“I know I am but summer to your heart, and not the full four seasons of the year”
— Edna St Vincent Millay
Winter into Spring
I shouldn't be here, really; it's Tuesday, after all. I’m usually very strict on myself. I have one ‘proper’ coffee per week, always on a Friday morning and always accompanied by a cherry biscotti.
But everyone deserves a treat from time to time, and when more so than the first day back at work after the Christmas holidays? Particularly when said holidays were such an unmitigated disaster as mine. Between Christmas Day with the Greengrasses and my mother’s unbearable New Year’s party, it’s a wonder I’ve survived the past two weeks without hexing myself into oblivion.
It’ll be a great relief to get back to the peace and quiet of my shop. Perhaps the greatest perk of operating as a sole trader is the solitude: there’s nobody else to nag you.
“Can I help you?” asks a sickeningly cheerful voice, as its owner rummages around beneath the counter.
“I’ll have a flat white, please.” I quickly appraise the cakes. No, I'll skip the biscotti today.
“Okay, that’s £2.75. Cash or—Malfoy?”
It’s him. Potter. Harry bloody Potter, with his green eyes, square jaw and round glasses, wearing a coffee-stained apron and a bewildered expression. The shock of it stops my heart so abruptly that for a split second I wonder if I’ve been hit by an Avada Kedavra. Then my pulse resumes, double time, and the world continues to turn.
“Sorry, how much?” I ask, flashing him a warning look. I can practically see the cogs turning in his mind.
I must look sufficiently imperious because he takes my money in silence and gestures for me to move along to the far end of the counter.
I stand with my arms folded, desperately hoping that one of Potter’s colleagues will take over my order. No such luck, though: he shuffles over a minute later and presents me with a small green cup.
“Flat white for Ray,” he says, emphasising my pseudonym so heavily it comes out as a meaningless sound. His face is a picture of perplexion: eyes wide, lips pursed – it’s the face he used to pull in Potions lessons. If this encounter wasn't so awkward, I’d laugh at him.
I take my drink from his outstretched hand, desperately wishing I’d had the presence of mind to ask for it in a paper cup. I’m almost disappointed to note that it’s perfect; the coffee smells sinfully strong and the foam is smooth as velvet.
“What are you doing here?” he asks.
I debate the merits of refusing to answer, but it’s a fairly innocuous question, so I settle for barely concealed disdain. “I should think that's obvious, Potter,” I drawl, gesturing to the cup in my hand.
He’s not letting me get away with it that easily. “But why here?”
“Because this is my regular coffee shop. I come here every Friday.”
His brows knit together. “It’s Tuesday.”
“I’m well aware of that!” I snap. Merlin, he’s as infuriating as ever. There are a thousand questions I’d like to ask him – not least, how on earth did he successfully escape the Wizarding world only to end up serving coffee for a living – but the situation is rapidly getting out of hand. I won’t stand for it; I need to take back control. I take a deep breath. “If you don’t mind, Potter, I’d like to enjoy my coffee in peace.”
He nods, disappointed. I quickly turn away, biting back a smile.
Despite the lengthy queue at the till, most of the tables are vacant, including my usual spot by the window. The back of my neck prickles under the weight of Potter’s gaze as I head towards it.
I sink into the softer of the two armchairs – the patchwork one, with the tear on its left arm – and look purposefully through the misty glass, watching the charcoal smudges of passersby hurrying along the pavement, swathed in their thick winter coats.
I have my back to him, but I know that Potter’s still staring at me. I can feel it. I desperately want to turn my head and confirm it, but that would betray my curiosity. Thankfully, I have self-control in spades.
Even so, I don't trust myself to abstain from looking for long, so I gulp my coffee far more quickly than usual – it tastes every bit as good as it looks, decadently bitter with a devilishly long aftertaste – and escape into the frigid January air.
Only when I’m safely outside do I finally permit myself a single glance at the counter through the safe barrier of the window. There he is, chattering away to an old woman as he tops her drink with a veritable mountain of whipped cream.
I turn on my heel and walk briskly back to the familiar haven of my shop. The cold stings my cheeks and numbs the tip of my nose, but it’s not enough to clear my head. Far from my intended treat, the morning’s events have left me feeling very restless indeed. I suppose it serves me right for breaking my coffee routine.
Astoria arrives home at half past eight. She promised me this morning that she’d be back by seven at the latest, but of course, we both knew that was foolishly optimistic. As it happens, I’ve timed it perfectly: I’m plating up the lamb cutlets when she bursts into the kitchen, a blur of flagrant orange.
She’s beside me in an instant, slightly breathless from her rush to get home. She stretches up onto the tips of her toes to kiss me, and even then she only manages to peck my chin – no doubt leaving a streak of magenta lipstick behind. What my wife lacks in height, she makes up for in sheer presence. When Astoria Greengrass-Malfoy enters a room, everyone pays attention.
I ruffle her hair, teasing a few blonde curls out of place. She bats my hand away, tutting in mock-exasperation as she steps away to slip out of her work robes and hang them neatly on the hook by the door.
She despises those robes. I’ve lost count of the number of times she’s tried to change the colour, but apparently the Department of International Magical Cooperation have always dressed in an eye-watering shade of orange, thereby creating a tradition of such importance that even Astoria and her fellow Senior Officials don’t have a hope of changing it. Perhaps she’ll have better luck when she gets the inevitable promotion to Head of Department.
“How are the Ministries of the World? Cooperating, I assume?” I ask, as I drizzle a spoonful of home-made mint sauce over each plate. To think I used to complain that I couldn’t cook.
She sighs heavily. “I wish. It turns out the Turkish Ministry have taken advantage of the Christmas break and slipped through a total ban on the export of Magic Carpets. Completely ridiculous and unenforceable, of course – we all know they’ve only done it to piss off the Bulgarians. The boss wants me in Ankara for the rest of the week.”
Astoria’s tact and smart negotiation skills mean that she’s the Minister’s first choice for resolving tricky cross-border disputes; she’s forever getting called away to all manner of exotic locations. I’m not sure I remember a week where she didn't end up taking at least one International Portkey.
“So much for a quiet first day back, then.”
I send the plates over to the table with a wandless Wingardium Leviosa, and follow behind them with a glass of white wine in each hand.
“Indeed!” She collapses into her seat with a heavy sigh, gratefully accepting her glass.
