Draco eyed the big, gaudy letters on the shop's glass front with distrust. Next to him, Neville seemed intent on soldiering on inside, so he supposed he had no choice but to tag along. The shop was huge, littered with stacks of clothing, crowded with people and Draco hated the obnoxiously happy music playing in the background.
It was unfathomable to him how anybody was ever supposed to find something in this establishment, especially since he couldn't make out any staff, but Neville, unperturbed by this, walked around the room picking up things here and there. Before Draco knew it, he was following him to the dressing rooms.
"Thanks for coming," Neville said through the curtain. "Gran threatened to come along to make sure the trousers fit, if I had tried to go alone."
With a shudder, Draco remembered the formidable Augusta he knew from chance meetings in public places and her dressing style, which had been relayed through gossip of the Boggart in third year Gryffindor DADA. There had been drawings of Snape. Unfortunate drawings.
It was also unfortunate that Neville insisted on buying his trousers at a Muggle store. Draco had tried to convince him to go to Madam Malkin's or at least an off-the-rack wizard store, but Neville had categorically refused and insisted he needed a pair of jeans, which, to be fair, he couldn’t buy in a magical place.
The curtain slid open and Neville turned towards Draco.
"How are those?"
He presented the most sensible grey trousers he could have found in the store. Still they fit him well. Turning around to show the back, Neville looked over his shoulder.
"Draco? What’s your verdict?"
"Yes," he said, distracted by the curve of Neville’s arse. "I mean, yes, they’re tolerable, for a Muggle product."
Neville shot him a grin that would have been accompanied by a two-fingered salute by anyone else, but his Gran had taught him better manners.
Draco raised his eyebrows back at him. He was Slytherin enough not to let on how good the trousers looked on Neville, at least not until he knew exactly what their relationship was.
Nobody had expected them to get along after the war, but Draco had made sure not to put even one toe out of line in his last year at Hogwarts. To be honest, he hadn't believed they would even take him back for it and when they had, he had been exceedingly polite to everybody, especially Potter and his friends. And what if Draco had tried to get closer to Neville to better his image at first? Neville had enjoyed having someone to talk about Herbology, the state of the Ministry, and his plans for the future and Draco had openly shared personal information as well. He hadn't expected his 'plan' to work so well that even after Hogwarts, Neville would Owl now and again and invite him to see the baby Nifflers in the zoo, have tea or go for a stroll in the botanical gardens of the nearest Wizarding town, but it had.
Draco wasn't sure yet what it meant that they always were alone. Neville knew from their eighth year that Draco could be perfectly civil to Neville's friends.
"No way do I fit into—never mind."
A hand full of what Draco supposed were 'jeans' came out of the stall.
"Could you get me these a size larger?"
Draco scoffed. He was not a House Elf. This was exactly why he liked to visit shops tending to a higher profile clientele with better customer service.
Sighing, he took them, stepped out of the changing area and let the staff know with a loud "Excuse me?" that he was in need of assistance.
Sure enough, a woman in a dress the highest hopes of which should have been to become a potato sack rushed along to get him to be quiet. Upon instruction, she hurried and returned swiftly with the requested jeans. Now if only Draco had been a bit more quiet, he could have reaped the credit.
Draco cleared his throat and Neville opened the curtain to look out. With a knowing, slightly reproachful look he snatched the jeans out of Draco's hands and didn't even thank him.
"You're welcome," Draco said snippily, but as he expected, Neville didn't rise to the bait any more.
"By the way, Luna's birthday is coming up, don't let me forget to pick up her present."
Draco listened up. Lovegood might be a little loony but she was entertaining and for some time in fifth year, Draco had wondered whether they should marry—not that he liked her so much, but he had suspected they might have perfect little blond angel babies together.
"You've got it picked out already?"
Sometimes Draco wondered whether Neville made him ask on purpose, to get back at him a little for seven years of bad treatment. But then, he was probably just lost in thought.
"What are you getting her?" he asked as politely as he could manage.
"A sticker book," Neville replied, unhelpfully, and opened the curtain again.
"Still a little tight," he said mournfully and turned around and Draco recognised in that instant that he had been wrong, so very wrong about Muggles and their clothes. Were they indecent? Yes. But did they make his mouth water and make him want to get on his knees for the snake slayer? Also yes.
"Probably the best you can get in this dump."
Regrettably, Neville had somewhat learned to interpret Draco's way of communicating and looked at himself in the mirror with a curious little smile.
Already? Now that Draco had seen the beauty of Mugglewear, the party was over? He sighed.
