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Black Holes and Revelations

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"This wasn't ever going to work." Simon hefts his duffle bag over his shoulder, giving Harry a regretful smile. Late morning light filters through the paned windows and glints off his lip piercing. "I do fancy you terribly, but you're too much of a bitter bastard, even for me, and darling, I spent a fortnight in '99 shagging Liam Gallagher." He kisses Harry's cheek; his fingers brush Harry's shaggy, desperately-in-need-of-a-cut hair back behind one ear. "Ring me up later, maybe, and we can get a pint."

Harry jerks back, ash from the Dunhill in his hand scattering across the floor. "Right. So we'll do the whole let's be friends even though we spent the better part of the past three months screwing each other senseless on every surface we can find thing, shall we? I don't think so." He lifts the fag to his lips. His tongue is thick and dry; his mouth tastes like stale beer. He doesn't even remember what he and Simon fought about last night when he'd come in from a night drinking at The World's End with Ron, Seamus and Dean. He'd been too pissed to care. "Friends are friends, and lovers, present and past, are for fucking."

"I'm trying to be an adult about this," Simon snaps. He kicks the flat door open; Harry catches it before it hits the shelves holding his record collection. "You might try to do the same for once."

"Why bother?" Harry follows him out the flat and down the creaking, too-steep stairs, bare feet slapping against the worn wood. "There are plenty of other blokes to shag in Camden." Harry's grey t-shirt snags on the rough brick wall; he nearly knocks a first-run print of a Doors 1968 Roundhouse concert poster off. He grabs it just in time. "All I have to do is walk down that street out there." His mouth tightens. "Isn't that what I did with you?"

Simon stops on the bottom step and looks up at him through a streak of cobalt blue fringe. It hangs in his face, longer than the rest of his close-cropped, otherwise blond hair, nearly obscuring his pale blue eyes. "None of them fuck as good as me, love, and you know it."

"You wish." Harry knows he sounds juvenile. He doesn't care. He also hates the fact that Simon's right. He was the best fuck Harry's had in a long time. He takes another puff on the fag, stomping down the last few stairs. Christ, Simon could be such a bloody queen at times. "Come on, this is ridiculous and you know it."

Simon opens the door behind him onto the bustle of Camden High Street. "I'm thirty-five years old, Harry. I've grown out of having my boyfriends be beastly to me. If I want to be harangued by a pissed bastard, I'll just drive out to Cardiff and visit my da."

Harry steps out onto the street behind Simon. The pavement is cold and rough against his feet; the late autumn air is brisk and bracing. Harry crosses his arms, rubbing his palms over the bare skin beneath his short sleeves. "I told you I wasn't the type to settle down." He hadn't been since Ginny. He didn't think he'd ever be again.

"I never asked for that," Simon says tightly. "I asked for you to stop being an arse, which I think is entirely reasonable--"

"Since when is going out for a fucking drink with my mates being an arse?" Harry snaps. A girl with a pink Mohawk and a Charged GBH hoodie gives him a wide berth, eyeing him uneasily as she kneels to latch her bike to a lamppost. Harry presses one hand to his eyebrow. His head throbs. Cigarette smoke curls around his eyes, and he lowers his hand, tapping the ash off the end of the fag. "Jesus."

Simon just looks at him. "I'm not doing this. I'm done." His fingers curl around the straps of the duffle bag, and he tugs his denim jacket tighter around his thin frame. "Goodbye, Harry." He walks off, headed for the Camden Town tube station.

"Fine," Harry shouts after him. "Your prick wasn't that brilliant, you know.“ Simon flips two fingers back at him without turning around. The Mohawk girl snorts as she stands up, her front wheel in one hand, and Harry glares at her. "Oh, fuck off."

He stubs his fag out on the wall next to the door before reaching for the handle. It doesn't move, and Harry groans. The keys and his wand are both upstairs in the flat. "Shit, fuck, bugger, wank." He smacks the palm of his hand against the door, doing nothing but rattling the frosted glass panes and getting a splinter just under his thumb.

Mondays are officially shit.

There's no use for it now. With a sigh he shuffles a few feet down the pavement, wincing as his foot presses down on a loose stone.

The front window of Phoenix Vinyl is covered with concert bills and club notices and faded ads for old albums that they've yet to pull down. Harry likes it that way. It keeps people dawdling outside. Either you come into Phoenix because you know it's the best damned record shop in London, or you walk past, certain that it's nothing but another rundown, slightly shady, bong-selling haven for cannabis addicts--which in a way probably isn't so far off the truth for most of his regular customers, Harry will admit.

A bell clanks when he pushes the door open, and he's greeted with a rush of warm air and the faint sweetly musty scent of old LPs and fags. Dennis is in the shop today, or at least until his shift at the WWN starts at four, so Highway 61 Revisited is on the turntable. They'd just bought up an entire Sixties folk collection from an estate sale two weeks ago; Dennis has been on a Dylan kick since.

"Was that Simon out there?" Dennis asks, alphabetising the A section. He pushes his brown curls back off his forehead. He's dressed in his usual pleated khaki trousers and black jumper. There's nothing about Dennis's wiry frame and neat clothes that screams his interest in London's music scene, which always perplexes Harry. Dennis says it's a legacy of growing up in Milton Keynes. He looks up at Harry, curious.

"Yes," Harry says grimly.

"Oh." Dennis frowns down at the black and white cover of the Dirk Wears White Sox LP. "This is Adam and the Antz--should I still file it at the beginning of Adam and the Ants? I mean, it was their first album, so it should be at the front, but if I'm alphabetising then technically it should go at the back because zed comes after s, which would make Kings of the Wild Frontier the first album here, but really it was their second, just the first recorded after they changed from Antz to Ants, and I wouldn't want to confuse anyone…"

Harry's head throbs harder. He grabs the album from Dennis and slams it back into the rack. "Just put it in front." He slides behind the counter and riffles through the shelves for the spare set of keys he keeps down in the shop.

The bell on the door clanks. "Morning," Ron calls cheerfully, his work boots thumping against the cement floor. "Jesus, Creevey, can we please have a day without Bob? He's bloody well got on my tits now." Ron ignores the fingers Dennis flips at him as he sets three steaming paper cups and a sack of pastries next to the till. Eight years ago Ron didn't even know who the Beatles were. Now he can list their entire discography faster than Harry can, annotated, with commentary on the relative merits of each album's tracks. "Latte for the hipster douche," he says handing Dennis a cup, "black for me, and a Darjeeling with milk, heavy on the sugar for the queer."

Harry takes the cup Ron pushes towards him. "Fuck you." He takes a sip, ducking back down to search the bottom shelf. "I'm bi."

Ron just grins and roots through the bag, pulling out a blackberry tart. His ginger hair falls into his eyes. He needs a haircut more than Harry does. "Whatever."

"So is everything all right?" Dennis leans over the counter and peers down at Harry. "You were shouting…"

Ron hops on the counter, his lanky legs dangling over the sides. He peels off his battered leather jacket, nearly losing his open corduroy shirt in the process. He jerks it back over his hunched shoulders and the British Sea Power t-shirt he'd nicked from Harry's wardrobe two weeks ago. Purple filling leaks over his thumb as he bites into his tart. "Who was shouting?"

"Harry," Dennis says. "On the street."

"At who?" Ron asks, spitting crumbs out over the countertop. He wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. "Sorry."

"Whom." Dennis banishes the crumbs away with a flick of his wand. "And Simon, I think."

"Jesus, Harry." Ron shakes his head. "Did you break up with another one?

Harry stands, the spare keys dangling from one finger. "It wasn't going to work out."

"It never does." Ron meets his eyes. Harry looks away. He can't stand the sympathy in them.

He doesn't quite know how he ended up running a record shop in the middle of Muggle Camden. After the war, he'd done everything that was expected of him. Went into Auror training, proposed to Ginny, got ready to settle down.

And then Gin had made an appointment with the Healers for what she'd thought was a typical preseason physical required every year by the Harpies. By the time they'd found the tumour in her breast, there wasn't anything left to be done. Cancer fed off magic sometimes, the Healer had said with a solemn face, and potions had just as much chance of forcing it into metastasis as they did of healing it. Given Ginny's advanced state, he'd recommended avoiding them. Her quality of life would be better, he'd told them, for the time remaining.

Ginny'd just squeezed Harry's hand, not looking at him, and said calmly she wanted to try the potions anyway.

She and Harry'd said their vows in the Burrow's back garden three weeks later. The potions worked for a while, holding the cancer at bay, and for a year, Harry'd been happy.

Four months after they'd found out Ginny was pregnant, her cancer metastasised. The Healers had aborted the foetus, of course, and upped Ginny's doses as a desperate, last-ditch effort, but by spring she was gone.

Harry'd spent the next year in a drunken stupor, lying on the floor of the flat he'd shared with Ginny and listening to Dark Side of the Moon on repeat, day after day after bloody day. When he'd finally pulled himself out of the abyss, he discovered he'd been dropped from the Auror academy for excessive absences. They'd been willing to work with him, to make an exception for the Saviour of the Wizarding World, of course, but Harry hadn't wanted that life any longer. He'd walked away from it all, taken a job selling records in a tiny Muggle shop in Islington, and when the digital revolution pushed the owner out of business, Harry had gone to Gringotts, exchanged Galleons for pounds, and bought up all her remaining stock.

Mad, he knows. In an age of piracy and mp3s, even Sir Richard Branson can't compete. Record shops are closing right and left. No one understands why Phoenix Vinyl does so well.

Harry does.

Part of the reason is the back room, closed to Muggles, where wizards and witches young and old can buy anything from the London Wizarding Philharmonic to Celestina Warbeck to The Weird Sisters. Wizarding Britain prefers the phonograph still, and the open Floo clangs frequently on weekends during Hogwarts hols.

And then there are the Muggles. They come from across Britain, and some even from the Continent and the States, on foot or via email, knowing that if there's anyone who can track down the most obscure, out-of-print title you might possibly think of no matter how many times other sellers have laughed in your face, it's the cranky bloke who owns the shop.

Harry takes great pride in that.

Nine years they've been open now, and Ron had come to help Harry with the accounts after the first month. He and Hermione had ended things three years before the shop opened, and then she'd married Terry Boot. Ron'd had an enormous blow-up with George over Angelina inviting Hermione and Boot to their wedding, and Harry'd thought the distraction of a new business would be good for Ron. He'd been right. Hermione's still married to Boot, and they have a daughter named Rosie--Harry's goddaughter, he couldn't be more proud if she were his own flesh and blood--and Hermione comes by with Rosie from time to time on days Harry's told her Ron's not in. Now that Rosie's in her first year at Hogwarts, it'll be Christmas and summer hols only, and Harry misses her already.

Dennis is a more recent acquisition. Harry'd hired him for weekends when he had come about, looking for a way to supplement his minute WWN income. Somehow he'd just begun coming in every day. Harry hasn't the heart to send him back to an empty flat each morning.

They're both looking at him now, Dennis and Ron, with those expressions Harry knows too well. Simon's the sixth bloke he's broken up within three years.

The doorbell clanks. They all turn. It's a Monday. There are never customers on Mondays. That's the brilliance of the day.

"Bugger off," Ron says, pulling his feet up on the counter.

A too-thin girl in denim leggings and a black and white striped sweater too tight across her rounded breasts eyes them nervously. "I'm looking for the new N-Dubz--"

Ron snorts and sips his coffee, flexing his foot against the till. The toe of his boot rubs against the curled edge of a Nirvana sticker. "Try HMV. Oxford Circus Tube. They stock that shit."

She flinches. Her perfectly coiffed, perfectly highlighted bob swings against her cheek. "But--"

"Out!" Ron waves his cup at her. Coffee splashes out over his hand, splattering against the scarred wood of the countertop. The girl scampers off, the door slamming shut behind her. Ron's lip curls. "Honestly. Do we look like we stock N-Dubz?"

The three of them share a pained grimace and shudder. Ron flicks his wand at the door, locking it shut. The open sign flips over. Harry doesn't protest. He's not in the mood for customers today.

Dennis lifts his coffee cup. "Tulisa's fit though," he says after a moment. Ron and Harry look at him. He shrugs. "She is."

"Don't look at me," Harry says over the rim of his cup as Ron turns an aggrieved face his way. "You still haven't forgiven me for saying I'd shag Niall Horan."

"You both have plummeted in my estimation." Ron buries his face in his hands. "Infinitely."

Harry pulls a fag from a packet of Lambert & Butler tucked beneath the counter, lighting it with a Zippo they keep in the till. "Right. Because you'd be able to pick out the One Direction lads from a line-up, you music snob."

At Ron's appalled glare, Dennis pats his shoulder. "Two words for you, Weasley. Rita. Ora."

"Oi." Ron turns his scowl on him. "Lay off my girl. Have you seen the tits on her?"

Dennis rolls his eyes and starts singing in an off-key falsetto as he dances in front of the counter. "I want to party and bullshit and party and bullshit…" He breaks off in an utterly unmanly shriek as Ron launches himself towards him with a growl. "Harry!"

"You asked for it, mate," Harry says with a grin.

Ron pushes Dennis into a headlock. "Rita's tits are better. Say it!"

Dennis just blows a raspberry at him. "Fuck off, Weasley."

"And she hasn't been bailed over drug-dealing charges," Ron says in high indignation, then he stops, considering. "Yet."

Dennis stops struggling against the headlock. "All right. I suppose I can't argue that."

"Damn right," Ron says, and he lets him loose. "I mean when Simon Cowell sacks you…"

Harry laughs as they argue the merits, physical and musical, of Rita and Tulisa, highly exaggerated, he knows, in order to make him forget the row with Simon, and, for a moment at least, the remnants of his anger begin to slip away.

Lennon-McCartney were right, he thinks, leaning on the counter, smoke curling around his hand. He gets by with a hell of a lot more than a little help from his friends.

***

Draco looks up at the clock for the fifteenth time in an hour, sighs again, and turns on the wireless. It's only three-fifty-nine, and he's another sixty-one minutes of utter boredom to suffer through. There's not even a window to peer out of; Draco's not important enough to Gringotts for that. All they've given him is a nameplate engraved with Draco Malfoy, senior assistant solicitor, property investments--Draco's given up on ever being moved up to associate--and an inner office--a closet, really, barely big enough for his desk and the shelf of books hovering above his head. He sincerely hopes his levitation charms hold firm. He shouldn't like to be beaned by a twenty-pound copy of Wizengamot Property Rulings, 1998-2008, vol. 1, abridged.

The only bright spot in his day is the WWN once it switches from excruciatingly dull politics--who really needs to know the innermost workings of the Ministry, after all--and the sleep-inducing Concertinas for Harpsichord and Didgeridoo that the old biddies down in mortgages adore. He even puts up with Creevey's inane chatter between songs.

It's a guilty pleasure, Muggle music, and Draco's not the only one who's fallen prey to it as of late, thanks in particular to Creevey's perhaps not-so-mad quest to bring rock and roll to the wizarding masses. His programme has become a resounding success within a certain younger-than-40 demographic. Draco's not surprised. Over the decade since the last war ended, wizarding society's tried to distance itself from His Lordship's ideals. Even purebloods are embarrassed--or have the common sense to pretend to be, at least--by those outmoded ways of thought. Not that they'd welcome Muggles into their parlours, of course. Draco can't imagine Mother or Father going so far; Mother'd have had a fit before she allowed it. After she'd found out the last man he'd brought to the Manor for dinner had been Muggleborn, she'd had the entire dining room fumigated. Father'd been more direct. When Draco'd firecalled Stewart two days later, Stewart had called everything off. They'd been scheduled to move into a Mayfair flat the next week. Draco'd furtively checked Stewart's accounts the next morning from work. He'd not been surprised to find a deposit of two thousand Galleons the day before.

Father had never mentioned Stewart to him again. Draco doesn't intend to bring him up: it would only give Father the occasion to gloat.

He picks up the only remaining quill on his desk and carefully, barely breathing, lays it on top of the wobbly tower of torn parchment, twisted paper clips, never-used business cards, and quills nicked from the supply cupboard on the sixth floor. The lending department never misses them. "Steady," he murmurs as the first screeching guitar chords of Creevey's programme theme blare from the wireless speakers. The tower of office supplies sways only slightly, the top quill shuddering against the sound waves.

Draco grins and leans back in his chair, hands tucked behind his head. An afternoon's work well done, and if he's fortunate, Creevey will have the good sense to put on Hendrix again. Draco's grown fond of his music. It reminds him Kirley Duke playing with the Weird Sisters--except perhaps better.

His door slams against the wall, and the paper tower collapses at the bellowed, "Malfoy!"

Draco sits up, gathering the parchment and paper clips hurriedly. "Mr Haversham."

The department's senior associate solicitor eyes him suspiciously, his black moustache quivering. "What are you doing?"

"Shredding, sir." Draco sweeps the scraps into his rubbish bin. "As per last month's memo regarding outdated files."

Haversham humphs. His red face shines in the harsh overhead light. "Don't look a proper Shredding Charm to me."

"I'm bollocks at it." Draco dusts his hands dramatically over his desk blotter, then tugs at the lapels of his neatly tailored pinstriped Twilfit and Tatting's suit. "What might I help you with”--he pauses just enough for Haversham to glower at his impertinence--“sir?"

"Your latest report on the Knockturn properties." Haversham slaps a file on his desk. "Utter twaddle."

Draco stares down at the thick folder. He'd worked six weeks on the damned thing, and he knows it's good. "I'm not certain I follow..." He keeps his voice even. He needs this position. Even fifteen years after the war, people still flinch at the Malfoy name, and he's damned if he's going to take help from his parents after the Stewart affair.

"Rubbish," Haversham snaps. "Bollocks, tripe, shit, need I go on?

"No." Draco's mouth tightens. "I take it you disagree with my assessment of the property values."

Haversham's palm hits his desk hard enough to make Draco flinch. "It's nothing I can take upstairs to present. Find me something else, Malfoy, something that might actually make our goblin overlords' eyes gleam with greed, or I'll have you back over at pension funds in a fingersnap. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly." Draco gathers up the file. He grits his teeth as the door slams behind Haversham. Bastard. Fucking fat-arsed bastard.

He sinks back into his chair, running his hands over his face as the quavering, bluesy notes of Hendrix's Red House echo through his office.

Bless Creevey.

He lets the music wash over him and clear everything away until the outside world is just so much white noise.

This is the only part of the day that matters.

***

"You want to talk about it?" Ron drops onto the sofa next to Harry and hands him a can of Boddington's he's just pulled from the Sainsbury's bag. He opens a bag of Walkers prawn cocktail crisps and pops one in his mouth, his knees spread wide. He's addicted to the awful things.

Harry pops the tab and takes a long swig of beer. "No." He flips the television on, passing a cricket match in favour of an ancient replay of Never Mind the Buzzcocks on Dave--the episode where John Barrowman outgays Simon Amstell. "Why couldn't I have been shagging that Simon?" he asks mournfully.

Ron eyes him. "He's on telly, and you just own a record shop? Not to mention the Muggle-wizard angle, not that either seem to bother you all that much?"

"True." Harry puts his feet up on the coffee table, knocking aside a stack of CDs. They hit the floor; he doesn't bother picking them up. There's no one around who'll care if his flat is tidy or not, after all. No one he needs to impress. Ron holds the Walkers bag out; Harry shoves his hand in. The crisps are greasy against his fingers. "Do you think I'm bitter?"

Ron wipes his hand on his jeans and sucks at his teeth for a moment. "I don't know if I'd call you bitter."

Harry looks over at him. "What then?"

Phil Jupitus clowns about on the television screen, mocking Barrowman. Ron sighs and doesn't look at Harry. "Jaded, maybe. Cynical. You weren't that way before..." He trails off, but Harry knows what he was going to say.

Before Gin died. It used to be his life had been sorted into before and after Hogwarts, then before and after Voldemort. Then he'd watched Ginny fade away before his eyes, and everything in his world had shifted. He'd changed, he knows that. But most days he can't even remember what he'd been like before-Ginny. Everything's just a blur. Sometimes Harry wonders if he's ever known what it's like to be happy. Hermione doesn't think he does. Maybe she's right.

Ron crunches down on a handful of crisps, looking at Harry out of the corner of his eye. "You all right?"

"Yeah," Harry says over the rim of his beer can. He gives Ron a wan smile. "Just tired."

"I could go." Ron sits up, a worried frown creasing his forehead. "If you need to rest..."

Harry waves him back. "I'm fine." He hesitates. "I...I don't really want to think right now. You know."

"Yeah." Ron hands him the crisps and remote. "Turn the volume up. I'll Floo in a takeaway order to Wok House. Lo Mein?"

"And egg rolls."

Ron nudges Harry's shoulder. "It'll be all right. It always is."

"I know." Harry tosses the crisps on the coffee table. "I'm fine, Ron. Really."

If he tells himself that enough, maybe one day it will actually be true. Right now, it's a motion that he goes through, like a record spinning endlessly on a phonograph.

***

"For Circe's sake, Draco, wake up," Pansy says, throwing the heavy ecru drapes open.

Bright sunlight floods the bedroom, and Draco groans and pulls the covers over his face. His head throbs. "Get out, you horrid bint--" He breaks off and sits up suddenly, horror filling him. "What time is it?"

"Past noon." Pansy sits on the edge of his bed, her tight (and too damned short for her mother's taste, Draco knows) dark plum skirt riding up her black stockinged thighs. He glimpses a sliver of lace edging at the top of the thin silk. "Why do you think I’m here? You stood me up for lunch again, you bastard."

"Shit." Draco scrambles out of the bed, entirely unconcerned that his arse is bare. He grabs the hangover potion Pansy hands him calmly and swallows it in one gulp. "Haversham's going to hex my balls--"

Pansy pulls a silver case from her purse and taps a cigarette out onto her palm. She lights it with the tip of her wand and exhales as she tucks the case away again. "Stop fretting."

Draco turns on her, mouth tight. "I am not living off my father again. He'll try to marry me to one of those ridiculously insipid girls that not even Mother likes."

"That's because your Mother's intelligent enough to realise he just wants you to marry mistress material." Pansy leans back on the bed, her thin thighs crossed, one staggeringly high black leather heel dangling from a foot. "His mistress, not that I need to point that out."

Draco pulls a pair of silk boxers from a drawer. "Is that why you turned me down?"

Pansy sends a stream of smoke towards him. "That and the fact that you're as bent as they possibly come, darling." She taps ash onto his bedspread; it disappears immediately thanks to the elves' charms. "Anyway, I'm waiting for Blaise to realise he's mad about me."

"Good luck with that." Draco's mouth still tastes bitter and acrid, not to mention a bit chalky from the damn potion. He wishes he could remember how Snape brewed it when he was in school. The hangover remedy Snape had kept stocked in the Slytherin potions cabinet had been pleasantly minty. He runs his hands over his face and sighs.

Merlin, he's a shit drunk. All he can remember of last night is coming home (alone, alas) and drinking a bottle of wine--all right, perhaps two--whilst sprawled across the bed, listening to the copy of Snow Patrol's Eyes Open Pansy had given him for his birthday in June. Unlike Blaise, who was horrified by his recent forays into Muggle music, Pansy was, whilst bemused, at least somewhat sympathetic. As damn well she should be. He knew she'd had a secret stash of Muggle fashion magazines tucked in the back of her wardrobe since fourth year when she'd nicked one off of Lisa Turpin in the pretence of binning it whilst loudly lecturing Lisa on the idiocy of Muggles.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Slytherin.

He's just pulled a pale blue striped shirt out--his favourite one with the white collar--when Pansy sits up. "By the way, you don't have to go in today," she says, levitating an ashtray from the side table. "I told Haversham you'd gone home ill. He hadn't even been by your office this morning."

