Lucius breaks Draco's arm in two places when he catches him kissing Matthew in the barn over Christmas break in fifth year. Matthew works with the horses and smiles at Draco when he finds him hiding out in the empty stalls, avoiding the house. He has long warm fingers which he hooks in Draco's waistband when he kisses him and Draco never sees him again.
"No son of mine," Lucius says, while Draco breathes softly, braces himself against the floor with his good arm. "No son of mine is going to spread his legs for some half-squib. What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't," Draco says. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are prepared to do your duty," Lucius says, flicking a bit of hay casually off his robe.
Draco's arm aches as spring comes, and reminds him of caution. He says no, politely, when Claude Clover invites him to Hogsmeade, and doesn't let Elspeth Lane kiss him when she tries, her narrow hands tight around his wrists.
"I heard you were a prude," she sneers, and tells all her friends he gave it up, but almost no one believes her.
Potter kills Voldemort halfway through sixth year and Draco finds he has grown so used to worry and dread that he scarcely knows what to do with himself. He is not alone in this—anything seems possible, suddenly, which is the way he finds himself kissing Neville Longbottom for the tenth time, this time in Neville's bed in the Gryffindor dormitory. Neville is warm and presses Draco down against the mattress until Draco’s thighs slide open around his hips.
“Draco,” Neville says, kissing his throat. “I’ll stop.”
“I don’t want you to—“
Neville sighs, shudders, twists in Draco’s arms in such a way that Draco knows he’s grinding his cock against the mattress. “Come off it, I know you’re saving it.”
“I’m not saving it,” Draco says.
“Really?” Neville says, and laughs a little, his breath hot on Draco’s cheek.
“It’s true,” Draco says, just as Neville gets his hand inside his trousers, inside his pants, and his fingers rub over Draco’s cock.
“Okay,” Neville says. “Let’s, ah—“
It’s messy and a little awkward and Draco comes once before Neville can get fully inside him, and then again while Neville is fucking him. They do it three or four or six more times a week until the end of the year, sneaking around, but not trying especially hard to hide. Neville is, Draco gathers from the garbled accounts in the newspapers, a war hero, but he doesn't want to talk about it, or about the freshly healed scars on his chest, the almost raw new skin on his kneecap.
Neville gets him little presents—a box of chocolate from Honeydukes, a quill set to make up for the quill he crushes when they're kissing once, in the library, although the quill set is tipped in silver, charmed against smears, expensive, nicer than the one he destroyed.
The last day of school they almost miss the train, kissing again and again, hidden in a little alcove just outside the dungeons, hands twined together.
"Next year," Draco says, when they make it on to the train, out of breath from running. Neville nods and touches the back of his hand, and then slides into a compartment with Weasley and Potter.
It's August before Lucius tells him he's not going back to school.
"But—NEWTs," Draco says.
Lucius waves his hand dismissively. "What on earth would you need NEWTs for? It's not as though you'll be doing anything so outrageously low class as trying to get a job."
"Well, no, but—"
"While the Dark Lord was still with us," Lucius says, "of course it made sense to keep you in that school; you might have been useful. Now that he's not, I have made other plans."
Draco doesn't see Neville again for two years.
Draco considers writing to Neville, but doesn't know what to say. And if his father found out—Longbottom's probably already shagging someone else anyhow.
At first, he's bored, and spends most of his time reading in the library and killing time flying around the estate. It's not even Halloween when he falls ill. He doesn't notice at first because he doesn't have much to do, so an extra hour or two of sleep, the odd nap from which he wakes cotton-mouthed and disoriented, doesn't make much of a difference. He doesn't mention it to Lucius, because Lucius is being surprisingly nice to him lately and has always hated to hear about Draco's weaknesses.
Then he goes to bed one night a few weeks before Christmas and wakes up in the middle of summer. There's a house elf perched at the end of the bed.
"Mr. Draco was very ill," it chirps, and gives him a glass of tepid water.
After his illness, his hands shake. "Such a good thing we kept you out of school," Lucius says when Draco is well enough to join him at dinner. "I'm afraid you have inherited your mother's weak constitution."
As far as Draco knows, his mother's weak constitution was primarily the result of an exclusive diet of cucumber salad, tea, very rare steak and gin, but he's concentrating too hard on making his hands work properly to do anything but nod politely.
It takes months to recover—endless days to struggle through and exhausted sleep at night. He doesn't remember much about being ill, but a lot of things are a little hazy lately, including magic he remembers being easily able to accomplish in third year—that he takes pains to hide from Lucius, who has been as kind and patient as Draco can ever remember him being, but still seems unlikely to enjoy the fact of his only son exhibiting Squibbish tendencies.
In late spring it occurs to him vaguely that everyone must be finished with NEWTs by now, but he can't bring himself to care. He finds an elementary magic text in the library and spends all the time he isn't attending Lucius' endless rounds of dinner parties and business meetings trying to grind the spells back into his bones through repetition. He makes slow progress, but then sometimes slips back into total incompetence again in the space of a few days. He should feel terrified, angry, betrayed, but it's hard to remember that.
Another year passes while Draco is remembering how to do elementary spells and falling off broomsticks and banging into doors.
It's the same as any number of teas Draco has attended at Malfoy Manor: silver service, a starburst of delicacies: roses of smoked salmon on cucumber slices, French macaroons, thin slices of cured meat and cheese, chicken salad on crusty rolls, grapes and cherries and pineapple, individual strawberry shortcakes. Draco is nibbling on a sandwich and trying to look as though he's paying attention even though he has a low roaring headache sliding up the edge of his jaw, when their guest—some bland older wizard whose name Draco immediately forgot—extracts a cherry pit from his mouth and says,
"Please don't tell me you planned to pass him off as a virgin."
Lucius goes very still. Draco takes a too big bite of his sandwich and it slides in a painful lump down his throat.
"I don't take kindly to jokes of that nature, Ichabod," Lucius says, finally.
"And I would never joke about such a thing," Ichabod says. "He's lovely, but I'm afraid he's entirely unsuitable for my purposes."
"Ah, well," Lucius says lightly. "That's certainly understandable."
"Don't be too hard on the boy, now," Ichabod says. "I'm sure you remember what youthful high spirits are like."
"Indeed," Lucius said. "Would you care for another scone? Draco?"
"No thank you," Draco says. Ichabod stays and stays, chatting away the afternoon, so it's twilight by the time Lucius returns to the sitting room from seeing him off.
"Who," Lucius says.
"I'm sorry," Draco says.
"One of the servants?" Lucius says. He's very calm. Draco shakes his head. "Someone at school, then."
"I'm sorry," Draco says again. Lucius sits down and takes a sip of tea.
“I only wanted a good marriage for you,” Lucius says. “For you, because I wanted you to be happy, and you’ve thrown it away for—“ he sighs.
"I didn't know," Draco says.
"Well," Lucius says, almost briskly. "These things happen, I suppose. Who was it?"
"Neville Longbottom," Draco hears himself say, knowing the instant the words leave his mouth that it was a mistake.
"Ah," Lucius says. "Pureblood, at least."
"Yes," Draco says. Lucius smiles. Draco swallows and smiles back.
"Of course, it's not entirely your fault," Lucius says. "He forced you.”
“He raped you,” Lucius says, his voice utterly level.
“That’s not exactly what—“
“He raped you,” Lucius repeats, deliberately. “I raised you to be untouched, and he took that from me—from both of us.”
“No, he didn’t,” Draco said. “I—it was my idea."
“He assaulted you,” Lucius says. “He despoiled you, and he deprived me of valuable property, for which I intend to have restitution.”
Lucius stuns him, and then holds him down, fingers wrapped across his throat until Draco stops struggling.
“Neville Longbottom took advantage of you,” Lucius says, “and in your innocence, you were too fucking stupid to realize exactly what it meant when he fucked you."
“I wanted it,” Draco tries to say, but his throat hurts too much.
Lucius beats him until Draco agrees that Neville raped him. The next day, he files charges—theft of assets, criminal trespass, destruction of property.
Neville was always big, but he's grown into it since Draco saw him last. He's wearing formal black robes, and accompanied by two solicitors, both of which he towers over. Neville, in school, was careless with his wardrobe, all loosened ties and shirttails hanging; now his robes are buttoned to the throat, and his sleeve cuffs are ivory, spotless. The only thing that looks familiar about him is the dark hair falling across his forehead.
He doesn't look at Draco.
Lucius' attorney is just gearing up to make a dramatic opening speech when Neville's attorney, stands and says, in a dry, dusty voice, that they will stipulate to the matter of penetrative intercourse. Neville's mouth is tight, but his face is otherwise expressionless.
“Mr. Longbottom is in his second year of Auror training with an unblemished record; surely it is a mistake to allow a single youthful indiscretion to cloud an already promising career," his solicitor continues. "But of course the injury to Mr. Malfoy is grave. Mr. Longbottom is prepared to make restitution through marriage, preferably to take place immediately, as Mr. Longbottom has academic obligations."
"Your offer is marriage?" the magistrate says. He sounds bored. Neville stands, unhesitating.
"Yes," he says.
“Surely,” Lucius says smoothly, “you can understand that my son has no interest in marrying his rapist, and that a settlement would be the more appropriate—“
“I accept,” Draco says, but it comes out so quietly that he has to say it again before anyone notices.
Married student housing for the honors 3-year Auror track is a series of somewhat gone-to-seed stone cottages arranged around a grassy quadrangle. Neville shows him the unlocking spell he uses and keys the door to Draco’s wand. He’s carrying Draco’s satchel—took it out of his hand when Draco came through the portkey point, and Draco wishes he’d give it back.
“You are unbelievably stupid and willful," Lucius said while he was packing. The arrangements had been finalized in the courtroom, and, in order not to interrupt Neville's studies, it had been agreed that Draco would pack a few necessities and move in with him immediately.
"Longbottom would have had to pay us ten times the money if you'd refused marriage," Lucius said.
Draco nodded. He was wearing the heavy, old-fashioned ring that Neville's solicitor had handed to Neville when Draco had said yes.
"Although I suppose there's nothing to be done, now," Lucius said. "And at least you had the good sense to fuck someone with a reasonable amount of money."
Draco packed faster.
"Kitchen," Neville says, pointing. "Living room, loo's through there, and you'll sleep in here." He puts the satchel down just inside the one bedroom. Neville's books are stacked on the scarred desk in the corner of the living room, but there are trunks and boxes still unpacked in the hallway.
"Oh. Where will you sleep?"
"The couch converts," Neville says.
"I don't want to put you out of your bed," Draco says, although he also really doesn't want to sleep on a converto-couch either. Neville shrugs. "And your marital, um, rights—"
"That's not necessary," Neville says.
"Look, you got what you wanted," Neville says. "And I fully acknowledge my role in the whole thing, I never should have—I mean, it was stupid of me and I am willing to pay the consequences."
"I'm not going to f—share a bed with you just so you can feel like you're paying your way," Neville says.
"What do you want me to do then?" Draco says.
"I don't care," Neville says. "I have to go, I have class. Should be home at 10 or so."
"Summer session," Neville says, and leaves.
He's been gone for an hour before Draco realizes there aren't any house elves. He eats cereal—Muggle-Os, he was never allowed to have them as a child—dry, out of the box and goes to bed hungry.
At first, Draco figures that Neville will get over his indignation and want sex soon enough; he always wanted it before. Those first weeks he fixes himself up at night, soft nightshirt open half down his chest, hair carefully brushed smooth, but Neville never knocks on the door or even seems to look at him the time Draco makes an excuse about getting a cup of tea in the kitchen.
Neville used to smile at him, his mouth a little crooked, and kiss his neck when they were messing around; now, mostly, Neville isn't there, and when he is he's sleeping, or eating toast over the kitchen sink. Draco amuses himself the best he can; he finds he's tired a lot, which isn't new, but the sleep he gets in the quiet bedroom is unlike any sleep he remembers getting before—not at Hogwarts, where he dreamt ceaselessly of failure and his socks were always damp, and not at Malfoy Manor, where he'd slept a great deal but in shallow, fitful bursts, so he had to sleep away whole days to feel like he'd gotten any. Neville's bedroom looks out on the little back yard, overgrown grass and an apple tree, and the bed is wide and a little hard, nothing special, but Draco sleeps, deep and hard and dreamless, and he feels wonderful in the first moments when he wakes. Then he remembers that he's probably going to have to see Neville today and his stomach sinks like a stone.
He stays out of Neville's way the best he can, trying to be polite. Neville's too big for the converto-couch and sleeps sprawled diagonally, one foot or hand drooping off the side.
"Are you certain you don't want to sleep in the bedroom?" Draco says, when he runs into Neville in the kitchen one morning, having misjudged the time.
"But the bed is bigger and you're, um—bigger—" Draco stops talking. Neville rummages through the cupboards and comes up with a box of cereal and an empty jar of peanut butter. He puts them both down on the counter, and then, without turning around, says, in a low, even voice,
"Would it be too much to ask for you to buy a little food or straighten up after yourself?" Draco's been living on apples from the tree in back and cans of corn and tomatoes and pickled vegetables he found in the pantry with dust on them, but he just says,
"I don't have any money."
"Are you—" Neville turns around. "I paid your father that extortionate marriage price. What happened to it?"
"I don't—um, I don't know," Draco says. Neville never stutters anymore. Neville closes his eyes briefly, and then reaches inside the breast pocket of his robe and puts five galleons down on the counter. "Can you just pick up some milk and a few other things?" he says. "I'll see to an account for you."
"You don't have to give me anything," Draco says. Neville snorts.
"It's a little late for that, isn't it?"
