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When Harry Potter moves into the house next-door, Draco almost packs up and moves out.

He’s happy in this neighbourhood; the people are nice and pleasant – except for that old bitch in number seventeen, the one with all the Kneazles, but she’s as mad as a hatter anyway, and who cares about her? – and none of them seem in any way perturbed that Draco Malfoy, ex-Death Eater and son of Lucius Malfoy to boot, is living amongst them. Granted, most of them probably don’t even know their own names, never mind his, since not a single one of them is under the age of a hundred. But at least none of them spit on him when he walks past, or talk about him in ridiculously loud whispers, as has happened in his Camden flat almost on a daily basis. And now Potter has to come along and ruin it all, with his stupid scar, and his ever-present entourage of the bloody paparazzi, and disrupt the quiet little bubble of peace Draco has been building up since the end of his father’s trial a few years ago.

And as if having Potter in the vicinity isn’t bad enough, the fucking Chosen One has the nerve to host party after all-night party, so that Draco is often woken up at night with music blasting through the thin wall adjoining his house to Potter’s, trying in vain to ignore the sounds of obvious revelry and get back to sleep.

If Draco is honest, the only reason these parties piss him off something awful is because he isn’t invited. And that wouldn’t have bothered him one bit – if he hadn’t seen Blaise Zabini staggering from Potter’s place, hand wrapped around a can of lager, emphatically telling Potter that it was the best party he’d ever been to, and Potter replying that he was welcome any time. Draco had been incensed at that. Potter had no doubt despised Blaise as much as he had Draco when they were at school, and yet here they are, acting like Hogwarts never happened and having the time of their lives, and there’s Draco, holed up in his house, stuck in a job he resents, reduced to listening at windows just so he can feel included in the celebratory mood that still grips the country, even now, several years after the Dark Lord’s death – and he’s as miserable as sin.

It isn’t bloody fair, damn it; he’d suffered as much as anyone had – when is he allowed to just relax and enjoy himself? But Draco had been on the ‘wrong side’ during the war, and no one, no one, will ever let him forget it.

The parties die down after about a month or so, for which Draco is eternally grateful, although every couple of weeks, thereabouts, Potter’s house fairly jumps with loud music and hysterical laughter. Draco’s thought about complaining to Potter directly, but most likely he’d just get yet another door slammed in his face, and things will continue as they are now. Besides, it just isn’t worth the humiliation that will surely descend on Draco the minute Potter and his groupies find out he’s living next-door.

And then ... God, it must have been some sort of sick, cosmic joke, but Draco had gone outside to get the paper one morning – because the kid who delivers it is a sodding lazy little git and can never be bothered to drop it off inside the gate – and there’s Potter, wearing nothing but a pair of grey boxer shorts and a navy-blue dressing-gown open to the waist, standing on his own doorstep. They’d stared at each other for a total of thirty seconds, and then Potter had given a nod and a sleepy sort of smile and gone back inside, leaving Draco standing in the early morning sun, staring at the place Potter had just been.

Ever since then, of course, Draco has, for some bizarre reason unbeknownst even to himself, been picturing the v of pale skin that Potter’s open dressing-gown had exposed and imagining all the delightfully wicked things he'd do to it ... and really quite despising himself for thinking them in the first place.

Fact is, he’s twenty-five and hasn’t got laid in a year, so even a glimpse of Potter’s – rather impressive, it has to be admitted – torso in broad daylight is bound to make him sweat and think dirty, filthy thoughts. But as if it isn’t bad enough that he keeps wanking off to the image of fucking Potter senseless, he eventually starts to dream about it too, which is just not on. This is Potter, paragon of virtue and bane of Draco’s existence, and isn’t it just so disgustingly ironic that Draco’s developed this – this absolutely nauseating obsession with the man after catching only a glimpse of bared flesh. What is he, some kind of blushing virgin? It’s ridiculous, and Draco finds himself wishing for the days when Potter had been just a distant annoyance, miles away from Draco and his peaceful little life.

 

***

 

Draco returns from his job at St Mungo’s – a cushy little number in the Experimental Potions division, and while he might like the work, his colleagues are right bastards who never let him forget he and his family’s fall from grace – one Thursday evening, a month or so later, expecting yet another night of crushing boredom, eating whatever he can be bothered to make because he’s too shattered to do any serious cooking, and falling into bed fully-clothed because getting undressed is too much of an effort. He’s about sit down and eat, debating with himself whether to open a bottle of wine and drink his exhaustion away, when the throbbing bass of the Weird Sisters’ new song thunders through the house.

Draco closes his eyes, counts to ten ... Actually, he only manages to get to five before he slams his knife and fork down, jumps out of his seat and is hammering on Potter’s door before he even realises he’s moved.

This is the third time this week that he’s been disturbed by one of Potter’s parties; is it really too much to ask for just a bit of peace and quiet? It wouldn’t usually bother him, but he’s had an extremely harrowing day, putting up with more of his co-workers’ shite, and he’s damned if he’s going to handle another long, sleepless night just because Potter fancies a bit of booze and music. He pounds a fist against the door again.

Not that he expects anyone to hear him over the Weird Sisters’ caterwauling, so he’s surprised when the door swings open, and Potter himself is standing there.

He’s not wearing a shirt. Draco considers just offing himself now and saving himself the embarrassment of being caught drooling on Potter’s doorstep. Honestly, doesn’t the fucker ever get dressed? Or does he just spend his days in various states of half-nakedness, giving innocent people an eyeful of that rather delectable chest, and biceps you could bounce a Galleon off?

“Malfoy,” Potter says, and he has to be drunk because the Potter Draco knows would never be able to say his name in such calm, even welcoming tones. “What can I do for you?”

“I was wondering if I could have a word with you,” Draco says, which wasn’t at all what he really wants to say in regards to Potter’s question. “It’s about your music. Can you –”

“Oh, hell, is it too loud?” Potter asks suddenly, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. Draco wishes he would stop. It isn’t a turn on at all. Really. “Christ, sorry Malfoy, I’ll turn it down. I had no idea –”

“Whatever, Potter,” Draco cuts in, not particularly interested in his explanation. “Just keep in mind that there are other people living in this street.”

“Yeah, yeah I will. Sorry,” Potter says again, and even manages to sound like he means it.

A shout from inside Potter’s house makes Potter turn, and Draco thinks about slipping away now while Potter is distracted, but then Potter faces him again, a smile in his eyes.

“Hey, Malfoy,” he says, “fancy joining the party?”

“Tempting, Potter. But a night spent with you and the Weasley horde is not exactly what I had in mind.” Draco says it mostly because he’s hoping to get a rise from Potter, one that will remind them both that they are arch-rivals and that inviting each other to parties isn’t quite the way to keep that up.

But Potter just gives him a slow smile that clearly says, What did you have in mind then?, and says, “Daphne Greengrass, remember her? She works with Hermione, she and her younger sister are here. And Blaise as well, he’s a regular guest, and Neville, Hannah and Susan are here too,” Potter adds, tilting his head to one side. “So it’s not just me and “the Weasley horde,”’ he grins, making air-quotes, which Draco is in no way charmed by, honestly. “Fancy it?”

And Draco knows he should say no, knows the best thing to do would be to fob Potter off with an excuse, turn around and go back to his own home. Alone. Again.

No.

He can’t, he just can’t spend one more night the same way he’s been spending them ever since he moved in: a solitary meal. A couple of hours either reading or looking for solace in the bottom of a bottle. Then bed, and up for work at six-thirty. Even the idea of it is pure torture, and Draco knows right then that there’s no way he’s going to refuse Potter’s offer, so he resigns himself to the fact that a) he isn’t going to get any sleep tonight, b) he has to spend several hours in forced company with a bunch of Gryffindors, and c) Potter and his naked self is going to be right there with him.

Suddenly, the prospect of Weasleys, sleep deprivation and loud music doesn’t seem quite so bad.

 

***

 

When Potter leads Draco into his living room – by the wrist as well: is he completely shit-faced drunk or just insane? – there’s an instant hush in the loud conversation filling the room. The lead singer of the Weird Sisters warbles on into the void from the radio, but all eyes fall upon Draco, standing in the doorway, now extremely uncomfortable and wishing Potter would do something that he’d find a complete turn-off. (Draco resents himself just slightly for thinking that the likelihood of that happening is next to zero).

Meanwhile, Potter drops onto the sofa, pulling his legs up so that Draco has somewhere to sit. Draco takes the seat hesitantly – it’s unfortunately located next to Granger, and he has to resist the urge to shy away from her and her Mudblooded self – and tries to stare down the curious and slightly hostile looks he’s getting from Potter’s mates.

Blaise waves at him from where he’s sprawled out over a cushion before the fire, and Daphne gives him a smile as she hands him a drink. Astoria, on the other hand, jumps up and hugs him, squealing, “Draco! Good to see you!” into his ear. Bugger. The girl’s always had an unfortunate fondness for him, but at least she’s glad to see him. Time was he would have held her at arms length and favoured her with a vague smile, but now he hugs her back and exchanges a few pleasantries with her – how their mothers are doing, how long he’s been living next door to Potter, and how they each are faring now the war is done.