Astoria continues to explain the strained nature of Turk-Bulgarian international relations as we tuck into our meal, interjecting her own sentences every so often to compliment my cooking. Her frustration is all an act, of course. She loves her job so much that even after a long day like this one, her passion for it is obvious.
Halfway through dinner, she pauses for breath. “Anyway, enough about my day. How was yours? Fix anything exciting?”
Despite her stratospheric rise through the ranks of the Ministry, Astoria always asks about my day as if our careers are equally important. I’m not sure whether I find it endearing or patronising.
“The usual,” I shrug. “Cleaned up a couple of jinxed jewellery boxes, had to give up on a badly damaged Foe Glass.” I pause to take a bite of my food. “Oh, and I finally managed to sort out that mirror – you know, the one that kept screaming obscenities at its owner.” This particular item has been an endless source of frustration for me; it’s been in and out of my shop no fewer than four times since Halloween.
She nods in recognition. “Oh, yes! What was wrong with it?”
“It turns out the owner has low self-esteem. The silly woman has been moaning at the mirror every day, telling it how horribly ugly she is. Of course it was going to pick up a phrase or two.”
Astoria raises her blue eyes to the ceiling and shakes her head in disbelief. “Oh, honestly!”
“I had to tell her to compliment herself. Me. Counselling her,” I say flatly.
She laughs so hard she almost chokes on a mouthful of mashed potato. I can’t blame her for finding it funny; I’m not exactly a natural when it comes to offering words of comfort. Even so, it’s not that funny.
I give her a minute to calm down, but she’s still at it; a fat tear rolls down her left cheek, leaving a faint trail of mascara in its wake. “Oh god,” she gasps, “what I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall!”
“Mmm, well. I’ll have you know I was perfectly charming,” I mutter with a frown. A change of subject is in order. I take a large gulp of wine, then launch into the topic I’ve been itching to discuss since she got home.
“Anyway, you’ll never guess who I bumped into today,” I say, striving for nonchalance as I make a start on the parsnips. Honey-glazed, I really have outdone myself.
Her eyes light up: she never shies from a challenge. She doesn't stand a chance this time, though. “Hmm … Celestina Warbeck? Gwenog Jones? Wait, don’t tell me! Let me guess … the Weird Sisters?”
I shake my head. “Not even close. And really, the Weird Sisters? What is it, nineteen-ninety-five? No, it was Potter.”
She frowns. “Harry Potter?”
“Obviously.” Honestly, for an incredibly intelligent former Ravenclaw, she can ask the most ridiculous questions.
“Oh, really? Now that is interesting. In the Wizarding District?” she asks.
“No, at that Muggle coffee shop I like.”
“I wonder what he was doing there.”
I set down my knife and fork. “Making my coffee, whilst wearing an apron, no less.” I try to inject a note of disdain into my words, but they come out sounding bemused.
Her frown deepens, pulling her eyebrows into a perfectly straight line. She uses some sort of charm to darken them; apparently clear expressions are crucial when negotiating via translators. Without it, they’d be almost as fair as mine. “Did you get chatting with him?” she asks.
I think back to our brief, frustrating exchange. “Of course not. Potter and I don’t chat.”
She purses her bright pink lips. “Don’t be ridiculous, Draco. Just because you didn’t get along at Hogwarts, doesn’t mean you can’t be civil.”
Astoria’s never quite understood the rivalry I had with Potter at school – and why should she? She’s three years younger than I am, and wasn’t even particularly aware of me until I returned to Hogwarts, long after my former classmates, to take my NEWTs. It’s for the best; Potter always brought out the very worst in me, and I doubt she’d have been interested in getting to know me if she’d seen the full extent of it.
Talking about my encounter with Potter hasn’t been anywhere near as entertaining as I’d hoped. Perhaps I’ll mention it to Pansy next week. She’d appreciate it. Then again, I’m not sure I can trust her to keep it quiet, and Potter clearly values his privacy. Not that I care, of course.
I wave my hand to dismiss the topic. “Enough about that. Tell me about the Magic Carpets,” I smile.
She takes the bait and dives back into her explanation of the complexities of the Turk-Bulgarian Magical Transport Trade Treaty. I nod along whilst musing that I’ll have to find a new café. It’s a pity; it’s so difficult to find a truly smooth flat white. Nonetheless, I can’t go back there. One awkward encounter with Potter is quite enough. Even if he does make an excellent cup of coffee.
My self-restraint holds for precisely a fortnight. Midway through Friday morning, I pull on my gloves, wrap my scarf snugly around my neck and make the familiar ten-minute walk to The Coffee Pot.
I’ll order my coffee to go, I reason, as I cross the threshold into Muggle London. It seems excessive to boycott the cafe entirely just because Potter happens to work there – and besides, it would mean that he’s won.
I have no reason to suspect that he’ll even be there. After all, he’s never been there on a Friday before, and I’ve been frequenting the café for months. Even so, I enter with a degree of trepidation and perform a subtle sweep of the room as I approach the counter.
Thankfully, all appears to be in order. Matilda’s standing in her usual spot behind the till, and she greets me with a cheery wink. “Flat white and cherry biscotti, yeah?” she asks. Her accent is pure Essex; a barrage of harsh vowels and dropped t’s. My answering “Yes, please” makes for a razor-sharp contrast.
I keep the small talk to a minimum while I pay – I like Matilda, but even though I’ve been flitting in and out of Muggle territory for years, the fear of breaching the Statute of Secrecy is always present in the back of my mind.
When my coffee is ready, I settle into my usual patchwork armchair and take out my copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four. I’ve been getting through a lot of Muggle literature since I started coming here; I can hardly crack open Gadding with Ghouls in a place like this, after all.
I read the same paragraph four times before I’m forced to conclude that the mere memory of Potter’s presence is playing havoc with my concentration. I battle on, but when my eyes skate over the same line for the sixth time, I reluctantly close the book and turn my attention to my drink.
Irritatingly, the coffee isn’t quite as good as the one Potter made. Still, it’s more than passable. At least I have my biscotti today. I dip the very edge into the foam; the bubbles cling pleasingly to a particularly fat morsel of cherry.
A flash of movement catches my attention as I go for a risky second dip. I look up automatically and find myself staring straight into Potter’s unnaturally green eyes. My stomach lurches, my grip loosens, and my precious biscotti falls into the cup with a dismal plop.
