Pansy set her tray down on the cafeteria table with a clatter, and Draco hastily attempted to stuff the parchment at which he'd been scowling into the pocket of his trainee tunic.
"Is that it?"
"Is what what?"
Pansy rolled her eyes at him. "Draco, you can hide nothing from me, when will you learn this?" She sipped her pumpkin juice and began unwrapping a revolting sandwich-shaped thing that smelled like the men's locker room after a three hour-long training exercise. Salazar, they'd been trainees for over two years now; you'd think he'd have got used to the food.
"What the bloody hell is that?" Draco wrinkled his nose.
Pansy shrugged. "The Tuesday Sick-Up Special. What's that that you were trying so desperately to conceal in your pocket? It's still sticking out, you know. Some Auror you'll make."
"It's none of your business." Draco toyed with what he suspected might be chicken salad on his plate, poking at it with one tine of his fork.
It was with lightning speed then that Pansy's hand darted out, and she ripped the parchment from his pocket.
"You're only now realising?" Pansy snatched the paper away from his grabbing at it and opened it. "Well, well, Draco. Those pesky parents of yours have finally found you a mate, have they? At your ripe old age of twenty-one." She shook her head and her bobbed hair bounced around her face. "Astoria Greengrass. Merlin, are they serious?"
"It's not that bad." Draco set his fork down, surrendering to the roiling of his stomach.
"'Not that bad.'" Pansy looked at him squarely. "Draco, even if you were into women, Astoria Greengrass would be precisely the last—"
"Keep your voice down," Draco hissed.
"Oh, Draco darling. Everybody knows." She laid her hand over his, and he pulled it away.
"Not that. This." He swiped the parchment from her hands and once more stuffed it into his pocket. "A date with her would be one thing. A Coming Out Ball is entirely another."
"Well, you can't hide it forever. Eventually you'll have to attend the thing."
"Not if I expire from revulsion first." Speaking of, Draco picked up his fork again and took a tentative bite of his lunch, grimacing his way to swallowing it. Thankfully, it didn't taste as bad as it looked. Perhaps if he just ate with his eyes closed…
"Don't be so dramatic. Perhaps we can figure you a way out of it."
Draco coughed, fighting off the sensation that he might choke. "We?"
"Well, who else is going to help de-cock up your life for you?"
"I don't need your help. Insufferable harpie."
"Fine," Pansy said. "How do you intend to get out of it then?"
"I'll…" Draco stared across the room, not-quite-watching the Auror trainees and other junior Ministry officials like Pansy come and go from lunch. Someone's tray crashed to the ground resulting in derisive applause. "I'll, er…"
Pansy grabbed his hand again then. Hard. "You'll show up with a man."
"What? You're mad."
"The word you're looking for is brilliant."
Draco scoffed. "Merlin, sod off, will you? You're going to make me late for Detection and Disillusionment."
She waved a hand. "Reynolds always starts that class late anyway."
"How would you know? You're all the way in Creatures."
"I know things," she asserted. "Listen, Draco, I'm serious."
"'Take a man'… My parents would kill me!"
"Disinherit maybe, not kill. Okay, how about this." Pansy was really warming to her subject.
Draco pushed his plate away again, giving up for good.
"You don't show up with someone, but you Owl them about him. They'll call off the ball, and you never have to do a thing."
"What's that mean?"
"It means I'm not exactly fond of the idea I'll be disinherited, Pans."
"Oh, they wouldn't actually. They'd get over it."
"They're purebloods. They won't just 'get over' having a queer son. I mean, that would have to be one ridiculously rich and powerful man for them to be even slightly okay with—"
"Rich and powerful?"
"Let's not forget influential, connected, politically beneficial, charming, and in other words, perfect. He doesn't exist."
"Perfect, you say."
Draco snorted. "Oh and you have just the man for me, do you? I swear, if you try to set me up with Nott's brother again, I'll turn your tits blue. He's got that…" Draco gestured to his throat. "…that wheezy thing when he—"
Pansy slapped him in the arm, and Draco quit looking for the stupid git. Her smile was slow and more than a little evil. "Harry bloody Potter."
Draco stared at her, heat rising up the back of his neck. "You must be joking."
He rolled his eyes. "You should be."
"No, listen, it's perfect!"
Draco snorted. "What potions are you on? I mean, don't get me wrong, they sound really good. Maybe I'll try some later when—"
"Oh shut it, it's a great idea, and you know it!"
Draco felt an absurd laugh rise in him. "You're not joking."
"Tell me why it's a bad idea."
The laugh erupted out of him, and Draco ran a trembling hand through his hair, undoubtedly mussing it. "Oh, I don't know, I hate him?"
She waved her hand again. "You do not. You've been all but cordial for months now."
"Well, I don't like him!"
"Who said you have to?"
"Well, this little plan might work a lot better if he liked me at least!"
She shrugged. "Who says he doesn't?"
He snorted. Loudly. "What the bloody hell are you on about?" His pulse was too fast. He'd probably got food poisoning from just one bite of possibly-chicken salad.
"Okay, hear me out. Potter's rich. He's powerful. Fuck, he'll probably be Minister someday!"
"Shut it. He's influential. Just look at how your classes are all geared to his strengths. Blaise says he thinks Head Auror Robards would personally suck Potter's cock in class if he could get away with calling it a lesson."
"He's the Boy Who Lived, the bloody Chosen One. Who's more connected than that? Who's more 'politically beneficial'? I mean, your parents may not relish you being gay, but not even they could dispute the absolute prize your dating Potter would be."
"He's charming. Bloody hell, he's got everyone here wrapped around his finger and he hardly seems to care. He certainly doesn't take advantage of that fact."
"Which my parents will see as a weakness." God, he was actually participating in this mad discussion of hers.
"Whether or not he uses his significant pull to his advantage, Draco, your parents could use it to theirs. And let's face it. They sort of need it now, don't they?"
The heat built and rushed into Draco's cheeks. He gritted his teeth. "How dare you disparage—?"
"That's why they're rushing the Ball to announce your relationship with Astoria, isn't it?"
Draco swallowed and stared at the table. He forced a quick nod.
"Very well. So we give them someone better."
"He's a man. He's not better."
"Well, that's neither here nor there since you're not actually going to date him anyway. He'll get them off your back. In fact, I dare say Harry Potter may be the best man for the job."
"I may be the best man for what job?"
Draco's eyes went wide, and he proceeded to choke on his own spit.
"Potter!" Pansy declared joyfully. "Speak of the devil!"
Draco peered up through tear-spiked lashes to see Potter frowning at him.
"Chicken salad? I choked on mine too. I think it's made with slugs." Then his gaze was back on Pansy, and Draco took a long, shaky breath. "So, what job?"
"Nothing!" Draco all but shouted and then choked some more.
"Actually, it's a hoot, Potter," Pansy said, taking advantage of Draco's renewed pulmonary distress. "We were just talking about how you could—"
Draco did the only thing he could: He clamped his hand over Pansy's big mouth. "It's NOTHING."
"Nothing! Really, Potter. She's drunk. Totally gone. I need to get her to the infirmary actually. Third time this month." Draco grabbed Pansy's arm and jerked her out of the chair while Potter – stunned, parted lips speechless and eyebrows up – just stood there and watched him drag her away.
"It's nothing," Draco insisted one last time, and then, hauling his friend through the cafeteria, Draco fled, coughing all the way.
"That's enough for today," called Robards. "Next time anti-jinxes, so study up! Somebody take that Babbling Hex off Weasley."
Draco rose, holstering his wand and wiping his forehead with his sleeve, and made his way to the showers.
As he stepped under the spray, he couldn't suppress a groan. It had been a long day – four classes and two of them combat training. His muscles were on fire, and he thought he might have pulled a hamstring too, as his right was stiffening up quickly. Cranking the heat up, he turned and let the water hit his back, dipping his chin to his chest and closing his eyes.
He remembered he had two feet of parchment due tomorrow for his Creature Attack class – he'd only written the introductory paragraph – and he groaned again for completely different reasons.
He was dressing to go home when a voice behind him made his chest feel tight all over.
Draco had the brief and absurd instinct to go for his wand. Old habits and all. He stopped himself and instead zipped his trousers, turning and offering a guarded look. "Potter."
"That was a good Knee-Reversal today."
Draco just blinked at him for a moment. "You saw that?"
Potter shrugged. "I was waiting for Ron to get out of the Incarcerous."
Draco began buttoning his shirt. "So you're the one that put the Babbling Hex on him?"
Potter smiled and looked only very slightly guilty. "Yeah."
"Then I suppose I should say nice work to you too. If bloody annoying." And of course the Boy Who Lived had to trounce his opponent so thoroughly that he'd had time to glance around the room and see how everyone else was faring. Of course he had. The plonker.
And he chose to watch you.
Draco shook his head to dislodge the voice inside it. "So, er, what can I do for you?"
"Actually, I've spoken with Pansy, and I think it's what I can do for you."
If Draco had thought the Wheezing Charm was something, he was dead wrong. With no wand in hand, Potter had just completely stolen his breath. "Wh-what?"
"She said you needed to Owl your parents that you were dating someone else so that they didn't marry you off to Astoria Greengrass. Is that not right?"
Draco blinked at him. Potter's hair was still damp and dripping down his neck. Draco blinked again. "She said that?"
"Yeah, between CB and Duelling."
When Draco just blinked some more, Potter apparently felt the need to elaborate.
"You know… Curse-Breaking? Duelling?" He mimed swishing a wand for Draco's stupefied benefit.
"I know what classes we took today, Potter."
"All right then. You just looked a little…"
"I'm fine. I took a Confundus in class."
"Right. So… do you still need someone?"
Potter shifted his weight from one hip to the other and stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets. "Well, me. Obviously. You know, to Owl your parents about?"
Draco felt his eyes go wide. "You're… offering?"
"Well, yeah. I mean, it's no big deal. We're both at least partially bent, so… It's not completely inconceivable, right?"
The insane laugh bubbled out of Draco's mouth before he could choke it down. "I guess not completely." Belatedly, he started buttoning his shirt again, if only for something to do. But his hands were shaking, so he stopped once more.
Potter's gaze dipped for just a moment to his chest then rose again. "So, does that mean you want to, well… use me?"
The coughing fit that overtook Draco then at least saved him from finding a proper answer for a few awkward seconds.
"Are you okay?"
Not able to find his voice just yet, eyes watering so that Potter blurred into three of himself, Draco just nodded furiously.
Potter stood there, dripping, and waited it out.
"Wh-why would you want to do that for me?" Draco finally asked once he had his breath back.
Potter then looked around the locker room for a moment and then confided, voice low, "It could actually maybe help me a bit too. If I could tell Mrs Weasley?"
He said this like it should make some sense to Draco.
When Draco simply stood there staring at him though, Potter cleared his throat and went on. "She's been setting me up." Potter gulped. "A lot. I, er, it just might give me a bit of a break, that's all."
"Why haven't you just told her you're seeing someone else already?" Draco really could just kick his own teeth in sometimes.
"Oh, I have. Doesn't work."
"But you think this would?" He considered Silencioing himself.
"Maybe. I don't know. Does that really matter to you, Malfoy? I mean, if it gets you what you need?"
Draco made to say something but then shut his mouth. He shrugged. "I guess not."
"So, we have a deal?"
A fat drop of water slowly made its way down the tendon in Potter's neck and then slithered beneath his t-shirt.
"Great," Potter said, and Draco quickly raised his gaze to his face once more. He hadn't really meant to speak aloud or to agree so readily. He still thought Pansy was a bit mad to have come up with this idea, to be honest. But perhaps if Potter was agreeing to do it, that lent her madness some baffling degree of credibility. So maybe it was okay that he'd unintentionally said yes. Potter reached out and struck him soundly on the shoulder twice. "Just send me a copy of the Owl, would you? See you tomorrow, Malfoy."
And with that, he was gone, his trainers squeaking on the locker room tile.
Fingers still trembling slightly, Draco went back to buttoning up his shirt.
But in the end, they'd settled somewhere in between – somewhere both definitive and demure – and they'd sent it to Potter for his agreement. Draco waited for his return Owl that Sunday in a near-constant state of embarrassment, sure that Potter would laugh his arse off over it and decide he'd been mental to agree in the first place.