Shortly after Draco’s arrival, the tension in the room starts to ease a bit, and he finds himself relaxing as the alcohol and general easiness of those around him starts to work its magic. At first he says little and only half-listens to the various Weasley family anecdotes that seem to be in full flow and have the others in stitches, and then Potter glances over at him and smiles, and Draco is suddenly hyperaware of the fact that Potter’s foot is just inches from his thigh, and that he still isn’t wearing a shirt. After that, Draco begins to join the conversation, saying almost anything and everything in his head just so he doesn’t have to think about the man sitting right next to him, and blaming his sudden looseness of tongue on the alcohol.

About an hour later, inebriated inspiration strikes Susan Bones as she reclines in her seat, legs dangling over one arm of the chair, her head pillowed by the other. She sits up suddenly – almost toppling out of the chair as she does so – and says, “I know!”

It’s during a lull in conversation, so her voice rings clearly through the room, catching everyone’s attention. Ron Weasley glances lazily up at her and asks what the hell she’s on about.

“I’ve got an idea,” Susan says, eyes sparkling somewhat glassily. “Let’s play Truth or Dare.”

At once, half of the room’s occupants agree loudly that this is a good idea, and the other half vehemently protest that Truth or Dare is a stupid game, and anyway they’re all a bit too drunk to do anything requiring much effort.

They’re overruled. In Draco’s experience, Truth or Dare has a life of its own; once invoked, it has to be played, spreading embarrassment and shame, and spawning hundreds of domestic arguments as people are dared to do the most ridiculous things.

It probably goes without saying that Draco is one hundred percent up for playing it.

In any usual situation – not that anything in the past few years has been usual – he wouldn’t have bothered, but now … Well, he’s spent so long living day to day, just going through the motions that, for once, and with alcohol zinging around in his bloodstream, he just wants to let go of every inhibition and anxiety and play the goddamn game. The minute he voices this opinion, Potter sits up and agrees with him, which pretty much seals the deal. Potter’s house, Potter’s rules, after all.

And that, as they say, is that.

 

***

 

They seat themselves in a circle, pushing the sofa and armchairs out of the way so they’ll have enough room. Cushions and drinks are handed around, and everyone makes themselves comfortable on the carpeted floor, Draco leaning against the sofa, with Potter still sitting by his side. It’s starting to unnerve him.

Granger starts, as Draco had known she would, and picks Hannah Abbott, who chose Truth immediately. He hopes he isn’t surrounded by those boring people who always pick Truth because they’re too embarrassed by the dares other people give them. He personally always chooses Dare. (Okay, not always, but definitely ninety percent of the time. Well. Eighty. Alright, maybe seventy-five percent ...).

“Alright, Hannah,” Granger says, and pauses while she thinks of a question. “Okay, where’s the weirdest place you and Neville have had sex?”

Hannah blushes bright red, Longbottom almost purple, and mumbles, “Hogwarts, behind the greenhouses.”

There’s a chorus of catcalls and whistles, though Draco privately marvels at the fact that she and Longbottom had actually had the nerve to have sex full stop. Then Hannah, cheeks still faintly pink, chooses Astoria, who also picks Truth. She used to be a Slytherin, though, so Draco knows her Truth will probably be as interesting as a dare.

“What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever done it?” Hannah says, which Draco had expected. They’ll all get this one, sooner or later. It’s something like the standard question of the game.

Astoria thinks for a minute, absent-mindedly taking a drink from her glass. “I think,” she says eventually. “I think it was at our Hogwarts leaving party. With Alexander Belmont, he was in Ravenclaw.”

“What, you just did it? Right in front of everyone?” Ron asks, staring at Astoria like he’s never seen anything so awe-inspiring.

She shakes her head, somehow still managing to look slightly pleased with herself. “In the toilets, which isn’t much better. But he was a bit of an exhibitionist and I was willing to give it a go.” She smiles, cat-like. “Fancy it, Weasley?”

Weasley nods fervently. Draco glances over at Granger, who looks merely amused, which is a surprise. Hadn’t the two of them been absolutely mad for each other at school? What’s changed between then and now?

Potter notices him looking and murmurs, “They haven’t dated in three years. All that time they bickered and we thought it was sexual tension. Turns out it was just regular tension and they were completely incompatible.”

He grins as he pulls away from Draco – and when had Potter started violating his personal space so blatantly, Draco wonders – and goes back to the game. Astoria asks the same question of her sister, and Daphne replies and then goes on to ask Weasley, lounging underneath the window. Once everyone has answered the question, including Draco, they go around the circle once more.

Daphne is dared to flash the rest of the group, which she does with considerable relish, and which causes Weasley’s eyes to almost pop out of his head. Blaise chooses Truth and Susan asks him what his sexuality actually is, since no one seems to know; Blaise just smirks and says he refuses to label himself with such restrictive categories, to which everyone looks at each other and says, “Bi,” at the same time. Then someone dares Potter to wear women’s clothing for the rest of the night, which Potter accepts more readily than is strictly necessary, and Granger conjures up a truly hideous pink, flowery dress that Potter dons immediately.

When he comes back from the bathroom, Draco literally feels his jaw drop. Oh, this is perfect, just fucking perfect. Anyone else would look like a complete tit wearing that hideous excuse for clothing, but not Potter, oh no. Against all the laws of nature – hell, against all the laws of common sense – Harry Potter apparently looks spectacular in a dress. The material clings in all the wrong places, stretched across his shoulders and bunched up around the waist, and that shade of pink is really not his colour. But it still makes Draco want to bite at the slice of Potter’s collarbone revealed at the open neck, to slide his hand over Potter’s bared thigh, right under the hemline, to find out if Potter went all out with the cross-dressing and threw on a pair of knickers as well.

Huh. Strange. Draco didn’t realise he had a cross-dressing fetish. Well, well. The things you learn.

He’s dwelling so deeply on this that he doesn’t realise it’s his turn until Granger nudges him sharply with her elbow and he turns to glare at her, finding the eyes of everyone in the room fixed on him again.

“What?” he snaps, and Granger jerks her head in the direction of Weaselette.

Ginny rolls her eyes. “I asked you, Truth or Dare, Malfoy?” she said, her tone a spot-on imitation of Draco’s drawl.

“Dare,” Draco says at once, and then regrets it immediately when Ginny’s smile turns devious.

“I dare you,” she says slowly, “to knock on the door of number seventeen and ask the cow who lives there for a … a cup of sugar. And you have to be naked,” she adds, with the air of a magician revealing the finale of her act.

Draco’s first thought is, Oh, so you’ve met the old bitch too, have you?, and then her words actually permeate his alcohol-fogged brain, and he quickly wonders whether he could off the Weaselette and make it look like an accident.

And then he smiles. This is more like it. If this doesn’t shake off the torpid boredom that’s been plaguing him for at least the last year, then nothing will. Hell, he can already feel the hot curl of anticipation in the pit of his stomach, and he hasn’t even started.

“Gonna do it then, Malfoy?” Weasley says, sounding thoroughly doubtful that he will.

Draco sets down his glass and stands up. “Naturally,” he smirks, and starts unbuttoning his shirt.

He’s extremely gratified when Potter lets out an odd, choked squeaking sound as the material falls from his shoulders, and Ginny leans across Ron to whisper to Hermione, “Christ, if I’d known he looked like that under his clothes, I’d never have ignored him at school.” Putting that revolting thought firmly to the back of his mind, Draco starts on his jeans, toeing off his shoes and socks and then sliding the denim from his legs. There are a few more admiring murmurs, which Draco is thrilled to hear; he knows he’s no troll, but living alone for five years would make anyone doubt their appearance, even one such as his own.

God, this is fantastic. Adrenaline is making his whole body sing and his heart beat twice its normal rate, and Draco feels more alive than he has in a very long time. If he’d known all it would take was a few drinks and a party to make him feel this good, he’d have insinuated himself into Potter’s life ages ago. He’s about to take off his boxers when Potter suddenly coughs and sits up poker-straight.

“Er, Gin?” he says, and Draco is pleased to hear his voice is all hoarse and croaky. “Does Malfoy have to be ... um, completely naked to do this?”

“Well yeah, Harry,” Ginny says in surprise. “Truth or Dare, you know?”

Potter just closes his eyes for a second, then takes a deep breath, and nods. “Right, right, Truth or Dare,” he repeats weakly, and leans back against the sofa.

“Carry on then, Malfoy,” Ginny says, sounding breathless with excitement, and Draco, just this once, obliges her and tugs off his underwear.

Longbottom and Weasley both gag and turned away quickly from the sight of a naked Draco Malfoy, but almost everyone else leans forward interestedly. There’s a smug, “Told you,” from Blaise, which makes Draco roll his eyes and smirk even wider, and then he glances down at Potter and …

Oh. Holy. Fuck.