Draco just looks at her. "You what?" He runs a hand through his short hair. "Pans, I really can't be sacked from this job as well. Father's already hinting that it's beneath me. For some mad reason the old bastard thinks the Malfoy name still means something after all he's done to drag it through the muck." He wrinkles his nose. "Aunt Andromeda had to put in a good word for me with Haversham, and I doubt she'd be best pleased if he owls her that I'm a slackard who has my friends ring in for me."

Pansy taps her cigarette against the crystal ashtray. It'd been his grandmother's, made in Paris, as her portrait at the Manor had always like to point out to him whilst she ground her fags out in its oil-paint twin. "Please. All I had to do was make sure he got a look down my jumper." She pats her rounded breasts, swathed in a black cashmere cardigan. "He was too busy eyeing my tits to care what I was saying. Straight men are so astoundingly easy."

"You're terrible." Draco sits next to her and takes the cigarette from her hand. He inhales slowly; the smoke burns against the back of his throat, and he coughs. He's fairly certain he went through a pack of these last night as well. "Not to mention a bit of a tart."

"To Idgie's eternal shame." Pansy grins at him, her dark hair falling over her cheek. Like the rest of wizarding society, Iphigenia Parkinson is all too frequently horrified by the exploits that land her daughter in the pages of the Prophet on a regular basis. Draco's fairly certain Pansy's mother blames his bad influence--an utterly laughable idea, he thinks. Anyone with half a brain can tell Pansy runs roughshod over the lot of them, Blaise included, as much as he might protest.

Draco hands her the fag back and kisses her cheek. "Thank you, cow."

"Mmm, you can pay me back with a brilliant late lunch somewhere horribly expensive." Pansy eyes him. "I'll even agree to a Muggle restaurant since there's no sense in you wandering about Diagon or Knockturn if you're supposed to be viciously ill."

Oh, God. Draco's stomach drops. "What did you tell him I have?"

Pansy stubs out her cigarette in the ashtray. She doesn't look at him. "Dragonpox might have been mentioned." She shrieks, batting him away as he grabs a pillow and leaps at her.

Draco just laughs.

***

Hermione's waiting for Harry at their usual table in the Leaky Cauldron. Harry doesn't particularly like coming this close to wizarding London, but it's more convenient for Hermione, closer to the charms laboratory in Diagon that she shares with Kevin Entwhistle and Tony Goldstein. Harry usually doesn't ask what she's working on; most times it's something classified for the Ministry that she can't talk about or that Harry really doesn't give a damn to listen to. They meet up twice a month, depending on Hermione's diary--Harry's is obviously far more flexible, although he points out that she's definitely cutting into his prime record-listening schedule. Still, Hermione makes sure she picks a time late enough that there won't be a huge amount of wizards and witches crowding the small tables, gawking at the Boy Who Dared to Walk Away from Most of the Wizarding World.

When he sits, he realises she's already ordered for him--a ploughman's, his favourite from the Leaky kitchen, recently taken over by Hannah Abbott-soon-to-be-Longbottom. Which reminds him, he supposes he should actually return the reply card from their wedding invitation. He makes a mental note to ask Ron to owl it back for him with a polite decline. He doesn't want to endure the socialising that will be forced upon him by their extended Hogwarts set.

"Thanks," he says with a nod toward the plate.

Hermione gives him a halfway-apologetic smile. "Sorry, but I've a meeting in an hour with Kev and Tony. Our Ministry grant for one of our projects is running out soon, and we've still to figure out how to financially float the rest of our research. Honestly, you wouldn't imagine what it's like--" She breaks off. "I'm boring you, I'm certain."

"Not at all." Harry takes a bite of pickled onion. She is and they both know it, but Harry does try to keep up a polite pretence with his closest friends. "Go on."

"It's dull." Hermione pokes at the wilted lettuce of her salad. "Just more of the same Ministry dawdling over charms research funding. It's not as sexy as, say, potions." The latter is said bitterly. Harry knows that Hermione just lost a grant to research group at St Mungo's working on potions research to reverse some of the curse damage done during the war. Harry also knows that it's not that Hermione entirely begrudges the St Mungo's group their funding, but she does, in a way. What with the fifteenth anniversary of the war this past May, the Ministry's prioritised projects that focus on the lingering issues that remain, particularly in the Muggleborn population.

Hermione sighs and spears a tomato. "Anyway, we're getting the usual Ministry runaround, even though it's their project to begin with." She looks up at Harry. "They're interested in adapting more modern Muggle technologies for wizarding use."

"That's…possibly terrifying." Harry reaches for the pint of lager Hermione graciously ordered as she nods her agreement. "How's my Rosie girl doing in her first year?" Harry’s terribly fond of his goddaughter, with her bright laugh and her bushy brown hair so like her mother’s. Rosie’d been the reason Hermione’d married Boot in the first place; they’d only been dating a few months when she’d found out she was preggers, and by the time Rosie was born, Boot’d worn Hermione down on the whole marriage issue. Frankly, Harry’s pretty certain Rose was the best thing that’d come out of that particular union. He doesn’t dislike Boot, but he finds him bland and boring--not the best match for Hermione in his opinion.

Hermione beams at the distraction. "Brilliant. She's top of her class so far in History of Magic, Potions, and Herbology, although she's struggling a little with Charms." Her smile drops a bit at that. "But I'm sure she'll catch up.”

“And Terry?” Harry asks lightly. He’s never certain when or if they’ve had another row. When Hermione’s smile falters more, he wants to curse himself.

She presses the tines of her fork into a crouton and it breaks, scattering bits of toasted bread across her plate and into the vinaigrette pooled on its side. “Well enough.” Harry waits for her to continue. She draws in a wavery breath. “We’re filing for divorce.”

“Oh,” is all he says. It’s not unexpected. Things have been difficult between Boot and Hermione for a year or two. Harry’s noticed it, and if he has, he’s certain others have too. Luna had asked him only last week if he’d talked to Hermione lately; she’d said that Hermione’d come alone to a couples dinner party she and Rolf had thrown a month ago, making some work excuse as to Boot’s absence when the whole Ministry knew Terry never worked past half-five ever.

Hermione sets her fork down and reaches for her glass of wine. She drinks half of it in one swallow. “It’s for the best, really. We’ve just been waiting for Rose to settle at Hogwarts, and she’s been making quite a few friends in Ravenclaw.” She looks at him over the rim of her wine glass. “You know it’s been…” She drifts off.

“Are you all right with this?” Harry asks quietly. “Because I’ll deck the bastard--“

“He’s being wonderful, really.” Hermione sets down her glass, running a thumb along the stem. “He’s even offered to let me charge infidelity to make it easier and quicker.”

Harry just watches her. “Hermione.”

She shakes her head, blinking hard. When she looks at him, she has her composure again, but her eyes are still bright and wet. “It’s fine. I’m fine. It’s all been for Rosie, to be honest. Our marriage. It hasn’t been a proper one in years. He’s been seeing someone--“ She holds up a hand at Harry’s scowl. “It’s been open for both of us, Harry.” She gives him a faint smile. “I’m just not that interested in complicating my life that way. Terry found someone who makes him happy, and I’m glad for that.”

“Who?”

“I’m not telling you that,” Hermione says flatly. “It’s his story to tell, not mine. Just trust me when I say I’m relieved. I’ve never been good at being married to Terry.” She lays her hand over his. “I heard about Simon, though.”

Harry pulls his hand away. And here comes the lecture now about how he needs to settle down. Ironic that Hermione’s the one having to give him this one. “From whom?” Ron and Hermione’s breakup was hard on all their friends, but he knows Hermione keeps in touch with most of them--many of whom are perfectly willing to gossip about his terrible life choices.

“Dennis owled me,” Hermione admits, and Harry makes a mental note to dock Dennis’s pay packet. He knows he never will, but he likes to fantasise about it, at least. “What was it--two months? Three?”

“Three.” That’s practically a record for Harry, and he knows it. So does Hermione, and her face softens.

“Harry, I’m so sorry.” She picks up her napkin and accordion-folds it between her fingertips before letting it fall back to her lap. “Is there anything I can--“

He cuts her off. “No.”

They sit silently for a long moment, then Hermione touches his wrist again. “It’s not easy, is it?” she asks. “I mean, after Ginny--“

“Don’t.” Harry’s voice thickens. “I’ll leave if--“

Hermione nods quickly and pulls her hand back across the table. “I understand.”

She doesn’t. No one does. Harry’s given up on expecting them to. He knows Hermione tries, even though she’s not entirely certain why Harry divides his life so solidly into Ginny and After Ginny. He has to. It’s why he fucks men, he supposes. None of his friends seem to understand that either. He doesn’t know how to explain it’s just easier, a fresh start.

He picks up a piece of cheese and bites into it. “Tell me about Rosie’s classes,” he says, desperate for something lighter to think about.

Hermione does.

***

Draco and Pansy end up in Notting Hill at a Muggle restaurant called The Ledbury that Pansy insists she's been simply dying to try out. It seems Millicent has been raving about their roast Dover sole for weeks now, and even Draco has to admit Millie's eye for gastronomical treasures is impeccable. Fortunately for Draco's Gringotts account, Pansy decides to expense their lunch, claiming that being the beauty editor for Witch Weekly ought to allow her a few perks to make up for the humiliation of the rag's overall inanity. A discreetly cast influence charm which Pansy insists is not an Imperius--though Draco's fully aware that's a matter of semantics within a very mistily grey ethical determination--lands them a table sans reservation at the window of the crowded restaurant. Draco's surprised at how long the queue still is this far into the lunch rush, at least until he takes a bite of the scallops ceviche. His eyes flutter closed, and he makes a quiet, if somewhat embarrassing, noise of utter culinary bliss.

"Told you," Pansy says smugly. "Never doubt Millie's ability to suss out amazing food even amongst the Muggles."

Draco swallows and dabs at the corner of his mouth with his napkin. "Best sick leave ever, I think."

"Oh, I don't know." Pansy reaches for her wineglass. "Remember that brilliant Friday when we skived off to Ibiza for a long weekend of lying on the beach during the day and clubbing into the wee hours? I met that lovely Romanian boy who spoke no English but was brilliant with his tongue?"

"Right." Draco considers, a frown furrowing his brow. He's fairly certain he spent most of that weekend drinking Merlin only knows what kind of liquors from glasses nearly the size of his head. Most of it's a delightful haze. "Two years ago, wasn't it? And was he the son of the Romanian Minister?"

Pansy shrugs. Her fingernails are nearly the same colour as the merlot swirling up the sides of her wineglass as she sets it back down. "Something like that. Perhaps a member of the European Wizengamot. But he had lovely long fingers and such a great joy in eating me out on the beach." A small smile quirks her plum-stained mouth. "We really should do Ibiza again."

Draco doesn't disagree. The one joy of holidaying with Pansy is that he almost always gets shagged by some lovely bloke or three. He'll never tell her that her Romanian lad had crawled over the sand to him after Pansy had fallen asleep in her beach chair; Draco'd been too relaxed by drink and dancing to offer more than a token protest when the boy had tugged at his trouser zip. He's a horrible friend, he realises, but then again, it hadn't been his fault that Pansy had coerced the terribly fit twentysomething into getting her off in front of him--and then hadn't bothered to help the poor boy out afterwards. Draco simply couldn't have let such a pretty dark-haired, green-eyed lad suffer. It'd been an act of kindness to reach down and stroke him off as young Cosmin had proceeded to suck him dry.

He doesn't want to think about how long it's been since anyone's shagged him raw. A good five or six months at least, he supposes. It's not as if he's many choices lately, not in the wizarding world at least. Stewart was the last wizard who'd even shown interest in him, and look at how that'd gone. Before that there'd really only been four others, if you didn't count the anonymous Muggles he'd fucked in clubs from London to Brighton to one utterly miserable night in Manchester. And of course Ibiza which had been a drunken orgy of party-fuelled sex. Pansy's right. They really ought to pop back over again.

After Stewart, Draco has no illusions about his romantic future. He'll never get married; he's far too bent for that, whatever his parents might hope. Not to mention far too disillusioned about his Malfoy heritage to even consider carrying it on. His father had destroyed that for him during his last year at Hogwarts, and what little remnants of respect Draco might have had for Lucius Malfoy had slowly dissipated since his father's release from Azkaban. He's seen his father grovel before a madman and, now, before the current powers in the Ministry. Dignity, Draco's beginning to realise, is far more important to him than money or influence. He's horribly afraid that at the age of thirty-three he's finally beginning to grow up.

"Knut for your thoughts," Pansy says, and Draco gives her a faint smile.

"The usual." He takes a last bite of ceviche and chews, letting the divine flavours wash across his tongue before swallowing. "The grimness of emotional solitude, my utter inability to ever have sex again in my life, the saga of my father as utter bastard part the trillionth, and so on and so forth."

Pansy wrinkles her nose. "Cheerful as always, darling."

"I do try for you." Draco lays his fork upside down over his plate; within a moment a waiter whisks the remains of his food away. Muggles are nothing if not efficient at times. He heaves a heavy sigh. "I suppose I should be grateful for this life. I'm not in Azkaban, after all." Not like Greg had been, that year after the war. He'd come back quieter than ever. Blaise says Greg still has nightmares some nights--almost always at 3:23 in the morning for some inexplicable reason. Draco hadn't been able to handle it; he'd left the flat the three of them shared not even a year after Greg moved in. He has nightmares of his own. Listening to Greg wake up screaming hadn't helped his fade. He doesn't know how Blaise still deals with it, after all these years, but Blaise just points out that someone needs to take care of Greg. Sometimes Draco thinks someone needs to take care of all of them. They're a lost generation, his Slytherins, trapped between the ideologies of their parents and the scorn and distrust of their society. No matter what they do, it'll never be enough for any of them. That realisation exhausts Draco.

"No," Pansy says. Her mouth is a thin line as she points her wineglass at him. "You're not doing this, Draco. I just managed to coax you out of one bloody blue funk, and I absolutely cannot deal with you returning yet again to the depths of despair. I don't care what you have to do--go to one of your silly Muggle concerts or something."

Draco frowns. "They're not silly, and I'm not on the verge of a funk."

"Darling, you are." Pansy sighs as she sets her glass down. She barely seems to notice as the waiter sets her plate of roasted partridge and poached cèpes in front of her. Draco leans back to allow his turbot and mussels to be placed down on the spotless white tablecloth before the waiter tops off both their wine glasses and steps away. Pansy picks up her fork and knife, frowning as she stabs into the scrap of bird breast. "Sleeping through work, whinging about how terrible it is that you're not being shagged senseless--as if any of us other than Blaise are at this moment." She takes a bite of partridge, and Draco looks away, across the top of the small boxwood hedge that lines the paned window. The street's busier than he'd expect at this hour; then again, at half-two he's usually deep within Gringotts' bowels, trying desperately to stay awake over some wretchedly dull sheaf of property valuations.

Pansy glances up at him. "You can't keep on like this. You know that."

He knows she's right. "What do you want me to do?" He can't keep the weariness out of his voice. "I'm not going back to a Mind Healer. That was utterly disastrous last time." Not because Draco was the silent, stoic sort, mind. No, he was all too willing to talk about almost everything that irked or annoyed him ad nauseum; as Blaise had pointed out afterwards, Draco did have a drama queen tendency or two at times. But there were subjects, also, which cut to the quick, and whilst Draco was quite eager to rant about Haversham at work or the absolute idiocy of the wizarding public at large, he wouldn't talk about that last year of the war, about the things he'd seen, the people he'd watched die in front of him, the utter terror of spending hols in the same house as His Lordship. That was off limits to all but his nearest and dearest, a fact which the Mind Healer had learnt to her chagrin when Draco had hexed off her hair after being pushed one time too many to talk about it all.

"I know," Pansy says quietly. "I'm not asking you to. But I can't go through another…" She hesitates, not looking at him, then draws a deep breath. "Another potions accident."

There's a tightness in Draco's chest. "It was an accident, Pans."

Pansy just nods, but she still doesn't look at him. Draco sees a glint of dampness beneath her mascaraed eyelashes, and his throat aches. He hadn't meant to upset any of them that night. He'd still been living with Greg and Blaise then; he'd come home from an evening dinner at the Manor that had ended with his father, hypocritical bastard that he is, shouting at him yet again for failing to do his duty in cleansing the Malfoy name from the mistakes of his damned parents. Honestly, all Draco had wanted to do was to not think for a while, not kill himself--at least that's what he tells everyone--but somehow he'd managed to down most of a phial of Dreamless Sleep which had then interacted with the half-bottle of wine he'd drunk on the sofa. The combination had put him in St Mungo's for three days and had led to the three-month stint with the Mind Healer that had ended so spectacularly badly.

"Anyway," Pansy says, and there's a crack in her voice before she looks back at him, her eyeshadow only slightly smudged from where she's wiped at the corners of her eyes with her thumb. "Go make yourself happy. Music, fucking, a horribly expensive suit you can't afford on your paycheque, I don't care, love. Just don't let me get a firecall from Blaise again. I don't think he'll ever forgive you for coming in like that during his shift in Casualty."

No, he won't. Draco's certain of that. At least Greg'd had the presence of mind to bring him in to St Mungo's when he'd found Draco after getting up for a post-nightmare slash and snack. Blaise had told him later that a distraught Greg had shown up in the middle of Casualty with a limp Draco over one shoulder and half a trifle in the other hand.

Draco lets his hand settle over Pansy's for a moment. "I'll be fine. I promise." He manages to sound sincere and contrite.

Pansy nods again, and they both pretend they don't hear her faint sniffle. "I know. And if you're not, I'll kick your arse myself. You don't want that. Not in these heels."

"God forbid." He smiles at her, and after a moment her lips quirk up. A stab of guilt shoots through him. It's too easy to hide from his friends: they want to believe him; they always have. They seem to forget he spent the last two years of Hogwarts lying to all of them, pretending he was something he wasn't. Only one person had ever seen past his bravado, and Draco's certain that's because Potter had hated him. His friends, on the other hand, saw the Draco that he wanted them to see.

Sometimes, Draco thinks, taking a bite of turbot, he needs to protect his Slytherins their illusions. And perhaps from himself as well.

***

Younghusband is playing to a sold-out crowd upstairs at the Barfly. Harry likes them well enough, though he prefers his bands to have less of a psychedelic sound now; it reminds him of the year after Ginny's death that was filled with too much Pink Floyd and Dreamless Sleep. He and Ron are here though because Barfly lets him have one of the tables near the bar to pass out flyers advertising the shop. Not that they do much of that, really. Most of the regular Camden crowd are quite familiar with Phoenix Vinyl; even Noel Fielding stops by, drink in hand, to ask about the 45 of the Stones' Street Fighting Man--with the picture sleeve intact--that Harry's tracking down for him.

During the break after the second opening act--some shit band from Hackney Harry's never heard of and hopes to God he never will again--Harry wanders over to the small bar again. Ron's deep in flirtation with a dark-haired Muggle girl with a dragon tattoo twined around her arm, five ear piercings, and full breasts straining a too tight You Me at Six t-shirt. Harry's fairly sure Ron's going to pull tonight. He, on the other hand, has no damned prospects judging by the number of breeders in the crowd. It's only been eleven days since Simon left, but Harry's become used to regular shags over the past few months, and he dreads the long expanse of solo cock-tugging that's stretching out before him.

"Another Greene King IPA," he shouts to the barkeep over the rumble of conversation behind him, and Artie nods, reaching for one of those wretched plastic pint cups the upstairs bar favours now. He supposes he could wander downstairs to the main bar, but it feels like too much effort to push through the throng milling in front of the tiny stage.

Artie pushes a full pint his way in exchange for the fiver Harry hands him, then turns to the next half-pissed eighteen-year-old down the bar. Another reason Harry's unlikely to find a shag; the Barfly's clientele tends to skew younger on weekend nights, pulling in the uni students and sixth formers from across London. Whilst Ron's not opposed to dipping into the twenty-something pool--Jesus, Harry, they're only a decade younger than us, he'll point out when Harry objects--Harry's not so keen now on the complications twinks bring with them. A couple of overdramatic, clingy bastards in his late twenties who'd caused him headache after headache when all he'd wanted was a good shag had soured him on youth in general.

He leans against the bar and downs half his beer in one swallow. He's tired and feeling old tonight, and even in this crush of Muggles, he can't slide into the anonymity he prefers. He's too well known now in the Camden music scene, either as Harry or "that bloke what owns the brilliant record shop down High Street."

"Greene King IPA, thanks," says a posh voice next to him, and when Harry looks over, he nearly drops his plastic pint cup.

Draco Malfoy--and for a moment, Harry's not entirely certain it's him until Malfoy turns his head towards Harry, his own eyes widening--Draco bloody Malfoy is standing beside him, dressed in tight, faded skinny jeans that cup his arse beautifully and a soft black v-neck jumper that Harry wants to bury his face in. His blond hair is cropped close on the sides and back, but the top is longer and artfully tousled, Malfoy's fringe falling over one arched eyebrow.

Christ, he's fucking gorgeous.

"Potter?" Malfoy says incredulously. He fumbles in his pocket, then pulls out a Muggle tenner to hand to Artie in exchange for the beer. He waves the change away, which surprises Harry. He's never considered Malfoy to be the generous type. Quite the contrary, in fact. Malfoy leans next to Harry, his elbow on the scratched bartop. "What are you doing here?"

Harry just looks Malfoy up and down, from the perfect hair to the brilliant jeans and the scuffed black Doc Marten 1460s that have obviously been well worn. "What the fuck, Malfoy?" He waves a hand at him. "You in Muggle London?"

Malfoy smirks. "Shocking, I know. Although I tend to frequent Soho rather than Camden." He takes a sip of his beer, again surprising Harry. He'd been certain Malfoy would, hell, he doesn't know. Apparate away in a plume of sulphur or something obnoxiously foul. Instead Malfoy lets his gaze slide down Harry's body, taking in the ripped jeans, bright red Converse Chucks, and the black come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off t-shirt underneath a beaten-up leather jacket Harry's had for years. Harry feels his face warm under Malfoy's scrutiny, and he feels suddenly defensive. This is Camden, for fuck's sake. He doesn't have to dress like a swish bastard. Even if said swish bastard is really bloody attractive, fucking hell.

Harry downs another gulp of beer. "Soho." He sets his cup down and turns towards Malfoy. "You in Muggle Soho. Pardon me if I try to wrap my head around that."

"Take your time," Malfoy drawls. He lifts his eyes to Harry's face, and his cheeks are flushed. Probably because the damned room's suddenly too hot. "After all, Granger's not here to explain it to you." He glances around. "Is she? Because the Weasel over there--"

"Ron and Hermione aren't together," Harry says. "Haven't been for a while; she's married to Terry Boot." He knows better than to mention the divorce. It'll come out soon enough. "I would have thought you'd have known that. She's in the Prophet from time to time. She heads a charms research lab with Tony Goldstein."

Malfoy shrugs. "I mostly stopped reading the Prophet years ago, except when Pansy's made a scandal, and she sends me an issue. I suppose I do recall something about Granger and Boot." He lifts his plastic cup to his lips. Harry thinks he's lying; there's something about the shift of Malfoy's eyes.

"Right," Harry says. "That still doesn't explain you and…" He gestures towards Malfoy again then towards the stage filled with techs setting up for the band. "Jeans? Here?"

Malfoy puts his cup down. "I like Younghusband," he says calmly. "And yes, I like Muggle music, Potter. Blame Creevey and his wireless programme, if you'd like." Malfoy lifts his chin. "So I come out to listen to it sometimes. If that bothers you…"

"It's just odd." The lights flash on stage, running through pink, blue, and purple before settling back into white. A tech gives a thumbs up to the light and sound board in the back. Harry glances back at Malfoy, trying to make sense of him. He's fairly certain he's going to kill Dennis just on general principle in the morning. If Dennis even bothers to come in, that is. He's not the most reliable on Saturdays, which on the whole happen to be the shop's busiest day. "Where do you go in Soho?" Harry asks finally.