Draco has never in his life been in a food market, let alone the giant supermarket that's nearest to campus. He went to the butcher once with Lucius to buy a calf's heart for a potion when he was seven, Lucius sweeping in, glittering, making eye contact with no one in the shop. The supermarket is modern and intimidatingly well-lit and has so many products that it takes Draco some time to find what he wants, clutching his basket in a sweaty hand and counting out the prices on his fingers. He doesn't know the right kind of milk to get, and when he decides it would be nice to have some roast boar sandwiches, the only thing he can find is raw pork chops, which cost more money than he has once he gets the milk, cream for Neville's tea, and tea, which they're out of, cereal, since that's mostly what Neville eats, and some cheese and bread.
Neville leaves a passbook on the table the next day; fifteen hundred galleons—Draco blinks and checks the decimal, wondering if it's a mistake. But then, he has no idea how long it's to last, and he hated having to say anything. Extortionate marriage price, he thinks; it's shameful to come into a marriage without any money, but Lucius hadn't given him any.
His life is impossibly small; he hadn't noticed it so much at the Manor because he spent most of his time covering up for the times he fell asleep in the library, trying so hard to complete even one of the first level transfigurations from Silly Wizard's Lessons for Kids that his head ached afterward for hours or recovering from the bouts of vomiting that would come on suddenly and leave him thirsty and weak—which, now that he thinks of it, he hasn't felt sick since he left the Manor. Now he has the time and energy to notice that there's very little for him to do—he can't apparate more than ten or fifteen feet and doesn't have his license in any case, so he can't go anywhere that he can't walk to and he's careful not to spend any of Neville's money except on food and things for the house. The house is also dismayingly filthy—mildew building up under the claw-foot tub, grime on the floors and baseboards and windowsills, aged grease splatter on the walls behind the stove, overgrown grass in the front yard and the back yard garden gone entirely to seed.
What they need is a couple house elves, but Draco can only imagine how Neville would look at him for suggesting it; it's written all over his face every time he walks in the door and sees Draco sitting on the couch, doing not much of anything. Neville thinks he's spoiled and lazy enough. Draco tries to practice some magic, but can't make head or tail of any of Neville's 1A textbooks or the collection of reference books that Neville's jammed haphazardly into the dusty built-in shelves in the living room.
The box is delivered by a ragged-looking owl, who droops around on the front stoop looking exhausted for almost a half an hour before he leaves. Draco hauls the box into the kitchen and offers the owl a slice of toast, which he nips gratefully out of Draco's fingers.
"Why didn't you open it?" Neville says, when he gets home. "It's addressed to both of us."
"Well, I wasn't, um—"
Neville disenchants the packing tape. "From Ron's mum," he says, pulling out six tea towels, a trivet, a crocheted afghan, a couple battered biscuit tins full of fudge and a preservatus-charmed meatloaf.
"She's concerned about motherless boys setting up housekeeping," Neville says, opening one of the tins absently and fishing out a piece of fudge. "Want some?" he says. Draco looks at the piece of fudge, held in Neville's callused fingers. The fudge is cut into bite size pieces; Neville's thumb would brush his lower lip. His mouth goes embarrassingly dry, but he lifts his eyes to Neville's face and Neville takes a step back, his face going blank. "I meant. Here," he says. He shoves the tin into Draco's hands and disappears into the other room until dinner time.
The meatloaf is delicious. Between the two of them, they demolish it; Neville all but licks his plate clean and then stares at it wistfully for a full minute before sighing and sending it to the sink with a flick of his wand.
The next day, Draco finds a cookery book at a rummage sale. Sweating, swearing, he teaches himself how to cook. Gryffindors are always so greedy, and he remembers well enough how soft Neville was in second year, always stuffing his face with pudding. He doesn't look like that now.
"Um," Neville says, the first time he shows up—late, nearly nine o'clock and Draco's managed some chicken stew and crackers and cheese. "Thanks."
The chicken is tough. The broth is too salty and Draco didn't dice the onions fine enough, but it's not terrible. Neville eats two servings and makes a big dent in the cheese and crackers plate.
That wasn't so hard as everyone makes it out to be, Draco thinks, and makes spaghetti carbonara the next night, and then a salade nicoise—
"Fancy," Neville says.
"Not really," Draco says. He joins the library so he can look up some books about bread and learns how to make dinner rolls and a dense, crusty loaf he uses to make french toast and sandwiches for Neville to take for lunch. Neville stops looking surprised when he comes home and finds the table set, food steaming gently on the stove, a new cake on the sideboard tucked under the cake bell Draco finds in the back of one of the cupboards, and he's home more often, which gives Draco more chances to study him covertly. Neville still has the wide, blunt face, sensitive mouth, dark eyes, but his face is older, with a heavier beard shadow at the end of the day.
"What?" he says once, looking up and catching Draco at it.
"Just. You look different."
"Me," Neville says. "You look—"
"Nothing," Neville says quickly. "I'd forgotten about what you—your hair."
"I should cut it," Draco says. It gets in the way when he's cooking and it takes a long time to dry when he can't get the charms to work.
"Not on my account." Neville bends down over his soup.
Lucius drops by while Draco is trying to learn how to make custard; Draco ruins the whole thing before Lucius does much more than sit down at the kitchen table, the eggs going lumpy and hard cooked in the base.
"What can I do for you?" Draco says. Lucius looks around—at the freshly scrubbed counters, the zucchini bread cooling on a rack near the window. He sniffs, and his face settles into unpleasant lines, but when he speaks his voice is perfectly cordial.
"Perhaps I'm just dropping by to make sure Longbottom isn't mistreating you," he says. "My, what a charming little cottage; I had no idea that you were so adept at house elf work."
"Thank you," Draco says.
"The fact is," Lucius says, laying his hands flat on the table, "that I need a loan."
"What for? Neville already paid you plenty for your phony suit."
"Is that what he told you? In that case, I hope he's getting his money's worth." Draco says nothing, and Lucius' smile grows more self-assured. "Oh, I see. So you haven't quite picked up where you left off? What a shame."
"We're doing fine," Draco says, but Lucius ignores him.
"I confess, I had rather assumed you'd be working off your debt on your back," he says. "But I suppose there's no telling what sorts of tastes he's picked up since your assignations—"
"I don't have any money," Draco says.
"He hasn't given you access to his accounts? You scrub the floors and cook for him and hope for a pat on the head and he doles out a few sickles to you every now and again. I suppose he makes you beg—"
"No he doesn't, I have my own account—" Lucius' smile sharpens. Stupid, Draco thinks, stupid, he's out of practice with Neville, who always just says what he means.
"And to think I doubted your—abilities. A withdrawal from that account will do nicely."
"No," Draco says, so Lucius blacks his eye and twists his wrist back and then shoves his face into the kitchen floor and leaves.
Draco makes up a stupid story about slipping in the kitchen and hitting his face on the sink and Neville nods over the thai basil chicken curry Draco had just enough time to make and doesn't really look at him. Convenient, that.
There are four chapters about proximity charms in one of Neville's introductory textbooks and it takes Draco two weeks to grind through enough of the theory to realize that he probably doesn't have enough power even for the most basic spells, and that it wouldn't be especially useful to know when Lucius is at the front door.
He's anxious about it at first, lies awake thinking about the kinds of things Lucius might say to Neville if Neville were home the next time he came by. He knows Neville would politely disagree with Lucius about what a simpleton Draco is, but he'd probably secretly think Lucius wasn't exactly wrong—and, well, he'd have a point, Draco thinks, when he's flipping through the chapters and feeling panic flutter in his stomach at how little he understands.
Lucius doesn't come around again, though, which isn't unlike him; he never wasted effort on anything he deemed not worth the trouble. He probably knows that Draco's account isn't worth bothering with and is on to bigger and better things. Gradually, Draco stops worrying about it as much; he doesn't have anything his father needs anymore.
"Harry and Ron are coming by," Neville says, after dinner. "We have a late lecture."
"All right," Draco says. He puts the rest of the dishes in the sink and starts scrubbing down the table.
"It's just," Neville shoves his hair back off his forehead. "They think we were writing."
"To each other."
"Why do they think that?"
"Because I told them. I had to come up with something to explain—" Neville makes a quick, dismissive gesture, "us."
"Why not just tell the truth?"
Neville rolls his eyes. "We went to quite a bit of trouble to hush it up, so I hardly think it makes sense to tell Ron and Harry, who kind of have big mouths."
Neville stares at him, unblinking, and then says "Do you want me to tell them that I had to marry you?"
"I guess not," Draco says.
"Right, so. We corresponded. We had planned to wait until I finished school, but decided not to. Got it?"
"How will I ever remember such a complicated cover story?" Draco says, deadpan, and Neville, suddenly, smirks down at him. It's gone just as quickly, Neville's face shading back into resigned politeness.
Draco braces himself for it to be unpleasant anyhow; expecting the little underhanded digs Potter and Weasley always specialized in, or, best case, for them to ignore him entirely.
"We brought you some champagne," Weasley says, tucking the bottle—wrapped, with curls of gold ribbon around the neck—into Draco's hands. "And, uh—"
"Congratulations," Potter says, putting down an awkwardly wrapped parcel on the vestibule table.
"That's very—thank you," Draco says cautiously. They don't look much different; Weasley's taller; Potter's hair is cut short, his scar faded white.
"It's not much," Weasley says. "Just something because we weren't at the wedding."
"It was small," Neville says.
"Yes," Draco says, biting back a hysterical memory of the courtroom, Neville sliding the ring on his finger without looking at his face, "just family."
"Well, anyhow," Neville says. "We should get going."
Potter and Weasley look at each other, quickly, at Neville's cloak and Draco in shirtsleeves, a dishtowel hung over his shoulder. "M—Draco's not coming?" Potter says finally.
"No," Neville says.
"Look," Potter says firmly, "I know we didn't get along in school, but that was before you married Neville and things are different now."
"And we got you champagne," Weasley adds.
"I thought the lecture was for school," Draco says.
"It is," Neville says at the same time that Potter says, "well, yeah but Hermione always comes."
"She likes lectures," Neville says. "It's pretty dull."
"Yeah, true," Potter says. He gives Draco a quick, friendly smile, and says, "Save yourself."
"But you should come if you want to," Weasley says.
"Maybe next time," Draco says.
Potter and Weasley's gift is a framed photograph of the Young Potionmaker's Club, of which neither of them were members.
"Huh," Draco says, leaning in closer, puzzled, and then Neville reaches past him and stamps his finger down on the figures at the edge of the photograph. It's the two of them, sitting in the grass, leaning back against a low stone wall, talking.
"This can't have been easy to find," Draco says, tentatively. He doesn't even remember being in that courtyard with Neville, let alone that day. In the picture, Draco offers Neville his pear and Neville leans forward, steadying Draco's wrist, to take a bite.
"Thoughtful," Neville says, his voice like ground glass.
"What are you doing?" Neville says, when he finds Draco half inside the kitchen cabinets, up to his elbows in suds. Draco pulls his head out and stares up at Neville.
"I'm cleaning the grease that the prior tenants allowed to encrust the shelves," he says. "It's rancid and it's attracting insects."
Neville looks at the floor, at the wall, out the window; Draco tries not to feel self-conscious about his shirt, which is soaked through, clinging to his chest. "I can hire someone—" Neville begins.
"No," Draco says. "I really have nothing better to do and it beats sitting around all day." He finished the first half of the cabinets this morning and washed and rearranged the pots and started the marinade for the roast and this afternoon he was planning to scrub down the windows with vinegar and back issues of the Prophet, just like it says in the book he found tucked into the box Mrs. Weasley sent them. Neville sighs.
"It won't be too long until we can get divorced," he says.
"We'll just wait a few years and—"
"And then you'll destroy your career," Draco says, rolling back to his feet and standing. Neville looks uncomfortable.
"More people are getting divorced," he says.
"Muggleborns get divorced," Draco says. "And even then—." He wrings out the dishrag and hangs it carefully over the edge of the sink, not looking at Neville. "If you want me out, then we can just live separately and go to a few social functions now and again. That's how it's done and you know it."
"Maybe I don't want to pretend."
"Oh," Draco says. "Well. You want to get married to someone else."
"No, of course not," Neville says crossly.
"Oh. When, um, when were you thinking?" Draco hasn't known a single person who's ever gotten divorced.
"Well, I generally like to have some kind of timetable for when I'm to be shunned by polite society."
"You won't be—"
"No, you won't be," Draco says. "They'll all say I did something wrong, I couldn't satisfy—"
"Fine, then we'll just stay married," Neville bites out.
Draco walks in on him in the washroom the next morning; Neville's naked to the waist, wearing only a towel, putting salve on a couple half-healed cuts on his chest.
"Oh," Draco says. "I—ah. didn't realize."
"I'll be done in a minute," Neville says, glancing up quickly. Draco's cheeks are hot; he feels stupid. It's obvious how much bigger Neville's shoulders are than when they were at Hogwarts, but it's another thing entirely to be confronted with it at 7am.
"Are you hurt?" he says.
"Just got banged up training a few days ago," Neville says. "It's not healing as fast as it should; keeps reopening."
"I can spell-stitch it for you," Draco says; the words are out of his mouth before he has time to consider the fact that he's not entirely sure he can.
"That'd be great," Neville says. "If you don't mind."
"No, it's my pleasure," Draco says. He feels like he's in a play. "I'll just get my wand then." He barely even bothers to carry it with him these days; one more excuse to hide how little magic he does. He digs it out of the bedside table and when he's back, Neville is still only wearing the towel. "Okay," Draco says. He has to put one hand on Neville's waist; his wandgrip feels sweaty and unfamiliar. Neville swallows, looking away.
"Resarcio," Draco says; the cuts heal up tight, right in front of him.
"Thank you," Neville says, a little formally. Draco manages to nod like it's nothing.