Potter’s face is flushed and his eyes hold the most unashamedly hungry look Draco has ever seen. They rake over his body with obscene slowness and linger slightly on his cock, which, surprise, surprise twitches under the scrutiny. Then their gazes meet, and the green of Potter’s is almost obscured by the black of his dilated pupils, and it is quite possibly the most erotic moment of Draco’s life. Intense? Isn’t even in the vicinity of being able to describe it …

And then, as Draco somehow manages to get his breath back, the moment passes, and the others are urging him on with his dare, practically dragging him outside and pushing him in the direction of number seventeen.

 

***

 

“Well. I wasn’t expecting that reaction.”

“Yeah …”

“I mean, I always knew Kneazles were vicious little buggers, but bloody hell …”

“I know …”

“It’s all your fault, Ginny,” Ron says up, nudging his sister in the ribs.

My fault? How come?” Ginny retorts hotly. “I never said he had to do the dare, did I?”

This is the conversation Draco hears upon re-entering the living room, wincing a bit; fucking Kneazles deserve to be rounded up, shoved in a sack and subjected to a thousand Cruciatus curses. And Mrs Number Seventeen should be made to join them … honestly, that woman is insane.

He’d gone along to her house, completely starkers still, and knocked on her door. About twenty bloody minutes after he’d knocked, she’d shuffled her way to the door, opened it as slowly as she possibly could and then just stared at him, standing on the doorstep, freezing his bollocks off. And then, when he’d asked for the cup of bloody sugar – sugar! What had the Weaselette been thinking of? – the old bitch had gone fucking berserk and started setting her pet Kneazles on him! Bastards had tried to scratch every inch of flesh from his bones. The only reason he hadn’t been ripped to shreds was because he’d run like hell back to Potter’s the minute she’d grabbed the nearest Kneazle.

The others don’t say a word as he staggers back into the house and straight into the bathroom. Someone silently hands him his clothes while he cleans himself up, and everyone very kindly keeps their laughter to a minimum. Then he walks back into the living room with the tattered remains of his dignity, takes his seat, and downs two shots of Firewhisky without saying anything, and the game soon resumes as normal.

As more and more alcohol is consumed, the group starts picking Truth simply because it’s easier than trying to gear their heavy limbs into action for a dare. Some truly astonishing truths are revealed as well, some that Draco could quite happily have lived without knowing: Susan had once had a crush on Snape, (“It was the hands! I have a thing about hands!”), and Granger is kinky, apparently, which is the icing on the cake of Too Much Information.

And then they come to Potter, who also chooses truth, and Astoria asks him: “Who in this room do you want to get off with most?”

“Blaise,” Potter says immediately, and there’s an outburst of drunken giggling and catcalling until he adds, “And Ginny, and Susan. Oh, and Malfoy too, of course.”

There’s instant silence, and then everybody starts talking at once. One of the Weasleys exclaims, “Malfoy, Harry? Why the hell would you want to kiss that ferret-faced git?” and Astoria, smirking hugely, asks Potter what his reasons are for wanting to kiss the four people he’d just named.

“Well,” Potter begins slowly. “Blaise because he has a nice mouth. Ginny because she’s a good kisser –” someone laughs at that, and Weaselette flushes hotly, though she’s grinning smugly “– Susan because I’m curious. And Malfoy …” the room goes deadly silent again, “Malfoy because I want to see what else that mouth can do besides smirk.”

Draco vaguely wonders if this is what a heart attack feels like. There are many loud shouts of laughter around him, but he can’t for the life of him see what’s so funny. Perhaps they think Potter is joking, though one look into those green, lust-filled eyes is enough to give Draco hope that he really isn’t.

It’s too much to take. He can’t sit in the room another minute with Potter staring at him like that, not without spontaneously combusting or something equally ridiculous. Draco jumps up and practically flies to the bathroom, where he slams the door closed and locks it firmly, before leaning against the wood and sliding down to the floor.

He’s not sure why he’s acting like this. He’s been lusting after Potter for quite a while now; surely the reassurance that Potter had been doing the same thing should come as a relief? And yet relief is about the only thing he isn’t feeling at this precise moment. It’s just … the thought of Harry Potter fancying him isn’t just completely and totally insane. It’s also completely and totally right. It makes absolute sense, somehow.

And it scares the absolute shit out of him.

It shouldn’t be right, it should be utterly abhorrent to him, but his entire mind and body seem to be very keen on the idea. It should make him want to hex Potter into a thousand tiny little bits, but it just makes him want to shag the man senseless. And it doesn’t look as though the feeling is going away any time soon.

But do you want it to?

A voice wakes up in the back of his head, making Draco want to beat it repeatedly against a brick wall. It’s bad enough that his emotions are in complete disarray, but does his own mind have to turn on him too? He’s only ever suffered such introspection twice before in his life – once, funnily enough, when Potter had turned him down for Weasley. That had been a bit of a black day in Draco’s life because, up until then, he’d always got everything he’d wanted. That was the first time anyone had ever turned him down, and it had opened his eyes to the world beyond the little microcosm that had been built for him at Malfoy Manor. The second time he’d probed his own thoughts so deeply had been the day after he’d first met the Dark Lord, the day he’d been given the despicable task of murdering Dumbledore. He’d spent every waking moment dwelling on the problem, even going so far as to question the life that was being laid out before him, when he’d previously never given it a thought.

Maybe he’s analysing it too much. Maybe he’s acting as he has every day until now, so careful and cautious that he’s cocooned himself in a web of false security that’s now being ripped to shreds before his very eyes. Maybe he should just give his mind a break and let the rest of him take over.

Maybe he should just stop being so damn afraid all the time, and actually get on with life.

What have I got to lose? he asks himself.

Your dignity, self-respect and reputation, his brain answers immediately.

Oh well. He hasn’t had those in a long time anyway. Besides, at least this way he can go out with a bang.

Smiling to himself, he stands up and opens the door.

 

***

 

Potter is outside, fist raised as though he’s about to knock on the door. They stand there for the longest ten seconds of Draco’s life, and then Potter drops his hand and takes a step back.

And there it is: tension. Thick enough to cut with a knife and choking the very breath out of him. The tension he only ever gets with Potter, because Potter’s the only one who ever gets to him enough that he can feel it. It makes him want to simultaneously dash from the house and snog the life out of Potter, and yet he can’t get his limbs to coordinate to do either.

“What I said in there –” Potter begins uncertainly, drifting closer, but Draco cuts him off.

“Potter, just shut up,” he says, suddenly overwhelmingly tired. “If you meant it, that’s fucking brilliant. If not, well … I really hope you meant it.”

Potter stares at him blankly, and for a second Draco’s afraid he’s said too much; then Potter hesitantly hooks a finger in Draco’s collar and, half pulling and half leaning forward, tugs him across the foot-wide gap between them and …

At that moment, Weasley stumbles from the living room and completely breaks the charged silence that has descended on the hallway outside the bathroom. Draco and Potter jump apart like they’re same-sided magnets being forced together, while Weasley stares at them, dumbfounded (which is very similar to his usual expression, and therefore not at all unexpected).

“Er … I was just wondering if you were coming back to the game, Harry,” he says finally, at least having the grace to look embarrassed.

Potter throws him an extremely irritated look, but says, “Yeah, I’ll be there in a minute.”

Weasley nods and goes back into the living room, throwing curious looks over his shoulder every now and then, as though wondering what Potter and Draco are doing. Which is a whole lot of nothing, Draco realises; they’re just standing there again, trying very hard to pretend everything is still perfectly normal, despite the fact that they’re avoiding each other’s gazes and blushing like it’s going out of fashion.

“So, erm …” Draco begins, and then coughs, appalled that his voice has gone horribly croaky. “I should really get going,” he goes on, in a slightly less nervous tone.

“No!” Potter says loudly, causing Draco to raise an eyebrow. Potter flushes an even deeper shade of red and says, his voice calmer, “No, you don’t have to leave.”

“But I probably should. I have work tomorrow, and I …” Draco trails off at the utterly crushed look on Potter’s face.

“It’s not even midnight yet, you’ll have plenty of time for sleep … Come on, just a little bit longer? You get to see me make an even bigger prat of myself.”

Draco feels his mouth twitch upwards in a smirk. “I’m not sure that’s possible,” he says, gesturing to the flowery pink dress, which Potter is still wearing

Potter grins sheepishly, and Draco curses himself for finding it endearing. “Yeah, I look like a complete arse in this, don’t I?” he says, tugging at the neck, exposing yet more of that amazing collarbone.

“No,” Draco says quietly, wrenching his gaze away. “That’s the problem.”

Potter blinks at him a bit. Then his mouth curves into a smile and he takes just one step forward, towards Draco, who feels his heart jump up to somewhere in the region of his throat.

“Well then,” Potter starts in a low voice, leaning close to Draco. “I’d better keep it on then, hadn’t I?”