"12 Bar mostly. And Borderline." Malfoy shifts closer, pushed towards Harry by three happy, definitely tipsy women, one of whom gives Malfoy an appreciative look. Harry's slightly annoyed; Malfoy doesn't seem to notice. "And the Admiral Duncan from time to time." His eyes flick towards Harry. "When I'm looking to pull."

Things suddenly become clearer. "Oh," Harry says. The Admiral Duncan is a gay pub, famous throughout the Muggle London gay scene as the sight of a nail-bombing in '99 that left three patrons dead and dozens more wounded. He looks at Draco again, and this time he sees the definite interest in Malfoy's eyes, in the way Malfoy's positioned himself towards Harry. Sometimes Harry thinks Hermione's right that he's absolutely clueless when it comes to men, a fact which she points out is spectacularly ridiculous for someone as bisexually bent as he is.

"Does that bother you?" Malfoy asks, his brow furrowing. "From what Pansy's heard around the Witch Weekly offices, you're not exactly straight either." He takes another swallow of beer, but his gaze doesn't leave Harry's face. Harry wonders how many drinks Malfoy's had tonight. "Is she wrong?"

Harry eyes him. "Not entirely." He hasn't tried to hide his bisexuality over the years, but it surprises him that it's a subject of gossip in the wizarding world. Almost all of Harry's male partners have been Muggles, and the one or two wizards over the years have been incredibly discreet.

The lights dim, and there’s a press of people towards the stage, leaving the bar nearly empty. Malfoy finishes his beer, and Harry’s fascinated by Malfoy’s long pale stretch of neck as he tips his head back, draining the last drops from his cup. Music starts as the band starts in on "Silver Sisters." Malfoy holds out his hand to Harry. His eyes are bright. “Dance?”

Shit. Harry hesitates, not because he doesn’t want to but because he’s a shit dancer and it’s bloody impossible to dance to Younghusband as it is, but it’s enough for Malfoy’s face to darken. “Fine then,” he says and he starts to walk away, but Harry grabs his wrist.

“Wait.”

They stand silent for a moment, eyes meeting. A white light flies across the crowd, lighting up Malfoy’s blond hair for an instant into a silver-gilt halo before it lands on Euan Hinshelwood crooning into the mic onstage. Harry can feel the pound of Malfoy’s pulse beneath his fingertips. He feels as if they’re alone despite the crowd around them singing and swaying to the music. Slowly Malfoy curls his fingers around Harry’s hand, pulling him closer as he begins to move, his hips and shoulders circling in a way that hypnotises Harry. Christ, who would have thought Malfoy of all people would look so damn sexy dancing?

Harry groans when his hips hit Malfoy’s and he lets go of Malfoy’s wrist only to grab his hips, fingers digging into the waistband of Malfoy’s jeans. Malfoy steps backward, pulling Harry with him deeper into the crowd, his arms slipping around Harry’s shoulders. No one seems to notice them, and even if they did, Harry wouldn't give a damn right now, not with Malfoy pressing himself up against Harry the way he is. Malfoy smells incredible, like beer and musk and something vaguely citrusy just beneath the curve of his ear that makes Harry want to press his mouth against that soft, warm skin.

God help him, but he gives in to temptation.

Malfoy's breath catches when Harry's lips touch his neck, and then he's pressed harder against Harry, one thigh slipping between both of Harry's thighs, pushing up against Harry's definitely interested cock. His fingers tangle in Harry's messy hair, twisting through the loose curls as he holds Harry in place. Harry opens his mouth against Malfoy's throat, letting his teeth scrape lightly over skin, and he licks away the sting. Malfoy tastes as good as he smells.

"Christ," Harry manages to say before Malfoy turns his head, and they're kissing, slow and easy like this is something they've done forever. If Harry'd ever wondered what it was like to kiss Draco Malfoy--and he might have, once or twice, in that last year he'd actually spent at Hogwarts when he'd been so desperately trying to convince himself he didn't fancy blokes in the slightest--if he had back then, then now he knows what it's like, and there's only one word for it: "Brilliant," he says against Malfoy's mouth, and he feels rather than hears Malfoy's laugh.

Someone bumps into them, singing loudly and off-key, and the spell is broken. Harry pulls back. He can barely see Malfoy in the darkness of the crowd until another light sweeps across them. Malfoy's mouth is swollen and wet. Maybe it's the beer, maybe it's the fact that deep down he's still fucking upset over Simon. Harry doesn't know. Maybe it doesn't matter. But he grabs Malfoy's wrist again and pulls him out of the throng of dancing, undulating bodies. Malfoy follows as Harry leads him into the tiny loo, big enough for a sink, a urinal and one stall. Harry kicks the stall open, pushing Malfoy in, then slamming him back against the closed stall door, his mouth on Malfoy's once more.

Malfoy swears, but Harry doesn't care. Their hands are on each other, pushing up beneath jumpers and t-shirts to find heated skin as they kiss roughly. Harry's already hard, and when Malfoy manages to undo his zip and push his impossibly long fingers down the front of Harry's y-fronts, Harry hisses, his hips bucking forward.

"Want this, Potter?" Malfoy whispers into Harry's ear, and Harry wants to scream yes, fuck yes. He slides his fingertips over Malfoy's skin, across the dip of his back and beneath his jeans. He rolls his hips forward, pressing his swelling cock against Malfoy's palm.

"What do you think?" Harry bites at Malfoy's jaw. If anyone had told him fifteen years ago he'd be gagging for this, for Malfoy's fingers curled around his cock as he pulls it free from Harry's pants and jeans, for Malfoy stroking him, watching him with bright, silvery eyes as Harry gasps and pushes his hips forward, pressing Malfoy against the graffiti-covered door of a filthy bar loo stall...well. Harry'd have called them mental at the very least.

And then Malfoy moves, sliding down Harry's body until his knees hit the floor, and he takes Harry's prick in his mouth, sucking lightly at the head. Harry can't stop his hips from jerking, and Malfoy's head hits the stall door, blond hair half-covering someone's mobile number scrawled in thick, black ink. Harry grabs the top of the stall door to keep himself upright. He looks down and, Christ. His cock is thick and red and wet with Malfoy's spit, jutting out between the undone denim flies of his jeans, the white cotton of his pants caught beneath it, wadded around his heavy balls. Malfoy sucks it down again, and he turns his head. Harry can see the head pressing into Malfoy's cheek as Malfoy's tongue runs beneath the foreskin.

"Fuck," Harry says, and Malfoy looks up at him, his mouth filled with Harry's swollen cock. It takes all of Harry's willpower not to shove forward, fucking Malfoy's mouth in quick, sharp jerks. Instead he pries one hand free of the stall door and reaches down to smooth his hand over Malfoy's hair, down along the soft skin of his cheek. Malfoy's eyes flutter closed at the touch, and he sucks Harry's prick gently, slowly, making the muscles in Harry's stomach flutter and jump. Malfoy's hands settle on Harry's hips. His thumbs trace small circles over Harry's skin, moving closer and closer to the base of Harry's cock until they brush over the short dark curls there. Harry's certain he's going to die, right here, in the middle of the Barfly loo.

"Come on." Harry strokes his fingers along Malfoy's jaw. "You want to get me off, don't you? Right here?" He's breathing hard, his whole body shaking. "That's what you want, right? Me coming in that pretty mouth of yours--"

Malfoy makes a noise, choked and muffled by Harry's prick. His thumbs press into Harry's skin, and God, he sucks harder, fingers sliding into Harry's pants and brushing over his aching balls. He pulls back, and Harry's cock pops wetly out of his mouth and slaps against Malfoy's jaw. Harry's hand grips the stall door harder, knuckles nearly white.

"Malfoy," he says, hating that his voice is almost a whine, and the only thing that helps is that Malfoy's eyes are wide and unfocused as he fumbles with his own zip. Harry rubs his swollen cock across Malfoy's cheek, leaving behind a wet streak. Malfoy's face turns towards Harry's prick, mouth open, and Harry pushes the head back between Malfoy's pink lips before pulling it out again. His fingers stroke along the shaft, and he knows from the soft slaps beneath him that Malfoy's pulling his own cock.

He hears the loo door open in a rush of music as someone stumbles in. There's a sound of a zip, then pissing in the urinal. Harry looks down at Malfoy, watches Malfoy's hand on his own cock, long and thin and pink with a perfect, swollen head on it that Harry wants to taste so fucking badly. He hits the floor with a groan, his knees thudding against the dirty tile, and he can hear the bloke at the urinal pause, then start up again. Harry leans forward and takes Malfoy's cock in his mouth, nearly gagging as Malfoy arches, shoves his hips forward. He sucks hard; Malfoy tastes bitter and sweet, and Harry can't get enough of him. When Malfoy moans Harry's name, the urinal flushes, and whoever's out there leaves, not even bothering to wash his hands. Disgusting, Harry thinks, until he remembers he's on a loo floor, one hand on his cock, the other on Malfoy's back, holding him up as Harry licks and swallows Malfoy's brilliant prick.

There's a crash as Malfoy's hand slams against the side of the stall. His body twists and writhes beneath Harry, and Harry pulls back, letting Malfoy's cock slide out of his mouth.

"Fuck you, Potter," Malfoy snaps, and Harry just snorts as he tugs Malfoy against him, positioning him over Harry's thighs.

"Maybe later." Harry pushes forward, and Malfoy groans and grabs at Harry's shoulders, his own hitting the stall door. "Right now I just want us both to come."

Malfoy shudders as their cocks slide against each other; Harry rocks forward again and again, picking up speed with each slam of Malfoy's body against the stall door. Malfoy's fingers scrabble across Harry's shoulders, and Harry doesn't even give a damn if he's gouging the leather of Harry's jacket. They're both hot and flushed and sweaty, and when Malfoy's body tenses against Harry's and his mouth opens then closes, Harry reaches between them and presses their pricks together, jerking roughly as Malfoy's spunk spatters across the back of his hand. It only takes a few more tugs before he's coming as well, with a ragged cry as he slumps into Malfoy's shoulder.

They sit entwined together for a long moment until Malfoy pushes weakly against Harry. "Off," he says. "This floor is abominable."

Harry can't object. They manage to untangle themselves and clamber to their feet, tucking and zipping up in the process. Harry manages a wandless cleaning spell, which Malfoy looks slightly miffed by.

"Thanks," Malfoy says, and they stand in the stall, looking at anything but one another. "I should…" He trails off.

"Yeah." Harry wants to tell him to stay, wants to Apparate him back to his flat and let Malfoy bugger him senseless. Which is ridiculous. He doesn't even know if Malfoy tops or bottoms or just likes to have his cock sucked in a dirty loo that reeks of musky sweat and piss. He lets Malfoy open the stall door, watches him wash his hands in the tiny sink. Malfoy looks up, catching him in the mirror as he shuts off the water. He pulls a paper towel from the dispenser and wipes his hands dry before turning around.

Neither of them says anything, then Malfoy smiles faintly. "I think we both needed that."

Harry nods. "It was great." This is the part of the hookup he's shit at, knowing what to say when it's obvious the other bloke just wants to be done with it. "Maybe I'll see you around." He hopes his voice is casual. Calm.

"Right." Malfoy looks oddly disappointed. "Maybe." He reaches for the door, opening it slightly. "See you, Scarhead," he says, and then he's gone, the door thudding shut behind him.

The sink water is cool against Harry's skin as he splashes it on his face. He pats himself dry and glances in the mirror. He looks shattered. He supposes he is. It's not like he expected to spend part of his night getting Draco bloody Malfoy off in the Barfly loo. He laughs shakily, then straightens his glasses. His hair is wild and mussed from Malfoy's fingers, and there's definitely drying spunk on his t-shirt. Fuck it. He'll toss it in the laundry when he gets home.

When he walks out, the concert's still in full swing, but Malfoy's nowhere to be seen. Harry wonders if he's even bothered to stay.

Harry doesn't give a fuck if anyone notices; with a sharp crack that's swallowed by the swell of music, he Apparates away.

***

Draco stumbles into his flat, still shaky and stinking of sweat and come. He tosses his jacket on the chaise lounge and heads for the fireplace. He tosses a handful of Floo powder into the embers, and shouts, “Pans, put down whatever bottle of wine you’ve crawled into tonight to distract yourself from Blaise being out with some big-titted bint tonight. I’ve something better.”

Pansy appears in the sparking green fire, a towel wrapped around her wet hair, and something lumpily slick smeared across her face. “Fuck off, Draco.” She takes a sip of wine, then the glass disappears as her hand moves away.

“We need to talk,” Draco says, kneeling beside the hearth.

Merlin’s cock, do they ever.

***

The broken-down sofa in the back office is a distinctly uncomfortable place to nap, no matter how many cushioning charms are put on it. Harry shifts again, a lump in the charm pressing against his back as he tucks his knees up more, his socked feet pushing into the sofa corner. With a huff of annoyance, he punches at the worn, scratchy cushion beneath his head, trying to puff its bedraggled feathers up enough to at least make the pretense of their not being responsible for the aching crick in his neck. The sofa itself smells musty and sour, like Ron after he's eaten Thai again. Harry rolls onto his back with a curse, irritated and foul-tempered from a night of little sleep. He runs his hands over his face, pushing his glasses up over them, before pulling his hands away. There are smudges from his fingertips left on his lenses. He doesn't give a damn; he just stares up at the window above him, slatted brown wooden blinds cutting off his view into the shop. There's a half-peeled off Weird Sisters sticker in the corner of the window, alongside faded stickers for blink184--that'd been Ron's addition a few years ago--Skrillex, Wilco, and Pavement. He can hear Ron and Dennis out front, talking to someone.

Harry sits up, pulling his red Clash t-shirt down from where it's ruched up over his stomach. He rubs his temples. There's a buzzing behind his eyes that he recognises as his magic. He'd known better than to reach for the bottle of vodka in the back of the refrigerator when he'd made it home last night; he's fully aware of how jittery and volatile it makes his magical reflexes. Beer's never a problem, nor wine or even whisky and gin, but vodka sets every nerve Harry has on edge, magical and otherwise. He thinks he took a shower this morning, but he's not entirely certain, so he sniffs cautiously at his shirt. It doesn't reek and neither does he, which is a good sign, he supposes.

There's a knock at the door, and Harry sighs. "I'll be out in a moment," he says, but the door opens anyway.

"Hey," Ron says, his head appearing between the door and the frame. There's an odd, almost amusedly strangled expression on his face. "You've a visitor."

Harry pushes himself off the couch, curious. Despite it being a Saturday, he hasn't scheduled any appointments. "Who?"

Ron just pushes the door open wider, and Harry catches a flash of blond hair behind Ron before he steps away, giving Harry a pointed look.

"Malfoy," Harry says, and he doesn't try to hide his surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"Eloquent as always, Potter." Malfoy steps into the office and closes the door behind him with a sharp thunk. He turns towards Harry, who takes in Malfoy's tight black jeans and untucked, pristine white shirt beneath an open black pinstripe suit jacket. Jesus Christ, can the bastard not even dress down for a Saturday? Harry thinks uncharitably, all too aware of exactly how wickedly good his cock thinks Malfoy looks in that unholy outfit. Not to mention how fucking brilliant Malfoy smells, sharp and crisp like Molly's fizzy ginger lemonade on a hot summer day.

Malfoy drops into the swivel chair at Harry's desk, turning his back on the stacks of parchment and paper and still-to-be-priced albums that clutter its surface. "Well," he says, and he lets his gaze drift down Harry's body.

"Well," Harry repeats. He keeps his face calm, even though he can feel his cheeks heat. Malfoy's lips quirk in a small smile. "Shut it," Harry says.

"I didn't say anything."

Harry frowns at him. "You were thinking it."

Malfoy lifts one shoulder in a shrug and leans back in Harry's chair, crossing one ankle over his knee. Despite the late October chill, he's not wearing socks in his black loafers, and Harry swears to Christ those jeans must be painted on, given the way they mold across Malfoy's calf. "I find it amusing how easily you blush." His eyes drop to Harry's crotch. "All over."

Harry's cheeks burn hotter. "What do you want?"

One perfectly groomed eyebrow rises, but Malfoy just leans forward, his hands clasped over his knee. Harry only just notices the slight tremor in Malfoy's fingers before he stills them at Harry's glance. The last time Harry'd seen Malfoy express any sort of nervousness had been at his Wizengamot trial years ago, when Harry'd spoken in his defence. He's suddenly intrigued.

"I have a proposition," Malfoy says after a moment. He gestures towards the wobbly wooden chair beside the desk. "Sit."

Harry does, turning the chair around to straddle it backwards, and the chair creaks beneath him. He rests his crossed arms on the back. "Right then."

The tremor's back in Malfoy's hands. He clenches them, then uncrosses his legs, pressing his knuckles into his thighs as he draws a deep breath, his gaze on the floor. "Yes. Well."

A moment of silence drags out between them. Harry can hear Ron's raucous laugh faintly from the front of the shop. The clock above the desk ticks out the seconds.

"Malfoy," Harry says finally, letting his irritation show, and Malfoy looks up at him then. His grey eyes flash with something--annoyance, perhaps, or exasperation.

"Last night," Malfoy says. There's a flutter in his cheek until he tightens his jaw. "The sex. It was…" He hesitates.

Great. The last thing Harry wants this morning is a fucking emotional exploration of a one-night stand in a goddamned loo. With Malfoy, for fuck's sake. Jesus Christ, his life. Fine. Whatever. Best to get this over. "It was a mistake?" he offers, slumping into his chair. He desperately wants a tea. Large, sickeningly sweet with too many sugars. "A stupid moment where neither of us bothered to think--"

"I was going to say brilliant," Malfoy says mildly, and Harry looks over at him in surprise.

"Oh."

Malfoy watches him. His fingers smooth over the denim of his jeans, and Harry wonders if he has them manicured. Malfoy's nails are neatly trimmed squares, unlike Harry's ragged cuticles and bitten-to-the-nub thumbs. "You don't agree?" Malfoy asks after a moment.

"No," Harry says. "That's not--I mean, yes. I do agree." He rubs a fingertip along the metal edge of the desk. "It was great." He glances up at Malfoy. "Really great."

Something in Malfoy relaxes, the tense set of his shoulders easing. He leans back into his chair. "Good." His eyes meet Harry's. "Because I'd like to do it again. Properly. And preferably in a bed with clean sheets."

Harry just stares at him. It takes a moment for his mouth to move, another for his voice to creak out a "Pardon, but what?"

Malfoy's mouth twitches. "I'm offering you sex, Potter. To spell it out in a way that your halfwit Gryffindor brain can understand, I'm specifically offering a sexual arrangement. No strings, no muss. Just you and I fucking." He leans forward again, his gaze suddenly heated as he glances again down at Harry's groin. "It's brilliant, really. We don't particularly like each other, yes?" At Harry's half-nod, Malfoy spreads his hands. "I'm done with relationships. They're ridiculously complicated, and the payoff is always wretched when compared to the amount of work one puts in them."

He has a point, Harry has to admit.

"And," Malfoy continues, "since neither I nor my libido are dead at the moment, my only option is to pursue a strictly physical connection with another man; however, if I'm honest, I'm thirty-three years old, which is frankly starting to be old in the tooth for trawling gay bars, unless I want to end up old and wrinkled and sitting on the back stool hoping some vapid twink manages to make his way into my grasp, and really I'm not certain I find that appealing."

Harry's absolutely certain he doesn't. Not for Malfoy, and not for himself, suddenly struck with a vision of his own pathetic future. "So you want to be fuckbuddies. You and me."

"It sounds terribly crass when you put it that way." Malfoy's voice takes on a slightly petulant tone. He pulls at his jacket, smoothing it over his flat stomach. Harry remembers the way it feels beneath his hands, the muscles tightening and jumping under his fingertips. "It's not an unheard of arrangement, you realise. Even Pansy thought it wasn't a horrible idea."

The buzzing behind Harry's eyes starts again. "Parkinson? You talked to Parkinson about this? About last night?"

Malfoy looks perplexed. "She's my best friend, Potter. Why wouldn't I--" He breaks off, a furrow forming between his brows. "Oh. You and Weasley. You didn't… Ah. Well, that would explain his confusion at my insisting upon talking to you."

"You thought I'd tell Ron we shagged in the loo?" Harry gives him an incredulous look. "Why?"

The perplexion turns to annoyance. "I don't know, Potter," Malfoy snaps. "Perhaps because he's your…" Malfoy waves his hand towards the door. "Mate or friend or ginger weasel? Forgive me if I don't have a perfect grasp on Gryffindor social habits."

"I don't tell Ron everything." Harry rubs at his eyebrow. The buzzing eases.

Malfoy watches him. "I see," he says, but Harry's not so sure he does.

"I don't need to," Harry says. "Ron's not nosy. He doesn't need to know everything I do or don't do. That's not us."

"Of course." Malfoy swivels in the chair and picks up a 1979 seven-inch single of Blondie's Atomic with a B-side of Die Young Stay Pretty, pressed in Germany. He studies it for a moment, pulling the vinyl disc from the sleeve and checking for scratches, then asks, "How much?"

Harry shrugs. "A tenner."

Malfoy slides the record back into the sleeve and shifts in the chair, lifting his hips to pull out a flat wallet from his back pocket. He fumbles for a Muggle ten-note and tosses it on the desk before shoving his wallet back into his jeans.

"You are so odd," Harry says. He never thought he'd see the day a Malfoy was carrying around Muggle dosh.

"I prefer to be thought of as an enigma." Malfoy lays the single on his lap. "Back to the arrangement?"

Harry can't believe Malfoy's serious. "Really? Fuckbuddies?" The idea doesn't sound so ridiculous, actually, and he's not certain what to think about that.

"Why not? You can't tell me it's not appealing. You were more than eager to have me suck your cock last night--"

"Jesus, Malfoy." Harry sits up, a shiver of want going through him. "You can't--"

Malfoy eyes him calmly. "What? Admit the truth? That I left that loo wishing I had your prick up my arse, or mine up yours, if you prefer--"

"Jesus," Harry says again, more vociferously, and this time he stands, running his hands through his hair. He turns away from Malfoy, his fingers meeting on the nape of his neck, pulling his skin taut. He can feel Malfoy watching him. "Are you serious about this or just taking the piss?"

"I can assure you I'm very serious." The chair creaks as Malfoy stands. He comes up behind Harry, and Harry only flinches slightly when Malfoy's hands settle on his hips. Harry drops his arms and lets Malfoy pull him back against his chest. Malfoy's breath is warm against Harry's ear when he says, "It's perfect, really, don't you think? You want me; I want you." His hands slip over Harry's lower stomach, his fingertips light against the zip of Harry's jeans. Harry knows Malfoy can feel the half-swell of his cock through the denim. Malfoy's mouth skims the stubbled skin beneath Harry's jaw. "But it's only sex. Nothing more. Because you dislike me, and I dislike you."

Harry swallows. Put that way, it sounds perfect. Or perhaps that's just the press of Malfoy's fingers. He pulls away, turning around to find Malfoy's cheeks flushed and eyes bright. He looks incredible, and it's all that Harry can do not to shove him back against the desk and suck him off right here. The only thing that stops him is the look of horror he knows would be on Ron's face if he opened the door to find Harry on his knees with Draco Malfoy's cock in his mouth.

"All right," Harry says, and this is most definitely a sign that he's finally lost his damned mind. "Why the hell not."