Draco was feeling rather mental himself. Date Potter? Potter was exactly the last person he'd want to spend time with. It wasn't as though, just because they'd buried the wand lately, they could suddenly become friends, much less anything else. Merlin, his parents would see right through the ruse, wouldn't they? How many letters had he sent home from Hogwarts riddled with hateful words about Potter? How many Christmas dinners had Draco ruined by bringing Potter up and recounting all Potter's loathsome efforts to make all the other students fancy him?
Draco couldn't think of a worse match, honestly. And probably neither could Potter. As Draco paced, he grew convinced he was going to receive a rejection Owl any moment, and he'd be right back to being that schoolboy on the Hogwarts Express, holding out a hand that would remain forever unshaken.
But, thankfully, Draco didn't have to contemplate his own utter ruin and humiliation for long, as he received Potter's approval Owl only an hour later with a perfunctory and socially inept, "Looks good to me," attached to the original.
Still, Draco let out a relieved breath and went to send a crisp and clean copy to his parents.
He stood at the windowsill for a long time with it in his hands. He stood there so long that Joan pecked him impatiently on the shoulder.
"Oh, fine," Draco grumbled. And before he could stop himself, he attached it to her leg and opened the pane. She was off before he could snatch her back again. And that's when Draco started to feel truly ill.
He stayed in that state for three more days as morning after morning no post came from his parents.
This could only mean one thing: They were furious. So furious they were speechless. So furious they'd begun disownment parchmentwork before even telling Draco how very furious they were.
On the third day, Draco was sitting in the Ministry cafeteria once again, this time moping over his French onion soup and dreading his Stealth and Tracking exam, when the memo flew straight into the side of his head.
"Bloody hell," he grumbled. And when he bent to pick it up off the floor, three more memos soared quickly over his head.
"Son of a—"
"Oi, watch it!"
It seemed everyone in the cafeteria was getting bludgeoned by memos. Draco briefly wondered if that meant some crucial new trainee classes being added to the roster for this term, or if maybe something so dire was happening out there in the world that they were going to be calling on the trainees to aid the Aurors.
But when Draco finished rubbing his head long enough to pick the memo up off the floor – still with choruses of "Blimey!" and "Merlin, that hurt!" coming from around the room – Draco realised it wasn't the typical Ministry parchment. Draco picked up the heavy, cream-coloured envelope, the sheer size and weight of it explaining the painfulness of its delivery.
He frowned and turned the envelope over in his hands.
A rich, gold-filamented script shone on the front providing Draco's full name and the address of the Ministry, down to his seat at "Second Table to the Back on the East Side of the Room". Draco raised a quizzical eyebrow at that, while at the same time a squeal of delight (or humour) went up across the room. Draco spared it only a moment's notice before a loud set of gasps and then a bellowing laugh followed it.
He slid his thumb under the seal of the envelope, looking up to see that many in the room had already opened identical envelopes, and, bizarrely, many eyes in the room had turned toward him. Draco frowned, seeing Susan Bones whisper behind her envelope to some other Hufflepuff friend of hers, her eyes blinking merrily at Draco over the broken seal.
Blaise was also staring at him and elbowing Nott in the ribs.
And there were Weasley, Longbottom, and Thomas too, all looking thunderstruck, but especially Weasley.
What. The. Fuck.
Sweating now, Draco ripped into his envelope and fumbled the thick, expensive parchment from within. He unfolded it, finding on top a small slip of paper with his mother's writing on it:
I thought it only fitting to send you one of the formal invitations, even though you're the guest of honour. We trust you'll clear your calendar to attend.
We couldn't be more pleased, darling! Well, I couldn't. Your father is fine.
Draco gulped. "Oh my God."
A peel of laughter went up across the room that just barely rose above the cacophony of murmurs that now filled the air.
Draco tore the parchment open and read voraciously, his heart in his throat:
You are cordially invited to a Ball in honour of the imminent union of our son, Draco Abraxas Malfoy, with Harry James Potter, next Saturday night, 6th September at Malfoy Manor, 9 o'clock in the evening. Full wizarding dress robes required. Please RSVP with your Owl no later than Thursday.
We look forward to you joining us for this momentous and joyful occasion!
Hors d'oeuvres served all evening! Dancing! Open bar!
For a moment Draco could only stare at it slack-jawed. He wasn't sure which words were more a shock to his eyes: union, joyful, or open bar.
He didn't get the chance to decide as just then a throat cleared behind him.
Draco turned in his seat to see the very momentous Harry James Potter standing there, his own invitation dangling from his fingers.
"H-hi," Draco managed in a small voice.
Potter gave him a bemused smile, sighed, and said, "Maybe we should talk."
"You're… all right with attending?"
"'All right' may be too strong a phrase, Malfoy, but what choice do we have?" Potter ran a hand through his hair and sighed while Draco didn't dare to breathe at all. "We've already suffered the worst of it, anyway, right? I mean, everybody's already got their invites, haven't they?"
Draco looked around the dark, empty classroom even though they were alone. Someone walked by the closed door laughing, and Draco winced. "Right."
"How long do you think it will take? Two hours?" Potter shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his thumbs sunk into the back pockets of his jeans as he'd not yet changed for training.
Potter exhaled. "Well, in the grand scheme of things, it's not that long."
Draco blinked. Was he really hearing this? Was Potter really going to do it? Draco tried to picture it and came up with a large blank spot in his mind. It was, maybe literally, unthinkable.
But then one corner of Potter's lips quirked up. "And hey. Open bar."
Draco huffed a surprised laugh. "Yes, there is that."
"If we get pissed enough, we can survive, right?"
"That's remarkably optimistic."
"Well, we can always Obliviate one another when it's over," Potter offered.
Draco really looked at him then. He'd been avoiding eye contact up to this point as though Potter were the glaring sun. Potter was clean-shaven, but Draco's gaze found a nick on the side of his neck which made him wonder if Potter had forsaken charm-work for an actual blade. Salazar, what a Muggle.
Draco swallowed, his eyes travelling back up to Potter's face, the reflection of dim light in his glasses not enough to obscure his eyes. Potter licked his lips and then appeared to bite the bottom one from the inside.
Draco cleared his throat. "Mother Weasley must have really terrible taste for you to be willing to go through with this."
Potter's lips broke into a smile, and he laughed. "You have no idea." He slapped Draco on the shoulder again on his way out the door, and Draco had to brace in order not to stumble. He set his jaw.
"Merlin, I'm going to need new dress robes," said Potter in parting.
The door opened and closed, and then Draco was alone again.
But then there Draco was, standing out in front of his house in his best dress robes, feeling itchy, and he knew in one Apparition he'd be there, standing on the Manor grounds where he and Potter planned to meet up on the way in, and it would all be happening.
What if Potter didn't show? What if Draco Apparated and stood there in his finest robes, and Potter just never showed up? Would that be better or worse? Draco truly didn't know.
All he knew was that it was fifteen past nine in the evening, and it was time to go.
He gulped, tugged on his cufflinks compulsively, closed his eyes, and Apparated.
The breeze was unseasonably cool, and Draco bounced on the balls of his feet, his hands shoved into his pockets while he looked around himself. He could hear the music playing from inside the well-lit ballroom, its golden light streaming out onto the gardens where Draco hid in the shadows, waiting for Potter. Peels of happy laughter went up from the guests still entering, long jewel-toned robes sweeping the flagstones that led to the entry stairs.
Draco breathed out hard. "Merlin, what the bloody fuck—"
"—are we doing here?" Potter finished for him, coming up from behind.
Draco jumped. "Shit, Potter!" His heart thundered. And in the next moment, Draco realised… "You're here."
"You expected me to stand you up?"
"Maybe." Draco shrugged as Potter came to stand by his side in the dark. "Wouldn't have blamed you."
"Oh but wouldn't you have?" Potter smirked at him, and Draco couldn't help his gaze sweeping down Potter's body, taking in his attire. The fitted robes draped him flawlessly. He'd clearly had them professionally tailored.
"Too much?" Potter asked. He brushed nonexistent lint from his sleeve.
"No," Draco nearly croaked and then cleared his throat, turning his eyes back to the glittering windows and the swirling guests beyond. "No, it's… passable."
"You look—" Potter began, and Draco held his breath for the response. Merlin knows why. "Malfoyan," Potter finished, and Draco scoffed.
"Yes, well, that's not particularly difficult for me."
Potter spared him another lazy smile. Then suddenly, there was his arm. "Shall we?" When Draco hesitated, he continued. "I mean, we could stay out here all night, but people might suspect."
Potter shrugged. "That we're absent because we're lying. Or late because we're shagging, I suppose."
Despite the chill to the evening air, Draco felt his cheeks heat. He sighed. "Well, we can't have that," he said and looped his arm through Potter's. It was warm and strong and stable, and it made Draco feel like he might not just fall through the ground at any moment. This was Harry Potter, nemesis extraordinaire. And yet, Merlin, he had a bloody nice arm. Draco sort of hated that this was how Potter's arm felt. He caught himself sneering into the dark and forced a more pleasant, I'm-here-willingly look onto his face.
They took a few steps, getting closer and closer to being bathed in magical lamplight. With every moment, Draco half-wanted to simply turn around and run away. Maybe Potter felt it, because his arm subtly tightened.
He leaned in and whispered, "Open bar, Malfoy."
Draco sputtered into a nervous laugh, but oddly enough, after that, he really did seem to feel better. He sighed, cleared his throat, and in the next moment, they stepped into what felt like a spotlight.
They'd waded through the press' flashing bulbs, the crowds near the entry, and into the ballroom. They'd made it past multiple accosting well-wishers. And all the while, Potter kept Draco's arm wrapped tight in his own. It helped him put one foot in front of the other, and it rather seemed like they were teammates in some sort of sport where their best defence was to link arms and combine their strengths for the charge.
Draco made it all the way through the room that way, giving pat responses and nodding along to Potter's. Until they made it to his parents.
"Draco," his mother enthused, leaning in to give him a warm, dry kiss on his cheek. "Mr Potter, how good of you to come on such short notice. Surely your schedule is tight." She leaned in and kissed the air two inches from Potter's face, her hand lighting on his elbow briefly, as was her custom.
"My schedule is remarkably similar to your son's. It was no imposition, being able to be here." Potter smiled, and for all intents and purposes it seemed nothing but genuine.
Merlin, even when Draco's father went to shake his hand, Potter didn't hesitate. They shared a brief, strong shake, and then his father, a man of fewer words since the war, barked out, "Drinks?" and before anyone could answer, he turned in a swirl of robes and stalked off.
"You look lovely, Mrs Malfoy," Potter said just as Draco was opening his mouth to say the same. Draco shot him an incredulous look, but Potter just stood there smiling serenely.
"Why thank you, Mr Potter. You both look so dashing." Her eyes twinkled. They twinkled. As though she'd all but forgotten Astoria Greengrass ever existed! Like Harry Potter was magic itself standing there.
It was a nicely pressed set of robes, but Merlin!
His father reappeared with a round of Champagne, but the double Scotch hovering just behind didn't escape Draco's notice. He just rather wished it was meant for him. Pity.
When they each had a glass in hand (his father, two), his mother cleared her throat. "Lucius?"
"Yes, right." He lifted the hand holding the Champagne, his pasted on smile looking an awful lot more like a frown. "To new circumstances."
Draco wanted to laugh at his wording, though he supposed it was more apt than even he knew. This was, after all, just a circumstance he and Potter found themselves in for the time being. Draco sipped long and deep, draining half his glass.
"So," his mother began. "Just exactly how new is this?"
And with that, Draco's heart stopped. They hadn't talked about this. Not once. Salazar's shorts, they'd walked in here completely unprepared and now Mother was going to skewer—
"A month. Just under," Potter said.
Draco turned wide eyes on him, but Potter stood there looking completely composed. Not a hair out of place. Well, all of them were out of place, but they were no more so than usual.
"And what prompted this budding romance?" Mother went on to Draco's dismay.
But Potter's arm went a little tighter on his own, and then he spoke again. "It was just a regular day at the Ministry cafeteria," Potter said. He looked at Draco then, all fondness and nostalgia. Draco felt an odd and alarming expression take up on his own face but couldn't seem to stop it and hoped Potter appeared normal enough for the both of them.
"I dunno. Just one day, he was sitting there, eating his chicken salad, complaining about it as he does, you know."
"Well, it tastes like—"
"Slugs, yes. And then the next moment… Well, here we are, Mrs Malfoy."