“Can I help you?” My voice is brisk as the winter chill outside, but he doesn't even flinch. It would seem that his Gryffindor courage is as strong as ever.
He leans over the empty armchair opposite me, curling his nail-bitten fingers over the back of the cushion. He isn’t wearing the apron today – just a red cable-knit jumper and a pair of jeans – and true to form, his hair looks as though he’s been dragged through a hedge backwards.
“Mind if I sit down?” he asks, flashing me a tentative smile.
He’s settled in the chair, legs spread obscenely wide, before I recover enough to even begin telling him that yes, I most certainly do mind.
His eyes flit down to the table between us, taking in the sorry sight of my beverage: barely an inch of the biscuit has escaped a caffeinated burial at sea. He cringes. “That was my fault, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” I fold my arms across my chest and narrow my eyes.
He shrugs sheepishly, then waves like a madman to attract Matilda’s attention. When she looks over, he points at me and performs a horribly exaggerated mime of eating and drinking. Apparently it’s enough to get the message across; she nods and appears a minute later with a fresh flat white for me, a black coffee for Potter, and – thank Merlin – a replacement cherry biscotti.
Potter takes one look at it and shakes his head in disappointment. “Biscotti? Honestly, Malfoy. I should have known you’d go for something pretentious.”
How dare he? To interrupt my Friday morning break is one thing, but to insult my taste in baked goods is quite another. “What would you have chosen?” I scoff. “A chocolate muffin?”
He exhales in amusement; a single sharp puff through his nose, and sinks even lower in his seat. “Probably,” he admits.
I shoot him a look of disgust and make a great show of soaking my biscotti (I opt for a safe, single dip, this time) and taking a bite.
“So,” he grins, resting his head against the back of his armchair. He looks completely at home, as if having coffee with me is a perfectly normal event. “Why ‘Ray’?”
I allow my frown to darken into an icy glare. If he’s looking to garner favour with me, he’s going about it in entirely the wrong way. “My name is a touch distinctive. You and Weasley laughed the first time you heard it, if I recall correctly.” The second sentence slips out unintentionally, sounding horribly childish.
He at least has the grace to look ashamed. “Sorry.” Then, “You don’t look like a ‘Ray’.”
“No?” I eye him warily over the rim of my cup.
He shakes his head firmly. “Definitely not. You’re clearly a Draco.”
I’m not sure if he’s teasing me. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, you know. The hair, for one. It stands out a bit.” He runs his hand self-consciously through his own, somehow managing to mess it up even further. “And the suit, too.”
“What’s wrong with my suit?” I look down at myself, as if to check it, but I know for a fact that it’s perfect. It was a gift from Astoria; three pieces in dove grey, custom made on Savile Row from the highest quality wool money can buy. I’ve lost count of the number of compliments I’ve received whilst wearing it. Potter, of course, would just have to be the exception.
He holds up his hands placatingly. “Nothing, it’s nice. It’s just a bit too nice for you to blend in here, that’s all.”
I turn in my seat to look at my fellow customers. I suppose he has a point: most of them look as though they’ve just rolled out of bed. Eventually, I turn back to face him and shrug. “Well, it’s hardly my fault your clientele are incapable of dressing themselves properly.”
I drain my cup, grateful that my favoured drink is the smallest on the menu. Potter still has over half a mug of black coffee in front of him.
I clear my throat and rise in a single fluid motion. “As lovely as this has been, what with you interrupting my weekly coffee break to interrogate me about my alias and criticise my taste in clothing, I really must get back to work.”
I pause for a moment to give Potter the opportunity to take in the superb cut of my jacket – not that he’s capable of appreciating it – before pulling on my coat. For a moment he remains slumped in his chair. Then he catches himself and scrambles clumsily to his feet.
“See you next week, then?” he asks, looking hopeful. He’s half a head shorter than me and has to tilt his chin up slightly to meet my eye. It feels unnatural; we were always around the same height at school.
“Perhaps,” I say, as if I’m not bothered either way.
He holds out a hand. I don’t take it, but he grins regardless. He knows as well as I do that I’ll be back.
I arrive at ten-thirty the following Friday to find a black coffee, a steaming flat white and a cherry biscotti on my favourite table, accompanied by a handwritten Reserved sign.
Potter’s chatting to Matilda by the till, but he dashes over when he catches sight of me. His apron is missing again, and he’s wearing a garish argyle jumper in a shade of blue which doesn’t suit him at all. It’s so horrible I briefly wonder whether he’s worn it with the sole intention of getting on my nerves.
“Whose are these?” I ask, pointing down at the drinks. “Clearly someone has excellent taste.”
Potter rolls his eyes, but he looks almost embarrassingly pleased to see me. “Shut up and sit down, Malfoy.”
I desperately want to mock his attire, but I bite the words back and do as he says. There’s no sense in allowing my coffee to go cold. He falls into the chair opposite me and picks up his cup, holding it up to his face and inhaling deeply.
I can tell from my very first sip that he made the drinks himself. He seems to have a gift for brewing coffee. I find myself wondering why he was so terrible at Potions – another question to add to the ever-growing list of things I want to know about Harry Potter, but am far too stubborn to ask.
The coffee may be perfect, but the conversation is another matter entirely. It ebbs and flows without warning; one minute we’re talking over each other, the next we’re caught in an uncomfortable silence. At one point, a pause goes on for so long that I genuinely consider getting my book out, but Potter thankfully breaks it with an impassioned speech about his favourite varieties of coffee bean.
We must make for quite a sight: two grown men sat staring warily at one another, plagued by intermittent stony silences. I expect the other patrons are nudging each other, asking “What’s the nature of that relationship?”, though I can’t be sure – I’m too busy watching Potter.
Despite the horribly awkward nature of our little meeting, Potter leaves me at the front door half an hour later with a cheery “See you next week!”
That’s all it takes to establish a routine. From that Friday onwards, my order is always waiting for me, along with Potter, at the table by the window.
Holding a conversation continues to pose a problem and we stick to safe subjects at first. It doesn’t leave us with many options. We mainly discuss the weather (which we both agree is freezing – hardly groundbreaking, given that we’re midway through the coldest winter in almost thirty years) and the Muggle news. I’m not sure which of us is more surprised that the other follows Muggle current affairs.
As the weeks pass, though, we gradually begin to branch out onto rockier ground. He starts to ask me for updates as to what’s going on in the Wizarding news, and I’m happy enough to oblige. We carefully avoid the matter of why he doesn't simply go and find out for himself. He mentions in passing that he sees Granger and the Weasel once a week, but that’s all I manage to get out of him.
