The cosy meeting hall of the Seniors’ Social Club, just off Diagon Alley, was filled with subdued chatter and laughter at their bi-weekly tea party when suddenly one of the younger attendees, sprightly nonagenarian Doris Crockford, tapped her spoon loudly against the rim of her teacup.
"It's almost half-past five, ladies!"
All conversation stopped and a goodly number of the ladies present sat up with obvious anticipation. Grey and white curls were fluffed, collars and shawls straightened, perfume discreetly dabbed on wrists and necks, and here and there even little hand mirrors and lipsticks made an appearance. Hermione and Luna watched the proceedings with considerable amusement.
"What's going on?" asked Daphne Greengrass, who’d only recently joined the squad of charity volunteers.
The other two women shared a look. "Oh right, you missed their last visit, didn't you?" Hermione said cryptically. "Just wait – you're in for quite a show."
"What show? And whose visit?" Daphne wondered.
"You'll see in a minute," Luna murmured, patting her arm.
"It's really quite scandalous, the way our regulars are carrying on whenever they drop in," Hermione sniffed, but her brown eyes were twinkling with humour.
"If it weren't for Ron and Rolf, I think you and I wouldn't act much differently," Luna stated. "Not that it would do any good, given who and what they are, but …"
"At least they're only schmoozing the ladies, not taking advantage of anyone. Can you imagine what havoc they could wreak if they tried?"
Luna's smile deepened. "I can, but I don't think I want to."
Before a now thoroughly intrigued – and puzzled – Daphne could ask who the mysterious 'they' were, the door to the meeting hall opened and two men walked in, stopping just inside the entryway. As soon as she recognised their identities, the reason for the ladies' primping and the half-embarrassed, half-gleeful titters sweeping around the room became obvious.
Ah, Draco and Harry. That explains a lot. Daphne just barely managed not to roll her eyes even as she wondered how the two would deal with what was clearly a superannuated fanclub in anything but name. She took a moment to appraise their appearance. Both were wearing open-faced day robes edged with the purple stripe of junior Wizengamot members, but there the similarity in their wardrobe ended.
Draco was still just as tall and pale as during their school days, with sharp, pointy features and languid, elegant movements. Not a single strand of his white-blond hair was out of place, although nowadays it looked soft and silky, not so horribly gelled back. His obviously bespoke suit was dove grey, complemented by an impeccable, starched white shirt worn with a silver-and-green striped silk cravat. Expensive-looking, Italian-made dragonhide boots were shined to such a finish that one could almost use it as a mirror. Even his gloves matched the outfit. Overall, he was the very picture of old-moneyed wealth and bearing.
Next to him, Harry was a study in contrasts. He was maybe an inch or two shorter, sported a light tan even this late in the year, and his dark hair looked windswept rather than messy. Draco probably bullied him into an appointment with his own horribly expensive barber! Thin silver spectacles framed the brilliant green eyes that looked fondly back at the elderly ladies waving and smiling at him. As he slipped off his day robe, he revealed nicely-wide shoulders and a trim waist, set off perfectly by skinny black trousers, a white shirt open at the throat that looked soft and comfortable, and a black tweed jacket that had no lapels, just a strip of black velvet facing down the edge of the top placket. It was fastened with jet and silver buttons. The clothes were more casual, but in their own way just as stylish as Draco’s.
Neither man on his own could be called drop-dead gorgeous, but Daphne had to admit that side-by-side like this they appeared devastatingly handsome.
"Good evening, ladies," Draco greeted the room at large, politely inclining his head.
"Hello, Mr Malfoy," Mrs Crockford called out. "And Mr Potter, of course."
Daphne shook her head bemusedly. Was it her imagination, or was this tiny, wizened witch actually flirting with Harry, or Draco? Or even both? The very idea boggled her mind.
"Hello, Doris," Potter replied, a smile lighting his features. "I see you've recovered from your recent illness."
"Indeed I have," Doris simpered. "If you'll sit with me, I'll tell you all about it." She gestured invitingly at the empty chair next to her.
"Sure," Harry said. "Just let me get a cuppa first, okay?" He hung up both his and Draco's robes and went over to the tea urn.
Daphne blinked and turned to her co-workers. “She’s not really going to tell him about her, uh, stomach problems, is she?”
“It’s a recurring intestinal ailment -- constipation and diarrhea,” Luna stated matter-of-factly.
Hermione grimaced at Luna’s bluntness, then told Daphne, "According to Harry, Mrs Crockford was the first person to welcome him back into our world on the day he went to Diagon Alley for school supplies. That’s why he’s developed such a soft spot for her."
Luna just smiled serenely as she filled two mugs for the men and doctored them to their preferences. Harry thanked her, handed one to Draco and sauntered off to join the gaggle of preening women at Doris' table.
Daphne shook her head. “Is this a Gryffindor thing? Because I don’t get it ...”
Hermione grinned. “You’re not the only one. And no, it’s more of a Harry thing. He'll do nearly everything for people who've been kind to him. And whatever faults Mrs Crockford might have, she's certainly kind."
"I guess," Daphne said, but was prevented from commenting further when Hermione clapped her hands once.
"Enough small talk," she said briskly. "Now that Harry and Draco are here, the ladies will want their cups and plates refreshed, so let's see to it, alright?"
"Yes, Hermione," Luna agreed happily. "We can always gossip later."
"I don't gossip," Hermione protested.
"Oh? What do you call the mutual exchange of private information about our friends and acquaintances, then?"
Hermione stuck her nose into the air. "Why, intelligence gathering, of course."
"Well said, Granger; that was almost Slytherin. Didn't know you had it in you," Daphne said, her lips twitching with mirth. She’d initially felt ambivalent about joining a group run by Loony Lovegood and the erstwhile Gryffindor know-it-all, but they were surprisingly fun to be around.
"Thanks – I think. I have my moments." Hermione winked before the three of them returned to their tasks.
Harry was already listening intently to Mrs Crockford’s health woes and Draco had invited himself to another group, bringing delighted smiles and honest-to-goodness blushes to more than one witch’s wrinkled face as he paid them outrageous compliments on their hair and clothes. The ladies were eating it up with a spoon. As the men worked the room, more than one matron sighed wistfully at their backs when they switched tables now and then.
Daphne was sure she heard Mavis Rutledge stage-whisper to her friend Constantia Twilfitt, "Aren't they just fabulous?"
The Seniors’ Social Club closed at seven o’clock, as usual. Harry and Draco courteously helped the ladies gather their cloaks and jackets before guiding them towards the Floo, out onto Diagon Alley, or handed them into the care of family. As soon as the volunteers were alone and had locked the door, Hermione brought forth a platter of small savoury pies and pastries and Luna fished a few bottles of Butterbeer from the depths of a cabinet.
“Come and join us if you have the time, Daphne,” Hermione invited as she deftly prepared a table for them. “There’s enough for everybody.”
The former Slytherin somewhat hesitantly complied. “If you're sure I’m not in the way …?”
“You’re not,” Harry declared. “Anyone who can be as nice as you've been all afternoon deserves a medal, not just a Cornish pasty. Go on, sit and help yourself!”
“You know you want to, so don't play coy, Daph," Draco drawled, heating the Butterbeers with a quick flick of his wand before passing them out. "You girls are saints to put up with these old biddies for a full three hours every two weeks. There's a reason why Harry and I only show up once a month and never until teatime is halfway over!”
