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Ynys Afallach (I Will Give My Love An Apple)

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Rain falls over the Somerset countryside as Draco stomps through the wet field, his satchel banging against his hip, thick mud slurping at the soles of his wellies, the dampness of the day seeping even through the Impervius he'd half-heartedly cast when they'd landed on the bank of the River Brue half-a-mile back. The chill of the late October air's seeping through his olive-green Barbour, and the sharp whip of the cold breeze smarts across his cheeks as it spatters raindrops against his skin. He can hear Potter huffing behind him, swearing as he stumbles over a rock like the suburban prat he is. Draco brushes a lock of damp hair back from his cheek, tucking it behind his ear. He'd grown up around fields like this Wiltshire; he knows how to handle the rolling swells of the English countryside. Even in the worst of the autumn weather.

"Fuck," Potter says again, and with a sigh, Draco stops, turning around to look at Potter. The idiot's scowling down at his purple trainers, now streaked with mud and dead grass from their trek across the field. "I'll never get these clean."

"I told you to wear boots." Draco's tired and irritable. They've been looking for this bloody orchard half the afternoon now, and none of the coordinates they've been given have held up. Although, really, what else would you sodding expect from a farm that exists solely in a magical space near bloody Glastonbury of all places? Avalon Hill, it's called, reachable only in autumn by misty barge at some bloody hidden spot along the river unless you've direct access granted by the farm's Secret-Keeper. Which they most certainly don't, whatever Root might have told them. Draco's starting to think their tutor's sent them off on a mad chase. It wouldn't surprise him, given Root's propensity for absentminded pretension. Still, when Professor Waverley Root suggests a student look into a particular source for the term project, said student spends a week with piles of dusty, crumbling books brought up from the stacks at the Bodleian, peering at faded Latin script for any reference at all to the sodding Avalonian apple.

Draco truly hates the fucking fruit.

"No one wears wellies but nans and primary schoolers," Potter says, trying to wipe some of the mud off on the tall grass. He only succeeds in smearing it up over the hem of his jeans. "Why the fuck does anyone live in the country anyway?"

"Because some of us like it." Draco grips the strap of his satchel, settles it a bit more comfortably across his chest as he glares at Potter. "If I left you ought here alone in this field, you'd probably die from lack of Nando's and Waitrose within the hour."

"Sod off, you," Potter says, but he glances up at Draco, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "It's Wimpy I can't live without."

Draco shakes his head, utterly unsurprised. "Your culinary choices are utterly terrifying, Potter. It's no wonder Root assigned you to me for this godawful project."

Potter runs his hands through his hair, squeezing rain from his dark curls. Draco has to look away, but he can feel the warmth that's spreading across his cheeks. Potter's well fit, with his stupid broad shoulders and the way that black jumper clings to his muscular biceps. Not to mention the shift of the jumper over Potter's narrow hips, the ribbed hem sliding up over the worn loops of his jeans, just enough for Draco to catch a tantilising glimpse of dark hair and golden skin, the tautness of a flat stomach and the faint shadow of a bellybutton. It's only been two years, perhaps two and a half max, since Draco's even truly admitted to himself that he prefers sleeping with men, and this ridiculous pash he seems to have developed on Potter of all people is driving him utterly mad. It's this new tutorial they're in this term. Nothing more. This coming spring Draco'll be finishing up his baccalaureus artium in ecological charms with a focus on magical agriculture, and then he won't have to think of Potter ever again. Which is rubbish, really, given how much Potter's in the public eye, and Draco knows it, but Draco has to lie to himself at this point. Just seeing Potter raise one eyebrow at him makes his whole body tense and tingle in ways that don't bear thinking about.

Not here. Not in the middle of a bloody Somerset field. He turns away, hoping to hide his flustered consternation, whilst Potter just laughs that soft rumbly laugh of his that's made Draco's toes curl in every sodding tute they've had together this term.

"As I recall, Root suggested I take you onto my project, Malfoy." Potter gives him a lazy smirk. Draco can't decide if he wants to punch or kiss it off Potter's stupid face, so he glowers instead. Mostly because Draco's sworn to himself that he won't let Potter get a rise out of him, but partially because Potter's right, the bastard. Their tutor had insisted they combine Potter's interest in tracing the historical roots of West Country magical foods with Draco's desire to examine Wiltshire small-batch agricultural production. So now Draco's stuck working with Potter, who doesn't even care about food magic anyway, which only makes Root's betrayal sting worse. Potter's specialising in wizarding cultural history vis-à-vis Muggle tradition and how the two seemingly disparate elements overlap due to the influence of Muggleborn witches and wizards. Draco has to admit, albeit grudgingly, that it's an interesting topic, and one the Ministry's keen on, given the way the Department of Education's been following Potter's thesis process. It's utterly unfair, in Draco's view; the only other student of their cohort at Oxford's wizarding college, Flamel College, who's received more paper prizes than Potter over the past three years has been Granger, and, well, that's to be expected, isn't it? But Potter, on the other hand? It's only because he saved the bloody wizarding world from the likes of that snake-nosed bastard and Draco's father that the Ministry's fawning over him.

Honestly, Draco just wishes the prat had gone into the Aurors like he'd intended. Then Draco might have been able to sink into the anonymity of academia without having the whole country's interest in Potter follow him about. Rita Skeeter'd done a whole set of articles about the students at Flamel College when Potter'd joined their ranks. Needless to say she hadn't been complimentary about Draco. Former Death Eater turned West Country farmer, she'd called him, which isn't what Draco's doing at all.

Then again, Draco's used to his work on sustainable farming charms being overlooked, despite the fact that magical Britain's losing market share to the more industrialised wizarding agricultural complexes that are being endorsed by the ICW in Germany and Bulgaria. Too many of the larger farms across the British countryside had been owned for generations by families who'd been swayed by the Dark Lord's rhetoric--families like Draco's own, families who'd faced financial sanctions after the war, families whose land and properties had been confiscated by the Ministry like the Manor and its freeholds had been. Fields are falling fallow, herds of sheep and cattle are being left to fend for themselves, which, whilst the vegans and vegetarians of British wizarding society might rejoice at, isn't exactly kind to the animals in the long run. The handful of large wizarding farms still in active production are losing ground to the Muggles; one unexpected consequence of the war is younger magical folk shopping in their local Waitrose and Tesco and Sainsburys, rather than the butcher and greengrocers in Diagon. Muggle shops have become rather fashionable, and it's hurting traditional wizarding businesses. The last time Draco'd been into Gilroy's Meats at the corner of Diagon and Eristic, where his father's barrister's located, the elder Mr Gilroy had been bemoaning the drop in custom over the past year or two.

Not to Draco directly, mind. No one in Diagon or any of its myriad side streets ever speaks to Draco unless forced to do so. Even the shopkeeps in Knockturn try to ignore him these days. The Malfoys have fallen so bloody far from grace that even Mr Bourgin and Mr Burke aren't toadying up to Draco any longer, much less showing interest in purchasing any of the few Malfoy antiques Draco and his mother had managed to wrest from the Manor before the Ministry'd taken it over.

But there's no use in whingeing about that, is there? Draco must move forward, must forget there was ever a time when his childhood home wasn't lost. He needs to focus on the future, not the past.

Draco lets his gaze sweep across the field. "It ought to be here," he murmurs, and he pulls his well-worn Barbour tighter around him. The Impervius he'd cast this morning is holding, which is better than he can say for his companion.

Potter's shivering and soaked, his arms folded across his damp jumper, his glasses speckled with drops of rain, the bottom rims fogging up with each breath he takes. He pushes them back up the bridge of his nose with one finger. "Maybe we should just stop for today. Go back to the Alchymist's Delight for a pint and something bloody warm to eat." He hunches over against a blast of wind and rain, his face squinching in discomfort. "This farm obviously doesn't want to be found--"

"That stile over there," Draco says, barely listening to Potter's prattle. The bloody Saviour of the Wizarding World should cast an Impervius and stop slowing them down. Perhaps Draco ought to cast it for him just to shut him up, but really, Draco's a carefully crafted reputation as a tosser and Potter-despiser to uphold, and mother-henning Potter would just undermine that hard work. And, more importantly, make this unholy pash of his obvious to all. Even the myopic Potter. Besides, there are other things to consider at the moment. Draco's caught sight of a narrow set of steps through the hedgerows down the hill, close to the curve of the river again. There's no real reason for it to be there, he thinks, and he starts off across the field, his boots squelching in the mud. He's determined not to have wasted a Saturday afternoon listening to Potter complain, not when he still has half an essay to write for Professor Spink's grasslands production class on the effective use of compost potions.

He can hear Potter slipping and sliding down the hill behind him, bellowing for Draco to wait up. As if Draco would. He might fancy the arsehole, but there's no sense in acting as if he does. To be honest, there's a small, ridiculous part of him that's half-afraid Potter might decide to murder him out here with no one watching. Ninety percent of the country--if not more--wouldn't blame Potter. Not with the faded grey Mark on Draco's arm, the one he keeps well hidden beneath crisp white sleeves and old cashmere jumpers that he's learnt to launder and press and mend on his own now, with no house elves to help. Draco worries about where the elves are now. They hadn't wanted to leave the Manor, but the Ministry had forced them out, just before they warded the gates closed. A few of the older families, ones like the Parkinsons who hadn't been caught up in war, even if they might have supported the Dark Lord's ideals at home, had taken some of them in. The rest scattered, and Draco hopes they've found a place. The elves had half-raised him, after all.

The stile's muddy and slick with rain, but Draco climbs it with ease, looking back as Potter's trainer nearly slips off the top step. His once pristine white laces are grey from being soaked with mud.

"I hate you so bloody much," Potter says, landing in a puddle, and Draco just raises an eyebrow.

"You'll survive." Draco glances back over at the river. It's wider here, and there's a fog rising up from the tree-lined curve, half-hiding the other shore. His breath catches, and he starts forward, his heart a quick thud in his chest. After hours of searching, they might have actually found the damned place.

Potter follows him, and he falls silent as they stop at the top of the riverbank. There's a path down amongst the gnarled tree roots, and branches, heavy with wet red and gold leaves, arch over the river, their riotous colour reflected in the dark depths of the misty water. "Do you think…" Potter trails off, looks over at Draco, who can see his own hope in Potter's raised eyebrows.

"We might as well try." Draco starts down the steep bank. He steadies himself on the roots, but he still half-slides into the mud. It smears across his knuckles, over the knees of his jeans. Potter curses behind him, and Draco hides a small smile.

The only other sound is the soft rush of the water over rocks and fallen branches. Draco can't even see the other riverbank now; the fog's deepened, silenced the usual noises of the countryside. Even the rain is hushed, the wind dying down into almost nothing.

"Look," Potter says, almost in Draco's ear, and Draco shivers, stepping away from the sudden warmth of Potter's breath. He can smell the very Potterness of him, the faint hint of coffee, a whiff of soap, a whisper of sweat. It makes Draco's prick twitch, and he almost misses the small boat--nothing more than a canoe, really, barely big enough for the two of them--that bumps up against the riverbank.

Draco looks up at Potter. "Should we…" He doesn't know if he wants to step into the battered boat or not. It's obviously magical, and he's enough self-preservation to know that trusting a charmed boat might not always be the wisest course of action.

And then Potter's pushing past him, climbing into the boat like the bloody Gryffindor he is, not the faintest bit of concern for their safety in sight. "Come on, then," he says, holding a hand out to Draco, and Draco takes it gingerly, letting Potter help him step into the bobbing contraption of bent, splintered wood. Potter's fingers are warm and thick around Draco's, and if Draco holds onto them a fraction of a second longer than he should, then who's to care? Potter obviously doesn't as he sits down on one of the worn benches, leaning in and picking up a pair of oars that are tucked beneath their feet. "Reckon we have to use our own steam?"

Draco looks across the river, into the fog. "Because, of course, a bloody magical boat can't guide itself, can it?" He takes the oar Potter hands him, his nose wrinkling. He's never been good at this sort of sport; in fact, not that he'll admit it to Potter, Draco's fucking terrified of anything that has to do with water.

"It's the whole idea of having to give a bit up to get something," Potter says, far too cheerfully for Draco's liking. He dips his oar into the river, pushing them off the bank, and Draco's stomach jerks. "It's in all the folklore. Even our potions and charmswork requires us to use some amount of energy. Magic works on a barter system--and if it doesn't, you'd best not trust it."

Really, Potter's not as thick as he'd seemed in school, Draco thinks bitterly. He slides the flat plane of his oar into the water that ripples around the side of the boat; it takes him a moment to sync his movements up with Potter's. The boat tips ever so slightly to the left, and Draco tries not to panic at the thought of falling into the swiftly flowing water. It'd be a pity to drown in a river that only went up to his waist, if that.

"Careful," Potter says, and then they're gliding into the fog, the riverbank disappearing behind them.

A heavy silence falls. Draco can barely hear the splash of the oars into the water, the soft huff of Potter's breath as he rows. The mist is cool against Draco's skin, and the branches above shield them somewhat from the rain that still falls around them, fat droplets that roll through Draco's hairline, trickling down his cheek. And then the bottom of the boat rasps against stones and mud as they strike the opposite riverbank, and the fog breaks just enough for Draco to catch sight of a narrow path between the trees.

"You think that's it?" Potter asks, steadying the boat as Draco clambers out, his boots splashing in the muck of the riverbank. He pushes his wet hair back from his forehead, eyeing the path dubiously.

"We might as well try." Draco doesn't want to go back to Root without something. "It's not as if a boat appeared out of nowhere for no reason at all."

Potter shrugs, and then he's out of the boat, hauling it up onto the bank behind him. His trainers squish wetly in the mud as he leans over the boat, settling the oars beneath the plank seats. He stands, then peers up the bank into the mist, his brows drawing together into an uneasy frown. "It's fucking creepy."

More than, Draco wants to say, but he refuses to let Potter know how spooked he is. It'd been his idea to go looking for the farm and its apple orchard; he can't turn tail and run now. So he steels himself, straightens his shoulders and takes a deep breath before striding up the riverbank path as best he can in wellies that slip across the damp ground, his satchel banging against his hip when he stumbles over a root or a rock.

"Great," Potter murmurs, but he follows Draco, catching up to him easily enough. They walk into the mist, which grows thicker before it begins to fade to away, taking the rain with it. A quarter-mile down the path, and the sky's a bright, brilliant autumn blue against the green and yellow and orange of the trees surrounding them. The air feels crisper, cleaner, warm enough for Draco to unbutton his Barbour, letting it hang open over his grey jumper. There's a brightness to everything that fills Draco's soul, a peace that settles across him. He stops in the middle of the path, draws in a breath. He can smell apples and fresh earth and woodsmoke and that faint muskiness of decay that autumn brings with it. It's brilliant.

"This is amazing." Draco turns, looks around them. The tree line's changing where they stand, the oaks near the river giving way to smaller trees, more gnarled and ancient, planted in neat rows that stretch out as far as Draco can see. "It's Avalon Hill." Draco almost thinks he can see Glastonbury Tor in the distance, but he blinks and it's gone, almost as if the landscape itself is twisting in on them.

Potter shifts from foot to foot. "You're not going to nick anything, are you, Malfoy?" he asks as Draco walks towards one of the apple trees.

"No," Draco says, absently. He reaches up, his fingers brushing one of the twisted branches. "Supposedly these trees were here before Merlin, some of them." The grey bark's rough and warm against his fingertips. "There's a story that the biblical Tree of Life was the first one."

"Medieval rubbish," Potter says. He still sounds uneasy.

Draco doesn't look over at him. "Probably." His thumb brushes one of the apples hanging from the tree. It's heavy and smooth, and Draco can almost taste its sweet tartness against his tongue, can almost hear the crisp snap of its flesh when it's bitten into. The apple calls to him, begs him to eat it. His fingers close around the firm fruit, just as Potter snaps Malfoy behind him.

The moment the apple leaves the branch, the tree shudders, its leaves rustling in what Draco's suddenly aware of as fury. And before he can duck, he and Potter are being pelted from all sides with rotten apples, the mushy fruits exploding against their torsos with more force than Draco would have expected.

"Goddamn it, you wanker," Potter says roughly, and he's pulling Draco down the path, deeper into the orchard, fetid apples pummeling them the entire way.

"Enough of that!" A woman's voice, heavy with a West Country accent, rings out through the orchard, and the flurry of putrid fruit stops, although not without an angry rustle of branches and leaves.

Draco and Potter both draw up sharply when the woman steps out from between two rows of trees, tall and broad-shouldered, her long silver hair plaited around her head, her jeans worn and filthy, her red plaid shirt unbuttoned over a white ribbed vest. She sets down a wooden basket of apples and frowns at them as she takes off a pair of large brown suede gloves. "You two plonkers scrumping me apples?"

Draco looks down at the apple still clutched in his fingers. "No," he says, but then a slightly squishy sphere slams against his left arsecheek, rather painfully, and he yelps. Another hits him just between the shoulder blades a moment afterwards.

Potter winces, reaching over to brush the fragments of mushy apple from Draco's back. "Just admit it." His hand skims Draco's arse, over the waxed cotton of his coat, and Draco's breath nearly stops. A rush of heat goes through his face, and he looks away, his stomach suddenly fluttering madly.

Another rustle of leaves from behind him, and Draco finds himself holding the apple out to the woman. She takes it from him with an amused quirk of her lips. Draco wipes his fingertips across his jeans. "I mean, yes, I took it, but it wasn't intentional." Potter pokes him in the side, eyeing him firmly, and Draco glares back, before shifting away. "It's just…" He hesitates.

"We're hoping to speak to the owner of Avalon Hill," Potter says, stepping forward. He holds out his hand; the woman takes it without hesitation. "We're students from Flamel College--"

"Oxford, yeah?" the woman asks, eyeing them curiously. She drops her hand, resting it on her hip. Her face is lined and brown, as if she's spent most of her years in the sun, and her eyes are a bright icy blue.

Potter nods. "I'm Harry Potter, and this is Draco Malfoy. We're working on a project regarding magical foods of the West Country, and we're interested in talking to someone about the historical production of the Avalonian apple." He sounds sincere, Draco thinks, and much less likely to steal from the orchard. Draco's arse still hurts.

The woman studies them both for a moment, then she nods. "Mair Lefay. I live up the hill. The trees've been mine and me family's for quite some time now." Her mouth quirks up on one side. "Or we've been theirs, I might say. They've a terrible temper, the awful twats." Lefay reaches out, taps her fingers against one of the branches gently. It jerks at her touch, then a willow twig wraps itself around her hand, the leaves brushing over her skin. "Not so fond of strangers, they're not."

And at that, Draco feels a right idiot. "I'm sorry," he starts to say, but Lefay waves his apology off.

"It's the magic," she says, and she leans down, picks up her basket of apples. "Makes you want to eat them up." Lefay pulls an apple from her basket, tosses it to Draco. He catches it easily. "There's one, fair given from me to you. Next time, just ask the trees first." She turns, starts down the path before glancing back at them. "Well, on with you, then. The scrumpy'll not be drinking 'eeself."

Draco exchanges a long look with Potter, then they follow Lefay through the orchard, up the long hill towards a cottage perched at the summit, sprawling and white and properly thatched. Draco thinks it looks like something out of one of the folktales Mother used to read to him as a child. "How long do you think she's lived here?" he murmurs to Potter.

Potter shakes his head. His hands are shoved in his pockets; he's watching Lefay walk the path in front of them, far more spryly than her age might suggest. "Arthurian legend suggests that Morgan le Fay was an immortal queen of Avalon," he says after a moment, his voice low. "Mair to Morgan? Not so far off."

"You're mad." Draco gives Potter an incredulous look. "Merlin's greatest magical nemesis didn't end up running a bloody apple farm in Somerset, for fuck's sake."

"But wouldn't it be brilliant it she did?" The smile Potter gives him is wide and bright and makes Draco's knees wobble a bit as he strides up the hill behind Lefay. He stumbles, and Potter steadies him with a hand to his elbow. Draco pulls away, his face heating. He puts a good foot or two between himself and Potter.

The view from the top of the hill is magnificent. The Somerset countryside is spread out beneath them in an explosion of autumn colours, and the River Brue shines in the sunlight. "The rain's passed," Draco marvels, and Lefay chuckles as she unlatches the half door, her basket of apples balanced on her hip.

"Nah, it's still there, me 'ansum." She sets the basket down on a chair beside the door and waves them into the cottage's kitchen. "The hill's in a charm what keeps it sunny save when the trees need to do some drinking." She looks over her shoulder. "Or they're in a bit of a mood."

Whitewashed walls and a red gingham tablecloth make the kitchen bright and airy. Apples are everywhere, and there's a pot of jam bubbling on the hob. The scent of cinnamon and ginger hangs in the air, a perfect harbinger of autumn, and when Potter brushes past him, Draco realises Potter's jumper and hair are dry now, same as his own. He looks down at the small apple clutched in his hand, and he turns it between his fingers. It's a deep, lovely crimson, with only the faintest hint of green at the stem. His thumb smoothes across the dimpled surface, and he can't stop himself from lifting the apple to his mouth and biting in.

Draco's never tasted anything like it. It's tart and sharp, and juice runs over his fingers. When he licks it away, the tartness fades into a lightly sweet taste, crisp and appley in the best of ways. He closes his eyes, chews, swallows. "Circe," he murmurs, and when his eyes flutter open again, Potter's staring at him with a curiously stunned look on his face, and Lefay's watching them both, her mouth quirked up at one corner.

"A bit of all right?" Lefay asks, and Draco nods.

He hands the apple to Potter. "You really ought to try this." He's no idea how they're going to describe it to Root; Draco's certain he's ruined for any other type of apple.

Potter takes it from Draco's sticky hand, almost hesitantly. He turns it between his own thick fingers before lifting it up, taking a bite just next to the divot of creamy flesh Draco's teeth had left in the apple's skin.

Draco licks the remnants of juice from his fingertips, watching as Potter's face changes. He can see the awe cross Potter's face, the realisation he's just eaten something utterly magnificent. Potter hesitates, almost as if he's going to hand the apple back again, and then he takes another quick bite, the apple's taut skin snapping beneath his white teeth.

"You could almost believe in Snow White's poisoned apple," Draco says, and Lefay laughs.

"This one won't drop you dead." Lefay walks over to the hob, stirs the jam with a wide slotted wooden spoon. "But 'ee makes brilliant jam, and even better scrumpy." With a snap of her fingers, two bottles fly from the cabinet in the corner, landing on the kitchen table. "Have a taste."

Potter's already reaching for them both. He opens the crimped bottle caps against the ginghamed side of the table, then sits at one of the slat-backed chairs. He raises an eyebrow at Draco. "Scared, Malfoy?"

"You wish." Draco drops into the chair across from Potter, takes the other bottle Potter's holding out. The scrumpy gleams a pale gold through the thick glass, only a bit cloudy, and Draco turns the bottle between his hands. He's half-hesitant to take a sip.

Which Potter is most certainly not. He lifts his bottle to his mouth and takes a long pull off it, tilting his head back as he swallows. The scrumpy's almost the same gold as his skin, and his fingers are thick and wide curled around the smooth glass of the bottle. Draco can't help but watch Potter, mesmerised by the stretch of Potter's throat, by the drag of Potter's tongue across his lower lip as he sets the bottle back down. "That's good cider," Potter says, and Lefay turns from the hob, beaming at him.

"Old family recipe," she says, and she wipes her hands on a ratty tea towel celebrating Diana and Charles' wedding. It must be twenty years old now, nearly as old as Draco himself, and the threadbare fabric looks every day of it. Lefay picks up a loaf of bread and a small jar of apple jam that's already been canned. She carries them over to the table and sets them down, before pulling a serrated knife and a spoon from the heavy walnut hutch in the corner. "What's it you want with me apples?" she asks as she sits down and cuts a slice of bread, smearing it thickly with the jam before she passes it to Draco. When he bites into it, he can't help the soft moan that escapes, even as Potter gives him an amused glance.

"You all right there, Malfoy?" Potter asks, and Draco just flicks two fingers his way, too eager for another bite of the appley, cinnamony jam to care what Potter thinks. Potter just laughs, then turns his attention back to Lefay. "We're helping out our prof," he says. "He wants to write an encyclopedia of sorts, on the food of magical Britain, and he's sent his students out to scout around as part of our requirements for his course--"

"And ee has you looking about for me trees." Lefay cuts another slice of bread, smearing it with jam before she hands it to Potter who shrugs and nods as he takes it from her. "I sell jam down in Salisbury Market most Tuesdays and Saturdays, and the scrumpy too. Down Diagon as well, for the wizarding folk. Rees' Greengrocers, though they're not selling as well as they used to." She frowns. "Georgie--he's the bloke what runs the shop for old Rees--says folks don't want the wizarding foods these days. It's all Walker's and Strongbow and Ginster's for them, and whilst I likes me a good prawn crisp now and then, it's leaving us traditional folk out on a limb what's being sawed off behind us."

Draco takes a sip of the scrumpy. It's strong, much stronger than he'd expected, given that his cider of choice is actually Strongbow, and he coughs after his first swallow, his eyes watering a bit. Potter snorts from across the table, and Draco scowls at him, lifting his bottle for another quick swig. This one's easier, smoother now that he's used to it, and Draco has to admit it's a bloody brilliant cider. He downs another swallow before looking over at Lefay. "So the farm's suffering?"

Lefay doesn't answer, not at first. She tears a scrap of bread between her fingers, letting the crumbs fall onto the tablecloth, and then she sighs. "In more ways than you mean, lad." She looks over at Draco, and her face is grim, drawn. "Losing Galleons, yes, but that'll sort itself. It's more the trees I worry about. The less scrumpy and jam and pies people buy from me, the fewer the apples I can use. They just rot on the trees, and make 'em cranky sods, and when the next season comes about, I've half my crop from the year before because the trees can't be arsed. And with no apples, they shrivel up until they're barely alive. I've lost me a good quarter of the orchard these past few years." She shakes her head, her eyes closing for the briefest of moments, and Draco gets the sense that she feels the trees' pain. Profoundly, even. When she looks back at him, the lines on her face are deeper, etched into her sunwarmed skin, making her look older, dangerous, and Draco can almost believe Potter's inane theory that Mair Lefay is the ancient Morgana, the fierce, furious witch who'd faced down her old lover Merlin himself to protect the isle of Avalon. Her voice is quiet, vehement, when she says, "I won't let that happen again."

