fish to Harry in its bag, he feels a strange compulsion to empty it into a little china tea cup and hand it over with the toasted sandwich.
“But they’ve all got different patterns, the boys have got to have exactly the same,” says the customer for the third time. The counter top is overflowing with woollen jerseys he’s brought from the stock room on this fruitless quest, and even more annoyingly, his favourite Narcissa Oolong tea is now sitting cold and cloudy on the till.
He tries very hard to keep the impatience out of his voice. “Our Shetland Quidditch jerseys are made of pure wool, it’s a natural product, Sir. If you’d like something identical you could try the synthetic breathable team jerseys.”
“But I want wool,” says the man, breathing coffee all over Draco and making him wish longingly for Harry to return from his fish tank mission, “My son insists on wool, it’s much warmer and he’s a semi-professional you know -”
Sodding semi-professionals. Harry always asks what makes them so demanding, but Draco thinks it’s a simple case of jealousy and poor self-esteem.
“Well these are the only woollen jerseys we have, I’m afraid.”
“But they’re all different - how can you -.”
Draco snaps. He’s had it up to here - “Different sheep, Sir.”
“Absolutely.” He waves at the display model. “You see each jersey is made from the wool of a different sheep. You will never get two sheep the same, therefore no two jerseys are the same.”
“Oh,” says the customer, at last. “All right then. I’ll take two.”
“Thank you,” says Draco, just about managing to keep the sarcasm from his voice, and wrapping the jumpers as quickly as possible.
“What about jerseys from identical twin sheep?” says the customer, on the way out of the door.
Draco takes a deep breath and grips the counter. Then, carefully avoiding the fish-inhabited tea cup, he buries his head in the pile of wool hiding his shiny, fragrant counter top, and moans.
“Harry’s bailed me out once, he’d do it again, Oolong,” he tells his new fishy friend. “He’d better bloody get back before I ram a Firebolt Supreme up the next customer’s -”
“Thank you Sir. Merry Christmas. Sorry I took so long, Draco, it was absolutely manic. What on earth are you doing?”
“She talked!" Harry tells him, shoving the jumpers out of the way and replacing them with shrunken bags of fish food, fish tank and who knows what other piscine accessories. “The girl - she’s called Nisha, and her dog’s called Sparks.”
“Good," he says. “That person was bothering her earlier. But I think he was hoping to see you again."
“What person?" Harry wipes down the glass fish tank and sets it on the cabinet. “I like the name Oolong."
“Phew. It was a toss up between Narcissa and Oolong, and the latter seemed to suit him."
Harry grins and stands back to admire the tank. “I wouldn’t like to be you if your mother found out you’d named my fish after her."
“What?" says Draco, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow. “She was a Black, he’s black. It could work."
Harry snorts as he gently tips Oolong into his new home. “You think you’re so funny, don’t you. Anyway, what man and why was he bothering Nisha?"
“You really are oblivious, aren’t you. The customer who was flirting with you, earlier.” He spells it out slowly and Harry shakes his head.
“The good-looking man from Cardiff? Don’t talk rubbish. He was just being friendly.”
“If by friendly you mean he wanted to bend you over that counter and have his way with you, then - yeah.”
Harry flushes and turns to trail his hand through the water. Oolong bobs along to have a nibble. “Even if he was flirting - which I still dispute, by the way - I didn’t flirt back, did I? He really wasn’t my type - far too cheery and toothy. Don’t worry, Draco, your counter will remain unviolated.”
“I should bloody well hope so. I spent ages polishing it this morning,” he replies crossly. “Speaking of which, will you remove your bags of fish-related merchandise before the after-school rush starts.”
Harry picks up his bags and wanders over to the window. “How was he bothering her?”
“I suspect he was trying it on with her too, but with rather less respect,” says Draco, following him. “So I came over to give the glass a little clean and he scarpered.”
He wants Harry to have whatever he needs to make him happy, and he’s all too aware that what Harry needs is probably not a nearly middle-aged obsessive compulsive ex-Death Eater who owns far too many cleaning products. With that in mind he has, for many years, stood back and let others have a clear field but that doesn’t mean he’s going to encourage sharkish types like today’s suitor. Not that Harry ever appears to notice, and a man who can miss a predatory grin like that is certainly not going to be looking for subtext in scrabble tiles.
December Eighth - He smartest most that hides his smart (Sir Walter Raleigh - The Silent Lover)
Prompt - London Symphony Orchestra
It’s just him and Sophie today, and for once he’s glad of that. He left Harry doing the Christmas Cards, a neat little pile on the floor by his side, named and addressed and just requiring Draco’s own signature. And yep, it’s this kind of thing that fuels the rumours.
As Harry brushes past him on his way to the shop door, Draco can feel Sophie’s covert gaze. He looks up but Harry’s gone, gone just like that, and hasn’t even said where he’s going. Of course, he’s perfectly entitled to do so - but it’s unusual.
The door slams.
Draco starts and looks away from the window. “Yes, fine, well -”
They stand in silence at the counter rolling Quidditch socks and Draco briefly closes his eyes. “Soph -”
No reply. He looks at her rigid back. “Sophie -”
“Is this about Harry?” Her voice is rough but her hands still.
He spots two unmatched socks. How on earth did that happen. “Yes. So you know -”
She still doesn’t turn around. “Draco, I know all about it. I’m not blind, and I’ve been working here a long time. At this point, pretty much the only people who don’t think you and Harry are a couple are, well, you and Harry. And Hector,” she adds as an afterthought.
“Hector? But he -"
At last she turns to look at him. “Haven’t you noticed? He always calls Harry your ‘boyfriend’, but it’s a slur. It doesn’t even occur to Hector that you might be - that two men could actually be in love.”
Draco looks at her thoughtfully. “Has Harry spoken to you?”
She weighs a sock in each hand. “Yee-s -.” She sets them on the counter, and Draco itches to straighten them. “But I can’t tell you - I can’t get involved in this Draco. You’ve got to work this out for yourselves.”
“Does he hate me?”
“No,” she says, eyes widening. “Merlin, no. Harry doesn’t hate you. I don’t think he knows what he feels.”
“So, what?” says Draco relief vying with weariness. “I just wait?”
“It’s served you well so far,” she says, looking at him seriously. “I’d stick with it. Give him time, Draco. Think how long it took you to figure everything out - and Harry’s not exactly in touch with his feelings.”
Thank heavens for the concert tonight then. The flyer promises music so sublime it will transport him to another world. Let’s hope so, because that sounds to be just what he needs at the moment. Even as he heads down the road, trailing his feet through the last few fallen leaves, his breathing starts to settle and his shoulder relax. The stress is all getting a bit much - last night Hermione recommended yoga, of all things,and hadn’t she been amused when Ron and Harry went downstairs to inspect Oolong.
“A fish. You bought him a fish.”
And he’s still wondering if it was too obvious. But things are obviously starting to move and connect in Harry’s mind, so if there was ever a time to make certain things clear, it’s probably now. Though that does, of course, risk everything.
So eager is he that there’s almost no queue when he arrives and he has a good chance of getting a seat just a little right of centre, where the deep notes of the basses and cello will rumble through him. Even as a child he preferred the lower notes to the high notes of the Sopranos and flutes, and he wonders if that should, perhaps, have told him something.
Squeezing down the rows to find the perfect seat, he savours the notes and scales and occasional squeaks as the orchestra warms up. Looking around, he is glad to see that he has pitched his outfit just right and he is far less conspicuous than the group of tourists wearing cargo trousers and fleeces noisily making their way along the line and forcing the other concert-goers to stand up, perching awkwardly as the flip seats fold back.
By the time the oboe has played its tuning note, Draco has forgotten his worries of the week and all he can feel is a rising sense of anticipation, which peaks as the choir files on, followed by the first violin, and the conductor lifts his baton for the first jubilant trumpet note.
Closing his eyes with relief, he realises that the music is just as sublime as he remembers. No need to wait, tensely, for a false note here. And for the first time this year, he feels the joy and expectation of Advent.
The second movement is reflective and pours, like balm, over his sore heart and shattered nerves, and he is beginning to float away when when the aggressive brasses in the third movement shock him into wakefulness. Jerking upright he exchanges a rueful smile with his neighbour before the softer notes begin their soothing caress.
He is content to follow the harmonies with the most primitive part of his brain when the most beautiful alto he has ever heard begins the gentle Misericordia, the music that first gave him solace when mercy seemed too much to hope for. He manages, just, to hold it together through the modulations to the sublime resolution, although his hands are balled into fists and his breaths deep and shuddering. And fortunately the Fecit Potentiam gives him time to collect himself, but he knows what is to come next.
Clarinet, oboe and flute mingle and he sits overwhelmed, feeling this in the wrenching and pulling of his gut as Esurientes, the music that drew him here, draws him into beautiful oblivion. Hot, silent tears stream down his face as the beautiful restraint of the Contralto line allows him the only relief he knows. Sometimes he thinks that the visceral feeling of music, good music, is the nearest Muggles get to the feeling of magic, but now he knows that this is even more beautiful.
Thrown back to earth with a bang by the exultant Gloria he opens his eyes for the finale, which thankfully gives him time to compose himself before he rises with everyone. When the applause has faded, and wondering who the alto is, he realises that he has, in his haste, forgotten to buy a programme. As he looks round a white sheet is slipped onto his lap and he looks up to thank his attentive neighbour.
“They did bring around a box, just before they started, but you were in a daze and I didn’t like to disturb you,” says the well-dressed man to his left. “Impressive, wasn’t it? I thought the LSO were on fine form tonight.”
Impressive, thinks Draco, is entirely the wrong word to describe such music, but he’s incapable of speech and suddenly very aware of the tear tracks on his cheeks and his shaking hands.
“Are you all right? Let me get you a drink or -”
Draco, shaking his head, stands abruptly and forces his way to the door, the programme still in his hand.
When he gets home, still light-headed and shaky from the purging of his inconvenient emotions, Harry is lounging on the sofa in his pyjamas trousers, and reading a Quidditch magazine. Upside down, apparently. However, as Draco carefully hangs up his coat he shifts along the cushions and pours another cup of tea.
“It’s still hot. ‘Mione gave me a packet of herbal tea when they came for dinner last night. It’s supposed to be very relaxing. Actually,” he says with a penetrating glance, “You look like you need it more than I do.”
“Maybe she should try it on Rose,” says Draco, accepting the drink and sinking down on the sofa next to Harry, but not too close.
And that, now he’s finally able to take a step back and analyse, is funny, actually. Although Harry has been jumpy around him, it’s intermittent. Sometimes they can pass a whole afternoon behind the counter, rubbing shoulders as they reach for the till at the same time, or Harry will press a hand to his back as he squeezes past Draco, and he doesn’t even seem to notice, and yet at other times he backs away, or jumps and gets all rattled. It is all rather odd and unpredictable, which makes life a little tricky, because he and Harry have always been very tactile with each other, and it’s hard to stop and consider every move at this late stage.
Back when they Draco first realised that what he felt for Harry went beyond friendship, he had, realising his interest was not returned, subtly tried to draw back from physical affection. Certainly, he had not initiated it, feeling rather like he was taking advantage, in the circumstances, but curiously he soon discovered that many of the touches, hands in the small of the back, even hair ruffles, were initiated by Harry and Harry alone. Unsure what to do with this information he had waited and observed, and eventually concluded that Harry needed physical affection like he needed air, and by that point he was already coming to realise that whatever Harry needed, he would give.
“What’s this?” says Harry, picking up the white programme, which Draco has all but forgotten.
“Just the programme. That’s where I went."
Harry shrugs. “Looks like someone’s written their details down. Is classical music the new scene?”
Draco holds out his hand, trying not to flush. “Give it to me.”
Harry hands it over, apparently with reluctance. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to -.” He bites his lip.
Taking the paper, Draco unfolds it. “Cheeky bastard."
“Who?" Harry’s looking at Quidditch Weekly again, and really it’s lucky for everyone that he decided not to go into the Aurors, because subtlety is not his strong suit.
“Just some guy I met at the concert,” he says as lightly as he can. “I must have picked it up by accident."
Harry puts down his magazine, stands and avoids his gaze. “Sorry. I didn’t realise. I’ll, um, I’ll see you tomorrow. ‘Night, Draco.” He retreats, awkwardly into his bedroom, leaving his unfinished tea on the coffee table.
To hear what music moved Draco so much try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb14AreOtY4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Plgxj70Lrc
Chapter 9: I am not yours, not lost in you
Ninth of December - I am not yours, not lost in you (S. Teasdale)
Prompt - Candle light
Oolong is definitely a success. Harry has spent every spare moment chatting to his new friend, and he certainly looks a bit happier. Harry, that is. It's harder to tell with a fish. But whether Harry's aware of any fishy subtext is another matter altogether.
Everything’s looking up, even for Nisha, who he finds chatting away to Harry on the doorstep. For a moment, he thinks they might have succeeded in convincing her to come up for a warm meal, but that hope is dashed when Harry enters the shop alone. It’s only a matter of time though.
After the Cottage Pie they repair to the sofa in companionable silence. Harry finishes off the Christmas cards, licking the envelopes with a relish that makes Draco shudder, and provides token and not particularly useful help with Draco’s crossword.
“Elegant?" he suggests, wrongly. "So, I was thinking about getting Molly a day at that Wizarding spa in Harrogate, but it’s a bit much, so I wondered if you’d like to go in with me.”
Draco looks up with a sigh. He’s about to speak when there’s a woosh and Ron’s head appears in the fireplace. Without preamble he points at them.
“You guys have completely dropped me in it.”
Draco exchanges a startled glance with Harry, who appears equally at a loss, and looks back in time to see blue eyes widening in consternation. “Merlin, sorry, I’ll just um, leave you to it-"
And yes, with the candles it probably does look a little -- odd, but Harry claims it makes him feel more Christmassy and Draco is well aware that the warm yellow light gives his pale skin and hair rather an attractive glow, so he’s not complaining.
Draco rolls his eyes. “It’s fine. What have we done now?”
Ron is still looking flustered but he obviously decides not to argue the point.
“You guys - encouraging me to take ‘Mione to Claridges for our wedding anniversary. I went and booked it, paid the deposit and everything.”
“And?” says Draco, pushing Harry’s feet off his lap and straightening his paper. “She’ll love it.”
“That’s just it,” says Ron, squinting at them through the flames. “When I told her she went ballistic.”
Draco looks at Harry. ‘Ballistic?’ he mouths. Harry throws up his hands in an expressive boom.
“Take Hermione to Claridge’s, you said. She’s a classy sort of bird and it’s right up her street.”
Harry snorts. “That doesn’t sound like Draco. Sure you’ve got that right Ron?”
“I think our friend is paraphrasing. What I believe I said is that Hermione is a woman of taste and discernment and she deserves a nice meal somewhere that’s not the Hogwash Head.”
“Yeah, that,” says Ron. “Well I’m in the Crup house now, thanks to you two.”
“Why?” asks Harry, putting down the last of his Christmas cards and motioning Ron to come through.
“Can’t,” he says. “Mione’s working late and I’m in charge of Rose. She’s drowning in admin, she could really do with some help.”
“Weasley,” says Draco. “You are beginning to try my patience.”
“Well,” says Ron, flicking him the v. “Apparently there’s some Muggle political group called UTIT - and honestly, I thought SPEW was bad - but they’ve said that breastfeeding mothers should sit in a corner with a towel over them, and Claridge’s made some woman wear a napkin when she was feeding her baby, and to cut a long story short, ‘Mione says she won’t go near the place. What am I going to do? I’ve paid the deposit and they won’t give it back.”
“That’s rather the point of deposits,” says Draco, earning himself a poke in the ribs. “But yes, I think I read about that.” He tugs a broadsheet from under Harry’s thigh. “Here, in this Muggle paper. They’re the people who said gay marriage causes hurricanes or earth warming or something,” he adds.
“I wondered if you two would like to go instead of us, and do a swap?”
Draco looks up in time to see Harry roll his eyes at the fire.
“All right,” says Harry, just as Draco says, “I would but I took my mother there last week and I don’t have much spare cash.”
“Well,” says Harry. “I’ll pay. We can celebrate our shop anniversary at the shop. I’ll go and get my wallet - it’s in my room.”
Ron looks at Draco. “Yeah, and that’s not going to stop the rumours. They’ll be predicting your engagement in the bloody Prophet if they find out about that.”
Draco shrugs. There’s little he can do when Harry’s set his mind on something, and anyway, Harry’s coming back.
“Thanks Harry,” says Ron, taking the notes. “You’re a good mate. But it still doesn’t help me with Hermione.”
Draco picks up the newspaper and pushes it through the flames. “I’ll owl you some other good restaurants, although I can’t speak for their breastfeeding policies. She might like to see this - apparently they’re arranging a breastfeeding sit in.”
“Right,” says Ron, nodding. “Not a bad idea. She loves a good protest. Worth a try anyway. Cheers guys, have a nice, um, evening.”
“I don’t get this whole breastfeeding fuss,” says Draco when the fire has died down. “Isn’t that what breasts are for?”
“According to Hermione ‘the widespread sexualisation of women’s bodies means that people have lost touch with the original purpose of mammary glands’,” replies Harry, settling back on the sofa, his thigh pressing against Draco’s. “It’s a conversation I’d rather not relive.”
“Hmmph.” He relaxes into the heat. “Odd. They’re just a bit strange and squishy. I don’t really get the appeal.”
Harry raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t expect you would.” He crosses his arms and looks into the fire. “In fact, I had no idea you had any experience with breasts.”
And that, thinks Draco, is true. When the question of orientation came up one curry night, more years ago than he cares to remember, the conversation proceeded along the lines of ‘gay’, ‘thought so, me too’, ‘beer?’. And since then their love lives have been probably the only subject they have consistently avoided.
“Pansy had breasts,” he says, shuddering. “They got in the way. I’ve never looked at jelly the same way since.”
Harry pulls a face. “I really don’t want to think about you and her like that. It’s all wrong.”
“No worse than you and Ginevra,” Draco says, pulling his legs up and tucking them beneath him.
“No,” says Harry. “It’s - I mean that was obviously a mistake and Gin was very generous and understanding, and I don’t really blame her for telling ‘Mione about it - it must have been a bit confusing, and um, humiliating - but it was still excruciatingly embarrassing. But you and Pansy - it’s just -.” He glances at him out of the corner of his eye. “Does she still - you know?”
“Fancy me?” asks Draco, trying to hold in his amusement. “Given that it was apparently the ‘worst sexual experience’ she’s ever had - and she said that only last year, by the way, so there was a fair bit of competition - I think I can safely say that her interests lie elsewhere.”
“Good,” says Harry. “Because, you know, it would be awful for her if she still liked you.”
“We’ve never really discussed sex before, have we?” he continues quietly after a long moment in which Draco looks firmly at the fire, although Harry, who can never resist fiddling with stuff, is shredding his Christmas card list into a little pile on the cushion in his lap.
Draco can’t breathe. He is so aware of the narrow space between them, which seems to be getting smaller by the second, that he would almost swear he can feel a pull like, like - those magnets of Teddy’s. The tension is threatening to tip him over the edge, he might even do something, but he holds back. This cannot end well.
“Is there anyone at the moment, for you?” asks Harry, and Draco would think his voice careless if it weren’t for the fact that for a moment Harry’s hands still, suspended above his cushion.
Draco takes a deep breath before asking, “Would you care to clarify?”
“Oh, um-." Harry rubs the back of his neck. “Are you seeing anyone at the moment?”
His instincts were right. He closes his eyes in relief - he came so close -. “No, Harry. I am not seeing anyone at the moment.”
Harry picks up the abandoned paper and starts sieving it through his fingers. “Well that’s probably for the best, they probably wouldn’t like me very much, if there was, you know, someone.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” says Draco and for the life of him he can’t keep his voice entirely steady.
“Well, we spend a lot of time together, and they might find that a bit strange.” Harry must see something in Draco’s face, however much he’s trying to keep it neutral, because he swears. “Oh, god, I -”
“Are you saying you’d rather we did - less, together?” Draco asks. He swallows and for a moment his voice just won’t work. “Because I can see that you probably don’t get much time to meet people, and maybe we do spend rather a lot of time together -. I could probably rearrange the rota, and -”
“Merlin, no. Stop -” and suddenly Draco’s hand is in Harry’s. Draco looks down at their intertwined fingers, and the words are all jumbled in his head, and he just can’t think.
Harry follows his gaze. “Sorry - I just didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.”
“And that’s how you go about it?” he asks, smiling faintly. Harry lets go and turns away, giving Draco time to pull himself together.