Neville thanks Draco for breakfast (soft boiled egg, toast, granola with raspberries and strawberries, tea) and when Draco hands him his sack lunch (Chicken Florentine soup, ham and tomato sandwich, apple turnover, roasted cashews, pumpkin seeds and peanuts for a snack later) but doesn't say anything more. Draco can't do any magic for the rest of the day, not even to heat his own soup for lunch or clean the bathtub, but he carries it with him anyway, how smoothly the edges of the wounds knit together, the goosebumps on Neville's skin beneath his palm, the way that he knew, in the space between lifting his wand and uttering the spell, that it would work. He hasn't felt anything like that in a long time.
"Some people are coming over for study group," Neville says, crossing his arms. "Harry and Ron and all that."
"Because I have the biggest place, so—"
"Do you think I'm going to throw down jellylegs or something?" Draco says, rolling his eyes. "I'm capable of behaving myself."
"I know that."
"I wrote them a thank you note for their wedding gift," Draco says, much more coolly than he really feels. He doesn't want Potter and Weasley to come over and he doesn't want them to see the way Neville alternately ignores him or makes a too obvious effort to make the best of things.
Luckily, they set up in the living room, making it easier for Draco to hide in the kitchen. He spends too much time planning a menu and then making food; lemonade and spiced nuts, broccoli and dip, cuban sandwiches on fresh rolls, pralines, shortbread, tea.
"Malfoy—uh, Draco, I mean," Weasley says, taking his third sandwich off the tray Draco brings out of the kitchen, "Did you really make all this, because it's—"
"It's really good," Potter says. He's hoarding one of the bowls of nuts and taking huge bites out of a sandwich like he's never seen food before.
"Yeah, thanks," Neville says, perfunctorily.
"Can I get you—"
"We really need to get to work, if you don't mind," Neville says. "This isn't a restaurant," he says to Ron and Harry.
"Of course," Draco says, taking a step back. "I was just—I—" he ducks through the kitchen door. He has a lot of dishes to wash anyhow, and he wanted to experiment further with some charms to keep the tomatoes from making the bread soggy on Neville's lunch sandwiches.
He wraps up the extra sandwiches for Weasley and Potter, who thank him profusely, possibly making fun of him.
It's easy to fall in with Neville's schedule, especially after the Autumn term really gets going and the afternoons get darker and colder. More people move into the married student cottages, and Draco makes covered dishes and goes over to introduce himself. The spouses all work, though, and although they raise their hands in greeting in the morning when Draco sees them rushing out towards the portkey point, holding traveller mugs of tea, that's as far as it goes. Draco is used to being alone, though, and he doesn't feel it as keenly as he thinks he probably should. It gives him more time to practice cooking and mess around with the new little bits of magic he finds he can suddenly do. It's nothing to get excited about and he burns through it quickly, overstepping trying to scrub the floor or start the fire and having to wait overnight or even a few days before he feels powerful enough to give it another try. Neville eats dinner with him every night he doesn't have a late class and doesn't ever seem to notice a difference.
"So what are you interested in doing?" Neville asks one night, cutting into his frittata. Neville always makes polite conversation over dinner; they talk about Neville's classes and the weather and non-political news items.
"I was thinking about making a crumble tomorrow," Draco says. "Raspberry okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine, but I meant—more long term, actually," Neville says. "I'd imagine you have some ambitions beyond cooking for me and cleaning the grout underneath the tub."
Draco hesitates. He'd thought Neville liked his cooking. "Most jobs want at least a few NEWTs," he says, finally.
"So go up to Hogwarts and sit them—"
"I'm too far behind," Draco says. "I'm—" he doesn't want to tell Neville how many of the things he does around the house he does the Muggle way, because it's easier than the sick feeling of fatigue he gets if he tries to do too much.
"Fine," Neville says and Draco can't tell if he thinks Draco is stupid or just lazy.
"Maybe I can find a job," Draco says, trying to think of what he might be able to do. He could probably check out at the supermarket, that doesn't take much magic. He can half imagine himself offering useful advice about how best to steam vegetables or make a roast or smoking out back like the group of laughing clerks he saw the other day. It looked nice. Of course, Neville just flinches and gets annoyed, like he always does.
"It's not about the money," he says. "I just thought you might not want to sit around here all day."
"I don't mind," Draco says. "I keep busy."
He keeps a list of tasks in the kitchen drawer to remind himself of how lucky he is not to be starting at the wall in his bedroom at Malfoy Manor: treating the curtains with lemon juice and bleaching them in the sun and completing the next round of documentation to get the house connected to the Floo network so they can stop relying on the portafloo, which breaks every other week and is really only useful for conversations—
"Don't use that to go anywhere," Neville says, when he sees Draco tinkering with it.
"Because you'll get stuck someplace—why don't you have your apparition license?"
"No reason," Draco says. "I'm working on it."
"Right, okay," Neville says.
Draco cleans the attic, which is empty except for a family of squirrels, shelves all of Neville's book in alphabetical order by subject, drags the storm windows out of the basement and scrubs them down, and then cleans out the shed behind the house. It's a dank little shack, filled to the brim with potions ingredients gone past their prime, rusty gardening tools, boxes of mildewing, out-of-date textbooks, a couple old brooms that won't do much but hover a few inches off the ground, boxes of discarded housewares from former tenants. He drags the boxes up on the back porch to sort; he's only halfway through when he comes out and sees Neville leaning back against the doorframe, watching. He takes the box out of Draco's hands and carries it for him.
"Thanks," Draco says, pulling open the first box, which is full of broken china, and beginning to sort it into piles based on whether it's too shattered to be repaired. When he looks sideways under his lashes, he can see Neville watching him, silently, but he's almost through with the second box before Neville says anything.
"Did I force you?" Neville says tonelessly.
"Force me to clean the shed?"
"Did I rape you?" Neville says, his face tight and grim. Yes, Draco should say, but I know you didn't mean to. Yes, but I forgive you.
"No," Draco whispers. He's prepared for anger, but Neville's shoulders just drop a little.
"I didn't think I had," he says, relief leaking into his voice. "But I thought maybe I wasn't remembering it right."
"I could never even believe that you let me—when you—" Neville shrugs.
"I'm sorry," Draco says. "I know what I said, but I—it never occurred to me that you—that I—I know you would never do that."
"I wouldn't?" Neville says, and looks at up at Draco, his eyes dark and hot and frustrated.
"No," Draco says. "I—you couldn't."
"Why's that?" His voice is caustic. "Because Gryffindors never—"
"Because I want you to," Draco says.
Neville makes a choking sound and Draco turns and starts sorting out the nearest box mindlessly, feeling his ears turn red. He moves a dented harmonica from one box to the next, and then three chipped plates with mourning doves flapping dopily around the border, and he's holding a brownie trap when Neville's hand closes around his wrist.
"Do that later," Neville says. He pulls the trap out of Draco's hand and tosses it back in the box, and then turns Draco around, tips him back against the high balustrade, and kisses him.
It's a dry, condescending kiss, Neville's hands on either side of him, barely brushing against his body and Draco twists his mouth away, bitterly disappointed. "You don't have to be polite," he says, staring at Neville's worn training robes; there's a hole that wants mending.
"Fine," Neville says shortly, and yanks him up into a real kiss, his hands tight on Draco's waist. Draco bites back a moan, twisting his hands in Neville's robes, and Neville seems to come to a decision, because he lifts Draco up further, and carries him back into the house.
Neville was always sweet and slow and gentle, just a little fumbling, and now he's none of those things, throwing Draco down on the bed and kneeling over him to yank his robe open. Draco's only wearing a thin undershirt and drawers underneath and Neville's eyes widen.
"What?" Draco says, but Neville just leans in and kisses him again, draws his hands down over Draco's body, heavy and hot, shoving his robes back off his shoulders. "You too," Draco says and Neville pulls back long enough to rip his cloak and inner robe off, and yank the t-shirt he's wearing over his head, before putting his hands back on Draco's hips and shoving them up underneath his shirt.
"I've been thinking about this—about you," Neville says.
"I didn't know," Draco says.
"I didn't want you to know," Neville says, and his voice sounds defeated. His hands are still all over Draco's skin, pulling his undershirt up over his head, and then he bends forward and kisses Draco again, pressing him back against the bed.
Neville kisses Draco's mouth, keeping most of his weight off Draco, and then drags his mouth to his jaw, his neck, and then he takes a breath and rolls sideways, tugging Draco up on top of him, tilting his chin to catch Draco's mouth again.
Draco runs his hands along Neville's shoulders and up his arms, and then presses Neville's wrists back against the bed with the lightest pressure of his fingertips. The skin on Neville's wrists is soft except for the wand callus from wearing his wand up his left sleeve. Neville sighs a little and keeps his wrists against the bed while Draco opens the buttons on his trousers. He's hard, but he stops Draco's hand before Draco does more than draw out his cock and stroke it a little. Draco thinks at first he's done something wrong, but the fact is that Neville doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry anymore. He rolls them back over and they kiss for a long, long time, and then there is a lazy section where Neville kisses his way up his back, sucking slightly harder after each kiss, under Draco is lifting up to meet him and his skin feels hot and tender and his chest jolts at the first brush of Neville's mouth, and it's only when Draco's lost track of the proceedings entirely that Neville leans over the side of the bed for his wand and accios an ornate little tin from the bathroom.
He holds it up like Draco knows what it is.
"Okay?" he says. He's flushed and his hair is sticking up and he looks so hopeful that Draco says yes.
Neville isn't rough or careless, but he is almost casual when he works Draco open with two wet fingers—first, kneeling between Draco's open thighs and then, drawing Draco up against him, one arm tight around his waist, holding him up, kissing his throat and shoulders, fingers deep inside him.
"Ready?" Neville says.
"What, like this?"
"What would you prefer?" Neville says, quite seriously.
"I don't—um, this is fine," Draco says, and Neville draws him up and slides inside him, his free hand groping Draco's buttocks. Draco is shaken by it, almost laughs—it's unexpectedly filthy, nothing he'd ever expect from Neville, who is the rigidly nice Gryffindor type.
Neville fucks up into him for a while, holding Draco tightly and doing most of the work, but they end up tumbled back on the bed, Draco's thigh's open around Neville's waist, Neville's hands on his hips, his stomach, his cock.
It's dark in the bedroom, but not so dark he can't see Neville's face, intent, careful, as he draws his hand up Draco's cock again and again, inside Draco but barely moving, just stretching him open as a minor counterpoint to the handjob. Draco comes pretty fast, and Neville doesn't last much longer.
The fuck a lot after that. Neville is quiet around Draco, brusque at times, but his body is eloquent when they fuck, braced above Draco or holding him when he convulses in orgasm. He has more scars than anyone who's barely twenty should have, a big gash just above his right nipple, a rush of pale white scrapes on his tanned arms, neat surgical repairs on his back and one thigh and he was always bulky, but now he's heavily muscled in a way that is entirely new since the last time Draco saw him naked.
"Just the training. It's mandatory," Neville says shortly when Draco's hands linger a little too long on his shoulders, and that's another thing: from the very few things Neville says, you'd think they were picking back up in the same way they left it, barely past being nervous virgins, but the way he acts in the dark, the firm, calm, confidence in his hands when he touches Draco doesn't leave any questions about what he was doing while Draco was relearning Wingardium Leviosa and taking exhausted naps in his bedroom at Malfoy Manor.
When Draco wakes up at two in the morning and sees that the light in the living room is still on, he gets up and makes coffee and slices up some cold steak and layers it onto some toast and then digs out some of the oatmeal raisin bars he made the day before. Neville looks up blearily when Draco puts the tray down next to him.
"Sorry," he says. "Did I wake you?" His tone is neutral, almost friendly, and he's taken a huge grateful bite of an oatmeal bar, or Draco wouldn't dare to say anything.
"Is there something I could help with?" he says, watching Neville carefully, his sharp cheekbones and gentle, overly serious face.
"Oh, I don't know," Neville says, and smiles weakly. "What do you know about the metaphysical underpinnings of chiromancy?"
"Not much," Draco says.
"Yeah, me either," Neville admits. "But I have eight more inches to get through before I can go to bed and I probably need to recopy it because I smudged all over it."
"I can make a clean copy for you," Draco offers.
"Really? You don't have to—it's really late. I don't want to keep you up."
"It's fine," Draco says, and Neville must really be tired because he doesn't protest further, just pushes his books to the middle of the desk and sets Draco up with a clean sheet of parchment and his much annotated first draft.
They work in silence, Neville sliding over new paragraphs as he completes them, so they finish at nearly the same time, and Draco just has to copy the conclusion. It's dense stuff with a lot of inexplicable quotes and equations; Draco doesn't understand it, but he was never very good at magical theory and it bothers him less than he expects.
"This looks really nice," Neville says, riffling through the sheets, "like a Neatnotes Quill."
"Lucius was always on about my penmanship," Draco says.
Neville tries to help with dinner, which means he has something to tell Draco. He takes the silver out of Draco's hands and sets the table and shells some peas for the salad and it still takes until they're seated and eating before he says,
"Are you busy tomorrow?" Draco thinks he's joking at first; Draco is never busy. "I have to take you along to this dinner party," Neville says. "The Dean's throwing it and I guess some of the people from the Ministry are going to be there too."
"Okay," Draco says "Formal robes?"
"Yeah, I guess," Neville says. He frowns down at his salad.
"Was there something else?"
"No," Neville says. "Just. try not to—" Draco waits, but Neville just takes a too-big bite of salad.
"Of course," Draco says.
