It was unfortunate for Harry that he only remembered the tradesman was coming round that morning when the sound of his doorbell woke him up.
He lay there for a moment, heart thudding, trying to remember where he was, while simultaneously knowing exactly where he was – his new bedroom, in his new bed, strangely tangled up in sheets that still felt stiff with newness and somehow alien.
For a moment, he decided that if he just lay there, perfectly still, then the intruder would give up and go away; he didn’t know for certain that Harry was in, did he?
The person on his doorstep rang the bell again, and then again – this time leaning hard on the bell, so that it emitted a long, sharp brrrrrrring that had Harry lurching up and out of bed, shoving his glasses on, then hopping his way into a pair of discarded trousers as he half-ran out of his bedroom and thudded down the stairs. He was opening the door before he considered that maybe a T-shirt would have been a good idea, and perhaps a quick glance in the mirror to check his hair wasn’t doing that thing it sometimes did, but by then, of course, it was too late.
“Sorry, I was just—” he said, trying to sound bright and cheerful, rather than knackered and half-asleep, whilst ruffling his hand through his hair in a manner that was meant to be nonchalant rather than desperate. At least, that was how he started; he stopped – entirely – when he realised exactly who it was on the doorstep.
“So, uh, you’re not the toilet salesman then,” Harry said lamely.
Draco Malfoy, the epitome of elegance in the latest fashion – Muggle-style tailored three-piece suits – at first said nothing, merely indicated, with a long, sweeping glance that took in Harry’s bare feet, battered black jeans, bare chest and unbrushed hair, that replying to such a question was entirely beneath him. He raised one thin, pale eyebrow and looked at Harry in a withering way that was somehow worse than speaking.
Harry felt the prickles of embarrassment start to raise heat in his cheeks. He crossed his arms and tried not to wonder whether he’d actually done his fly up or not. There was no reason that he should be uncomfortable, just because Malfoy was on his doorstep, was there? He tried to summon some righteous indignation. In fact, it should be Malfoy feeling uncomfortable, shouldn’t it? They hadn’t seen each other for, oh, must be going on a year now – according to Daily Prophet rumour, the Malfoys had run away to France where the ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ wouldn’t look so sternly on their crimes – and the last time Harry had seen Malfoy, it had been the day after the Battle of Hogwarts, and Malfoy had been crying.
Malfoy wasn’t crying now though; just standing there, all sophisticated in his sharp suit, with his hair impeccably groomed, and everything about him – from the tilt of his head, to the slope of his shoulders – screamed that he was laughing. At Harry.
Harry worked a bit harder at the righteous indignation. “I was expecting a toilet salesman, you see,” he said, and left a meaningful silence that suggested, And you’re not him. “And you’re not him,” he said, to fill the meaningful silence, because Malfoy’s gaze was flickering back down towards his belt level – not that he was wearing a belt, and the fucking jeans were threatening to slip further down his waist – and this was raising the good old Did I Fasten My Fly Or Not question once again.
“No,” said Malfoy. His voice dripped disdain. But at least, Harry thought, he was now directing his disdain at Harry’s face, rather than at his groin.
A thought struck Harry as he tried to surreptitiously tug his jeans up a bit higher: if Malfoy wasn’t his expected tradesman – and of course he wasn’t, what sort of sleep-addled idea had that been? – then what the hell was he doing on Harry’s doorstep?
Malfoy straightened already straight cuffs. “I am not a toilet salesman. I am the toilet salesman.” He gave a modest cough and struck a nonchalant pose, one thumb in his trouser pocket. “The supreme toilet salesman,” he added, to Harry’s mixed alarm and surprise, and then looked at Harry with an expression that suggested that Harry should be extremely, extremely grateful that he was deigning to grace his doorstep with his toilet-touting magnificence.
Harry closed his eyes and then opened them again. But, no – alas – Draco Malfoy was still standing there in front of him, looking like an elegant git, claiming to be a . . . “I’m sorry, what?”
Draco rolled his eyes and reached into his jacket, pulling out a slim, silver card case. He opened it up and offered Harry a card.
Harry took it wordlessly. It read, in the very poshest of copperplate calligraphy:
It seemed unkind of life, on the whole, to provide him with such riches when he was still half-asleep and thus still unable to quite believe that the whole thing wasn’t some kind of dream brought on by eating cheese sarnies too close to bedtime.
“You may keep that,” Malfoy said, with utmost kindness. “Now, Potter, perhaps you might provide me with some tea while you put some actual clothes on?”
And, to Harry’s horror, he found himself ushering Malfoy into his living room – where the absolute git perched, with an expression indicating extreme distaste, on the very edge of the sofa – and then fleeing to his bedroom. Where – of course, of course – he discovered that, no, his fly hadn’t been zipped up quite all the way.
“Right, Malfoy,” he said sternly, handing over the tea. “Are you taking the piss, or what?”
Malfoy pursed his lips and then looked at the contents of the mug. “I sincerely hope not, Potter,” he said, in tones that lowered the temperature of the room by at least ten degrees.
Harry, who had, feeling defiant, only slung on a clean T-shirt and pushed a belt through the loops of his jeans, and who therefore had bare feet, bare arms, and – albeit under his jeans – bare balls, felt inadequately dressed to cope with this, and wished he’d thought to put on his formal robes or something. He sat down on the opposite sofa to Malfoy and took an ostentatiously loud slurp of his tea – brewed to builder’s strength and then drowned in milk – and thought it best to ignore Draco’s little ‘joke’.
Malfoy took one – very ginger – sip of his tea, and then, with a face like he’d just imbibed something truly noxious, set it firmly on the coffee table that sat between them. Harry thought it was only so-called good breeding that had stopped him from spitting it out, the utter wanker. Harry might not be some sort of tea brewing expert, but the beverages he produced were entirely drinkable!
Silence fell, with all the awkwardness that that entailed. “You really are here to sell me a toilet,” Harry said quickly, to break it.
Malfoy sat up very straight. “I’m not sure why that’s so hard to believe,” he said, unbelievably, and then, via a process of some magic that wasn’t taught at Hogwarts, he schooled his expression into something suave and almost friendly.
“No?” Harry said, watching, fascinated. It was an expression that Harry had seen on Malfoy’s face before, but certainly never levelled at him.
Malfoy twitched a bit; clearly, the magic was still a work in progress. “You did make an appointment with me, Potter,” he said, and although he made a good attempt at sounding reasonable, the unspoken rider you utmost idiot still leaked through.
Harry felt on stronger ground here. “I did not,” he said, and set his own mug on the coffee table in front of him. He thought it wise; any more of these unfounded allegations and he might feel the urge to fling it in Malfoy’s face. And Malfoy – whatever his faults – was currently a guest. Of sorts. Harry was rather hazy on etiquette, but he thought flinging tea in the face of guests, however unwelcome, and however Malfoyish, was probably on the ‘What Not To Do’ list.
Malfoy shrugged; it was a smooth, languid move, and the pale grey fabric of his suit moved like silk against his skin. “Well, someone did,” he said. “Do you need a new toilet or not?”
Harry thought about that. And he thought about the one-sided conversation he’d had with Hermione a few days ago, who’d told him – firmly – that if he wouldn’t book someone to come in and sort out the downstairs loo, then she would.
Harry felt a brief, wistful desire to see Hermione’s head on a platter.
“Or should I be speaking to the lady of the house?” Malfoy said.
Harry blinked; there had been quite an edge to those words. “Do you mean Hermione?” he said, a bit baffled. “She lives with Ron now.”
Draco’s lips thinned. “No – Ginevra Weasley.”
Harry wiped his hands on his jeans; they suddenly felt clammy. “Um, Ginny? We split up. Quite a while ago? It’s – er – just me here.”
For some reason, Malfoy visibly relaxed. “That explains the décor,” he said poisonously, with an affable smile on his face. “And the tea,” he added – unfairly, in Harry’s opinion. “Let us speak in words of one syllable, Potter. Toilet – yes. Or no?”
Harry frowned. He’d never been entirely hot on this new toilet idea – he wasn’t sure what was wrong with the current one, which had come with the house and seemed to do its job just fine, as far as he could see – and now he felt even less enthused. But . . . if he tossed Malfoy out on his arse, which seemed like a fine idea, then Hermione would monologue at him until he invited another lunatic toilet enthusiast into his home. Better the loon you know, Harry thought.
“Uh, yeah, I do need a new loo, Malfoy, but—”
“Excellent,” Malfoy said with hearty brightness, and shucked off his jacket, laying it carefully next to him on the sofa. Harry hadn’t realised that the Buying A New Loo journey began with toilet salesmen carefully disguised as Draco Malfoy undressing in his living room, and he began to feel even unhappier about the whole thing.
Malfoy pulled an enormous leather-bound portfolio from out of one of the smaller inner pockets of his jacket with some difficulty and hefted it on to the coffee table, almost knocking over both mugs of tea. He shot a sour look at the mugs, and then a happier look at the portfolio. He rubbed his hands together and then stood up, straightening his waistcoat and tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. He looked extremely – alarmingly, in Harry’s opinion – at home. “Right, before I show you your options, I suppose we’d better get the necessities out of the way first. Potter – point me to the offending article,” he said expectantly.
“Offending article?” Harry said, picking up his mug of tea – at least, he hoped it was his, and not the one sullied by Malfoy – and taking an affronted swig. “I don’t have an offending article.”
But, to Harry’s dismay, Malfoy just rolled his eyes and stalked out of the living room, so Harry felt he had no option but to leap up and go after him, so the git didn’t wind up in his bedroom, raising immaculately groomed eyebrows at the socks on the floor or something equally insufferable.
“I can show you an offending article, if you like,” Harry muttered as he caught up with him. “There’s a great one in yesterday’s Daily Prophet about your family, and if it doesn’t offend you, I’ll eat my hat, you pointy—”
Malfoy, who had found the downstairs toilet by the expedient of opening doors and peering in, turned a resolutely bright smile on Harry – the smile of someone who is absolutely, completely determined not to let anything irritate him. “Good news!” he said. “You definitely need a new toilet!”
“It’s not that bad,” Harry said defensively, crossing his arms.
They both stood outside the doorway and looked in; Malfoy did a good impression of someone whose resolution is sorely being tested. His bright smile flickered, his lips twitching as if they were just dying to produce an epic smirk. Or, alternatively, a rictus of horror. It was, Harry thought, turning his attention from the toilet to his old school nemesis, a little hard to tell. Either way, Malfoy was certainly trying extremely hard.
“It’s green,” Malfoy said. And he twitched, ever so slightly.
“So?” Harry replied.
“I don’t think it started green, did it?” Malfoy said. The horror was showing through now. “Have you never heard of a Cleaning Charm? Or tried a quick Tergeo or Scourgify now and then?”
Harry crossed his arms and frowned. “It’s just an avocado coloured toilet, Malfoy. It’s not dirt, it’s style.” And, as Malfoy raised an eyebrow practically into his hairline, he added: “And since when did you ever personally clean a toilet?”
Malfoy pursed his lips and looked haughty, but a faint flush rose to his cheeks. He raised his chin. “Let me show you my toilet portfolio, Potter,” he said, with great dignity, and stalked back to Harry’s living room.
Harry followed dumbly behind, not sure whether to laugh, cry or simply kick Malfoy’s exquisitely tailored backside all the way down the hall and out the front door.
Malfoy was still talking non-stop about toilets, flicking pages in his massive portfolio with practiced ease. Every toilet was illustrated with an enormous, pop-up photo of the monstrosity, which showed a cheerful witch or wizard – fully clothed, thank Merlin – demonstrating its finer points, and waving with immense glee when they spotted their ‘celebrity’ client.
Harry felt a deep gloom, which seeped down to his bones, that even photographic toilet salesmen recognised him and were distracted from their deeper, toilety purpose. He’d had enough trouble with fans without—
“Malfoy,” Harry said urgently, cutting into a description of a toilet that, as far as Harry could tell, did your laundry for you and possibly also cleaned your teeth, “you do promise not to tell my new address to anyone else, don’t you?”
Malfoy paused. “What’s that, Potter?” he said, sounding a bit more like Malfoy. “I thought your doorstep was surprisingly free of your rabid fanbase; don’t tell me you’ve gone coy on us, your devoted following?”
Well, it was a relief, in some ways, to know that Malfoy was the same Malfoy of old, despite the unusual disguise. But . . . “Fuck off, Malfoy,” Harry snapped, unable to stop himself. “Fuck OFF.”
“But I haven’t sold you a toilet yet!” Malfoy replied, his eyes widening. “You haven’t seen half of my portfolio yet. Just hang on a moment and I’m sure we can find something to suit your tastes.”
Harry had opened his mouth again, ready to shout back at Malfoy’s inevitable insult. This . . . was not what he’d expected. But he was not to be deterred: “I said, you’re not going to tell anyone my new address, are you, Malfoy?”
Malfoy, although seated, drew himself up to his full height. “That would be entirely breaking the code of toilet salesmen,” he said stiffly. “How could you even think it of me?”
How indeed? thought Harry, now convinced that he was actually still asleep and this was one of his wilder dreams. He wasn’t sure if it counted as a nightmare, because nothing had tried to eat him yet – but, to be fair to the dream, there was still ample time for a rabid toilet to attempt to swallow him.
“Malfoy,” Harry said carefully, because Malfoy was holding a massive book that would hurt if he threw it at Harry’s head, “I’m still having trouble believing that you are sitting in my living room trying to sell me a toilet.”
Malfoy shot him a look that suggested that if it was up to him, the rabid toilet would appear right about now and do its vile business. Then he smoothed that expression over, shutting the toilet portfolio with a bang that made Harry jump and get ready to Accio his wand from wherever it might be lurking.
“I can see that someone of your . . .” He paused a little, the words evidently sticking in his throat. “. . . your calibre,” he managed, “needs a little more practical demonstration. You need to feel the porcelain, see the whirlpool action, hear the piped music before you can make your decision. It is quite natural.”
And, while Harry was still digesting the fact that Malfoy had just suggested he was the sort of person who needed to grope a toilet before he could bring himself to buy it, Malfoy had already whipped a small but expensive looking notebook and peacock feather quill out of his trouser pocket.
“Let’s see,” Malfoy murmured, flicking pages. “I could do tomorrow morning? Ten thirty?”
“Tomorrow morning?” Harry echoed, lost.
Malfoy’s forehead creased. “To take you to my toilet showroom, of course,” he elaborated, as if that had been obvious all along.
And because Harry was certifiably mad, and this was probably about the time that the rabid toilet business would begin, instead of saying no, nothing could be less like his idea of a good time, he found himself saying: “Yes.”
“Mmm?” Hermione said. She didn’t sound too concerned; she shrugged off her coat and slid into the oak-panelled booth. “Gin and slimline, please, Ron,” she said. “Do you want another?” she said to Harry, eyeing his almost-empty pint with one eyebrow raised.
“Yes, please,” Harry said. “YOU’D need more than one if you had the sort of terrible news I do!” he said sanctimoniously – making Hermione, for some reason, roll her eyes.
“All right, mate, keep your hair on,” Ron said with a grin, elbowing his way through the crowd towards the bar.
Harry was feeling ever so slightly unhinged. It had been a long day with no one to talk to; he’d tried messaging a few people but only got out-of-office owls, and when he’d fire-called Hermione at the Ministry she’d seemed distracted and he’d only felt able to set up drinks for tonight.
“TERRIBLE NEWS,” he said.
“Yes, OK, I heard you the first time,” Hermione said with a heartless lack of sympathy. “There’s no need to shout.” She eyed him narrowly and then paled. “You didn’t . . .” she started, and seemed unable to continue. “The toilet . . .?” she hissed.