Draco's certain she won't. They sit silently in the kitchen, the pot of jam on the hob bubbling and popping, the black cat clock on the wall ticking, its pendulum tail swinging from side to side. Draco knows what it's like to lose something you love. He feels the absence of the Manor every day, that loss of his home, of his history, of everything that made him feel a Malfoy. He swallows, looks away. Takes another drink of the scrumpy. He's furious at his father. At his mother. At himself, really, and he knows he deserves to be locked up in Azkaban alongside Lucius. He'd been just as responsible as his father had been. Without Draco's idiocy, Dumbledore might still be alive. Vince too, and countless others whose families had been affected by Draco's inability to stand up for himself. To tell his parents no. To do anything except what he'd been told to do, to believe anything except what he'd been brought up to believe. To be his own man.

And now that he's trying to be better, what good has he done? No one will listen to him, even if someone like Potter tolerates him. Draco'll always have the stench of Death Eater on him. There's nothing that will ever change that.

When the timing charm on the hob goes off, Lefay pushes herself to her feet. "Drink up, lads," she says. "Might be the last chance for me scrumpy you have."

"Hey," Potter says softly, his foot nudging Draco's beneath the table. He's watching Draco, his brows drawn together. "Something wrong?"

Everything, Draco wants to say with a wild laugh, but instead he just shakes his head, picks up his bottle again. He knows he owes his freedom to Potter. Bloody Gryffindor that he is, Potter'd paid his life-debt to Mother and spoken up for them both at the hearings. It'd been because of Potter's testimony that Draco'd been kept from Azkaban, been allowed to return to Hogwarts the next year with the other seventh years who'd wished to complete their studies properly. Because of Potter, Draco'd made friends of a sort with Granger that year, to Pansy's great dismay, and it'd been Granger that had convinced him to apply to Flamel.

Draco just hadn't expected Potter to show up to Oxford that autumn as well. He was supposed to be an Auror, not a scholar, and now look at Draco, utterly idiotic in the way his heart quickens every time Potter's near.

Really, he's a fool, and Draco knows it. His friends remind him on a regular basis, and he can't argue. Not any longer. Not with how his hand trembles as he raises the scrumpy again as Potter watches him, that look on his face that one might almost say was worry, if one didn't know Potter.

"I'm fine," Draco finally manages, but it's clear Potter doesn't believe him. Draco doesn't care what Potter thinks. He will be fine. He always is, in the long run. He hasn't any other choice, after all.

Draco shifts in his chair. He can feel the scrumpy going to his head. He's barely eaten today, if one doesn't count a few bites of apple and a slice of bread and jam. And Draco's never been able to handle cider that well. Wine, yes, lager, fine, whisky, even better. But cider's his downfall, fuzzing his brain more quickly than any other drink known to an Englishman. Good, he thinks. Pissed is better than pathetic any day.

He raises his bottle and drinks.

***

"This tart's rather good, Abbott."

Draco's brain us still banging against the inside of his skull in the worst way, despite the two paracetamol Potter'd foisted on him when they'd returned back to Oxford an hour ago. He swirls his spoon meditatively through the remnants of bourbon vanilla sauce and pumpkin custard smeared across his plate. It's an understatement--the dessert is fucking fantastic, and brilliant for a cold autumn evening when Draco's indulged far too much in drink all day.

The others crowded around the scarred corner table in the pub are practically moaning with delight. It's a bloody dessert orgy, Draco thinks, at least from the sound of it. Granger is methodically demolishing her slice with a soft, happy sigh after each bite. Potter has a particularly rapt, nearly orgasmic look to his face that hurts Draco to watch too long, not to mention that the sight of his chapped lips closing around mouthfuls of custard and crust are making Draco's trousers feel rather snug. Merlin, but he needs a shag. It's been months now, since the end of Trinity term in June, and that had just been a half-pissed tumble with a Muggle post-grad in biochem whom Draco had met down the Eagle and Child after exams. It's not his usual pub, but Draco hadn't wanted to expose himself to the taunts and whispers of his friends whilst he tried to pull. He's not that much of a masochist, after all.

Hannah Abbott gives Draco a conspiratorial wink as she leans over the end of the table where Dracos' sat on a narrow chair that's only slightly better than the circular bench the others are perched on. She sets a second sliver of tart in front of Potter, her hand resting on Potter's shoulder for a moment that makes Draco half-hate her. "You should thank Our Nev over there. It's his family's recipe." Her gaze softens as she glances Longbottom's way, and Draco tries not to roll his eyes. The two of them have been dancing around each other for a good year now, and it's ridiculously obvious. They ought to just shag and be done with it. Roll their die, see where the bloody Snaps explode, that sort of thing, rather than forcing the rest of them to endure their awkward mating dance.

Draco's far too pissed still from the bloody scrumpy to care if any of his metaphors are making sense. Or if, even, they're metaphors to begin with.

Longbottom just laughs from across the table. "Don't let Aunt Augusta know," he says, his spoon poised in mid-air. "But I think yours is better." The look he gives Abbott is half-smitten.

Circe. The fucking sexual tension between them is palpable. Draco wants to just lock them both in the pub loo and tell them to get on with it. Make those chubby-cheeked babies they seemed destined to produce. Whatever, he thinks balefully, as he drains the dregs of his lager.

Abbott's face pinkens, and she glances away from Longbottom with a faint cough. "Right then," she says briskly, her barmaid coming out. "Who needs another drink? I'll do you all a solid and bring you a round, if you like. Not so certain Potter and Malfoy ought to be carrying anything back from the bar in the condition they're in."

"Oi," Potter says through a mouthful of tart. "I'm not sozzled."

He might not be, but Draco's had three bottles of scrumpy and a pint of lager since mid-afternoon, and whilst Draco's not humiliatingly legless, not yet at least, he's still well on his way to being if he keeps drinking. Nevertheless, Draco raises his mostly empty pint towards Hannah, as do the rest of the group. Longbottom's looking awkward and uncertain in the daft way only he can, although Draco has to admit Longbottom's grown up rather fit, all things considered. The pudgy round face of his youth has given way to sharp cheekbones and a broad, angled jaw, covered with just the right amount of stubble, and Draco's not adverse to letting his thoughts linger a moment or two on the curve of Longbottom's mouth whilst he's in the middle of a wank session. Not that he'll admit that to anyone. He's not that much of a fool. Besides, Longbottom and Abbott have been exchanging glances all afternoon since the wizarding food foragers arrived for their regular weekly whinge session about their work for Professor Root's bloody class.

Merlin, Draco can't wait to book his degree ceremony next summer.

Abbott collects a pile of plates, balancing them on her tray before she reaches for Draco's pint glass.

"I'll help," Longbottom volunteers, and he's on his feet, taking glasses from the lot of them, stacking the pints into two towers. Miraculously, he doesn't break a one on his way through the tables. Draco supposes some things have changed.

"So," Padma Patil says as she leans across the table, Luna Lovegood by her side. "How'd the foraging go today?"

Granger brushes her wiry curls back from her forehead. She looks tired; the puffy dark circles beneath her eyes are more pronounced today. "Don't even talk to me about it," she says with a wave of her slim brown hand. "I'll tell you a secret--I don't give a fucking damn about the range of Thundering Cloudberry in Scotland." A set of thin gold bangles glint from her brown wrist in the dim light from the iron lantern hanging over their table. "Really, I've no idea how Root expects us to find everything on his bloody lists. It's impossible."

"I don't know," Potter says. He sets his fork down on his plate. "Malfoy and I managed all right."

Draco snorts. "In the middle of a sodding rainstorm." They all glance out the narrow, diamond-paned window behind Lovegood's shoulder.

The October rain's still lashing the bubbled glass, but the small wizarding pub tucked away off Oxford's Queen Street behind the Carfax Tower is snug and warm. The weather's not the only reason they're all lingering after meeting for a pint at their local. It's cosy here, compared to their tiny rooms in Flamel, and there's something comforting about gathering together, the way they've grown accustomed to. It hadn't been like this at the beginning of their first year; they'd all been in their own groups--all of which Draco had been on the outskirts of, although Granger'd been more willing than most to have him sit at her table in their common room to study. By the end of their second year's Michaelmas term, they'd started meeting in The Alchymist's Delight several nights a week. It'd been run down and shabby, with terrible beer and even worse food, but it'd been theirs, mostly. Tom from the Leaky'd inherited it ages ago from one of his great-aunts, but he'd never much cared for it. He'd just hired a succession of disinterested barkeeps to come in after courses ended for the day to slosh pints of subpar lager down the bar towards thirsty Flamelians. And then Abbot had shown up last June before exams, cheerfully telling them all that Tom had hired her to take on the pub's day-to-day management, and everything'd changed.

Now the once grimy-black wood panels along the walls are shining a deep gold after being scoured down to the ancient oak grain with every cleaning charm known to wizardkind. Draco should know: he'd helped cast some of them himself during a long summer weekend when Abbott asked them all to help with the renovations. The stone floor's buffed--Draco's boots no longer stick to the pavers when he goes to the bar to pick up his round--and the heavy iron sconces and lamps casting a flickering light over the rickety tables have been blacked and polished. Nothing smells like sick any longer, and the loo's sparkling clean for the first time since Draco'd arrived in Oxford.

However, in Draco's opinion, the best change Abbott's made is in the food. It's pub fare still, hearty and warm and delightfully comfortingly British. But Abbott's elevated it a notch, taking it from the bland tasteless shite the Alchymist's had been before she'd got her hands on it. Just a week ago, she'd brought out a new autumn menu, and privately, Draco thinks that old Tom from the Leaky'd best watch out for his post. Tonight Abbott had served them an excellent cottage pie before the triumphant pumpkin tart, and she's brought a small but excellent selection of local ale and beer options on draft now, rather than limiting herself to one brewery.

It hadn't taken much Slytherin manipulation for Draco to turn Abbott onto Greg Goyle, who's been trying to establish his own microbrewery for the past two years. Greg's a brilliant brewmaster, with a nuanced palate for developing well-balanced beers; Draco's even convinced his mother to invest in Greg's venture, as well as tucking away a bit of his trust fund from Grandfather Abraxas into Greg's unitanks and brew kettles. It's been a long process, but Draco's certain it's about to pay off. Greg's been working on a house brew for the Alchymist, one that will complement Abbott's culinary vision for the little pub. If Greg can please her, then Abbott's already promised to convince Tom to add his porter to the Leaky's roster.

Longbottom returns from the battle-scarred, dark wood bar, four pint glasses in hand. He distributes them amongst the table; Draco takes his with relief. He's still too bloody sober for a Friday night sat across the table from Potter. Abbot draws new pints, but her attention is definitely on their table, not on the draft. She spills the foam at least twice, which is unusual for her.

The door bangs open, and the new crop of first year Flamelians bursts in, looking far too young and exuberant for Draco's liking. One of the girls hangs onto the arm of a pretty lad, his dark hair somehow even messier and curlier than Potter's. She laughs at something he says as she winds her scarf from around her neck, then she says, "Get us a pint, will you, Tommy?"

"Anything for you, babe," Tommy says, and Draco half-thinks he might sick up a bit in his mouth.

Love is in the air, it seems, and Draco's sulk has a tinge of bitterness. For others, at least, if not for him. Granger's been practically sharing her Flamel room with Weasley since Hilary Term last year, with all the profs turning a blind eye to Weasley sneaking past the porter almost every night. Odds favour a summer wedding if she doesn't go on for a postgrad abroad. Maybe earlier if she manages to get herself up the duff, which Blaise predicts. Draco's put a Galleon down with Seamus Finnigan for next July, right before Potter's birthday.

Not that Draco's supposed to know when that is, mind.

He categorically refuses to look Potter's way, even though he knows Potter's tanned cheeks are flushed prettily and his green eyes are sparkling with drink and the flame of the sconce next to the table. How anyone in his cups as much as Potter can be this attractive, Draco hasn't a clue. He's been complaining to Pansy for months now about this stupid schoolboy pash on Potter, and going out in the field the past few weeks with the bespectacled git hasn't made it any easier. Professor Root be damned. Potter's been affable and clueless for most of the time they've worked together, and Draco loathes him for it. Or he loathes Root for putting him in this position. Probably a bit of both, if he's honest, along with a good dash of self-hatred for his own stupidity every time he glances at Potter and gets that awful fluttering feeling deep in his stomach.

"Well, we're all bollocksed," Patil says as Abbott sets a fresh pint of bitters in front of her. "At least Luna and I are."

"Come again?" Abbot's brown eyebrows knit together, as Lovegood gives a soft groan of agreement.

"It's the course," Lovegood says, her voice light, and in the flickering candlelight, she looks almost ethereal, like Draco's Grandmother Cressida, although Draco supposes he shouldn't be surprised by that. Her father was cousin to Lucius, after all, through Cressida's family. Not that Draco's father would ever admit to that, unless pressed. He despises Xenophilius with all his being. Then again, Lucius is locked away in Azkaban, and Xenophilius is still editing the Quibbler, so point to the Lovegood side of the family tree. "We're collecting samples for our tutor--"

Patil wrinkles her nose. "To use for his own work on British wizarding culture." She lifts her pint. "And he's American at that--"

"Or claims to be," Granger says. She frowns into her glass. "I have my doubts."

Potter tosses a balled-up paper napkin across the table at her. "Conspiracy theorist, you."

"His accent slips all the time," Granger protests as she throws the napkin back at Potter. "Besides, there's something odd about him."

"Like he's old as dirt," Draco says.

Potter just rolls his eyes. "Because that's strange. Anyway, he had to fake his death in the Muggle world so he didn't raise any questions about being as spry as he is at his age."

Draco flicks two fingers Potter's way. "Teacher's pet," he murmurs, and Potter snorts.

"What I want to know is, if he's not a Brit, why the bloody hell does he want to write on British food?" Patil barely acknowledges the others' interruptions. "And the Ministry's given him a fucking Wizarding Heritage grant--"

"He has written on other cuisines," Potter points out. He rubs his fingers through his hair, leaving it standing on end. Somehow he still manages to look good. "Root's famous for writing about Muggle food. My cousin Dudley's read his Food of Italy, and he said it was brill." He looks over at Draco for some odd reason. "He's on a course to become a chef."

Granger reaches for her glass. "Possibly the best career choice for him."

"Dudders does like his food," Potter agrees. "But Root's a brilliant cultural historian, both in the Muggle and the wizarding realms. You can't argue that."

"Well, we could," Draco says, a bit dryly. "But you'll just argue back at us all."

Potter's grin is quick and bright and nearly knocks the breath right out of Draco's chest. "Probably." And that's the Potter Draco's attracted to, that hidden intellect beneath the Gryffindor dullard, the sharp mind that Draco's seen in the few classes they've shared along the way. And if he's honest with himself, which Draco's tried to be in recent years, he knows he signed up for Root's tutorial not only because it promised a historical grounding in British culinary practices which he'd wanted for his thesis work, but also because he'd known Potter was interested in taking it as a cultural history credit and Draco can't bear the idea that come next autumn he'll never share another tutorial or seminar at Flamel with Potter again.

At that thought, Draco looks away, his throat thick. Raw. He downs another swallow of beer to hide it. "All I know," he says after a moment, "is genius or not, we've a month left in Michaelmas term, and the only bits of culinary history in the West Country you and I've managed to locate are the bottles of booze I've tucked away in my satchel." Lefay had let him take the scrumpy for Root; Draco's not certain they'll actually make it to the professor's room on Monday. He sets his glass down; the brown beer sloshes up the side. "So count me in the camp of we're all fucked if we don't step up."

"You're not wrong." Granger wipes a spot of foam off of her upper lip. She's managed to down a third of her glass in one swallow, making Draco feel rather the lightweight. "Professor Root wants preliminary results by Wednesday, and we've no hope of satisfying his exacting standards."

A groan goes up around the table. Even Lovegood looks a bit hopeless.

Patil frowns. "Honestly, he's worse than Snape ever was."

Draco's stomach twists, his fingers tighten on his glass. It still hurts to think about Snape. The others here around this table will never know what Draco's Head of House meant to him, how Snape was the only reason Draco's here with them today. Snape had kept Draco alive, kept Draco from losing himself completely on his father's path to destruction. Draco still misses him. Desperately. He lifts his glass, takes another swallow to hide the quiver of his lip, the tightness of his jaw. One day the grief will ease, Draco thinks. For all of them.

And Potter's leaning forward, his elbows on the table, utterly unaware of Draco's inner turmoil. "I don't think you and Nev have a problem, Hermione. Root's already praised your mushroom gathering talents, and he loved that floating cheese thingy you found." Potter glances over at Draco and his lips curling up in the beginning of a smile. Draco's heart skips a beat. "Like Malfoy says, all we've got," Potter say, "is wizarding scrumpy."

"That's Avalonian scrumpy, you twat." Draco rubs his hip reflexively. "I still have a bruise on my backside the size of a dinner plate from that expedition." Draco knows he's exaggerating for effect; he'd checked when he went to the loo, and the purpling mark on his arse is more of a saucer size.

"Well, you could always drop trou and show Root how dedicated the both of you are," Granger says with a wicked gleam in her brown eyes. "He might give you extra marks."

"Full ones, one might even hope." Lovegood laughs into her lager as Granger nods approvingly and Draco sinks into his seat, wondering if he might disappear beneath the table without anyone noticing. But then Lovegood turns her crystalline gaze on Draco. "You've a lovely arse, you know. Rather round and pert."

Draco stares at her open-mouthed and horrified, whilst Potter splutters the sip he was about to take. A spot of foam from his pint flies onto the table. In the back of the pub, the Floo flares to life, casting a bright green glow over the tables closest to the hearth. Draco glances over just in time to see a familiar dark bob pop up from beneath the chimneypiece, followed by a bright ginger head. His gaze darts towards the clock ticking away over the bar, its face one round Ogden's ad. It's almost six, he realises in surprise.

"All right there, Harry?" Coming up to the table, Ron Weasley shifts his work satchel, depositing it on the floor. He's still in his Auror uniform with its red piping along the charcoal grey wool jacket. He eyes the empty glasses on the table. "We need more beer. Shall I buy?"

"Please," Patil says, holding out her glass. Weasley takes it with a wink as Patil turns back towards Potter. "Although I must admit I'm intrigued by this idea of Harry's trousers around his ankles." She props her chin up on her fist. "Or the merits of Malfoy's arse, for that matter."

"Having seen Draco's arse far more times than I'd like," Pansy says, striding up behind Weasley's broad shoulder, "I can vouch that it's middling at best. Blaise's is much tighter." She brushes her short, dark hair back behind the pale shell of her ears, her sharp gaze speculative as it darts between Draco and Potter. "But, really, who are you dropping your trousers for this time, Potter?" Like Weasley, she's kept her Auror uniform on, but her jacket's unbuttoned, open to the tight white camisole beneath. Draco catches a glimpse of the ivory lace edging of her bra, just as Potter does, he's aware, which only makes Draco glare harder at Pansy as she sits on the bench between Granger and Potter. Pansy just gives Draco a bland smile, crossing her black-booted legs one over the other under the table as Draco narrows his eyes at her. "Shall we alert Witch Weekly that you're off the market?" Her long hair's twisted up into a knot on the nape of her neck, but a wisp has slipped out. She curls it around her finger, eyeing Potter. "But really, is there someone special in your life these days?" Her gaze flicks over towards Draco; his cheeks heat.

"Just Professor Root," Lovegood says with a laugh. She's definitely starting to get sloshed, Draco thinks, as she presses her fingertips to her lips to hide a faint burp. "Hermione thought it might improve Harry's marks."

At that, Pansy's perfectly groomed eyebrow goes up. "And are we sure Root would be Potter's type? I've always thought he'd look good with a blond on his arm." Draco wants to kick her beneath the table, but Potter's legs are in the way. "The snottier, the better, wouldn't you say, Draco?"

"I'm going to smother you in your sleep," Draco says beneath his breath, and Pansy just laughs as Potter coughs again and Longbottom helpfully pounds him on the back.

"Sod you all," Potter says finally, his face flushed a bright red. "I'm dropping trou for exactly no one, and the whole lot of you know it." He doesn't look at Draco, thank Merlin. Draco hates it when their friends try to joke about the two of them. It's only because they're not coupled off with anyone, he knows that. And they're both bent. Evidently every man who fancies men must be interested in the other.

Except Draco is interested in Potter, however much he'd like to hide it, and he's afraid his friends can see that, perhaps a bit too well. At least Potter's oblivious, although in some ways that's worse.

"What a pity," Pansy says, eyeing Potter with a smirk. "I've heard you're always so much more relaxed when you do."

Draco's rather certain the glare he gives Pansy must match Granger's appalled look. "Pansy Elizabeth--"

"What?" Pansy's widened eyes are innocent. She's a wretched liar. "I'm just saying what Weasley's told me--"

"Oi, Parks," Weasley calls from the bar. "You want a pint or a Negroni?"

Pansy turns on the bench. "A Negroni, obviously, you idiot." She looks back at Granger. "He needs better training, you know. How he can't remember what I drink from one week to another?" She throws her hands up in the air. "Have I ever ordered a pint?"

Granger just shakes her head, the way she often does when Pansy's about. Draco thinks she might hex Pans if it weren't obvious that Pansy's more interested in Patil than her partner. "I try." She sounds a bit exasperated.

"Try harder." Pansy's gaze flicks across the table towards Patil who winks at her. "I'm stuck with him all day. Do you know how many times he blames his wind on me and thinks it's utterly hysterical?" She points her finger at Granger. "He's foul."

Granger snorts and rolls her eyes over the rim of her glass. "Wednesday night he tried to tell me it was the dog."

Potter looks up. His flush has only just begun to fade. "You don't have a dog."

"My point exactly," Granger says as Weasley comes back with another round of pints on a tray. He starts to pass them around the table, then looks up at them all.

"What?" he asks as Patil and Lovegood try to hide their laughter. Granger just shakes her head, takes the glass her boyfriend hands her.

Potter picks up his new pint. His eyes are too bright, and his cheeks are pink. Draco wonders who's going to cut him off. Probably no one, really. Potter can drink them all under the table when he wants to. "They're talking about your farts."

"They're rather epic." Weasley grins at him. "Want me to show--"

"No," the entire table, save Potter, choruses, and Weasley shrugs.

"Your loss," he says, setting the last pint down in front of Draco.

Pansy turns her frown on Weasley. "And where's my Negroni?" Her voice is sharp, her frown intimidating. Draco'd hate to sit across from her in an interrogation. Pansy's always been good at getting people to give her what she wants. Information, drinks, sex. Anything, really. "Honestly, Ronald--"

"I'm getting it, woman." Weasley picks the tray up and heads back to the bar. "Merlin. It's not like Hannah didn't have to stir it up, you impatient wench."

"No excuses." With a twist of her hand, Pansy waves him away, before calling out, "And bring some crisp packets--not the prawns, the ones Granger won't complain about."

Weasley flicks two fingers back over his shoulder.

Granger watches him go. "Usually he whinges more when I send him back," she muses, before glancing over at Pansy. "Nice work, Parkinson."

Pans gives Granger a small smile. "It's those years of Dawlish shouting in my ear. Just ask me what I can get Draco to do."

"Fuck off," Draco says, his hands cupped around his pint, but he feels a flutter of affection for Pansy. She's been his rock since the war ended, one of the few people he can trust implicitly with everything he's feeling.

To be honest, Draco's never quite understood why Pansy decided to go into the Aurors. There are so many other things she could be doing, but she'd been determined after their eighth year to be taken onto the force. She'd fought for it even, and when she'd made it through training last June, she'd been top of her class. One of the best recruits they'd had in years, Shacklebolt had said, and the Head Auror had paired her with Weasley two months ago. In Draco's opinion, it's an unholy alliance, mostly because he's fairly certain Pansy's told Weasley he fancies Potter. Not that Weasley's said anything to him, and Pansy denies it every time he gets smashed and confronts her on it. But still, Weasley watches Draco in a way Draco doesn't entirely like, as if he knows something Draco doesn't want him to.

Weasley comes back with Pansy's cocktail and five packets of cheese and onion crisps that he throws across the table. "Budge up," he says, as he sets the Negroni in front of Pans.

They all shift around the table, Granger making room for Weasley on the circular bench. Draco's grateful for his chair, pulled up to the end of the table.

"You have to trade seats with me, Draco," Pansy says, lifting her drink. "I have to leave shortly for dinner with Blaise." Before Draco can protest that Blaise hasn't firecalled him about dinner, she says, a bit blithely, "He invited you, but I didn't mention it because I need to hear the goss about his new girlfriend and he won't tell me everything if you're there." She looks over at Potter and says, "Draco always gets so squeamish when we talk about fannies and tits."

"Oh," Potter says, with an amused glance Draco's way.

Draco doesn't even bother to protest, mostly because it's true. "It loses its mystique when she asks me to help her with a waxing charm every time she wants to have sex." He frowns at Pansy. "Which is more frequently than one might expect."

"Jealousy doesn't suit you, Draco." Pansy rolls her eyes and stands, her Negroni cupped in one hand, bright pink fingernails tapping against the glass. She steps over the bench. "Come on."

"I'm sure there's no room there for me." Draco is more worried by the fact that moving from the chair will put him next to Potter, who is eyeing them both. Draco can see Potter start to shift, wants to tell the stupid berk to stop being so helpful. "Your arse is smaller."

Pansy's mouth twitches. "Flatterer." She snaps her fingers. "Get up."

"It's fine, Malfoy." Potter slides a bit to the left, making a bit more space between his side and Granger's. He pats the seat beside him. "There's plenty of room."