One morning in early February, I finally allow my curiosity to get the better of me and query his unusual career choice. I do my best to raise it casually, as if I haven’t considered it at least once a day for the past month.
“So, how did you end up working in a coffee shop?” I ask, picking up my tiny cup and holding it in both hands. It’s horribly cold outside and I foolishly left my gloves at home this morning; my fingers are glowing a deep pink, half-frozen from the walk.
Potter shakes his head in disbelief. “I don’t work here, Malfoy. I own it. And I live in the flat upstairs.”
I suppose that explains his presence at the café even when he isn’t wearing that rather fetching apron. It still doesn’t make a great deal of sense, of course; it’s not exactly the glittering career path one would expect a qualified Auror to follow.
“In which case, what possessed you to purchase this … establishment?” I look around in distaste at the huddles of sleepy students and greasy salesmen in cheap nylon suits.
He rolls his eyes at my disdain. “I’d just stepped back from the Wizarding district and needed something to do. Hermione suggested I find something social to help me meet new people, so when I saw an advert for this place in the property section of the local paper, I thought, why not?” He looks affectionately around the room. “And besides, if it’s good enough for the great Lord Malfoy to grace it with his presence, it’s good enough for me.”
I bow my head in defeat, effectively outmanoeuvred. I desperately want to press him for further details as to why he ‘stepped back’, but something about the look on his face tells me not to. Our weekly coffees have become strangely enjoyable, and I’m conscious that a single ill-timed question could bring the arrangement to a swift halt.
Still, I’m curious. Potter’s withdrawal from Wizarding society caused a great deal of gossip at the time; for months I couldn’t so much as pop into Gringotts without hearing his name at least once. It seemed to happen overnight: one day he was the Ministry’s golden boy, the next he simply vanished into thin air. The strangest part of all was the complete lack of media attention. Despite the rabid public interest, I don’t remember seeing a single article about it – not that I’d have read it if I had.
The conversation lulls, but only for a minute or so. Remarkably, he’s as curious about me as I am about him.
“So, what do you do when you’re not enjoying the fantastic atmosphere of my coffee shop?” he asks, picking at his chocolate muffin. The way he’s eating it makes me want to grind my teeth: he picks each chunk of chocolate off the top and lays them on a plate, saving them until last.
I tear my eyes away from his sticky fingers. “I have a shop, over on Polemic Alley. I sell and repair magical artefacts.”
“What kind of artefacts?” he asks, instantly suspicious.
“It’s no Borgin and Burkes, if that's what you mean.” My words come out rather more sharply than I intended, but he doesn’t look put out by them. He’s simply staring at me intently, awaiting further details.
I pause, assessing the best way to explain it to him. Where would I even begin?
I’m fascinated by the interaction between magic and objects: from natural materials like gemstones, which hold inherent magic, to the ways in which man-made objects respond to and retain external spellwork. I wanted to train as an Unspeakable and research it professionally, but my actions during the war put a firm stop to that ambition.
Still, the shop enables me to tinker. Most of the items which pass through my hands are exceptional only in their mundanity: broken clocks, cursed family jewels, household gadgets where the charmwork is beginning to fail – but occasionally something remarkable comes through the door. A wizened old witch brought in a Horcrux once, in the form of an antique teapot. There was nothing I could do with it, of course – I told her to call the Aurors – but it was fascinating, nonetheless.
Astoria’s name may be on the lease, but the shop itself is all mine. It provided me with a sanctuary of sorts during those first few difficult years after Hogwarts. But that’s rather more than Potter needs to know.
“I have an interest in how magic interacts with everyday objects,” I say eventually. “Black’s enables me to pursue it.”
I’ve lost him. “Black’s?”
His persistent failure to keep up is beginning to grate on my nerves. “Well, people are hardly going to pop into Malfoy’s, are they?” I snap. “It’s my mother’s maiden name.”
“I suppose not,” he concedes with a grimace.
A brief silence follows. Potter picks up three chunks of chocolate and eats them in quick succession. “For some reason, I thought you’d end up at the Ministry. Politics, you know,” he shrugs.
“No, they wouldn’t have me,” I mutter, cringing inwardly at the bitterness which colours my words. “Astoria’s the high-flyer.” I tap the gold band on my left hand.
He blinks, as if noticing it for the first time. “You’re married?”
Irritation flares in my chest at his tone of surprise. I nod. “Yes, for a little over eight years, now.”
There’s a moment’s delay as he performs a quick calculation, then his eyebrows shoot up so high they disappear into that messy bird’s nest he passes off as hair. “Wow. You didn’t waste any time. So you were—”
“—twenty-one,” I interrupt, just to shut him up.
I raise an eyebrow at his rudeness, but allow him to continue digging his way into the hole. As expected, he does so with aplomb.
“I suppose you have a brood of pasty blond kids, too?” he grins.
“No.” He’s touched a nerve, but I’ll be damned if I let him know that. Time to turn the conversation to him; offence is the best defence, after all. And all right, perhaps I’m just a little bit curious.
“And you?” I ask. I can see that he’s not wearing a wedding ring. “No adoring wife for the Chosen One to come home to?”
He bristles automatically at my words, then detects my sarcasm and laughs. It’s a strange, bitter noise, which sounds all wrong coming from his mouth. “No, definitely not, and there never will be.”
How odd. He strikes me as the domestic sort. I look at him closely, but his expression is unreadable. “That seems a touch cynical, Potter. How do you know you won’t meet the right woman?”
“Because I’m gay,” he says simply, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
I almost spit out my coffee.
“How on earth did you manage to keep that a secret?”
He shrugs. “I don't particularly want it to be one. I went to the Prophet a few years ago and offered them a ‘coming out’ interview – not because I like the attention,” he mutters defensively, fixing me with a stony glare. “I thought it might help to raise awareness, show gay Wizarding kids that they're not alone – but the editor turned it down.”
“I’m not sure I follow.” I can't imagine the Prophet turning down a story, especially one so scandalous.
He stares down at his coffee. “They point-blank refused to run any stories about my sexuality. How did they put it … oh, that’s it: they didn't want to ‘break the hearts of a thousand witches’.” The topic seems to have rekindled an old fury. His jaw is clenched tight, his lips pressed into a thin line. A thrill of fear shoots up my spine: he suddenly looks dangerous.