The only formal robes he has are summer-weight, a little thin for the crisp weather, and when he spreads them out on the bed that night they're hopelessly crumpled from being crushed in the bottom of his valise. They'll have to do. He spends most of the next day pressing both of their dress robes; he has to do nearly all of it by hand because his magic gives out after he fixes the raveling seams on the sleeves of Neville's robe. He cuts a blossom for Neville's lapel off one of the overgrown bushes in the back yard and spends a not inconsiderable amount of time on his hair, and is waiting when Neville gets home, so late that he barely has time to get cleaned up before they're hustling out the door. Draco knows he looks nice, but Neville doesn't say anything.
It's not a large party—a handful of Aurors and students, a handful of faculty; Neville introduces him around and then gets swept off into a study, leaving Draco with the other spouses—scruffy students, no real competition. He smiles, accepts a glass of sherry, and sets out to be agreeable—yes, he knew Neville at school, no he wasn't able finish—he was in delicate health at the time. Yes, he's much better now. Yes, the program is quite challenging; of course he's very proud of all the hard work Neville puts in. Yes, it's difficult to find time to spend together, but they manage.
Neville comes back soon enough, squinting sideways at him in a way that means he's checking up on him; his eyebrows slide up to his hairline when Dean Chestnut's wife beckons him over and asks where he's been hiding Draco.
"What a delight this young man is," she says, patting Draco's hand. "I hope you are taking very good care of him."
Neville's expression is unreadable. "Yes," he says. "I hope so too."
"And something tells me he takes good care of you," she says, looking sharply over Neville's neatly pressed robes. Neville manages a stiff smile, and then it's time to go into dinner, where Draco spends most of the meal discussing recipes and housekeeping spells while Neville shoots him little disbelieving glances.
"Laying it on a little thick, don't you think," Neville blurts out, the minute they're through the portkey.
"I only did what you asked me to do," Draco says, just a little sharply. It hadn't been easy spending a whole evening making up stories about how much Neville cared for him and what a pleasure it was to be newly married to his childhood sweetheart.
"I didn't ask you to—to lie," Neville said.
"Everyone lies about things like that," Draco says, opening the door and toeing off his shoes. "It's necessary—"
"It's not," Neville says. "I won't have you make a fool of me—"
"Pardon me for endeavoring to support your career. As you do very little but revise and train, I had assumed that it was important to you."
"Making up stupid stories and the best way to braise veal has nothing to do with my career," Neville says, voice climbing precipitously, "you are so fucking—" Draco, in spite of himself, takes a step back and feels his shoulders hunch; Neville had a little too much to drink, not his fault, drinks pressed on him by the Ministry liaison and the Dean of Students. Neville breaks off, staring at him.
"I'm not going to hit you," he says. "Is that what you really think of me?"
"No," Draco says. "Of course not," but his voice, his hands, are shaking, and Neville turns around and slams out of the house without another word.
Draco washes his face and changes. He's given up on the nightshirt; now he wears a sloppy pair of pajamas with a hole in the knee and a shrunken, frayed t-shirt of Neville's he rescued from the rag bag, which has a faded gold G on it in script. Then he makes himself a mug of warm milk and honey and crawls into bed.
Neville's home for dinner the next night.
"I regret." He watches Draco sit down and unfold his napkin. There are dark shadows under his eyes. "My behavior."
"That's all right," Draco says. Neville nods. He doesn't mention it again, but he's different with Draco about sex. He's cautious, even diffident beforehand, as though he'd just as soon have a mug of hot cocoa and catch up on some Charms reading, but he is still fierce and hungry and grateful in bed, on the converto-couch, on the tufted window seat that looks out on the back yard and once, memorably, up against the wall in the entry vestibule, Neville on his knees, still wearing his satchel slung across his chest.
"You know you don't have to," Neville says once, when Draco is trying to take off his robes and get Neville out of his robes at the same time while Neville is dragging his teeth across the spot on his neck that makes his whole spine go pleasantly shivery.
"Yeah," Draco says absently, yanking at Neville's tie.
"I mean it," Neville says, pushing up and wrapping his hand across Draco's, stopping his fingers on the knot.
"You've made that very clear," Draco says.
Draco nods. It's dim in the room, lights off, because Draco fell asleep waiting for Neville to get home from class and then woke up when Neville leaned down over him, touching his cheek, so Neville ducks down close to get a good look at his face before nodding back and letting Draco pull his tie off.
"I certainly hope you enjoy being treated like a worthless whore," was the last thing Lucius said to him, but of course Neville doesn't do anything of the sort. He always stays in Draco's bed if they have sex there and thanks him for meals and kisses him when they fuck and always makes sure he comes first; there may as well be a tattoo on his forehead that reads "Gran Longbottom raised me right."
Neville is asked to an elite training exercise; only two slots for undergraduates, and the first slot already earmarked for Potter. Neville flushes with pleasure when he gets the owl.
"I thought they were going to ask Ron," he says. "Or Amanda, she's good."
Draco turns out the dough and gives it a couple hard slaps against the table before starting to knead, little puffs of flour rising around his hands.
"I guess they got the impression you were a go-getter," he says blandly. "From someplace."
"Well, could be," Neville mutters sheepishly.
He leaves the following weekend before first light; Draco gets up and makes him some breakfast, which he barely eats, gulping nervously at his tea instead.
"You'll be fine," Draco says.
"Yeah, well, you got me into this," Neville growls. Draco packs the eggs into a roll for later, and, with some effort, squeezes out a keep-warm charm that should last for a few hours.
"Thanks," Neville says gruffly. He hesitates on the threshold, hoisting his duffel bag over his shoulder. "You'll be all right?"
"It's just a week," Draco says and Neville nods and disapparates as he walks down the garden path.
It's only Tuesday when Weasley turns up on the doorstep, looking rumpled and friendly.
"To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?" Draco says, waving him in and walking back through to the kitchen.
"Nev asked me to look in on you," Weasley says.
"Yes, that sounds like him," Draco says dryly.
"He's the protective sort," Weasley says, tucking himself into one of the kitchen chairs and looking on with interest as Draco spoons ladyfinger batter into a pastry bag.
"Is he," Draco would like to say, but that would sound wrong, so he just makes a noise of agreement and pipes out the last of the ladyfingers.
"Right, then," Weasley says, rubbing his hands together once Draco puts the ladyfingers in the oven. "Say, you wouldn't happen to have an extra one of those sack lunches around the place, just going to waste?"
"I have beef stew, rolls, roasted asparagus and a trifle," Draco says. Weasley's eyes widen and he looks so eager that Draco says, "You may stay for lunch."
Weasley drops around a few more times while Neville's away, always suspiciously near mealtimes. He is loud and messy and clatters his knife and fork together, but he's an entertaining conversationalist and gives Draco some very useful critique about his cranberry bread, and then, when Draco asks, the rest of the meal, and, later that week, the some of the pastries Draco's been trying to perfect.
"Neville just says they're fine," Draco says. They're sitting across from each other in the kitchen and Draco is taking notes.
"They are fine," Weasley says. "Very good, even. But I think this one is better—what's different about it?"
"I added some cardamom," Draco says.
"Don't even know what that is," Weasley says. "But it's good."
"Did Neville get your place on this training thing?" Draco says. Weasley shrugs.
"Maybe. But he deserved it and there was only one spot—"
"I thought two."
"Just like that?"
"Pretty much," Weasley says, cutting himself another wedge of blueberry pie. "You know Harry."
"He's always going off and being brilliant and bloody handsome in the right place and time and saving everyone and he doesn't even do it on purpose."
"Ah, so he's still a bit of a prat, then," Draco says. Weasley doesn't deny it.
"It's nice, you got married," Weasley says, the day before Neville's due home. "Neville's had a pretty bad year."
Draco nods, not sure what to say. He thought he was Neville's bad year.
"We were a little worried about him, to tell the truth," Weasley says. "Seems like he's better since you showed up."
"You must have been—surprised," Draco says.
"Well, yeah, well—not—it's not like Neville was ever very forthcoming about his social life," Weasley says, "and you are his type."
"I am? I mean, I—yes, I am," Draco says.
Neville comes home exhausted, filthy, banged-up, and cheerful, and stoops to kiss Draco in the front hall before jerking back and saying,
"It's quite all right," Draco says. "You had a nice time?"
Neville grins. "It was good," he says. "But the food was lousy." Then he pulls some flower out of his satchel, a restrained, tasteful bouquet of violets and lilacs and calla lilies someone must have helped him pick out. "Thanks for—you know, helping with getting me in. And all the other things you do around here."
"House elf work."
"No it's not," Neville says. He's lying, but he's doing it to be nice, and so Draco gets out a vase for the flowers and doesn't say anything else.
"I hope you don't mind about Ron coming around," Neville says over dinner.
"No, not at all."
"I know you don't get along, but I just asked him to look in in case there was something you needed."
"He came by a few times," Draco says, "and stayed for lunch. He was very nice."
"Was he," Neville says, slowly.
The lake freezes hard in mid-November; the school owls are wearing padded wool waistcoats when they drop off the invitations for the skating party.
"D'you want to go?" Neville says, reading the invitation at breakfast and flipping it across to Draco.
"That's okay," Draco says.
"I thought you liked to skate," Neville says.
Draco does; Lucius taught him when he was six, down on the river that cut through Malfoy lands on the east, and he used to skate on the lake at Hogwarts before classes, describing circles on the scarred black ice.
"Besides, it'll get Harry and Ron off my back about how I never take you anywhere," Neville says.
"Who asked them?" Draco says.
"You're telling me," Neville says, and takes two last hasty forkfuls of his eggs and butters a last roll for the road before gathering up his satchel and heading out the door. "Good breakfast," he says. "Thanks."
The afternoon of the skating party is clear and cold; Draco puts on his thickest cloak and two pairs of socks, but Neville frowns when they meet in the front hall.
"That's not warm enough," he says. "We'll be outside for hours."
"This is the warmest cloak I've got," Draco admits. He's been wearing both his sweaters underneath it for three weeks and it hasn't been so bad.
Neville opens his mouth and then closes it. Then he says, "I take it your father didn't send around the rest of your things."
"No," Draco said. "I'm sorry."
"Unless you're apologizing because your father is a wanker, don't bother," Neville says. He turns around and goes back into the main room, opening the closet where he keeps his clothes and pulling out a pair of woolen socks, a thick sweater, and a pair of gloves. Then he stares at Draco until Draco strips off his cloak, his two sweaters—Neville's frown deepens—and puts on the clothes, which are too big, but very warm. "There's money in your account," Neville says. "Why didn't you just buy yourself some winter things?"
"I thought that was for household expenses," Draco says.
"Yeah, up to and including you not catching your death of cold," Neville says.
"I didn't want to use too much."
Neville's still rummaging through the closet, but now he stops and says. "Money is not a problem."
"But you paid Lucius so much for the marriage price and—"
"Yeah, well, I did fuck his only virgin son—legally, he had me dead to rights."
"That money wasn't an allowance," Neville said. "I would never—you can have whatever you need."
He pulls a robe out of the back of the closet and hands it to Draco—it's a little long in the sleeves but fits well enough over Neville's bulky sweater.
"Whose is this?" Draco says.
"Oh," Neville says. "Someone left it at my flat last year."
"Just, you know, after a party or something," Neville says, vaguely. "Look, it's the sleigh."
Monday is washing; that takes most of the day. Draco markets on Tuesday and Friday and makes bread on Wednesday. He cleans the floors on Thursday and tidies the rest of the house for an hour every day and makes breakfasts, lunches and dinners for Neville and still finds a morning here or there to walk to the library and read the back issues of The Prophet to figure out who Neville used to date.
There are not many of mentions of Neville; it's mostly Potter and Weasley, but with some diligent research, Draco learns that Neville is a war hero, that he is handsome, that he donated generously to St. Mungo's in the aftermath of the war, when casualties outstripped resources, that he's the sole heir of the apparently vast Longbottom wealth, and that he married his childhood sweetheart, Draco Malfoy, in a small ceremony—it's useless, Draco concludes, crumpling the page before remembering it's the library copy. There is a frustrating lack of any useful information about who Neville dated, even in papers that minutely detail Potter's comings and goings, although Draco is reasonably certain that Potter isn't really dating any glamorous American witches or starring in a Muggle action movie or living a secret double life as a vampire or having a pregnancy scare with Hermione Granger.
Draco bakes batch after batch of Christmas cookies, gingerbread witches, peppermint snaps, cinnamon kisses, chocolate kringles, napoleons, sugar sprinkle cookies, St. Nick's lace, nutmeg nellies, four different kinds of fudge, peanut brittle, pecan penuche, and lemon meltaways. Then he arranges them between layers of silver paper doilies in the huge collection of empty biscuit tins he finds in the back of one of the kitchen cabinets, most of which still have a note attached from Mrs. Weasley about how Neville should make sure he's wearing warm enough socks or eating enough fresh vegetables. Then he puts together a list from Neville's 2A handbook and the Ministry Directory he finds in the library and the lists he's kept of every social event they've attended and writes a card for each one; Dear Dean Chestnut, Wishing you a Happy Holiday, Dear Mrs. Weasley, Thank you for the tea towels, Dear Professor Hrothgar, Neville speaks very highly of your lectures.
"Did you send sweets to everyone I know?" Neville says, thunderous, standing in the kitchen door. There are snowflakes in his eyelashes and the stubble along his jawline. Draco looks away.
"What exactly did you think I was baking them for?" he says. Neville's been drifting through the kitchen at intervals and pinching biscuits off the cooling racks for weeks; it shouldn't have been a surprise.
"I don't know—not so you could make me look like an embarrassing suck up!" Neville huffs.
"You look," Draco says, "like a considerate person who is married to a good cook with excellent manners."