“Tea?” he tries.
“No thanks, it’s all right. I think I’ll go and have a bath.”
Draco waits until he’s gone before retiring to the sanctuary of his own room, where he sits on his bed, his head in his hands, aching and hopeless.
December Tenth - Lost as a snowflake in the sea (S. Teasdale)
Prompt - Glass of red wine
The broom delivery arrives just after closing, and thank goodness. Harry makes it to the door first, which is probably for the best because over the last few days Draco has spent his few quiet moments planning precisely what he’s going to say to the bloody broom manufacturer. The haggard looking courier probably isn’t to blame though, and he could also probably do without Draco’s particular brand of cutting sarcasm.
Now they have just to enlarge, sort and display the entire consignment of brooms and it will likely take most of the evening. At first he enjoys running his hand over the smooth wood and promising himself he’ll have a go as soon as the Christmas rush is over. It might actually be unethical to advise customers to buy this broom when they haven't had a chance to test it, and he wonders if he can convince Harry with that line. However, with Harry busy setting up the displays and windows he thinks it would be as well, in the circumstances, to hide himself in the stock room.
An hour later, surrounded by enlarged boxes, he hears Harry appear in the stock room behind him and he smiles to himself.
“There isn’t enough space.” The game is on.
Harry shuffles in the doorway, “Every year, he says that every year.”
Draco turns round. “Are you talking to that fish again? I mean it this time, Harry. They won’t fit.”
Harry gazes at him. “They will fit, you will make them fit. Just like you do every year.”
Time for a little melodrama. Draco waves the broom at the packed shelves. He knows the script. They have had this conversation, or almost exactly this one, every single Christmas broom delivery since 2005. The question is, will this conversation follow the script to the finale he has come to expect and anticipate.
He’s exhausted and emotionally brittle after last night and another long day in the shop, which, even with Sophie’s help is threatening to overwhelm them. Harry looks, if anything, even worse, and it doesn't take much to persuade him to leave the stock room to the expert and make some dinner.
Alone in the chilly room he thinks back to that night in the cheese shop, nine years ago, soon after he and Harry first moved in together, and, coincidentally, also the night when Draco first realised that he was absolutely and completely fucked.
When the salesman tried to convince them that Thestral cheese was an acquired taste, Draco, watching Harry as he stood laughing with the particular smile that Draco had come to think of as belonging to him and him only, had, with mounting horror and elation, just known. Apparently Harry is his acquired taste. Thestral cheese, on the other hand, he could definitely live without.
The shock had sent him reeling against the display cabinets, and Harry, assuming he’d been over-doing it sorting the hundreds of Christmas broomsticks, had taken him home to the fire, brought food and wine, and finally, offered to massage the tension from his shoulders. Guilty, but unable to resist the temptation, Draco had leant back against the sofa, supported on either side by Harry’s jean-clad thighs, and rested his head in strong but surprisingly gentle hands.
And ever since then, once the brooms have been unpacked, Draco has set about arranging his stock room, while Harry has gone to prepare the dinner. When Draco arrives upstairs he knows exactly what will happen. Or rather, he knows what should happen.
Enlarging shelves as Harry potters about overhead, he wonders bleakly if this is the beginning of the end. In moments of uncharacteristic optimism he has thought that if Harry were ever going to come to a realisation of what is between them, it will be on this night, when he drags himself bone weary to sit in front of the fire and a Harry who is waiting on the sofa with a glass of red wine and an offer he can’t refuse.
When, unable to delay any further, he makes it upstairs, there is no wine and he doesn’t need to be told that tonight there will be no shoulder rub either. That this should end without a word being spoken only goes to show how mistaken he has been.
He is about to suggest that he just goes to bed - uncertain whether he can sit through dinner with the mocking memory of what might have been - when Harry shuffles up the sofa, apparently to make room for him.
“Is it done?”
“It is.” Hope overcoming sense, he sinks down onto the cushions beside him. “What are you reading?”
Harry shows him the cover. Aah. Swallows and Amazons. Harry’s preferred comfort read. Is it significant? He’s too tired to work it out and the only thing he does know right now is that conversation is out of the question.
“Read to me?” He asks, pulling off his boots and tucking his legs up beside him.
“I’m right in the middle,” Harry demurs, but as Draco sinks back against the sofa, leaning his head on his arm, he smiles and turns the page.
Harry reads, his voice getting steadily more confident, and making Draco smile with his funny voices and deep voice. Rather like the cellos last night, he thinks, eyes closed and drifting, drifting drifting. It’s so warm, with the fire and the soft woollen sofa beneath his cheek, the gentle rocking of the boat, up and down, up and down, in and out, and the hand lightly stroking his arm. His last thought, as Harry reads of boats and sails and adventures, is that coming home to Harry is like coming in to safe harbour.
Quite a bit of the dialogue taken directly from All Must Draw Near here. Swallows and Amazons belong to Arthur Ransome.
Chapter 11: A time of war and a time of peace
December Eleventh - A time of war and a time of peace (Ecclesiastes 3:7)
Prompt - Death Eater mask
Entering the kitchen he pauses for a moment to watch Harry, damp hair curling around his ears, concentrate as he carefully measures amber liquid into a tablespoon and pours it over the Christmas cake. Draco walks over, sniffing the air for its mingling aromas of good whisky and Harry. He stops.
“Oi! Is that my Glenlivet you’re putting in the Christmas cake?”
Harry turns round, the evidence still in his hand. “Erm, it might be.”
Draco peers over his shoulder to inspect the cake. “I did wonder why it was going down so fast. I almost thought I’d better have a sober January. Do you know how much that stuff costs, Harry? It’s a twelve year French oak finish. I’m not sure they even make it any more.”
Harry looks guiltily at the bottle, turning it in his hand to read the label. “Sorry, I’m not very good at whiskies. But it does taste better, you said so yourself.”
“When did I say that?” asks Draco, pulling the cake towards him. “I’ve not even tried this one - Oh, bloody hell Potter. No wonder my last bill from Borteg’s was so high.”
“You tried last year’s,” says Harry, swatting his hand away and bundling the cake up in foil and paper again. “You said it was a definite improvement on the previous one. So I thought I’d use it again this time. I won’t next year, if you’d prefer.”
Draco groans and turns to switch the kettle on with a flick of his wand. “If you can find me the same whisky you can use it again, but it does seem a bit of a waste.” He watches Harry pack the cake into a ridiculous tin with a grinning Santa waving and ‘ho ho ho’ ing as he’s pulled across the sky. “I suppose I’d better savour every bite.”
Waking to find himself curled up against Harry last night, Draco had found himself unable to distinguish dreams from reality. He thought drifting in the transition between wakefulness and sleep, that he’d felt a gentle hand stroking up and down his arm, but it might just have been wishful thinking.
Their dinner afterwards was a trifle awkward, determined as they both were to talk at length about the pros and cons of various racing brooms until it was a respectable time to go to bed. But he dreamt about it later, though then the stroking segued into fingers ruffling through his hair, which led to a mad scramble to kiss and taste - and a mortifyingly hard start to the day. Hence his late arrival in the kitchen.
Draco is still putting the finishing touches to wood and glass of the displays while Harry behind the counter is making up gift boxes, when their first customer, a frantic lady in a soot covered robe dashes in.
“I need silver polish, cauldron scourer and a sweep-free broom.”
Draco looks at Harry in amusement, and shrugs.
“Not that sort of broom shop I’m afraid.”
Stopping in her mad search through her pockets, she looks around. “Oh, good heavens, I thought this was the Quality Cleaning Co.”
“Three doors up on your right,” supplies Harry, turning down the music. “This is Quality Quidditch Supplies. Though we do seem to have an awful lot of polish.” He raises an eyebrow at Draco.
“Oh dear,” she says, coming over to the counter. “You’ll think me quite mad but my in-laws sent me an owl this morning - they’re coming tonight to avoid the snowstorm they’re all talking about on the Wizarding Wireless - and the house is a complete mess because the children have been down with colds, so I just sort of jumped in the floo to the Leaky and someone said the shop was over here --” She looks at Draco and her eyes widen. “This is the Quidditch shop. You’re Draco Malfoy.”
Draco stills, but from the corner of his eye he can see Harry step forward, his hand going to his wand pocket.
“Yes,” he says, as calmly as he can. It’s not like he hasn’t had plenty of practice over the years, it’s just that one never knows quite what one will hear. Although he can probably narrow it down.
“Oh,” she says, softly. Her hand goes to her breast. Oh dear. In many ways he prefers the shouty ones.
“Here,” says Harry, floating over a chair from the boot section. “You look like you need to sit down.”
“I’m sorry.” She sinks heavily onto the chair and pats Harry’s hand. “I’m glad you’re here, Mr Potter.”
Harry raises awkward eyes to Draco and jerks his chin in the direction of the stock room. Draco doesn’t need to be told twice.
“I’ll just check the stock out the back. I can see that I am making you uncomfortable.” He starts to squeeze between the cabinet and the counter, avoiding the front part of the shop.
“No, no, don’t go,” says the lady, taking a tissue from Harry. “I’ve been wanting to speak to you for years, but I’ve never had the courage.”
Harry meets Draco’s mute appeal and shrugs.
“All right,” he says, stepping forward.
The lady, who must be in her early fifties, looks up at him with determination.
“Your father -.” She pauses, her hands curling and unfurling around the tissue.
“I did many regrettable things, but I am not my father,” he begins, as he has so many times before. Harry is watching him in concern and he doesn’t need that just now.
“No, no. Don’t think that - . No, your father was a terrible, terrible man. My husband was a half-blood, I was a Muggleborn. The Death Eaters came in their masks. I - I - was out with the children but we got home the Morsmordre was there, and he was gone. I found out later that he was taken to Malfoy Manor.” She swallows and presses Harry’s hand. “He didn’t come home.”
Draco rubs his face. There is no comfort he can offer and so little he can say. “I’m sorry.”
She seems to be gathering strength from Harry, because she stands and walks over to the counter.
“I want to tell you that I don’t blame you. I’ve heard what went on at that house, and I’m sure Mr Potter here knows all about it or he wouldn’t have stood for you at your trial.” She holds out a shaky hand. Draco, takes it unsteadily.
“You were a child, Mr Malfoy, a victim almost as much as your friend here, and you have turned your life around. You should be proud of yourself.
Draco cups her hand in his before he takes a long breath. “I - I don’t know your name, but thank you. I’m not sure I can ever forgive myself, but it means a lot to know that you do.”
“I had my Toby for only five years, and I don’t regret a day of it.” She wipes her nose and walks to the door. “Don’t waste your life on regrets. Seize every chance of happiness, because you don’t know when it will be your last.”
As the door closes behind her Harry looks uncertainly across the room. Shaking his head Draco turns and walks unseeingly to the stock room.
After five minutes or so of blessed calm Harry appears in the doorway.
“Are you okay?”
Draco nods and puts down his stack of boxes. He’s still not sure he can trust himself to speak.
“She couldn’t have put it better if I’d scripted it myself,” says Harry softly. “I don’t suppose you might believe me and Hermione next time we try to tell you that?”
Draco looks him over carefully. “Are you sure you didn’t put her up to it?”
“If I hadn’t seen the very real anguish on her face,” Harry says, taking a step closer. “I’d have accused Hermione myself.”
“You’d better get out there, it’s a quarter to nine.”
Harry gives him a searching look before nodding. “Come out when you’re ready. I can manage on my own.”
Preparing piles of clothes ready to replenish stock on the shop floor, Draco manages to stay out of the way of the next few customers, including a very earnest Canadian tourist who informs Harry that he’s on a week long tour of Europe and needs a Quodpot ball, which is, of course, completely illegal in the UK. He thinks he’ll leave Harry to sort out that one out. It’s typical that now they’ve actually got brooms to sell, including the much vaunted new Nimbus, people want bloody furniture polish and illegal sporting equipment instead, which reminds him - he’s not finished doing the window glass.
Brushing past Harry, who jumps so much so that Draco actually apologises, he takes his cloth to the front of the shop. Nisha’s still there, looking almost blue with cold, and he can’t imagine that will get any better. The Wizarding Wireless has been forecasting a weather bomb. Whatever that is, it doesn’t sound much fun.
He’s watching Harry, covertly in the reflection, and wondering what has got him so worked up this morning - consoling war victims being all in a day’s work - when his attention is drawn by a rumpus outside. Opening the door he sees a crowd of primary aged children on their hover-scooters, marauding up the pavement, their parents a solid pack behind them.
The Wizarding school is a very new venture which has attracted a number of Wizarding families, especially those with mixed blood backgrounds - the more traditional Pure blood families still seeming to prefer private tutoring. It’s just a shame it opened too late to be any use for Teddy.
“Sparks! Oh Sparks, come back - he’s going to be -.” Nisha’s struggling out of her sleeping bag as Sparks dashes in between the children, jumping up at the trailing purple streamers adorning the girls’ scooters.
“Accio!” A startled and very wriggly dog comes flying through the air, and Draco catches him neatly.
“Oh well done. Thank you.” Nisha stands up at last, tears just starting to form in her eyes. “I thought he was going to get squashed.”
Draco smiles down at her. “He’d probably have been all right - those hover scooters don’t go very fast and there’s all sorts of protection built in.” Sparks jumps down and into his mistress’s arms.
He shivers in his thin shirt. “It’s cold out here. Why don’t you come in? We’ve got the fire going.”
For a moment she looks through the window but then she glances down at the dog now burrowing his way under her arm, and shakes her head. “Thank you, but I’ll be fine out here.”
He sighs. “Well, if you change your mind you’re welcome any time. I think it’s going to hail later.”
It does indeed hail later and thankfully Harry has more success in persuading Nisha in, although he gets soaked to the skin himself because the bloody idiot wouldn’t use a waterproof charm, which would probably explain why he’s starting to look really quite unwell. Still, the ruse seems to work and for the rest of the day Nisha perches on the window sill, her damp sleeping bag at her side, whilst Sparks darts around the shoppers with occasional breaks for naps by the fire.
The shop is manically busy once news of the Nimbus delivery gets out and it is not until they are closing up that Draco has a chance to speak to either Harry or Nisha. Harry’s obstinacy beating Nisha’s pride, she is finally convinced to join them for dinner, on Draco’s condition that Sparks at least be given a bath whilst Harry and Nisha get the dinner going. He’ll work on Nisha herself later - a little more tact will be required there, he thinks. First, he has a dog to wash.
Chapter 12: The path that we must tread lies side by side
December Twelfth - The path that we must tread lies side by side (Kenneth Graham)
Prompt - Suggestive card
Nisha stayed. Of course. Her story last night resonated with him, naturally, and when she told them about her Pure Blood supremacist father he could feel Harry’s anxious gaze on him. Trying to avoid an arranged marriage, he can also understand, he thinks, leaning into the pantry and putting the herbs back - in alphabetical order this time. He has escaped that, but only thanks to his father’s death. His mother has not pursued the subject and he does not know whether that is due to her rejection of Pure Blood rites, a lack of willing brides, or whether his mother, too, has joined the legions who believe that he and Harry are - that.
Looking at Nisha though, a young girl the same age he was when faced with similar choices, he wishes he had been equally brave. Perhaps he could ask - discreetly of course - if his mother still knows the Singhs. There was a hint last night of a love affair and he wonders whether they will ever find each other again. Nisha’s only young still so perhaps she’ll find someone else. On the other hand, he thinks, he made up his mind at twenty-five and it still is, and probably always will be, Harry.
He looks round the kitchen, satisfied at last. Cleaning up only took an hour and now that his anxiety has receded he hopes that Nisha was not too upset by his reaction to her good-natured attempt to clean the kitchen. She did, actually, do a better job than Harry usually manages. She seems like a very nice, polite, unassuming girl and she is definitely better on their spare sofa than in the street. It’s not as if they ever use it.
The shop is hectic and he and Sophie are struggling to cope, even with Nisha’s help. She doesn’t know much about broomsticks but she’s a whiz with the wrapping paper and Spellotape, and that’s fortunate, because Draco tends to fuss over the wrapping, folding the triangular corners just so, until Harry comes over and forcibly finishes. Messily.
By mid-afternoon they’re fire-calling Ginny to see if she can help out, given that she’s currently out of the game with a minor injury. She seems happy with the change of scene and soon sets to work with Harry in the stock room.
In a quieter spell, Draco, on his way to the little kitchen to switch on the kettle for a much needed cup of tea, overhears his name.
“Is Draco all right?”
He can just imagine Harry as he looks carefully around before answering. “I think so. He doesn’t seem very happy at the moment.”
“Nisha said you had one of those people in yesterday. That always upsets him.” She pauses delicately.
There’s a clatter of broom polish tins, and Draco sniffs. He told Harry he’d stacked them too high.
“No,” says Harry after a moment. “It was a nice one. Which was worse, probably. She actually came in asking for silver polish and one of those brooms you don’t have to sweep. Draco told her it was the wrong kind of broom shop.”
Ginny chuckles. “You should hear Mum on the subject - says they don’t sweep properly. Oh well, you could probably have sold her the silver polish at least. There’s tons of it in his little cleaning drawer out there.”
“We’ve got even more in here,” says Harry, grimly. “Just look at this cupboard. Anyone would think he’s preparing for a polish shortage. Honestly, if that shop ever comes on the market I think we should take it on. It’d be right up his street.”
“You’ll have quite a wait. I was in there with mum last week and old Mrs Asep was saying she won’t give it up until she’s a hundred. She’s only ninety now.”
He can hear Harry laugh over the rumble of the kettle. “Oh well, there’s no hurry. But he’d have a great time making up new furniture polishes and kitchen sprays.”
“Harry -” Draco hears her say softly. “Do you really think you and he will still be doing this in ten years time?”
“Doing what?” There’s a creak as the cleaning cupboard claps shut.
“Well, you know, living here, running this shop together -”
“What else would we do, Gin? This is our life.”
Draco thinks it’s time to intervene, and, just maybe, he’d like to see Harry’s face. He floats three of the cups carefully behind him and pushes the door open.
Ginny gives him a troubled glance. “How long have you been there?”
“Long enough to hear Harry making plans with our money. Going to buy up Quality Cleaning Supplies, are we?”
Taking his cup, Harry grins at him. “I thought you’d like the idea. You’d love inventing cleaning potions and when it all gets too Christmassy over here you could pop down there and hide with your newt tails and rainbow slugs.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Draco says, hugging his cup of tea and failing to restrain his smile. “Nobody’s used newt tails for more than a decade - they’re carcinogenic.”
“I’ll leave you to it,” says Ginny, amusement in her voice, but as Harry smiles back at him, Draco barely notices her go.
Draco is taking advantage of the quiet to brew after work when he’s distracted by the tap tap tap of an owl. The suspension needs to settle, so, taking off his gloves he wanders into the sitting room - no sign of either Harry or Nisha. He’s not expecting post, and the owl’s unfamiliar, so he assumes it’s one of Harry’s Christmas present deliveries until the bird alights on the arm of the sofa and holds out a postcard with his name scrawled on it. Feeling in the jar on the mantelpiece for owl treats he turns the card over. And promptly drops the whole lot on the hearthstone.
“All I want for Christmas is you... naked.”
He looks round - if this is someone’s idea of a joke it’s not funny - but he’s alone. The owl is pecking his arm insistently so he gives it a treat and clears up the mess before he sinks down on the sofa.
He turns the card over again. No return address, no name except his, although the writing does look vaguely familiar. Hard to tell when it was apparently written from a moving broomstick.
He works through the people who could have sent it - It’s not subtle enough for Hermione, though she does have a record for sending cryptic postcards. All the Weasleys except Ron and Ginny seem to think that he and Harry are shagging all the time anyway, so it’s not them. He can’t imagine Ron sending this without serious embarrassment, and Ginny’s dirty enough, and she did give him a funny look this morning, but - unlikely. Sophie? He very much doubts it. His mother - not even an option. Pansy - a possibility. He taps his fingers on his thigh. Pansy is the most likely. Unless - No, that wouldn’t make sense at all, though -. He pauses. There have been a couple of times, like in the stock room earlier, when his eyes have met Harry’s and he’s wondered - when he’s almost thought -. But if it was Harry then the tone suggests that what Harry has to offer is probably not what he’s looking for.
He is still wondering when the timer rings on his potion, and he needs to hurry because it’s a restful mind potion today. At this point he’s not sure which of them needs it most. He tucks the postcard into his jeans and returns to his room. This requires further consideration.
