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The Tide of Thy Pride

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As soon as Draco Malfoy caught a glimpse of Michael in the nightclub, he knew he just had to have him. It didn't matter that he'd just got engaged to an old school friend of Draco’s, plump, good natured Lavender; he was looking at Draco in the way that suggested bed rather than breakfast, and he was weak at the knees... But Draco was used to men falling in love with him at a moment's notice - it happened all the time if you were as rich and as stunning as he was.

An invitation to join Lavender and Michael for a cosy weekend on a Muggle canal barge came like a gift from the gods. How could he fail to hook Michael? But the other part of the foursome was whizz-kid business tycoon Harry Potter, a swarthy half-blood with all the tenderness of a Bludger...definitely not Draco's type! And one way and another, he certainly managed to thwart Draco’s plans...

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

The moment I set eyes on Michael Corner I knew I had to have him. I was sitting in Morgana’s nightclub, watching a crowd of the young, rich and fashionable, undulating around the floor and thinking they were dancing when suddenly the door opened and a dark haired man walked in and stood looking around for a waitress.

Even in the gloom with which Morgana's conceals its décor I could see that he had class - tall and lean with one of those beautiful high cheekbones faces with long dreamy eyes. As the waitress came up to him I watched to see if he'd leer down her exposed jacked-up bosom. He didn't. She led him to a table next but one to ours. He was obviously waiting for someone. Then a plump girl came through the door and stood blinking round with short-sighted eyes. He stood up and waved to her, and her face broke into a smile that was faintly familiar. Then I recognised her. It was Lavender Brown; we'd been at Beauxbatons together. How on Earth had she managed to land a havoc maker like that?

“Look,” I said nudging Blaise. “That's Lavender Brown, we were at Beauxbatons together.” Blaise peered over his very dark glasses which he only wears to emphasise his Dark Wizard like appearance.

“She doesn't seem to have recovered from it as well as you have,” he said. “She obviously skips the features on slimming when she reads Witch Weekly magazines and concentrates on the ones about ‘three-dimensional charm’. I suppose you want to rush over and reminisce about the dorm and the Divination mistress’s moustache?”

But I wasn't listening any longer.

“Do look,” I said. “He's ordering champagne. Do you suppose they're celebrating?”

“Can't be much to celebrate, getting lumbered with a bird that looks like that,” said Blaise, beckoning the waitress and ordering more firewhisky.

Blaise is immensely successful, rich, young and, like me, rootless. He is not interested in anyone unless they’re likely to advance his career or improve his image. At that time, just as I was getting bored with him, he was beginning to fall in love with me. This irked rather than worried me. I was used to men falling in love with me. When I gave Blaise the push, he would nurse his hurt pride for a fortnight, change the colour of his Ferrari – a flashy muggle car - and move on to the next affaire.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the man buying champagne for Lavender Brown. She raised her glass to him now, and he held her hand, smiling at her. He had a beautiful smile, gentle and creasing his face in all the right places. Now he ran a hand down her cheek. It was really most mystifying.

Blaise was rabbiting on about the chic men’s clothes shop he owns, who had been in, how difficult it was to get the right staff. Lavender and her man got up to dance. He moved easily, with the grace of some jungle cat. Lavender bounced around, wiggling her arms and her large bottom. She resembled a baby erumpent taking a dip in a pool. Blaise took out a gold cigarette case, lit two cigarettes and handed one to me. He is full of these self-consciously sexy gestures which only work if you’re indescribably gorgeous, rich and glamorous. Lavender was now writhing and pushing her hair about in utter abandon.

“They never taught your friend to dance at school,” Blaise said, watching her in appalled amusement.

“She was taller than most of us then, so she always had to dance the man’s part.” The floor had filled up now and Lavender and her man danced close together. He pressed his cheek against her hair, but his eyes wandered lazily around the room. Her eyes were closed in ecstasy and she had a fatuous smile on her face. Merlin, she was just as drippy as she had been at school! Blaise put his hand on my thigh and drained his glass.

“Shall we go?” he said.

“In a minute. Let’s have one more drink.” The music had stopped, and they were coming off the floor right past our table. I ran my hand through my hair to loosen it and pulled the front piece over one eye. “Hello Lav Lav,” I said loudly.

“Circe’s tits,” whispered Blaise. Lavender peered through the gloom, blinking.

“Over here,” I said. Suddenly she saw me and gave a shriek of schoolgirl excitement.

“Goodness, it can’t be, Draco! Is it really you?”

“Yes, really me. Come and have a drink.” Lavender pushed through the tables, pink face shining with excitement, bosom heaving from her exertions.

“How lovely to see you.” She kissed my proffered cheek. “And looking so stunning too!” She dragged the dark man forward. “This is Michael Corner. It’s a very special evening for us, we’ve just got engaged!”

Engaged! Hence the champagne. At least they weren’t married yet! “Congratulations,” I said, and gave Michael Corner one of my long, hard, smouldering looks. “How very exciting.”

He smiled back at me. “Yes, isn’t it?”

“Michael darling,” said Lavender. “This is Draco Malfoy. We were at Beauxbatons together, in the same Maison d'école, but only for four years. Draco did something perfectly dreadful. He was dared to streak the circuit of the school grounds, and he did, so he was expelled. Life was very dull after that.”

“I can imagine it was,” said Michael Corner. Oh, how heart-breaking that smile was.

“This is Blaise Zabini,” I said. Blaise nodded enigmatically. With his swarthy Latin face, peacock blue robes and dark grey shirt, he looked both sinister and glamorous. No one could be ashamed of being seen with Blaise. “Why don’t we all have a drink?” I said, ignoring a vicious kick on the ankle from Blaise.

Lavender looked up at Michael. “Why not?” she said. He nodded.

“Blaise, get the waitress to bring some more chairs,” I said.

“What were you drinking?” said Blaise sulkily.

“Champagne,” I said. “It’s a celebration.”

“I’ve had quite enough to drink, I’m already getting giggly,” said Lavender. “Can I have some pumpkin juice?”

I told you she was drippy!

“But you’ll have champagne?” Blaise said to Michael.

“I much prefer firewhisky. Let me buy this round.” Blaise shook his head and summoned the waitress.

“You actually got engaged today?” I said.

“Well, yesterday,” said Lavender, hauling a bra strap up a fat white shoulder.

“Have you got a ring?”

“Yes. Isn’t it lovely?” She held out a troll-like stubby hand that had never seen a manicure in its life. On the third finger glowed an antique ring – rubies and pearls surrounded a plait of hair. Of course he would choose something as subtly pretty as that. All the guys I knew would have given me solitaires or sapphires as big as an owl’s egg.

“It’s gorgeous,” I said looking through my hair at Michael. “You are lucky, Lavender. Really beautiful men with exquisite taste into the bargain are at a premium these days.” Blaise, busy ordering drinks, missed that remark. Michael blushed slightly.

“Yes, he is beautiful, isn’t he,” sighed Lavender. “I have to keep pinching myself to prove it’s not a dream that he should have chosen an old frump like me.”

“When you’ve both finished discussing me like a prize Abraxan . . .” said Michael, but he said it gently and, taking a loose strand of Lavender’s hair, smoothed it behind her ear.

The drinks arrived. “Gosh, thanks awfully. It’s terribly kind of you,” said Lavender, beaming at Blaise. I remembered of old how ridiculously grateful she’d always been about the smallest things. “And that’s a beautiful suit,” she added wistfully. “Michael would look divine in clothes like that, but he’s such an old square.” I waited for Blaise to wince, but he didn’t and was soon telling her all about the shop. That was another thing about her, she always managed to make people talk about themselves, and gave the impression she was really interested.

I gave Michael a long speculative look. He dropped his eyes first and took a gulp of firewhisky. “That’s better. I’ve never been wild about champagne.”

“I only like it for elevenses,” I said. “When are you getting married?”

“November, we thought.”

“Not before! But that’s light years away! Why on earth wait so long?”

“I’ve got a large overdraft already, and I don’t relish the idea of living off Lavender.” Lavender, I remembered, had a bit of money of her own.

“What do you do?”

“I’m in publishing, as an editor. I write a bit myself as well.”

“What sort of things?”

“Oh, poetry, a bit of criticism, the odd review, nothing likely to make any money.” He looked like a poet with those dreamy brown eyes and long dark hair, yet it wasn’t a weak face; there was a strength about the mouth and chin. I got out a cigarette; he lit it for me. I held his hand to steady the flame, looking up at him from under my lashes. Surely he could feel the electricity between us? He put away his lighter. “Why are you called Draco?”

“By the time I was born, my mother’d gone off my father and was mad about someone else, and she couldn’t have been less amused by my arrival, or be bothered to think of a name for me. So she called me after a random constellation, a tradition in her family. It’s a damn silly name to be saddled with.”

“It’s a beautiful name. It suits you. Did your mother go off with the man she was mad about?”

“Oh no, someone quite different, and then someone else, and then someone else. My father had lots of affairs too, but he’s dead now. There may even be some illegitimate siblings out there.”

“It can’t have been very easy for you. I come from a broken home myself, but not one that’s in smithereens. Do you see your mother?”

“Occasionally, when she’s sober, or comes to London. I hardly ever go to France to see her. I hate scenes. She’s rather sad now. Her looks are going and she gets terrible maudlin fits reminiscing about my father, which drive her present husband mad.”

How gentle and compassionate his eyes were now, and how ridiculously long his eyelashes. “I’m sorry,” I said, putting a husky little break into my voice that I’d perfected over the years. “I didn’t mean to bore you with family history. I never talk about it usually.” That was a lie. It was Act I in the Draco Malfoy seduction routine – make them feel I need looking after.

“I’m flattered you told me,” he said.

“How did you two meet?”

“Lavender came and did temporary typing for me while my own secretary was away helping to organise her sister’s wedding. She wasn’t wildly efficient, every letter had to be typed over again, and she kept putting things in the wrong envelopes, and giving them to the wrong owls but she was so sweet that when my own streamlined secretary came back and restored order, I realised I was missing Lav. I Flooed the agency, started taking her out and that was that.”

“I’m not surprised; she’s so lovely.” I hoped he couldn’t detect the whopping ring of insincerity in my voice. “She always protected me from all the bullies when we were at school.”

“Yes, she grows on you.” She was evidently growing on Blaise. He was smiling, nodding and laughing with her, rather than at her.

“Once I tried to diet faithfully,” she was saying. “Day after day, week after week, not eating a thing but lettuce and steamed fish. But all I’d lost after six weeks was half an inch in height!” She shrieked with laughter. So did Blaise and Michael.

The heavy drums of Weird Sisters’ latest song broke through the conversation. I leaned forward, pressing my elbows together so as to almost flash a nipple. I saw Michael glance down and quickly glance away. “I’m mad for this tune,” I said.

“What are we waiting for?” said Blaise, getting up.

Dancing is the thing I do best in the world. It seems to release all the frustrations from my body, all the evils from my soul. I wore a long, pale-gold, silk Indian tunic and trousers, almost the same colour as my hair. I felt like a piece of seaweed streaming with the tide of the music, flowing now this way, now that. I knew everyone in the room was watching me, some with envy, some with lust.

Blaise dances superbly too; his body seems to turn to rubber. I never fancy him so much as when we’re on the dance floor. Through a sheet of platinum blond hair I saw Michael was stealing glances at me. He turned and said something to Lavender; she smiled and looked in my direction. The music stopped; hand-in-hand Blaise and I wandered back to our table.

“We’re off,” I said, deciding this was the ideal exit note.

“Going home?” said Lavender.

“No, we’re going to another place,” said Blaise. “It’s just been opened by a mate of mine. Want to come?” He had changed his tune.

Michael looked at Lavender; she shook her head.

“We’ve both got to get up early in the morning, but do give me your Floo address, Draco. We must keep in touch.”

“We must,” I said, staring shamelessly at Michael. “You must both come to dinner.”

“Yes, we’d like to,” he said, emphasising the “we”.

Even when we finally got home, I was still walking on air, unable to keep the Cheshire cat grin of exultation off my face. As the lift shot up to the penthouse flat I had the feeling it might take me through the roof straight up to the stars.

My flat was beautiful. Leonidas, my brother, who is an expert at interior decorating, had helped me do it up. Everyone gasped when they first saw it. Huge fleshy potted plants, banked at each end of the long drawing room, gave the effect of a jungle. A whole wall of windows looked out onto the lamp-lit plane trees of Green Park.

Kicking off my shoes, I felt my feet sink into the thick, white carpet. Almost immediately the Floo chimed.

“Answer it, would you?” I said to Blaise.

“Yeah?” said Blaise, kneeling at the fireplace. “It’s someone called Marcus Flint,” he added. “He sounds a long way away.”

“Crackling with lust,” I said, draping myself down by the fireplace. “Go and get a bottle out of the larder, darling,” I said to him loudly, so Marcus could hear. “Hi, my darling,” I said to Marcus.

When I had taken my time over the Floo call, I wandered into the bedroom. Blaise was lying naked on the blond fur counterpane, drinking champagne and looking beautiful and sulky. On the wall above his head hung my favourite picture: a 16th century Italian oil painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, surrounded by hundreds of animals and birds.

“It’s vital,” my brother had insisted, “to have something pretty to look at over one’s bed to while away the excruciating boredom of sexual intercourse.” I knew that picture pretty well.

Ignoring Blaise, I undressed unhurriedly and sat down at my dressing table, admiring my reflection in the triple mirror. I liked what I saw. My body was as warm as an apricot in the soft light. My arse, in contrast with the light muscles of the rest of my body, had a heavy golden ripeness. Hedonistically I began to brush my hair.

“Who’s Marcus Flint?” said Blaise, trying to appear cool.

“A rather persistent bit of my past,” I said. “You know the type.”

Blaise laughed. “I hope he is past.” He got up, crossed the room and stood behind me, his hands caressing my shoulders. I enjoyed the play of light on his dark skin, and the way his muscles flexed as he bent to kiss me. I could see the gold streaks growing out of his dark hair. We made a stunning picture. “Come on, you Narcissus,” he said. “It’s time for bed.”

-o-o-o- 

Afterwards he reached out for the champagne and gave me a glass. “Salazar, you were sensational tonight,” he muttered sleepily, as I examined my now tousled but not unpleasing reflection in the mirror opposite. “What got into you?”

“You did,” I said, and laughed softly. There was no need to tell him the whole time we had been fucking I had been practising every trick in the trade, imagining Michael Corner in his place.

He fell asleep almost immediately, with his arms around me. The oppressive heat made it too hard to sleep. I soon wriggled out of his embrace, and lay on my back, thinking about Michael, memorising every angle of his face and every word he’d spoken to me. The fact that he was engaged to Lavender didn’t worry me a bit, made it more of a challenge.

Eventually I got up, went to the bathroom, showered, then luxuriously massaged skin potion all over my body. Then I blocked the Floo and took a Dreamless Sleep potion.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

When I awoke at two o'clock in the afternoon Blaise had gone, leaving me a note on the pillow, saying he loved me, and to Floo him when I was conscious. I unblocked the Floo, and it chimed almost immediately. "Ello, this is the Ministry of Magic,” I said.

“Draco, you are dreadful; it's Lavender here,” came the breathless, eager voice. She looked even fatter than usual bending double through the emerald green flames.

“Lavender, how lovely!”

“I thought I'd Floo straight away before we lost touch.”

“You must come to dinner,” I said.

“We'd love to, but actually we've got a plan. Are you doing anything the weekend after next?”

“I’m supposed to be going to Barcelona, but it's a fluid arrangement.”

“Well, I expect you'd find it awfully boring, but Michael shares a boat with another chap, and we've got it next weekend. We wondered if you'd like to come too.”

“I might get seasick,” I said, trying to keep the excitement out of my voice.

“Oh you couldn't! It's a Muggle barge, and all we do is drift up and down the canals, going through the locks and tying up where it takes our fancy. Would you like to bring Blaise?”

“He'll be away,” I lied. “It's not a big thing, Blaise and me, we're just mates.”

“You haven't got someone special you'd like to bring?”

“I did have. We were going to get married, but he was killed earlier this year. It was a terrible accident. He was Splinched and they couldn’t save him.”

“Oh, poor, poor Dray,” she said, unconsciously lapsing into the nickname of schooldays. “Oh Merlin, I'm sorry. Merlin.” 

I waited through an awkward pause. 

“Well, anyway,” she floundered on. “If you didn't want to bring someone, Michael had thought... do you know Harry Potter?” 

“No, should I? The name sounds faintly familiar.” The Potters weren’t in the Sacred Twenty-Eight but that didn’t mean so much these days. 

“He's a great friend of Michael's. We've been trying to persuade him to come on the boat for ages, but he works so hard, he can never get away. I think you'd like him; he's awfully attractive.” 

I didn't care if he were. My mind was already jumping ahead, dreaming of a long weekend, drifting up and down the canals, lounging on the deck in my shortest shorts by day, my hair gleaming pale in the moonlight by night - how could I not hook Michael? 

“It sounds great,” I said. “I’d love to come. Why don't you and Michael come to dinner on Monday and we can talk about it?” 

I planned Monday's dinner like a military operation. I never finished school, so my spell casting isn’t great at the best of times, and it goes to hell when I’m stressed or worked up. Plus I'm a rotten cook and can be guaranteed to louse up even a Pot Noodle, so I arranged for the food to be made by a hired house-elf, Krinny, so I could pass it off as my own efforts. 

Lavender had obviously given Michael the impression that I was a frivolous social butterfly and I was determined to dispel it. I scoured the shops until I found a blue Muggle three piece suit that made me look both modest and sexy. It really emphasised my long legs. I also bought all of Michael's books - two slender volumes of poetry and a book of criticism of John Donne's poems. I found Michael's poems quite incomprehensible. The long, rather self-admiring introduction written by Michael himself made me understand them even less. 

The doorbell rang as I was spraying my aftershave round the flat. Lavender stood in front of Michael, clutching a huge box of chocolates.

“For you,” she said, giving me a bear hug. “You’re the only friend I have who doesn't need to diet. Goodness, that blue looks stunning!” 

I couldn't say the same for her. She wore a scarlet dress which clashed horribly with her flushed face. We went into the drawing-room and I poured everyone stiff drinks. 

“How delicious to have a flat like this all to oneself,” said Lavender, collapsing onto the sofa. 

“I can't wait to get out of London on Friday,” I said. 

“Nor can I,” said Lavender, shovelling nuts into her face like a starved squirrel. “My office is like a furnace. Harry is coming, by the way. I lured him by telling him what a knockout you were.” 

“Well then, he's doomed to bitter disappointment,” I said with a sidelong glance at Michael.

“Not in your case,” he said, staring back at me until I demurely dropped my eyes. 

Oh this is fantastic, I thought, it's beginning to work. I sat on the sofa, stretching long legs in front of me. I saw Michael looking at them surreptitiously. I didn't blame him, they were a far prettier sight than Lavender's tree trunks, displayed almost in their entirety by a rucked-up skirt. 

“Harry wants us to go round after dinner for a drink,” she said. “He says he can't wait until Friday.”

“Do you like him?” I asked Michael, as though it were only his opinion that mattered. 

“Yes, I do. He's one of my old school friends. We were at Hogwarts together. There’s quite a story to tell about him – it could make a whole series of books!” 

“Really?” I said, not very interested in what Michael was saying as much as his attention on me.

“Have you really never heard of him?”

“Is he famous?” I said. 

“Some of this is pretty old history, twenty five or so years ago. You-Know-Who had decided for some reason that Harry’s parents, James and Lily Potter, were a threat to him. He pursued them and they had to go into hiding. James had some inherited money from family potion inventions but they used up all their wealth to stay in hiding as long as they could.” Michael paused and had another sip of his drink. 

‘Oh! That Potter!’ I thought. I couldn’t survive without Fleamont Potter’s Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion (‘two drops tames even the most bothersome barnet’ ). Not that anyone would ever know my hair wasn’t naturally straight. I would go to my grave with that secret! 

Michael continued, “Then on Halloween in 1981, You-Know-Who attacked James and Lily. They both died. Harry was just a baby but he survived. As You-Know-Who then disappeared, a legend grew up around Harry, that he must have been the one to vanquish the Dark Lord.” 

“Go on,” I said, batting my eyelashes at Michael. 

Michael was warming to his own storytelling, “Old Dumbledore was worried about Harry growing up worshipped by the Light side, or in fear of being kidnapped by Dark wizards, so he arranged for Harry to be brought up in secret by some Muggle relatives. They didn’t like Magic though and didn’t want Harry.

“He got into Hogwarts but as there was no money, he had to have second hand robes and books. He was fantastic at Quidditch but he never had the money for a decent broom. He had a chip on his shoulder as big as a plank. It gave him the drive to succeed academically and financially and he ended up with straight Os for his NEWTs.”

“He's got an incredibly quick mind but he's not a boring academic,” added Lavender. “All he's ever wanted to do is to be financially secure and never have to rely on anyone else’s charity. He's got his own company now, with thousands of little men working for him building houses for both Wizards and Muggles. He's the most energetic man I've ever met.”

“He sounds exhausting,” I said, filling Michael's drink.

“Not really,” said Michael. “You occasionally feel you want to add water to dilute him, but on the whole he's fine.”

“Won't he get bored on the boat?”

“Not with you around. He loves beautiful people of either sex.” 

“He has time for them?” 

“Oh, yes,” sighed Lavender. “He's awfully attractive. He makes you feel all body, somehow.”

-o-o-o-

Dinner was a success. Krinny had surpassed himself, leaving both Michael and Lavender extremely impressed. 

Over coffee, I opened Lavender's chocolates.

“Oh, we oughtn't to,” said Lavender, rootling round for a soft centre. “We bought them for you.” 

It was then that I played my trump card. Turning to Michael I said, “You never let on you were the Michael Corner. You've been a god of mine ever since I can remember. I've got all your books.”

How sweet he looked when he blushed.

“And you've actually read them?”

“Of course. I know most of your poems by heart. I like the one about King’s Cross Station late at night best.” I reeled off a few lines.

After that nothing stopped him. The occasional murmur from me was all he needed. I didn't listen to what he said; I was too busy gazing hypnotically into his eyes. It was Lavender who finally halted him, when she'd finished the chocolates.

“Dar-ling, if we're going to Harry's, it's gone ten o'clock.”

He was all contrition. “Sweetheart, I am sorry. When I get on my hobby horse, it's like stopping a goblin counting money, trying to halt me.” He took her hand. “It's so rare meeting someone who actually understands what I'm trying to say.”

“Unlike me,” said Lavender, without rancour. “Let's quickly do the washing-up. 

“Absolutely not,” I said firmly. I wasn't going to have her finding that Krinny had already cleaned up whilst I had been working on seducing Michael.

“Oh, well, if you insist. Can I go to the loo?”

Michael and I went into the drawing-room.

“There you are,” I said, pointing to his books on one of the bottom shelves. I'd taken the jackets off and dirtied them up a bit.

He looked at me for a second. “You're very unexpected, you know.”

“I am?”

“Yeah. When we met last week I thought you were one of those impossibly beautiful boys, incapable of doing anything but look glamorous. Now I find you know how to make a flat look wonderful, you cook like an angel, and you seem to know more about books than anyone I've ever met!” 

“I aim to please,” I said. “Have you got a cigarette?”

“Of course.” He lit one for me.

“Lavender seems determined to get me off with this Harry man.”

“Lavender's a romantic; she longs for everyone to be as happy as she is. I'm sure you'll like him. Most people do.”

“I'm choosy,” I said carefully. “I prefer to do my own hunting.”

For the first time we really looked at each other, slowly, lingeringly, exploring each other's faces, unable to tear our eyes away.

“Stop it,” he said, but quite gently. “Lavender'll be back in a minute.”

The hot June night blazed with stars. We drove through London in Michael’s rickety Muggle car with the roof down and the wireless blaring, in wild spirits. We were all a bit tipsy, too tipsy to safely Apparate, but driving felt okay. As it was only a two-seater I had insisted on sitting in the luggage compartment on the right side so I could catch Michael's eye in the driving mirror. When we swung round corners I let my fingers rest lightly on his shoulder.

Suddenly I felt a pang. Perhaps it was a bit much trying to nick him from Lavender. Then I saw Lavender put her hand on his thigh, not in a very sexy way, just in a friendly gesture of togetherness, and I was shot through with jealousy. The pang disappeared. Any girl who let herself get as fat as Lavender deserved to lose a man like Michael anyway.

I managed to show as much of my figure as possible as I got out of the car. 

In the row of large white, elegant Islington houses, Harry Potter's violently purple house stood out like a sore thumb. It was painted violet, with a brilliant scarlet door. How ostentatious can you get? I thought. 

Unexpectedly, the scarlet door was answered by a woman with bushy brown hair, warm brown eyes and a sexy figure. 

“Michael,” she said, giving Michael a pussy-cat smile. “Come in. Harry is upstairs; perhaps you'd follow me.” 

On the third floor, standing in the doorway, stood a tall, stocky man, smoking a cigarette. Michael collapsed into his arms, clutching at his shirt and gasping out some story about having become separated from the main party with which he had scaled all but the final peak. “Brandy,” he croaked and, staggering past the man with the cigarette, collapsed onto a pile of cushions. Lavender shrieked with laughter. 

“I think he's a bit tipsy. Hello Harry darling,” she said, kissing him. “This is Draco Malfoy. Isn't he a knockout?” 

“How do you do?” I said, putting on my best pureblood voice to cover my embarrassment. 

“Very well, thank you,” he mimicked me, looking me over very slowly, like a judge examining a finest Pegasus. 

He turned and smiled at Lavender. “He's beautiful, Lav. For once you haven't exaggerated.” 

“Are you sure you two haven't met before?” said Lavender. “I should have thought you would have, being globetrotters and all that.” 

Harry Potter examined me a bit more and shook his head. 

“No, I never forget a body. Did he really come up the stairs? I thought boys like that only came down the chimney at Christmas time.”

His voice was low in both senses of the word. I had the feeling he was laughing at me. Lavender shrieked with more giggles; she was beginning to get seriously on my nerves.

We joined Michael in a room which looked like the sunset people walk hand-in-hand into, at the end of old Muggle films - brilliant pink walls, covered in books and paintings, scarlet curtains, parquet glimmering in pools round flamingo-coloured longhaired rugs, piles of white fur cushions and a long orange sofa. What should have been terribly vulgar somehow worked as a whole. Papers were scattered over the floor and the bushy haired woman who'd let us in started Summoning them.

“I love your cushions,” said Lavender, collapsing onto a pile beside Michael.

“I took my hangover to Fortnum & Mason last Saturday and bought them. At least they keep everyone horizontal,” said Harry, winking at me and moving towards a bookshelf of leather-bound volumes. The next moment he'd pressed a button and the entire works of Walter Scott slid back to reveal a vast cocktail cabinet.

“Now,” he said. “What would anyone like?”

He was absolutely not my type. His face was heavy with a powerful jaw, a scar on his forehead, a slightly crooked nose, full sensual mouth and wicked green eyes which seemed to be continually laughing at some private joke.

His skin was swarthy, and his thick wild black hair, grew over his collar and in long sideboards down his cheeks. He wore light grey corduroy trousers and a dark blue shirt, open at the neck to show a mat of black hair. His height and massive shoulders didn't entirely draw the eye away from a thickening waistline.

He handed me a drink. “There you are, baby. It's a real L.O.”

“’ello?”

“L.O. Leg opener. Never fails to work.”

Blushing angrily, I turned away.

By the time he had fixed us all drinks, the bushy brunette had filed away all the papers from the floor. 

“You haven't met my business partner, Ms Hermione Granger-Lovegood, have you?” said Harry. “She keeps my company running like clockwork. Do you want a drink, lovely?” 

She shook her head and gave him her pussy-cat smile.

“I ought to be getting home. My poor wife will be wondering what the hell's happened.” 

“I'll see you out,” said Harry. “I won't be a minute,” he added to us.

“Isn't he gorgeous?” said Lavender.

“Great,” I replied, unenthusiastically.

There was a crude power about him. I could see why certain people might go for him - but not me. I detest those big, hunky aggressively sexual men; they make me feel claustrophobic. I like my men gentle, reticent, subtle. Harry Potter had the subtlety of a rampaging Hippogriff. 

I wandered round the room examining objects and giving Michael the opportunity to admire my arse. I avoided looking into an adjoining room, after glimpsing one of the biggest king sized beds I'd ever seen. I half expected to see a blond in gold lamé pyjamas revving-up beneath the sheets. 

A slight breeze swayed the curtains, bringing a scent of mignonette and sweet peas from the window box outside. I looked out of the window. Down below Harry Potter was talking to Ms Granger-Lovegood. Suddenly he pulled her into his arms and gave her a massive hug. After a minute, he let her go and she patted his cheek with her hand. She Apparated away. 

As he turned to come back into the house, he looked up and caught me looking at him, and grinned.

The Floo chimed. Lavender kneeled down. “Hello, yes. He's downstairs. Hang on a minute. Harry,” she yelled, “Floo.” 

He grimaced apologetically at us as he came in and stooped down. 

“Justin, baby, how are you? Yeah. I've missed you too. Sweetheart, I haven't a hope this evening. I'm knee-deep in people, and later I've got to work. I've got one hell of a day tomorrow. Listen, darling, what about Wednesday evening?” Merlin, that voice could turn it on. 

Trying not to listen, I turned to Michael. He smiled at me reassuringly. 

“What other writers do you like?” I said.

“Keats, of course, Thomas Campion, some of A. E. Housman.” 

“What do you think of Robert Browning?” I asked.

“Why?” said Harry, getting up from the Floo. “Is he shagging anyone we know?”

Lavender giggled. “You mustn't tease them; they've been having high-powered intellectual conversations all evening. Don't you think, Dray, that the colours of Harry's curtains would be ideal for my bridesmaids? 

After that I was forced to listen to her rabbiting on about her wedding. A good half dozen owls arrived for Harry whilst I lounged on the floor, propped against the sofa, draped over a cushion casually in a way that emphasised my arse. With my other ear, I listened to Michael's conversation with Harry.

“Is that Hermione Granger? The clever one with the awful teeth from Hogwarts? She’s really bloomed! You say she’s your partner?”

“Business partner only. And she’s Hermione Granger-Lovegood now!” said Harry. “Brains as well as beauty, believe me!”

“Doesn't she mind working at this hour?” 

“'Her wife, Luna, is the Editor of The Quibbler; irregular hours suit her. And Hermione seems to need half the sleep of us mere mortals.”

The Floo chimed again. It was Glasgow. Harry, claiming it was business, transferred it to the private Floo in his bedroom. Michael and I helped ourselves to more drink.

“Does he always carry on like this?” I said.

“Usually. He isn’t trying to prove anything, he’s just a glutton. He can’t pass anyone up.”

“He ought to get married,” said Lavender. “He needs the love of a good person.”

“He'd need the love of four good mistresses as well to keep him going,” I said. “Is there a mini Floo connection on the boat?” 

“No, that's one of the conditions of his coming down. We have to limit magical use on the boat as it interferes with the Muggle engine so no Floo calls and no owls delivering. You even have to leave the vicinity if you want to cast a Patronus!” said Lavender. “I'm going to make some coffee.”

She wandered out of the room. I got to my feet and strolled over to the fireplace to examine the pile of invitations - parties, dinners, business functions. Michael came over and stood beside me. I looked up at our reflections side by side in the huge mirror above the fireplace.

“How odd,” I said slowly. “Have you noticed how different we are, me grey eyed and blond and you dark with brown eyes. We look like yin and yang. Well they do say opposites attract!”

Michael's breath was coming rapidly and his eyes had gone almost glazed with lust. “You must know I feel more than just attracted to you.”

I looked up at him, running my tongue slowly along my bottom lip. “How do you feel?” I said softly.

“Bloody disturbed - and I'm not amused, by sleepless nights either.”

“Oh, nor am I, nor am I. We can't do anything about it, you know. 

“Of course we can't, but that doesn't stop me being obsessed with you. I can hardly have a wank with Lav sleeping next to me, so I’m taking an awful lot of showers. You're the most beautiful guy I've seen in my life.” He paused. “I suppose lots of men have told you that.”

“A few. Not many of them meant it.” 

“Well I do,” he said angrily.

“Do you not want me to come on the boat?”

 “Of course I want you to ... and, well... Lavender would be so disappointed.”

 “You realise how difficult it's going to be, being thrown together all the time.”

 “We shall probably both go mad, but rather that than you staying away because of me.”

 I took a step towards him. “We shall both have to rely on self-control, that's all.”

 “Oh, I shouldn't do that,” said a voice from the doorway. “It's not infallible in my experience...”

 We spun around, appalled to find Harry watching us. His eyes weren't laughing now. His calm yet dangerous look spoke volumes, but all he said was, “Your glass is empty, Draco.”

 Then Lavender came bustling in with the coffee. How much had he heard? I bit my lip with vexation.

 After that we talked about plans for the weekend, who should bring what, what route we should take. With my shattered nerves, I didn’t contribute much. I couldn't look at Michael.

 “When are you planning to Apparate down?” Harry asked.

 “Lunchtime on Friday. And you?”

 “I've got meetings all day. I won't be able to make it much before five.” He turned to me. “When do you knock off work?”

 “I don't work,” I said haughtily.

 “No, I should have realised that. Your private life must be a full-time activity. I'll give you a lift down in my car.”

 “No,” I said, much too quickly. “I want to go down early with Michael and Lavender; then I can help them get the boat cleaned up.”

 Suddenly his swarthy face was a mask of malice. “Don't you think the young lovers should have some time on their own? Three's a crowd and all that.”

 “Yes, you go with Harry, Dray,” said Lavender, pleased with her successful match-making. “It'll be nice for him to have someone to drive down with. It's a rough old job getting the boat ready, but it'll be all beautiful by the time you both arrive.”

 “I'm not afraid of hard work,” I snapped.

 “No, of course you're not,” she said soothingly. “You can do the cooking on board, if it makes you any happier.”

 It didn't. There wouldn't be any house-elf to cook for us, on the backwaters of the Thames. I started to yawn.

 “Draco's tired,” said Michael. “We must go.”

 As we went down the stairs, the Floo chimed yet again. Harry took the stairs two at a time to answer it.

 “Romilda, darling, great to hear you. Hang on love, I'm just seeing some people out.” He called to us. “I’ll see you all on Friday.” He turned to me. “What's your address?”

 “Eleven Mayfair Street.”

 “I'll collect you about half-past five.”

 “Isn't he a scream?” said Lavender, as we went out into the street. “Oh blast, I've forgotten that list of houses he gave me.”

 She charged back into the house.

 Michael and I looked at each other. His eyes showed as two black patches in the pallor of his face.

 “Do you think Harry caught the gist of what we were saying?” I said.

 “I expect so. Doesn't matter. Did you fancy him after all that?”

 “He's not my type. He looks like he’s part troll!”

 “What is your type?”

 “You are,” I said.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Next day the weather soared into the low thirties. London wilted, but I blossomed. I felt absurdly and joyously happy, and spent most of the day gazing up at a blue sky, lying naked on my balcony, using Tanning potions so my naturally lily white skin would not burn but turn brown. Everything I saw reminded me of Michael. When I wasn’t sun-bathing I was wanking like a school boy. 

I refused to go out with anyone that week, and made sure of ten hours of sleep every night by taking too many Sleeping potions. I spent a fortune on clothes for the weekend. I was only faintly disappointed Michael didn't Floo me. But I hadn’t given him my Floo details and he could hardly have got them from Lavender. 

On Thursday morning I had my recurrent nightmare - more terrifying than ever before. The dream always started the same way; my father was alive still, and although I was grown up, I was paralysed with childish fears of the dark, creeping down the stairs, hearing the sound of my parents' quarrelling getting louder and louder, not daring to turn on the light because I knew my mother would shout at me. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I could distinguish what my mother was saying in a voice slurred with drink. 

“I've had enough, I'm leaving you, and I'm taking Leo with me.” 

My father started shouting back that she'd take his heir, Leonidas, over his dead body. Then my mother screaming, “You can keep Draco.” 

“I don't want Draco. Why the bloody hell should anyone want Draco when you've completely ruined him?” 

“'Someone's got to have him,” yelled my mother. 

“Well, it's not going to be me.” 

Then I started to scream, pushed open the door, and there was my mother, her beauty all gone, because she was drunk and red in the face. She and my father were both looking at me in guilt and horror, wondering how much of the conversation I'd heard. Then suddenly my father turned into Michael, shouting, “I don't care how much he heard, I still don't want him.” 

I woke up screaming my head off; the sheets were drenched with sweat. My mother, who had got her figure back straight after Leonidas, had always blamed me for not getting it back after having me. For a few minutes I lay with my eyes open, gulping with relief, listening to the diminishing drumbeats of my heart, feeling the horror receding. Then I got up, took a Calming draught and lit a cigarette with a shaking hand. I had to talk to someone, just to prove that someone wanted me. If only I could ring Michael, but it was too early in the relationship to show him how vulnerable I was. Nor could I talk to Blaise. It would only start the whole thing up again. 

I caught sight of the silver framed photograph on the dressing table and realised with relief that Leo must be back from Bangkok. At that time Leo was the only person in the world I really loved and trusted; not that I trusted him to behave himself or not do the most disgraceful things, but because I knew he loved me and that that love was intensified by guilt because he realised our parents had adored him and never loved me. Leonidas, four years older than me, had always fought my battles in the nursery. He had protected me from the bossy nanny house-elf, the succession of governesses that my mother never got on with, and the series of potential and actual stepfathers who thundered through the house. 

I cast a Tempus; it was 10.45. Even Leo - not famous for getting to the office on time - might just be in. I tossed the Floo powder in and called out Leonidas Malfoy’s office at Parkinson-Malfoy. 

”Can I speak to Leonidas Malfoy please?” 

Leo's secretary was as difficult to please as a hippogriff, trained to keep the multitudes at bay, but she always put me through. Leo answered. 

“Draco darling, I was going to ring you today,” he said, in the light, flat drawling voice, which I always liked to think became gentler and less defensive when he talked to me. 

“How was Bangkok?” I asked. 

“Like a fairy tale - literally - I stayed in Pat Pong Street which was nothing but gay bars and massage parlours.” 

I chuckled. 

“Do you want something?” said Leo, “Or are you just lonely?” 

“I wanted a chat,” I said. 

“A chap?” 

“No, silly, just to talk to you.” 

“Listen, I don't want to be unfriendly darling, but I'm a bit tied up at the moment. I've just got in and several people are trying to hold a meeting in my office. What are you doing for lunch?” 