"Can't stand the gale-force rush of lusty sighs in your direction?" Daphne quipped.
He smirked. “Noticed that, did you?"
"It's really not hard to miss," Luna murmured. "Be nice, please?"
As everybody loved Luna, her gentle admonishment was instantly obeyed.
Draco awkwardly cleared his throat before he continued. "Well, anyway … I like cake and biscuits as much as the next person, but if I had to sit with this flock of hens all afternoon, tasting this, that and everything they're constantly trying to foist on me, I’d either be sick of all sweets by now, or as fat as old Slughorn!”
“That, and my cheeks couldn’t stand any more patting,” Harry said ruefully. “What is it about old ladies that makes them treat any bloke younger than seventy as if they were still five and in short pants?”
Daphne bit into a pastry to hide her snickers. Harry definitely had a point; most of their regulars had treated him like a schoolboy … or maybe a favourite great-grandson or -nephew. She actually found it rather adorable, especially as he’d taken it with such good-natured grace.
“At least they only assaulted your face,” Draco said. “I’m willing to swear Doris Crockford tried to pinch my behind while I was holding Mrs Rutledge’s cloak.”
“She did? Oh, that’s – that’s priceless,” Daphne chortled.
Hermione giggled. “Go, Doris!”
Draco gave them both a rather grumpy look. “Humph.”
Harry just raised an eyebrow. “That only shows Doris has good taste,” he commented blandly. “Yours is an eminently pinchable arse, after all.”
Draco positively glared at Harry.
“And no-one would know that better than you, Harry, isn’t that right?” Luna said in a dreamy voice, her blue eyes wide and guileless.
“Exactly,” Harry said smugly even as Draco began to sputter with indignation. “Oh, come off it, Dray. You know you like it when I do that thing, the one with—”
“If you value your life, you’re not going to finish that sentence, Potter,” Draco hissed, turning a quite becoming shade of pink.
“Spoilsport,” Hermione muttered under her breath, but thought it safer to change the topic. “Say, Harry, which gruesome details of her latest health issue did Mrs Crockford regale you with?”
Obligingly, Harry abandoned the light-hearted banter they'd indulged in without a second thought.
"She told me quite a bit about some … digestive problems she's been having lately," he recounted. "She says Healer Smethwyck calls it 'Coeliac Disease' and told her that the only way to deal with it is not to eat anything containing wheat, rye, barley, or oats."
"That must be hard," Daphne said.
"Yeah – Doris mentioned that she always feels sick after having just a nibble of cake or sandwiches, but she enjoys our tea parties so much, she's willing to endure."
"That's not very smart, is it?"
"People often don't care about being smart when the alternative is being lonely," Luna said with a sad little smile. "I wish there was a way we could help her – and Mrs Bouquet, too. She has a problem with tea and coffee. She said either beverage gives her heartburn or raises her blood pressure, both of which she often ignores because she hates drinking herbal teas."
"Who's Mrs Bouquet?" Daphne frowned. "I've never heard that name before."
Draco grinned. "You should, though – surely you've heard about Primrose Nott?" he asked. "She married one of the Derbyshire Buckets."
Hermione suddenly had a violent coughing fit. However, she quickly waved off their concerned questions. "Never mind, I merely swallowed wrong," she croaked, hiding her red face in her napkin.
"Anyway, because dear old Primmie has, erm, social aspirations, she decided that the regular pronunciation of the name was 'too common'," Draco finished his explanation.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Hermione groaned, apparently quite recovered. "How pretentious can you get?"
"According to my great-aunt Theophania, a lot," Draco replied promptly. "She knew Primrose at Hogwarts and said she always tried to lord it over everyone, without having the looks, manners, talent or wherewithal to back it up."
Harry grimaced. "Lovely, a witch version of my Aunt Petunia. Ugh!"
"Oh, she's not all bad. A terrible snob, yes, but bearable as long as you indulge her little foibles. But she's like a dragon with a sore tooth because she can no longer have her morning cup of Ceylon, or her beloved mocha."
Harry frowned. "So why doesn't Mrs Bucket – excuse me, Bouquet," he corrected himself sarcastically, "switch to decaf?"
Draco, Daphne and Luna exchanged puzzled looks. "Switch to what?"
"Decaf – short for decaffeinated," Harry repeated. When the three purebloods seemed even more bewildered, Hermione took it upon herself to explain.
"You know that coffee and tea contain a stimulant called caffeine, don't you?" They nodded, so she continued. "Well, caffeine can cause health problems for the heart or stomach. Muggles have developed a way to extract it from the beans and leaves, so people can drink coffee or tea regardless."
"Why would they, though? Having coffee without kick is kind of pointless, isn’t it?"
"Some people may like the taste, Draco," Daphne reproached him. "I mean, just think of how well chocolate goes with coffee!"
"Hmm, good point.”
"Are these 'decaf' beverages hard to find, or very expensive?" Luna wanted to know. "Because I'm thinking we could maybe get some for the next tea party so that Mrs Bouquet can enjoy her favourite drink again?"
"Nah, it's about the same price as regular, and sold at pretty much every grocery store. I'll pick some up the next time I pass a Tesco's," Harry promised.
Luna beamed at him, then her face fell once more. "I wish we could find such an easy solution for Mrs Crockford, though." She sighed. "We can't have her get sick from our cakes."
"That's easy. All we have to do is offer her cake baked without flour," Harry said.
"You can do that?" Daphne asked, her eyes wide. She'd never heard of such a thing, much less tasted it.
"Oh yeah. I'm sure I could find a recipe somewhere." He shrugged.
"That'd be great – if I could bake worth a damn." Hermione sighed. "I can manage scones or a plain sponge cake in a pinch, but fancy pastry is beyond me. Thank Merlin for Molly Weasley and our other sponsors! How about you, Daphne?"
Daphne was already shaking her head no. "I never learned. We had house elves."
Hermione only rolled her eyes.
"I can cook," Luna ventured. "It's a lot like potions, isn't it? You mix all the ingredients in the right proportions and order, stir well and put the whole into your heated cauldron – or the oven, in this case – wait a certain time until it's done and voilà, cake."
Harry nearly choked at the look of outrage and horror on Draco and Hermione's respective faces. Draco would resent the comparison of brewing his beloved potions to simple cooking and, having sampled a few dishes made by Luna, Harry could definitely sympathise with Hermione. Luna was a dear, but her cookery skills were in a league similar to Hagrid's. Manfully suppressing his laughter, he reached for her hand and squeezed it gently.
"It's very kind of you to offer, Luna." He smiled, not wanting to hurt her feelings. "But maybe I really should do it myself instead. After all, it'll be my recipe."
"Oh, that'd be wonderful," she exclaimed, not at all offended. "Mrs Crockford would be sure to try that cake when we tell her that you baked it, and especially for her, too!"
Harry pulled a wry face, but accepted the truth of his fame for what it was. "No problem. I used to enjoy baking – and Draco will help, too." He glanced meaningfully at his scandalised partner, daring him to refuse. "Won't you, Dray?"
Draco gave a reluctant nod. "Sure. Happy to," he muttered, although he looked as if he'd rather be chopping a whole vat full of Flobberworms.
Luna clapped her hands in delight while Hermione and Daphne, who had seen his expression, did their best not to collapse in hysterics. "Wonderful!"