His stomach is starting to rumble and he’s wondering whether he should make his own dinner tonight when he hears Harry and Nisha come through the door giggling. He has got no further in his ruminations and has almost decided that the best course of action is to just ask Harry if he knows anything about it. Harry is a walking personification of the term ‘open book’ so it would at least clear things up quickly.
The only difficulty is finding some neutral space to broach the subject. Whilst he cannot regret that Nisha has come to stay - indefinitely, apparently - it does put an end to their cosy evenings in the sitting room, and means that if they want to speak to each other privately, they must go to each other’s bedrooms. And of course they have been done so in the past - looking for lost books, clothes, dirty plates, or when one or the other of them is ill - but it’s a little awkward.
Nisha is in the shower and he finds Harry in the kitchen, just starting to chop onions. And that’s a pain because it’s going to be difficult to observe the effects. He throws him a modified Perspicacitus charm.
Harry looks up with a smile. “Oh, thanks. I always forget.”
“Did you need me?” Harry puts the knife down and leans against the kitchen counter.
Draco takes an anxious look over his shoulder. Still no sign of Nisha. Good. He pulls the postcard out of his pocket and pushes the address side along the worktop.
“I was wondering what you think I should do about this?” He turns the card over and Harry freezes.
“You’re asking me what you should do? Draco, this is addressed to you, and you know, it’s really not my place to say. I didn’t even know you were involved with someone.” He looks up. “You told me that there wasn’t anyone.”
Damn. He fiddles with the card. “Of course I’m not with anyone. But it’s addressed to me, and I have no idea who sent it. Do you recognise that handwriting? It's been anonymised and I didn’t recognise the owl.”
“Maybe it’s from the Ministry,” says Harry taking the card and turning it this way and that, as well as giving it a good sniff.
“The Ministry? Tax bills yes, city charges - frequently, but I’ve never received a dirty postcard from them before. Do you get many?” he asks with interest.
Harry flushes. “Idiot. I just meant could it be from someone who works there - they’ve got those automatically randomised quills now, and that would explain how the owl got through too.”
“Maybe." He taps the counter. "Are you sure you don’t recognise the writing?”
Harry looks at it again. “You know, now I come to think about it, it is familiar. I’ll have a think about it. Moussaka tonight?”
The three of them are relaxing with Scrabble - subtext free - after dinner when Ron steps through the hearth, still in his Auror uniform. Only spotting Nisha when he’s already well into the room, he stops, flustered.
“Erm, hello, I’d forgotten - you must be Nisha.” He sits down awkwardly on the only remaining chair. “Have you received any post today, Draco?”
Lightly pressing Harry’s arm, Draco turns to Ron. “No. Why?”
Ron is flushed and it’s clashing horribly with his maroon robes. “Some post’s gone astray. If you get a card will you just send it right back to me, please.”
“Oh, okay.” Draco looks at Harry and raises an eyebrow. “I’ll send it back to the Auror’s office shall I?”
Ron coughs. “Oh, um, no. Me at home’s fine.”
“Anything wrong?” chips in Harry.
Ron looks at him. “Well I was posting quite a few things this afternoon and I think I’ve got a bit muddled. I managed to send Hermione our reply to Draco’s invitation to dinner on the fifteenth, and I’m not sure where the message I sent to her ended up.”
“Oh dear,” says Harry, sitting up. “Oh well, I’m sure people will realise they’ve got the wrong message. Who else were you sending things to?”
“Well, I was pretty sure I sent it to Draco by accident, but if it hasn’t come here -.” He pauses. “Oh Merlin, I must have sent it to mum instead of my Christmas list." He stands. "Maybe I can intercept it before she gets home.” Turning, he jumps into the floo without even saying goodbye.
“Wasn’t that a little cruel?” asks Harry, when he can speak for laughing. Nisha is watching them with bright, curious eyes.
“Oh god,” chokes Draco. “What do you think he’ll say to Molly?”
“I dread to think. How long are you going to let him suffer?”
“I don’t know,” says Draco, folding his arms and smirking at Harry. “But the Christmas party should be fun.”
Chapter 13: I rather choose to want relief than venture the revealing
December Thirteenth - I rather choose to want relief than venture the revealing (Sir Walter Raleigh)
Prompt - Crackers
He’s been sleeping lightly and he’s not sure if it’s concern for Harry that is waking him, or Harry himself, as he wanders around the flat at odd hours. Quite how the idiot thinks Draco won’t notice, he doesn’t know, but then Harry has never been known for his perception.
This morning there’s a grunt and a thump enough to wake the Goblins at Gringotts. Intrigued, Draco slips out of bed, reaching his door in time to watch Harry make his way down the hall to the boot cupboard, dressed only in his loose pyjama trousers. Ah. He’s off flying. It’s supposed to be a deathly secret between Harry and Ginevra, but honestly, Harry’s always been terrible at keeping secrets, he just doesn’t know it.
Watching the muscles ripple across broad, bare shoulders is far too much for this time of the morning and his unprepared, defenceless brain. And when Harry returns to his room, presumably to dress, unless he’s planning on half-naked flying - and oh god, there’s a thought - Draco knocks his head softly against the oak of the door.
He knows he’s not going to make it back to bed now and the moment Harry leaves the flat, closing the door with a subdued click, Draco groans, head in his hands. He knows he shouldn’t, and he’ll pay for it later, when Harry comes in all sweaty and windswept and it’ll be hard to meet his eye, but there’s only so long he keep up this level of control before something breaks.
As the hot spray massages his head he hisses. He’s not going to be able to ignore it this time, and perhaps a few awkward hours with Harry are better than another uncomfortable day hiding his arousal. Tipping back his head he lets the water stream over his face, his eyes closed. He needs it, god he needs it. Listening to make sure Harry hasn’t come back early, he reaches for his shower gel, before his eye is caught by Harry’s own shower foam.
Merlin this is such a bad idea, but he can’t help it, and he watches, horrified with himself, as his hand reaches inexorably for the bright green bottle on the shelf. Oh fuck. He squirts the foam into his hand, breathing deeply as he’s surrounded by the scent that drives him crazy every single bloody day.
He soaps up his chest and arms, almost dizzy with anticipation and need before he finally allows himself to slide a wet, soapy hand down his stomach and along his shaft. Oh god. This was a terrible idea, because it’s now all but impossible to visualise anyone but Harry on his knees before him. He tries, repeatedly, to call up a face, any face but Harry’s, but though the image flickers for a second it won’t stay away, and now Harry’s sliding warm hands down the back of his thighs as he kisses his way past his navel and down the line that runs diagonally from his hip bones to his cock. As his strokes gather pace he gives in to the smells and sensations, and soon it’s just him and Harry, and oh god, it’s marvellous.
“Hmmm. I thought it must be you.”
Draco drops his toast and it lands, butter side down, on the parquet floor of the kitchen. So lost in thought and bitter self-recrimination is he that Harry has managed to creep right up on him and sniff his neck. He bends over, and behind him Harry lets out a muffled groan.
“Sorry?” He spells the grease off the wood with the charm Molly showed him when they first had the floor laid.
“My shower gel. I smelt it when I first came in, and I wondered if it was Nisha. Have you run out?”
Draco closes his eyes. Well this serves him right. “Really? I must have picked up the wrong bottle. Sorry about that.”
He can feel Harry looking at him. “Draco - yours is yellow and mine’s green. You’re not going colour blind, are you?”
“Sorry, I obviously wasn’t thinking straight. I’ll buy you some more.” He turns away and concentrates on measuring out the exact quantity of coffee grounds. He feels a hand on his arm and spills some of the grounds on the worktop. He’ll need to wipe that up before - and Merlin, stop worrying about the kitchen surfaces and get your act together.
“God, no, Draco. It’s fine. You can do whatever you want with my shower gel.” Unhelpfully, Draco’s mind is filled with all sorts of things they could do with that shower gel. He is utterly incapable of speech.
“Honestly, I don’t mind. It was just a bit odd. And you smell like me, but with a hint of you too. It’s very strange.” Harry takes another deep sniff, his nose just tickling the sensitive skin of his pulse point. “I think I prefer yours - you always smell so citrusy, and fresh.”
He needs Harry to move away. Now. But he’s standing so close he can feel hot breath on the nape of his neck, and he’s enveloped in the warm earthy smell of a man who has just spent two hours on a broomstick.
Harry coughs. “I’ve got something to tell you.”
After a moment Draco manages to croak out, “What?"
“I think you’d better look at this broom.”
When his eyes fall on the scratched handle of a beautiful new Nimbus he almost screeches. What the fuck has Harry done to it. He carries it into the living room and examines it under the light.
“Are you insane? Look at it!" He runs his finger despairingly down the shaft. “How did you even manage to do this?" He’s obviously been stunt flying again even though he knows he shouldn’t unless there’s someone’s there to spot him. They’re not teenagers any more.
“I don’t know,” says Harry. And he is so bad at lying. Even Nisha, who is watching them from the window seat, can probably tell. “I’m sorry. We’ll strike that one off the stock and I’ll pay for it.”
Oh for crying out loud. “I don’t care about the money. I care about running out of that bloody broomstick before Christmas.” Feeling the depth of the scratch with his fingers he knows it will be impossible to repair properly.
Harry flops back onto the sofa and rubs his face. “You know what, I didn’t even think of that.”
He could almost feel like crying. It’s not even eight o’clock and the day has already gone to shit. He puts the broom down carefully on the table. Why on earth didn’t Harry take the promotional model - oh that’s right, there weren’t any. Still.
“What are we supposed to do with a broomstick we can’t sell?”
Opening up the shutters at nine he grins to himself. Not only has their new house-mate solved their problem, but Harry will suffer for it. He doesn’t know why he didn’t think of selling a broom ‘flown by Harry Potter himself’ for charity, because it’s quite simply a genius idea. Auctioning the broom off to admiring crowds was his own brilliant contribution. And, naturally, Harry hates it.
Fortunately the sheer uneventfulness of their life has preserved them from the worst the media hounds can do, and the wide-ranging anti-bigotry laws have kept everything but thickly veiled speculation on their so-called relationship out of the papers. As a result Harry has, over the years, become more relaxed about the media, but he has never lost his distaste for the fame that goes with his name.
When he gets back from a trawl through the Christmas markets - a little coat for Sparks and a woolly hot water bottle cover for Nisha because he’s noticed how much she still feels the cold were all he managed to find before the crowds overwhelmed him - he finds his house mates sitting on opposite sides of the coffee table, card, ribbons and Spellotape scattered around them.
“What’s it like out there?” Harry asks, clearing him a route through to the sofa.
“Awful,” he says. “There’s a special Knight Bus service for the market. It was ten deep at every stall so I gave up.”
“It’s usually better in the morning,” offers Nisha, hugging her knees to her chest and smiling as Sparks rolls in the ribbons with abandon. She is almost unrecognisable for the frozen, cowed teenager who came to dinner only two nights before.
“Tea? I just made some.” Harry scrambles to his feet and stretches out his back.
He nods. “Please. You’re awfully organised this year.”
“What? Oh - no, I’m way behind on my present shopping. We thought we’d make crackers for our dinner with Ron and Hermione. We’re trying to think up some good jokes.”
Draco bends down to pick up a cracker. Harry’s always been quite good at this creative stuff, and it’s amazing what they’ve achieved with a loo roll and a bit of Transfiguration.
“I thought bad jokes were traditional.”
He stops and feels in his pocket. Good, it’s still there. Casting a light Reducio at the miss-posted card he grins at Harry. “Which one’s for Hermione?”
Chapter 14: To risk nothing
December Fourteenth - To risk nothing
Prompt - Walking on a snowy road through a park
Yesterday brought him relief, temporary though it may be, which is fortunate because, happily, whatever internal struggles Harry’s going through, they haven’t stopped him wandering about the flat in just his tartan pyjama bottoms. And that sounded far creepier than he meant, even in his head.
Nisha doesn’t seem at all fazed to find herself sharing accommodation with an apparent semi-naturist, but he suspects that that is because she too believes them to be as good as married. And, for all intents and purposes - nearly every way but one - they might as well be.
Thank goodness for a change of scene. On London’s streets the only traces of the recent snow are the dirty little piles of brown slush on every corner. The snow is beautiful while it lasts but when it starts to melt, well, things get ugly.
The West Country however is snow-covered still and he shivers as the icy wind threatens to leach into his very bones. He's escaped the shop early but, having no desire to hang around at the freezing pitch, Apparated instead to a nearby park until it’s time to start the Under Eleven’s Quidditch practice - if anyone turns up.
Kicking the snow as he walks along the deserted road, he attempts to get some perspective. It goes without saying that he finds Harry attractive and one drunken curry night, years ago, Harry admitted that he thought Draco was ‘rather fit’. They love each other, he’s certain of that. There’s even a spark. It’s as though everything is there, it’s just waiting for someone to put the match to the fuse.
And that’s where his fear steps in. He has, of course, been through every conceivable what if scenario over the years. He’s even made lists. Because, even if you manage to light the fuse, you can’t guarantee the outcome. Sometimes you get a damp squib, sometimes it’s short but pretty, and sometimes the whole bloody thing blows up in someone’s face.
He needs to be absolutely sure that they’re doing the right thing. And he’s not.
“Don’t you find all this Jesus stuff a bit, I dunno, far-fetched?” Harry asks him, lifting his head from the cushions at one end of the sofa and gazing down at Draco who, his shoulder aching from an ill-timed bludger, is trying to do his crossword and ignore the pyjama covered leg lying less than an inch from his thigh.
He glances up. “What’s got you started on religion?”
Harry nods towards the odd assortment of socks now hanging from their chimney breast. “I was thinking about Christmas, and that little nativity thing at Teddy’s carol service - with the stable and Jesus and everything - and it all just seemed a bit crazy.”
“What,” says Draco, looking at him incredulously. “A mad king hears a prophecy that a baby will rise to be king, so he sets off to find this baby and murder him, and slaughters a lot of other innocents on the way. Oh yeah, insane.”
Nisha, kneeling on the floor to decorate the poster for the QQS First Annual Charity Auction, snorts.
December Fifteenth - Open thou mine eyes (Psalm 119:18)
Prompt - Cosy Christmas living room
His shoulder still hurts, and much as he’d love to linger under the soothing heat of the shower, the sight of two shower gels, leaning against each other on the soap tray, is conducive more to self-castigation than relaxation. Hopefully the embrocation he keeps in the first aid cabinet for just this sort of injury will do the trick. The only problem will be applying it.
“So you have hurt yourself,” says Harry, coming in with a string bag full of vegetables and dumping it on the kitchen table to unpack. “I thought you looked a bit funny last night, but I put it down to the cold. It was mad to play in that weather Draco, you should have called it off.”
“You can talk,” he mutters to himself, attempting to unscrew the lid with the help of a damp tea towel.
“Hmmmm?” Harry backs out of the pantry. “Oh, sorry, do you need a hand with that? There you go.” He deftly pops the lid and hurries back to the vegetables. He’s obviously not going to offer and Draco’s certainly not going to ask.
“What are you making for tonight?” he tries, unbuttoning the top of his pyjamas and dipping his fingers into the ointment.
A flustered head appears at the door, “For Ron and Hermione? Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and veg. Rosie should be able to eat most of that as long as the beef’s tender enough.”
Draco reaches over his shoulder, wincing as his fingers probe the purpling bruise across his scapula. It looked bad enough in the bathroom mirror and it feels worse. Harry, casting him a startled glance, retreats into the pantry. Apparently to count vegetables.
“I’ve thought about what you said -” Harry’s voice floats out to him after a prolonged pause. “I really don’t think there’s anything sinister in Nisha ending up here. We were the only people who didn’t move her on.”
“That’s what I said,” says Draco, a little irritably. “Oh, bugger.”
There’s a long silence before Harry reappears, pushing a hand through rumpled hair. “Look, I can help you with that. If - if you want -”
Draco looks at him, and sighs. “No. Thank you. I’ll manage.”
He returns to his room, pretending not to notice Harry as he follows him with disconcerted eyes.
Dinner is not going well. Harry has done something terrible to the carrots, and Ron has the strained air of a man waiting for the axe to fall.
“It was a nightmare getting through the market,” says Hermione, attempting to prevent the redecoration of the kitchen wall. She shoots an anxious glance at Draco. “We thought we’d show Rose the Christmas lights but it was packed solid and I couldn’t get the pushchair through without hurting someone.”
“Dad’s been wanting to ask you if the rise in Internet orders has affected business at all,” puts in Ron, waving a Yorkshire pudding in front of Rose.
“Ron, I was trying to get her to eat the carrots first.” Hermione huffs as Rose throws the carrot at Harry and makes a grab for the pudding.
“I suppose some people will choose the convenience over battling their way through the crowds, but it hasn’t affected us much yet,” says Harry, poking dubiously at the carrot which has landed on his plate. “I’m afraid I’ve over cooked the vegetables a bit.”
“That’s not like - No, Rosie, not the gravy!
“Oh dee-a,” says Rose, gravy and peas oozing down her face. “Hat!”
Ron sighs and bends down to pick up the assorted debris. “Not hat. Bowl.”
“I’ve heard that there’s so many extra deliveries thanks to internet orders that the owl post is being delayed,” says Nisha, innocently, and Draco shoots her a small smile.
Ron’s sits up, banging his head on the table. “Where did you hear that? How long?”
“Shall I get the crackers? Where did you put them Harry?” Draco puts his napkin on the table. Ron has found solace in a plate of golden syrup covered Yorkshire puddings, Hermione’s frown suggests that a dental appointment might figure in his Christmas plans, and Rose is giggling in delight as Sparks licks gravy off her bare toes. It’s definitely time to make a move.
Harry stands up. “I’ll come and show you.”
Hermione catches them in the hallway as she carries Rose at arm’s length. “What are you two doing, sniggering out here like two naughty schoolboys?”
Harry shivers dramatically. “It’s cold tonight. Why don’t you all go in the living room and I’ll make some hot chocolate. Get the crackers from my room, will you Draco.”
Hermione looks at them with suspicion. “I’ll just go and hose down Rose. I know you’re up to something, you two.”
The hot chocolates seem to be taking an awfully long time - Draco suspects because Harry is struggling to control himself - but he hopes they arrive soon because with the high ceilings and wide, single-glazed windows, the living room is far too cold for comfort. He crouches on the hearth rug to fuss with the fire, which doesn’t seem to be drawing properly.
“What do you think will happen to Hogwarts if Scotland goes independent?” asks Nisha.
Hermione, on the opposite sofa, frowns. “I think it will be okay, as it’s effectively operating as a private school. But it’s not at all clear what would happen to the rest of the Ministry - the hospitals and Aurors, for example. Of course, just because the Muggles choose to break away, it doesn’t follow that the Wizarding world will follow, but there’s no legal precedent.”
“What do you think would happen with the Aurors?” Nisha asks shyly.
“Hard to say,” answers Ron. “We have Aurors stationed in Scotland, but they report to the DMLE. We had a look at what would happen to the finances, just in case, and it would be an absolute bugg- pain to sort out. Scotland and England have been intertwined for hundreds of years and it will be a nightmare sorting out who takes what if we split.”
“A bit like a divorcing couple fighting over who gets to keep the dog,” says Nisha with a small smile.
Draco looks round the living room. His belongings have been intertwined with Harry’s for so long that they can no longer tell who originally owned what. And it’s not just his possessions.
“What’s he doing?” asks Harry, coming in and floating five steaming cups heaped with whipped cream behind him. Recalled to himself, Draco redoubles his efforts with the fire. At least the flourishing flames will explain away his flushed cheeks.
“Seems to think the fire’s not trying hard enough,” says Ron, chasing marshmallows with his tongue.
Forgotten, he crouches by the fire as Hermione goes in for the kill. He should have warned her off. Whilst extensive reading has compensated for an unpropitious upbringing she has a habit of criticising Pure-Blood conventions which though old-fashioned are not always dangerous. Not, of course, that he disagrees with her basic point that a person should be allowed to choose their own husband. Still, it’s always entertaining to see her grapple with the modern liberal paradox.
Oh, well done Nisha, he thinks, pocketing his wand - it is not easy to face down a righteous Hermione Granger. Satisfied at last he drops onto the ottoman and takes his god-daughter on his lap. She snuggles into his chest, the simple uncomplicated affection touching him more than he would like to admit, and he can’t help looking at Harry as the argument ebbs and flows around them. If it all goes tits up -- well, it wouldn’t be just his best friend and home he’d lose, but everything. Suddenly, as though aware of the scrutiny, Harry looks up and meets his eye. For a long moment they hold each other’s gaze and at what he sees there he hardly dares breathe.
“Crackers,” says Harry, at last, still looking disorientated.