Harry nodded solemnly, glad she was starting to take things seriously.
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said witheringly, looking towards the bar to see how Ron was getting on with the drinks, “you didn’t buy another avocado coloured toilet, did you?”
Harry was speechless. How could she focus on such – such insignificant things as toilet colour at a time like this?
“Worse?” Hermione said, taking this as tacit permission to continue getting the wrong end of the broomstick. “You didn’t replace your upstairs toilet with an avocado coloured loo too – or, oh no, Harry, not a whole suite?”
“What’s wrong with green sanitary ware?” Harry said tetchily. “And no—”
But it was too late. Hermione was already burying her head in her hands, and the loud buzz of customers around them meant she didn’t hear his denial.
When Hermione re-emerged – her hair springing back into place in a manner that suggested she was trying out a new hair-taming charm – Ron was returning with the drinks.
“You’ll never guess what Harry’s done,” Hermione said in tones of utmost despair.
Ron grinned and took a swig of his pint, sliding into the booth next to his girlfriend.
“He’s only gone and ordered another green toil—”
There was nothing for it. Harry took a deep breath and said, as loudly as he could: “THE TOILET SALESMAN WAS DRACO MALFOY.”
There was a deadly silence. At least, it wasn’t exactly a deadly silence; it was a deadly silence except for the noise of other punters chatting nineteen to the dozen around them, and the sound of Ron choking to death on a mouthful of beer that had not gone down his oesophagus as nature intended.
Hermione whacked Ron hard on the back in a cursory way and then turned to Harry. “W-w-what was that?” she said, her hair charm failing under the strain and her curls sagging into frizz.
“You sent Draco Malfoy to sell me a toilet,” Harry said, trying to keep a note of accusation out of his voice.
“No-o, mate,” Ron said, a little hoarsely. “Hermione’s a little bossy – ow!” he said as Hermione dug a vengeful elbow in his ribs, “but she wouldn’t do that.”
“Yes, thanks, Ron,” Hermione said sarcastically. She gazed, wide eyed, at Harry. “Are you absolutely sure?”
“I’m not going insane, Hermione,” Harry said, crossing his arms – and then uncrossing them when he realised that it was going to be hard to drink his pint that way. He took a sip and waited; to his disappointment, it failed to make the memory of Malfoy enthusiastically talking him through the unique features of the Gentlemen’s Supreme Toilet™ any less than crystal clear.
“It was – it was probably Dracus Malfoy,” Ron said slowly. “His third cousin twice removed.”
“You mean, Made-up-iccus Malfoy?” Harry scoffed. “No – it was Draco Malfoy, the . . . the . . . toilet supremo.”
Ron made a noise as if he was going to die of laughter; if it wasn’t so recent – and if Harry didn’t have a toilet showroom appointment the following day – Harry would have laughed along with him.
“You mean, Malfoy really did try and sell you a toilet?” Hermione asked.
Harry turned to her. She had that determined light in her eye that usually signified a new mission or obsession. “Um – yes?” he said dubiously. She hadn’t even touched her drink. “Persistently,” he added. He shuddered. “And expertly.”
Hermione squared her shoulders and raised her chin. “I think what’s happening here is clear,” she pronounced.
“Toilet supremo!” Ron gurgled. “Toilet supremo!”
Hermione ignored Ron with consummate skill. “Yes,” she continued. “I think we can say, without much doubt, that Draco Malfoy has been . . .” She paused for dramatic effect. “Cursed!” She sat back and, without even taking a triumphant sip of her drink, reached into her handbag and rummaged around. “Blast,” she said after about two seconds, “I must have left my books in the office. I’ll just have to make some preliminary notes for now.”
“Notes?” Ron said, taking another large swig of beer. Then his brow cleared. “Oh! To pass to the Daily Prophet and wreak our terrible revenge. Great idea, Hermione. Don’t forget to include the phrase “toilet supremo”, will you?”
Harry fumbled in his pocket for the business card and flourished it at Hermione. “Look!” he said. “Evidence!”
Hermione pulled a face a bit like she’d just sucked a lemon and then examined the card. “I meant that we should take notes so we can work out what Malfoy’s been cursed with and then fix it.” Her lips twitched and she was evidently trying to suppress a sudden fit of giggles. “Looking at this card,” she said, her face contorting, “it’s obviously a serious case.”
Ron sniggered. “Why should we fix Malfoy?” he asked – reasonably, in Harry’s opinion. “Let him remain a water closet wally forevermore, in my opinion!” He paused expectantly.
Hermione appeared to consider this. “But we can’t,” she said finally. “As trainee Aurors, it would be quite wrong to allow him to continue under this curse – however much we personally feel he deserves it.” She sat up straight; the perfect example of rectitude.
“Water closet wally!” Ron repeated, obviously a little put out. “I demand the laugh that deserved!” He elbowed Hermione, and she held on to her composure with an evident struggle, before cracking and twisting in her seat to tickle him into submission.
“Hey!” Harry said loudly, rescuing the business card from Hermione’s limp grip as she struggled with Ron. “This is not a joke!”
Ron paused in his tickling at that and turned back to look at Harry. “No, mate, it is,” he said firmly. “A hilarious, fabulous, wonderful joke that the universe is playing on Malfoy, and very much deserved it is too.”
“You wouldn’t think it was so funny if Malfoy had turned up on your doorstep touting toilets,” Harry said, equally firmly.
“I would,” Ron said.
“You’d have hexed him into next week!” Harry protested, taking a fortifying sip of beer.
“True, true,” Ron conceded. “Why didn’t you?”
“Because . . .” Harry started, then trailed off. It still wasn’t entirely clear to him why he’d humoured Malfoy in the first place and let him slouch about the place, all louche and elegant and sarcastic and . . . and . . . commercial. “Because Hermione sent him!” he said accusingly, after a bit of thought.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “As if I would, Harry. I made you an appointment with a perfectly respectable – entirely non Malfoy – wizarding bathroom supplier. I wonder what happened to them?” She made a few notes with a very long, sleek quill in her notebook, then tapped her lip thoughtfully with the feather. “We’ll have to try out a few things, I think; I’ll do some research when I get home, but this sounds like quite an unusual curse. The only issue is – how are we to get in touch with Malfoy again?”
“You could just call him up,” Harry said sniffily. “It worked well enough the first time.”
Hermione reached over and patted the back of his hand. “It must have been a shock,” she said sympathetically. “Perhaps the shock addled your brain enough to excuse you buying another avocado coloured toilet,” she added, rather less sympathetically.
“I didn’t!” Harry protested. “I didn’t buy a new toilet at all! I have to . . . .” He trailed off, aware that Hermione and Ron were both staring at him. “Visit Malfoy’s toilet showroom tomorrow,” he concluded miserably.
The look that Hermione gave him rather made him wish that he had a handy toilet nearby to dive into, and he took refuge in his pint, with Ron’s hysterical laughter echoing in his ears.
Harry – acting on instinct – slammed the door shut and stood behind it in his hall, heart thumping, feeling like a massive wally.
About twenty seconds later – give or take a millisecond or two – the doorbell rang.
Harry pasted a smile on his face – he didn’t think he’d manage a very natural one, but it was worth a go – and opened the door. “Malfoy!” he said, trying for surprise. “You’re early!”
To Harry’s genuine surprise, Malfoy looked extremely ill at ease, his cheeks flushed and his hair dishevelled, as if he’d tugged at it in frustration before ringing the bell.
A muscle, high in Malfoy’s cheek, twitched.
Then a little of Malfoy’s innate pure-blood self-confidence reasserted itself. “I am merely eager to ensure that you have enough time at the showroom,” he said, eyebrows raised. “What’s your excuse?”
Harry’s mouth flapped a bit at that, but he recovered with – he thought – supreme magnificence. “I am merely keen to acquire a toilet,” he said haughtily.
They stared at each other for a bit, Harry trying to look like a man who was keen on toilets but without taking it too far – he didn’t want to get some sort of reputation as a toilet obsessed twat. Like Malfoy, he reminded himself. Except Malfoy had an excuse, at least: the curse. Or, rather, that was what Hermione had insisted.
“Would you like to come in for some tea?” Harry said, when gazing at Malfoy became too much to bear. “Before we go?”
A tortured look crossed Malfoy’s face. “Thank you, Potter, but no. That bilgewater you call tea—” He brought himself up short. “I will provide refreshments at the showroom,” he said. “Are you ready to go?”
“Fine,” Harry said, turning and closing the door behind him, before activating his wards.
He turned to Malfoy – and then paused. Did he really want to Side-Along Apparate anywhere with Malfoy? He had no idea what the man had been up to in the past year. He was cursed – and yes, it was a stupid curse, but it was still a curse. What if he Apparated him to—?
Harry sighed. Where could Malfoy Apparate him to that could possibly be a problem? He had chosen not to attend Malfoy’s trial after the war, but he hadn’t been able to stop himself reading about it in the paper – and it had shown, if Harry had ever needed showing, that Malfoy was someone to pity, not fear.
When Harry looked over at Malfoy, Malfoy’s chin was very raised and his colour was high.
“We can take the Floo, if you prefer,” Malfoy said, in a voice that was only slightly choked – he was doing a good job of hiding his emotions, Harry thought. And then realised that Malfoy couldn’t be doing that great a job if Harry could tell what he was thinking.
Harry held out his arm. “No, it’s fine; let’s go, Malfoy.” And, when Malfoy didn’t move, just stared at his arm as if it was a snake, he added: “I don’t have all day!” and Malfoy snapped to.
The familiar fish hook snagged in his guts, wrenching just hard enough to make him feel sick as the world spun past; but this time Harry was strangely aware of the man beside him and of the hand painfully tight around his upper arm.
They landed smoothly, and Harry blinked as the landscape resolved itself. They stood there a moment, arm in arm, and Harry thought it was oddly intimate – until he blinked a bit more and noticed that they were surrounded by toilets.
He felt an odd sense of relief – that Malfoy hadn’t lured him to some dark warehouse to try and murder him – and a conflicting sense of dismay – that there clearly was something extremely wrong with Malfoy, and as amusing as it would be to let Malfoy peddle potties for the rest of his natural days, it was now down to Harry to sort this out or get it in the ear from Hermione for the rest of his natural days.
He also felt a further sense of dismay when Malfoy released his arm – roughly, as if he’d been burned – and then even more dismay, because why the hell would he want to stand in a toilet paradise arm in arm with someone like that?
Whatever the truth of the matter though – and Harry didn’t want to delve into that too deeply right now, with Malfoy standing so close, and smelling so discomfortingly fragrant and exotic – there was one thing that was fact: it really was a toilet paradise.
If you liked that sort of thing.
Everywhere Harry looked, appliances of every shape and size were on display, lit by spotlights and gleaming brightly. “Um, gosh,” he said, because he didn’t want to be the sort of man who was rendered speechless by the sight of millions of loos.
Malfoy seemed to have recovered himself somewhat. “Impressive, isn’t it, Potter?” he said. “I bet,” he continued, expanding on his theme, “you’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
“Well, no,” Harry admitted. He hadn’t. And – if Merlin was good to him – he never would have to again. He hoped Malfoy’s toilets came with very lengthy guarantees.
Malfoy rubbed his hands together and moved to roll his sleeves up, before halting himself in a strange, awkward manner. An ugly expression flitted across his face – half hatred, half disappointment. He shook it away. “Let’s start just over here,” he said lightly, and led the way to a great black marble monstrosity on a tall plinth, which required, as far as Harry could see, the sure-footedness of a mountain goat to scale.
Malfoy opened his mouth, and Harry decided to stem the flow before it began. “It’s too high,” he said.
Malfoy shut his mouth crossly and folded his arms. “If you’ll let me explain,” he said.
Harry looked at him – and Malfoy, sulky boy supreme, looked back.
“Go on then,” Harry said, cracking first. Besides – although he was determined to get a new toilet out of this whole sorry business, he also had his mission to consider: De-Toileting Malfoy. And this insanity of a toilet – more column than loo – could provide him with a chance to try out the first curse-breaking spell that Hermione had suggested, in a long list she’d sent along far too early that morning.
Malfoy gazed at Harry, and then gazed at the toilet. “We-ell,” he said craftily, with a little smile that suggested he had a Fantastic Plan, “this toilet – the Tower of Wonder, as we call it – is probably much too fine for someone like you.”
Harry snorted. “I’m sure you’re right,” he agreed.
Malfoy looked a little put out at that, but he rallied beautifully. “Let me tell you all about its magnificent features—”
“Show me how you get up it,” Harry interrupted.
Malfoy swallowed; this had a curious effect on Harry’s self-possession, so he tore his gaze away from Malfoy’s very pale neck and fixed it, instead, on his very pale wrist . . . which rose to tug, awkwardly, at the collar of his pale pink shirt. Malfoy was wearing the waistcoat and matching trousers of a three-piece grey suit again – he probably, Harry thought, gazing idly at Malfoy’s top button, had at least fifty of the things, all marginally different and all unspeakably expensive.
“You want me to . . .?” Malfoy asked, clearing his throat, which made his Adam’s apple bob again.
Harry wondered why exactly he was staring at Malfoy – and why exactly he hadn’t already punched him on the nose. Twice. He flapped his hand irritably, then shoved it into the pocket of his jeans to check he had the stuff ready to apply when the moment was right. “Go up the – what did you call it?”
“The Tower of Wonder,” Malfoy said faintly.
“Odd name for a toilet,” Harry couldn’t stop himself from saying.
Malfoy nodded faintly and attempted to pull himself together. “Right!” he said, and stroked the side of the black column with one finger. A spiral of wide, black, sparkling steps slid out from round the sides of the column, and Malfoy mounted them with ease, pausing at the top.
It was clear to Harry that only a twat of epic, massive proportions would want such a toilet – it looked, if anything, even sillier now that Malfoy was astride it. He tried not to imagine Malfoy sitting on the bog itself – and failed.
“You’re not laughing, are you, Potter?” Malfoy said – shouted – down, with unshakeable dignity.
“No, no – just, er, coughing,” Harry said indistinctly. “Will you show me how it flushes? And,” he added, improvising wildly, “which way does the water swirl down the pan? I hear it’s different in Australia.”
Malfoy forbore to comment, but he did as asked – turning his back briefly on Harry, from atop his toilety column, to open the toilet lid, flush and watch.
Quick as a flash, Harry pulled the pot containing a pungent mixture of water and garlic from his pocket and slapped it on a couple of the stair treads; there was no way that Malfoy could avoid stepping on it on his descent from his great toilet heights. Hermione had said that the mixture should be applied directly to the soles of Malfoy’s shoes, but Harry was buggered if he knew how to do that without knocking him out. This seemed the next best thing.
Malfoy turned, suddenly, and Harry whipped the pot behind his back and smiled the smile of the innocent.
“It ‘swirls’ vertically,” Malfoy said suspiciously, peering down at him, and then descended the stair at an unwise pace. When he encountered the steps greased with garlic, he stumbled and slid, departing prematurely from the spiral stair with a yell and a flail.
It seemed only polite of Harry to break his fall, so he did – although not precisely intentionally.
Harry tried not to breathe; so, it seemed, did Malfoy.
“Why the fuck do you suddenly stink of garlic?” Malfoy asked – in Harry’s opinion, a little crossly.
“Oh – just – er – I think I’m getting a cold?” Harry invented wildly, trying to breathe air rather than Malfoy’s suit; the bugger was practically smothering him. “This is a remedy that Hermione recommended!” And – in for a sickle, in for a galleon – he drew the sun symbol on the floor with his finger and muttered: “Benedicite.”