Draco finds himself nodding before he’s even thought about it. And then he thinks, Keep it on? Fuck that, and says, “No, I think I’d better stay a bit longer and figure out how to get you out of it.”

“Oh really?” Potter’s grinning again, and they’re gravitating towards each other as though they can’t help it – which is true, Draco realises. He could no more stop this than cease breathing, and he has about as much inclination to, as well. “I reckon you’ll be here for a while then.”

“Promises, promises,” Draco teases, and, smirking widely at the delightfully surprised look on Potter’s face, he turns around and saunters back into the living room.

He can tell at once that the others have been talking about him and Potter. It’s in their faces as they glance at him and then hurriedly looked away as Potter comes up behind him. For a second, Draco feels Potter’s hand at the small of his back, sliding under his shirt, and then Potter retakes his seat in front of the dying fire and stares back at him, almost daring Draco to take his own seat, and smirking in that predatory, seductive way that makes the hairs on Draco’s arms stand up.

When he sits down, making sure to lean against Potter’s entire left side in the process, a short silence ensues, and then, in a would-be casual voice, Weasley says, “So, shall we get back to the game?” A murmur of assent follows, and then once again, Truth or Dare begins.

If Draco thought it had been difficult to concentrate before, it’s nothing compared to how he feels now. He can’t move without experiencing little jolts of pleasure as his skin and Potter’s come into contact, and every time that happens, he has to close his eyes at the sheer electricity of it and he loses his focus and forgets whose turn it is. Potter looks like he’s suffering a similar fate, if the occasional twitching and throat-clearings are anything to go by.

Well, good. He started it.

One of them is going to snap, and soon, if they carry on like this for much longer. Draco entertains himself for a few minutes by the image of shoving Potter to the floor and just jumping him, but then Susan says his name and that makes him glance up.

She dares him to kiss Blaise. As far as dares go, it’s hardly exciting stuff, but it’s infinitely preferable to kissing, say, Longbottom or Weasley, or, dear Merlin forbid, Granger, so he shrugs and doesn’t argue. After all, he and Blaise had kissed a few times when they were younger, once more will hardly be torture, so he leans across the circle as Blaise does the on the other side.

A sudden hand on his arm stops him. He glances back to find Potter holding him back and glaring at Blaise.

“That’s not a proper dare,” he protests, ignoring Draco’s increasingly irritated attempts to remove his arm. “That’s boring. I mean, Malfoy and Blaise actually like each other. It’d be much better if he kissed … oh, I dunno, Ron or Hermione, or someone.”

Jealousy is not something Draco finds attractive, partly because it’s petty, but mostly because he can get jealous enough for two people, so he isn’t looking for the same quality in others. And alright so he fancies the arse off Potter – that doesn’t mean Potter has any right to turn into a possessive bastard and try to stop him having a bit of harmless fun.

Thus, when he next speaks, it’s to retort, “Satan will ice-skate down the road of the damned before I kiss Weasley or Granger, Potter.” He pauses to send Potter a look that’s as far as possible from the heated, lusty gazes they’d exchanged earlier. “So unless you have someone else in mind, I suggest you bugger off and keep your nose out.”

He leans towards Blaise, only to be stopped again, this time by Granger’s voice.

“Well,” she says, in a reasonable sort of tone, and Draco decides right then and there that she should share the same fate as Mrs Number Seventeen and her psycho pets. “Why don’t you kiss Harry?”

The silence in the room is absolute. No one moves, not even Draco, who’s considering leaving now while he still has even a shred of dignity. And then all at once people start agreeing with this idea as though they’ve never heard anything quite so thrilling.

“Brilliant!” Susan says gleefully.

“Why didn’t we think of that?” Daphne moans to Astoria, nudging her sister in the ribs.

“Should be worth a watch,” says Longbottom, causing several people to glance at him in surprise.

“Not quite as good as kissing me, but I’m all for it.” This is from Blaise, and Draco shoots him a look of utmost betrayal. “Sorry Draco,” Blaise grins, not looking in the least bit apologetic, “but I’ve been wondering.”

Draco wants to know what he meant by that, but then Potter starts protesting and Draco’s anger and hurt quite drown out what he’d been about to say. Considering this is all Potter’s fault in the first place, the fucker could at least have the courage to face up to the challenge. And his vehement arguments aren’t exactly flattering either; not ten minutes ago, Potter had practically been salivating at the thought of snogging Draco, and here he is, saying he really doesn’t want to. As much as Draco wishes it wasn’t, it’s painful. It’s the recognition of this pain that finally makes him snap.

He whirls on Potter so ferociously that everyone in the room starts in surprise. “You’re a cowardly son of bitch, aren’t you, Potter?” he sneers, gleaning a small amount of satisfaction at the scowl that appears immediately on the Chosen One’s face. “What’s wrong, can’t handle the thought of kissing me? Or maybe … maybe you’re jealous,” he purrs, “jealous that Blaise gets to kiss me and you don’t.”

Potter splutters incoherently, which was not a good look for him, Draco notices offhandedly, and then manages to say, “Fuck off Malfoy, I’m not – jealous.”

The slight waver in his voice says otherwise, however.

Draco just smirks, and there isn’t a trace of desire in it now. “Oh, come on, Potter. Didn’t you say earlier you, and I quote, ‘wanted to see what else that mouth can do’?”

Green fire scorches Draco’s face, but he’s too incensed to care. All around them, the others have fallen silent, watching the scene unfolding before them with rapt but wary expressions. Currently, all eyes are on Potter, whose face shows quite clearly his internal battle between anger and the challenge Draco was throwing at him.

He’s never been able to resist a challenge from Draco before.

“Fuck it,” Potter whispers, almost to himself, and then takes a deep breath. “I’ll do it.”

It seems he’s not about to start now.

Draco turns away from Blaise without another word. Blaise, though slightly disappointed, nevertheless stays silent as Draco faces Potter fully and they stare at each other for a bit longer, driving everyone else mad with the unresolved tension in the process.

And then something very strange happens: Potter glances over at Granger and a fleeting smirk takes over his face, before he looks back at Draco and becomes serious once again. And Draco suddenly realises something.

He planned it. He planned the whole goddamn thing. The party, the dares ... everything.

 

***

 

Draco is seething.

Potter orchestrated the entire night. He turned his music up too loud in order to get Draco to complain about it. He invited Draco to this party because he knows a night of booze and relaxation is exactly what Draco needs. He agreed to play Truth or Dare because he wants to know a bit about Draco. He also knows that Draco is ridiculously infatuated with him, and he took advantage of that so he could get his kicks out of trying to seduce him. The whole damn evening he’s been unwittingly playing into Potter’s hands, and Granger has been helping him!

That, Draco decides, is really not on. How dare Potter try to use him like this, as though he’s some kind of weak-willed pushover who needs to be controlled and manipulated into doing what other people want! He doesn’t let his fury show, though, partly because he wants revenge, and partly because … well, he hasn’t thought how he’s going to get it yet. He’s hoping for some divine inspiration, and to his delight, he gets some a few seconds after his epiphany.

Potter doesn’t know he’d figured out his clever little plan; he’s still blissfully under the impression that Draco is completely naïve of his intentions, which suits Draco just fine – for now. He figures that Potter isn’t really interested in him, or is only interested in the thrill of seducing him, the chase as it were, and that both enrages and pains Draco more than the fact that he’d been manipulated. But it also gives him the perfect chance to get a little of his own back.

Potter hesitates a bit. Draco realises he’s going to have to take this one into his own hands, figuratively speaking, and shuffles forwards, so that he’s now kneeling in front of Potter, who’s gone slightly red and whose hands are, oddly enough, shaking. Then, before either of them can bottle it, Draco roughly grabs Potter’s collar, pulls him forward and, just before their mouths meet, pushes hard so that Potter topples backwards, his head inches from the stone fireplace.

Without waiting for Potter to protest, Draco clambers over his body, straddles his hips, leans down, whispers harshly: “Didn’t plan for this, did you, you bastard?” and then kisses him.

It starts out savage and brutal, Draco crushing his mouth against Potter’s so hard he can taste blood. Then Potter lets out a gasp – it might be of pain, it might be of pleasure, it’s hard to tell – and his mouth falls open, and before Draco slips his tongue inside, he smoothes it over Potter’s lips in a show of gentleness that surprises himself just as much as everyone else. Potter’s hands come up to grab onto Draco’s hair, but Draco pulls away with a growl, seizes his wrists and pins them to the floor, before returning to the kiss.

The world narrows to just the two of them, lying on the floor, limbs entwined, bodies pressed close. For several blissful seconds, Draco forgets his anger, forgets his humiliation, forgets where he is, and just loses himself in the slide of Potter’s lips and the blistering heat of his mouth. He can hear a tide of blood in his ears, along with the pounding of his heart, and he’s utterly breathless but he isn’t about to come up for air, not now, not for anything.