“We should have done this earlier,” says Hermione holding out her hand. “Oooh, how lovely. Personalised ones. Did you help with these Nisha?”
“Quite a few people helped,” she says, taking her cracker and smiling down into her lap.
“All at once?” asks Ron.
Hermione shakes her head. “We’ll frighten Rose. You go first Nisha.”
Nisha twists on her seat and holds out her cracker to Ron.
“All right,” he says before pulling so hard that he drags her half off the sofa. Rose gurgles with amusement.
“I don’t think she’s too worried,” remarks Draco offering his cracker to Harry with a slightly dazed smile.
“What do witches put on their hair?” says Nisha, pulling on her crown. They all look at her expectantly. “Scare spray.”
Ron grins and looks at his wife. “That should have been in yours, ’Mione. Ow!” He ducks a flying cushion.
“What do you call two wizards living together?” says Draco before reading on and groaning. “Broom-mates. Oh very good. Which of you thought that one up?"
Harry grins. “Nisha. Your turn ‘Mione. Do it with me.” As the cracker snaps Rosie jumps and starts to whimper.
Hermione takes her in her arms. “It’s way past bed time. Open it for me will you Harry.”
He raises an eyebrow and meets Draco’s amused gaze. “All right.” He unravels the cracker and the shrunken postcard falls onto the coffee table. He picks it up.
“All I want for Christmas is -”
“A wooden tie,” says Ron loudly, making a grab. “They had some lovely ones in the market. I’ve always wanted a wooden tie.”
Hermione looks at him in confusion. “That’s not what you said earlier.” She glances round the room and Harry’s preternaturally innocent expression gives it away as always. “Oi, what’s going on?” Dropping Rose on Harry’s lap she stalks over to Ron, her wand held before her.
“Give me that paper, Ronald.”
“It’s a really bad joke,” he says weakly. “Very rude. Not in front of Rosie.”
She narrows her eyes and her complicated hand movement makes Draco wince. He knows that one. So does Ron, it appears, because without a further word being uttered he hands over the shrunken postcard.
“A rude joke indeed. This is your handwriting, Ronald Weasley.” She looks at him in exasperation. “So that’s what all that post stuff was about. I thought it wasn’t like you to be concerned about last posting dates. As for you two,” she adds, turning to glare at Harry and Draco. “I suppose we can only be grateful that you weren’t bosom friends at Hogwarts.”
“Did you ask Molly?” asks Draco thinking it’s time for some deflection.
“Yes I did, you - you wombats,” says Ron, blushing furiously. “She told me that she thought it was lovely we still had such a good sex life at our age, and that it was the little things like that that kept theirs alive. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.”
“Lucky you didn’t sent it to your Mum by mistake then,” says Harry. “You’d have walked out of the floo, and there she’d have been, reclining on the sofa in her silk lingerie, waiting for Arthur to get home from the Ministry.”
“Oh Arthur,” puts in Draco in a seductive purr.
“Why hello, Mollywobbles,” adds Harry with a leer.
Hermione whimpers and buries her head in her cushion. “Stop it. Or I won’t get through Christmas lunch.”
Jokes courtesy of an unknown author. http://www.trueghosttales.com/jokes/witch-jokes.php
Chapter 16: Dona Nobis Pacem
December Sixteenth - Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant us peace)
Prompt - Log fire
Draco looks up as the shop bell goes. Oh wonderful, his least favourite customer.
“Harry around?” That bumptious semi-pro, Smith, the one who always expects to get something for free in return for some laughably non-existent publicity, saunters over to the counter. And puts his dripping coffee cup on the beautifully polished surface.
Draco restrains a sigh and puts down his cloth. “It is Mr Potter’s morning off.”
“Oh right.” The self-proclaimed Quidditch celebrity lounges against the counter chewing gum, and looks Draco over.
“So, this new Nimbus - the one up for auction - how much would it take to cut out the middle man, so to speak?"
Draco watches him narrowly. “I'm not quite sure what you're suggesting, Mr -" he pauses and shrugs. “I'm so sorry, I can’t seem to recall your name."
“That's for me to know and you to find out," he returns with a smile, though Draco is pleased to note that his self-assurance appears slightly diminished. And, good grief, is the idiot actually trying to flirt with him too. More likely, he's making a play for that Nimbus. Well, he's not going to get it.
“Let's not play games here. I want that broomstick and I'm prepared to pay for it."
“That'll make a change," Draco mutters under his breath. He'd worry about losing the business - if they ever actually made any money from the cocky skinflint.
“So -,” Smith runs a suggestive finger along the smooth wood of the counter. “Did Harry actually get his leg over, or is it all a publicity stunt?"
Draco sighs and folds his arms. “I can guarantee that the broom belongs to Harry Potter, himself, and if you’d like to see who wins I suggest you come along to the Auction on the 20th.”
“I get you, man.” The insufferable oik turns his Quidditch cap so it faces backwards - honestly - and swaggers to the door. “But I’ll be there, because I am definitely up for ride on Harry’s broomstick, if ya know what I mean.”
Unfortunately the next customer, though rather different, is no more likely to soothe Draco’s shattered nerves.
A gentle ahem sounds from the door and Draco looks up in astonishment. It’s the lady from the other day - carrying, of all things, a bunch of white tulips.
“Are you busy, Mr Malfoy?”
Draco takes a look around the shop - there are a few browsers including some of the usual thirty something women with prams who like to watch Harry, but nobody needing immediate attention. “What can I do for you?”
She steps forward, her hands fiddling with the ribboned tie. “I realise that I was a little - abrupt - the other day, and I’m sorry -,”
“You have no need to apologise, Mrs -”
“Draycott. But I think I do, Mr Malfoy. Afterwards I realised that you must get quite a few people in who hold you responsible for your father’s actions - and Mr Potter was most protective of you. I am sorry if I caused you any unease.”
His hands clench stiffly by his side. He has literally no idea how to counter this and he is searching for a suitable response when the tulips are thrust under his nose. Oh. White tulips. He looks up into motherly eyes and barely aware, his fingers close around the stems.
“We all deserve a chance at happiness, Mr Malfoy.”
He’s still standing there, fingering a soft white petal, when Harry backs through the shop door. He becomes aware of a shiver of interest from the mummy-brigade as they inspect the famous Nimbus.
“Hector's on the warpath - I bumped into him at Mrs Purley's. Give me a hand with this box will you."
Oh great, just what he needs this morning, another visitation. It’s starting to feel like Christmas Eve at the Scrooge’s and he can’t take much more on top of the bracing chumminess he’s been getting from Harry since this morning, their brief moment of comprehension last night apparently forgotten.
He goes to hold the door open, still clutching the tulips. “Is he imminent? Because I really don't think I can deal with him right now."
Harry doesn't look at him until the reach the stockroom. “What's got you so upset?" He pulls a face. “And who’s been giving you flowers?"
“Is this SODA thing very bad?” asks Nisha, as Harry stumps from the kitchen.
“Very, very bad,” confirms Draco. “Makes the Dark Lord’s meetings look tame, honestly. But with less killing - unless someone spikes Hector’s non-alcoholic sherry,” he amends darkly.
“I might,” grumbles Harry, wandering back in. “Personally I liked your plan to set off fireworks. Has anyone seen my tea?”
“Do you know the floo coordinates for Ron and Hermione’s?” Draco asks, silently handing over a steaming cup, and Nisha nods.
“Hermione went through all that last night. I can’t believe they’ve asked me to babysit Rose. They barely know me - I’m just some homeless girl off the street.”
“That’s in the past,” says Harry firmly. “And it wasn’t your fault. Now you’re a valued employee of Quality Quidditch Supplies.”
“Anyway,” says Draco. “Harry’s vouched for you. He has very good instincts. Most of the time.” Harry pulls a face at him.
“Have they been married long?” Nisha wraps her long stripy scarf several times around her neck.
“Ten years - as long as we’ve had this shop, actually. They’re celebrating their anniversary in January.”
“You’ll have to celebrate your own anniversary."
Harry shoots a startled look at Draco, who rolls his eyes. “I’m changing into something more comfortable if I’ve got to sit through an hour of Hectoring.”
The SODA meeting is as god-awful as he’d predicted, and in his recent preoccupation he’s forgotten to prepare their usual game of SODA Bingo. Thankfully Jean from Eyelop’s has brought along a crossword book, which keeps him nicely occupied and his eyes away from Harry, who has been staring into space ever since he put a comforting hand on his knee when they first arrived. He has, of course, removed it now. Rather quickly in fact - but Draco can still feel it through his jeans. He knows what triggered it - Draco’s flare of anger at Hector’s first insensitive comment of the evening, regarding Nisha’s new quarters - but it was unexpected and he can’t help wondering.
Last night he almost believed for a second that Harry had both recognised, and, perhaps, just possibly, might be starting to return his feelings; but today they have slipped back into a strained facsimile of their previous easy camaraderie.
“I propose a vote on Agenda Item 4.75,” announces Hector, the veins on his cheeks so vivid that Draco wonders if his insistence on tea-total meetings is a cover for a secret life of excess. But it seems unlikely.
Jean pokes him. “We’re voting on the ice sculptures in the street. Come on Mr Malfoy, stop wool gathering.” She raises her hand and Draco follows suit, although it pains him to vote for any proposal of Hector’s.
The meeting wraps up at last and its members hurry off home to their belated suppers. Harry however, barely seems to notice and remains, gazing vaguely at the horse brasses on the mantelpiece. Draco makes a decision.
“Think Nisha will be all right?”
Harry looks up with a start, his face overheated from the fire. “Yeah, why?”
It’s time for some serious talking, and a little bit of cunning. Two double Firewhiskies of cunning.
His glass drained, Harry has still not spoken and Draco has yet to find the courage to ask. So far Harry has managed to evade his gentle probing but he’s actually starting to look strained and ill, and Hermione has made it clear that it’s up to Draco this time. He sighs. Perhaps another Firewhisky will help.
Harry downs this one as well, without speaking, before resting his chin on his hand and gazing across the table at his friend. Oh well, two can play at that game.
Harry breaks first. “Why do you keep looking at me like that?”
It’s time. Someone has to break this impasse, and he’s not just talking about here. He sighs. “You’re not going to like it, and you may think it has escaped my notice, but you’ve been behaving oddly, and I’m really starting to get worried.”
“Nothing escapes your notice, does it?” Harry mumbles mutinously, and it occurs to Draco that he might have overdone the Dutch courage.
“What does that mean?” he tries.
Harry stares up at him with enormous green eyes. “I don’t know Draco, but there’s something in this Firewhisky that’s going to my head.” He peers into his empty glass like he going to find the answer there, and then slumps back in his chair.
“Stop that, there’s nothing to worry about Draco, it’s all under control.”
Draco scrubs his fingers through his hair in desperation. “What is? What’s under control?”
Harry looks back up at him, with those beautiful beautiful eyes, and he looks so lost and confused, and Draco just wants to reach over and -
“It’s all fine,” Harry reiterates, pointing a wobbly finger in his direction. “It’s all fine... You know for why? Because if it wasn’t -” He squints. “If it wasn’t, it would be a very very bad idea. Very bad,” he repeats.
Oh for fuck’s sake. He’s pissed. “Harry,” he tries seriously. “Now would be a very good time to stop talking in riddles.” Harry stares back at him like a stunned duck. And then he honks like one. He’s always known Harry’s a terrible drunk, but really, this is ridiculous.
Harry slumps, his head in his hands. “Oh god, what was that?”
Draco knocks back the rest of his own whisky. The burn soothes away the sharp edges in his gut and for a moment he relaxes, then -
“Do you hate me now?” Harry peers up through his threaded fingers, and Merlin he actually looks like he might cry, and there’s absolutely nothing Draco can do about it. Not without - no, not without it all coming out. And then where would they all be.
He sighs. “No, Harry. I don’t hate you.”
“I’ve made you sad. I’m sorry,” Harry mumbles through his hands.
Breathing deeply to force back the overwhelming wave of feeling that wells up in him - feeling he thought he’d purged back in the Misericordia - he tries to smile. “I’m not sad. Please just talk to me -” and oh bloody hell, now he’s trying to blow a fucking smoke ring.
“I know.” Harry leans over with over-cautious restraint and pats his knee. “Listen, Draco. The only way to stop anything bad happening is for me to keep my mouth closed.” He mimes zipping across his mouth.
This was a fucking awful idea. He leans back against the banquette. “Harry,” he tries one last time. “What can possibly be so very bad that you can’t talk to me? You’re my be-,” his throat tightens. Tries again. “You’re my best friend. I - I can’t -” He stops. There’s no point. Harry, it appears, has made his decision. He knows what he must do, but it’s harder than ever after last night.
“You have to trust me,” mumbles Harry, suddenly closing in and leaning his full body weight against him. Draco’s breath catches as a rough black head rests on his shoulder and nuzzles against his neck for a second with a soft sigh. Maybe just for a second he can - Harry sighs again. “You know the thing, don’t you. It’s very bad.”
Yes. Draco knows the thing. And it’s very very bad.
Sitting hopeless and alone in his bed, Draco pulls his knees up to his chest and rests his head in his hands. Where’s the LSO when you need them.
Chapter 17: Send in the Clowns
December Seventeenth - Send in the clowns (Steven Sondheim)
Prompt - Luxurious drawing room
“No Harry this morning?” Nisha walks into the kitchen, drying her hair with a towel.
Draco turns from the window seat, his tea still untouched. “No.”
He looks down at his cup. Oh. Cold. Out of the corner of his eye he watches Nisha as she spells her hair into its usual long dark waves and folds the towel neatly. She hangs it on the back of the chair before she looks up.
“He seemed a little drunk, last night.”
A bark forces its way from Draco’s throat. “He was. Very.” He returns his gaze to the window.
“Harry said it was complicated,” she begins tentatively.
“Oh he did, did he.” He stares moodily at the stall-holders as they begin unpack their wares. Nisha’s far from stupid and so is Hermione, the meddling wretch.
“Is it really?” she says, looking up. When he doesn’t respond she opens a cupboard and takes out three plates, laying them carefully on the table.
Nisha nods as though she was expecting that.
Draco turns back to the window. “He doesn’t want me - not like that. Or that’s what I thought until the other night.”
“And now?” she prompts, when the silence has gone on too long.
“I don’t know.” Mrs Purley’s opening her shutters now. “I think he wants it too. But he thinks it would be a very bad idea - so he’s going to ignore it and pretend it hasn’t happened.”
“How do you know?”
Draco looks at her squarely for the first time this morning. “Because he told me, last night - when he was drunk.”
Nisha comes and leans against the other side of the window. “I don’t know much,” she begins.
“But you’re going to tell me anyway?” he hazards with a small smile.
She nods. “It seems to me that one of you has to take a risk. You can’t stay at this impasse for ever. It will ruin your friendship.”
“I’ve got everything to lose - everything.” He presses his fingertips into his forehead, rubbing them up and down. He can still feel the after effects of last night’s whisky - and another sleepless night.
She folds her arms. “I think you stand to lose more if you do nothing.”
Sparks skitters through the kitchen, sniffs at his empty bowl and jumps up into her arms. She buries her face in his wiry fur.
“A few days ago I was sleeping on the streets, and I was beginning to think I might die out there, but I was too scared and too proud to take a chance and ask you for help. It was so cold, and drunk men kept pestering me. I thought it was only a matter of time. And, now, look at me.” She gestures to her clean hair, the bread in the toaster, and the Christmas decorations hanging from the chimney.
“Harry may get to the point, on his own - or you might never get past this. And if he doesn’t then you’ll be trying to hide your feelings, to avoid hurting him, which will be far more difficult now Harry realises they exist, and he’ll be constantly watching what he says and does and feeling guilty for hurting you. You’ll start tiptoeing around each other, and - it will be the beginning of the end.”
Draco shifts sideways on the window seat. “If this is your idea of comfort it could do with some tweaking.”
She drops down beside him, Sparks on her lap. “I was in love with somebody, before. He wasn’t even a Muggleborn - he was a Muggle and I couldn’t tell my parents - my father was determined to marry me to the son of one of his Pure Blood cronies. Mani doesn’t know the real reason, but he knew my parents would never let me be with him. And one day, just before I ran away, he showed me a poem, a Muggle poem.” She pulls a crumpled, water stained piece of notepaper from her pocket. I can’t remember any of it except this, and I wrote it down. ‘The greatest risk in life is to risk nothing’. That’s what made me do something instead of just waiting for fate to decide my life. You can’t go on like this, Draco. It’s not good for either of you.” She looks from the kitchen fire to the snowy scene outside. “Is it making things more difficult - me being here?”
He turns so quickly that he startles Sparks, who jumps to the floor in fright. “No! Well, I suppose in some ways, but I don’t think we would be able to spend so much time together if you weren’t here to diffuse the tension. And we want you to stay. For as long as you want,” he adds firmly.
“Good,” she says, a little unsteadily, and picks Sparks back up. “I would have gone you know, if you needed me to.”
And he believes her. He puts out a gentle hand to pet Sparks. “What would your Father say if he could see you now?”
Nisha gives a wry smile. “Living above a shop with two gay men and a three-legged mongrel you mean?”
“I was going to say two devilishly handsome men and a rather charming little dog, but I don’t suppose he’d see it that way.”
She laughs at that and brushes her hair out of her eyes. “No. But then he never could see the important things. Some people can’t.”
“And what are those?” he asks.
“It’s Christmas,” she says after a moment. “And there’s so much that’s awful in the world, so much pain and hatred, that when you are offered a chance of happiness you should just seize it with both hands.” She shrugs. “But I’m only nineteen, so what do I know."
His eyes fall on the white tulips on the kitchen table. Nisha, it seems, is a philosopher after his benefactress’ own heart.
“You don’t look well.”
Christmas dinner crisis averted, Draco looks at his mother. He’s not ready to go home, but he’s not sure he’s up for a Narcissa Malfoy interrogation either.
At last he determines on - “Can I stay for a while?”
She looks at him carefully. “Of course. This will always be your home if you need it. Just don’t let the House Elves hear that or they may go for total insurrection, it’s quite bad enough as it is."
She walks quietly to the wide French windows which overlook the woods at the side of the house, and after a moment Draco joins her.
“I know I complained at first, but I think I’ve come to like it. And it will serve as a reminder to ask for exactly what I want," she adds.
They gaze towards the wood, where standing out amongst the green, snow-laden firs is one tree, laden with Christmas decorations, and complete with half-frozen fairies. Draco agrees with her. The latest House Elf mutiny has at least been picturesque, and as they are now setting up another tree, in the drawing room this time, no harm has come of it, apart from the cold weather bonus demands. Of course, he could come back to Malfoy Manor, reclaim his Mastery. But he won’t.
She presses a fingertip to the icy window pane. “It is not what I had wished for, but sometimes one finds beauty in the most unlikely things.”
He looks at her warily and decides to change the subject.
“Do you think you will be able to have a discreet word with Mrs Singh?”
She nods. “I know Amanpreet and she loves her children dearly. She cannot stand against her husband - but she will do nothing to injure her child.”
“Thank you.” He makes a move towards the door. “Perhaps I should get home, Harry will be wondering where I’ve got to.”
She holds out a restraining finger and he stops.
“Darling-.” She sighs and looks carefully out at the dark night. “You don’t look well. You look like you’ve been pushed right to the very edge. Is there no one to whom you can talk?”
“Draco.” Her hand, reaching, spasms and changes trajectory to finger the soft velvet of the curtains. “I don’t like to see you so alone. I worry about you. Are you sure -,” she pauses.
His eyes close involuntarily, moved by the affection in her voice. “I’m not alone, Mother, I’ve got Harry.”
There is silence and after a moment he glances at her from the corner of his eye. She seems to be bracing herself.
“When you were at school I used to tell you that you spent far too much time worrying about what Mr Potter thought.” She smooths down her robe. “Now I am going to tell you something quite different.”
She takes his hand, and he looks up, the surprise sending his pulse racing.
“Draco. Listen to Harry. He has spent the last ten years telling you and showing you that you are forgiven. Do him the justice to believe him. And, for Merlin’s sake, listen to whatever else he’s trying to say.”
“I -,” he begins. He changes his mind. “I gave him a fish.”
Her mouth curves up and for a moment her lip quivers. “Mr Potter is not a Legilimens, Draco. And whilst a fish might, to us, be significant, I suspect you will need to be more direct. Consider his upbringing, my darling, consider who he has lost. Almost everyone he has come to love. If he is ever to cross the Rubicon, I fancy you will need to be at the other side waving him on.”