“That’s ridiculous,” I murmur. His startlingly green eyes flicker up to look at me. I keep my face perfectly straight as I continue, “Five or six witches, maybe, but a thousand? Obviously you have the whole ‘Saviour’ thing going for you, but even so, you’re not exactly God’s gift, Potter.” I shake my head. “It’s no wonder you're so bloody cocky, being fed stories like that…”
He bursts out laughing. It’s not a polite laugh; it’s a real, warm, contagious chuckle that has the corners of my own mouth twitching. It’s as if his anger from a moment ago has been wiped clean away. I never thought I’d see the day that I made Harry Potter laugh like this.
I look down at my cup and feel a twinge of disappointment when I find it empty. A part of me wants to ask Potter for another one, but I’ve already been away from the shop for too long. I reluctantly heave myself out of the chair and say goodbye. It’s for the best: Mrs Morton will be stopping by before lunch to collect her taxidermy Hippogriff head (now fully restored so its eyes literally follow you around the room), and she won’t take kindly to being kept waiting.
Later that day, during a quiet moment between repairs, it occurs to me that the frank discussion of our respective careers and home lives marks a turning point in our odd acquaintanceship. It was our first ‘proper’ conversation; the first time we’ve managed to touch on such sensitive subjects without the risk of it ending in a duel.
When I tell Astoria that I’ve accidentally become Harry Potter’s coffee confidant, she congratulates me for overcoming an old grudge. She seems to think it’s an excellent development, but I suspect she’s just pleased to see me spending time with a non-Slytherin; she always says my old school friends bring out my nasty side. My meetings with Potter are certainly very different from spending time with anyone else.
When the following Friday comes around, I half expect Potter and I to revert back to the familiar routine of stilted sentences and half-serious bickering, but he greets me from his chair with a wide grin and a lazy “Morning, Draco.”
I’m halfway through the motion of sinking into my armchair, but his use of my given name stops me in my tracks for a moment. I hover, half-sitting, half-standing, and raise an eyebrow. “Potter.”
He lets me get settled and take a bite of biscotti before launching eagerly into a new round of questioning. He appears to have taken the view that now the ice has been broken, any topic is fair game.
“Did you always want to run a shop?” he asks.
I try to fight it – there’s no shame in running a small business, after all – but it’s no use; my Malfoy pride kicks in with a vengeance and my upper lip curls of its own accord. “Of course not. I chose my NEWTs with a view to training as an Unspeakable.”
He looks confused. “What made you change your mind?”
He must be joking. Rage ignites like a furnace in my chest, and in that moment, I want to slap him for being so ignorant. If we weren’t in his cosy little coffee shop, surrounded by his adoring staff and scruffy customers, I probably would.
“I didn’t change my mind, Potter,” I grind out through gritted teeth. “The Ministry felt that I lacked the required integrity.”
“Why?” he presses. He’s leaning forward in his seat, looking at me intently through the round lenses of his glasses.
“Because of my activities during and preceding a certain war,” I hiss. “Unless you don’t remember the war? It took place towards the end of your time at school? You played a fairly integral role?”
I take great pleasure in the look of horror which spills across his face he realises his blunder. “Shit. Sorry.”
I’ve not finished, though. I was sitting up straight already – unlike Potter, I’m not prone to slouching – but I draw myself up even more rigidly in my chair, arms folded, glaring at him. “You may not have noticed that I didn’t return to Hogwarts at the same time as everyone else, but I can assure it was a pretty memorable time for me.”
He did notice, of course. He’s well aware that I spent the best part of a year in one of Azkaban’s holding cells, waiting for my case to complete its slow march through the Court system. In fact, a letter from Potter was a key piece of evidence at my trial – not that I was ever permitted to read it.
“A criminal record isn’t exactly attractive to prospective employers, Potter. Or to society in general, for that matter.” My tone is practically poisonous. I’ll regret this little outburst later, but for the time being, it’s a relief to spit the words out. I don’t even want to think about how long I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to say them.
He sits perfectly still for a moment, opening and closing his mouth like a Freshwater Plimpy. Then he leans closer still, putting his elbows so heavily on the low table between us that it tips alarmingly and I have to dart forward to catch my cup. The movement brings us uncomfortably close; there’s barely a foot of space between our faces. I want to move away, but I can’t. His green eyes hold me in place as firmly as a Petrificus Totalus.
“Why did you put yourself through it, then?” he asks quietly. My confusion must show on my face, because he takes a deep breath and elaborates. “I mean, after Azkaban ... didn’t you ever want to just run away from it?”
What a ridiculous question. I take a steadying breath and a deep sip of my drink, focusing on the rich tobacco notes of the coffee and savouring its silky texture against my tongue.
When I finally speak, my voice is calm. “Where would I have gone?”
He shifts in his seat. Now he’s the one being put on the spot. “I don’t—”
I cut him off smoothly. “Think about it. You may have been a Muggle first and a Wizard second, but magic is all I’ve ever known. I could no sooner live as a Muggle than I could join a herd of Centaurs. Magic is ingrained in me, it’s my identity. I couldn't give it up if I tried.”
I pause and look closely at Potter, trying to assess whether he understands what I mean. He seems to; he’s nodding slowly.
“Running away wasn’t ever an option for me,” I murmur. “Besides, it all got better over time. These days I barely ever get hexed in the street.” The last sentence was intended as a joke, but it isn’t funny, not least because I do still get hexed in the street from time to time.
Potter doesn’t find it funny, either. He’s still nodding, but a hint of pity has crept into his eyes. My stomach twists unpleasantly. I refuse to be pitied by anyone, least of all Harry Potter.
I cast about for a way to turn the focus of the conversation onto him, and realise this is a perfect opportunity to revisit the question I didn’t dare ask last week. “What about you, anyway? Don’t you miss Wizarding society?”
Surprise briefly crosses his face, then his lips tense and relax, pressing into a series of unnatural shapes as he weighs up his answer. “Yeah, of course,” he says eventually. “I miss it all the time.”
“May I ask why you ran away in the first place?”
A wave of anger washes over him at my choice of wording. We’re still leaning into each other, so close that I see every detail as he loses control of his temper. His face draws into a frown; a crease appears between his eyebrows, a red flush pools on his cheeks. His green jumper ripples as he tenses his shoulders.