It’s an old spell, but a good one, Hermione had said – with barely any doubt at all. Harry, personally, thought it seemed unlikely in the extreme to work – it didn’t even use a wand, for Merlin’s sake – but it had seemed worth a try. At least, when he’d considered it that morning it had seemed worth a try; now, inhaling the garlic stench, along with the scent of whatever Malfoy’s house elf used to wash his clothes, it didn’t really seem worth the effort.
Malfoy heaved himself off Harry, looking rather rumpled – both in suit and in spirit – and hauled himself to his feet, before leaning down and offering his hand.
Harry stared at it. It didn’t seem to contain any hidden traps, so he seized it and managed to get up without pulling Malfoy back down on top of himself. Of course, it was his garlic hand, and when Harry was on his feet, Malfoy let him go and examined his fingers without comment.
“Er, Scourgify?” Harry said, and felt the tingling of the spell fizz through him, removing the stench from himself – and hopefully from Malfoy too, although his nose was still wrinkled.
“You really are repellent, Potter,” Malfoy said, sounding amazed, and Harry really, really wanted to tell him he was not, but since Malfoy appeared to believe that Harry regularly slathered himself up with garlic to repel colds, he thought he should probably leave it alone.
“I don’t think this toilet’s for me,” Harry said instead.
Malfoy clearly considered commenting on this – but held back, to Harry’s surprise. Instead, he led Harry further across the room, to what looked like a fairly regular toilet, except . . . surrounded by mirrors.
Harry hoped very hard that Malfoy didn’t think he was the sort of boy who wanted to examine himself in the mirror whilst he peed. Harry examined the side of Malfoy’s face dubiously. Was Malfoy the sort of boy who liked to examine himself in the mirror while he peed? He wouldn’t put it past him; he was a Slytherin, after all. “Do you . . . have one like this yourself?” Harry asked, cutting through Malfoy’s sales patter.
Malfoy looked faintly alarmed. “No?” he said. Then he smirked. “I don’t need its . . . magical enhancing qualities,” he said.
Harry reran Malfoy’s sales patter in his head – and blushed. He couldn’t help it! Malfoy hadn’t exactly said that the magical mirrors gave the male user an enhanced view of their own knob, but . . .
“I DON’T NEED IT EITHER!” Harry said – much too loud.
Malfoy sniggered. “OK, OK, keep your hair on, hero boy,” he said, “I’m not asking to see the proof.”
“I should hope not!” Harry squeaked, and then fidgeted, fiddling with the neck of his T-shirt and trying not to spontaneously combust.
Malfoy shot him an amused look, which only made it worse.
“I just want a normal toilet!” Harry said, deciding that firmness was the only way. “A bog-standard . . . bog!”
This seemed like the perfect moment – in his slightly-overheated brain, that was – to fling some black salt at Malfoy. Hermione had said that application of black salt would drive out any evil in Malfoy.
Hermione, Harry decided as Malfoy looked at him, was an idiot. How could black salt drive out the evil in Malfoy? Malfoy was FULL of evil, from head to toe! How would the salt know where to begin?
“Did . . . did you just throw a load of grit at me?” Malfoy asked. He raised one thin, pale eyebrow, as if it pained him to ask such a question. The mirrors reflected him endlessly, Malfoy upon Malfoy raising equally judgemental brows.
“Depends,” prevaricated Harry. “Do you still want to sell me a toilet?”
The infinity of Malfoys raised their eyebrows even higher. “I’m not sure you deserve for me to sell you a toilet,” he said sanctimoniously. He stuck a hand in his pocket casually. “But I will.” He struck a semi-heroic pose. “If you promise not to fucking throw any more stuff at me,” he said, slipping out of role. He picked at a speck of salt that had stuck to his shirt and rolled it between finger and thumb. “Salt?” he said. “More cold prevention remedies? Are you that concerned for my health, Potter? I didn’t know you cared.”
Bollocks, Harry thought; Malfoy was no less obviously toilet-obsessed. Traditional magics were not having the desired effect. He cleared his throat. “Can I give you a – a present that keeps colds away?”
Malfoy moved away from the mirrored loo. “Really, Potter?” he said, as if Harry were mad.
Harry felt a bit mad. But he had a job to do, so he handed over the charmed blood-root – traditionally used to help break all evil spells and curses.
Malfoy took it – which, Harry had to admit, impressed him; because if Malfoy had handed him an evil-looking root like that, he’d have hexed him into next Thursday, just in case – and stared at it. “You’re not trying to kill me, Potter, are you?” he inquired, head on one side.
“No, no,” Harry said, a little squeakily – and he’d also have to admit that if he’d been Malfoy, he would have been unconvinced. “Just trying to buy a toilet,” he added – and hoped.
“Well,” Malfoy said, stowing the vile object into an inner coat pocket with a small shudder, “it’s lucky that I’m here to sell you one then.” His tone was artificially bright. “And lucky, too, that I have so many wares to show you!”
Which was – Harry thought – suspicious in itself; maybe it was Hermione who’d been cursed.
“No-o, he didn’t suspect a thing,” Harry said, trying to shove down the doubt that bubbled up in his chest. He didn’t think, all in all, that his ‘cold preventative cures’ excuse had been very convincing – but Malfoy, to all intents and purposes, had eaten it up with a spoon.
“Merlin,” Hermione said, in a gusty sigh that created waves on the top of her frothy coffee, “the curse must be bad. No wonder the basic old witches’ cures didn’t work. You’ll just have to try a few more things.”
“But—” Harry said, feeling a sense of impending doom wash over him.
“No buts,” Hermione said, gulping down her coffee in a way that made Harry suspect she’d cast some sort of cooling charm on her throat in preparation. “You failed to buy a toilet again, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Harry said, trying to sound as if it was an intentional failure, rather than just sheer incompetence – because seriously, ‘inability to buy a toilet when in a toilet showroom’ didn’t make him feel either big or clever.
“Then I’ll have a think and send you a few more ideas; you can try them out tomorrow.”
“How—” Harry started.
“Sorry, got to go; we’re in the middle of practising a test tracking spell, and I don’t want to be late back,” Hermione said, and dashed out of the coffee shop as if she’d never been there.
“—did you know I was seeing Malfoy again tomorrow?” Harry finished to the empty air.
He sighed and sipped at his own coffee. Hermione knew because, well, she knew what he, Harry, was like. Especially now.
Now that it was all over – Voldemort vanquished, the trials over, the funerals—
Harry didn’t want to follow that train of thought. All he knew was that while Hermione and Ron had decided to join Auror training, he had decided . . . to not decide anything. For a while, anyway. Maybe he wanted to be an Auror later; maybe not. He felt – he hoped – he deserved just some time to be Harry, before he stepped into another role.
He’d hoped – naively, as it turned out – that renouncing public life for a while would give him some space, some time to breathe. But the media had been just as persistent, and his fans doubly so – waiting on his doorstep for all hours of the day and night, just to shake his hand when he emerged to take out the rubbish, or to snap a photo up his nose when he went to buy a pint of milk. Hence the new house: new area, new address, new anonymity. At least for a while. It had been almost a week now, and his ‘disappearance’ was still front page news – which at least, Harry thought, trying to look on the bright side, meant that they hadn’t found out his new address yet.
Could – Harry reflected – the same thing be at work with Malfoy? Had he renounced his snobbish pure-blood inheritance in favour of good, honest labour?
He took out of his pocket the new business card that Malfoy had thrust at him when they’d parted earlier that day, with their next appointment scrawled on the back, and stared at it solemnly. Under the crazed heading ‘Draco Malfoy: For All Your Toilet Needs!!!’ was a photo of a magnificent gold toilet. As he watched, Malfoy’s head – smiling widely – rose slowly from the bowl and winked at him.
Harry hastily stowed the card away, before the heat that prickled at his cheeks could bloom into a proper brick-red blush. No – the idea of Malfoy as an honest toilet salesman, doing an honest day’s work, was a ludicrous one, and only a curse that had seeped its way into his very bones would have persuaded Malfoy to create a business card where his head bobbed out of a loo.
There was nothing for it: Harry would just have to keep meeting up with Malfoy, and examining toilets, until he’d broken whatever foul curse had him in its grip.
When the doorbell rang – politely, this time, with one short, workmanlike brring! – he didn’t race down the stairs, but instead descended slowly, walking down the hall at a sedate pace and opening the door.
“What took you so long!” Malfoy said before the door was even fully open, and he indicated an extremely large wicker picnic basket by his feet. “Take this in for me, would you?” he added, and then barged past Harry and into his living room, flopping down into a sofa as if he owned the place.
Harry – who’d moved from ‘nervous’ to ‘irritated’ in less than the time it takes to blink – glared at Malfoy, who he’d followed through into the living room.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow in that singularly infuriating way he had. “Basket?” he said, as if Harry was some sort of idiot.
And because Harry was some sort of idiot, he went back into the hall and levitated the damn thing – though why Malfoy couldn’t have done that himself, he had no idea! – before shutting the front door and stomping back into the living room, the basket bobbing along behind him.
Malfoy didn’t say thank you – instead, he just undid the basket’s straps, once it was safely on the floor, and with a wave of his wand a great quantity of crockery was zooming out and setting itself down on Harry’s coffee table, followed by a similarly large mass of food and drink.
Malfoy eyed the resulting set-up with pleasure. “I did wonder if the cake stand might be a little too much,” he murmured to himself, “but I think it does the job nicely.”
Harry looked at the cake stand; it was eight layers high and packed with at least fifteen different sorts of tiny cakes. He began to regret that he’d eaten breakfast already and wondered why Malfoy was being so friendly.
“Since your hosting skills are so entirely inadequate,” Malfoy said, “I thought I might as well bring along a little something myself.” He looked expectantly at Harry, and then sniffed. “Are you going to pour the tea, or do I have to do all the work?”
Harry was lurching so quickly from tolerant and sympathetic to infuriated and back that he began to feel as if he was experiencing the mental equivalent of whiplash – whipbrain, perhaps? But he was sitting down next to Malfoy and pouring tea for them both before he’d quite thought it through, and once he’d started it would be more embarrassing to stop – Malfoy might think he was some sort of halfwit who couldn’t manage to pour a full cup of tea. And they weren’t deep mugs, either, but china cups and saucers so thin that Harry could almost see through them. They wouldn’t last longer than five minutes if they lived in his kitchen, he thought.
“I’m surprised to see that your cakes aren’t toilet shaped,” Harry said, trying for sarcasm.
“Do you often fancy eating cakes shaped like toilets? How fascinating,” Malfoy replied – giving Harry a sarcasm masterclass.
Well, Harry thought, the Slytherin horror had had a lot more practise. He tried to think of a witty retort but failed, and so sipped some tea to cover his failure, trying not to slurp.
“Well, this is nice,” Malfoy said blandly, taking a small cake and nibbling.
“Is it?” Harry asked. He’d meant to say it in his head, but it had slipped out all the same.
Malfoy shot him an inscrutable look. “I can start talking about toilets again now, if you like,” he said, a warning note in his voice.
“Oh! Er! Have you read the latest Quidditch News?” Harry said, scrambling for a topic that would be relatively neutral.
Malfoy stilled, and looked from his cake to Harry, as if deciding whether such an inane question was worth his time, but after a moment he relaxed and answered – as if it were normal. As if they were friends.
And it was only when he’d departed for the day, still not having sold Harry a toilet – and leaving all the empty plates and cups for Harry to wash up – that Harry realised that not only had he not remembered to try out any of the curse cures on Malfoy, but that he also wasn’t entirely sure if Malfoy was cursed. Or that, if he was, he wanted to fix him.
“I want,” he said, as firmly as possible, “to buy a toilet today.”
Malfoy – who this time was ringing the changes by wearing a very pale lavender shirt with another of his immaculate grey suits – regarded him coolly, with a glimmer of something . . . something in his eye. “That’s why I’m here, isn’t it?” he said.
Harry found that impossible to deny. But if that was the case, why hadn’t he bought the sodding thing yet? “All I want is a nice—”
But Malfoy appeared not to be listening. He’d turned to fiddle in the inside pocket of his suit jacket, and he withdrew his card case. “I’ve been considering a change,” he said, handing over a card to Harry, who took it obediently.
It read, in black script on cream card:
“I think it gives the sort of classy feel I’m after, don’t you agree?” Malfoy said, and turned to Harry expectantly.
Harry tried not to gurgle. That would be too much like a toilet, all in all. “You . . . you whisper to toilets?” he said through a snigger, and raised both eyebrows.
Malfoy snapped very upright and snatched back the card. “That is not what that means, you – you uncultured oaf!”
“Toilets whisper to you, then?” Harry asked, having fun now.
Malfoy subsided, muttering beneath his breath. He shuffled through his cards, landing on another, which he passed over. “What about this?” he said – in tones of chilly, icy evil.
This time, the card read:
It was impossible not to laugh. No one would have asked it of him; it was more than the human body could take. “You – you entertain toilets?” he wheezed, and when Malfoy tried to snatch the card back he held it tight, making him fight for it.
Malfoy eventually won, and he subsided into pained dignity for a while – a little marred by his occasional need to pant – before breaking it with: “I seriously give up on you, Potter.”
“Please don’t,” Harry said – and he meant it in a selling me a toilet kind of way, but it came out sounding more serious, and Malfoy shuffled in his seat and looked away.
The atmosphere became sticky, and Harry wasn’t much of a fan of sticky things, unless they were buns, so he said, “Well, er, shall we?” in a slightly incomprehensible way.
But simultaneously, Malfoy said: “Do – do you want to go back to the showroom, then?”
And for some reason, this un-stuck the atmosphere, and Harry – rather to his dismay – about one second later said: “Yes, go on then,” and off they went.
They landed in the showroom in much the same manner as before, only this time Malfoy’s grip on his arm wasn’t quite so boa-constrictor-like, and instead of letting go immediately, he hung on lightly, and pulled Harry in the direction of – surprise surprise – a toilet.
“This one’s probably more your style,” Malfoy said, sounding a little bit up himself – for a change, Harry thought. He couldn’t see why though. This toilet, out of all the toilets he’d seen so far, looked the most normal. It was white, and a regular toilet size, and . . . and, well, it looked like a toilet, which was exactly what was needed in this situation, Harry realised, wishing he’d used his own avocado-coloured one before he’d left the house.
“Try it out,” Malfoy said, pointing to the toilet and releasing Harry’s arm.
Harry looked at the toilet; the toilet didn’t look back, but only because it had no eyes, only reflective surfaces. “Really?” he said, doubtfully.
“Go on! Try it out!” said Malfoy, strangely enthusiastic.
“Um . . .” Harry said. There was no door to the toilet, and he didn’t really want to piss in front of Malfoy, but . . . He reached for his fly.
Upon Malfoy’s face, understanding dawned. “Noooooo!” he said, flapping his hands in an impression of an ungainly bird. “I meant try out the flush! The flush!” He took a deep breath and composed himself as Harry froze, mid fly-opening.
“Not use . . .?” Harry said, seeking further clarification: should he be mildly embarrassed, or really really really embarrassed?
“No!” Malfoy squeaked. “Put it away, Potter, for pity’s sake!”
Oh, OK then, Harry thought; really really really embarrassed it is, and he allowed all the blood in his body to swamp his face, painting it vermilion, as he zipped his fly back up.