Draco kept his peace until they were back at Grimmauld Place. Once inside, he watched in stony silence as Harry went into the kitchen and drew his wand. "Accio Aunt Petunia's recipe book!"
There was a rustling in one of the cabinets until a door banged open and a slim spiral-bound book covered in a chintzy floral fabric floated into his hands. Momentarily forgetting that Harry had volunteered them both to bake, Draco eyed it with distaste.
"What in Salazar's name is that?"
Harry grinned and sat down at the table, already leafing through the obviously handcrafted volume. "My aunt got it as a birthday present from a neighbour one year," he said. "Mrs Myers was probably the closest thing to a friend Aunt Petunia had on Privet Drive, and I know she used to collect old family recipes as well as things she'd tried while on vacation. She wrote them up, added pictures and made the whole into a sort of scrapbook."
He angled the book to show Draco a double page filled with glossy photographs, drawings, cutesy stickers and neatly-calligraphed recipes. "My aunt loved to bake and make fancy desserts, so it was really a very considerate gift, I thought. But Uncle Vernon didn't like any of the recipes she tried, saying he wasn't having 'newfangled rubbish' on his table. So Aunt Petunia eventually just binned the book."
"And you, of course, had to rescue it," Draco said sardonically, not surprised by the self-deprecating shrug he received in return.
"What can I say?" A light blush stained Harry’s cheeks. "I managed a lick of the no-bake cheese cream before I had to wash the mixing bowl, and I also got to taste a macaroon. They were both delicious, so …" He wouldn't look at Draco as he fiddled with the purple silk bookmark. He wasn't about to reveal to his lover that the macaroons had already been thrown into the trash.
Harry rarely talked about his life with the Dursleys, but Draco had heard enough bits and pieces over the years to be able to paint a rather ugly picture. His first inclination, as always, was to Apparate to Surrey and hex Harry's abominable relatives to within an inch of their lives. Unfortunately, he knew that Harry’s Gryffindorish, too-noble-for-his-own-good streak wouldn’t permit it. So, as much as it galled him, for Harry’s sake he’d do the next best thing – giving in to Harry’s madcap idea.
"Have you even found a cake recipe without flour in that collection yet?" Draco asked after several moments of silence, and was rewarded by a grateful smile.
"Several, actually," Harry said. "Do you think, though, that one cake will be enough? The other ladies might want to try this 'special' cake, too—"
"Especially once word gets out that you baked it," Draco interjected drily.
"Um, I guess," Harry mumbled, blushing. "Anyway, what if that happens? Could we maybe bake a bit more? Just in case?"
Draco sighed at the puppy eyes Harry was giving him. "'More' meaning how much, exactly?"
Harry squirmed. "Er … I'm thinking three cakes and two kinds of biscuits should do; that'd give us between thirty-six and forty-eight slices and around eighty biscuits …"
Draco gaped. "Are you mad? So much for what, twenty-odd elderly ladies? I hate to tell you, Potter, but they're unlikely to have a Weasley-type capacity for food!"
Harry waved off Draco's concern. "It's only a few days until Christmas when we have the next tea party; you know we usually get a bigger turnout right before the holidays. We'll need extra anyway, and who knows, we might even have enough leftovers for everybody to take some home."
"And won't that be a right treat," Draco muttered. "Stale cake for Yule … but whatever." He shook himself. "Okay, show me what you want us to bake, and we can write down which ingredients we need." He summoned quill and parchment to his hand.
Half an hour later, Draco read through the shopping list with some dismay. "Eggs, caster and icing sugar, hazelnuts, almonds, unsalted butter, chocolate shavings, chocolate for icing, lemons, cocoa powder, cream, cream cheese, sundry small stuff, preserved lingonberries and half a pound of special-flour ladyfingers. Provided we can even get those last two, that is. You must be out of your mind!"
But Harry would not be dissuaded. "If we can't get lingonberries, we can always substitute sour cherries; they'll go equally well with nuts and chocolate. And I know where we can buy gluten-free biscuits."
"Still, do you have any idea how much time we'll need to grind over two pounds of nuts? You should remember from Potions that you won't get an even consistency when you use magic on mortar and pestle! And that doesn't even factor in all the whipping and mixing that needs to be done." Draco groaned, already feeling phantom pain in his wrist and fingers. "It's going to take ages!"
Harry smiled impishly. "No, it won't."
Draco pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Harry, I love you, but in this instance I honestly think you're deluded. You may be an exceptional wizard, but even you can't change some laws of nature – like time constraints, effort needed and what magic can actually do. Also, you said yourself you haven't baked in years, whereas I have no experience at all. If that isn't a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is. Why can't we just ask someone who's a great cook and let them do the baking? I'm sure Mrs Weasley would be happy to oblige."
"I don't want to ask Molly," Harry said, a familiar stubborn look settling on his face. "I said I'd do it, and I will."
Draco sighed again and slumped back in his chair. "Oh, alright. But how in Merlin's name are we supposed to even get the preparation done in time? We have other obligations beside the Seniors' Social Club, remember?"
Harry's grin returned, this time with a slightly manic edge. "We're going to use Muggle magic!"
Two days before the Christmas Tea Party, Draco found himself in front of a large store somewhere in Leicester as the closest location they had found to Cokeworth. Draco had inherited Professor Snape's house in Spinner's End and, as it was situated in a thoroughly Muggle neighbourhood, he couldn't very well turn it into a magical dwelling. At Harry's suggestion he'd decided to renovate the property, turning it into a quite pleasant two-up-two-down and was currently renting it out to Muggleborn and the occasional half-blood Hogwarts graduates who wanted or needed a place to stay in the area to complete their education at a Muggle university. In the long run, they thought it might make a good home for a Squib. Either way, the proceeds went into the Severus Snape Scholarship fund for aspiring Potions Masters.
As it was so close to the holidays, the current tenants of Spinner's End had already left for home. Draco had obtained their permission to make use of the perfectly ordinary Muggle kitchen while Harry had gone into London the day before and come back with a number of bulky packages.
Now, for the first time in his life, Draco was about to go grocery shopping outside of Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. And it had to be at a Muggle store! At least the place looked reasonably respectable. Still, he couldn't help being nervous. The things I do for Harry …
Squaring his shoulders, he painted on a hopefully confident smile and followed Harry through the wide glass doors.
Inside, Draco's senses were immediately assaulted by too-bright lights and a cacophony of sound. There were too many colours, too many things and what seemed like hundreds of people pushing strange metal-wire carts through tall aisles stocked with an overwhelming amount of products, most of which he could neither name nor even recognise. He could also hear insipid carols being played from an unknown source. Slightly panicked, he grabbed Harry's arm. "Where's the shopkeeper?" he hissed.
"It's self-service, there isn't one," Harry said. Draco paled, but before he could speak Harry wrapped a warm hand around his fingers and gave them a reassuring squeeze. "Don't worry," Harry murmured. "You know how you put the sweets you want to buy at Honeydukes into a basket and take them to the register? This is just the same, only a little bigger."
"A little?" Draco voice sounded uncharacteristically squeaky, but thankfully Harry let it pass.
"Come on," he said, "let's get a cart and start shopping."
Gripping the handlebar of the wheeled device managed to ground Draco, and after a few minutes of wandering up and down the aisles he started to relax and take notice of his surroundings. Just ahead he could see something he was familiar with at last – the fresh produce section.