Malfoy's smile is blindingly bright. "Lovely to see you're not entirely an idiot." He picks up the Blondie single and straightens his jacket. "Tonight then, or tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow's Sunday," is all that Harry can manage at first. He clears his throat and breathes in. "But I have dinner tonight with Luna and Rolf." He doesn't really, but he's pretty damned sure that he needs at least a night to absorb the idea of being Draco Malfoy's sex toy. And to do laundry. His sheets and all his pants are in a pile at the foot of his bed, and he doesn't quite think Malfoy would be impressed to find he's going commando today. Then on the other hand, Malfoy actually might be. Christ, Harry thinks. His whole damned world is topsy-turvy now.

"Tomorrow night, then," Malfoy says. "Half-seven at your place? I'm assuming you're on the Floo network."

Harry nods. "I'll open the wards to you." Malfoy's sudden shift into a polite business demeanour unsettles him. He feels as if they're arranging an appointment, not scheduling a sex date. Sex. With Malfoy. His entire body is screaming at him, shouting with delight. Sex. Sex. Sex with Malfoy. Merlin's fucking balls. He's going to shag Malfoy. Again.

Malfoy's at the door, looking back at him quizzically. "Potter?"

"Sorry?" Harry shoves his shuddering libido back down. "What was that?"

"Nothing." Malfoy's obviously amused. He opens the door. "Tomorrow then."

Harry catches the door, leaning against it as Malfoy walks out into the shop. "Yeah. All right." He watches Malfoy stride down the length of the shop, nodding curtly towards Ron and completely ignoring Dennis. Harry can't help but notice the way Malfoy's jeans cup his arse, and his libido rises again, causing him to tighten his fingers on the door. Sex with Malfoy. Tomorrow. Sex. Again.

The shop bell clanks as the front door closes behind Malfoy. Ron turns to Harry, eyes wide. "What the hell was that about?"

Harry just shrugs. "Nothing. He wanted an album."

"Malfoy?" Dennis asks, and he and Ron exchange a long, dubious glance which they then turn on Harry. "Malfoy wanted an album."

"Yeah, Blondie of all things." Harry pushes himself off the door. "Look, I've got albums to price--"

"Harry," Ron says, and Harry looks back. Ron's face is worried. "Everything okay?"

For a moment Harry wants to tell him everything. Wants to tell him about Malfoy and the loo and how fucking lonely Harry's been for years now even when he's shacked up with a bloke or maybe a bird, wants to tell him that sometimes he drinks too much even now and when he does he gets even more grim than usual, that he takes it out on his partner, always, because Simon was right, he's nothing more than a bitter pissed bastard and Harry doesn't want to be that way, but it's all he knows how to be now, ever since Ginny died and the baby was gone and his world crumbled around him.

Harry wants to say all that. For one brief, glorious instant he thinks he might.

Instead, he just smiles, enough that it'll ease Ron's mind the way he knows it will, and he says, "Everything's fine," and Ron relaxes.

"Right then," Ron says, and Harry closes the door on him and Dennis and the clamour of the Talking Heads on the turntable. He sinks to the floor, his back against the door, and he closes his eyes, wishing for a cigarette and a bottle of Ogden's finest.

This is all going to go horribly, he know it. Him. Malfoy. Everything.

He's surprised to find that he doesn't give a damn.

***

Draco stands in front of Pansy’s Floo, trying to breathe deeply. A mercury glass jar of Floo powder on the chimneypiece glitters greenly in the light from the thick cream pillar candles burning on some Parkinson-many-times-removed's enormous silver candlesticks, and Draco stares at his reflection in the heavy, gilt-framed mirror that Pansy’d nicked from her mother’s sitting room a year ago and refused to return, much to Idgie’s annoyance. His hair is artfully mussed, his aubergine silk shirt open at the collar just so to show a stretch of milky pale neck, but his grey eyes are wide and panicked, his pupils enormous.

“Stop hyperventilating, Draco.” Pansy’s hands settle lightly on his shoulders, pulling him back against her. He watches her in the mirror, her dark, freshly blunt-cut bob swinging against the sharp angle of her jaw as she leans her head against his, Hecate to his Apollo. "Think of it as a date that you already know will end very, very pleasurably." She smiles at him, her plum-stained mouth quirking in the mirror.

"I should never have told you any of this," Draco says. He straightens his collar, ignoring the pink flush that's rising on his cheeks.

"Might I concur with that statement?" Blaise drawls from the sofa, and Draco turns towards him. Blaise flips another page in the Witch Weekly galleys Pansy'd left on the glass-topped ebony coffee table. "I mean, Potter, Draco? Really? I of all people am utterly supportive of the shagging of complete strangers in loo stalls, but I'd like to think you'd have had more taste than to pick that particular Gryffindor cunt, for Christ's sake." He looks up at Draco; he's still in his lime green Healer's robe, and Draco loathes that such an atrocious colour could look so brilliant on Blaise, the bastard. Blaise's aquiline nose wrinkles in disgust. "I won't even mention the Muggle part." They all know Blaise's stance on Draco's involvement with Muggle culture: Blaise is never openly prejudiced--that would be incredibly unwise in the post-war political climate--but after a bottle or two of wine in the company of friends, he's been known to express his medical opinion that wizarding genetics are far better than Muggle.

Draco tugs at his cuffs. "Well, you didn't shag him, now did you?" At Blaise's sceptical glance, Draco sighs. "The forbidden thrill of fucking one's childhood nemesis is entirely lost on you."

Blaise snorts. "You do realise that's rather fucked up, yes?"

Of course Draco does, but given how brilliant the sex with Potter had been, he doesn't really fucking care at the moment. So he just turns back to the Floo and takes a deep breath, reaching for the Floo powder as Pansy says, "Oh, for Circe's sake, leave him alone, Blaise. And as for you--" Here she eyes Draco critically. "Loosen up. You're off to have a shag, not drag yourself to Gretna Green. If it doesn't go well, end the arrangement. Honestly, you're both worse than girls. At least we know to keep a clean pair of knickers in our handbags."

"Yes, well, Draco's sadly not the slag you are, darling," Blaise says from behind Draco, and that earns him two fingers from both of his friends for very different reasons. He snorts in amusement. "I rest my case."

Pansy looks back at Draco. "Speaking of which--extra pants?"

Draco sighs and pats his hip pocket. "And shrunken." Blaise snorts again; Draco shoots him an irritated glare. "I'm fully prepared for the Walk of Shame at whatever time of the night I'm forced to make it." He tosses a pinch of shimmering Floo powder into the fire, and the flames flare into a bright green. "Stop fussing."

"Oh, do excuse me for giving a damn," Pansy snaps. "It's not as if you haven't spent months moping on my sofa post-Stewart." Before Blaise can say anything, Pansy holds up a warning finger to him. "You need this, Draco, and I don't care if it's Potter who's shagging you raw or one of those terrible Muggles you used to pick up. It's been half a year since I've seen any pep in you--"

"Pansy," Draco says in exasperation as he leans in to kiss her cheek, "do shut it, please." He steps into the flickering flames before she can reply. "Harry Potter, Camden Town."

A rush of spiralling darkness carries him away.

He lands with a thump just inside Potter's Floo, stopped by a thick veil of wards. He can almost make out what he assumes to be Potter's legs through the grey haze, then there's a click and a sharp ring of a bell as the Floo spits him out, sending him skittering across a worn wooden floor and into Potter's incredibly firm chest.

"Hi," Potter says, and Draco blinks up at him. Potter's hair is a rumpled mess as always, and Draco realises he's clinging to some sort of Muggle hoodie--the type the youths wear to the concerts he attends. He lets go of the soft, grey cotton fabric and steps back, brushing off the lingering remnants of Floo powder and soot. Potter gives him an apologetic look. "Floo's a bit quirky. Probably should have warned you."

"One might think," Draco says dryly. He looks Potter up and down. An old hoodie emblazoned with Swedish House Mafia in what looks to be a spray-painted circle, worn jeans with frayed hems, bare feet. "How lovely to see you dressed up for me."

A flush spreads across Potter's cheeks, and he pushes his glasses up his nose. "Didn't see the point," Potter says with an even gaze at Draco. "I assumed it was all going to hit the floor soon."

Draco can't help the flip of his stomach. The way Potter says that, so calmly, with such nonchalance… Merlin. Draco somehow manages to keep himself from dropping to his knees and reaching for Potter's zip right then. "Is it."

Potter reaches out and drags a knuckle down Draco's chest. Draco can feel his cock starting to swell. "It's not as if we have anything to talk about."

A pang of disappointment goes through Draco. "I suppose not," he manages, and then Potter's finger is hooked through his belt loop and he's jerked up against Potter. He grabs at Potter's arms to keep his balance just before Potter's mouth hits his, soft and warm and insistent in that way that had curled Draco's toes in Barfly's loo. "Circe," he murmurs, and Potter's tongue presses against his as they stagger slightly. Draco's shoulders hit the exposed brick wall, and he feels the edge of a picture frame bite into his back.

He doesn't protest when Potter lifts him, his teeth on Draco's neck as Draco wraps his legs around Potter's narrow hips. With a quick kick his shoes tumble to the floor, and Potter's hands are between them, unbuttoning Draco's shirt. He pulls back just enough to jerk the silk off Draco's shoulders; Draco does his best to wriggle free, but he's too busy sucking on the soft skin beneath Potter's ear to be effective. Somehow his shirt slips to the floor, and Potter's hands are warm on Draco's skin as they slide up his spine.

"I want to ride that fat cock of yours," Draco hears himself say. His cheeks burn, but the bright shine in Potter's eyes soothes away the sharp sting of humiliation. Draco's never been this needy for sex, not even with Stewart, but all he can think about is how Potter will look beneath him as Draco straddles his hips, how Potter will arch up against him, desperate to push his prick deeper into Draco's body. His head hits the brick; Potter's mouth is hot against his.

"Say it again," Potter says. His teeth are sharp against Draco's lip. "Tell me you want my cock up your arse."

Draco doesn't hesitate. He rolls his hips forward, pushing into Potter. He can't resist. He's never been able to resist Potter, not when they were children and definitely not now. "Oh, I do." He pushes at Potter's ridiculous hoodie, trying to slide it high enough that he can feel the hardness of Potter's flat stomach. His fingers skitter across Potter's heated skin, eliciting a moan. Draco lets his tongue swipe along the shell of Potter's ear. "Wouldn't you like to watch?" he murmurs. "See me stretch myself for you? All oiled up?" His teeth graze Potter's earlobe. He can hear Potter's sharp, gasping breaths, feel the press of Potter's fingers as they dig into his hips. "Two fingers? Three fingers? My whole fucking hand--"

Potter's mouth stops him, and Draco gives himself up to the push-pull of their eager, desperate kisses. "I--" Draco starts to say.

"Shut it," Potter says roughly, and then he's carrying him deeper into the flat, down a hall lined with framed album covers. Draco's too far gone to even care what they are; all he wants is Potter's skin on his, their hips rutting together, their cocks hot and heavy and ready to spurt. His hands push Potter's hoodie higher, and Potter stops long enough to push him against the wall, leaning back to pull the hoodie over his head and drop it down before catching Draco's mouth with his own again. The feel of Potter's bare chest against his is almost too much for Draco.

"Bed," he says, pulling back with a ragged gasp, but Potter's kissing him again, and Merlin's fucking balls, Draco isn't entirely certain he's not going to come in his trousers, here in the hall, when Potter rolls his hips against Draco's. "Potter."

And then they're in a dark room. Potter kicks the door closed as he kisses Draco again, and all Draco can think is finally as Potter drops him on a sloppily made bed. Draco doesn't give a damn because Potter's fingers are on Draco's zip and his pants and trousers are ruched half-down his thighs and when Potter's mouth closes on Draco's prick, Draco falls back against the mattress, his fingers twisting in the soft cotton bedspread and his whole world is filled with Potter's mouth and hands and cock and arse.

Finally.

***

Harry knows there's a spring in his step when he comes into the shop the next morning. Malfoy'd stayed until the early hours of the morning, and they'd shagged twice in the bed--once with Malfoy straddling him, riding his cock until Harry’d spurted into Malfoy's hole, smearing come over his arse, and once two hours later with Malfoy beneath Harry, legs draped over Harry's shoulders, knees up at his ears. Harry'd discovered that Draco Malfoy was a filthy bastard, eager to tell Harry exactly how he could use his prick to get Malfoy off. Even thinking about those dirty whispers in his ear, urging Harry on, begging him to stuff his prick in every goddamned orifice Malfoy had--Christ. It was enough to make Harry hard again.

Instead he wanks once more in the shower, thinking about the way Malfoy'd kissed him at the Floo before leaving, his clothed body sliding down Harry's naked torso until he was kneeling on the floor, leaning in to take Harry's half-swollen cock in his mouth one more time. Harry'd gripped the mantel tightly, trying so damned hard not to fuck Malfoy's gorgeous mouth and failing, and when he'd come with a shuddering groan, his spunk had spilled over Malfoy's lips, smearing across Malfoy's chin. Malfoy'd just pulled back, letting Harry's prick pop out of his mouth, and he'd stood up and kissed Harry deeply, eagerly before he'd stepped into the Floo. Harry'd still seen the come on Malfoy's chin in the green firelight, and it was that image that made him splatter later across the wet tile of his bathroom shower.

"Someone's in a good mood today," Ron says when he wanders in half-an-hour late, and Harry doesn't complain. "Did you get shagged--" He breaks off, his eyes widening as he hands Harry a steaming Earl Grey from the coffee shop down the street. "Sweet fucking Merlin, you did."

Harry just shrugs. "So what if I did?"

Ron's eyes narrow as he hops up on the counter. "Who was it?" At Harry's scowl, Ron looks at Dennis. "Did he tell you?"

Dennis shakes his head. "I know nothing." He glances over at Harry. "But he does seem shagged out."

"It wasn't Simon, was it?" Ron settles his coffee between his legs. "Because that's just poor taste, mate, shagging your ex--"

"Like you'd know from poor taste," Harry points out. He closes the cash till after counting the notes in the drawer. "But no. I'm not that desperate."

Ron frowns. "I thought he had a great prick."

"Too much information, thanks," Dennis says. He drops a Gorillaz LP on the record player. "Really don't need to know that."

"Don't be homophobic, D-man." Ron pushes at Dennis with a booted foot. "It's 2013, for fuck's sake. Show some pride for your queer boss who just fucked--hey, Harry, was it some complete stranger again?" Harry gives him an exasperated look, and Ron holds up his hands. "Fine, I'll stop asking. But for the record, I'm in favour of you shagging or being shagged on a daily basis if it keeps you this relaxed. This bloke must be more talented than Simon."

"Fuck off, Ron," Harry says, but he can't be arsed to get worked up. He's already wondering how long he has to wait to get Malfoy in his bed again.

***

Weeks pass in a blur of sweaty bodies and shuddering orgasms. Draco refuses to spend every night with Harry--that just seems excessive, he tells Blaise over lunch one day in the canteen at St Mungo's. Blaise just rolls his eyes and takes a bite of one of those horrible things the canteen labels as pasties.

"I think you mean obsessive," Blaise says, and Draco narrows his eyes at him. Blaise only smirks and leans back in his chair to eye one of the new mediwitches who's just come on staff in Casualty.

Pansy's more supportive, but also much more interested in the specifics of his sex life now that it involves Harry bloody Potter. He's surprised to find himself loathe to tell her how careful Potter can be in bed, how gently he can touch Draco, tormenting him with cautious, light touches and kisses until Draco's writhing beneath Potter like a wanton whore, legs spread as wide as possible, hips bucking up, cock leaking, practically begging for Potter to fuck him now, damn it to hell. Just thinking about it makes Draco shiver with want, even sitting at his desk in Gringotts, trying to avoid yet another unpleasant encounter with Haversham. Some afternoons he wards his door shut and reaches for his zip, heart pounding. But the thought of Potter on his knees, under his desk, mouth stretched wide by Draco's prick makes him come almost instantaneously, breathing hard as he slumps forward, cock in hand and the underside of his desk coated in spunk.

Perhaps Blaise isn't entirely wrong with his damned quip about obsession.

Draco feels alive in ways he hasn't for ages. Potter touches him, and Draco feels everything--raw, open, ragged. It's uncomfortable, but he craves it. Craves Potter.

They spend a weekend in bed at a Muggle hotel in Bloomsbury that's packed with tourists. Christmas is coming, and Draco wonders how he might get out of the interminable family dinner with his parents and spend Christmas Day instead with Potter, tangled up in rumpled white sheets, room service at the ready.

Theolonious Monk's 'Round Midnight is playing from the radio beside the bed when Potter rolls off Draco once more, gasping for breath. Draco's body feels as if it's shimmering-sparking with pleasure; his arse and thighs are slick with sweat and Potter's come. Potter reaches for his wand, thrown up against the radio from the last time they'd fucked a few hours earlier, and casts cleaning spells on them both. Draco oddly misses the sticky dampness between his arsecheeks, though he's grateful to avoid the itch as it dries. He shifts on the down pillows, pulling away the one Potter tucked beneath his arse, and glances over at Potter, who looks utterly shattered.

Draco rolls against Potter, settling his hand on Potter's chest. "Am I brilliant?" He can't keep the smugness from his voice.

"A bit," Potter admits. He looks at Draco. "Though if you tell anyone I said that, I'll absolutely deny it."

"Of course you will." Draco frowns slightly. "Deny everything, that's the Potter way now, isn't it? One might almost think you to be a Slytherin, the way you act."

Potter doesn't answer. Draco flops back against the pillows with a sigh. "Do you ever actually talk?" he asks. "Not that I don't find the whole silent, stoic thing attractive, but I spend most of our time together speaking. I'm thrilled to get a grunt or a monosyllabic answer from you."

"I talk," Potter says after a moment. "A lot, thanks."

Draco can't stop his inelegant snort. "Have you met yourself? I mean, for fuck's sake, Potter, I'm not the most chatty of bastards, and in the past twenty-four hours I've told you about sharing a flat with Greg and Blaise--"

"Brilliant to know I snore like Goyle, thanks."

"Oh, get over yourself. You do." Draco rises up on his elbow. "Not to mention, worrying about my job, asking you what I should buy Pansy for Christmas--fat lot of good you were on that, by the way--and, I don't know, trying to have any sort of normal conversation two individuals who tend to have their faces up close with intimate bodies parts might possibly have."

Potter frowns at him. His eyes are impossibly green without his glasses on. "Did our arrangement change from just shagging to dating without me noticing?"

"Fuck you," Draco snaps, and he jerks Potter's pillow out from under his head, settling it beneath his own as he turns away from the bastard. "Shagging does not eliminate social niceties like conversation, you utter Philistine."

They lie silently for a long moment, Draco fuming into his pillows, then Potter sighs. "I'm not great at talking."

"Obviously."

Potter shifts beside him. His large, flat palm rests on Draco's hip. "I don't mind listening to you talk."

Draco rolls the edge of a pillowcase between two fingers. He hesitates. "Sometimes," he admits, "I get tired of my own voice."

Another silent moment stretches out between them, then Potter's fingers stroke along Draco's hipbone. "Why?"

"I don't know." Draco stares at the beige wall in front of him, at the sheer chocolate brown drapes hanging at the windows that do almost nothing to block the morning light or the noise of Great Russell Street. "When I was younger I was rather fond of it." At Potter's amused puff, Draco elbows him. "Don't be an arse."

"God forbid," Potter murmurs into the nape of Draco's neck.

Draco swallows. He lets himself relax into Potter's warm body. "Everything changed after the war." He can feel Potter tense behind him. "It's not that I want to be in property investments, you know. But the goblins...well. They don't particularly care if you might have the remnants of the Dark Mark on your left forearm." He feels Potter's fingers smooth over his elbow, down along his arm. The first night they'd fucked properly, clothes off and spread across Potter's bed, Potter had touched the faded, pale grey skull that mars Draco’s pristine pale skin. He'd thought Potter would be revolted by it, would turn away in disgust, but instead he'd just pulled Draco's arm into the light and studied it, letting his fingers trace the Mark's curves and angles before leaning in to kiss Draco, lightly, gently. They hadn’t spoken of it since.

"That's the problem, you realise," Draco says softly. "We were just children. Stupid, idiotic children following our stupid, idiotic parents, and the wizarding world still blames us for their mistakes.” His eyes suddenly prick hotly, and he draws in a slow breath. “I’ll always be a Malfoy, Pans will always be a Parkinson.” He turns, facing Potter. “And you’ll always be a Potter, won’t you?” Draco touches Potter’s face, letting his fingertips skim Potter’s stubbled cheek. “Forever the Chosen One, the Saviour of the Wizarding World--“

Potter catches his hand. “Stop it.”

Draco should, but he can’t. “Always a step above me, just out of my league.” His throat catches. “The war took our lives from us, Potter--“

“Stop it,” Potter says again, more intently, and he rolls over onto Draco, pinning him to the mattress. “That’s all over. Done with.”

“For you,” Draco starts to say, but Potter cuts him off with a rough kiss.

Potter pulls back, looking down at him, his fringe hanging in his eyes. “We don’t talk about the war, Malfoy. Not you and not me.”

“You never want to talk about anything important.” Draco stares up at Potter. He can see the distress in Potter’s eyes, can feel the tension in the grip Potter has on his wrists. But he can’t help himself. “Why?”

He doesn’t expect Potter to answer, so it surprises him when Potter hesitates, then says, “What good would it do? Talking doesn’t bring them back. Not any of them. If you talk about the war, does it make it different? Does it make you miss Crabbe less?” Draco looks away, heart tightening. No. It doesn’t. Vince is always there, all these years later, a quiet spectre for them all--especially Greg. Potter’s hands slide down Draco’s wrists, along his arms, over his shoulders. He breathes out against Draco’s throat. “I lost too many people, Malfoy. That day and after. I can’t--“ His voice breaks, and Draco pulls Potter closer against him, his hands stroking down Potter’s back.

“I know,” Draco says. He lets Potter sprawl across him, tangles his fingers in Potter’s hair. “It’s fine.”

Potter just nods and lies there silently in Draco’s arms until his body relaxes and his breathing evens. He sleeps.

Draco doesn’t.

***

The Christmas shopping season begins on High Street. Harry's one concession to the season is a string of white Muggle lights dangling limply in the front window of the shop and a small, tabletop silver tinsel tree next to the till that Dennis nicked from his mum's box of Christmas decorations. Whenever Ron wants to annoy Harry, he puts on the Jethro Tull Christmas album at full volume. This time Harry lasts through Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow before storming out of the back office, in stockinged feet and hair mussed, dark blue and pink Middlesex Cricket Club hoodie hanging off one shoulder.

"Ron, if you don't turn that shit off--" Harry stops in the middle of the nearly empty shop. Malfoy's leaning against the counter, talking to Dennis and Ron, a copy of T. Rex's Electric Warrior in his hands. For a moment Harry's caught by Malfoy in his jeans and creamy Aran sweater beneath a dark brown leather jacket, and he wants to see all of that spread across the floor of his flat as he takes Malfoy on the sofa, his thighs spread wide, both feet planted on the edge of the sofa cushions as Harry pounds into him.

Ron slides off the counter. "Took you long enough. Malfoy's been waiting twenty minutes to talk to you. Usually you come flying out by the time Holly Herald starts."

"I was napping," Harry says absently. He looks at Malfoy. "Did you need something? Another album?"

Malfoy smirks at him, and Harry's suddenly aware of the fact that his socks are mismatched today. "Creevey here's already talked me into this one." He holds up the T. Rex. "Early glam rock."