“Nothing.” 

“Okay, I'll meet you at Maxim's at one o'clock.” 

I lay back feeling better; the Calming draught was beginning to work. Soon I should feel strong enough to get down to the daily pastime of washing my hair. 

The Malfoy family consisted of an ancient line of pureblood wizards. The family first arrived in Britain with Armand Malfoy, who founded the family estate, Malfoy Manor, on land obtained from King William I. 

The family Malfoy wealth meant that even I, a younger son, didn't have to work for a living. But there had been a dip in them. After the fall of Grindelwald and the Second Muggle World War, the Malfoy family finances had been badly damaged. 

My grandfather Abraxas Malfoy married Araminta Fawley, who rapidly produced three children, the eldest being my father Lucius. However Abraxas, realising he had little money left to support a family, joined forces with a fellow Durmstrang student, Sylvester Parkinson, to form a company, Parkinson-Malfoy, in the unfashionable field of potions, something at which they had both excelled at school. 

Both men were tough, astute and ambitious, and by dint of hard work and good luck, and some very clever inventions soon had potions laboratories turning out both medical and beauty products, and the business prospered. After twenty years or so, two rival heirs apparent joined the company - my father, Lucius, who was witty, charming and erudite, and Sylvester Parkinson's far less dashing son Erastus, who was a bit of a swot and rather an arrogant prick. 

My father had the additional kudos of having a new and ravishingly beautiful pureblood wife, Narcissa Black, who promptly produced a Malfoy heir, my older brother Leonidas Hyperion, while poor Erastus Parkinson married a plain, domineering pureblood girl, Gwendolyn Goyle, who, despite her capabilities on local committees and playing Bridge, only provided him with daughters, Pansy and Violet. 

My father, however, while appearing to hold all the cards, found it extremely difficult to settle down to a nine-to-five job. He was greatly attracted to the ‘Pureblood is Might’ rhetoric of Lord Voldemort and supported him during his rise to power. 

Though pureblooded herself, my mother disliked and distrusted the Dark Lord, and my father’s slavish devotion to him alienated her. She began drinking too much, and launched herself on a succession of very indiscreet affairs. 

By the time I was born in 1980, the marriage was well into injury time and my father even expressed grave doubts that I was his child, which, I used to fantasise, explained his indifference to me. In 1981, when I was not yet seventeen months old, the Dark Lord disappeared, supposedly vanquished by a baby less than 2 months younger than me, an absurd suggestion. My father was considered a person of suspicion by the Ministry of Magic, but he managed to convince them he had been acting under the Imperius Curse and, by selling off all but two of the Malfoy properties for cash, provided enough money to assure them of his innocence. 

Despite such setbacks, he and my mother staggered on together for another few years, by which time old Abraxas Malfoy had died of a heart attack and Sylvester Parkinson had retired, having made his pile, leaving my father as chairman and Erastus as managing director. Erastus, meanwhile, the tortoise to my father's hare, had put his head down and spent the intervening years building up Parkinson International, a vast empire of which Parkinson-Malfoy soon became only a subsidiary. 

The one thing my father did right for Parkinson-Malfoy was to employ one of his contemporaries, a young man by the name of Severus Snape, in Research and Development. Snape’s talent for potions was unsurpassed, but his finest skill lay in adapting other people’s potion recipes. These could then be patented and the patents could be worth hundreds of thousands of galleons. He was most famous for his tweaks to the Draught of Living Death and the Elixir to Induce Euphoria. 

In 1986, my mother left home with my brother Leonidas and one of her lovers. A few months later she had a pang of guilt and sent for me and the nanny house-elf to live with her in the final Malfoy property in France. I had a governess in France when I was old enough, and then went to Beauxbatons, but it was hard to care about school when my own mother didn’t care about me or what I was up to. She never sent me boxes of chocolates and letters like the other kids received from home. 

After I was expelled, I did have private tutors for a while. They could usually be persuade to let me concentrate on my favourite subject, Herbology, which needed very little wandwork. No one ever pushed me to achieve anything. Leonidas was the heir, the only one who mattered. I was just the spare. The only thing I ever managed to get an Outstanding for was looking good.

After mother left, my father was disconsolate for a short time, then he moved his secretary into Malfoy Manor and he married her as soon as he could divorce my mother. The marriage was extremely happy, and enabled my father to concentrate on work. When he died, very young, of  Scrofungulus, in 2001, he was able to leave huge blocks of Parkinson-Malfoy shares to Leonidas and me, which should have guaranteed us private incomes for life. Malfoy Manor, the grounds and estates were in trust for Leonidas’ children and could not be touched by either of us. 

Alas, no income would have been enough for my brother Leo. Expelled from Beauxbatons for smoking grass and attempting to seduce one of the Professors to get a passing grade, he was also sent down from Durmstrang after two years for ‘riotous living’ (drinking, smoking and buggery). He did manage to pass his NEWTS with a private tutor though his grades were awful. 

Being artistically inclined, he would have been happier editing an art magazine or working in a gallery, but as the eldest Parkinson-Malfoy heir, he automatically went into the family firm. Here he survived - after my father was no longer alive to protect him - by the skin of his beautifully potion whitened teeth, and by his immense personal charm. 

Three years ago, when Erastus Parkinson was on the brink of sacking him, Leo redeemed himself by selling an Arab a patent for a potion to purify drinking water worth millions of galleons in a deal carried out during a flying carpet race. Eighteen months later when things had again looked really dicey, Leonidas had played his trump card by running off with Erastus' elder daughter, Pansy, to the horror of both her parents. Even Erastus, however, didn't want to have the reputation in the Wizarding World as the man who'd booted out his son-in-law. Leo was made export sales manager, which gave him access to vast expenses. 

In his new, exalted position Leo had managed to fiddle the renting and re-decorating of my flat on the firm. After all, he said, one must have somewhere nice to take overseas clients. The firm also paid my rent, groceries, house-elf hire and owl post, and provided me with a Muggle car which I'd just smashed up. On the whole Leo and I did pretty well out of Parkinson-Malfoy. 

Plus with my lousy spell casting I relied on potions for so many things which other wizards could just wave a wand to achieve. Via Leonidas I got pretty much unlimited access to the Potion stores at Parkinson-Malfoy. My hair potions (with the exception of blasted Sleekeazy which they had never managed to replicate and I had to buy), my Tanning potions, in fact all my grooming potions were pinched from P-M. 

While I was waiting for the Conditioning potion to soak into my hair, I flipped through my wardrobe deciding what to take on the weekend. I'd bought so many new clothes this week, I was out of banker’s drafts, but after the nasty letter I'd got from Gringotts, I didn't dare order any more. I still had to get another pair of swimming shorts and a piece of glamorous daywear to float around on deck. I'd have to borrow money from Leo. 

The doorbell rang. I peered through the spy hole looking out for creditors or unwelcome suitors, but all I could see were flowers. They turned out to be a huge bunch of pink roses in a plastic vase, filled with green spongy stuff, into which was stuck a mauve bow on a hatpin. I hoped for a blissful moment they were from Michael and felt a ridiculous thud of disappointment when the note in loopy florist's handwriting said: 'Don't cut me out of your life altogether, all love, Blaise.'

Blaise, I reflected as I rinsed and re-rinsed, was going to be as hard to get out of my hair as conditioner. I wondered how the hell I was going to survive the next thirty-odd hours until I saw Michael again. I felt a restlessness like a potion coming up to the boil, an excitement sometimes pleasurable, but far more often, painful.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 

The heatwave had set in relentlessly. The traffic glittered and flashed in the sunshine as it crawled up Piccadilly. The park was full of Muggles in bikinis, sliding off the deckchairs as the park attendant approached with his ticket machine. 

I could feel the tarmac burning through the soles of my shoes as I crossed the road to Maxim's. I nipped into the loos first to tidy my hair and try to cool off a bit. I was wearing new pale pink dungarees with nothing underneath. I toyed with the idea of wearing them when I travelled down with Harry tomorrow. 

“Thank you very much,” I said in a loud voice to the cloakroom attendant as I left, just to draw her attention to the fact I'd put 10 sickles in the saucer. 

Maxim's was packed as usual and giving off the same kind of noise as a society wedding. Along the bar sat high powered Ministry officials with brushed forward hair and romantic looking young men wearing open-necked shirts. Chatting them up were beautiful girls, their streaked hair swinging, their blusher in exactly the right place, their upper lips painted a perfect crimson double circumflex. As they sat, fingers tapping on their slim thighs, eyes flickering over each other's shoulders to see who had just come in, they constantly checked their appearance in the mirror above the bar. Maxim's was the current favourite haunt of trendies and glamorous people, anyone in fact who was important enough to get in, and rich enough to get out. 

Maxim, a mountain of a man with a face as red as an apple, and surely some giant ancestry, was serving behind the bar. “Hello, ugly mug,” he bawled at me. “How the hell did you get past the doorman?” Nearby drinkers looked at me in admiration. Only favourites and the famous got insulted. Maxim leaned over and pumped my hand vigorously. 

“Where the hell you been anyway, Draco? Sneaking over to Morgana’s, I suppose. Can't say I blame you, I eat there too. The prices here are too high for me.” He bellowed with laughter, then added, “Your no-good brother's already at the table upstairs drinking himself stupid.” 

I followed the smell of garlic, wine and herbs up to the dining-room, waited in the doorway until I had everyone's undivided attention, then sauntered across the room. The pink dungarees definitely had the desired effect; the front flap only just covered my nipples.

Leonidas was sitting at a window table, flicking through a Sotheby's catalogue. He looked up, smiled, and kissed me on both cheeks. “Hello, angel, you look positively radiant. Have I forgotten your birthday or something?” 

Waiters immediately rushed up, spreading a napkin across my knees, pushing in my chair, getting a waiting bottle of Foully Fuisse out of an ice bucket, and filling up my glass. Leo ordered another large firewhisky. 

Perhaps it's because he is my brother that I always think Leonidas is the best looking man in the world. He is slim and immensely elegant, with very pale patrician features, brilliant grey eyes, fringed by long lashes, and blond curly hair, the way mine was before I discovered Sleekeazy. Even on the hottest day of the year, he was exquisitely dressed in pale grey robes, grey and white striped shirt, and a pink tie. Though to be fair to the rest of us mere mortals, he was probably covered in Cooling charms. 

Impossibly spoilt, with all the restlessness that comes with inherited wealth, he moved through life like a prince, expecting everyone to do exactly what he wanted, and capable of making himself extremely disagreeable if they did not. Few people realised how insecure he was underneath, or that he employed a technique of relentless bitching to cover up his increasing black glooms. He was always sweet to me, but I was very glad he was my brother and not a boyfriend. Part of his charm was that he always gave one his undivided attention. He didn't need to look over your shoulder, because he was always the one person people were looking over other people's shoulders to see. 

On closer examination that day, he looked rather ill, his eyes laced with red, his hands shaking. He had placed himself with his back to the window, but still looked much younger than his thirty years. 

“How are you?” I said. 

“A bit poorly. I ran into a bottle of firewhisky last night. Later I landed up at Cassius Warrington's. We smoked a lot of grass. I'm sure it had gone off. There was a case of stuffed birds in the corner and Cassius started cackling with laughter, saying they were flying all over the room, then suddenly he was sick in a wastepaper basket.” 

“What happened to you?” 

“I started feeling frightful too, and decided I must get home, but I didn’t want to Splinch myself Apparating, so I walked very slowly to Paddington station, but it wasn't there, so I came back again.” 

I sniggered. “So you never got home?” 

He shot me a sideways glance. “Can I tell Pansy I spent last night at your place?” 

“Of course,” I said lightly. “It's only another point she'll notch up against me.”

Pansy had never forgiven me for slashing my wrists the day she and Leo got married, taking all the attention from her. 

“How's our dear mother?” I said. 

“Absolutely awful! You've no idea how lucky you are not being the apple of her eye. She Floos every day. Quentin is evidently threatening to walk out if she doesn't stop drinking, so she has to resort to having quick swigs in the lavatory.” 

“Does she ever say anything about me?” I asked. Even now I can't mention my mother's name without my throat going dry. 

“Never,” said Leonidas. “Do you want to order?” 

I wasn't hungry, but I hadn't eaten since yesterday lunchtime, and the wine was beginning to make me feel lightheaded. “I'll have a Cobb salad and a grilled sole,” I said. 

“You really do look marvellous,” said Leo. “What's up? Someone must be. Who's he married to?” 

“No one,” I said, grooving four lines on the table cloth with my fork. 

“There must be some complication.” 

“He's engaged,” I said. 

“I didn't know anyone did that any more. Who to?” 

“An eager overgrown schoolgirl; she's so fat, wherever you stand in the room she's beside you.” 

“Unforgivable,” said Leo with a shudder. “What's he like?” 

“Tall and dark - almost as beautiful as you, and so gentle and sympatico.” 

“Rich?” 

“I don't know. I haven't asked him; not particularly.” 

“Well that's no good then.” Leonidas broke a roll impatiently with his fingers, then left it. He watched his figure like a lynx. Then he sighed, “You'd better tell me about him.” 

Conversation was then impossibly punctuated by waiters laying tables, asking who was having the smoked trout, giving us our first courses, brandishing great phallic pepper pots over our plates, and pouring us more wine. A quarter of an hour later I was still picking bits of bacon out of my avocado and chopped spinach. 

“Am I boring you?” I said. 

“Yes,” said Leo gently. “But it really doesn't matter. You have got him bad. What about Blaise?” 

“Blaise who?” I said. 

“Like that, is it? Who's going to be the other guy on the boat?” 

“A friend of Michael's called Harry Potter.” 

Leo looked up. “He's supposed to be rather agreeable.” 

“If you like jumped-up nouveau riche gorillas!” I said. 

Leonidas laughed. “He's phenomenally successful - and has scores of lovers too, one hears.” 

“Oh, he's convinced he's got the master key to everyone's chastity belt,” I said. “But I've had the lock changed on mine. He doesn't like me very much. He caught me swapping extravagant pleasantries with Michael. He knows something's up.” 

“Well, I'd get him on my side, if I were you,” said Leo. “He sounds pretty formidable opposition.” 

Now we were into the rat-race of the second course. Waiters kept butting in, asking if I wanted my sole on or off the bone, offering vegetables and salads, more wine and more phallic pepper and tartare sauce. 

“Everything all right, sirs?” said the head waiter, hovering over us a minute later. 

“Yes, perfect, if you'd go away and leave us alone,” snapped Leonidas. The waiter scurried away. 

“There's only one thing,” I said, pleating the table cloth with my fingers. “Can you possibly lend me a thousand galleons?” 

“What for?” said Leo. 

“I need some clothes for the weekend.” 

“You've got quite enough,” sighed Leonidas. “As it is, Covent Garden comes to you every time they want to dress an opera.” 

“Just a thousand galleons,” I pleaded. “I promise, once I hook Michael I won't ask you for another knut.” 

“Darling, you don't seem to realise that things are frightfully tight at the moment. There's a little thing called inflation which neither you nor Pansy seem to have heard of. We're all going to have to pull our horns in. My dear father-in-law's been on the warpath all morning, bellyaching about my expenses. I gather this year's accounts are pretty disastrous too.” 

“For the whole group or just Parkinson-Malfoy?” 

“Well Parkinson-Malfoy in particular. Everyone's very twitchy at the moment. Something's obviously up! Directors going round after dark piecing together one's torn-up memos. Every time you go down the passage, you're subjected to a party political broadcast on behalf of the accounts department. Both Glasgow and Coventry look as though they're going to come out on strike - the shop stewards so much enjoyed appearing in the Daily Prophet last time.” 

“Things'll get better,” I said, soothingly. 

“Bloody well hope so,” said Leonidas. “I've borrowed so much money from the company they'll have to give me a pay rise so I can pay them back. Thank Salazar for Snape, at least he's on my side.” 

Severus Snape, Head of R&D at Parkinson-Malfoy, was a big nosed, hard-drinking Northerner in his mid-forties, who liked Leonidas's sense of humour. They used to go on the tiles together, and bitch about Erastus Parkinson. Severus Snape liked me too. When my father died five years ago he had looked after me, and eventually we'd ended up in bed. I was glad to see his cock was in proportion to his nose! The affair had cooled down but we'd remained friends, and he still spent odd nights with me. 

“He sent his best,” said Leonidas. “Said he was going to come and see you next week.” 

I wondered, now I'd fallen for Michael, if I'd be able to come up with the goods for Snape any more. Never mind, I'd cross that bridge party when I came to it. 

Depression suddenly seemed to encompass the table. I could feel one of Leo’s black glooms coming on, probably caused by my tactlessly rabbiting on about Michael - which must only emphasise the stupid mockery of his marriage. 

I took his hand. “How's Pansy?” I asked. 

“Not awfully sunny at the moment. She's spending the weekend at Parkinson Manor with Erastus and Gwendolyn, and I've refused to go. I have to put up with my dear father-in-law five days a week; I need a break at weekends. And I can put up with Gwendolyn even less, the great screeching cow. No one can accuse me of marrying Pansy for her Mummy.” 

I sniggered. “What's she done now?” 

“Violet's pregnant.” 

“Oh Merlin, I'm sorry.” 

Violet was Pansy's younger sister, only married this year. 

“And dear Gwendolyn never stops subtly rubbing Pansy's nose in it that she isn't,” said Leo. 

“What does the Healer say?” 

“He can't find anything wrong with her. Gwendolyn wants her to have a second opinion - nice if she had an opinion at all. So the onus falls firmly on me. Pansy takes her temperature every morning, and when it goes up I'm supposed to pounce on her, but I always oversleep, or have debilitating hangovers, or don't get home like last night. But I've a feeling nothing's going to happen while I lie on one side of the bed reading crime stories, and she lies on the other poring over gardening books.” 

He was rattling now. His hand shook as he lit a cigarette. I could sense his utter despair. 

“Is it absolute hell?” I asked. 

He shrugged. “I suppose Durmstrang was worse, but at least one had longer holidays then.” 

“Don't worry,” I said. “She'll get pregnant soon.” 

Leonidas was busy ordering coffee and brandies and I was easing a piece of bacon out of my teeth, when I looked up and saw someone who looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen him before…Merlin, it was Ludo Bagman of all people!  

Ludovic Bagman was a blue-eyed, blond man with a rosy skin - supposed to have been very handsome in his youth. He had definitely gone to seed. He had been a famous Beater for both the Wimbourne Wasps and the English National Quidditch team, and later the Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the Ministry of Magic. 

His career at the Ministry ended in the mid-1990s allegedly due to betting on 1994 Quidditch World Cup, when he had to go on the run from goblins, against whom he had lost several bets. He also tended to play dirty when gambling and betting as he tried to find loopholes or even pay in fake gold. 

“Circe’s tits! Look who it is,” I whispered to Leo. 

“I'm already looking,” said Leonidas, and suddenly there was a touch of colour in his pale cheeks, as Bagman looked round, caught Leo's eye, waved, and wandered lazily towards us.  

“Why is he heading in this direction?” I hissed. 

“Hi,” said Bagman. “I was worried I'd missed you. The Apparition point was packed.” He looked distinctly shifty, and was shooting me an openly hostile look, which became noticeably more friendly when Leonidas said, “This is my little brother, Draco. Darling, this is Ludo Bagman.” 

Bagman sat down and said he would have expected Leonidas to have such a charming brother. Leo had completely shed his black gloom now. He seemed greatly exhilarated. 

“Ludo is advising Parkinson-Malfoy on some enhancing potions for Quidditch players,” he said. This was a bit of a surprise to me as Leo had never had much interest in professional Quidditch, other than screwing the odd player. He hadn’t even played at school. I had been a Chaser for my Maison d'école at Beauxbatons, until I got expelled. “Another large brandy and some more coffee,” he added to the waiter. 

Bagman was staring openly at Leonidas. His glance had flickered over me and passed on in that dismissive way a man would bypass an edition of Witch Weekly, knowing it had nothing to offer him. 

“How is your dear wife?” he said. 

“Dear,” said Leo. “She's busy putting in a swimming pool. You must come down for a weekend.” 

Suddenly I felt de trop, and got to my feet. “I must go,” I said. 

“Must you?” said Leo, but without conviction. Then he suddenly remembered. “I was going to get you some money, wasn't I? Come on, we'll go and chat up Maxim, I'll be right back,” he said to Bagman. 

We found Maxim in the bar. 

“Now,” said Leonidas, making sure he looked Maxim straight in the eye. “Can you let me get some cash in exchange for a Gringotts draft?”

“Of course. How much?”

“A thousand galleons.”

Maxim didn't bat an eyelid. He pulled a small money bag out of the cash register, and tossed it over to Leo, who wandlessly returned it to the original size.

“I'll have to date the draft sometime after the first of the month; is that OK?”

“Sure,” said Maxim, soothingly. “I can always sue you.”

Leonidas gave me the money and escorted me to the door. I thanked him profusely.

“Don't give it a thought,” he said. “Now have a ball with Michael Corner. But keep your options open and your legs shut, and don't rule out Harry Potter altogether; he could keep us both in a style to which we're totally unaccustomed. Now I need to go and talk boring potions business with Bagman.” he jerked his head in the direction of the dining room.

“OK,” I said with a sinking heart. Something felt very off. “For Merlin's sake be careful, Leo.”

“And the same to you, darling. Floo me when you get back.”

And he was gone, trying to appear not to be in too much of a hurry to get upstairs.

I felt curiously flat and decided to wander along to Flourish and Blotts and buy some highbrow books to impress Michael on the boat.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

By Friday evening the Tanning potions had done their business: I was golden brown all over and ready for action. I decided Leonidas was right, my best tactic was to charm Harry and get him on my side. At five-thirty I was waiting for him with my three suitcases packed. I was wearing a wickedly expensive pink striped blazer with nothing underneath, pale grey trousers, and red biker boots. The blazer and boots were really both too hot to wear but I was only going to be driving in a Muggle car. I felt entirely satisfied with my appearance. 

The minutes ticked by. Six came and went, half-past six, a quarter to seven. I vacillated between seething temper that Harry was late on purpose, and worry that he might have lost my address. 

At half-past seven the Floo chimed. "This is Hermione Granger-Lovegood,” said a brisk voice. “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr Potter.” 

“Where the hell is he?” I snapped. 

“I’m afraid his meeting is going on longer than expected. Could you possibly Apparate over here? The address is Twelve Grimmauld Place, Islington. I'll meet you on the ground floor and help you with your luggage.” 

Oh, the hateful, horrible, utterly bloody man! Fuck trying to charm Potter! Why the hell had I wrecked my car? I couldn’t Apparate with three suitcases. I considered shrinking the suitcases but I was terrible at Reducio and I didn’t trust in the mood I was in my casting wouldn’t be off. I didn’t want to risk wrecking my brand new clothes.

“Fucking Potter!” I screamed into a cushion, then laboriously Apparated to Grimmauld Place with the first suitcase, and back again to collect each of the others. It’s no joke having to lug three huge suitcases. My blazer was too hot, my new boots killing me. By the time I Apparated with the third case I was gibbering with rage. I was amazed I didn’t Splinch myself. I shouldn’t have let Harry boss me into travelling down with him. I should have tried to Apparate straight down to the boat myself but it was too late to change arrangements now. 

Ms Granger-Lovegood, in green, looking as cool as an iced gin and lime, was there to meet me. 

“Come upstairs; you must be exhausted. I’ll put your luggage in Mr Potter's car. What a perfect weekend for going on the river,” she said as we climbed up the stairs to the third floor. I had a feeling she was amused. 

I was ushered into an office as modern as the hour. There were some good contemporary paintings on the wall, leather armchairs with chrome legs, one wall covered in books and facing it a vast charmed window, a panoramic frame for St Paul's and the city of London. How could anyone work with a view like that? Harry evidently could. He was lounging beside a huge black leather-topped desk, on the Floo, as usual, talking execrable French. 

He grinned and jabbed a paper in the direction of one of the armchairs. I ignored him and went over to the charmed window. Buses like tiny toys were crawling up the road. 

Ms Granger-Lovegood came in, floating a tray in front of her. “Would you like a drink?” 

I didn't want to take anything of Harry's but I needed that drink too badly. “Gin and tonic, please.” 

She mixed me one with ice and lemon, and then poured a large firewhisky for Harry. 

He ended the Floo call and smiled at me. 

“Hello, lovely. I'm sorry I've messed you about.” There wasn't a trace of contrition in his voice. “You look stunning. It's as good as a day in the country just to see you.” 

“I've been waiting nearly three hours,” I spat at him. “Shall we go?” 

He wandered towards the door taking his firewhisky with him. “I'm going to have a shower first; make yourself at home.” 

Ms Granger-Lovegood brought me some magazines. I thumbed through them furiously, not taking in a word. 

It was nine o'clock by the time he came back, looking even more like a common Muggle, in jeans and a red shirt. He gave Ms Granger-Lovegood a bear hug before we left. 

“I see you believe in mixing business with pleasure,” I snapped as we went down in the lift. 

“Is that what you think? Men and women can be just friends you know. And Hermione and I have been best friends since we were eleven years old, along with our other best friend, Ron.” I felt the glancing blow of his words. I didn’t have any friends. People were useful to me, or they weren’t. 

“That's a nice blazer you're wearing. Did you think we were going to a fashion show?” 

“Oh this, it's as old as the hills.” I was damned if I was going to admit I'd bought it that morning. 

He reached out his hand towards the back of my neck and pulled something off my collar. 

“Don't touch me,” I hissed. 

He handed me a price tag with £289 on it. “If this is a cleaning ticket, darling, I'm afraid you've been robbed.” 

I was furious to find myself blushing. 

Outside, the most vulgar car I've ever seen stood waiting for us, a vast open Cadillac sprayed a brilliant shade of sapphire blue. I was surprised he hadn't hung nodding doggies from the driving mirror. 

I had to admit he was a good driver, threading that huge car through the traffic in no time. We were soon out on the motorway, speeding towards Oxford. 

The sun had set. In the west were great masses of crushed-up rose-coloured clouds. Broad beams of light shone down, reminding me of an old biblical picture. If there were gods up there this evening dispensing justice, I hoped they’d give Harry his comeuppance. And they might grant me Michael at the same time. 

The needle on the speedometer registered a hundred m.p.h. “Let me know if you're frightened and I'll go a bit faster,” said Harry. I stared stonily ahead. “Oh pack it in, lovely; stop sulking. We've got to spend the weekend together, we might as well call a truce.” 

“Why didn't you let me go earlier with the others?” 

“Because I couldn't resist it - I wanted to annoy you. Never mind, I'll buy you a nice dinner.” 

“I don't want any dinner.” 

“All right, then, you can watch me eat.” 

He pulled in at a hotel beyond Henley. It was obviously very expensive. Waiters were flambee-ing ducks all over the place and the menus had no prices on them. I suddenly realised I hadn't eaten all day and found my mouth was watering. Harry grinned at me. “Come on, eat; you might as well.” 

“Oh, all right,” I said. 

Reluctantly I had to admit the food was excellent. “I always eat well,” he said. 

“So I notice,” I said, looking at his waist line. 

He roared with laughter. “I suppose you like pretty, skinny boys with hip measurements in single figures, but as they say, it takes a big hammer to drive a big nail.” 

“Don't be disgusting,” I retorted. 

His table manners were atrocious, like he’d been starved. He hadn’t had to sit through the pureblood etiquette lessons I had. Somehow he managed to eat very fast and talk at the same time. Now he was draining butter out of his snail shells with a sound like water running out of the bath. Merlin, it was hot in the restaurant. I was pouring with sweat but I could hardly take my blazer off, as I had nothing on underneath. I wanted to do a Cooling charm but I didn’t want to set my hair on fire by accident. I certainly wasn't going to ask Harry to do one for me. 

“I had lunch with Michael, yesterday,” he said, wiping butter off his chin. 

“Oh, I'm surprised you found the time.” 

“I always find time for things that matter. I think I've found them a house.” 

“That's clever of you,” I said coolly. “Whereabouts?” 

 “Islington, round the corner from me.” 

“How can they afford it? Michael hasn't got that kind of money.” 

“But Lavender has. She's going to buy the house.” 

“Michael'd loathe that.” 

“Not now, he doesn't. I've managed to persuade him how sensible it is. They can let out the bottom floor which will pay off the mortgage, and it means they can get married next month instead of waiting until November.” 

His face had that dreamy far-away look of a volcano that has just devastated entire villages. I wanted to kick his teeth in but I was determined not to betray any emotion. “They must be thrilled,” I said. 

“Yes they are. I expect Lavender'll ask you to be an usher,” I couldn't speak for rage. I was glad when the pretty waitress came over. 

“Everything all right sir?” She smiled at Harry admiringly. 

“Marvellous.” He looked her over in a way that made me even angrier. 

“How much further have we got to go?” I asked as we got back into the car. 

“Twenty, thirty miles, not more.” 

The stars were of Mediterranean splendour now, the newly cut hay smelled sweet, feathery moths were held prisoner in the beams of the powerful headlights. The air, cool at fast speeds, grew hot again whenever Harry slowed down to take a corner. We were driving past the Reedminster flyover now. 

“Look,” said Harry, pointing upwards. On a huge floodlit placard was written the word 'Potters'. 

“You?” I said, in surprise. 

“Me. I'll be bigger than Rockefeller one day.” 

“Quite the boy wonder. Why do you go on working so hard? You've made your packet. Why's it so important to make more money?” 

“Oh lovely, you must be weak in the head. For Merlin's sake, if you play a game, even if it's only Gobstones, you want to win don't you?” 

“And it matters so much to you, the winning?” 

“Of course it does, why not have a Lamborghini and a Rolls Royce and a nice house in London, and a villa in France? And if you can throw in a few good paintings, a racing broom, sponsor a Quidditch team, the odd yacht in the Med, well bully for you.” 

“It's status symbols that really matter to you don't they?” 

“And to you too,” said Harry. “More than anyone, you need a sybaritic existence with different guys to take you to fancy restaurants, buy you designer clothes, take you to all the smart places. It wouldn't amuse you at all to be shackled to a poor man.” 

I opened my mouth to protest, but he went on. 

“Michael's the same. He's lucky to be marrying Lav, who's got some bread.” 

“Michael will make money out of writing,” I said quickly. 

“Bollocks! He can't write ‘bum’ on a wall. I bet you don't understand a word of those poems of his you claim to be so fond of, and do you know why? It's because there isn't anything in them to understand.” 

“I can only assume you must be jealous of his talent,” I said, fury hummed in my veins. 

“Oh, don't be pompous, sweetheart. There's far more poetry in those brown eyes of his than there is in any of his verse.” 

“I thought you were supposed to be a friend of his?” 

“So I am, but I believe in doing practical things for him like getting him somewhere to live, rather than swooning over his tin-pot poetry.” 

I didn't trust myself to speak. Harry said, “We'll be there in ten minutes.” 

I started to check my face and hair in the mirror. 

He flicked on a spotlight to help me, then said, “Go easy on the warpaint.” 

“Why?” I asked, pouting at the mirror and combing my hair. 

“Because Michael belongs to Lavender.” 

“And?” 

“You've come down with the sole purpose of getting him away from her.” 

“I don't know what you mean.” 

“Oh yes you do. That performance you two were putting on the other night, not speaking to each other when anyone else was around, rushing together as soon as you were alone. I heard you both: ‘Oh darling, we shall have to rely on self-control.’” 

It was a brilliant imitation of my voice. 

“Lavender is an old friend,” I said evenly. 

“That's the trouble, you're jealous of her.” 

“Jealous. Me jealous of Lavender? You must be joking!” 

“Because, despite your looks, people love her more than they do you.” 

“That's not true,” I said through gritted teeth. “Lavender is a friend and I couldn't be less interested in Michael.” 

“Good,” said Harry amiably. “Keep it that way then. Here we are.” 

He turned off the road down a long woody tunnel. Clenching my hands, I choked back the torrent of rage and fury that was ready to pour out of me. Michael's mad for you, I said to myself, keep calm. Harry's just trying to bug you. Harry stretched. 

“What a marvellous prospect, three whole days of sleep, sex and sun.” 

“It isn't very likely,” I hissed, “that you'll get any sex from me.” 

“Not likely at all, unless I ask you for it,” he said. 

Just as I was groping for a really crushing reply, we emerged out of the tunnel and found ourselves almost at the water's edge. The sky unfurled like a banner cascading with stars. Black hulks of barges darkened the water. Behind, the murky towers and pinnacles of Oxford rose indistinctly. 

Michael emerged from the nearest boat to meet us. I'd never felt more pleased to see anyone. I wanted to throw myself sobbing into his arms. 

“Hello,” he said. “You made it okay? Let me help with the cases.” 

“I'm desperately sorry we're so late,” I said. 

“Doesn't matter. Harry sent his Patronus this afternoon and said you wouldn't be here much before midnight.” 

Fuck! Harry planned the whole fucking thing, the arsehole. I hated him more than ever. 

In the headlamps of the car I could see the barge was painted scarlet and decorated in brilliant blues, yellows and greens, like a gypsy caravan. The brasswork glinted, the red curtains glowed behind the saloon windows. In gold letters edged with blue was written her name, The Lady Griselda. 

“Isn't she lovely?” I said. 

Michael helped me across the gangplank, but he didn't squeeze my hand, nor answer when I whispered that it was heavenly to see him again. 

Lavender was in the kitchen. She was wearing old jeans and an oil-stained shirt. I suddenly realised how stupid I must look bringing three suitcases. 

“Dray,” she hugged me. “How lovely. Have you been having fun?” 

“Yes, marvellous,” I lied, disengaging myself from her. I didn't want oil stains all over my new blazer. 

“You must be exhausted. Come and see your cabin, and then I'll give you a huge drink.”

We went through a cabin with two bunks in it. 

“This is Michael and me,” she said, and then opening another door, “This is you and Harry.” 

Oh, shit, I thought, I'm going to have to spend the whole weekend fighting him off. Our suitcases were already deposited on one of the bunks. On a ledge stood a glass jam jar which Lavender had filled with meadow sweet, buttercups and already wilting roses. Merlin, I couldn’t believe I remembered their names, though Herbology was the only thing I had really enjoyed at school. 

“The loo and the washbasin are next door. I'm afraid they're a bit primitive, and the saloon's beyond that,” she said. “Come through when you're ready.” 

I washed & shaved in the Muggle fashion and put on more aftershave to give me confidence. In the saloon I found them all gathered round a portable television set. 

“Look at Harry's Muggle toy,” said Lavender. 

“Trust him to bring the twenty-first century with him,” I said and looked at Michael, but he looked quickly away. 

“Have a drink?” said Lavender. 

“I’ll get him one,” said Harry, getting a glass out of a cupboard in the corner and filling it with wine. 

“Isn't this gorgeous?” I said, looking round at the oil lamps, the panelling and the gleaming brass. 

“Very sexy too,” added Harry approvingly. “Draco and I are waking at the crack of dawn to go for a ride.” 

“A ride?” said Lavender in surprise. “I didn’t know you’d brought your brooms!” 

“Some people call it screwing,” said Harry. He raised his glass to me, his wicked lecherous green eyes moving over me in amusement. 

Lavender went off into peals of laughter. “You mustn't tease, Harry. Poor Dray won't know if he's coming or going.” 

“Coming, hopefully,” said Harry. 

“I hear you've found a house,” I said to Michael. “I'm so pleased.” 

For a moment he looked up and our eyes met, then he looked quickly away. A muscle was going in his cheek; he was obviously in a state. 

“Yes, it's great, isn't it?” 

“Great!” said Lavender, “it's marvellous! Most couples can't afford a house for years. Harry fixed us a mortgage with Gringotts and found us the ideal place in a few days. You must come and help me choose curtains and carpets, Dray. I'm so hopeless.” 

They started talking about the house and wedding plans until I couldn't stand it anymore. 

“Does anyone mind if I go to bed?” I said. 

“Of course not,” said Lavender. “I'll come and see everything's all right.” 

“You'll see me anon,” said Harry. 

“No doubt,” I said, turning to Michael, “Goodnight, it's such a treat to be down here.” Just for a moment I was comforted by a flicker of misery in his eyes, then the shutters came down. 

“Goodnight, sleep well,” he said. 

In my cabin, Lavender was plumping pillows. 

“It was a good thing Harry sent his Patronus to Michael and said you were going to be late, or we'd have been in an awful shambles. Michael and I spent all afternoon in bed,” Lavender confided with a little giggle, then went on, “I hope you don't mind sharing a cabin with Harry. I'm sure he won't pounce on you unless you want it.” 

“What on earth do you mean?” I snapped. 

“Oh well,” she stammered. “I mean, I thought you might want it, perhaps, if you found him attractive.” 

“I don't,” I spat out. 

“Oh dear,” her face fell. 

Realising it was a bad move, I added, “I like him very much, but not in that way.” 

Once I was alone, I couldn't stop shaking. What had that bastard Harry been saying to Michael to change him so much? Had he just done it out of sheer bloody-mindedness or did he want me for himself? When I was in my pyjamas (which were black silk, clinging and, ironically, bought to inflame Michael) I found to my horror that I had left my Sleeping potions behind. In the state I was in I'd never sleep without them. 

I put all my suitcases on the floor, and crept into the top bunk and lay there, tense and trembling, waiting to fend off the inevitable assault when Harry came to bed. All I could hear were shouts of laughter from the other room. I wished I asked them to cast a Silencing spell. Why hadn’t I listened in school more instead of showing off? 

An hour went past; they were coming to bed. There were shouts of “goodnight”, then silence, broken only by the sound of water lapping against the boat. 

The door opened, and Harry slid quietly into the cabin. Hoping he would not hear the terrified thudding of my heart, I tried to breathe slowly and evenly. 

“Only five out of ten,” came the soft voice. “People who are really asleep breathe much faster than that.” 

Then, to my amazement, I heard him getting into the bottom bunk. He must be trying to lull me into a feeling of false security. I lay frozen for ten minutes, but suddenly my terror turned to fury. Unmistakably, from the bottom bunk, came the sound of gentle snoring. 

I lay there spitting with rage until eventually I decided it was no use working myself up into a state. Harry might have temporarily chucked a Cornish Pixie into the romantic works, but if he intended to fight dirty, he would find that no one could fight dirtier than me when I put my mind to it. Whatever he had told Michael - that I was a spoilt twink, a parasite, an opportunist - would make no difference in the end. Michael was mad for me, try as he might to fight it. 