Neville fiddled a bit with the Muggle money he needed to pay with—apparently Granger had explained to him how to use it, but that had been ages ago and sometimes, in the little things, Neville's self-consciousness still showed. Draco was of no help at all, but all in all, he didn't consider it a flaw not to be versed in the process of Muggle payment.
To cheer him up, Draco countered the insincere "Thank you" from the clerk with a merry "No, thank you!" which had the added benefit of vexing her. Neville snorted and jostled him with his elbow when leaving the shop and Draco was unreasonably happy about it.
"On to the paper store?" Neville asked and Draco nodded, curious as to what a sticker book might be.
In walking, they exchanged a few words about Neville's week at work and how he irrationally hated the Streelers because, even though unintentional, they killed all vegetation. Draco kept laughing out loud in the most undignified manner at the way Neville talked about the little beasts ("He's just such an arsehole, you'd think he's at least take the same route back!"), giving them more of a personality than Draco supposed they had.
"I can't believe I didn't realise for so long how funny you are," he finally said, wiping a few stray tears off his face and squeezing Neville's shoulder for a moment. Neville grinned good-naturedly and put his arm around Draco's shoulder, reminding Draco that he had grown into a nicely muscled frame. He could probably take Draco on in a non-magical fight (if Draco were playing fair), not that Draco was out for that kind of tussle. He sneaked a look at the man in question, hoping he wasn't actually blushing more than the February air warranted.
Neville seemed to sense his discomfort and let go of him. He cleared his throat.
"So, how'd you like to come along to Luna's party?"
Not at all, Draco thought, but didn't say. The guest list Neville had divulged didn't exactly promise joyous cries of reunion. He was barely on speaking terms with the hero trio, had no idea what went on in Lovegood's head and didn't even want to think about the feisty little Weasley's opinion on the Malfoys.
So, on the whole, a definite no.
"I'm sure you wouldn't mind being among yourselves," Draco said, rather less decided than he had planned.
"I'd like you to come."
The words, spoken firmly and with conviction, made Draco's ears glow and he looked straight ahead not to betray too much emotion.
"You know, Longbottom, you're not so shabby-looking that you couldn't try pulling a date instead of bringing a friend," Draco said lightly, gauging Neville's reaction.
Neville slowed down and, when Draco caught on, stopped walking. He shrugged.
Draco usually prided himself on his intellect and cunning, so a wave of embarrassment that he hadn't caught on sooner washed through him when he did.
Neville watched him, still waiting for an answer, looking quite relaxed if Draco chose to ignore the way his fingers drummed against his thigh.
"Right," Draco said, pulling himself together. So Neville was asking him out. To be his date for Lovegood's party. A horrible place for a first date as well, if truth be told, but Draco didn't mind as much as his pureblood heritage told him he should.
"I'd love to come, then."
Neville smiled and walked on, maybe a step closer to Draco than he had been before.
Draco tried to keep the smile that was threatening to burst forward on his face in check. He wasn't fourteen any more.
So he was going to Lovegood's party. He wasn't going to bend over backwards for the Gryffindors but Draco was intent on observing basic courtesy. He'd have to find a gift.
"Think I can buy her a sticking book too?"
They bought her a sticker book and lots of stickers to go with it and since Draco wasn't quite convinced that she actually wanted these things, he ordered an appropriate flower bouquet to go with it.
Neville met up with him at the Apparition point in Hogsmeade. Apparently the group felt more comfortable going out there than in either Wizarding or Muggle London, knowing their way around and as the hour was late, it was free of students. Draco was infinitely glad he had apologised to Rosmerta during his last school year and gotten the uncomfortable first confrontation out of the way. Still, he was not sure she wouldn't just refuse him service, even if he was tagging along with the Boy Who Lived. He wasn't positive said Boy Who Lived would make an effort to have him stay either.
Draco ran his hand through his hair for the hundredth time even though Neville was already walking beside him and he did not need to impress any of the others. Well. There was no need to be nervous. If it was obvious he was unwelcome he'd make excuses and go. He didn't need to stay if the Gryffindors made this hard on him.
Neville hooked his arm into Draco's unoccupied elbow, making him jostle the bouquet on the other side.
"I'm glad you're here."
They reached the door of the Three Broomsticks and Draco took a fortifying breath. Date or no date, Neville was going to have to make this up to him.
Draco stalled until Neville went in ahead of him and pulled him along by his hand. They spotted the others at a corner table and made their way over. Draco waited for the looks of incredulity and outrage, but they didn't come.