Malfoy – who, Harry saw through a fog of heat, looked strangely ruffled – strode over to the toilet and flushed it. The room was filled with a disco beat as a recent Wizard Hit Parade number one song played – loudly. “Every time you flush, a different tune,” Malfoy said faintly. And then pulled himself together. “Not my idea of class, you understand,” he added facetiously, “but I thought you might like it.”
“Actually, though, Malfoy, I really do need to . . .” Harry said, trying not to hop up and down on the spot. The music, combined with the flushing water, hadn’t helped.
“Perhaps you’d like to try . . .?” Malfoy said, back to strangely flustered again, and he took Harry by the elbow and led him over to an opaque walled cubicle – without a toilet in it.
“If this is your idea of a joke—” Harry said.
“No, no,” Malfoy interrupted. “What do you think?”
Harry felt oddly refreshed, and all of a sudden he didn’t actually need the loo any more.
“It’s the ultimate in minimalism,” Malfoy was saying. “Of course, the magic does need topping up occasionally, so if it fails when you’re caught short then you might have a problem, but since you have an upstairs facility as well as a downstairs one then—” He stopped short. “What?” he demanded.
“Did your magic walls just – just – just steal my piss?” Harry demanded.
Malfoy wrinkled his nose. “If you must put it so crudely, then yes,” he conceded.
“Where did it go?”
Malfoy looked at him, appalled. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“How should I know? It’s the manufacturer’s little secret; I didn’t ask to visit the site!”
“No,” Harry said firmly. “Not that toilet. Absolutely not.” He didn’t like the sound of magically disappearing waste; he knew that traditionally wizards had simply Vanished the ‘evidence’ whenever they needed to go, but he knew from long experience that whenever he Vanished something without thinking really clearly where he wanted it to go, nine times out of ten it would turn up somewhere unexpected – his attic, or the back garden, or under his bed. Once, he’d managed to Vanish all his dirty laundry from the floor, when Luna had made a surprise visit, right into her handbag.
The results of a mystical, waste-vanishing cubicle didn’t bear thinking about.
“Malfoy,” Harry said.
“Yes, Harry?” Malfoy said, and Harry forgot exactly what it was he’d wanted to ask – completely.
Harry thought that silence would probably do just as well as an answer, but given that he was a grown man – an adult – and not afraid of Hermione at all, he said, “No, but there were many good reasons why I didn’t.”
Hermione fixed him with her gimlet eye. “Name one,” she said, unfairly.
“The fact that I still haven’t cured Malfoy of his curse!” Harry improvised, although it was true – he hadn’t. Had Hermione forgotten that? It had been her who’d been banging on about it, and, if you looked at it from his perspective, it was her sodding fault that he was being harassed by a toilet-selling Malfoy in the first place!
Hermione sighed. “You’ve tried every curse-breaking spell I’ve suggested?”
“Yes,” Harry said. The word was so short – too short, in Harry’s opinion. It didn’t adequately reflect the pain he’d felt at trying to convince Malfoy to take the armful of twigs – of four different, specific kinds of wood – and throw them in the fire, speaking the name of his enemy. (I don’t have an enemy, Harry, Malfoy had said – which was, in Harry’s opinion, an unfairly reasonable thing to say, particularly when it was summer and lighting a fire was clearly insanity.)
“And he didn’t suspect you were up to something?”
Harry considered that. Malfoy had gone along with the twigs – and with the magic mirror, and the candles – in a surprisingly tolerant manner. And had called him Harry. It was almost as if . . .
No, Harry couldn’t work it out. “If he suspected something, he didn’t say anything,” he said slowly. “Perhaps the curse has addled his brain?”
Hermione patted the sofa next to her. “I’m afraid it’s more than that, Harry. Ron and I have been talking, and we shared the problem with our Auror class—”
“You did what?” Harry interrupted, startled, and nearly spilling his own wine over his lap.
“I didn’t name names, of course,” Hermione said. “As if I would! As I was saying, we shared the problem with our Auror class, and the consensus is that Malfoy has not been cursed.”
“You mean he’s selling toilets of his own free will?” Harry asked dubiously. It didn’t seem likely, even now.
“In a way,” Hermione said, looking down into her glass. “We think – and I’m sorry to say this, Harry – but we think that Malfoy might be undercover in some way.”
“An . . . undercover toilet salesman?” No, it didn’t sound plausible. “Surely if Malfoy went undercover, he’d choose a far more glamorous disguise?”
Hermione sighed. “Perhaps he would have, but you needed a new toilet – it was the ideal opportunity.”
“Oh,” Harry said, suddenly realising exactly what she was getting at. The idea of Malfoy as an undercover toilet salesman in general was laughable; the idea of him posing as a salesman to get access to Harry’s house was not so funny.
“So, what do you think he’s up to?” Harry asked. Because if Malfoy was undercover, then he had to have some nefarious plan.
Hermione’s brow furrowed. “It might not be true,” she said, and she sounded surprisingly sympathetic. “I’m just saying – be careful, Harry, because things might not be all they appear.”
Harry laughed – or at least tried to. “At least I’ll get a new toilet out of the whole business, even if he is up to something, right?” he said.
“Right,” Hermione said – but she sounded less than convinced.
“Um, good morning to you too, Malfoy,” Harry said, leaning against the door jamb and watching Malfoy slope about the kitchen, examining things with pursed lips.
“You kept that china from the other day? We can use that. Now – where do you keep your loose leaf tea?”
“I don’t,” Harry said, but he still crossed the kitchen and opened up the tea cupboard.
They stared, together, at the cupboard interior – empty, apart from one large, battered box of teabags.
“This is some Muggle monstrosity, right?” Malfoy said finally.
“Muggle magic,” Harry corrected.
Malfoy reached in and extracted a teabag. He turned it over in his long, slender fingers and brought it up to his nose to sniff, delicately. “Adequate, I suppose,” he said, “but I fail to see the advantage of bagging up the leaves this way.”
“You can make the tea in the mug,” Harry said.
Malfoy appeared to almost swoon. “In. The. Mug?” he said faintly. “No, no. Fetch the teapot!”
“Whose kitchen is this?” Harry asked, folding his arms.
“Fetch the teapot . . . please?” Malfoy amended.
Harry did as asked, and soon the tea was brewing, with Malfoy directing proceedings – which seemed, as far as Harry could tell, to mean Malfoy lounging against a worktop whilst ordering Harry about.
It was not, truth be told, as irritating as he would have expected.
“Why couldn’t you have been so helpful when we were doing Potions at school?” Harry asked – unwisely – as he searched for a clean teaspoon.
There was an uncomfortable silence. When he finally spoke, Malfoy’s voice was rather tight. “I could ask you the same, I suppose.”
The uncomfortable silence rejoined them for a while. “Things were different back then,” Harry said eventually. “We were different back then.” It was sort of a question.
“I was certainly different, yes,” Malfoy acknowledged stiffly. “Though you are still the same wondrous chosen one of old.”
Harry bridled – and decided to choose the other, better way: biscuits. “There’s some cookies in that cupboard, there,” he said, pointing. “Why don’t you get them out?”
“Me?” said Malfoy.
“Yes, you,” Harry said heartlessly.
Malfoy did so, but with a very put-upon air, and his nose scrunched up when he examined the packet. “More Muggle crap?” he said.
“Yes,” Harry said. “I like Muggle crap,” he added firmly. “But if it’s not good enough for you, then you can fuck off to wherever you sprang from.”
Malfoy’s eyes widened, rather as if he was a rabbit that had been viciously savaged by a lettuce, but he kept his temper and gave a quick, albeit pained, nod. “Let’s go through,” he suggested, and led the way to the living room as if it were his house, the packet of chocolate chip biscuits still in his hand.
Conversation flowed, albeit in a rather general way, as they drank their tea and ate their biscuits – Malfoy, Harry noticed, showed no further objection to the Muggle origins of the biscuits, and if he didn’t like the taste then he covered it up extremely well. The only issue as far as Harry could see was that Malfoy seemed highly skilled in eating biscuits without dropping a single crumb, while Harry himself was unable to take a bite without being showered in them.
Harry had thought that it might be a bit tricky to converse for any length of time with Malfoy without straying into forbidden subjects – even mentioning school was a minefield – but Malfoy led the conversation with ease, flitting from topic to topic without putting a foot wrong.
Of course, given that the majority of the topics covered seemed to be based in ‘taking the mick out of Harry’, that didn’t seem actually that surprising. There appeared to be no end to the variety of ways Malfoy could gently mock him; almost as if he’d practised at home before he came.
When the topic moved from Harry’s hair to his choice of interior decoration, Harry felt, however, that this was unfair. “I’ve only just moved in!” he protested.
“Then you’re very lucky I’m here to give you the benefit of my taste,” Malfoy said smugly.
“Oh. Yes, the new toilet,” Harry said.
Malfoy blinked. “The toilet? Yes, I suppose so. But I was thinking more of the colour scheme for this room, for example; what you have currently is truly dreadful . . .” And he was off, talking up a storm as Harry nodded and smiled and, in all honesty, didn’t really listen, just enjoyed watching the way that Malfoy’s face came alive as he spoke.
It was the last time that day that toilets were mentioned at all.
This was Hermione’s idea; she’d owled him from the office, where she had been stuck overnight:
Harry – if Malfoy’s genuine, he’ll have more than one client, won’t he? If you still haven’t managed to buy a toilet from him yet, why don’t you get him to prove it. See you tonight for dinner. Love, Hermione x
Harry had studiously ignored the ‘if you still haven’t managed to buy a toilet’ part; sarcasm was beneath Hermione. But the basic idea was sound: if Malfoy really was the hotshot salesman he seemed, with his massive Hall of Loos, and his enormous Portfolio of Porcelain, then he’d have scores of satisfied clients, wouldn’t he?
Malfoy looked over at him; he was sitting – or, more accurately, half lying – stretched out on the sofa, his feet bare. (“I don’t want to get dirty marks on your sofa,” he’d said fastidiously, kicking his shoes off, before adding sotto voce, “even if that would probably improve it.”) “Testimonials from my previous clients?” he repeated. “Why?”
Harry considered this. “Why not?” he said eventually.
This seemed to render Malfoy speechless for a moment. Clearly, it was a witty and persuasive argument, Harry thought.
“Unfortunately,” Malfoy said, sliding further down the sofa and stretching like a cat, “I’m going to have to plead client confidentiality. I’d love to share, but you know how it is.”
No, Harry didn’t know how it was, given that he hadn’t managed to actually buy a toilet from Malfoy yet. Maybe Malfoy’s toilets were, after all, imaginary? Or invisible? Perhaps his whole showroom was one massive, really convincing illusion?
“Am I your only client, Malfoy?” Harry said sternly.
Malfoy looked over at him, a smile quivering on his lips. “Of course not,” he said, with extreme smugness, “but the majority of my clients are the crème of society, and so they don’t wish to share knowledge of their intimate bathroom purchases with others. It is hardly the done thing.”
This seemed . . . almost reasonable. However: “The majority of your clients are the crème?” Harry demanded. This appeared to contain a hidden insult.
Malfoy’s eyes laughed. “Indeed. Now, may I have some more cake, Potter, or do I have to do everything myself?”
Harry fetched him the cake, and considered if he was in the process of being brainwashed into being an arrogant, infuriating toilet salesman’s assistant. Maybe that would be Malfoy’s ultimate revenge.
“No-o,” Harry agreed. At least, not for the rest of his life; right now what Ron termed the ‘Malfoy problem’ was proving surprisingly entertaining. He hadn’t realised quite how much of a hermit he’d become, spending most of his days alone. The peace, the space – it was good. But maybe it was time he thought about emerging from his cocoon and taking a more active part in life again.
The fact that it was Malfoy, and his toilets, that had brought Harry to this realisation made him feel a bit peculiar.
“If he’s not cursed,” Hermione said, “and he won’t provide any evidence of other clients, then I’m afraid it really does look like he’s using you in some way, Harry.”
Ron left to stir or chop something; a good smell was permeating the flat, and Harry felt glad it wasn’t cake. He’d eaten too much cake recently. Who would have thought that Malfoy had such a sweet tooth? It was a wonder he wasn’t the size of a house, rather than the tall, slim man he was.
Harry found himself thinking a little too deeply about Malfoy’s figure as he lounged on the couch, half asleep with contentment and cake, and he mentally shook himself. The toilets had driven him barmy; it was the only explanation.
“I don’t know what Malfoy’s up to,” Harry admitted. He didn’t think Malfoy was using him as part of some nefarious scheme – but it was entirely possible. It was fair to say that there was bad blood between them, and at no point had they had a conversation where the words ‘I’m’ and ‘sorry’ had left Malfoy’s lips. They hadn’t had a conversation about the war – about the past – at all. Harry didn’t think he could bear it, to be honest.
Hermione looked at Harry anxiously, and he wished she wouldn’t. “I’m OK, Hermione, honest,” he said, to stave off any personal questions.
“I believe you,” Hermione said – an obvious lie, but Harry was glad she said it, anyway.
Ron returned bearing a bowl of salad. “Be about ten minutes for the lasagne,” he said. “Now – what are we doing about Malfoy?”
Hermione made an obvious effort to turn off her anxious face. “I think we need to force Malfoy to break his cover,” she said.
“How?” Ron said – it was a bit muffled, as he said it through more bread.
“We could do with a new toilet,” Hermione said.
There was a pause, during which Ron audibly swallowed as quickly as he could. “No, we couldn’t!” he protested.
“Yes, we could,” Hermione countered. “And Malfoy is just the man to provide it.”
There was no stopping her, Harry could see that; the light of battle was in her eyes, and Malfoy’s fate was surely sealed.
I missed you, Harry definitely didn’t say. Because there was no way that he’d missed Malfoy. There couldn’t be. That would be the epitome of insanity.
“I’ve been busy selling and overseeing the installation of a couple of new toilets,” Malfoy continued breezily, making his way unbidden into the living room and settling on the sofa with a contented sigh. “I don’t usually discuss my clients, as you know, but since Mr Weasley and Miss Granger are such good friends of yours, I don’t see the harm.”
“You . . . sold Ron and Hermione a toilet?” Harry said, sitting down next to Malfoy, without thinking, rather than on the sofa opposite.
Malfoy turned to him confidentially. “No, I sold them two toilets,” he said. “His and hers.” And he smiled a self-satisfied smile. “I hope they will be very happy with them.”
“I’m sure they will be,” Harry lied, and tried not to laugh. He didn’t want to say that it served Hermione right, but . . .
And, unfortunately for Harry, there wasn’t much he could say to that.
He’d been to visit Ron and Hermione, and even they had to admit that their new toilets were certainly – toilets. And Draco Malfoy had, in point of fact, sold these toilets – to them. So in the very basest sense of the words, Draco Malfoy was, indeed, a toilet salesman. No further proof was required in that regard.
However, even Harry could see now that rather than trying to sell him a toilet, Malfoy was mostly lounging around the place eating biscuits and being sarcastic. To Harry’s surprise – and certainly to Ron’s disbelief – it wasn’t that he disliked that, as such. It was just . . . strange, Harry decided, trying not to think too deeply about his real feelings because he suspected they’d alarm him. Yes – it was strange. And inexplicable. Because Draco Malfoy, long-time enemy of Harry’s, surely couldn’t be hanging around Harry’s house because he liked his company, now, could he?
So it was unsurprising, really, that the next time Harry saw Malfoy, he lost his temper. “Draco Lucius Malfoy,” he snapped, turning to the man sitting next to him on the sofa, “ARE you or are you NOT a ruddy full-time toilet salesman?”