Draco doubts it sincerely. Longbottom's looking a bit pinched in the corner beside Lovegood, although Granger's basically on Weasley's lap now. Draco knows all Pansy wants is to sit beside Patil and flirt. And to make Draco excruciatingly uncomfortable in the process. He glares at his soon-to-be-former best friend.

"Stop pussyfooting around, Draco," Pansy says with a laugh. Coward, she mouths when no one's looking her way. Go sit next to him.

Reluctantly, Draco leaves the safety of the chair, clutching his pint glass. His eyes are shooting daggers at Pansy. The cow pretends not to notice, but reads the specials menu lazily.

"The fig and almond tart looks good," she observes mildly. "Although I might just have the truffle chips."

"Don't spoil your dinner," Draco says acidly, brushing past her as she takes his chair.

"Shan't." Pansy flips him off casually with two fingers, not even looking up from the menu.

Draco squeezes into the narrow space left next to Potter, their thighs pressing together. A rush of longing goes through him, heady and deep, momentarily taking his breath away.

"Here," Potter's voice is against his ear. He pushes a red Ogden's beer mat towards Draco, reaching and grabbing another from the opposite side of the table. Their hands brush as Draco sets his glass down on the mat.

"Ta," Draco says, unsure entirely of what to do. It's hard enough to socialise with Potter without making an idiot of himself. But now Potter is far, far too close for his comfort and what with the pints Draco's drinking and scrumpy that's still in his system and the warm nearness of Potter, he's afraid he might do something terribly stupid, like lean over and lick the golden length of Potter's throat, and however would Draco recover from that humiliation?

Potter just smiles, and, fuck, how can someone smell as good as he does? Draco knows Potter's been rambling across half of Somerset, and he's sweaty and grimy, and Merlin, Draco wants to bury his face in Potter's jumper and breathe the warm earthiness of him in.

Weasley puts an arm around Grange, pressing a quick kiss to her forehead. "So now why are you all buggered?" He shoots a look at Draco. "No offence."

"None taken," Draco says far too brightly, his cheeks heating. Potter stiffens at his side. The thing is, Draco knows Weasley's a good sort, even if he doesn't seem to grasp the fact that not only gay people are involved in buggery. Still, it's a lesson Draco doesn't care to teach at the moment, not pressed in next to Weasley's best friend whom he dreams of shagging rotten. Besides, everyone'd been rather good about Draco's coming out the summer before last. Blaise had even bought him a bright pink union jack t-shirt and a rainbow flag and gone with Draco and Pansy to London Pride. He'd been chatted up far more than Draco had, which was mortifying in its own way, albeit expected.

The story of Draco's life: all his friends are getting laid whilst he's mooning about over someone who'll never give him the time of day.

Granger smacks Weasley on the arm. "Ronald, I can't take you anywhere." She's moderately fond by her tone, but visibly exasperated. She shoots a look over at Potter, who shrugs and shakes his head.

"Everyone enjoys a good buggering, Ron," Potter says as he pops open a bag of crisps. He pulls one out, chews it slowly. "You know that. I've seen your internet search history."

Pansy just laughs throatily. "I could do with a spot of buggery myself." Her gaze flicks towards Patil, who raises an eyebrow.

"Couldn't we all?" Potter's voice at his side is low and rough in that way that makes Draco's knees weak. "Although please not with Root."

"Ridiculous," murmurs Granger, her eyes widening. "I mean, that's horrid, why would you even, Harry?"

Weasley clinks his glass against Potter's, reaching past Granger and Draco to do so. "Nice one."

Draco doesn't know what to do next to Potter, where to put his hands, how to act nonchalant. Now he's nervy and embarrassed and sure he's making a horrid fool of himself. At the same time, he craves every accidental touch from Potter, then hates himself for it. He shifts in his seat.

"You lot are animals, you know." Weasley takes a deep swill of his pint, then wipes his mouth. "The lengths you'll go to for that tutorial. It's not natural."

"Well, it's not every day one gets to work for the foremost authority on magical food production." Granger shrugs. "Or get a publication credit in his work."

"Only if we find something unique, though," Draco says. "And therein lies the rub."

They all sigh, momentarily beaten down by the enormity of their task. The rain pounds against the windows, and even the chatter of students around them quiets.

"Do you really think the scrumpy's not good enough?" Potter's voice is soft next to Draco. "It was pretty hard to get."

"I hope I'm wrong." Draco's stomach flips, more from nerves than anything else. Potter's curls have fallen into his face and Draco wants to rake them back with his hands, perhaps try a holding charm on them. "But you never know with Root." He shifts on the bench, winces as his left arsecheek twinges. Fucking apple trees, he thinks bitterly, his hand going to his backside. Potter's eyeing him when Draco looks up.

"Do you want me to heal your bruises?" Potter's eyes are a bright golden-green behind his smudged glasses. His mouth twitches. "You wouldn't even have to drop trou." He hesitates, then his smile widens. "Unless you wanted to."

Draco's breath catches at that mental image. "No worries. I've got a salve back in my room." He's lying, but he thinks Potter buys it from the way he leans back, takes another sip of his pint, leans behind Draco's back to say something to Weasley. Draco almost thinks Potter's disappointed, but that's ridiculous, isn't it?

He looks across the table at Pansy, who's watching them both steadily. Forgive me yet? she mouths at him.

He shakes his head, scowling at her. "Traitorous cow," he whispers. Pansy's pink lips curve up at the corners, and Draco fights back an urge to flip two fingers her way.

"You love me anyway," Pansy whispers back. She looks terribly pleased with herself. "You know you do."

Draco snorts. "Don't you wish, Parkinson." He lifts his pint again, hiding his small smile behind the rim of his glass as Pansy wrinkles her nose his way. But she's not wrong. Not really. About being fond of the wretched bint, at least.

Whether or not Draco wants to admit it, perhaps he just might.

***

"My God, you're all absolute idiots."

Professor Root makes a broad gesture from his wide chair, causing the legs to creak ominously beneath his weight. The parchment he's holding flutters frighteningly close to a lit candle on his overflowing desk, but all eyes in the room stay riveted on the broad-figured, deep-jowled professor whose complexion is rather apoplectically ruddy at the moment, Draco must admit. "What is this utterly insufficient pap you've all handed me?"

No one speaks. They don't dare to. If Snape--Merlin rest his soul--was intimidating at school, Waverley Root can be entirely, completely, shit-your-trousers terrifying. Draco isn't certain whether it's the clipped harshness of his New England accent--which Granger's right, slips from time to time into a perfectly aristo RP--or his tendency to shout at the drop of a hat when they've displeased him or just Root's dogged determination to point out how absolutely incompetent they all are that's the most unsettling. Perhaps it doesn't matter. No one wants to face down their professor's wrath.

Especially not Draco.

He shifts uncomfortably in his position at the end of Root's long chesterfield; Patil's pressed against him, and she looks as if she might burst into tears any moment now, her copy of her own report clutched tightly between her hands.

Root huffs a sigh and scowls at the whole room. "I didn't fake my damn death for the Muggles just to be subject to this sort of bullshit." He waves the paper towards the candle again. "If I'd wanted that, I could have taken a position at fucking Harvard, become one of the living corpses they've staffed their wizarding studies department with. No. I wanted a challenge, Intellectual students, I told myself. The sort Hogwarts and the Continent produces, not Ilvermorny." The look he gives them is filled with disgust. "I made a name for myself in journalistic circles--magical and Muggle. I gave all that up for what?" He throws the papers towards them; they scatter through the air, rectangles of inked parchment drifting to the floor with a rustle of disappointment. "Students incapable of completing a simple assignment by this point of the term."

There's a soft, snuffling noise from somewhere in the room. Draco doesn't dare look. It's best not to draw Root's attention when he's in a mood like this. He folds his arms across his test, his fingers twisting in the soft cashmere. His head dips forward, his hair falls across his cheek. Across the room Potter's practically vibrating in his chair, his mouth a thin, angry line. He's going to do something stupidly foolish, Draco can tell, and he wants to be as far from the fallout as possible. He's dealt with Root's temper before; only his own father's is worse.

"Do you not understand," Root's voice drops ominously low, "that Wizarding Heritage have asked me for a preliminary draft in January? What day is today?"

There's a silence, and then Granger says, from the other side of Patil, "The twenty-ninth, sir."

"Exactly!" Root slaps his palm against the arm of his chair, the crack of flesh against leather echoes loudly in the room. "The twenty-ninth of fucking October, and we're all fucking cooked as a leftover Christmas goose if I don't have more than goddamn floating cheeses and Arthurian apples."

"We had those from Mair Lefay herself, sir," Potter says. He's gripping his own chair arms tightly as he leans forward. "At cost to our own personal safety, might I add."

Oh, Circe. Draco cringes. Stupid Gryffindor, he thinks. Shut up, shut up, shut up.

"Did you indeed, Mr. Potter?" Root hefts his bulk out of the chair, approaching Potter with a scowl that would frighten a mating Hippogriff. "Did you fucking indeed?"

Potter doesn't flinch. "Yes, Professor. We did." He glances over at Draco. "Malfoy--"

Draco shakes his head violently behind Root's back. Leave me out of this, he mouths.

Of course, Potter doesn't. "Malfoy here even survived being pelted by apple trees." The smile he gives Draco is sly. Almost warm, even. Had they been anywhere but here with a furious tutor, Draco might have even felt that delicious twisty fluttering in his belly that he, like a bloody fool, gets whenever Potter tries to be charming.

Today, however, Draco wants to throw his quill at Potter's head. Even Longbottom looks appalled at Potter's gall, and Lovegood, sat on the floor on a cushion, pulls her knees to her chest as if she might protect herself that way.

For a moment, Root pinches the bridge of his nose, and a vein on his temple throbs. "Did you, Potter, even think to mention my name to Lefay?"

Potter leaves his mouth open for a moment, slack-jawed in surprise. He swallows, drags his tongue between his lips. His mouth's pink and wet, his cheeks flushed, his eyes bright, and Merlin but Draco's having trouble not staring at the prat. Potter clears his throat. "No." He catches himself before he sets Root off entirely. "I mean, no, Professor Root. I didn't."

"Sir will suffice," Root says with a scowl. "And you ought to have--Mair is an old acquaintance of mine. When I was back in the States, she sent me a crate of scrumpy every fall via international post. Mostly they weren't poisoned." His frown deepens, and Draco feels a quick stab of alarm go through him. "She sends me two now via house elf--they arrived just last week, in fact." He turns his gaze towards Draco. "And I believe I gave Mr Malfoy precise directions as to how to find said orchard. Which should have indicated to you both that I knew Ms Lefay, and that I expected more from your writeup than this half-baked codswallop you provided!"

Draco curses under his breath, shifting in his seat again. This causes the bruise on his arse to twinge, and he flinches. Honestly, he needs a better healing salve. The shite Pansy'd dug up from the mess in her bath cupboard is out of date, a fact that he hadn't discovered until the second time he'd rubbed it into his aching skin.

Root's sharp frown settles on Draco. "Is there a problem, Mr Malfoy?"

With as contrite an expression he can muster, Draco says, "No, sir. Not at all." He resists the urge to rub his sore arse and shout a string of profanities Potter's way. He can't believe they went out there for nothing. Then again, it's not entirely Potter's fault. Draco hadn't pressed Lefay for production techniques or anything past the basics about the business of her orchard either. He'd been too caught up in Potter to even think about what they'd need for their write-up. And then he'd been foolish enough to let Potter do that on his own. Draco might have been able to fudge some of the details about the scrumpy production based on what he's learnt in some of his agricultural charms courses. Potter'd just delivered a long examination of the cultural origins of scrumpy, for Circe's sake.

Draco settles back into his chair, keeping his weight off of the bruise as best he can. Granger eyes him narrowly from the other end of the chesterfield.

When Root turns back to Potter, Granger mouths, I thought you had a salve.

Draco studiously ignores her.

Root's back to haranguing Potter. "And did my old acquaintance have anything to share that could help us document the history of wizarding apple production in the Summer Country?"

"Just that the trees are angry that the apples aren't being used." Potter's jaw is clenched. The flush on his cheeks has deepened into bright red splotches. "The decrease in consumption of wizarding produce as a whole has caused half the crop to rot and sections of trees to die off to preserve the whole--"

"Which is left out of your paper," Root snaps. "Would you not think that to be of more importance than two pages on the history of scrumpy?" Root turns on Draco again, his eyes narrowed. "I see nothing of Mr Malfoy's influence in your work. This was a joint effort for the both of you, and Malfoy's expertise in agricultural sustainability within the wizarding world might have been a necessary addition, would you not think?"

Draco opens his mouth, closes it again. Root's right. "I'm sorry, sir."

"It's my fault," Potter says, and Draco looks over at him in surprise. Potter has that stubborn look on his face again. "I told Malfoy I'd do the write-up."

Root snorts. "As if I care, Potter. Malfoy had every opportunity to be included. If you want to pass this tutorial, then do your fucking work." Root's glare swings from Draco to Potter, then back across the entire room. "That goes for all of you. The whole of this week's assignment was pathetically lacking in substance." He turns, looking out at the still-green fields beyond the leaded window. "We need far more than this, and we need it immediately. You're all to prioritise your field research this week, or else I'll need to suspend work for this term due to insufficient findings and likely ruin your practical assessments, not to mention your progress to degree."

There is a collective gasp around the room. In the silence that ensues, Draco hears the quiet snap as Granger breaks her quill in two. Everyone in this group needs the course credit this term, and Root is a great favourite at Flamel. It's hard to imagine what would happen if he suddenly asked to have them all withdrawn. Not that Draco's certain Root could do this, but if anyone at Flamel would be allowed, he suspects Waverley Root would be the one, no matter the strain it might place on the director of the college's student registry--a much-feared elderly witch who's ruled the archives of Flamel with an iron fist as long as anyone can remember. It's harder to convince Gringotts to open a vault without a key than to wheedle a scheduling shift past Mrs. Simulacris. Even the college dean has to submit forms in quadruplicate and wait two weeks for an appointment.

"Professor, what would you like us to do?" Patil's the first of the others to recover enough from shock to speak up. She sits forward, the worn leather cushion of the chesterfield creaking beneath her thighs. Her expression is revoltingly earnest, the way only a Ravenclaw can be when facing the threat of a subpar mark. Draco wants to roll his eyes. He'd been heads above Patil in all their Hogwarts classes; the general assumption that Ravenclaws are the smartest of the houses annoyed him through most of their schooling. Draco'd fought tooth and nail with Granger to be head of their year; Patil had clawed her way up to third over the backs of her fellow Ravenclaws, but she'd still been beneath him. And Granger, but Draco prefers to forget the times Granger had bested him in academics. And the occasional NEWT during their unorthodox eighth year. "I think I speak for all of us when I say we're willing to do whatever it takes."

Arsekisser, Draco thinks, petulantly. But none of them are idiot enough to object. Even if Draco briefly, ridiculously considers it.

The smile that Root turns on Patil is positively terrifying--for a moment, Draco worries that Root might unhinge his jaw and swallow her whole. He shudders, shaking a very traumatic image of Voldemort's accursed snake out of his memory. He still has nightmares about Nagini that wake him in the middle of the night, breathless and shaking. Draco draws in a slow breath; the spots in his vision settle somewhat.

When Root speaks, his voice is silkenly vicious. "What I would like, Ms. Patil, is for all of you--hell, I'd take one of you, at this point--to find me something I haven't fucking seen before."

"Beg pardon, sir?" Longbottom looks up from the notebook he's doodling mandrakes in the margin of with his purple ink quill. "But haven't you seen most everything?" He wrinkles his nose a bit awkwardly. "It's just you've written loads of books on Muggle food--"

"Yes, Mr. Longbottom. In fact, I have. And therein lies the rub." Professor Root flicks his wand casually, drawing his chair to him. He settles back into the capacious leather with only some faint complaint from the bones of the chair. "We've got to show Wizarding Heritage something they haven't seen before, not just the desiccated pablum and tepidly warmed over leavings of glaringly obvious, but genuine, enduring links to millenia of British magic in food." He scowls at them all again. "Which is what you bastards have left me with." He sighs, leans his white-tufted head against the back of the chair.

There's a tap against the door jamb that draws all their attention that way. Rolf Scamander, one of the Flamel post-grads, is standing in the doorway, his rumpled, brown hair clamped down only by the black wool yarmulke on the back of his head. He's lanky and loose-limbed, and he's obviously come from a formal lecture since he's dressed in full black sub fusc and graduate gown. Draco catches Lovegood shifting on her cushion, suddenly smoothing back her pale blond curls, straightening her pastel striped jumper, hiding the unraveling hole on her cuff. None of them dress in their best for morning tutorials and seminars; that's the beauty of going to class a tower away from where you live.

"Sir?" Scamander's digging in the satchel on his hip. "I've those first-year papers marked for you."

Root waves his hand towards the desk in the corner of the room, piled high with messy stacks of books and papers. "Leave them, Rolf. I'll check them later and let you know what I think." Root turns his attention back to the rest of them. "Get out, all of you. You've given me a dreadful headache, and if I have to endure your asinine presence one iota more, I'm likely to fail the whole set of you for the term." He closes his eyes. "Two weeks. Two weeks to bring me a proper reckoning of British magical cuisine. I don't want to see any of your dull little faces until you've brought me something that isn't complete shit. Understood?"

"Yes, Professor," they chorus, and the other students gather their belongings with worried glances and muffled expressions of alarm. Longbottom and Patil are out of the room first, with Lovegood on their heels. She stops Scamander just outside the door, starts talking to him about Circe only knows what. Draco glimpses them through the doorway; Scamander looks wide-eyed and overwhelmed, poor bastard.

Granger moves more slowly. She's waiting for Potter, Draco knows, and he stops just before the door. He wants to leave, to escape before Potter enrages their professor. But Draco hesitates. If Potter really wants to cause a ruckus, Draco might be better off heading off the worst of it rather than hearing about it later from either a furious Potter or a cantankerous Root. Although Granger's here. She'll surely keep Potter from making a complete tit of himself. Won't she?

"Professor," Potter says, and fuck it, Draco can't leave him alone with only Granger to face whatever destruction of his soul is coming from Root's venomous tongue.

Root opens his eyes, looks up at Potter. His mouth twists in disdain. "Oh, Christ. Go away, Potter. I'm not interested in your paltry excuses." He settles back in his chair, closes his eyes again.

"Harry," Granger starts to say, but Potter cuts her off with a quick wave of his hand. Her mouth thins; Draco sympathises with her. The most irritating part of dealing with Potter is when his Gryffindor is up, and he turns into a dismissive, arrogant prick. Draco leans against the door jamb, his arms crossed over his chest. He rubs a thumb beneath the strap of his satchel, wondering if he really ought to not disappear, hie himself away to the Alchymist's Delight and a slice of Abbott's spectacular tart, rather than subjecting himself to Potter's annihilation at the hand of Root.

Granger's even given up; she brushes past Draco and says, "It's his own bloody grave he's digging."

She's not wrong.

Potter's color is high, and his brows are drawn low over his eyes. Draco knows that mulish expression all too well. He'd seen it in every single Hogwarts class they'd shared over the years. "It's just that I don't think you're being fair about the Avalonian apples, sir. They are important. I don't even care about wizarding farming spells--that's Malfoy's thing--but Lefay's orchard is sentient, and I've never seen anything like that before, even if you have. You can't say it's not something Wizarding Heritage would want to take note of--"

"Let me stop you there, Mr. Potter." Root flicks his wand, summoning a clear bottle filled with a cloudy liquid. He pours it into a glass that sits on the small table beside his chair. "Do you recognise this?" He hands the bottle to Potter.

"Arthur's Brew from Glastonbury," Potter reads, and Root's bushy eyebrows go up when Potter shakes his head.

Root takes a sip from his glass. "It is rather excellent," Root observes. "Mair makes a fierce scrumpy, even when she sells it to Muggle shops around Somerset. Go on. Try a bit of it."

Potter lifts the bottle to his lips. His throat tightens as he swallows; Draco has to look away from the long, golden stretch of it. "It's good," he says as he hands the bottle back to Root.

"I've always been a bit quiet about Mair's products because of the unusual nature of the magic." Root sighs. "I don't know what we can do if even Avalon is feeling the pinch of industralised wizarding production." The look on his face is circumspect, sad even. A complete difference from his exasperation before.

Draco surprises himself by speaking up from the doorway. "We can document it and preserve it--perhaps even drive people to buy from her."

"There you are, Mr Malfoy." Root casts Draco a fierce glance under a beetled brow. "It must have taken a lot of courage to take a stand with Mr. Potter, even if you look ready to flee." He looks between the two of them. "I realise you're both at odds with one another quite frequently, but that's one of the reasons I put you together on this project. You complement each other in ways I'm not certain either of you comprehend, and it frustrates me no end to find your partnership as unproductive as what I've seen today." He sweeps a hand towards the papers that are still scattered across the floor. "Garbage, that's what you gave me, Potter. Perfectly written, beautifully constructed, but without Mr Malfoy's contributions, as goddamn useless as lipstick on a fucking sow."

Neither Potter or Draco say anything. Root sighs again. "If you can't work together, I won't pass you," he says bluntly. "So consider that carefully as you construct your next report. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly, sir," Draco says, and he exchanges a long look with Potter. "We'll do our best."

"Then get the hell out of my rooms." Root shifts his burly body in his chair. "You've worn me out, all of you bastards."

Draco nods, then steps through the doorway, into the hall, hoping Potter has the bloody common sense God gave him to follow. Granger's talking to Scamander and Lovegood down the corridor. She looks up as he walks over.

"It'll be Wednesday evening," Granger's saying. "Ron and I are hosting, and you're all invited. Malfoy, too."

"We're invited to what?" Draco asks, as Root's door closes behind him with a soft thud and the faint rattle of the latch. He looks back, Potter's hand is slipping off the doorknob.

"Hermione's having a Hallowe'en party," Lovegood says. "Fancy dress."

Draco wants to groan. He hates those sorts of things. "Some of us have tutes the next morning."

"That's what hangover potion's meant for." Potter's voice is low and rumbly behind Draco, and a faint shiver of something Draco'd rather not name goes down Draco's spine as Potter brushes past him.

"Everything all right?" Granger's brow is furrowed; she glances up quickly at Potter, almost as if she's worried for him.

He leans against her back, rests his chin on her shoulder. "Just the usual." Potter's gaze slips over to Draco's. "I suppose we'll need to find something by the weekend if we need to work together the way Root wants."

Draco glances away. He doesn't like this odd fluster that comes over him when Potter's near. "I suppose," he says, as neutrally as he can. "I'll go to the Bodleian this week. See if I can find anything Root might be interested in."

Potter just nods. "I'll do the same."

They look at each other a bit awkwardly, the silence between them strange and stultifying. It's Scamander who breaks it, saying, "Malfoy, if you're off to the Bod now, I'll walk with you."

Draco's grateful for the offer. He shrugs, shifts his satchel so it rests against his hip. "Might as well, really."

He thinks Scamander's all too eager to be away from Lovegood. Still, Scamander's gaze flicks back towards Draco's cousin, who's leaning against the wall, looking a bit forlorn.

"Perhaps I'll see you at Hermione's then, Rolf," Lovegood says, her voice light. She's watching Scamander out of the corner of her eye.

"Right." Scamander clears his throat. "Perhaps." He looks back at Draco. "Shall we?"

Honestly, Draco's never seen anyone scamper down for the stairs as quickly. He starts after him, looking back only when Potter calls his name. "What?"

Potter's just looking at him, with those stupidly gorgeous deep green eyes. "Maybe I'll see you Wednesday too."

Draco's heart stutters. He swallows, turns away. "Maybe," he says, his voice faint, and then he strides away, hurrying after Scamander like one of the bloody Manor peacocks being chased by a peahen.

But that's how Potter always makes him feel lately. As if he's running away, hiding himself. Sometimes Draco wonders what would happen if he didn't, if he stood his ground, let Potter see him for who he really is, let Potter know what it is Draco really wants from him.

That's not for today, though. Draco doesn't have it in him to be mocked. Not by Potter. Not now.

And so he runs down the circular stairs after Scamander, his boots loud in the silence of the centuries-old Oxonian stones. Par for the course, really. Once a coward, always a coward, Draco thinks as he steps into the bright sunlight of Queen's Lane.

Some things never change.

***

Of course Weasley'd be a fan of Oasis, Draco thinks, as he pushes through the throng of revellers that have filled Granger's flat in the students' tower, towards the drinks table. The brothers Gallagher are wailing from the stereo sat high on the corner bookcase, Weasley's stood on an ottoman, clad in nothing but the leather skirt of a Roman foot soldier, his bare chest damp and gleaming, nipples flushed and pebbled as he sings along at the top of his lungs. It's more than Draco's cared to see of the great ginger prat, if he's honest. He's fairly certain it'll be part of his nightmares for ages now. Despite the Hallowe'en chill outside, the flat's sweltering, and Granger's thrown open her leaded glass windows to lessen the odorous heat of fifty sweaty, costumed bodies swaying to the drone of guitars and one or the other of the Gallaghers--along with Weasley, off-key--asking them where were you while we were getting high?

Bloody sodding everywhere, that's where, Draco thinks crossly, shoving through the group laughing around Longbottom, who has a liter of shit supermarket cider upturned over his face, the whole lot gathered around him urging him to drink more, drink faster. Tasteful. Draco's nostrils flare at the stench of spilled lager, the whiff of cigarettes. Still, if he doesn't find a fucking champagne supernova of his own soon, he'll have a tantrum himself. Draco can't take this many Old Hogwartians milling about without some sort of fucking alcohol. He's already had to deal with the sideways glares, the snide comments about his parentage, the loudly asked questions about whether he should be present at all, as if this mad gathering of drunken Flamelians and their friends who'd (wisely, in Draco's opinion) stayed away from uni were some sort of grand social event, not just a chance to get three sheets to the wind on a night when the Muggles around them might be too drunk from their own revelry to notice anything odd.

Like Michael Corner dressed up like a bloody Grindylow.