Potter breaks the kiss first, but Draco doesn’t miss a beat; he simply trails his mouth down to Potter’s throat, fiercely delighted at the breathy, whimpering moans that escape from the Potter’s lips, and the thrusting, rutting motion of their hips as they re-discover the brain-meltingly wonderful effects of friction on erections. In a rush of hot air that causes Potter’s spine to arch upwards in a universal gesture of pleasure, Draco whispers, “You’re going to remember this, and you’re going to regret it,” in Potter’s ear, just seconds before he pulls away, untangles himself from that pink-flowery-dress-clad body and stands up.

Dead silence greets him, the first non-Potter-related thing that Draco actually registers. He glances around at the circle of people around him, and sees …

Arousal, confusion, disbelief, anxiety, and sheer bloody shock – and that’s just on Granger’s face. Everyone else wears a veritable facsimile of her expression, though typically, Weasley's face houses a tinge of disgust. What he might see on Potter’s face Draco doesn’t know, and he isn’t sticking around to find out. The whole night has been the single most embarrassing event of his life, even including his fourth-year enforced stint as a ferret, and he wants to get away from it as far and as fast as possible.

Running from the house probably isn’t the most diplomatic of reactions, and probably won’t help his dignity – if indeed he actually has any dignity left after this night – but Draco is too … well, pick an emotion, any emotion, and he’s most likely feeling it. In any case, he dashes from Potter’s house without looking back, because he knows that if he does glance back and search out Potter’s eyes, he might never actually leave.

 

***

 

When he gets home, he knows immediately he can’t stay there. The thought of being alone makes the lead weight in his stomach ten times heavier, and the dead silence of his house makes the shadows seem darker, the spaces infinitely bigger. He thinks of looking some of his old Slytherin friends up, but discards the idea as being ridiculously over-sentimental – a result, no doubt, of the tumultuous journey his emotions have been dragged through tonight. Besides, Blaise and the Greengrass sisters look to be very much in Potter’s pocket; Theo is keeping a low profile in case the Ministry investigate his father’s past Death Eater dealings in more detail; and Pansy … God, he hasn’t seen Pansy since the end of the war, since she’d done the very Slytherin thing of trying to convince the students and staff of Hogwarts to give Potter up to the Dark Lord.

No, none of his old friends will welcome Draco with open arms, should he make the mistake of appearing on their doorstep. The only option he has now is the Manor, where his father spends his days barricaded in the study, and his mother tries to keep up appearances that faded a long time ago. But however depressing it is there, it has to be better than what he’s facing here, so he grabs quill, parchment and ink and scribbles a quick letter to his mother. His mother hates it when people arrive unannounced.

Mother,

Am coming to the Manor for a few days. Everything’s fine, just need to get away for a while. Owl me as soon as you get this.

Love, Draco.

He hopes it sounds vague, but airy enough that his mother won’t badger him too much. He’ll just give her the excuse of too much work and not enough sleep, his usual defence when she gets all concerned and starts to pry in things he doesn’t want to talk about.

While he waits for her reply, Draco busies himself with packing and writing another letter, this one to his boss at St Mungo’s. He hasn’t claimed a day off since he started there so he’s damned well owed a bit of leave. He apologises for leaving at such short notice, claims there’s a family emergency, and says he’ll be back in about a week’s time. He knows they’ll be able to spare him, even if there’s a sudden shortage of Experimental Potioneers; the whole of the department doesn’t much like him, they’ll probably be glad to get rid of him for a while. He’ll probably get a disciplinary letter and a fine or something, but that’s small price to pay to get away for a while.

He sends the second letter off the minute his mother’s reply arrives. His owl gives what Draco has come to recognise as the not-another-fucking-letter hoot, scratching his hand roughly as she takes flight. Draco rolls his eyes at the avian theatrics, but nevertheless calls after her that he’ll be at the Manor when she’s delivered the message to his boss. He briefly considers how desperately lonely one has to be to attempt a conversation with an animal whose only redeeming features are that it can rotate its head three hundred and sixty degrees and deliver mail, before he rips open the letter from his mother and thanks whoever’s listening that she hasn’t asked any awkward questions.

He tucks the parchment into his trunk, shrinks the trunk until it’s the size of a briefcase and more comfortable to carry, and heads downstairs to the fireplace in the living room. Wards prevent any Apparition within five hundred yards of the Manor, and Draco doesn’t fancy an early-morning trek through the misty, boggy fields that surround his childhood home; Flooing is quicker and preferable, even if it won’t mix well with the alcohol he consumed just a few hours ago. But he isn’t going to think about that. It invariably brings up thoughts about Potter, and that’ll lead to thinking about green eyes and a red mouth … pale skin skimming over light brown … ngh, a white hand tugging black hair – down, down, all the way down …

No, he isn’t going to think about any of those things at all.

He’s just tossed a handful of glittering green Floo Powder into the fire when the sound of someone banging on his front-door can be heard from the hallway. Draco slowly crosses the room, peeks out into the hall, and sees Potter’s unmistakeable silhouette through the door’s frosted glass panes. He whips his head back into the living room immediately, knowing there’s no logical way Potter could have seen him, but still apprehensive anyway. The knocking stops, then abruptly begins again a few seconds later, Potter accompanying the knocks with a shout of, “I know you’re in there, Malfoy! We need to talk!”

Draco gives an angry, but unfortunately unseen, two-fingered salute, and then dives into the fire before he can cave and let Potter in.

 

***

 

His mother is wide-awake and waiting for him at the other end. She takes his trunk, thrusts it without looking at the house-elf standing beside her, and then helps her son out of the fireplace, brushing dust and ash from his hair.

“A little late for a social call, don’t you think?” she asks mildly, but there’s concern in her eyes as she continues to stroke his hair clean.

“Sorry. I just needed a break.” Draco avoids her gaze as he speaks, and manages to extricate himself from her arms. “Can we talk about it in the morning?”

“It is morning,” Narcissa says, smiling gently. “But yes, we can leave it until later. Come, Muggy should have your room prepared by now.”

She sweeps out of the Floo room, indigo-silk dressing-gown fanning out around her ankles as she does so, along the hall and up the curving white marble staircase towards the third floor. Draco has had this room at the easternmost side of the Manor since birth; on summer mornings he’s awoken at ridiculously early hours by the obnoxiously bright sunlight spilling in through the bay window, and during the winter he can sit by the fire and look out onto the snow-laden grounds, if he were so inclined. It’s decorated in shades of blue and silver, blue being his favourite colour – not that he’d told his Slytherin housemates during school, of course – and a four-poster similar to the one he used to have at Hogwarts sitting against the back wall, decorated in similar colours.

“Join me for breakfast, darling, and we can talk then,” his mother says, pressing a kiss to his cheek, having been unable to reach his forehead since he turned seventeen and shot up like a weed. “Sort out whatever’s troubling you, yes?”

Draco gives a noncommittal noise – really, how can he ever explain this thing with Potter to his mother? – and almost smiles when she fixes him with a pointed stare that tells him he has no choice in the matter. “We’ll see,” he says eventually, shrugging. “Goodnight, Mother.”

“Goodnight, Draco, dear.” She gives his cheek a soft pat, then turns around and goes off down the corridor toward the stairs and the top floor, where her own room is situated.

Once she’s gone, Draco enters his bedroom. Letting the door close behind him with a quiet click, he collapses onto his bed without undressing and falls asleep almost at once.

 

***

 

He wakes up the next morning with his face smushed into the pillows and his right arm twisted into a most uncomfortable position. That obnoxious sunlight is shining through the gap in the heavy velvet curtains, right into his eyes when he turns over onto his back, but it’s some time before he can be bothered to get up and do anything about it.

He takes a shower and has just finished dressing when there’s a timid tap on the door.

“T’is me, sir. Tippy, sir,” says a high-pitched voice, and Draco relaxes as he realises it was just one of the house-elves. Probably here on his mother’s orders, a theory that is proved correct when Tippy goes on, “Mistress is wishing you to join her, sir, in the breakfast room.”

Draco sighs, knows he isn’t getting away with it, and answers, “Alright, tell her I’ll be down in five minutes.”

The house-elf gives an affirmative squeak and presumably goes off to give Narcissa the message, and Draco sighs again and lowers himself into a chair by the cold fireplace. He’s exhausted already and he’s only been awake three hours; he gathers his sudden attack of weariness has more to do with the quick and dirty wank he had in the shower, trying desperately not to come with Potter’s name on his lips and failing so very miserably.

His mother is waiting with a thin veneer of composure over her quickly waning patience. The warm, sunny breakfast room used to be just a conservatory, but Narcissa enjoys sipping tea in here so much that she and her husband graduated to simply eating breakfast in here most mornings, Draco joining them during the school holidays.

It’s a very pretty room, decorated in pale, pastel colours – though not pink; his mother despises pink beyond all reason – with white, wicker furniture, and almost an entire forest of ever-blossoming flowers and creeping green ivy left to its own devices, but never allowed to encroach on the room’s inhabitants. Sunlight streams down in gold-coloured lances, dappling where it falls onto the plants and creating shadows, but elsewhere causing a soft yellow glow to emanate around the room.