Time was on my side. In this heat, cooped up together for three days, Michael's self-control was bound to desert him. All I had to do was look stunning and wait. Festina lente. But how could I be expected to look stunning if I couldn't sleep? I wanted to go up on the moonlit deck and cool off. But although Harry was now snoring like a Graphorn, I had a feeling that as soon as I tried to climb out of my bunk, his hand would shoot out and grab me by the ankle. 

Why, oh why, had I forgotten to bring my Sleeping potions? I couldn’t even have a wank in case Harry woke up and took it as a come hither. The hours crawled by, and only when a misty dawn began to filter through the porthole, did I fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 

When I woke the boat was moving. Through the porthole I could see shiny olive-green water, a tangle of rushes, and brilliant blue sky. I could hear voices and the crash of footsteps above me. I pulled the sheets over my head and tried to go back to sleep again, then gave up, grabbed my wand and cast a Tempus. It was nearly twelve o'clock. 

When I pushed open the door of the loo I was confronted by a huge back and messy black hair. Harry, wearing only a towel around his hips, was cleaning his teeth. 

“You're up with the lark,” he said grinning. “You must have slept well.” 

“Don't you ever wear any pyjamas?” I snapped. 

“Never, never. I always sleep in the raw. I like to get really close to people. Shall I run you a bath, or would you prefer a shower? I'll see if Lavender's got any bath potions.” 

Knowing there was only a cracked wash basin; I ignored this and flattened myself against the wall to let him pass. He paused in front of me and once again I was overwhelmed by the claustrophobia I always felt when he was close to me. As I bolted past him and locked the door behind me, I could hear him laughing. 

He'd gone, thank goodness, when I got back to the cabin. I couldn't decide what to wear, all my clothes looked so new. In the end I settled for a dark green silk shirt with skin tight designer jeans. They looked like I’d been poured into them and made my arse look fantastic. Michael wouldn’t be able to resist. 

Lavender was in the kitchen, cooking and pink faced. “Hello,” she said “How are you? Did you sleep all right?” 

She was obviously dying to know if Harry and I had fucked or not, and was on the lookout for signs of ravage in my face. 

“I fell asleep the moment my head touched the pillow,” I lied blithely. “Can I do anything to help?” 

“No, don't bother. Do you want some breakfast?” 

“Only a cup of coffee.” 

“You ought to eat something, you know,” she insisted. 

“I can't even look a fried egg in the face in the morning.” 

She began boringly explaining to me the merits of eating a proper breakfast, so I made a cup of coffee and a quick exit up on deck. Why do fat people always tell slim people how to eat properly? 

A beautiful burning day had soared out of the mist. On either side white cornfields slanted down to the water, ahead on the left bank a clump of copper beeches glittered purple in the sun. The water ahead was so smooth; it was as though we were gliding over an old mirror. Michael, wearing only a pair of jeans, was at the wheel. He was tanned and his dark hair made me want to run my fingers through it, but his brown eyes were tired. 

“Everything all right?” he asked. 

“Yes, thank you, everything's wonderful.” I gave him a smile of pure happiness. Let him sweat, I thought, let him have a few nasty moments wondering if I really have been joyfully buggered by Harry. 

“You look very pleased with yourself,” said a soft voice. Harry sat hunched up on the roof, his arms around his knees, smoking and reading the financial supplement of the Daily Prophet. I just smirked at him. 

“Anything up?” asked Michael. 

“My shares are, by nineteen knuts,” said Harry. 

“Don't you ever let up?” I said. 

“Only in the mating season.” 

“Micky,” called Lavender from the kitchen. 

“Yes love?” 

“You haven't kissed me for at least a quarter-of-an-hour.” 

Michael looked at us and blushed. 

“Get on with it, you fleshmonger,” said Harry, getting to his feet. “I’ll take the wheel.” 

“We'll be coming up to Ramsdyke Lock in half-an-hour,” said Michael. “I’ll come and take over then.” 

He went dutifully down into the kitchen. 

“In a few years' time,” I said savagely, “they'll be calling each other ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’.” 

I enjoyed going through the lock. The lock-keeper's little house was surrounded by a garden of gaudy flowers. A goat looked over the fence; a golden retriever sat lolling its tongue out in the heat. When Michael sounded the horn a fat woman in an apron came out and opened the first lot of gates for us. Then the boat edged its way into the dark green cavern with dank shiny walls and purple toadflax growing in the crevices, and the gates clanged behind us. Suddenly water poured in from the other end, gradually raising our boat to the new level of the river. 

“Very phallic, isn't it?” said Harry, who was waiting on the shore to open the gates at the other end. 

I looked up at him with loathing. “Do you keep your mind permanently below your navel?” 

We tied up for lunch under a veil of green willows, and I changed into my favourite shorts, which are that stinging yellow that goes so well with brown skin and blond hair. At the back the waistband of the shorts just showed the very top of my arse crack. I didn’t bother with anything on my top half. 

“Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the drink bill,” said Harry, pouring himself a quadruple firewhisky. “This weekend is fast degenerating into an orgy.” He looked up and whistled as I walked into the saloon. “Despite your obvious limitations, Draco, I must admit that you're very well constructed. Really, it's a sin for you to wear any clothes at all. Don't you agree Michael?” 

Michael was devouring me, as a starved crup might look at a large steak. His hand shook as he lit a cigarette; that muscle was going in his cheek again. 

“Oh these engaged men never look at anyone else,” I said lightly. “Pour me a drink, Harry darling.” 

We all got pissed at lunch. It was far too hot to eat, but as Lavender had spent all morning making a fish mayonnaise, we had to make half-hearted efforts. She'd even cut the tomatoes into little flowers. As usual she ended up guzzling most of it herself. 

Afterwards, as Michael and Harry cast off, I curled up in a sun-baked corner on deck. A few minutes later Lavender joined me - not a pretty sight in a black bathing dress, her huge white bosom and shoulders spilling over the top. She immediately started boring me making lists for her wedding. 

“There's so much to do with only a month to go,” she kept saying. How many double sheets did I think she'd need, and was it absolutely essential to have a charmed mirror? But her fond dreamy gaze rested more often on Michael than on her lists. 

“Isn't he beautiful?” she said, and then giggled. “Harry's given me this fantastic sex instruction book. I can now see why so many people end up with slipped discs. The things they expect you to do, and it's a bit tricky when you have to hold the book in one hand in order to learn how to do it,” and she went off into shrieks of laughter. “How are you getting on with Harry?” she went on. 

I admired my reflection in her sun glasses. “Well I'm not getting off with him, if that's what you mean.” 

“Ah - but the weekend is still in its infancy,” said that hateful soft voice and Harry lay down on the deck between us, cushioning his dark head on his elbow, the wicked green eyes staring up at the burning sky. 

“I've just been telling Dray about your fantastic sex book,” said Lavender. 

“I wouldn't have thought he'd need it,” said Harry. “He must have moved on from his training broom years ago.” 

A large white barge was cruising towards us on the other side of the river. A middle-aged Muggle man in a yachting cap was at the wheel, addressing two fat women with corrugated hair up at the front of the boat, through a speaking trumpet. Another man with a white moustache and a red face was gazing at us through binoculars. They all looked thoroughly disapproving. Harry sat up and waited until they drew level with us. 

“Have a good look, sir?” he shouted to the man with the binoculars. “I've got two lovely young bits of totty here, whose knickers are bursting into flames at the sight of you. Only five hundred quid each, satisfaction guaranteed. We even accept American Express Cards.” 

The man with the binoculars turned purple with rage and nearly fell off the roof. “It's young men like you who ought to be turned off England's waterways!” bellowed the man with the speaking trumpet. 

“We even take Paypal!” Harry yelled after them. 

“I'll ask you along instead of a balloon modeller next time I give a children's party,” I said. 

Lavender, who was doubled up with laughter, got to her feet. “I'm going to see how Michael's getting on,” she said. I buried my face in my biography of Matthew Arnold. 

“Still on the culture kick?” said Harry in amusement. “There's only one poem, lovely, you should read, learn and inwardly digest.” 

“What's that?” 

"Who ever loves, if he do not propose

The right true end of love, he's one that goes

To sea for nothing but to make him sick.” 

“Who wrote that?” 

“Your alleged favourite, John Donne.” 

“He must have been having an off day,” I said crossly. Another boat passed us with a pretty brunette sunning herself on deck. Harry wolf-whistled at her; she turned round and smiled at him, showing big teeth. Harry smiled back. “Don't you ever knock it off,” I snapped. “Haven't you ever heard of the law of diminishing returns?” 

A dark green world slid past my half-shut eyes. The darkness of the trees over-arched the olive shadows and tawny lights of the water. On the bank was a large notice: 'Danger. Keep Away from the Weir.' 

“It's not the weir that some people should keep away from!” said Harry. 

Beyond the weir, the surface of the river was smothered in foam, a floating rainbow coloured like gossamer. 

“Oh how pretty it is!” I exclaimed. 

“Pollution,” said Harry. 

I shot him a venomous glance and started fiddling with my wireless. I'd given up listening to pop music since I'd met Michael, but suddenly I hit upon some grand opera, a soprano and a tenor yelling their guts out. I was just about to switch over when Harry looked up. “Circe’s tits! Turn that caterwauling off. You'll wake up all the water rats.” 

So I kept it on really loud to annoy him, absolutely murdering the peace of the afternoon. After an agonising three-quarters of an hour, the opera came to an end. 

“What was that?” bellowed Lavender from the wheel. 

“Don Carlos,” I said. 

“Oh how lovely! That's your favourite, isn't it, Harry? How many times have you seen it?” The rat! The snake! Smiling damned villain! I couldn't trust myself to speak. I turned over and pretended to go to sleep. 

I was lying half drugged with sun when I heard Michael's voice. “Draco, are you asleep?” 

I opened my eyes; the sky was shimmering with heat. I smiled lazily up at him. From the ribald laughter I could hear, Harry and Lavender were obviously up at the other end of the boat. 

Michael sat down beside me. “You must watch the sun. With fair skin like yours, you could easily burn.” 

“Oil me then,” I said softly, turning over on my front and handing him a bottle of Tanning potion. He put a dollop on his hands and began to rub it into my back. 

I squirmed decadently. “Oh, how blissful. I wish I had a tame slave to do this for me all the time. Put lots on the tops of my thighs,” I went on mercilessly. I heard him catch his breath. I made him spin it out as long as possible. “Thank you,” I said when he had finished, turning my head and looking at him. He was breathing very fast, and his eyes were almost opaque with lust. 

The afternoon was perfect now. The water was plumed with alders and willows, and in the distance two or three pink farm houses dozed among the apple trees. The white spire of a village church appeared behind a hill and a plane sailed silver across the sky. 

“How remote everything seems,” I said. “I can't believe that this time next week I shall be in Barcelona.” 

Michael sat up on his elbow, fiddling with the ends of some length of rope, which probably had a terrible important nautical purpose. 

“You will?” 

“And Sardinia the week after, and then I think I shall probably take off for Bermuda for the summer.” 

“Bermuda? Whatever for?” 

I was taunting him now. “Oh, because a guy, with whom I'm just good friends, is mad for me to join him out there. He was even generous enough to send me my International Portkey.” 

“Doesn't it worry you at all? Living off men all the time?” 

“Who said I'm living off men? I give as good as I get. Anyway it's only normal if one's father rejects one early in life, to go round looking for other daddies, preferably sugar daddies and playing them up until they're forced to reject you too.” 

“Don't you ever want to settle down with one man?” 

“Not anymore,” I paused, making my voice quiver slightly. “Not since Cedric was killed earlier this year.” 

“Lavender told me about that. I’m terribly sorry.” 

A yellow butterfly shimmered over us. “That's me,” I said, pointing to it. “Always on the loose.” 

“So you're really committed to the fleshpots,” said Michael bitterly. “Drifting from one rich playboy to another. Bending over so you don't have to drop your standard of living.” 

“That sounds exactly like Harry,” I said through gritted teeth. “It's neither funny nor true.” 

“Maybe not. Now you can have as many designer clothes and gold chains as you like, but what happens when your looks go and you can't get men anymore? Do you know how boys like you end up, unless they're very careful? They start making concessions in order to escape from their loneliness, then more and more concessions until they turn into raddled old perverts that everyone laughs at.” 

“Why do you tell me these things?” I hissed at him. 

“It's only natural,” he said in a low voice, “that I should try and run down all the things I could never afford to give you.” 

“Harry could give them to me,” I said, trying to provoke Michael. 

“What happened between you two last night?” he said sharply. 

“Oh, you know Harry's reputation, and you think mine is totally beyond redemption, I'm surprised you ask.” 

“What happened?” he said, seizing my wrist. 

“Stop it, you're hurting me!” 

“Did you or did you not let Harry fuck you?” 

“No I didn't, but it's no thanks to you,” I stormed. “Ignoring me when we arrived last night, avoiding my eyes whenever I looked at you. If anything was calculated to throw me into Harry's arms that was.” 

Michael put his face in his hands. “I know, I know. Merlin I'm in such a muddle. A month today I'm getting married, and I feel as though I'm going into hospital for a major operation.” 

“Well, that's your problem, isn't it?” I said, pulling up my shorts and getting to my feet. “I'm going to get a drink of water.” 

I found Lavender in the kitchen eating biscuits and talking up at Harry who was steering. 

“Lavender and I were just saying how much we were looking forward to sampling some of your famous cooking,” said Harry maliciously. 

“There's a chicken in the fridge,” said Lavender.  “I wish you'd do that marvellous thing you did when Michael and I came to dinner.” 

“It's a very complicated recipe,” I said quickly, “and needs lots of special things I'm sure we haven't got.” 

“We can get them,” said Lavender. “Harry and I have got a yen for Pimms tonight, so we thought we'd stop off at the village shop at the next lock. We'll buy everything you need at the same time.” 

I hope my dismay didn't show on my face. While Harry and Lavender were shopping, I had a good wash to get off all the Tanning potion and sweat. I was just wandering into the kitchen to get another glass of water when I felt something furry run across my feet. I gave a scream. Michael came racing down the passage. 

“What's the matter?” 

“Look,” I yelped. A huge spider ran across the floor and disappeared under the sink. 

“It's only a spider,” he said. “It won't hurt you.” 

“It shocked me,” I cried. He took a step towards me and then the next moment I was in his arms. As his lips touched mine, we both began to tremble. The warmth, the dizziness, the taste of that kiss lasted a long, long time. Then he buried his face in my hair. 

“Oh Merlin, Draco, you're driving me mad. What am I going to do?” 

“Nothing for the moment, except go on kissing me,” I whispered, taking his face in my hands.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 

The crimson sun was sinking, the pink water darkening as we tied up for the night alongside a bank of meadowsweet. The air throbbed with the formless chattering of birds, and all along the bank water rats and owls began to come out on night duty. I managed to postpone cooking by saying the chicken would take too long to make. 

I put on a sheer pale grey shirt to go with my yellow shorts. I didn't need the cracked looking glass to tell me how marvellous I looked. Lavender was looking hideous in white. She was scarlet from the sun. 

‘She looks like a great red lobster,’ I thought with a smirk. ‘All she needs is a dollop of mayonnaise.’ 

Harry handed me a Pimms. It was afloat with apple, cucumber, and oranges. 

“Is this dinner as well?” I asked coolly. 

“It's utterly divine!” said Lavender. “Try it.” 

I took a sip and sneered at Harry. “It tastes exactly like cough mixture.” 

Michael, sitting at the table shelling broad beans, looked fantastic. His skin was tanned to the colour of dry sherry; he was wearing a white shirt. I surreptitiously undid the top two buttons of my shirt, then caught Harry looking at me and pretended I was fanning myself because of the heat. 

“Michael darling,” cooed Lavender fondly, “you're putting all the pods in the pan and the beans in the bin. You are distracted today.” 

“His mind's on other things,” said Harry. 

“Like this bloody review I've got to write for the Daily Prophet,” said Michael. “I've got to file copy on Tuesday. I simply can't get beyond the first chapter.” 

“Well say so, then,” said Harry. 

“I can't,” said Michael. “It was written by the editor's wife.” 

“That's a gorgeous shirt,” said Lavender, looking at me enviously. “I'd love something really sexy like that.” 

“You've got Michael,” I said, smiling at him. 

“Yes, and don't let any of us forget it,” said Harry. 

“Broad beans are disappointing,” grumbled Lavender, raking her thumb nail down the furry inside of the last pod. “They always look as though they're going to produce far more than they do.” 

“Like someone else I could mention,” muttered Harry as he filled up my glass. 

-o-o-o- 

A smell of mint drifted in from the kitchen. 

“I'm starving,” said Lavender. 

For dinner Harry fried some huge prawns in garlic and parsley and we ate them with broad beans and new potatoes. 

“Our new house has a little garden,” said Lavender with, her mouth full. “Just think Michael darling, we'll be able to grow our own vegetables. You're a fairy godmother, Harry, finding us this house.” 

“I'm neither a fairy nor a godmother,” said Harry, forking a large new potato out of the dish and putting it straight into his mouth. 

“These prawns are fantastic,” said Michael. “Have some more, Draco.” 

“No thanks,” I said. “I'm surprised to see Harry cooking at all. With your lower class upbringing I'd have thought you'd have been dead against men in the kitchen.” 

There was a slightly embarrassed pause. 

“I spent a lot of time in the kitchen when I was a child,” said Harry. “My aunt had me do all the cooking so I got pretty good at it.” 

“How amazing,” I said, my lips curling in a sneer. “Did she make you sleep in a cupboard like a house-elf?” 

The dishes started rattling with accidental magic. Lavender, sensing an imminent explosion, deftly changed the subject. 

“Whatever happened to your glamorous brother?” she said to me. “I remember him coming down to take you out at school and watching a Quidditch match, and no one scoring any goals at all. They were far too busy gawping at him.” 

“He went into the family business,” I said. “But he hates it. He's export sales manager now and has to spend his time swapping filthy stories with reps.” 

“Who did he get married to?” said Lavender. 

“Erastus Parkinson's daughter, Pansy.” 

“That was a good dynastic match,” said Harry. “Aren't Parkinson-Malfoy in a bit of trouble at the moment?” 

“Of course not,” I said, scathingly. “They've had a terrific year.” I always say that. 

“Oh well, you should know,” said Harry. “I just heard rumours of strike trouble.” 

“All firms have to cope with strikes from time to time.” 

“I don't,” said Harry, grinning. “My men know they've got the best boss in the world, so why should they strike?” 

“Modesty certainly isn't your strong point,” I snapped. 

“Of course it isn't. I'm much better at being immodest.” 

Merlin, he irritated me. I wanted to throw my drink in his face. Lavender went off to bring in some strawberries and cream, so I stretched out my foot towards Michael and started rubbing it against his leg. The pressure was immediately returned. And when Harry started quizzing him about publishing, he obviously had great difficulty in concentrating. 

“These are the first strawberries of the year, so you must all make a wish,” said Lavender, doling out great platefuls. 

I wriggled down a bit further under the table, and ran my leg up and down Michael's thigh. The next moment I could feel his hand stroking my foot, gently caressing the instep. It felt fantastically sexy. I wiggled my toes against his hand licentiously. 

“Did you know that buggery was legal after ninety days on board ship?” said Harry. “So we've only got eighty nine days to go, my boy.” 

“Oh darling,” sighed Michael, “I never knew you felt that way.” 

That warm hand was still stroking my ankle. Then suddenly I looked across the table, and froze with horror as I realised that Michael was squashing up his strawberries with both hands. Before I could whip my foot away, the hand had closed round my ankle like a vice. 

“What big feet you've got Grandma” said Harry, his eyes glinting with laughter. I tugged frantically for several seconds before he let me go. 

We took our drinks out on deck. The trees on the edge of the river were as dark as blackberries. A little owl swooped by noisily but didn’t try to deliver anything. A slight breeze wafted the strong soapy scent of the meadowsweet towards us. In the distance we could hear the sensual throb of Muggle pop music, and see the dark sky florid like a great bruise. 

“It's a fair!” said Lavender in excitement. “Oh, please let's go.” 

The red and yellow helter-skelter rose like a fairy tower out of the pale green chestnut trees, the lights of the big wheel turned like a giant firework. I listened to the beat of the music, the roar of the generators and the thwack of balls on the canvas at the back of the coconut shies. It was all rather sensual. 

Harry had just loosened every tooth in my head, driving like a maniac round the dodgem car track. My only consolation was that Michael and Lavender, now clutching a Muggle cartoon poster, a china Alsatian and a huge mauve teddy bear, had been watching our progress. 

Next to them stood a group of youths who wolf-whistled and whooped in admiration every time we crashed past them, as my hair whipped back and my shirt blew up to reveal an expanse of brown chest. This was the kind of corporate approval that wouldn't do Michael any harm. Now Harry was wasting a fortune at the shooting range, and Michael and I stood side by side watching Lavender riding on a merry-go-round horse with red nostrils. Grasping the brass rod with both hands, her handbag flying on her arm, her eyes shining, she smiled at us every time she came past. We smiled dutifully back. 

The carnal beat of the music was eating into my soul. It was now or never. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the big wheel pause to take on more passengers. Lavender's merry-go-round would stop in a minute. 

“Let's go on the big wheel,” I said to Michael. 

“We must be careful. Lavender'll start suspecting something.” 

“I want her to,” I said. 

With almost indecent haste, we slid into the bucket seats. At that moment Lavender clambered off her horse and looked round. 

“Over here,” shouted Michael. 

She looked up and grinned. “Take care,” she shouted. 

Up and up went the wheel. At the top we could see for miles. The moon had broken free from its moorings and was sailing up in the sky. Below us lay lit-up villages, dark woods, pale hayfields, and to the right, the distant gleam of the river. 

“Oh isn't it beautiful?” I said, moving my leg against his. 

“Beautiful,” he said, not looking at the view. 

Then down we plunged, with that dreadful stomach-stealing, heart-dropping fall. Shrieking like a peacock, I clutched Michael's arm. 

“Are you all right?” he said, as we swooped upwards again. 

Then suddenly, fate came to our rescue. The wheel stopped to drop off some passengers, leaving us at the top, miles from everyone. 

For a second we gazed at each other. 

“What are you so frightened of?” I said softly. “Harry's disapproval or hurting Lavender?” 

“Both. Lav doesn't deserve to be hurt, and I feel guilty bringing Harry down here, laying on a boy for him, then trying to lay him myself.” 

“You'd be insane with rage if I'd got off with Harry.” 

“I know I would.” 

“Well then, is it fair to Lavender to marry her when you feel like this?” 

“I think I'm more frightened of you than anything else,” he muttered. “I’m worried once you got me away from Lavender you'd get bored with me. Then I'd find myself totally hooked on you, and not capable of holding you.” 

“Oh darling,” I said, putting a little catch in my voice, “don't you realise, I'm only playing the field because I'm unhappy? When I find the right guy, I'm quite capable of sticking to him. I was never unfaithful to Cedric.” 

“Not at all?” 

“Not at all. You've got to learn to trust me.” 

Michael looked up at the sky. “I wish we could stay up here forever and never go back to reality.” 

The wheel started moving again. 

“We've got to talk,” I whispered. “Wait till Lavender’s asleep and then creep up on deck.” 

“It's too risky. Harry's got a nose on a spring.” 

“He's drunk so much this evening; he'll go out like a light.” 

-o-o-o- 

“Anyone want a drink?” said Harry when we got back to the boat. 

“I'm going to hit the hay,” said Michael. “I've got a bloody awful headache from the sun.” 

“I've got a Painkilling potion in my suitcase,” said Harry. “I'll get it.” 

He went out of the room. Lavender was rooting around in the kitchen. I moved towards Michael. 

“Have you really got a headache?” I asked. 

He smiled slightly and shook his head, “I ache in rather more basic parts of my anatomy.” 

“Potions won't cure that,” I said softly. “The only remedy is to come up on deck later.” 

“How long shall I leave it?” 

“Well I certainly can't hold out for more than an hour,” I said, running my tongue over my lips. 

At that moment Harry returned with the potion. 

“I really don't like taking things,” said Michael. 

“You take it,” said Harry firmly. “That should do the trick.” 

I'd have given anything to have a long hot shower and a leisurely wank, thinking of Michael. As it was, I shaved my face and stood barefoot on the rush mat, soaping my body, and then dried myself with an old towel, with consistency of Demiguise hair. I didn't even dare put on any aftershave, in case Harry thought I was giving him the come on. But luckily when I went back to the cabin, he was already in bed, snoring away like an Erumpent. 

I waited half an hour, then very slowly eased myself out of bed, groping for the wall and then the doorway. I had my alibi ready - I was just getting a drink of water - but I didn't need it. Harry didn't stir. I tiptoed out of the cabin and up onto the deck. 

The sullen heat of the torrid afternoon had given way to a blissful cool. Through the overhanging willows, the stars shone like blossoms. I lay stretched out on the deck, listening to the soft gurgling of the river, the drowsy piping of birds, and the chatter and rustlings as the animals of night plied their trades. Half an hour passed in blissful expectation, then another half-hour when I knew he'd be here any minute. 

What was that poem that always made us snigger at school? 

‘He is coming, my dove, my dear:

He is coming, my life, my fate;

The red rose cries, 'He is near, he is near';

And the white rose weeps, 'He is late.' 

Well it seemed the white rose had got the message all right. Another hour limped by, by which time the deck was harder than a board, and fire was beginning to come out of my nostrils, like the dragon of my name. It was obvious I was going to get no chance to play deck coitus. Anger gave way to misery and exhaustion, and I crept back to bed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8 

I was woken by the din of church bells. The cabin was already like an oven, the day far sunnier than my mood. I lay for a few seconds sourly wallowing in the bitterness of rejection. Master Michael, I grudgingly admitted, had displayed thighs of clay. Perhaps Lavender suffered an attack of insomnia or worse, an intense amorousness, which prevented him sneaking up on deck to find me, but it seemed unlikely. I had been convinced I could extract him from her as easily as a wand from its holster. But I had plainly miscalculated. He must prefer the security of her Beater’s arms to my more subtle embraces. They were, after all, engaged, and he more accustomed to behaving like a gentleman than a full-blooded male. 

All the same, I wasn't going to give up without a fight; it would give old Torquemada Potter too much satisfaction. I'd just have to find a chisel and prise Michael away like a barnacle. 

The boat was also beginning to get on my nerves. My hair hadn't been washed for two days and was losing its slippery sheen. I was desperate to have a shower as well as a wank, and I was fed up with not being able to admire myself in a long mirror. 

Lavender was in the kitchen - I'm surprised she didn't put up a camp bed there - simultaneously washing up breakfast, cooking lunch, eating cold new potatoes and making out wedding lists. 

“Hello,” she beamed. “Did you sleep well?” 

“Brilliantly,” I said. “It must be all that fresh air.” 

“Don't the church bells sound lovely?” she said, “I adore country churches - all that soft brick, and sermons about crops, and rosy-cheeked choirboys scuttling in late.” 

“Because the vicar's been pinching their arses in the vestry. It'd be worth going to church to get cool. It's like a sauna on board.” 

Lavender looked a bit shocked. 

“I don't believe in any gods,” I said lightly. “Or rather I've never had any evidence that they believed in me.” 

“I didn't think about religion that much,” said Lavender, “until I found Michael, and then I just felt I ought to be saying thank you for my incredible luck all the time.” 

She bent over to empty the sink tidy, displaying a vast stretch of blue-jeaned bottom. Wranglers must sew up their trousers with underground cables to stand that kind of strain. 

“I hoped Michael'd wake up in time for an early morning walk with me before it got too hot.” she went on, “but he's still out like a light. Mind you, it's good for him. He's been working so hard at the office, and I often think the strain of getting married is even worse for men.” 

She glanced at her list again, absentmindedly breaking off a bit of celery and putting it in her mouth. 

“Do you think I'll need a plastic mackintosh in my trousseau?” 

“Well, I've always preferred men who can Apparate me out of the rain,” I said. “But I suppose you could wear a black plastic one with nothing underneath for the bedroom. Do you need any help?” I added, unenthusiastically, taking an orange from the fruit bowl. 

“Oh no,” she said, “I want you to enjoy yourself.” 

“I'll go and sunbathe then.” 

I took a thick towel and my incredibly boring biography of Matthew Arnold out on deck. I had put on my new black swimming bottoms, composed of only a small amount of black fabric, with not really enough to go round. 

The sun was already high in the sky and boring down on the boat. Snaky brown tree roots gleamed below the surface of the oily water. Meadowsweet was spread thick as cream on the lush green banks. The birds were still being shouted down by the church bells. It was far too hot for clothes. I took off my shirt and lay down. 

Within twenty minutes sweat was pouring in rivulets down on to the towel. I was just about to retreat inside for a new towel and a drink of water when I heard a wolf whistle. I flicked open my eyes, straight into the highly unacceptable face of capitalism, and quickly flicked them shut again. It was Harry, already tanned dark brown by the sun after only two days. He had been to the Muggle shop, and come back with the Sunday papers, a large bottle of gin and some bottles of tonic. 

“Morning, lovely,” he said. “You're overdressed. Why don't you take off the bottom half as well?” 

I ignored him, feigning sleep. 

The next moment Lavender joined us. 

“Oh Dray,” she said. “Do you think you should? Someone might see you from the bank.” 

“Don't be a spoilsport,” said Harry. “Here you go Lavender, it's a Muggle magazine called Marie Claire, with tips on this Season’s weddings trends. I won't give you a paper, Draco, as I know you're finding that biography of Matthew Arnold quite un-put-downable. Bags I borrow it next.” 

I gritted my teeth. For a few minutes they read in silence. I got hotter and hotter, like a chicken on a spit. 

“Why do they always write about the emphasis being on the hips this year, when one's just had a huge breakfast?” sighed Lavender. 

“That's nice,” said Harry, showing her The Sunday Times. “They've given the Muggle half of us a good write-up, recommending their readers to buy our shares, which is more than anyone could say about Parkinson-Malfoy.” 

“How many people work at Parkinson-Malfoy, Dray?” said Lavender. 

“About a quarter of them,” said Harry, taking a huge swig of his gin and tonic. 

Lavender giggled. 

“You don't know anything about them,” I hissed at him. “Why don't you stick to building houses, which is all you seem to know about?” 

“There's a most interesting thing here about schism in the Catholic church,” interrupted Lavender, hastily. “Do you think priests should marry, Harry?” 

“Only if they love each other.” Lavender shrieked with laughter. 

There was only one single bell tolling now, hurrying people to church. “Merlin it's hot. It must be in the thirties,” said Harry. 

“I’m going to get a drink. Do you want one?” asked Lavender, getting up. 

Harry nodded, “I’ll have a large gin and tonic please,” 

“I hope Michael wakes up soon. It'll be much cooler once we get going,” said Lavender. 

I turned over on my side, pretending to be asleep. Through the rails I could see the elm trees full of a blue darkness, and a heat haze shimmering above the hay fields. I must have actually dozed off, for the next thing I heard was Michael's voice saying, “What the hell did you give me last night?” 

“Dreamless Sleep,” said Harry. 

“Dreamless Sleep!” said Michael in horror. "That huge vial! Merlin, you bastard! That's almost an overdose. No wonder it knocked me out like a troll’s club to the skull.” 

“It was for your own good,” said Harry. “Kept you out of mischief and Mr Malfoy's bed.” 

“I wish you'd bloody well stop playing Anti-Cupid,” snapped Michael. 

“Hush,” said Harry softly, “you'll wake Draco.” 

Michael lowered his voice, “Merlin he looks fantastic.” 

“Like a Ming vase,” said Harry. “Beautiful, but empty. Why don't you write one of your famous poems about him? ‘Oh lovely Draco, In my bed I wish you’d go.’” 

“Oh, put a sock in it,” said Michael angrily. 

“Have you got a copy of Shakespeare on board?” asked Harry. 

“Somewhere in the bookcase in the saloon. What do you want to look up?” 

“The Taming of the Shrew,” said Harry, “I thought I might pick up a few tips on how to handle Draco.” 

Michael lost his temper. “Will you stop jumping on that poor guy?” 

“Why, are you jumping on him already?” 

“I am not. Why the hell don't you go and start the boat?” 

“Why don't you?” said Harry. “I've come here on holiday. It's the first break I've had in months, and I'm enjoying the view far too much. I can't decide if Draco's glorious arse reminds me more of the Malvern Hills or the Yorkshire Dales.” 

“Michael,” called Lavender - she obviously didn't like Michael admiring the view either - “do come and start the boat.” 

“All right,” he said, reluctantly; then more softly to Harry, “if you don't get off Draco's back, there'll be trouble.” 

“His back is not the part of his anatomy uppermost in my mind at the moment.” 

I was nearly expiring with heat and rage by now. I was also worried about my skin burning. My hair was ringing with sweat. I shook it out of my eyes and glared at Harry. 

“Do you want me to oil you?” he said. 

“No thank you,” I hissed. 

“Why don't we have a cease-fire? It is the Sabbath after all.” he said, looking down at me with amused and lascivious pleasure. 

“You're disgusting,” I said, furiously turning over on my back. 

There was the sound of engines, and the boat started. Even when we were on the move the heat didn't let up. As we sailed into a long stretch of open river with no shade, Harry got to his feet and stretched. 

“I'm worried you'll overcook, Draco.” 

And the next moment he'd dived into the river with a huge splash, sending a tidal wave of filthy mucky water all over me. I leapt up, screaming, grabbing my shirt. 

“Will you stop hounding me,” I howled as he surfaced, laughing, shaking his hair out of his eyes. 

“I thought you needed cooling down.” he said, and, scooping a great handful of water in my direction, soaked me again. 

Gibbering with rage, I rushed into the kitchen. 

“That fucker's just drenched me.” 

Lavender giggled. “Oh poor Dray! Here, have a towel.” 

“It's soaked my hair,” I stormed, “I must wash it at once.” 

“You can't really,” said Lavender, sympathetically. “There simply isn't enough water. I'm sure it'll dry all right.” 

I caught sight of my face in the mirror. There was a great red mark on my cheek where I'd lain on the bloody Matthew Arnold book. It looked as though Harry had socked me one, and doubled my ill temper. 

“But normally I wash my hair every day,” I yelled. “It's crawling off my head. I've never been on anything as primitive as this bloody boat.” 

Then I made the most awful scene. None of Lavender's platitudes could soothe me. 

“No one goes out of their way deliberately to hurt people,” she said finally. 

“I do,” Harry said, coming in dripping river water and seizing the towel from me. “I'm like a Nundu; I kill for the hell of it.” 

Lavender clucked her tongue and swatted Harry’s arm. “You shouldn’t have soaked him.” 

“I'm going back to London,” I fumed. 

“Splendid,” Harry grinned. “Do you want to Apparate? Or there's a fast train on the hour from Reading. Next time you come down we'll arrange Ocean Liner facilities.” 

“What's the matter?” Michael shouted down the stairs. 

“We've got a mutiny on our hands, Mr Christian,” said Harry. “Able seaman Malfoy wants to desert. Shall we keelhaul him or give him a thousand lashes?” 

Lavender - Merlin rot her - started to laugh. 

Michael came down the stairs and took in the situation in a swift glance. 

“Go and steer,” he said angrily to Harry. “You've caused enough trouble for one morning. I own this boat, and what I say goes.” 

“Sorry Captain Bligh, I mistook you for Mr Christian,” said Harry, smirking and filling up his glass, he disappeared up the stairs, shouting, “Ahoy, Ahoy, my kingdom for a hoy.” 

Michael poured me a stiff drink, and took me into the saloon. 

“I'm sorry about Harry,” he said, gently, “he's being diabolical. I think he must be going through the change of life.” 

“He's probably irritated I haven't succumbed yet,” I said. “Hell knows no fury like a business man scorned.” 

There was a pause. Michael put some books back on the shelf. 

“Did you wait very long last night?” he said in an undertone. 

“Not very,” I said. “I was disappointed, that's all.” 

“Circe’s Tits,” he said. “Lavender was yapping and yapping away about soft furnishings and the next thing I knew it was morning. Bloody sleeping potions. I'm terribly sorry, you must think me such a drip.” 

I laughed, suddenly I felt much happier. “You couldn't do much on a large vial of Dreamless Sleep.” 

“If you're really desperate for a bath,” he said, “we'll stop at the next lock and see what we can do.” 

“Where are we anyway?” I said. 

“About half a mile from Grayston.” 

“That's where Erastus Parkinson lives,” I said in excitement. “If there’s a Muggle phone at the next lock I'll give him a ring and we can go and swim in his pool.” 

“I’ll come ashore with you,” said Michael. 

“Behave yourself, Draco,” Harry shouted after us as we got off the boat, “or someone will fall at your feet. Michael will be forced to write a long poem about it afterwards, in heroic couplets.” 

Scarlet geraniums blazed in pots on the window-ledges; the whitewashed stone of the lock-keeper's cottage assaulted the eye. The quay scorched my bare feet. Inside the cottage it was dark and at least cooler. Michael tactfully stayed outside while I telephoned. The butler answered. Mrs Parkinson was not back from shopping, but Mr Parkinson was in, he said. That was a relief. 

Erastus was a long time coming to the telephone. I watched the flypaper hanging from the ceiling, black with desperate, writhing insects, and examined the souvenir mugs and framed photographs of children with garish bows in their hair on a nearby dresser. 

“Hello Draco,” said Erastus's familiar, plummy, port-soaked voice. It sounded more guarded than usual. “What can I do for you?” 

“I'm only a quarter of a mile away,” I said. “Roughing it on a barge.” 

“I can't imagine you roughing it anywhere.” 

“Can we come and see you this afternoon?” 

There was a pause. I could imagine his bull-terrier eyes narrowing thoughtfully. He probably had business friends staying the weekend. It would impress them to invite a sexy bit of arse like myself over but would it be worth incurring Gwendolyn's wrath? 

Then he said, “We're going out to dinner, but come over and have tea or early drinks or whatever. Who's on the boat with you?” 

“Oh, a sweet engaged couple, you'll absolutely adore them, and a ghastly jumped-up man, who's convinced he's the bee’s knees. I wanted to show him a real Captain of Industry in the flesh. That's why I rang you.” 

Erastus laughed. I could tell he was flattered. 

“Do put him down if you get the chance,” I said. 

“Talking of Captains of Industry,” said Erastus, “there's a great fan of yours staying here this weekend.” 

“Oh, who?” 

“Wait and see. We'll see you later.” 