Or Lovegood, for that matter. Draco brushes past his fey cousin as she dances between Finnigan and Thomas, who've come up from London with half of sodding Gryffindor, it looks like. Granger's insistence on fancy dress seems to have been ignored by half the guests, whilst the others have cobbled together bits and pieces of Merlin only knows what into some semblance of costuming. Thomas is wearing a spray paint-stained shirt, on which he's stenciled Trust me. I'm Banksy. He's tucked a few paint brushes in the back pocket of his loose khaki trousers. Finnigan, on the other hand's, done nothing but wrapped a sheet around his jeans and jumper toga-style. Simple but effective, Draco supposes. Finnigan passes a Gillyweed joint to Lovegood, who takes it happily. She turns, dances into Draco again, her diaphanous gown floating around her like an almost transparent mist, a thick wreath of autumn leaves and yellow mums crowning her loose, wavy hair. Of course his cousin would come in full attire. She looks like a sodding gorgeous wood nymph with her bare feet, which Draco supposes is the entire intention. Her eyes light up when she sees him.

"Draco," Lovegood says, flinging one arm around him and pulling him into the dance. She takes a long drag off the Gillyweed and coughs it out. "I'm terribly glad you're here. Wasn't Root awful yesterday?" Her eyes are far too bright, Draco thinks, and he wonders how many joints Finnigan's handed her. "I've been telling Seamus and Dean all about it--"

Thomas manages to untangle Lovegood from Draco, for which Draco's immensely grateful. "Better watch her," Thomas says. "She gets handsy on Gillyweed."

Lovegood gives him an offended glare. "I do not, thank you very much, Dean." Her enunciation's crystal clear, but far too exaggerated for her to be anything but off her tits, Draco thinks. "Whilst I might hold to beliefs that a less passive female sexuality is perfectly acceptable, I also believe consent is paramount--"

"I know, love," Thomas says. "And so does the whole sodding room now."

"Rolf doesn't." Lovegood's face falls. Her gaze slides across the room to where Scamander's leaning against the wall, his tall, lanky frame tucked in between two bookcases, one hand shoved in his pocket, the other wrapped tightly around a plastic cup filled with firewhisky. He looks supremely uncomfortable, Draco thinks, and he wonders why Scamander even bothered to come. Until Draco sees Scamander's head turn their way, a flush suddenly rising on Scamander's pale cheeks when he catches sight of Lovegood watching him, her feelings writ plainly across her face. Scamander looks away again quickly, his lip caught between his teeth. He lifts his cup, drains half of it in one gulp.

Well. That certainly explains a lot, now doesn't it? Draco glances back at his cousin, who looks utterly miserable. It's not as if Draco doesn't understand that particular cruelty of fate, that awful attraction to someone one thinks is beyond one's league, that foolish flutter of the heart when said someone walks past, no matter how impossibly unrequited one might think one's feelings might be. It's all Draco can do not to look around for Potter, like the desperate fool he is. Instead he pats Lovegood's shoulder awkwardly, making certain to leave a good half-meter between them.

At least.

Thomas, however, is less sympathetic. "You'll live." He plucks the Gillyweed joint from her fingers and hands it to Draco. "Pass this on, will you, Malfoy? I think we've had a bit of enough around here."

"Oi," Finnigan says, snapping to attention. His brown eyes are most definitely glazed over as well. "That's my Gillyweed--"

"Not any more." As Finnigan tries to reach for the joint, Draco tucks it between his fingers, the end hovering over his empty plastic cup. Thomas gives him a grateful look. "I'll handle it for you, yeah?"

Thomas pulls Finnigan back. "Never thought I'd be saying this to you, Malfoy, but you're a gem."

"I won't let it be known," Draco says dryly. He lifts his cup in farewell and straightens the wreath of laurel that Pansy'd thrown on his head before they'd Floo'd over. She'd claimed it be gauche to arrive sans fancy dress on Hallowe'en. Draco'd been fine with his jeans and his black cashmere jumper. He's not cared for parties like this since the end of the war. Having one's house run over with men in masks and sweeping robes does tend to put one off the concept of costumes, Draco thinks.

The drinks table's blessedly empty of drunken fools when Draco finally makes it through the crowd. If there's one thing Granger and Weasley are brilliant at, it's stocking their bar; there's a plethora of tall bottles of Muggle and wizarding origin scattered across the black tablecloth. A box of beer cans hovers nearby. Draco thinks about a lager, but it's mostly Harp. Besides, he's been drinking prosecco most of the night. It's horrible and cheap, and Pansy'd just made a face at him when he'd popped open a bottle, but Draco likes the way the bubbles fizz against the roof of his mouth. Still, anything one might want to mix up is spread across the table, and Draco lets his gaze sweep across the bottles as he considers.

In the end, he reaches for the prosecco again, pouring the last bit of the bottle into his cup. The bubbles sparkle and pop against the clear plastic; Draco lifts the cup to his mouth and takes a sip, the Gillyweed joint still nestled between his fingers.

"Harry," he hears Granger say from behind him, and Draco wants to not turn around. He truly does. But, of course, he can't help himself, and he sees Granger's tumble of thick curls, the gleam of her brown skin against the 1930s bias-cut dress she's wearing, the back cut dangerously and rather anachronistically low, the thin straps barely holding the cream silk up. "Harry, don't go--"

But Potter doesn't seem to hear her. Draco catches a glimpse of messy, dark hair heading towards the door. It's mad of him, really, but Draco finds himself beside Granger. "What's wrong?"

Granger looks up at him, her teeth worrying her bottom lip. There's a small furrow between her brows, and she's folded her arms tightly across her chest, showing more cleavage than Draco suspects she knows. "It's nothing," she says, a bit hesitantly. "Just…" She sighs, and her fingertips trace tiny circles across her collarbones. "Tonight's always hard for Harry."

"Hallowe'en?" Draco asks, a bit surprised. "What? Does Potter have a childhood fear of drunken idiots in party dress?"

The look Granger gives him is scathing. "His parents died on Hallowe'en, you twat."

"Oh." Draco feels his cheeks flush hotter than usual, It's the prosecco he's been drinking, he's certain. "I didn't know." Except maybe Draco did once. Now that Granger's brought it up, it does sound familiar.

"Ron and I try to distract him." Granger twists the necklace she always wears around her finger. "We thought the party'd be enough this year." The chain's thin and gold; there's a small ruby pendant on the end. Something Weasley's given her, Draco's certain. It's nice enough to have been a present, but not expensive enough to be out of range for Weasley's pay packet, given what Draco knows of Pansy's monthly income from the Auror force. Granger flinches as the door slams shut behind Potter; it's a faint thud over the sound of the music. "I should go after him--"

"Let me." Draco doesn't know what's come over him. The wine. It has to be the wine. His fingers tighten around the rim of the plastic cup; he thinks about binning it, but that'd just be a waste of terrible prosecco, and what's the use of that? Draco's throat tightens, but he manages to say, "I'll talk to him."

Granger looks a bit sceptical, and Draco doesn't really blame her.

"I won't make him cry," Draco says. He lifts the Gillyweed to his mouth, takes a slow drag before exhaling away from Granger. He barely feels the hit; it's just a slow, easy relaxation that seeps through his spine. "If that's what you're worried about."

"Not exactly." Granger eyes him, and there's an odd glint of amusement in her gaze. She hesitates, then says, "Go find him then. Just…" She trails off.

Draco raises an eyebrow. "What?"

Granger shakes her head. "Be careful with him, Malfoy. Harry's not as indestructible as he likes to pretend he is."

Draco lifts his cup, takes a sip of the bubbly wine. It's too sharp, too bright. Just like tonight is, really. He presses his lips together, his tongue slipping out the smallest bit to lick away the last drops of prosecco, and then he looks over at Granger. "Are any of us, really?" he asks. They've all been broken by the war; they've all tried to pull themselves together, to make their way in this new, uneasy world. They've tried to forgive themselves for the sins of their fathers, their mothers, themselves. Draco's just not sure any of them have managed.

Or that they ever will.

He leaves Granger looking after him, her mouth a downturned curve.

The air in the stairwell leading down from Granger's tiny flat is cool. Crisp. Draco lets his fingertip trail against the rough-hewn stone of the wall. The steps are uneven, dips worn into the middles from generations of footsteps. Flamel's been tucked away in the depths of Oxford for centuries now, taking in only a handful of wizarding scholars at a time. Draco's cohort is the largest yet, most certainly because of the war. None of them have any real idea of what to do with their lives. More schooling had seemed the next logical choice.

Things could have been different for Draco. Malfoys weren't expected to work, much less join the common rabble at uni. If Draco had wanted to learn more magical theory, tutors would have been provided, self-study would have been encouraged. His only duty would have been to the Manor, to the grounds and the tenants living upon it. Grandfather Abraxas had taken him around the fields and cottages when he was younger, taught him what would be his and how to care for it.

And then his sodding father had gone and thrown it all away on some idiotic ideology that seems pathetically inane now to Draco. Perhaps it's because he's become more educated, more informed about the world around him. Perhaps it's that agricultural magic doesn't care whether one's pureblood or Muggleborn--all it requires is a connection to nature, to the land. And that's what Grandfather had instilled in Draco when he was small. A love for the rolling hills and wide fields of Wiltshire, and a deep curiosity for how they were farmed.

Draco's booted footsteps echo in the relative quiet of the staircase. Music drifts down from Granger's flat, but it's muffled now. Outside the walls of the college, Oxford's alive, filled with the laughter and shouts of the Muggle students that live and study around them. Flamel's known, of course. There's not a single Oxonian who can't name all the colleges that form the University as a whole. But no one questions what Flamel does, what teaching happens behind the heavy wooden doors of the college gate. They're just known as the odd ones. Esoteric philosophers, Draco'd once heard them called in one of the Muggle student pubs he'd slipped into for a night of drinking and shagging in the back loo. It's not a wrong designation, esoteric, although he wants to snort at the thought of Potter being a philosopher. Not bloody likely.

Although perhaps that's a bit uncharitable of him. Potter's not the complete idiot he'd been at Hogwarts. At times he can even be interesting.

The light's still on in the porter's room at the bottom of the stairs. Bloxham's bulk fills the open door as he peers into the shadows. Behind him the WWN blares the results of the evening's Quidditch matches. The Pride devastated the Harpies, it seems, and Draco's petty enough to be a bit pleased by the idea of Potter's ex being trounced.

"Ah," Bloxham says when he catches sight of Draco. The porter doesn't bother to pull on his proper coat. "It's only you, is it?" He pushes his rolled shirtsleeves higher up his thick forearms.

"Only me," Draco says. His head has a slight buzz to it that's rather agreeable. "Sorry."

Bloxham's chuckle is warm and deep. "Get too much for you upstairs?" His gaze drifts past Draco, back up the steps. "Bit rowdy from what I can hear."

"The usual." Draco takes another drink from his plastic cup. The fizz of the prosecco's fading. "Weasley's three sheets to the wind and has started a sing-along."

"Not surprising." Bloxham eyes Draco. "I know you're not down here to keep me and the Quidditch company."

Honestly, that doesn't sound awful to Draco. He enjoys Bloxham's conversation and has been known to slip down before bed for a beer and a chat. Bloxham never minds, but he does keep telling Draco he ought to spend more time with the others--"your own age," he often says with a frown. Draco knows he has a point, but sometimes he'd just rather have a cosy argument with the porter over whether Falmouth or Caerphilly has a chance in hell at the league pennant this season.

Tonight, though, he's other prey. "Have you seen Potter?"

Bloxham gives Draco a knowing look. "So it's like that, is it?"

Draco's cheeks warm again. "Granger sent me down to find him." It's a half-truth, but enough of one that Bloxham doesn't press him too deeply.

"Out in the courtyard," Bloxham says with a nod towards the stone archway. "He wanted to be left alone though." Bloxham's face is sober. "Poor lad. It's always hard for him this time of year, yeah?"

Even the college porter seems more sensitive to Potter's parental grief than Draco's been; Draco feels a bit of a fool, but he manages to cover it. "I'll go talk to him," he says, and Bloxham just nods.

The courtyard's cold. Draco half-wishes he'd grabbed his coat on the way down, but that would have required stopping by his own tiny set of rooms, smaller even than Granger's because of course Flamel would give him the worst spot in the tower, wouldn't they? But Draco supposes he should be glad they took him in the first place, given his family's involvement in the war.

Whenever Draco walks into the courtyard, it always astonishes him that he's here at Flamel, surrounded by the three stories of Gothic architecture, the arched, leaded glass windows, the gargoyles and angels carved into the greying stone that stretches around the wide square of grass, still surprisingly green and springy as Draco steps onto it. This is where he studies in the spring and early fall, lying along one of the stone benches with a book on his chest and another beneath his head, drowsy in the warmth of the sun, the sky a bright, nearly cloudless blue above him.

Tonight, though, it's mostly dark, lit only by the faint glow from the windows of the student rooms along the tower halls. The old oak in the corner stretches its branches up into the velvet of the sky, half of them emptied of their leaves by this part of the autumn. Music still drifts from Granger's open window at the top of the tower; it takes Draco a moment to find Potter in the shadows, sat on the flight of narrow steps that leads up to the tutors' rooms. Potter looks miserable, trying to hide himself away from the light. It's nearly impossible in that awful orange Quidditch jersey of his. The colour's terrible on Potter, makes him look horribly sallow, and yet the bastard's still attractive.

Draco curses this stupid pash of his. He ought to be back upstairs, trying to drink himself into oblivion, the way Pansy seemed hell-bent on doing this evening. If she hasn't managed to charm Patil out of her knickers tonight, Draco expects to find Pans passed out on his bed later; he only hopes she manages to remember the anti-nausea potion he keeps in the bath. He's not keen on cleaning up sick before he gets to sleep.

If he's truly unlucky, he'll find Patil in his bed with Pans. Draco hopes that's not the case; the last time he'd slept on his miniscule sofa, he'd woken up with an awful crick in his neck and his back out of whack for days.

"You're not exactly inconspicuous," Draco says, walking up to Potter. "What the hell are you supposed to be dressed as, anyway?"

Potter just looks up at him. "A Cannons supporter." He lifts his bottle of bitters to his mouth, takes a swig.

"Original." Draco sits on the steps beside Potter.

"Fuck off, Malfoy." Potter sounds weary. "I'm not in the mood right now."

Draco pulls out his wand, relights the Gillyweed joint, and holds it out. "Fuck off yourself," he says easily.

Potter hesitates, and then he takes the joint from Draco. He sets his beer on the step between his thighs. "Is this Seamus's?" He doesn't wait for Draco to answer before he lifts the joint to his lips and takes a long, slow drag.

"Or Thomas's." Draco leans back against the step behind him. "The two of them were corrupting my cousin when I took it from them."

"Luna's rather complicit in her own corruption, I'd say." Potter's mouth twitches up, ever so slightly. He takes another hit off the Gillyweed, blows a thin stream of grey-white smoke out into the darkness around them. "If she wants to be, at least." He hands the joint back to Draco. "Did Hermione send you after me?"

Draco settles the Gillyweed between his lips. There's a weird, excited fluttering in his stomach at the realisation that Potter's lips had just been on the joint. Draco almost thinks he can taste Potter on the rolling paper, some intrinsic, deep salty-sweetness that he knows is nothing but his own imagination. He doesn't care; it's enough to think about tasting Potter, to wonder what it might feel like to press his lips against Potter's, to slide their tongues together. His skin prickles; his prick swells, and Draco shifts on the stone step, letting the sharp edge dig into his arse enough to take the edge off his arousal. It's always like this with Potter lately, the way his body reacts to Potter's nearness, to the smell of him, warm and musky and clean. It's all Draco can do not to bury his face in the curve of Potter's throat, to breathe him in. Instead, Draco inhales the Gillyweed deeply, lets the smoke fill his lungs before he breathes it out in a coughing huff. He follows with another quick drag. There's less coughing this time, but the smoke comes out of his mouth in a large puff, rather than the strangely sexy wisps Potter blows out. He holds the joint out; Potter takes it again.

"Granger didn't send me." Draco licks his slightly numb lips. Well. She hadn't per se.

The look Potter gives him makes Potter's scepticism evident. "Right."

"Believe what you want." Draco can feel the Gillyweed taking effect, relaxing him, settling his nerves in a way very little other than sex can. And that's off the table tonight, unless he wants to go over to one of the pubs and find a willing undergrad to take Draco home, shag his bloody brains out until Draco forgets the smell of Potter, the feel of Potter's hand brushing against his. At least for a little while. Draco takes another sip of prosecco, then sets his cup aside. He snaps his fingers. "Pass over," he says, and he doesn't even care that Potter gives him an amused look as he exhales, hands Draco back the Gillyweed.

"Careful or it'll give you gills," Potter says. "Happened to me."

"Only if you swallow it, you idiot."

Potter's smile widens. He leans back, his elbows perched on the step behind him, propping him up. "I like to swallow."

And really, that's not fair. Draco's fingers tighten around the Gillyweed; his whole hand shakes as he lifts it back up to his lips. All he can think of is Potter's pink mouth, spread wide, the tip of Draco's prick pressing into it, and fucking Merlin, Draco's getting hard at the very thought of it. He shifts, breathes out a raspy cough of smoke whilst glaring balefully at Potter.

"Don't be crass." Draco's voice sounds raw, even to his own ears, and Potter just laughs as he takes another swig of beer from his bottle. Draco's never wanted anyone as much as he wants Potter. His whole body aches for Potter; he lies awake at night with his cock clenched in his fist, his body arching off the bed, spunk spattering across his sheets as he cries out Potter's name.

Merlin, but he's pathetic.

They sit silently for a long moment, the two of them alone out beneath the dark sky, a handful of stars shining down on them. It's cold, but not frigid, and in the crisp air Draco can smell the faint tinge of wood smoke from one of the houses a few streets down. Still, he shivers, crossing his arms again, his hand rubbing quickly up and down his forearms, and Potter looks over at him.

"Need a warming charm?" Potter asks, and Draco wants to refuse on principle, but he's not that bloody stupid. So he nods, and Potter fumbles in his pocket for his wand. He flicks it Draco's way and a lovely warmth spreads over Draco's skin, whisking his gooseflesh away.

"Thanks," Draco says.

Potter shrugs. "No worries." They're quiet again for a moment, and then Potter says, "You know you oughtn't make fun of my outfit when yours is just as terrible. What the hell are you even supposed to be?"

Draco glances down at his black jumper, his black jeans, his black boots. He catches the laurel wreath before it slides off his hair again. "I was going to be our collective existential ennui, but Pansy made me wear the wreath." He glances over; Potter's mouth is twitching. "What?"

"You're strange, you know." Potter takes the joint from Draco. "You always have been."

"I suppose." Draco watches as Potter inhales the Gillyweed, his head dropping back, dark curls loose and messy, the joint held tight between his full lips until Potter reaches up, pulls it free, smoke streaming from between bright white teeth, the glow from the windows glinting against his glasses. He's gorgeous in the moonlight, like some incubus sent to haunt Draco's dreams. Potter'd been so gawky and graceless in school. Draco has no idea when Potter'd grown up, his broad shoulders filling out, his angular jaw squaring, his muscles growing firm and strong. Somehow, when Draco hadn't been looking, Potter became a man, not a boy, and now Draco can't pull his gaze away.

Draco licks his lips. He's drunk, he realises. Drunk and just a little bit stoned. He holds his hand out, studies the way his fingers move. It's odd to watch them, to realise they're his. He closes his eyes, tries to exhale. His lungs burn a bit. Tingle. When he opens his eyes again, Potter's just watching him with an expression on his face that Draco can't fathom. They both breathe, and then Potter shifts on the step, breaking the curious tension that had started to build.

"So," Draco says after a moment. "Granger says tonight's bad for you."

"I thought you said she didn't send you." Potter takes another drag off the joint. He flicks ash off the tip, and Draco watches bits of grey and orange float through the air.

He looks over at Potter again. "I offered."

That seems to surprise Potter. He stills, the joint caught between his finger and thumb, and he glances at Draco. "Why?"

Because I wanted to. Because I worry. Because you mean something to me.

Draco just looks away. Pulls his knees up to his chest. He can feel his heart thud the seconds away before he says, "Because you're my partner."

Potter's silent. He lifts the Gillyweed to his mouth again, takes a long, slow drag. He breathes the smoke out, offers the joint to Draco.

Draco shakes his head, which feels far too floaty for his own good. He watches as Potter carefully breaks off the burnt part of the joint and tucks the end into his jacket. Neither of them speak.

The night settles around them, thick and heavy. The sound of Granger's party drifts across the lawn from the open window. Voices. Music. Laughter. All of Potter's friends, and yet he's removed himself from them. Come out here to sit alone.

Except he's let Draco stay.

Potter sits forward. He picks up his bottle of bitter, holds it between his thighs. He takes a quick breath, as if he might say something, and Draco waits. Potter sighs, lifts his bottle, drinks from it.

The quiet falls between them again, but Draco doesn't feel the need to break it, which is odd. He doesn't like silence, usually. It makes him uncomfortable. Uneasy. Even when he's alone, he has to have some sort of noise. The WWN perhaps, or the telly that he'd gone out last winter to Currys on Boxing Day and bought with Blaise at his side, guiding him through the process, helping Draco pack it up in the back of Blaise's Vauxhall and driving it back from Didcot to Oxford. It'd been terrifying and exhilarating, and Draco's proud of himself for doing it, for tackling the Muggle sales, even if he'd been too embarrassed to go to the closer Currys down Lamarsh Road. Better to drive outside Oxford, just in case he'd thrown a wobbly.

"My mum and dad died on Hallowe'en," Potter says, and the sound of his voice startles Draco at first. Potter finishes off his beer, tipping his head back as far as he can as he swallows. He sets the bottle down; the glass clinks against the stone step. Potter drags the back of his hand across his mouth. His eyes are too bright--whether from the drink or the Gillyweed or the emotion of the night, Draco can't tell. "Your dad's hero did it." His voice is bitter.

Draco knows part of the story. Everyone does. The Dark Lord tracked Potter's parents down. Killed them. Tried to kill Potter, but got bested by an infant. Draco'd always thought it rather stupid of the Dark Lord, really. Babies weren't invincible, after all. Who the hell would need to use a Killing Curse on an infant?

"I'm sorry," Draco says. He nudges Potter's knee with his. That slight bit of contact makes his palms sweat, his stomach tighten. "If it helps, I rather think my father and his friends are right tits."

Potter rubs his jaw. It's stubbled; he hasn't shaved again, and Merlin, what that does to Draco. "You didn't think so when we were kids."

We're still kids, Draco wants to say, but he's not sure that's true. At least for Potter. He's grown up into a man. Draco's still not certain what he's trying to be. He sighs. Looks up at the stars. They're bright in the night sky, like the diamonds in his mother's jewellery cases.

"I was really stupid when we were younger," Draco says after a moment. "I thought the world of my father. He was everything to me, and I wanted to be just like him." He bites his lip. Thinks about his father in Azkaban now. Draco loves him. He always will. Whatever Lucius has done, he's still the father of Draco's youth, the father who loved Draco, who cared for him, who told him he could become anything he wished to be.

Within reason, of course.

Lucius doesn't understand why Draco needs to be here at Flamel, why he's studying wizarding agriculture. His father had wanted Draco to be in politics, to hold power. That's the last thing Draco wants now.

"I don't want to be Lucius," Draco says to Potter, and there's a certain thrill in saying the words aloud to someone who isn't Pansy or Blaise or Greg. It makes them mean more, Draco thinks, and he looks over at Potter, his mouth set. "What my father sought, that power he craved? What good did it do him? He's destroyed. Even when he comes out of Azkaban, he'll never be the man he once was." Draco runs a hand through his hair, looks out over the grassy sweep of the courtyard. "I love him, but I pity him, and I don't want to be him. Not any longer."

His hand falls down to his forearm, his fingers settling over the Mark on his arm, the black smear on his pale skin that he keeps hidden away. That he wants to forget. That he's never told anyone other than Pansy and Greg he took. Not even the Aurors who arrested him and his parents after the war. Potter'd stepped in, spoken for Draco and his mother before the Mark could be revealed. There are whispers, of course. Blaise suspects, but Draco won't talk about it. The Mark's the reason Draco knows any hope he might have with Potter is impossible. When Potter sees it, he'll turn away, and to him, Draco'll never be anything more than a Death Eater.

Because how could anyone who took the Mark regret it? That's what the Prophet's said since the end of the war. That being Marked marked one for life, made permanent that choice, that stupid decision agreed to in a moment of rage and fragility, rather than letting one change, realise the stupidity of one's youth.

Draco's not that angry boy any longer. He's different now. He's free.

Potter doesn't say anything. He doesn't even look at Draco.

Draco reaches over. Brushes his fingertips against Potter's shoulder. Potter doesn't pull away.

He draws in a ragged breath. "I miss them," Potter says, and his voice cracks. "I don't even remember them, but I miss them."

"They're your parents," Draco says. He can't imagine what it would be like to not know his mother, his father, even, however much he might hate Lucius some days. His palm flattens between Potter's shoulder blades, and he can feel the warmth of Potter through the thick cotton of that horribly orange shirt. "If you didn't miss them, I'd be concerned. Besides, you didn't have the usual teenage angst in which you loathed your parents merely for existing. Pans is still coming out of that one, but given how utterly exasperating her mother can be, it's not as if I can blame her."

Potter turns his head, gives Draco a faint smile. "How is it," he asks, "that you of all people can make me feel less mental about things?"

Draco shrugs, but there's a warmth flooding through him, sparkling more brightly than the cheap prosecco he's been drinking all evening. He hugs himself a bit tighter, pulling the cuffs of his jumper down over his wide knobby knuckles. "Perhaps I don't expect you to be perfect," he says after a moment. "You know. The whole Saviour of the Wizarding World bollocks."

"Yeah," Potter says, just looking at Draco. Light glints off the rims of his glasses, hiding his eyes. "You never really bought into that, did you?"