"I've found lemons. How many do we need?" he asked.
Harry consulted their list. "Three." Following Draco to the stack of bright yellow citrus fruits, he briefly explained why some were already packed five or six to a net while other, much bigger ones were sold one apiece. "It's about quality and quantity. The ones in the nets are only good for juice, but the big lemons marked 'untreated' will obviously give you more per piece. Also, the rind is edible – you can cut it into thick slices to make candied lemon peel, use the zest for flavor, or you can julienne it for decoration. So even while they're slightly more expensive, you'll get better value depending on what you need them for. "
Draco had begun to salivate at 'candied lemon peel' and stopped listening. He loved candied anything! "Do you know how to make that, too?" he asked Harry with studied casualness.
However, Harry knew his Slytherin. "What, candied lemon?" He grinned at Draco's eager nod. "As a matter of fact, yes. And yes, I'll make some for you over the holidays," he promised. "Just not today, okay? We're already pressed for time as is. Come on, let's get the rest of our things."
They ended up asking a Customer Service employee where to find baking ingredients, as the store was just too big and confusing, with too many people milling about to let them read the signs. Secretly, Draco was impressed by the deference shown to them; he also approved of the neat grey apron and green tie that made up part of the girl's uniform.
Once in the proper aisle, he was amazed at how convenient Muggle food preparation could be.
"See? Everything's pre-packaged and ready to use; all we have to do is measure out the right amount and we're good to go." Harry lowered his voice. "And just wait until I show you how easy Muggle magic is going to make the rest."
When they were picking up a few cartons of eggs, Draco had to snicker. "And Hermione called Primrose Bouquet pretentious! How about this? 'These eggs come from hens who display their inquisitive nature, whilst freely foraging in open pastures'," he read out in his best snooty tone, making Harry laugh.
"Well, what can you expect from a store chain that delivers groceries to the Queen?" he asked rhetorically, steering Draco towards a slightly less pricey alternative. "I don't think that's quite our style, though."
Draco's pout was really rather adorable.
Back in the kitchen at Spinner's End, Harry finally unpacked his mysterious purchases. They turned out to be a bunch of baking paraphernalia, two non-stick baking pans, a scale that would show you the exact weight to the gram at the push of a button, and two contraptions which Harry swore would do all the mixing for them.
"We just plug them in, switch them on and they'll do the work," he explained, setting up the food processor. "Well, one of us will have to hold the hand mixer, but it's still going to be easier and much faster than doing it by hand."
Draco still looked dubious.
"I promised you Muggle magic, didn't I? It’s called electricity," Harry murmured. "After it was invented, it all became simply a matter of creating the right devices to do a job. We won't even have to wash up afterwards – we can just stack pretty much everything into this machine, the dishwasher, and it'll do it for us."
Grudgingly, Draco conceded that, just maybe, Muggle baking might not be quite the chore he'd thought it would be.
Once everything was set up, laid out and the oven set to pre-heat, Harry briskly clapped his hands. "Right. We'll start with the nut loaf. First, we have to separate the eggs."
Draco was feeling decidedly smug when he almost immediately developed the knack of cracking and separating yolks from egg whites without contaminating either. However, he grimaced when Harry switched on the food processor to mix egg yolks and sugar, and winced when the whine of the hand mixer whisking the egg whites was added.
"Can't we at least use a Silencing Charm?"
"Not around electric appliances, no. They just don't mix well with magic. This is why we're working here instead of at home in the first place, remember?"
Oh yeah. Also, Kreacher would kill us if we ever decided to invade his kitchen for more than getting a cup of tea. Draco huffed.
"But it's so loud," he complained.
"What would you prefer, ten minutes of noise, or at least half an hour of doing it the hard way, by hand?"
Draco gave Harry a dirty look over the scales where he was measuring out ground nuts. "I hate when you're being logical," he grumbled. "How do you know when everything's ready, anyway?"
Much to his relief, Harry switched off both devices, stuck a clean spoon into the egg-sugar mix and licked it off, testing the texture with lips and tongue. "Maybe a minute or two more," he decided. "It's still a tad grainy." He turned the food processor back on.
Then, a decidedly evil smirk passed across his face. "As for the egg whites, there's one sure-fire test."
Quick as lightning, he picked up the bowl and upended it above Draco's head.
Draco yelped and flinched. "Are you crazy?" he sputtered, ducking out of the way even though, much to his surprise, the snowy, fluffy mass stayed firmly within the bowl. "You could've dumped that all over me!"
Harry barely managed to set the bowl back onto the counter as he was doubling over with laughter. "Oh Merlin, your face," he wheezed.
Scowling, Draco turned away. "As long as you find it funny."
Contritely, Harry stepped up behind him and slipped his arms around Draco's waist. "I'm sorry," he said and kissed the side of Draco's neck. "There really was very little danger of you getting splattered; I could see the egg whites were ready just by the peaks they formed when you removed the whisks. I just couldn't resist."
"Oh, don't be that way," Harry pleaded, peppering more kisses on the soft skin behind Draco's ear. "I said I'm sorry – and besides, can you honestly say you wouldn't have done the same thing to me if you'd known that little trick?"
"Of course not," Draco replied with a haughty sniff, but he turned around so Harry could kiss him properly. Just before their mouths met, he added with a smirk of his own, "I would have made sure you did get drenched."
It was disappointing not to be able to sample the nut loaf right away; once it had cooled down, had been coated with dark chocolate icing and the top sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts, the rectangular cake looked rather appetising, if a bit plain for Draco's taste. But Harry declared it needed to be wrapped in a silvery metal foil and rest for at least a day.
"The coconut macaroons are next," Harry soothed as he started to whip up more egg whites and icing sugar. Meanwhile, Draco was instructed to measure out desiccated coconut flakes, shred a packet of raw marzipan and juice half a lemon. Once everything was combined, he then showed Draco how to pipe little puffs of the mixture onto round wafers. "It always is a bit of trial and error to get the oven temperature just right, so there'll be plenty to taste."
As indeed there was. The first batch came out a bit too dark and were a far cry from the dainty pastel-coloured confections the Malfoy house elves used to serve, but the crust was still nice enough while the inside had stayed both soft and chewy. These macaroons went marvelously well with a cup of tea as they waited for the next tray to finish baking at a slightly lower temperature. These were a perfect light golden colour, and Harry invited Draco to decorate them with drizzles of leftover chocolate icing. After a couple of botched attempts – more for me to taste, yum! – Draco got the hang of it and was quite proud of the finished result.
"Perfect," Harry declared and put the leftover egg yolks into the Muggle cold box. It's called a refrigerator, or fridge, Draco remembered. "Let's leave them out on the rack to set and go out to dinner; we can do the lemon biscuits tomorrow."
The morning of the day before they were scheduled to go back to London saw them back in the kitchen, baking biscuits. Draco would rather have ripped out his tongue than admit he found the process of cutting stars and crescent moons out of rolled-flat dough quite fun, especially once it got to giving them an egg wash or applying lemon icing afterwards as needed. It all was terribly messy and sticky, but the result was actually rather satisfactory – if only for the knowledge that he had done a good portion of the work.
Harry wisely held his tongue and let Draco believe he didn't see when the occasional crooked star disappeared behind white teeth rather than being put into the snowflake-decorated biscuit tin he'd bought for transport.