Things were decidedly looking up. Harry and Michael were already at each other's throats, and this afternoon I would not only have the pleasure of seeing Erastus take Harry down a few notches, but also have an old admirer to spur Michael on to greater endeavour. Smiling to myself, I went out into the sunshine. 

Michael was leaning over the back-door gate, gazing moodily at the sweltering horizon. Above a pair of much faded pale grey shorts, his back was tanned a gleaming butterscotch gold. 

Suddenly I thought how ravishing we'd look when we finally fucked. Like a centrefold from ‘Wizards and Wands’. No one could see us from the boat. I put a hand on his shoulder. 

“Stop all-in wrestling with your conscience,” I said. “It's too hot.” 

The next moment I was in his arms. I could feel him hard against me. I wasn’t yet but I knew I could be. Getting hard with someone else there could be a challenge for me; the chase was always so much more fun than being caught. 

After a second I pulled away. “Don't you know it’s dangerous to exceed the stated dose?” I whispered, staring blatantly at his mouth. 

By the time we got back, Harry had taken the boat through the lock. 

“You have caught the sun.” said Lavender, gazing at me in admiration. She was obviously pleased I was in a good mood again. 

“What's worrying me,” said Harry, grimly, “is whose son he's caught.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9 

Great fans of overhanging willow trees crashed against the roof as we drew up at Erastus Parkinson's newly painted blue and white boathouse. Hayfields rose pale and silver towards a dark clump of beech trees, surrounding a large russet house, which was flanked by stables, sweeping lawns, and well-kept fruit and vegetable gardens. 

“Goodness, how glamorous,” said Lavender, standing on the shore and tugging a comb through her tangled hair. “I hope we don't look too scruffy.” 

I certainly didn't. I wore a pale blue shirt over my black shorts, and the heat had brought a pink glow to the suntan in my cheeks. 

“Erastus Parkinson's a frightfully big noise, isn't he?” said Lavender. 

“Well, he makes a lot of noise,” I said, admiring my reflection in the boathouse window. 

“It'll be so useful for Harry to meet him,” said Lavender. 

“Oh he's right out of Harry's league.” 

“Never mind,” said Harry equably. “I may pick up a few tips.” 

We walked up the slope, past hedges dense and creamy with elder flowers and hogweed, and passed through the Muggle-Repelling Charms. Under huge flat-bottomed trees, sleek Abraxans switched their tails deep in the buttercups. We came to a stile. Michael went over first, and helped Lavender and then me. For a second I let myself rest in his arms. 

We let ourselves in through a wrought iron gate, walking across unblemished green lawns, past huge herbaceous borders luxuriating in the heat. 

“These are Gwendolyn's pride and joy,” I said. “The only bed she enjoys is a flowerbed.” 

“Is she nice?” said Lavender. 

“Well, let's say I prefer Erastus. She's a perfectly bloody mother-in-law to poor Leonidas.” 

At that moment, several assorted crups poured, tails wagging and barking, out of the French windows, followed at a leisurely pace by Erastus Parkinson. He was a tall man, who had grown much better looking in middle age, when his hair had turned from a muddy brown to a uniform silver grey. This suited his rather florid complexion which had been heightened, year by year, by repeated exposure to equal quantities of golf-course air and good firewhisky. 

Beneath the piggy eyes, the nose was straight, the mouth firm. Dark blue robes, worn over his trousers concealed a middle-aged spread. Generally he looked professional and impressive. 

“Hello, chaps,” he said in his booming voice, shaking me by the hand. “Gwendolyn's down at the pool.” He was always more friendly to me when she was out of earshot. 

“This is Lavender Brown and Michael Corner,” I said. 

“Nice to see you,” said Erastus, giving them the big on-off smile that gave him such a reputation for having charm in the city. “You've certainly picked the right weather.” 

Suddenly he saw Harry who had lingered behind to talk to the crups. For a minute Erastus looked incredulous, then his face lit up like a Christmas tree. 

“Why Harry,” he bellowed. “You do pop up in the most unexpected places. What the hell are you doing here?” 

“Cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon,” said Harry. “I must say it's a nice place you've got here, Erastus.” 

“Well, well, well, I didn't realise you were going to see it so soon.” Erastus now seemed terribly pleased with everything. “Fancy you meeting up with this lot. Now I expect you'd like a drink. Come down to the pool. Gwendolyn's been so looking forward to meeting you.” 

“You know each other?” said Lavender, looking delighted. “What a coincidence; you never said so, Harry.” 

“No one asked me,” he said. 

“Is this all of you?” asked Erastus. “I thought you mentioned some tiresome little parvenu who needed putting in his place, Draco?” 

“That was probably me,” Harry bit off drily. If I'd had a knife handy, I'd certainly have plunged it into him. I moved away, kicking a defenceless-looking petunia when no one was looking. 

The enormous pool, always kept at 25 degrees, lay in an old walled garden, overgrown with clematis, ancient pink roses and swathes of honeysuckle. At one end, in a summerhouse, Erastus had built a bar. Gwendolyn Parkinson, a fifteen stone do-gooder, most of it muscle, and a pug nose, lay under a green and white striped umbrella, writing letters. She glanced up coldly as we approached. She always looks at me as though I were a pair of ill-fitting shoes that refused to be charmed bigger. As is often the case, the people who married into the Parkinson-Malfoy clan were the ones who felt the family rivalry most strongly. The violent jealousy Gwendolyn had always displayed towards my mother was now transferred to me and intensified by the resentment she felt towards Leonidas. 

“Hello Draco,” she said. “You're looking very fit.” 

Her voice had that carrying quality developed by years of strenuous exercise bawling out crups, and terrorising charity committees. Drawing close I could see the talcum powder caked between her huge breasts, and smell the pong of the cologne she always used. 

I introduced Lavender and Michael. Erastus had dropped behind, showing the new diving boards to Harry. 

“I've never seen such a beautiful pool,” raved Lavender. “And your herbaceous borders are out of this world. How on earth do you grow flowers like that? My fiancé and I have just got a house with a tiny garden. We're so excited.” 

Gwendolyn looked slightly more amiable; her face completely defrosted when Erastus came up and said, “Darling, isn't this extraordinary? Guess who's on the boat with them - Harry Potter.” 

“Oh, I've heard so much about you.” 

“And Draco's been telling us lots about you, Mrs Parkinson,” said Harry, taking her hand.

Gwendolyn shot me a venomous look, then turned, smiling, back to Harry. 

“My dear, you must call me Gwendolyn. I gather you and Erastus have been doing a lot of business together.” 

“Well, yes,” said Harry, the lousy sycophant, still holding her hand. “We hope to. I must say you've done this pool beautifully.” 

“Well what's everyone going to have to drink?” said Erastus, rubbing his hands. 

Lavender put an awful flowered tea cosy of a swimming cap on her head. “I'd love to have a swim first,” she said. 

I sat down on the edge of the pool. One of the Parkinson crups, sensing my ill-humour, wandered, panting, over to me and shoved a cold nose in my hand. The crups had always been the only nice people in the house. 

My temper had not improved half an hour later. Everyone had swum and Harry, having totally captivated Gwendolyn Parkinson, had been taken off to the house to talk business with Erastus. Erastus, having learnt from Harry that Michael worked in publishing, had invited him to inspect the library which dripped with priceless first editions that no one had ever read. Lavender was still gambolling round in the shallow end like a pink Erumpent, rescuing ladybirds from drowning. I was left with Gwendolyn. 

“Where's Pansy?” I said. 

“She's gone off to lunch with some friends - the Connolly-Smythes. Leonidas finds them boring. We were rather surprised he couldn't make it this weekend. You'd think after three weeks in the Far...” 

“He was exhausted by the trip,” I said. “It's his first weekend home. I expect he had a lot of things to catch up on.” 

“Erastus thought it rather odd he used pressure of work as an excuse,” said Gwendolyn. “He must confine all his industry to the weekends.” 

“What do you mean?” I said sharply. 

Gwendolyn wrote the address of some society matron on the envelope in her controlled, schoolgirl hand. Then she said, “Leonidas doesn't seem to understand that office hours run more or less from 9.30am to 5.30pm with one hour for lunch. He shouldn't spend quite so long every day pouring drinks down men like Ludovic Bagman. He is hardly likely to be making a huge potions order.” 

Despite the white heat of the day I suddenly felt as though ice cold water was being dripped down my neck. What on earth was Leo up to? If gossip about him meeting Bagman had reached Erastus and Gwendolyn, what the hell was going on? This didn't sound like it had been a one off? And Bagman wasn't exactly Leo’s type so I doubted they were shagging. 

“Leo does most of his deals over lunchtime drinks,” I protested. 

At that moment Lavender joined us. “Are you talking about Leonidas?” she said, ripping off her petalled swimming cap. “I always did think he was the most glamorous man ever - after Michael that is.” 

Gwendolyn gave a wintry smile. 

“I gather from Dray that Pansy is divine too,” said Lavender, still sucking up. She hadn’t gathered that from me! “But I can't believe you've got married daughters, you look so young.” 

Gwendolyn patted her sculptured blue curls. “I'm going to be a grandmother soon.” 

“How exciting,” shrieked Lavender. “You didn't tell me Leonidas was going to be a daddy, Dray.” 

“No, my other daughter,” said Gwendolyn. “She only got married in March, but they don't believe in waiting, unlike Leonidas and Pansy who've been married two years.” 

“Oh that's not long,” said Lavender, soothingly. “I know she'll get pregnant soon.” 

“She might,” said Gwendolyn, “if Leonidas spent more time at home.” 

I reddened and was about to contradict her, when Lavender said, “Violet only got married in March? Then you must be an expert on weddings. I bet it was lovely.” 

“It was rather a success. Poor Erastus had to sell a farm to pay for it. Perhaps you saw the photographs in the Daily Prophet?” 

“I believe I did,” lied Lavender. 

And they were off: soft furnishings and quilts, cast iron casseroles, and 'weren't lots of little bridesmaids in pretty frocks much sweeter than grown up ones.’ Lavender really ought to put a sock in it. 

“Violet's husband, Adrian, is an absolute charmer,” Gwendolyn was saying, “we like him so very much. They spent their honeymoon in the Seychelles.” 

The bitch! Merlin how I wanted to hold her underneath her horrible, chlorinated, aquamarine water, until her great magenta face turned purple. 

I watched the Red Admirals burying their faces in the buddleia. I wished Michael would tear himself away from the first editions. A great wave of loneliness swept over me. 

“If you're in a hurry for a wedding dress,” said Gwendolyn, “I've got a little woman who can run up things awfully quickly. Shall I send her an owl?” 

I knew she was only handing out largesse to Lavender like nuts at Christmas to emphasise her disapproval of me. 

“Would you mind if I washed my hair, Gwendolyn?” I said, getting to my feet. “I've brought my own shampoo.” 

“Of course not; help yourself. Use my bedroom; there are plenty of towels in the airing cupboard.” 

‘And the Draught of Living Death in the taps’, I muttered, walking towards the house, feeling her hatred boring into my back. She was probably glad of an excuse to question Lavender about me and Harry. As I crossed the lawn I deliberately didn't look into the library to see if I could see Michael. 

Suddenly a voice with a slightly creepy tone said, “Hello, Draco.” I gave a shudder of revulsion as I looked up into the coarse, sensual face of Thorfinn Rowle, porn-king and multimillionaire. 

“What are you doing here?” I said, not bothering to keep the hostility out of my voice. 

“Staying here.” So this was the old admirer Erastus had mentioned. “Let me monopolise you for a minute,” he said, taking my arm. I felt his fingers, warm and sweaty, enveloping it. I moved away, but his grip tightened. “Come and look at Gwendolyn's rose-garden,” he said. “I gather it's quite exceptional.” 

I could see the line on his forehead where the Tanning potion ended and the pewter grey hair began. He was a man who seldom ventured out of doors. His eyes were so dark the pupils were indistinguishable from the iris, and always looked so deeply and knowingly into mine, I felt he knew exactly the colour my pants were. He wore a black shirt and silver paisley scarf which blended perfectly with the pewter hair. I supposed he was handsome in a brutal, self-conscious way, but I could never look at him without realising what a really evil man he was. I was surprised Gwendolyn allowed him into the house. Inflation makes strange bedfellows. 

As well as owning strip clubs and half the porn magazines in London, he also produced a prestigious semi-pornographic magazine called Hedonist which ran features by intellectuals alongside wizarding photographs of naked boys with dark suntans cavorting on fur rugs. For a number of years now he had been chasing me in a leisurely fashion, offering me larger and larger sums to be photographed. I always refused him. I didn't fancy being just another centrefold with a staple through my midriff. I felt towards him that contempt with which one regards a bath rail in a hotel bathroom, convinced one will never be old and frail enough to need it. 

I stopped to admire a purple rose. Thorfinn admired my figure, which, in its sopping wet swimming trunks, left nothing to the imagination. He moved as close to me as he could, whilst just avoiding pressing up against my wet shorts, “When are you going to come and pose for me?” he leered at me. 

“I’m not. I don't need the bread.” 

“You never know,” he said. “Nothing's gilt-edged any more. Not even your beautiful hair. Straightening potions cost money.” 

“It’s natural,” I snapped. 

“I hear Parkinson-Malfoy are in a spot of bother,” he went on. I could feel his hot breath on my shoulder. 

“Oh for Merlin's sake, why does everyone keep telling me this? Of course they're all right. They've been all right for over fifty years.” 

Thorfinn splayed his fingers out and caressed my rib cage. It gave me that horrible squirming feeling of degradation. I imagined the hundreds of boys and the millions of grubby naked pictures those fingers had flicked over. I moved off sharply and buried my face in a dark red rose. He lit a cigar with a beautiful manicured hand, holding it between finger and thumb. I could feel him watching me. 

“Why don't you stop staring?” 

“It’s good luck to look at a Malfoy.” He'd made that joke a hundred times before. “You're a very beautiful boy, Draco, but not a very bright one. I'll pay you eight thousand galleons for one photographic session. Why don't we have dinner next week and discuss it? And that wouldn't be the end, you know. I could give you everything you want.” 

“Well, I certainly don't want you,” I said, turning and walking back. “And if people saw the goods displayed so blatantly across your gatefold, they might not be interested in purchasing them anymore.” 

Thorfinn smiled the knowing smile of a crafty old animal. “I’ll get you in the end, baby, and by then it'll be on my terms. You wait and see. By the way, what's Harry Potter doing closeted with Erastus?” 

“He's spending the weekend with us on the boat.” 

Thorfinn laughed. “So he's your latest. No wonder you're not interested in bread at the moment.” 

I looked towards the house, the wisteria above the library was nearly over and shedding its petals in an amethyst carpet over the lawn. Out of the library window I caught sight of Michael watching us. I turned and smiled warmly at Thorfinn. 

“There's a beautiful girl down at the pool, talking to Gwendolyn. Why don't you go and sign her up instead of me?” I patted him on the cheek, and ran laughing into the house. 

Gwendolyn Parkinson must have got the most sexless bedroom in the world, with its eau de nil walls, sea green carpet, and utterly smooth flowered counterpane tucked neatly under the pillows so they lay like a great sausage across the top of the bed. On the chest of drawers stood large framed photographs of Pansy and Violet, looking mistily glamorous in pearls, though you could still see their matching pug noses. 

There was also a large photograph of Adrian, Violet's husband, and one of Violet and Adrian on their wedding day, knee deep in little bridesmaids in pretty frocks, but not even a tiny snap of Leonidas, who was a hundred times more handsome than the whole lot put together. I was tempted to take the picture of him out of my wallet and stick it on top of Adrian's smug, smiling, square-jawed face, but it wouldn't have done Leo any good. 

I felt so much better after I'd had a bath to relax, then a shower to wash my hair and have a wank. I imagined Michael and me finally fucking, and laughing over humiliating Lavender and infuriating Harry. 

Combing my wet hair, and using liberal amounts of Sleekeazy, I looked out of the window. I could see two twinks - the kind who bend over whenever a man approaches, and believe that porn is ‘empowering’ - wearing white short shorts, and about a hundredweight each of Tanning potions, prancing across the lawn. They must have been brought down by Thorfinn. He always carried a spare. Suddenly Michael came out of the door leading to the swimming pool and walked past the slappers without even noticing them. They, on the other hand, swivelled round, gazing at him in wonder, watching him avidly as he loped with lazy animal grace towards the house. I can't say I blamed them. 

‘Bring me my beau of burning gold’, I murmured, as, wrapped only in a huge fluffy blue towel, I curled up on the floor to dry my hair with a second towel. I didn't wait long. There was a quick step outside, and a knock on the door. 

“Come in,” I said huskily. 

He closed the door behind him. I let the towel slip slightly, a little sneak preview of a forthcoming attraction. 

“Why are you here?” I said. “I'm amazed you could tear yourself away from those first editions.” 

“You're why I'm here,” he said. “Who was that repulsive man you were talking to?” 

My heart sang. It had worked. “Thorfinn Rowle. I've known him for years.” 

“How well?” I went on drying my hair. “How well?” persisted Michael. “Oh for Merlin's sake, stop doing that with the towel.” 

“Not as well as he would like,” I said, but I arranged the towel across my shoulders. 

He put his hands down, pulled me to my feet and kissed me passionately, his hands moving down to my pecs and over my hips to my arse. He was hard against me. Just for once, I thought, the millpond smoothness of Gwendolyn's flowered counterpane is going to be ruffled. Then suddenly Michael pushed me away and went over to the window. 

It took him a few seconds to get himself under control. I picked up the towel. “No,” he said. “For Merlin's sake leave your hair for a minute. Look, you must understand how crazy I am about you.” 

“You've got a funny way of showing it.” 

He knelt down beside me, took my face in his hands, began stroking it very gently, as though he wanted to memorise all the contours. “Lav doesn't deserve to be hurt; you know that as well as I do. Not now anyway, when Harry's around to fuck everything up as well. If you and I have got something going for us, and I believe we have, let's wait until we get back to London.” 

For a minute I looked mutinous. But I knew it wouldn't further my cause to tell him that part of the charm of hooking him would be to upset Lavender and Harry. 

“It's only tonight and Monday to get through.” he went on. “On Tuesday we go back to London and we can meet on Wednesday and decide what the hell to do about it. You're so important to me; I reckon it's worth waiting for.” 

I nodded, picking up his hand and planting a kiss in the palm. “All right, I'll try,” I said. 

With the tips of his fingers he traced a vein on the inside of my arm, down to the scar that ran across my wrist. “How did you get that?” 

“With a Diffindo. The day Leonidas married Pansy. I felt the only person in the world who really loved me was being taken away from me.” 

He bent his head and kissed the scar. “You do need looking after, don't you? Be brave and trust me, sweetheart. It isn't long to wait.” 

After he was gone I finished drying my hair, and went downstairs, experiencing a great and joyous calm. The road was clear now; there was nothing Harry could do. 

Down at the pool the two tarts were swimming, holding their perfect hair high out of the water, encouraged by Harry, who was sitting on the edge talking to Erastus and Thorfinn, and drinking a Bloody Mary. He'd been swimming again and his thick black hair fell in wet tendrils on his scarred forehead. 

“I certainly don't want yes-men around me anymore,” said Erastus. 

Harry glanced up at me. “‘Yes’ men aren't so bad,” 

The three men looked at me. Together they made a nerve-wracking trio. 

“I suppose we’d better go in a minute. Draco has so far refused to cook a single meal on board,” said Harry. “So no doubt I'll be slaving over a hot tin opener again tonight. I really don't approve of being the house-elf.” 

Erastus, laughing heartily, smiled at Gwendolyn, coming through the gate, followed by Lavender and Michael, absolutely weighed down with loot from the vegetable garden. 

“Look,” Lavender’s loud voice carried across the garden, “Isn't Gwendolyn angelic? We can have asparagus for supper tonight, and strawberries.” 

“At least we won't get scurvy,” said Harry, smiling at Gwendolyn. “Thank you very much.” He got up. “We must go.” 

“You'd better go and change darling,” said Erastus. “I'll walk down to the boathouse with them. It'll give the crups a run. I won't be long.” 

He bustled into the house. 

“Such a pity we're going out to supper,” Gwendolyn said, kissing Lavender. “Do Floo me when you've got it installed in your new place. And I'll get Violet and Adrian to Floo you too. I know you'll get on.” 

“Goodbye, Draco.” She gave me the usual chilly peck. “You must bring Ms Granger-Lovegood down one evening,” she said to Harry. “I hear she's the most charming witch.” 

Erastus returned with the visitor's book. “You must all sign before you go.” 

He always does this so he can remember who to claim on expenses. I didn't dare look at Michael when Lavender signed them both under their new address. 

“We won't be actually living there for a month or two,” she said, beaming round. 

Thorfinn abandoned us at the edge of the hayfields. He was not cut out for country walks. “Goodbye Draco,” he said. “Think about what I've said. We can't go on not meeting like this.” 

“That man's a shit!” exclaimed Harry, as soon as we were out of earshot. 

“I know,” said Erastus, “but an extremely clever one.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 

After the thrill of my recent encounter with Michael, I behaved atrociously for the rest of the day. As we were sailing towards evening through low fields of buttercups and overhanging trees, I made Michael teach me how to steer the boat. I insisted on driving it towards the bank all the time, so he had to keep putting his hands over mine in order to straighten up. Lavender seemed to see nothing wrong. She beamed at us both. Harry was making Pimms. 

After dinner Lavender dragged a very reluctant Michael across the fields to look at a Norman church, and Harry and I were left on the boat together drinking brandy. The night was very hot and still. An owl hooted in a nearby spinney. The first star twinkled like a white moth in a dark blue sky. Harry smoked a cigarette to keep off the midges. The wireless was playing someone or others piano concerto. If only it was Michael sitting there, I thought. 

Nevertheless, I'd made such good progress that day. I felt nothing could dim my happiness.

Harry got up, Vanished his cigarette and strolled over to the other side of the boat to stand looking at the darkening horizon. 

“How's your weekend of sun, sex and sleep going?” I asked. 

“Not quite as eventfully as yours,” he said. He came and stood over me, looking down at me, huge against the sky. Suddenly my heart began to thump unpleasantly; perhaps at last he was going to try his luck with me after all. 

“I want another drink,” I said, getting quickly to my feet and wandering into the saloon. 

Harry followed me. “Aren't you beginning to wonder why I haven't made a pass at you?” 

I turned round. “Since you seem quite incapable of passing anyone up, it had crossed my mind.” 

He looked at me for a minute and then grinned. “Because I don't like bitches, and you're the biggest bitch I've ever met.” 

Wham! I let him have it, a slap across the cheek. He didn't flinch; he didn't even put his hand up to his face. 

“And that seems to substantiate my theory,” he said, pulling a packet of cigarettes out of his hip pocket and offering me one. I shook my head dumbly, appalled at what I had done. He selected a cigarette carefully and then lit it. 

“You're not really my type,” he went on. “I like my partners gentle and loving, soft and tender. People so vulnerable I want to protect them just as I'd look after a kitten or a small child lost in the street. Someone who doesn't automatically expect me to love them more than they love me. Maybe once upon a time before everyone started spoiling you, you were like that, but not anymore. You're so hard now, lovely, they could cut a diamond with you.” 

“How dare you speak to me like that!” I said furiously. 

“Because I'm probably the first man you've ever met who's been left completely cold by you. I've met your sort before; you're just a prick teaser or what the French call an ‘allumeuse,’ more anxious to inflame men than gratify them once they're well and truly hooked. You give off so much promise with that marvellous body and that great bright mane of hair falling over your eyes. And you've got the most beautiful face I've ever seen. But it doesn't add up to a thing, because you're so much in love with yourself that there isn't room for anyone else.” 

“Shut up,” I said in a choked voice. “I don't want to listen.” 

“And another thing,” he went on, pouring a couple of fingers of brandy into his glass, “although you've probably seen more ceilings than Michelangelo, I guess you've never got much pleasure out of all those men you've let fuck you, and that troubles you a bit, because you've read somewhere that sex is supposed to be rather enjoyable and you can't understand why it’s no better than wanking.” 

It was like a nightmare. “Stop it, stop it!” I yelled. “You don't understand anything. I was going to get married but he was killed in a Splinching accident only a few months ago.” 

“I know all about that,” he said softly. “Cedric was never going to marry you.” 

I clutched the table for support; my legs seemed to give way. “You knew him?” I whispered. “I don't understand. Then you knew...” 

“... All about you long before I met you?” said Harry. “Yes, of course I did. Cedric was living with an old friend of mine, Cho Chang. They were fantastic together until you came along and broke it up.” 

“I didn't break it up,” I gulped. 

“Oh yes you did, lovely. You waited until Cho'd gone to the States for a week and then you moved in. But it wasn't any good. Cedric was fallible like most men, but he saw through you pretty quickly.” 

“You're wrong. You're wrong. He loved me far more than he did her! He was with me the night he was killed.” 

Harry turned to me, his eyes suddenly stony with contempt. “I know he was. But as usual Mr Malfoy, Myth-ter Malfoy I ought to call you, you're bending the facts. Cedric and I had a drink in the Moon and Sickle that night. Cho was due back the next day, and Cedric was in a panic about what she'd say if she found out about you. He was steeling himself to come round and tell you it was all off. I told him not to bother, just to let you stew. But Cedric, being an ethical sod, insisted on going through with it.” 

"That's right,” I stammered. “And the moment he saw me he realised it was me he loved, not Cho, and he was going to give her up.” 

“You're a bloody liar,” said Harry. “Cedric left me in the pub at five to eleven. He must have been with you by eleven o'clock. He was killed at ten past eleven - Apparating like the devil to get away from you.” 

For a second I couldn't move or tear my eyes away from his. Then I gave a cry and fled out of the saloon down the passage to my cabin and, throwing myself down on my bunk, broke into a storm of sobbing. I couldn't stand it. Harry knew Cedric, he knew all about me. He'd looked into my mind and seen everything - the aridity, the desert, the emptiness - and he'd brought to light terrible things I'd never admitted, even to myself, disproving lies that even I had begun to believe were the truth. I cried and cried, great tearing sobs until I thought there were no more tears inside me, then I just lay there, my face buried in my sodden pillow, trembling with terror. 

Much later I heard Michael and Lavender come back. Oh Merlin, I thought in agony, I expect Harry's giving them a blow-by-blow account of the whole incident. They must have stayed up to watch the midnight movie on the television, because it was half-past two before Harry came to bed. 

“Draco,” he said softly. I didn't answer. I ached for Michael. I wanted him to take me in his arms, to caress and console me and reconcile me with myself. 

I didn't sleep all night. Great waves of anguish kept sweeping over me. I toyed with the idea of creeping off the boat before anyone was up and going back to London. But how would I get there? I really wasn't that good at Apparating when I was in new places, especially if I was upset. Plus I thought the loud crack would be a giveaway, and not a good way to sneak off. There wasn't a railway station for miles. I suppose I could find an owl and write to one of my boyfriends and ask them to Apparate down and collect me. But would they? I'd never doubted I could get a man back at the drop of a hat. Now, suddenly, I wasn't sure. 

I was feeling so paranoid I could hardly get myself out of bed. Thank Merlin I'd brought the biggest pair of dark glasses in the world with me. In the kitchen Michael and Lavender were cooking breakfast. 

“If you've got a hangover like the rest of us,” said Lavender, “there's a potion in the cupboard.” 

“No, I haven't actually.” 

Lavender poured me out a cup of coffee. “Do you take sugar?” 

“Of course he doesn't, he's quite sweet enough as it is,” said Michael, smiling at me. He was so used to getting the come-on sign from me; he seemed amazed I didn't crack back, and when he handed me my cup, his fingers closed over mine for a second. Yesterday I would have been certain he was trying to make contact with me; now my self-confidence had taken such a bashing, I felt it must be accidental. 

I took my coffee up on deck. A silver haze lay over the countryside. Pale green trees rose tender as lovers from the opposite bank. I couldn't stop shaking. Amidst all this beauty and sunshine, I felt like an empty shell. 

A minute later Lavender came and joined me. 

“What a beautiful shirt that is,” she said, looking at my Versace gold Baroque print silk shirt. “I do envy you, Dray. It doesn't matter if you've got a hangover or feel off colour, you've got such a lovely figure and such marvellous hair, people still think you're a knockout. But with me, my face is the only thing I've got - and that isn't all that great - and when that looks awful,” she squinted at herself in the cabin window, “like today, with this spot, I've got nothing to offer.” 

She looked down at her left hand and flashed her engagement ring in the sun. “Michael's wild about you,” she said wistfully. “He was teasing me yesterday, saying that I was lucky I'd got his ring on my finger before he met you, or heaven knows what would have happened.” 

I suddenly wondered what Michael was playing at. “He's got no right to say that,” I said crossly. “He adores you. You've only got to see the way he looks at you when you don't know he's looking.” 

She looked at me, delighted. “Do you really think so? Oh that does make me feel so much better. You don't think me silly?” I shook my head and she went on. 

“I was convinced Michael'd fallen for you. I was really screwed up about it. That's why I've been eating so much lately. Not that I thought for a moment you'd lead him on. I mean, you're one of my best friends - at least you were at school, I hope you still are. But you're so beautiful I didn't see how he could help it. And somehow you look so good together. That's why when he suggested asking you down for the weekend, I persuaded him to ask Harry as well. Harry's so attractive, I thought you were bound to fancy him and that would put Michael off.” 

Merlin, how naive she was! I concentrated on lighting a cigarette. Oh why were my hands shaking so much? 

“I like Michael enormously,” I said slowly. “He's extremely attractive too, but I also think he's perfect for you.” 

“I'm not sure he's perfect for me at all,” said Lavender. “I think he'll probably be wildly unfaithful to me, but that's because underneath he's not very sure of himself, and he'll need to make passes at people from time to time, just to boost his ego. But I hope so long as I make him happy enough, he'll always come back to me in the end.” 

I looked at her round earnest face, appalled. “But you can't marry him, Lav, not thinking that!” 

“Oh yes I can. I love him so much it hurts sometimes. And I know it'll kill me when he is unfaithful, but at least I can try and make him more secure by loving him.” 

I looked at her in awe. This was the sort of person Harry was talking about last night. Friday's child, loving and giving, prepared to give far more than she took. 

Michael came up on deck. His dark hair gleamed in the sun. Instinctively I turned my head away. “I wish Harry would step on it,” he said. 

“Where's he gone?” 

“He’s gone to send a Patronus to some friends who live a few miles up the river,” said Michael. “He thought we might spend some time with them. He must be back soon.” 

His Patronus! Yet another spell I had never managed to master. I wondered what else he was saying to them that he had needed to go somewhere private to send it, now paranoid he was telling them about me. 

“Here he comes,” said Lavender. 

Harry walked up the path, whistling. He grinned when he saw us, wicked green eyes narrowed against the sun. He bounded up the bank and, scorning the gangplank, jumped across onto the boat.                                                                      

“Did you get in touch with them?” asked Michael. 

Harry nodded. “We've timed it very well. They're giving a party tonight. They want us all to go. The land at the back of their house slopes straight down to the river. They suggested we tie up there about teatime. Then you two beauties can have baths and tart up at your leisure.” 

“How wonderful,” said Lavender. “But I haven't got anything to wear. Will it be very smart?” 

“I don't expect so. Any way you can transfigure something if it is.” 

I turned away. My palms were damp with sweat. The thought of a party terrified me. Drinks and noise and people I didn't know. They would be Harry's friends too, probably as tough and flash and sarcastic as Harry himself. He must have warned them about me already - the tart with the heart of ice. 

“We'd better get moving,” said Michael. “I'll start up the engine.” 

“I'll wash up,” I said, diving into the kitchen. 

No one had washed up last night's plates and, as we were running short of water, I had resorted to charming the plates clean. My charmwork wasn’t good under stress and they didn’t look very hygienic. 

“Hi,” said a voice. Harry was standing in the doorway. I stiffened and concentrated hard on the bubbles of yellow fat floating on top of the washing-up water. 

“Hello,” I said with studied lightness. I was determined to show him that yesterday's showdown hadn't bothered me in the least. 

He came and put his hand on my shoulder. I jumped away as though he'd burnt me. “Easy now,” he said. “I only wanted to apologise for last night. Not for what I said, because it needed saying, but I should have put it more tactfully.” 

“If you think anything you said last night had any effect on me, you're very much mistaken,” I said in a quiet voice. 

With a swift movement he took off my dark glasses. 

“Don't! Don't you dare!” I spat at him. I hated him to see how red and puffed my eyes were with crying. 

“All in good time,” he said. He had me cornered now. Merlin, he was big. His very size in that kitchen was stifling, overpowering. I backed away against the draining board, looking down at my hands, trembling with humiliation. 

“Why do you keep bullying me?” I whispered. I'd done that trick before, letting my chest rise and fall very fast in simulated emotion, but now I found I couldn't stop myself. 

Harry put his hand under my chin and forced it upwards. For an insane, panicky moment, I wondered whether to bite him, anything to drive him away, to destroy this suffocating nearness. Then he let go of me, and handed me back my dark glasses. 

“You can actually look ugly,” he said, in surprise. “I don't know why, but I find that very encouraging.” 

“Harry!” roared Michael, “can you come and open the lock gates?” 

“Just coming,” Harry shouted. He turned as he went up the steps. “Don't forget it's your turn to put on the chef's hat and cook us lunch.” 

That was all I needed. I opened the door of the fridge and caught the baleful sight of a huge chicken. How the hell did one cook the beastly thing? 

Lavender popped her head through the door. “Harry says you're going to cook lunch. How lovely. I'll truss the chicken for you if you like, and then you can make that thing you made us the other night. There's masses of cream and lemon juice in the fridge.” 

She'd only just had breakfast and her mouth was watering already. 

“Thank you,” I said weakly. Why, oh why, had I been so foolish as to pass Krinny the house-elf’s haute cuisine off as my own last week? 

-o-o-o- 

I go hot and cold every time I remember that lunch. I got in such a muddle that we didn't eat until three o'clock, by which time the others were absolutely starving. I shall never forget their hungry flushed faces turning gradually to dismay as they sat down to eat and realised the chicken was burnt to a frazzle, the sauce was curdled past redemption and the spinach boiled away to a few gritty stalks. But the potatoes were the worst disaster. Because I hadn't realised you had to roast them longer than twenty minutes, they were hard as bullets. 

“It's a pity we haven't got a Beater’s Bat on board,” said Harry. “Then we could have spent the afternoon whacking these with it.” 

“It's absolutely delicious,” said Lavender, chewing valiantly away at a piece of impossibly dry chicken. 

Michael said nothing. Harry laughed himself sick. He didn't even make any attempt to eat, just lit a cigarette, blew smoke over everyone, and said at last he understood why Lavender was always going on about the importance of having a good breakfast. 

I escaped on deck and sat there gazing at the pink rose petals drifting across the khaki water. The panic and terror of the morning were fast hardening into hatred against Harry. Once and for all I was going to get even with him. 

Michael came and sat down beside me. “What's the matter?” he asked gently. 

“Nothing,” I said. “I get these blinding migraines sometimes, they make me completely stupid. I'm sorry I loused up lunch.” 

“Hell, that doesn't matter. We should never have let you do all the cooking. Why didn't you tell us you were feeling awful?” 

I smiled up at him. “It'll go soon. Do we have to go to this party tonight?” 

“Of course not, if you don't want to. I rather fancy going, just for the sake of going into a room with you, and everyone thinking you belong to me.” 

“You win,” I said. 

He took my hand. “Do you still dislike Harry that much?” 

“Is it that obvious?” 

He nodded. “A bit.” He caught at a leaf of an overhanging tree. “Lav gets some funny ideas. She thinks you're very mixed up beneath the panache and the sophistication. She says you need someone like Harry to sort you out.” 

“How kind of Lavender to be so concerned with my welfare,” I said, trying to keep the quake of anger out of my voice. 

There was a burst of laughter from the other end of the boat. Such was my paranoia, I was convinced Lavender and Harry were talking about me. 

“Would you have me any different?” I asked, looking deep into Michael's eyes. 

“I'd just like to have you,” he said. “Let's not bother about irrelevancies.” 

It's the same old story, I thought, as I shaved, then packed a bag of things to dress for the party before we went ashore. Now he's really pursuing me, I don't want him so much. The intensity and lust in his eyes had me frightened. I had a feeling I might have got a Nundu by the tail. 

My thoughts turned to Lavender and Harry. ‘Insecure, unhappy, mixed-up, cock tease, hard enough to cut a diamond on.’ They were having a field-day passing judgements on me. How dare that fat slob Lavender patronise me, how dare Harry take it upon himself to tell me so many home truths? The chips were down. If they thought I was a bitch, all right, I was going to behave like one.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11 

Later in the afternoon as we went across water meadows into a large orchard, we could see a bizarrely shaped house through the trees. It looked as though it had once been a large stone pigpen, but extra rooms had been added here and there until it was several stories high and so crooked it looked as though it were held up by magic (which, of course, it undoubtedly was). Four or five chimneys were perched on top of the red roof. A lopsided sign stuck in the ground near the entrance read, ‘The Burrow’. Around the front door lay a jumble of rubber boots and a very rusty cauldron. Several fat brown chickens were pecking their way around the yard. 

“What are these people called?” asked Lavender. 

“Weasley,” said Harry. “Arthur and Molly. They've got loads of grown up children, but I don't know if any of them are at home.” 

Weasley? I vaguely remembered from family history lessons a distant Black ancestor of mine had been disowned for marrying a Weasley. Plus my father had complained about a Weasley making trouble for him at the Ministry of Magic. I knew they were meant to be terribly poor. 

Lavender picked a scarlet cherry up from the long grass. “And they're nice?” 

“Nice, but perfectly crazy,” said Harry. “Arthur has madness on one side of the family plus an obsession with all things Muggle, so you never know what to expect.” 

“I bet they're hell,” I whispered to Michael. 

But they weren't hell. They were a gently unworldly middle-aged couple. Arthur Weasley was a thin man, going bald, but the little hair he had bright red. He had been gardening and his long green robes were muddy and rather worn. His wife had straggly red hair, drawn back into a scruffy bun, and sparklingly brown eyes. She was wearing odd shoes and an old felt skirt covered in dust and hairs. They were both obviously delighted to see Harry. 

The kitchen was small and rather cramped. There was a scrubbed wooden table and chairs in the middle, and I sat down on the edge of my seat, looking around. The clock on the wall opposite me had only one hand and no numbers at all.  Written around the edge were things like ‘Time to make tea’, ‘Time to feed the chickens’, and ‘You're late’. The old radio next to the sink had just announced that coming up was ‘Witching Hour, with the popular singing sorceress, Celestina Warbeck.’  Their idea of home design did not match mine! 