"Why should I?" Draco keeps his voice light, but a tremour goes through him. He rubs his thumb along the ribbed edging of his cuff. The cashmere's soft against his skin. Warm. "Did you?"

Potter doesn't answer, and Draco can't bear to look over at him. At least not until Potter laughs, a loud, quick bark of amusement. When Draco finally glances his way, Potter's studying him, his face relaxed in a way Draco hasn't seen for a while. "That's what I like about you, when you're not being a complete prat."

Draco swallows. Pretends that doesn't sting a bit. "I've no idea what you're on about." To be honest, he truly doesn't know.

"You do." Potter leans closer. He smells like beer and Gillyweed smoke and everything that's so intrinsically Potter. Draco can't move. Can't breathe. "You're one of the few people who's never given a damn that I'm Harry Potter. Unless it's to tell me how stupidly inept I am or call me Scarface."

"Well," Draco says, his voice hoarse. "I really don't know why you don't use a glamouring charm to cover that awful thing up." Except he hopes Potter never does. The scar looks rakish on him. Dangerous. A reminder of what he'd survived.

Perhaps that's why Draco's never destroyed his Mark. It's not that he's proud of what it means, but it's still part of who he is, a memory of the boy he once was. He's thought of changing it, of going into a Muggle tattoo parlour and having the essence of it covered up, wrapped in something more meaningful. But he hasn't the nerve. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.

"You're mental," Potter murmurs, and the way he's looking at Draco makes Draco's heart race. Potter's pupils are huge, blown wide by the Gillyweed; Draco knows his must be as well. Potter reaches out, brushes Draco's loose hair back behind one ear. Straightens the bloody laurel wreath.

Draco's breath catches.

"Maybe Root wasn't wrong about us," Potter whispers. "Maybe we aren't awful together." He studies Draco's face, then he smiles, wide and quick. His fingertip brushes across the bridge of Draco's nose. "I never realised you have freckles," he says. "Just the tiniest bit…"

"Liar." Draco turns his face away, his cheeks suddenly warm in the cool night air. "I've no such thing." He does, but they're barely noticeable unless he's been outside in the sun. Which he has been recently, stomping through fields and puddles with Potter at his side. His heart aches. He knows he can't have Potter, shouldn't want him. Knows that everything Potter's saying tonight he'll forget in the morning. They're not in their right minds, either of them.

"Malfoy," Potter says, and his voice is so soft, so needy that Draco can't help but look at him. Potter's fingertips skim Draco's jaw, and Circe, Draco's only a man. He closes his eyes, lets himself enjoy the gentle touch. And when Potter's thumb brushes Draco's bottom lip, Draco lets out a quiet sigh. He wants this. Wants Potter to lean closer, wants to feel the faint huff of Potter's warm breath across his mouth

Just like that.

"Please," Potter says, and Draco opens his eyes, looks into Potter's face. "May I?" Potter's knuckles brush Draco's cheek, and all Draco can do is nod. He'll kick himself for this tomorrow. He'll tell himself he's a bloody fool. But here, now, beneath this deep indigo sky scattered with shining diamond stars, on this night when the veil between worlds is paper-thin, anything feels possible. Even Draco and Potter and the kiss to which Draco can't say no.

Potter's lips are warm and chapped. HIs hands slide up, cupping Draco's face, and they tremble ever so slightly against Draco's skin. The kiss is slow, unsteady. Potter's glasses get in the way; they bump Draco's nose, press into Draco's cheek. He doesn't care, because one kiss turns into three, three into twenty, and then Potter has Draco pressed back against the steps, and they're terribly uncomfortable but Potter's kissing him still. The laurel wreath slides off; Potter's fingers are tangling in Draco's hair, and they're both breathing hard, as the kisses deepen, as Potter's tongue flicks against Draco's teeth, tasting Draco, letting Draco open himself to him.

It's the most intimate kiss Draco's ever received. He feels laid out beneath Potter, exposed in a way he can't explain and could never stop. All of Draco's inhibitions are gone, all the worries and fears that keep him buttoned up, that make it easier to have sex with a complete stranger than with someone who knows him the way Potter does.

And when Potter's hand slides beneath the hem of Draco's jumper, Draco doesn't stop him. His cock is hard and aching, pressing against the flies of his jeans, and his fingers are slipping through Potter's hair, holding him down into the next kiss, his teeth nipping at Potter's lower lip. The touch of Potter's fingertips across his skin makes Draco gasp, and Potter just laughs into the kiss, a soft rumble that sends gooseflesh rising across Draco's arms.

Potter shifts. Draco can feel the swell of Potter's prick against his hip, knows that Potter wants this as badly as he does. It's just the two of them out here in the courtyard, half-hidden by the shadows. They could do whatever they want. Be whomever they want. No one would know.

It's what Draco wants more than anything.

Until he hears Weasley bellow across the courtyard. "Harry! Harry, where the fuck are you?"

Draco stills beneath Potter. Potter pulls back, his hair hanging in his face, his glasses askew, his mouth wet and swollen and oh so very pink.

"I'm going to kill him," Potter says, and Weasley's shouting again, calling for Potter. "I'm really going to fucking kill him."

Draco wants to push against Potter, wants to rut himself up against Potter's cock. To hell with Weasley. But he knows what'll happen if they're discovered. What kind of ridicule Potter will face. He struggles to sit up; he can still feel the heated press of Potter's body against his. "You should answer him or he'll have the whole bloody uni out here looking for you."

Potter looks dismayed. "He wouldn't."

But they both know Weasley would.

"The Auror force too," Draco says. And that's the last thing he wants, to see Pansy smirking down at him, with his prick hard for Potter like this. He manages to clamber to his feet. Potter's still sprawled out beneath him, and to look away is the hardest thing Draco has ever done. Weasley's hanging out of Granger's window, half-dressed, his ginger hair a mess. He hasn't seen them yet. Draco's certain that if Weasley had, the bastard wouldn't be able to hide his disgust at Potter with Draco of all people, so he feels rather safe in adding, "You could slip back up there unnoticed."

For a moment, Potter frowns at him.

"It's better like this," Draco says, and he doesn't know why he just doesn't shut the bloody fuck up. "Between the alcohol and the Gillyweed…." He trails off, then draws in a ragged breath. "Well, we wouldn't want to make any stupid mistakes, would we?" He turns away, smoothing his jumper back into place.

Potter doesn't say anything.

"Harry," Weasley shouts again, and then he leans back inside the window. "I can't find him, love."

"Go," Draco says. He tries to hide the crack in his voice. "Really, Potter, I've other things to be doing tonight anyway. It's not all about you, you do realise."

When he looks back at Potter, Potter's mouth is tight, drawn. "If you feel that way, Malfoy…." Potter shoves his hands in his pockets. He almost seems angry with Draco, which is utterly ridiculous. Potter's just high and handsy, that's all. He'll go back into the party and find someone else to take back up to his rooms tonight. Someone more appropriate than Draco Malfoy, the most pathetic former Death Eater in existence.

"The last thing I want is to be caught out here with you." Draco tries to put a sneer back in his voice. He fails, but it doesn't seem to matter. Potter steps back as if he's been slapped.

"Right." Potter's jaw shifts. Tenses. "Then I reckon this is good night."

Draco just nods, mute with disappointment. He doesn't trust himself to say anything else.

Potter looks at him for a long moment, as if he thinks Draco might change his mind.

And Draco could. If he thought no one would care. If he himself didn't give a fuck about Potter being caught with him, about what that might do to Potter's reputation.

The shit of it all is that Draco cares far too much about Potter to ever do that to him.

So he shrugs, turns away again. "Good night," he manages to get out, and if Potter notices how rough Draco's voice is, he doesn't say. He just looks at Draco one last time, then turns on his heel and strides away, his shoulders stiff, his back straight.

Draco watches Potter leave.

"Oi," Potter shouts when he's halfway across the lawn, and Draco almost thinks Potter's calling to him until Potter adds, "Put some fucking clothes on. Ron. No one needs to see that much of your tits, mate."

Weasley just laughs and flicks two fingers Potter's way. "Come back up and have a beer with me," he shouts from the window. "Hermione says I can only have another if you're with me 'cause I might do something stupid."

Draco rolls his eyes, sinks back into the shadows of the steps. Weasley's entire existence is made of idiocy, so he doesn't see why Granger would object tonight of all nights.

And then Potter's gone, back through the porter's gate and up the staircase to the student quarters. Draco's left alone--although he almost thinks Weasley looks his way as he's closing the window. But that would be madness. Weasley doesn't know he's out here.

He bends down, picks up his cup of prosecco. He drains it in one swallow, his hand only barely shaking as he does. The rush of the Gillyweed's starting to fade around the edges; Draco feels nauseous. Tired. The enormity of what he's done, what he almost continued to do, is only now sinking in.

Everything's changed.

It has to. Draco can't pretend he didn't kiss Potter. Can't pretend that his body didn't want Potter's, that he wouldn't have been willing to ride Potter here in the middle of the fucking courtyard.

"Oh, God," he murmurs, and he feels like sicking up. What an idiot he is. This'll be all over the college by morning. They'll all look at him. Pity him. Think him a tart, a twat, a stupid fool, and none of them will be wrong, will they?

Draco tries to breathe, tries to stop the panic rising up in him, the certainty that he's destroyed the rest of his term. He clenches the plastic cup to his chest, his heart thudding wildly. It's too much, and he wants to sink back down on the steps, to stay there the rest of the night, away from the others, silent and alone.

Instead he forces himself to take a step forward. Then another. The anxiety slowly eases. Not entirely, but enough for him to make his way across the courtyard, back past Bloxham's room. The porter looks up as Draco passes.

"All right here, lad?" Bloxham's face creases in an approximation of worry.

Draco somehow manages to nod, to say, "I'm fine," past the tightness in his throat.

Bloxham doesn't seem convinced. He gives Draco an even look. "Maybe it's best if you get some rest," he says finally. "Things might seem a bit different in the morning."

"Right," Draco says, but he knows he sounds blank. Grim, even. He tries to give Bloxham a smile. "Too much to drink and all that."

"All that indeed." Bloxham holds up a hand. "Wait." He disappears, then comes back a minute or two later with a phial in his hand. He holds it out. "This'll do you in time for tutes."

Draco takes the phial curiously. "Hangover potion?"

"Helps with the Gillyweed too." Bloxham gives Draco a faint smile. "You and Potter both reek of it, I'm afraid."

Brilliant. Draco knows Bloxham could turn them in, could even get them sent down if the dean wanted to make an example of them. Or of him, really, because no one would be that foolish when it came to Potter. "We didn't--"

"I'll keep your secrets, lad." Bloxham's hand settles on Draco's shoulder. Squeezes. "I have for many a Flamelian over the years. I've no plan to stop that anytime soon."

The lump in Draco's throat grows bigger. He swallows, looks over at the porter. "Thank you," he says, and Bloxham just nods.

"Up to bed with you then," Bloxham says. "And half the phial before bed with a big glass of water, then the rest in the morning when you get up. Don't forget to set your alarm, mind."

"I won't." Draco trudges up the staircase, then down the hall, going past Granger's quarters towards his own.

When he opens the door, his rooms are quiet. Dark. Empty.

Draco casts a Lumos. A lamp beside the sofa sputters to life, casting shadows over the small room, the worn rug. Home, he thinks, or what semblance he has of it for now. It's not the Manor, but that's gone, held by the Ministry and not the Malfoys. This is Draco's life.

Oh, how far the foolish have fallen, Draco thinks.

He shuts the door with a sigh.

***

Draco wakes up to the sound of his shower.

He rolls over, peers at the clock beside his bed. It's barely half-six and the sky outside of his windows is only barely starting to fade from dark to grey. He flops back in bed, staring up at his ceiling as the world tilts around him. His head feels fuzzy, as if it's wrapped in cotton wool. He blinks, presses his palms against his aching eyes.

Merlin, he's never mixing Gillyweed and prosecco again.

The shower's still running, and Draco frowns. It's only just starting to seep into to his aching brain that it really shouldn't be on. He hadn't brought Potter home with him, thank Circe, and when he'd finally fallen into bed, Pansy hadn't come by. He glances over at the other side of his narrow bed. It's still unrumpled, so she hadn't slipped in and slept with him after he'd lost consciousness.

With a faint groan Draco rolls out of bed. He's in nothing but his pants, but really, he's not in the mood to be arsed by that little detail. At least he has the presence of mind to grab his wand from the side table--sharing his home with mad Death Eaters had instilled that bit of self-preservation in him. There's a chill in the air that sends gooseflesh across Draco's bare chest and down his arms. For some reason he appears to have opened the bedroom window in the middle of the night. He pulls the leaded glass pane shut as he passes, the worn wooden floorboards creaking beneath his feet.

Draco's just reached the door to the bath when the shower shuts off. He throws the door open; a cloud of steam rolls out towards him, and he tries to wave it away. A moment later, a wand's pressed to his throat.

"Too late," Pansy says cheerfully. "You're dead." She shakes her wet hair, droplets flying off and hitting Draco's face. He sputters and pushes her away.

"Why the fuck are you in my shower?" Draco scowls at Pansy as she brushes past him, Draco's favourite blue towel wrapped around her. "You've a flat of your own in London, if Millie hasn't kicked you out of it yet."

Pansy flings open Draco's wardrobe. "As if she would. Mills and I get along perfectly, especially on morning I don't wake her up." She starts flipping through the shirts hung neatly in the wardrobe.

"But it's all right for me, is it?" Draco considers hexing his best friend, except she's an Auror now, and knowing Pans, she'd drag him into London and charge him with assaulting an officer of Her Majesty's Magical Government, the cow. So he tosses his wand on the chair in the corner and sits on the edge of his bed, sulking. "I hate you, you know."

"Of course you do, darling." Pansy pulls a white shirt from a hanger. "I need to borrow clothes," she says. "I'm actually not joking about waking Millie up. She's a beast in the morning." Before Draco can even open his mouth, she adds, "And you're not, at least not in the same way, so don't even start." She digs through the pile of clothes she'd left on the floor in front of the bath and pulls out her bra, sniffs it. "Not horrible, but I'm not wearing the knickers again."

Draco waves a hand towards the chest of drawers in the corner. "You left some the last time you did this, you slag. I laundered them and put them in the top drawer in case this happened again." Which, of course, he'd known it would. Casual sex is what Pansy likes; Draco sometimes thinks it'd be less attractive for her if her mother hadn't had so many bloody hangups about Pansy possibly being sexually active at Hogwarts. Still, it's not as if Draco can judge. He has years worth of one night stands trailing behind him, most of them Muggles. He's still not sure if his father would be more horrified that he shags men or that he likes a good Muggle prick up his arse from time to time.

Although, really, he's fairly certain his father would be most apoplectic if he ever knew that Draco's deepest fantasy, the one he wanks to most nights, is being on his knees in front of Harry Potter with Potter's enormous cock gagging his throat. Not that Draco knows for certain that Potter's prick is that big. Even after last night. But one can hope, can't one?

"You're brill," Pansy says, and she rummages through the top drawer until she finds the scrap of silk and lace he'd tucked away for her. She pulls them on under her towel, which she then proceeds to cast aside. Pans is careful not to show her bits Draco's way, but she doesn't really give a damn about hiding her tits. It's not fair, she points out. He can go around flashing his nips at her, but society says she can't do it in return, and that's rubbish. To be honest, Draco thinks she has a point. Besides, he's been desensitised by now. He's seen Pansy's breasts practically on weekly basis since he came out to her before anyone else two summers ago, and last Christmas hols, he'd been part of a wine-fueled, three-hour discussion between her and Millie about whether or not Pansy's left breast was bigger than her right.

It is, and Pansy'd been furious about that.

"So I assume since you didn't sleep here, you slept elsewhere," Draco says as Pansy puts on her bra. She turns, lifts her hair up with one hand, and he fastens the back of the bra for her without being asked. There are three small love bites along the side of her neck, down along the curve of her shoulder, and a few scratches across one of her shoulder blades. Well, well. Patil's an eager girl, isn't she?

Pansy lets her hair fall loose again, looks back over her shoulder at him. Her smile is sly but happy. "I may have been up in Padma's rooms." She bites her lip, looks away, and Draco could swear a faint flush is creeping across her cheeks. "We slept together."

Draco frowns. "Is that what we call fucking now?" Pans isn't usually so cadgy about her sexual exploits. Particularly not the sort that leave marks.

"No." Pansy turns around, reaches for the shirt she'd laid on the bed beside Draco. "Fucking is still fucking, and we did plenty of that, let me tell you." She draws the shirt onto one arm, then the other, shrugging it up onto her shoulders. "The things that woman can do with her tongue, Circe. I came twice before she even got her fingers inside me, and when she finally did, I was so wet--"

"I get the idea." Draco grimaces. "You came, you saw, you finally conquered multiple times, it seems."

Pansy's quiet as she buttons up the shirt. She dips her head; her wet hair falls forward, hiding her face for a moment. And then she says, "I slept there." She looks over at Draco, and her lip is caught between her teeth. "I actually slept, Draco. Full on snoring, even."

"Oh." Draco doesn't know what else to say. Pansy never stays over with anyone she fucks. She has a brilliant time, makes whomever she's with feel amazing, and then she leaves. She never feels comfortable enough to stay in someone else's bed; the only person she's ever actually been able to sleep with is Draco, and even then she's up once or twice in the night.

"Yeah." Pansy picks her black trousers up off the floor, slides into them. She tucks Draco's shirt in as she zips the trousers up the side; Draco half-hates that it looks better on her than him, even if it does pull a bit over her tits. That doesn't seem to matter; Pansy's already rummaging in his jumper drawer. "We fucked. We slept. We fucked again." She looks back over at Draco, one of his black jumpers wadded up in her hand, and good God. Her cheeks are definitely flushed now. "I think I want to fuck her again."

Draco's taken aback. "Do you fancy her?" He grips the edge of the bed, twisting the dove-grey coverlet between his fingers. He can't look away from Pansy; this feels oddly momentous. "I mean, more than just wanting to shag her?"

Pansy pulls the jumper over her head, struggles into the sleeves. She walks over to the long mirror that leans against the corner walls, staring at herself for a long moment before smoothing the soft wool down, straightening the collar of the shirt. Her reflection looks back at Draco. "I think I might," she whispers, and her face is tragic. She turns around, crosses her arms over her chest. Her eyes are wide; her wet hair hangs limp against her cheeks. "I asked her to go to dinner with me tomorrow night."

"And?" Draco's throat hurts. He's jealous, he realises, and he's not certain if it's the idea of someone like Patil taking his best friend from him, or the fact that Pansy can do something like that, just ask Patil out as if there's no awful drama involved.

"She said she'd like that." Pansy's smile could light up a bloody Quidditch stadium, and Merlin, Draco hates her for a moment. Wholly. Completely.

Draco has to look away, has to stand up, has to catch his breath. He walks over to the window and looks out on the courtyard below, a green and beige blur through the thick, bubbled glass. "That's brill," he says after a moment, but he knows his voice sounds flat. Unhappy. His hatred swings back to himself. What a fucking shit friend he is. He tries to smile as he looks back at Pansy. "I'm thrilled for you."

Pansy just watches him. Her own smile fades. "Something's wrong." She shifts from foot to foot, her bare toes flexing against the wooden floor. "What aren't you telling me?"

"Nothing." Draco tries to lighten his voice, tries to widen his smile. "So where are you planning on taking Patil tomorrow night? There's that lovely Italian place down Diagon that Mother used to like…" He trails off. His mother isn't welcome there any more. The owners had made that perfectly clear the last time she'd tried to book a table.

"Oh, no you don't." Pansy walks over to him, takes his hand. Draco almost pulls away, but he knows it wouldn't do any good. She draws him back to the bed; they both sit. Pansy studies him, then sighs. "I'm assuming this isn't about me and Padma."

Draco thinks about insisting it is, but he can't do that to her. So he shakes his head, and the tightness in the back of hit throat only hurts more.

They sit silently for a moment, then Pansy rests her palm against Draco's back, flat between his shoulder blades. Her skin is warm against his, and Draco feels so fucking vulnerable like this, sat here in nothing but his pants, his body still half-pissed, half-high. He rubs his hand against his nose, drags it down over his jaw. He sighs, but it's a ragged, heavy rattle of breath that says far more than he'd like it to.

"You're all right," Pansy says, her voice quiet. "Tell me that, at least. No one hurt you--"

"No." Draco shakes his head. "It's nothing like that."

Pansy nods. "Good." She says it softly, but there's an edge to the word that makes Draco glance over at her. She doesn't look away from him. "If anything like that happened, you'd tell me, yeah?" Her jaw tightens. "Because I'd have them in a holding cell in a blink. I don't care who they might be."

Draco reaches over, squeezes her hand. "You don't have to."

"Well." Pansy's fingers curl around his. "I would."

They're quiet again. The alarm goes off on the clock; Pansy reaches over and shuts it off. She looks over at Draco. "Is this about Potter?"

And Draco wants to say no, but he knows he can't, so he draws in an unsteady breath. "Isn't it always about Potter?"

Pansy doesn't answer.

Draco huffs a soft laugh that isn't really amused. He rubs his hands over his face. "Fuck," he murmurs, and then he looks over at Pansy. "I kissed him last night."

Except that was more than a kiss, and Draco knows it. He would have ended up fucking Potter if Weasley hadn't interrupted them, and his whole bloody body wants to have had Potter rutting up against him, wants Potter's prick to have slid over his, hard and hot and slick at the tip, wants Potter's fingers to have stretched him wide as Draco pushed back against him. A shiver goes through him; Pansy notices.

"Oh, Draco." Her voice is quiet. The look she gives him is full of pity; Draco has to turn his head. Her hand smoothes down the knobs of his spine, her fingers featherlight against his skin. He leans forward, his elbows on his knees, his head bent. He wants to hyperventilate, but what good would that do other than make him light-headed and nauseous? He tries to breathe, tries to count each small exhale and inhale, tries to relax his body against the rush of anxiety that's bubbling up inside of him. It doesn't work. He clenches his fists, his fingernails digging into the soft flesh of his palm, bites his lip hard. The flare of pain helps a bit, but it doesn't keep any of it at bay.

"I'm a fool," Draco manages to say. His voice catches; he swallows. "A pathetic one at that."

Pansy doesn't say anything at first. Her fingertips sketch slow, small circles across Draco's back. It's strangely settling; Draco feels his body relax a bit. "It's not like I didn't know," Pansy says after a moment. "I mean, not about the kiss. But about your attraction to him. I really did think it was just a pash, though. Something that would fade away, something that was just fun to feel for a bit."

"That's all it is," Draco protests. Or at least that's what it'd been at first. Draco'd liked the feelings Potter was stirring up in him, had liked the fluttery twist in his stomach when Potter walked in the room. But it's been building up too much. Making him feel far too out of control.

And then there'd been last night.

Pansy's hand stills. She breathes out, a quiet, slow exhale that makes Draco look over at her. "It's not." She turns her head, meets his gaze. "It probably never has been. You've been fascinated by Potter since we were in school, Draco. We all knew it. I thought this latest was just a bit of that old feeling coming back because you were in tutorial together. But this…." She waves her hand towards Draco, her forehead furrowed in concern. "This doesn't feel like that now."

Draco's shoulders sag. He presses his hands against his face, his elbows digging into his thighs. He tries to breathe, but it comes out as a half-laugh, half-sob. He hates the hangover Gillyweed gives him. The hopelessness he feels in the pit of his belly. He's half-tempted to push the window open again, throw himself out. But that'd be foolish and ridiculously dramatic, and whilst Draco's not opposed to a good tantrum now and then, he's fairly certain Pansy would object to him taking it that far.

So he lifts his head again. Draws in a settling breath. "I'm nothing more than a fool," he says again, and this time he half-believes himself. "I wasn't in my right mind, and I let things get out of hand--"

"A kiss is letting it get out of…" Pansy trails off, her eyes widening. "It wasn't just a kiss, was it?"

Fucking hell. Draco pushes himself off the bed, rubs his hands over his cold arms. "It wasn't that much more--"

"Draco." Pansy's on her feet now. She scrapes her fingers through her damp hair, twists it into a knot at her nape. A snap of her fingers, and it's holding tight; the pinning spell had been one of the first beauty charms her mother had taught her. Pansy's good enough at it to do it wandlessly now. "For the love of Circe, tell me you're not falling in love with Potter." The furrow between her brows deepens. "That'd be a disaster."

And really, Draco's offended. "Because I'm that horrible of a catch?"

"No," Pansy says sharply. "Because it's Potter, who can do no wrong, and you, whom half the bloody wizarding world seems to want to blame for the actions of the adults around you, which is bloody fucking stupid if I do say so myself!"

Draco loves her loyalty. He walks over, holds his arms out. Pansy steps into them, wrapping her own arms tightly around his. He presses his face against her hair; she smells like his shampoo, all light and citrussy. "They're not entirely wrong," he says, and he pulls back enough to look down at the fading Dark Mark on his forearm. "I wasn't innocent."

Pansy runs a finger along the greying curve of the skull. Her fingertip's warm against his skin. "You were a child. Your prefrontal cortex was still fucked up."

"Who's to say it still isn't?" Draco gives Pansy a small smile. He pulls away from her. "I know Potter's an awful idea."

"Terrible." Pansy catches Draco's hand before he walks away, holds him still. She looks up at him, tucks his bed-mussed hair behind one ear. "But do you want him?" Her gaze is fierce, searching. Draco wants to look away; he can't.

"I don't know," Draco says, almost truthfully. He's not certain what he wants any longer. "But I don't think he really gives a fuck anymore." It'd been one night. One chance. Potter'd been pissed himself, and the Gillyweed had just loosened both their inhibitions. Draco could have had anything he wanted from Potter last night. Now that the morning's broken, so has whatever mad Hallowe'en charm the moon'd spun around them. "Potter and I had our opportunity. We both let it go."