“I didn't run away. I just … needed a break,” he mutters, jutting out his chin. Defiance has always suited him; I think it’s the square jaw that does it.
I lean even closer, watching him intently. “A five year break?”
His face crumples. He looks so pained that for a moment I think I’ve pushed him too far; that he’s going to tell me to fuck off, to get out of his café and not come back. Then he leans back in his armchair with a sigh so heavy he visibly deflates.
“Wherever I went, whatever I did, everyone wanted something from me. I couldn’t even do my job properly. Fieldwork was impossible because I was constantly getting harassed by the press and the public, so Dawlish shoved me in the office. And then there was the whole thing with the Prophet … that was the final straw, really.” He pauses and casts his eyes up to the ceiling. “It felt like they all wanted Harry Potter the figurehead, not Harry Potter the person. So I decided to take a break from it for a year or so. Then one year turned into two, which turned into five … and here we are,” he finishes, slightly breathless.
“You should come back.” The words are out of my mouth before I have a chance to properly consider what I’m saying.
He blinks, surprised. “Why should I?”
I roll my eyes. “Don’t be stupid. Because you’re Harry Potter. You’re supposed to be the poster-boy for Gryffindor bravery. Hiding away like a recluse for half a decade isn’t exactly consistent with that.”
His temper threatens to flare again at the suggestion that he’s hiding, but his scowl gives way to a reluctant smile when I hold up my hands to show that I’m joking.
“Poster-boy? I’m twenty-nine, Draco. I doubt I’ve been the ‘poster-boy’ for anything in at least a decade. And besides,” he adds with a grimace, “it’s not that simple.”
I shrug. “Of course it is. You just need somebody to manage the PR for you – someone decent, who can deal with both the press and the public.”
“Mmm. I hadn’t thought of that.” He frowns, but he looks as though he’s seriously considering my suggestion. I enjoy the last few sips of my coffee in silence, giving him a chance to think about it.
The notion of returning clearly makes him uncomfortable, but the more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense. I decide to press him further. “Are you really trying to tell me that if you could return to Wizarding society on your own terms, without getting caught up in a media storm, you wouldn’t want to do it?”
I have him cornered, I can see it in his eyes. He’s not going to let me win that easily, though. He purses his lips and sticks out his chin in a laughable display of stubbornness, then pulls up his sleeve to check his watch.
“Don’t you need to be getting back to your shop?” he asks hopefully. “It’s almost half eleven.”
I hate it when he’s right.
“Yes, I suppose I do.” I reluctantly get to my feet and and pull on my coat – no scarf today: the weather’s finally warm enough that I don’t need to wrap myself up like a Christmas present every time I go outside.
Just as he thinks he’s got away with it, I fix him with a pointed look. “That was the poorest effort at evasion I’ve ever seen, by the way.”
He laughs and leads me to the door, but I still haven’t finished.
“If you ever change your mind about coming back, I know of an excellent firm who could help you with the press management aspect.”
He runs his hands through his hair in exasperation. “God, you’re as bad as Ron and Hermione!”
Interesting. “Have you considered that if everyone else thinks it’s a good idea, perhaps it might actually be one?” I ask.
He rolls his eyes and smiles dismissively. “Goodbye, Draco.”
He all but throws me out the door into the cool spring breeze.
“After you,” says Astoria, gesturing towards the fireplace. She’s wearing a new black dress which clings to her hourglass curves in all the right places. She looks beautiful aside from the expression of disgust on her carefully made-up face; if I didn’t know better, I’d think she had a mouthful of Stinksap.
We’ve been putting off dinner with my parents since New Year, and have finally used up all of our excuses. We managed almost two months, though; that has to be a record.
I check my reflection in the mirror before stepping into the bright green flames. I always regret making this particular journey by Floo; the prospect of spending an evening with my parents makes me feel quite nauseous enough without the added disorientation of spinning around one hundred times per minute.
I step out onto the hearth of my parents’ drawing room and quickly move aside. Astoria follows a moment later. One of the House-elves – Mopsy, or perhaps Binky, I can never tell them apart – is waiting by the door. She sinks into a low bow once Astoria’s finished brushing ash from her hair, and leads us through to the dining room.
My parents are waiting inside, drinks in hand. My mother is dressed in a grey silk cocktail dress, my father a smart suit. They always dress up for these dinners, as if Astoria and I are distant acquaintances rather than family members. Astoria finds it ridiculous. I’m sure she’d dearly love to turn up in her nightdress one day, just to see the look on their faces.
Looking at them like this, stood side by side in the muted light of the chandelier, I can’t help but notice how much they’ve aged over the last few years. When I was a child, my parents always seemed so alive. These days it’s as if they’re crumbling before my very eyes, growing ever paler, ever greyer, like a pair of ghosts. They’re not old by any means – they’ve barely reached their mid-fifties – but my father, especially, hasn’t quite been himself since his five-year stint in Azkaban.
As usual, they each greet me with a stiff hug, but neglect to offer Astoria the same courtesy. As usual, she shrugs it off as if it doesn’t matter, though I know it bothers her.
My parents and Astoria don't see eye to eye. I’ve never quite understood it; in theory, they should get along like a house on fire. Her liberal views aside, my wife’s bloodline is impeccably pure, and her family is considerably more respectable than mine, given the fallout after the war.
This particular visit starts surprisingly well. It’s uncomfortable, as usual, but we miraculously make it all the way through dinner without any one of us saying anything overtly offensive. We stick to safe topics: my father and Astoria talk animatedly for over half an hour about the latest changes within the upper echelons of the Ministry. My father’s disappointment at my failure to participate is palpable, prickling across my skin like an unpleasant itch, but it could be far worse.
When my mother asks what we did for Valentine's Day, Astoria and I tell our carefully rehearsed story about a pleasant evening at a high-end London restaurant. As ever, I’m incredibly grateful that my wife is an impeccable liar when she needs to be. My parents certainly don’t need to hear the truth: a mediocre home-cooked dinner followed by yet another miserable attempt at intimacy, during which I failed to finish, and following which Astoria spent an hour crying in the en-suite. Yes, the value of a good white lie is greater than any quantity of gold.
I’d have put ten galleons on the truce being broken by my father – he loves to raise the issue of blood purity after a couple of glasses of wine – but in the end it’s my mother who ruins the evening.
“It’s all well and good having time as a couple, but what about the next step?” she asks as the House-elves clear away our plates. “You really ought to hurry up, you know.”