“Good morning, dear,” Narcissa says, voice and manner suggesting she’s more than a little ticked off at being kept waiting.

“Morning,” Draco says, and takes the seat opposite her, reaching for the sugar when she passes him a delicate porcelain cup full of tea. Remembering who he’s talking to, he adds, “Sleep well?”

“Fairly well, thank you. And you?” His mother sips at her tea, makes a pleased sound at the taste, and then reaches for a crumpet.

“I dropped off pretty quickly after you left,” Draco says, taking a piece of toast from the rack in the centre of the table. He spreads it liberally with both butter and marmalade, and then munches on it in the ensuing silence.

At long length, his mother has eaten her fill and settles back to finish another cup of tea. She eyes him over the rim, making him decidedly uneasy.

“Well,” she says eventually, and Draco accidentally drops a teaspoon. “As pleasant as this is,” Narcissa goes on, once the clattering has ceased, “I’d really rather move past the niceties and get down to why you’re really here.”

“I told you,” Draco mutters, avoiding her gaze, “I just needed a break.”

“Hmm.” His mother’s lips purse themselves into a frown. She taps a long crimson nail on the edge of her saucer, staring at him appraisingly, one eyebrow raised. “Alright. I certainly can’t force the truth out of you, dear, but I do think I deserve a more satisfactory explanation, especially after being raised out of bed at such a disgraceful hour.” She rings the little silver bell on the edge of the table, and at once an eager house-elf pops into existence at her side and begins to clear away the breakfast things. “When you feel you can tell me, do so at once. I will be ready to listen.”

With that, she stands up and sweeps magisterially out of the breakfast room-cum-conservatory. Draco stares after her, feeling both irritated and guilty, but still unable to deny that telling her about Potter would be just about the most embarrassing moment in his life. One just doesn’t speak of such things to one’s mother, after all, especially when that mother is Narcissa Malfoy.

He sits a little longer in the warm sun, until it becomes stifling, and then he moves into the library. He intends to while the rest of the day away with a book or two, but this plan is scuppered when he comes across his father poring over a stack of parchment.

Lucius glances up as Draco opens the door, hesitating on the threshold as their eyes meet. Lucius says nothing, merely motions at his son to carry on and enter the library, which Draco does, also without saying anything. There’s several seconds of silence, filled with the occasional scratch of Lucius’ quill as he makes a note here and there, and Draco’s soft footsteps as he searches for a book to occupy him.

Eventually, Lucius sets aside the parchment and spends a few seconds massaging his right hand, which seems to have cramped up in his last bout of furious scribbling. He looks over at Draco again, who glances up from his book, using his thumb so he’ll remember where he got to.

“Your mother said you’d arrived this morning,” Lucius says finally, dropping his hands and resting the right one on the desk, the left on his knee. “A sabbatical from St Mungo’s, is it?”

“Something like that,” Draco says evasively, but doesn’t hope to get away with it. His father can spot a lie from fifty yards, having done a great deal of it himself.

“That isn’t all though, my boy, is it?” Lucius says, in one of his dratted moments of uncanny perception. “You haven’t told your mother.”

It’s not a question, but Draco answers it anyway. “No. I’m not sure that I should – or that I can.”

Lucius eyes him, ironically enough in the exact same way Narcissa had just half an hour ago. Unlike his mother though, Draco’s father doesn’t say anything; he simply shrugs and stands up. He’s almost at the door when he turns and looks back at his son.

“I have every confidence you’ll sort it out sooner or later,” he says, and the casual assurance in his voice makes Draco’s stomach sink just that little bit lower. “But tell your mother, Draco. She worries too much about you. Tell her, if only to lessen her anxiety and give me an easier time of things.”

With a quick smile and a nod, Lucius exits the library. Draco sits back and lets out a breath. He almost wants to tear his hair out, but doesn’t because he has rather lovely hair – unlike a certain person whom he isn’t going to mention or think about in any capacity at all.

You’re joking, right? says a voice in his head. Draco swears quietly and tells his mind to shut the hell up.

 

***

 

The next four days are nothing short of torture. He can’t sit in a room with either of his parents without them shooting him pointed, go-on-and-tell-us looks, and even trying to strike up a conversation with them is a complete no-go area. To top it all off, he spends every waking minute trying not to think about Potter, which eventually he can manage for a couple of hours at a time. It’s his non-waking hours that he comes to dread, especially when he wakes up at six on Tuesday morning, jolted from a shockingly real dream wherein Potter somehow manages to get into the Manor and creeps into bed with him, slides a hand over the swell of Draco’s arse and presses his finger right there

“Fuck!” Draco gasps, swallowing a mouthful of water as he comes fast and hard under the suddenly boiling jets of the shower. “Harry – god – fuck!”

Wednesday is turning out to be quite as bad as the previous two days.

What is wrong with him? He hasn’t needed to get off this much since he was sixteen and trying think of something other than killing Dumbledore for a few blissful seconds – which was something of a mood-killer, and had to be balanced out by the image of Blaise spread out naked on his bed, which generally did the trick. All too well, actually. It’s like being back at school again, and considering how his last two years at Hogwarts went, this is not exactly a comforting thought.

By the time breakfast comes around, on a breezy Wednesday morning in July, Draco is a complete wreck. Both his right hand and his cock are chafed raw from the near-constant wanking; his parents are becoming extremely huffy with him as the days go by and he still refuses to tell them what’s going on with him; he can’t concentrate on anything that isn’t Harry-related for more than an hour, and it’s getting so bad that Draco is this close to screaming out the truth before he cracks with the weight of it.

He eventually decides it’s just too much, and he arrives at high tea at four on the Thursday afternoon almost fifteen minutes before his mother gets there. She seems surprised to see him already seated at the table, clutching a cup of tea in his hand, and frowns when she sees the half-empty bottle of Firewhisky standing next to his saucer. Draco pays no attention to this, reasoning that he’ll be needing all the courage he can scrape together for this conversation, and if some of that courage has to be artificial, then so be it. He takes a huge gulp of tea, grimacing at the harsh burn in his throat, and gestures for his mother to take a seat.

She sits, intrigue imprinted on her usually impassive features, pours herself a cup of tea, and waves away the offer of a smoked salmon and spinach sandwich. There’s a long, long silence, and eventually, Narcissa seems unable to bear it, for she bursts into speech.

“Is there something you want to tell me, dear?” she asks, trying to keep her voice calm and casual but unable to stop the little quiver.

Draco smiles at that, oddly amused that his mother is incapable of containing her excitement for once. He nods, takes a sandwich for himself and eats it with painstaking slowness. Narcissa lets her irritation get the best of her and begins to drum her fingers on the edge of the table.

Well?” she eventually bites out, noticeably annoyed now.

Brushing his fingers clean of sandwich crumbs, Draco takes a deep breath. Now or never, he thinks, and gives himself a mental shake.

“I –” he begins, but the words get stuck in his throat. He coughs and tries again. “It’s – complicated,” he manages feebly, and runs his hand through his hair in frustration at being unable to articulate even a fraction of what he wants to say.

“Are you in some kind of trouble?” Narcissa demands, when it becomes clear that her son can say no more. “Do you need gold, darling, is that it?”

Draco buries his face in his hands, silently castigating himself for being such a coward, trying to pull himself together. He removes his hands to find his mother looking at him, distinctly perturbed, and he smiles again, feeling weirdly reassured. Maybe she can help, if only to tell him what an infantile fool he’s being.

“You remember I told you that the house next-door to mine had been sold?” he says, glad that he’s able to speak in full sentences again.

His mother nods uncertainly, and then understanding dawns on her face. She relaxes visibly, even manages a wide, slightly incredulous smile in his direction.

“Oh, Draco,” she says, and has to stifle a laugh. “This is going to be about Harry Potter, isn’t it?”

Draco frowns, completely nonplussed. “Well, yes, but how did you –”

Narcissa can’t help it; she bursts into laughter that seems more relieved than anything, amused by the utterly confused look on her son’s face.

“With you, dear, it generally always ends up being about Harry Potter,” she says, smiling fondly at him. “Tell me what happened, then.”

Giving her a highly affronted look, but choosing not acknowledge her first comment, Draco launches into the story of last week’s impromptu invitation to Harry’s little gathering. He briefly mentions the truly terrible day at work he’d had last Thursday, spends an inordinate amount of time verbally abusing Harry – whoa, hang on, when did I start calling him that? Draco thinks, surprised – to his mother, and tries very hard not to sound like a lovesick schoolgirl when he skims over the details of that rather incredible kiss. Narcissa sits through it, rapt with attention, and by the end of his tale, she’s completely forgotten the bottle of elf-made wine she’d had brought to the table in favour of his story.

“So,” Draco says, taking a hearty gulp of wine himself, “not only did he humiliate me, but he had Granger in on it as well.”