"Draco was just telling me he's been listening to some Bowie lately," Dennis says, and Harry does his best to hide his flinch. Of course Malfoy has. They'd laid in bed for most of last Sunday afternoon listening to Harry's copy of Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars on repeat, fucking to Moonage Daydream and Starman, then sharing a fag to Lady Stardust. Malfoy just raises an eyebrow at him. "So," Dennis continues, "I thought he might be interested in expanding his glam boundaries. Start with some T.Rex, move into Roxy Music and maybe the New York Dolls--"

"Are you paying for that?" Harry says to Malfoy, and Dennis falls silent, giving Harry an odd look.

Malfoy's mouth quirks to one side. "Well, I'd considered Apparating away with it clutched in my hand, but that seems to defeat the actual purpose of my visit." He pulls out his wallet and hands a Galleons over to Dennis, who tucks them into a black velvet bag beneath the till.

"A purpose which the Ferret has yet to tell us," Ron points out. He eyes Malfoy as he switches out the Jethro Tull LP for Billie Holiday on the turntable. Lady Sings the Blues fills the shop, much to Harry's relief.

"Yes. Well." Malfoy's eyes flick towards Harry. "I happened to come into possession of two tickets for Noah and the Whale's show at Islington Assembly Hall, and I thought you might want to go?"

Harry stills as Ron's gaze turns on him.

"Wait," Dennis says. "Are you asking Harry out?"

Shit. Bugger. Fuck. Harry glares at Malfoy. "Don't be ridiculous. He's--"

A flash of hurt crosses Malfoy's face. "Is that how we're still playing it? Harry Potter's keeping his secrets again? Can't bear to let his friends think he might possibly be shagging that wanker Malfoy?" He turns to Dennis. "Did you know your boss rather enjoys having a tongue shoved up his arse now and again? Because he does, and he makes the most deliciously lovely noises--"

"Enough," Ron says, and Harry's surprised when Malfoy falls silent.

Dennis looks between them in shock. "I will never get that image out of my mind," he says, and Harry flinches. Brilliant. Just lovely. He's going to fucking kill Draco bloody Malfoy as soon as he manages to get him alone.

Ron points a finger at Malfoy. "That's a step too far." Just before Harry starts to speak, the finger swings towards him. "And you, you stupid git. Did you honestly think I didn't know what was going on? Jesus, Harry. I've been waiting for weeks for you to say something--"

"Good luck with that," Malfoy mutters.

"Malfoy," Ron says warningly, and Malfoy rolls his eyes. Ron turns back to Harry. "Do you think I'm an idiot? I've known since the fucking Barfly, you know. The two of you, in the loo. Not exactly discreet, right? Here I go in to have a quick slash, and I hear that one--" His finger jabs back towards Malfoy. "--in there moaning your name, and I swear to God, Harry, I knew it was him. The two of you at the concert--yeah, I saw you both there--and then that fucking posh voice, and Jesus, mate, I shared a flat with you for two years and a dormitory for seven. I know what you sound like when you're…" Ron breaks off, waving his hand in the general direction of Harry's groin. "And then he came in the shop the day after and suddenly you're never around lately, or you've got mysterious weekend plans, and really, I can't fucking believe you thought I was that stupid. Him, I understand. He's a fucking wanker. But you're my mate, Harry. You could have fucking said. I wouldn't have even cared it was the Ferret." He grabs Harry's arm. "I just want you to be happy, you daft bastard."

Dennis huddles behind the till, his hands over his ears. "I don't need to know any of this, really, I don't. Even if Harry's been less of a beast the past month. It's not worth it."

Harry sighs. "Dennis, fuck off."

"Oh, no," Malfoy says brightly. "I really think he should go on. Has Potter's iron grip on the Arsehole of the Year title truly lessened?"

"Malfoy," Harry and Ron say in unison.

Dennis just gives them all a baleful glare. "I'm fairly certain this falls under some form of workplace harassment," he complains.

Harry looks at Malfoy, trying to control his exasperation. "Out," he says, pointing towards the door. "You've caused enough damage for the day. Jesus Christ."

Malfoy glares at him. "You can't toss me out on the kerb--"

"Don't push me." Harry keeps his voice even, but there's a whisper of magic that runs through the room. Even Ron takes a step back. Malfoy's face pales, but he lifts his chin defiantly.

"Fine." Malfoy pulls out two tickets from his pocket and tosses them on the counter. His hand shakes slightly. "Do whatever the hell you want with these then. I've no use for them." He turns on his heel and heads for the door.

Harry feels like a shit. "Malfoy--"

It's too late. The door clanks shut behind him, and Harry turns back to Ron and Dennis, only to find Ron frowning at him.

"You're an arse sometimes, you know," Ron says after a moment.

Harry blinks. "What are you--"

"Malfoy comes in, wants to take you out to a concert, and you shit all over him because you're afraid Dennis and I are going to find out--what? That you're dating him?" Ron crosses his arms over his chest and stares Harry down.

"We're not dating," Harry says. Dennis glances between them then slips out from behind the till, heading for the back office. Harry doesn't bother to stop him. Dennis always gets a bit tense when the subject of sex comes up. Sometimes Harry wonders if he's even had a shag.

"Fucking then." Ron leans against the counter and runs his hands through his hair. "Or whatever the cool kids say."

Harry flips through the Punk Ba-Br section. "What difference does it make? Maybe I wanted to keep it secret for my own reasons."

"Right." Ron looks tired and worn out. "You know, you've always done this. Even when we were kids. You'd shut Hermione and me out whenever you decided we couldn't deal with whatever was going on in that thick head of yours, and you still do it, Harry. You're my best mate, and sometimes I look at you and realise that I have no bloody idea what's going on in your life because you won't fucking talk to me." Ron's voice rises. "You don't think I know how hard the past ten years have been? You don't think I've watched you shove every last one of us away, as much as you could without losing us, without us walking away from you because you couldn't handle that, could you?"

Harry stills, his fingers on the Bouncing Souls' Hopeless Romantic. "Ron."

"Forget it." Ron pushes himself away from the counter. He starts to walk towards the back office, then turns back to Harry. "She was my sister, you know. You don't have the monopoly on grieving."

"I know." Harry's throat is tight.

Ron hesitates. "I don't think you do, actually. Because you've let this shape a bloody decade of your life, and you won't fucking talk about it. To anyone. You've turned into a miserable bastard, and that's fine, it really is, but for the first time in years I've seen you walk into this shop and actually look like you might be a hair's breadth from being happy. And if Malfoy is the one person who can make you smile again like that, then why would you ever think I'd judge you for that?"

Harry just looks at him. "I don't know," he says finally. "You hate him."

"I hated him when we were young and stupid," Ron says. "He's not that little shit any longer. None of us are. We're thirty-three, for Christ's sake, and look at us. You hate everyone--don't say you don't, we all know you do--and I'm the idiot who lost the love of his life because he couldn't fucking grow up, because he couldn't let go of all that anger and bitterness--"

"She's divorcing him," Harry says, because he can't think of anything else to say. "Rosie's in school, and they don't want to stay together--"

"Oh." Ron stops, his voice catching, and then he says, "Good for her."

Harry nods. "Yeah."

They look at each other, then Ron sighs. "I don't hate Malfoy. And you've been an arse."

"Yeah," Harry says again.

"Talk to him." Ron rubs his jaw. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but just go and talk to him before you lose the one thing that makes you smile right now, Harry. Do it for me."

Harry swallows. He lets the albums he's been flipping through fall back into their section. "Okay."

"Right," Ron says. "I should find Dennis. You and Malfoy've traumatised him."

Harry wants to laugh, but he can't. Instead he just nods once more and watches Ron walk away, ginger hair curling over his plaid flannel collar. He knows Ron's right. He just doesn't want to admit it.

Ever.

***

Draco stands just inside the Victoria Gate at Kew Gardens, his irritation growing by the minute. He doesn't know why Potter owled him to meet him here, nor why he actually acquiesced and is now standing here in the cold, a thick grey cashmere muffler wrapped around his throat to keep away the chill. He rocks forward on the balls of his feet, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his black wool winter coat. This is ridiculous, he thinks, and he's just about to Apparate away when Potter comes through the imposingly Victorian stone and iron gates, his hair ruffled as if by an inexplicable breeze and his cheeks pink.

"You're here," Potter says after he pushes his way through the crowd.

"And I've no idea why." Draco scowls at him. "Particularly since you're a complete arsehole."

Potter nods, but he takes Draco's arm, surprisingly. Potter's never demonstrative in public. Ever. He's barely demonstrative in private. "I booked us a slot on the Illuminated Path," he says with an uncomfortable dip of his head. "It seemed like something you'd like."

Draco allows himself to be led towards one of the paths that winds past the Temple of Bellona. Lights shine in trees, and Draco's almost certain a few of them are decked in fairies rather than Muggle lights. He wouldn't be shocked; his great-grandmother, one of the more formidable Blacks, had been a Kew patron.

They walk in silence, and Draco has to admit, Potter was right. He's always like the quiet bits of Kew, the ones tucked away from the crowds on the main paths, and even though they're surrounded by people, there's something about the darkness and the shining, sparkling lights that catches that childish sense of wonder buried so deeply within him. He thinks of his mother and the way she'd charmed one of the Manor gardens into a shimmering wonderland of lights every year on the weekend he came home from Hogwarts. It was a birthday present for him, and they'd have dinner, she and he, al fresco that night, with the fairies floating above them and long streamers of sheer colored light draping the trees. His heart aches. He misses his mother desperately, but she'd sided with his father over Stewart, and he's not entirely certain he can ever forgive her for that.

The water of the lake gleams green and purple from the lanterns floating high beside it. Potter stops on the serpentine curves of Sackler Crossing, leaning against the bronze balustrade. The lake laps at the bridge's granite base, a soft, comforting slap of water on stone that brings back nights spent in the Slytherin common room, listening to the lake move against the castle, water splashing up against the narrow, rectangular leaded windows set high in the common room's wall. Draco looks out over the dark water, watching the lights across the lake dance and twist in bare tree branches.

"Do you think the Ministry knows they're using fairies?" Draco asks, and Potter shrugs.

"Does it matter?"

Not really, Draco thinks. The lights are absolutely exquisite. "I hate that you know I'd love this," he says after a moment. "You know that about me, and I barely know anything that you like which isn't from the Potter Kama Sutra."

Potter stares out at the lake and sighs before turning to Draco. "I'm not easy, Malfoy. People think I am, they think they know me because of everything that happened in the war, but they only know the Harry Potter they want to know. The good Potter. The noble one. Not the Harry Potter who's shit to his friends because they'll always be there, who drinks too much when he's feeling low, who pissed away any chance he had at being an Auror in favour of selling music of all bloody things--"

"Music makes you happy," Draco says, and Potter just looks at him. "It does. I've watched you when it's playing. It takes you to another place, it soothes that savage beast within you. All those idiotic clichés--they're true. I know they are because it happens to me too."

"That doesn't mean I'm not one enormous cock-up." Potter glances down at his brown leather-gloved hands, clasped together over a bronze upright of the balustrade.

Draco draws in a slow breath. "Not saying you aren't. But no one who gets as blissful as you do when Van Morrison plays those first chords of Into the Mystic could ever be happy sitting behind a desk in the Ministry, pushing pencils around, and you know that's what they'd have you do. You're too valuable a public relations commodity to be allowed anywhere near the dangers of the field." Not like himself, of course. Draco's fairly certain if the Aurors had even considered having him, they'd immediately have put him on the most dangerous cases, hoping the Malfoy line would die out quickly and even gleeful that they hadn't needed to set up an Untouchable assignment to make it happen.

"That's why I didn't go back," Potter says. His voice is quiet, and he doesn't look at Draco, focusing instead on the stand of trees across the lake that shines a soft lavender in the distance. "I spent a year lying on the floor listening to music, and it's the only thing that got me through--" His voice breaks and he huffs out a puff of white breath into the darkness. "I don't talk about her."

"I don't talk about Vince." Draco watches the water ripple. "Greg still has nightmares about that night. He says he can see Vince coming after him, all his skin burnt and bubbling from the fire. I never tell him this, but I have those dreams too. It's why I had to move out of the flat." He swallows, his throat tight. "I keep asking myself if we could have saved him somehow. If there was something I could have done to stop him, to convince him he was wrong--that I was wrong. He did everything I told him to do, you know. Between me and his arsehole father, he never had a chance--" Draco stops. He has too. A wave of anguish and guilt rolls over him, and he turns away from Potter.

Potter's hand on his arm stops him. "Ginny," Potter says, and his voice is raw. "She had cancer. It could have been fixed; it's easy enough for a witch or wizard. Except." He pauses for a moment and Draco turns back to him. Potter's jaw is tight, and he blinks hard, his stupidly thick eyelashes damp. "It was because of him, you see. Voldemort." Draco flinches at the name, but keeps his gaze fixed on Potter's face. "Her first year--that diary your father slipped into her books at Flourish and Blott's." Potter breathes out again. "It was one of his Horcruxes. Voldemort's, not your father's," Potter says, as if he needs to explain that to Draco. "You never quite recover from something like that, the Healers said. From having him inside your head, inside your body." Potter laughs bitterly. "They didn't really need to tell me that. I lived for years with him here."

Draco watches Potter touch his scar. "Oh," he says. He'd heard rumours. They all had. It wasn't the sort of thing one keeps terribly quiet in the aftermath of a war, although those around Potter had tried. He reaches out with his bare hand and lets his fingertip trace along the almost white zig-zag on Potter's forehead. "Do you still…" He trails off, not sure he wants to know the answer. His hand drops away.

"No." Potter's smile is wry. "Not since the day he died."

Relief floods through Draco. "Right then. That's good."

"Yeah." A family of five crosses the bridge behind them, laughing, the youngest girl perched high on her father's shoulders. Potter looks at them, and Draco recognises the longing on his face before he turns away. "I wanted to be normal," Potter says. "After all that."

You fool, Draco wants to say. You're extraordinary. Never normal. How could you ever think you ought to be normal? Instead he says, "And Ginevra…"

"She made me normal."

Draco doubts that, and he doubts Ginny Weasley would have agreed. Harry Potter is not normal, and no one in their right mind would ever want him to be. He's Potter, for Christ's sake, with all the annoyances, exasperations, idiocies, and utterly naive brilliance that entails.

Potter's gloved hands tighten over the balustrade. "And then she was gone. Because he marks you when he's inside of you. Leaves his imprint, even if you can't feel it or hear it or touch it or taste it. And for Gin, it sped up the cancer. Made it nearly impossible to treat." Potter's face is anguished. "We lost a baby when it metastasised. The Healers called it a foetus because they thought it would make it easier, but it was our baby. A boy. I wanted to call him James." He looks at Draco. "No one knows that, not even Ron. I couldn't bear to tell him we knew it was a boy. So we said it was a foetus, Gin and I. Never our son. We couldn't--" Potter stops, and a muscle in his jaw clenches.

That hits Draco like a punch in the gut. He hadn't known. No one had. He can't imagine what it must have been like to lose a wife and a child in one blow. "Harry," he says gently, and Potter reaches for him. Draco lets Potter--Harry, Christ, he can't be anything but Harry right now--wrap himself around him, his face buried in the shoulder of Draco's coat. "I'm sorry."

Harry nods into Draco's scarf. Draco can feel Harry's body trembling, and he knows that what he's about to do could possibly get him in trouble if the Ministry's watching, but he doesn't fucking care. All he knows is that he needs to get Harry home, so he tightens his fingers in Harry's jacket and with a pop they Apparate out of the Muggle-filled gardens and into the sitting room of Draco's flat.

"Harry," Draco says again, and he tries to pull away, to open a bottle of whisky for them both, but Harry just grabs Draco and pulls him back again, hands cupping Draco's cheeks, mouth desperate for Draco's.

Kissing wildly, they tug at coats and jackets and scarves, letting them fall the floor only to be followed by jumpers and shirts and belts and trousers, and then by the weight of their bodies, landing on the thick white shag area rug between the hearth and the sofa. Draco can barely breathe between kisses, and when Harry slides down Draco's body, planting soft, hot kisses on Draco's skin, Draco can't keep from moaning, can't keep from arching up against Harry's mouth, from tangling his fingers in Harry's thick hair. Harry tugs Draco's pants down and catches Draco's cock in his mouth, sucking lightly at the head as he pulls the pants free from Draco's ankles.

"Harry, Harry," Draco gasps out, tugging at Harry's hair. Harry rises up and Draco's prick pops wetly from his mouth.

"What?"

And he’s such a vision like this, cheeks red and eyes bright, his mouth open and soft, that Draco can barely bring himself to stop him. Still, Draco pushes off from the floor, stalking closer on hands and knees until Harry leans back and bares his throat.

"Turn over."

Whilst Harry complies, Draco fumbles in the piles for a moment and comes back triumphantly with his wand. He aims, says that lovely, quick, naughty spell Blaise had brought back from Amsterdam, and watches the gooseflesh rise on Harry's arse.

"Oi." Harry shivers, giving Draco a heated look over his shoulder.

Draco is already down flat, lying between Harry's legs, his tongue painting slow, wet circles at the base of his spine. His elbows bracket the pale curve of Harry's arse, leaving his mouth free to explore.

Harry clenches his fingers in the thick white shag of the rug and moans as Draco's nose nudges the cleft between his cheeks. He half-buries his face in his shoulder, then groans as Draco moves lower. "Christ, Draco."

Draco slips down further, using his chin and a bit of tongue to get Harry to spread his legs and shift up a little onto his knees until the red furl of Harry’s hole is revealed. Draco mouths toward it, stopping to ghost warm breaths over the sensitive skin whilst Harry shudders. Having a tongue shoved up one's arse is very important in the Potter Kama Sutra--Draco marvels at how easily Harry comes undone at the mere suggestion of a lick on his arsehole.

When Draco's tongue starts to explore the ridge of puckered skin, Harry actually mewls, shoving back onto Draco's face. Draco gently lubricates the skin with saliva and then gets to work, sucking and licking, then thrusting with his tongue until he thinks he may be at risk of straining the base. The reaction is worth it, however: Harry shakes at first, then stills until his body is stretched like a wire from the propelling force of his elbows to Draco's mouth.

Draco brings his palms flat under Harry's jutting hipbones and lifts him up further, up, into his mouth, his tongue thrusting as far into Harry's body as he can manage. With a great cry, Harry shudders and then comes, his arse clenching against Draco's tongue as he shoots into the thick pile of the rug. That, Draco thinks, will require a house elf to get clean, but he doesn't care because Harry's collapsed beneath him, breathing hard, and Draco's cock aches.

"Draco," Harry says in a half-broken voice, and it takes all Draco has not to gather him up in his arms. Instead he pushes himself up off the floor, and when Harry rolls over, Draco offers him his hand.

Harry doesn't hesitate to take it.

"Bedroom," Draco says, and Harry lets Draco pull him up and steer him down the hall. A quiet Lumos casts a warm glow over the bed that Harry tumbles on. When Draco returns from the bath, teeth brushed and face still slightly damp, Harry reaches for him and Draco wonders why they didn't do this years ago at Hogwarts. Perhaps they might have spared each other so much pain.

But, tonight, when Harry kisses him, rolling over to press him into the mattress, Draco doesn't have time for those regrets. Instead, he wraps his legs around Harry’s waist, urging Harry to take him, to fuck him, to stretch him wide until all he can think of is Harry fucking Potter, his fingernails digging into Harry’s shoulders with each rough, exquisitely painful thrust of Harry’s beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent cock.

This is everything Draco wants. Everything he needs.

He can’t help but wonder when it will end.

***

Sunlight wakes Harry, warm against his face. His eyes flutter open and he sees white floral moulding against a pale blue ceiling. His head feels heavy, fuzzy, and he blinks several times before he looks over to see a pale blond head beside him, covers pulled up to Malfoy's chin--to protect from vampires, he remembers, although he's pointed out that Malfoy's habit of sticking one foot out from beneath the bedclothes rather defeats that purpose.

Malfoy turns then, in his sleep, and Harry's breath is nearly taken away. He looks beautiful, pale and gold against the white sheets and dark blue coverlet, his face sculpted angles and curves. A white gilt lock of hair falls over his eyebrow, and Harry tucks it back gently. His fingertip smoothes across Malfoy's brow, down his cheek, across that pink plump curve of Malfoy's bottom lip--and Harry knows then that everything's changed. Malfoy isn't Malfoy any longer. He's Draco, and that's dangerous. Malfoy is safe. Malfoy is nothing but sex and shouting and more sex after that. Malfoy is a shag in a club loo, a dirty weekend in a hotel room, a guilty secret, one that eventually goes away. But Draco is breakfasts on Sunday mornings, long, lazy weekend shags in a bed of their own, waking up early to see sunlight sparkling in his hair. Draco is secrets suddenly being spoken out loud, secrets Harry's held in for so many years, secrets that have been clawing inside of him, leaving long, oozing, bloody wounds on Harry's heart, wounds that Harry has kept from scabbing over, wounds that Harry needs to feel.

He can't breathe now, and he sits up, heart too tight in his chest as he swings his legs off the bed. He has to have those wounds. If he doesn't, he'll forget, and Harry can never, ever forget. Not the tears in Ginny's eyes when the Healers told her what she'd have to do. Not the tiny little form Harry'd seen in the misty diagnostic fog hovering over Ginny's swelling belly.

And now here he is with Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy who has to stay Malfoy and not Draco, because Draco is too frightening to Harry, too close for comfort. Men are for fucking; it's what Harry's always said. Men are for fucking, and Ginny was the one he felt that for. Harry can't feel that way ever again. He won't ever feel that way again. It's too risky.

Harry slides out of bed. The shift of the mattress causes Draco--no, Malfoy--to stir. He sits up partially, supported by his elbows, and yawns. "Leaving already?"

"I have to open the shop." Harry glances around for his pants and trousers, then realises they're still in the sitting room from last night. "Dennis is useless in the mornings."

Malfoy just watches him through sleepy eyes. "When will I see you again?"

Harry's heart thuds. He shouldn't, ever again. He's losing control here, and he knows it. But he can't say that. Won't say it. So he shrugs as if it doesn't matter and says, "Thursday?"

"Wednesday," Malfoy counters, and he drops back onto the pillows with another yawn. "I have a late meeting Thursday afternoon."

"Fine, then." Harry stands in the doorway to Malfoy's bedroom, starkers. "I should go--"

Malfoy eyes him. "Or come back to bed and put that prick of yours to use again."

"Work, Malfoy. You've a job as well, you realise."

He gets two fingers flipped his way. "I could work from home--"

"Haversham would have your guts for garters," Harry points out, and Malfoy sighs and rolls onto his side, pulling the covers over his shoulder.

"Five more minutes," Malfoy murmurs. He raises his voice when Harry steps into the sitting room. "Don't forget to ward the Floo on your way out."

Harry shakes his head and reaches for his jumper and trousers, pulling them on quickly, then grabbing his jacket and pants, shoving the latter into his pocket. It's only after he steps into the green flames in the Floo, Superchunk's Slack Motherfucker blaring through the protectively charmed white headphones in his ears, and magic slingshots him into darkness that he remembers the wards.

Malfoy's going to kill him.

***

Draco doesn't even give a damn that Harry forgot the ward the Floo. He's in too good of a mood; he supposes a Sunday night of being shagged senseless will do that for a Monday morning. He eats a quick breakfast, then scans his wardrobe, thinking "boring, boring, boring" as he reviews all of the work robes lined up like the funeral clothes of his imagination. Sometimes he wishes he didn't have to go in to the bank in sombre tones of grey flannel, charcoal, muted greens and blues. He wishes he could wear feathers and gold lame, if he were feeling glam, or leather and latex if a fetish mood struck him. He doesn't even know what to wish for, exactly, but somehow the music in his life now makes him yearn for anything less boring

Singing along with Avicii on the radio, he selects a charcoal robe with a bit of green piping and a matching green tie to set off the crisp whiteness of his shirt. Breakfast is a mug of tea in the kitchen and some toast smeared with butter and plum jam, eaten over the kitchen sink to avoid sticky, jammy mishaps before Draco has to Floo to Diagon. After picking up the Prophet from the newsagent--Gringotts is much too cheap to pay for their departments to have papers for everyone and Draco hates reading anything soggy, warm, and smeared with the sweat of other hands--Draco jogs up the stairs between the leaning white columns, salutes the scarlet clad guard smartly, and walks through the heavy bronze door.