Pansy doesn't look all that convinced. "Promise me you'll be careful?" She tugs a bit of the white shirt cuffs out from beneath the ribbed edge of the jumper sleeve. Again, Draco hates that his clothes look so elegant on her. Her gaze flicks up to him. "I don't want you hurt."

Draco knows. He cups her cheek, smoothes his thumb across her temple. "Promise me the same. Patil can be vicious." He's only half-joking. He's seen Padma when she loses her temper. And Pansy's terrible about provoking people.

"That's what I'm counting on, darling." Pansy's smile is quick and bright. "Brings a little spice to bed."

"You're incorrigible." Draco eyes Pansy. She's far more gone for Patil than she's willing to admit, he thinks. Especially if she's trying to deflect with sex. He pats her face. "Let me put on clothes and we'll hit up Greggs for a sausage roll before you have to Floo into the Ministry?" That's Pansy's favourite breakfast, the greasier the better.

Pansy hesitates, and for an alarming second, Draco thinks she's going to refuse. But then she sighs and says, "What the hell. I could use a bit of grease to soak up the rest of the alcohol." She claps her hands at him. "Get on with it then. I have to beat Weasley into the office today or he'll be lording it over me until after lunch."

"I need a shower, you cow," Draco says, picking up the towel she'd thrown down earlier. He reaches for the now half-empty phial Bloxham had given him last night. He downs the rest of it in one swallow, grimacing at the bitter taste before he looks over at Pansy. "And you've probably used up all my hot water."

"Probably," Pansy agrees, and she laughs when Draco snaps the towel her way. "Five minutes, and then I'm leaving you here alone with your sorry arse."

Draco flicks two fingers her way, then slams the bath door shut on her amused face.

"Cow," he shouts again as he turns the shower on, but he's smiling himself as he shucks off his pants and steps beneath the lukewarm spray.

Whatever idiocy went on between him and Potter last night is over. Draco's fine with that. He has to be. Besides, he has his friends and his work and his future to think of.

Really, there's nothing else he needs.

***

Draco had managed to avoid Potter for days--an almost impossible feat given the close quarters they live and work and eat in. But still, he'd done it, even if it required him wolfing down his food in the dining hall and jumping up with his tray the moment Potter walked in.

That is, at least, until there was a sharp rap on his door late on Sunday night, and he'd opened it to find Potter there with Granger and Weasley behind him, looking supremely uneasy. But all Potter had said was, "We need to work on Root's project. Tomorrow afternoon good for you?" and Draco had just nodded.

Which is how he's now trudging through a Somerset field again, scowling at Potter, who hasn't spoken more than a dozen or so words to him since they Apparated from Oxford. At least this time there's no rain; the sky's a bright blue and filled with sunshine.

"I really don't know why we didn't take my suggestion," Draco says, not bothering to hide his pettiness. "We could have at least attempted to write a report about the Parkins made from wizarding oats that I found--"

"Boring." Potter doesn't even look back at Draco. He stops, his gaze scanning the riverbank. "No one give a shit about oatcakes that basically act as hallucinogens."

Draco makes a face at the back of Potter's head. "They're meant to enhance magical practice, you dolt. Mother says the Black family ate them on Boxing Day--"

"That explains a hell of a lot about the Black family," Potter says almost under his breath. He starts off across the field again. "Besides, I still think there's something to this Avalonian apple orchard, whatever Root says." He has that mulish look on his face again. "I'm not ready to give up on that."

Of course he's not. Draco stomps after Potter, pulling his Barbour tighter around him. At least it's not raining today, but it's cold and crisp, and they'd landed in the middle of a village fair down in Shepton Mallet, one of the hundreds of fairs happening around the country, given that it's Guy Fawkes Day. Tomorrow, of course, the carnival of light'll be starting up in the West Country. If he's honest, Draco just wants to find the nearest bonfire and warm his hands over it. He doesn't want to be here in the sodding middle of the Somerset countryside with Potter again, for fuck's sake.

Potter leads him down the riverbank again. "It should be here," Potter says, peering down the curve of the River Brue to where it disappears amidst the trees.

"Should be doesn't mean is." Draco eyes the empty stretch of river. There's no way to cross it. Not even a log stretched over the rushing water. He turns to leave. "I've better things to be wasting my time on today, Potter."

But Potter catches his arm before he can stride off, and the solid weight of Potter's fingers curled around his bicep brings Draco up short. He looks down at Potter's hand, golden brown against the drab olive of Draco's Barbour, then back up at Potter's face. Potter flushes a deep red, but his hand slides away slowly.

"Look," Potter says, his voice a bit rough, and Draco glances back at the river. A mist is settling over the water, and Draco can only just see the prow of a small boat pushing through it.

The boat bumps up against the riverbank, almost expectantly. Potter looks over at Draco. "We might as well try."

Draco presses his lips together. Exhales an angry breath from his nostrils. "I still say this is ridiculous. Root told us the apples weren't enough, and it's not as if he doesn't know Lefay. He could get any information he wants from her."

"I know." Potter's mouth is a stubborn scowl again. "But there's something…" He bites the side of his lip, rolls his shoulders. "I can't put my finger on it, but I can feel in my bones that we need to be here." He gives Draco a sideways glance. "I know that sounds mad."

Of course it does. And it's damned inconvenient for Draco. But as he studies Potter's sober face, he gives in. "Whatever," he says, and he starts down the riverbank towards the boat. Halfway down the steep incline, his foot slips and he tumbles forward before he can catch himself, sliding down the muddy bank and landing on his hip in the water. The suddenness of it all surprises him, and he sits stunned in the river, his hip aching, the cold water rushing around him, soaking his jeans and seeping into his boots. Draco blinks up at Potter, who's hurrying down the riverbank, his brows drawn together.

"Are you all right?" Potter wades into the river, holds a hand out to Draco. "You're not hurt, are you?"

Draco lets Potter pull him upright. "Only my dignity," he manages to say, but that's not entirely true. His hip hurts, and he thinks he might have wrenched his ankle. He looks down at his stinging palms. They're scraped a bit, and there's a shallow cut on his left hand where he must have tried to grab at a root on the way down. He wipes the blood away and winces.

Potter looks a bit flustered. "Maybe we should go back," he says, but Draco knows he doesn't want to. And he's surprised to realise that maybe he doesn't either now. He's soaked, and he's hurting, and it's bloody cold out here, but there's something about the way Potter's looking at Draco that makes his heart stutter a bit, puts a warmth in his cheeks.

"Fuck it," Draco says, half under his breath. He steadies the boat that's bobbing beside him. "Get in." When Potter hesitates, Draco glares at him. "It's more likely Lefay will have a salve I can use."

That seems to work. Potter scrambles into the boat, then holds his hand out to help Draco clamber in behind him. Draco sits heavily on the plank seat and reaches out for one of the oars. A drop of blood rolls off his palm and drops down onto the floor of the boat.

"As if I'd let you." Potter's nostrils flare. He settles both oars in the water and starts to pull them through, his shoulders hunching with each quick stroke. The boat shifts against the current, and then it's moving, fast enough for Draco to grab at the side to keep his balance. Potter's muscles stretch and bunch beneath his red and black-striped jumper, and then the mist's closing in around them, making it hard for Draco to see his hand in front of his face, much less Potter. In the depths of the mist, Potter becomes nothing more than a shadow, a grunt, a sharp intake of breath.

The boat scrapes across stones and earth, settling with a rough bump against the opposite riverbank. Potter steadies it with an oar, and then he hops out, moving up along the length of the boat to find Draco. His hand settles on Draco's elbow; he's nothing more than a glint of glasses and a mess of dark hair in the fog. "Careful," he says, and he helps Draco climb out. Draco's hip burns; he bites his lip hard to keep from exclaiming in pain. His boots splash in the shallow water, and he keeps hold of Potter's hand as they climb back up the riverbank.

"Good?" Potter asks when they reach the top. His fingers are still curled around Draco's.

Draco snatches his hand away. "Brilliant," he says, and he starts down the path without waiting for Potter, hiding his limp as best he can.

Potter just watches him for a moment, and then, with a sigh, he follows.

The mist fades away as they reach the outskirts of the apple orchard. It's silent, quiet. Draco expects to be pelted with rotten fruit again, but instead, there's nothing. Only a faint rustle of leaves as they pass down the lane. The sunshine's fainter here; clouds are rolling in from the west, thick and heavy and grey.

"Does something feel odd to you?" Potter's caught up with him; he falls into step at Draco's side.

Yes, Draco wants to say, but he doesn't. His boots are sloshing wetly along the earthen path, and he's cold in his wet jeans. He could cast a drying charm, but denim takes longer to pull the water from, and Draco doesn't want to stop in the middle of the orchard for something like that. It'd make his arse too easy of a target, and the purple bruise from last time has only just begun to yellow. No thanks to that fucking salve of Pansy's.

"Let's just find Lefay," Draco says, and Potter nods, drawing closer as the grey sky begins to darken. The lingering bit of sun's disappeared, and there's something Draco doesn't like about the way the clouds are hanging, low and dark in the sky, casting shadows across the orchard. It puts the hairs on his nape up. Almost absently he reaches back, lets his fingers trail across the back of his neck where the wisps of hair have slid out of the knot higher up. Draco shivers. Lets his hand drop.

They pick up their pace. The orchard's perfectly motionless, perfectly still. Almost unhappy, Draco thinks. He takes in the droop of the branches, the listlessness of the leaves. He reaches out to brush his fingertips against the rough bark of one tree; it shrinks back, as if the touch hurts.

Draco doesn't like that. He walks on, and his leg aches with each step. He bites the inside of his lip, pushes through the pain.

Until it's too much. Draco's ankle wobbles, his knee gives out. He lurches forward, certain he's going to hit the packed earth, but Potter's hands catch him. Hold him steady.

"All right there?" Potter's voice is warm against Draco's ear. It sends a shudder of want through Draco, and he hates himself for needing something he knows he can never have. Draco tries to straighten himself. Tries to pull away, but Potter doesn't let go. "Hey." Potter's hand settles on Draco's hip, as if he knows where the pain's coming from. "Give yourself a moment. Walking uphill's not easy."

Draco lets Potter pull him against his side. He's hyper-aware of Potter, of the musky scent of him, of the solidity of Potter's chest. Merlin, but he hates what Potter does to him, how Potter can make Draco want him with the slightest touch. Draco knows he's weak, and he wishes he could resist Potter, could put Potter out of his mind.

As if that could ever be possible.

Potter lets Draco lean against him as they start up the hill again. Draco almost feels as if the trees are watching them, as if they're holding their breath, albeit in a metaphorical way. Or perhaps not, given the strange stillness that falls over the orchard the deeper they move into it, Potter's arm wrapped around Draco's waist, Draco's draped over Potter's shoulder.

Thunder rumbles, and Draco peers up at the sky in dismay. There hadn't been rain forecast for Somerset when they'd left Oxford. Draco'd checked. "It's not supposed to rain," he says, and he looks up the path. Lefay's cottage isn't far, but Draco can't run for cover the way he might if his leg wasn't hurting like fuck. He remembers Lefay telling them that the trees could bring on the rain when they were out of sorts; that only makes his unease grow.

"We'll make it," Potter promises, and his fingers tighten against Draco's rib cage as he hurries them along.

Draco's not so certain. He winces as his hip twists the wrong way. "Merlin, Potter--"

But another thunderclap cuts him off, the type that rumbles so deeply one might feel it in one's bones, and a moment later, the rain comes, in fat, cool drops that spatter first against the dirt, then strike Draco's face, his hair, pouring down in a sudden torrent that neither he nor Potter can avoid.

Potter swears beneath his breath, and he starts to walk faster, half-dragging Draco behind. Until, that is, there's a rustle of leaves, a swish of branches, and then the rain is striking a canopy of red and gold that's forming above them, the trees nearest the path leaning over to cover them as they pass. It doesn't keep the rain completely out, but it helps, and in five minute or less they're stood at the edge of the orchard, looking over at Lefay's small, whitewashed cottage. The rain's coming down in sheets between the orchard and the house, and Draco doubts there'll be any bonfires and fireworks near the orchard tonight.

"Can you make it?" Potter asks, and Draco snorts.

"I'm not mortally wounded, you twit." Nevertheless, Draco's not looking forward to walking across the mudslide that once was Lefay's front garden. Still, he gathers his nerve, then nods sharply. "Might as well go."

The rain's nearly deafening when they walk into it. Thunder cracks above them again, and Draco's relieved when Potter flinches as well. Their feet slip in the mud, and Draco's grateful for his Barbour, even if he'd left his hood back in Oxford. He pulls the collar up, tries to duck his head, but to no avail. His hair's drenched, his face soaked by the time they make it to Lefay's kitchen door.

Potter bangs on the upper door. It swings open, and the scent of hot soup drifts out. "Ms Lefay!" Potter peers into the kitchen. "Mair!"

No answer.

Rain streams down Potter's face. His hair's plastered to his head, his glasses are speckled with rain, steamed up with his breath. How he manages to still be attractive, Draco's no idea. He's starting to suspect there's something terribly wrong with himself to be honest. It's ridiculous that drowned rat Potter could still make Draco's jeans feel too tight.

"She's not home," Potter says, once again stating the sodding obvious. The rain falls harder; Potter blinks behind his droplet-spattered glasses, then looks back into the warmth of the kitchen. "Fuck it," he says, and then he reaches in, unlatches the lower half of the Dutch door. He looks back at Draco. "Come on. You're shivering."

Draco is. He hesitates for a moment--there's something oddly Brothers Grimm about stepping into the house of a powerful witch like Mair Lefay, but the smell of the soup and the warmth of the kitchen draws him in. Potter helps him hobble to the table, and Draco sits with a soff huff of breath. The door swings shut behind them with a decided thump. Draco looks over at Potter. "That's weird."

"She lives in a sentient apple orchard," Potter says, his voice dry. "Everything about this place is weird." He surprises Draco when he crouches down in front of him and picks up one of Draco's booted feet.

"What the hell are you doing?" Draco frowns down at him, but Potter doesn't look up.

"Exactly what it looks like." Potter loosens the laces on Draco's boot, slides it off, along with Draco's sodden sock. He reaches for the other foot, does the same. "Where does it hurt?"

Draco flexes his long, narrow feet. The socks have left faint pink imprints on his pale skin. "The right ankle." It's a grudging admission, but he doesn't regret it when Potter's fingers close around his right foot, gently rubbing, twisting, pressing. Draco rests his head against the wall behind him. Circe, but it feels good.

"Better?" Potter asks, and Draco can only nod. He feels oddly lost when Potter lowers Draco's foot, stands up. Potter pulls the hem of his t-shirt from beneath his jumper and takes off his glasses, wiping the lenses on the t-shirt before sliding them back on the bridge of his nose. He looks around the kitchen, then rubs the back of his neck, distracted. "I reckon we'll need to wait out the storm a bit." He looks disappointed. "I'd hoped we could talk to--"

A small envelope flicks through the air, zipping past Potter and dropping onto the table beside Draco. He looks up at Potter. "Definitely weird."

Draco picks up the envelope as Potter sits across from him, his brow furrowed. The smooth parchment is addressed to Masters Potter and Malfoy in a smooth, flowing script that looks strangely old-fashioned, curiously formal. Draco frowns, then slides a finger beneath the flap, loosening it. Inside's a small, folded piece of paper--it looks like it's been torn off a shopping list pad. The same neat penmanship fills the printed lines across the paper.

"Malfoy and Potter," Draco reads. "Afraid I must miss your visit this evening; however, there's food on the hob and scrumpy in the pantry. There's also an apple tart in the oven that you must try." Here the ink's nearly bled through the paper with the number of times must has been underlined. "Back soon, but the storm might last quite some time. Make yourself at home--Happy to answer any questions you might have when I'm back. I've made the spare room up for the both of you. I'm sure you'll find it well-stocked for your needs. All best, Mair Lefay. P.S. There's a salve in the bath for Mr Malfoy's hip."

Potter looks a bit uncertain. "How the hell did she know we were coming? Or about your hip?"

Both questions Draco'd like answered himself. But before he can say anything, there's another crack of thunder, sounding right above them, and the rain streams even harder down the kitchen windows. "We can't go out in that," he says. "She's right." Besides, the food smells brilliant, and Draco hasn't eaten much today. He's been too fucking nervous about being with Potter.

"Yeah, maybe." Potter turns a troubled gaze towards the windows. He runs a hand through his hair, then sighs. "I don't like any of this."

Neither does Draco, but what are they to do? "It was your idea to come out here in the first place," he says, and he knows he sounds peevish. Potter doesn't seem to care.

They sit for a moment, both lost in their thoughts. Lefay's a more powerful witch than Draco had expected when he'd first met her. But that was his own foolishness, wasn't it? He'd seen an old woman, living alone in an apple orchard. He hadn't stopped to really consider the fact that said apple orchard was fucking hidden away on Avalon.

His head goes up. "Potter."

Potter looks over at him, a frown tugging his mouth down at the corners. "What?"

"What if you weren't wrong?" And oh, how it costs Draco to admit that. "About Mair being…" He trails off, unable to say the name. It's too mad, really. That sort of thing never happens in reality; it's meant for terrible films and even worse novels. "You know." He clears his throat, lowers his voice as if Lefay might be listening in the thatched eaves. "The original Le Fay."

"Morgan?" Potter sounds amused. "Are you actually suggesting I'm not a complete idiot?"

Draco scowls at him. "Obviously not. I'm just saying…" He reaches up, pulls his hair out of the knot on the back of his head. It falls forward in thin, damp locks. "This is strange. All of it." He squeezes the rain from his hair, lets it roll down the waxed cotton of his Barbour. He slides his fingers through his hair, loosening it a bit. A quick, wordless drying charm and it's falling softly around his face. Much better. Draco unsnaps his Barbour, slides it off his narrow shoulders. His grey jumper's only damp around the neckline, where the rain had seeped beneath his jacket collar. "What if she is? I mean, if nothing less, she has to be a descendant, right?" He chews his lip. "Lefay's not exactly a common surname."

Potter doesn't answer for a moment. He's looking at Draco with an odd expression on his face. One that makes Draco's cheeks warm, makes him glance away. And then Potter clears his throat. "Or maybe she just has a ward on the boat and knows when someone's coming."

That, Draco supposes, is far more likely. Still, he finds himself saying, "She didn't seem to know we were coming last time."

"Or she's a good liar." Potter leans his elbows on the table. "Didn't you think my theory was rubbish before? What's different now?"

Draco doesn't know. He can just feel something a bit off about all of this. Still, he can't explain that to Potter. Not really. So he sighs and shrugs and says, "Nothing."

Potter leans back, but he doesn't look convinced. "Look," he says finally. "I'm hungry, and there's food on the hob. Do you want some?"

That's probably a horrible idea. "She might have poisoned it. You heard what Root said about his scrumpy."

"Jesus Christ, Malfoy." Potter gives him a pained look. "That's fucking grim of you."

And perhaps it is. Draco glares at Potter. "And if you drop dead after a spoonful, I'm not going to resuscitate you." Except Draco knows that's a lie. He'd do anything to save Potter, and he really does hate himself for that fact.

Potter just laughs, deep and warm and throaty, and then he pushes himself up out of his chair. "Let's see then." Before Draco can stop him, he's over at the hob, lifting the lid off the soup pot. He pulls a spoon from a drawer, and dips it in, lifting it out and popping it into his mouth.

He turns towards Draco. "See, I told you--" Potter's eyes widen; he grabs his throat, the spoon falling from his fingers and clattering to the floor. "Malf--" His voice breaks, sounds strangled, and Draco's on his feet.

"Potter--" Draco shrieks as Potter slides to the ground, his body jerking. A moment later and Draco's knelt beside Potter, his hand on Potter's chest, Potter's eyes blank, his mouth slack. "Don't you fucking die, you twat--I told you--"

And then Potter's laughing at him, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he turns his head towards Draco. "So you wouldn't let me die."

"Fuck you." Draco slaps his palm against Potter's chest, hard. His breath is coming in short, quick gasps; he's half-incandescent with rage, half with fear. "You're a bloody wanker, Harry Potter--"

Potter's fingers close around Draco's wrist. "Hey," Potter says, his voice low. He sits up, and his laughter's gone. He looks at Draco in concern, his thumb tracing a small circle around the inside of Draco's wrist. "I didn't mean to upset you."

Draco turns his head away, lets his hair fall forward, covering his face. He can't bear to let Potter see how that affected him. How frightened he'd been. How much it would have cost him if Potter'd truly been hurt. His heart's still racing. "I hate you."

But he doesn't, and he thinks Potter knows that now. How could he not after Hallowe'en?

"All right," Potter says. He pulls his hand back, stands, then helps Draco to his feet, then back to the table. "Do you want some soup?"

It's obviously not enchanted. Draco's stomach growls. "Fine," he says, a bit bitterly, and he can tell Potter's trying not to smile. "But not a full bowl." He stands up, limps over to the pantry and takes two bottles of scrumpy out. He hobbles back over to the table and drops down in his chair, wincing a bit.

"Are you hurting?" Potter asks, his forehead furrowing. "I could get the salve--"

"I'm fine." Draco's not, at least not entirely, but he's no intention of saying that now. He uncaps one of the scrumpy bottles and takes a sip. "Stop fretting." There's a sharpness to his voice that Draco doesn't really care for. He exhales then lowers the bottle, turning it between his hands. "But thank you," he adds, and Potter just nods.

"Food then, yeah?" Potter turns back to the hob. He pulls two bowls from the shelves above the sink, then takes a ladle from the utensil pot on the counter. He fills the bowls, brings them to the table. "Hold on," he says, and he goes back to the drawer and pulls out fresh spoons. He hesitates, then opens the oven. A brilliant scent rolls out, all baked apples and cinnamon. Potter grabs a tea towel and pulls a golden-brown tart from the oven, setting it on the hob. He looks back over at Draco. "Dessert first?" A faint smile quirks his lips.

Draco's mouth is watering at the smell. He looks down at the beef stew--deliciously delectable itself--then back over at the tart. He wants it. Badly. "A sliver," he says, and Potter rolls his eyes.

"You're not watching your waistline," Potter says as he reaches for two small plates. "One proper slice won't kill you."

Well. Draco hopes it won't.

Potter slices through the tart; the buttery crust snaps and flakes beneath the sharp edge of the knife. He puts two large slices on the plates, then carries them over to the table and sits down. He pushes one of the plates towards Draco, then hands over a spoon. "Eat up."

Draco hesitates, looking between his stew and the tart. Potter's already dug into his slice of apples and flaky crust; he scoops up a bite and pops it into his mouth, his eyes closing in delight.

"Fuck, that's good." Potter swallows, lowers his spoon for another bite. He glances over at Draco; his lips twitch. "It's fine, Malfoy. No poisoning charms detected."

Really, Draco loathes him. He truly, truly does. "Shut up," he says, and he presses the edge of his spoon against the tart crust. It breaks beneath the slight pressure, the baked apples oozing onto the white pottery plate. Draco drags his spoon through the mess, then lifts it to his mouth. It smells bloody fantastic--better than anything the Manor elves had ever put in front of him--and when the taste hits, Draco nearly moans in happiness. The crust is perfect, buttery, delicious, and the apples are the best Draco's ever had. There's even the faint hint of something else in the mix, something sweet but not cloying, something that explodes across his tongue in the most brilliant of ways.

"Oh, fuck," Draco says, not bothering to care that he's a mouthful of tart. "That's amazing."

Potter laughs at him. "Avalonian apples," he says, and he pops another bite into his mouth. "See, this is what Root should want." He licks the back of his spoon. "Fuck the scrumpy--I say we write a report on the apples themselves, figure out what makes them so bloody good. Is it the sentience of the trees?"

"Or just Avalon itself?" Draco's gone through half his tart--he's shocked by that. Desserts have never been his favourite part of a meal; he's far more interested in the savoury rather than the sweet, unless chocolate's involved. He takes another bite. His body's relaxing against the chair; something warm and comfortable settles over him, makes him feel as if he's come home at last.

"Maybe." Potter looks happy, sat across the table from Draco. His face is soft, gentle, and his hair's begun to dry at the edges, his curls forming, tumbling over his forehead. Draco wonders if Potter knows how handsome he is, how strikingly green his eyes are, how broad his chest, how strong his jaw. Draco has to look away. He can feel the heat of his blood, the tautness of his own body. He wants Potter. Perhaps he always has.

Draco takes another bite of tart. He washes it down with a swallow of scrumpy. Neither he nor Potter say anything for a long while; there's just the scrape of spoons against pottery and the soft huff of their breath as they eat. Both of them demolish their tarts before turning to the stew. It's thick and heavy with potatoes and beef and carrots and onions, and it's bloody scrumptious. Draco inhales his bowl, dragging his spoon along the bottom, trying to scrounge up the last few drops. He leans back in his chair, feeling warm and full and more relaxed than he's been in days.

Weeks, perhaps, even.

He watches Potter finish his bowl. The man eats like a beast, really, elbows on the table, the bowl held up to his chest as he spoons the stew out. And yet there's something charming about Potter's utter lack of manners. Something that makes Draco want to reach out and brush Potter's hair back from his forehead, let his fingers slide down the angle of Potter's cheek.

Draco stops himself just in time.

Potter looks up at him. "What?" His eyes blink behind his glasses. The rain's dried on the lenses, leaving behind a few spots and smears where Potter'd wiped the wetness away.

"Nothing," Draco says, but his voice is raw, unhappy. He looks away.

The oven clicks and creaks across the room. Potter watches Draco. "Hey," he says softly; Draco glances over at him. Potter leans forward, pushes his bowl and plate out of the way. "Are we ever going to talk about Hallowe'en?"

Draco gives Potter a horrified look. "No. Never."

"Because I think we should." Potter's face has that mulish set to it again. "I know we were a bit intoxicated--"

"Utterly shitfaced." Draco's voice is stiff. "It was an awful mistake--"

"I want to kiss you again."

Draco stares at Potter, his mouth agape. He blinks once, then twice. "You what?"