Mrs Weasley was clattering around the kitchen, getting tea, sandwiches and cakes. She flicked her wand casually at the dishes in the sink, which began to clean themselves, clinking gently in the background.   

“We'll have tea in the garden,” said Molly Weasley. “You can help me carry the tray, Harry. I want you to tell me if Arthur's got enough drink for this evening. We seem to have asked rather a lot of people.” 

The garden was large, as scruffy as the Weasleys themselves. There were plenty of weeds, and the grass needed cutting, plus there were gnarled trees all around the walls, masses of plants spilling from every flower bed, and a big green pond full of frogs. Through an iron archway swarming with red roses, deckchairs and a table were set out under a walnut tree. 

I could see movement from a peony bush and realised the place was infested with garden gnomes. The whole situation would have given Gwendolyn Parkinson an aneurysm, which made me decide actually I rather liked it. 

Lavender, as usual, went berserk, gushing like a fountain. “What a fantastic garden! My mother would be green with envy! Look at those roses and those fabulous blue hollyhocks!” 

“They're delphiniums,” said Arthur Weasley gently. 

“Oh yes,” Lavender was unabashed. “It's so kind of you to let us all come to your party,” she said, as she sat down, putting a very severe strain on a deckchair. She’s got the wrong name, I thought savagely. Lavs don’t kiss arse like this one! 

Harry came across the lawn carrying a tray, his eyes slanting away from the smoke of his cigarette. “You've got enough drink in, Arthur, to float the barge,” he said. 

Molly Weasley, her hands still covered in earth from gardening, poured tea into chipped mugs and handed the plate of sandwiches round. “How many of the children are home?” asked Harry. 

“Only Ginny, and she doesn't know you're all coming. She's walked down to the village. Absolute madness in this heat. She's not such a child now you know, Harry. She'll be eighteen in August.” 

Harry grinned. “I know. Of course she must be waiting for her NEWT results.”  He helped himself to a cucumber sandwich as big as a doorstep. “I’m starving.” He gave an unpleasant smile in my direction. “I don't know why but I couldn't eat a thing at lunchtime.” 

Molly Weasley turned to me. “And what do you do in London? You look like a model or an actor or something.” 

“He's quite unemployable,” said Harry. 

Molly looked reproving. “I see you're as rude as ever, Harry.” She smiled at me. “I never worked in my life until I got married. Anyway, I expect you meet lots of interesting people.” 

“Yes I do,” I smiled. 

She sighed. “The one I'd like to meet is the Muggle actor and singer Billie Piper - so charming looking. Wouldn't you like to meet Billie Piper, Arthur?” 

“Who's he?” said Arthur. 

Inevitably there was a good deal of laughter at this and Molly Weasley was just explaining, “He's a she, Arthur, he's a she,” when a door slammed and there was a sound of running footsteps and a girl exploded through the French Windows. She was as slim as a blade, in knee length shorts and a green polo shirt, with a mass of curly red hair and a freckled, laughing face. Her eyes lighted on Harry and she gave a squeal of delight. 

“Harry! What are you doing here? How lovely to see you!” 

Harry levered himself out of the deckchair and she flung herself into his arms for a very long and exuberant hug. She was obviously besotted with him. And he clearly liked her back. 

“I've missed you so much, Harry, it’s been ages since you've been down!” 

“You too Ginny, you too.” 

“You might acknowledge someone else, darling,” grumbled her mother. 

“Oh I'm sorry!” The girl beamed at the rest of us. “I'm Ginny. It's just that I'm so pleased to see Harry. You will stay for the party, won't you?” she added anxiously. 

“I suppose we ought to think about finding some more glasses and rolling up the carpet,” said Arthur Weasley. 

“I must wash my hair,” said Molly. “It's the only way I'll get the garden out of my nails.” 

-o-o-o- 

“Aren't they complete originals?” asked Lavender, as she and I changed later. She was wandering around in her underwear trying to look at her back. Between her fiery red legs and shoulders, her skin was as white as lard. “I'm not peeling, am I?” she asked anxiously. “It itches like mad.” 

“Looks a bit angry,” I said, pleased to see that a few tiny white blisters had formed between her shoulders. It'd be coming off her in strips tomorrow. 

“Isn't that girl Ginny quite devastating?” she went on. “You could see Harry wanted to absolutely gobble her up.” 

“She's not that marvellous,” I said, starting to pour water over my hair. 

“Oh but she is - quite lovely and so natural. Think of being seventeen again, all the things one was going to do, the books one was going to write, the places one was going to visit. I must say when a girl is beautiful at seventeen she gets a glow about her that old hags like you and I in our twenties can never hope to achieve.” 

“Speak for yourself,” I muttered into the washbasin. 

I knew when I finally finished dressing that I'd never looked better. My eyes, ringed in eyeliner, glittered brilliantly grey in my potion-tanned face; my hair, newly washed and as straight as Sleekeazy could make it, was almost white blond from the sun. I had just a touch of makeup on, to emphasise my eyes and my cheekbones. 

Lavender, I'm glad to say, looked terrible. She was leaning out of the window when there was a crack of Apparition. “Oh look, someone's arriving. It looks like an elderly relative. She’s wearing a feathery pink hat like a flamingo!” 

“We're obviously in for a wild evening,” I sneered. 

“We'd better go down. Shall I wait?” 

“No. I'll be ready in a minute. You go on.” 

Knowing she’d throw a wobbly at the outfit I planned to wear, I was glad she left. Designed to shock the fetish club crowd, the gladiator style top was made of thin silver chains, to accentuate the golden skin on my smooth chest. With holes as big as Chocolate Frog cards, my nipples showed clearly. I paired it with a pair of tight shorts in the same golden tone as my tanned skin. It gave the overall impression I wore nothing at all. Everyone would be looking at me. 

Slowly I put it on, thinking all the time of the effect it would have on Michael when I walked into the quiet country living room. And it would infuriate Harry into the bargain. I gave a final brush to my hair and turned to look in the mirror. It was the first time I'd worn it with my party warpaint, and the impact made even me catch my breath. Circe’s Tits, I said to myself, you're going to set them by their country ears tonight. I was determined to make an entrance, so I fiddled with my hair until I could hear that more people had arrived. 

There was a hush as I walked into the drawing-room. Everyone gazed at me. Men's hands fluttered to straighten their robes and smooth their hair, the women stared at me with ill-concealed envy and disapproval. 

“Fuck!” I heard Michael say, in appalled wonder. 

But I was looking at Harry. For the first time I saw a blaze of disapproval in his eyes. I've got under his guard at last, I thought in triumph. 

There seemed to be no common denominator among the guests. They consisted of old pompous Ministry types and their ill-dressed wives, a handful of people of Ginny's age, the girls very made up, the boys very wet, the odd school ma’am type, and a crowd of tough country types with braying voices and brick red faces. It was as though the Weasleys had asked everyone they knew and liked, with a total disregard as to whether they'd mix.

I wandered towards Michael, Lavender and Harry. 

“I see you've thrown yourself open to the public,” said Harry, but he didn't smile. “I suppose I'd better go and hand round some drinks.” 

“You shouldn't have worn that outfit, Draco,” said Lavender in a shocked voice. “This isn't London, you know.” 

“That's only too obvious,” I said, looking round. 

Molly Weasley came over and took my arm. “How enchanting you look, Draco. Do come and devastate our dear friend, Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt. He's dying to meet you.” 

He wasn't the only one. Once those country types had had a few drinks, they all closed in on me, vying for my attention. Over and over again I let my glass be filled up. Never had my wit been more malicious or more sparkling. I kept them all in fits of braying laughter. 

Like an experienced comedian, although I was keeping my audience happy, I was very conscious of what was going on in the wings - Michael, looking like a thundercloud because I was flirting so outrageously with other men; Harry behaving like the Weasley's future son-in-law, whether he was handing round drinks or smiling into Ginny's eyes. Every so often, however, his eyes flickered in my direction, and his face hardened. 

About ten o'clock, Molly Weasley wandered in, very red in the face, and carrying two saucepans, and plonked them down on a long polished table beside a mountain of food and pile of plates and forks. "There's risotto here,” she said hospitably, “if anyone's hungry.”

People surged forward to eat. I stayed put, the men around me stayed put as well. The din we were making increased until Harry pushed his way through the crowd. 

“You ought to eat something, Draco,” he said. I shook my head and smiled up at him insolently. 

“Aren't you hungry?” drawled Auror Shacklebolt who was lounging beside me. He was an exceptionally tall, handsome, well-built black man, strong and virile. 

I turned to him, smiling sweetly, “Only for you.” 

A nearby group of women stopped filling their faces with risotto and talking about nappies, and looked at me in horror. Shacklebolt’s wife was among them. She had a face like a well-bred cod. 

“The young chaps of today are not the same as they were twenty years ago,” she said loudly. 

“Of course they're not,” I shouted across at her. “Twenty years ago I was only six. You must expect some change in my appearance and behaviour.” 

She turned puce with anger at the roar of laughter that greeted this. Harry didn't laugh. He took hold of my arm. “I think you'd better come and eat,” he said in even tones. 

“I've told you once,” I snapped, “I don't want to eat. I want to dance. Why doesn't someone put on the wireless?” 

Shacklebolt looked me up and down. “What happens to that top when you dance?” 

I sniggered. “Now you see me, now you don't.” 

There was another roar of laughter. 

“Well, what are we waiting for?” said Shacklebolt. “Let's put some music on and dance.” 

“All right,” I said, looking up at him under my lashes, “But I must go to the loo first.” 

Upstairs in the bathroom, I hardly recognised myself. I looked amazing, my hair hanging straight, my eyes glittering, my cheeks flushed. Merlin, the top was so beautiful. “And you're so beautiful too,” I added and, leaning forward, lightly kissed my reflection in the mirror. 

Even in my alcoholic state, I was slightly abashed when I turned round and saw Harry watching me from the doorway. “Don't you know it's rude to stare?” I said. He didn't move. “I'd like to come past - if you don't mind,” I went on. 

“Oh no, you don't,” he said, grabbing my wrist. 

“Oh yes I do,” I hissed, trying to tug myself away. 

“Will you stop behaving like a rent boy!” he swore at me and, pulling me into the nearest bedroom, threw me on the bed and locked the door, casting a Muffliato. 

“Now I suppose you're going to treat me like a rent boy,” I spat at him. “What will your precious Ginny say if she catches us here together?” 

Suddenly I was frightened. There was murder in his eyes. “It's about time someone taught you a lesson,” he said, coming towards me. “And I'm afraid it's going to be me.” 

Before I realised it, Harry had me across his knee. I've never known what living daylights were before, but he was certainly beating them out of me now. I started to yell and kick. 

“Shut up,” he said viciously. “No one can hear you.” The music was still booming downstairs. I struggled and tried to bite him but he was far too strong for me. It was not the pain so much as the ghastly indignity. It seemed to go on for ever and ever. Finally he tipped me on to the floor. I lay there quaking with fear. 

“Get up,” he said brusquely, “and get your things together. I'm taking you back to the boat.” 

Aching in every bone, biting my lip to stop myself crying, I let Harry Apparate me back to the dock. Every few moments I stumbled, held up only by his vice-like grip on my arm. I think he felt at any moment I might bolt back to the party. Once we were on deck I said, “Now you can go back to your darling teenager.” 

“Not until you're safe in bed.” 

I lay down on my bunk still in my chainmail top. Beautiful as it was, it was not designed to be worn lying down and was bloody uncomfortable. But when I shut my eyes the world was going round and round. I quickly opened them. Harry stood watching me through cigarette smoke. I shut my eyes again. A great wave of nausea rolled over me. 

“Oh shit,” I said, trying to get out of bed. 

“Stay where you are,” he snapped. “I ought to be allowed to get out of my own bed,” I said petulantly. “I agree in your prude-ish role you're quite entitled to stop me getting into other people's beds but a person should be free to get out of his own bed if he wants to.” 

“Stop fooling around,” said Harry. 

“I can't,” I said in desperation, “I'm going to be sick.” 

He only just got me to the edge of the boat in time, and I was sicker than I've ever been in my life. I couldn't stop this terrible retching, and then, because Harry was holding my head, I couldn't stop crying from humiliation. 

“Leave me alone,” I sobbed in misery. “Leave me alone to die. Lavender and Michael will be back in a minute. Please go and keep them away for a bit longer.” 

“They won't be back for hours,” said Harry, casting a Tempus. 

“Can I have a drink of water?” 

“Not yet, it'll only make you throw up again. You'll just have to grin and bear it.” 

I looked up at the huge white moon and gave a hollow laugh. “It couldn't be a more romantic night, could it?” 

In the passage my knees gave way and Harry picked me up and carried me into the cabin. After letting me get changed into my pyjamas, he put me to bed as deftly as if I'd been a child. He gave me a couple of potions. “They'll help with the sickness and dehydration, and put you to sleep.” 

“I wasn't actually planning to meet Michael on deck tonight.” I was shivering like a little crup. “I'm sorry,” I said, rolling my head back and forth on the pillow. “I'm so terribly sorry.” 

“Lie still,” he said. “The potions'll work soon.” 

“Don't go,” I whispered, as he stood up and went to the door. 

His face was expressionless as he looked at me, no scorn, no mockery, not even a trace of pity. “I'm going to get you some more blankets,” he said. “I don't want you catching cold.” 

That sudden kindness, the first he'd ever shown me, brought tears to my eyes. He was kind without expectation, in the way other men never were to me. He wasn’t being kind to woo me; he was just being genuinely thoughtful. 

I was beginning to feel drowsy by the time he came back with two rugs. They smelt musty and, as I watched his hands tucking them in - powerful hands with black hairs on the back - I suddenly wanted to feel his arms around me and to feel those hands soothing me and petting me as though I were a child again. In a flash I saw him as the father, strict, yet loving and caring, that all my life I'd missed; someone to say stop when I went too far, someone to mind if I behaved badly, to be proud if I behaved well. Someone to show me how to be my best self. 

“Getting sleepy?” he asked. I nodded. “Good boy. You'll be all right in the morning.” 

“I'm sorry I wrecked your party.” 

“Doesn't matter. They're nice though, the Weasleys. I was brought up by my aunt’s family and they never wanted me. The Weasleys have been my family for many years. I was angry not just because of what you wore and how you acted, but because you embarrassed me in front of my family. You should mix with more people like them; they've got the right values.” 

“No one normally cares about my behaviour. I suppose I like the attention…” then I started getting confused and the soft voice became mingled with the water lapping against the boat; then I drifted into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12 

When I woke next morning I felt overwhelmed with shame. In the past when I'd got drunk, I'd just shrugged it off as part of the Draco Malfoy party boy image. Now I curled up at the thought of last night's performance - barging in on those people half naked, behaving atrociously, abusing their hospitality, and then the humiliation of Harry putting me across his knee and, worst of all, throwing up in front of him and having to be put to bed. My bum was still sore. 

Oh Merlin, I groaned in misery, as I slowly pieced the evening together, I can't face him. Yet, at the thought of slipping off the boat unnoticed, it suddenly hit me that if I did I might never see him again. It was like a wand jabbed into my heart. 

Oh no, I whispered in horror, it can't have happened! I couldn't hate someone so passionately, and then find overnight that hatred had turned into something quite different - something that looked suspiciously like l... No I wouldn't say it. I had always had mercurial emotions, bloody Gemini. 

I couldn't like him like that, I couldn't. He despised me and thought I was the biggest bitch going, and the nightmare was that, if we had been starting from scratch, I could have pulled out the stops, knocked him over with my looks, even fooled him into thinking I was gentle and sweet. I'd done it often enough before. But now it was too late. He'd seen me, unashamedly pursuing Michael, knew so many adverse things about me that I hadn't a hope where he was concerned. It was funny really, the biter bit at last. 

Finally I dragged myself out of bed. A shooting star was erupting in my head, waves of sickness swept over me. My face was ashen when I looked in the mirror. I was still wearing last night's makeup, streaked with crying; my mouth felt like a fwooper's cage. 

I staggered down to the horrible dank loo which reeked of asparagus pee and wondered whether to be sick again. Even cleaning my teeth was an ordeal. Somehow I got dressed, and crawled along to the kitchen. Lavender was cooking kippers of all things. 

“Hello,” she said. “You disappeared very suddenly last night. Harry said you felt queasy from the heat, so he brought you home. You're not pregnant or anything awful?” she joked. 

I smiled weakly and shook my head. That was one problem I was spared. “What did the rest of you get up to?” I asked. 

“Nothing much. We stayed up very late dancing on the lawn, it was so romantic in the moonlight. Then Ginny came back and had a drink on the boat. You were fast asleep by that time. Later Harry walked her home. We didn't hear him come in.” 

I felt sweat rising on my forehead. The thought of Harry and Ginny wandering back through the meadowsweet with that great moon pouring light on them drove me insane with jealousy. The smell of those kippers was killing me. Suddenly I saw a pair of long legs coming down the steps. 

“I'm going on deck,” I said in a panic, and bolted back through my cabin and the saloon, out into the sunshine at the far end of the boat. 

I sat down, clutching my knees and gazing at the opposite bank. A water rat came out, stared at me with beady eyes and then shot back into its hole. Lucky thing, I thought. I wish I had a hole to crawl into. The wild roses which had bloomed so beautifully yesterday were now withered by the sun and hung like tawdry party decorations that had been up too long.

I heard a step behind me and my heart started hammering. I was appalled by the savagery of my disappointment when I realised it was only Michael. 

“Hello,” he said sulkily, sitting down beside me. “Are you feeling better?” 

“Yes thank you.” 

“Harry gets all the luck. Why don't you feel ill when I'm around? I wouldn't have minded bringing you back here on your own and putting you to bed.” 

Something in his voice pulled me up sharply. “I felt queasy,” I snapped. 

“And I'm sure Harry made you feel better. His restorative powers are notorious, you know.” 

“It wasn't like that,” I said angrily. “If two people absolutely don't fancy each other, it's Harry and me.” 

“So you keep telling me,” he said. “I'm wondering if the lad isn't protesting a bit too much.” 

“Breakfast is ready,” said Harry, appearing suddenly in the doorway. 

“I don't want any,” I said, red-faced and wondering how much of our conversation he'd heard. 

Michael got to his feet. “I'll come back and talk to you when I've had mine,” he said, following Harry down the steps. 

Two minutes later Harry reappeared. “Here's your breakfast,” he said, passing me a vial of Hangover potion and a glass of water. 

“Thank you,” I muttered, quite unable to meet his eyes. “I'm sorry about last night.” 

“Skip it,” he said. “Everyone makes a bloody fool of themselves from time to time. I probably shouldn't have smacked you but you were being such a brat.” 

I shrugged. No one had ever done anything about my behaviour before. I had always got away with murder. “But you stopped everyone else finding out. I thought...” 

“... I'd go back and tell everyone you'd puked your guts out. I'm not that much of a git.” 

I looked at him for the first time. He looked very tired; there were dark rings under his eyes. I wondered what he and Ginny had been up to last night. It was as though he'd read my thought. 

“Ginny's coming over for lunch,” he said. “She's dying to meet you again. She's still at the age when she's immensely impressed by beautiful people.” 

Wow, that was a backhander. “I’ll attempt not to disappoint her,” I said, trying to keep the resentment out of my voice. 

He laughed. “Don't pout, it doesn't suit you.” 

The potion eased my headache to a dull throb. I wished it could have as easily cured my heart. 

Ginny arrived about twelve-thirty. She'd taken a great deal of trouble with her appearance, though it was rather spoiled by her robes being obviously second-hand. She did looked very pretty, but somehow I thought she'd looked more attractive when she'd roared in on us unawares the day before. 

“Hello,” she said, sitting down on the deck beside me, “I'm sorry we didn't have time to talk yesterday and that you felt horrible. Mum always forgets to open any windows. Everyone was so disappointed you went. All the men were wild about you, and everyone who owled to thank us this morning wanted to know who you were.” Her voice was suddenly wistful. “The country hasn't seen anything as gorgeous as you in a hundred years.” 

Suddenly I found myself liking her. I realised there was no bitchy motive behind her remarks, just genuine admiration. “I'm afraid my outfit was a bit outré for the country,” I said. “I hope your parents didn't mind?” 

She shook her head violently. “Oh no, they thought you were wonderful. It's typical of Harry to turn up with someone like you. I always knew he would in the end. I've had a crush on him for years, you see. I'd always hoped he'd wait for me, but now he's got you.” 

“Oh no he hasn't,” I said quickly. “There's nothing between us at all. We'd never met before this weekend. I'm Lavender's friend. We were at Beauxbatons together.” 

“You were?” Her face brightened. “Then you and Harry aren't...?” 

“Not at all. He just discovered I was feeling bloody awful and brought me home.” 

“Oh,” she said happily. “That does cheer me up. I do wish I could do something romantic like fainting when he's around, but I'm far too healthy.” 

I laughed wryly. She wouldn't have enjoyed what I'd endured last night. 

“Mind you,” she went on confidingly, “he did kiss me on the way home last night. But then I expect he kisses most pretty people.” 

The sun was making me feel sick again. I moved into the shade. She asked me endless questions about my life in London and the people I knew. 

“Do you actually know James Blunt?” She couldn't hear enough about it. “I'm coming to London soon. I've just finished at Hogwarts, and I've got to look for a job.” 

“Come and stay,” I was amazed to find myself saying. “My flat's huge. You can have a bed for as long as you like.” 

“Goodness,” she went all pink. “May I really? It'd be marvellous, just for a few days until I find somewhere. And I wonder, could you tell me the best place to buy clothes? I mean my mother's super, but she's never been much help in that way.” 

A moment later, when we were joined by the others, she immediately told Harry I'd asked her to come and stay. I expected him to discourage her, but he merely said, “Good idea, why not?” 

Why had I done it, I wondered, as I escaped to help with lunch. Was I trying to prove that I could be nice occasionally, or was I unconsciously trying to impress Harry by getting on with one of his friends, or was it merely that I wanted to keep some link with him, however tenuous, after tonight? 

I had a great deal of difficulty forcing anything down at lunch. I couldn't even smoke, which is a sign of approaching death with me. I was paralysed with shyness by Harry's presence. Every time he looked at me I jerked my eyes away. Why couldn't I bring any of the old magic into play? Glancing sideways from under my lashes, letting my hair fall over my eyes, pulling my trousers tight to show off my legs, leaning forward so he could see down my shirt, which would always be buttoned a couple of inches too low. Turning away so he could admire my arse. Overnight I'd suddenly become as gauche as a teenager. 

To make matters worse, Michael was watching me like a prison warder. He no longer held any charm for me; he was so anxious to please, he'd lost all the lazy, take-it-or-leave-it manner that I'd found so irresistible a week ago. Immediately after we'd finished eating, I leapt over to the sink to do the washing up. Anything to get away from that highly charged atmosphere. 

“Leave it,” said Michael. “For goodness sake, Draco, relax.” 

“What a bore we're going back to London tonight,” grumbled Lavender. “It's been such a lovely restful weekend.” 

A smile flickered across Harry's face. 

“You must have so much planning to do for the wedding,” Ginny said. “I love weddings.” 

Michael's leg suddenly pressed against mine. I moved it away. “Your hair looks so fantastic in the sun,” he said. 

“Is it natural, I can't remember?” said Lavender. 

I was about to say “yes” - I'd never admitted to anyone before that I straightened it - when I caught Harry's eye and, for some strange reason, changed my mind. “Well, let's say I use the odd container of Sleekeazy to help it along a bit.” Harry smiled a wry smile at that. 

Lavender picked up a daisy chain she'd been making. The threaded flowers were already wilting on the table. Ginny looked out of the port-hole at the heat-soaked landscape. Any moment one felt the dark trees might move towards us. 

“It's like one of those days people remember as the end of something,” she said. “The air feels still and oppressive, like a grim is hiding right around a bend in the river or some other terrible omen.” 

Lavender split another daisy stalk open. “Don't scare me, you make me think something frightful will happen tonight.” 

A mulberry-coloured cloud had hidden the sun. “I think it's going to thunder,” said Michael. 

Lavender put the daisy chain over his head. It was too small and rested like a coronet on his dark hair. He pushed it away irritably. “Oh, you've broken it” wailed Lavender. 

I couldn't stand the tension any longer. I got to my feet and stretched. 

“Where are you off to?” said Lavender. 

“I'm going to wander up-stream.” 

“We'll come with you,” said Michael standing up. 

“No!” I said sharply, then tried to make light of it. “I like walking by myself. I need to be alone for a bit.” 

“We're going to Ginny's parents for tea,” said Lavender. 

I didn't join them. As I wandered through the meadows I tried to sort out what I really felt. It's the heat and the proximity I kept telling myself. You've fallen for Harry because he's the first man to pull you up. It's a challenge because he doesn't fancy you - just as Michael was a challenge until you'd hooked him. 

But it was no good. Wanting Michael had been but a child's caprice for a forbidden toy, nothing compared with the desperate need I felt for Harry. Michael was weak enough to be manipulated by me, as I had done to Blaise and Marcus, and the others before them. Harry, however, had the strength of will to keep me on my toes - ever exciting, and never letting me rest on my laurels. I would never be able to own or control Harry like I had my other discarded playthings. 

I wandered for miles and then sat down under a tree. I must have dozed off, for the shadows were lengthening when I woke up. I couldn't face tea with the Weasleys, teacups balanced on our knees, having post mortems about the party; so I went back to the boat. No one was about. I packed my suitcases, tidied the saloon and washed up lunch. I was behaving so well, I'd be qualifying for the proverbial Hufflepuff house at this rate. 

Then I heard footsteps, and someone jumping on to the deck. I gave a shiver of excitement as a tall figure appeared in the doorway. But it was only Michael. Once more I felt that crippling kick of disappointment. 

“Why didn't you turn up for tea? I've been worried about you.” There was a predatory look in his eyes that suddenly had me alarmed and on my guard. 

“I fell asleep and when I woke up I realised it was late, so I came back here.” 

“And by telepathy I knew and followed you,” he said. 

“Are the others coming?” 

“Not for ages. Lavender's discovered a grand piano, so she'll be happy playing for hours. Harry and Ginny have gone off for a walk together.” 

My nails were cutting into the palms of my hands. Last night Harry had kissed her. Merlin knows what else he might get up to on a hot summer afternoon. I picked up some glasses.

“Where are you going?” asked Michael. 

“Putting these away.” For a second he barred my way, then stood aside and followed me through into the saloon. Very slowly I stacked the glasses in the cupboard. When I turned round he was standing just behind me. He put his hands on my arms. 

“No,” I said sharply. 

“No what? I haven't done anything yet.” 

“Then let me go.” 

“The hell I will!” His fingers tightened on my arms. “I want you,” he said. “Ever since I first saw you, I've been burning up with wanting you.” 

“What about Lavender?” I asked shakily. “We were going to wait till we got back to London.” 

“Oh come on now. You, of all people, don't give a damn about Lavender, and at this moment in time, neither do I.” 

He bent his head and kissed me, forcing my mouth open with his tongue. I could feel him hard against me. 

“No!” I struggled, completely revolted. “No! No! No!” 

“Shut up,” he said. “Don't play the little hypocrite with me. We all know your reputation, darling. You wanted me, don't pretend you didn't, and now you're going to get me, hot and strong.” 

Desperately, I tried to pull away from him. “Let me go!” I yelled. But he only laughed and forced me back on to one of the bench seats, shutting my protesting mouth with his, tearing at the buttons of my shirt. His hard cock pressing against me. He was so much stronger than me. 

Suddenly a door opened. “Knock it off you two,” said a voice of ice. 

Michael sprang away from me. “What the fuck...” 

“For Merlin's sake pull yourself together. Lavender's just coming,” said Harry. 

But it was too late, Lavender came bouncing into the saloon. “Darling love, I missed you. Hello Dray, did you get lost?” Then, with agonising slowness, she took in the situation, looking at my rumpled hair and torn shirt, the buttons of which I was frenziedly trying to do up, the shock on Michael's face, the chair knocked over, the papers strewn all over the floor. 

There was a ghastly pause. “Draco,” she whispered in horror. “You of all people, how could you? You swore you weren't interested in Michael. I thought you were a friend of mine. And as for you!” She turned to Michael, “Don't think I want to marry you after this.” She tugged at her engagement ring but it wouldn't come off. Finally she gave a little sob and fled out of the cabin. 

“Go after her!” said Harry. “Say you're sorry, that it didn't mean anything - at once,” he barked at Michael. 

I collapsed into a chair, my heart pounding, my face in my hands. “Oh fuck, how terrible!” 

“And you can belt up,” Harry snarled at me. “You've done enough damage for one afternoon.” 

“I tried to stop him, really I did.” 

“Don't give me that. There's no need to explain yourself. You were just running true to form.” And he walked out of the saloon, slamming the door behind him. 

-o-o-o- 

The awful thing was that we still had to pack up the boat. Michael and Lavender were supposed to Apparate back to London together and Harry would have driven back with me and my three large suitcases. But Lavender refused to go with Michael and, sobbing too hard to Apparate herself, Harry drove her back to London. He didn't even say goodbye.  

Merlin, how ironic, I thought miserably, it had worked out exactly as I planned it should. Lavender and Michael breaking up and Michael Side-Apparating me back to London. But instead of being in each other's arms, we were at each other's throats. Michael looked grey beneath his suntan, all the bravado and panache seemed to be knocked out of him. 

“You've got to talk to Lavender,” said Michael. “Tell her it was all your fault.” I sighed resignedly. 

Then he changed his tune, “All right, I admit I tried to pull you this afternoon, but by Merlin, I had provocation.” 

“I know you did,” I said apathetically. “I'm sorry. I thought I wanted you so much; then when it came to the crunch, I found I didn't after all.” 

“Yeah well, it's the same with me. I was crazy about you, but now I realise I'm in danger of losing Lav, it all seems a terrible mistake. It's the ill-wind department, I suppose. Takes a jolt like this to make you realise how much you really need someone. She's so on the level, Lav.” 

I'd seldom seen a man more shattered. “Tell her it was your doing,” he pleaded. “Tell her how much you led me on. It's no skin off your nose.” 

“All right,” I said, “I'll talk to her. But it's no good trying to see her until tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 13 

On the day after we got back to London, I tried to Floo Lavender several times at the office in the Ministry where she was currently temping. Finally they admitted she hadn't come in, so I went round to her flat. It was a typical twenty-something’s shared flat - unwashed cups and chocolate bar wrappers everywhere and a half-unpacked suitcases in the drawing-room. I removed a grubby white bra and a brown apple core from one of the armchairs and sat down. 

“What do you want?” asked Lavender. She was still in her dressing gown and her face was swollen with crying. 

“To explain about Michael,” I said. 

“I don't want any of your lies,” she said. 

“But you've got to listen. It was all my fault, you see, from the beginning. I took one look at Michael that first night at Morgana's and he was so gorgeous I decided I must get him away from you at all costs. I never wanted anyone so much in all my life so I pulled out all the stops - making eyes at him, admitting to his face that I fancied him, wandering round with only a towel falling off me, arranging to meet him on deck after you'd gone to sleep. He didn't stand a chance.” 

She looked at me in horror. “You actually went out of your way to get him?” 

I nodded. “I made an absolutely dead set that evening at the Weasley's party,” I went on, lying now. “When I got drunk and behaved so badly, it was only because I was furious with Michael, because he wasn't reacting at all.” 

“But what happened yesterday?” 

“I was sulking by myself on the boat, when Michael turned up, worried I'd been gone for such a long time, and well, I sort of tried to seduce him.” 

“And that's when Harry and I came in?” 

“That's right.” I got up and wandered over to the window. “Any man would have been flattered by being pursued so relentlessly. It was just the heat and being cooped up on the boat together. Hell, he only kissed me, anyway. He loves you, he does really. He was absolutely devastated last night.” 

Lavender pulled at a wispy bit of hair. “He was?” she said dully. 

“Anyway,” I went on, “you said the other day on the boat, that you expected him to be unfaithful to you and you'd always forgive him.” 

“I know I did,” said Lavender with a sob, “but one says such stupid things in theory, and they're so horrible when they happen in practice.” 

I went over and put my arm around her. “Please don't cry, Lavender.” 

“Don't touch me,” she hissed. “I was thinking about you all last night. You're bad, you've always been bad. Ever since we were at school together, you've resented my friends and tried to take them away from me. And now you've stolen the most precious thing I ever had. Why do you do it? You're so beautiful you can have any man you choose.” 

“Because I've always been jealous of you,” I said slowly, echoing Harry's words. “Because, in spite of my blond hair and my long legs, people have always liked you more than they liked me.” 

There was a pause. 

“I suppose it was kind of you to come and tell me all this,” she said in a set little voice. “It does make a difference. I had a long talk with Harry last night.” 

“What did he say?” I tried to keep my voice expressionless. 

“That Michael was basically a lightweight; that I'd do better to cut my losses and pack him in. He said you may have encouraged Michael in the beginning, but on reflection he guessed that he was only too ready to be distracted and that it was Michael who forced the pace yesterday. He said marriage to Michael would be one long string of infidelities, and he was only marrying me for security and for my money.” 

“But that's brutal!” I gasped. 

“Isn't it? But that's the thing I like about Harry, he tells the truth about things that matter.” 

“Did he say anything else?” I said numbly. “About me, I mean.” 

“Not much. He agreed with me that if you really set your cap at someone, it would be almost impossible to resist you.” 

I bit my lip. “I’m sorry.” 

“It's not so easy for me,” Lavender said, playing with the tassel of her dressing gown. “I don't attract men very easily. Michael was the first man who ever said he loved me. I can't go to a party tomorrow like you can, and pick up a new man just like that. I can't walk down the street and be admired by men. You haven't a clue what it's like not having any sex appeal. With you it's only a question of time. I may never meet another man who wants to marry me.” 

I felt a flash of irritation. Why the hell didn't she go on a diet? Then I felt guilty. “Will you ever be able to forgive me?” 

“I don't know, not now. Perhaps in a few weeks I shall feel differently.” 

I moved towards the door. “Will you see Michael if he turns up here?” 

She burst into tears. “Oh yes, of course I will.” 

It was only when I left her that the full desolation of my situation hit me. Since we'd left the boat I had been numb with misery, as though I'd Stupefied my heart until I had straightened the account with Lavender and Michael. Now I had to face up to the future - to the agony of loving a man who hated and despised me - who would despise me even more once he heard what I had told Lavender. 

For the next few days I felt like I was being tortured on the rack. I never believed it was possible to suffer so much. Pride, despair and longing chased each other monotonously around my head. I cried all night and, at the slightest provocation, during the day. Over and over again I wandered down to the river and wondered whether to jump in. A thousand times I started letters to Harry, pleading my case, but each time I tore them up. My case was so hopeless; I couldn't even take refuge in daydreams. Most evenings I Apparated across London and lay in wait outside Harry's house, but there were never any lights on and I could only hide in the shadows and cry uncontrollably.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14 

The blistering hot weather continued to grip London by the throat. Outside my flat, Green Park was fast losing its greenness; the plane trees were coated in thick grey dust, the grass bleached to a lifeless yellow. Muggles wilted silently at the bus stops. 

Two Mondays after we got back from the boat, I was woken by the doorbell ringing on and on. Wrapping a towel round me, I waded through the owl post, which was scattered over the carpet and consisted entirely of brown envelopes. I peered through the spy-hole, in a blind hope it might be Harry. But it was only a thin youth with a moustache, and cauliflower ears, wearing a crumpled suit and a battery of Muggle fountain pens in his breast pocket. He obviously had no intention of getting off that bell. I opened the door. He looked at me wearily. 

“Mr Malfoy?” 

“No,” I said. I knew the tricks of old. 

“But Mr Malfoy lives here?” 

“Sure he does, but he's abroad at the moment. Can I help you?” 

“I’m from the Ministry of Magic, Income Tax Department. It’s about his income tax returns. We've written to him repeatedly. The matter is getting rather urgent.” 

“Oh dear,” I said sympathetically. “I’m sure he's not avoiding you deliberately. He's just rather vague where income tax is concerned.” 

“Lots of people become very vague when it's a matter of paying it,” he said, his tired eyes travelling over my body, “When are you expecting him back?” 

“He's gone to the Bahamas,” I said. “After that I think he's flying on to New York. He's got a lot of friends there. He didn't say when he was coming back.” 

“We're interested in a sum of money he earned doing a commercial for Ralph Lauren.” 

Thank Merlin he was looking at my legs, or he would have seen how green I'd gone. 

“But that was three years ago,” I stammered, “and in America.” 

“Yes, but he was paid by their English subsidiary, who, of course, declared it.” 

“Poor Draco,” I said weakly. “Have you any idea how much he owes?” 

“Well,” he said, confidingly. “We don't usually disclose figures,” (he was obviously crazy for me to disclose mine), “but I think it would be around the mid five figures. He didn't by any chance leave a forwarding address, did he?” 

“No he didn't. There's the Floo. I must go and answer it,” I said firmly, shutting the door in his face. 

Fifty thousand galleons! Where the hell was I going to get that kind of money? Bleating with terror, I ran to answer the Floo, crossing my fingers once again that by some miracle it might be Harry. But it was Leonidas. I'd only talked to him briefly since I got back. He'd been busy, so I hadn't told him about Harry. I was sure I wanted to, but I couldn't bear for him not to take it seriously. 

“Oh how lovely to hear you,” I said. 

“You probably won't think so when you hear the news,” he said. “Severus Snape's dead.” 

“What!” I sat down on the floor by the fireplace. 

“Heart attack at the weekend. He'd been hiking up mountains in Wales collecting some kind of rare plant for a new potion.” said Leo. 

“Oh Merlin, how awful.” Kind, clever, sensual, passionate Snape - Leo's patron and boss, my friend and lover. He's always been so generous to both of us - and taken care of all my bills. It didn't seem possible. 

“I can't bear it,” I whispered, tears in my eyes. 

“Terrible, isn't it. I really loved that guy. But darling, I'm afraid that isn't all. There's trouble at mill. Erastus has been going through the books with a toothcomb and smelling salts, and the skeletons have been absolutely trooping out of the cupboard. This year's figures are catastrophic, shares have hit rock bottom, orders are right down; unfortunately expenses, particularly yours and mine, are right up.” 

He sounded in a real panic. “Erastus has called an emergency department head meeting for tomorrow at three o'clock. He wants you there as well.” 

“Whatever for?” 