Even the towering marble counters and heavy eyes of the clerks can't oppress his spirits today. Draco turns aside from the main hall and takes a sharp left to the back stairs. There is a small alcove back here, on the way to one side of the middle offices, and today he hears voices muttering from the alcove side.

Always interested in potentially useful gossip, Draco stops short of the curve and listens. He still has seven minutes to make it upstairs to his desk before he is counted as tardy.

"I can't believe he wouldn't even agree to meet with us. WTV is one of the biggest things since the wireless…"

"I know, Kev. I do. But the goblins are conservative and I suppose we can't blame Mr. -- what was his name?"

"Haversham."

"We can't blame Mr. Haversham for being too cautious, I don't think. It is supposed to be difficult to secure financial backing."

"It's ridiculous! We are where they should be getting involved, at the ground floor of a new market. This is poised to go big, and we have the numbers to prove it."

Draco stares at the stone floor, eyes tracing the joins. He ponders walking around to the far side and going up from the left. He has the distinct feeling that if he pursues this path any further, Tony Goldstein and Kevin Entwhistle will try to involve him in the business are discussing. Does he really want to be tangled up in anything too modern for the head of his department? He can't afford to cross Haversham with an innovative idea and end up in pension funds, can he?

It only takes him a moment to make a decision.

"Kevin, Tony, how good to see you!" Draco steps forward in to the marble recess. "Would you'd like to come upstairs to my office for a chat? Perhaps the division head might even be available."

Sod it all. This is what Jimi Hendrix would have done. Well. If Hendrix had been a bored solicitor in a dull investments department, that is.

With his warmest smile in place, he shakes hands with Entwhistle and Goldstein, fully aware he may have just cocked up his entire career. At least that will please his father, low expectations met and exceeded and all.

Heart thudding, he leads his former classmates deep into the bowels of Gringotts.

***

Harry breaks his Wednesday night date with Malfoy, claiming a previously forgotten engagement. Instead he goes to the Burrow, where Molly and Arthur are decorating for Christmas. They won't ask questions, he knows, and there's something comforting about helping Arthur untangle garlands and straighten the tree in its bucket container.

"Thank you, dear," Molly says, squeezing his shoulder as she sets a plate of thick buttered bread and a bowl of beef stew beside him. "It's been too long since we've seen you."

A stab of guilt goes through Harry. It's not that he's avoided the Burrow; he just has found it difficult in recent months. All the reminiscing about the war this past May had been bad enough, but here, amongst the Weasleys, it was even harder for him. He couldn't talk about Fred and Ginny, and how much had been taken from them. From him. His mother and father. Sirius. Remus and Tonks. He barely sees Teddy even now; he supposes that puts him up for worst godfather of the year. He remembers Christmases and birthdays, so he's not a complete horror, but he can't sit with his fifteen-year-old godson and talk to him about his mum and dad. It's still too painful, after all these years. The whole godfathering gig's easier with Rosie. Most of her questions revolve around Quidditch, not losing her parents as a baby.

Sometimes he thinks about his own almost-was James. He'd be twelve now, and at Hogwarts with Rose. Perhaps Harry would have been buying him a Firebolt for this Christmas, against Ginny's laughing objections, and when Jamie unwrapped it, Harry would lean over and kiss the tip of his wife's nose, just the way she liked it.

An ornament shatters in Harry's hand, sending shards of red and silver glass tumbling to the floor.

"Everything all right in there?" Molly calls from the kitchen, and Arthur eyes Harry from the other side of the tree.

"Fine, darling," Arthur calls out, then he nods towards Harry's bleeding hand. "Best clean that up, son, before Molly sees it."

Harry vanishes the shards of glass, then makes his way upstairs to the loo. He washes the blood from his hand and dries it before casting an Episkey on the tiny cuts. They knit together, leaving behind a small constellation of pink lines beginning to fade into his skin.

When he steps out of the loo, the hallway's dark, save for a faint light shining from a door down at the end. Harry finds himself walking toward it, even though he knows he shouldn't, knows what he'll find.

The door creaks as he pushes it open. Ginny's room is still the same as it was when she'd moved out after Hogwarts. One wall is nearly covered in posters for the Cannons and the Harpies, and the bed is neatly made with Ginny's favourite yellow, pink and white quilt, the one her grandmother had made for her when she went into Hogwarts. There's a small Christmas tree on the desk, lit with fairies that shine against the silver balls and baubles and snowflakes that hang in the boughs.

Harry sits on the edge of the bed and reaches for the pillow, pressing it to his face. Perhaps he’s mad, or deluded, or both, but he swears he can still smell her, the scent of roses and lavender that she loved. His throat tightens. If he closes his eyes, he can almost hear her, laughing and singing Cast a Christmas Spell off-key as she decorates her own tree, the one she'd always insisted on having in the bedroom, both here and in their flat. She'd loved to lie on the bed in the dark, watching the fairy light cast shadows on the ceiling as they glimmered and flashed between the branches. Ginny had loved Christmas so damned much; it had been her favourite holiday, the one when the whole family gathered together the way Ginny adored, and when she was surrounded by her brothers and her mum and dad, she'd look at Harry from across the room, reach out her hand with a warm smile, and he'd find himself sitting on the sofa between her and George, listening to them banter and laugh. It'd felt like home.

He hasn't had a home in a very long time.

"It's hard, isn't it?" Molly says from the doorway. Harry lowers the pillow, though he still keeps it in his grasp. Molly's looking at the tree, her face weary and sad. "Every year I put it up. I know it's silly, really, but I feel like she's still here if I do. Like wherever she is, she'll be happy because this little light is shining here in her old room."

Harry understands. He does the same. He doesn't tell anyone, but there's a small tree on his bedside table, the only bit of Christmas he lets into the flat, because she needs it. Somehow he knows this.

Molly looks back at him. "She was my baby girl. She'll always be my baby girl." Tears shine on her wrinkled cheeks. "Harry--"

He goes to her, wraps her in his arms. "I know," is all he can say, but she nods and steps back, wiping her eyes.

"Look at me, all a mess. Arthur will be distraught if he knows."

"I won't tell him."

Molly pats his cheek and sniffles. "Thank you, dear. Now come downstairs, and I'll give you a slice of Battenberg cake. I know it's one of your favourites."

Harry squeezes her hand. "I'll be down in a moment." He looks around the room as Molly shuffles down the hall. "I'm sorry," he whispers, and he's not certain whom he's talking to--Ginny, perhaps, or Molly, or maybe even Malfoy.

He knows what he has to do though. He can't go on like this.

A soft Nox sends the fairies to slumber and the room grows dark again.

Harry closes the door behind him.

***

Draco lifts the enamelled lid and gives the coq-au-vin a savage poke with a serving fork. It nearly falls apart. Miles Kane snarls and sleazes from the stereo, urging some unknown lover to come closer. Draco wipes up a slosh of sauce that lands too close to the pushed-up sleeve of his grey cashmere jumper. At least he knows the bird's tender enough. It's almost Sunday, and he hasn't seen Harry since last Saturday, which has made him antsy and tense. Harry'd had some excuse to cancel Wednesday, although Draco can't remember what it was. All he knows now is that it's been far too long since he's seen him, and he's gagging for it. His nerves are thrumming, whilst his mind wonders when, exactly, he became addicted to shagging Harry.

He takes another sip from his glass and thinks about his meagre wine cabinet and how many bottles they'll go through tonight. This week has truly been the week from hell, and he needs this, here, a moment to himself with good food--maybe forget the food until later--decent wine, and lots and lots of frantic sex. The playlist on the stereo switches into OneRepublic and Draco finds himself singing along softly as he pulls two plates out of the cabinet and sets them on the table.

Haversham, as expected, had been outraged over Draco's treachery with the Entwhistle-Goldstein proposal. He'd worked himself up into an almost Shakespearean lather, giving Draco a bollocking in front of the entire department.

"To think, I brought you into this department, a snake in my bosom, to sully the good name of Gringotts investments." What an utter arse.

Draco had humbled himself carefully, made arguments about the timely nature of the matter, and even apologised for sending the proposal in advance of Haversham's approval to the top office, but it was no use. He's been stripped of his nameplate and has been writing out archive copies of grants and bequests since Tuesday. His fingers are positively numb from the repetitive torture of it. Haversham's threatening to send him to pension funds next week, and even had the stones to lay a payment due notice on his desk for eleven quills and twenty-seven clips, the begrudging bastard.

The Floo flashes, and Draco feels the pull, low in his stomach. Harry's here, and it's all going to be fine. He leans a hip against the counter, wine glass between his fingers, a small smirk on his face. Finally.

"In here," he calls out unnecessarily. He just enjoys saying it.

Harry's hair is mussed as he comes into the small, warm room, and he looks delicious. His eyes wander about, fixing on the oven. "Smells good," he says rather absently. A Maître Gims' ballad echoes from the sitting room, syncopated drums and piano twining around the melodic French rapping.

Draco steps forward, boldly leaning in to nose at Harry's neck. "You smell better."

The hands on his chest are a bit of a surprise, in that they are pushing him away, not pulling him closer.

"Malf--Draco. Let's sit down."

Draco follows Harry to the small table next to the window, set with good china and a spare pair of his mother's silver candlesticks that he knows she doesn't miss, not too much at any rate.

"Aren't you well?" Draco finds himself asking, almost kicking himself for how stupid it sounds in the quiet room. He's going on social memory here, a bit shocked by the vacuum of emotion around Harry.

Harry sighs. "Yeah. I mean, I guess."

Draco waits and lifts his wine glass to his mouth. He can barely taste it. That sentence has a tail that he can hear, a tail with a heavy presence in the room, threatening to smash the peace to bits.

"You guess what?" Draco asks finally, when Harry looks out the window and doesn't say a thing.

Harry stands up then, his chair scraping across the worn wooden floor. "I can't do this anymore, Malfoy."

Draco blinks, his entire body stilling, his fingers tightening on the bowl of his glass. No. This can’t be happening. Not tonight. He manages to say, "Very well. Perhaps you could explain what you mean with this?"

Harry gestures roughly with a hand between them. "This--us--this," he says, without really explaining.

But Draco knows exactly what he means, exactly what is happening here on this shitty, shitty Saturday night of the week from absolute fucking hell. His blood runs a little cold, then, icing his heart enough that he can speak.

"If you mean," he says, an eyebrow raising perfectly, and Draco’s never been more grateful than now to have grown up Slytherin, "with that touching little display of eloquence that you no longer require any sort of attachment to me, then rest assured. This was only supposed to be fun. You are under no obligation from my part."

Harry pauses then, wavering, eyes searching and focusing on Draco's face. Draco can feel the intensity of his scrutiny, but he’s certain not even Harry can see how deeply this is destroying Draco. Not that Harry would care. They never do. His one consolation is that this time, his life isn’t being upended by a cheque from his father’s Gringotts account.

Draco laughs, a bit brittle but hell, he's given worse performances. "Would you like a rough shag before you go or would you just like to get the hell out?"

He shrugs, the Gryffindor bastard. He actually shrugs, almost caving right there on the floor. Draco can't tell Harry's mood any longer, can't even tell his own, truth be told. He only knows he has to survive a few more beats with his spine intact.

"Right, then. Well, the Floo is over there. Thanks ever so--it was certainly fun to fuck an old nemesis. I'm glad we've got this out of our systems."

Harry blinks. "Draco--"

Draco sets his glass down on the table so hard that the base cracks when it hits the handle of a knife. He swears loudly, then breathes in deeply to recover his poise. "Don't you fucking 'Draco' me, Potter. And please don't let me keep you any longer."

Harry wavers for a moment, then turns and walks to the Floo. Draco keeps his shoulders up until he sees the flash of green, then runs to the hearth and throws too large a handful in, howling Pansy's name before sinking onto the rough brown stones.

Fuck this week frontways, crossways, and upside down. Fuck Potter and his stupid, gorgeous arse and his ridiculous hair. Fuck anything that made Draco think that this was special, that he was special, that life would be anything better than the shit it always is. Fuck it all.

When Pansy comes through the Floo, he falls into her arms, his whole body shaking as she whispers into his hair.

Nothing ever changes. Not for Draco fucking Malfoy.

***

"Are you all right?" Dennis asks when he comes into work Tuesday morning.

Harry just snarls at him and stomps back into the office before coming back out and snapping, "Where the fuck is Ron?"

Dennis shrugs. "He didn't come in on Sunday. Not that you'd notice because you weren't here either, and I had to close early so I could make it to my WWN shift--"

Harry slams the office door shut in Dennis's face.

"Right then," Dennis says through the wood and glass, voice muffled but not enough that Harry can't still hear it. "I'll be up at the till where all the not-mad-slash-pissed employees work. And Harry?" Dennis pauses, but Harry doesn't answer. "You smell like you fell into a fucking vat of Ogden's."

Harry falls onto the sofa and reaches for his bottle of firewhisky. Fucking Creeveys. All of them. Even Colin, may his fucking soul rest in fucking peace. Harry tips his bottle up and drains it. He doesn't know how much he's drunk in the past two days. He doesn't care. He's been trying to get Ron since yesterday, but Ron's not answering his Floo. Or his owls. Or the Howler that Harry sent an hour ago shouting at Ron for disappearing from work. Or something--he's not sure it made sense, but who fucking cares.

Harry doesn't care. He pushes his glasses up and presses his palms to his eyes. They ache. Everything aches. His throat, his body, his head, his heart. Everything. He drops his hands, reaches for the empty bottle. With an angry groan, he hurls it at the brick wall, watching as it shatters into tiny glass shards. A flick of his wand gathers the glass and dumps it into the bin beside the desk. Harry clambers up from the sofa. He has to get out. He grabs his coat and pulls it on, then stomps out into the shop.

"I'm going out."

Dennis leans back as he passes. "Hopefully to take a shower? Perhaps a long one?"

Harry thinks about slamming the shop door behind him, but he doesn't want to fix the glass yet again. Camden High Street is cold and crowded and slick with the rain from earlier in the morning. Harry walks without thinking, following the streets in front of him as they become other streets. He walks for nearly an hour until he finds himself on Swain's Lane, just outside of the wizarding section of Highgate Cemetery. He leans against the iron gate, breathing hard, and then he pushes it open and walks in.

This was where he always intended to come, he supposes. Even if he didn't realise where he was heading.

Her grave is in the corner, beneath an ancient oak. It wasn't part of the Weasley plot, though Fred and her grandparents are buried nearby. Harry'd wanted her in a place she would have liked. Trees. Ginny'd always loved trees. Climbing them to their utmost branches, flying past them, ginger hair streaming behind her, sitting beneath them, curled up against Harry's side.

So he'd given her a tree. A beautiful one. Tall and strong, with wide shady branches that spread over her in the spring and summer and that wept copper leaves for her in autumn.

There's a bench beneath it, under winter branches stretched bare and black into the grey sky. Harry sits on the cold stone bench and stares at the name engraved on granite. Ginevra Molly Weasley Potter. Beloved wife and daughter. 1981-2002. The same age as his mother when she'd died, except, unlike his father, he'd had the misfortune to live past his wife's death. Without a child.

"I did it for you, Ginny." he says finally. His voice catches. "It wasn't right, Malfoy and me. Not with everything you went through--not after his father did this to you." His mouth trembles, and he presses his clenched fists to it. "I know what you'd say. It's not Malfoy's fault what his father does. Except--I don't know, Gin. If you hadn't had that book, if Voldemort hadn't weakened you--"

It's too silent here, away from the rumble of traffic and the rush of people. Harry pulls his coat tighter around himself. It's just him and the ghosts now. The spirits that haunt him in his dreams, in his memories. He looks away from Ginny's grave. A thrush perches on a bare tree branch, watching him. It tilts its head, then flies away.

Harry draws in a slow breath. "I don't know why it was you and not me. Hermione says the book had more of Voldemort's soul than I did. That it poisoned you more deeply than he did me. I'd do anything for it to have been me that died, not you and not James. But that didn't happen, did it? So I'm left here without you, and it's been eleven years now, Gin, and I still don't know what to do. I'm a tit, I know. And I like him. I like him too damned much, which is ridiculous really, since it's Malfoy. But it's for the best for me. He didn't even care, you know. He offered me a shag--one last time for our arrangement." Harry laughs bitterly. "Maybe I ought to have taken him up on it."

A breeze ruffles through Harry's hair, almost like a caress, almost like the touch of Ginny's fingers when she'd wanted to cheer him up after a long day at Auror training. Harry can't keep it in anymore. It's too much. Hot tears prick the back of his eyes, sharp and stinging, and he finally gives in, burying his face in his hands. Harry hates feeling. Hates it. Fuck Malfoy and his stupid, beautiful face. Fuck him and the way he makes Harry feel again. He was over that. He’d been over it, been comfortably numb for so long.

And now? He's entirely lost his way, and this time he doesn't think he's going to find it again.

So fuck Draco Malfoy, Harry thinks, as he wraps his arms around his body, shivering in the cold, rocking back and forth as the tears come for the first time in years. Fuck him. Please.

***

The elves have singed the stuffing again and really Draco doesn't want to complain, but the quail is dry as well. Is nothing in fact sacred? He shifts his napkin slightly to the side, wishing he could smuggle the whole damn thing off his plate and into the rubbish. Or perhaps the large copper urn near the hearth.

His father's too far gone into his claret to care and his mother is too polite to say anything at table, although the prim lines around her mouth say everything about her displeasure. He wouldn’t want to be an elf in the Malfoy kitchens tomorrow morning. Or ever, really. To be honest, he's amazed at how many stayed after the war--the Manor even received a few additions from other houses who'd lost their families. Draco supposes they’d nowhere else to go. Poor bastards. He knows how they feel.

With a sigh, Draco pokes gently at an over-roasted nut and settles on a simple bit of apple with a dry shred of meat. The claret is good, so perhaps he won't really have to remember mains this year.

"And are you enjoying the pensions department, darling?" his mother asks.

He nods, lying to his very socks. He loathes it, but he can't admit defeat publicly. "Rather. I suppose it's temporary--I've heard the top office say that there are new things afoot, but you know how slow goblins are."

Both of his parents laugh, and Draco shudders a little inwardly. He's such a coward, can barely stand himself when he's around them. He hadn't meant to be rude, but he can't even seem to help himself from saying awful things. Harry would have mocked him for that, and that thought sends a sharp tendril of pain deeper into his heart. He wishes he’d taken Pans up on her offer of Christmas dinner together, avoiding their respective families. But that would have caused more difficulties in the long run: he’s not certain who’s better at coercive guilt, his mother or Idgie Parkinson. He sighs again.

"In any case, it's good experience, I should think." Draco takes a bite of the dry fowl and nearly chokes, having to swallow more wine in a hurry to get it down.

His father looks up at him, grey eyes watery across the wide expanse of linen tablecloth. "It would be better experience if you had a wife.” Ah. And there it was. Draco manages not to roll his eyes. His father goes on. “You know you won't be promoted until you find a bit of a skirt to lift instead of a shirt."

Although he wants to protest that it's all under a robe in the end, Draco doesn't. His mother's eyebrows twitch upwards for a moment, and then she counters his father. "Lucius, darling, don't be absurd. You know how long children take these days to find the right witch or wizard to marry. It's nothing like when we were young."

"Marry 'em off early, I say, and let the affairs begin after the children. That will sort it all out. No one who has any idea what they want out of life would actually have a bloody brat, so get it out of the way early." Lucius waves his empty goblet rudely, evoking a moue of displeasure from Narcissa, and an elf comes rushing to fill it again--Dropsy? Draco thinks. That can't be right. In any case, he rather suspects the wine is watered or somehow altered. Mother's survived a number of years with Father's drinking habits.

Draco prods his quail again, wishing he could end this sorry display of pretend family festivity and just go home to get properly pissed out of his mind. "In any case, I'm awfully busy with work, but perhaps marriage is just around the corner."

Or death by quail bone, he thinks privately. Which might be less painful.

Narcissa looks over to the kitchen, and the plates are cleared almost immediately. The plates of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding come out and to Draco's great relief, it all looks positively moist. Although he suspects a glamour, he doesn't give a damn.

Launching into his plate with polite gusto, he almost misses his father's next verbal attack. But when his mother sets her water goblet down sharply, he reviews what he just heard mentally.

"I'm sorry, Father. I wasn't aware that you knew that word. I'm told that cock-smoking arse bandit is more effective as an anti-gay slur." Draco takes a bite of his roast, aware that he may have to abandon it in a hurry.

His mother raises herself very high in her chair. "Draco Lucius Thomas Malfoy!"

Draco chews carefully, then swallows. He looks up with brows raised in a studied expression of obedient concern. "Yes, Mother?"

His father chuckles into his claret. "I'll have to remember that one. Make sure I don't have to use it, won't you?"

Draco shrugs, sipping his wine. It's past time to leave. At least he managed one course further this Christmas. "A week ago, I might have fought you on that one, Father. Quite vehemently, in fact. But I've just stopped having rather brilliant homosexual relations with Harry Potter--which, might I add, so we’re perfectly clear, involved his cock and my arse--so I think you're safe for the moment. One does wonder what effect the news of that particular high-profile buggery would have had on the Old Slytherins."

Complete silence falls over the table, broken only by the rustle of Draco's napkin falling to the tablecloth and the slight slide of his chair leg on smooth, oiled wood as he stands up. "I'll be going, then. Don't bother to see me out. Happy Yule!"

As the spluttering and shouting begins behind him, punctuated by hissing and hushing from his mother, Draco strides through the low-lit rooms of the Manor at a rapid clip, robe swirling around his knees. He pauses only to liberate a spare bottle of whisky from library on his way out to the Floo. Now he can drink his pudding at Pansy's and hear about the horrors of Iphigenia Parkinson and the Unmarried, Ungrateful Daughter.

Happy Christmas indeed. Happy in that it comes but once a goddamned year.

***

"Open up, you wanker!" Harry shouts as he pounds on the door to Ron's flat. His words slur together. He knows Ron's home; Molly'd told him when she'd firecalled to see why Harry hadn't shown up for Christmas dinner. Harry'd frightened her, he thinks. He hadn't even realised it was Christmas; he doesn't even know if anyone's bothered to open the shop for the past few days. Fuck if he gives a damn. He slams his palm against the door again, then leans his forehead against the frame.

"Ron," he says bleakly. "Ron, I need you."

The door opens, and Harry staggers forward, only to be caught by a pair of thin, definitely feminine arms clad in Ron's threadbare bathrobe.

"Hermione?" Harry says incredulously, but she just pulls him inside the flat and closes the door. Ron comes out of the bedroom in nothing but pyjama bottoms, and Harry looks between them, taking in the scratches on Ron's shoulders and the dishevelled state of Hermione's hair. She flushes and tries to smooth it down. "Oh," Harry says, and then he frowns at Hermione. "Where's Rosie?"

She rolls her eyes. "With my parents."

"Oh," Harry says again, and then he turns his gaze on Ron. He rocks forward unsteadily. "I should sack you."

Ron catches him and settles him on the sofa. He glances at Hermione. "Tea?"

"Good idea," she says. "Kettle's still in the bottom cabinet?" Ron nods.

Harry leans forward and pokes a finger at Ron's bare chest. "You're shagging your ex-girlfriend."