Draco swallows but his eyes do not leave hers as she shrugs helplessly.
“Draco. Is he really worth all - this -?”
Something is fluttering in his chest and he wonders if it might be hope.
She gives him a small smile. “Well then.”
Chapter 18: From what I've tasted of desire
December Eighteenth - From what I've tasted of desire (Robert Frost)
Prompt - Ice steam train
Harry is, of course, extremely enthusiastic about the snow sculptures, his excitement increasing as the day wears on and the little artist in the pork pie cap creates first a swan and then a dragon, in front of an admiring and ever growing crowd.
He’s pressed against the window, his nose so close that Draco half worries it might freeze to the glass. “I wish we could have them always, it makes a nice change from the memorial benches. Not that I don’t like then,” he adds. “But I don’t know why Hector had to make them so Gothic and depressing.”
“I’m sorry to have to inform you,” says Draco from the back of the shop, “That they’ll probably melt. That’s the bugger with ice - you heat it up and plop, instead of an ice swan you’ve got a big pool of dirty water.”
“You are so unromantic,” observes Harry. “Can’t you just look at what’s in front of you and enjoy it while it lasts?”
Draco snorts. “Given that I’m sorting out the new stock of anti-haemorrhoid flying cream, no.”
Harry gets down from his perch by the window and wanders over to the cabinet full of first aid products. “Do you really think it will sell?”
Draco shrugs, “Why not?”
“I’m just not sure people will feel comfortable asking for it.”
“If they need it, Harry, they’ll ask for it. You know the Ministry won’t let us stock it on the shelves, it has to be under the counter. I used the most effective active ingredient, but it's a controlled substance. I’m sure people would rather ask a simple question than wander around in discomfort when the remedy is perfectly simple.”
From the other window Nisha coughs.
“My mother says hello, by the way.” He wanders over to the window to give the little busybody a stern look.
“You’ve already said that.” Harry seems amused.
He looks back to see Harry leaning against the counter, his arms folded across his chest. It’s almost the exact same position as Smith yesterday, the only difference being that Harry doesn’t look like a complete prat doing it. No, instead he looks rather - hmm. He’s always found it hardest to resist when Harry rolls up his sleeves to expose muscular forearms which are still brown even in December and that blue shirt and dark jeans combination has always -
“So what was wrong with it?”
“Hmm?” Draco refocuses on Harry’s face with some difficulty.
“What was wrong with the Christmas dinner - you said you went to sort it out last night.”
“Oh. Yes, well, I’m fairly sure I made it worse. It’s the Mastery problem, you see.”
“You already said that too.”
“I’m a little tired,” he admits - truthfully - but when Harry turns to him he finds he can’t meet the questioning green eyes.
“Aren’t you sleeping?”
He picks up Sparks and holds him up to view the ice sculpting. “It’s fine. It’s just getting more and more difficult to control the House Elves.”
Harry looks at him dubiously. “What did they do this time?”
“She asked them to find a Christmas tree and decorate it.”
Harry comes over to the window and leans over his shoulder to look outside. “So? Oh, I think he’s doing a reindeer now.”
Trying to ignore the warmth of Harry’s shoulder as it brushes against him, he sets Sparks back on his knee. “So - they did. Decorate it. They just neglected to bring it in first. She’s got thirty people coming for her Christmas dinner tomorrow and her trees are famous.”
Harry gives him a long slow smile. “So what did you do?”
“I - I, well, I suggested they change the dress code to winter woollies.”
Harry snorts. “I’m sure that went down well.”
“As well as you might imagine. Anyway I had to redo the loyalty bonds but it’s exhausting and each time I think they work a little less well - last time was only November.”
Harry bends down to tickle Sparks under the chin. “Does she want you to move back home?”
“Harry,” he says sharply. “This is my home.”
“I just thought, you know, you seemed to be saying - it might be easier for you-”
“My home is here, and nothing will change that. Certainly not my mother. As long as you want, of course.”
The door swings open and Harry jumps to his feet with an eager, “Oh, hello Mrs Anstruther, we’ve got those Muntjak hide gloves in now you’ll be glad to hear.”
“He’s pretty good,” Draco comments looking round at the menagerie of ice animals. Harry has gone back inside with Nisha to get the dinner on, but he’s dressed for the cold and he plans to have a good look once the crowd has dispersed a bit.
Mr Borteg nods. “I heard the same chap once did a whole Hogwarts Express out of ice for the front steps of Hogwarts.”
“That must have been impressive."
“It was back in Dumbledore’s day of course. You wouldn’t find Professor McGonagall squandering Hogwarts funds on ‘frrrozen water’.”
Hector bustles past them waving a street permit at the hapless ice sculptor. “You need to sign a form to indemnify the Diagon Alley Association in case anyone is injured in an ice sculpture related incident.”
“An ice sculpture related incident?” repeats Mr Borteg, leaning against his shop door with a steaming Firewhisky in his hand. He’s obviously still fuming from earlier in the evening when Hector chastised him publicly for ‘encouraging juvenile drinking’. “I’ll give him an ice sculpture related incident."
So, Draco thinks, will he.
Waiting until the crowds have cleared he pulls out his leather gloves and casts a quick warming charm. The lights in the shop have gone out and Harry can be heard clanging pots and pans around in the kitchen upstairs.
For a moment he contemplates making a snow fish but he’s not entirely sure how he’d get it to stand up. A bark draws his attention to the kitchen window, where Sparks is perched on the window seat dividing his attention between the falling snow outside and the no doubt tantalising smells of the kitchen. He’ll make a Sparks. Nisha will love that.
He mounts the stairs slowly, shrugging of his hat and coat. Dinner smells delicious - all spicy and fruity, and he wonders what Harry’s invented this time.
“Nisha -” He pulls off his gloves and beckons to her. “Come over here.”
Puzzled she gets up and follows him to the window. Harry wanders after them, his apron still tied around his waist.
“It’s a Sparks!” She beams up at him before pressing her face in his shoulder. A little alarmed, he glances at Harry and at what he sees in his face he smiles back before turning to Nisha and putting his arm around her.
“What’s a Sparks?” says Harry, leaning around them to take a good look. “Did you do that?”
Draco shrugs, it’s worked out rather well, even if the snow dog does seem to be listing to one side rather. But Harry’s leaning out of the window and when Nisha rushes to bring Sparks to see his glacial doppelgänger, he no longer seems quite so enthusiastic.
Harry takes one last glance out of the window before turning to Draco. “I think Oolong would have quite liked a friend too.”
Chapter 19: There is a time for departure, even when there is no certain place to go
December Nineteenth - There is a time for departure, even when there is no certain place to go (Tennessee Williams)
Prompt - Hogwarts Express ticket to Hogwarts
That night he dreams of a misty Kings Cross, a Hogwarts Express of an ice sculpture roaring fire from its icy belly. Harry, a boy now, not the man he has come to know, holds out a frozen Oolong, floating in a small plastic bag.
“You have to look after him, Draco. Promise me.”
Draco draws back, looks from the fiery engine to the tiny white fish, still as stiff and black as obsidian. “I can’t. He’ll melt.”
Harry pushes the bag towards him. “But I’ve already bought the ticket.”
He half reaches for the bag, but he stops in time. “Hogwarts isn’t safe Harry. You don’t know what you’re asking.”
“You can do it Draco. You’ll keep him safe.”
“You’re trusting the wrong person. Don’t you know what I can do?” Then the violins screech and .... and he’s swirling, swirling through the mist and in his hand he holds a small fish, alive now and thrashing in the bag, and a one-way ticket to Hogwarts. There’s no going back.
When he arrives, Harry’s already in the kitchen, yawning and stretching in front of the kitchen window, and how he can go around shirtless in this weather beats Draco as he shivers in his flannel pyjamas.
“Is there any coffee left?”
“I kept it warm for you. You’re late today.” He sets Draco’s favourite stripy caffeine filled mug on the table in front of him.
It’s hot and just what he needs, and he drums his fingers as Harry empties the vase of tulips, replaces the water and carefully rearranges the flowers.
“I thought Oolong could do with a change of scene,” Harry remarks. “Ooops.” He siphons up the spilled coffee with his wand as Draco stares at him, the steam from his cup mingling with the steaming frozen train in his memory.
“Draco! Gold glitter or silver, which do you think he’d prefer?”
Draco looks at him oh, of course Oolong’s little submarine castle will need Christmas decorations. “Both,” he says at last. “He’d like both. A fancy little fish like that.”
“Good,” says Harry, settling back in his chair, one hair-smattered foot propped against the kitchen table. He idly scratches the narrow trail of hair heading from his navel to below the waistband of his drawstring trousers and Draco sips his coffee in silence and tries to push the unsettling dream to the back of his mind. It’s not as though dreams actually mean anything, unless you’re a nutter like Professor Trelawney.
Molly’s head appears in the fireplace just as he’s sitting down on the sofa to do his crossword, making the most of a few minutes of peace as Harry opens up the shop.
“I just wanted to check that you’re coming to the party,” she says, silver cloth and teapot still in her hand. “And young Nisha of course, make sure she comes too. Will she be all right for clothes and things, because her jumper’s not finished yet but I could send some of Ginny’s -”
Draco holds up a hand to halt the flow. “We’ll all be coming. And there’s no need to worry about Nisha; Hermione sent her over a box of practically new clothes and she spent about half an hour deciding what she was going to wear today. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so thrilled to put on a pair of jeans.”
“Well that’s lovely. I’m glad she’s - Oh I am happy to see you’re still using the blanket. It hasn't shrunk in the wash has it?" She adds anxiously.
Draco glances at the colourful throw Molly knitted for them last year and which has been hanging over the other sofa ever since. Naturally Draco knew it wasn’t actually a sofa throw, but he wasn’t going to be the one to tell Harry that the blanket was lovingly made for their bed.
“It’s wonderful,” he says firmly, and Molly smiles back. “Nisha is using it at the moment,” he offers, putting down his paper and settling in for a chat. “We finally persuaded her to throw that sleeping bag in the bin - the stuffing was falling out all over the place and however much we washed it we couldn’t get rid of the smell.”
Molly looks horrified, and rightly so. “That poor girl - what she must have been through. She’s lucky that you and Harry came to the rescue.”
Draco gives her a small smile. “How could we have done anything else, with the example you set us.”
He sits back, delighted to have made her blush. And how strange fate is.
“I remember your first pair of jeans,” says Molly, who has obviously learnt that attack is the best form of defence. “Harry made you get some for our party. And that’s the first and only time that boy has shown any interest in fashion," she adds, hands on her hips. “I do wish you’d help him to make the best of himself, Draco. He’s a good looking boy as you know very well, but he’s always in those baggy jeans and, yes, what I was I saying - yes there you were, looking all self-conscious and stiff and about ready to face down a pack of Werewolves.”
“Well to be fair,” Draco protests, “George had already threatened to spell my clothes transparent. I was half expecting to find myself naked in the middle of your kitchen.”
“We wouldn’t have minded,” she says bracingly, although Draco reflects that he might have.
It had been an awkward first foray into Harry’s family. Molly and Arthur had been icily polite at first, evidently doing their best to be civil to Harry’s new friend and business partner, pushed on by Ron and Hermione. Molly had been both nervous and defensive, seemingly expecting him to sneer at the small house, the lopsided tree and the home-made decorations Victoire and Teddy were hanging on its misshapen branches.
He still remembers the burning humiliation when Harry, laughing, had dragged him into the fray, handed him the fairy and asked him to lift Teddy to mount it on the top spear.
“Come on Draco, it’s your first tree so you’d better make it a good one.”
Startled realisation and searching questions had followed, and ever since Molly has regarded him in the light of one more sinned against than sinner. He and Harry are her lost boys, in need of more mothering than she can ever provide, and he would feel guilty about her ongoing misapprehension of their domestic situation if it weren’t for the fact that he, Ron and Hermione have repeatedly tried to enlighten her, with no result except love, support, and periodic reminders that ‘nobody makes a fuss about that sort of thing any more’.
Chapter 20: So near and yet...
December Twentieth - So near and yet...
Prompt - Xmas log
He wakes with an unfamiliar sense of expectation and for a moment has to orient himself. Ah yes, it’s Auction Day. It’s early still but when he walks into the living room Nisha has already tidied up her bedding. She greets him with a smile.
“Should we wake Harry up?”
He considers briefly. They could probably do without the martyred moaning throughout breakfast and opening up the shop and on a more practical note, if Harry has managed to find some repose in sleep then they should leave him to it. Which reminds him, he’s got the rest of the potions to finish later.
“Put the kettle on, we’ll prepare without him.”
Nisha spent her evening preparing some ‘Auction Today’ posters complete with a smiling Harry photo Draco still has from last Christmas. He’s wearing a Santa hat and as he blinks and waves into the camera, is clearly more than a little tipsy. He’s going to hate it.
He’s sticking them to the shop windows when there’s a tap and opens the to door a grinning Sophie. It’s not even her day.
“Great posters,” she says in greeting. “Where’s the star of the show?”
“Still getting some beauty sleep.” He takes her coat. “It’s good of you to come in Soph.”
She smiles. “I couldn’t miss this, could I?” In what is an undertone for her she asks, “Everything okay?”
He shrugs. “Let’s get- ah, here he is!”
As one they all turn and when Harry walks in from the back they chorus, “Happy Auction Day Harry Potter himself.”
Harry groans and scrubs his hands through his hair. “Oh god, I knew there was something I’d forgotten. I take it you’re going to be like this for the next six hours?”
“Of course,” says Draco, as Nisha brings out a fourth cup of tea.
Harry remains unconvinced that anyone will actually turn up to bid for a scratched broomstick just because he once rode it, but no one else seems to agree, especially not Mrs Purley, who has generously donated enough trays of mince pies and mulled wine to feed a Quidditch stand. And by quarter to two the place puts Draco in mind of his one and only venture onto the Muggle Underground, although it smells better.
If the front of the shop is heaving, behind the counter is worse as he, Harry, Sophie and Nisha struggle to deal with the few proper customers who manage to fight their way to the till. He’s lost count of the number of times he’s been elbowed in the ribs and the situation’s not helped by the fact that he can’t help jumping every time he or Harry so much as brush against each and Harry’s not doing much better.
“What’s up?” Sophie, wrapping a deluxe broom trimming kit, looks up at him.
He points at the latest customer, bloody Smith and his ridiculous back to front cap.
“What on earth is he wearing?” demands Harry, brushing past Draco’s back and making him start.
“He was in the other day,” says Draco. “Putting his sticky paws all over my counter.”
“You and your counter,” says Sophie, leaning over the counter to sneak a look at the newcomer. “I think you love that more than anything else.”
Draco huffs and tries to ignore Harry’s startled glance. He hopes Smith doesn’t win because he could really do without months of broom-related innuendo.
Oolong in his glittery tank looks as overwhelmed as Harry does and has taken to hiding in his little castle.
“Is he all right?” asks Nisha, peering through the glass.
“A few too many people,” says Harry. “I empathise.”
Squeezing behind them to get to the till, Draco rests a sympathetic hand on Harry’s wool clad back. They probably are being a little cruel. Harry turns, startled, and they exchange a split second glance of understanding that leaves Draco breathless, his heart drumming in his chest and drowning out the Christmas music. But he turns lightly away and busies himself in pouring out more and more cups of mulled wine for the shoppers who are still pushing their way through the door and the rest of the team. He thinks he deserves a glass himself.
“Isn’t that your Auntie,” says Sophie, nudging him, and he schools his face in time to smile at Andromeda and Teddy as they edge their way through the throng. He doubts they’re here to bid but it’s good to see them. He hasn’t yet told Andromeda about his Teddy-instigated visit to his father’s grave, partly because he doesn’t like admitting that maybe his little cousin had a point.
“I think it’s time to start, before someone gets hurt," Sophie suggest. Draco agrees, and as they line up on either side of Sophie, who has been nominated master of ceremonies for the day, her loud voice and forceful personality making her a natural, he quietly edges in behind Harry. It’s one thing to be all moral and keep away when you’re trying to do the right thing, but when it seems that feelings are being reciprocated, even if refused, then there’s no reason to hold back. And he’d missed it.
The bidding starts at five galleons and as a forest of hands wave in the air he feels Harry’s jerk of surprise. Rolling his eyes he prods him in the ribs. “I told you.”
“Hmmph,” says Harry before turning away to pour himself another glass of the punch. That’s his third, so it might be best to keep him away from the till this after-
Harry, reversing, has stepped on his foot, and he’s wearing his bloody Quidditch boots. “Sorry,” and now he swings round and splashes the red wine right over Draco’s jumper, his new jumper.
He sighs, and Harry stares down at the spreading stain, managing to look both mortified and alarmed. Draco tries to retreat but there’s no room behind the counter, so he holds his hands up in surrender even as Harry finally thinks to get out his wand and spell the liquid away. Only then does he look up and meet Draco’s eye, and they’re standing so fucking close.
“Anything else?” asks Draco, waving to his chest “If you’re planning on poking me in the eye or pull my hair, now would be a good time.”
“Fifteen Galleons to the lady in the blue coat!” bellows Sophie, and they both jump.
“I wasn’t planning on it, but I could if you wanted me to,” says Harry, boldly tilting his head right back, and Draco drags in a sudden raw breath as their eyes meet. Fuck, Harry -
“Twenty, Sir... Twenty-five,” yells Sophie, breaking their silence and Nisha lets out a small whoop.
“Everyone wants a Harry Potter broom,” murmurs Draco, relieving Harry of his glass before something else gets damaged, because he doesn’t look like he knows where he is. Their hands brush and something a bit like electricity flashes between them before Harry flushes violently and turns back to the crowd.
With Harry standing stiffly in front of him he looks around for distraction and meets the amused and sympathetic eyes of his Aunt Andromeda. Oh hell. Teddy’s giving him a thumbs up and he sincerely hopes that’s for the increasingly crazy bids. No one else seems to have noticed their little moment though, and he doesn’t know whether to be grateful or surprised.
The bids are climbing higher and higher and the atmosphere in the shop is electrifying. One by one the bidders drop away until there are just three in serious running and he glances from one to the other, trying to determine who is near their limit. One of them is Smith, and it’s annoying but he doesn’t think anything could spoil his day right now. Warmth curls through him as he watches the bidders, including those who have given up, cheering on the three who remain. He even regards the hideous dancing Christmas Elves on the windowsill with benevolent unconcern. Perhaps he’s not the only one who’s had too much punch.
The bids rise from fifty to sixty and they’re not slowing down.
“Seventy -five to the Gentleman in the red cloak,” Sophie calls, pointing. “Do I have eighty? Eighty from the lady with the hair.” The woman with the bright pink Mohican grins and Draco can’t help grinning back. He hopes she gets it.
“Ninety!” shouts Smith, and everyone swivels to look at him, the showy bugger.
“Oh!” says Sophie, “Well, anyone for ninety-five?” She sounds incredulous and so’s Draco.
“Isn’t he the one who always wants something for nothing?” he murmurs as he reaches round Harry to snag a mince pie from the tray behind. “He’s obviously not that short of cash."
Harry draws in a deep breath, “Yes, and I’m never giving the bugger anything again.”
Draco meets his eye. “Good.”
“That’s a bit cheeky,” says Nisha crossly as Sparks dances at her feet. “I hope he doesn’t win.”
Draco folds his arms. “Do you think it would be terribly wrong if I hit him with a Confundus charm?”
Harry gives him an amused look as Nisha snorts in the background. “Yes, but if you did, I’d pretend I hadn’t seen you.”
“Look,” says Nisha, nudging Harry. “I think he’s run out.”
“One hundred and five, Sir?”
“Your innocence is saved,” says Draco, watching in satisfaction as arrogant bugger pokes around in his money bag and finally, with a shake of his ridiculously be-capped head, stuffs it back in his robes.
“What?” asks Harry, momentarily distracted from his glee.
“Him,” says Draco, nodding in the semi-pro’s direction. “He wanted to get his hands all over your broomstick.” He’s excited and rather worryingly he no longer seems to be in full control of his mouth.
Harry pulls a face as he bends down to stroke an excitable Sparks. “I only let my friends ride my broom -”
Nisha sniggers and he looks up, his face red. “Oh, you two are awful. I can’t believe you’re making jokes about that.”
Draco just smiles and takes a bite out of his mince pie.
“One hundred and five to you, Madam?”
They hold their collective breath as the woman with the pink hair hunts around in her pockets and finally looks up with a nod, she looks like she can’t quite believe what’s happening, and Draco thinks she’s not the only one.
“I have one hundred and five. Anyone for one hundred and ten? One hundred and ten Galleons, Sir?”