"Splendid," she enthused. "That's just… we couldn't be more pleased, could we, dear?"
"Mm," Father grunted. Then, "More, I think," having finished off both Champagne and Scotch in a matter of moments.
Draco hastily downed his own glass. "For me, too, please," he called.
"Don't mind him," Mother said to Potter once Draco's father had stalked off again. "Our wand stock just took a beating today and he's cross."
"And he bloody hates you," Draco blurted before he could stop himself.
"Draco," his mother admonished harshly. Then she turned to Potter in apology. "He doesn't. Truly. In fact…" She placed her hand on Potter's elbow again, and all politeness went out of her face, replaced by something raw and beseeching which Draco had sometimes glimpsed in her from the time of the war to now, though less frequently of late. "We're both quite beholden to you still, Mr Potter. Quite beholden indeed."
To Draco's shock, Potter let go of him completely for the first time since they arrived and gently laid his hand over hers on his arm. "You needn't be," he said. And something strangely real and secret seemed to pass between them, such that Draco felt a bit like he might be going barmy.
His mother smiled. She nodded a little, and then slipped her hand free once more.
"Why don't you two enjoy a dance while I find and help your father, Draco. He's probably been cornered by that awful Edith Brackshoot again wanting to know where we summer. Go on," she shooed. "Off with you. You'll make a striking couple on the ballroom floor, I dare imagine." And with that, she gave Potter a little wink, took his glass from him, and then swirled away toward the bar.
Draco turned to Potter. "A little under a month? Where did that come from?"
"My arse?" Potter gave him a look that said he might have been a little surprised at himself even. "Come on." He took Draco's elbow and started leading him onto the—
"Wait a minute, I never agreed—"
"Didn't you?" Potter shot back to him, his hand slipping down to Draco's belatedly as though he realised hauling him out by the elbow wasn't exactly romantic behaviour. "When we decided to do this, did you not think about the dancing?" He shook his head. "Merlin, I did. I've been dreading it."
A weird stone sank into Draco's stomach at his words. Not that he should have been shocked that Potter didn't want to dance with him; that would be a given, but…
Potter turned then though, and pulled Draco into his arms, one wrapping low around Draco's back, his other hand making a warm cradle in which Draco's hand was to rest. "I'm shit at it, remember? Or were you not paying attention to the staggering number of times I tread on Parvati Patil's feet at the Yule Ball?"
Draco schooled his features into an expression of bored disdain and stepped into Potter's waiting embrace. "Well, just because you were a troll on skates when you were fourteen doesn't necessarily mean… " Potter's hand pressed firm at his lower back, their bodies moving close to one another, so that as they joined in, swaying and stepping back and forth to the music, they brushed against one another here and there. "I mean, you seem…" Draco met Potter's very green eyes. "Fine at it."
Potter smirked. "Well, maybe it was Parvati's problem all along then."
Potter's shoulder was muscular and sturdy beneath Draco's palm. The hand holding his, warm and gentle.
A flashbulb went off, and Draco flinched. Potter, unfazed, just turned them slightly and went on talking. "Sorry I ad libbed, but I figured it was better than saying nothing."
"Well, you could have consulted me first."
"What, you wanted me to make your mother stand there while we went into a huddle and got our stories straight?"
"I meant before all this."
"And that was my responsibility how?"
Draco's jaw stiffened. Not that he had any reason to be arsed with Potter. That just made him more arsed, though. "It's not, all right?" he gritted out.
"So you're angry with yourself then?"
"I'm not angry."
"You've gone all… pinched."
"I'm looking right at you."
"Look, I'm not pinched. I just need more alcohol. This is mad. We're dancing, Potter. Or hadn't you noticed."
A strange look came over Potter's eyes momentarily. "I'd noticed." Draco couldn't be certain, but it felt like his hand moved, wrapping an inch further around Draco's body.
"Well," Draco said, more softly than he'd intended. "Don't you find it odd?"
He made the mistake then of meeting Potter's gaze, which was suddenly softly amused. Or something else that defied definition. Something that made Draco flush as Potter said, "Exceedingly, Malfoy."
Before Draco knew what he was about, his hand slipped up Potter's shoulder, nearly to his neck. Another flashbulb went off, making Draco blink. Potter's gaze dropped to the vicinity of his lips.
The song ended, and the band struck up a quicker tune. Draco cleared his throat and stepped back slightly. "I think we ought to stop while you're ahead, troll skates. Don't you think?"
Potter smirked. "Yeah, I need more alcohol for this kind of tempo."
"How can you smile at at time like this? You're not having fun are you?"
Potter snorted a short laugh and took Draco's arm again, escorting him back to the edge of the dancefloor. "Get that band to play some Weird Sisters, and ask me after four more drinks."
"I'd rather not be here that long," Draco said, but in his mind, he was already imagining what Potter having actual fun might look like. He mentally shook himself. "Okay, so let's drink and try to keep the talk about the training program. If it veers off somewhere unpleasant, I'll pull you out to dance again. Agreed?"
"If we must, we can always leave a little earlier than expected," Draco said, more to soothe himself than convince Potter.
"They'll just think we can't wait to get each other's clothes off, right?"
Draco cleared his throat. "Merlin forbid, but yes, probably."
"Yeah," Potter agreed. "Merlin forbid." Then he tugged a little on Draco's arm. "Look sharp. Here comes your mum."
Draco pasted on what he hoped was a relaxed-looking smile, though in actuality it was a relief to see her Leviosaing a fresh round of drinks ahead of her.
All in all, the evening went rather quickly. Potter had disappeared for the loo at one point, leaving Draco with the safe harbour of Pansy (who didn't miss her chance for a good ribbing, of course), and when Draco saw Potter again, it was from across the room where he'd taken up with a group of his own friends who'd shown up, including Longbottom, Lovegood, and a sprinkling of others Draco recognised as distinctly Gryffindor, even though he couldn't place them by name. He found himself wondering what on earth Potter had told them about Draco and decided that they'd gone about this all wrong in not consulting one another ahead of time. In fact, it was like an itch Draco couldn't scratch, to be standing there watching Potter talk and laugh with them, his lips moving and smiling in a way that had Draco wishing for a pair of Extendable Ears.
As Draco stood there, trying in vain to read Potter's lips from afar, Potter lifted his gaze, found Draco staring at him, and, mid-sentence it seemed, gave a little smirk, before he went on talking with Longbottom, gesturing with a glass of Firewhisky that he'd managed to pick up at some point.
Draco had been dragged away moments later to speak with friends of his parents. He'd subtly charmed his glass to refill once he determined the story of someone's great grandchild adopting a stray Kneazle was going to go on until the end of time.
When they finally set him free, Draco sighed, his eyes tracking around the room for Potter once more. Draco found him speaking to his mother, their heads close, and for a moment it caught his breath – that Potter and his mother were speaking so intimately. His skin flushed with quick anger at the sight, and Draco worked his way over, dodging new conversations as politely as he could manage. But by the time he arrived, his mother had stepped back.
"Well, if you change your mind," she was saying, "you're always welcome to use our Floo. It's getting so chilly out now."
"Thank you, Mrs Malfoy."
"I'll give Lucius your regards. I'm not sure where he got off to."
"That would be fine, thanks," Potter said with a smile. Then, "Are you ready, Draco?"
"Uhh… yes. Yes," Draco managed more decisively. He wasn't sure how Potter had managed to get them excused from the party so early, but he wasn't about to complain. "Mother, I'll—"
"We'll speak soon, dear, feel better."
Ah. So that was how.
"Yes, I'll try," Draco said as Potter's arm presented itself for his own to slip into. He grasped onto it and belatedly gave a feeble cough, though he realised he had no idea to what ailment he was meant to ascribe.
On their way out, Draco leaned in and hissed, "What were you and my mother chatting about?"
"Not here," was Potter's clipped reply.
They had to make a couple of impromptu stops on the way to the doors, but then somewhere in their polite exit, Potter must have decided enough was enough, and with a forced smile, he simply barrelled them through until they were outside. He didn't stop there, either. With a firm grip on Draco's arm, he walked them down the path and out the front gate. Only when they were well within the shadows of some centuries-old Malfoy gargoyle did he stop, turn abruptly to Draco, and say, "You're coming to mine. We need to talk."
"She said what?" Draco lifted his eyes from the teacup in his hands to Potter leaned against the mantel of his fireplace.
"She said to make sure the press got your good side. The left, is it?"
"She expects us to…?"
"Date. Publicly." Potter began to pace the room in front of where Draco sat on his sofa. "She expects photographic evidence, Malfoy."
"Well, we can tell her you're a private person who—"
"At Hogwarts didn't you practically make a career of telling people how much I love my fame?" Potter stopped near the window to spear him with a look.
Draco shrugged. "You've changed."
Potter barked a laugh. "Okay, well, we can argue about that one later. It doesn't change the fact that the press finds me. It always finds me. The Prophet actually printed a picture of me sniffing a cantaloupe the other day. 'Saviour Switches Supermarkets.' A cantaloupe, Malfoy. They find me," he sighed. "And now your mother wants them to find us. A lot."
"She said 'a lot'?"
"She's got an empty photograph album at the ready."
"She has not."
Potter rolled his eyes, but there was a small, rueful smile tugging at one corner of his lips. He shook his head. "I just had no bloody idea your mum would be so very fond of…" He trailed off, gesturing between the two of them.
Draco wanted to argue, but unfortunately, he agreed. "I really hadn't either."
"So," Potter sighed. "What do we do about it?"
Draco cleared his throat. "By any chance, would you have any brandy I could pour into this?"
Potter gave a wry smile, pulled his wand, and Accio'd the bottle.
They worked out a schedule around which they'd be seen out together. It was all quite doable, really. They were used to seeing one another all the time at the Ministry. What were a few times hanging out? Draco reminded himself that a month or so of fobbing about with Potter beat out a life married to a woman he'd met twice.
And for his part, Potter seemed to think prying Molly Weasley from his back was worth it as well.
It was near midnight when they wrapped up their plans and Draco made for Potter's door.
"You can Floo home from here," Potter informed him. "Your mum's right. It's pretty cold out for September. Plus, you can't conveniently be seen leaving here anyway. It's Unplottable."
"Oh," Draco said. "Right." It was only at that moment that he realised the impact of where they were. "It's been ages since I've been to this house. I nearly didn't recognise it."
Potter sighed. "It's taken a lot of work."
"Did you get that horrible screaming portrait off the wall then? I used to have nightmares about that thing." Draco could have kicked himself for admitting to such a weakness, but Potter took it in stride.
"Fuck, no," he laughed. "But Hermione did help me with a Fixative charm so that her curtain stays shut. It's quieted her down quite a lot."
"Huh," Draco grunted. Then he realised, "Granger and Weasley weren't there tonight. What have you told them?"
A strange look came over Potter's face briefly before he said, "The truth." He cleared his throat. "They're my best mates. I had to."
Draco nodded. "Right."
"What about for you?"
"Well, obviously Pansy knows. Since she's the evil hag who came up with this in the first place." He gave a weary roll of his eyes. "What about your other friends? The ones at the Ball tonight?" Draco felt his pulse speed up at finally being able to ask him.
To Draco's surprise, Potter began to blush. He scratched the back of his neck. "I, uh, I told them you have an undeniable verve."
Draco blinked. "A what?"
"I've no idea. It just came out."
Draco felt the laugh surge up his throat and strangled it, though he couldn't stop the wayward smile. "I never knew how odd you were, Potter."
"Never knew a lot of things," Potter replied.
"I could say the same of you."
"Guess that's all about to change." Potter stepped in close, prompting Draco's eyes to go a bit wide. He held his breath – until he realised it was only so that Potter could pick up the Floo powder from the mantel and hold it out to him. "Goodnight, Malfoy."
"Goodnight, Potter." Draco took some powder, threw it into the Floo, and stepped in. "One hundred one, east Woodsdale Drive," he said. And the last thing he saw before his own living room was Potter, in those impeccable robes, raising his brandy glass in farewell.
As Draco stepped into the locker room to get changed, a whistle erupted down the bench. Bloody Nott. "Malfoy getting with the Chosen One," he smiled, and a couple of the others hooted. "What do you want to bet they have the full press corps at the foot of the bed when they shag."
"Fuck off, Theo," Draco said, slamming into his locker to hide the way he'd begun flushing with anger, lest it be taken for a blush.