In the afternoon, it was back once again to beating sugar and eggs. This time, they added cocoa powder, chopped hazelnuts and a dash of brown rum to the eggs and poured it into a circular 10-inch pan. The result, once baked, was a dark-brown, spongy cake that was about an inch thick.
"We'll let that cool overnight and do the toppings tomorrow," Harry told Draco and quickly cleaned the springform. "Now for the non-bake cheesecake!"
He showed Draco how to crush the gluten-free ladyfingers – which tasted surprisingly normal when Draco curiously pinched a piece – in a plastic bag with the rolling pin, then rubbed in some soft butter and pressed the resulting crumbly mass evenly onto the bottom of the pan.
"Put that into the fridge, please? The butter needs to firm up again."
Next, Harry mixed a substance he called a 'lemon jelly ready mix' with water, heated it to just under boiling point and then carefully cast a Cooling Charm which, once applied, wouldn't interfere with the appliances, to get it down to room temperature. Meanwhile, Draco put a tub of cream cheese, along with sugar, lemon juice and a dash of vanilla, into the food processor. Just as the jelly was starting to set, they tipped it into the cream cheese, turning the mixture bright yellow. Lastly, Harry whisked up half a litre of whipping cream and gently folded it under with a spatula.
"Okay, now pour it over the base," Harry instructed, retrieving the chilled pan. "Right, that's done," he said once the creamy substance had settled into an even, smooth layer.
"We'll leave the cheesecake to set in the fridge overnight and decorate it just before we leave." He started loading the dishwasher, whistling a few bars of 'God rest ye, Merry Hippogriffs'.
Draco watched him with a peculiar expression.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked from the sink.
Draco shrugged, glancing away. "Nothing."
"'Nothing' wouldn't make you look so glum," Harry admonished gently, abandoning the dirty cookware. He went to Draco and touched a lean cheek. "Something is obviously bothering you."
Damn him for being so observant!
"Please tell me?"
"I … I didn't expect to feel … well, somewhat adrift now that most of the work is done," Draco admitted haltingly at last. "I find it rather unsettling."
"Ah." Harry nodded in understanding, taking him into a comforting embrace. "I know the feeling." He started to rub soothing circles on Draco's back.
"Uh-huh. I've been there myself a time or two," Harry confided, trying to find the right words to explain. "See, it's like this – there's a certain satisfaction that comes with a job well done, especially if you can see and touch the result. Sort of like, 'I made this, and it's good', you know? But then you realise you're truly done and that good feeling, that pride you had, kind of slips away and suddenly there's a hole where your … your purpose, I guess, used to be until that moment." A faraway look entered the green eyes as Harry remembered waking up in Gryffindor Tower the day after he'd finally defeated Voldemort.
"That … that sounds about right," Draco replied slowly, thinking it over. I should have known Harry would understand. He usually does.
"Didn't you ever feel that way once you'd accomplished a particular task? Like when you successfully brewed a complicated potion for Snape, say?"
"Not that I remember. Well, there was winning at Quidditch, at least when I didn't have to play against you, but ... no. The only time I think I've ever come close to feeling what you've described was … was in sixth year. When I managed to repair the Vanishing Cabinet." Draco swallowed painfully. "Even then I knew I hadn't exactly done a good thing. I mean, yes, it was an accomplishment, but—"
"But you knew, or at least suspected, that all your effort would be put to a bad purpose," Harry finished for him.
"Yes. It never was something to be proud of."
Draco sounded so forlorn, it made Harry's heart ache.
"Don't be," Draco murmured, fitting himself more closely to Harry's wiry frame. "Firstly, it wasn't your fault – as I've repeatedly told you, and secondly, it was years ago. I've come to terms with it."
"Have you really?"
Just like him, Draco still suffered the occasional nightmare. They had got better since they'd become lovers, but some wounds ran deeper than others. With an effort, Harry banished the memories threatening to drown him back into the past where they belonged. This wasn't about him. Feeling empty because they were done baking might not be quite on the same scale as fulfilling a prophecy, but that didn't make Draco's feelings any less real.
"More or less. Some days are just better than others. As you know."
"I do." This was the best he could hope for, Harry knew, and for now it would have to suffice.
As he held Draco, he cast about for something, anything to lighten the suddenly somber mood. His eyes fell on the bowl in which he'd mixed the lemon filling for the cheesecake and he had an idea.
"I almost forgot, there's one thing about Muggle baking I haven't shown you yet," Harry said lightly, extricating himself from Draco's arms. "You could almost call it a closing ritual."
To his relief, Draco went along with the change of topic readily enough.
"Oh? And are you going to show me?" Draco murmured, trying to match Harry's cheerful tone.
"Uh-huh." Harry nodded and picked up the cream-covered spatula. "Tell me, Dray … have you ever licked out a bowl?"
Draco stared at him for a few seconds, then burst into laughter at the apparent non sequitur. "No, I haven't! Why would I even – I'm not a Crup!"
"Then you don't know what you've been missing."
Harry had always been envious whenever Aunt Petunia had made dessert or baked and handed Dudley a bowl to lick and had had to watch his cousin making a pig of himself over it countless times. It had seemed such an indulgent, caring thing to do. Then, one evening after they'd all left school, Ron and Hermione had dropped in for dinner at Grimmauld Place. Kreacher had made strawberry trifle and stashed the leftovers in the cold box before Ron could eat it all. Later that night, Harry had crept down into the kitchen and gobbled up everything straight out of the bowl – down to swiping up every last trace with his fingers and licking them clean. Just like Dudley had done while Harry had been ordered to start cleaning up. Laying that particular demon to rest had been worth every minute of the stomachache he'd suffered from the next day.
Now he was going to share the experience with Draco.
He picked up the spatula, took a long swipe with his tongue up and around one side, then touched the other lightly to Draco's mouth.
"Here – you always start with the spoon," he said.
A puzzled look entered Draco’s grey eyes. "Excuse me?"
"Come on, taste it," Harry coaxed. "Just give it one small lick."
Hesitantly, Draco obeyed. His tongue flickered out, scooping up a tiny amount of the pale yellow substance. It was still soft, just beginning to set, and had quite a pleasant texture. Little bursts of flavor exploded in his mouth – the sweetness of cream and sugar, the tang of cheese and over all the muted acidity of lemon, all combining into a near-perfect whole.
"Mmm." Humming softly, Draco took a second, much broader lick.
Harry chuckled. "You like?"
"Enough to want more," Draco admitted.
"Then go for it." Grabbing another spoon from a drawer, Harry climbed up on a stool at the kitchen bench and gestured Draco to take the second before placing the bowl between them. "We'll share, okay?"
Companionably, they scraped up every last bit of creamy cheese until there were only faint traces left. Draco set the spatula down with a small moue of disappointment. "That was … unexpected," he mused.
"Fun though, right?"
"Strangely, yes. I could almost wish we didn't have to take this no-bake concoction to the Club's tea party tomorrow," he said. "The filling is delicious, even at room temperature, and I imagine it will taste even better chilled?"
"It's perfect on a hot day," Harry confirmed. "Especially if you decorate the cake with seasonal berries. But you've seen how easy it is to make; how about we do another one for your birthday?"
"I'd like that," Draco said, pleased. "I think Mother will enjoy it, too." Then he eyed the few small smears clinging to the bowl. "It looks as if there's still about one mouthful left, but I doubt you could pick it up even with the spatula."