The look Potter gives him is even. "You didn't think that night was a one-off, did you? I've been fucking chatting you up for months, Malfoy. I even took Root's sodding tutorial when Hermione told me you were signing up for it. I'm not that into food." He hesitates, his mouth curving up. "Well, not as much as I'm into you."

"Oh." Draco doesn't know what to say. What to do. "I…" He trails off. Looks blankly at Potter. "Well."

Potter falls silent. He rubs a thumb across the battered wood of the kitchen table. "I mean, if you're not interested…"

"I didn't say that." Draco's chest constricts. A curious panic rises up inside of him; it only grows when Potter glances up at him. He breathes out. "It's just…" He bites his lip. "Merlin, Potter, you twat. It's all coming out of nowhere, isn't it? This?" He pinches the bridge of his nose, tries to keep himself from falling apart. "What do you expect of me--"

"Nothing." Potter's voice is soft. "I just wanted you to know." He clears his throat. "That Hallowe'en...it wasn't just you that wanted…" He meets Draco's gaze. "I fancy you," he says simply, and he doesn't look away. "You're smart, you're witty, you're interesting--"

"I'm a fucking Death Eater," Draco spits out. "How will that play out in the Prophet?"

Potter doesn't flinch. "You aren't a Death Eater."

Fury wells up in Draco, a self-destructive flail of anger that makes him jerk his jumper up, thrust his forearm at Potter. The Mark is stark against his skin, and Draco hates it, hates the way it feels as if it's burnt into his very soul. "Explain this, then!"

And Potter looks down at Draco's arm. Reaches out, runs a fingertip across the length of the Mark. Draco wants to jerk away. Wants to scream at Potter, to tell him he's a fucking fool. But Potter's palm covers the Mark, and there's a warmth to his touch, a gentleness that nearly breaks Draco. His throat aches; he blinks back hot tears.

"You aren't that any more." Potter's hand slides down Draco's arm, his fingers slipping over Draco's palm, twining through Draco's fingers. They're warm and thick and solid against Draco's, and Draco feels grounded. Safe.

"But what if I am?" It's barely a whisper. Draco presses his lips together. Thinks of pulling his hand away. He doesn't.

Potter turns Draco's hand, strokes his thumb along Draco's knuckles. "You aren't." When Draco looks up at him, Potter gives him a faint smile. "I've watched you for a long time, Malfoy. I'd know if you were still like that. You aren't. You're trying to make yourself better, trying to do what's right for all of us. You don't even talk like the proper shit you were back in school. You're you now. Not Lucius Malfoy's son."

A warmth shudders through Draco. His fingers tighten around Potter's. His heart thuds; he doesn't look away from Potter's open face. "Are you going to mock me for wanting you?" He has to know.

"No," Potter murmurs. He lifts Draco's hand, presses a soft kiss to Draco's thumb. "I could never."

Draco believes him.

Outside the rain strikes the windows, sharp, angry droplets pounding against the glass. Draco shifts in his chair. His hip twinges painfully; he grimaces.

"You're hurting," Potter says.

Draco thinks about denying it, but there's no sense in that. "Yes," he says after a moment, and then Potter's on his feet.

"Lefay said she has a salve," he says. "I can rub it in for you."

Draco wants to protest, he does, but he can't muster the necessary resolve. Instead he says, "All right." Potter's already on his way out of the kitchen. 'Where do you want me?"

Stopping in the hallway, Potter flashes a quick, wicked smile over his shoulder. "Everywhere, really, but perhaps you could go to the spare room?"

And doesn't that make it hard to stand, with weak knees and a half-stiff cock? Draco struggles up from the chair, grateful that Potter's too distracted to see him having trouble. The twinge of protest from his hip keeps him grounded. He's warm, he's safe, and if his hip would stop hurting, everything might be perfect.

The small room smells of herbs--vervain and yarrow if Draco's any judge.He hobbles to the side of the bed. His clothes have dried out somewhat, even if his jeans are streaked with mud. He casts a cleaning charm on them, but he still hesitates before hoisting himself onto the clean coverlet, homespun from brown-grey wool. Everything is moving slowly--he can see the light from the kitchen and he has the oddest sense of being out of time. Underneath him, in the earth he supposes, rising up through the cottages foundation, he can sense the thrumming of magic, quiet, watchful, surrounding. It's not hostile so much as wild, and its power is strangely soothing. Draco stretches across the bed, his bare feet pressing into the coverlet, wrinkling it beneath his toes. He breathes out, then in again, over and over, the nervous fluttering in his belly settling with each careful exhale. A stillness settles over Draco, heavy and warm, and he knows he's exactly where he ought to be.

It seems like ages before Potter reappears, his stride purposeful on the scuffed floors of the cottage. In his hand there's a small grey earthenware pot. Draco's lying on the low pillow, cheek to linen, almost drowsy as long as he doesn't move too much.

"Budge up," Potter says, and Draco rolls to give him space, a sear of pain lancing through him. At Draco's wince, Potter frowns down at him. "Is it that bad?"

Draco curses softly. His hips's hurting more than he expects. He grits his teeth. "Yes," he admits after a moment, as much as he'd rather not.

Potter worries his lip between his teeth. "I'll help you get your jeans down, if that's okay."

"Not how I expected you to get in them," Draco says before he thinks, and then he feels his face heat. Still, he doesn't look away from Potter. There's no sense in doing so; Potter alreay knows Draco wants him.

Potter eyes Draco. His mouth quirks up on one side. "Did you want me in them?" he asks easily. "I thought you weren't interested before."

Bastard. He knows better. Draco huffs in annoyance, his nostrils flaring, then he looks away."More salving, less talking, Potter." Draco's fingers pull at the buttons of his jeans. "I'm happy to settle our differences after." He pulls his jeans down on one side, letting the elastic of his pants slide down with them, the fabric of both bunching just over the small swell of his prick, the soft golden fuzz of his pubic hair.

Potter's hands are gentle as he leans close to Draco, pushing him back against the mattress, his breath warm on the exposed skin of Draco's hip. It's all Draco can do to hold back his shiver. "Oh, that is fierce."

Draco can see a flame of red and purple blossoming across the ridge of his hip, over the curve of his arse. "It hurts like the devil." He's always bruised easily--it's the curse of having fair skin--but this one's worse than the one healing from before. Draco shifts on the mattress, flinching at the stab of pain.

"Careful." Potter scoops some of the sticky ointment out of the small pottery vessel, and Draco smells apples and beeswax and something like summer. "This might hurt," Potter warns, and he rubs the salve gingerly into Draco's skin.

Oh, Circe. This isn't how Draco imagined Potter touching him, isn't what he thought the feel of Potter's fingertips across his skin would be. But this is more intimate than any sort of fucking Draco might have dreamed up, and Draco can feel gooseflesh prickle across his whole body, can feel the faint twitch of his cock beneat his half-open flies. Draco's breath catches, whether with pain or pleasure, he's not certain, and he wants to push his hips up into Potter's touch, wants more than what Potter's giving him now.

"You can rub harder, Potter," Draco says between clenched teeth. The steady press of Potter's fingers into his bruised skin hurts, but there's also a rush of something else from the magic. Something warm and satisfying, something that burns through Draco's blood. "I'm not made of porcelain."

Potter huffs a quick laugh. "Might as well be, really." His voice is odd, and Draco's no idea what the expression on his face means, but Potter does rub harder, does push his fingers deeper into the purpling skin. And it hurts. A lot. It's all Draco can do not to cry out, especially when Potter flips Draco over on his stomach, rubbing more into the curve of Draco's back. The salve stings, but there's a blissful relief after, once the warm press of Potter's hand slides away. "How's that?"

"Divine." Draco stretches a little, stopping when he feels a twinge. "More, and perhaps a bit lower." He wriggles his hips, pushing his bum up in the air. The mattress shifts as Potter sits on it, his denim-clad knee pressing into Draco's hip.

"Are you asking me to touch your arse?" Potter's close to Draco, the warmth from his body making Draco reckless.

"Oh, definitely," Draco says with a bit of a purr. He looks back over his shoulder at Potter. He's no idea what's come over him. Maybe it's Potter's touch. Maybe it's the fact that Potter's admitted he wants Draco. Maybe it's the feel of Lefay's cottage, warm and cosy and hidden away, as if anything might happen here with the rain streaming down the windows and the thunder rumbling above them. Draco bites his lip, lets it slide from between his teeth as Potter watches him, a faint flush on his cheeks. "Consider this an invitation."

He yelps when Potter's broad hand begins to rub circles into his aching arsecheek. Draco's body jerks at the pain. "Ow! Stop, you barbarian!"

Potter's hand pauses. The warmth of the salve reaches Draco's skin. "Are you sure?" He's watching Draco intently.

"No." Draco's happy to admit his own confusion. He hesitates, then shifts his hips, pushing his trousers and pants down a bit lower. The pain's fading into a soft buzz that spreads across his skin. "Actually, keep going."

"Contrary thing," Potter says, but his hand resumes its journey across Draco's skin, beneath the soft folds of Draco's cotton pants, down to the juncture of his arse and thigh, and a blessed rush of warmth runs through Draco's marrow. He's floating, his body warming beneath Potter's touch and the welcome relief of Mair's salve.

After a moment, Draco realises that Potter is rigid above him. He can hear Potter's breathing, rough and quick. Draco shifts, chasing Potter's touch."What's wrong?" he asks, his body relaxed into the mattress.

"Malfoy," Potter says, and his name sounds so wrecked in Potter's mouth.

Draco twists, trying to see his face. It's contorted, as if he's in pain. "What?"

Potter breathes out a heavy exhale. "It's just. You look amazing like this, and I'd like--" He breaks off and the slow drag of his breath in again is ragged and uncertain. "I'd like very much to touch you. But I need--" A soft laugh this time, pained and raw. "I need to be sure this is what you want."

A surge of energy goes through Draco's body, and he feels as though the magic is reaching up from the ground, trying to envelop him. He's in Avalon, with Harry bloody Potter, and he's let him rub Mair Lefay's magic into his skin. If he were thinking correctly--and Draco can hear his mother's voice in his head, chiding him, asking him what he expected after all--he'd have realised how much he'd opened himself to the occasion. And yet Potter, bloodyminded noble Potter, is resisting the pull and asking for his permission.

"Yes." Draco says, his body uncoiling beneath Potter's gaze, his limbs slackening with want. He manages to turn, manages to look up at Potter, who's watching him with heavy-lidded eyes, so bright and dark behind the glint of light against his glasses. Draco's prick pushes up against the buttons of his flies, begs to be freed. "Yes, this is what I want, Potter. I want you."

Potter leans over him then, his lips close. Draco can smell the apples, the tang of the scrumpy on his breath. "May I kiss you again?"

Merlin, but Draco wants Potter. Here. Now. Forever. "You may do a damn sight more than that, you wretched git." Please, he wants to say, but Draco has at least that much self-control left not to beg. As much as he may want to.

"Oh, if you allow me, I intend to." Potter's lips are gentle, feather-soft, brushing against Draco's.

"I allow you, Potter. Completely." It has the ring of an old-fashioned spell, something they'd read about once in magical contracts, and Draco feels the echo of his promise course through the room and beyond. He's not sure what he's just agreed to, but he's not doubt that this, this is what he wants, a rain-soaked night and Potter and the smell of apples everywhere.

"Thank you." The look in Potter's eyes is grateful, and Draco has no idea why. But then Potter's lips are on his again, and the occasion to think passes. Draco's mouth opens to Potter, Potter's tongue slides against his, and Draco knows he's started something he can't undo, perhaps something larger than them both really. Here, in Avalon, they're a part of the ancient tapestry of Britain, and here, beneath this roof, in this island of warmth, Draco feels the magic and the sorrow of it in his bones.

Potter's lips travel down his neck, the softness of them sending gooseflesh across his arms. Draco reaches up, lets Potter pull his jumper over his head, throw it to the floor. His shirt is next, and Potter's awkward and hasty, fumbling with the small white buttons. Now that he's said yes, Draco wants everything immediately: he's burning with impatience, with a need to have Potter's flesh pressed against his. His shirt is finally open, and he's contorting himself to help Potter remove it. When Potter's lips trace his collarbone, Draco moans. His toes are tingling and Potter's barely touched him. His prick aches; his hips buck upwards.

"Like that, do we?" Potter whispers against Draco's skin.

Draco tangles a hand in Potter's tousled curls, pulling gently, and Potter looks up. "Yes, yes we do."

Potter laughs, arrogant prat that he is, and then his mouth is dragging across Draco's chest, open against his pebbled nipples, and Draco's twisting against him, his hip held gently down by Potter's hand.

Potter stops. "Do you need me? Is this too much weight?"

Draco shifts gingerly, waiting to see if there's any pain, but there isn't. If he looks at the skin of his hip, it looks fresh and whole. Bless Mair Lefay and her bloody salve. "As I've said, Potter, I'm not made of porcelain."

"Is that a challenge, then?" Potter nips at Draco's skin, and Draco yelps.

"Do your worst," Draco says. He knows he shouldn't goad Potter like this, but Merlin he wants so much more.

"I'll take that under advisement." Potter's voice is wry. "Although I do think we should be careful."

"I've been being careful for fucking years, Potter." And there it is. Draco hadn't meant to lay himself bare, but something in him has been surfacing that he can't repress. He meets Potter's gaze, his breath shuddering from him. His body feels alive for the first time in ages, his nipples hard and puckered, his prick aching for release. "I think I'll survive a little rough handling."

To his surprise, Potter's hand strokes his jaw, his look fond. "So you did like me," he muses, a wondering tone in his voice. "As well, I mean."

"Yes, you bloody Gryffindor. I did." Draco pushes his hips upwards. "Now get on with it." His cock is stiffening, and Draxo may resort to begging if Potter doesn't start touching him again properly.

Potter's hands skate across Draco's stomach, skirting his hipbones, and then lower, gently hooking a thumb under his y-fronts. When Draco nods, Potter pulls them all the way down, pushing his jeans along with them. Draco's cock springs free, hard and ruddy and utterly unapologetic.

"Look at you." Potter leans in to nuzzle Draco's length. "You beautiful thing."

"Oh, Merlin," Draco says, toes curling, and the name rings through the room, echoing against the plaster. The floor shifts a bit, tilting the bed, and Draco's slightly alarmed until it settles again.

Potter looks up, his brow furrowed. "I'm not entirely sure that name is welcome here." He looks surprised.

Draco nods, his prick heavy against his hip. "Perhaps we should be more careful."

"Haven't we been careful enough?" Potter's mouth is against the length of Draco's cock, and Draco can't help crying out, his hips thrusting.

"Yes." The syllable is everything, a breathing out, a sigh, a hiss as Potter's mouth closes over the weeping head of his prick, and Draco's vision almost greys out from wonder and sheer pleasure.

The close, wet warmth of him envelops Draco and Potter's dark curls sink closer to Draco's body, the head of Draco's prick hitting the back of Potter's throat. The lights in the room flicker as Draco breathes out in a stutter, his body shaking with the effort of holding himself back. He wants to come so badly; he wants this to last forever.

Let go, let go, the wind and the apples say. Let go, says the warmth of magic pooling at the base of his spine.

Draco brushes a hand through Potter's impossible hair and gives in, his body surrendering to Potter's touch, to the shuddering thrill of Potter's mouth, warm and wet and wonderful around Draco's prick. This is better than any rushed encounter in a pub loo, with some stranger who bears a passing resemblance to Potter--and they all had, in one way or another. This is what Draco's dreamed of, what he's wanted before he even knew he did. Potter bent over him, fully clothed as Draco's stretched out, naked beneath his touch. Potter's hand hot and heavy against Draco's hips, holding him down whilst his dark curls bob over Draco, the ends brushing against Draco's flat belly. Potter's fingers smoothing beneath Draco's bollocks, light and careful, stroking along Draco's taint until Draco's shuddering at each soft touch.

Perhaps they should have done this sooner, Draco thinks as Potter's tongue presses into Draco's slit, as if he knows exactly what Draco needs, what Draco wants. Fuck. Draco'd had no idea that Potter could suck cock like a Knockturn whore.

And then Potter pins him with an elbow against Draco's hip, hand curling around the base of Draco's cock, his mouth constricting, throat working around Draco's length, and Draco tries to stop him. "Potter, I'm--" Draco breaks off in a soft gasp, his feet pressing into the mattress as a spasm of pleasure burns through him. "Oh, God. I'm going to--" Draco groans, and his shoulders push against the mattress, his breath comes in sharp, quick bursts.

Potter doesn't stop, the impossible git. He continues to suck and work Draco until he can't resist any longer, and his body arches against Potter, his hips pushing up, deeper into Potter, his hands pulling at Potter's hair as Draco cries out, over and over again, his spunk filling Potter's mouths, sliding out over Potter's pink lips, thick and creamy-white. Draco's never seen anything so fucking erotic in his life as Potter's wide eyes, Potter's spunk-smeared mouth. Draco's entire body is full of shivers, his muscles twinging and his release leaving him empty but not sated.

Potter's lips slid up gently, Draco's prick falling wetly to his belly. Potter swallows what's left of Draco in his mouth, dragging the back of his hand across his lips afterward. Another shiver goes through Draco. "Well, that was a nice start." He stretches out beside Draco, his fingers skimming lightly across Draco's hip.

Draco's eyelids are heavy, but his body is starting to stir again against Potter's jeans. "A nice start?" he says thickly.

"Yes." Potter's smile is sharp. Woflish, in a way. His thumb finds Draco's nipple, rubs it lightly. "I've so much more I'd like, if you're willing."

Draco shudders, shivers coursing through him. Perhaps it's his imagination, but the pool of energy swelling up from the floor seems to have grown. "Oh, I'm willing." He bites his lip, looks at Potter. "You've too many clothes on for my liking, though."

Potter raises an amused eyebrow. "Do I?"

"Far too many." Draco reaches down, presses his hand against the swell of Potter's prick in his jeans. Potter hisses softly, but he just watches Draco's face as Draco's fingers stroke along the denim-clas length of Potter's cock. "I'd like to see this."

"Would you?" Potter shifts beside Draco, manages to get up on his knees. He pulls his jumper and t-shirt off in one swift tug; Draco's mouth grows dry at the breadth of Potter's chest, the pebbled brown buttons of Potter's nipples. He reaches up, touches them, and Potter's breath catches. Potter swallows as Draco pinches a nipple lightly; it grows harder between Draco's fingertips. "Jesus, Malfoy--" Potter bites his lip, exhales. And then his hands go to the button of his jeans. He undoes it, pulls the zip. Draco can't take his gaze from the small triangle of white cotton revealed between the metal teeth.

Potter stands up, pulls his jeans off, and then his y-fronts, and Draco's looking at Potter's prick, heavy and thick as it bobs in front of him, a deep red swelling up from a thick thatch of dark hair. It's a beautiful cock, one of the best Draco's seen and he wants it inside of him. Now.

"Would you let me…" Potter stops, his eyes dark with want. He's watching Draco carefully.

Draco swallows, nods. "Was there anything else in the bath, or should we use the salve?"

"The salve," Potter says, and he's reaching for the small pot again. He's breathing hard, just as Draco is, and a thrill goes through Draco when he realises Potter wants him just as much as he wants Potter. "Turn over."

Draco shifts delicately, trying not to push his swelling prick into the mattress. Potter leans over, nosing at Draco's arsecheek and kissing it before biting it.

"Ow, Potter." Draco swats at him. "I'm not an apple you bloody fool."

"Luna's right, you know." Potter's laugh is genuine. "Your arse is as pert as one."

"Stop flattering me." Draco hides his face against the wool coverlet, suddenly a bit shy. He feels oddly exposed like this, with Potter looking down at him. It's stupid of him, he thinks. This is just sex, and whilst Draco might not have as much as Pansy, he's done all right for himself in that score.

Potter's thumb travels to the furl of Draco's arse, slick with salve. Draco inhales, letting his body loosen and open to Potter's touch. This, however, isn't something he's let many people do, if he's honest. At least sober. As much as Draco likes being fucked, it's always felt too intimate. He's needed be smashed to really let himself go enough to do this. But he knows he wants this with Potter, and from the laboured nature of Potter's breathing, Potter wants it as well.

"Malfoy, is all right if I-" Potter's voice is thin, tight. The mattress shifts again as Potter climbs back up onto it, then once more as he straddles Draco's thighs. His thumb strokes against Draco's opening, sending shudders throughout Draco's body. The tip slides into Draco, past that soft pucker of skin. "God, I want to be in you." It's a whisper, but it makes Draco's cock twitch and jump.

"Yes." Draco hinges a bit at the hip, his arse pushing back to meet Potter's thighs. Potter's swollen prick slides across Draco's arse; the head's slick and wet already. Potter's thumb slides deeper into Draco, twisting past the tight ring of muscle. It aches, but it feels incredible. "More," Draco gasps, and then Potter's forefinger is working its way into him, loosening Draco, readying him for whatever might come next.

Draco bites his lip, pushes back, his thighs widening, his arse rolling back against Potter's hand. He's a wanton slag, he thinks, but he doesn't care. He wants as much as Potter will give him, and when Potter pushes a third finger into Draco's already aching hole, all Draco can do is twist the coverlet around his fingers and hold on.

And then Potter's kissing down Draco's spine, his teeth nipping across Draco's skin. "Fuck, you're so tight and hot," Potter says, breathless, as Draco pushes himself back on Potter's fingers. "Let me fuck you." He's gasping now, hot and wet against the curve of Draco's hip. "God, let me come in you, Malfoy. I need--" He groans, and then his tongue is there along with his fingers, flicking, pressing against the rim of Draco's arsehole.

It feels incredible.

Draco throws all caution to the wind, the magic of the cottage sparking against his skin. "Yes, Harry. Oh, God, yes. You may definitely fuck me." The forbidden thrill of using Potter's name is exhilarating. "Please." As hard as Draco tries, he can't tamp down the needy push of his hips, the soft huff of his breath.

"Oh, fuck. Malf--Draco. I can't." Potter--Harry--stills, breathing hard against Draco's hole. Draco can feel himself twitching, feel the fluttering of his rim as Harry's fingers slide free, one by one, leaving Draco empty. Draco's legs tremble; his head falls forward against the coverlet as he tries not to beg. "Give me a second."

A breath, and then Harry wraps a hand around Draco's hip and pulls him back again, his other hand steadying his prick to nudge at and then breach the entrance to Draco's body. It hurts, sharp and fierce enough to bring tears to Draco's eyes, but Draco exhales, breathes through the pain.

"Please," Draco manges to say. He needs Harry inside his body, needs Harry to stretch him, needs Harry's cock to pull him wide.

Harry's weight is heavy, and for a moment, Draco thinks it's not going to work, that there's no way Harry will fit inside of Draco, but then, with a slow, careful rock of his hips, Harry slides home and the fiery burn gives way to a gentle, throbbing warmth. The magic of it licks Draco's skin, soothing the awkwardness of having his body breached. And yes, Harry is quite well hung and it's more than Draco thinks he's ever taken, but to his surprise, his body opens easily for Harry in ways he didn't expect.

Harry's lips are against the back of Draco's neck. "Fuck, you feel fantastic. I'm not going to last at all."

Draco laughs then, struck by the incongruity of it, beyond caring about anything else but the girth of Potter's prick splitting him open, the stirring of his own cock against the woolen coverlet with each slow roll of Harry's hips. "Why should you have to last? We can always go again." Because Draco knows this can't be the only time he has Harry. He knows already his body is going to crave Harry's, that one fuck, one night can't be enough.

The press of Harry's body is heavier as he braces against the bed, and then his body is thrusting harder into Draco's and Draco's letting Harry lay him open, letting him take him apart. It's madness, this connection between Harry and himself. Draco grips the coverlet, gasping, and he shoves his his back, meeting Harry thrust for thrust. The room fills with the sound of slapping flesh, ragged groans, louder and louder until Draco's body's on fire, Draco's arse is clenching around Harry's prick.

"Oh, God," Harry says, and his fingers dig into Draco's hips, jerking him back harder, with enough force to snap Draco's head back, and then Harry's hand is on Draco's shoulder, pressing him against the mattress as he pounds Draco's arse, his bollocks slapping against the curve of Draco's arse, his prick sliding against Draco's prostate over and over and over again until Draco's shaking, almost sobbing with the intensity of it all. He's never been fucked like this, so openly, so rawly, and it's everything Draco's ever wanted, the tightness of Harry's grip on his shoulder, the soft, quiet sounds Harry's making as he fucks Draco open, the whisper of Draco's name against Draco's ear in Harry's voice, so rough and so needy--Circe, Draco's shaking, trembling, his prick rubbing against the coverlet, swelling, much to his surprise, and all Draco wants is more, more, everything and anything that Harry will give him.

Harry shudders, his strangled cry catching in his throat. He stills, and Draco can feel the way Harry's stomach tightens, jerks against Draco's arse, and then Draco's body fills with the warmth of Harry's spunk, thick and slick and seeping from the stretched rim of Draco's swollen hole.

Before Draco can think, Harry's hand is on his oversensitised prick, pulling, stroking, tugging his foreskin over the hot swell of the tip, and it's almost too much. Draco's never come twice like this, not since Hogwarts at least, and never with anyone but his own hand. But Harry's fingertip pushes into the slick depths of Draco's slit, fucking it slowly, with the same steady roll of Harry's hips, Harry's softening prick smearing spunk between Draco's arsecheeks, and Draco's body shakes, quivers beneath Harry's touch.

"Come for me, babe," Harry whispers against Draco's ear. "You're so fucking hard. So fucking ready, aren't you?"

All Draco can do is nod, and then Harry's hand tightens on his prick, and he's stroking Draco harder, his other hand still curled around the tip, his finger working deeper into Draco and Draco's filled so fully, and Harry's teeth bite into Draco's throat, and fuck, Draco cries out. His comes against the coverlet, over Harry's fingers, his body limp with release.

Draco sags forward, catches himself with one hand. He's gasping as Harry pulls out of him finally, leaving Draco's hole clenching around nothing but emptiness, and they lie panting side by side, the smell of their bodies mixing with the heady scent of apples that's only grown stronger.