"Hi everybody," Neville said, letting go of Draco's hand to be pulled into an embrace by the little Weasley.
"Malfoy," she said levelly and gave him a neutral look before sitting down again.
"Ginevra," he replied smoothly and was distracted by a hand thrust in his direction.
"Good to see you, Draco," Harry said, grinning from ear to ear and gripping his hand tightly when he accepted the handshake. Next to him, Weasley held out his hand, albeit less enthusiastically.
Granger greeted him politely as well and then he was through with the Gryffindors. He was pretty sure Lovegood would not be the one to give him a hard time, so with newfound confidence, he turned to her.
"Hello and happy birthday."
He held out his present and the bouquet and she ignored it, pulling him into an awkward hug.
"Hi Draco! It's so lovely of you to come celebrate with me. I've never had a proper birthday party with friends before!"
In the awkward silence that followed, Draco's perplexed gaze came across Weasley's who just shrugged awkwardly to signal he didn't know what to do with that statement either.
Finally, he managed to manoeuvre the gifts into her hand, take off his coat and grab a seat, coming to sit next to Neville on one side and Granger on the other.
"What are you drinking?" Neville asked, and, when supplied with the answer went to fetch Butterbeer for the two of them.
Silence descended on the table again, but only for a moment. At the same time, both Harry and Ginevra started to talk about Quidditch, in a pretty obvious attempt to make him feel comfortable that he nonetheless appreciated.
"What do you think of the Harpies' performance against the Falcons?" Ginevra asked him with a cool look.
"Weak," he answered, knowing fully well they had won the last match—but only just. "They have strong Beaters and Gryffiths is a more than passable Chaser, they could do much better if they stopped playing so much in defence. What do you think?"
Draco had heard from Neville that she was training with the Harpies, so he had been able to elegantly navigate her invitation to a verbal sparring and really was interested in her opinion.
She inclined her head, making the red mane fly.
"Not a bad take. I keep telling Gwen to train them for more aggressive flying, but they say that's not elegant."
Neville returned, sat down between them and slid a drink over, then let a hand fall under the table, squeezing Draco's knee in reassurance. Draco didn't need reassurance, but Neville's hand felt good and he shot him a grateful smile.
When Ginevra latched onto Neville, Granger untangled from the conversation of the trio and Luna to ask him about his job.
"How do you like Wizarding real estate?"
He didn't actually care about his job enough to have an opinion on it, he found.
"It pays the bills," he said, then wondered what a more polite answer would be to invite conversation. "Portus Property doesn't only advertise estate to buy or let, but also cares for Wizarding homes in the meantime. Sometimes I have to arrange for a complete clearing of an estate, including portraits, library, House elves and all."
Granger turned more toward him, eyes widened in interest.
"What do you do with those House elves?"
"Relocate," he said smoothly. He had mentioned the elves because he knew he would get in her good graces with his answer. "They are questioned and rated for their needs and uses and allotted to a new house that fits. We've not had an unhappy elf since I joined."
He took another sip of his Butterbeer, wondering whether he should chance to ask her about Muggle university, a topic on which he'd have nothing to add at all, let alone something positive, when Granger excused herself to the bathroom and he found himself next to Weasley who was talking and laughing with Harry and Lovegood.
When they realised Draco was listening, Harry got an evil glint in his eye.
"How do you feel about an experiment?" he asked him.
Lovegood smiled serenely. Draco was interested but only a fool would agree to unnamed terms, so he asked further.
"Luna's getting into a new line of work and she needs guinea pigs. You up for it?" Harry asked.
"I couldn't deprive our hero from the honour of going first."
"Ah, well, I really don't mind," Harry said.
"Scared, Potter?" Draco asked in an exaggerated imitation of his twelve-year-old self.
Harry took the good-natured rubbing for what it was, flipped him off with a big smile and shoved back the arm of his jumper to reveal his arm.
"Which one would you like?" Lovegood asked, showing Harry her stickers.
"You choose for me," he answered and let her stick one of the pretty stickers—of a flower and a blueish bird—onto his arm.
Well, that wasn't heroic at all and nothing like he had expected. He was about to undo the button on his shirt sleeve when Lovegood took out her wand, making everybody on the table pay attention. She waved it over Harry's arm in a complex motion and murmured something underneath her breath and when she left off again, the sticker had somehow sunk into Harry's skin and Draco could see the bird flap his wings to keep close to the flower.
Draco had to admit, Lovegood was more impressive a witch than he had expected.