“Well, there's a bit of aggro over your flat, and all the bills we've run up between us, and there's the car too. I think we'd better have a session tonight, and see how many bills we can rustle up,” he went on, trying to sound reassuring. 

“All right,” I said. “Come round after work.” It seemed hardly the time to tell him about my income tax bill. 

“Actually,” Leonidas went on, “it's a good thing poor Severus did kick the bucket when he did, Erastus is planning all sorts of changes and Severus wouldn't have like that.” 

“Did Severus know?” 

“Don't think so, but it's certainly made Erastus' task easier. He's bringing in this new whizz kid over everyone's heads to get us out of the doldrums.” 

“Do you think he'll be able to?” 

“You should know, darling. It's your friend, Harry Potter.” 

I lay back on my bed, holding my burning face in my hands - all thoughts of Snape, fifty grand tax bills and fiddled expenses forgotten. Why, why, why had Harry done it? He'd got far too much on his plate as it was. Why should he take on another directorship? Was it for power, or financial gain, or just to get his fingers into another industrial pie? Could it just possibly be that he wanted to see me again? Or, much more likely, that he'd got it in for me and wanted to cut me to ribbons. Whatever the reason, in just over twenty-four hours I'd see him again. 

In the evening Leo and I spent two fruitless hours trying to sort out our expenses - then gave up. I set my alarm clock for eleven the next day, to give me plenty of time to get ready. Even so I panicked, trying on one outfit after another. It's strange how one's wardrobe tells the story of one's past. There was the cornflower blue suit I'd bought to ensnare Michael, the skinny black one that had inflamed Marcus, the gold robes that had brought Blaise literally to his knees with a proposal, and lying on the cupboard floor, spurned, and never worn again, were the grey robes that had failed to detach that French Quidditch player from his wife at a ball in Paris last winter. 

What could I possibly wear to win over Harry? He'd said he liked his lovers gentle, unspoilt and vulnerable. I put on a white linen suit, bought for some summer event last year, but never worn. It was very summery, worn with a white shirt and a black tie. It showed off my suntan and I hoped made me look innocent and fragile. I had to make a hole in the belt to do it up tight enough. My eyelids, after a fortnight's crying, were the only part of me that hadn't lost weight. I hid them behind tinted spectacles. 

I arrived at Parkinson-Malfoy's head office to find everyone in a jittering state of expectancy. Yesterday's shock over Snape’s death had given way to excitement over Harry's arrival. The secretaries had seen his picture in The Daily Prophet’s financial pages. They knew he was rich, successful, attractive and, most important of all, single. They had all washed their hair and tarted themselves up to the nines. The offices, as I walked through, smelt like Debenhams’ scent department; not a paper was out of place. I encountered some hostile stares. Why did I have to come swanning in to steal their thunder? 

The Parkinson-Malfoy boardroom, with its dove grey carpet, panelled walls and family portraits, was discretion itself. Leonidas was the only person in there, sitting halfway down the huge polished table, directly beneath the portrait of my father. Their two bored, handsome restless faces were so much alike. Leo was chewing gum, and drawing a Quidditch player on his pad. 

“Hello angel,” he said in a slurred voice as I slipped into the seat beside him. “The condemned board is still out eating a hearty lunch. This place is in an incredible state of twitch, even the messenger boys are on Calming potions. Erastus has already been on to me this morning breathing fire about expenses. You must keep bills. I said I'm already keeping a Pansy, what would I want with a Bill.” 

Merlin’s saggy balls, I thought, he's smashed out of his mind; he must be chewing gum to conceal the firewhisky fumes. 

“What happened after you left me?” I said. 

“I went out and dined, not wisely, but too well, with a friend, and things escalated from there.” 

“Did you get to bed?” 

“Well not to my own bed, certainly.” He tried to rest an elbow on the table, but it slid off.

The door opened and Miss Pince, the senior secretary, came in, fussing around, moving notebooks, straightening quills. A great waft of Devon Violets nearly asphyxiated us. 

“You ought to put a bit more furniture polish at the top of the table,” said Leo reprovingly, “and I'm rather surprised you haven't laid on a red carpet and a band playing ‘Hail to the Chief’. Mr. Potter is used to the best of everything you know.” 

Miss Pince clicked her tongue disapprovingly and bustled out, beads flying. Next moment she was back, with Peter Pettigrew, the sales director. 

“Do you think we ought to put flowers in the middle of the table?” she asked. 

“A handful of hemlock would be more appropriate,” said Leo. 

Peter Pettigrew gave him a thin smile. He tolerated Leonidas but didn't like him. An old Hogwarts alumnus, he had little shifty eyes, and the little hair he had left was colourless. He reminded me of a rat. He had been in next succession after Snape. His twitchy nose must be truly out of joint at Harry's arrival. He was followed by Marmaduke Jugson, who was in charge of production and just about as inspiring as a flat bottle of tonic, and old Tarquin Mulciber; his false teeth rattling with nerves, who'd been with the firm since he was seventeen, and was still treated by everyone as though he was a messenger boy. 

Gradually the rest of the chairs were taken up by departmental heads, flushed by lunch, who greeted me with a good deal less enthusiasm than usual, a far cry from the fawning sycophancy when my father was alive. 

There was desultory talk of our chances of getting through the next stage of Quidditch World Cup but the money seemed to be on Burkina Faso. Marmaduke Jugson was boring Tarquin Mulciber with a recipe for homemade wine. But on the whole everyone was strangely quiet, and kept casting a Tempus or watching the door. 

“When all else fails, go to bed,” said Leo. “I feel exactly as though I'm about to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Have you got a cigarette? I seem to have run out.” 

I gave him one and, having opened my bag, took the opportunity to check my face and put on some more aftershave. My hand was shaking so much, I put on far too much. The smell of Ralph Lauren wafting through the room, clashed vilely with the Devon Violets. 

“Never mind,” said Leonidas. “At least it will cover up the smell of congealed blood and rotting corpses.” He seemed strangely elated. He'd always liked novelty. There were little red patches along his cheekbones. 

The waiting got worse. Everyone's shirt collars were getting too tight. Miss Pince sat at the right of the top of the table, flicking the elastic band which held back the pages on which she had already taken shorthand that day. We all jumped when the Floo chimed with the Welcome Witch announcing their arrival. 

Peter Pettigrew answered. “Downstairs are they? Good. Well no doubt Erastus'll bring them up. Miss Pince, will you go and meet them at the lift.” 

“The enemy are at the gates,” said Leo, still drawing Quidditch players on his memo pad. “The Barbarian Hordes are coming. I suppose we'd better lie back and enjoy it.” 

There was a spurt of nervous laughter round the room, which died quickly away as the door opened. They came in like the magnificent four, Erastus smirking as though he was a dog carrying a very large bone, followed by Harry, and a huge, massive-shouldered Beater of a man with red hair in a grey suit. Bringing up the rear was Hermione Granger-Lovegood. She was wearing a very simple black suit, and her bushy hair was drawn back in a chignon. The dead silence that followed was a tribute to her beauty. Suddenly I felt silly in my white linen suit, like a ghost haunting the proceedings. 

I was so wracked with longing and shyness; it was a second before I could bring myself to look at Harry. He was wearing a light grey suit, dark blue shirt and tie. I'd never seen him so formally dressed. His heavy face had lost most of its suntan, and looked shadowed and tired. He didn't glance in my direction. 

Everyone sat down except Erastus, who stood for a minute looking silently round the table, as if counting the house. 

“Shall I bring in coffee now?” asked Miss Pince fussily. 

“I don't think we need it, thank you,” he said. “And you needn't bother to stay either, Miss Pince. Ms Granger-Lovegood is going to take the minutes.” 

Displaying the same sort of enraged reluctance as a kneazle shoved out in a rainstorm, Miss Pince was dispatched from the room. Any minute I expected her to appear at the window, mewing furiously. 

Erastus cleared his throat. “Gentlemen, I just want to introduce Mr Potter whom I'm sure you all know by repute. He's brought with him his right hand man, Mr Weasley,” - the massive wrestler nodded at us unsmiling, - “and his very charming business partner, Ms Granger-Lovegood, who together have been responsible for so much of Mr Potter's success.” 

Ms Granger-Lovegood gave everyone the benefit of her pussy-cat smile. Around the table a few faces brightened. Ms Granger-Lovegood's legs were a much better reason for staying awake in meetings than Miss Pince's. 

“Although Mr Potter has come in at very short notice,” Erastus went on, “as your new,” he paused on the word, “overall director, he has, as you know, many other commitments, so we mustn't expect to monopolise too much of his time. He has, however, been examining the structure of Parkinson-Malfoy for some weeks, and has come up with some very useful suggestions, but nothing for anyone to get alarmed about.” 

“What about Severus Snape?” said Leo's slurred voice. Everyone looked around in horror, as though one of the portraits had shouted at us all. There was an embarrassed pause. 

Leonidas went on carefully putting the badge on the Quidditch robes in his illustration. I didn't dare look at Harry. 

“I was just coming to that,” said Erastus, with a slight edge in his voice. “I know how upset you must all be over Severus' death. As a close personal friend and a colleague for many years, I know how much I'm going to miss him, and how our sympathy goes out to all of his colleagues and friends. I hope as many of you as possible will go to the memorial service on the fifth. In the meantime,” he said, going into top gear with relief, “it is vital to restore public confidence immediately and prevent a further fall on the stock market, so we invited Mr Potter to join the board.” 

To avoid any further interruption from Leonidas, he hastily started introducing Harry around the table. Peter Pettigrew shook hands, but was obviously bristling with antagonism, nor did any of the other department heads look particularly friendly. Poor Harry, he was obviously in for a rough ride. It seemed an eternity before they came to me. I was sure the whole room could hear my heart hammering. 

“You know Draco,” said Erastus. 

Harry's eyes were on me. They were hard and flinty, without trace of the former laughing wickedness. “Yes, I know Draco,” he said grimly. 

The flinty glance moved on to Leo. “And this is Draco's brother, my son-in-law, Leonidas,” said Erastus, as though he was daring Leo to speak out of turn. 

Leo got to his feet. “Heil Hitler,” he said with a polite smile, hiccoughed and sat down. 

“Leonidas!” thundered Erastus. 

“I know that in welcoming Mr. Potter,” said old Tarquin Mulciber, his Adam's apple bobbing furiously, “I speak for everyone in saying how pleased we all are.” 

“Bollocks,” said Leo. 

“Leonidas,” snapped Erastus, “if you can't keep a civil tongue in your head you'd better bugger off.” All the same I had a chilling feeling that he was delighted Leo was playing up, so that Harry could see what provocation he normally had to put up with. “Well, I think it's over to you now, Harry,” he added, sitting down. 

Harry got to his feet, still unsmiling, but completely relaxed. For a second he upended a notebook on the table, swinging it reflectively between finger and thumb, then he looked around like a conductor waiting until he had everyone's attention. 

“I'd like to kick off by examining the structure of the company,” he said. “As Mr Parkinson has already indicated, I've been studying your outfit for a few weeks, and I've come to the conclusion - and I'm going to be brutal - that your whole organisation needs to be restructured from top to bottom, and that some people, particularly those at the top, are going to have to pull their fingers out.” 

He then proceeded to launch a blistering attack on Parkinson-Malfoy's managerial hierarchy, its distribution of assets, and its work in progress, which left everyone reeling. Peter Pettigrew was looking like an enraged beetroot, the rest of the table as though they were posing for a bad photograph. There was no doubt that Harry could talk. He had a lot of smooth charm; his voice had eloquence, magnetism, and soft cadences. You might hate what he said, but you had to listen. 

“I called this meeting in the afternoon,” he went on, “because with your track record, I didn't think you'd all manage to make it in the morning. Half of you seem to feel it's only worth putting in an hour's work before going to lunch. One can never get any of you before 10.30am or after five o’clock, not to mention the three hours you all spend in the middle of the day, roughing it at the Ritz.” 

Peter Pettigrew's lips tightened. “While we rough it at the Ritz, as you so politely call it,” he said coldly, “most of the company business is done.” 

“Not on the evidence of the order books,” said Harry. “You've got to wake up to the fact that the old boy network is dead - all that palsy walsy back-scratching over triple Remy Martins doesn't count for anything anymore, and you've got to stand on your own feet too. You've got too used to relying on government subsidies or massive loans from the parent company, and when they run out you squeal for more.” He looked round the table. “When did any of you last go to the factory?” he asked, suddenly changing tack. 

There was an embarrassed shuffling silence. 

“We're in frequent Owl and Floo communication,” said Marmaduke Jugson in his thick voice. 

“That's not good enough,” said Harry banging his hand down on the table so loudly that everyone jumped. “I know, because I've been up to Glasgow, and Coventry and Bradford in the last few days and morale is frightful. No wonder you're crippled by strikes.” 

“You should know, of course,” said Peter Pettigrew, thoroughly nettled. “I was forgetting you're one of the new establishments without roots or responsibility.” 

“Do you think I've got fifty thousand employees,” Harry snapped, “without any kind of responsibility? Sure, I did my stint on the factory floor, so I happen to know men work, not just for a pay packet, but because they're proud of what they produce, and because the people they work for care about them. You lot think as long as you give the staff a gold watch after seventy years' hard grind, and a booze-up at Christmas, and then forget about them, it's enough. 

“In my companies,” he went on, his tone hard enough to cut, “we tell everyone what's going on. We have a policy of employee participation. We even have someone from the shop floor in on board meetings. A blueprint of the company's future is regularly circulated to all staff. It brings them in, makes them feel they belong. Every worker can ask the management a question and feel sure of getting an answer.” 

He was stunning. There is nothing more seductive than seeing the person one loves excelling in a completely unexpected field. I wanted to throw bouquets and shout “Bravo”. 

Peter Pettigrew's lips, however, were curling scornfully. “Good of you to give us your advice, Mr Potter,” he said. “That kind of Utopian concept may work in the building industry, but I don't get the impression you know much about potion making. We've been running our own show very successfully, you know, for fifty years.” 

“That's the trouble. Parkinson-Malfoy was a first class family firm, but you've been living on your reputation for the last twenty years.” 

“We've got the finest, most advanced research department in the country,” said Peter Pettigrew, stung, but still smiling. 

“That's the trouble again,” said Harry. “Lots of research, and none of it applied. Two months ago I came back from a world trip. The Veritas Group and Flamel’s of France were everywhere, you were nowhere. I'm sorry, but it's the truth.” 

Peter Pettigrew picked up a cigar and started paring off the end. 

Harry turned to Ron Weasley who handed him a couple of sheets of paper. “Ron's been looking into your books,” said Harry. 

“He's no right to,” said Peter Pettigrew, turning purple. 

“He calculates you won't even make a profit next year, certainly not sixteen million galleons as you forecast. That's a lot of bread.” 

“I consider that a gross breach of security,” said Peter Pettigrew, addressing Erastus directly. 

Erastus ignored him and continued looking at Harry, who went on softly, “And if anything, Ron's estimate is still too high. All I’m saying is you need help in running your business, and I intend to make it what it's never been - efficient. You've got to face up to international competition: Americans, Germans, Japanese, Russians. Last year I saw some industrial complexes in Siberia running at a fraction of your costs. If we're going to beat the Russians at their own game, there's no room for companies with a purely domestic market. And your domestic figures aren't very pretty, either,” he added. 

“You all know they've sagged from fifteen point two percent of the home market four years ago to four percent today.” He paused, stretching his fingers out on the table, and examining them for a minute. “Now, what is the solution?” he said, looking around the table. 

Leo drew some Quidditch hoops. “I think we'd all better start practising the goose step,” he said. 

There was an awful silence. All eyes turned once more on Leonidas, but this time more with irritation than embarrassment. A muscle was going in Harry's cheek. 

“When I need a funny man,” he said sharply, “I’ll hire Monty Python. Do you personally have the answer to the problem?” 

Leo leaned back for a minute to admire his artwork. “Well, not right here in my pocket,” he said, and hiccoughed gently. 

“Well shut up then,” snapped Harry. He got out a packet of cigarettes. Several lighters were raised, but he used his own, inhaling deeply, then said briskly, “To get you out of the wood, Erastus and I suggest the following measures. To start with Parkinson International is going to write off their thirty million galleon loan as a loss, and give you a further twenty million galleons over the next four years for a new model programme, and for modernising the factories. Secondly, the existing products need more stringent tests. Practically everything you've produced recently has been blighted by poor reliability. 

“Thirdly I intend to re-jig the production operation. It's got to be sped up. Waiting lists are so long, buyers have been forced to go elsewhere. I'd like to have the new potions rolling off the assembly by January at the latest. And you're not producing enough either, so instead of laying off men at Glasgow and Bradford, we're going to initiate a second shift system. There are enough people up there who need work. Then it's up to you to sell them. That's your baby, Peter.” 

Peter Pettigrew turned puce at the casual use of his first name. 

“We've got to completely rethink the export market too,” Harry went on. “The appetite in the Middle East and in Africa for your sort of stuff should produce thumping big orders.” 

“You talk as though we've been sitting round since the war doing ‘eff all,” said Peter Pettigrew stiffly. “Anyone can put up proposals.” 

“Exactly,” said Harry. “So let's get the ball rolling early tomorrow. Over the next fortnight Ron and I plan to have talks with all of you individually. I won't be here all the time, but Ron's going to put in a four-day week for the moment. Ron,” he added, turning and looking at his manager's battered lugubrious face, “I can assure you, is much tougher than he looks.” 

A tremor of sycophantic laughter went through the room. 

Harry stood for a minute, looking cool, almost indifferent, but his left hand was squeezing the back of a chair so hard I could see the whiteness of his knuckles. “I'm looking forward to working with you,” he said softly, “but I'd like to add that I find it impossible to breathe or conduct business in a taut, patched-up regime; so you're either for me, or against me.” 

And except for Leonidas, who was gazing blankly into space, and Peter Pettigrew, who was still looking livid, everyone seemed to be eating out of his hand. For a minute he glared at them grimly, then suddenly he smiled for the first time, the harsh, heavy features suddenly illuminated. The contrast was extraordinary; you could feel the tension going out of the room, as though you'd loosened your fingers on the neck of a balloon. 

“I'm sorry I've been so blunt, but these things had to be said. You're in a hell of a mess, but frankly, I wouldn't have taken you on if I didn't think you could get yourselves out of it.” When he sat down there was even a murmur of approval. 

Erastus rose to his feet, oozing satisfaction like an over-ripe plum. “Thank you, Harry. I'm sure you can count on one hundred percent support. Now gentlemen, I believe that will be all today.” 

There was a shuffling of feet. Everyone started to file out looking shell-shocked. 

“I’ll leave you then,” said Erastus. “Again, many congratulations. We'll talk later today.” 

I was dying to tell Harry how great he'd been. But Hermione Granger-Lovegood was already doing it, speaking in an undertone, smiling warmly into his eyes, the predatory, self-possessed bitch. 

Oh please at least let him say goodbye to me, I prayed, as I started towards the door. 

Harry turned. “I want a word with you, Leonidas, and you, Draco,” he said shortly. 

“Oh dear,” sighed Leo, “I was afraid you might. Are we going to get a thousand lines with a blood quill, or is birching the only answer?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 

As the last person shut the door behind them, Leo very slowly counted Ms Granger-Lovegood, Harry and me with a shaking finger. Then he looked down at the long polished table. “If we could find a pack of cards,” he said confidingly, “we could have a Bridge four.” 

I sniggered nervously. Harry and Ms Granger-Lovegood didn't. Leo pinched another of my cigarettes and went over to the window. We could hear the clunk of his signet ring as his fingers drummed anxiously on the sill. Harry looked knackered. I realised now what a strain the meeting had been. 

“Did you see the latest match of the Quidditch World cup with Fiji versus Norway?” said Leonidas to Ms Granger-Lovegood. “You don't like Quidditch? Perhaps you had to play it at school like I did? Terrible for breaking one's finger nails.” 

“That's enough,” snapped Harry. “I want to talk about your expenses.” 

Leo and I sat quite still, not looking at each other. The temperature in the room dropped to well below zero. My stomach gave a rumble like not so distant thunder. I'd only drunk cups of coffee since yesterday. 

Harry took a bit of paper from Ms Granger-Lovegood. “We'll start with you, Leonidas. Your UK expenses for the last month alone were well over ten grand,” he said. 

Leo removed his chewing gum reflectively, and Vanished it. “Arabs are dreadfully expensive to amuse,” he said. 

“What Arabs?” asked Harry. “Not a single order has come from the Middle East to justify expenses like this.” 

“Well it's in the pipeline,” said Leo. “These things take time, you know.” 

“I don't,” said Harry brusquely. “In most of these cases, initial meetings were never followed up; some of them never took place at all. Ms Granger-Lovegood has been doing a bit of detective work. You claim to have taken a certain Sheik Mujab to the Clermont three times, and to the Ivy twice over the past two months, but he says he's never heard of you.” 

“He's lying,” blustered Leonidas. ”They all do.” 

“And Jean-Baptiste Delacour of Pierre Fabre's,” Harry ran his eyes down the page, “appears to have had nearly four hundred galleons spent on him during the last four weeks, being wined and dined by you and Draco.” 

“Draco's a great asset with customers,” said Leo. 

“I can well believe that,” said Harry, in a voice of such contempt I felt myself go scarlet with humiliation. “Unfortunately for you, Jean-Baptiste happens to be the father of a friend of mine. It took one telephone call to ascertain he only met you once over lunch at the Neal Street where he paid, and he's never met Draco at all.” 

“He must have forgotten,” argued Leonidas. 

“Don't be fatuous,” said Harry. “I don't hold much brief for your brother, but he's not the sort of boy an old ram like Jean-Baptiste would be likely to forget.” 

I bit my lip. Was it a backhanded compliment or was I just reaching? Hermione Granger-Lovegood was loving every minute of it. 

“And so it goes on,” said Harry. “Merlin knows how much you've cheated the shareholders out of - old ladies who've gambled their last savings, married couples with children who've hardly got two knuts to rub together, and all the time you two have been treating the company like a lucky dip, helping yourself as you choose.” 

Leonidas started to play an imaginary violin. Harry lost his temper. “Can't you be fucking serious about anything? Haven’t you any idea what an invidious position you've put Erastus in? He can't give you the boot because you're his son-in-law, but at the moment you're about as much good to him as a used tea bag.” 

He walked over to the window, squinting at the traffic below, his huge shoulders hunched, his nose silhouetted against the blue sky, black wiry hair curling thickly over his collar. I suddenly felt absolutely hollow with lust. 

We all waited. As he turned round his expression hardened. “I don't suppose I've ever come across a more greedy pair,” he said, speaking with swift curious harshness. “I guess Snape let you get away with it. I gather he was quite a fan of Draco's.” 

“Don't you dare say a word against Severus,” I hissed, “he took care of us when no one else wanted to.” 

Leo slumped in his chair. Suddenly to my horror I saw the tears pouring down his face. I put my arm around his shoulders. “It's all right darling,” I said. 

Once again Harry changed tack and, with one of those staggering volte-faces, said very gently, “You were fond of him. I know. I'm sorry.” 

Leo pushed back his hair and blinked two or three times. “He was my friend, faithful and just to me,” he said slowly. “But Erastus says he was sly. And Erastus is an honourable man, so are they all, all honourable men. Oh Merlin, I should have had breakfast,” he added in a choked voice, groping for a handkerchief. 

“Can't you leave him alone?” I yelled, turning on Harry. “Can't you see he isn't in any state for one of your bawlings out?” 

“I'm sorry,” said Leo. “When people call me Leonidas, I always know they're cross with me.” 

Harry Vanished his lighted cigarette, and turning to Leo, spoke in a business-like tone, “As I see it we have two alternatives. We could send you to prison for what you've been doing, or we can cart you onto the Board, which'll give you more money and enable you to start paying back some of the bread you've borrowed from the firm. It'll also mean we can keep a closer watch on your activities. You're bloody lucky you've got a rich and loyal wife.” 

“The son-in-law also rises,” sighed Leo. “I don't think I can accept your offer.” 

“Don't be an arsehole,” said Harry brutally. “I want you in the office by nine o'clock tomorrow, so we can re-jig the export schedule. In the meantime you'd better take a taxi home and sleep it off.” 

“All the way to Sussex?” said Leo. 

“You've got plenty of mates who'll put you up for the afternoon. Now beat it.” 

Leo walked very unsteadily towards the door, cannoning off the table, the wall and two chairs. At the doorway he paused, looking anxiously at me, clearly about to say something in my defence, but was baulked by Harry saying again, “Go on, get out.” 

There was an agonising pause after he had gone. My stomach gave another earth-shattering rumble. I could feel my early morning cup of coffee sourly churning round inside me. I licked my lips. 

“Now,” said Harry grimly, “what about you?” And he looked me over in a way that made me feel very small and uncomfortable and miserable. 

“Can I go too?” I said, getting to my feet. 

“Sit down.” I sat. 

“Hermione, can I have those other figures?” he said. 

Hermione Granger-Lovegood handed him a pink folder, at the same time setting up a Quick-Quotes Quill to record the conversation. Merlin, she was enjoying this. 

“You should go bear-baiting next time,” I said to her. “You'd find that even more exciting.” 

“At the moment,” said Harry, glancing down at the figures, “you're living in a flat that's paid for by the firm. I also gather that, when you moved in three years ago, the firm coughed up at least forty grand to have it re-decorated. Since then Parkinson-Malfoy has been paying your rent, groceries, house-elf hire and owl post. And recently Snape gave you the Porsche on the firm which is costing a fortune to be repaired at the garage. There's also seven thousand galleons worth of unspecified loans to be accounted for.” 

There was another dreadful pause. All you could hear was the scratch of the Quick-Quotes Quill. 

“It wasn't just my flat,” I objected. “Directors and clients often stayed there.” 

“And you, I suppose, provided the service.” 

“I bloody did not,” I said furiously. “What d'you think I am - a sodding rent boy?” I was shaking with anger. I could feel my whole body drenched with sweat. My suit would be ruined. Hermione Granger-Lovegood gazed out of the window and re-crossed her beautiful legs. 

“Does she have to be here?” I went on. “I suppose it's customary to have a second Auror present if you're going to beat up the prisoner. And can't you stop that bloody Quill?” 

I imagined them reading the transcript back to each other at Harry’s place, drinking champagne and laughing themselves sick. Harry leaned forward and stopped it. Then he said, “Hermione sweetheart, please go and get us some coffee, and see that Leonidas is safely put into a taxi.” 

She smiled and left us, quietly closing the door behind her. I noticed with loathing that there wasn't a single crease in her black suit. 

For a minute Harry's fingers drummed on the table. I didn't know whether I wanted to throw myself at his feet or throw myself out of the window. Then he said, “For the last three years you've been conducting your high class existence entirely on the firm. Even if we write off your joint junketing with Leonidas, you owe nearly thirty thousand galleons. I want you out of that flat by the end of the month and I want the keys to your company car tomorrow. Here are your last quarter's bills: groceries, house-elf hire and owl post totalling two thousand galleons - all discovered unpaid in Snape's desk. I want those settled up. They're all final reminders. And the loan to the firm must be paid off as soon as possible.” 

I felt icy cold. I wasn't going to cry, I wasn't. I dug my nails into the palms of my hands.

Harry walked down the table until he was standing over me. Against my will, I looked up. His eyes were flinty hard, and green as deep and dangerous water. In them I could read only hatred and utter contempt, as though he was at last avenging himself for all the wilful havoc I'd created in the past, for breaking up Cho and Cedric, for jeopardising Lavender and Michael. How could I have feelings for someone who despised me? 

“You're nothing but a bloody parasite,” he said softly. “I’m going to make you sweat, beauty. No more helping yourself to everyone's money and their men too. The party's over now. You're going to get a job and do an honest day's work like everyone else.” 

I couldn't look away. I sat there, hypnotised like a ferret by a Hippogriff. 

“As your creditor,” he went on, “I'd quite like to know when you're going to pay up.” 

“I’ll get it next week,” I whispered. 

“How?” 

“I’ll sell shares.” 

He looked at me pityingly. “Can't you get it into your thick head that unless I can put a bomb under them Parkinson-Malfoy aren't worth a bean anymore? We've also had enquiries from the Ministry of Magic’s Income Tax Department; you owe them a bit of bread too.” 

The Debtor's Prison loomed. I gripped the edge of the table with my fingers. Then I lost my temper. 

“You bloody upstart,” I howled. “You smug, fat, bossy prude, walking in here and playing Merlin. Well Merlin's got a great deal more style than you. You're nothing but a bully and a thug. They'll all resign here if you go on humiliating them. See if they don't, and then you'll look bloody silly after all your protestations about waving your wand, and turning us into a miracle of the century. Merlin, I loathe you, loathe you.” My voice was rising to a scream now. “Marching in here, humiliating Leo and Peter Pettigrew, with that fat slob Erastus lapping it all up.” 

I paused, my breath coming in great gulps. Harry looked at me for a second, then started to laugh. “You should go on the stage, Draco; you're utterly wasted on real life,” he said. “Why not pop down to Billingsgate? I'm sure they'd sign you up as a fishwife.” 

“Don't fuck with me,” I yelled, and groping behind me, gathered up a cut glass ashtray and was just about to smash it in his face when he grabbed my wrist. 

“Don't be silly,” he snapped. “You can't afford to be done for assault as well. Go on, drop it. Drop it.” 

I loosened my fingers; the ashtray fell with a thud on the carpet. I slumped into a chair, trembling violently. Harry gave me a cigarette and lit it for me. 

“I'll pay it all back,” I muttered, through gritted teeth. “If I do some modelling I can make that kind of bread in six months.” 

“Things have changed, beauty. You can't just swan back to work and pull in fifty grand a year. There isn't the work about. You're twenty-six now, not seventeen, and it shows. Anyway, you haven't the discipline to cope with full-time modelling, and it won't do you any good gazing into the camera hour after hour; you'd just get more narcissistic than ever. For fuck's sake get a job where you can use your brain.” 

No one had ever even suggested I had a brain before. My mind was running around like a spider in a filling-up bath, trying to think of a crushing enough reply. I was saved by the belle - the luscious Ms Granger-Lovegood walking in with three cups of coffee. She put one down beside me. 

“I don't want any,” I said icily. 

“Oh grow up,” said Harry. “If you give Hermione a ring she'll help you to get a job and find you somewhere to live.” 

I got to my feet. “She's the last person I'd accept help from,” I said arrogantly, preparing to sweep out. But it is very difficult to make a dignified exit with one’s dignity intact particularly if one trips over Ms Granger-Lovegood's strategically placed briefcase on the way. I gave a yelp and fled from the room.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

From that moment I was in a dumb blind fury. The only thing that mattered was to pay Parkinson-Malfoy back, and prove to Harry and that bushy haired cow, Ms Granger-Lovegood, that I was quite capable of getting a job and fending for myself. 

I went out next day and sold all my jewellery and accessories. Most of it, apart from my grandfather's diamond cufflinks and an antique watch belonging to my great grandfather, had been given to me by boyfriends. They had been very generous. I got forty five thousand galleons for the lot - times were terrible, said the jeweller but at least that would quieten the income tax people for a bit, and pay off the bills from my flat. 

A woman from a chic second-hand clothes shop came and bought most of my wardrobe for three thousand galleons: it must have cost ten times that originally. As she rummaged through my wardrobe I felt she was flaying me alive and rubbing in salt as well. I only kept a handful of outfits I was fond of. There were also a few bits of furniture of my own, the picture by Cotman Leo had given me for my 21st and the painting of the Garden of Eden over the bed. Everything else belonged to the firm. 

I even had to sell my wand. Ten inches precisely, made of hawthorn with a unicorn hair; it had belonged to an ancestor, Octavian Malfoy, who was a famous duellist. However since I was rubbish at most spells and it hadn't worked well for me anyway, it had to go. The auctioneer assured me it would make at least a thousand galleons. I got a cheap wand from Ollivanders instead and not surprisingly it worked even less well than my old one. I was pretty much a Squib. I didn't even dare to Apparate with it for fear of Splinching myself. I bought an Oyster card to get myself round London like a Muggle. 

In the evening Leo rang, “Sweetheart, are you all right? I meant to ring you yesterday but I passed out cold. And there hasn't been a minute today. How was your session with Harry?” 

“You could hardly say it was riotous,” I said. “No one put on paper hats. How did you get on this morning?” 

“Well that wasn't exactly riotous either. He certainly knows how to kick a chap when he's down. I thought about resigning - then I thought why not stick around and see if he can put us on the map again. He is quite impressive, isn't he?” 

“Oppressive, certainly.” 

“Well don’t tell anyone.” said Leonidas. “But I must confess I do rather like him; he's so unashamedly butch.” 

“Et tu Brute,” I said. “Look, how soon can I put my two decent paintings up for auction at Sotheby's?” 

“About a couple of months; but you can't sell pictures - it's blasphemy.” It took a long time to persuade him I had to. 

-o-o-o- 

I spent the next week in consultation with my Gringotts bank manager, accountants, and Ministry tax people, until I came to the final realisation that there was nothing left. I had even buried my pride and written to my mother, but got a gin-splashed letter by return saying she had money troubles of her own and couldn't help. 

“You can't get your thieving hands on the family money either,” she had ended with satisfaction. “It's all in trust for Leonidas' children, and yours, if you have any.” The only answer seemed to be to knock a woman up; I shuddered in revulsion at the idea, knowing I’d never manage to get it up for one anyway. 

When everything was added up I still owed the tax people ten grand, and Parkinson-Malfoy's sixteen thousand galleons. Both said, with great condescension, that they would give me time to pay. 

The heatwave moved into its sixth week. Every news bulletin on the wireless urged people to save water, and warned of the possibilities of a drought. Cattle were being boxed across the country to less parched areas. In the suffocating, airless heat, I tramped the London streets looking for work and a place to live. I never believed how tough it would be. 

Just because one doting ex-lover, who'd put up with all my tantrums and unpunctuality, had directed me through the Ralph Lauren commercial, I was convinced I could swan into acting and modelling jobs. But I found that Equity had damped down in the past two years, so I couldn't get film or television commercial work, even if ten million starving out-of-work actors hadn't been after each job anyway. 

Modelling was even more disastrous. I went to several auditions and was turned down. I seemed to have lost my sparkle. Harry's words about not being seventeen anymore, and it showing, kept ringing in my ears. The first photographer who booked me for a job refused to use me because I arrived an hour late. The second kept me sweltering for four hours modelling fur coats, expecting me to behave like a perfectly schooled clothes horse, then threw me out when I started arguing. The third sacked me because I took too long to change my outfit. 

I moved to another agency, and botched up two more jobs. After that one of the gossip columns printed a bitchy piece about my inability to settle down to anything, and as a result no one was prepared to give me work. Harry was right anyway - it was no cure for a broken heart, gazing into the lens of a camera all day. 

I tried a secretarial agency. I asked them what they could offer me. What could I offer them, they answered. Gradually I realised that I was equipped for absolutely nothing. I took a job as a filing clerk in the city. Another catastrophe - within two days I'd completely fouled up the firm's filing system. Next the agency sent me to a job as a Welcome Wizard. 

“All you have to do, Mr Malfoy, is to look pleasant and direct people to the right floor.” 

I thought I was doing all right, but after three days the Personnel witch sent for me. 

“Welcome Wizards are supposed to be friendly, helpful people. After all, they are the first impression a visitor gets of the company. I'm afraid you're too arrogant, Mr Malfoy; you can't look down your nose at people in this day and age. Everyone agrees you've got an unfortunate manner.” Unfortunate manor - it sounded like a stately home with dry rot. It was a few seconds before I realised she was giving me the boot. 

The third job I went to was a Muggle one, I smiled and smiled until my jaw ached. I lasted till Thursday; then someone told me I had to man the switchboard. No switchboard was ever unmanned faster. After I'd cut off the managing director and his mistress twice, and the sales manager's deal-clinching call to Nigeria for the fourth time, a senior secretary with blue hair and a bright red face came down and screamed at me. My nerves in shreds, I screamed back. When I got my first pay packet on Friday morning, it also contained my notice. 

Which, all in all, was great for character building but not too hot for morale. One of the bitterest lessons I also learnt was that beauty is largely a matter of time and money. In the old days when I could sleep in until lunchtime, and spend all afternoon sunbathing or slapping on face cream, having a manicure and getting ready to go on the town, it was easy to look good. But now, having to get up at eight o'clock to get to an office by nine-thirty, unable to Apparate, punched and pummelled to death by commuters on the tube, scurrying around all day with not a moment to do one's hair, not getting home till seven absolutely knackered, it was a very different proposition. I couldn’t afford Sleekeazy and I hated the curls in my hair, which seemed to taunt me. I lost another seven pounds and all my self-confidence; for the first time in my life I walked down the street and no one turned their heads to look at me. In a way it was rather a relief. 

After the secretarial agency gave me up, I rang up a few old friends who owned boutiques. Their reactions were all the same. They were either laying off staff, or told me kindly that their sort of work would bore me to death, which really meant they thought I was totally unreliable. 

In the evenings I went and looked for flats, which was even more depressing. Living on my own, I couldn't afford anywhere remotely reasonable, and in my present mood I couldn't bear to share with girls. All that cooking scrambled eggs, knickers dripping over the bath, and shrieking with laughter over last night's exploits. It wasn't just that I couldn't face new people, I was feeling so low I couldn't believe they'd put up with me. I didn't think a men’s flat share would want a flaming pouf like me, so I didn't even consider that. 

I was also fast running out of Calming Draughts - only six left, not even enough for an overdose. Leo had told me he no longer had free access to the potion stores so he couldn't help me. I couldn't go to my Healer; I owed him too much money. At night I didn't sleep, tossing and turning, eating my heart out for Harry, worrying about leaving my darling flat, my only refuge. At the back of my mind, flickering like a snake's tongue, was the thought of Thorfinn Rowle. If I took up his 'modelling' offer, it would get me off the hook, but I knew once Thorfinn had something on me, or in this case, everything off me, I'd never escape. I'd be sucked down to damnation like a quicksand. Even Leo had deserted me; he hadn't called me for days. Harry must be working the pants off him. 

I was due to move out on Saturday. The Thursday before, I sat, surrounded by suitcases, poring over the Daily Prophet personal ads, trying not to cry, and wondering whether 'Bedsitter in Muswell Hill with lively family, 45 galleons a week, some baby sitting in return’ was worth investigation, when the Floo chimed. I pounced on it like a kneazle. I still couldn't cure myself of the blind hope it might be Harry. But it was only Ginny asking if she could come and stay the night. It was the last thing I wanted, but I had a masochistic desire to find out what Harry was up to. 