Malfoy, who’d been sipping tea delicately from a tea cup, jumped and managed to slosh a tide of tea over his pale grey trousers. “How do you know my middle name?” he prevaricated, setting down the cup and dabbing at the stain with his sleeve before Harry – feeling a bit guilty, but no less cross – waved his wand and spelled it away.
Harry chucked his wand on the table and, shoving his hand into his pocket, withdrew another of Malfoy’s business cards; this one he’d found discarded on the floor. It had obviously fallen out of Malfoy’s pocket by accident.
“Draco Lucius Malfoy: helping you make your bathroom a little piece of heaven,” Draco murmured, reading out loud. “Ah, I see.” He cleared his throat. “I thought using my full name made me sound a little pompous, so I decided against it.”
“Draco!” Harry said, trying not to shout. “Will you answer the sodding question?”
Malfoy’s face turned supercilious and punchworthy. “I don’t believe I gave you permission to call me by my given name,” he said, stowing the business card in a pocket.
“Oh, er, sorry, Malfoy,” Harry stuttered, caught off balance. Malfoy had taken to calling him Harry, but this was the first time Harry’d called Draco by his first name to his face. He’d been starting to think of Malfoy – alarmingly – as something of a friend. More than an acquaintance, anyway. And certainly more than a toilet salesman.
Rather a lot more, his mind added for him, and he attempted to squash that thought before it took over his brain.
Malfoy smiled disarmingly. “Please, call me Draco,” he said.
“Malf— Drac—” Harry said, stumbling over the words in his alarm, and bit his lip, feeling like an idiot.
Malfoy’s – Draco’s – smile became wicked. “Let me hold your hand, Harry, and guide you through it, if that will be easier,” he said, in the most patronising way possible.
For no apparent reason that Harry could see, he allowed Draco to actually do this. They were sitting quite close now, and it had become quite stuffy in the room, despite it being a chilly day for summer.
“Now repeat after me,” Draco said, speaking very slo-w-ly. “Dra. Co.”
“Very funny,” Harry said, but he didn’t let go of Draco’s hand. “Ha ha.”
“No, not ha ha. Dra. Co,” Draco said, and his lips quirked, as if he’d made a hilarious joke. “Go on. You try.”
“Draco,” Harry said, and he wet his lips. His heart was pounding, and he couldn’t make himself look Draco in the face. He tried to think about toilets, but this didn’t seem to help him keep his composure.
“Yes, Harry?” Draco murmured, and Harry looked up at that – and right into Draco’s sparkling eyes.
“You’re laughing at me,” Harry said, feeling a stone settle in his stomach. He pulled his hand away.
There was a pause, during which Harry looked at the floor and Draco said nothing. The air in the room felt very still, and Harry’s breathing sounded very loud to him.
“Perhaps a little,” Draco said, his tone artificially airy, and for some reason he reached out and gave Harry’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, before withdrawing his hand. “Maybe I should go now; shall I drop by again tomorrow?”
Harry nodded, and he reflected, when Draco had gone, that the day hadn’t done much to prove the hypothesis that Draco Malfoy really was a toilet supremo; it had, in fact, almost done the opposite.
There must be another reason why Draco was hanging out in Harry’s house constantly, pretending to enjoy his company, Harry thought – but what the hell could it be?
This was what his life had descended to, Harry through with utmost gloom; reporting conversations he’d had with Draco Malfoy, of all people, to Ron, for his entertainment. He might have over-egged the pudding with this one though. “I – er – got distracted,” he said, and turned away rather than suffer the meaningful looks on both Ron and Hermione’s faces: Ron’s was one of surprise and alarm, and Hermione’s was rather more knowing.
Harry didn’t know what it was that Hermione knew – all he knew was that he didn’t want to. Know, that is. He rubbed his forehead with his hand; he was giving himself a headache.
“You didn’t buy a toilet from him, by any chance, did you?” Hermione asked, as if that was the least likely event possible in the history of magic – and, as he’d learned in Professor Binns’ lessons, that was a bloody long time.
“Of course he didn’t buy a toilet,” Ron said, not letting Harry speak. “Our Harry here has turned into a bona fide fruit loop.” He paused. “I did get that right, didn’t I?” he asked Hermione.
“Very good, Ron, full marks,” Hermione said – with a faint air of being long-suffering.
“I’m mugging up on Muggle insults through the ages,” Ron said. “It’s part of our Auror training.”
“Well, it’s not really part of—” Hermione said faintly.
“Shut it, fustiluggs.”
Hermione bridled. “Ronald Bilius Weasley, if you don’t stop that I’ll—”
“Don’t be such a harridan, you gill-flirt! And – and munster heifer!” Ron said hastily, obviously thinking that as he’d started, he might as well continue, while he still had all his limbs intact.
“MUNSTER HEIFER?” Hermione said, with a face that suggested that Ron would be sleeping in the spare room for at least the next year – or five.
Harry thought, for the sake of harmony, it was time to intervene. “Hermione hasn’t put that much weight on recently,” he said, and then ducked as Hermione sent a jelly-legs hex hurtling through the air.
“Sorry, sorry, it was just a joke!” he said from under the table, where he’d taken refuge, and in answer Hermione gave him a swift kick.
That was, Harry thought, only just; so, to be equally fair, he passed on the retribution, giving Ron a hearty punch on the leg.
For a while, friendly violence reigned supreme. When order had been restored, with Hermione triumphant, and Harry resurrected from his under-the-table grave, Harry brought the conversation back to Malfoy. Which was a mistake, he soon realised.
“I just want to know what Malfoy’s up to,” he explained – quite reasonably. “That’s all.”
“He’s sitting in your house every day, eating your food, insulting your hair, and plotting some kind of foul scheme, while you smile at him and treat him as if he’s not a Malfoy or a Slytherin,” Ron said, obviously loosened up by all the violence and inadvertently letting his real opinions slip out. Hermione elbowed Ron, but it was too late, and it didn’t stem the flow. “You’re letting him treat you like a mug, Harry, and I say that in the nicest of ways.”
“No you don’t,” Harry said.
“Fair point, mate,” Ron conceded. He sighed. “But I’m worried about you. Hermione’s worried about you. We don’t know what pointy-chin’s up to, and you’re acting as if he’s some sort of friend.” He spat out the word as if it tasted bad.
Hermione looked over at Harry. Her eyes were very kind. “Ron’s being an idiot – no, you are, Ron – but I agree with what he’s saying. I think we’re going to have to take stronger action to get Malfoy to reveal what his game is. And I’ve had an idea.”
Harry tried not to react as she explained it. He suspected that Draco – Malfoy – wasn’t going to be too impressed; that was, unless he was what he said he was . . .
And if he was, as he said, a high-end toilet salesman, then he’d be fine with it, wouldn’t he?
Harry sunk down into his seat and tried not to feel guilty.
“Miss Granger, Mr Weasley,” he said, his body tensing. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here today.” He made a visible effort to school his features into something neutral. “Nothing wrong with the toilets, I hope?”
“Not at all!” Hermione said, with great cheer, and patted the sofa next to her. “We couldn’t be happier.”
“. . . Good,” Draco said, but Harry could tell from the pause he left before he said it that he was suspicious.
Still, he sat, all the same, and Harry fetched tea and a plate of chocolate biscuits, and then sat down himself, a little puzzled as Draco failed to eat or drink anything. He was sitting very upright, the very model of respectability. But while he portrayed relaxed success beautifully, the fingers of his right hand, resting on his knee, were faintly shaking, as if he couldn’t quite stop them.
“Have you seen the latest issue of Witch Weekly, Draco?” Hermione asked.
Harry started at that, and nearly spilled his tea; Draco looked over at him curiously, regaining a little of his usual poise at Harry’s clumsiness, but Harry suspected – hoped – that Draco had no idea why he’d been startled. It was Draco’s first name on Hermione’s lips; it sounded so odd. Almost intimate. And after all the fuss he’d had about calling Draco ‘Draco’! Draco wasn’t telling Hermione off for taking his name in vain.
“No, I don’t take that publication,” Draco said, all composure. “Although I believe my mother sometimes does.”
“She’ll like this issue,” Ron said heartily, and passed it over.
An expectant silence filled the room as Draco stared at the cover – and everyone else stared at Draco.
The Porcelain Prince! screamed the cover shout line. From pure-blood reclusive bad-boy bachelor to toilet supremo! Turn to page 3 for a full spread on aristocrat hotty Draco Malfoy’s novel career move.
The cover image was of Draco himself, standing languidly between Hermione and Ron’s new toilets, waving his hands about as he explained their features in detail; Ron had, he’d explained to Harry earlier, taken the photo surreptitiously for future blackmail purposes. And wasn’t it – added Hermione – a good job that they’d been able to put his unkind thought to such good use?
Draco maintained an impressively passive expression; his face was a calm mask. Just for a moment, something leaked through – some strong emotion – but whether it was horror or delight, Harry just couldn’t tell. Either way, it was quickly clouded over by a haughty, bored air. It was a family look, and it gave Harry the shivers; he’d seen it on Lucius Malfoy’s face enough times through the years.
Draco flicked the pages and read the article with care. It wasn’t a particularly factual one, preferring mostly to squeal about his looks, his wealth, his ‘dark and dangerous past’ and his ‘obviously unusual tastes and sense of fun’, but it did contain a short interview with Hermione, who’d done remarkably well at sounding impressed. (Like a right little Malfoy fangirl, Ron had remarked earlier, in disgusted tones.) At the end, Malfoy’s owl-box details were included – ‘for interested customers’.
Draco’s chest rose and fell at an unnatural rate, and then he smiled, very warmly, at Hermione. “Thank you, Hermione,” he said. “I will certainly get more business out of this. How very kind you are.”
And Harry genuinely couldn’t tell whether he meant it or not.
He found the thought deeply depressing, and was further depressed by the knowledge that he wasn’t quite clear why he found it depressing. Draco Malfoy was not a good friend, would not make a good friend. He was always immaculately dressed and groomed, whereas Harry was having a good day if he’d remembered to brush his hair. He had expensive taste, whereas Harry – didn’t. He cared about wallpaper colours and loose leaf tea and china plates and silk handkerchiefs and pure-blood etiquette and about a hundred other things that Harry didn’t think were in the slightest bit important.
And – perhaps the most important – they had a history, and it was not one that Harry thought he could get over in a short amount of time. He sympathised, he pitied . . . but he didn’t think he was ready to forgive and forget. Not yet. He wasn’t that heroic a person. And there was the little matter that Draco hadn’t asked to be forgiven – and it seemed more likely that Ron would suddenly develop a passion for Muggle opera than it was that Draco would say a heartfelt sorry for what he’d done.
But despite all that, Harry still found himself lurking in the hall, hoping very much that Draco would pop by as usual, even if it was to just provide the closure Harry felt he needed – by selling him a toilet.
At least then he’d have a toilet to remember Draco by.
It still came as something of a shock, though, when the doorbell rang, and Harry lurched against the wall, knocking his elbow against the plaster and giving himself what he suspected would be a very nasty bruise. His heart hammering in his chest, he went to open the door.
Draco clearly hadn’t got the magical memo that things were now potentially awkward between them; he pushed his way past Harry as usual, charging off to the living room and settling down on the sofa with a contented sigh. “Early grey for me – with lemon, please, not milk – and do you have some cake? Fruit for preference, though a light sponge would do at a pinch.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to slum it with some Cadbury’s fingers,” Harry said, just to see Draco’s eyebrows raise to his hairline at the unfamiliar Muggle terminology.
“Who, might I ask, is Cadbury, and why am I allowing him to take liberties with his fingers?” Draco said lightly. He rummaged in his suit pocket, hefting out the massive portfolio he habitually carried around with him, and added: “I prefer to be taken out for dinner first, as a general rule,” before busying himself with the removal of his jacket and very much not looking Harry in the eye.
Hermione had often said that Harry couldn’t take a hint; he usually agreed with her. But this wasn’t so much a hint as a bludger to the head. Still, it was best to be sure. “I didn’t know you dated men, Malf— Draco,” Harry said in a strangled voice, ducking out of the room and heading to the kitchen so that Draco couldn’t see his whole head turning scarlet.
When he returned with the tea and Cadbury’s chocolate finger-shaped biscuits, along with a wodge of sponge, he’d managed to get his body temperature a bit more under control, though his heart kept doing odd backflips and flollops in his chest.
“Didn’t you?” Draco asked, pouring from the teapot with a steady hand.
“Didn’t I what?” Harry asked, losing the thread of the conversation. “Have any – er – fingers?”
Draco’s hand wobbled, and he spilt some of the tea into the saucer. “Blast,” he said, and when he went to Vanish the mess, he managed to disappear the whole tea cup as well. He looked over at Harry, a little wild-eyed.
“See, there are advantages to teabags!” Harry said, feeling that something light-hearted and very much not about fingers would go down well at this point.
Draco’s lips moved into a reluctant smile. “If you have no style, perhaps,” he said.
“No style, but lots of tea,” Harry replied, and he grinned back, before going to the kitchen to fetch a new cup – and take the opportunity to hide for a little while to catch his breath. This was not the conversation he’d expected to have with Draco today. Not that it was a bad thing – no, not in the slightest, Harry was surprised to realise. It was just . . . unexpected.
He took a few deep breaths to prevent himself from hyperventilating; all the blood seemed to have rushed to his head. Which was better than where it had been a minute ago, all in all.
When he returned, Draco seemed to have no trouble pouring tea this time, and he appeared to have regained his equilibrium. He took a thoughtful sip and then said, “Hermione’s little advert for my business has had rather an effect.”
“Oh?” Harry said, and his heart starting beating wildly again; he felt as if he was on the edge of a precipice. The wind was whistling in his ears, and he wanted to jump – but it was a fucking long way to fall.
Draco shrugged. “I received dozens of requests for my services this morning alone.”
This did rather beg the question then why he was sitting in Harry’s living room, without an appointment, still failing to sell him a toilet.
“Perhaps you’d like to decide on a design today?” Draco asked.
Oh. Harry felt his stomach lurch, as if he’d jumped and was now plummeting to earth from a great height. It was less exhilarating than he’d hoped.
“I don’t mean to press you,” Draco continued, in such a normal, blasé tone that it was unnatural, “but with such high demand for my wares, I expect that it will take at least a couple of weeks for me to be able to deliver your chosen toilet to you, and in the meantime I’m sure I can squeeze in a meeting or two for us to discuss . . .” He thought about that. “Positioning of the appliance,” he decided, “and such things.”
Draco got out his little diary and a miniature quill. “Would this Saturday suit?” he asked, looking very studiously at the page. “I expect to be busy throughout most of the day with new clients, but I wouldn’t want to let you down . . . Would you be free for dinner?”
Dinner? “Uh, sure,” Harry said, thinking quickly but not deeply; the memory of the dreadful Cadbury’s fingers innuendo Draco had recently committed was threatening make him spontaneously combust on the spot, now that the two ideas of ‘Draco without his clothes on’ and ‘going on a date with Draco’ were attempting to merge in his mind.
Harry could almost feel Draco smile, and he prayed – without much hope – that Draco couldn’t read his mind and see what filth currently lurked within it.
“Excellent. Seven thirty? Good. I’ll book a table and pick you up, if that works for you?”
Harry nodded; he seemed to have lost the power of speech.
And half an hour later, Draco departed, with Harry’s toilet order in his pocket – he had, it appeared, in his portfolio a regular, normal toilet that a regular, normal bloke like Harry might like, after all – and Harry was left, a little dazed, sitting on the sofa, with a date in only a couple of evening’s time.
It was a toilet-related date, he told himself; it seemed important not to forget that – Cadbury’s fingers aside. But it was a date, he felt sure, nonetheless.