"I don't need—" Neville stops and exhales hard. Then he comes in and throws himself down in the easy chair Draco spent a week transfiguring from a stool he found in the shed and put just by the window. "I seem to recall we've had this discussion before," he says, "and that I ended up looking like a bit of an idiot."
"It's just a tin of homemade biscuits," Draco says.
"Yeah, right," Neville says, wryly. "You didn't give away all the chocolate kringles, did you?"
"I saved a few," Draco says, pulling the tin he set aside for Neville out from under the counter.
"Um," Neville says, when he gets the first summer job offer, a week shy of Christmas. "I did mention to you that I don't particularly want to be the Minister of Magic or anything, right?"
"I'm just saying so now," Neville says, flipping the parchment over to Draco; excellent salary, choice of high level casework, housing allowance, it was so thoughtful of Draco to send around Christmas treats, I haven't had St. Nick's lace like that since my Nan passed.
"They wouldn't've offered it to you if you didn't deserve it," Draco says.
"It doesn't seem quite fair," Neville says.
"Of course it isn't fair," Draco says.
"That doesn't bother you, huh," Neville says.
"It doesn't bother me that water's wet, either," Draco says.
"Do you want to see your family on Christmas?" Neville asks.
"No," Draco says. He waits for Neville to ask why, but Neville just nods.
"So we'll just stay around here," he says. "Unless you want to go to the Burrow?"
"Ron's house—Mrs. Weasley invited us," Neville says.
"If you want to go, we should go," Draco says. It might not be so bad.
"I don't, really," Neville said. "It's—loud. Gran and I used to just have a nice dinner and listen to the Wireless."
"That's—I'd rather do that," Draco says.
Neville brings home a tree and they trim it together. Draco practices and practices the simple tree-light spells while Neville's taking his finals. He's a little wobbly on them, but Neville's drinking eggnog to celebrate being finished and doesn't seem to notice.
Neville gets him an extravagant ring—antique, valuable, but not flashy.
"It's very nice," Draco says, admiring the subtle glitter of the ring as he turns his hand.
"I can take it back and get something else," Neville says, turning the box over in his hands.
"What? No, I like it."
Neville also gets him a scandalous novel and a truly enormous box of French chocolates.
"They said it was good at the store," he says, although Draco isn't sure whether he's talking about the novel or the chocolates. "I wasn't sure what you like."
Draco couldn't figure out what to get Neville, especially since he was taking the money from the account Neville had set up in the first place. He wanted to get him a set of spell-treated vambraces, since Neville's been accepted into Broadsword 450 for the spring semester and only pretending not to be proud of it. He wanted to get him a pocket compass that doubled as an apparation coordinate plotter, but he didn't want to embarrass himself by getting Neville something too nice when Neville was probably going to get him a set of monogrammed handkerchiefs or a new mop or a scarf or something, so he got him Esme Spilker's Pocket Book of Handy First Aid Spells and a new pair of slippers, as Neville's were practically falling apart. Neville stares at them, turns the book over in his hands, where it looks thin and foolish. Draco catches himself wringing his hands a little and can't help but notice how good the ring looks, which makes him feel worse.
"I thought it looked useful," he says.
"It's great," Neville says, with more enthusiasm than is really necessary for a four sickle book. "Thank you."
"You don't have to say that," Draco says.
"I like the slippers, too," Neville says. "Cosycharm—that's a good brand. Warm."
"I like slippers." Neville's voice is mild. "My feet get cold."
"You didn't have to get me such nice presents," Draco says.
"You don't like them?"
"Of course I like them," Draco says. "You don't have to be so nice all the time."
"I haven't been very nice to you," Neville says.
"What? Yes you have," Draco says.
"Oh, yeah?" Neville says. He sounds almost angry. "Seems to me I yell at you a lot."
"No," Draco says. "You give me money and you don't—you know, push me around or make me, um—"
He stops because Neville looks furious. "Not that you would," Draco finally falters. Neville's been turning the book over and over in his hands restlessly, but now he puts it down on the table, squaring the corners against the edge.
"Did you know," he says, his tone mild, "that those Muggles Harry grew up with put him in the cupboard below the stairs?"
"It was his room," Neville says. "I don't think he's ever really gotten used to being touched."
"That's awful," Draco says. "Is that what Muggles usually do?"
"No, of course not, come on," Neville says.
"Well, how would I know, I don't know any Muggles," Draco says. "I mean, it's not as though I assumed they went around putting babies in closets until you brought it up."
"All I meant was, perhaps you shouldn't expect so little of people," Neville says.
"Perhaps," Draco says. Neville rubs a hand across his face.
"It's Christmas," he says. "Can't we just—
Draco leans up across the table and kisses him; it's not a very good kiss and the angle is all wrong, but Neville follows him up and lunges across the coffee table, both of them falling sideways into the couch, which obligingly converts just as Draco tugs the belt of Neville's dressing gown open.
A few weeks into the Spring Term, Draco wakes abruptly, yanked up out of sleep, heart hammering. His room is dark and silent; it's just past midnight. Probably squirrels outside, he thinks, but after closing his eyes for fifteen minutes he's still wide awake, so he gets up to get a glass of water and reassure himself that it's nothing.
Neville is sitting at the kitchen table.
"Excuse me," Draco mumbles. "Sorry, I just thought I heard—sorry to bother you." He starts to leave, but Neville says, in a terrible, unrecognizable voice,
"What's happened?" Draco says. "Did something—"
"No." Neville takes a long, shuddering breath. "Everything's fine."
"Oh," Draco says. Neville swallows.
"Would you mind getting me a glass of water?" he says quietly. "And there are some pills in the inside pocket of my satchel."
The pills are in a heavy black glass box that feels cold to the touch. Neville shakes four into his hand and swallows them and then drinks most of the water. Draco refills the glass and puts it in front of him.
"Thank you," Neville says. "I don't—" His hand is clenched, white knuckled, around the glass. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's fine," Draco says. "Are you ill?"
Neville shakes his head. "I have. nightmares, sometimes," he says. "I have ever since—I haven't had one in quite some time, though."
"I see," Draco says. "Is there something else I can get you?"
"Would you stay, please," Neville says, in a rush. "I know it's late, but—"
"Of course," Draco says. He sits down opposite Neville, who is taking measured sips of his water, as though he'd rather not drink it at all, but thinks he should.
"Did you have them at school?" Draco says, just to say something.
"You never said anything about them," Draco says cautiously. Neville snorts—almost laughs.
"Well, I wouldn't have, would I?"
"I don't know, would you?"
"You were the first person who ever really treated me like I wasn't a bit of a joke," Neville says. "So I wasn't exactly in a rush to tell you what a coward I was, to be so afraid of some stupid dreams."
"I expect I would have found it tragic and romantic, if that helps."
Neville smiles, brief, mirthless. His hands are shaking, but he's starting to get some color in his face so Draco ignores it.
"Tea?" he says.
"Yes, thanks," Neville says, so Draco brews a pot and gets out the last of the Christmas biscuits. Neville eats mechanically, without much appetite, and it's dawn before he says,
"All right, I think I can probably sleep now."
Draco tidies up the teacups and by the time he comes into the living room, Neville is fast asleep on top of the covers. Draco fetches a blanket for him from the bedroom. Then he owls Potter and says that Neville is under the weather and won't be in classes, could he take notes and make excuses where necessary?
He cleans the kitchen and skips laundry to make bread, because the auto-wringer is old and squeaky. Neville sleeps until late afternoon and then shambles into the kitchen and gulps down three glasses of water, leaning against the sink. Then he flops down into the kitchen easy chair with a book and stays there, quiet, until Potter shows up in the early evening.
"I'm fine," Neville tells him, from the doorway.
"I brought a copy of my notes for you," Potter says.
"Did you take—" Potter hesitates.
"Yes. I said, I'm fine. Do you want to stay for dinner? If that's okay," he says to Draco.
"There's plenty for three," Draco says.
"Then—sure, that'd be great," Potter says, a shade too heartily.
"So what've you been up to the last few years?" Potter asks, when they've successfully navigated—with slightly stilted politeness—discussion of the start of the Spring Term, the upcoming Quidditch season, and some kind of terrifying Muggle skiing adventure Potter went on with Granger's family over the Christmas break.
"I—um, not much, really," Draco says. "I was ill for a while."
"You were?" Neville said, looking up. "I mean. You never mentioned that in your letters."
"Well, you would have worried," Draco says.
"Yes, I would have," Neville says, kind of intensely for someone talking about imaginary correspondence.
"You're better now, though?" Potter says, taking another helping of scalloped potatoes.
"That's good," Potter says. "You look good. I mean, healthy, you look healthy."
Neville looks like he wants to ask more questions, but then Potter starts talking about school, some assignment that Draco can't begin to understand, and they get in a friendly argument that lasts until Draco serves pudding.
Neville lurks around after Potter leaves, trying to help with the dishes, even though Draco's finally managed to get the dish washing spell to work, and the dishes are lining themselves up to take a dip in the sudsy water, zip under the tap, and get toweled off, the first plate politely deferring to the potato dish.
"How ill were you?" Neville asks.
"Well, it wasn't life threatening, if that's what you're asking."
"Is that why you left school?"
"I did write to you," Neville says. "I thought—anyhow, you never wrote back so I thought you didn't want to hear from me."
"I never got the letters," Draco says, although he can imagine very well what happened to them.
"I would have—I missed you," Draco says. It's not what he meant to say and he flounders awkwardly to make it into a joke. "I suppose you went out and started dating the next incredibly attractive person you met."
"No, I didn't," Neville says unconvincingly.
"You waited a week or two, then," Draco says. The dishes are stacking themselves on the counter and Draco pulls himself up to sit on the table, feeling buoyant at having gotten through dinner with Potter, at how he cleaned the kitchen floor with magic today, at the aggrieved look Neville's shooting him even while his lips are twisting into a smile.
"I don't know where you got this idea that I'm some kind of—um—"
"Whose cloak was in the front hall closet?" Draco says.
"No one's," Neville says, but now he looks embarrassed. "I can't tell you."
"It's a secret?"
"I don't know his name," Neville admits. "I'd've sent it back if I knew."
"Someone you slept with," Draco says, even though he knows what the answer is. Neville nods. "Don't you want to know?"
"No," Neville says. "It was months ago, it didn't mean anything. I'm not exactly proud of it."
"How many people have you—"
"I can't talk about this with you," Neville says. "We're married, and you're—nice, you know—"
"What, I'm too pure to even—"
"You were until I came along," Neville says bitterly.
"So were you," Draco says. "I mean, until I came along."
"Yeah, but Gran was a freethinker," Neville says, shrugging. "And I didn't need to marry for money."
"Right," Draco says, sliding off the table and going around to put the dishes away.
"Draco, I'm sorry," Neville says.
"Don't be, you're right." Draco's voice is very even.
"Did your father need the money that much?"
"What, enough to get rid of his disappointment of a son and gouge a gaping hole in the Longbottom Gringott's vault?"
"Don't say that—"
"What is this aversion you have to the truth?"
"But—" Neville doesn't say anything else.
Potter and Weasley come by for dinner every few weeks, usually together; they mostly talk to Neville, but they're careful to include Draco as much as they can. They're not in the least subtle, and Draco knows it's for Neville, not for him, but he appreciates the thought, and doubles up on food so he can send them home with leftovers. At least once or twice a month, Neville brings someone else home for dinner. He always owls in advance.
He stumbles over introductions, still, Draco notices.
"This is my—this is Draco," he'll say or "Draco, this is Enid Eggles from my Dark Arts Tutorial. Enid, Draco is—um, made dinner."
All of Neville's friends are friendly and earnest and extremely polite.
"I've heard so much about you," they say, which seems unlikely, given how difficult it is for Neville to come up with a simple declarative sentence about him while standing in the same room, but they're trying to be friendly, even the ones Draco remembers from school, all of whom politely elide over the things Draco might have said or done that wouldn't exactly have fitted him up to be hosting intimate dinner parties for three quarters of the Auror Academy dean's list.
"We could have someone else for dinner," Neville says once, when they're tidying after everyone's gone. "Maybe you'd like to have someone over?"
"Like who?" Draco is boxing leftovers while the dishes wash.
"Like Greg Goyle?" Neville says tentatively. "Or Marcus Flint?"
"I don't think it's a good idea," Draco says.
"But—it doesn't have to be all my friends all the time. I think Harry's even in a Quidditch League with Flint, it wouldn't be—"
"What, so they can all have a good laugh at my pathetic life?" Draco says. "No thanks."
Neville stares down at the table, crumpling the dishrag in his hands. "Fine," he says, finally. "I'll just—that's fine."
Neville comes home on a Friday night with flowers—gardenias and cherry blossoms—and hangs in the kitchen doorway while Draco puts them in water.
"I thought—" he leans against the door frame, obviously uncomfortable. "I could take you out. Tonight."
"That's not necessary," Draco says.
"I know!" Neville says loudly, and then continues more quietly. "Will you just allow me to take you out on a date and not argue about every little thing?"
"I'll get my robe," Draco says.
Neville takes him to a very nice restaurant, not cheap, with dark, quiet booths and unobtrusive wait staff—a date place. A romantic place. Neville hunches his shoulders when the waiter shows them to their table.
"Hermione said it was good," he mutters, but he seems to shake it off once they sit down, and sets himself out to be entertaining. He tells a story about Potter falling asleep in class and then asks Draco a series of leading questions about baking which get them through the ordering and drinks and appetizers.
"Ron said you had a bad year," Draco says, when they've been chewing silently on their entrees long enough for it to get awkward.
"Ron, huh," Neville says. Draco expects Neville to deny it or even to get annoyed that Draco's nosing into his business, but Neville shrugs. "Gran died," he says. "And—my parents."
"Oh, shit," Draco says. "I'm sorry."