“You'll have to camp,” I said, “I'm moving out the day after tomorrow.” 

“Well, if it's not too much bother, I'd really love to see you again.” 

She arrived about six o'clock in a flurry of parcels and suitcases. “I've gone mad buying sexy clothes,” were her first words. “Harry's taking me out tonight.” 

I couldn't stand it, sitting in the flat and seeing her get all scented and beautiful for him. I showed her to her room and then went into my bedroom and Flooed my ex-boyfriend, Blaise, and asked him to take me out. 

He was enchanted. “Merlin, it's great to hear you baby. Mountain's come to Mahomet at last. I won a monkey at poker last night so we can go anywhere you want. I'll pick you up about nine.” 

“Can't you get here any earlier?” 

“I'll try, sweetheart.” 

I wandered along to Ginny's bedroom. She was trying on a new orange dress she'd just bought. “Do you think Harry will like me in this?” she said, craning her neck to see her back in the mirror. 

“Yes,” I said truthfully. “You look ravishing. I'm going out too by the way, at about nine.” 

“Oh, Harry's coming at a quarter to, so you should see him.” 

While she was in the bath, the Floo chimed. Trembling, I knelt in front of it. Somehow I knew it was going to be Harry. 

“Ginny's in the bath,” I said quickly. “Can I give her a message?” 

“Yeah, tell her I'll be a bit late, around nine-thirty.” Harry seemed fine. It was hard to believe it was the same man from the horrendous meeting at Parkinson-Malfoy. 

“All right,” I said. 

“How are you?” he asked brusquely. 

“I'm fine,” I stammered. “And you?” 

“Tired, I've been working too hard. I'm off to the Middle East with your brother next week, which should be enlightening if nothing else. Have you found somewhere to live?” 

“Yes thanks,” I said. “I'm moving out tomorrow.” 

“What about a job?” 

“That's fine too. I must go,” I went on, fighting back the tears. “I've got so much to do. Goodbye.” And I ended the connection. I can't stand it, I can't stand it, I thought in agony. 

Ginny walked in, wrapped in a towel, pink from her bath. “Oh I feel so much better. I used your Bathing potion. I hope you don't mind.” 

“That was Harry,” I said. “He's going to be late - about nine-thirty.” 

“Oh goody, that'll give me more time to tart myself up.” Suddenly she looked at me. “Draco, you look awfully pale. Are you all right?” Tears, embarrassingly hot and prickly, rose to my ears. I began to laugh, gasped hysterically, and then burst into tears. “Draco! Oh poor love, what is it?” 

“N-nothing. Everything,” I couldn't stop now. 

“What's wrong? Please tell me.” 

“Oh, the usual thing.” 

“You're mad for someone?” 

“Yes.” 

“Well you're so stunning, he must be mad for you.” 

“He isn't. He hardly knows I exist.” 

“He couldn't know you properly then. Here, take my handkerchief.” 

“I'd better go and get ready,” I said. “I've got to go out in a minute.” 

I put on a black trouser suit with a high mandarin collar and huge floppy trousers. It hung off me. I slicked my hair back. Were those dry lips and red swollen eyes really mine? Blaise wouldn't recognise me. 

Ginny answered the door when he arrived. She came rushing into my bedroom. “He's absolutely gorgeous. The campest thing I've ever seen,” she said excitedly. “I'm not surprised you're wild about him.” 

It was too much effort to explain to her he wasn't the one. “Can you give him a drink?” I said. “I’ll be out in a minute.” 

I hung around, fiddling with face and outfit, trying to summon up enough courage to face him. I'd lost all my confidence. Finally I realised if I didn't get a move on I'd go slap into Harry. 

Blaise looked exquisite, and to me, absurd. He had already helped himself to a second firewhisky and was settling down on the sofa to chat up Ginny. He got to his feet when I came in and pecked me on the cheek. “Hello baby. Playing it in the minor key for a change,” he said, taking in the black suit, the dark glasses, and the slicked back hair. “I like it, it's great.” 

“Shall we go?” I said, going towards the door. 

“Already?” said Blaise. “I haven't finished my drink.” 

“I want to go now,” I snapped. 

“The gentleman seems to be in a hurry, so I'll bid you goodnight,” said Blaise, theatrically, bowing from the waist to Ginny. “I hope you’ll come into the shop one day now you're in London.” 

“You've got a key, haven't you?” I said to her. “Have a good evening. I'll see you in the morning.” 

“Hey, what's bitten you?” said Blaise as we went down in the lift. 

It was a hideous evening. In three short weeks I seemed to have grown a world apart from Blaise and his flash trendy friends, waiting round in Morgana’s all night for something to happen, only interested in being the first ones to latch on to the latest fad. Suddenly their values seemed completely dislocated. 

We went to another club and I couldn't stand it, then we moved on to a third, then on to somewhere else and somewhere else. Finally Blaise took me back to his flat and we listened to the wireless. 

I have to hand it to Blaise; he seemed to realise instinctively that I was more highly strung than usual and didn't attempt to pounce on me in his usual fashion. Perhaps it had something to do with his having a new girlfriend who was off modelling in Stockholm for a couple of days. I looked at the clock. It was three AM. 

“What's the matter baby?” he asked. “Have you fallen for some bloke at last? I've never seen you so piano, you're not even bitching how bored you are by everything this evening. You look different too.” He took off my dark glasses. “Salazar; you do look different. I must say I rather go for the Ave Maria look.” 

It would have helped if I could have cried on his shoulder, but I'd gone beyond that stage now, I was just numb with misery. “Take me home, please Blaise,” I said. 

Next day, life picked up about half an inch. For an hour I endured the torture of listening to Ginny babbling on at breakfast about the marvellous time she'd had with Harry. “After dinner, we went up to the top of the London Eye, and looked out over the whole of London, it was so romantic,” she said, helping herself to a third piece of toast and marmalade. Her mascara was still smudged under her eyes. I hoped it wasn't sex that had given her such an appetite. 

Then she started to ask me awkward questions about the new job I'd lied to Harry that I'd got. “It's in Knightsbridge,” I said. 

“Well you must give me the Floo address because you'll be moving out of here.” 

“I'll be travelling a lot,” I said hastily. “And they're always a bit dodgy about personal calls to start off with. I'll owl and tell you.” 

“It sounds marvellous,” said Ginny, selecting a banana. “But if by chance it doesn't work out, Harry says there's a marvellous new agency started up in Albemarle Street called Square Peg. They specialise in placing people who want to branch out in completely new fields.” 

“I’ll take the address just in case,” I said. 

As soon as she'd gone, pleading with me to come and spend the weekend soon, I had a bath, dressed with great care, took my Calming Draught, and set out for Square Peg. They turned out to be very friendly and business-like, and dispatched me straightaway to a public relations firm in the City. 

The firm's offices were scruffy, untidy, and terribly hot. The secretary who welcomed me looked tired out, and her hair needed washing, but she gave me the sort of smile that all those personnel bitches I'd worked for were always banging on about. “It's been a hell of a week,” she said. “The Cooling charms are rubbish and the heat's been terrible. It's crazy hard work here, but it's fun.” 

The boss was a small man with prematurely white hair called Phil Flitwick, who seemed to burn with energy. His blue-green eyes shone with intelligence behind round spectacles. He had to lift a lot of files, a box of pork chops, and a huge cut-out cardboard of a pig off a chair before I could sit down. 

“We've been going for nine months now, and we're taking on new business all the time because we provide the goods on a shoestring. Do you know anything about public relations?” 

“No,” I said. 

“Just as well. You haven't had time to pick up any bad habits.” He ripped open a couple of beer cans and gave me one. 

“We're a small outfit, only ten people in the firm, and we can't afford passengers. We need a boy Friday - you can see this place is in shit order - to keep it tidy, make decent coffee, and chat up the clients when they come. Then you'd have to do things like putting press releases into envelopes, owling them out, organising press parties, and probably writing the odd release. It's very menial work.” 

“I don't care,” I said, trying to keep the quiver of desperation out of my voice. “I’ll do anything.” 

“If you're good we'll promote you very fast.” Suddenly he grinned, reminding me of Harry. “All right, you're on. Go along to the accounts department in a minute and get your paperwork sorted out. We'll start you on a three months trial on Monday.” 

I couldn't believe my luck; I hardly concentrated as we discussed hours and salaries, and he told me a bit more about the firm. He was very forceful. It was only when I stood up to go that I realised I was about a foot taller than he was. 

“The agency was right,” he said. “They insisted you were a very classy looking chap.” 

I didn't remember the agency saying any such thing when they Flooed through. They must have called again after I'd left. 

I then took a long, stiflingly hot number 22 bus ride out to Putney where the Daily Prophet had advertised a room to let. Everywhere I could see the ravages of the drought, great patches of black burnt grass, flowers gasping with thirst in dried-up gardens. As I got off the bus, a fire engine charged past, clanging noisily. Although it was only the end of July, a bonfire smell of autumn filled my nostrils. 

The house was large and Victorian on the edge of the common, the front rooms darkened by a huge chestnut tree. A stocky witch answered the door. She had a tough face like dried out roast beef, and muddy, mottled knees. She was wearing a flowered sleeveless robes that rucked over her large hips. Rose petals in her iron grey hair gave her an incongruously festive look. At present she was more interested in stopping several dogs escaping than letting me in. 

“I've come about the room,” I said. 

“Oh,” she said, looking slightly more amiable. “I'm Mrs Hopkirk. Come in, sorry to look such a mess, I've been gardening. Come here Snuffles,” she bellowed to a small black mongrel who was trying to lick my hand. 

“Mind the loose carpet,” she said as we climbed the stairs. In front of me her sturdy red legs went into her shoes without the intervention of ankles. Her voice was incredibly put on. In my other life I would have laughed at her airs and graces. 

The room was at the top of the house; the sofa clashed with the wallpaper, the brass bed creaked when I sat on it, rush matting hardly covered the black scratched floorboards. On the wall were framed photographs cut out from magazines and stuck on cardboard. The curtains hung a foot above the floor like midi skirts. It would be a cold and cheerless room in winter. 

I looked outside. In spite of the drought Mrs Hopkirk had been taking great care of her garden. The mingled scent of stocks, clove carnations and a honeysuckle, which hung in great honey-coloured ramparts round the window, drifted towards me. A white cat emerged from a forest of dark blue delphiniums and, avoiding the sprinkler that was shooting its rainbow jets over the green lawn, walked towards the house at a leisurely pace. It was incredibly quiet. 

“It's beautiful here,” I said. “You're lucky to be so countrified living so near London.” I bent to stroke the little black mongrel who'd followed us upstairs. He wagged his tail and put both his paws up on my waist. 

“Get down, Snuffles,” said Mrs Hopkirk, aiming a kick at him. “He was my late husband's dog, I've never really taken to him. My husband passed on last year, or I wouldn't be taking people in.”

“Of course not,” I murmured. 

“I prefer a pedigree dog myself,” she said, wiping her nose with her hand, and leaving a moustache of earth on her upper lip. “Well, if you like the room, it's fifty galleons a week all in, but you've got to pay for your own Floo powder. The Floo’s downstairs. You can use the kitchen when I'm not using it, as long as you clear up afterwards, but no food in the bedroom. I don't mind you having friends in if they behave themselves, but no wireless, or visitors after nine o'clock. And I'd like the first month's rent when you arrive. I like to get these things straight.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

Looking back, I shall never know how I got through the next few weeks. I hadn't realised that without being able to Apparate, the journey from Putney Common to the city would take two hours in the rush-hour, or in this heat, the bus would be like a Turkish bath. My second day working for Phil Flitwick I didn't get in till quarter to ten, and received such a bawling out I thought I'd blown the whole thing. 

But gradually as the days passed I began to pick up the job. I learnt to work the switchboard and skim the papers for anything important and stick press cuttings into a scrapbook. The work was so menial that sometimes I did scream. But Phil was a hard taskmaster, and came down on any displays of sulks or ill-temper like a ton of concrete slabs. In the same way, he picked me up for any stupid mistakes. 

Gradually too, I got to know the girls in the office, and learnt to grumble with them about the lateness of the Owl post, and the failure of the Cooling charms, and have long discussions about Primark and eye makeup. The days were made bearable by little unimportant victories -  one of the typists asking me to go to the cinema; Miss Filch, the office crone, inviting me to supper at her flat in Peckham; a client ringing up asking if I could be spared to show some VIP Germans round London. 

I soon discovered, however, that I'd never be able to pay Parkinson-Malfoy back on my present salary, so I took another job as a Muggle waiter in Putney High Street. Here, for six nights a week, and at lunchtime on Sundays, I worked my guts out, earning £150 Muggle minimum wage a week (about thirty galleons!) by looking pleasant when drunken customers pinched my bottom, or bollocked me because the chef had had a row with his girlfriend and forgotten to put any salt in the Chicken Marengo. At the end of each week I sent my whole salary by Owl to Ms Granger-Lovegood, and received a polite acknowledgement. Harry was still in the Middle East with Leonidas so at least I didn't worry all day about bumping into him. At this rate it would take me more sixteen years to pay everyone back. I would be over forty. Merlin alone knew what would be left of me after even a year of this hard slog.   

Every night I fell into bed long after midnight, too knackered to allow myself more than a second to dream about Harry. But his face still haunted my dreams and every morning I would wake up crying, with the sun beating through the thin curtains, and the little black mongrel Snuffles, curled up on my bed, looking at me with sorrowful dark eyes, trying to lick away my tears. He was a great comfort. I couldn't understand why Mrs Hopkirk preferred her fat Pekineses. I realised now how much my mother had deprived me of, never letting me have animals. 

August gave way to September; the drought grew worse; it hadn't rained for three months; the common was like a cinder; the leaves on the chestnut tree shrivelled and turned brown. People were ordered not to use their hose-pipes. Mrs Hopkirk had cast so many Aguamenti spells with her wand, she now only got drops out. Grumbling she panted back and forth with buckets of water. 

On the Tuesday of my eighth week, Phil Flitwick sent for me. I went in quaking. “You can't send this out,” he said. He handed me a photograph of a girl with very elaborate frizzled curls, one of the dreadful styles created by our hairdressing client, Roger of Kensington. Turning it over, I saw I'd captioned it: 'Sweet and sour pigs trotters' - one of the Pig Industry's equally dreadful recipes. 

“Oh Merlin, I'm sorry,” I said. 

Phil started to laugh. “I thought it was quite funny. Have a beer, get one out of the fridge.” I helped myself and sat down. Phil leaned back. “Our advertising associates want to borrow your legs on Friday week.” 

“They what?” I was stunned. 

“They're pitching for gentlemen’s footwear account. All the guys reckon you've got the best pair of legs in either office. They want you to model the shoes for them during the presentation.” I felt myself blushing scarlet. I never realised any of the men in the office had even noticed me; they'd certainly kept their distance. 

“They want to take some photographs this afternoon,” said Phil, “and get them blown up by next week.” I said that was okay by me. “If they land the account, we'll probably get the PR side. And if the client likes the idea, they may use you in ads, which could make you quite a lot of bread.” 

“Thank you so much,” I stammered. I felt I had conquered Everest. 

“Are you feeling all right?” he said, as I went out. “You're looking knackered.” 

“I'm fine,” I said quickly. 

“Well bring me the Roger of Kensington file then.” 

He was right of course. Gradually I was coming apart at the seams. In the last week or so I had noticed a growing inability in myself to make decisions, even small ones. The problem of where to find the file suddenly began to swell like it had been Engorgio-ed. The familiar panic began to surge inside me. I'm going crazy, I whimpered. I put my hands on my forehead and waited. Keep calm, it'll go in a minute, don't panic. 

I felt as if I were trying to get out of a dark slimy cavern, and my nails kept grating down the inside. My mind raced from one fear to the other, in search of a grip to secure myself from the blind horror that swirled around me. I leant against the wall, trying to take deep breaths, praying no one would come out into the passage. 

Gradually the panic ebbed away. I went into the general office. It was empty. With shaking hands I wrote a quick letter to the Mind Healer who'd been recommended to me in the old days. I got a reply by return Owl with an appointment for Thursday lunchtime. 

The first visit wasn't a conspicuous success. The Mind Healer was middle-aged, handsome, well-dressed, with teeth as white as his shirt-cuffs, a soothing deliberate manner, and a photograph of a beautiful wife and child on the desk. I was too uptight to tell him very much, but he gave me enough Calming potions to last a week, on condition that I returned again next Thursday lunchtime. 

“It's very kind, but I can't afford it,” I muttered. 

I felt a desperate gratitude when he waved my protestations airily away and said, “Don't give it a thought, Mr Malfoy. In exceptional circumstances I take patients in reduced circumstances, and your case interests me very much.” 

The Calming potions got me through another week. My legs were photographed in every conceivable type of footwear, and the advertising department professed themselves delighted with the result. 

The following Thursday morning, just as I was setting out for the Mind Healer, Leo rang, just back from the Middle East, and absolutely raving over his trip. He and Harry had pulled off some fantastic deals he said, and Harry was a star. 

“I simply adore him,” he went on. “I’m thinking of divorcing Pansy and asking him to wait for me, and darling, he can sell absolutely anything, even a pregnant rabbit to an Australian sheep farmer, if he felt so inclined. We had a terrible time to begin with. I didn't realise the Middle East was dry. For twenty-four hours we didn't have a drink, then the pink elephants started trooping into my bedroom, and Harry had a quiet word with the resident Sheik. From then on we had gin pouring out of our ears.” 

“Was it terribly hot?” I said. 

“Terribly, and if I see another belly dancer, I'll go bananas.” 

“Did Harry pull anyone out there?” I said, suddenly feeling my voice coming out like I’d taken Veritaserum. 

“No, actually he didn't. I think he's got someone in England he's hooked on.” 

“Any idea who?” 

“Well, this ravishing girl met him at the airport, bubbling over with excitement, flinging her arms round him.” 

“Ms Granger-Lovegood?” I said in a frozen whisper. 

“No, much younger. Gilly, I think she was called.” 

“Ginny Weasley?” 

“Yes, that's it. Harry was supposed to be giving me a lift into the office in London, but I left them to it.” 

Almost sleep-walking, I got myself to the Mind Healer. On the way I passed a church; the gutter outside was choked with confetti. Harry and Ginny, Harry and Ginny, a voice intoned inside me - they were the perfect couple. 

The Mind Healer had darkened his waiting room. After the scorching sunlight it was beautifully cool. His receptionist got me a glass of iced water, and then I heard him telling her to go to lunch. I lay down on the grey velvet sofa. This time I found myself able to talk. I didn't tell him about Harry, but raved on about my childhood. 

“I wasn't allowed to be loving as a child,” I moaned. “My mother didn't love me. She never kissed me goodnight or tucked me in. Neither of my parents loved me, they fought like kneazles to have custody of my brother, Leonidas, but they fought equally hard not to have me...” 

“Go on,” said the Mind Healer noncommittally. I could feel his pale blue eyes watching me, smell the lavender tang of his aftershave. 

“I know what happens to people who aren't loved enough,” I lamented. “They just close up, and love or hate themselves too much. They're incapable of getting it together with anyone else...” 

After three-quarters of an hour of my ramblings, he glanced at the clock. 

I got up to go. “I'm sorry, I must have bored you to death. You can't possibly see me for free.” 

“I thought we'd dispensed with all that,” he said gently. “You'll come again next week?” 

“Oh please, if you can spare the time.” 

He got some vials out of the cupboard, and put them in a bag. “Here's another week's supply of Calming Draught.” He turned towards me, the bag suddenly trembling in his hand. He was trying to smile; his blue eyes glazed, his face pale, he was sweating and there was a tic in his cheek. Then he walked round the table, stood in front of me and put a moist hand on my arm. 

“I was wondering,” he said, that tic was going again, “if I might see you - outside consulting hours. I am sure I could show you there was no need to be so lonely.” Behind him, smiling sunnily and waving, was the photograph of his wife and children. I had trusted him implicitly. 

“I d-don't think it'd be very wise,” I said, backing away from him, “I've never found married men very satisfactory.” 

I wrenched open the door behind me, amazed to find it unlocked. I saw fear start in his eyes, the generations of Healers and their Hippocratic Oath passing judgment. Then he squared his shoulders. 

“Of course,” he pressed the bell on the desk, summoning up the receptionist to show me out. 

I ran down the street ‘potionless’ and sobbed helplessly in the nearest garden square. 

By some miracle I got back to the office just before Miss Filch. She arrived grumbling that she couldn't find a 20 size skirt to fit her anymore in Marks & Spencer, and would have to do the magical alterations herself. She brandished one of their large cakes to distract everyone's attention from her lateness. 

“I suppose I ought to have worn my girdle,” she said, plunging a knife into the hard white icing, “but it's too hot in this weather. It must be well up in the thirties. Come on, Draco, you need feeding up.” 

She handed me an enormous piece. In order to save money, I'd trained myself to go without lunch and breakfast. I usually had something to eat free in the evening at the restaurant while I worked as a waiter. Every mouthful of the cake seemed like sand in my throat. All the typists looked sympathetically at my reddened eyes, but said nothing. 

My task for the afternoon was to Floo the newspapers and chase them to come to a press preview the next morning. I found it distasteful and embarrassing. 

In the middle Leonidas suddenly Floo-ed me. He sounded drunk. “I know you don't like personal Floos, darling, but this is a very special one. You're going to be an uncle.” 

“A what?” 

“An uncle! Pansy's pregnant.” 

I gave a scream of delight that must have echoed through the whole building. “Oh Leo, are you sure?” 

“Quite, quite sure, she's even being sick, poor darling.” 

“How long's she known?” 

“Well, just after I went to the Middle East, but she wanted to be quite sure before she told anyone.” I'd never known him so chipper. “Good old Pansy, isn't it marvellous,” he went on, “Erastus rang me up just now and was so nice, he even congratulated me about work, said the Middle East trip had been a great coup. Look, darling, I mustn't keep you, I know you're busy, but come over and celebrate at the weekend.” 

The Floo call ended and I felt utterly depressed. I knew I ought to be delighted, but all I could think was Leonidas was getting so far ahead of me in life, with a job that was going well, and a baby on the way. I felt sick with jealousy. I suddenly wanted a kid of my own. Listlessly I finished making my Floo calls, and started stapling press releases together for the preview tomorrow. The afternoon sun was blazing through the window. I could feel the sweat running down my back. Miss Filch and the typists had already started grumbling about the prospects of the journey home. 

The Floo went again. Miss Filch answered it. “For you,” she oozed disapproval. “Make it snappy.” 

It was Ginny. I could recognise the breathless, bubbling schoolgirl voice anywhere. This time she was gabbling with excitement and embarrassment. “Draco, I must see you.” 

I felt my hands damp as they sunk into the pile of the carpet. “Where are you?” I said. 

“At home.” Memories came flooding back, the ramshackle house deep in the cherry orchards, Harry beating the hell out of me, then putting me to bed, Michael trying to rape me. I tried to breathe slowly and evenly. 

“But I'm coming to London tomorrow,” she went on. “Could we have lunch, I've got something I must tell you.” 

“Nice or nasty?” I asked. 

“Well, heaven for me, but I'm not sure...” her voice trailed off. 

“Tell it to me now.” 

“I can't, I'm in such a muddle,” she said. “Please, let's meet for lunch. I'll come and pick you up.” 

“I've got a very heavy day.” 

“You can slip out just for a drink. I'll pick you up at one o'clock. And please Draco, don't, don't be furious with me.” 

The Floo went dead. I stood for a second, then just made the loo in time, and threw up all the M&S cake. For a second I crouched, wracked by retching and sobbing. So it was true about Harry and Ginny, it must be what she was trying to tell me. 

With agonising slowness, I pulled myself together. You must finish those press releases, I said over and over again, as though it was really me that needed stapling together. I splashed water over my face and rinsed out my mouth. Merlin, I looked terrible. My suntan had turned yellow without the Tanning potions to keep me brown. My eyes were red and puffy. My hair, filthy and curly because I couldn't afford the Sleekeazy, had the texture of straw at the ends. One of the secretaries poked her head round the door. 

“Filch's on the warpath,” she said. “Some VIP's just arrived. Can you make him a cup of coffee and take it into Phil's office?” 

I couldn't find my dark glasses. The wretched VIP would have to put up with reddened eyes. I knocked on Phil's door and walked into his office. The next moment the cup of coffee had crashed to the ground, for sitting behind the desk was Harry. He leapt to his feet. “'Are you okay lovely? You haven't burnt yourself?” 

“I’m fine,” I muttered. “But it'll ruin the carpet.” I grabbed a drying-cloth that was lying on top of the fridge and, kneeling down, started frenziedly mopping up the coffee. Anything for Harry not to get a glimpse of my face. I hadn't seen him for nearly two months; he'd have a fit to catch me looking so awful. 

“Leave it,” he said, wandlessly removing the stain. His spell-casting left me weak at the knees. He put a hand under my elbow and pulled me to my feet. 

“I’ll get you another cup of coffee,” I said, making a bolt for the door. 

But he got there first, standing in front of me, shutting the door firmly. As usual his presence made the room shrink. “Sit down,” he said, tipping a pile of files off a chair. “I want to talk to you.” 

“What are you doing here anyway?” I said. I still hadn't looked him in the eyes. 

“Visiting my old mate Phil Flitwick.” 

“You know him?” I said sharply. “But I didn't, I mean...” 

“You should read your own company notepaper,” said Harry. He handed me a sheet that was lying on Phil's desk. Sure enough in the middle of the list of directors was printed ‘H Potter’. 

“T-then you fiddled me this job,” I blurted out. “I thought I g-got it on my own...” 

“Merits, yes of course you did,” he said gently. “Phil'd have never employed you if he hadn't liked you.” He held up one of the blown-up photographs of my legs. “I must say I like these. I'd recognise those pins anywhere.' 

Everything was moving too fast for me. I was trying to work out what influence Harry must have had over my working at Flitwick’s. “How are you enjoying it anyway?” he said. 

“It's fine. How was the Middle East trip?” 

“Hell,” said Harry. “And bloody hot and exhausting. Your brother was the only redeeming feature.” 

“He's nice, isn't he?” 

“He overreached himself one night. He charmed one sheik so much that later the sheik insisted that only Leonidas should have the culinary piece de resistance at dinner.” 

“What was it?” I said. 

“A sheep's eyeball,” said Harry. 

I started to chuckle. “He's over the moon about the baby,” I said, trying to keep the trace of wistfulness out of my voice. 

“Yep, it's a good thing. It'll patch up things between him and Erastus, too.” 

There was a pause. The room was suffocatingly hot. I still hadn't looked at him. A schoolgirl embarking on her first love affair couldn't have behaved with more gaucheness. I felt hollow with longing and misery. “It's very hot isn't it?” I said. 

“Very,” said Harry. 

This wasn't getting us very far. I got to my feet, edging towards the door. “I must get you some coffee.” 

“I don't want any.” 

“I-I've got some work I've got to finish.” 

He followed me into the general office, passing Miss Filch on the way out, bearing her floral sponge-bag off to the Ladies. “It's going-home time,” he said. 

“I've got to finish these,” I said, picking a page off the four separate piles of paper until they shook in my hand as though they were being fluttered by a gust of wind. 

Harry looked at me for a minute. “You're getting them all out of order,” he said, taking them from me, and restacking them. He shoved them between the stapler and banged it down with one hand. Nothing happened. 

“Bloody thing's run out,” he said. “Come on, you can do them in the morning. I'll buy you a drink.” 

The Muggle bar was crowded with commuters who couldn't face the journey home yet. Harry found me a bar stool, I curled my feet round one of the legs, trying to control the hammering in my heart. In a minute I knew I'd wake up from a dream, and be crying back in bed in Putney. He handed me a gin and tonic and shot soda into his whisky. I took a slug of my drink at once, gripping it with both hands to stop them shaking. 

I glanced up at the smoked mirror behind the bar; my eyes met Harry's. For a second we gazed at each other with a steady fascination, as though we were two quite different people, in another world for the first time. I felt if his sleeve touched mine the whole bar would burst into flames. I tugged my eyes away and took another gulp. 

“You've lost a lot of weight,” he said. 

“Have l?” 

“Too much.” 

“It's the heat.” 

He glanced at the beige sausage rolls and curling sandwiches in the glass case. “D'you want something now?” 

I shook my head. A fire engine clanged past the door, followed by another. “D'you think it'll ever rain again?” I said. I noticed for the first time how tired he looked, the black rings under his eyes, almost as dark as his eyebrows. “Is Parkinson-Malfoy too much of a sweat?” I said. 

“Well it's not exactly a day trip to the seaside,” he said. “Phil's very pleased with you, by the way.” 

I felt myself redden. “He is?” 

“Yep, and so am I. You haven't just turned over a new leaf, Malfoy, it's a bloody great tree.” He looked at me reflectively for a minute. “Why have you been crying your eyes out all afternoon?” 

I took a hasty swig of my drink, the glass was too deep and it ran all over my face. “I'm trying to get my head sorted out,” I said, frantically, wiping gin away with my sleeve, “So I started going to a Mind Healer.” 

“Merlin, you don't need a shrink.” 

“H-he thinks I do. He pounced on me today.” 

I started to tremble again. For a moment Harry's hand tightened on my arm, then he said, “The bastard. Report him to the Ministry.” 

“I don't think you can report shrinks, but it was a shock. I sort of trusted him.” 

“You give me his name and address, and I'll get him kicked out,” said Harry. He was really angry. Merlin, he was being so nice, any minute I'd start crying again. I took a bite of my lemon peel. 

“Ginny rang me this afternoon,” I said. “She was in the country.” 

Suddenly he looked evasive and shifty. He got out a packet of cigarettes, and when I refused one, lit one for himself. “She said she had something special to tell me,” I went on, “but she wouldn't tell me over the Floo in case it upset me.” 

Harry shook his ice round in his glass. “Do you want another drink?” 

I shook my head, the lump was getting bigger and bigger in my throat. “She sounded over the moon, like Leonidas,” I continued. “I guess she was trying to tell me she was getting married.” 

“Yep,” said Harry. “That's about it.” 

“Soon?” I said. 

“Pretty soon. Ginny's one of those girls who wants to keep her virginity for marriage. She's worried she can't hold out much longer.” 

“Bully for her,” I whispered. 

“She feels terribly guilty,” he went on. “She's worried stiff about upsetting you, and she knows Arthur and Molly are going to say she's too young.” 

“You can't win them all,” I said in a choked voice. 

“Look Draco, you're a beautiful, beautiful boy. There are plenty of other guys in the sea, and masses on land for that matter.” 

“Sure,” I said numbly, the tears beginning to course down my cheeks. 

He took my hand; it was all I could do not to fling myself into his arms. “I'm really sorry,” he went on. “Look I've got nothing to do tonight. I'll buy you dinner and we can talk about it.” 

“No you won't. It's very kind, but no thank you,” I said, wiping away the tears with the back of my hand. “I've got to go to my other job.” Breaking away, I slid off the bar stool and fled out of the bar. 

“Draco, wait,” I heard his voice calling after me. Then I plunged down into the Underground.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

When I got back to Putney, Snuffles threw himself on me, yelping with ecstasy, taking my hand in his mouth, and leading me up the path. I found Mrs Hopkirk grumbling about the heat and the greenfly and pouring boiling water on a plague of ants who were threatening to enter the house. The Muggle dustmen were on strike and hadn't collected for two weeks; the stench of bleach in the neighbourhood bins was almost worse than yesterday's smell of rotting food and vegetation. 

Mrs Hopkirk straightened up, scarlet in the face. “There's a young man waiting for you upstairs,” she said with a sniff, “he says he's your brother.” 

I bounded upstairs; I couldn't wait to tell someone how miserable I was. Leo loved Harry too; he would understand how desperate I felt. I found him in my bedroom; his face had a luminous sickly tinge, as though he was standing under a green umbrella. A muscle was going in his cheek. The ashtray beside him on the table was piled high with half-smoked cigarettes. 

“Thank Merlin you've come,” he said. “I'm in dead trouble.” His blond hair, dark with sweat, had fallen in curls over his forehead, emphasising the brilliant grey eyes. He looked absurdly young. I ran across the room and put my arms around him. 

“What's happened? Tell me. It's not the baby?” He shook his head. “I'm sorry,” I said. “I haven't got anything to drink. Tell me what the matter is.” 

“I've got to get ten thousand galleons by tomorrow.” 

“Merlin, whatever for?” 

“I'm being blackmailed.” 

“Then you must go to the Aurors at once.” 

“I can't,” he said with a groan. He was near to tears. I realised I was the one who had to stay as calm and cool as a statue. 

“You must go to the Aurors; they'll keep your name out of it. What on earth have you done? It can't be that bad.” The door suddenly opened, making us both jump, but it was only Snuffles. He trotted over and curled up at Leo's feet. I kicked the door shut. “Who is it?” I asked. 

“You don’t know him,” said Leonidas in a dead voice. “But it started with Ludo.” 

“Ludo?” 

"Ludovic Bagman, you know, the ex Quidditch star. You met him that day we had lunch at Maxim's, before you went on the boat with Harry and Michael.” 

“Oh yes, I remember,” I said. 

“That weekend you were away I refused to go and stay with Erastus and Gwendolyn.” 

“Yes.” 

“Bagman had been communicating with me for a while. He had had a scheme for doping Quidditch players. Performance enhancing potions that wouldn't show up in urine tests. I got hold of some experimental potions Severus had been working on. We had been to a couple of Quidditch matches and picked out some likely players, who might not be entirely above board, if you know what I mean.” 

“Oh Leo!” 

“Yes indeed. We tried the potions ourselves and Bagman knew someone who worked for the Ministry, who is involved with the testing. So we checked and they didn't show up. So I chatted up this Chaser named Gillan Cooper and he agreed to take the potion. We went down to see him that weekend and watched him during training. Well he scored twenty six goals on his own, so we knew we had something. 

“Unfortunately one of his team mates, Guido Ricatto, overheard us talking and decided to blackmail us. He has the Pensieve memories and he wants ten thousand galleons for a start and if I don't cough up tomorrow, he’s going to send the proof to Erastus and Pansy.” 

I thought for a minute. The scent of tobacco plants was almost sickening outside. I could hear the outside tap water plummeting into Mrs H's watering can. 

“Don't you think Erastus twigged long ago that Severus and you were up to something?” I said. “He's not stupid.” 

“Maybe but I am worried about Pansy and the baby. I don’t want to give her a massive shock, not when she's finally pregnant. She was so happy about the baby, and suddenly everything's going so well at work, and we're getting on so much better at the moment.”

There was no point in reminding him he'd only been back from the Middle East twenty-four hours. 

“Erastus'll sack me, and Pansy will kick me out, and I know it sounds pathetic, but I really want that baby. Please will you help? You've got lots of rich friends.” 

“What about Harry?” I said. “He'll help you.” 

“I'm getting on so well with him too,” said Leonidas fretfully. 

“If you give in to Ricatto this time, he'll only be back for more bread in a week or two.” 

“If I get a breathing space,” Leo griped, “I can think of a way to hammer him, I just need time. Oh for Merlin's sake Draco,” his voice rose, helplessly, “I've helped you out enough times in the past.” 

It was true. “All right, I'll get you the money,” I said. 

“How?” 

“I've got a friend who's offered me eight thousand galleons to do some modelling,” I said, “I guess I can push him up to ten thousand.” 

As soon as Leonidas had gone I went down to the Floo and called Thorfinn. 

I imagined him pushing aside a blond, and climbing over a pert arse to answer the Floo.

“Hello,” said the husky, oily voice. He was dressed in a black silk robe. 

“Thorfinn,” I whispered. “This is Draco.” There was a pause. “Draco Malfoy.” 

“I know,” he said throatily. “Just let me turn this twink down. I was expecting a call from you.” 

“You were?” I said sharply. “What d'you mean?” 

“Well, the grapevine said you were having rather a lean time, and you'd left the flat. Pity. It was a nice situation, that flat. Anyway, what can I do for you?” 

I swallowed. “Do you remember what you said about photographing me for Hedonist?” 

“Sure do.” He had difficulty keeping the triumph out of his voice. 

“You were talking in terms of eight thousand galleons,” I said. 

“I must have been crazy.” 

“Could you make it ten thousand?” 

“Inflation's clobbered everyone, baby.” 

“Not that much. Your circulation's booming. I read it in the Daily Prophet last week.” 

“Well, if you make yourself available for - er - dinner and other things afterwards, I might consider it.” 

He waited. I could almost feel him writhing like a great snake in anticipation. What the hell did it matter? Harry was caput as far as I was concerned. What did anything matter? “All right,” I said, “that would be fine. But can I have the cash tomorrow?” 

“Greedy, aren't we? I hope there's nothing the matter with you, Draco. I've never known you to haggle before. Take it or leave it, that's the sort of untouchable prince you always were. I wouldn't like you to be any different. It'd make me think things had a certain impermanence.” 

“I need the bread,” I said. 

“All right.” His voice suddenly businesslike. “Colin Creevey is in London at the moment. I've booked him all day tomorrow. Come along at two.” 

In utter misery I realised I would have to cut the presentation for Flitwick. But getting the money for Leo had to be more important than anything else. “All right,” I said again. 

He gave me the address and then added softly. “And don't wear anything tight. We don't want crease marks all over you. Till tomorrow, sexy. You won't regret it, I promise you.” He ended the Floo call. 

Disgust and self-loathing filled me. I started to heave. I just made it to the bathroom before I vomited. There was nothing in my stomach but bile. 

After that I had to go and do my waiter’s shift. When I got home I washed my hair and made pathetic attempts to get my body into some sort of shape to be photographed. I then spent hours writing and tearing up letters of explanation to Phil. Even the final result didn't satisfy me. I was so much on the blink, I could hardly string a word, let alone a sentence, together and nothing I said could change the fact I was doing the dirty on him. I owled it off though. I owled Ginny too, saying I couldn't meet her at one o’clock because something had come up. 

Snuffles lay on the bed, dozing, unsettled by the change in routine. Every so often he gave a yawn which turned into a squeaking yelp. I refused to go to bed, it was too hot to sleep anyway, and if I did sleep I would have to wake up and face afresh the truth about Harry and Ginny. 

-o-o-o- 

Nothing - not even the reality - prepared me for the horror of the porn photographic session with Thorfinn. I felt as though I was hurtling on a fast broom towards Dante's Ninth Circle, the one where the treacherous are sealed in ice and eternally ripped apart by Satan's teeth. But I'd betrayed Phil and Harry, so I deserved to be ripped apart. 