Hermione frowned at him. She had bags under her eyes, and Harry suspected she’d been up all night studying for whatever her current Auror module was. Ron looked rather perkier.
Harry shrugged, unwilling and unable to put his thoughts on the subject into actual out loud words just yet, and Hermione turned her frown on him instead. “Are you sure you’re OK with this, Harry?” she asked. “Ignore Ron. It’s just . . .”
“What?” Harry asked. Trust Hermione to take the shine off things with her just suspicions and her reasoned worries.
“. . . Draco’s quite different to Ginny,” Hermione said with immense tact.
Ron laughed and reached over to slap Harry on the shoulder. “Of course he’s different to Ginny!” he said. “Malfoy’s a turd totalitarian, while my sister’s going to be a top Quidditch player.”
Hermione groaned, and Harry suspected that Ron hadn’t entirely understood his girlfriend’s comment – thank Merlin.
“Tell you what, though, mate,” Ron added, “I’m glad it’s you rather than me who has to sit through dinner with the powder-room poof.” He paused expectantly, and then seemed alarmed when the air between himself and Hermione turned chill and spiky. “Too much?” he asked.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “You aren’t big, and you aren’t clever, Ronald,” she said.
“I am!” Ron protested.
“No,” Harry said – heartfelt, for Reasons. “You’re really not.”
Ron subsided. “Sorry, mate,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a dread experience, but chin up, eh?” Then he frowned. “Although, I hate to say this, but it does sound as if you’re letting yourself in for a whole evening with a genuine homosexual toilet salesman – and nutter. Even I’m three-quarters convinced that Malfoy’s gone off his rocker and really is a full-time loo-monger.”
“I’m sure you’ll have a lovely evening, Harry,” Hermione said – with only the teeniest bit of doubt. “Draco can be very charming.”
Ron snorted. “Charming!”
“Yes, charming,” Hermione repeated firmly. “Just – Harry?”
Harry didn’t like the sound of the sincere tone in her voice. “Yes?” he said, trying not to squeak.
“If you do like Draco in the way he obviously likes you, I just wanted you to know, you have our full support. Ron and I are behind you all the way.”
Ron made a noise as if he’d exploded into a squelchy mess, and Harry couldn’t get his mind off ‘in the way he obviously likes you’, which played and replayed itself in his mind like a stuck record.
“AREN’T WE, Ron?” Hermione said. It was a hint marvellous in its subtlety.
“Oh, yes, yes,” Ron muttered. “Behind Malfoy all the way; a great position from which to attack.” He turned a beseeching look on Harry; the knut had obviously dropped. “Seriously, mate? Malfoy?”
“He’s just selling me a toilet!” Harry said, and this time it definitely came out as a squeak. An unconvincing squeak, made even more unconvincing by the addition of: “And we’re just going out to dinner to discuss where to put it!”
There was a long pause.
Hermione looked at Harry gravely. “I think it should go in the downstairs bathroom,” she said. “Don’t you?”
At least – Harry was ninety-nine per cent sure that Malfoy was gay; it would be a tiny bit embarrassing if he just really liked making smutty jokes about chocolate fingers and didn’t care who had their sexuality completely confused by them.
The remaining one per cent leaped about in his head, waving and demanding attention, especially when Harry was deciding what to wear.
Harry had been given some unsolicited advice by Hermione earlier, which had made him question every sartorial choice he’d ever made, and had also made him come to the conclusion that the only thing in his wardrobe which would fit the bill was his old school uniform – and doubtless Hermione hadn’t meant that when she’d said ‘something smart but not too try hard or formal’. The only formal thing he had was a set of very full, very black dress robes, with embroidery in Gryffindor colours on the sleeves. Despite his years living in wizarding society, he still felt like a bit of a cock in them. Besides, they were so black – in combination with his black hair, he suspected that the whole outfit gave him rather an air of ‘resurrected corpse’.
No; the formal robes were out. But other than that, all Harry had were half a dozen identical pairs of well-worn black jeans, and a large selection of rather greying and/or wrinkled T-shirts.
It was too late to buy anything new, and Harry didn’t think he actually wanted to – either Draco liked him for who he was, or he was an insane toilet man, and neither option required new clothes. But he did go so far as to get out the iron and ironing board, which gleamed from disuse, and give his least beaten-up jeans and most-white T-shirt a good pressing.
Once he’d made an attempt to flatten down his hair with a tub of hair gunk that Ron had owled over, he glanced in the mirror and wasn’t too disheartened by what he saw. He looked like Harry – and he didn’t think that was a bad thing, really.
He peered a bit closer in the mirror, wondering if he looked different now he was considering dating a man – well, more than considering; it was a bit late to say ‘considering’ when the man in question was on his way to pick him up. But the momentous change wasn’t written on his face in any way; he just looked like him, only anxious. Which was, he suspected with some gloom, how he usually looked before going on a date. His hair was already doing something odd, so he fiddled with it, trying not to make it worse, with mixed results.
But despite all this unaccustomed dithering, Harry was still ready over half an hour early, and he couldn’t seem to settle with a book or with the wireless. He considered a drink and dismissed it; so, instead, he just sat on the sofa, staring at his battered trainers, and feeling extremely nervous.
By seven thirty-five, Harry was on his feet and pacing; by seven forty-five, he was reaching for a bottle of firewhisky, certain that Draco had decided not to come. Just as he was unscrewing the top, the doorbell rang, and it was only because of his seeker’s reflexes that the falling bottle didn’t reach the floor and smash. Still, a puddle of the drink soaked into the carpet, and Harry sucked his fingers, wondering just how alcoholic he smelled.
He went to get the door, and Draco sniffed delicately. “Hello,” he said. “Started on the booze without me, did you?”
“You’re late,” Harry said crossly, and then flushed as a wide, delighted smile spread across Draco’s face.
“Terribly sorry,” Draco said, not sounding sorry at all, “but I took my time getting ready. I do hope you didn’t think I’d stood you up?”
Harry’s insides squirmed; this was not a comfortable conversation, and looking at Draco was only making things worse. He’d clearly made an effort; gone was the ubiquitous grey three-piece suit, and in its place were very form-fitting smart black trousers, dress shoes, and a dark-green shirt. Silver glinted at his wrists and neck. “Would you like to come in?” Harry asked, when he realised it was his turn to speak – and instead he was just gawping.
Draco smirked. “No, I think we’ll go straight on, shall we?” He took Harry’s arm. “You look good, by the way,” he said, but he was Apparating them both away to the restaurant before Harry could take that in – or even be entirely certain that that was what he’d said. It could quite as easily have been ‘you look odd’. He could already feel his hair defying the hair potion and springing up in a no-doubt ridiculous angle.
The restaurant, when they arrived with a sickening lurch – and Harry reminded himself that he must never, ever Apparate whilst drunk or hungover; the results could be too horrible – was one he knew well. Small and intimate, without being stuffy, it was one of his favourites, and not actually all too far from his new home, although he hadn’t visited for a while. This seemed like a good omen, and he instantly relaxed a bit.
The maitre d’ led them to a discreet table and left them to the wine list and the menus.
Draco gave them a cursory glance then closed them. “Order for me, will you?” he asked. “Whatever you’re having will be fine.”
Harry’s heart sunk to his shoes; this seemed fraught with peril, but he decided to take Draco at his word and when the waiter returned he ordered beer and steak with chunky chips for them both. Draco didn’t pull a face, so Harry hoped it would do. Though if it didn’t, then Draco should have ordered his own sodding food then, shouldn’t he?
Draco wasn’t saying anything, so Harry panicked, sought for a topic of conversation, and landed on the one thing he knew they had in common: toilets. “Did you manage to squeeze your toilet portfolio in your trouser pocket?” he joked, hoping the waiter would hurry up with their drinks.
Draco frowned. “I thought you’d already made the decision about which toilet you wanted,” he said, and as Harry felt panic that he’d totally misread the situation start to rise in his chest, Draco’s brow cleared and his lips quirked. “Besides, my trousers are far too tight to put anything in the pockets,” he murmured – from which ‘subtle’ hint Harry also deduced that it was going to be his job to pick up the bill.
Harry delved in his brain for something further to say – surely he must be able to think of something that wasn’t toilet related and wouldn’t veer into the unspeakable territory of Voldemort and the war! Just as he was starting to panic – anything, Harry, say anything! – and feel overwhelmed with awkwardness, Draco smiled at him. Which, to be admitted, made him feel even more awkward – but in a tingly, buzzy kind of way. Draco’s whole face changed when he smiled; the slightly pinched, hard edges of his face relaxed, and he seemed softer and about a million times friendlier.
“What have you done to your hair, by the way?” Draco said, and his tone was arsey, but there were crinkle lines around his eyes and his whole expression was relaxed and amused.
“You just don’t know style when you see it,” Harry countered, which made Draco actually laugh out loud, and while he was laughing the drinks arrived – and, sooner than he expected, the food.
Harry attempted to relax, and was glad that once Draco started talking, he seemed unable to stop – nattering away in a light, amusing, albeit occasionally cutting, manner. Harry wasn’t called on to do much more than listen, and occasionally agree, and so that, combined with the intense concentration he needed not to drop tomato ketchup down himself, meant the time flew by. Just when Harry was starting to finally properly relax and take an active part in the conversation, he realised that Draco had called for the bill and the meal was over.
Draco had paid before Harry could protest – Merlin knew where he’d secreted the cash – and he turned to Harry with a suddenly awkward expression. He reached up to fiddle with his top button, and then pulled at his shirt cuffs to straighten them. “Um,” he said.
Harry felt instantly nervous again; it was very unlike Draco to be tongue-tied.
“I’d ask you back to mine for a nightcap,” Draco said, looking anywhere but Harry, “but—”
“Oh, no, it’s fine,” Harry interrupted, telling himself off for the wave of disappointment that crashed over him. It was ridiculous to be disappointed; ridiculous.
Draco raised his chin, and looked Harry full in the eye. “But I still live with my parents,” he continued steadily, “and I don’t think I want to subject you to that.”
Harry winced. “Ah,” he said, “yes, that would be be . . .” and he shifted on his seat.
There was an awkward silence. Harry really wanted to ask Draco back to his, but what if what Draco had just said was a polite brush-off? And maybe it was too soon to invite him back; and anyway, by the time they got there, it would be after dark, and Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about that. It was all moving very fast, and where was Hermione to give him advice when he needed it? His head spun, and not just with the beer.
Draco snorted. “Merlin, you really are bad at this, aren’t you?” he said. And as Harry was processing this, and thinking it was a pretty unkind criticism, albeit accurate, Draco added, “I’d really like to come back to yours, I think I need to point that out, but it would be rude of me to invite myself, so I’m not going to.”
This pointed remark hung on the air for a moment.
Harry considered dying right there on the spot, but since that wasn’t really an available option, not to mention that his friends might object, he seized his courage in both hands. “Draco, would you like to come back to mine for a bit?” he said, his tongue feeling thick and heavy in his mouth. He stood up and slid out from behind the chair, rather than wait awkwardly for an answer.
Draco did likewise. He rolled his eyes, but in a nice way, and said, “How kind of you to ask. I’d love to.”
They stepped outside the restaurant; the light was fading fast. Harry’s head spun; he wasn’t sure whether he’d drunk a bit too much, or if it was nerves – or just Draco. “Shall we walk?” he asked, thinking that an attempt at Apparition would probably be a mistake. “It’s not far.”
Draco considered this, and although he screwed up his nose like he wanted to object, he nodded. They walked along side by side in silence for a while, but soon Draco stepped in close and tucked his arm under Harry’s as they walked, and they continued on in that way for the rest of the way, Harry’s skin tingling from the contact and his blood singing.
The summer night was warm, for a change, and Harry’s new house seemed to retain the heat a bit too well. They’d just been talking, getting even warmer on the remains of the firewhisky, and Draco had appeared to forget himself, pushing his shirt sleeves up in an automatic attempt to cool down.
Harry had cooled instantaneously, a chill, sick feeling sweeping down his spine and pooling in his stomach. He tried not to stare at Draco’s left forearm, but Draco followed the direction of his unwilling gaze, and evidently realised what he’d done.
Draco opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again, and the glance he shot Harry was wide-eyed and hunted, like an animal caught in a trap.
Harry – overcome by emotion and sudden anger roiling in his stomach – said, the words coming straight from some dark pit inside him, rather than his brain, or even his heart, “Not to worry, Malfoy. I’m sure with a little effort you can have your tattoo reworked and looking like a toilet in no time.”
Draco flinched, and life drained from his face as if a dementor were in the room. He put his glass down carefully, rolled down his sleeves, covering the Dark Mark back up, and stood. He swayed a little, as if he’d been punched in the head. “I think, perhaps, this was a mistake,” he said haltingly, and he didn’t sound like Draco Malfoy at all. “I . . . I really am so very sorry.”
He turned and started to walk out, his shoulders high and hunched.
Harry had been waiting for an apology from Draco – an apology for anything at all, really, just the chance to hear the word ‘sorry’ on his lips – for ages. But now he had one, he found he didn’t like it much, and as soon as the hard words had left his mouth he’d regretted them.
Harry’s head was a conflicting whirl of thoughts and emotions, but he knew that if he let Draco walk out now, it would be the end of things, and if he was clear on one thing it was this: he didn’t want Draco to leave. So he pushed himself up off the sofa, and dashed after Draco, grabbing his arm. “Are you just going to fucking walk out?” he found himself snapping; he couldn’t stop the hurt, vicious, firewhisky-fuelled words falling from his mouth. “Like some sort of coward?”
Draco shook him off, but he turned, and there were flares of red in his cheeks, his eyes sparkling with liquid. “This is who I am,” he said angrily, and his fingers twitched as if he was dying to reach for his wand. “You know that. How dare you judge me!”
Harry thought that was a bit rich. “You said you were sorry!” he protested.
This seemed to make Draco even angrier. “For ever thinking that you were someone I could come to—!” He broke off in confusion, jamming his hands in his pockets. He shook his head. “This is all coming out wrong,” he said, and he looked Harry right in the eye. “I did some fucked up things, I know that,” he said. He took a ragged breath, and then another. He was almost deathly calm now, his face cold and pale as milk, and it felt to Harry as if he’d been waiting a very long time to say these words. “But of all people, I think you should understand.”
“Why’s that?” Harry said. His tongue felt heavy, and he was half-mesmerised by Draco’s hard, intense stare, boring into him.
“Because you lost your parents to the Dark Lord,” Draco said flatly. The words buzzed in Harry’s ears. “And you’d have done anything to save them. Once I realised that—” He fumbled with his words. “That what my family had taught me all my life was wrong, that we’d chosen the wrong side . . .” He lowered his gaze. “I chose to do anything to save my parents too.” His tone hardened to stone. “I don’t regret it. There are many things I regret, but not that.” He clutched, almost subconsciously, at his left arm. “I’d do it all again if I had to.”
Harry felt as if there was steam coming out of his ears, he was so overheated and wound up and angry – and the fact that in a fucked up way he knew exactly what Draco was saying, and sympathised, and wondered what he’d have done if he’d been in Draco’s place didn’t help at all. Because he’d never have found himself in Draco’s place in the sodding first place!
“It was all awful,” Draco said, evidently finding the courage to look up again. “It was all fucking awful, and I hated myself, and I hated you, and I hated everything.”
And Harry hated that they were having this conversation – this conversation he hadn’t wanted to have – and still didn’t want to have, fuck it! – right here in the hallway of his new house, when up till now the evening had been so . . . so fizzing with possibilities. When up till now everything had been light-hearted, and almost easy, and he’d thought that maybe he could just forget about the past where Draco was concerned – just shut it away and not think about it ever again.