Astoria smiles politely, but her grip on my fingers beneath the table is like a vice. “Really, Narcissa. We’re still young. We have plenty of time for all of that.”
My mother raises her eyebrows, her face a picture of condescension. “Young? Draco will be thirty this year. I appreciate that your career is very important to you, but you should be mindful of using it to deny him an heir.”
My mother in particular has come to the conclusion that our childlessness is down to some defect with Astoria. If only they knew. Then again, if she continues to press the matter, I expect one day Astoria will snap and the ugly truth will come out in one big outburst. I wonder what my parents would say to that.
They’re both looking at me expectantly. I keep my mouth shut; choosing a side would be akin to suicide. My father, meanwhile, has somehow managed to acquire a glass of brandy. He holds it up to the light and examines it intently, making it quite clear that he’s disengaged and wants no part in this conversation.
The topic is finally dropped when we move through to the sitting room; my mother thaws somewhat whilst showing off the new curtains – hand-made in Peru at a cost of 100 galleons per pair. Astoria coos over them and comments on the exceptionally high thread count, but I can tell from the set of her jaw that my mother is far from forgiven.
When we finally step back through the Floo into the safety of our living room, Astoria wastes no time in slipping off her shoes, dropping four inches in the space of a second.
“Thanks for standing up to your mother for me,” she says, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She looks furious, as she has every right to be.
I put my hand up to my forehead and massage my temples. The stress of the evening has given me a terrible headache. “You know it’s not worth the fight.”
Astoria smiles thinly and shakes her head at my pathetic response. “How convenient.” She steps in front of the mirror and makes a start on her hair, scattering hairpins on the floor around her as she frees her long blonde curls from their neat updo. “She has a point, you know.”
“Who has?” I ask, as repressively as I possibly can.
Astoria shoots me a withering look. “Stop being evasive. Your mother.”
I hum noncommittally and make a show of unpicking the knot of my tie, willing her to drop the topic.
“Draco, are you listening?”
I take a long, deep breath and manage to cling to my temper by my fingertips. “Yes, I’m listening.” Of course I’m listening. It would be difficult not to, given that everyone seems to have taken it upon themselves to bombard me with this matter from every angle.
“I think, we need to make a more … concentrated effort.”
I stare at her, desperately hoping she’ll shut up. “Oh?”
“You know,” she continues, shifting uncomfortably under my scrutiny, “maybe set up a chart or something, so we can keep track of when it’s most likely to happen. It would give you a bit more warning, too, I suppose,” she finishes delicately.
Her last sentence leaves my mouth dry: this isn’t something we discuss. It’s the final straw: I realise that if I want to close the subject, subtlety isn’t going to cut it tonight. “I need a drink. Would you like anything?”
She raises her eyebrows and looks at me in disbelief. “Really, Draco?”
I don’t have an answer to that, so I step towards her and press my lips to her forehead. Her hair feels as soft as it looks, and smells faintly of strawberries.
“You look beautiful,” I mutter. She gives a little huffing sigh, unconvinced. The message is clear: it’s not enough for me to say it when my actions indicate otherwise.
I slip away to my study with a pain-relieving potion and a generous gin and tonic, trying hard not to think about the look on Astoria’s face as I left her downstairs.
I can’t quite believe it’s only Saturday. I find myself looking ahead to next Friday, looking forward to my next coffee with Harry. At least I never have to worry about this sort of thing with him.
I’m trying to unpick a particularly intricate knot of magic on the fastening of a Mokeskin purse when I hear the familiar rattle of the shop door. It’s been stiff since we took on the lease, and no amount of cleaning or lubrication charms have made a jot of difference; the doors are always the first things to suffer in these old buildings.
“It’s open,” I call, keeping my gaze fixed on the task before me. “You need to give it a shove. Pull and push!”
There’s a loud knock, followed by more insistent rattling. It grows louder and louder until I eventually let out a heavy sigh and set the purse down on the counter. Mrs Wilkins will have to wait a little longer to gain access to her family jewels.
I look up and jump when I see Harry’s face peering through the dusty pane of the door. I should have known from the bullish attempt to gain entry that it would be him.
I can see immediately why he was struggling so much; he’s holding a takeaway coffee cup in each hand. My irritation at being interrupted evaporates at the sight of them and I stalk over to the door to let him in.
“Potter.” I may finally have started to think of him as Harry, but there’s no need to let him know that.
“You should get that fixed,” he says, nodding towards the door handle. “Have you tried a lubrication charm?”
I take a deep breath. I should be immune to him by now – we’ve been meeting up for the best part of three months, after all – but he never seems to get any less infuriating. “Yes, Potter. I have tried to fix it – unsuccessfully, as you can see. You’re welcome to have a go yourself, if you feel you know something I don’t? Some kind of special lubrication charm, perhaps?”
I don’t realise what I’ve said until he flushes a deep pink. “Erm, no, you’re alright,” he chokes out, looking slightly stunned.
Mortified, I take the smaller cup from him and appraise the messy scrawl on its side: ‘Flat White, Ray’. I give us both a moment to wish we’d never been born, and when I feel that the excruciating silence has extended quite long enough, I clear my throat.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“You always come to me, so I thought it was time I checked out Black’s,” he grins, sounding relieved. “Though I’ve heard the owner is a right grumpy bastard.”
I smirk. “I’m not sure where you’ve heard that. I’ve been told that he’s highly professional and exceptionally charming.” I catch a glimpse of myself in one of the mirrors on the ‘Urgent Repairs’ shelf. “And terribly handsome,” I add.
Harry snorts with laughter. “And modest, too, right?”
He looks around, taking in the neatly organised shelves and the myriad of larger objects stacked against the back wall. I’m unexpectedly self-conscious. The room is scrupulously tidy, as always, but if I’d known he was coming, I would have given it a once over.
The way he’s appraising the room makes me uncomfortable, so I cast about for a way to distract him. “I take it you have an artefact which requires repairing, as opposed to simply dropping by to waste my time?”
“What? Oh, yeah. Right.” He reaches into his coat pocket and retrieves a silver pocket-watch.
He holds it up for a moment – it’s badly tarnished, but it still gleams in the light – before passing it to me. Our fingers touch as I take it, and I can’t help but notice the contrast between them. Harry’s hands are much stronger than mine; shorter fingers, rougher skin. All in all, very masculine hands.