"Is his dick as long as his wand, Draco? We all want to kno—"
Nott stopped abruptly, and Draco lifted his gaze to see the reason: Potter had come into the room. He looked nonchalant as ever, as though nothing had changed. He had his bag slung over his shoulder, and his trainers squeaked on the floor as he ambled in. He met Draco's gaze as he passed, laid a hand on Draco's back for a moment, murmured, "Hey," in a soft tone, and then proceeded to his locker like it was the most normal thing in the world.
And it shut Nott's mouth right up.
Draco suppressed a smile. He'd never seen anything that could shut Nott up except maybe the Christmas feast at Hogwarts. Nott rushed to pick up his things, and he and his cronies shuffled from the room. Draco glanced at Potter down the way, but he had his back turned. When he started to strip his shirt off, Draco ducked back into his own locker, grabbed what he needed, and left.
The rest of the day hadn't been so bad, nor the rest of the week. Their classes were all normal; there wasn't much time for anything except doing what you were supposed to or you risked a Stunner to the chest. Exams in both Advanced Charms and Arithmancy for Magical Code-Breaking meant everyone had their heads in their books when they weren't practising spells, eating, or going home to crash. Aside from the occasional looks, the whispers behind hands, the errant joke, people rather took him and Potter in stride. Like it was normal. Like it was bloody expected or something. Even Potter seemed okay with all of it, taking the jokes with a smile or a confident roll of his eyes, maybe a quick, cutting remark for those like Nott who crossed a line. But, all in all, he was just Potter. He was Potter dating Malfoy, and anybody who had an actual problem with it could fuck off.
It was, like his steady arm, reassuring, and the week went quickly for it.
Not so, Saturday morning. It dragged along toward noon like the clock's second hand had an anchor strapped to it. Noon, of course, was their first official "date". And by the time 11am rolled around, Draco was pretty much a basketcase for no reason he could properly discern.
"Shopping and lunch." Draco straightened his shirt in the mirror and then promptly ripped it from his trousers and off his body, going, instead, with the blue.
Joan tilted her head at him from her perch in the bedroom.
"It's just bloody shopping and lunch," he told her as he buttoned the buttons with violent vigor. She hooted softly in what Draco took to be agreement, so he gave her an owl treat before setting off on his way.
They met at Flourish and Blotts. Draco could tell Potter was already inside because of the three photographers lying in wait by the door. They rallied when they saw Draco and began snapping shots of him, shouting questions like, "What are the perks of dating Harry Potter?" and "Do we hear wedding bells in the future, Mr Malfoy?" to which he only smiled tightly before ducking inside the shop to the tune of the bell over the door. He let out his breath in a rush.
He found Potter perusing cookbooks in aisle four, near the back.
"Feeling peckish?" Draco asked.
"If I were, I'd be at Fortescue's, not here." Potter looked up and gave him a little smile of hello. "No, it's Hagrid's birthday in a couple months. I thought I'd pick him up something, though I can't decide what." He flipped the page of the book in his hands and frowned down at it.
"How's he doing?" was all Draco could think to ask.
"You care?" Potter didn't raise his eyes.
Draco's jaw tightened. "I asked, didn't I?"
Potter's gaze flitted to his face. "Right. Sorry. He's good."
He put back the book and ran his finger along the spines in front of him, snagging another and opening it somewhere in the middle, which struck Draco as a very Potter thing to do. Why bother with a little thing called the Table of Contents when you can just dive in at random?
"I'm visiting him on his birthday up at Hogwarts, and I just know he's going to serve his rock cakes." Potter deposited that book and pulled down another. "They're abominable. Just terrifying. Ron broke a tooth on one once."
Draco winced. "So you're… finding him some new dessert recipes?" he guessed.
Potter looked at him. "Too transparent?"
"I wouldn't know, Potter."
Potter turned to him. "Well, say I got you a book on Transfiguration for your birthday. Would you think it was a subtle message that you need to brush up on your skills?"
"Well, yes," Draco said, "but that's because it's you and me."
Potter gave a little laugh that did weird things to Draco's stomach. "Suppose so."
Draco got caught up staring at the crooked curve of Potter's lips for a moment before a useful thought struck him. "Hold on," he said, turning to peruse the books himself. He ended up having to wander down the aisle, not-so-gently elbowing Potter aside so that he could take his place at the shelves. "Here," he said, pulling it down once he found the right one. "My mother bakes, and I've never seen her without this book open on the counter while she does it."
"Your mother bakes?"
"But don't you use house-elves for—"
"Do you want the book or not, Potter?" Draco thrust it into his chest rather hard.
Potter pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and read, "Sugar Magic. Hmm."
"Zero recipes for rock cakes, I'm certain of it."
Potter lifted his eyebrows. "Not bad. Thanks, Malfoy. Er, Draco. I suppose we'd better get used to first names."
Draco scoffed. "I am not saying Harry."
"You just did."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Fine, yes, I said it, but I'm not calling you that."
A very concerning look sparked in Potter's eyes then. He tucked the book under his arm and suddenly began backing Draco slowly down the aisle. "Honey?" he asked. "Sweetheart? Muffin?" He grinned evilly. "Sugar, perhaps? Pumpkin?" Draco's back hit the shelving, and Potter's voice dipped low. "… baby?"
Draco couldn't breathe. Potter stood so close they nearly touched, and Draco couldn't bloody breathe. Potter just waited, staring into Draco's eyes like some kind of thirsty vampire.
And then… Potter broke into a huge grin. He backed off, and Draco felt his face flaming hot with anger. Potter strode away and left Draco there. "Harry's sounding better and better, isn't it, Draco?"
Draco sagged against the stacks, panting like he'd run the Quidditch pitch from one end to the other. He watched Potter's retreating back, and if eyes could Hex, Potter would have been on the bloody floor.
"Are you ready?" Potter asked when they'd made their purchases and had nothing left to do but walk out.
"As I'll ever be. You?"
"Sure. No sweat."
"Not even a little sweat?" Draco asked and then wanted to Silencio himself for how it sounded like a tease rather than the jibe he'd intended. Merlin, he was out of practice since their school days.
Potter raised an eyebrow at him, so before he could reply, Draco continued with a harsh sigh, "Let's just get it over with."
"Let's," Potter said. Then he situated his hand against Draco's lower back, he opened the door, and the flashbulbs started going off. Potter steered him onto the pavement, and there they stopped. Potter gave an easy but probably practised smile to the small gathering of reporters, his hand never leaving its warm spot at Draco's back.
"Hi," Potter said, nodding. "Parker, good to see you." Then to another, "Hi."
They stood there getting their photograph made for several weird seconds, both of them ignoring the same sorts of questions that got hurled at Draco on his way in, and then Potter turned his head and looked at Draco, murmuring lowly, "Do you trust me?"
"Trust you to what?" Draco asked, alarmed.
Potter slipped his hand into Draco's, linking their fingers. Draco suppressed a gasp of surprise at the intimacy. It was then he felt the rush of magic. There was a great swooshing, a tugging, and they Apparated, landing on a different pavement in a flash. It took Draco a moment to process that they'd Side-Alonged, and then another to ascertain that they were now just outside the Leaky Cauldron.
"But… I…" Draco looked back from where they'd come. "It's only a five minute walk."
"Yeah, but we get a few moments of peace this way. Don't worry, they'll figure out where we've gone and catch up shortly." Potter held the door for him.
It wasn't until the food was set in front of him that Draco realised he was bloody starving.
"I can't believe you ordered Ploughman's Lunch." Potter shook his head. "I can't believe you agreed to eat here at all actually."
"What, I'm an aristocratic pureblood, so I can't eat cheese? Don't be a twat."
"The Ministry cafeteria has given me an appreciation for all things edible, Potter."
Potter snorted, drowned his plate in vinegar, and then ate a handful of dripping chips. "When was the last time you ate here?"
"Years. You?" Draco savoured the warm bread, following it with a bite of tangy, cold pickle.
"Mm." Potter finished chewing. "I like to stop in at least every year the week before all the new students get on the train to Hogwarts. It brings back good memories."
There was so much packed into that statement, Draco hardly knew where to start first. So he went with the dig that came naturally. "Pervert."
Potter choked on a wayward chuckle and threw a soggy chip at him, which Draco dodged, hiding behind his napkin. "Arsehole," Potter complained, though there was still an affronted laugh in his voice.
"Careful. I might decide to break up with you," Draco told him, smoothing the napkin back across his lap.
Potter snorted and ate a chip.
"In all seriousness, don't you get mobbed, coming here at such a busy time?"
"Disillusionment charms, Glamours…" Potter waved his fork and then cut into his fish.
"You do that a lot?"
Potter gave a shrug. "Enough."
"So, I take it you'd be in the papers twice as often if you didn't?"
Draco looked for signs of the boy he thought he knew from school and saw the opposite. A cringe of discomfort crossed Potter's face, and he gave Draco a withering look. "Probably more. Why do you think all their photos are of me sniffing fruit or with some ridiculous look on my face? I don't pose for them on purpose. Today's an exception to the rule."
"But you can't just go out under a Glamour every time you want to buy a cantaloupe," Draco protested.
"Clearly, I don't. I've also just got good at evading them." Now Potter gave him a small, conspiratorial smile.
Draco felt supremely uncomfortable with Potter looking at him like that, so he dropped his gaze and concentrated on his food.
They ate in silence for a while, and it was weird that it didn't feel… well, weird. Draco lost himself in thoughts of who he'd thought Potter to be versus who was being revealed to him now. He never would have thought that Potter would just open up about whatever was asked of him. Not to Draco, at least. Draco had assumed it would be a fight, if even he'd ever decided to ask Potter anything. And it wasn't as though he wasn't aware of his own curiosity. Draco could, at times, be a master of denial, but regarding his sick fascination with Potter… well, it was difficult to ignore. Far easier to just resignedly accept it. It wasn't as though he was unique in that regard; most of the Wizarding world craved access to all things Harry Potter.
Yet, he was only now seeing how uncomfortable for Potter that was. How idiotic, that he'd assumed Potter thrived on the repeated invasions into his life. Draco found himself speaking before he'd weighed the risk in doing so. "I was so relieved to leave behind the press after the war trials. I can't imagine if they were still hounding me." He huffed a bemused laugh. "Well, I suppose now they are, aren't they?"
Potter smirked at him. "But whose fault is that?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "My bloody parents."
Potter took a drink of his butterbeer and cleared his throat. "May I ask you a personal question?"
Draco startled, unused to the quick and easy way Potter simply said what was on his mind without regard to societal expectation. "I… I suppose." He gave Potter a wary look.
"Are you bent, Draco? I mean, more than a little?"
Draco inhaled sharply, his breath getting caught in the sudden tightness of his own lungs. "Well," he said, "you certainly don't dance around a topic, do you, Potter?"
"No, I guess I don't." His gaze was so clear, so certain, but not without a measure of compassion.
"I—" Draco began. "Nobody's ever asked me that."
"Not even Parkinson?"
"Fuck no," Draco snorted. Then, before he could stop himself, "She knew." It was as close to an admission as he'd ever come. People had made their assumptions about him, and since they were largely correct, it had been easier to simply say nothing. Except that they were never really correct when they presumed that Draco swayed either way. And Draco had known it. For a long time he'd known it. It was only Potter now who was forcing the issue, albeit in his own gentle and patient way. Still, it felt like a python slowly winding itself around his chest, forcing the air from his lungs and choking the life out of him.
But Potter was smiling at him. Just a little bit. It felt like a lifeline, and Draco decided to let it be one. "She and I tried dating for about five minutes," Draco said. Then he found himself smiling. "Pansy'll date anyone for five minutes."
"It was she who told me, actually. I was a bit daft about it, I guess." He shrugged and took a bite of cheese on bread for something to do.
"My parents' idea. I think they chose her more for her name than because they thought they could turn me straight."
"So," Potter said. "You are then."
Draco met Potter's steady gaze. He swallowed. "Gay?"
Draco felt brittle, as though pieces of him might just crack like glass and shatter on the floor.
"Yeah. I am. You happy, Potter?" The words came tumbling out. But once they were out, an odd sort of relief washed over him. Bloody hell, he'd said it.
"'You happy, Harry,'" Potter corrected, though the soft expression remained on his face.
"Is it that you want to be hexed?"
"No, I'm just curious about why it bothers you so much. It's only my name."
"So's the other one."