As if that had been a great plan; it was possibly the worst plan he’d ever had.
And now he was frightened, almost; everything was hot and sharp, and there was a proud, awful – complex, amusing, wonderful – man in front of him, saying things he didn’t want to hear, and if he fucked this up then he’d never forgive himself – and he was so angry, and hurt, and full of unspoken, unacknowledged longing, that he didn’t know how he could not fuck it up.
He’d never been very good at dealing with Malfoy, after all.
“I should go,” Draco said, and he stuck his chin up as if he was in control of himself, but the liquid in his eyes was leaking out in a horrifying way.
“I didn’t think Malfoys ever cried,” Harry said stupidly, and Draco laughed, a sharp, hysterical bark, as if he’d made a joke, and roughly dashed the water away with his shirt cuff.
“We don’t,” he said, “and we certainly don’t fall in love with stupid Potter boys either.”
Draco’s words took Harry’s breath away; not in a Muggle romance novel sort of way, but in a genuine, sucking the air from his lungs and strangling kind of way. It wasn’t the sort of charming, romantic feeling that he would have expected; he felt like he was dying, like his lungs were on fire and the world was hissing and crackling in his ears as he burned.
“Since when?” Harry managed. The words sounded disbelieving in his own ears – disbelieving and unfriendly.
“Oh God,” Draco said – in a desperate way that made it infinitely worse. “Since forever.” He looked away. “Sorry,” he mumbled, and laughed shakily. It wasn’t a nice laugh; it was bitter, and worn out. “I’ve never been very good at choosing my moments. Forget I ever said that.”
“I don’t think I want to forget it,” Harry said, forcing air in and out; breathing was good. Not dying was good.
Getting closer to Draco, to check that he was real, was also good. Of course, Harry also felt a strong urge to punch him on the nose, but then what was new? He felt like they’d been circling this for years, the intensity of their hatred – their obsession – for each other simply the expression of something else that neither of them had considered.
Except – Draco had considered it. Still considered it. And Harry could think of no good reason why he shouldn’t too.
Everything in his body – in his mind, his guts – screamed yes. Do it. His heart thrummed with it.
“I really should go now,” Draco said, without moving. His chest was rising and falling very quickly, and his gaze dropped to focus, intently, on Harry’s neck.
“I’ll walk you to the door, then,” Harry said, his voice thick, and it seemed wise when they got there to open it up, to let some cooler air into the overheated house – and into their overheated heads.
They stood on the doorstep, gazing at each other. Harry still wasn’t entirely sure whether he wanted to strangle Draco first or kiss him, but Draco took the choice away from him – he moved almost as if he couldn’t stop himself, pressing Harry up against the wall of the front entrance porch, and before Harry could blink, Draco’s mouth was hot and moist against his, Draco’s hands tangling in his hair.
They kissed as if they couldn’t get enough of each other; Draco tasted of salt, and booze, and desire, and he was warm and close and full of love, and overflowing with feelings, and Harry sighed into his mouth and drank deep of it.
They kissed until Harry’s lips felt sore, and his neck ached, and still they kissed, Draco’s fingers tugging painfully at his hair as if he couldn’t get close enough, no matter how hard he tried, his body a hard, firm weight against Harry’s, grinding him into the wall until he ached from shoulder to thigh. His skin was on fire.
Eventually, they broke away, Draco shivering with some emotion that Harry couldn’t identify; not that he could speak much about his own emotions. He was too tired, and overwhelmed, and – and happy. It was odd, but there it was. All these months he’d been searching for something to make him happy, after so much sadness, and the answer turned out to be Draco Malfoy. It was the strangest thing.
“I can’t – I can’t do this now,” Draco said, the words raw. Desperate. “I – can’t. Will I – shall I see you tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Harry said, clutching at Draco’s hands. “Yes, please.”
Draco managed to pull himself away. “Goodbye, Harry,” he said, and he leaned forward to kiss Harry on the cheek, before Apparating away into the darkness.
For a further moment, he was gripped by that distinct and special ‘morning after the night before’ panic: had he made a fool of himself? His heart pounded uncomfortably in his chest, and he groped for his glasses and his wand, Accio-ing a glass and jug of water from the kitchen.
Gulping down some water helped. He probed his memories – fuzzy with sleep and slightly too much booze – as if probing a painful tooth with a tongue. He felt himself flush with embarrassment and half-remembered anger; Draco had been – well, he’d been Draco, who else had Harry thought he’d be? – and Harry had been overemotional at the discovery, and clumsy, and and – and – and he’d made Draco cry – that bit burned especially bright in his memory with the blinding light of humiliation – and Draco had told him . . . told him— And then they’d kissed . . .
. . . and nothing would ever, ever be the same again.
Harry’s mouth turned dry again, and he gulped down another glass of water. It had all been a bit unexpected, the wave upon wave of emotion, and he went hot and cold with the thought it. Ginny – just before they’d broken up – had gone through a phase of binge reading Muggle romance novels, and he’d dipped into one once, just to see what all the fuss was about. It had seemed largely incomprehensible to him, all this overwrought passion and blazing rows and unstoppable, unquenchable desire. His love for Ginny had burned bright, of course it had, but with loyalty and friendship and shared experience, and . . .
. . . and when the war was over, they’d turned to each other and discovered that it wasn’t quite enough.
Harry groaned and put his head in his hands. Had he really gone on a date with Draco Malfoy, of all people, and expected it to be straightforward – rather than earth-shattering? Had Draco Malfoy really confessed that he’d been in love with Harry for – for – for forever? He felt as if he’d been knocked sideways; the star of his own, overwritten romance novel.
It would have, he felt sure, a truly ridiculous title. The Slytherin He’s Been Waiting For, perhaps. Or . . . or . . . Flushed Down the U-bend of Love. The Toilet Salesman Meets His Match was probably taking it too far, Harry thought; who’d buy into an unbelievable premise like that?
Harry felt like he’d just been coasting along, letting his life happen to him, and then someone had come along and turned a powerful Aguamenti on him – and now he was left cold, wet and spluttering, more awake – more alive – than he’d been in months.
He wondered what time Draco was coming over, and hoped he’d have enough time to shower and make himself look a bit more presentable before he did. He rose and peered in the mirror; his hair was just as bad as he’d imagined, and the bags under his eyes were big enough to fit Hagrid and Madame Maxime in.
He sat back down with a thud, and then stood up again. The whole situation still had a glaze of unreality, and Harry’s mind was buzzing, his nerve endings firing, as if he were under attack and had to defend himself. He was, he realised, horribly nervous, and he paced the room once, twice, three times, taking his glasses off to scrub a hand over his face.
But he stopped dead with the sudden, blinding realisation – he wasn’t nervous about the idea of being with Draco, of trying out the terrifying idea of making a life together. He wasn’t nervous that Draco was a man, and he’d never dated a man before – surely it couldn’t be that different from dating a girl?
No – he was nervous that he, Harry, would somehow cock it all up. He’d been hopeless at dating girls, so why the hell would dating boys – dating Draco – be any different?
There were some things he was good at: Quidditch, he thought, and . . . and duelling. He was good at being a friend, and at being stubborn. But he wasn’t so good at romance.
He started to panic, but told himself not to be so stupid. When it came down to it, he supposed Draco wasn’t too good at it either. But – but he’d spent the last year in Paris, the city of love, and what if he’d spent every day being wooed by French wizards? How could Harry compare to that? He made a resolution to mug up on French culture; they liked cheese, he knew that. And berets. Looking on the bright side, a beret might be good to cover up that bit of his hair that liked to grow at right-angles to the rest of it.
They could work through the issues they’d had at school, Harry thought with a wild laugh, by never mentioning them again – although, if fights like that led to kissing like that . . .
Harry ran a shaking hand through his hair, and his stomach did backflips as he remembered that kiss. He closed his eyes and wallowed in the memory, his breathing slowing as he recalled the feel of Draco, the taste. The way his eyelids had fluttered, and the little hitches of breath that sounded almost like sobs. He’d smelled of fresh sweat and clean clothes and an undertone of something exotic.
Harry’s pulse quickened, and he rubbed his hands on the fabric of his pyjama bottoms, his palms feeling clammy. He wanted Draco here right now – to kiss, and kiss, and to spread out on his bed, and—
The doorbell rang.
“Bollocks!” Harry said, startled, and spun around the spot, torn between hiding under the bed and running to fling the door open. He wasn’t ready to see Draco again, and his heart – and his courage – plunged to his feet. He wanted to make a good impression – to be smooth and prepared – and greeting Draco in his threadbare pyjamas, without having even cleaned his teeth, was not going to do the trick. But neither was leaving him on the doorstep.
Harry aimed his wand at himself and scrunched up his face before casting a quick Scourgify. It wasn’t an ideal spell for personal hygiene, making the caster feel a bit like they’d been scrubbed with a scouring pad, but it was better than nothing.
He bounded down the stairs, taking them two at a time, and hoicked his pyjama bottoms up to a more respectable height, before flinging the door open with a smile. “Dra—” he started – and then stopped dead.
Draco was there none.
Instead, a heaving mass of bodies – at least two or three hundred – clustered around his doorstep. Fighting their way to the front were a pack of wild photographers, and Harry blinked as flashes went off in his face.
Rita Skeeter was already on his doorstep, smiling that unpleasant smile she reserved for her best stories, and she had her notebook and quill at the ready. “Tell me, Harry, how does it feel to be dating a former death eater?” she asked. And before he could gather up his wits and open his mouth, she was asking, “Is it love? Have you any plans to wed?”
There was a squeal from his gathered fans.
Harry blinked and wet his lips - and, displaying the most presence of mind he’d shown all morning, he shut the door on them all.
For about thirty seconds, he stood there in his hallway, staring at the front door, his mind blank of anything apart from the words oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck which kept swirling through his mind in an unbroken chain.
The doorbell rang, and rang, and rang.
When he pulled himself together, his first thought was Draco. Did he know what had happened? Harry realised, to his dismay, that he didn’t actually know how to get in touch with Draco except via Malfoy Manor or his toilet business related owl-box. That was no good; how was Harry to warn him not to show up today? At least – he presumed Draco wouldn’t want to show up. Not so publicly. Harry didn’t care if the world knew who he was dating – although he did feel depressed that the world’s media now once again knew where he lived – but he suspected that Malfoy, scion of a pure-blood family, had rather greater restrictions placed on his love life.
As he stood there dithering, however, there was a crash in his living room, and he raced through, his heart lifting. “Draco!” he said, expecting to see the blond head emerge from the fireplace. He’d forgotten about the Floo.
“I’m so sorry, Harry!” Hermione cried, running to clutch him to her breast, and Ron soon followed after, managing to trip over the coffee table as he half-fell out of the fireplace.
“No, it’s all right,” Harry tried to say, but Hermione wasn’t listening.
She brandished the morning’s Daily Prophet at him. “How could he!” she said, and she was very red in the face. “He knows how much you hate publicity.”
Harry didn’t like the sound of that at all. He took the paper wordlessly and unfolded it. On the front cover was a photo of himself and Draco kissing, and the headline screamed: “Malfoy heir bags world’s most eligible bachelor! Turn to pages 3-27 for the full story, including a FULL and EXCLUSIVE interview with the Slytherin pure-blood himself about his HOT date with the Chosen One!”
Harry, numb with shock, felt the pieces of the puzzle click into place.
Draco’s new and baffling career as a toilet salesman – just when Harry needed a new loo.
Draco choosing Harry’s favourite restaurant to meet at; why hadn’t Harry considered that photographers would obviously be lurking, ready to follow him to his new home?
Draco’s admission that he’d do anything for his family – and hadn’t the papers been full of bile about the Malfoys lately? The article in Witch Weekly, and this one in the Prophet, were the first positive ones that had appeared since before the war.
Draco’s reluctance to stay after the kiss – and his parting words. Not ‘see you later’ – but ‘goodbye’.
There was only one possible explanation, Harry thought, and although he absolutely didn’t want to think it – he couldn’t stop himself.
Draco didn’t really love him; he loved himself, and he loved his family’s reputation.
Harry had been set up.
It was the only happy thing about the whole mess.
Harry – who’d gone from a flare of anger to numbness again – went to the spare room and got into bed, closing his eyes and pretending he was asleep.
Hermione and Ron left him to it; he could hear them whispering in the next room, reluctant to leave, but he couldn’t bring himself to move.
After some time they went quiet, and even though he wouldn’t have believed he could fall asleep, he eventually slipped off into a fitful doze.
Just popped out. Help yourself to anything you need. Love you x
Harry felt a stab of anger that his emotional crisis wasn’t enough for her and Ron to stay at home, but by the time he’d fixed himself a coffee, and drunk it, he’d swung round to thinking that he was being a bit of an idiot. He could see no real reason why his friends should wait around while he slept – just because someone he’d always hated, and they’d always hated, had played some sort of horrible confidence trick, weaselling his way into Harry’s good books to get good publicity for himself. It was the sort of thing that Malfoys did, and why Harry had expected anything different from Draco – from Malfoy – he had no idea.
He suspected he was in for a very big ‘told you so’ from Ron; and he deserved it.
Not that that made things feel any cheerier.
Harry knew he was overreacting, that one late-night, emotionally-charged kiss didn’t equal a commitment to a happy ever after, but unsurprisingly, knowing that was of no fucking help at all. He’d felt so sure. As if everything had suddenly made sense: that despite all the bloody obvious problems with the arrangement, he and Draco were just meant to be.
Meant to be in the papers, more like.
A heavy weight settled on Harry’s chest and made it hard for him to draw breath. He was just starting to settle into a proper mope when Hermione’s head popped round the door, and her face creased with sympathy.
“Oh, Harry!” she said. “I hoped you’d still be asleep. Sorry to abandon you like that; we wanted to get in a few supplies.”
Ron emerged from behind her and raised high a couple of carrier bags from a Muggle supermarket. “Hermione swore that these were just the things to fix a broken heart,” he said with forced cheerfulness. “Though I think she’s exaggerating about the broken heart,” he said, dropping the cheerfulness and avoiding his gaze from Hermione’s meaningful glare, “because, seriously – it’s Malfoy? I have more faith than her in your taste. And anyway,” he continued, taking a few steps away from Hermione just in case, “that kiss looked pretty real to me” – he screwed up his face in disgust – “so if you have gone nuts, then I don’t see why you can’t just—”
“RON,” Hermione interrupted, striding over and grabbing the bags from him. “That is not at all helpful!”
Harry tried to look as if he hadn’t had his heart torn out and stamped on.
“Oh fuck, mate,” Ron said, his face falling, and he grabbed the bags back from Hermione – after a brief, undignified tussle – and rifled through them. “Er – behold the healing power of Gloria Gaynor, doughnuts and gin!”
He put the CD on; Muggle appliances usually didn’t do so well around magic, but Hermione had borrowed a confiscated CD player from the Department of Misuse of Muggle Artifacts and after a bit of tinkering it seemed to work OK, if you didn’t mind that occasionally instead of emitting music, the thing emitted frogs.
The energetic tones of ‘I Will Survive’ filled the air.
“Are you sure this is helpful?” Ron said doubtfully after a couple of minutes.
Hermione pursed her lips. “My mother swears by it.” She stared at the CD player for a moment, as if she hoped to see inside its electronic soul. “Maybe it only works once you’ve applied the gin.”
“And set the CD on fire?” Ron said hopefully.