"You didn't think she was just collecting them, were you?" Neville said into his ear, the sudden closeness and heat of his breath causing an involuntary shiver. Draco did his best to cover over with a roll of his eyes and shrug in what he hoped came off closer to casual disinterest than excitement.
Just when they were all gathered around the new tattoo and talking about Lovegood's Experimental Store of Beautiful Imagery (artisan and natural), Ginevra seemed to have found Rosmerta and stuck out her hand to order more drinks.
It was no use trying to hide, she fixated him even as she was approaching the table and stemmed her hands in her hips.
"Young Mister Malfoy."
He smiled weakly at her.
"Which Unforgivable are you planning on using on me tonight?"
Her tone was harsh, but he had had harsher, after the war.
"None, Ma'am," he answered meekly.
"You had better not," she said and started to take their orders.
Neville continued his conversation with Ginevra, but his hand found Draco's and gave it a squeeze. Well, maybe he had needed that.
The Gryffindors ordered fish and chips for the table and they ate and drank together, round after round. More of the Gryffindors wanted tattoos and Lovegood—Luna, she insisted he call her—who was thankfully sticking to Gillywater, obliged. Draco had a pleasant buzz when he allowed her to choose a sticker for him. She took a dragonfly, blue and purple and horribly iridescent, and set it on his arm, then did the same spell as on the others. Draco almost jumped when the dragonfly tickled underneath his skin and fluttered around, settling on the faded Mark.
"I can take it off you any time," Luna offered, but Draco found he liked it.
"Thank you," he said, flexing the muscles on his arm to test whether the dragonfly was susceptible to movement. It flexed its wings back at him and he giggled.
Somehow he had come to sit between Luna and Weasley and he let himself sink back against the wood panelling of the wall, relaxed and feeling a little silly. With half-opened eyes he watched Neville and Harry talk, then attempt to arm wrestle and nearly clear the table of their drinks. Harry seemed to sport quite a bit of intoxication as well, but with Neville, Draco couldn't tell. He was still all quiet smiles and slow, but sure movements and Draco hadn't kept track of his drinks. He caught Draco's gaze after a moment and held it, eyes promising.
The moment broke when Weasley jostled him, sliding a new beer over to him.
"Thanks, Wesley, you're a good one," Draco said, then noticed his mouth hadn't obeyed. "WEAsley," he corrected.
"Ron," Ron answered. "Never thought I'd be drinking with you any day soon."
"Nev says you're okay, that's good enough for me. But, now we're talking, you lost me a few Galleons. I bet Harry you wouldn't turn up."
Draco turned to the side to look at Ron.
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I thought you wouldn't want all the Fryggindors—Gryffs, I mean—around."
"Pff…" Draco answered. "Neville is a Gryff and I tolerate him—"
He didn't have to elaborate on how well he tolerated him, though, when across the table, Harry let his head fall into his hands, to the obvious amusement of Neville.
"I know, he saved my life so many… so many times. I never realised how much I—I owe him."
Ron and Hermione shared a look Draco couldn't interpret. Harry sounded pretty worked up over nothing, in any case. If this was about who he thought it was, all Harry had to invest in to make amends was a trip to the castle.
Neville didn't seem to know, exactly, but he wasn't questioning him either.
"We all did our part for the war, Harry," Hermione pitched in, but her sensible tone was somewhat offset by the way her hair was coming free from her bun.
"We did," Ginevra said, sharing a look with Neville.
"But Snape gave me his memories," Harry told his hands. "'n he watched out for me…"
Neville patted his shoulder.
"Wouldn't have thought it, back then, would you?"
Harry suddenly shot up again, face red and blotched.
"He was so mean! Called me idiot so many times! And to you, Nev!"
Running his hand through his hair, Harry's face scrunched up into an expression Draco knew to mean he was up to something. Determined. Thank fuck Draco wasn't close enough to him, he'd have to do something about it.
"That was unness-uncalled for!" Harry insisted. "I'll go tell him."
He rose to his feet, swayed a bit and was pulled down again by Hermione.
"You're going to do nothing of the sort," she said.
"Professor Snape might prefer a visit in the afternoon," Luna added mildly.
Or no visit at all, Draco thought privately. Snape's reaction to Harry had always been dark stares, reddened cheeks and a rising blood pressure. He was probably glad to be rid of all of them, most of all of Harry.
"I have to," Harry said. "I can't live like this!"
"Let's get you home into bed," Ron said, although plainly unable to do the Apparating himself.