"My parents were in very ill health," Neville says, as though he's used to saying it. "They were—their quality of life—"
"I'm sorry," Draco says again, wishing he'd never said anything; he still tries to avoid thinking or talking about his mum. He knows the general outline of Neville's life, but hasn't really thought of it since it was a weapon to make Neville flinch and bite his lip in Potions class—crazy parents, scary grandmother; Neville never said anything about them if he could help it, and the picture snaps into focus for Draco with the brutal understanding of adulthood—raised by a grandmother who watched her son and his wife die in degrees, parents who never knew him, never saw him grow up.
"Oh, I'm fine," Neville says. "Nothing six months of heavy drinking and ill-advised behavior couldn't fix."
"Oh," Draco says.
"I'm joking," Neville says. "And Harry and Ron are nosy fuckers who do their own share of—um"
"sleeping around," Draco says. "You can say it."
"Okay. I slept around."
"That wasn't in the papers."
"Were you checking up on me?" Neville says, seeming oddly pleased. "Well, anyway, it wouldn't have been because no one cares that much what I do. And I paid off the editor of Witch Weekly."
"Doesn't that have the potential to backfire if it gets out and make it look like you're, I don't know—a depraved—um—"
"Goatfucker?" Neville supplies. "Technically, I just let her and her family use the vacation cottage in Wessex. And she's a family friend. And I never did anything like—"
"yeah, goatfucking, exactly, that would really sell magazines, so it all worked out."
There's a silence, and Draco, desperate to keep the conversation going, says,
"So, uh, so Ron and Harry sleep around?"
"I'm clean," Neville says abruptly, stabbing at his ravioli. "I don't have anything."
"I never imagined you did," Draco says.
"Well, I wanted you to know."
"I don't have anything either," Draco says, a little primly.
"Yes, I know."
"What, I could have—something."
"You've only ever had sex with me," Neville says.
"You don't know that."
"What do you suppose is the first thing my solicitors did after I was served with your suit? Wait, sorry, second after bollocking me out for being an idiot who couldn't keep it in his robes."
"I don't know."
"Hired the best private investigation firm money could buy to prove you were promiscuous."
"I'm not," Draco says, stung.
"Yes, I know," Neville says. "Of course they weren't able to find anything, so the marriage thing was Plan B."
"We never really thought you would agree," Neville said. "It was a strategy to lower the settlement."
"I know," Draco forces himself to keep the expression on his face light and neutral; this isn't new information, but it feels new, coming so casually out of Neville's mouth. He evidently isn't successful because Neville leans forward.
"Hey," he says. "My solicitors told me you might say yes. I would never have allowed them to offer if I hadn't been willing to go through with it."
"You don't have to say that."
"No, I don't, but it's the truth," Neville says sharply. "Why did you say yes?"
"I was tired of Lucius running my life," Draco snaps back.
"Why do you call him that, anyhow?"
"Because that is his name," Draco says.
Neville manhandles him in bed, but carefully, and sometimes, if it's very dark, he says things, silly things that somehow make Draco breathless, like once when he presses his mouth against a spot just above Draco's waist and murmurs,
"I remember this freckle. hi freckle."
"I don't have freckles," Draco says.
"Mm-hmm," Neville says, busy.
"Hey, hi," Potter says, fidgeting on the doorstep. It's the middle of the day.
"Potter," Draco says, and then, realization dawning, "is it—did something happen to Neville?"
"What? oh! No, of course not, he's fine. Look, I don't suppose you could make Ron's birthday cake, could you? Neville said you made cakes all the time."
"I suppose I could," Draco says, shrugging. "Why isn't Granger taking care of the cake?"
Potter's face shadows a little. "Not sure," he admits. "She said I should plan it; guess she's busy at school."
"Aren't they, erm—"
"Doing it," Potter says glumly.
"That wasn't actually what I was going to say."
"Same difference," Potter says. "It's Saturday—is that enough time?"
Draco makes a seven layer chocolate chiffon cake with raspberry chambord filling and a whipped cream frosting and burns his magic for the whole day on a preservatus to keep it fresh, and trims the edges with raspberries and chocolate creams and then writes HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WEASLEY on it with the leftover filling and then has to painstakingly undo it and write HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RON.
"Wow," Potter says, when he sees it.
"It's—I can make something different," Draco says.
"No, no, it's really nice," Potter says. "Much nicer than—I didn't think you'd go to this much trouble."
"Did you expect me to mash some frosting on a slab of yellow cake and call it a day?" Draco says, oddly insulted, even though he doesn't care what Potter thinks of him.
"I didn't really think about it. You were just the only person I know around here who can make a cake and has the free time," Potter says. "This is incredible; he'll love it."
"Well, I live to bring elegance and taste to a Weasley soiree," Draco says. Potter grins.
"You know," he says, "that's the first time I've heard you say something that remotely sounds like you."
"I, um—I'll get you a box," Draco says.
"I didn't mean—" Potter shoves his hands in his pockets. "You don't have to try so hard. Neville—"
"What would you know about it?" Draco says.
"Nothing, I guess. I don't know what you must imagine we think of you, but you don't have to hide every time you see us. Neville married you, so you must be—"
"Fine, fine, fine, we'll all be the best of friends," Draco says and Potter takes the hint and finally shuts up.
"What do I owe you?" he says, while Draco slides the cake into the box and ties it shut.
"I don't—nothing," Draco says.
"Come on, this had to have taken hours," Potter says.
"It's fine," Draco says, but Potter shakes his head and yanks out a handful of galleons anyhow. "That's too much."
"Just take it," Potter says. "It'd cost twice that for a Kwik-Cake."
"Would you just buy yourself some new shirts?" Neville says, when he rips Draco's shirt open at the shoulder seam while they're kissing on the couch.
"It was fine this morning," Draco says, even though he learned how to spell stitch mostly to fix the tears in his clothes. He knows he looks shabby, but he never goes anywhere where he needs to look especially nice. Potter seems to constantly wear trousers torn at the knee and half of Neville's shirts have little splatters of holes from caustic potion ingredients, so he hadn't thought it mattered much.
"No it wasn't," Neville says. "You have three pairs of trousers and two robes and people will think I'm mean with you—"
"What do you care what they think?
"I don't care, but I wish you would buy yourself some things," Neville says. "You used to like things."
"Yeah, sure," Draco says lightly. "That was me."
"Don't," Neville says.`
"Don't act like I think you're a—you're after money."
"Everyone else does."
"Name one person who thinks that," Neville says, "no one thinks that, they think you're in—" his voice shakes, and he says, "I know you married me to get away from your father and I know it's embarrassing and lonely for you and I'm sorry, but will you just buy yourself some clothes?"
Draco pushes himself back. "I guess you just know all about it," he says.
"I—no," Neville says. "I just thought maybe there was some way I could make things better for you."
"Things are fine," Draco says.
"But," Neville hesitates, and then says, in a rush, "There's a class starting up on potion design. You're so good at inventing new recipes—I got you a brochure, and—"
"No NEWTs, remember?" Draco says.
"I know the professor; I could talk to her for you."
"But I like what I'm doing now." Draco says. "I know you and all your friends are the best and the smartest, but I'm not."
"That's not true."
"Draco," Neville says. "Don't you want—"
"No. I don't."
"I don't believe you."
"You didn't buy the right to control everything I think or want," Draco says. He shakes his wand into his palm, pinches the seam of his shirt together and starts to spell the seam closed. The threads knit together reluctantly, but Draco is so grateful to have something to do that doesn't even mind doing magic in front of Neville.
"No, I know that," Neville says, looking perplexed. "I don't—why do you get like this?"
"Like you're angry at me for suggesting that anything you do might have some kind of worth," Neville says.
"Well, I do all right in the bedroom—"
"And then you make it all about sex and I get distracted."
"I never noticed you having a problem with that before."
"Okay," Neville says. "Okay, then." He touches Draco's cheek, gently, gently, and pulls him back down into a kiss. Draco slides his hands underneath Neville's t-shirt, and Neville lifts his arms and lets Draco pull it off.
Shortly after, there's an odd little trickle of owls and calls on the portafloo, "Harry Potter mentioned you might be able to make twenty-five cupcakes for my niece's upcoming birthday," they say, or, "I wonder if you would be available to make a strawberry pavlova for my wife's retirement party." Draco says yes because he honestly doesn't have anything better to do, because he's never made a pavlova before and wants to learn how, because Weasley apparently promised a ten year old that Draco could make a cake shaped like a Quidditch pitch, with chocolate brownie bludgers and quaffles and a lemon snitch. Draco blows his magic for the day making them zoom around the cake and has to do the dishes by hand. He uses the money to buy butter and eggs and pastilles for the next cake and a set of nesting springform pans he finds at a second hand store.
Then he gives up and writes out a list of cake flavors and fillings and suggested combinations because he's tired of having to list them out for people who invariably squint and say things like, "wait—chocolate or hazelnut or lemon or—" while Draco worries that his batch of madeleines to be taken home by the mourners for Old Granny Mickleson' funeral are burning.
Draco allows himself to be cautiously happy—at the honest enjoyment people seem to get from his cooking, at the steadily growing little stack of galleons he keeps in one of the biscuit tins in a lower cupboard, at the way Neville smiles at him when they're having sex, until, cleaning, he sees Neville's appointment calendar. It's a serious little black book, scribbled over with Neville's blocky script—classes and training, appointments with the mediwizard he sees about his headaches, long meetings blocked off for his solicitors and money managers, and nearly once a fortnight for the next year, reminders to buy flowers for Draco, lined up neatly with his other chores and responsibilities. There isn't a single dinner or social engagement that isn't about work or duty; Neville apparently doesn't write those down.
Draco tries to believe it doesn't mean anything, and then he tries not to care, but of course he does, a sad, sick feeling that it takes him too long to identify and makes him scrub the house from top to bottom, learn seventeen new recipes and reinforce all the elbows on Neville's robes. It's guilt, because Neville is a nice person and he deserves better. He's a war hero and he's unbelievably easy on the eyes and he could have had anyone he wanted and now he's gritting his teeth and making the best of it and buying flowers.
"Look," Neville says, when he finds Draco on his hands and knees, scrubbing at the baseboards with a stiff brush. "did I do something?"
"No," Draco says. He drops the brush back into the bucket and stands, wiping his hands on a towel.
"Are you positive?" Neville says, with exaggerated patience.
"Maybe we should get that divorce."
"If you want."
"I thought the shame would destroy your life," Neville says, smiling a little.
"Maybe it's better than being reminded at every turn that you had to marry me," Draco says, and carries the bucket back into the kitchen, dumps the grey water down the drain and refills it.
"I—don't do that," Neville says, following him. "Why don't you tell me what this is really about?"
"It's not fair," Draco says. "For you."
"Do you think just because I let you fuck me that I love you?" Draco says. He's overfilled the new bucket and slops half of it on the kitchen floor when he drags it out of the sink and back into the living room.
"No," Neville says. "No, I don't."
"So once you graduate and get your first posting, we can get a divorce," Draco says.
"Sounds great," Neville says. "I have to study now."
"And I would really appreciate it," Neville continues, "if you could just go away."
"Oh, I. well—"
"Is that so hard for you to understand?" Neville says. "Since you can't wait to get away from me, why don't you just get out now, so I can study in peace." He grabs his books and goes into the kitchen.
Draco packs his valise quickly, hands shaking, and closes the door quietly after himself when he leaves. He isn't entirely certain where to go—he walks blindly at first, just trying to get as far away as possible, and when he becomes aware of his surroundings, sees he's practically on campus. There's a little cafe Neville took him once, just a few blocks away, and he's walking there, with a vague idea of finding somewhere he can sit down and have a cup of tea and figure out what to do when he nearly walks into Ron Weasley.
"Excuse me," he says, and moves around him.
"Hey," Weasley says. "Hey, Draco are you—um, are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Draco says.
"Yeah, I can tell," Weasley says, and then makes Draco come back to the flat he shares with Potter.
"It's a little messy," Weasley says cheerfully, scooping some laundry off the couch and throwing it onto a chair. "Sit down." There's a pyramid made of Old Mag's Ale cans stacked up on the mantelpiece, a mishmash of brooms and dueling swords propped up in the corner, and what Draco can only assume is a stolen traffic sign—'Caution: Portkey Point"—hung up on the wall. The coffee table is strewn with Quidditch magazines and textbooks, potions ingredients in clear plastic packets, a tin of broom-bristle conditioner and several greasy rags, a half empty box of owl snacks, and a mismatched pair of gauntlets.
"Can I get you something?" Weasley says.
"No, thank you," Draco says, sitting down a little gingerly on the couch, but Weasley ignores him and makes him a cup of tea, which Draco is dutifully drinking when Potter slams in the door. He throws down his rucksack, tosses his robe over the armchair, summons a bottle of ale from the refrigerator, pops the cap with an inaudible 'pertivo, and takes a swig before turning around and seeing Draco.
"Hey," he says.
"Well, this was nice," Draco says, putting down the teacup with a clatter. "I should probably—" he trails off, because Potter's just staring at him while he takes a few long pulls on his ale.
"Would you like a drink?" he says, finally.
Draco has two ales; Potter has another two and Weasley has four, and then they floo up some take away and have another round apiece. Potter and Weasley tell him funny stories about training exercises gone wrong and describe a series of increasingly improbably Quidditch plays they've invented. Draco has another ale and then falls asleep on the couch, head pillowed on unfolded laundry. He wakes up with a Quidditch cloak on top of him and Neville sitting in the armchair opposite, fiddling with his wand, silent.
"What?" Draco says, struggling out of sleep. His mouth tastes fuzzy and dank. "Did Harry and Ron call you?"