"Not my ex any longer, mate." Ron pushes away Harry's finger. "How much have you had to drink?"

"Not enough for this," Harry says, waving a hand at Ron, then towards the kitchen. "She's still married."

"Briefly." Ron sits down next to Harry. "You didn't come for Christmas dinner."

Harry shakes his head. The motion makes the room spin, so he clutches the arm of the sofa. Too much firewhisky. "I couldn't."

"Mum said she thought you were upset about Gin."

"And Malfoy." Harry stares at the large freckle above Ron's right nipple. "I broke up with him, if that's what you could call it. I don't even know what it was, Ron. Shagging, mostly, but he made me want to talk, and no one can do that, except maybe you and Hermione."

Ron gives him a small smile. "Not even us, most of the time."

Harry leans his head back and closes his eyes. He's so fucking tired of it all. "But Malfoy and me--it didn't seem right, not with Gin--"

"Harry." Ron drops his hand on Harry's, and Harry's eyes flutter open. He looks over at Ron. "You have to stop with this. Ginny's the last person who would want you using her to keep from getting hurt. You don't live any more, mate. You barely exist. If she saw you like this, she'd kick your arse from here to Brighton, you know she would. Even when she was sick."

Harry just looks away. Hermione's bra is on the chair across from him, and a lipstick-stained wine glass is on the table beside it. He hasn't seen either of them this relaxed in years. If circumstance were different, he'd be congratulating them. Instead, he takes a deep breath and exhales. Ron's nose wrinkles, presumably at the fumes. "I feel responsible," Harry says finally.

"For Gin?"

"Yeah."

Ron shakes his head. "You're an idiot."

"I know." Harry rubs a thumb across the nubby brown weave of the sofa arm. Ron's flat is nicer than his; Ron actually cares about things like that. Harry knows, too, that Ron's been putting money into investments over the years. Not much, given what Harry pays him, but enough to build a decent nest egg. He looks at Ron. "I really should sack you so you'd have an excuse to go into proper business."

"You won't, and I won't," Ron says. "Because Dennis certainly won't tell you exactly what a twat you're being."

"I think he might be learning. He gave me a lecture on taking a proper shower."

Ron snorts. "Good for him." He leans back into the sofa, away from Harry. "Don't cock this up, Harry."

"What?" But Harry knows what he's going to say.

"You and Malfoy." Ron runs a hand through his hair. Harry'd never noticed how muscular Ron's shoulders were before. And so very freckled. "I'm not a fan of the bastard. You know that. But Circe’s tits, Harry, when he walked into the picture, you lit up like a fucking Christmas tree. You were good with him. You might not have been happy, but you were alive, and I haven't seen you like that since--"

"Since Ginny died," Hermione says as she levitates three cups of tea onto the coffee table. "And I agree with Ron, Harry. You had that spark again. I didn't even know it was due to Malfoy until Ron said--"

Harry turns a glare onto Ron, who shrugs.

"I thought you loathed him," Harry says to Hermione. "He called you Mud--"

"We all know what he called me," Hermione says calmly. "When we were at Hogwarts. But I also know that Draco Malfoy's the one who made certain Kevin, Tony and I were put forward at Gringotts for more funding for the WTV--"

"The what?" Harry asks. He's pissed, he knows, and has been for days, but he's certain he hasn't heard of that particular project.

Ron and Hermione exchange a glance. "Wizarding telly," Hermione says after a moment. "A visual version of the WWN. The Ministry initially funded it for internal use, but after they cut the budget, Tony, Kev and I thought maybe there might be public interest."

"And Malfoy agreed," Ron adds. "Because he knows my girl's brill."

"More like Kevin and Tony." But Hermione smiles at Ron. "It's not a done deal by any means. But if it hadn't been for Malfoy, we wouldn't have got this far."

"Yes, well," Harry says, with more than a touch of petulance, "Draco Malfoy's the bloody knight in fucking shining armour now, isn't he?"

Ron and Hermione look at each other again, in that way Harry remembers from school, that way that had always excluded him, made him feel alone and adrift from them both. He wants to throw something, hurt someone, but he doesn't. He just pushes himself off the sofa, trying not to pitch forward. "I'll be going then," he says, but Ron catches his arm.

"You'll sleep here, Harry. You're in no condition to be Apparating--or walking the streets," he adds when Harry starts to protest. "There's a blanket in the linen wardrobe, and the sofa's comfortable enough."

Harry lets himself be dragged back down onto the sofa and accepts a thick porcelain mug of Assam pushed into his hands. He's tired, worn out and utterly confused. Everything feels like it's too much; all he wants to do is fall asleep listening to Mumford and Sons on repeat and not dream of Draco Malfoy like he's done every night for a week. He sips his tea and pretends not to listen to Hermione and Ron whispering in the corner about how worried they are, what they might do to keep him from the edge again. Harry wishes they'd just let him freefall.

He doesn't protest when Hermione gently takes his mug from him and pushes him down on the sofa. There was something in the tea, he can tell, something that’s made him tired, something that’s made him feel like he’s floating. “You poisoned me,” he says.

“Only a little.” Hermione covers him with a knitted blanket, cosy and warm like only Molly Weasley knits. “You’ll survive.”

"I miss him," he says, looking up at Hermione, and she touches his shoulder. "I shouldn't, but I do."

"Sleep, Harry." Hermione's fingers brush his fringe back from his eyes. "It'll be better in the morning."

It's a lie; both of them know it, but Harry's grateful for it as he closes his eyes. Maybe it will be better. At least he's with his friends, safe and warm for the moment.

He dreams of long, pale thighs and blond hair, of bright shimmering laughs and rough kisses, and when he wakes up in the morning hard and gasping and more sober than he's been in days, he shoves his hand beneath the blanket, barely unzipping his trousers and working his hand inside, pulling and tugging, before hot spunk covers his fingers.

Harry falls back against the sofa cushions, Ron's prized glass-framed Hendrix concert poster looming above him. He stares out the window panes at the grey, rainy sky.

***

Draco is finishing page 1187 of the Federated Wizarding Fund, Rail Division documents. He's managed to update 30 names today and link the changes in fund fluctuation to recipient vaults. His petitions for interbank transfer are neatly printed in triplicate and prepared for submission. Although he misses Dennis' programme, and the upper storeys, and many things about his former windowless demesne, the first sub-basement is not so bad when you get used to it.

It's amazing what you can do with ambient glo-light charms. True, he has an old desk wedged into the corner of a large musty room filled with looming cabinet upon looming cabinet of files, but the paperwork's near at hand for research, and he's getting perverse pleasure out of using his excellent penmanship for filling out the endless series of forms. Also, he rarely has to see another being during his work day, and he finds he quite enjoys the solitude. As an added plus, he discovered a crate of quills and jettisoned desk supplies on his second day, and the towers he's been able to build are truly majestic. His sticking charms have kept them upright and intact. Even though he can't get WWN here, the somewhat frequent temper tantrums of the security dragon would have ruined his listening anyway, so he makes do with reverse-cast Muffliato and Silencing Charms.

Draco's just flipped the binder to page 1188 when he hears a cough quite near, perhaps only one or two cabinets away. He startles upright in his large wooden chair (fashionably old and a bit better after cleaning and repair charms Pansy gave him). There isn't supposed to be anyone down here--there's never anyone down here. Through the murk of the archive, he recognises Senior Counter Vardok peering at him, and he thinks he can make out shadowy forms beyond.

"Mr. Malfoy."

Draco stands; he's not sure why. "Yes. Present, sir."

Vardok nods and steps aside, and Draco thinks he must have inhaled too much dust or some funny spell residue wafted in from the vaults, because it looks as though the Head Goblin himself, Ragnok the Cautious, is down in the sub-basement. And everyone knows he prefers not to speak to wizards, or wand-bearers, as they are known derogatively at Gringotts.

Ragnok walks forward another step and eyes Draco up and down. Draco keeps his eyes fixed on the floor below the Head Goblin. "Are you the Mr. Malfoy who submitted the proposal for Wizarding live pictures?"

Draco inhales. He does hope he makes it out of this sub-basement alive. He's seen this scene in those Muggle crime programmes Pansy talked him into watching last summer, and it never ends well for characters in his position. "Yes, sir. About that--"

"Brilliant. Best investment we've seen in years." The Head Goblin's eyes gleam in the half-dark, and his wrinkled face might, might even be cracking the equivalent of a smile.

And then he steps forward and offers his hand. Draco leans down slowly, gently taking the tiny proffered hand, and they shake. Ragnok turns around to walk out, followed by Vardok and another senior goblin. Draco shakes his head, bemused.

Three large security goblins come in with a cart and at first Draco is afraid he's back in an unfavourable situation, but they seem more interested in his towers and desk effects. As he watches, rather stunned, they begin to crate his things. Gently.

"Er, what's going on?" he finally asks.

The goblin nearest him nods. "You're moving upstairs."

"I'm sorry. What did you say?"

He receives a quick grunt in return, as his files are turned and neatly rotated into the cart. "The Head Goblin wants us to move you to your new office."

"Does it have windows?"

They all laugh.

When he steps onto the thick marine blue pile of the rug and sees the view of Diagon Alley through the second-storey windows, he realises why.

He runs a finger over the shiny brass nameplate on his heavy oak desk, Draco Malfoy, Senior Investment Analyst. Perhaps working in the Entertainment division won't be so difficult after all. It certainly can't be as dreadful as Properties: no Haversham to begin with.

A smile curves Draco’s lips for the first time in days. Maybe, he thinks, this coming year might be a little bit brighter.

***

It’s late, almost midnight. Harry knows he should be sleeping, but instead he’s sprawled across the sofa, smoking a Dunhill and listening to Dennis count down the minutes to the new year on the WWN. He takes a swig from a bottle of lager--his fifth judging from the empty bottles scattered on the floor beside him. The only light in the room comes from the flickering fire in the hearth across from him and the faint, misty neon glow from the lights outside the rain-streaked window.

He hasn’t seen Ron for almost a week. Hasn’t seen anyone, to be honest. Hasn’t been off this sofa except to eat and to piss and to answer the Floo when his deliveries of beer and takeaway come in. He supposes he could go downstairs and at least make certain the shop is open, but he can’t be arsed to care. He’s tired--bone-weary, in fact, in a way that he hasn’t been since the war ended, since Ginny died.

Ginny.

Harry draws in a ragged breath and exhales a gasp of grey smoke. That wound’s opened again, raw and jagged and deep. He misses her. Hermione had always said that Harry hadn’t really grieved that year he’d spent in a drunken stupor, and now he thinks she’s right. If he had, it wouldn’t be this painful now. This feels like his soul’s bleeding out, oozing with all the pain and grief he’d drunk away during those months.

And then there’s Malfoy on top of it all. Draco. Harry sits up. His head aches. He sets the bottle of lager on the side table, stubs the Dunhill out in the overflowing ashtray, and runs his hands through his hair.

That morning at Ron’s flat, Hermione had brought him another mug of tea before Ron had clambered out of bed, this one without the bitter tang of a sleeping potion. She’d handed it to him and pulled her dressing gown tighter and said calmly, “You have a choice to make. You can either pull yourself together and live the life Ginny would want you have, or you can spend the rest of your years rutting around and running away the moment you start to feel something for someone.” At his protest she’d held up a finger. “I know you, Harry Potter. You feel something right now for Draco Malfoy. What, I haven’t the foggiest, but when someone starts to break through those walls you’ve thrown up, the first thing you do is push them away. And maybe this isn’t some grand romance. Maybe it’s just sex the way you seem to think it is. But he’s made you feel again, and that’s terrifying to you.”

Harry’d just looked at her over his mug, unable to protest, unable to tell her that, yeah, Draco Malfoy made him feel alive again, and yeah, that scared the fucking shit out of him. He doesn’t have to, he’s sure. It must be written all over his face.

She’d touched his hand. “It’s not a betrayal to her,” she’d said, her voice soft. “I know you miss her. I miss her too. Every day. Even after all these years, sometimes I want to Floo her just to hear her voice, just to make her laugh about some ridiculous thing that’s come up at work. But Ginny’s dead, Harry. She’s not going to walk back through your front door like nothing’s happened. She’s not going to ever be part of your life again. And if I know Ginny--and I do, dearest, I still do, just like you do--she would be utterly annoyed at how bitter and angry you’ve become. She would never want this for you. You know that.”

And he does. He absolutely knows that Ginny would storm into his flat right now, hair wild around her shoulders, and throw the nearest thing at hand at his head, knowing he’d catch it, and then she’d tell him in no uncertain terms exactly what a selfish, self-righteous twat he was being.

Harry stands up and walks over to the mantel. He runs a fingertip along the silver frame that holds his wedding picture--Ginny in a flowing, gauzy white dress with white roses and violets woven into her caught-up ginger curls, laughing as she holds on to his arm. She turns a soft look onto the Harry beside her, and Harry can remember how terrified and thrilled he’d been that day, in his black cutaway robe and dark purple tie. They’d thought then they’d beat her cancer, were so certain of it, whatever the Healers might say. So young. So invincible. They’d made it through a war, after all. This was just the next adventure.

“Gin,” he says, and she looks up at him from the frame as if she can hear him, even though he knows she can’t. He’s tried so often to talk to her this way. It’s never worked. She’s beautiful, though, in her dress. “What do I do?” he asks, and she just arches an eyebrow at him before she looks back to her smiling Harry.

Harry feels so damned old. So damned tired. Hermione’s right, he thinks. It isn’t guilt he feels at betraying Ginny’s memory. It’s fear. Fear that it’ll all happen again, that he’s destined to lose everyone he cares about. It’s easier to push them away. Easier to make himself unloved and unloveable.

With one last look at Ginny, he walks back to the sofa and picks up his discarded bottle of lager. He drains it, then carries it and the other four over to the bin and sets them in carefully, one by one.

The clock in the hallway strikes midnight just as Madeleine Peyroux’s Love and Treachery echoes slow and bittersweet from the radio. Christ, Dennis.

Happy fucking New Year.

Harry sighs, lights another fag, and wonders where the hell Draco is.

***

Draco stands out on the balcony of Pansy’s flat, champagne flute in hand, looking out over the shimmering London skyline from the centre of Canary Wharf, thoughts filled with the ache of Harry bloody Potter. He misses the bitter bastard, much as he's loathe to admit it. Misses the way he smells faintly of fags, sandalwood and lemongrass, misses the way his hands move across Draco's bare skin as they're lying in bed, misses lazy Sunday morning brunches in Harry's kitchen, him with the Prophet, Harry with NME or TimeOut, Coltrane playing from the stereo in the sitting room. Circe. Not even Stewart hurt this badly.

Fireworks are sparkling over the Thames, and from behind him, he can hear the nauseating cheer of Pansy’s partygoers wishing one another the happiest of new years. It’s cold out here, twenty-nine storeys above the curl of the river, and Draco casts a new warming charm. He doesn’t turn around when the French door behind him rasps open, letting out a blast of warm air and cheerful chatter that quickly muffles when the door closes again.

“I’m fine, Pans,” he says, and she comes up behind him, slipping her arms around his waist. He pulls her to his side. “You needn’t worry.”

She takes the champagne flute from him and sets it aside on the granite and glass table she loves to serve brunch on during the summers. “It’s just that you’ve not seemed as cheerful as someone who’s just been wildly promoted might be.”

Draco shrugs. “Perhaps it’s the recognition of great responsibility?”

“No more office supply towers?” Pansy gives him a small smile. Pearlescent fairy dust glimmers across her collarbones in a burst of light from an enormous pinwheel exploding in the sky.

“Dear God, woman, that’s madness.” Draco rests his hand against the small of her back. “There’s always time for classic artwork. I’m having my assistant schedule it into my diary. An hour a day.” He looks over at her. “Imagine me with an assistant.”

“Imagine you with a diary,” Pansy says dryly. “You do realise they’ll force you to keep it. So you should definitely schedule one or two very long, terribly boozy lunches per week with the beauty editor of Witch Weekly. For publicity purposes, of course.”

Draco laughs, too bright, too sharp. “I think I can manage that. Every time Haversham passes me in the hallway now, I think he’s about to have an apoplectic fit, you know. A Malfoy in a senior position? Merlin forbid.” He scowls. “He’d been holding back most of my reports, I discovered. Only let the weaker ones through, that arse. When I passed him yesterday coming out of old Ragnok’s office, all he could do was splutter.”

“I shouldn’t be surprised if the horrid old bastard ends up in St Mungo’s. That much hate has to take a toll on the heart.” Pansy spits out the words, full of spite. Draco can’t really blame her.

“All’s well that ends well, I suppose?” Draco leans his head against her shoulder. Pansy strokes his hair lightly. He refuses to admit even to Pansy that he’d actually danced gleefully around his desk on his second afternoon in the new office to Creevey playing the Ting Tings on his WWN programme. Not even Pansy’s amused tolerance for his recent eccentricities would extend that far. Then again, if she knew how high Creevey’s ratings were--and thus how financially profitable he was for the WWN--she might just change her mind. That particular discovery had certainly interested his goblin overlords. “Surely Father can’t object to a high-level Gringotts position, even if he can find fault with the rest of my life.”

Pansy smiles, turning her head to press a light kiss against his forehead. “Give him time. Somehow he’ll tie it into your failure to find a proper wife.”

Draco tenses. “I can assure you, he’ll be waiting quite a while for that,” he says, and his voice is tight and bitter. He pulls away from Pansy and stares out over the black curve of the Thames. His mother had written him twice this week, begging him to come back home to talk to his father. Each time he’d Incendioed the note, then sent the ashes back in a small linen bag tied to the leg of his mother’s owl, Hermes. He hasn’t heard back since.

They’re silent for a moment, then Pansy turns her back to the fireworks. They light up her dark hair and tight silver dress. Her hand settles over Draco’s. “Is it still him?” she asks, and Draco doesn’t even bother to pretend not to know whom she’s talking about. It’s useless to keep up the farce around Pansy. He’d spent most of Christmas night drinking on her sofa, curled up against her side.

He nods.

Pansy sighs and strokes her thumb along Draco’s wrist. More fireworks explode in a spiral of gold and green. “You care too much.”

“I shouldn’t.” Draco watches a crossette crackle into life, leaving behind brilliant red streams in the sky, which slowly fade as another firework bursts inside them. “It’s a terrible idea.”

“It will go away,” Pansy says.

A flash of anger goes through Draco. He doesn’t want this ache to go away, doesn’t want to lose that faint, fleeting connection with Harry--never again Potter; he’ll always be Harry now. Draco shoves his cold hands into the pockets of his robe. “Eventually.”

Pansy just looks at him for a long moment. “Draco,” she says, but Draco shakes his head.

“Don’t, please.” He glances over at her. “Don’t humour me; don’t pity me; don’t think me a fool. I know exactly how idiotic this is, and I know one day I’ll look back at this and recognise it for the ridiculousness it is. But for now…”

“I know,” she says. She looks back into the flat; Draco follows her gaze to Blaise, flirting outrageously with the French girl Theo brought as his date. A look of pain crosses Pansy’s face. She catches a glossy red lip between her teeth. “Sometimes you can’t help but be a fool.”

Draco touches her shoulder. She pulls away, gathering herself together. The raw emotion on her face smoothes out into a charmingly placid mask. Draco wonders if he does the same as effectively, if he makes that shift from grief to calm in such a smooth manner. They’d all been taught to; keeping one’s vulnerabilities hidden to all but one’s most trusted intimates was a life lesson quickly learned in one’s first year in Slytherin House.

He leans in and kisses her cheek. “He’s the fool,” he says quietly, and Pansy gives him a faint nod. He’s certain she doesn’t believe him, but it’s true. Blaise Zabini has no damned idea how lucky he would be to have Pansy by his side. Idiot.

“You’ll be fine?” she asks. “No throwing of oneself over the balcony in a melodramatic fit of gloom?”

“I’m fairly certain your charms would prevent that, but no, I have no intention of giving Potter that particular guilt to take on. I’m afraid Our Lord and Saviour Martyr would enjoy it a bit too much.”

Pansy lets a genuine smile show. “I do love you,” she says. “Terrible pity you’re so bent.”

“Isn’t it just?” He swats her hip. “Go in. Flash some tit Blaise’s way. I’ll be in shortly.”

The door closes behind her again, and Draco’s left alone in the cold and the dark. The fireworks fade away, and he sits in an uncomfortable iron chair, watching as the city sinks back into silence.

Draco picks up his champagne flute and quaffs the last swallow. “Happy New Year,” he murmurs.

He laughs bitterly.

***

The Manic Street Preachers are blaring from the speakers in the shop, and Harry sings along with Motorcycle Emptiness as he files new LPs in the album bins. He’s been back for a week now, having dumped all the liquor and beer in his flat down the drain on New Year’s Day. He’d come downstairs the next day to find Ron opening up the shop. They’d just stopped in front of the door and exchanged a long look, then Ron had said, “Feel better?” Harry’d just shrugged, and Ron’d nodded, then handed Harry the steaming milky tea he was carrying in a paper tray. They’d gone in, Ron drinking his coffee, and Dennis had Flooed in a few minutes later, taking the last cup in the tray with a yawn.

Neither of them had said anything to Harry. He’d found out offhand that they’d taken turns opening the shop, and they’d both looked uncomfortable enough that he’d just said thanks and let it be.

He goes back into the back office to get another stack of LPs to put out, and when he comes back out, now singing along to the Manics’ Stay Beautiful, he nearly drops them all. Draco’s standing in the centre of the shop, looking awkward and unsettled. Harry sets the LPs down and looks at him, his heart thudding. Draco’s wearing a suit, but the cut of it’s wizarding, not Muggle, with its odd high collar and frock coat lines. Harry hates the way it looks on him, as if he’s lost his Draco who moved so comfortably in jeans and jumpers.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, and judging from the way Dennis and Ron look at him, he’s barked it out too sharply. He glares at them both. “Turn that down.”

Ron scowls, but he reaches over and turns the volume knob on the stereo.

When Harry looks back at Draco, he’s stiff and his mouth’s a tight line. “I’m not talking to you, Potter, never fear.” Draco glances over at Dennis. “I’m here to see you, actually.”

“Me?” Dennis’s voice squeaks slightly. His eyes dart towards Harry. “Look, mate, I don’t know what impression you--“

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Draco sounds exasperated. “I’m not here to ask you out, you fool. I’ve a business proposition to discuss.” He pulls a small card from his pocket and hands it over to Dennis. “Do you know how much money the WWN is making off you right now?”

Dennis turns the card over in his hands. “No?”

“A great deal,” Draco says. He doesn’t seem to even notice Harry’s standing there. "The advert rates for even your repeat programmes are higher than half of their new programming. Your listenership is the highest outside of Glenda Chittock's Witching Hour. And I'm assuming, given you're still working in this shop--" Harry tenses, but Draco doesn't even look at him. It's as if he doesn't even exist. "No offence, but the WWN can't be paying you what you're actually worth."

Dennis looks shell-shocked. "Highest outside of the Witching Hour? Really?"

"Are you listening to me, Creevey?" Draco asks, snapping his fingers in Dennis's face. Harry glances at Ron, who looks as astounded as Harry feels. "I'm offering you a chance to take your audience into a new medium: wizarding telly. Just ask Weasley over there. His girlfriend--or am I not to call her that until the divorce is finalised?--is finishing the charms necessary to broadcast across the nation by June at the latest. Ground floor, Dennis. Are you in or out?"

Harry looks back at Ron. "Did you know about this?"

Ron shakes his head. "I mean, Hermione mentioned being close, but nothing about Dennis." He glares at Draco. "And how'd you know about--"

"One does small chat in meetings, Ronald," Draco says. He doesn't take his eyes off Dennis. "And I've had several with her, Entwhistle, and Goldstein recently."