Harry started to grin. "You're right – and this is where the real fun is." He tilted the bowl and swiped along the bottom and wall with his forefinger. Holding it up, he showed Draco that the skin on one side was now covered with what had to be the very last bit of creamy goodness.
"What are you doing?" Bollocks. If I'd known that was acceptable, I'd have tried it myself!
"Getting everything." Slowly, Harry licked a small path up from his palm to the first knuckle, his eyes never losing the hold they had on Draco's fascinated gaze. The freshly-cleaned skin glistened moistly in the overhead light, and Draco had to swallow hard past the sudden dryness in his mouth.
"We're sharing, remember?," Harry whispered huskily, brushing his cream-smeared fingertip against Draco's bottom lip. "Go on, it's your turn. It's the last bit, and it's all yours."
Draco's breath hitched sharply, but he still allowed Harry to slide his finger into his mouth.
Sweetness mingled with the more familiar salty tang of Harry's skin, and with a soft moan Draco wrapped his tongue around the invading digit, licking and sucking until nothing remained but the taste of his lover.
"I'd love if you did that to my cock." Harry's voice was a low, intimate rush full of promise that washed over Draco like warm chocolate sauce. "Would you?"
With a small pang of regret, Draco let Harry's finger slip out. Even for Harry he wouldn't be so uncouth as to speak with his mouth full.
"Yes. Bed. Now."
The narrow bed was a far cry from the king-size four-poster dominating the master bedroom at Grimmauld Place, but quite comfortable nonetheless. They were lying side-by-side; Harry's back was propped up on a small mound of pillows against the headboard and Draco had scooted lower, far enough down so that he wouldn't have to contort his body to pleasure his partner with either mouth or hands.
Harry's tanned, muscular thighs were spread slightly, his fully erect cock stretching hot and heavy upwards to his navel. Draco lightly ran his fingertips up and down its length, marveling as always at the feel of the satiny skin, so similar to yet different from his own.
Harry's breath caught, and he touched Draco's hair with an unsteady hand. "Don't tease," he murmured. "I want you too much right now."
"Always so impatient." But Draco smiled and bent his head, happy to oblige. Starting with long, openmouthed kisses, he slowly licked down the throbbing shaft until he reached the taut testicles. He laved them thoroughly before sucking one into his mouth, then started to hum.
"Merlin, yes," Harry moaned, letting his legs fall open with abandon.
Draco tongued his way up again to the pulsing head. As he flicked his tongue tip against the sensitive vee-shaped spot at the underside, Harry started bucking so hard Draco was almost thrown off, but with the ease of long practice managed to hold him steady until Harry settled back against the mattress.
Draco continued to lick and suck, varying speed and intensity as the mood struck him. He also used his hands to great effect, alternately rolling Harry's balls between his fingers or brushing the tips against the opening further back. When he finally slid one finger into the spasming muscle, Harry gave a wordless cry, grabbed Draco's hair and began to fuck the greedy wet mouth devouring him. Draco all but inhaled the hot flesh, feeling it bump against the back of his throat as he concentrated on giving pleasure. Soon, his efforts were rewarded with a strangled scream and several spurts of salty liquid flooding his mouth. Swallowing what he could and lapping up the rest, Draco eased up at last and raised up on one elbow to better look at Harry who lay sprawled before him, sweaty and gasping for breath.
"That was … spectacular," Harry panted eventually, green eyes large and bright without his glasses. "Even by your usual standards."
"Thanks." Draco nibbled his way up the leanly-muscled torso, pausing only to pay attention to Harry's pebbled nipples. "Can't have been such a good job, though," he murmured between more nips and licks. "You're still coherent."
Harry chuckled weakly. "Give me a minute or so to catch my breath, and I'll try to do better by you."
"Promises, promises …"
"Shut it, you."
Despite his post-orgasm lassitude, Harry managed to haul Draco all the way up with an unexpected burst of strength and took him in his arms. "I'll do anything," he whispered against Draco's reddened and swollen lips. "Suck you off, fuck you, let you fuck me – just say the word. Whatever you want, it's yours." He kissed him, deeply and passionately.
Slightly dizzy, Draco gave back as good as he got, taking the time to weigh his options.
"Your mouth," he decided eventually, the memory of watching Harry sensually lick cheese and cream off his finger still fresh in his mind. "I want your mouth on me."
There would be other times when he could enjoy the feel of Harry's cock within him, or the tight heat of Harry's body surrounding him. Tonight he would savour being the sole focus of Harry's attention, likely to be all the more intense for having already had his own orgasm.
And the night is young yet – a lot can happen before morning!
"My pleasure," Harry growled, scooted into position and swallowed Draco's cock with a single gulp. It went down his throat with surprising ease, and soon his lips were buried in the tight blond curls at Draco's groin. Harry held still for a long moment, relishing the feel of the smooth silky skin against his tongue. This was hardly the finesse Draco had shown him, but judging by the gasps and groans escaping from Draco's parted lips it didn't seem as if he minded.
Grinning around his mouthful, Harry eased back to lick his way upwards more slowly, learning anew the contours of his lover's shaft.
Draco was writhing underneath him now. Harry went down on him again, as always marveling at how well Draco fit in his mouth. Or in my arse.
Harry slowly pulled back up. He held the soft, spongy cap loosely between his lips as he applied his tongue all around it, tasting the pearls of pre-come oozing from the tiny slit. He then hollowed his cheeks, sucking hard until Draco was writhing uncontrollably. Holding on to the slender hips with both hands, Harry swirled his tongue against the shaft, wetting it thoroughly before he set his teeth against the throbbing length and slowly bobbed his head up and down, just barely grazing the sensitive skin.
It was Draco’s turn to bury his hands in Harry's unruly hair. He lost himself to Harry’s skill until he could no longer control the sharp thrusts of his hips. Harry accommodated him readily, and Draco blissfully fucked the hot, wet mouth until his come surged upwards from his aching balls through his cock and spilled over, to be swallowed greedily. Draco wordlessly shouted his release and collapsed onto the bed once the last spasm had faded, gulping for air as his head slowly stopped spinning. He felt utterly spent,.
"Harry," he sighed, then stopped, at a loss for words. Harry was already shifting and wiggling until they were safely cocooned under a down duvet, arms wrapped around each other and Draco lying against Harry's side.
"Are you okay?" Harry asked quietly a few minutes later.
Muttering something indistinct, Draco just snuggled closer and tucked his head more firmly under Harry's chin. Really, what a silly question. Silly Harry.
"Have I finally managed to make you speechless?" Harry's pleased chuckle reverberated through his chest and belly. Draco didn't like that, it made his comfy muscly pillow vibrate.
"Mmuphmnng," he protested.
"Sorry, love, I don't speak Mumble."
Draco yawned and half-heartedly pinched Harry's flank.
"Ow." The tremors in Harry's chest increased. But his arms also tightened around Draco's back, which made it okay. Sort of. But if the prat didn't stop that nonsense soon, he'd … he'd …
Harry pressed a kiss against the tousled blond hair and twitched the duvet higher. "I love you, Dray. Go to sleep," he whispered in the softest voice Draco had heard in a long time. It was like a dish of finest Indian tea brewed just right, a cup of sweet hot chocolate laced with brandy and topped with smooth cream, a pleasantly bitter espresso drunk at sunset. It was perfection.