"No," Neville bites out. "They didn't. When it became apparent that you hadn't slept in your bed last night, I had to spell locate you—"
"How do you think?" Neville says. "By the way, blood magic isn't my favorite thing to do first thing in the morning."
"Your breakfast—" Draco says.
"Screw my breakfast," Neville says angrily. There's a handkerchief wrapped clumsily around his hand. "I thought you were abducted or raped or dead or something."
"Well, I'm not."
"So I see."
"You wanted me out," Draco says, yanking himself upright and shaking out his robes. "I got out."
"I just meant I needed a little quiet to study," Neville says. "I didn't mean get hornswoggled with Harry and Ron and I sincerely hope you didn't try to keep up with them—"
"—hollow leg and Ron has three stone on you—"
"I've been drinking since I was thirteen—"
"What are you even doing sleeping here anyhow?" Neville says.
"Oi—" Harry calls from down the hall, thumping into the bathroom. "Mind keeping the lover's spat down a little? Some of us have a lovely hangover."
Neville goes a dull brick red and then says, in a much quieter tone. "All right, come home."
"Maybe I don't want to," Draco says, but Neville's not listening.
"Is that your valise?" He says, nudging aside an ale bottle with his foot. "Were you—running away?"
"No," Draco says. "I—you told me to leave."
"And you thought I meant what exactly?"
"How should I know?" Draco says. "I'm doing the best I can. I know you didn't want me and I get in the way but you don't seem to mind eating my cooking and f-fucking me—" they're speaking in furious whispers, faces close together.
"I told you, you don't have to do any of that—"
"I want to do it!" Draco says. "I just wish—" He stops.
"Nothing," Draco says. "Let's go."
The kitchen is destroyed; a charred bough of rosemary in the sink, blood droplets splattered across the floor and all over Draco's counter, the spice jars rifled through and overturned, Draco's hairbrush covered in sooty fingerprints. The mess—not to mention the fact that Neville isn't wearing socks—speaks of haste, perhaps even panic.
"Abducted, really?" Draco says.
"Oh, right, it's so insane to think someone might try to kidnap Lucius Malfoy's beautiful only son, who's also married to me, a guy no one holds a grudge against for helping to fuck up their stupid pureblood evil think tank, yeah, what was I thinking?" Neville says, which is possibly the longest sentence he's ever said to Draco.
"Beautiful," Draco says.
"I have to go to class," Neville says. "You know what you look like."
"About what I said," Draco says. They've been very careful with each other for almost two weeks, with Neville home for dinner every night and sitting at the table at breakfast, as though the only way they know how to apologize is for Draco to cook and for Neville to eat and smile and have seconds. Neville has asked Draco to help him copy over another paper and accepted a set of flash cards Draco made for his potions midterm and Draco has bought himself a new sweater and some novels and a set of 10 milky glass nesting bowls, the largest big enough to rise four loaves of bread in and the smallest barely large enough for a single egg yolk, just to show Neville he's not angry any more.
"You said a lot of things," Neville says, accepting a new stack of griddlecakes, this time studded with tiny wild blueberries.
"It's not that I want a divorce," Draco says, when he's tipped some griddlecakes onto his plate and sat down opposite Neville. "I just meant that if you want one, if there's ever—someone else."
"What about you?" Neville says. He's cutting his griddlecakes into perfect strips, staring down.
"Oh, I don't think—I don't really, um, I—"
"You could," Neville says. "You're so—" he puts down his fork and then reaches across the table to touch a lock of Draco's hair, his fingers grazing Draco's collarbone.
"You've been with other—" Draco begins, and Neville drops his hand and says,
"Were you involved with someone when we, when I, when we got married?" Draco says. He hadn't ever thought to ask.
"No," Neville says.
"Oh. well. that's good," Draco says, trying a smile, but the moment's over.
Neville studies all the time. Draco finds him slumped over books at his desk on Saturday mornings and he spends most Sunday afternoons hunched over one term paper or another, muttering to himself and making huge ink splotches. Draco knows that Harry and Ron both play on the Academy intramural Quidditch team and in a weekend pickup league, that they devote a not inconsiderable amount of time to drinking and going out and meeting girls, that Ron has been known to start papers the day before they're due, but when he mentions as much to Neville, who is coming down with a cold and should be tucked into bed with a pot of ginger tea, Neville says,
"Well, Harry and Ron." He grimaces. "You may not have noticed, but I was never the strongest academically."
"But you're powerful," Draco says. The spells Neville does around the house are not particularly complex—heating up the kettle, finding a missing sock—but the execution is quick and clean, with the kind of precision that's only built out of practice at restraining magic. Neville's power wants to act, so unlike the sluggish, sloppy spells Draco casts, where there's no need to reign in the magic to avoid breaking the windows or summon every sock in the house.
"Everyone in the program is powerful," Neville says. "I'm nothing special."
"Are you failing?"
"No," Neville says. "Because I study."
"You need to rest," Draco says.
"I need to finish the reading," Neville says.
"What does it matter if you don't?"
"I want to be an Auror," Neville says, "and I don't want anyone to say it's just because I know Harry or what happened to my parents."
"You can't make people stop talking shit about you by studying," Draco says.
"Yes, thanks, I'm aware of that," Neville snaps. "And, by the way, Ron dates girls."
"Yes," Draco says, starting to wonder if Neville's running a fever. "I know."
"Okay then," Neville mumbles, seeming to feel like something's settled. He turns back to his desk. Draco sighs and goes to make a pot of ginger tea. Neville's coughing restlessly by the time he's back, hunching over his notes, nose red.
"I could quiz you, maybe," Draco offers, fully expecting Neville to say no, but Neville takes the mug of tea Draco gives him and says,
"Okay, if you don't mind."
"I—no," Draco says. "I'm happy to help."
He thinks it'll all be over his head and make him feel nervous and ignorant and it's true that he doesn't get more than half of it, but Neville's so intent on the answers that he doesn't notice. After an hour, he starts to droop, noticeably, and Draco convinces him to strip down to his drawers, open the converto-couch and get under the covers, and later, when Neville falls asleep, pries the book out of Neville's hands and drapes an extra blanket over him.
Of course Draco catches it, and wakes up the day after Neville's exam with a scratchy throat that deepens into a bronchial cough by the time Neville gets home.
"What do you think you're doing?" Neville says, catching him bumbling around the kitchen, and bundles him into bed before Draco properly knows what's happening.
"I'm fine, I can make you something," Draco protests.
"You're not fine, you look like flobberworm bait, and I am perfectly capable of cooking my own dinner," Neville says, conjuring an extra pillow and tucking it behind Draco's head. He leans down and puts the back of his hand on Draco's forehead. His skin is cool and dry and his knuckles are knobbly and faintly scratchy. Draco can remember his mother touching him like this a time or two, when he was very small.
"You feel hot," Neville informs him, and then leans down a little closer and takes a hard look at Draco's face. "Tell me you ate today," he says. Draco shakes his head. Neville sighs.
"My throat hurt," Draco says. Neville nods, and then gets up and goes into the kitchen for a while. Draco closes his eyes, hopes Neville isn't destroying his pantry. Maybe he dozes a little, because Neville's back in the next second, carrying a tray with a vanilla milkshake, with some hot broth and noodles and a cool washcloth he swipes across Draco's forehead and the palms of his hands.
"Don't look so surprised," he says, grinning at Draco's expression at the first sip of milkshake. "I know it's not up to your standards, but I won't say it doesn't pain me a little that you honestly doubt my ability to make a milkshake."
"It's just—I never saw you make anything."
"I wasn't so into family meals at the time," Neville says, sprawling back on the bed and watching Draco take a spoonful of broth.
"And now you are."
"Yeah, I am," Neville says, almost defiantly. "That okay?"
"Yes, yes," Draco says, shoving his spoon in his mouth so he doesn't have to say anything else.
Neville starts taking him along to the odd house party or barbecue; they're usually not very entertaining, because Draco doesn't know anyone and Neville divides his time between lurking around looking uncomfortable and disappearing for long stretches of time into another room, but he exerts himself to be friendly, for Neville's sake.
"Oh, you're Neville's husband," people always say. Once a round-faced witch buttonholes him near the punch bowl and says, "Neville's quite lovely, isn't he? I noted him particularly at convocation because he was so much better looking in person than in all the newspaper photographs. None of us had any idea he even had a sweetheart."
"Is that so?" Draco says weakly, looking around for someplace to hide.
After a solid month of losing at least one weekend afternoon to insipid conversation and unappetizing food, Draco catches Neville coming out of a spare room, looking guilty.
"What are you—" Draco catches sight of the sheaf of papers Neville's trying to stuff under his robes and says "were you revising?"
"No," Neville says. "Okay, yes, a little, but I have an exam on Monday."
"Why did we even come, then?"
"I thought you were—I thought you'd like it," Neville says.
"Is that the reason we've been attending so many buffets and high teas with people you apparently barely know?"
Neville shrugs, which means yes.
"It's not that I don't appreciate the thought," Draco says, "but I had planned to spend the afternoon experimenting with some pancakes to keep you alert after you've been up all night revising—infusing the milk with chili pepper is looking very promising."
"Sounds delicious," Neville says dubiously.
"I call them Wide-Awake Hotcakes," Draco says. "But mostly it's the taste that wakes you up right now."
"So we can go," Neville says, barely bothering to disguise his eagerness.
After that their social engagements dwindle back to Harry and Ron and sometimes they bring along Granger, or she comes by herself.
"Are you—all right?" she asks him once, quickly. Neville's in the kitchen making tea and Granger's face is serious, stopping him by putting two fingers very lightly on the back of his wrist.
"Very well, thanks," Draco says. "Did Neville mention that I had been ill?"
"No, he didn't, I just—thought you might, um—" she hesitates. "Anyhow, you're well?"
"Yes," Draco says and she nods and takes another slice of candied ginger and asks about the new improvements to Draco's Concentration Cupcakes.
"Cheating," Neville says, coming back in and distributing the mugs of tea.
"The ingredients are all perfectly legal, separately and in combination," Draco says, taking a sip. "Although I will concede that the fudge frosting is very tasty."
"Could you bake me up a box, when you have time?" Granger said. "We're working on some rather tricky experimental spells in the lab and I think the cupcakes kept us from breaking quite as many windows last time."
"Don't encourage him," Neville says.
"Someone has to," Granger says tartly. Neville looks at the floor.
"Didn't I give you the recipe?" Draco says. "I can copy it out again for you."
"But mine don't taste like yours."
"Don't tell me you can't follow a simple recipe. How do they taste?"
"Gritty," Granger says. "Sour."
"You must not have emulsified the milk thistle properly—"
"I can expense it," Granger says plaintively. "What's the going rate?"
"Do you want to—" Neville rolls up on one elbow and runs a hand slowly down Draco's side.
"I don't follow," Draco says. He punches his pillow into a better shape and pulls the blanket up to his chin.
"Is there something you'd like," Neville says. "Something we don't—do?"
"Why?" Draco says cautiously.
"You seemed angry about it that time," Neville says. He gets a little talkative sometimes after they fuck; that's new.
"No," Draco says. "You always—that is, I don't mind letting you choose. That's how we always did it before." Before, when Neville would sneak into the dungeons and push Draco's robes up over his knees and ask if he could do something Draco had never even heard of.
"I was sixteen."
"So was I."
"And a selfish idiot," Neville says, rolling back and letting his head fall against the pillow with an audible slap.
"I hate what I did to you," Neville blurts out. He's still staring at the ceiling so Draco has turn on his side to see his face. "What I took from you because I just wanted to stick it in with no thought of what it might mean for—"
"No," Draco says. "I wanted to. It was my idea."
"I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway because I had no self-control and now you're just—" Neville stops talking for so long that Draco thinks he's not going to say anything more, before he takes a quick breath and says, "stuck."
"I rather thought you were stuck with me."
"But I like having you around," Neville says. "I still have kind of a thing for you and you're right, I do like eating your cooking and having sex with you and you keep helping me with school and fixing my career."
"When, um, when was it that you. had a thing for me?"
Neville gets a little still. "Uh, you know. Before."
"When you had no self-discipline."
"Yes," Neville says. He smiles up at Draco, lopsided, a little lustful.
"Lucius," Draco says, "was going to marry me to some—oh, I don't know, but he needed a virgin, so he was probably going to do something horrible to me."
The smile drops off Neville's face "What?"
"When was it that you got the idea that I was going to be allowed to do anything but make an advantageous marriage for Lucius? Which I did, by the way."
Neville stares at him, his mouth a thin angry line. "I fucking hate your family," he says. "I mean, no offense, but your dad is a jerk."
"He sued you for raping me and you're just figuring this out now?"
"I thought he was just looking out for you," Neville said. "I thought that was commendable even if he had to go about it in the nastiest way possible."
Spring comes early. Draco finds himself restless, his skin too small, and starts digging up the garden in back. The ground is hard-packed and the weeds are wild knots of roots, locked against each other beneath the ground. It takes Draco a week of work to clear a patch big enough for the cabbage and mugwort, strawberries, snap peas, thistle and thyme he plants, which then immediately start to die.
"You know," Neville says, when he finds Draco in the back, disconsolately digging up the mugwort, whose roots are black with rot, "You could have asked for help."
"I can figure it out," Draco says. "You're busy, it's midterms."
"What, are you some kind of Herbology superstar?" Draco says, straightening up.
Neville shrugs, and then to Draco's surprise, starts to blush.
"Oh, right, of course you are," Draco says. "I don't supposed you have any other talents I should know about? Can you play the trombone? Do you hold the school record for most pull-ups in a five minute time trial?"