The man in the red cloak sighs, glances at his opponent, who is now hugging herself in her excitement, and shakes his head. “I think I’ll drop out.”
“Sold to the lady with the hair for one hundred and five Galleons,” shouts Sophie, bashing a tin of broomstick lacquer against the counter.
Draco barely notices as the whole shop breaks into noisy chatter and applause, and the woman with the pink hair laughs and buries her face in her hands. Nisha and Sparks break into a little dance and as Draco’s turning with congratulations a warm, strong hand grabs hold of his under the counter. He stands there stunned for a whole second before his brain kicks back in. Dragging in an unsteady breath, he laces his fingers with Harry’s and squeezes back before daring to rub a thumb across Harry’s palm. The Rubicon has been crossed.
“I can’t believe I won it,” says the woman, coming up to the counter and beaming. Draco tenses in anticipation, but although Harry has not looked at him, his hand grips ever harder. She reaches out and strokes the broom. “Could you wrap it up for me please? I don’t want my daughter to see it until Christmas Day.”
Even through his trance Draco thinks that the cat is most likely already out of the bag, as someone he’s pretty sure is a Prophet photographer leans in to take a shot. But it doesn’t matter, really, and Harry’s still holding his hand under the counter.
“Congratulations,” says Nisha, coming over to carefully pick up the broom. “I’ll wrap it up for you.”
“She’s very good at wrapping,” puts in Harry, sounding slightly dazed.
“I hope it saves a lot of dogs,” says the woman as they all watch Nisha carefully wrap the broom in jolly Christmas paper.
“And cats." Nisha finishes with a neat bow. “They have cats at Battersea too.”
The woman smiles, and Harry finally lets go to help her with the bag.
“I’ll go and say hello to Andromeda,” says Draco, his voice coming out raspy.
“They’re coming tonight,” says Harry, turning to push through the crowd. “Ask them to come at six, we’ll have early dinner, and tell Teddy it’s Christmas log for pudding - it’s his favourite. Lucky I’d already made it.”
It is indeed Teddy’s favourite, just as the lasagne is Draco’s. Afterwards they all play Monopoly on the do-it-yourself board Draco gave Harry for Christmas last year and which they turned into a miniature Diagon Alley.
But when Andromeda’s in the bathroom Teddy puts down his dice and looks at them seriously.
“What do you get someone to show that you love them?”
Harry leans over and ruffles his hair, which is black and shaggy this evening, though it was white blonde earlier in the day. “Are you looking for a present for Andromeda?”
Draco sits back on the sofa and watches with interest. There’s more to it than that, he’s sure.
Teddy flushes. “No. Well, I’ve got her present, but I was thinking for a girl at school.”
Harry exchanges an amused glance with Draco. “What’s her name?”
“Charlotte,” says Teddy. “She’s eleven and she lets me share her tuck.”
“Knows her way to a man’s heart, then,” Draco comments as he leans back and crosses his legs. Fortunately lounging elegantly has always been second nature to him - otherwise the strain might have become tiresome.
“I think she’d like a chocolate log,” says Teddy, smearing chocolate around his face as he wipes the icing remnants of his plate. "She likes food."
"Sounds like a match made in heaven," remarks Harry.
“Sure it’s not you who’d like a chocolate log,” says Draco. “If you want to show them you love them then you need to do what they’d want, not what you want."
“I can show you how to make one, Ted,” offers Harry, pinching the last few crumbs from Draco’s plate. “But if you want to woo her, you’ll need some smooth words too. Draco’s your man for that."
Draco huffs. “Harry’s wrong, I’ve never wooed a woman in my life. I think you should just stick with the cake and hope she understands what you mean.”
December Twenty-first - Alea iacta est (the die is cast)
Prompt - Harry’s bare torso
Opening his eyes he rolls luxuriously in the bed before stretching star-like across the expanse of white sheet. He tilts his head back to watch the dust dancing in the first rays of morning light. It’s the Solstice today. Tomorrow they will be heading once more towards the summer, their eleventh such summer.
His beautiful dreams potion has finished brewing overnight and there’s an odd smell to the room, now he comes to think of it, so a shower is probably in order as soon as he’s bottled the opalescent blue potion and placed it carefully in his bedside drawer with the rest of his bottles and valuables. Harry may occasionally rifle his desk in pursuit of some shop-related correspondence but his bedside table is inviolate.
“Sparks looks tired,” are his first words when he gets to the kitchen.
Nisha looks up with a smile and reaches for the teapot. “I think Teddy wore him out last night.” Sparks raises an eyebrow and then flops back onto the hearthrug.
“You’re getting too old for that sort of thing,” he tells the dog. “But I don’t blame you, Teddy tires me out too.”
“You’re not old,” says Nisha and it’s very clear from her tone that she thinks she’s being kind. He supposes thirty odd must seem ancient to a twenty year old. Amused, he glances at Harry to share the joke.
But Harry is staring at his cornflakes and it suddenly strikes Draco that someone has been missing from this conversation. As he hesitates, his eyes meet Nisha’s. She gives a slight shake of her head and he knows she’s in the dark as much as he is. Probably more so, as she presumably doesn’t know about the hand-holding.
“Teddy’s a lovely little boy,” she says, when the silence goes on too long. Draco looks at her gratefully as he spreads butter on his toast. Pure-blood upbringings do have some advantages.
“He is. He’s my cousin and Harry’s Godson, not that that guarantees anything. Andromeda’s my mother’s sister, but we had very little contact with them until after the war. He’s the last of the Blacks.”
“Unless he and Charlotte marry,” says Harry, suddenly, and though his voice is casual it strikes a false note in their conversation.
Nisha laughs nervously. “He’s got a little time before that happens. He can’t be more than ten, surely.”
Harry puts down his spoon, his cornflakes barely touched. “He’s off to Hogwarts next year.”
“We’re not sure what Andromeda will do,” adds Draco, trying to ignore the rather painful pit of foreboding opening up his stomach. “She adores him and she’s thrown her whole life into being everything to him. We’re all rather worried that it might hit her for a second time when the house is quiet again.”
Nisha nods seriously. “I’ve heard about that kind of thing. Maybe one of you should stay with her for a while, make the transition easier.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” he says, sitting down and carefully avoiding Harry’s look of surprise.
“I’m going for a shower,” says Harry, standing up and carrying his bowl to the sink.
“Leave it, I’ll do it,” Draco calls, holding firmly on to his cup. There’s no point making a scene.
“Has anything -” Nisha starts, the moment they hear the shower start up.
He takes a careful bite of his toast and chews it thoroughly before he speaks again. “It’s complicated.”
“It isn’t really, though, is it?” she says.
“It shouldn’t be, but it is,” he says quietly and she just looks at him for a long time before she sighs.
“Which of you is it now?”
He looks up. “What do you mean?”
She puts her cup down and traces her finger through the crumbs Harry’s left all over the table. “Which of you is having doubts today? You seem to be taking it in turns.”
Draco looks at her consideringly. “Ah. So -. Both,” he says, sighing.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” she says, picking up her plate and cup and taking them over to the sink. “One of you has to take a risk. Honestly, the two of you - you’ve both fooled Voldemort, faced death on numerous occasions, and yet you can’t do a simple thing like this.”
“I suppose you would have just jumped in without thinking,” he says, a little harshly, and she flushes.
“I know it’s not my place to speak - and I haven’t really known you long - but, I lost my chance and I’m so grateful to you both, can’t you see, that I don’t want you to lose yours.” She busies herself with the washing up.
Contrite he gets up and touches her lightly on the shoulder before retiring with his toast to the peace and familiarity of his own room.
He knows that what she says is true, but he is assailed by doubts, and it seems Harry is too. And if they can’t even agree on this, what would happen if they actually made a move. A proper move, not just a bit of excitable hand-holding which can be - and apparently is being - put down to the heat of the moment.
What if nothing can ever actually match up to the fantasy he has built up in his head over seven years of longing and hope. What if there’s passion or love but not both, or maybe, even worse, the wrong type of love. Isn’t it better that he loves Harry the way he does, quietly and faithfully, and Harry loves him in whatever way he can? That this remains unspoken between them as though words would shatter their tacit understanding. Or, what if he’s the one who, having finally won Harry, discovers that the spark is gone and all the thrill was in the chase, in the state of perpetual longing, leaving Harry broken and bereft.
“I think you need to talk to him,” says Nisha, quietly. They’re halfway through a game of chess and Harry is nowhere to be seen. The shop has been too busy to find any time to talk and Harry has been edgy and jumpy all day. Whilst their minds are elsewhere their bodies seem to have a fatal attraction - which has made for an uncomfortable and fraught day behind the counter.
“I’m going to take Sparks for a walk,” she says with a small smile. “I’ll make it a long one.” She collects his lead from the drawer in the sideboard and Sparks shoots to his feet and bounds over to the door, looking eagerly between the cord and his mistress.
“It’s all right, we’re going,” she says laughing as she loops the elastic around his neck. He seizes her jeans in his teeth and pulls. “I think he’s desperate.”
Draco watches them go with a smile, but when the door clicks shut he rubs anxious hands over his face. He’s not quite ready to beard the lion in his den and he can’t help thinking that crossing the threshold into Harry’s bedroom might be a step too far. Perhaps he can attract him into the living room with a cup of tea. But first, if they’re going to have this conversation, he needs a clear head.
Maybe a quick shower will help, he thinks as he pushes open the bathroom door, freezing as there’s a plunk from the darkness within, followed by a metallic bang and the slosh of water as it hits the floor. As his eyes adjust to the gloom he realises that the band of light from the door is illuminating more than just the bath. Oh. Harry, sitting up in the bath now, his black hair plastered against his head, gapes at him. Oh god.
“Sorry,” he stutters, pressing his eyes shut. “I, I thought the bathroom was empty. There was no light on, so, yes um, sorry.” He backs out as calmly as he can manage, shuts the door and leans against it, his cheeks scorching and his heart pounding. He cups his hands over his face, barely able to suppress the groan that wracks his body anyway. How fucking embarrassing, and how awful.
It’s nothing that he hasn’t seen before of course, just the gleaming, naked body he’s seen so many times around the flat, and on the beach in the summer - leaving his imagination to work on the rest, and what the fuck was Harry doing having a bath in complete darkness anyway. It would have been fine if he’d been expecting it. Half-naked but dry Harrys he can cope with. Dripping, startled Harrys pushing the water out of their eyes and looking at him like that, he can’t. No one could be expected to. And for Merlin’s sake, why? Harry does some very odd things but sitting in a bath in complete darkness has to rank as one of the oddest.
He can hear subdued splashing within and a little bit of muttering, but it is not until he hears the gurgle of the plug that he realises he’d better make a move. There’s no way he can face Harry at the moment and any minute now he’s going to come through that door, more or less dressed, and if he sees Draco like this he’s going to know everything and nothing will ever be the same again. He makes a last effort to pull himself together even though his chest is sore and aching with longing and frustration. Tea, he thinks. If in doubt drink tea.
He walks slowly to the kitchen where he boils the kettle and unsteadily fills the teapot, taking time to measure out precisely the right quantity of tea leaves. Nisha’s still not back, but then, he remembers, she did say it would be a long walk. And he’s not stupid. He takes a deep, centring breath. Carpe diem. He’s still not ready and Harry’s going to come out of that bathroom in nothing but a towel and that is going to make this conversation very very awkward. As his hypersensitive ears pick up the slow creak of the bathroom door, his wand ready, he sends the pans and cutlery into a flurry of sorting and noisy stacking until the danger has passed.
He doesn’t know what is going to happen, but what he does know with sudden, final conviction, is that they can’t go on like this. He has been living a half life, wrapped up in Harry, and it has been enough until now. But now they’ve shared those brief, fluttering moments of understanding, that possessive, jubilant, meeting of hands under the counter yesterday and those indrawn breaths and fleeting glances today, he knows there is no going back. They must come to the point or one or the other of them must go, and it will have to be him.
“And went with half my life about my ways,” he whispers to himself, staring down at the bright Christmas lights in the street outside.
Once Harry’s door has clicked shut he ventures back into the sitting room, dims the lights, pokes the fire into attention and clears away the chess board. There will be no more games tonight. Floating the tea tray over from the kitchen he takes a last long look around the room.
He is pouring tea into two stripy cups, clasping his wrist in the other hand for support, when Harry appears, silhouetted in the brighter light of the hallway. For a moment he stands, uncertain and Draco schools himself to concentrate on pouring the tea without spilling it all over the tray.
“Where’s Nisha?” Harry’s voice is light as he walks between the coffee table and fire with an armful of gaily wrapped presents and goes to crouch by the Christmas tree.
“They went for a walk.” His voice is cracking and he picks up his cup, though he knows he won’t be able to take a sip. He can’t see Harry’s face and for once he has literally no idea what to do next. They’re free falling now and who knows where they’ll end up.
Harry sighs as he arranges the various packets and boxes amongst the other presents. “I’m afraid your presents are a bit uninspired this year.”
He takes a deep breath. “I don’t care.”
For a long moment he’s not sure if Harry even heard him, so quiet was his voice, and he keeps his eyes firmly on his cup.
But then -
“Don’t you?” Harry twists to look at him, and he’s still kneeling on the floor, pine needles threading through his hair.
Draco raises his eyes and looks straight at Harry, who is watching him quietly and soberly.
“No. I don’t need presents.”
Harry’s eyes never leave his as he swallows heavily, and starts to get to his feet. Draco’s own breath catches in his chest.
“What do you need?” It is quiet but clear, and something hard and small begins to unravel itself in Draco’s chest, threatening to bubble up and burst. You, he thinks, you. But I’ll take anything I can get.
He carefully puts down his tea, gets up, and crosses the room as Harry watches him but does not say a word. They stand, side by side, looking at the tree. Too close for comfort, but not close enough. Harry’s breathing is ragged beside him and his own chest is tight and painful, his air coming in small, uneven breaths. A warm shoulder bumps into his, sending little sparks of contact across his arm and down his spine and he can’t speak. Can’t say what he needs to say. There’s a red shiny bauble in front of him, dancing in the light and heat of the fire and he, who has so many words - too many words - can’t find the words he needs.
“Draco...” Harry’s voice is low and dangerous and broken from his trance Draco looks up, anxious, hopeful and a little bit desperate and - maybe Harry doesn’t need his words, maybe they don’t need words any more, because he reaches out and Draco is right there, and - they are kissing.
As Harry pulls him closer, threading firm, warm fingers through his hair, Draco closes his eyes, leans into the touch he has craved for longer than he can remember. And though they are no blushing virgins and Draco’s very veins are flooding with heat long repressed, it is love, not lust that throbs through his body, through his heart. That can come later. He slides his hand over Harry’s evening-rough chin and up into the hair he has tousled in fun but never like this. It feels so different, but also the same. Harry tastes of toothpaste and tea but all he can smell is the warm intoxicating scent he knows as well as his own. Kissing deeply and frantically, their tongues meeting at last, he wants to bury his head in that scent and never come out.
And they have never been this close before, never twined together as though they’re part of the same thing. Draco slides his hands along a soft loose waistband and up under his t-shirt to stroke warm smooth skin and rub his thumb along a sharp jutting hipbone. Harry arches under his touch and takes hold of his jaw so gently, and for the first time he realises that Harry, too, is shaking. Slowing the kiss he takes one last stroke before they pull apart. And before he has time to think, to panic, Harry rests his head on his shoulder, finding the perfect space in the little dip on his collarbone and grinning like the lunatic he is.
He kisses the soft hair as he runs his hand down one Quidditch toned arm, smoothing over the throbbing veins he has always wanted to touch, before their fingers thread together and he raises it to his lips. They should have been doing this all their lives. But it is not too late.
“Yes, that was definitely a start,” he manages to say through a mouthful of black hair and an inconvenient lump in his throat.
Harry pulls back to look at him, his eyes dazed and mouth reddened. I did that, he thinks. “What?”
It takes everything Draco has left to release his usual exasperated sigh. “You asked what I needed, and that was definitely a start.” He pulls him by the hand towards their sofa. He knows what will happen if they continue -this. And he thinks they need to talk.
They collapse against the cushions, pressed together from hip to knee and all of a sudden it occurs to Draco how strange it is that they have their sofa. Harry leans forward and darts in to press a quick, chaste kiss to his lips, stroking his finger down Draco’s hot cheek, and Draco shudders with the intimacy of it.
“Well, if you’d like me to make up for some the crap I’ve bought you, I’m happy to continue in a similar vein,” Harry offers.
Sudden hot interest flares in his stomach but, “I’m sure that would be -” He hears the door. Nisha. Thank Merlin for the low lighting. He holds up a finger and Harry stills, listening.
“It’s cold out-” She stops and stares at them, frowning as she struggles to hold onto Sparks.
“What’s the matter?” Draco asks, and thank Merlin for years of Pure Blood training. He summons another cup from the kitchen and catches it neatly as it flies to his hand. Harry sits silent beside him and pulls his foot up to the sofa.
“Nothing.” Nisha glances between them, with a puzzled frown. Harry wriggles impatiently and she suddenly seems to notice their proximity. “Oh Merlin, did I not stay out long enough?”
Draco laughs. “You stayed out just long enough. Stop looking so worried and come and have a cup of tea.”
She looks at them anxiously before sagging with relief. “Okay,” she says slowly. “If you’re sure.”
“We’re sure,” says Draco, glancing at Harry who looks bemused and very much as though he’s just been kissed.
The line Draco whispers to himself is from A E Housman, from a poem written for his best friend, with whom he was in love throughout his life, unrequited.
Chapter 22: A time to embrace
December Twenty-second - A time for embracing.
Prompt - Draco’s luxurious bedroom.
This morning, when he sees green and yellow shower gels tumbled together on the shower rack, he just smiles, washing himself with particular care and attention, and hums a song that after a moment he recognises as another Rutter. Leaning into the spray and rinsing the shampoo from his hair he hopes the composer won’t mind him appropriating it for his own means, and it’s not exactly spring, unless you count the fact that they’re now counting down to the summer solstice. Whatever. It fits his mood.
“You look happy,” remarks Nisha, looking up from Quidditch Weekly which she has taken to reading nightly in order to memorise broom statistics.
“Hmmm,” he says, padding over to the toaster and switching on the kettle with a flick of his wand. “Yes. I think I am.”
She puts down the magazine. “Aren’t you sure?”
At that he turns to look at her. “I’m sure. Happy now?”
As the kettle comes to the boil a large Eagle Owl swoops low and taps gently on the kitchen window. Nisha opens the sash with a quick swish of her new wand and sits back complacently.
Draco puts down his toast and reaches for the jar of Owl treats on the counter. “Here, Archimedes.” He opens the parchment and takes it over to the window, both for light and privacy.
“Spoken to Mrs Singh,” it says. “Her discretion is assured and she is willing to meet with us on the 24th, when her husband is away. I will meet you there on the 24th. P.S the boy is called Mani, and is a Muggle medical student, she had no more information.”
He folds the parchment and puts it safely in his pyjama pocket. There is no use worrying Nisha with it until they see what comes of it. He only hopes he is doing the right thing.
“Harry took me to Mr Ollivander’s, for a new wand,” says Nisha, a propos of nothing.
Draco narrows his eyes. “And?”
“Harry insisted, really, and I will pay him back.”
“You don’t need to, but I know you will,” Draco assures her, sitting down to his cereal. “Look Nisha, I’m sorry I was a little harsh last night - I have no excuse, only great perturbation of mind, shall we say.”
She laughs, and flaps her hand. “It’s fine. I knew that. You and Harry were both working up to something and I just needed to get out of the way. But what I meant to tell you was that Mr Ollivander had some very interesting things to say.” She trails off and sips her coffee.
Ah, now they’re getting to it. He raises an eyebrow.
“He told Harry that his Aura has changed, that he has gone through a great change.”
Draco leans back in his chair and studies the grain of the wooden table. Heat radiates through his chest - it’s not as if he hadn’t hoped, but he never expected it to come to this, certainly not so soon, though he should probably have expected something like this with Harry.
“You know what that can mean, I take it,” he says, looking up at her.
She flushes. “Yes, I - I think so...”
“It is not an exact science,” he says. “If I can borrow that word from the Muggles. But it does suggest that we are not making the great mistake I had feared.”
“What, exactly, happened last night?” she asks, before adding - “Not the details, obviously. The general gist will do. But I am interested."
He looks at her. “I can see that. Have we been so very fascinating?”
She flushes and examines her nails. “Rather like watching one of those Muggle soaps, actually - not that I got to see many but Mani showed me, even though he laughed at them."