I sat in a little side room in front of a mirror lined with lit bulbs, wearing only an old makeup stained dressing gown. The wireless claimed it was the hottest day of the year. It was impossibly stuffy in the huge Wimbledon studio Colin Creevey had hired for the afternoon, but I still couldn't stop shivering. I knew I looked terrible. I had covered my yellowing suntan with dark-brown makeup, but it didn't stop my ribs sticking out like a famine victim. I had poured half a bottle of blue drops into my eyes but they were still red-veined and totally without sparkle. 

In one corner of the studio, a pouf called Terence with very blue eyes and streaked strawberry blond hair, clad only in faded knee length denim trousers and a snake bracelet, was whisking about supervising two sulky, sweating minions into building a set for me. It consisted of a huge bed with a cane bedhead, silver satin sheets, and a white antique birdcage. One minion kept staggering in with huge potted plants, the other was pinning designer wallpaper to an enormous rolled-down screen. Terence was arranging a fancy lamp, a silver teapot and glass paperweights on a bedside table. 

“Thorfinn asked for something really classy to set you off, darling. I've never known him to take so much interest.” 

In another corner of the studio to an accompaniment of popping flashbulbs and some torch singer on the wireless, Colin Creevey was photographing a spectacular looking black girl with 38-24-38 measurements. She was wearing red lace open crotch knickers, heels with nine inch spikes, and was writhing against a thick fur rug which was pinned against the wall. 

“It's to make her boobs fall better,” explained Terence with a shudder. “In the pics, it'll look as though she's lying on a bed.” 

I turned back to the mirror, sweat already breaking through my newly applied stage makeup. Then I heard the noise of men laughing; my mouth went dry, my shivering became more violent. 

Next moment the curtain was pushed aside and Thorfinn came in reeking of brandy and after-shave, a big cigar sticking out of his mouth. Even heat and drink hadn't brought any flush of pink to his potion-tanned cheeks. He was carrying a bottle of champagne and two glasses which he put on the dressing table. I clutched the white dressing gown tighter around me. For a long time he stood behind me looking into the mirror, his eyes as triumphant as they were predatory. 

Then he said in his oily, sibilant voice, “You look a bit rough, baby. Been up against it, have you?” 

“I've been working hard.” 

Thorfinn laughed. “You're not cut out for a career, I always warned you. And Harry Potter's ditched you; I knew he would. You must listen to Uncle Thorfinn in future.” He seemed to revel in my utter desperation. “Never mind,” he went on soothingly. “I'll see you right. A few weeks of cushy living and you'll soon get the ripe peachy look you had at Parkinson Manor.” 

He ran his hands over me, lingeringly and feelingly, like a child trying to gauge the contents of a wrapped Christmas present. I gritted my teeth, trying to suppress the shudder of revulsion. He let go of me, and started to take the gold paper off the top of the champagne bottle. I watched his soft white hands in horror. Merlin knows what they would be doing to me later this evening. 

I took a deep breath. “Can I have the cash now?” 

Thorfinn shook his head. “Uh-uh. You get the cash when you deliver the goods, and they'd better be good.” 

The top shot off the bottle into the rafters. Thorfinn filled a glass and handed it to me. “That should relax you,” he said. “Make you feel nice and sexy.” 

I took a belt of champagne, wondering if I was going to throw up. 

“Come in boys,” shouted Thorfinn over the curtain, and we were joined by a couple of Thorfinn's gangster friends, flashing jewellery, sweating in suits. They were the sort of guys who'd give even the Death Eaters nightmares. “Meet Greg and Vince,” said Thorfinn. He must have brought them along to show me off. They were obviously disappointed I wasn't as fantastic as Thorfinn had promised but were too wary of him to show it. “You wait till he's been with me for a bit,” purred Thorfinn, pinching my cheek. “You won't recognise him.” 

“Fattening him up for Christmas, are you?” said Greg, and they all laughed. 

Colin Creevey, having finished with the black girl, wandered over and said he was almost ready. He was a short, exhausted and melancholy man in his mid-twenties, wearing army trousers, trainers, and a khaki shirt drenched with sweat. 

“Come and meet Draco,” said Thorfinn, re-filling my glass. “He's a bit nervous, first time he's done anything like this, so treat him with care. Lovely isn't he?” he added, smoothing my hair back from my forehead. 

Colin Creevey nodded - he was, after all, being paid vast sums by Thorfinn - and said the camera would go up in smoke when it saw me. 

“You needn't worry about the pics,” he went on. “We'll shoot through a soft-focus lens with the emphasis on the face and the direct gaze, very subdued and elegant.” 

Oh Merlin, what would Harry say if he ever saw the results. I imagined him suddenly stumbling across them as he flicked through magazines on some foreign news-stand, his face hardening with disapproval, then shrugging his shoulders because he'd always known I was a bad lot. Was it really worth going through with it to help Leonidas? Was blood really thicker than water? 

“Ready when you are darlings,” said Terence, popping his golden head round the curtain. 

Thorfinn gave me a big smile. “Come on baby, you'll enjoy it once we get started.” 

I sat on the silver satin sheets, gazing in misery on the forest of potted plants. The studio seemed to be very full of people, all watching me with bored appraising eyes. I huddled even deeper into my dressing gown. 

Colin Creevey came over to me. “You're not going to need that” he said gently. 

As I took it off, even Creevey caught his breath. Thorfinn's thug friends were trying to preserve their poker faces, but their eyes were falling out. 

“I told you he was the hottest thing you were ever likely to see,” said Thorfinn smugly. 

Colin was gazing into the viewfinder. His assistant took some Polaroid pictures, peeling them off like a wet bikini. Thorfinn and Colin poured over them. “We'll need the cold blower to stiffen his nipples,” said Colin. “It works better than the strongest Cooling charm.” 

Thorfinn was determined to get his 140 pounds of flesh. Two agonising hours later, I had been photographed in every conceivable position and garment, including a white fox fur with a string of pearls hanging over one shoulder, a soaking wet cheesecloth shirt, black stockings and a suspender belt, and nothing but an ostrich feather. 

Terence, who was fast losing his cool, had been sent out to hire a Persian cat for me to cuddle, but after thirty seconds of popping flash bulbs the poor creature, having lacerated my stomach with its claws, wriggled out of my clutches and took refuge in the rafters. 

Now I was stretched out on the satin sheets, wearing a sort of rucked up camisole top. Colin Creevey clicked away, keeping up a running commentary. 

“Lovely, darling, just pull it down over your right shoulder, look straight into the camera. A bit more wind machine, Terence, please. Come on Draco, baby, relax, and let me have it, shut your eyes, lick your lips and caress yourself.” 

“No,” I whispered. “I won't do that.” 

Creevey sighed, extracted the roll of film from the camera, licked the flap, sealed it up and, taking another roll from the assistant, replaced it. 

“Turn over,” he said. “Bury your face in the sheets, stick your arse in the air, and freeze in that position.” 

“I can't freeze when I'm absolutely baking,” I snapped. 

"Hold it,” said Creevey, “hold it. That's fan-bloody-tastic. Come over and have a look, Thorfinn.” Thorfinn joined him. They conferred in low voices, then Thorfinn came and sat down on the bed beside me, filling up my glass. 

“You're too uptight baby,” he said. “You're not coming across.” 

“How can I when you're all here gawping at me?” It was like the times when I was a child and my mother insisted on being present when the Healer examined me. 

“You'll have to try.” And once again I realised how much he was enjoying my utter humiliation, paying me back for all the times I'd put him down in the past. I lay back on my front on the bed. 

“Open your legs a bit further, open wide, that's lovely,” said Colin, clicking away. Any moment he'd ask me to say 'ah'. After this was all over, I supposed I could go out and throw myself over Westminster Bridge. 

Terence was still whisking about, adjusting plants, his bronzed, hairless pectorals gleaming in the lights. “Why don't we dress him up as a priest and let Theo seduce him?” he said. “Then it wouldn't matter him looking so uptight.” 

"That's an interesting thought,” said Thorfinn. 

There was a knock on the door. One of the assistants unlocked it, and let in a boy in a red shorts with bleached blond flicked up hair, a lot of black eyeliner and about thirty pints of Tanning potion. He looked furious and vaguely familiar. Perhaps miraculously he was going to take over from me. 

“Hi, Theo,” said Creevey. “Go and get your clothes off. We'll take a break for ten minutes.” 

“He was on the gatefold of Penetration this month,” said one of Terence's minions. “The blurb said Daddy was a regular soldier and that Theo was reading philosophy at university, and spent the vacation pottering round ruins.” 

“You could hardly call Thorfinn a ruin,” said Terence. 

Thorfinn opened another bottle of champagne. “I've booked a table at Skindles' tonight,” he said, caressing my shoulder with a moist hand. “I thought in this heat it'd be nice to get out of London.” 

He took a powder puff from one of Colin’s assistants, and carefully took the shine off my nose. Tears of utter despair stung my eyelids. 

“If you could find a horse,” said the other of Terence's minions, “he'd make a terrific King Arthur.” 

“Shut up,” hissed Terence. “There's a riding school round the corner. I've had enough hassle getting that bloody cat.” 

A few minutes later Theo emerged from behind the curtain, wearing only a red feather boa and a corn plaster. He walked sulkily up to the bed, looking at Thorfinn with the mixture of terror and loathing such as a lion might regard a sadistic ringmaster. “You've already met Theo Nott, haven't you Draco?” said Thorfinn. He seemed to be laughing at some private joke. 

“I don't think so,” I began, then realised that he was one of the tarts Thorfinn had brought down to Parkinson Manor. He was now glaring in my direction. Clytemnestra could hardly have looked more blackly on Agamemnon. 

“Come and lie down, Theo,” said Thorfinn, patting the bed. 

He stretched out beside me, his black-lined eyes not quite closed. Underneath each false eyelash was a millimetre of dark venomous light raying straight in my direction. Trust Thorfinn to set up a scene that tortured both past and intended lovers. 

“How's that?” he said to Colin. “They make a good contrast, don't they? Profane and not-so-Sacred Love.” 

I got to my feet and reached under the bed for the dressing gown. “You've finished with me then?” 

Thorfinn put a heavy hand on my shoulder, pressing me down again. “On the contrary,” he said, “we're only just beginning. Put the priest’s collar on Theo,” he said to Terence. 

He looked so utterly ridiculous that I was hard put not to giggle with hysterical laughter. But not for long; the next moment Thorfinn had hung a cross round my neck. “Kneel beside him on the bed, Theo,” he went on. “That's right, as close as you can.” 

I felt as though great toads were crawling all over me. I gazed down at the cross hanging between my nipples. Perhaps if I held it up to Thorfinn, he would suddenly age hundreds of years and shrivel into dust like Count Dracula. 

“Now put your hand on Draco's shoulder,” he said. I jumped away as I felt his fingers. 

“No!” I yelled. “No! I won't do it, I won't!” 

“Cut it out,” said Thorfinn. “Do you want ten grand or not?” 

I looked at him mutinously; then I remembered Leonidas and nodded. 

Theo looked about as cheerful as a kneazle with toothache. He'd obviously never had bread like that from him. 

Thorfinn ruffled the sheets round us, and gazed into the viewfinder. “Very nice,” he said softly. “A bit more amiable, both of you.” 

Colin took over again. “Put your hand on Draco's throat, Theo,” he said. 

I steeled myself, feeling the tense hatred in his fingers. The sweat was glistening on his five o’clock shadow. 

“Lovely,” said Colin. “Now slide your hand down a bit, Theo, and down a bit further.” 

I couldn't bear it, even for Leo, I couldn't take any more. I shot a despairing supplicating glance at Thorfinn and was appalled by the expression of suppressed excitement on his face. I felt the tears coursing down my cheeks. 

Then suddenly there was a tremendous crash outside. Everyone jumped, as someone started pummelling on the door. 

“It's the Aurors!” squeaked Terence in excitement, patting his curls. 

“You can't go in there,” screamed a female voice. “The studio's booked.” 

“Oh yes I bloody can,” bellowed a voice. There was a roar of “Confringo”, another tremendous crash, the door seemed to tremble, then suddenly exploded inwards. 

I gave a gasp, half of relief and half of horror, for in the doorway, fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell, stood Harry. Slowly he looked round the room, taking in first Colin, then Thorfinn and his gangster cronies, then finally me on the bed with Theo. With a whimper I pulled one of the satin sheets round me. 

“What the bloody hell's going on?” he howled, walking across the studio towards me. “You whore, you bloody cheap whore! I might have known you'd end up like this. Get your clothes on.” 

Thorfinn moved towards him. “Take it easy, big boy,” he said oleaginously. “Don't get so excited.” 

Harry turned on him. “You lousy creep,” he hissed. “I know how long you've been scheming to get your dirty hands on him. I'll get you for this. Go on,” he added, out of the corner of his mouth, to me. “For Merlin's sake, get dressed.” 

I stood up, still too frightened to move. 

“How on earth did you know he was here?” asked Terence, looking at him with admiration. 

“Thorfinn shouldn't go round boasting in restaurants,” said Harry. “These things get overheard.” 

“Look, wise guy.” Thorfinn was talking slowly and patiently now, as though he was dictating to an inexperienced secretary. “You're gate-crashing a very important party. Colin's booked for the day, and so's Draco, and neither of them for peanuts. He needs the money, don't you Draco?” 

Harry glanced in my direction. I nodded miserably. 

“So you can't come barging in here making a nuisance of yourself,” said Thorfinn. 

“Oh, can't I?” said Harry with ominous quiet. 

There was a long pause; then, suddenly, he went berserk. Turning, he kicked Colin's camera across the room, then he smashed his fist into Colin's face, sending him flying after the camera. 

Harry pulled out his wand and in seconds he had destroyed the room. He'd laid out Colin's assistant with a vicious hex. Then Vince the hood picked up a rubber plant and hurled it at Harry, who ducked just in time and, gathering up another plant hurled it back. 

Screaming like a stuck pig, still in the priest’s collar, Theo dived under the bed, followed immediately by the two minions and Terence. 

“Oh dear,” sighed Terence as two more plants sailed through the air. “Burnham Wood came to Dunsinane, now it’s going back again.” 

Ducking to avoid more flying vegetation, I shook off the silk sheets, ran across the room, dived behind the curtain and started to pull on my clothes. By the sound of it Harry was still laying about him like a maddened bull. As I looked out he was duelling with Greg who wrong-footed him and sent him crashing to the ground. The next moment Harry had got to his feet and cast so ferociously at Greg, he flew into the middle of the remaining potted plants. 

“Oh my poor jardinière,” wailed Terence's voice from under the bed. “What will the plant shop say?” 

As I crept out from behind the curtain, a silver teapot and two glass paperweights flew across the room, none of them fortunately hitting their target. 

Harry paused; he was breathing heavily. Colin was still nursing his jaw in the corner. Greg was peering out of the plants like a spy in a cheap novel. Vince was shaking his head and picking himself up. Colin's assistant got to his feet. As he started edging nervously towards the door, Harry grabbed him by the collar. 

“No you don't,” he said. “Where are those rolls of film? Accio films.” They flew into his hand and he Vanished them. Thorfinn howled. 

I sidled round the wall towards Harry; he glanced in my direction and jerked his head towards the door. He was just backing towards it himself when Vince moved in, catching him off guard with a curse hitting him by his right eye. Harry cast back at him, sending Vince hurtling across the room, then, trying to right himself, tripped over one of the light wires and cannoned heavily into a pile of tripods. It was getting more like a French farce every minute. 

I suddenly remembered the Polaroids. I grabbed my wand and Summoned them, but my fucked up magic just set them on fire. At least they were gone. 

Thorfinn, who was still screaming like a banshee, picked up the champagne bottle and, cracking it on the underneath of the bed, moved with incredible speed across the room towards Harry. “Bring back those fucking films!” he shrieked. Cornered, Harry scrambled out of the tripods, shaking his head. His right eye was beginning to close up. His forehead, just above his eyebrow, was bleeding where Vince's curse had gashed it. 

He backed away from Thorfinn until he reached the wall. 

“Now then big boy,” murmured Thorfinn, his voice almost a caress. “I’ll teach you to get tough with me.” He jabbed the jagged edge of the bottle at Harry. “Give me back that film.” 

Harry stared at him, not a muscle moving in his face. “You lousy cheap punk,” he said, Vanishing the bottle. Thorfinn screeched again, casting a Diffindo at Harry, who swerved. 

Then I froze with horror as I saw that Greg had extracted himself from the potted plants and, armed with a flick knife, was moving relentlessly in from the right. Without thinking, I picked up the lamp and hurled it at him, slap on target. Once a Chaser, always a Chaser. Just for a second Thorfinn's concentration flickered, giving Harry the chance to leap on him, knocking him to the floor. Over and over they rolled like Muggle wrestlers, yelling abuse at each other. Then finally Harry was on top smashing his fists into Thorfinn's head. For a minute I thought he was going to kill him; then he got up, picked Thorfinn up and threw him through the wallpaper like a Quaffle through a hoop. 

There was another long pause. Harry looked slowly round the room. Everyone flattened themselves against the wall or the floor. Then suddenly there was the sound of clapping, and Theo emerged from under the bed, his priest’s collar askew. 

“I’ve been waiting three years for someone to do that,” he said. 

Blood was pouring from Harry's arm. He must have cut by Thorfinn's Diffindo

“You'll bleed to death,” I moaned, gathering up a white satin petticoat that was lying on the floor. 

“Well, bags I give him the kiss of life,” said a little voice from under the bed. 

Harry grabbed my wrist. “Come on, let's get out of here.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 19 

I hoped Harry had worked off his rage breaking up Colin's studio, but as we sped recklessly up Parkside towards London, with Wimbledon Common on our left, the full storm of his fury broke over me. 

“I tried to help you,” he yelled. “We all did. Phil's nursed you like a baby through the last eight weeks, and then you have to pick this afternoon to blow the whole thing - just when Phil needed you. I don't understand you, Draco. Have you got some sort of death wish? Don't you care about anyone?” 

He overtook another car; you could have got barely got a piece of parchment between them. Thank Merlin we were going against the traffic. Home-going commuters crawling in the other direction stared at us in amazement. Some of them were stopping to put their hoods up. The stifling heat hadn't let up, but an ominous, bilberry dark sky had replaced the serene unclouded blue of the morning. 

“Why did you do it?” said Harry, overtaking yet again. “Go on, I want to know.” 

“I can't tell you.” 

“Sure you can't. Well I'll tell you; you're so bloody idle you can't resist making a quick buck from Thorfinn. But by Merlin, you'd have paid for it. He'd have broken you in a couple of months.” 

We were passing Wimbledon Windmill now. I gazed stonily at the dried-up pond and the great sweeps of platinum-bleached grass, blackened everywhere by fires. 

Harry warmed to his subject, “I guess you're turned on at the thought of all those men on newsstands slobbering over your photograph, misting up windows in Soho to get a second glance at your arse, not to mention the ones in bedsitters wearing raincoats...” 

“They'd hardly keep their macs on in the bedroom,” I protested. 

“Don't be flippant,” he howled. 

We had reached the roundabout at Tibbet's Corner now, but he was so incensed he kept missing the turning off to Putney and had to go round three times, which didn't improve his temper. 

“Don't you give a fuck about your reputation?” 

“I don't care,” I snapped. “I needed the bread in a hurry, that was all. But you're so well-heeled you wouldn't understand things like that.” 

Harry turned on me, enraged. “Haven't you any idea how deprived I was growing up?” 

“I don't want to hear,” I said, putting my hands over my ears. “I've read Charles Dickens, I know quite enough already about poverty. I'm just fed up with you going round censoring my behaviour. Who the hell do you think you are, the Pope, you great bossy prude?” 

“You've called me that already,” he roared. 

“What!” I shouted, my hands still over my ears. 

“Don't fuck with me!” he shouted back and, seizing my arm, yanked my hand away from my ear.

I sat very still, watching the white marks left by his fingers slowly turning red. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed the white satin petticoat I'd tied round his arm completely drenched in blood, and a red stain creeping down his blue striped shirt. He'd gone very white. Suddenly the fight went out of me. 

“For Merlin's sake let's call a truce and go to St Mungo’s. That arm needs sorting out.” I said. 

“I don't want it sorting out,” he bellowed, screeching to a halt at the top of my road. Leaning across, he opened the door. “Now get out, or I'll throw you out, and don't come grovelling back to Phil either. You're on your own from now on.” 

And, swinging the car round, he drove off in a cloud of dust. 

As soon as he'd gone I began to shake again. How the hell was I going to tell Leo I hadn't got the money? I hadn't got the rent either. Mrs Hopkirk was sure to sling me out. The trauma of the afternoon had left me in a state of total shock. Numbly I walked towards the river, kicking my shoes off when I came to the Common, not even noticing the sharp dry grass cutting into my feet. 

A large drop of rain fell on the path in front of me. Perhaps at last the drought was at an end. The poplar trees by the bowling green clattered their leaves in a sudden gust of wind. The light was curious, as though one was swimming underwater. Picnickers and dog-walkers hurried home, looking anxiously up at the sky; even the rooks were silent. The river bank was covered with drink cans, bottles and old ice-cream cartons. Two dogs were splashing about in the water, cooling off. I wished I had Snuffles for company. 

A large drop of warm rain splashed on my face, then on my hand; the discoloured sky was suddenly veined by lightning, followed three seconds later by an earth-shattering clap of thunder. The whole valley seemed to be boiling; the rain was coming down faster now, pattering on the leaves above me, pitting the river with rings, bouncing off the iron-hard ground. Another flash of lightning, like Harry's scar, unzipped the sky, followed by another, far more brilliant, which seemed to snake down the centre of a huge elm tree only fifty yards away, and rip it apart. Then the whole sky exploded with rain. 

I didn't care. I wanted to be struck down. I wanted to die. I put back my head, feeling the drops dripping down my neck, cascading on my face, washing away all the horrible stage makeup. In two minutes I was drenched. The lightning was coming at the same time as the thunder-claps now; it sounded like Harry up in the heavens breaking up another studio. 

I don't know how many hours I wandered around, half crazy with grief. I considered finding a bridge to jump off. 

Then suddenly it was getting dark, and the storm was moving away, grumbling like a drunk turned out of the pub. The rain was letting up, night was falling. In the distance I could see the orange lights on the roads around the common. It must be nearly ten o'clock. 

Leonidas, Mrs Hopkirk and the music had to be faced. Listlessly I started to walk home. I was frozen and drenched. The temperature had probably dropped to the late teens, but after weeks up in the thirties, it felt like midwinter. My loose robes, worn on Thorfinn's instructions, had instructions of their own on the label about being only magic-cleaned. Wet-cleaned, they had shrunk drastically, risen to mid-thigh, and were now clinging to every inch of my body. My hair was hanging in dripping tendrils. People giving their dogs last runs before bedtime looked at me strangely as I wandered barefoot past them. The whole common was steaming now like a crocodile swamp. 

I walked listlessly up the street, the drenched gardens bowed down under their great weight of water. The gutters ran like millstreams, the street lamps reflected in the wet pavement. I paused outside my digs, trying to screw up enough courage to go in, rubbing the rain from my eyelashes. The iron gate was ice-cold beneath my touch. 

The next minute Snuffles hurtled out of the front door and threw himself on me, yelping hysterically, licking my hands, scrabbling at my bare legs with his claws. I tried to creep up the stairs past Mrs Hopkirk, but she shot out of the kitchen, her tough roast beef face rigid with disapproval. 

“Damn storm's snapped off half the delphiniums,” she said. 

“Oh, I'm sorry. What a shame, after the way you've nursed them through the drought,” I said, sidling up the stairs, but she was not to be deflected. 

“Where on earth have you been? Your office has been Floo calling all day. People have been dropping in. You're not in any trouble are you? I hope you've remembered the rent.” 

“I’ll get it by tomorrow.” I had reached the bend in the stairs now. 

“The agreement was every fourth Friday in the month,” she called after me, “so I'd like it now; and there's someone waiting for you upstairs. I told you I won't have visitors after nine o'clock. He must go at once.” 

With a heavy heart I climbed the next flight. It must be Leonidas, waiting for the cash. I opened the door. The room was in darkness. Then my heart gave a lurch. A man was standing against the window. No one could mistake the width of those shoulders. It was Harry. 

“What are you doing here?” I whispered. 

“Looking for you,” he said. 

“I don't understand.” 

“I love you,” he said simply, “and I can't go on anymore.” 

I couldn't believe it. A wave of relief flooded through me. I ran towards him, “Oh please, hold me.” 

He put his arms around me and, as he kissed me, I felt the strength and warmth and love flowing out of him. “Oh darling,” he mumbled into my hair. “Gods, I'm sorry. I was so angry this afternoon, but I was so jealous and I didn't understand what was going on.” 

“I couldn't help it,” I said, starting to shake. “It was the only way I could get the cash.” 

“I know it was. Hush, sweetheart, hush. I've been with Leonidas since I left you. I was so miserable, I had to talk to someone. He told me everything.” 

“Oh Merlin, what's he going to do?” 

“He told Pansy, then he went to the Aurors. It was the only hope. I took him to the Ministry and held his hand for the first half hour. He'll be all right.” 

“But what did Pansy say, and Erastus?” 

“Darling, I really couldn't care less.” 

“I couldn't let Leo down,” I muttered. “He's always looked after me.” 

“I know, I know, you're a bloody star, I just wish you'd come to me, instead of Thorfinn. Now for Merlin's sake get out of those wet robes.” 

He let go of me and switched on the light. My legs wouldn't hold me up any longer so I sat down on the bed, gazing dumbly at him. He was still wearing the same blood-stained shirt but at least someone had bandaged up his arm. His right eye had closed up completely now, but at least it didn't look as bruised. The same person must have healed him. If it was Leonidas, he always had been rubbish at Healing spells. The next moment he'd pulled my suitcases down from the top of the wardrobe and, taking my clothes off the hangers, started throwing them in. 

“What are you doing?” 

“Packing. You're getting out of here.” 

“I haven't got anywhere else to go,” I whispered. 

“You're coming home with me.” 

“But I can't. Ginny wouldn't like it.” 

“What's she got to do with it?” He picked up my cornflower blue suit. “You were wearing that the first time I met you. Put it on now.” He put it on the bed. 

“But you and Ginny,” I was gagging on the words. “Aren't you going to get married?” 

He stopped for a second, his hands full of my underwear. “What on earth gave you that idea?” 

“She did. She said, you and her.” 

“Not me, Blaise!” 

“Blaise,” I said stupidly. “Blaise! But how on earth?” 

“They met at your place,” said Harry. “The night she stayed with you, he asked her to come along to the shop, started taking her out, and then it happened. She said you said you were crazy about someone that night. She assumed it was Blaise. That's why she felt so awful about telling you.” 

“Oh Merlin,” I said. “It was you all the time. I never stopped loving you for a moment since that evening I was sick on the boat. Fuck, what an colossal muddle!” And I started to laugh, but it went wrong in the middle and I started to cry. Harry chucked the rest of my underclothes into the suitcases and put his arms around me, holding me so tight I thought my ribs would crack. 

“Now for fuck's sake get those wet robes off or I'll strip them off you myself.” 

I started to blush. “I can't while you're looking.” 

He grinned. “After that matinee earlier, I can't see much point in false modesty.” Then he must have seen something in my face because he turned his back and started talking to Snuffles who was sitting shivering in one of the suitcases. 

I'd just peeled off my wet robes when there was a loud knocking on the door. I grabbed a towel as Mrs Hopkirk walked in. 

“Mr Malfoy,” she spluttered. “I've told you I won't have men in my house. You must leave at once,” she added to Harry. 

“He'll be out of here in five minutes,” said Harry curtly, “so beat it.” 

“Don't you dare address me like that, young man,” said Mrs Hopkirk. “What about my rent? He owes me three hundred galleons.” 

Harry wrote out a Gringotts bank draft and gave it to her. Then he looked at poor little Snuffles still shuddering in the suitcase. “How much d'you want for the dog?” 

“He's not for sale. He belonged to my late husband.” 

“Fifty galleons,” said Harry. 

“Well, it doesn't seem right.” 

“Hundred,” said Harry, thrusting a bag of coins into her hand. “Now get out, you ugly cow, and bully someone your own size.” 

Three quarters of an hour later, Harry and his two waifs had reached home, and were sitting in the drawing-room. Although I was wearing one of his sweaters and nursing a large glass of brandy, I was assailed once again by a terrible fit of shaking. The tension was unbearable. The only sound was Snuffles gnawing ecstatically on the remains of a leg of mutton which Harry had found him from under a Stasis charm in the kitchen. 

“He's happy,” said Harry. “Now it's my turn, come here.” 

“I can't,” I said in a stifled voice. 

“All right, I'll come to you.” 

He sat down on the sofa about a foot away from me. I gazed desperately at my brandy. “I'm now going to give you a short lecture,” he said. “If you had any idea what I've been through since we got back from the boat, wanting you so fucking badly I thought I'd go up in smoke. I know I showed it in a funny way, fighting it because I didn't want to betray myself, because I couldn't see any way that you could possibly feel the same way about me. 

“The reason I finally agreed to take over Parkinson-Malfoy was because it gave me a chance to keep in touch with you, and that wasn't the only length I went to, sucking up to your degenerate brother, Leonidas, in the hope he might put in a good word for me, owling Phil every evening to see you were okay. Why do you suppose none of the guys there ever laid a finger on you? Because Phil told them not to. I'd have fired them if they had.” 

“I don't b-believe you,” I said incredulously. 

“Don't interrupt,” he said. “You're also right about my being a bossy prude. I couldn't stand anyone coming near you. I nearly went spare over Michael and Blaise. This afternoon, as you saw, I flipped my lid.” 

“You were wonderful,” I breathed, putting a hand gently by the bandage on his arm. 

He grinned, imprisoning my hand against him, “There's something to be said for being brought up by people who hate you. You learn to fight back. Then I talked to Leonidas. He told me about your childhood, and your parents and what a lousy deal you had all along. But that's all over now.” 

And, kneeling beside me, he took me in his arms. I started to cry. “What's the matter?” he whispered. 

“It's no good,” I sobbed. “I love you more than anything else in the world. I'm crucified with longing for you, but that's just in my heart. You were right from the beginning, I am a cocktease. I've been to bed with so many men I can hardly remember, but I hated it with all of them. I can put on a good act, but inside I just freeze up.” 

“Hush lovely, hush.” He was stroking me in that soothing way you might gentle a horse. 

“I’m telling you this because I love you. I'm no good to anyone, let alone you.” 

“I’m the best judge of that,” he said. “You've never been properly loved in your life, just spoilt, and told to push off and play somewhere else, and produced to show off when grownups came to tea because you're so beautiful. Come on,” he went on, pulling me to my feet and leading me towards the bedroom. “Let's not muck about any more.” 

“No.” I shrank away from him. “You'd be disappointed. I couldn't fake it with you.” 

“I won't, because I don't expect anything. We've got to get used to each other.” 

In the bedroom he switched on a sidelight, illuminating the vast bed, and drew back the fur counterpane. As he undressed me with undeniable deftness, I thought of all the people he must have laid on that bed before me... I felt as if having played Chaser for my Maison d’ecole nine years ago, I had suddenly been put on the team for the Quidditch World Cup, in a massive stadium with millions of people watching and I was using an ancient ropey Cleansweep One whilst all the other players were on Firebolts. 

Once we were in bed he just held me very gently until the horrors of the day began to recede. Then he said, “I'm not going to lay a finger on you tonight. You're too tired.” 

I felt a stab of disappointment. 

“At least I don't think I am,” he went on, putting a warm hand on my chest, spanning both nipples with finger and thumb. “Listen,” he whispered, “I will look after you.” 

I managed a wobbly smile. 

“That's better. Come on lovely, remember, from now on I've got custody, care and control of you - and I'm not going to leave you, like your bloody mother did, ever again.” 

And with infinite tenderness he kissed me, until I felt the waves of lust begin to ripple through me. No one had ever touched me like he did. It finally meant something. This wasn't about rewarding someone for buying me nice things, or putting up with my tantrums. This was real. This was what happened when you loved someone and they loved you too. 

-o-o-o- 

And afterwards I cried some more because I was so happy, and he held me in his arms, telling me how much he loved me until I fell asleep. 

A few hours later the dawn woke me. We'd forgotten to draw the curtains. All I could see were huge windows framing the plane trees of the local park. I blinked, turned and found Harry looking at me. I must be dreaming. 

I put my hand out to touch his cheek. “Are you real?” I said incredulously. 

He smiled. “l am if you are.” His eye looked fine but his chest was covered in bruises. 

“I can’t believe I'm in bed with you,” I said. “I never dreamt you'd make such a sensational lover. Do you think we could possibly do it again?” 

And we did, and it was even better than the last time, and I screamed with delight and joy because it felt so amazing. Harry loved me and I loved him. 

When I woke again he wasn't there. I looked round in panic; then I found a note pinned to the pillow. 

“Gone shopping with Snuffles. Back about eleven. I love you, H” 

Still overwhelmed with wonder at what was happening to me, I got up, wrapped myself in a dressing gown and, wandering into the kitchen, found a pile of unopened Owl post and regular mail. I flipped through it. Three envelopes looked very personal. I turned them over. One was from someone called Anthony in Berlin, another from a Parvati in the Middle East, another hadn't put his or her name on the back, but it was postmarked Durham, and they’d written 'private and confidential' on the bottom. 

I stood, overwhelmed with terror. Harry had had millions of lovers before me. What was to stop him having millions in the future? Last night's protestations might have been just a ruse to get me into bed. I couldn't bear it. I went back into the bedroom and sat shaking on the bed, feeling myself pulled down into the familiar black slimy cavern of horror. 

“Keep calm,” I kept saying to myself. “It's all right.” 

Suddenly I jumped out of my skin as the Floo chimed. It was Ms Granger-Lovegood. “He's not here,” I said. I could feel myself bristling. 

“Well that's all right. Just give him a message that everything's okay.” 

“I’ll tell him,” I said stiffly. 

Ms Granger-Lovegood laughed, “I’m so glad you two have finally got it together,” she said. “He's been absolutely insufferable since he came back from that boat trip. It'll be nice working with a human being again.” 

“Oh,” I stammered, feeling myself blushing all over. “Do you mean to say - was it that obvious?” 

“Yes,” she said. “He's a very dear man. I think you're very lucky, and if you look behind the drawing-room door you might find something else to convince you.” 

She ended the call. 

I ran to the drawing-room. Behind the door were two canvases stacked against the wall. I turned them over and gave a gasp of delight. One was my Adam and Eve picture, the other the Cotman. I looked at them incredulously, tears filling my eyes. 

Then I felt the wards singing, heard a key in the door, and a scampering of feet. Snuffles, rushing up the stairs, reached me first, but the next moment I was in Harry's arms, with Snuffles frolicking and frisking round our feet. 

“I was worried some of Thorfinn's hoods might have got you. Hermione Granger-Lovegood says you've been like a hippogriff with a sore head since the boat trip,” I babbled incoherently. “And you bought back my pictures; it's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me, I can't believe it. When did you do it?” I added as we went upstairs. 

“Last week sometime. I didn't hang them. I thought you could decide where you want to put them. But I'm not having Adam and Eve over the bed to distract you whenever we have sex.” 

I went scarlet. “I suppose bloody Leo told you that.” He stopped in the doorway of the kitchen and kissed me on my bare shoulder. 

“Merlin, you're beautiful Draco. Do you feel you can really put up with a jumped-up nouveau riche gorilla for the rest of your life?” Then he kissed me on the mouth. 

“Leo ought to be shot,” I said when I could speak, blushing even more furiously. 

He laughed. “I'm only teasing you.” 

The Floo chimed again. “If that's Ms Granger-Lovegood again, she said you weren't to worry about anything,” I said. 

It was Leonidas. Harry conversed inaudibly to him for a minute, too quietly for me to overhear; then he said, “That's great. Talk to Draco.” 

“Hello darling,” said Leo. He looked very cheerful. 

“Are you all right?” I said. 

“Well things have been pretty heavy. Erastus made the most awful scene, and I hoped very much Gwendolyn was going to have a coronary, but Pansy was staunchness personified; she told them both to get stuffed. And the Aurors have pulled in that little shit, Guido, so all in all things haven't turned out too badly. As the doping was when the Quidditch players were only practising, there was no actual crime committed.  And I must tell you,” he lowered his voice, “I do fall on my feet. There is the most enchanting Auror in the Ministry who's been too marvellous to me.” 

“Leonidas Hyperion Malfoy! You are a fuckwit!” I couldn't believe I had stripped for money to get him out of a spot and he was already thinking of his next conquest! “Keep it in your bloody pants, for at least a day or so!” 

“Well since you've taken Harry away, I had to find some compensation. Look, I'm terribly sorry, I'd no idea you'd have to take your clothes off to get me that money.” That wasn't the best apology I’d ever heard; he would need to do some serious grovelling before I would forgive him. If Harry hadn't rescued me, like my own personal knight in shining armour, I would just have got up from Thorfinn’s bed. I shuddered. 

Harry was frying bacon and eggs when I came off the Floo. Stroking Snuffles, I told him about the Auror. 

“He's quite incorrigible,” said Harry. “All the same he'll be nice as a brother-in-law.” 

My hand stopped in mid-stroke. 

Harry turned the bacon thoughtfully, then he shot a sideways glance in my direction. 

“What did you say?” I whispered. 

“I said I was looking forward to having him as a brother-in-law.” 

“You shouldn't mock,” I stammered. 

“I'm not mocking. I told you I'd been shopping this morning.” 

He extracted a dark blue leather box from his pocket, his hand shook slightly as he handed it to me. So did mine as I opened it. I had terrible trouble with the clasp. Inside was the biggest sapphire I'd ever seen. 

“Oh,” I breathed, “is it really for me?” 

“No one else.” He switched off the bacon, and slid the ring onto my finger. 

“W-what about your harem of totty: Parvati, Anthony, and co?” 

“I'll give them up if you will.” 

“You don't have to marry me,” I said. 

“Oh yes I do,” he said. “I'm not a bossy prude for nothing. I want to regularise things, particularly for Snuffles, make him feel more secure.” 

Suddenly I felt my knees giving way with lust. 

“Could we possibly do it again just very quickly before breakfast?” I asked. 

We never made it to the bedroom, but the kitchen floor definitely Exceeded Expectations. 

THE END