Now Potter rolled his eyes. "You are bloody impossible."
"You're not so possible yourself."
Potter's smile took on a warmth that erred to the uncomfortable, and once again, Draco dropped his gaze from it. "We could never really date, you and me," he said, straightening the napkin on his lap. "We'd kill each other."
"Haven't killed you yet," Potter pointed out, surreptitiously stealing a bit of warm bread from Draco's plate and munching on it.
"Yeah, well I'm close."
"No, you're not."
Draco took a deep breath, attempting to ignore the blush Potter's statement inexplicably induced.
The flashbulb going off outside the window next to their table made Draco start.
"Told you," Potter said with a weary look.
"Well, at least we've nearly finished."
Potter waved over a waiter for the check, and then when Draco attempted to pay, shooed him off. "Next time," he said. "If you really want to."
"Fair enough," Draco allowed. "So, how do we do this? What do you think they expect?"
"Who? The Prophet? Or your parents? I'd think you'd know that better than I would." Potter smirked. "They're getting your left side, so I suppose your mum will be pleased."
"Right, apparently that's of the utmost importance."
"Personally, I don't see a lot of difference," Potter said, narrowing his eyes behind his owlish glasses and concentrating on Draco's face in a way that made Draco want to flee. "Your nose is very regal, very straight. Almost as though it's never been broken."
Potter seemed like he was merely taking the piss, not seeking an apology. Still, Draco flinched. He thought about saying he was sorry, but the words died somewhere near his throat. "If it's any consolation," he said instead, "whoever fixed yours for you did a fair job."
A stray sadness flitted over Potter's expression briefly. "Tonks," he said. "And yes, she did. But back to your face."
"Yes," Potter said, a gleam in his eyes now. "Your cheekbones are almost shockingly high. They're sharp, like knives. But when you blush like that, I can see that there's a roundness I never would have known about otherwise."
"Fuck right off, Potter." Draco cursed the fact that the apples of his cheeks pinked still further.
"Your chin's maybe even pointier than when we were in school, and that's saying something."
Draco lifted it in defiance.
"Then there's where your jaw meets that spot." He tilted his head slightly, finding the place he referenced with his fingers on his own neck. "It's not quite your neck and not quite your ear."
"Merlin, you're a poet," Draco said disdainfully. But his pulse had begun to fire at his throat, and warmth suffused his skin.
"The left side… it's maybe just a little softer than the right. When you swallow like that, it goes rigid for a moment, your jaw… Like it's protecting that soft spot, just behind." Potter's voice had become quite soft, his gaze wondering. Draco felt that very place just past his jaw tingle and he wanted to rub it. Instead he clenched his hands together in his lap to stop their trembling.
In the next moment, Potter's eyes lit with humour, his smile widening.
"You fucker," Draco said. "If they weren't all right there, I'd lay you out."
"Why? For thinking you're pretty?"
"Relax, Draco. I'm not coming on to you." He took a last drink of his butterbeer. "I know what this is. The fact that I find you easy on the eyes is just…" Potter shrugged.
"Just what?" Draco didn't want to ask, but his mouth had usurped his brain suddenly.
Potter smirked at him. "A bonus."
"Right," Draco fairly breathed. Then he collected himself. "I suppose I'd definitely find this whole thing much more bearable if you didn't so strongly resemble a mountain troll."
Potter laughed, and the sound was deep and easy. He scooted his chair back and stood, so Draco followed suit. He picked up his peacoat, becoming very preoccupied with shaking it out. "So, erm, what should we do then? We never actually…"
"I think I should kiss you on the cheek," Potter said.
"I'm going to kiss you on the cheek."
"I don't know if that's nec—" But Draco had turned to look at him right when Potter leaned in, and instead of Potter's lips connecting with his cheek – which would have been awkward enough – they instead landed right on his own parted lips, stifling his speech into a muffled groan.
It didn't last long, and yet it seemed to go on ages. Long enough for Draco to process the shock of it, to notice that Potter's lips were softer than he might have expected, if he'd have ever expected to be kissing Potter. There was plenty of time to regret eating cheese and pickles for Merlin's bloody sake.
And he had enough time to feel Potter's kiss, as innocent as it remained on the surface, down to his bones.
There was certainly enough time for flashbulbs to go mad outside the window.
Potter pulled back, looking briefly as surprised as Draco felt, before he gave an apologetic quirk of a smile. "Sorry about that. I missed."
"It was a good miss," Draco blurted.
Potter blinked, and Draco hurried to correct it, eyes going wide.
"No, I— I just meant that…" He sighed. "It's just that if I'd turned my head differently you might have snogged my ear or something." He put all of his attention and energy into shrugging his coat on.
Potter reached out and helped him into it, and once again the cameras went wild. Potter straightened Draco's collar where it got tucked weirdly against his neck, and Draco just stood there and flushed with what could only be embarrassment.
"Merlin, let's just go."
"Right," Potter said softly, his hand dropping from Draco's collar.
They decided to take turns at the Leaky's Floo, well out of the way of any curious camera lenses. Draco said his polite goodbyes to Potter, with a reminder that they were meant to get together the next Friday at the pub.
"And I was thinking," Potter added with Draco's hand poised to throw down the powder. "Maybe we ought to sit together. At lunch. You know, during the week."
"Oh." Draco nodded. "Right, sure. That makes sense, Potter."
Draco rolled his eyes, stepped over the grate, and Floo'd away.
As he stepped into his own quiet flat, he realised he could still feel it: the vague tingling memory of Potter's lips against his own.
Draco winced at the half page photo of Potter's lips landing on his and the four seconds of shocked, unmoving lip contact that followed. And the caption: "Potter and Malfoy lip-lock!" Followed by a short and boring – he'd already read it over his morning tea – account of their "blissful" afternoon.
Draco, casting an embarrassed look around the cafeteria, tried to fold the paper so that the photo no longer showed.
But Pansy wasn't having it. She lifted the page and shook it in front of his face. "This?" she said. "Is pathetic!"
He pulled his wand and Banished the thing from her hands. At her affronted look he added, "You're next if you can't keep your voice down."
She leaned back in her chair, arms crossed, and ignored what was some form of casserole steaming on her plate in order to nag him. "You need to practise."
"That's the most awkward looking kiss I've ever bloody seen. Merlin, Draco, I had higher hopes for you. And Potter, too. I would have thought the Saviour would know how to snog better than that."
"It was an accident. He was aiming for my cheek. It wasn't supposed to—" He cut himself off and leaned back in his own chair. "It was an accident."
"Looks it," she said. "Draco, really, what would it hurt?" She got a particularly sly look on her face. "It might even feel a bit… good." She wrinkled her nose briefly and leaned forward a little. "You know, in your stomach. Like a little flutter." She got absurdly breathier. "Like you might want more and yet you know you should stop, but his lips are just so—"
Her predatory expression spread into an actual smile. "That's what you're afraid of, isn't it? That if you and Potter practise—"
"Practise what?" came Potter's voice from beside them.
Merlin, he could just skip all their Stealth classes from here on out. It was an eerie and irritating talent he possessed for sneaking up on people.
"I'll let Draco inform you. I'm late for… something."
Draco rolled his eyes as Pansy fled with her cafeteria tray, and Potter sat, taking her place.
"Lasagna?" Draco asked. "I hear it's actually passable as food."
Draco sighed. Try as he might, he couldn't come up with a fast enough lie, and Potter simply waited him out, unwilling to take pity and change the subject.
Finally Draco just spit it out. "She thinks we ought to practise kissing."
Potter got an annoyingly charmed look on his face. "Was that so difficult, Draco?"
"I just think it's ridiculous," Draco said, and then could have kicked himself for adding, "Don't you?"
Potter gave a considering look and swallowed his bite. "I dunno. Sort of makes sense if you ask me."
Draco huffed, "I did just ask you, Potter."
Potter lifted a brow.
"Harry," Draco amended. "Salazar, I had no idea how much you'd get off hearing me say it."
Potter dropped his gaze to his plate. He concentrated on cutting into the too-soft pasta like it was a toothsome steak. "I just think Parkinson has a point. That's all."
Draco gave a little snort. "I didn't think we were that bad at it."
Potter peeked up, fork halfway to his mouth. "You didn't?"
Draco shrugged, looking around the room, anywhere but at Potter's face. "For a completely accidental snog, no."
"Right," Potter replied. "But…"
There was a long pause where no one spoke and it seemed to thicken in the air between them.
Draco broke it. "Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to make sure that if ever there's a need for it that, you know…"
"Sure." Potter shrugged. "Just in case."
"Right," Draco said, finally looking at him.
"It's not a bad idea. To practise a bit."
"Good," Draco said. "I mean, that's fine." He gave his eyes a bit of an exasperated roll.
They moved on to discussing other things – how hard Jacobs was working them in her Advanced Charms class, who should be partnered with whom once they all became Aurors (though they were both careful not to mention themselves or each other) – but none of that erased that Draco now knew they'd eventually kiss. Really kiss. Well, not really. They'd really fake kiss. Or something.
All that was left, was when.
The day seemed to drag on, with Magical Law and Poisonous Potions in the morning and both Concealment & Disguise and Advanced Defence in the afternoon. By the end, Draco was exhausted. He'd nearly decided just to Floo home with the sweat of the day still on him, but the stench of exertion clung to his skin like a slime, and he couldn't bear the thought of bringing that home with him, so he trudged his way into the showers. He washed himself on automatic, eyes closed, the hot water pounding away at his tired muscles. He must have stood there for longer than he realised, however, because once he turned off the water and slung a towel around his hips to exit, the locker room was nearly empty. Only Weasley and Potter remained.
And, fuck it all, Potter was only in a pair of loose jeans while he and Weasley spoke at one end of the row of lockers. Potter stood there with a t-shirt on his arms, too intent on speaking to Weasley to just raise it up and pull it over his stupid head. Draco hastily turned his back on him and opened his own locker at the opposite end. He dropped the towel and went rummaging for his clean pants, unable not to eavesdrop on the conversation down the way.
"Harry. Harry! Hello?"
"What? I'm sorry, what?"
"I was reminding you about Friday night, mate."
Draco pulled up his pants and then donned his trousers, his ears prickling to hear.
"Oh, right. Er, yeah, are we bringing gifts to the pub or what?"
"Nah, we're just buying Seamus a few rounds and then there's cake."
There was a pause, and Draco tried not to act as though he was listening while he rummaged for his shirt.
"Harry!" Weasley bellowed.
"Great," Harry replied. "I heard you. Beer and cake. Sounds disgusting."
"Yeah, Seamus'll love it." Weasley snorted. "Alright, see you tomorrow." Then, as he passed on his way out, "Malfoy."
Draco gave him a short nod.
He gave a surreptitious glance over his shoulder to see that Potter had, thank Merlin, put his shirt on and was lacing up a pair of boots. Not trainers today, like he was still fifteen years old. No, Potter had chosen a pair of big, black, heavy boots. Draco wasn't sure why this irked him so, but he found himself grinding his teeth a bit. He turned back to his own locker and had nearly got his shirt buttoned all the way up when he heard Potter's booted approach.
"Hey," Potter said.
Draco turned to give him an off-hand smile and a "Good evening, Potter," or rather "Harry" when he suddenly realised Potter was standing rather closer than he'd expected.
"There's no one around," Potter said. Draco watched him swallow. "Do you want to practise?"
"I…" Draco breathed. Fuck. His blood was stampeding through his veins. "Yes," he said. "I mean, sure. If you want to."
Potter nodded, and when he took another step closer, Draco gasped, his back hitting the lockers with a dull bang. Potter reached out, curling a bit of Draco's hair behind his ear. Draco's eyes went wide. Then Potter wrapped his hand around the base of Draco's skull as he neared. He tilted his head, half-closed his eyes, and met Draco's stunned lips with his own.
Draco stood stiffly for but a moment. Then Potter's fingers on his neck tightened, just slightly. His tongue touched Draco's bottom lip. And as though the gesture were laced with magic, Draco parted his lips, all his muscles softening.
And fuck, fuck, holy damned fuck! Potter deepened the kiss, touching his tongue to Draco's, and before he knew what he was doing, Draco angled his head to make it easier. His hand grasped onto Potter's hip, the other recklessly smoothing up his front, up his hard chest, to the hot skin of his stubbled throat, around his neck – and Draco groaned.