Hermione turned back to say something pointed in response, but then caught sight of what Ron was doing: “Those doughnuts are for Harry!”
Ron paused in the act of cramming one in his mouth; there was sugar down his chin. “I’m sure he doesn’t want us all sitting there watching him eat, like he’s something in a zoo,” he said sanctimoniously – and indistinctly.
Harry and Hermione both watched Ron eat for a moment, like he was something in a zoo.
A flush of red suffused Ron’s cheeks, clouding his freckles, and he held out the doughnut bag to Harry.
Harry took one without speaking and started eating. He couldn’t say he exactly felt better; but it was good to be taken care of. Hermione and Ron were the closest thing he had to family, he thought; and he tried to suppress the sudden realisation, bubbling up with painful intensity, that Draco Malfoy was someone he’d started to think of as already belonging to that small, important group.
It was scary how quickly he’d made himself at home; how quickly Harry had come to think of him as being part of his home.
However, Harry was quite firm that he didn’t want to get in his best friends’ way – and stopping them from going back to Auror training would definitely count as getting in their way. He’d only had one worry.
“No, don’t worry, mate, I’ve got that all sorted,” Ron had said airily. “If Malfoy sets foot within the boundaries of the property, or tries to pop up in the Floo, I’ve charmed the wards to set his head on fire.”
Harry had considered that; it had its appeal, but . . .
“No, he hasn’t,” Hermione clarified. “Malfoy just can’t past the wards. Unfortunately, murder is illegal.” And she tilted her nose in the air, as if to suggest that when she ruled the wizarding world there would be very specific Malfoy-shaped exceptions.
So, Harry was quite content on that score. He didn’t think Draco would try anything – he expected he wouldn’t see him again unless they bumped into each other by accident – but . . . it was reassuring to be certain.
Once his friends had gone, though, Harry found himself at a loss for something to do. Not that he had a packed schedule when he was at home – he dismissed the memory of recent weeks, and Malfoy’s regular visits, with a sharp pang. He’d pottered about, and the time had slipped away without him worrying.
It was only the fact that now, with nothing to do, his mind kept wandering back to Draco that made him pick up the morning’s issue of the Prophet when the delivery owl tossed it through the window with a friendly hoot.
He wasn’t surprised that he was headline news; but the so-called ‘story’ had him clenching his jaw and grinding his teeth. ‘Harry Potter missing again!” the headline screamed. “Has the playboy bachelor jilted his Slytherin swain so soon?”
In the photo under the headline, Draco Malfoy, surrounded by a heaving mass of press and fans, pounded on Harry’s front door, his face pale and blank – and then, when he received no response, sat down on the doorstep and, in full view of everyone, put his head in his hands.
This, Harry thought, was absolutely fucking beyond the pale! So Draco – Malfoy, he tried to make himself think, Malfoy – had gone to his house yesterday and mugged up to the press, making it look as if HE, HARRY, were the villain of the piece? How dared he! How DARED he!
Harry tried the old Muggle remedy of Gloria Gaynor again, out of desperation, but it didn’t do much good until he applied the gin – and if Ron and Hermione were surprised when they returned home to find Harry shout-singing along to the music, the coffee table littered with snotty tissues and sprinkled with the icing-sugar from half a dozen doughnuts, they didn’t show it.
She had a determined look in her eye – once he’d put his glasses on and could see her clearly – that boded ill.
“Draco came by to see me yesterday at work,” she said. Harry opened his mouth to tell her that he really didn’t fucking care what Draco did, and had he just been checking up on her new bloody fantastic toilet, but she held up a hand. “He was looking for you.”
“I hope you told him I was dead,” Harry said snidely, aware he was acting like a toddler but unable to stop himself.
Hermione narrowed her eyes. “No, I told him you were staying with us.”
Harry sat bolt upright. “What?”
“He’s not an idiot, Harry,” Hermione said, reaching over to pat his leg. “He guessed that’s where you were; that doesn’t mean you have to see him.”
“Good!” Harry snapped, feeling sick. Emotion, doughnuts and gin were not a good combination. His stomach roiled.
“Did you see the story in the Prophet yesterday?” Hermione asked in an unsure way.
“Yes,” Harry said firmly.
“Oh,” Hermione said, as if she’d expected a different reaction. She patted his leg again. “Well, if you change your mind . . . He gave me his personal owl address, so I can get in touch very easily.” She left a pause here, as if she actually expected Harry to leap at that!
Harry felt very tired and very stupid. Perhaps there was something he wasn’t getting; and if there was, then it was sodding unkind of Hermione not to spell it out to him like he was five, or something. All he knew was that Draco was an absolute dick, and there was no way on Merlin’s green earth that he wanted to see him to be humiliated all over again. Knowing Malfoy, he’d probably bring along a camera crew to capture his humiliation in full, wizarding technicolour.
But Hermione was no help at all; she just looked sad, and told him that she had to go to work, and said did he need anything?
Yes, Harry wanted to say. He needed Draco to come and explain away what he’d done, and give him a hug, and fail to sell him a toilet, but that wasn’t going to happen, was it? So he said no, and Hermione kissed him on the check and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
Harry tried to shoo it away, but it attempted to peck him, so he gave in and unfastened the scroll, which was addressed to him in very fancy, curly handwriting.
He wanted to cry a bit, but he was damned if he was going to sob in front of an owl, so he opened it up.
Please will you see me? Draco
The word ‘please’ was underlined about five times, and there was almost a hole in the paper where the author of the letter had pressed too hard.
The owl hooted, and Harry – angry tears springing to his eyes – waved his arm at it in dismissal, nearly knocking it off its perch by mistake. It gave him the owl equivalent of the evils and then flapped off, hooting mournfully.
Harry looked at the note for a long moment. And then he ripped it up into four and shoved it in the rubbish bin. If Draco wanted to see him, he’d have to try a whole lot harder than that.
“You’re going for a drink with Ron,” Hermione announced. “Go and have a shower and put on some clean clothes.”
Harry was surprised by quite how much he didn’t want to leave their flat. Not now – not ever. “I’d rather just—” he started.
“No, this is not negotiable,” Hermione said, and she put her hands on her hips. Harry was reminded, irresistibly, of Mrs Weasley, and he looked in awe from her to Ron.
Ron had flushed a miserable pink, and he refused to catch Harry’s eye when Harry gazed at him in mute appeal.
“Now, can you manage in the shower by yourself,” Hermione said, edging closer to him, “or do I need to push you in there?”
The thought of Hermione attempting to undress him by force and scrub his back had him fleeing for the bathroom, and he was in the shower before he knew it. He thought he’d uncovered a flaw in Hermione’s plan, but when he emerged dripping, towel around his waist, and made for the spare bedroom, he found clean clothes waiting for him on the bed – Hermione had obviously gone and picked them up from his house for him.
The thought that she’d done that made him feel simultaneously loved – and peeved.
But he dressed quickly, roughly towel-drying his hair, and then forcing himself back into the living room where Ron and Hermione were waiting for him. The sooner he got this over with the better, all in all.
“You’ll do,” Hermione said, looking him up and down.
Do for what, Harry wanted to ask, but since he didn’t want to know the answer he left it unsaid. It was probably something unspeakable, like a second Gloria Gaynor CD.
“Right!” Hermione clapped her hands. “Off you go.” And she almost shoved them out the door.
Once outside, Ron and Harry looked at each other. Ron still bore that guilty, sheepish look, and Harry felt moved to reassure him. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I don’t blame you for her.”
Ron grinned – but he was pale under his tan. Harry frowned, but before he could say anything, Ron said, “Er, Hermione suggested we go to this Muggle place she knows. Hold on,” and before Harry was ready, Ron was Apparating him away.
They landed somewhere – though where that somewhere was, Harry had no idea. He didn’t recognise it. Ron, still pale and miserable, half-pulled him into an obviously Muggle pub and then half-pushed him further inside the bar.
Harry should have been surprised to see Draco Malfoy’s pale, slim form rise from a table across the room, but somehow he wasn’t. It was just fucking typical.
“I promised Hermione I wouldn’t let you hex him,” Ron said, the traitor, from somewhere behind him. He cleared his throat. “You could punch him though,” he said, in wistful tones. “I’d definitely be OK with that.”
“Yes, thank you for your input, Ron,” Draco said sharply; his hands were jammed in his trouser pockets, and his expression was pinched. He was wearing the ubiquitous suit, but he wasn’t as sharp as usual, the trousers creased and the shirt rumpled. His hair, usually perfection, was wild and dishevelled.
But – Ron? Draco had called Ron ‘Ron’. Not ‘the weasel’ or ‘shithead’ or ‘ginger’ or any other form of insult.
“You are so welcome, Draco,” Ron said – not in a nice way, especially, but again . . . Draco. As if they were friends. Or, at least, as if they were making a massive effort to be civil, even though they hated each other’s guts. And why the hell would they do that? Why would Ron do that?
Harry had a headache again, and this time it wasn’t a hangover or screwed up sleep.
“Sit down, will you, Harry?” Draco said, sounding extremely tetchy. “You’re making me nervous, and people are looking.”
He was right; the few inhabitants of the Muggle pub – mainly old men – were looking at them as if they all had at least three heads. So Harry sat, and crossed his arms, because if he didn’t then he thought he’d do something he regretted.
He looked over to Ron – to say something rude, although he hadn’t decided what. Probably something about loyalty, and Ron’s deplorable lack of it. But Ron had already fled, so Harry had no real choice but to look back across the table – and at Draco.
His heart did a sort of uncomfortable, painful flip, and he glared at Draco as hard as he could. It took a supreme effort not to let his lower lip wobble.
To his surprise, and annoyance, though, Draco glared back – as if he was the injured party! “I have never ever met anyone who winds me up as much as you do!” Draco said, in the arsiest of tones imaginable.
“The feeling is mutual!” Harry snapped back.
Draco drummed his fingers on the table and took a deep, audible breath. “Harry, what exactly do you think happened between us?”
Harry, much to his alarm, felt himself being swallowed up by embarrassment, but he managed to say, sarcastically, “Well, I thought we were going to – you know – but then I realised you were the same Malfoy as ever, only out for good publicity for your fucking family.”
Draco’s face was very pinched, and he took another exaggerated breath, as if he was on the verge of saying something very rude; but he let it go and briefly closed his eyes, screwing up his face. “You mean the article,” he said, and he didn’t sound sure.
“Of course I mean the article!” Harry roared – and then shuffled in his seat as the pub’s other clientele turned as one to look at him.
“Harry,” Draco said, in tones of infinite patience, “did you actually read that fucking trash?”
Harry considered this. “No,” he said shortly. And thinking that sounded a bit of a copout, he added loftily, “I didn’t need to.”
“You bloody well did!” Draco said, losing his temper. He took a few more deep breaths and closed his eyes. “If you’d read it,” he said, calm and cold as ice, “you’d have realised that the so-called ‘interview’ was just quotes from what I’d said at dinner.”
Harry blinked; what?
Draco opened his eyes and looked at Harry wryly. “Fairly obviously, Harry, there was a journalist eavesdropping on us, and when we walked to yours, they simply followed us and waited until we . . .” He faltered. “Until we stepped outside,” he finished. A muscle in his jaw jumped.
“But – but!” Harry said weakly. “But you set me up!” He felt on firmer ground here. “Why the hell were you pretending to be a toilet salesman if not for that?”
Draco briefly put his face in his hands, rubbing at tired eyes. “It’s a Malfoy company,” he confessed. “My father sent me there briefly to check up on the staff and the profit margins. It was entirely coincidence that I was there when Hermione made the appointment with our sales team for you. But I . . .” His lips trembled, and he tucked his hands under the table in his lap. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – talk to you,” he said in a voice so low that Harry actually had to lean forward to hear him.
This seemed highly implausible. “But you were undercover! Highly trained!” he said.
This seemed to put heart in Draco for some reason. He snorted. “Highly trained? Really?”
Draco laughed, without much humour. “It doesn’t take much to educate oneself on toilet salesmanship, for Merlin’s sake! It’s almost all a matter of style – that and knowing how to read. The details about the individual models are all in the portfolio. And by the way, I don’t see a career as a curse-breaker in your future, Harry. Your attempts at healing me – although both unnecessary and much appreciated – were a little on the weak side.”
“Oh,” Harry said in a small voice. He looked down at the table, uncrossing his arms and clasping them together to stop them from trembling. He was starting to feel something of a fool – and, worse than that, a hopeful fool. Maybe there was a chance for him and Draco after all. After, that was, he’d ripped Ron limb from limb, and then beaten Draco to death with Ron’s arm, or, perhaps, leg.
“Harry,” Draco said – and there was a hint of something warm in his voice that gave Harry the common manly courage to look up. He tried to keep glaring, but it was a challenge.
“What?” Harry said; his heart was back to beating like a rabbit’s.
“You are such an idiot,” Draco said. “You’ll make a truly excellent Auror – all courage and no brains. When you’ve decided to stop sulking in your front room, that is.”
“Oi!” Harry objected – but it was hard to make it sound affronted, because he thought that was exactly what he was: an idiot. He’d jumped to conclusions even faster than the top speed of his Firebolt – and look where it had got him. Being patronised by Draco Malfoy in a Muggle old man pub – and feeling gloriously, wonderfully happy about that.
There was something deeply wrong with him.
Draco reached up with one hand to fiddle with his shirt collar, and then down again to fiddle with a cufflink. “You’d better stop being an idiot, because I’m afraid my mother is involved now, and I suspect that even as we speak she’s drawing up a bonding contract, and it’s going to be extremely hard to stop her.” He barely paused for breath. “I expect the clause about providing a suitable heir is giving her a small amount of trouble, but same-sex bonds have been carried out before, albeit not regularly, and there are the usual potions that can do the necessaries for the standard nine months, and I’m sure you’ll love taking them, and—”
“Me?” Harry squeaked, interrupting the torrent of words.
Draco raised one eyebrow very high and started talking again: “Well, I’m hardly going to – but we can have that argument when it comes to it. Though I should warn you that I never lose a fight because I am always, always right. And by the way, if we never talk about toilets again that would be too soon.”
He came to a sudden halt, and Harry looked at Draco – really looked at him.
He was, Harry realised, completely terrified. His eyes were too wide, his breathing too fast, and he was digging his fingernails into the palm of his hand in a way that had to be painful.
Harry decided to be brave. And possibly stupid. But being brave and stupid was something he was good at. He’d had plenty of practice. “Yes,” he said.
Quite a lot of what Draco had just said was bloody terrifying; but then Harry had had a lot of practise of being terrified. It was another thing that, in his opinion, he was fucking fantastic at – as was facing his fear.
Draco twitched. “Yes . . . what?”
“Let’s not talk about toilets again, I agree,” Harry said, and he reached out and took Draco’s hand in his own, trying to say, with a gentle squeeze, what he so wasn’t ready to put into actual words. There was a limit to his bravery, after all.
Draco exhaled. It was a sound of exquisite relief. “Never?” he said wryly. “But what will talk about instead?”
Harry laughed. “I’m sure you can think of something; we’ll be OK.”
“Will we?” Draco asked. He asked it casually, as if it were of no import.
“Yes,” Harry said, and pulled Draco towards him across the table. “Yes.”
“Mm?” Draco said, turning to nuzzle the side of his head.
“Are you ever going to follow through on my new toilet?” Harry demanded.
There was a brief, stunned pause – and then Harry could feel Draco start to laugh, the vibrations sending pleasant shockwaves through his skin.
“Absolutely not,” he said eventually, his voice warm, and loving, and ever so very sarcastic. “What do you take me for – some sort of salesman?”