They packed up, Ginevra helping Luna collect all her presents. When they left the pub they discovered it had been snowing again, putting a fresh white blanket on the world. Hermione cast warming charms all around, stopping in front of Draco, wand raised. He nodded his permission, and she cast one for him too.
The name slipped out almost on its own after hearing it so often tonight. To his surprise, her benign smile signalled she was happy enough that he had used it.
"Harry, stay," Ginevra said sternly, catching him by his scarf just as he was about to take off towards the school.
Neville came up to him and put his arm around Draco.
"Want me to Side-Along you or take the Floo?"
"Apparate, please," Draco said, scandalised. Did Neville expect him to Floo like a commoner?
Turning around, he found Harry trying to escape again while Ginevra and Luna were saying their goodbyes, planning to depart together. Draco tried to get his wand out without untangling from Neville, which took some time. For all his buzz, the tripping spell he then aimed at Harry landed smoothly and pitched the Gryffindor head first into a snowbank.
"Ron," he shouted and indicated the fabric sticking out of the snow. He was their friend after all and thus, their responsibility.
They approached the rest, saying goodbye before Luna and Ginevra Apparated. Hermione and Ron seemed confident in their ability to stop Harry, who was sticking one arm comically into the air next to his heap of snow.
"It was good to see you," Hermione said, looking at Neville and him both.
"Likewise," Draco replied.
It had been better than he had expected. He had felt welcome and included in their group, something he wouldn't have thought possible before. Only Ginevra was still looking at him with a bit of scepticism, but in a way that indicated it could fade over time.
"Bye, Harry," Neville shouted and Harry waved back at all of them before catching a broomstick and elegantly swinging up on it.
"See you," he shouted back and took off for Hogwarts.
In the blink of an eye, Hermione had her wand ready and sent a yellow spark after him.
"Tracking spell," she explained when three pairs of eyes turned to her. "I'll make sure he doesn't fall off his broom. After that, he's on his own."
"Snape will kill him," Ron howled with laughter. Draco grinned. Snape might.
"Have a nice evening," Neville said, then turned to Draco. "Ready?"
He nodded and, despite their audience, turned to hold on to Neville rather more than was necessary for Side-Along Apparition. In the blink of an eye, they were standing in front of Draco's flat.
"Want to come in for a bit?" Draco asked, still holding on to Neville.
"I'm very easy," Draco replied with a lazy smile.
Neville turned up the collar of Draco's coat against the cold, an action so caring that Draco felt himself blush. Tiny snowflakes were slowly drifting down from the sky and catching on Neville's hair.
"Well, I'm not," Neville said lightly. "Dinner next Friday?"
Draco pouted a little but when he noticed Neville's expression, mostly confident but also a little tense and hopeful, he relented.
"I'd be delighted," he said, throwing his hair back from his forehead and turning his face up.
"Kiss me goodnight?" he asked, breathier than intended. He was at the same time calm—it was Neville after all, strong and familiar—as well as nervous and excited, for the same reasons.
Instead of answering, Neville leaned in and pulled him closer into his embrace, softly touching his lips to Draco's. Their lips brushed, then caught on each others and moved together.
They kissed slowly, but not chastely at all. Neville was all but shy at this, letting his tongue run over Draco's bottom lip in a drawn-out, teasing motion before touching his lips to his again. Even though it was slow, Draco hardly had time to take all the sensations in—the feeling of Neville's lips, the smell of his aftershave mixed with fresh, male sweat, the strong arms around his waist. It was too much and just perfect at the same time.
Draco had hardly had enough when the sound of wood scraping on ice startled them and they pulled apart.
Realising it was just an elderly lady walking by on her cane, their startled expressions turned into grins.
"Worried about scandalising the neighbourhood?" Neville teased him.
"Well, I suppose you don't have to live here," Draco answered fake-primly and pretended to pull away, but Neville held on to him and kissed him on the tip of his nose.
"Good night, Draco."
Draco pressed a last, chaste kiss to Neville's lips and wondered whether another invitation might be able to sway Neville's decision not to come in, but the man had principles and that was kind of hot.
With a last quick kiss and a whispered “bye”, Neville Apparated away and Draco exchanged the cold night air for the cozy warmth of his flat.
Drunk of the kisses more than of the booze, he undressed and let himself fall onto his bed. On his arm, he felt the dragonfly stir, the flutter of its wings under his skin mirroring the warm flutter in his chest as he savoured the echo of their evening. With images of smiling friends in snowy landscapes behind his eyelids, he fell asleep.
“Dragonflies are reminders that we are light and we can reflect light in powerful ways if we choose to do so.”
― Robyn Nola