They kissed a little harder after that, still deep, angling differently, and Potter's other hand came around Draco's lower back, pulling him closer. Their bodies pressed flush, and Draco's cock began to get hard, but for that moment, he didn't even care if Potter felt it. He didn't care about anything except that this was the best kiss of his bloody life.
A small sound left his throat at the same time Potter pulled back out of the kiss, so that the noise, rather than muffled into Potter's mouth, hit empty air, filling the room with a ridiculously mortifying mewl. Not that Potter seemed to care. He stood there, half out of breath and staring at Draco's lips with darkened eyes. Draco licked his lips compulsively, and Potter's lashes fluttered in a cluster of blinks. He lifted his gaze and looked into Draco's eyes. "How was that?"
Draco just stared at him for a moment, then he gulped and barely got out, "Yeah, th-that was f-fine." He cleared his throat. "Fine."
Potter nodded, frowning faintly now and stepping back still further, his hands dropping from Draco's body. "Right," he said. "Good." Then before Draco had even collected himself enough to breathe regularly, Potter said, "Night, Draco," and he turned around and left.
Draco waited until he could no longer hear Potter's boots – and then he sank back against the lockers, sliding down into a useless heap on the floor.
"And dress casual," he'd said near the end, an afterthought.
Potter's fiery head tilted in the hearth. "You know… just nothing dressy."
"Right, sure," Draco had replied, but when they'd ended the call, he'd sat on his floor frowning at the cold logs for several minutes before getting up and rampaging his own closets.
Draco felt fairly certain nothing in there would be what Potter was talking about. These were Potter's friends, not his own. He didn't want to be the only one sitting there in pressed trousers while Seamus Finnigan stuffed his face with cake.
So Draco had done the unthinkable: He'd gone shopping for jeans.
He'd forced Pansy to come along with him, and together they'd picked out a black pair that she said made his arse look like a cupcake. He'd rolled his eyes at the comparison, but, well, he'd bought them, hadn't he?
They completed the look with a thin, v-neck, charcoal jumper and a pair of low-riding boots. In the end he knew it wasn't casual enough, but it was certainly better than anything he already owned, and at least it was still something that made him feel rather like himself. As opposed to looking like a Weasley, Merlin forbid.
Or like Potter. But really, only Potter could properly pull off looking like Potter, Draco suspected.
The locker room incident was never far from his mind – not shopping, not at the Ministry, not trying to sleep, nowhere. It crept up on him, much like Potter himself, and Draco would catch himself not listening to an important lecture on ethics in performing arrests or, worse, in Defence, which led to Susan Bones slamming him with a Bat Bogey.
It was on his mind when he studiously did not shower in the locker room after training but took his sweaty self home to his own bathroom to avoid Potter and his "practice kissing" altogether.
Although, Draco realised, the dangers of wanking increased in one's own shower. He found himself slowly stroking his cock before he had even made the conscious decision to go ahead and do it. He firmed his jaw and hurriedly scrubbed himself clean instead, ignoring his half-hard prick until the stupid thing went down on its own. Pondering magical law was good for something after all.
Because he would not wank over Potter, for fuck's sake. Merlin, he hadn't succumbed to that since… fifth year? No, there were a couple times that last year when they went back for NEWTs, after the trials. And there was that one time a few months ago after he and Potter had been assigned to duel together. And, okay, a few weeks ago when he'd accidentally peeked into the showers when Potter's curtain hadn't been drawn quite all the way closed. The soap suds had trailed down Potter's spine, into the crack of his arse and…
That thing about Potter resembling a mountain troll? Yeah, it was bollocks.
But those were the only times. And he certainly couldn't do that now. Not during their current situation, which was still nothing. It wouldn't keep being nothing if he did that. Well, it would keep being nothing to Potter. And it wasn't as though Draco wanking at the thought of him had ever been that big of a problem before. He could hate and wank simultaneously. And the hate always won out in the end. Just because he didn't hate Potter anymore didn't make it the end of the world. Not when, finally, there was no end of the world in immediate sight.
"Shut the fuck up," he sighed to himself as he laid out his clothes. He took a towel to his wet head rather violently.
These circumstances wouldn't last forever. At some point it would be safe for them to quietly "break up" and go on with their lives. He could wank over Harry after that.
Draco stopped in his damp tracks.
"Bloody bastard son of a…" Draco forcefully sent his towel to fling itself over his shower rod, wishing he could Banish Potter from his mind as well, and proceeded to dress.
Due to the time spent on his hair, Draco was late. He Apparated down the pavement from the pub rather than the slightly farther away Apparition point, and a man pushing a pram full of sleeping twin toddlers had to swerve. "Oi!"
Being that it was Friday night, the pavement was full of witches and wizards coming from dinner or getting some shopping done, families hurrying home because it was getting too late to be out with small, whinging children. Draco shoved black-gloved hands into the pockets of his cloak and walked at a brisk pace through the onset of early Fall cold that made his breath visible.
He entered the recently opened Hog's Head the Second on the newly well-lit Knockturn strip, spying a coat rack as the magical warmth tingled through his hands and feet. He deposited his gloves in his pockets and was preparing to shuck off his cloak when he heard the voice of Dean Thomas from a back corner of the room. "Malfoy!" he shouted, standing and giving a wave.
Draco returned the salutation and hung his coat, making his way over to the table full of people he was still mostly uncertain around and who, most likely, still felt uncertain with him. It was a relief, actually, to spy Potter sitting at the edge of the large circular booth they inhabited. Draco was apparently the last to arrive, because unless they started investing in wizarding space, no one else was going to fit in there.
As he approached, Draco gave Potter a little smile. But the git apparently didn't see the need to return it. He just sat there staring with his mouth half-open like he'd been Stunned. The mannerless fool. It was going to be a long night if this was the extent of his welcome to the group. Potter was his liaison for fuck's sake, and it was as though he was shocked to even see Draco here, despite having been the one who invited him!
Draco's jaw began to stiffen, anger rising familiarly in his throat, when Weasley, next to Potter, gave him an elbow in the side, and Lovegood said, "Mind the drool, Harry."
Potter promptly shut his gaping mouth and cleared his throat, a fast rosy blush rising to his cheeks in a way to which Draco had never been witness.
Draco's blood began to race just under his skin. He studied Potter's face, not with wariness now but with something much more like fascination. Potter's gaze raked down Draco's body openly before sliding back up to meet his gaze, only to blink at him.
Draco felt a pleasurable heat suffuse his body beneath the new clothes, and he couldn't help shooting Potter a small, crooked grin.
Another elbow from Weasley, and Potter quickly stood, striding over to him and leaning in to kiss his cheek, his warm hand fitting to Draco's waist as he did so.
"You look…" Potter breathed against his skin. Draco shivered slightly. "I've never seen you…"
Draco pulled back just enough to see that Potter's eyes, behind his glasses, were dark. He let himself smile a little wider. "As you pointed out before, that can't really hurt our predicament, can it?" Then, because Potter's continued stupefiedness emboldened him, Draco added, casting his gaze down Potter's body, "You look reasonably good yourself." He met Potter's eyes again and, before he could talk himself out of it, leaned in and pressed a quick kiss on Potter's lips. He turned away before Potter could react and looked to Longbottom at the end of the booth. "May I?"
"Budge up, Neville," an already tipsy Seamus said, and that whole half of the booth made room for him.
Once Draco was sat, Potter seemed to regain his senses. "Well," he sighed, "I'm up. I suppose that means the next round's on me. Same for everyone? Draco?"
"I'll have a beer."
Potter raised his eyebrows.
Draco raised one back at him.
"Sure, okay. Be right back."
Draco watched him make a serpentine path on his way to the bar. Potter wore blue jeans that fit him for once, a red t-shirt that seemed less like a Gryffindor taunt and more like a Christmas gift Draco would all too readily like to unwrap. He felt himself smiling slightly as he watched his fake boyfriend walk away.
For the first time in a very long time, Draco felt like he might just have won something against Potter, and maybe in a fashion by which no one ultimately had to lose.
Perhaps this evening could be a bit of fun after all.
When he belatedly turned his attention back to the table, it was to find Weasley and Granger across from him sharing a loaded look with each other. Draco cleared his throat and tried to replace what he had to assume was a watching-Potter's-arse expression on his face with something more publicly acceptable.
It wasn't long before he got swept up into a conversation with Thomas about Quidditch, into which Weasley and Cho Chang joined passionately. When a body nudged into his side, Draco budged up on instinct only to realise it was Potter scooting in next to him.
"Here we are," he said, charming everyone's orders to alight in front of them.
"Thanks, Harry!" Seamus shouted, and Ron lifted his pint.
"Thanks, Harry," Draco said, gracing him with a twitch of a smirk.
Potter's eyes lit up as he returned Draco's smirk with his own smile, prompting Draco to wonder if he'd slung back a quick shot at the bar and was already on his way to a decent buzz. When he lifted his arm and let it rest along the back of the booth behind him, Draco assumed he'd been correct about that. Potter's thumb brushed against Draco's shoulder once and then came to rest, still touching him. Draco took a long pull from his beer bottle to quell the shiver of excitement that wanted to dance down his spine.
It's not real, he reminded himself forcefully.
But there wasn't anything wrong with letting himself enjoy it for a night, was there? Involuntarily, he flashed on the two or three times over the past couple of years when he'd pulled a dark-haired bloke in glasses and tried to pretend it didn't mean anything. It really hadn't meant anything. So, Draco had a type. Big bloody deal.
Draco waited for his inner voice to loudly contradict him, but the warning silence it issued instead was quite enough. Still… He was in this now. At this point, it was either enjoy an evening with Potter's arm slung possessively behind him or get up and leave. And he certainly wasn't about to do that. They had to get their Saturday blurb in the papers after all.
Yeah, right, the little voice piped up yet again. Draco took another sip of his beer and metaphorically gagged the annoying voice quiet.
Weasley started up a conversation about when they'd get fitted for their Auror uniforms, which became a discussion on when they'd be partnered up for their probationary fieldwork in the Spring.
Draco found conversation amongst a majority of Gryffindors not so horrible after all. True, he'd got rather used to several of them in Auror training, but this was the first he'd voluntarily spent more than five minutes with any one of them at a time. There were Lovegood and Chang, too, of course, but he'd always nurtured a less bitter affinity for Ravenclaws anyway.
Not to mention, there was Potter's arm radiating warmth at his back, his thumb casually stroking over Draco's shoulder absently as he talked, as though it was merely an errant gesture his hand engaged in when he decided to make a strong point.
After two and a half beers, Draco was getting so used to Potter's arm, as well as all the non-Slytherin company, that when his own friend's voice rang through the room, he startled.
"Hello, all! Sorry we're late!"
"Pansy?" Draco blurted, only to realise Blaise and Millicent had also strolled in on her heels. "What…?"
"I invited her," Potter told him. "Told her to bring some friends." He shrugged, finally removing his arm from around Draco's back, though now his hand decided to come to rest above Draco's knee under the table. He leaned in and murmured in Draco's ear, "I thought it'd be good if some of your friends came, too."
"But didn't bother to tell me?" Draco huffed. Although it seemed a small (and rather half-considerate) thing to get up in arms about. Plus, Potter's hand was on his thigh, his voice close in Draco's ear, and all that business was doing a fair job of obliterating any and all thought, so…
"What on earth is this one drinking?" Pansy said, having drawn her wand to wizard herself and the others some space.
Draco realised she was speaking of his beer. "It's beer," he said, his head buzzing a bit in the process.
"Oh that bloody well won't do. Firewhiskies for the table. On me," she announced. And probably as of that moment and no sooner, Pansy Parkinson tucked every single Gryffindor in the Auror department squarely into her back pocket. Draco had to admire her Slytherin prowess. If you can't beat them, bribe them and get them hammered.
The shot went straight to Draco's head and he found himself wishing for Seamus' birthday cake to arrive. Although once it did, delivered by a suddenly Apparated house-elf, Draco could hardly stand the sight. For one thing, it was half purple. The other half really defied description. Draco wound up glad he didn't try it, not with Weasley's reaction at any rate, which was something along the lines of, 'Bloody hell, Seamus what the bloody fuck is this?' after which he bought a load of chips for the entire table. From what Draco had gleaned, if Weasley wouldn't eat something, you knew it was bad.
Seamus explained that it had been a favourite of his as a child. "It's Bertie Bott's Every Flavour cake."