There were a lot more volunteers at the Seniors' Social Club festively-decorated meeting hall the next afternoon, but that was a good thing – the Christmas Tea Party always drew a large crowd, and every helping hand was welcome. Many of Draco and Harry's yearmates supported this particular charity, and treated the event almost like an impromptu class reunion. Also, the elderly ladies were tickled pink that their event could boast more members of the War Generation, those who'd fought against and suffered under Lord Whatshisname, than most Ministry or other, more prestigious Society functions.
Nobody had the heart to tell them that it was the very informality of a tea party that brought them here rather than to a formal affair. "That, and they have the best food," Ron Weasley had said once, earning himself an exasperated "Honestly, Ronald!" and slap around the head from his loving wife.
As Luna opened the Floo and Justin Finch-Fletchley unlocked the door into Diagon Alley, Draco cast a last look over the table bearing today's offerings. The things he and Harry had baked stood to one side and in all honesty looked somewhat paltry compared to some of the donations people had made, like the three-tiered cake bedecked with marzipan flowers and royal icing from Molly Weasley, or the lavish platters of sandwiches filled with cucumber, salmon and the finest brie sent by his mother.
What had they been thinking? The lingonberries were oozing messily out from under the cream topping dusted with chocolate shavings, the macaroons were unevenly sized, the lemon biscuits tiny and crooked, and the tufts of whipped cream Draco had piped onto their cheesecake and decorated with shiny green seedless grapes and which he'd been so proud of just this morning now only seemed pathetic.
Luna drifted up next to him, a vase filled with a bouquet of hellebore in her hand. “You shouldn’t worry,” she told him, as uncannily perceptive as usual. She deftly pulled one of the flowers from the arrangement and charmed it to stick to his lapel. "Harry doesn't."
No, Harry was not at all concerned about the fact that their offerings looked like poor relations at a rich man’s house. His ability to not give a damn, honed by years of struggling with often fickle public opinion on what he should – or shouldn't – do, was well-known. He reserved his energy to fight for things that really mattered to him, like the establishment of proper wizarding children's services. Harry never wanted to see another child maltreated until they showed magic, abused because they dared to have a mind of their own, forced to stay at a home they weren't welcome or made to do horrible things against their will.
That was the cause they both championed, the reason why they'd stood for the Wizengamot and were fighting in the political arena to this day even though it hadn't been what either man had planned to do with their lives. It was the cause that had let them bury their differences, made them friends and turned them onto the path to love.
Draco was brought back to reality by Luna's gentle voice. "You did a very good thing," she said. "You've brought a very thoughtful gift that may not have cost a lot of money, yet shows that you care enough to invest both your time and effort to someone who needs help. Why does it matter to you that it isn't as pretty to look at as others?"
He winced slightly at her candour, but accepted it for what it was – a statement of fact, not a criticism.
"I can't seem to help it," he admitted. "I always want everything to be perfect, but …"
"Things – and people – rarely are, Draco. Harry knows it's not the outside that matters; it's what's inside that determines worth. You should know that, too."
"I thought I did," Draco murmured ruefully. "But maybe I need another lesson."
Luna beamed approvingly. "Harry is an excellent teacher; he'll be happy to show you."
"I'm sure he will."
He glanced across the room where Harry was greeting a small group of ladies brought in by their relatives, among them both Doris Crockford and Primrose Bouquet. Both ladies, dressed to the nines in rather outdated finery, immediately started fawning over Harry, patting his cheek and trying to fuss with his hair and tie as if he were still a child. Smothering a grin, Draco knew he'd better go and draw some of their attention elsewhere.
Luna touched his arm. "There are a lot of Nargles around today, and I shudder to think what they'll do to Harry if they were to infest him."
Draco followed her gaze and felt himself blanch as he spied a sprig of enchanted mistletoe floating around the room, of the type that wouldn't let anyone go without getting kissed once they were caught underneath. It was one of the seasonal bestsellers at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. A quick look around confirmed that sure enough, a smirking George Weasley was ducking into a corner. Draco groaned. If the mistletoe was still as obnoxious as it had been at the Yule Ball … and if one of the ladies noticed the damned thing and tried to maneuver Harry in its path … and if the others then claimed equal rights …
There'll be a riot, and I'll have to kill the other twin.
If it came to that, at least for once Granger would not try to stop him. Maybe. But first things first – he had to try and save the Saviour. Squaring his shoulders, Draco twitched the cuffs of his silk shirt so that the Malfoy crest on his platinum cufflinks was just discernible.
"If you'll excuse me, Luna, I think Harry could use some help. Fighting those Nargles, and everything, you see."
Her lips quivered with amusement. "I believe you're right. Good luck."
"You really baked cake for me?"
There were tears in Mrs Crockford's eyes, and her voice wobbled alarmingly.
"Yes, Doris." Harry smiled. "Sorry it's not much to look at, but—"
She waved his apology off as unimportant. "You made that, all by yourself? How?"
"The Muggle way, actually. You see, I can't cook with magic," he said apologetically, "but I was taught to bake by my Muggle aunt. And Draco helped, of course," he added.
Next to Mrs Crockford, Muriel Prewitt – a hundred years old if she was a day – sniffed audibly. "You’re telling us you actually managed to persuade a Malfoy to set foot into the kitchen? Making Muggle food with Muggle methods? A likely story, young man!"
Draco raised an eyebrow at her. "Yet a true one, Madam Prewitt. As I didn't know a thing about baking before, I had very few preconceived notions about methods," he said haughtily, if not entirely truthfully. "I merely chose to trust that Harry knew what he was doing and tried to assist him to the best of my ability."
"And he did it splendidly, too," Harry said firmly. "Does the method really matter if the result is the same either way?"
A few ladies murmured agreement, or nodded.
"You said you bought the ingredients at a Muggle store?" Mavis Rutledge asked. She skeptically poked a macaroon, seeming almost disappointed when it didn't jump off the platter and bit her.
"Yes. There is only one ingredient in any of the cakes and biscuits that can't be found or reproduced in the wizarding world, and that's the ladyfingers we used in the base for the cheesecake. We merely opted for speed and convenience, nothing else."
"Oh, shut up, Muriel," Doris snapped. "I don't know what peculiar notions you have developed about Muggles, but they're not all that different from wizarding folk! If you lived somewhere even halfway civilised rather than stay holed up in your Devon backwater, you'd know that," she added with the pride of a lifelong Londoner.
"They just have no magic," Mrs Twilfitt murmured shyly.
"Exactly! And that's the only difference," Mrs Crockford said. "Muggles speak like us, walk like us, they breathe the same air, they eat, they poop, and they make and pop out babies the same way we do. After all, how else would you explain half-bloods?"
That shut the ladies up momentarily until Doris went on, somewhat less forcefully, "Speaking of poop, that's why Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy did their baking for me in the first place. They went to all this trouble just so I would no longer get the runs when I had cake. And I don't know about you lot, but I'm dying to find out whether they're right!"
Draco dared not look Harry in the face at this impassioned, if rather graphic and earthy speech. If he did and saw the mirth he was sure was dancing in those green eyes, he would lose it for certain.
Eventually, Muriel Prewitt, as full of Gryffindor courage and vim as her grand-niece and –nephews, held out her plate. "I'll have a slice of that nut loaf, if you'd be so kind, Mr Malfoy," she said with enormous dignity, then spoiled the effect by adding, "I trust neither of you have set out to poison us."