It’s something of a relief to finally be unburdened with the weight of the whole thing, which is perhaps why he seems unable to stop speaking now that he’s got started. Thankfully, his mother holds up her hand before he can babble on any further and embarrass them both.

“And you came here to – what? Escape?” she asks, frowning now. “Well, that was rather silly of you, wasn’t it?”

Draco actually feels his mouth drop open. He hadn't expected complete understanding from his mother, but he’d hoped for at least little bit of sympathy. Moreover, he particularly resents being spoken to as though he’s five years old again and he’s spilled pumpkin juice on the cream carpet in the living room.

He stares at her for a moment longer, then manages to gather his faculties enough to gape, “What?”

Sighing, Narcissa sets aside her glass and leans forwards, hands folded demurely on the table in front of her. “Really, Draco, you’re usually quicker than this. Has it even occurred to you that Potter did not orchestrate the whole incident merely to embarrass you?”

“Well, why else would he do it?” Draco demands, suddenly aware that his mother has taken a vested interest in Potter ever since she’d saved his life at the end of the war, and wondering if this is perhaps why she’s currently playing the part of his advocate.

“Don’t be so obtuse, dear. I think you know exactly why he did it.”

And it hits Draco in one instantaneous lightning bolt of understanding, which is rather appropriate, all things considered. Potter – I really need to stop calling him that, Draco thinks to himself – Harry didn’t organise a party, play a game of Truth or Dare, and have a fit over Draco kissing Blaise, surrendering to an assault of Draco’s own, and involving Granger purely for his own amusement: he did it because he’d wanted Draco quite as much as Draco wanted him. And in light of this realisation, Draco’s reaction suddenly seems … way beyond petty and straight into completely bloody ridiculous.

He falls back in his chair, staring at his mother with shock written over every feature. Narcissa smiles gently at him and says nothing, simply waiting for the revelation to sink in.

 

***

 

He might have sat there for the rest of the day, and well into the night, if high tea hadn’t been interrupted by the arrival of Tippy carrying a small envelope.

“Letter for Mister Draco,” she squeaks, and hands it over. Draco takes it without really registering what he’s doing, and sets it on the table beside his plate. Tippy bows low once and leaves discreetly, as Narcissa frowns at the envelope and then at her son, who still looks completely shell-shocked.

“May I?” she says eventually, unable to contain her curiosity. Draco nods dumbly and pushes the envelope over to her. She flicks it open with a fingernail – today a peachy, coral-colour – and pulls out the single sheet of parchment that lies inside.

She skims through the letter quickly, eyebrows almost losing themselves in her hairline as she reads. When she gets to the end she lets out a soft gasp of, “This is outrageous!” that makes her son jump in his seat and snatch the parchment from her unresisting fingers.

“What? What is it?” he asks urgently, but doesn’t need her to answer as he scans the letter quickly.

Mr Malfoy,

It has come to my attention that you have taken a week’s paid leave without sufficient notice. For this misdemeanour, you will be suspended indefinitely and will not receive wages for the week in question. In addition, you are required to attend a disciplinary hearing where your conduct will be discussed and further punitive action considered.

Happy holidays,

Ernest Belby
Chief Potioneer
Experimental Potions Department
St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.

It takes several read-throughs before the words finally make any sense. When that happens, Draco crushes the flimsy, St Mungo’s-issue parchment in his fist and swears so vehemently and colourfully that his mother stops looking so worried and starts frowning at him. Before she can reprimand him on his language, however, Draco stands up, almost sending his chair skidding across the tiled floor in his anger, and storms into the Floo room.

This is fucking ridiculous! Belby has been trying to get rid of him ever since he’d been promoted to Chief Potioneer, the previous incumbent – and the man who’d hired Draco in the first place – having recently retired. Draco isn’t sure what he’s done to make Belby despise him, but he has a good idea that it probably didn’t take much – perhaps just one look at his name on the department’s list of employees had sealed it. ‘... have taken leave without sufficient notice ...’ Well that is complete and utter bollocks. He knows people who don’t even bother to notify the department until someone remarks upon their absence, and even then it’s a quick, two-line affair with an excuse as lame as a one-legged Crup. But do any of them have to suffer a disciplinary hearing? Of course not!

Well he’s going to show them where they can stick their disciplinary hearing, and indeed his hand is already halfway to the pot of Floo Powder beside the fireplace. His mother’s voice stops him, however, and he turns to face her as she enters the room behind him.

“Draco, you are not going to St Mungo’s in this state,” she says firmly, and tries to move the Floo Powder out of reach. “You’re too angry, you’ll end up making things worse.”

“I don’t care,” Draco spits. “I don’t fucking care. Mother, they can’t do this, it isn’t –” He bites his tongue before the next word can tumble out, but his mother knows what he’d been about to say.

“Fair?” she says, a bitter smile twisting her mouth. “Of course not, dear, when have they ever acted fairly towards us?”

“That’s not the point!” her son shouts, throwing up his hands in frustration. “We’ve suffered enough already, why can’t we be left alone!”

In the ensuing silence, he draws a deep breath and makes a visible effort to control himself, running a hand through his hair again and tugging at his clothing. When he stops fussing, he looks at his mother and says, trying to smile, “I never liked the job in the first place. It might be nice to try something different.”

Narcissa nods, hands him the Floo Powder, and takes his hand. “It might,” she agrees. “Go on, then. Ernest bloody Belby will be waiting for your reply. Give it to him.”

She doesn’t swear often, and it makes Draco’s weak smile grow wider as he hugs her. “Thanks,” he says, and adds softly, “Mum.”

Narcissa lets out a quiet huff of laughter. He only calls her that in moments of extreme affection as she prefers the rather more formal ‘Mother’ to ‘Mum’.

He lets her go, and she steps back as he throws the Floo Powder into the fire and steps into the ensuing green flames, shouting, “St Mungo’s!” As he’s spinning wildly, it occurs to him that he hasn’t thought about Harry in over thirty minutes, which must surely be a record for these past few days. He’ll have to deal with that later, as well, he thinks, and realises he has no idea exactly how he’s going to do that.

Behind him, on the Malfoy Manor end of the Floo, Narcissa watches the emerald fire slowly die out. All is silent for a few minutes, and then Lucius strolls in.

“Was that Draco just leaving?” he asks, frowning at the distracted way his wife replaces the pot of Floo Powder on the mantelpiece.

“Yes,” she replies, turning to face him.

“Where’s he off to?”

Narcissa glances back at the fireplace. Smile turning into a smirk, she says, “To take care of business.”

 

***

 

He strides through St Mungo’s with a surprisingly effective get-the-fuck-out-of-my-way look on his face, brushing aside the various WelcomeWitches and Healers who try to waylay him, and managing to secure an entire lift to himself just by glaring at anyone who makes a move to get in with him. To the general public, the St Mungo’s lifts only travel between six floors, but if you work there and possess a special key-card – as Draco currently does, but might not for much longer – you’ll find another button had popped into existence, labelled ‘Basement’, and it is here in which the Experimental Potions department resides. Can’t have ordinary people stumbling upon all sorts of foul and potentially lethal potions, now, can you, and the lift trick manages to keep out any curious, spell-damaged, or just plain trouble-seeking wizards who might wander off the beaten path now and then.

Belby’s office lies at the other end of the floor, but that just gives Draco’s anger time to boil up into fury, and by the time he wrenches open the door with, Chief Potioneer, Ernest Belby, written on it in a rather florid, gold script, he decides he doesn’t give a damn what happens to him from here-on-in.

Belby is there, sitting behind his desk, still in his lime-green potions lab robes, his three chins covered in more pewter-grey bristle than the top of his entire massive, gleaming head. He looks up, startled, when the door bursts open and bounces off the wall behind it, and then glowers when he sees Draco standing in the doorway. Draco thinks, fuck it, and glowers right back, striding across the room to stand before the man’s desk.

“Malfoy,” Belby says in clipped, irritated tones. “Aren’t you supposed to be suspended?”

The nasty smirk that follows that sentence is the most infuriating thing Draco has ever seen. He wants so very badly to strangle the man with his own tie, but manages to resist the urge enough to speak.

“You had no right to suspend me,” he snaps, fists clenching and unclenching by his sides. Belby notices and smirks ever more widely. “No bloody right, and you certainly had no cause to. My attendance record is exemplary, one of the best in the dep –”

“Terribly sorry you feel that way, Malfoy,” Belby interrupts, in a patronisingly lofty tone, “but you’ve no-one to blame but yourself. The rules clearly state that –”

“Fuck the fucking rules, Belby. You know I’m not the only one in this department who’s taken time off this month. Why are you pulling me up on it when you’ve got people here who sometimes can’t even be bothered to get their arses in on time on a morning?”

“Examples have to be made,” Belby says, his already ruddy face turning an admirable shade of puce as he speaks. “That’s the way it is, son. You don’t like it, you can fu – hand in your resignation,” he amends quickly.