He takes pity on her. “We kissed,” he says. “Quite a lot actually, and then I thought we’d better have a talk, but you came in so - well, we went to bed. Separately,” he adds as she grins up at him.
As her smile loses some of its breadth he feels a pang of uncertainty. It will be okay now, won’t it? Harry’s still in bed, judging by the snoring he heard through his door, and he’s not going to wake him up, but it is so very tempting. He’s not sure he can stand a whole day working in the shop with Nisha and Sophie while Harry sits upstairs out of reach, not with this uncertainty hanging over their heads. One, well, two kisses do not a relationship make, and he can’t help worrying even though he knows Harry too well to suspect that he will play fast and loose with his feelings. The silly bugger is quite capable of causing difficulties in other ways.
Down in the shop his doubts threaten to dampen his mood, as what seemed so certain in the firelight of last night seems as insubstantial and temporary as a will o’ the whisp in the harsh light of day. Nisha is beginning to dart apprehensive looks between him and the ceiling, and even Sophie has lowered her voice from its usual foghorn volume to something approaching conversational level.
At ten, just when he is about to break, run upstairs and make an awful lot of accidental noise, he hears the thump as Harry’s bedroom door swings back, and footsteps across the floor. He stand, anxious, in the vestibule between the stockroom and little kitchen. Nisha nudges down the music with a flick of her wand. The two of them, and quite possibly Sophie as well, given that she has a perfectly good brain, follow Harry’s progression across the flat. Thunk. Muesli cupboard, whispers Draco to himself. Creak-clunk. Coffee cupboard. Then a gurgle of pipes and a shuffling and clumping that sounds, almost, as though someone is attempting to tap dance - badly - on the spot. Nisha raises an eyebrow and sends him a relieved smile, but he is not so easily satisfied. Then-
His body floods with relief as the first words of a very familiar song float down the stairs to him.
“We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way, da da da - da da - da da da -da.”
Nisha comes to stand beside him, a small smile on her face. “What is the Eskimo way? I’ve never been quite sure.”
“Oh god, don’t you start,” he tells her. “Better ask Harry that one.”
The delicious smells of his favourite turkey curry, wafting down the stairs, reassure Draco as not even that song could, and the rest of the day passes cheerfully despite the ever stranger demands of panicked shoppers and the fact that he has to spell the floor clean every few minutes to avoid the snowy footprints turning into a health and safety hazard. Even a visit from Hector couldn’t break his good mood today, but he could still do without it.
When they shut up shop, actually having to turn off all the lights to flush out the last few browsers, Sophie offers to count the takings and Draco happily agrees. It’s time to go home and today there is something very reassuring about that idea.
“Have you seen Hector’s latest?” asks Harry, as he and Nisha tumble through the door, an over-excited Sparks at their feet. He greets Draco with a tentative smile that sends relief and warmth rush through him as he looks back, and god, everything he’s thinking must be clear to see because Harry’s own smile broadens into a grin.
“What?” he manages at last.
“Come and see.” Harry beckons to the window though his gaze never leaves Draco ,and Nisha, who has been studying the kitchen wall with interest, darts over, Sparkles on her heels. She gets there first and at what she sees she guffaws loudly, before covering her mouth with her hand.
“Oh Sparks, look.” She tries to hold him up to the window but his little white legs keep kicking and he slips down and patters over to the stove to gaze longingly at the big stew pot.
Draco, turning away from Harry at last, goes to stand beside Nisha. Outside in the street the frozen menagerie looks almost ghostly in the light of the street lamps and the still falling snow, the view only spoilt by the orange and white safety tape Hector has evidently seen fit to put around the interloping Sparks statue. Oh honestly.
“That man has no sense of humour whatsoever, does he?” says Harry, moving behind Draco, and leaning in so close that the words make his hairs stand on end.
“Sleep better last night?” Draco whispers, and Harry nods, the soft huff of his breath brushing across the nape of Draco’s neck and sending shivers down the backs of his arms and across his shoulders.
“Turkey stew tonight. Do you think Sparks will like some?” Harry asks Nisha, who is now attempting to prevent Sparks from jumping onto the stove himself, something he would certainly regret.
“I don’t think you could stop him,” she says resignedly. “You have terrible manners, Sparks.”
Dinner is relaxed and funny with an undercurrent of tension and suspense that almost - almost - interferes with Draco’s appreciation of his favourite stew. And now what? He wonders, crumbling his bread roll on his plate and considering properly, for the first time, the logistics of the whole thing.
Glancing at the window he realises that whatever Nisha may offer, there’s no way she should be going out in that blizzard, so one or the other of them is going to have to beard the other in his own bedroom. And Draco can’t help feeling that that is a line he is not yet sure he’s comfortable to cross. Of course he wants to be in Harry’s room, it’s the getting over the threshold that’s the problem. He can’t quite see himself wandering over, in full view of Nisha, and knocking on Harry’s door, when everyone knows exactly what is going to happen next, and with Nisha sleeping in the sitting room, a natural progression from sofa to bedroom is out of the question.
When they retire to the living room with tacit consent they each pursue their own interests. Draco, looking in the bookshelf for inspiration wavers between Emma and AE Housman before plumping for the former. The poet will always be dear to his heart, but they are no longer in tune with each other. Harry sits on the floor by the tree, idly curling more ribbons than the tree could ever hold, whilst Nisha attempts to rectify Spark’s bad behaviour with a dog training manual and a bag of biscuits.
Emma is as funny and poignant as he remembers, but sadly no help in his modern day dilemma. He plays for a moment with the idea of an Emma knocking on Mr Knightley’s door, before a cup of Narcissus Oolong is placed on the table by his side.
At length he begins to yawn and after a quick unobtrusive glance at Harry, who is still carefully curling ribbons and adding them, one by one, to the pile beside him, he gets to his feet. They can’t sit out here all night waiting for the someone to be first to make a move, with poor Nisha stuck in the middle.
He retreats to his bedroom with a last cup of tea and his book, undresses and pulls on some clean pyjamas, and settles into bed to wait. Emma is being very rude to Miss Bates by the time he hears movement from the living room, and by the time she gets her comeuppance at the hands of Mr Knightley the flat is silent. He lays the book on his knee and looks up. Perhaps Harry has chickened out, or perhaps he’s waiting for Nisha and Sparks to fall asleep before he creeps across the room like a teenager sneaking past Filch and Mrs Norris. And what if he doesn’t? He casts a quick Tempus and determines to wait another ten minutes.
He remembers the first time Harry came to his bedroom, to borrow something or other, and had stood just inside the door looking around with startled eyes.
“What’s wrong? Did you think I kept shrivelled heads and castrated House Elfs arrayed on the walls or something? I’m afraid it’s all very tame in here.”
Harry had shaken his head, a flush rising on his cheeks. “It’s well, just not what I had expected.”
“What did you expect?” He asked finally, when nothing more was said.
Harry had bitten his lip, “This is going to sound really stupid, but I was thinking gold leaf mirrors and green silk sheets and -”
Rolling his eyes Draco had added, “What, a mirrored ceiling? Handcuffs? You know us Slytherins, we’re all deviants with a taste for Emerald soft furnishings. I don’t have the cash any more unfortunately.”
Hopefully that particular memory won’t stop him coming tonight.
The time has flicked slowly to nine before he hears a tentative rap outside, and before he can say anything Harry has softly opened the door and slipped inside, looking flustered and uncertain and unbelievably tempting.
“Hello.” His voice comes our far deeper than he expected and he almost chokes with suppressed laughter. This is not how it was supposed to go.
“Sorry if I’m interrupting you, I just wanted....” Harry stops and leans against the door, his eyes flicker to Draco’s with uncertainty.
“I know,” says Draco and he can’t say anything more because the breath is tightening in his chest and his larynx doesn’t seem to be working properly, but whatever he managed to say it worked, because Harry steps forward, a little more confident now, and lowers himself to sit on the edge of Draco’s bed. Still too far, but perhaps that’s for the best, because they’ve got things to discuss and if Harry keeps looking at Draco like that then he’s either going to explode, or - they’ll never get this conversation over. And it’s too important.
“I suppose I should start at the beginning,” says Harry, looking at his clasped hands. Draco nods and closes his book, placing it on his bedside table. He’s on his own now, not that Austen’s been much help anyway.
“I really had no idea,” Harry begins, with a quick glance upwards. Draco nods. “It was your scarf, you know, the stripy one I gave Nisha. Everyone kept asking me where you got it, and I didn’t know and so I complained to Ron and Hermione about it - that night you were at Claridges.” He sighs but Draco knows better than to interrupt.
“I thought they were taking the piss, at first. It just seemed so utterly unbelievable that people thought that we were - you know.” He glances up uncertainly and Draco meets his eye and tries to look encouraging as possible. Because it’s really very very funny but he knows that for Harry’s it’s been very near tragedy and he’s not sure they’re anywhere near ready to laugh about all this. Maybe one day.
“I almost said something to you, but I was too embarrassed and I think even then I was starting to realise that maybe things between us weren’t as simple as I’d assumed.”
“You never need to be embarrassed with me,” Draco says, cupping his hand around one knee, his cup of tea still balanced on the other.
Harry tells of his uncertainty, his initial doubts, and his startling, overwhelming realisation. - “And then I realised I was in love with you.”
Draco takes a deep shuddering breath, but holds on tightly to his knee. It is not yet time. His tea though, he thinks should go on his bedside table before it ends up all over the bed.
“But,” he says. “That was weeks ago. Surely you must have -”
“No,” says Harry, shaking his head and looking up with anguished eyes and it surprises Draco to realise how much Harry is still hurting. “It didn’t even occur to me that you might want me back. I just thought I had to keep it to myself and if I tried hard enough to forget all about it, it would go away and we’d be fine.”
“But it didn’t work,” Draco finishes, softly.
“No,” says Harry, raising his hands in frustration. “The more I tried not to think about you, the more I thought about you until eventually you were all I could think about. I even dreamt of you, over and over, and then I had to talk to you at breakfast like it was all fine and we hadn’t spent the night -” He breaks off, flushing. Interesting. Still, they can come back to that.
“So when did you realise?” he prompts, with as light an interest as he can manage.
“A few days ago,” Harry admits, his fists clenched at his side, and all Draco wants is to reach over and smooth them out, before taking them in his hand and kissing each finger in turn until Harry knows exactly how much Draco wants him. But not yet.
“I am such an idiot,” he says, rubbing his fists through his hair and looking down at the bed. “Everyone knew, everyone, and I was the idiot, as usual. Poor Harry. Why did no one tell me for, what, seven years?” he asks, suddenly looking up and glaring at Draco.
“Did no one think I might find that little bit of information relevant? I felt like such a fool when they told me - and then when I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to forget you, but I thought you could never want me back, not like that.” He trails off. “It fucking hurt.” He pokes the mattress with his finger.
“I know,” says Draco, his voice low. “I know, Harry.”
Harry grimaces at that. “Sorry. I know, I guess you do. I’m sorry I’ve been such an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot.” Draco leans forward to grasp him by the shoulder. It’s not in the plan but Harry’s hurting and he can’t just sit by and - “You are not an idiot, all right? You do some very odd things sometimes, having a bath in the dark for one, but you are not an idiot. Or I wouldn’t like you so much,” he finishes lightly.
“I like your logic,” says Harry looking up with the beginnings of a smile, but he’s shaking, actually trembling, under Draco’s hand and he wants to hold him and love him and be everything to him, but it’s important they start this right.
So he takes a deep breath. “If this is going to work, I think this is the part where we need to be completely honest with each other.”
“I agree,” says Harry, sitting back and looking at Draco with cautious eyes, waiting, waiting -
“I have loved you for a very long time,” he manages to say at last, pushing the words past that annoying blockage in his throat, the blockage that has been there for nearly seven long years.
“A long time?” says Harry, eyes disbelieving.
Draco rests his chin on his knee. “Yes, a very long time. Are you going to make me tell you exactly how long?” Not tonight, he thinks. Not that much exposure.
“Not right now,” says Harry, his mouth starting to curve up into a smile though his eyes are still cautious. “You knew, didn’t you. You knew what everyone thought.”
Draco nods. He knew this was coming. “Yes, I knew.”
“Couldn’t you just have said something?”
Draco unfolds his legs and shuffles closer to Harry on the bed. “You’re my best friend,” he says, wrapping his hands round both Harry’s shoulders. “The last think I wanted was to let my ridiculous feeling or anyone else’s unhelpful ideas ruin that. I’ve been through every single what if scenario you can think of, Harry, but I always came to the same conclusion in the end.”
“What was that?” Harry whispers.
“That I want you with me. That whatever happens I will be here, in whatever capacity you require.”
He sees the moment when Harry understands, when Harry gets it, because he crumples for one brief moment. And then he laughs, scrambling up on his knees and burying himself in Draco’s neck. “Draco. I require more than you can even imagine.” Gentle kisses are being mouthed from his ear to his collarbone and confident fingers are threading through his hair. Gasping, laughing, he tilts back his head, reaching for Harry, sliding his fingers under his soft t-shirt and stroking his back.
“And I love you. I love you, all right?”
And it is so all right that Draco thinks he is going to explode. But he doesn’t have time for that, not when Harry is practically sitting in his lap and is all warm breath and soft skin and hard sharp planes exactly where they should be. He scrapes his nails along Harry’s spine, watching as Harry arches beneath him, and the moment he’s caught off guard he flips him round and onto his back. He pauses, looking down as Harry, startled, looks back at him with luminous green eyes.
“Yes,” he says, and leans over, pins Harry’s strong hands to the sheets and kisses him with everything he has got.
They’re gasping now and Harry is writhing under his hold as their tongues meet between breaths, and they press desperate kisses down necks and collarbones. And now there are far too many clothes and he doesn’t think he has ever known this desperation, this madness, as he pulls off Harry’s t-shirt and Harry turns to him, yanking his pyjama top off, buttons popping over the wooden floorboards. He can smell Harry now, and the scent is like a drug and he’s addicted and he needs to get those trousers off now. He pulls at Harry’s waistband, but a firm hand stops him.
Disorientated he looks at Harry’s face. “What? What’s the matter?” He’s breathless and a little bit crazed and this can’t stop now.
“The door,” says Harry. “Nisha. We should lock it.”
He knows Harry is speaking but it doesn’t make sense.
“Shouldn’t we at least cast a silencing charm?” Harry shuffles away across the bed and reaches for his trousers.
Draco sits up too. “Did you bring your wand? Mine’s in the kitchen,” he gasps out, reaching over and trailing his hand over the soft fabric of Harry’s trousers.
Harry groans. “No. God.”
“Shall I go and get mine?” he offers, half-heartedly, pressing more firmly and watching as Harry arches helplessly.
“Don’t you even think about leaving this room,” Harry whispers, allowing Draco to pull off his trousers and kiss down his chest from his neck to his navel.
Harry’s staring at him and then he’s pulling him close and rolling them onto their sides, their legs intertwined, their hands between them. It’s wonderful.
“Is this a bad idea,” Draco whispers, smiling against Harry’s mouth. “Is it in fact very very bad?”
Harry rolls on top of him, stifling a snort of laughter. “That wasn’t my finest moment, I’ll admit. But this,” he adds. “Is the best idea I’ve had in a long time.” He strokes firmly down Draco’s side, across his hipbones and right to where he needs it.
“I think it was my idea,” whispers Draco, arching up into the touch and earning himself a sharp nip on the collarbone. And then they’re rolling over again, this time finding the perfect position to kiss, and stroke, and gasp and god Harry is so loud and poor Nisha. He chokes down his laughter and anyway Harry is not going to let him be distracted for a moment, and all he can think is it’s Harry, and at last, and yes, just before Harry arches and swears and shudders in his arms.
Panting, heaving still, they hold on to each other until they are both back in their right minds, or as near as possible, anyway.
“Fuck.” Draco’s head is resting on Harry’s shoulder, his nose tickling in brown underarm hair. He’s not sure he’ll ever be able to move again.
“Umph,” says Harry, and shivers.
“Sorry.” Draco kisses him on the shoulder and sits up, reluctantly. Leaning over he grabs his towel from the back of his desk chair.
“Do you want me to stay” asks Harry, opening one eye and watching him sleepily.
“You’d better,” says Draco, grabbing the duvet and pulling it over them. “I’m not sneaking around in my own home, as long as she lives here. And anyway, she knows all about this.” Especially now, he thinks, groggily. And really he should have expected Harry to be loud and planned accordingly.
Harry turns on his side and wriggles over, insinuating a warm foot in between Draco’s calves. “Hmm. Tomorrow night I’ll bring my wand.”
Draco, reaching for the bedside light, pauses and raises an eyebrow.
“That sounded a lot kinkier than I expected,” says Harry, pressing his mouth into Draco’s shoulder.
“I shall look forward to that.” He just has time to switch off the light before Harry is snoring gently against his chest and he feels himself sinking also towards oblivion.
Chapter 23: The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams
December twenty-third - The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams (Eleanor Roosevelt)
Prompt - Malfoy signet ring
He wakes feeling unaccountably light and happy - and much much warmer than usual. Stretching drowsily across his bed, hoping that he can catch the tail end of that rather lovely dream, his foot encounters a warm, hairy leg, and he stills, hands clenched into the sheets. His dream Harrys are not normally so corporeal.
Turning slowly, his bed-mate is revealed to be sprawled, naked - if the bare chest and exposed right leg are anything to go by - and watching him with steady green eyes.
“Morning,” he manages to get out, and it’s more a question than a greeting, really. He’s aware he sounds a little deranged but this whole Harry in his bed occurrence is entirely unprecedented and he not quite sure what to do next.
Harry smiles, a slow languorous smile. “Morning to you too. Sleep well?”
Surprise drawing him from his somnolent state even better than his usual caffeine, his eyes flicker across the well-known face - and the lesser known parts. Harry’s still there, and he’s awake, and he hasn’t yet moved away from Draco’s probing foot. Everything points to a positive interpretation of events, but it never hurts to be sure.
“Do you - did we -,” he starts, flustered by Harry’s knowing gaze. “Is this -,”
A gentle finger stays his lips. “Yes.”
“Because, if, on reflection you think that it would be better to, - you - well, that would be fine. Well, not fine, but I’m sure we could come to some -.” He stops, aware that he is babbling dangerously. He waits and watches as Harry props himself up on one arm.
“I know I haven’t exactly given you the impression that I’m in touch with my feelings, but you should know me well enough to remember that once I make a decision, I usually stick with it.”
“That has not always served you well in the past,” Draco can’t help saying. He has to be fair, even if-
This time he gets a half-hearted glare. “Yes.”
“Yes to what?” Draco asks, a little desperately.
“Yes to a cup of tea in bed,” says Harry, eyes regarding him with something which is part amusement, part pain and part something else. “Yes to whatever else you were asking. It will always be yes.”
“Oh,” he says, lying back on his pillows, and feeling warm, safe and a little bit overwhelmed.
Harry shuffles over, flings a leg across him and presses a kiss into his cheek. “And if you were to ask me for a, er, rematch. Then I would say yes. So it’s worth a try.”
He turns and has the bedside drawer open before Draco can stop him and say ‘not in that one’.
There’s a long silence, then -
“You keep some very strange things in your drawer.”
Oh hell, the sleeping potions. It’s Harry’s only present this year as it’s taken so long to research and brew them all, and now the surprise is spoilt. Perhaps he can be distracted.
“Such as?” he tries.
“Well, apart from the fish food - and I don’t want to know, so don’t tell me - there’s this,” says Harry, pulling out the Malfoy signet ring.
Draco reaches for it and snags it from his hands.
“Oh god, it’s not cursed is it? Death to Potters who debauch my son?”
“I don’t think my father could have predicted this,” he says faintly, before remembering that his mother very nearly did. “It’s just there. I need it for the Mastery incantation, so I can’t throw it away or destroy it, much as I’d like to sometimes.
“Good,” says Harry, taking the ring and putting it carefully back in the drawer. “Because if that was your idea of an appropriate engagement ring I’d be very worried.”
“I’ll make a note of that,” Draco says, rolling on to his back and starting up at the ceiling. His heart is light and brimming with something he can’t quite identify, probably because it’s never been there before. He smiles.
Harry flings an arm across his face and groans. “Yes?”
“Isn’t it your turn to take the bins out?”
Harry huffs and rolls on top of him. “I suppose I walked into that one. All right. Yes. But not right now,” he adds.
He’s humming to himself and clearing breakfast away while the others are just starting to open up shop when Hermione’s head appears with a roar in the Living room fireplace.