"Oh, pish!" Mrs Crockford exclaimed. "I'll take a slice of that yummy-looking cheesecake. Did you really decorate it, Mr Malfoy?"
"After Harry showed me how, yes," Draco admitted, glad he could release at least some of the laughter bubbling within him by giving her a broad smile. As he cut the cake and set a plate before her, he lowered his voice conspiratorially. "And as he also introduced me to the concept of 'licking the bowl' afterwards, I can personally vouch that the cake is delicious!"
He felt as if he would burn from the fire in Harry's eyes as they both remembered what else they'd licked last night.
Doric cackled delightedly and took the first bite with gusto. A blissful expression lit up her wrinkled face as she chewed and swallowed. "Oh my, this is good!"
Meanwhile in another corner of the room, Hermione was trying to deal with their other problem attendee. She prepared two small pots with decaf coffee and tea, charmed to keep their contents warm, collected Justin and brought both over to the table where Primrose Bouquet was holding court.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Bucket," she said cordially. "May I introduce you to Justin Finch-Fletchley? He was a member of the DA and quite instrumental in setting up and running 'Potterwatch' during the last year of the War."
"Of course, dearie." The pearl-bedecked witch stretched out a pudgy hand and thawed considerably when Justin bowed and kissed the back with old-school courtesy. "My surname is pronounced Bouquet, though."
Only Hermione heard Justin choke lightly as she apologised. No need to tell either that her small gaffe had been quite deliberate.
"Forgive me for mentioning it, but I've heard that you have trouble drinking regular coffee or tea?"
"Ye-es," Primrose said slowly, her forehead creasing in a frown. "Why?"
"You may know that I'm Muggleborn, like Mrs Granger-Weasley?" Justin smoothly stepped in.
"Of course. I won't hold it against you."
Justin ignored the casual insult. "Well, my younger sister Juliana is studying to become a doctor – that's a Muggle healer," he explained. "She's obviously aware of magic, and suggested there might be a solution to your problem. Mrs Granger-Weasley was kind enough to arrange a consultation with Head Healer Smethwyck at St Mungo's, and after Juliana explained the matter to him, he decided it could do no harm and agreed that we might present you with this solution. Provided you are willing to try, that is."
She eyed them suspiciously. "This is some Muggle invention?"
"Yes." Hermione gave a brief sketch of what caffeine did to the body and about decaffeination. "The process was discovered and patented in Germany over a hundred years ago and has been refined ever since. It has very little, if any, influence on taste, just removes the one ingredient from the beans and leaves that's causing your problem."
"I won't be made into an experiment," Primrose sniffed. "Whether Muggle or magical!"
"Oh; no fear of that," Justin said. The lady still looked skeptical, so he added, "It's become quite a common thing among Muggles. Many of them switch to decaffeinated beverages nowadays for health reasons and because they don't like giving up coffee or tea entirely."
"Just think of it as alchemy," Hermione said in a burst of inspiration. "Muggles call it chemistry, but it's really quite similar."
"Also, Mr Potter personally procured some Ethiopian coffee and a really nice orange pekoe in Muggle London for you," Justin name-dropped slyly. "And as Mrs Granger-Weasley has already been so kind to brew a pot of each, all you need to do is pick your preference."
"Mr Potter bought this himself?" It was clear to see she was wavering just a little as she eyed the gently-steaming pots Hermione had set before her. "And Healer Smethwyck really has no objections?"
"Harry did, indeed, and in fact Healer Smethwyck has already expressed an interest in consulting further with my sister on other methods and treatments Muggles had to develop because they lack magic. He hopes they might also benefit witches and wizards."
The subtle emphasis he placed on his words wasn't lost on Primrose.
The scales were ultimately tipped by one of her friends. "Oh, give it a try already, Primmie," that lady said. "Merlin knows you've been moaning for ages about having to give up coffee and tea; if the Muggles have found a way around that and these nice young people went to all that trouble just so you can have it again, it's the least you can do!"
"Very well, then." Hesitantly, she accepted a cup of tea from Hermione, added sugar and cream and took a cautious sip. Her mouth dropped open. "Why, it tastes just like normal tea!"
Heroically, Hermione refrained from saying 'I told you so'. Lucky for her, they were interrupted just then by Daphne who bustled past, Levitating a tray filled with empty cups and plates before her.
"Less talk, more help, people! We’re almost out of tea, and the window table needs the scones refilled!"
Gladly leaving Mrs Bouquet to rediscover the joy of a proper cuppa, Hermione towed Justin over to the tea urn where they were immediately accosted by Dean Thomas and Dennis Creevey.
"I couldn't help but overhear you just now," Dean said, grinning from ear to ear as the men quickly set up an assembly line of scones, jam and clotted cream. "Bouquet? Really?"
"Yes," Hermione confirmed, laughing. "Incredible, isn't it?"
"My mother is going to die when I tell her," Dennis chortled.
"I know – I nearly did when Malfoy told us last time," Hermione said.
Dean guffawed. "Any idea how it bled over to TV?"
Hermione's expression turned positively gleeful even as she measured out tea, then silently cast Aguamenti and a Quick-Heating Charm at the urn. "Well, I did some research—"
"Of course you did," Dean muttered, sharing a look with Dennis, who snickered.
"You want to hear this, or not?" she huffed.
"Yes, yes, go on!"
Hermione rolled her eyes, but complied. "As far as I could find out, it involved a Squib with a grudge, a love triangle and someone's desire to cock a snook at the wizarding world in general."
"I'd say they succeeded past their wildest expectations," Justin said, shoulders shaking with mirth. "You are going to tell us the whole story, right?"
"As soon as we're done here," Hermione promised, then winked at her fellow Muggleborns – the only people who'd get the joke. "After all, we have to be keeping up appearances!"
Justin groaned through their laughter. "I'll hold you to that."
And just a few feet away, oblivious to the byplay, Harry and Draco were being swamped by requests to sample their cakes and biscuits. Doris and her cronies had already showered them with enough compliments to swell even the most humble Hufflepuff's head as the ladies happily munched their way through every item. The two men looked a little harried, but rather pleased with themselves. As well they might, Hermione thought even as she Levitated a three-tiered stand re-filled with sandwiches to a waiting Daphne.
As the Tea Party drew to a close, ancient Griselda Marchbanks, the club's chairwoman, tottered to the centre of the room. Her reedy voice hardly quavered at all as she launched into a short speech.
"We'd like to thank all the volunteers here at the Seniors' Social Club for their stellar efforts. As usual, you've given us a wonderful afternoon. Our special thanks this time, however, must go to two young men who went out of their way to make it possible for our very own Doris Crockford, founding member and regular attendee, to once again fully enjoy the delights of what a tea party is all about. Not to mention stopping Primmie's whinging about tea and coffee," she added drily to general laughter. "So I ask you to raise your cups and glasses in a toast – and as I've known both of them since I administered their O.W.L.s, I'm sure they'll forgive me this once – to Mr Malfoy and Mr Potter, our fabulous baking boys!"
When the cheers died down and Harry and Draco had somewhat embarrassedly taken their bows, Madam Marchbanks had a final word.
“May your Yuletide be merry and bright, and I hope to see everyone back here in good health and spirits come the new year!”