Dennis sits down on the stool behind the counter, still clutching Draco's card. "I don't understand."

"You will." Draco pulls out his gloves from his pockets and tugs them on. "Firecall my assistant and set up a meeting for next week. We'll discuss further details. Now, if you'll excuse me--"

"Malfoy," Harry starts to say, but there's a crack of Apparition, and he's gone. Ron, Dennis, and Harry look at each other silently.

Ron breaks first. "You should firecall," he says. "Whatever Malfoy has planned--look, I can tell you Hermione thinks this will be big. They're talking about showing Wizengamot sessions on telly and Quidditch matches and--"

"And me." Dennis glances down at the card. "Merlin's left ball."

"Right one, also," Ron agrees.

Harry takes the card from Dennis. Draco Malfoy, Senior Investment Analyst, Gringotts Wiizarding Bank, Diagon Alley, London, complete with Floo address. He drops it back on the counter. "I need to go."

"Harry." Ron catches his arm as Harry brushes past. "Don't do anything rash."

"When do I ever?" Harry pulls away and Summons a barely used wizarding cloak from the back office. "I'll be fine. I just want…" He takes a deep breath as he pulls the cloak around his shoulders. Its weight feels odd; even the handful of times each year that he ventures past the Leaky and into Diagon, he seldom wears wizarding clothes.

Ron looks at him. "What?"

"I don't know," Harry admits. "But I need to go."

The last thing he sees as he Apparates away is Ron's worried frown.

***

A commotion in the antechamber of his office causes Draco to glance up from his stacks of statistics. His head hurts, his throat's dry, and he's listening to Coldplay, for Christ's sake. He hates Coldplay. Mostly. Except, evidently when he's feeling pathetic. With a flick of his wand, he switches the newly installed stereo in the corner to a Bastille track. He blames Harry, of course. It'd taken everything he had not to look his way. It doesn't seem to matter that Harry'd ripped his heart out, stomping on it with hobnail boots. Draco'd been aware of his every move, of his every breath. And if he was honest with himself, he could have spoken to Creevey anywhere else but there. He could have owled, for Christ's sake. There was nothing that required him to go in person. Nothing except that pathetic need to see Harry again, to find out if he was doing as badly as Hermione had implied.

Not that she'd done so directly, mind. Hermione soon-to-be-Granger-again was nothing if not discreet--and protective of her Potter. He supposes it was more what she hadn't said: that Harry was well, that he was happy. Instead it was Harry's taking some time to himself, which Draco read as code for Harry's not speaking to any of us again. Draco hates that he knows this about Potter and his friends, having only spent six weeks in their company. It's only after they were done that Draco realised how much Harry had told him--not in words, per se, but in actions. In the way he touched Draco, in the words he left unspoken. Somehow, in six short weeks he's learned to speak Potter. He wonders if he'll ever forget.

He puts his quill down when the door to his office bursts open.

"You can't go in there," he hears his assistant Nicholas say, just before the open door is filled with Harry Potter. In a wizarding cloak, no less. Draco blinks. He doesn't think he's seen Harry in wizarding clothes since those few years just after the war.

Draco stands slowly, his palms flat against the desktop to keep their shaking less visible. Never show weakness, his father's voice echoes in his head. Draco'd had that drummed into him at the vulnerable age of six when his beloved Kneazle, Smidge, had died and he'd spent an entire day sobbing into his pillow. "It's fine, Nicholas," he says, knowing how nervous the lad was about his position. Nicholas is the grandson of Dirk Cresswell, former Head of the Goblin Liaison Office who'd been killed in the war alongside Draco's Muggleborn uncle, Ted Tonks. In a rare gesture of--well, perhaps not sentimentality, but rather beneficence, the boy'd been brought into Gringotts employ after leaving Hogwarts last June. He was utterly terrified at having been suddenly moved from the comfort of the mail room to Draco's antechamber.

He meets Harry's gaze. "Do you require assistance, Potter?"

Harry stops, brought up cold by the chill in Draco's voice. "I wanted…" He looks ridiculously adrift. "I wanted to talk to you." Draco looks past him at Nicholas and nods; Nicholas reaches for the door and closes it behind them.

"Then talk." Draco walks out from behind his desk to the liquor cabinet in the corner of his office. He uncorks a crystal decanter of whisky and pours a finger into a small glass, draining it immediately. He doesn't offer Harry any.

Behind him, Harry's silent. As usual.

"Use your words, Potter," Draco snaps, not turning around. "Or stop wasting my time. I've a meeting with Senior Counter Vardok in half an hour, and you do know how annoyed goblins get when they're made to wait."

Another beat of silence, then Harry says, "Why Dennis?"

Draco manages to keep his shoulders from slumping. He sets his glass back down on the cabinet counter. "I thought I'd explained myself quite clearly. He's a good investment." He turns back towards Harry. "It turns out I'm very, very good at calculating risks and payoffs, Potter. See this office? The goblins agree. And Dennis Creevey, should he agree, will provide a very, very good return on our investment."

Harry watches him, his hands fisted in the dark fabric of his cloak. A long, painfully fragile stillness stretches out between them, then Harry turns, walks over to the tall, paned windows that look out over the busiest stretch of Diagon. He stares down at the crowd, hurrying from offices to find lunch or do a bit of quick shopping before making their way back to desks and parchments. “It’s strange to be back,” he says after a moment. “I rarely come to Diagon anymore.”

“Is that a national tragedy?” Draco asks, perplexed. “One worth storming through my office door?” He honestly doesn’t know what Harry wants right now; his fluency in Potter only goes so far. “Is this about Creevey? Because I can assure you, should you be having some idiotic fit of misguided jealousy, I have no intentions on his virtue, merely his investment potential.”

He doesn’t get an answer. Instead, Harry stands at the window, his fingertips pressed against the sill. Finally he sighs. “Am I?”

“Are you what?” Draco’s beginning to become exasperated. “Words, Potter. They’re useful for a reason.”

That earns Draco a sharp glare, which oddly relaxes him some. Annoyed Potter he understands. Harry turns, leaning against the window frame. Winter sunlight shines in his hair, illuminating the few strands of grey forming at his temple. “Am I a risk or an investment?”

Draco’s mouth goes dry. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“You do.” Harry moves closer. Draco can see the swallow in Harry’s throat. “Me. And you. Do you think I’m a risk or an investment? I hear you’re very, very good at making that determination.”

Draco can’t move. Won’t move. Harry’s close now; Draco could reach out and touch him. He doesn’t. “I don’t know that I can say,” he says. His voice rasps.

Harry’s breath ghosts Draco’s cheek in a warm, soft puff. “What do you want me to be?” His mouth is close, so close that if Draco turned his head and leaned forward just a fraction, he could catch it with his own. He wants to. Merlin above, he wants to. And then he remembers Harry’s blank face when he’d stood in Draco’s flat and said I can’t do this anymore. His heart shudders with grief. Harry’d made his choice then.

“You’re a risk,” Draco says quietly. “And I can’t quite make myself believe that’s worth the payoff.” He steps away from Harry. “I don’t think I want to be just a fuck, Harry. Not with you.” Draco’s throat is tight; his hands clench, as he draws a shaky breath. “Perhaps I’m a fool for admitting this to you, but no one would believe you anyway. Malfoys don’t have feelings, do they?” He gives Harry a brittle, tight smile. “At least that’s what they all presume. So, perhaps it’s best if you go. I have work to do.”

“I don’t want you to be just a fuck,” Harry says, but Draco can’t believe him. They’re empty words.

Draco turns away, turns his back on Harry. “Just go,” he says, reaching for the whisky decanter again. “Please.”

Harry hesitates, and Draco can hear the rustle of his cloak as he raises his arm, then drops it again. “I missed you,” he says, and Draco’s heart tightens. “Not just the sex. You.

Draco doesn’t answer.

Harry sighs. “I’ll prove it.”

He waits, but Draco just pours another finger of whisky and downs it, silently.

When the door closes behind Harry, Draco sinks into one of the leather chairs in front of his desk, numb.

He doesn’t know what to do anymore. Perhaps he never did.

***

It's raining when Harry lays an armful of white roses on Ginny’s grave. He touches the cold, wet marble of the headstone; it stings his fingertips.

“I’m letting you go now, Gin,” he whispers, brushing back his damp hair from his forehead. “I think it’s about time. You’ll probably think me mad, but I might have feelings for someone. For Draco Malfoy, actually, and that’s as surprising to me as it is to you, but he makes me feel again, good things as well as bad. So I don’t know what might happen, but I think I might want to see. I hope that’s okay. I’ll still love you. Always. But maybe I’m ready to do some living again, yeah?”

A thrush flutters down from the bare-branched oak above, settling on the edge of Ginny’s headstone. It looks at him with bright black eyes, then ruffles its feather as it trills. Harry holds a finger out to it; the tiny bird hops towards him, wings brushing Harry’s fingertip, before it flies off, disappearing into the misty, grey sky.

With a suddenly lighter heart, Harry Apparates away.

***

Draco's in a foul temper. He knows it's his own damned fault. Greg had told him so tonight when he'd stopped by the old flat, hoping for a cheering or at least a good bottle of wine. Neither was to be had. Blaise was at hospital, filling in for a Healer who'd been unexpectedly struck by a stray curse a patient hopped up on Alihotsy Draught had cast in the middle of Casualty. Greg had poured him a mug of blackest of black teas, augmented with a splash of firewhisky--Greg's cure-all for any emotional conundrum his friends might have. It never works, and besides, Draco prefers his firewhisky pure.

Not to mention, Greg's version of comfort is cold, to say the least. When Draco'd begun to complain about Potter, yet again, Greg'd sighed heavily, taken away Draco's half-drunk tea and drained it himself, and then, having wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, just looked evenly at Draco and said, "If you fancy Potter all that much, then tell him, Draco. It's not as if it's a state secret; Vince and me figured it out ages ago, what when you were telling us to follow him all the time. We might have been thicker than most back then, but if we knew, then Blaise and Pans did as well. We're all just too polite to tell you." He'd utterly ignored Draco's horrified face, pouring himself another mug of tea, heavier on the firewhisky this time. "So, get off your arse and go tell him. It'll stop all your whinging, right?"

It'd taken all the self-control Draco had to push himself out of his chair with dignity rather than shrieking at Greg to shut his stupid, fat gob like he was twelve again. He'd managed to make it to the Floo and back to his flat before he'd exploded anything valuable enough that Blaise would have his balls. However, Draco can never tell his mother that grandmother's Parisian ashtray is nothing but a pile of crystal now. He supposes it's a good thing they're not quite on speaking terms at the moment.

He drinks straight from a bottle of Penfolds' shiraz, his shirt unbuttoned and untucked, his feet bare, listening to a melancholy Julie London croon about the pain of love. He contemplates never talking to Greg again, but that will never last, he knows. Greg will just shrug his wide shoulders and talk to Draco anyway, whenever he's around, and that'll defeat the whole damned purpose.

A crack of thunder shakes the panes in the windows and illuminates the dim sitting room in a flash of lightning. There's a pounding at the front door. Draco shoves himself off the suede sofa and pads to the foyer, wine bottle still in hand. He throws the door open, expecting Pans, given he's shut off the Floo for the night, and then he stills.

Harry's standing in his hall, soaking from the rain. Clutched in one hand is a single, perfect, creamy white rose.

"Hi," he says, a raindrop sliding from his fringe and running down the side of his cheek. His glasses are speckled wet. He holds out the rose.

Draco takes it without thinking. "What are you doing here?"

"Can I come in?" Harry asks.

With a shrug, Draco turns away, walking back into the sitting room. Harry closes the door and follows him. Draco flicks his wand towards the hearth and a fire sparks up. "Drying charm," he says to Harry, and when he turns back around, Harry's dry from head to foot, his cheeks pink in the process.

Draco drops back on the sofa, setting the rose on the coffee table, and takes a swig of wine from the bottle. "What do you want?" He doesn't expect an answer.

Harry sits next to him; he takes the bottle from Draco and drinks from it before handing it back. His eyes find Draco's, and they're warm and bright. "You."

Draco snorts. "Get out, Potter. I'm not buying tonight."

Harry just looks at him. "I'm an idiot," he says, and Draco can't disagree with that assessment. "And I'm not good with using my words. Not like you are." Again, no disagreement there. Draco raises the bottle in acknowledgment. "But…" And suddenly Harry's hesitant again. At least until he draws a deep breath and barrels on. "I think I fancy you. Actually," he amends, "I think I might more than fancy you, and that fucking terrifies me. Because you're you--"

"A Malfoy?" Draco can't keep the bitterness out of his tone.

"No." Harry leans forward, his elbows on his knees. His face is pale in the firelight. "Because you're full snark and venom and brilliance, and sometimes I can't even imagine I could keep up with you intellectually." He runs a hand through his hair, leaving it standing on end. "You're the Stevie Nicks to my Lindsey Buckingham, the Marianne Faithfull to my Mick Jagger, the Pattie Boyd to my Eric Clapton--"

"Why am I always the girl?" Draco snaps. He lifts the bottle to his mouth again. "All right, I'll give you Marianne Faithfull, but only because she's brill. Also, you do realise those are all doomed romances, yes?"

Harry takes the shiraz away from him and sets it on the coffee table beside the rose. "Passionate romances," he corrects, catching Draco's hand. He lifts it, pressing his mouth against Draco's fluttering pulse.

"Unfair, Potter," Draco murmurs as Harry pushes his sleeve up, his tongue tracing along Draco's forearm, over the Mark.

"I don't intend to play fair tonight," Harry says, nipping at Draco's skin. "It's not just that I want you. I think I might need you." He looks up at Draco then, and Draco's heart skitters at the heat in Harry's eyes.

Draco touches Harry's cheek. "What about the compelling narrative of your tragic, bitter widowerhood?"

Harry turns his head, kisses Draco's palm. "I think it might be time to leave that behind." He reaches for Draco, pulling him across his lap. His hand slips beneath Draco's shirt, smoothing over his skin. "It won't be easy. I still love her."

"You wouldn't be Potter if you didn't." Draco lets his fingers slide through Harry's hair. "And your son?" He watches Harry closely.

A flicker of grief crosses Harry's face. "That will always hurt. I'm sorry--"

Draco stops him with a kiss. "Don't be." He draws back, letting his shirt slip off his shoulders. "I'm not a monster, Harry. You never have to apologise to me for missing them." The rumpled white cotton pools on the floor. Draco cups Harry's face in his hands. "This could go spectacularly badly."

"It could." Harry's fingers are already working on Draco's belt. "Marianne."

"Don't try to flatter me," Draco says, but he lifts his hips so Harry can undo his trousers. Harry twists them so that Draco falls onto the sofa, his hair catching on a cushion, and he jerks Draco's trousers and pants off, tossing them onto the floor. Draco cries out when Harry's mouth slides over the head of his already swelling cock.

This is what he wants more than anything or anyone else. Harry's hands on him, his mouth. He grabs at the sofa as he pushes his hips up, and when Harry's tongue trails down his length, over his aching balls and flicks lightly at his arsehole, Draco shudders, spreading his thighs wide, not giving a damn how wanton and needy he seems. "Please," he says, and Harry's tongue slides over him again and again, and once more again, making Draco's whole body tremble.

And then Harry's gone, and Draco's arse is slick with cooling spit. "Harry," he says.

Harry's fingers touch his face, press between his lips, and Draco licks and sucks them eagerly as Harry fumbles, one-handed, with his own clothes, with something in his pocket. When Harry pulls his fingers free with a wet pop and a scrape of Draco's teeth across his fingertips, he slides out of his t-shirt, kicks off his jeans. And then his wet fingers are in Draco, one at first, and there's the slick drizzle of oil over Draco's balls and then smoothed into Draco's hole by the press of Harry's second finger.

Draco reaches for Harry's shoulders. He has one foot on the back of the sofa, the other on the floor, and he's rolling his hips with each push of Harry's hand against his arse.

"I missed this," Harry says roughly, and his glasses are gone, Draco realises, because he can see those bright, beautiful green eyes. Draco gasps when Harry's fingers twist, and Harry smiles above him. "Good?"

"Brilliant," Draco says. He loves the feel of this, loves the feel of Harry inside him. "More."

Another finger pushes in, and Draco hisses at the burn. "I'm not going to last long," Harry says, and Draco reaches down and shoves at Harry's pants.

"Then fuck me," he says, and the fingers are gone. Harry's prick is against his hole, pressing in deeper, deeper, deeper than his fingers ever went. Draco's hands flex on Harry's heated skin; his cock jerks between their bodies.

His body arches against Harry's. He groans. Harry's breath is hot against his jaw, and ragged with each push of his hips into Draco's arse.

"Draco," Harry says, and his thrusts quicken. Draco closes his eyes and feels it, feels Harry deep inside of him, feels the slip and slide of his own cock between his and Harry's stomachs, so quick and slick. "Look at me. Look at me, Draco."

It's almost too much. Draco's eyes flutter open, and he sees impossibly green eyes above him, and he grabs at Harry's shoulders again, letting his fingernails drag over Harry's damp skin. He watches as Harry pushes in as deep as he can, then holds, his body trembling, his eyes unfocussing, his mouth opening in a near-silent gasp, and Draco thinks he's never seen anything as fucking beautiful as Harry Potter coming over him, filling Draco's arse with hot spunk as his hips jerk forward.

Harry falls forward, barely catching himself, and Draco writhes beneath him, pushing at Harry until they both roll over and Draco's on top of him, his arse slick from Harry's come, rutting desperately against Harry's belly until he tenses and shudders, thick streaks of spunk covering Harry's skin.

They lie together, breathing hard. The only other sounds in the room are the steady tap of rain against the windowpanes and Julie asking the world to call her irresponsible, unreliable, undependable too. Draco buries his face in Harry's neck; Harry strokes his fingers through Draco's hair, letting them trail along his nape.

"If you break my heart again," Draco says finally against Harry's skin, "I will castrate you. Are we understood? This doesn't have to be forever, but you can't do what you did last time--"

Harry kisses him. "I won't."

"I'm serious." Draco rises up and looks down at Harry. "I don't care if you're Harry Potter--"

He's cut off by another kiss, longer and slower and underscored with a promise. "I am, but I won't."

Draco nods and sits up, reaching for his wand and casting a cleaning spell on them both. "Then stay the night?" He stands and holds out a hand to Harry.

Harry's fingers close around his, tight and warm, and he lets Draco tug him to his feet. Draco leads him to the bedroom, then stops at the door.

"You're certain about this?"

"Entirely." Harry kisses Draco's knuckles.

With a small smile, Draco pulls him into the bedroom and shuts the door behind them.

***

No one, evidently, throws parties like the goblins, when one can coax their gold from them, and Draco's one of the best at manipulating Senior Counter Vardok into loosening his grip on the investment vaults.

Harry leans against the stone balustrade on the Gringotts rooftop garden. He's relieved to know the glass dome he, Hermione, and the dragon had shattered sixteen years ago has been perfectly repaired. A house elf bearing champagne flutes wanders past him, and he nicks a new glass, setting his empty one on the silver tray. It's warm for late June, and the peonies are heavy and fragrant in their pots. Across the garden he can see Hermione, gorgeous in a shimmering cream gown, the back draped open nearly to her arse, talking animatedly to the Minister. Ron's beside her in a dress robe, his hand on her waist, more intent on her than on Kingsley. They haven't yet moved in together; Hermione and Boot are still in the process of divorcing, and even Ron has to admit that'd be a bit beyond the pale, what with Rosie and all. But they've gone public in the past few weeks, and for once the Prophet's been focusing on them instead of Harry and Draco. Harry will never tell either of them, but it's a bit of a relief.

The cream of wizarding society are here at the WTV launch. Draco was right; the whole project has been embraced with delight by the wizarding world at large. Shops in Diagon and Hogsmeade can barely keep the sets in stock this week. Ron had just laughed when Draco'd mentioned that at dinner last night, saying, "Quidditch, mate. Never underestimate a wizard or witch's interest in a league pennant." Draco'd been so cheerfully drunk on wine that he hadn't even protested at being termed Ron's mate.

Harry takes a sip of champagne. His eyes find Draco in the crowd, pristine in a perfectly tailored black Muggle suit that Harry knows he wore just to annoy his father when the pictures come out in the Prophet tomorrow. Entwhistle and Goldstein are with him and Pansy, laughing and toasting Draco in front of a very pleased looking Head Goblin. Ragnok's placed Draco over the entire WTV project for now, serving as Gringotts' representative on the WTV board of directors. Harry'd been offered a spot, but he'd turned it down. He's happiest in his shop, with his music.

"Are you going to sit back here all evening, making cow eyes at your boyfriend?" Dennis comes up next to him. He grins at Harry. "How'd he even get you here, anyway?”

"You really don't want to know." Harry lifts his glass to his mouth again, hiding a smile at Dennis’s sudden flush. Dennis still works an afternoon a week in the shop, even though he doesn't need to, not with the contract from WTV that Draco had wrangled for him to present a Top of the Pops-type programme, highlighting wizarding bands and the latest in Muggle music. The first episode will air tomorrow night. According to Rosie, all the Hogwarts girls will be tuning in, a fact which Harry enjoys reminding Dennis of rather frequently.

Draco looks over at Harry, his eyes crinkling into a wide smile. He raises his champagne flute; Harry lifts his glass as well. And when Draco excuses himself from Entwhistle and Goldstein, leaving them to a very interested Parkinson, Harry hands his champagne to Dennis. "Later," he says.

"Don't get caught again," Dennis warns him, and Harry flips two fingers his way. Their friends have learned to knock before coming into rooms Harry and Draco might be occupying. The only one who hasn't been disconcerted had been Goyle, the time he walked into Draco's kitchen mid-party to find Harry crushed between the refrigerator and a desperately rutting Draco. To Goyle's credit, he'd merely blinked, shrugged, then picked up the platter of bichon au citron that Harry'd originally gone in to collect before he'd been waylaid by a slightly tipsy and incredibly randy Draco.

"Hi," he says to Draco when they meet beneath the rose arbour. "Having fun?"

Draco's mouth twitches. "I will admit to a certain amount of smug glee at the brilliance of my labours."

Harry doesn't bother to point out that technically that would be Hermione, Entwhistle and Goldstein's brilliance. Mainly because to do so would significantly decrease his chances of incredible sex later.

"I'm proud of you," he says instead, and Draco's smile is blindingly bright.

"Say that within earshot of the Prophet reporter, and I'll blow you in Ragnok's office," he murmurs.

Harry pulls Draco to his side. "Temptation." His fingers slide lightly down the back of Draco's suit jacket. "Did I remember to tell you how gorgeous you look before we left?"

Draco's gaze is hot and full of promise. "I never mind hearing it again."

A flash goes off in front of them. "Cheers, Harry," the Prophet photographer says with a bright grin, and Harry sighs. He hates being in the papers.

Draco looks quite self-satisfied. "I do hope that makes it in. Father will be apoplectic."

"Aren't we supposed to have dinner with your parents on Sunday?" Harry asks dryly.

"That makes it even better." Draco leans into Harry's touch. "Mother's forbidden him from being rude to you again, so he'll be forced to watch his tongue. It'll be torture for the old bastard."

Harry snorts. "Remind me not to irritate you."

"Probably a wise move." Draco threads his fingers between Harry's. "We can leave soon," he says. "If you like."

That surprises Harry. "Don't you need to stay?"

Draco shakes his head. "I've other plans." He pulls two tickets from his pocket. "Younghusband at the Barfly," he says with a smile. "I thought we might recreate our first...well. Encounter." He quirks an eyebrow at Harry. "If you're interested."

Harry squeezes his hand. "Always."

A small brown thrush settles on the arbour above them, trilling brightly amongst the creamy white roses. Harry looks up at it, and he smiles.