"Explains everything," Draco said.
Potter breathed out a laugh, his hand giving a brief squeeze on Draco's thigh. And Draco willed himself not to get a hard-on.
"So, Harry," Thomas called from across the table. "Word in Magical Games and Sports is that you cast Alarte Ascendare so strong at MacMillan in Defence the other day that he dented the ceiling." He sipped some frightening green concoction that made clattering noises every so often.
"Right," Millicent chimed in. "We heard that all the way in Transportation, too."
Potter scoffed, his cheeks going an endearing pink, and it seemed he couldn't quite meet anyone's eyes for the moment. "It wasn't anything like that."
But Draco had seen it. He'd just recovered from Susan's Bat Bogey in fact and so had an unimpeded view of the spell and its results. There wasn't just a dent; a big chunk of the ceiling had crumbled down in MacMillan's wake. Potter had Protego'd him just in time before the whole thing had avalanched onto his prone body.
"Bloody hell, it was wicked!" Weasley said, his red cheeks and shining eyes clear indications of both his drunkenness and an obvious admiration for his friend.
Potter blushed still further.
Draco cleared his throat, seizing the opportunity to wrangle things in on Potter's behalf in a way only Draco could accomplish with the necessary aplomb. "Rubbish," he said. "MacMillan went three feet off the ground if he went an inch."
Potter's gaze snapped to his, but mixed with the usual heat of his aggravation was a healthy dose of humour. He raised his elbow and shoved at Draco, pushing him into Longbottom's side as the latter was attempting a sip of his drink.
"Hey now," Longbottom whined.
Draco righted himself.
"You're a massive twat," Potter said, smirking.
"Yes, well, we can't all be your sycophants, Potter," Draco sniffed. "Thought you needed taken down a peg."
"The ceiling came down!" Weasley looked entirely too flummoxed by the exchange.
Granger had to murmur to him, "He's winding Harry up, Ron. Or rather you." She rolled her eyes, but when Weasley turned his blinking incomprehension on her, she softened with ready affection. "You idiot," she smiled, and Weasley, probably forgetting the former topic of conversation completely, mooned back at her as though he was on a Love Potion.
Draco dismayed at finding himself with a fond smirk on his own lips, watching them. He was caught out in it when Potter's hand landed on his thigh where it had left off – but then brushed up an inch further.
Draco stopped himself gasping, but just. His cock responded to the unintentional promise in the stroke of Potter's fingers up his inseam. Shit. He should have brought himself off in the shower after all.
Draco took another pull on his beer and resisted the totally slaggy temptation to be blatantly obvious and part his thighs.
A couple rounds, and several ridiculous and sometimes salacious discussions later, each rising a bit in volume the drunker they all got, and Seamus had the fantastic idea to head down the alley to the new club, Baritone Banshee.
"Yes!" Weasley agreed.
"Oh let's!" Lovegood clapped.
Pretty much everyone else, including Draco's friends, agreed. It was only Potter who gave Draco a look that seemed part wary and part question. And truth be told, if Draco hadn't been a little more than tipsy, he'd probably have made the only sane decision there was and gone home to sleep it all off. But as things stood…
"Oh come on," Draco needled against the better judgement of his now-gagged inner voice. "Don't piss on our bonfire, Potter. It doesn't become you." Draco smirked at him, his eyes flashing.
Potter frowned a bit more. He bit his bottom lip, which Draco found unfairly distracting. But then he assented. "Sure. Okay." He smiled around at the group and began to shove out of the booth.
Draco followed, his steps less unsteady than he'd feared. He was about to bypass the coat rack, however, and unintentionally donate his cloak and gloves to the establishment, when Potter stopped him with a quiet, "Hey," and a hand on his shoulder.
Potter fetched his cloak for him and helped Draco into it – which, to be perfectly honest, was probably a good thing just now since Draco counted three potential sleeves.
The "thank you" that came out of his mouth was a complete accident.
Their group made its way – laughing and talking, though he and Potter were, for the most part, silent – down to the club, from which the music streaming through the open door could be heard more than a street away. The bass rattled Draco's bones, and the flashing lights burst out onto the alley in rhythmic flares.
The alcohol dulled any remaining anxiety, and as they filed inside and the music only got impossibly louder, all Draco was left with was a sense of excitement. The newest Weird Sisters' song filled Draco's ears, banged about inside his chest, and vibrated up his legs, and as they made their way to the bar, he felt Potter close at his back.
There were few seats, and Potter, chivalrous as ever, gestured for Draco to take one while he opted to stand close by. Very close by. The bar was crowded with people, either ensconced for the night or only there to quench a thirst before roving back out onto the dancefloor.
Their group all did a round of vodka Gillywaters, toasting Seamus, and then Draco turned on his barstool to watch the people dancing under the erratic pulse of lights.
Potter leaned down to speak directly into Draco's ear. "Care to share a beer? I don't think I ought to have a whole one." It was the first indication that Potter's level of inebriation might rival his own.
Draco gave him a nod, and Potter signaled one of the three bartenders over. When the bottle arrived, Draco went to pay, and he and Potter had a brief skirmish over it, Draco grabbing Potter's hand with the Sickles in it off the bar and Potter doing the same to Draco.
"Fuck you, I'm paying," Draco finally shouted over the music.
Potter rolled his eyes and pocketed his money, gesturing for Draco to take the first drink. Once he had, Potter slipped the bottle from his fingers and took a pull. Draco couldn't help watching the way his Adam's apple worked in his stubbled throat. Potter passed it back again, their fingers touching and lingering as Draco took it.
Draco took a cooling sip and turned his gaze back to the dancefloor where he was somewhat surprised to find that Pansy had taken up with Lovegood.
"Do you think…?" Draco asked Potter, unsure if it was the tipsiness creating illusions in front of him.
But Potter's answer was, "Looks like," and in the next moment Pansy jerked Lovegood in and started snogging her mercilessly.
"Yeah, looks like."
Their group began to peel away from the bar in pairs and small groups: Weasley and Granger, of course. Blaise, Millicent, and Longbottom.
Potter took the beer from him again and tipped his head back, finishing it. "Come on," he said, clunking the bottle on the bar and holding out his hand.
Draco raised his eyebrows at him. "I thought you avoided tempos."
Potter leaned in and spoke directly into his ear again. "I like this one."
Draco swallowed thickly, his mouth suddenly dry, and slipped off his seat. Potter took his hand and led him out into the middle of the floor. They squeezed through gyrating couples to find their own space. Potter turned to him, and they began to dance.
It was all very regular, just two blokes out on a dancefloor, moving to a song. Potter did little more than sway, but to Draco's surprise he wasn't half bad at it. Draco, just drunk enough, began to let loose a little more with each passing phrase of the song. He swayed opposite Potter but with a bit more swing to his hips. He let the grinding guitar and solid bass fill him up until it overflowed from his body. And perhaps it was just the intermittent shine of the lights, but Draco thought he saw Potter's eyes flare watching him.
Instinctively, Draco danced a step closer. The bodies closed around them a little more, like the dissolution of wizarding space when the spell began to wear off on its own. Potter licked his lips, and before he knew what he was doing, Draco moved closer still. He was almost right up against Potter, only a couple inches now between them as they moved.
Draco watched Potter swallow, that telling movement of his throat. The alcohol zipped through Draco's veins, and the hard beat spurred him on, giving him courage. His heart beat in his ears.
Draco moved so that his thigh fit between Potter's, their bodies brushing as they danced now, though neither of them moved to touch the other with their hands. Heat flowed off Potter's body like magic, like he was ready for a duel. Their gazes met, and Draco's breath caught in his chest. Their legs bumped. The growing bulge in Draco's jeans rubbed against Potter's thigh. Potter's eyes darkened. Draco dropped his gaze to Potter's lips, swivelling his hips and grinding them together on purpose. He bit his lip.
And that's when Potter wrapped his arm around Draco's back and pulled them flush. They kept moving like that, their bodies pressed together, and Draco felt Potter's answering erection. His eyes rolled shut, and for a moment he thought he might fall, until he opened heavy lids again to observe the hard little jump of Potter's pulse near his throat.
Draco wrapped his arms around Potter's neck, undulating against his body as the pounding music obliterated all consequences. It felt like a time out of time. And then Draco remembered that they were supposed to be seen out doing stuff like this. It lent a powerful sense of freedom to his actions, so Draco let himself press so close that his lips shuddered out his breath against Potter's neck. Potter answered by gripping Draco's hips hard.
Draco turned his lips to touch his ear. "Do it," he said, taking one of Potter's hands and shifting it lower and around.
Without a word or any further encouragement, Potter swept his hands down and cupped Draco's arse. Draco inhaled sharply, shocked that he'd done it even though Draco had practically dared him to. Potter squeezed, hard, and Draco groaned against his neck. Potter's hands then strayed up his back, over his shoulder blades, one entangling in Draco's hair. He pulled a little, not enough to hurt, and then Draco found himself looking into Potter's eyes. What he saw there was something equally fierce and calm, and Draco, drunk as he was, just wanted to fall into it.
He wished he could believe it was all real.
Draco lost count of how many songs they danced to like that. All he knew was that the closeness, the hard press of Potter's body against his was like a tonic – a Timer Turner, five more drinks without the hangover – like bathing in magic. The beats changed, but Draco and Potter stayed, the lights playing over their moving bodies, illuminating them only to abandon them to the dark where Potter's hands travelled down Draco's body without hurry, and everywhere he touched, Draco responded.
He'd begun to sweat, the tips of his hair sticking to his forehead. Draco flicked the hair from his eyes and pushed the sleeves of his jumper up without thought, only to realise it bared his Dark Mark. It wasn't something he did flippantly.
It wasn't something he did much at all.
But when he went to correct his mistake, Potter's hand on his arm stopped him. Draco searched his gaze. Potter leaned in and said into his ear, "It's something you went through, not something you are."
Draco leaned back to gauge his expression, and as their gazes met again, there'd been a subtle shift. Something soft and real shone in Potter's eyes. Draco found himself reaching up, and though Potter flinched slightly, Draco gently removed his glasses, tucking the tines together and then depositing them in his own back pocket. Potter just stared at him, gaze moving searchingly over Draco's face as Draco wrapped his hand around the back of Potter's neck and leaned in. Potter lowered his gaze and met him halfway, and they kissed, lips parted, tongues tentative with one another, until Potter's fingers tightened down on Draco's hips and he delved deeper inside, and Draco let him.
When they surfaced for air, Draco realised it had probably been too much. If there were reporters, taking notes, taking photographs, they'd had more than a good chance. They'd likely got bored and wandered off. He saw it in Potter's eyes, too… the line they'd stepped over. And yet neither of them made the move to uncross it.
It was the alcohol. Most definitely. Draco's heavy gaze fell to Potter's lips and he bit his own.
A tap came to his shoulder, and Draco startled. It was Granger. She had an inebriated Weasley in tow. "A bunch of us are sharing a Knight Bus so we don't Splinch ourselves," she shouted over the music.
He and Potter had slowed their sway nearly to a stop at her interruption, and now Potter nodded. He checked with Draco, eyebrows raised.
"Now?" Draco asked, though he felt beyond stupid once he'd asked. Of course bloody now.
She smirked. "We can wait for you if you need to finish this song," she said. The look she gave Potter then was a million things at once: tender, teasing, but maybe most of all, concerned. Although Draco had to wonder why. There was nothing to be concerned about. They were only putting on a show. No cause for concern.
She strode away with Weasley stumbling along next to her and singing horrendously.
"Come on," Potter said. He took Draco's hand, and with the other he Summoned their coats, abandoned at the bar. They pushed through the crowd, including a still-snogging Pansy and Lovegood.
When they got out on the frigid pavement, Potter helped him into his cloak again before donning his own jacket. Once they'd left the throb of music behind, Potter nudged Granger. "What about Parkinson and Luna?"
She gave a snort of a laugh. "I believe it's their intention to shut the place down. There are rooms at the Leaky, I suppose." She cleared her throat and then made studious work of her Warming charm.
"That's my friend," Draco said. "Infinite slag."
"You're one to talk," Millicent said.
"Sod off, Bulstrode! I'm proper as fuck," Draco protested. Sadly, it was also pretty true. It had been months since he'd pulled anyone. He felt his cheeks flame.
Someone ahead of them—Blaise, he suspected—snorted.