The metal casing of the watch is cool and heavy in my palm, and lightly textured with well-worn engravings. I pick up my wand and cast a gentle Tergeo to remove the worst of the discolouration, then take a closer look at the crest on the front. “Where on earth did you get this, Potter?”
“It used to belong to my godfather – Sirius Black. I want to alter the hands, but I have no idea how to do it.”
I flip open the lid and have to fight back a laugh. The only hand has a tiny and rather unflattering engraving of Harry’s face on it, complete with scruffy hair and round-framed glasses. It's pointing sharply to ‘Desecrating the Noble House of Black’. And they say Pure-bloods have no sense of humour.
“I see no issues with it.”
He rolls his eyes. “Very funny.”
I examine it more closely. “A watch with just you on it is ridiculous. You know your own status, you fool.” I turn it over in my hand to look at the pattern on the back. “Unless you intend to give it to someone as a gift? A boyfriend, perhaps?” The word catches in my mouth and it takes some effort to force it out. “Though, if it’s Muggle company you’re keeping, it would be highly inappropriate.”
He shakes his head firmly. “No, it’s for me.”
“In which case, is there anyone else you want to add? Your friends, perhaps?”
He looks surprised. “I hadn’t thought of that. Yeah, that would be great.”
He hadn’t thought of it. Merlin, he’s practically a Squib.
“I’ll need their magical signatures to add them to the charmwork. You’ll have to bring me something they’ve charmed or transfigured so I can take a copy. In the meantime…” With a flick of my wand, I alter the existing hand. Now his likeness looks far more like the real thing, and the hand points towards ‘Keeping good company’.
“You might as well add yourself, too.” He says it lightly, but he isn’t quite able to meet my eye.
My stomach turns over. “Me?”
“Yeah. We’re friends, so…” he trails off, then his courage fires up and he looks up at me, suddenly fierce. “We are friends, you know.”
I freeze. He’s right, of course. Almost twenty years after he turned down my hand, we’re friends. We have been for months, really, but it still gives me pause to hear him say it so plainly.
Adding a new hand is rather more complicated than adjusting an existing one, so I settle into the chair behind the counter and set to work.
After a moment, Harry wanders over to see what I’m doing. I’m painfully aware of his presence as he hovers behind me, so close I can smell his aftershave. It’s horribly distracting, but thankfully he quickly gets bored and begins pacing the length of the room.
The floorboards moan quietly beneath his feet. It’s maddening, but I can see he’s working up to saying something, so I don’t interrupt.
“I’ve had a think about what you said the other week,” he says eventually. “I’ve made my decision. I want to come back.”
My wand slips against the face of the watch. I’d been hoping he’d come around to the idea, but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. It takes great effort to conceal my glee, but I keep my face perfectly neutral and continue to tinker with the watch.
My failure to respond makes him uncomfortable enough to continue talking. “It’s been too long, and you were right: why should I hide? I think if I had the right agent to deal with the press attention, it might not be such a nightmare … Draco, are you listening to me?”
I finally look up. He’s watching me so earnestly I can’t help but smile. “Yes. I’ll put you in contact with Pansy.”
He recoils. “Pansy? You’d better not be talking about Pansy Parkinson.”
I finish with the watch and put down my wand. “Technically she’s Pansy Parkinson-Nott, these days. But yes. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better PR firm than Parkinson Zabini, and trust me, she’s a thousand times easier to deal with than Blaise.”
Harry’s staring at me as if I’ve lost my mind. “Parkinson Zabini,” he mouths.
I can understand his scepticism; he’s been out of touch with the Wizarding world for over half a decade, after all. The last he knew, Pansy was a pariah, much like the rest of my social circle. He’s missed the remarkable way in which she managed to rebuild her reputation and rebrand herself as a public relations guru within the space of just eighteen months.
It would have been so easy for Pansy to take the Rita Skeeter route: she has a knack for knowing everything about everyone. When given the choice, though, she opted to use her affinity for gossip as a tool for building people up, rather than knocking them down. She still makes her living primarily through the publication of lies – and don’t get me wrong, they're often rather more than white lies – but the underlying purpose is quite different. There's a perverse nobility there, or at least, that's how I see it. Of course, she’s more interested in the money than the idea of doing a good deed – her prices are astronomical. That’s no concern to Harry, though, loaded as he is.
I pass him the watch. My engraved likeness, complete with pointed chin and condescending expression, is pointing at at the newly created location of ‘Black’s Repairs’. Harry holds it up to take a closer look, and his face immediately splits into a wide grin.
“This is brilliant, Draco! It looks just like you!”
I shrug. “It’s a fairly simple charm. I’ve performed it more times than I’d care to think about.” Never to add myself to a watch, though.
He stares at it in wonder for at least a minute longer, holding it up to the light and examining it from every angle, before finally dropping it into his coat pocket.
“Okay, I’ll meet with Pansy,” he says, sounding deeply reluctant. “I want you there, though. Fight Slytherin with Slytherin, and all that.”
“That can be arranged,” I nod. “It’ll have to be after Easter, though. She and Theo are away at the moment – somewhere sickeningly exotic, no doubt. Can you wait a couple of weeks?”
“Yeah, no problem. That would be great.”
Harry has apparently reached his threshold for serious conversation: he pauses only long enough to take a breath before launching into a story about an awful customer who demanded that he re-make their coffee no fewer than four times because “its aura was off”.
“Perhaps he fancied you,” I suggest mildly. I’m surprised by niggle of discomfort which makes itself known in my chest as I say the words.
He bursts out laughing. “God, no! I hope not. He was about twenty years older than me and had hairy knuckles – not my type at all.”
“No? What is your type, exactly?” Why on earth am I asking that? He’s going to think I’m bloody flirting with him if I’m not careful.
He flashes me a playful grin. “Fair, skinny ... someone I can throw around a bit in the bedroom, you know?”
Fuck. I’m dimly aware that my mouth has fallen open. I shut it quickly and swallow hard. It feels as though every drop of blood in my body has rushed south all at once, leaving me dizzy and incoherent, clutching at the counter for support.
“Anyway, I’d best be off. I’m meeting Ron and Hermione for lunch to tell them the good news,” he says, the faint flush which graces his cheeks the only indication that I didn't imagine his previous, depraved comment. “Have a good Easter. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”
He turns and saunters out of the shop, leaving me wide-eyed, gaping, and horribly flustered.