He drops his tea towel and rounds the sofa. “No, but I can get her if you want, she’s just downstairs.”
She shakes her head. “Best not. I’ve found her Mani - there are only so many teaching hospitals in London and my parents found him on Facebook quite easily. It’s a sort of network of people on computers,” she adds, as he looks at her, confused.
“Have you spoken to him? Can we meet him?” He’s heard via Hermione and Teddy how computers have developed since his few brief months in the Wizarding world, and the last thing he heard, people could actually speak to each other like on a tellyphone, and see each other - like a Firecall but without the soot.
“Um, no. I thought that might be a bit weird,” she says. “But it turns out he’s a friend of a friend of one of my parents’ dentistry students, so I should be able to get a message to him today. We’ll have to be careful, as the Exceptions to the Statute of Secrecy won’t cover us in this case, but I thought we could all meet him in a Muggle park somewhere. If you’re certain she wants to see him again."
Draco thinks back over their conversations, and yesterday when she had told him that she had lost her chance but she was prepared to stand up to him because she didn’t want him and Harry to lose theirs.
“Yes,” he says.
Hermione nods. “All right. I’ll owl you later.”
“Better send it to me at the shop - and I’d better go down, because it’ll be manic and Sophie can’t come in until lunch.” He gets up from the sofa.
“It will be quieter next year though, won’t it, after the sales?”
“I bloody hope so, because it would be nice to get some time off on our own. Sophie can handle things as long as we’re not too busy.”
She smiles. “I’ve got a pile of work to get through before the end of today. Speaking of which, we will see all of you - Nisha too - at The Burrow, won’t we?”
“Yes, absolutely.” He waves her off and turns to go downstairs, his mind teeming with ideas.
He is talking to Oolong about a change of environment when Hermione’s owl reaches him in mid-afternoon, and he takes advantage of Sophie’s presence to wander into the kitchen and open the letter there under the small skylight which streams cold blue light from the roof.
“Brilliant.” A meeting in Regent’s Park on Boxing Day.
He doesn’t hear Harry come in behind him until an arm slips around his waist and pulls him close. “You sound pleased.”
“That’s because I have a lot of things to be pleased about,” he says, leaning back into the embrace, and slipping the note into his trouser pocket.
“You’re a sap,” says Harry, pressing a kiss to the nape of his neck. “I always suspected it, but I can confirm it now. I should probably take out an advertisement in The Prophet - Draco Malfoy is actually quite nice when he thinks no one’s looking."
“You do that," he says, turning. “And see what’s left of your balls.”
Harry grins. “I’m actually still a little bit scared of you - so I won’t risk it.”
“Good.” He flicks the kettle on - might as well - and leans against the counter. “I’ve been talking to Oolong.”
“I’m starting to get worried by how normal that sounds.” Harry opens the cupboard to pull down four cups. “And what words of wisdom did he have to offer today? The Sermon from the Mount, a trailer for the Queen’s Speech, perhaps? More culinary suggestions?
“Fish and chips,” says Draco, receiving a wicked stinging hex up his spine for his efforts. “Actually, Oolong told me that he has a tendency to suffer from existential crises when he’s on his own, and I wondered if perhaps we should take him upstairs over Christmas.”
Harry regards him dubiously as he spoons the tea leaves into the pot. “Our fish is having an existential crisis?”
He sniffs. “Well, I was hardly talking about the tea.”
Chapter 24: I will lead you home
December twenty-fourth - I will lead you home
Prompt - Manor house in the snow
Last night’s party at the Weasleys was exhausting but rather brilliant. They decided not to say anything and see how long it took people to notice but Ron guessed their secret within about half an hour of their arrival, which was a shame because he thinks Harry quite liked waiting to see if anyone else was as oblivious as he was.
“I can’t believe you didn’t mention it earlier,” Hermione had said, looking at them with intense interest.
“Mention what,” said George. “The fact that they’ve apparently finally talked, or the fact that they’ve finally ‘talked’?
Ron had groaned, and Draco had felt himself flushing again. “Thanks for bringing that up again, George. Anyway you can’t talk, you thought we were together already.”
“Do you think we should tell Molly,” Harry asked, picking a bread stick out of Draco’s fingers and eating it in two mouthfuls. He looked a little flushed as well, with Hermione looking knowingly from one to the other.
“No!” came three different voices.
“No point,” added Charlie.
“You would not believe how many times we’ve tried to tell them the truth,” said Ron, shoving a stuffed prawn in his mouth.
“I can’t believe you didn’t know what we all thought,” George had told Harry, a little tactlessly thought Draco as Harry stiffened beside him.
“Yeah, well we all know I’m an idiot, I suppose I should be grateful that Draco’s crazy enough to over look that little fact.”
“I love you, and you are not an idiot,” Draco had said, lacing his fingers through Harry’s.
Hermione pushed George off the sofa. “We all love you. And it’s not a surprise that your upbringing left you with no clear role models, and those you had at school either died or betrayed your trust. I just think of you, a little toddler who has been loved all its life, suddenly losing its parents and handed over to the worst two specimens of relatives imaginable.” She took Harry’s other hand. ”I thought it was awful, but only intellectually, until I had Rose. And now sometimes I look at her and imagine what would happen if she got transplanted into a family like the Dursleys. All the love she would show them at first, expecting nothing but kindness and love in return, and how she would be rebuffed and scolded and ignored but never understand why.”
She means to be kind, Draco knows, but it wasn’t what Harry needed, certainly not in an interested crowd. He’d given her a look and she sat back, releasing Harry’s hand. Draco tugged his other hand.
“Come on, let’s take a walk outside.”
And now they’re home again, and Harry spent much of last night goading him to lose control, and now they’ve got a few hours of blissful lie in before he’s got to go and meet Mrs Singh at the Singh house with his mother. Harry had offered to come too but it’s probably best and safest if they go alone. He thinks he’s been there before, long ago - a beautiful Manor House, but rotten on the inside.
Boiling the kettle for the first tea of the day he reflects that it all feels a bit like those French films that Blaise likes - nothing actually happens but everything is different. Except they have a fish, he thinks, spotting Oolong’s tank, which is now sitting on the coffee table, as he carries two cups of steaming tea past a still sleeping Nisha and into Harry’s bedroom. Their bedroom.
He winces and Harry pulls back. “Is your shoulder still bothering you?”
“Only when my muscles tense up,” he says, rubbing the sore area.
“It does look quite bad,” says Harry, probing the bruise with gentle fingers. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you the other day. I just knew that if I started touching you I wouldn’t be able to stop.”
“I don’t mind,” Draco says, sighing into the soft touch.
“Yeah, well I didn’t know that.” Harry grimaces. “I really am an idiot, aren’t I.”
Draco looks up at him and with his eyes tries to communicate everything he can’t yet say. “Stop that. I did everything I could to maintain the status quo, for years, and -”
“When you say years,” says Harry, turning him on his side in order to rub the liniment down his shoulder blade and across his collarbone, “How many, exactly?”
Draco is very grateful that Harry can no longer see his face, and it was probably arranged like that, he thinks. Harry is surprisingly tactful.
“Since the Thestral cheese," he says at last. And waits. He’s not sure if Harry will find the information frightening or exhilarating, or just plain embarrassing.
There’s a long pause, although Harry doesn’t stop with his massage, and it’s very soothing. “That was in about 2005, wasn’t it? The second year we were living together - the night you had a sore neck from unpacking the Christmas broom delivery.”
“You remember it," he mumbles, surprised.
“Yeah,” says Harry, rubbing at a particularly sore spot. “And this is going to sound completely stupid, but that night - well that was the night I always thought of if people asked me if one of us was going to set up a branch in Hogsmeade, or ever move back to Grimmauld Place. All I could think was that home was with you, in front of the fire, drinking wine and talking.”
“It’s not stupid,” says Draco, turning to pull him into an embrace. “Because that’s exactly what I thought too. It just didn’t occur to you that someone could love you that much.”
“Speak for yourself,” mutters Harry, burying his nose into his shoulder and taking a long breath.
He decides to ignore that. “Talking of cheese," he says. “I haven’t yet sourced all the cheeses for tonight. I think a visit to Cuthbert’s is in order this afternoon. But first, I believe I missed out on my annual post-broomstick massage this year.”
As Harry turns to pick up his wand Draco rolls onto his stomach and reflects that there is much to be said for delayed gratification - and silencing charms.
December twenty-fifth - Tidings of Comfort and Joy
Prompt - Christmas pudding
As the minute hand twitches past midnight Harry catches Draco’s eye across the cheese board, and raises his glass.
Draco casts a startled glance at the clock and his heart sinks. Mrs Singh has not made it then. She seemed so keen earlier and when they told her they might be able to help her find Nisha she had gripped his mother’s arm so tightly that he suspects her pale skin has bruised. Draco is still not one hundred percent sure they have done the right thing, although he doesn’t doubt that Mrs Singh loves her daughter and is desperate to keep her safe, but then he knows an awful lot about bigoted violent husbands and the lengths to which they can go to control their families. On the other hand, so does his mother, and she seemed to think it would be fine. He is only glad that he has not mentioned the possibility to Nisha or Harry.
He is just about to suggest that they go to bed when there comes a faint knock at the shop door below him. But before he can move, Harry, who is over by the window, jumps to his feet, muttering all sort of imprecations about late night visitors and officious SODA officials.
“It’d better not be Hector about those bloody snow sculptures again.”
Draco fusses over clearing away the cheese board and tidying up the sitting room, in an effort to hide his excitement from Nisha. When, after a tense moment, Harry returns looking eager and pleased, he sighs in relief. He trusts Harry’s instincts rather better than he trusts his own.
As Nisha, half-fearfully half determined, goes down stairs, faithful Sparks at her heels, he turns to Harry, who is leaning against the kitchen door with his arms crossed.
“You don’t look awfully surprised,” Harry says, with a knowing look. “Anything you’d care to share?”
“And you’re an expert on my body language now, are you?” he returns, clearing the cheeseboard and ensuring the left-over cheeses are properly wrapped in the correct papers.
Harry wanders over to pick up a last crumb of Yorkshire Blue. “I can read you now, Draco. And I know you had something to do with Mrs Singh being downstairs at ten past twelve on Christmas morning.”
“Yes,” he says, putting the cheeses in the pantry. “Well, I rather fancied myself as a slim, much better looking Father Christmas.”
Harry follows him in. “It’s all right, Draco. I think you did the right thing.”
“Excellent,” he says, rubbing his hands and taking down a bottle of whisky, and a bunch of carrots for the reindeer. “Does that mean I get to drink Santa’s whisky? I believe it’s a rather fine Glenlivet twelve year old with a French oak finish.”
Harry takes the bottle out of his hand. “You,” he says, “Have had too much already, and so has Santa. So in the interests of health and safety I’ll be leaving out a glass of milk.”
“Spoilsport,” grumbles Draco, but he follows Harry over to the hearth and watches him set a mince pie, a plate of carrots and a glass of ice cold milk on the mantelpiece. Harry might have a point. Something is fizzing through his blood and he’s not sure if it’s happiness or wine.
Nisha finds them there, staring into the fire, when she arrives with her mother a few minutes later.
“Would you like some Christmas cake, and a cup of tea?” Harry asks, already heading to the kitchen.
Nisha’s mother nods, looking round the flat and, Draco suspects, a tiny bit jealous. And, though many people wouldn’t, he thinks he can understand the appeal of a not overly large flat above a shop, over a frigid airless mansion.
“I’ve got a job," Nisha says, eyes proud and back straight.
“I heard," her mother replies. “With Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy, and I am very very grateful to them for everything I understand they have done for you. But, Nisha, if you want to continue your education, I have my dress allowance and I could try to help you." She trails off as Nisha shakes her head.
“Thank you, but I think it would be very difficult for you to deceive father like that - and if he found out he could so easily stop the money and interfere with my life again. Anyway once the Christmas rush is over Hermione has offered me a job in her legal practice, and she says that if I’m interested she will help me get grants for training. It sounds fascinating."
Her mother nods, looking both pained and relieved. But Draco, observing from the sofa with Harry, thinks that Nisha is making the right decision in the circumstances. Nisha watches, looking pleased as Sparks creeps closer to her mother and eventually jumps up into her lap, turning circles before settling down. And Mrs Singh, to her credit, does not flinch, even though Draco dreads to think what his claws are doing to her beautifully tailored silk travelling robes.
“He manages remarkably well, given that he’s only got three legs," she says, stroking Sparks along his wiry back and down the stump of his leg.
“Someone tried to drown him - I think it was because he was missing a leg,” says Nisha, leaning over to tickle him under the chin. “I rescued him from the canal.”
“The man at the pet shop wanted to flush Oolong down the loo,” adds Draco and Harry looks at him in horror.
“Just because he’s a bit lopsided?”
Draco nods, and then seeing Nisha’s mother’s bewildered look - “Oolong is Harry’s fish,” he adds.
“Our fish,” corrects Harry with a smile.
“This is delicious cake,” says Mrs Singh, carefully placing her plate on the arm of the sofa. “So moist, and the whisky flavours come through beautifully.”
“I should hope so,” Draco mutters in Harry’s ear.
The evening of Christmas day sees Ron, Hermione and Rose arrive straight from the Weasleys, with an enormous care package of food that should hopefully last them until the markets open again on Monday and will certainly provide everything they could possibly need for their supper - except -
“And now, it’s time for the Christmas Pudding,” Harry announces with all due ceremony, carrying the flaming pudding over to the table. Ron groans.
“Blue. Fire!” says Rose, clapping her hands in delight.
“Only a little bit for you,” says Hermione. “I dread to think how much alcohol Harry put in it.”
“Just a small slice for me too,” says Draco, feeling his stomach ruefully. Bacon sandwiches this morning, followed by Christmas lunch - and Harry always over caters - and now Molly’s leftovers have left him heavy and replete. He hopes Harry has rather less energetic plans for the coming night.
“Delicious - I think it’s your best yet, Harry” says Hermione. “Do you think Sparks would like some if I took the nuts out?”
Hearing his name, the little dog gets up and scutters across the floor. “Probably,” says Nisha, resignedly. “He’s such a glutton that I wonder if they starved him.”
“Ouch,” says Ron, reaching a finger into his mouth and hooking out an almond. “I think I’ve broken my tooth.”
“I’m not surprised,” says Hermione. “Your sugar consumption has been alarmingly high recently.”
“No worse than yours,” Ron replies, feeling a canine with an investigative tongue.
Hermione raises an eyebrow. “Golden syrup on your Yorkshire puddings?”
“Oh, look,” says Nisha, delicately removing a silver Sickle from her mouth. “What does that mean?”
“Good luck,” says Harry, smiling at her. “For the coming year. It’s a Muggle tradition, like making a wish when you make the pudding.”
“I think I’ve already had all my good luck,” Nisha says, beaming around the coffee table.
Draco smiles to himself as he thinks about Regent’s Park and a certain medical student.
“What are you grinning about?” asks Harry, poking him in the side. Which is quite uncalled for, especially given how much he has eaten today.
“New beginnings,” he replies, taking the intrusive hand and moving it to his thigh. “Is there anything else my teeth should be worried about or have we identified all the debris?”
Harry squeezes his hand and looks around. “There’s a couple more to go -”
Sparks who has finished his own helping and has been sniffing around the other bowls on the coffee table suddenly goes rigid, a strange wheeze coming from his throat.
“Oh God,” says Hermione pushing Rose off her knee. “I was sure I got all the nuts out.”
Draco gets there so fast he doesn’t even remember moving. “He’s choking.” He pulls out his wand - “Anapneo!" - and holds his breath as the little dog heaves and heaves until, with a hacking cough, something shoots out of his mouth and flies across the room.
“Sparks!” Nisha scoops him up off the floor and holds him to her breast, tears in her eyes.
“He’s all right,” says Harry. “Look, he’s breathing fine now, thanks to Draco’s quick thinking.”
Draco finds himself with an armful of girl and dog, and exchanges an alarmed glance with Harry. The dog may be breathing fine, but he’s not.
“I’m so sorry, I was sure -” begins Hermione, as Ron starts moving furniture and looking into glasses and bowls.
“Button,” says Rosie from over by the fireplace, but before she can put it in her mouth, Ron plucks it out of her fingers. She begins to whimper.
“I’m sorry Sparks, no love for you next year,” says Harry, going over to investigate. “That was the bachelor button.”
“He’ll get plenty of love from me,” says Nisha, still cuddling Sparks although he seems eager to have another go at the leftovers.
“I wonder whose plate it was from,” says Draco, sinking down on the sofa, his heart still pounding. “I think he’s stolen one of our favours.”
“I hope it wasn’t one of our favours,” Harry, dropping down next to him and scooping up their abandoned bowls and spoons from the floor. “I’ve had enough of bachelordom.”
“It had better be mine,” says Nisha, letting Sparks jump to the floor. “Or perhaps it was from the pile of nuts Hermione took out of Sparks’ dish.”
“Or Rosie’s,” suggests Draco. “She’s a bit young for love affairs so it doesn’t really matter.” He takes a bite of the pudding, and it is really rather good - in fact so good that he suspects some of his Glenlivet twelve year French oak finish might have found its way in here too. “Ouch.”
Harry’s head whips round. “What have you got?”
He says nothing until he has carefully removed the metal favour from his mouth. He wipes it off with his napkin - and puts it on Harry’s knee. “This.”
“The ring,” Harry says, looking up at him as Ron gives a wolf whistle and Hermione breaks into applause.
Draco looks at him steadily. “One of our customers was suggesting it was about time I ‘made an honest man of you’ only the other week."
Harry picks it up and slips it on his little finger. “It’s a bit small - and purple - but it’s certainly an improvement on that Malfoy monstrosity.”
Draco doesn’t need to look away from Harry to feel Hermione’s raised eyebrow and Ron’s splutter. He reaches over and threads his fingers through Harry’s and when Harry smiles back the rest of the room fades away leaving just the two of them. As Harry strokes his thumb over his sensitive skin, he still can’t quite believe that he can actually do this, that this is really happening.
“So, tell me about this pudding tradition,” says Nisha, Pure Blood training coming to the fore once again as she sits back down, hugging Sparks to her chest. Harry blinks and Draco looks away at last - and right into Weasley’s amused eyes. Bloody hell. They’ve just been gazing at each other like lovestruck teenagers, in full view of one of the most relentless piss-takers in Britain.
“Did you get your wish?” asks Hermione, when Harry has finished explaining a rather muddled account of the history and significance of pudding favours and wishing.
“Not exactly,” says Harry, reddening. “But I think I asked for the wrong thing.”
“What did you wish for?” Draco asks, intrigued.
Harry groans before looking up at him with embarrassed eyes. “It’s going to sound very silly, but I wished that we could always be like this. All together, just like this. But especially you - I’ve always been afraid you would go somewhere and I didn’t know how I could ever stop you.”
Warmth burns through Draco’s veins, and he doesn’t think it’s the Glenlivet.
“You are the most oblivious person I have ever met, but I don't think you were that far off, actually," says Hermione, dropping a kiss on Harry’s head as she carries Rose over to see Oolong, who has been moved to the side table for the occasion.
“Look Rose, it’s a wonky fish.”
Curling into Harry’s warm side, looking from Oolong to Sparks, to their lopsided Christmas tree, Draco reflects that Harry’s preference for the not-perfect has worked out rather well in his favour.
I am both sad and relieved that this is the end. It was insane to take up this challenge and a number of real life events got in the way but we made it. Although I entered the early bird challenge I was only ever at most one day ahead.
I kind of regret not having taking a more reasonable approach and giving Nat's amazing All Must Draw Near counterpart the time and care it deserves. I was literally writing and posting in a couple of hours every day - sometimes with no time to even reread, only do a spell check. There's a lot I'd like to go back and tighten up. However a lot of people seemed to have been enjoying it and I want to thank them for all their lovely comments and support - it has made the challenge so much more fun and really motivated me.
I'm on holiday now and left some scene notes at home so I might do a later addition to the Advent is for Cheese series with a couple of missing scenes if anyone is interested.
Finally thank you to the wonderful Nat (Saras_Girl) for writing such amazing and inspiring stories (especially All Must Draw Near), and letting me play in her world. A few people have wondered why I have mentioned upcoming scenes in the story, but not written them - that is because this story runs parallel to All Must Draw Near (and subsequent to Advent) and except for certain 'crux' scenes it made sense for me to tell Draco's story rather than rewrite Nat's scenes and give Draco's point of view. Hopefully it pretty much stood on its own, but for anyone who hasn't read Saras_Girl's stories then you absolutely must. Immediately.
Merry Christmas everybody!