"Who the hell was that?" Draco asked, careening up the pavement a bit. "I'm not in the least slutty! I happen to be extremely choosy, in fact!" Draco had the distinct sensation he was saying too much – and probably too loudly as well, since there was a harsh ringing in his ears in the aftermath of the club's booming bass.
"Well, that's the truth," Blaise answered, a laughing scoff in his voice.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, just, black hair, fit, and glasses much, Draco?"
"I—" Draco cut himself off, swallowing against the impending mortification. He hadn't been aware anyone had been paying that close attention to his dating habits. "I don't—"
But Potter had come alongside Draco again, and now he winked and put his finger to his lips to shush him. In the next moment, Draco felt Potter's questing fingers near his arse but then realised he was merely extracting his glasses from Draco's jeans pocket. Potter shoved them back onto his smirking face and then drew his wand. Draco started, but Potter just shook his head before he aimed and sent a wordless Jelly-Legs Jinx at Blaise's back. Blaise promptly crumpled to the pavement. "Oi! Bloody fuckers!"
Potter snorted laughing as they strode on. Longbottom took mercy and drew his own wand for the counter-jinx, and Draco looked at Potter's mirthful profile. "You're far more twisted than I've ever given you credit for."
Potter turned a smirk on him. "I know."
They reached the Leaky and paraded through to the front, Granger drawing her wand on the pavement and summoning their Knight Bus. Potter and he were the last to board, and maybe it was a good thing all the beds were taken. Draco wasn't sure why the feeling of disappointment lay so heavy in his heart at the sight of it. It was a dangerous feeling, that disappointment. Merlin, he should never have had that last drink. Or the three preceding.
They took a spot near the back, holding onto a questionably sanitary brass pole that Draco decided he did not want to think too much about. The bus rocketed away to its first destination before Draco had set his feet, and he stumbled back into Potter with force.
But Potter's hand immediately snaked around his middle, holding him close from behind. He didn't let go once Draco had got his feet back underneath him, and Draco's breath went short with renewed arousal.
Not that it meant anything. It meant there could be a reporter on the bus. It meant that Potter was drunk… that Draco was. It meant that Potter's body against his felt good, despite the fact that the reason it was pressed there was completely accidental and/or manufactured.
None of that mattered at the moment when Potter's half-hard cock pressed up against Draco's arse, his hand to Draco's stomach, and his breath stirred the hair at the nape of Draco's neck. Draco succumbed to a delicious shiver.
Really, fuck it all, he thought, blinking slowly at the way the lights stretched into blurry lines out the windows. He lifted his hand and laid it over Potter's, leaning his head back against Potter's neck with a sigh. Potter's breath shuddered against his ear.
It came as a bit of a shock when the bus came to an abrupt stop and the driver called out, "Grimmauld Place!" Draco instinctively moved away. He wasn't prepared for the question he saw in Potter's eyes once he turned.
"Do you…?" Potter began and then stopped. "I mean," he swallowed, "you could Floo home from here. If you wanted."
"I…" Draco started but was interrupted by the renewed shout of the driver.
"I have a schedule to keep, lads!"
Draco's heart stopped for a moment as he tried to read what might be in Potter's eyes. He realised he was nodding, and in the next moment, Potter took his hand and led him down the aisle between the beds.
"Night, Harry!" Weasley called.
"Have a lovely night, Draco," Blaise said, the tease dripping from his voice.
Millicent gave a whistle.
Draco's cheeks blazed hot, but then the moment they stepped off the bus, it burst down the street in a blur of magic and careened dangerously around the corner, gone.
Potter let go of his hand and led him toward the house, giving a swish to his wand that revealed number twelve's steps.
Inside the front door, Potter cast some wards and a few Warming charms. Draco left his cloak on, uncertain. After all, if what Potter had meant was literally that he could promptly Floo home from here, he'd need to be wearing it still, wouldn't he?
Potter holstered his wand and then stood there looking at Draco for a moment in a very thick silence. He licked his lips. "Okay," he said. "I see three options here."
Draco blinked. "Alright."
"One," Potter said, ticking it off on his finger, "you can Floo home now." He seemed to be trying to gauge Draco's reaction, so Draco gave a little nod, though a frown had settled on his brows. "Two," Potter continued on a new finger, "you can crash here tonight and Floo home tomorrow."
Draco couldn't help but stare at Potter's lips as he spoke, but now that he was silent again, Draco gave him a nod to go on. The potential of 'three', whatever it was, rang like the echo of a Sonorus through the entry.
"Three." Potter stopped, swallowing. He just stood there, staring at Draco with a look on his face that seemed half anxiety and half hope. "Three…" he began again but then shuttered to a stop.
"Three." Draco's voice came out surprisingly definitive.
"I choose three." Draco took a step closer, his heart beginning to hammer wildly.
Draco nodded. He knew what three was, even if Potter didn't. He'd known for hours now. He'd felt three banging around inside his skull, whispering in his ear, melding his and Potter's bodies close on that dancefloor.
Three was that kiss that went on for days.
Three was relentless.
Three was fuck it all.
Three was severely and inevitably fuck it all to hell.
Draco took a breath, grabbed Potter by the shirt, and yanked him into a rough, wet kiss.
That was, apparently, the same three Potter was thinking of because he wasted no time ripping Draco's cloak from his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor as he backed Draco down the hall. Draco paused to toe off one boot and then the other, breathing hard against Potter's lips as Potter's hands roamed over his body. Draco pulled him in for another kiss and then breathed, "Bedroom?"
"Too far." Potter pulled Draco's jumper up over his head and it fell to the floor too. "In here." Potter ushered him into the study with the Floo. He drew his wand and thrust it toward the fireplace, and its logs flamed to crackling life. Then Potter tucked his wand away and began work on Draco's jeans.
"Magic without incantations like it's nothing, but you can't open a pair of jeans," Draco said when Potter's fingers slipped. "Salazar, Potter, sit." He nodded to Potter's sofa, and then as Potter, looking dazed as fuck, did as he asked, Draco stripped off his jeans and pants in one go.
Because screw it.
"Fffuck," Potter breathed.
Draco would have taken more pleasure in Potter's obvious appreciation of his nudity, but he was already kneeling, unbuckling Potter's belt. "Take them down," he panted.
Potter hurried to comply, and it might have been funny any other time. Draco shot him a smirk and then wrapped a hand around Potter's cock. Fuck indeed. Heavy and warm, it throbbed against Draco's palm, his gripping fingers. Potter's cock, alive with heat and rock-hard in his hand, was so velvety soft that it made Draco catch his breath. He leaned in experimentally to lap his tongue softly under the crown, and Potter's head dropped back. He began to pant as Draco did it again, his fist banging down on the sofa cushion. Potter raised his messy head back up, his glasses now crooked on his face. He took them off in a flash and tossed them carelessly aside.
"Draco… Bloody hell… Dr—"
Draco opened his mouth around the head of Potter's hefty cock and slid halfway down the length of it.
Draco moaned around the cock moving in and out of his mouth. Potter tasted like clean sweat, the slight bitterness of his pre-come, and Draco's eyes fluttered shut as he sucked.
Potter's hand flailed for his head, missed, and then clumsily sank into his hair. "Draco, fuck, wait."
Draco lifted his lips to find Potter looking at him with both lust and panic in his eyes. Draco encircled the base of his cock with his hand hard. "Yeah?"
Potter swallowed, nodding. "Yeah. I think it's… Um, yeah."
Draco felt a little thrill skate over his skin that Potter had already been so close to coming. He crawled up, straddling Potter's lap and kissed him. Potter kissed him back, his hands roving up and down Draco's back.
"Go ahead," Draco breathed against his lips. They kissed again, and this time Potter's hands cupped his arse and massaged him in a slow, intoxicating rhythm that had Draco's cock leaking. He whined into Potter's mouth, tugging his t-shirt up his stomach, breaking the kiss to discard it entirely. He mouthed kisses down Potter's jaw, his neck. He took a nipple between his teeth and then licked. He let go of any stray thoughts that they shouldn't be doing this, that they'd regret it, letting momentum pull him along in its a swift current.
"Lubricant?" he breathed, kissing back up Potter's chest.
"Are you serious?"
"Uh huh." He kissed the shell of Potter's ear.
Potter took him by the shoulders gently and pulled him back to look into his face. "Draco…"
Draco shifted his gaze between Potter's imploring eyes and his parted lips. He bit his own and nodded. He watched Potter gulp, watched the way Potter's gaze roved hungrily over his naked chest, down his stomach, over his twitching cock, and back up. Then Potter drew his wand again. He conjured oil into his own palm and then looked at Draco to decide where it went.
It was, for a split second, heartstoppingly sweet.
Draco took Potter's hand and wrapped it around Potter's own cock, and together they wanked him slowly, getting his prick good and slippery.
Draco dropped his gaze to watch it, their fists meeting, sliding over one another, Potter's blushing cock pushing through their pumping fists, strong and solid and thick. And if he didn't want Potter to fuck him so badly, Draco might have just been content to watch him come from his own touch, it was so bloody hot.
"Scoot this way a little," Draco murmured, and then widened his knees so Potter could move.
"Yeah, that's good." Draco moved so that he could aim it in, steadying Potter's cock at his entrance. He bit his lip, feeling the wide head slip against him.
"You're really… sure?" Potter asked.
At that, Potter blinked. His strong hands sought Draco's arse, gripping his cheeks, squeezing and gently pulling them apart, exposing him. "Yes," he said.
Draco's cock leaked a stream of pre-come down his shaft as Potter massaged his arse, oiled fingers dipping in, taking the head of his own cock, and rubbing it gently over the downy clench of his hole. Draco closed his eyes, held Potter's cock still, and felt it push inside a little. "Ohh," he whined.
Potter grunted as he went in another inch, and Draco pried drunken eyes open to watch his face as he sank down, Potter's cock filling his arse, sliding in hot and thick, until finally he nestled down in his lap with Potter as deep as he'd go.
"Fuck," Draco whispered.
The sound that came out of Potter wasn't even a word at all.
Their gazes met. Draco planted his hands on the sofa behind Potter's head, and he rose up a couple of inches, only to ease back down.
"God, like that," Potter breathed, hands rubbing distractedly up and down Draco's bare back.
Draco did it again, harder. Potter nodded frantically, and so Draco did it like that again, and again.
"Bloody hell," Potter sighed. "Is it…? Does it hurt?"
Draco shook his head. "Feels good."
Draco nodded his head yes. Potter slipped his hands onto Draco's hips, Draco gripped the sofa cushions, and he started forcing himself down on Potter's cock. His eyes dropped closed, his head falling back on the sheer ecstasy of the friction between them.
Potter's hands tightened, and he made an almost wounded sound through gritted teeth. Draco opened his eyes, looked down at him, and went even faster, bouncing hard in his lap. He was looser now, the way easy, and Potter's cock moving inside him was like fire magic, like a lust potion. The sensation shot up his spine, and Draco's balls drew up tight, his cock slapping against Potter's body. Potter reached between them and grasped it, jerking it as fast as Draco pumped his hips.
"Oh fuck, Potter. Oh hell."
They came one right on top of the other, Potter first, crying out, and then Draco following once he felt the hot slick of Potter's come filling him up. He came on Potter's stomach, hips still driving down in a punishing rhythm.
"Stop," Potter said. "Hold still."
He caught Draco's gaze and held him there, slinging an arm around his hips and planting his other hand on the sofa. He thrust up, and then again, grinding so deep and slow into Draco's body, his still-hard cock working into Draco through the very last of an orgasm that Draco could feel happening inside him. And the whole while, Potter stared into his eyes, making Draco feel as though he were pinned down… as though everything around them melted away to nothing.
Then Potter relaxed, and he laid his head back against the sofa. He gave a short, exhausted laugh. He looked so fucking beautiful, flushed, his throat arched and eyes closed, chest heaving with his breath. His cock slipped out, and Draco couldn't think of a good enough reason to stay there staring at a post-coital Harry Potter, so he lifted up and off and fell onto his back on the sofa, his legs splayed over Potter's lap as they both caught their breath. Potter's hand came to rest on his shin.
"Merlin's four-foot beard, Potter," Draco sighed.
Potter chuckled lowly, and Draco hummed, suddenly so comfortable it was as though he'd downed a sleep tonic. Potter's sofa swallowed him up, soft and warm, and he didn't think he was about to fall asleep. Until, apparently, he did.