Draco smirks. Alright. He too can do infuriating, and do it better than this second-rate fuck

“Is that so?” Belby’s eyes are narrowed almost to slits, and there’s an unmistakeable note of contempt in his voice as he goes on with, “Well, you’d be right about that, Malfoy. Want to know what it is?”

“Oh, do enlighten me, please.”

Belby snarls at the sarcasm. “I hate the way you dare to show your fucking rat face in public after all the things you and yours did in the war. You sicken me, you pointy-faced, albino cunt, with the way you swan around thinking you’re better than the whole lot of us in this ‘ere department, when yer nothing but a snotty little brat who stayed out of Azkaban because you’ve got plenty of money behind yeh!” Spit flecks his chin after this venomous tirade, and his appalling Cockney accent becomes more pronounced with every malicious word.

Even though he’s burning with rage inside, Draco somehow manages another smirk and leans forward, resting both hands on Belby’s desk.

“Oh, Ern,” he says, shaking his head mock-sorrowfully, “now you’ve really hurt my feelings. But that’s okay,” he adds, as Belby snorts derisively in response, “because, my sweaty, disgusting, fat-arsed, racist friend, I’m going to make your life a living hell.”

Racist?” Belby splutters.

“You think I don’t remember your highly colourful attack on Raj, our foremost Polyjuice expert last month? Or the interesting opinion you expressed regarding the various Muggle-born Healers in this building a couple of weeks ago? Oh, Ernie,” Draco says, sighing theatrically, “not only are you a pureblood supremacist, but you’re a white pureblood supremacist.”

“Oh yeah? What are you gonna do about it? Can’t prove nothin’,” Belby says, satisfied that he’s avoided trouble for the moment.

Au contraire, Ernie, I have all the proof I need right here.” And he taps the side of his head, winking genially and feeling his anger drain away to be replaced by triumph as the blood leaves Belby’s face.

“You wouldn’t,” he whispers, fear lighting his small, piggy eyes.

“I. Would,” Draco says, each word slamming into place like falling rocks.

Belby lets out a nervous, high-pitched treble of laughter. “C’mon, Malfoy. It was just a joke, mate, just a joke. You’re not really suspended you know, I was just –”

In an instant, Draco seizes Potter’s collar, bringing them nose-to-nose. “I,” he hissed, “am not your fucking mate.” He lets go of Belby, so that the fat bastard falls heavily into his chair, and straightens up, moving to the door, pausing only to say, “And you can fucking stick your job, mate, right where the sun doesn’t shine.”

He’ll release the memories of this, ah, meeting to the Ministry anyway. Belby doesn’t deserve to keep his face the way it is, never mind his job. Not that Draco cares about his racist leanings; while he happens to agree with Belby on his opinion of the Mudbloods, he doesn’t agree that the colour of one’s skin has any bearing on a person whatsoever. On the bigoted arsehole scale, this probably still puts him at a nine-and-a-half, but Belby is a straight ten, so Draco counts it as a personal victory, if not exactly a moral one. So yes, he’ll stop off at the Ministry tomorrow, request a meeting with – hah, yes, Granger. She’s all for equal rights, isn’t she? Perfect – and give her the memories of this conversation, and leave the rest in her filthy but competent hands.

With a slightly unpleasant smile, he hops back on the lift and presses the button for the ground floor, whistling as it begins to rise. He hadn’t expected the confrontation with Belby to go quite so well, or to feel quite so good about it afterwards. He’s literally singing by the time he reaches the main foyer of St Mungo’s and strides out into the fading sunlight.

After all, if he can do that, he can do anything.

And that includes Harry fucking Potter.

 

 

***

 

He Apparates to the house in London, materialising on the bottommost step before his front-door. He pauses for a moment, wondering if he actually has a plan or whether he’s just going to wing it, deciding on the latter, and vaulting over the low wall separating his house from Harry’s.

He knocks on the door three times in quick succession, and waits, with increasing fear and decreasing courage, for someone to answer. Draco’s on the verge of jumping back over the wall and diving into his house, when the sound of the chain being pulled back on the door in front of him roots him to the spot.

Draco gets the strangest sense of deja-vu when Harry opens the door, but is distinctly disappointed to see that he’s wearing a shirt this time. Pot – Harry’s eyes widen almost comically behind his glasses before he checks himself and becomes the picture of aloof indifference. They have another of their weird staring competitions that nevertheless manage to send a slow shudder up Draco’s spine, making the sudden butterflies in his stomach dance like crazy, and then Harry speaks.

“Malfoy, what –”

That’s as far as he gets, since Draco leaps up the last step, slams Harry against the wall and kisses him with the all the pent-up hunger of the last seven days. Harry’s mouth opens almost immediately, hot and eager and desperate, meeting Draco’s kiss for kiss. For a few seconds, nothing can be heard except a muffled groan here, a quiet whimper there, and then, panting as though he’s just run a marathon, Harry pulls away.

His lips are delightfully kiss-bruised and his eyes are positively burning with lust, and the thought that Draco is the cause of it is gratifying and more than a little scary. They just sort of blink at each other for a bit, both a little flustered, and the silence that goes with it is the most beautiful sound Draco has heard in weeks because it’s the sound of things going bloody right for a change.

“But you –” Harry begins, nonplussed.

“I know,” Draco breaks in quietly.

“And I –” Harry continues, completely unbothered by the interruption.

“Yes,” Draco says, nodding. “But I found it in my heart to forgive you.”

“Because you’re such a forgiving person,” Harry says, and the quirk of his eyebrow is all amusement and fondness and gentle mocking. Draco thinks he likes it.

“I’m practically a saint,” Draco agrees. “Do you mind if I –”

“You don’t have to ask,” Harry cuts in, sounding mildly exasperated. “You know I’ll say yes.”

“You’re so easy.” Draco pushes into Harry’s space again and curls a hand into his ridiculous hair. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, I got that when you –” Harry starts, and Draco decides that that’s enough talking for now and shuts him up with a kiss.

Harry melts into it with a shameless eagerness that Draco is looking forward to exploiting in the near future – a hand slides under Draco’s shirt and digs into the skin at his hips and Draco sucks in a startled breath – make that the very near future, god, they need to move away from the front door before Draco does things to Harry that will get them both arrested.

But first … “I have just one question,” Draco says, breathing hard.

“Hmm?” Harry says, mouth at Draco’s neck, where he’s currently sucking hard on Draco’s pulse-point, his hand sliding inexorably to the front of Draco’s jeans.

Draco hears a whimper and is vaguely ashamed to realise he was the one who made it. He really can’t concentrate under this sort of attack, but he makes the effort and asks, “Why did you have to involve Granger?”

Instantly, Harry’s head comes up, and his hand stills from where it had been trying pop open the button on Draco’s jeans.

He winces a little sheepishly. “Er, yeah. About that,” he says. “Would you believe me if I told you it was all Hermione’s fault?”

“No,” Draco says. “But tell me anyway.”

“It was all Hermione’s fault,” Harry says, a grin curving the corners of his mouth. “Somehow she figured out that I really wanted to shag you, and then she came up with this insane plan to make that happen, and I know it was a shitty thing to do, but … did I mention that I really wanted to shag you?”

“Twice,” Draco says dryly, unable to stop the answering smile on his face. “I’m considering letting you tell me a third time, it’s doing wonders for my ego.”

“Like your ego needs it,” Harry says with a snort. Then he leans in and looks Draco directly in the eye. “Draco,” he says, very quietly, and Draco can’t help the little hitch in his breathing at the way Harry’s mouth shapes his name. Harry smiles like he noticed, but he doesn’t comment on it. He just presses a kiss to the corner of Draco’s mouth, and adds, “I’m sorry for being a massive arsehole. And –” he breaks off to press another kiss to the hinge of Draco’s jaw “- I really, really –” now he’s breathing the words hotly into Draco’s ear, and Draco hears himself make a high-pitched noise that he’d regret if he wasn’t so incredibly turned on “- really –” Harry continues, curling a hand around Draco’s neck and playing with the hair at the nape, and Draco breathes in sharply “– want to shag you, you have no idea.”

“Fuck,” Draco says, letting out the breath he’d been holding. “Okay, you’re forgiven, god, you are absolutely forgiven …”

“Oh, good,” Harry says, beaming as Draco crowds him against the wall again and kisses them both breathless.

“I should have known it was all Granger’s idea,” Draco says some time later, unable to resist getting his digs in. “Being that devious requires serious brains. Not exactly your area, is it?” he smiles patronisingly at Harry.

Harry doesn’t rise to it. He just rolls his eyes and says, “You know, insulting me is hardly the best way to get into my pants.”

“What makes you think I want to?” Draco scoffs, and then chokes when Harry presses the heel of his hand to the front of Draco’s trousers.

“This was a bit of a giveaway, to be honest,” Harry says sweetly, then lowers his voice to a soft growl. “Shall we take this inside?”

Draco nods, unable to articulate any kind of verbal agreement, and swallows hard as Harry kicks the front door shut behind them.