"Is that the salve?" Draco asks drowsily, his body shivering in the aftershocks of his orgasm. He feels light as a feather, pleasantly empty and warm, almost floating above the coverlet and weighted only by the rain above. Harry curls himself around Draco, his knees coming up behind Draco's knees, his head pressed to Draco's shoulder.

"Is what the salve?" Harry's voice is heavy like bees in the summer, buzzing against Draco's shoulder. His hand settles on Draco's hip, grounds him.

"The smell of apples." Draco shifts backwards, closer to Harry as Harry's arm comes around him.

"I'm not sure." Harryr's eyelashes blink against Draco's shoulder, a featherlight touch. "I think it must be."

The beat of the rain is steady on the roof, occasional thunder distant in the background. Draco can hear the trees shifting, the branches rustling in the storm. If Draco listens closely, it sounds like laughter.

He falls asleep.

***

Draco wakes up in the middle of the night, the quilt tucked up around him, Potter's muscular arm still draped over his waist, Potter's still naked body pressed against his. It's warm and comfortable, and everything Draco's ever wanted.

Moonlight streams through the window, a pale blue glow that makes Draco blink with its brightness. He can see the shift of the trees through the glass, the ruffling of dying leaves in a breeze.

Something calls him. Whispers his name, so softly that Draco isn't sure what he's heard. It comes again, sounding as if it's just outside the window. Draco hesitates, and then he shifts, sliding out from beneath Potter's grasp. Potter just mumbles something and rolls over, his face pressing into Draco's pillow. Draco sits up, looks down at Potter. He's gorgeous in the dim light; his face is soft without his glasses, and he looks younger, almost like that boy Draco had known from Hogwarts. Draco's heart clenches; he wonders what would have happened if he had realised how he felt about Potter--Harry--all those years ago.

Perhaps he might not have taken the Mark. Perhaps he might have been able to help Harry stop the Dark Lord before so many others lost their lives.

But he hadn't, and wishing perhaps can't do anything to change what Draco had done instead.

He reaches over, brushes Harry's hair back from his forehead. Draco knows he could fall in love with Harry, if he let himself, and that thought frightens him. He knows if he gives in, if he lets Harry have all of him, there'll be no turning back. Harry could destroy him with one thoughtless word.

Draco thinks it might be worth it.

He hears his name again. More clearly this time, and he stands, his brows drawing together. The light pulls him to the window. Outside the sky is clear. Stars sparkle against the darkness; the moon hangs low and heavy and pale above the tops of the apple trees. Draco blinks, and he sees a figure in the front yard, a woman in a black robe, her silver-grey hair shining in the moonlight. She lifts her hand, quirks a finger his way.

Lefay.

Draco thinks of waking Harry, but he knows instinctively that he shouldn't. So he draws on his pants and then his jeans and jumper. He doesn't bother with boots; his bare feet are quiet as he walks through the cottage, opens the kitchen door. He doesn't draw it shut behind him.

The moment he steps out onto the grass, still damp with rain, he can feel it. That spark of magic shivering through him again, deep and ancient, a magic that's embedded in Draco's whole being. It nearly doubles him over at first, but he catches his breath. Takes another step. The grass blooms beneath his feet, deep green blades unfurling under each step he takes, thick and lush and spreading out from the cottage to the spot Mair Lefay stands on.

He stops in front of her. She studies him, her lined face sober, curious. Her hair's plaited around her head, the same as it'd been the first time he'd seen her. But there's an elegance to it now; the thick silver twists look like a crown, the simple black cloak on her shoulders looks like a queen's robe. Draco half-wants to bow, but he catches himself. He clenches his hands at his side instead, twisting the edge of his jumper sleeve around his fingertips.

"You're not Mair," he says.

Lefay smiles at him. "I've been called it for years."

Draco meets her gaze. "That doesn't mean that's your name."

"No," Lefay agrees. When she moves, it's with a grace and ease that reminds Draco of his mother. This isn't a mere West Country farmer.

"Are you the Queen of Avalon?" he asks, his voice soft.

Lefay's smile widens. "You're no fool, me 'ansum. That's what I like about you." She raises a hand to him. "Walk with me."

Draco doesn't hesitate. He takes Lefay's hand; her skin is cool and soft. She leads him out of the yard, down a dirt path into the orchard itself. The trees rustle around them, a soft, happy murmur of leaves and branches. Lefay's silent as they move through the apple trees; she reaches out every so often, lets her fingers trail through the leaves. She stops at the edge of one row. Behind it, the trees are wizened, gnarled. Leafless.

Lefay looks at them, her face sad. "I told you before me orchard's dying. Do you remember?"

"Yes." Draco's voice is a low whisper. He watches the trees, feels Lefay's grief, the loss of the trees surrounding them. These were their brothers, he realises. Their sisters.

"Watch ee," Lefay murmurs.

Draco peers out into the darkness, his gaze shifting over the twisted branches, the pale bark gleaming in the moonlight. He thinks he sees a bent figure move beneath one tree, then another. He takes a step forward, away from Lefay. He hears his name being whispered again, but it's coming from in front of him. These were the voices he'd heard in the bedroom, he realises.

The trees are calling Draco, urging him to come to them.

Draco doesn't hesitate, doesn't look back at Lefay. Something inside of him knows what to do, what the trees need. He walks into their midst, closes his eyes, holds his arms out, his fingers splayed. He can feel the brush of dry branches, can hear the soft murmur around him, like the wind rushing through leaves.

He opens his eyes. The figures are moving around him, hunched and shuddering, hidden in shadows. They circle Draco, and he can feel them pulling at his magic, asking for more. Draco gives it to them.

His heart thuds in rhythm with their movements, with the dance they're stepping into, slowly, carefully. From far away, Draco can hear a song, sung in a clear soprano, and somehow Draco knows the words.

"I will give my love an apple without e'er a core," he sings along with the figures, with the trees, with Lefay, with the magic, and they're all one and the same, he realises. One voice that his own blends with, rising and falling in the rhythm of an ancient rite, and Draco's feet are carrying him through the circle, moving in an intricate dance, one that he's known since the beginning of time, since the moment these trees were planted in this soil. "I will give my love a house without any door." Around him the figures circle, arms rising up into the moonlight, some pale, some dark, the shadows falling away from around them. Draco reaches out, lets his fingertips brush theirs, feels the rough bark of their hands against his. Closer they come to him, their faces lit by the moonlight, wrinkled and scored, their hair twisted amongst branches and leaves.

Draco knows them. He can hear their names as they pass him, as he moves through their circle, their hands touching, their feet pounding out a deep magic on the earth. Adara. Drysi. Argel. Gwlithen. Torlan. Hafgan. Meinir. Deryn. Tirion. And so many more. These are the spirits of the trees, the nymphs and dryads of the orchard, and Draco can feel them gathering around him, pulling at him, hope writ across their faces.

"I will give my love a palace wherein he may be," Draco sings, and they sigh around him, their eyes closing, their bodies bending back as if pushed by a great wind before coming upright again. Draco can feel the magic twisting through them, pulsing through their roots, their branches, their very being. "And he may unlock it without any key--" The words catch in the back of Draco's throat. He thinks of Harry, lying in Mair Lefay's bed, and he knows who he's singing about. Draco's always known. As much as he tries to pretend otherwise.

"Harry," he whispers, and it's as if the orchard stills around him before drawing in a ragged breath. Magic pulses through Draco, bright and white and powerful, a flash of something strong that ripples through the earth around him, and then the trees themselves are singing, their voices high and clear. The dryads dance around Draco, and their gowns become gauzy, their faces brighter, their hair less snarled. Age slides from their shoulders; they stand upright. Strong. Their bare feet stomp against the damp ground, a heavy, joyful pounding that resonates deep within Draco. He can feel the orchard coming back to life around him, can feel it shudder through him, a swell of voices that echoes in the silence of the darkness around them.

"My heart is the apple without e'er a core," Draco sings with the trees. "My mind is the house without any door--"

Another voice cuts in, lower and deeper, joining Draco's. "My heart is the palace the palace wherein he may be…" Draco turns, and Harry's standing at the edge of the orchard, beside Lefay, his chest bare, his jeans hanging low on his hips, his hair messy and unkempt as if he'd just rolled out of bed. He's looking at Draco, and there's something in his eyes that makes Draco's heart catch, makes it soar with joy.

Together their voices rise. "And he may unlock it without any key."

A burst of magic explodes around them, rippling through the orchard. Harry steps forward, breaking through the circle of dancing dryads, their gowns shining like pure silver, their hair bursting with white flowers, swinging plaits. The grass blooms beneath their feet, wildflowers bursting up through the blades. Harry doesn't even seem to notice them, doesn't seem to notice the swell of music, the chorus of voices chanting around them. He's watching Draco, and then he swallows, holds his arms out, and Draco can't stop himself, can't keep himself from running across the circle, letting Harry catch him, swing him around, and then Harry's kissing Draco, and Draco's hands are cupping Harry's face, his mouth opening to Harry's, his whole body thrumming with magic. With joy.

With love.

The brightness around them grows, lighting them as clear as if it were midday, and then it's gone in a flash, the singing fading, the dryads pulling away.

Silence surrounds them. The stars gleam in the dark sky above. And slowly, Harry pulls back, blinks down at Draco. His lips are swollen from Draco's kisses; his chest heaves a shuddering sigh. But his eyes are bright and sharp, and he pulls Draco closer against his broad chest as Lefay steps into the grassy circle. Her dark cloak is different; it shines and sparkles in the moonlight now and diamonds gleam from the plaited crown on her head.

"Well done, kiddies," she says, in her West Country accent. Her cloak sweeps open as she moves towards them. Her gown beneath is gauzy silver; it looks like moonlight in motion, Draco thinks.

Harry's arm tightens around Draco, protectively. Draco lets himself lean against Harry. He draws in a slow breath.

"This is what you wanted," Draco says, and Lefay gives him a small, apologetic smile.

"I had hoped." Lefay turns, looks around the orchard.

It's different. Draco can feel that even before he glances over at the rows of once withered trees. They're upright now, their branches arched and strong, small, lime green leaves unfurling from tiny twigs. He watches as those leaves grow, burst free, turn a deeper, darker green, watches as the branches grow heavy with apples. One bends towards Draco, twisting so that an apple hangs free. Draco opens his palm; the apple drops into it, firm and solid. He lifts it to his mouth, takes a bite. It's juicy and sweet-tart. The perfect apple. He holds it up to Harry, lets him take a bite. His teeth brush Draco's fingers; Draco doesn't bother to hide the shiver that goes through him, and Harry smiles as he chews.

"Not bad," Harry says after he swallows. He looks over at Lefay. "Although you might have found an easier way to rejuvenate your orchard."

Lefay's smile widens. "There aren't that many, I'm afraid. Lovers who are tied to the land are the most effective at bringing Avalon back to life." She sighs, smoothes the front of her cloak. "Afraid that's a bit more difficult for meself, given the fact that me one-time partner has gone his own way." She looks away, a sad expression crossing her face. "Not that I can blame 'im, all things considered."

"Root," Draco says quietly. "Am I right?"

"I know 'im by a different name." Lefay glances over at him, and he can see the resignation, the unhappiness in her gaze. "But, yes, that's the badger. 'Ee and I have always had a bit of a contentious relationship." Her mouth quirks up on one side. "I was rather pleased when that wife of 'is locked him up in a bloody tree." The West Country accent deepens again. "'Ee can be a right shit, that one." Her smile slips. "Mer--" She catches herself. "Waverley, as you know 'im's always been a bit too sure of his own abilities." She snorts. "Typical man for you."

Draco thinks he should be offended, but to be honest, she has a point.

"Root sent us here." Harry's fingers smooth over Draco's arm; the thin wool of Draco's jumper slides across his skin. It's a small touch that comforts Draco, makes him feel as if he's less alone. Draco leans his head against Harry's, settles his palm on the small of Harry's back. Lefay watches the both of them. "Are you telling me that the two of you set us up?"

Lefay rolls her eyes. "I did nothing of the sort, ta ever so. Now if 'ee did that, 'cause 'ee might have seen something useful in you two, well, that's none my business. I just know what I saw in you when you came that first day, and I knew you'd be back." Her gaze falls on Draco. "I'm an old woman, Malfoy. I see things, see what people want, what people need." She nods to Harry. "You both need each other, bound together whether or not you might like it."

Draco doesn't want to admit she's right, but she is. Whether or not he's ready to accept that truth. Still, he doesn't pull away from Harry, and when Harry starts to step back, Draco holds him close, looks over at him, lets Harry feel the steady warmth of his gaze. Harry looks between Draco and Lefay, and then he swallows, nods.

Lefay's quiet for a moment. "I've had that, yeah? With your Waverley." She reaches out, touches Draco's cheek, then Harry's. "It's awful sometimes, and it never truly goes away. My advice to the both of you? Don't fight it, kiddies. A connection this strong always finds its way. If you push too hard against it, Merlin--" She smiles here, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "Merlin only knows how it will bounce back at you." Her smile fades again. "When it does, it'll hurt even more."

"That's promising," Harry murmurs, and Draco huffs a soft laugh.

"But honest." Draco studies Lefay. "Are we done with your orchard?"

Lefay laughs, a quick cackle of amusement that echoes in the quiet around them. "Be careful, kiddie." She lets her knuckles brush his cheek again. "You're bound to it too yourself, now. The trees hold your magic. I've half a mind to leave the whole bloody thing to you one day."

Draco's surprised by the flare of hope that goes through him. He tries to bat it down, act as if he doesn't care. "I'm not a Lefay."

"Ah, lad," Lefay murmurs, her gaze studying Draco's face, "but you are. You most certainly are."

Before Draco can protest, Lefay raises her hands to the sky. "Back with you now. I'd say you've something to share with Waverley now--"

"We've a million things to ask," Harry says, but Lefay's hands clap together, a loud ear-shattering sound that shakes the very ground they're stood upon.

The orchard melts away around them; darkness swirls past Draco. He feels the tug of magic in his belly, so similar to a Portkey.

"Use your time wisely," Lefay says, and then she's gone, only her laughter hanging in the air.

Draco lands in his rooms at Flamel, falling onto the worn wooden floor beside his bed. His boots land next to him with a thump, and just before he sits up, Harry pops into the air beside him, grunting as he hits the ground. His jumper and t-shirt and pants fall onto his bare chest, and Harry barely has time to put up his hands before his trainers slap down, terribly close to his face.

"Fuck," Harry says, and then he glances over at Draco. His annoyed frown fades into a look of relief. "You're here."

"We're in my rooms," Draco says. "I should hope I am." There's another crack in the air, and a sheaf of bound papers falls onto the floor between them. Draco picks it up, flips through it.

Harry bends over his shoulder. "Is that--"

"Everything we need to know about Avalonian apples, yes." Draco holds the papers out to Harry. "Perhaps we won't be tossed out of tutorial on our backsides?"

The grin Harry gives him is wide, mischievous. "I don't know. That sounds hot."

Draco slaps the sheaf of papers against Harry's chest. "You're incorrigible."

"Insatiable, you mean." Harry pulls the papers from Draco's hand and tosses them aside. He glances out the window. The sky's only just beginning to lighten. "I'd say we've time for another go before tutes, wouldn't you?"

When he reaches for Draco, Draco doesn't complain.

***

"Mr Malfoy, Mr Potter, I must commend you." Root's florid face is expressionless, and it makes Draco nervous. He's not quite sure what the punchline will be, nor whether he's about to add another semester on to his degree course. He waits, ready for whatever must be.

Tries not to think of Root as Merlin. Whatever Lefay might have intimated. Draco just can't deal with that. Not here, not now. Not whilst he's waiting for Root to give him his marks, at least. That's just ridiculous, really, and to be honest, Draco's not so certain Lefay hadn't been toying with him and Harry both.

All of them are ready to fail, really. Draco can see Patil smoothing the seam of her trousers obsessively, and Longbottom has the look of a stunned puffer fish. There's a bet on with the masters and tutors that this class will sit exceptional leaving exams, although privately Draco thinks that's impossible. The last time an entire class excelled at Flamelian leaving exams was during the Goblin Wars, and even those were off-site due to the entire college having been placed under a stasis spell. Draco wishes, in a way, that stasis charms were an option now. He'd rather be in a full bodylock than sit through another of Root's dressing downs.

Harry's sitting alert across the room on the sofa with Granger. He and Draco make brief eye contact. Harry nods, and Draco's stomach flutters. He looks away, his cheeks warming, remembering that Monday night in Avalon. And Tuesday morning in Draco's quarters. To be honest, they hadn't made it to morning tutorials that day--they'd fucked and slept and fucked again until they'd had to roll out of bed for lunch.

But after that, things went odd. Draco hasn't really spoken to Harry in a few days, only enough to bring their versions of the Avalonian apple report together. Whatever magic bound him to Harry in Somerset has left Draco tongue-tied and blushingly awkward with Harry in the cooler light of Oxford. Once the reality of being back at Flamel had settled in, Draco'd started second-guessing himself. Second-guessing Harry. Wondering if he'd dreamt it all, if all Harry had wanted was a good shag and nothing more. And it's not as if they've spoken about it, really. They haven't had a chance--their friends have been with them constantly, and the last thing Draco wants is for them to know what a fool he's been. Draco's avoided going down the pub for days, going to his mother's Wiltshire cottage instead for meals, penance, and a deep sense of shame in not seeing her for weeks, and he'd skipped out of Oxford all weekend--he'd spent it in London instead, hiding out in Greg's flat and talking about lagers and porters and ales, as well as tasting Greg's latest brews. So perhaps it's just Draco, then, avoiding Harry.

Draco just doesn't know what else to do. He's not good at this sort of thing; everyone else he's fucked he's never had to interact with again. He knows Pansy would tell him he's an idiot, but she's too busy burying herself in Patil to really notice anything's wrong with Draco, and Greg hadn't pushed. Blaise probably would, but Draco's been avoiding him too. He doesn't want to have to put up with Blaise's smugness on being right about him and Harry.

But Draco can't stop thinking of the press of warm skin, the earthy, grassy smell of Potter's hair, the weight of his body. It makes his stomach twist with longing. He wishes it could happen again, although he knows that's foolish, and he simultaneously he wishes he'd never done it so he didn't know it was amazing.

Draco thinks Harry can't possibly want to acknowledge anything happening between them. How could he? Draco's barely in Harry's orbit; they've just shared a few tutorials together and Potter's destined to go far. Draco looks over at Granger, who's clutching a quill tight enough to break. Her eyes flick to Root, who's pausing over the parchment Harry and Draco'd awkwardly compiled one afternoon with Longbottom and Granger looking on. Root thumps the tan surface lightly with a meaty hand.

"Well, my boys, this is fantastic work." Root says simply.

There is a moment of pure stillness whilst Draco struggles to comprehend. His mouth had already opened for acknowledgement of his own failure. He shuts it rather abruptly, coughs to buy time as his brain processes furiously.

"Beg pardon?" Draco stammers at last, genuinely unsure whether he's heard correctly--he must be hallucinating in some sort of Harry-induced lust haze.

"Mr Malfoy, don't be coy!" Root's smile is perhaps more terrifying than his frown, but Draco senses rare, genuine warmth behind it. "You've captured extraordinary information about the practical agricultural charms of the Avalonian Heritage site. I don't think Mair herself knows all of what you've discerned, else she might not have let you leave. I went every summer for several years, and got not much more than a hand-me-down scrumpy recipe--not hers, I might add, as I found it in a Muggle cookbook some years later--and some warmed-over stories straight out of Chrétien de Troyes." His eyes narrow; he looks off into the distance, scowling "Who always was a fucking liar, might I add."

Draco's entirely nonplussed. "Oh."

Harry sits forward on the sofa, a smile starting to spread across his face.

Root turns to Harry. "And, I must say, Potter, you almost justified your reputation here with the historical survey. This was exactly what I was looking for."

Lovegood elbows Draco. "Good show!" she says under her breath, a bit too loudly for Draco's comfort.

"Thank you, I think," he whispers back, still completely in shock.

He's not at all prepared for this level of enthusiasm on Root's part. His brain is still struggling to comprehend that he's not failing the class, and Harry's smile isn't helping-- it's wide and warm, and he's looking straight at Draco, and Draco is not at all prepared for this degree of openness at all. Granger has a little smirk on her face that shows that Draco's completely underestimated how much she knows about Monday. Even Neville looks knowing as he glances between Draco and Harry.

Draco blushes a bit more.

Root clears his throat. "In light of this excellent contribution by Messers Potter and Malfoy, with superb contributions by Miss Granger, Mr Longbottom, Miss Patil, and Miss Lovegood, I'd like to suggest a class outing to the Alychmist. I'll even spot you all the first round--I've heard they've a lovely fall porter by a new brewer."

The whole room pauses, takes a breath, and then there's a flurry of papers and quills as they all reach for their satchels and bags. "Last one there buys the next round," Longbottom says.

"Can we ask Rolf to join us?" Lovegood's shoving her binder of parchment back into her sparkling pink backpack.

"Whatever you'd like, Miss Lovegood," Root says, and Draco's never seen their professor this cheerful.

"You're actually taking us out for drinks?" Draco says a bit stupidly, almost as astonished by this fact as by the mention of Greg's new brew, the Dragon's Egg Porter, for the Alchymist in Waverley Root's mouth. If, as Draco suspects, Root ghostwrites the weekly review columns for food in the Prophet under the name of Ambrosius Radix, this could also be good for Greg's fledgling business--and Draco's own bottom line besides.

There's a twinkle in Root's eye now. "Why yes, Mr Malfoy, I believe I am. I've also heard that Miss Abbott's new dirigible plum and apple crumble is a thing of wonder, but one must not forego the vanilla sauce."

"Everything on Hannah's menu is smashing," Harry says from behind them. The prat is at the door, clearly waiting for Professor Root so as to curry favour with him. Granger's lingering beside him; she bends her head towards Harry's, whispers something, and he nods to her. Granger glances at Draco and then she slips past Harry, calling for Lovegood to wait up for her.

Draco knows he was only a footnote to Harry's success story, but he doesn't mind overmuch. He's had his own fun, after all, and their little partnership will have been good for his exams in the spring, even as he wishes bitterly it weren't about to end. He pushes that resentment down, the longing beneath it deeper still.

Root eyes him with a bit more intelligence than Draco would like; the others are already out the door, their laughter drifting up the stairwell. When Draco doesn't say anything more, Root clear his throat. "Well, then. Off to Miss Abbott's." He turns and gathers an immense grey woolen cloak from a hook by the door, then strides out into the hallway, brushing past Harry, clapping him on the shoulder. "Don't worry about the lock!" he shouts from the hallway. "It will ward automatically when you leave."

Draco bends down, taking a moment to gather his things. He curses when his favourite leakproof inkwell rolls under the wide leather armchair in the corner. By the time he's fetched it from back almost at the skirting board, he's fairly certain the others are halfway to the Alchymist. But when he straightens up, shifting his satchel onto his hip, Harry is still there, colour high and a gormless expression on his face.

Circe, he's so ridiculously handsome that it takes Draco's breath away.

"Hi," Draco says, cursing himself for his idiocy. He walks toward the door, toward Harry. The air of the study is cool on his back, but his face is hot. Harry wasn't waiting for Root. He was waiting for Draco, and, as much as hope flutters in the depths of his belly, Draco doesn't really know what that might mean.

Harry's eyes meet his, and Draco catches his breath. "Hi yourself." His voice is throaty and the little burr in it makes Draco's knees weak. Draco gathers his courage, walks a bit closer still. He expects Harry to move back, to make a motion to put space between them, but he doesn't. Harry merely shifts against the door frame, and Draco remembers the breadth of his shoulders rather too well, remembers how they felt beneath his hands in Mair's cottage.

They look at each other, silence stretching out between them. It's thick, heavy. Solemn, even.

Harry's dark blue shirt is open at the throat, setting off his golden skin perfectly. His pulse is beating at the hollow, and Draco wants nothing more than to press his lips against it. "So we passed then."

Draco bites his lip, looks up. Potter's pupils are impossibly dark, widening as Draco watches. "Yeah. I suppose we have." He pauses, then says, "Might even make it through the tutorial if we can last until the beginning of December."

Harry's mouth twitches. "Might," he agrees.

They stand there together, the clock on Root's desk ticking softly in the silence of the room. Draco curls his fingers around the strap of his satchel, uncertain as to what he should say.

"So." Harry shifts from foot to foot, his fingers twisted in the sleeves of his jumpers. He doesn't really meet Draco's gaze. "Where does that leave us?" His brow furrows.

Draco's closer now still, their toes almost touching. "Where would you like for us to be?

Harry's hand comes up in answer, grazing Draco's cheek and tilting his chin up. Draco leans into him, letting his lips brush against Potter's.

And then Harry's tugging Draco towards him. Harry's mouth is warm and wet, and Draco's pulled into an astonishingly good kiss before he has much time to think about it. He loses several moments to relearning the shift of Harry beneath him, the welcome heat of his body, its hard press against his.

Draco pulls back, nipping at Harry's jaw as he does and noting the stunned look on Potter's face with pleasure. "I'd say that leaves us right here. Wouldn't you?"

There's really not much Harry can say with his tongue in Draco's mouth, but as Draco's satchel hits the floor dully and his arms come up around Harry's neck, his hips grinding into Harry's as Harry's hands cup his arse, he supposes they've reached some sort of understanding for the moment.

Waverley Root—Merlin or whoever he is—and the bloody dirigible plum crumble can wait.


The Alchymist's Delight
Flamel College, Oxford

Small Bites
Spiced Acorn Flour Biscuits
Pumpkin Soup with Chilli

Mains
Dragon Kale Colcannon
Salamander in the Hole
Flying Boar Cassoulet
Bubalus Paneer with Cauliflower and Peas

Afters
Pumpkin Custard Tart
Dirigible Plum Crumble

Signature Cocktail
Samhain Gin Cocktail

Try our new Dragon's Egg Porter!