"It was ten minutes," Neville says, ducking his head, and then he comes down off the porch and takes the shovel out of Draco's hand and explains that thistle and mugwort can't be in the same plot and that strawberries aren't getting enough sun and the thyme too much. The thistle is a wash, but together they manage to salvage more of the cabbage and snap peas and then they get ambitious and dig up the rest of the garden, planning on a real vegetable garden with a herb and potions-ingredient border, and Ron and Harry show up right around sundown with a huge bottle of gin they appear to have purchased solely because it has a witch in her knickers on it, and they all sit out on the back porch and drink gin and tonics and stare at the garden.
"That was fun," Draco says, later, when Ron and Harry have gone home and they're still a little tipsy and eating icebox cake straight out of the dish, leaning against the counter in the kitchen. "Thank you."
"Of course," Neville says. He licks melted ice cream off his knuckles. "Anytime."
Lucius stops by just before six on a Friday, just after Draco has put the tureen of lamb and vegetable stew and a basket of crusty rolls on the sideboard and set the keep-warm spell. Harry and Ron and Granger are coming for dinner, and Draco is standing in the kitchen, holding a dishtowel, just about to put together some radish bites and fig and gorgonzola crackers and chop some salad and check on the rhubarb betty in the oven when Lucius knocks and saunters in without waiting for a response.
"It's traditional to wait for someone to invite you in," Draco says.
"Now, now," Lucius says. "No need to be unpleasant."
"You should have owled," Draco says tightly. "I'm expecting guests."
"I won't take up too much of your time, then," Lucius says. "I was only going to compliment you on what a accomplished little helpmeet you seem to have grown into; I had no idea Longbottom was capable of whipping you into shape, let alone having you tend to his every whim with evident—enthusiasm."
"Biscuit?" Draco says blandly, flipping the lid off his latest assortment. Lucius' eyebrow twitches up, but he selects a jam jewel, pinching it disdainfully between his thumb and forefinger. It's buttery, but delicate, not too sweet as a counterpoint to the vivid punch of raspberry jam—Lucius' face twitches as he eats it, trying to think of something suitably condescending to say and, for once, failing. "What do you want?" Draco says.
"Oh, just a little legal matter," Lucius says. "Some papers I thought you might sign for me."
"What kind of papers?"
"They concern your mother's estate," Lucius says, producing a sheaf of parchment and a ready-ink quill.
"Leave it and I'll read it through," Draco says.
"I would really prefer it if you would sign now—it's a trivial matter, I assure you—"
"I'm not signing anything," Draco says. He glances up at the clock, which is a mistake; Lucius gives him a sly smile, no doubt meant to be friendly.
"I suppose you have a choice to make, then," he says.
"You can sign," Lucius says, "and I'll be on my way, with no need to—bother you again. Or I can release the details of your marriage settlement to the papers. I imagine you know that rape is frowned upon by the DMLE?"
"Neville didn't rape me," Draco says.
"Not according to the papers he signed," Lucius says, winking. "But what do you suppose I received the settlement for if he didn't admit to it? And of course, I kept a few photographs—poor thing, you were so listless after the brutal attack, broken and beaten—"
"Now you're just making things up," Draco says.
Lucius shrugged. "Oh, well, in that case, I'm sure he'll get it all straightened out in no time. The rumors will die right down. It's just so difficult to believe even after you've seen the photographs. Shame you've always bruised so badly."
Draco punches him. Lucius looks so astonished that it almost makes Draco laugh and then Lucius shoves his wand painfully up under Draco's jaw and sucker punches him right into the middle of a crucio.
"Your loyalty is touching," Lucius says, when he ends it, while Draco is pushing himself unsteadily up off the floor to his hands and knees, breathing deeply to keep from vomiting. "Tell me, does he share the same tender feelings—ah. So sorry to bring up a delicate subject."
"No, you're not," Draco says, and Lucius kicks him casually in the ribs a few times.
"Just when I think you couldn't possibly be more of a disappointment, you always manage to surprise me," Lucius says, kicking him again, meditatively, and eating another jam jewel. "It would be one thing if you'd chosen to demean yourself as a scullery slave as a means to the end, but it's clear that you enjoy it, that you care for Longbottom, darning his socks, tending to his—other needs—
"So what if I do?" Draco spits. There's blood in his mouth where he bit his tongue. "It's better than what I would have ended up doing with Lord Whatsisname—"
"You're insolent." Lucius puts his boot on Draco's head, punctuating each word with a nudge of his heel against Draco's cheek. "Disloyal, sluttish, and none. too. bright—"
There's a rush of footsteps and Lucius' voice cuts off suddenly. When Draco opens his eyes, Neville is dragging Lucius across the kitchen by the scruff of his neck.
"Watch out," Draco croaks, and Neville throws Lucius up against the wall, one big hand covering his mouth. Then he does something complicated with his elbow and Lucius' wand falls out of his hand.
Lucius turns purple.
"I'll have you up on charges," he sputters.
"Great," Neville says, "because I'm going to fucking kill you if you're not out of my house in the next ten seconds."
"Is that so?" Lucius says, but he's moving pretty quickly, scooping up his wand and the documents from the kitchen table.
"Draco," Neville says.
"I'm fine," Draco says, but he needs Neville's hand under his elbow to stand. The kitchen floor weaves dizzily in front of him and when his vision clears, he sees Lucius lifting his wand, his lips twisting malevolently.
There's no time. Draco yanks Neville's wand out of his sleeve and throws himself into curse-line, shouting the first thing that comes to mind, which is the dishwashing spell.
There's an odd little silence when Draco feels like an idiot, and then the cook pot soaking in the sink flies across the counter and upends over Lucius' head with a dull thunk, covering him with greasy water and suds and little bits of minced carrot and onion and celery. Almost simultaneously, Lucius begins to glow, leaking yellow vapor. The light gets so bright that Draco thinks he'll go blind, and then he's falling back into Neville, and the last thing he hears is Neville saying, in an increasingly urgent tone of voice,
He wakes up on the converto-couch. Ron is sitting in the easy chair, one ankle tossed up on the bed, reading the scandalous novel Neville got him for Christmas and Harry is lying on the floor flipping through the flashcard file Draco made for Neville. Granger is sitting cross-legged, leaning against the chair, reading. They're sharing a pot of tea, and all of them are eating cupcakes.
"Oh, hey," Ron says.
"Hi," Draco says.
"You've been out for a while," Ron says, summoning a glass of water and handing it to him. There's a smear of frosting on his chin.
"So—" Harry says, sitting up.
"I just fell," Draco says hurriedly. "I guess I just hit my head—idiotic—I'm always doing. you know. idiotic things."
"Yeah," Harry says, his brows pulling together. He looks a little concerned. "Do you remember what happened?"
"We got here in time to pull Neville off your dad," Ron says reassuringly. "So—no need to lie."
"Your dad stole your magic," Harry says, finishing his cupcake in one huge bite and picking up another from the plate on the floor. "Then Neville says you cursed him and I guess that destabilized the spell he was using to hold onto it and it all went back to you. And soap bubbles came out of his ears, for some reason."
Granger huffs a little and starts to say something and Harry tucks the cupcake in her mouth before she can. "That's the short, non-boring magical theory version, anyhow," Harry says.
"Oh," Draco says.
"You're supposed to keep off your feet until the specialist gets here," Ron says.
"Neville?" Draco says. His voice is horrifyingly weak.
"He went in the bedroom to talk on the portafloo so he wouldn't bother you," Granger says. "And, by the way, I knew you had magic fatigue, it was so, so obvious, and Greg says you've been like that as long as he's known you, and it only got worse and worse every year, and, also, you should really not sign this document Lucius left."
"Greg?" Ron says, as Draco realizes he can hear Neville indistinctly in the next room, his voice loud and extra brassed off, occasionally rising enough for Draco to pick out individual phrases like "don't care what it costs" and "make that fucker wish he never even heard of—"
"Goyle," Hermione says a little primly. "You could owl him sometime, Draco; he's convinced you're too good for him now that you're married to Neville."
"That really doesn't make any sense," Draco says.
"I know," Granger says, at the same time that Harry says, in a studiously careless tone, "How do you know what Greg Goyle thinks?"
"He's in some of my classes and we've—had coffee a few times."
"Oh, coffee," Ron says, in a similarly strange tone.
"Yes, coffee," Granger says. "Since you two were too busy with each other, I have been having coffee sometimes with people with whom I am acquainted."
"Guys, you mean," Harry says.
"Hey, Harry and I are roommates," Ron says. "It's not that we don't want you around."
"Well, I don't like to be in the way," Granger sniffs.
"I have a question," Draco says. They all turn towards him, faces flushed, and Granger raises her pen in a way that means she's prepared to take notes. "Are you eating the cupcakes I made for Robbie Cattermole's tenth birthday celebration?"
"We were hungry," Ron says, after a conspicuous silence.
"You were unconscious for a long time," Harry says. He's still holding half a cupcake, but he's twisting his hand to hide it. "And they weren't marked."
"And then there are all your 'roughhousing' injuries," Granger says loudly, waving her arms around. "I'm sorry, Draco, but they were delicious. You two can't honestly expect me to believe these beyond ridiculous stories about how you have marks all over your neck from mock dueling or tripping over takeaway boxes—"
"Actually, if you've seen their flat," Draco murmurs, but Granger is talking loudly over him, her face red.
"—as though you think I can't handle it that the two people I—well, anyhow, it's fine if you're sleeping together, I just wish you wouldn't lie to me about it."
"But you're dating Harry," Weasley says, right as Neville comes in and says,
"Just tell me you didn't eat Robbie Cattermole's birthday cupcakes."
"We'll be in the back yard," Potter says, and all but frogmarches Weasley and Granger out the door.
"They ate them," Draco says.
"Oh, fuck," Neville says. "Sorry."
"Do you mind telling me what's going on?"
"Well. Your father stole your magic," Neville says.
"Yes, we got that far," Draco says.
"There's a specialist on the way out to examine you." Neville picks up a few of the empty cups and plates and starts stacking them together on a side table. "Hermione says you'll probably be fine."
Neville collapses into the arm chair next to him wearily. He's in shirtsleeves and the knuckles on his right hand are dark red and bruised.
"How are you feeling?" he says.
"I—very well," Draco says, surprised to realize it's true. His left knee used to hurt, he realizes, and he had gotten so used to the pain, to a constant low-grade fatigue, that he's forgotten what it felt like to feel rested.
"Good," Neville says. "That's good." He lifts one hand and then puts it back down, curling it over his knee. "When you're feeling better, we can settle the terms of the separation," he says.
"I don't want you to worry about it," Neville says. "We'll do whatever you want."
"I don't want to separate," Draco says promptly.
"Divorce," Neville says, nodding, not quite meeting Draco's eyes.
"I don't understand.
"You have your magic back," Neville says. The expression on his face is familiar from the last months, a peculiar mix of resignation and sadness.
"You knew," Draco says.
"Yes," Neville says. "Or no, not about Lucius, obviously. But you almost never used magic and you always had some flimsy excuse. I thought you were just a bit of a squib or had L—late onset magic loss—"
"I know what LOML is," Draco says.
"I figured—you needed me," Neville says. "And that's why you married me. I didn't mind."
"I'm in love with you," Neville says. He's very matter of fact. "You don't have to say anything."
"Lucius," Draco says, sitting up, alert and jittery. "Oh shit. Lucius is going to release the settlement documents to the papers and—sorry, I should have—sorry, I'm not sure we'll have time stop him, but we should—"
"The records are sealed," Neville says. He leaning forward now, but he doesn't look particularly worried. "And there's nothing especially damaging in them anyhow."
"But—he said they were—oh, I'm an idiot," Draco says, slumping back against the pillows. "Great."
"Well, magic fatigue kind of clouds your judgment," Neville says.
"Lucius clouds my judgment," Draco says grimly.
"Speaking of which, what would you like to do about him?" Neville says.
"I mean, I can have him brought in for assault and grand larceny or I can sue him back to the alchemical era—probably get you Malfoy Manor if you want it—" he looks at Draco's face and his voice changes, "or I can make it so you never have to see him again."
"It's fine," Draco says. "I'm fine."
"You have a boot-mark on your face," Neville says, lifting one hand and waving his fingers in a vague circle over his cheekbone.
"So, you're not fine, and Lucius stole your magic and I didn't even notice and I was really not nice at all to you—"
"I did trick you into marrying me—"
"You didn't do shit," Neville says. He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and then says, "When you didn't show up for 7th year, I knew—I knew something was wrong, but I thought if I went to see you that you'd—I don't know. Laugh at me. Say you'd come to your senses, so I didn't do anything."
"I do love you, by the way," Draco says. "I wouldn't have laughed."
Neville examines Draco's face. "You don't have to say that," he says.
"I mean, I suppose you're not completely unfortunate in the sack," Draco says, and Neville's anxious smile eases into something more genuine and he lets Draco pull him down onto the converto-couch right as there's a loud thump against the house from outside, the distant sound of raised voices. "And, apparently," Draco continues, "we don't even have the most complicated relationship of the people currently in this house."
"You may change your mind when you get stronger," Neville says, leaning down to brush a kiss against Draco's throat.
"I may not," Draco says. He doesn't.
The following spring, an unassuming shingle is hung out over a small storefront a few streets over from Diagon Alley—a narrow cobblestone street with a bookshop that appears to exist primarily to provide a cosy reading spot for customers who seem to feel it might be rude to take the books home with them and as well as a steady stream of chin rubs to the store cat, Reuben, and has nonetheless been in business for a Centaur's age, a custom milliner known to have supplied Dumbledore himself, and a broom development start-up that bristles with energetic wizards wearing goggles and elbow pads.
The sign hangs from a wrought iron curliqueue and is small enough that anyone curious about what it says would have to get close enough to see through the windows into the tidy storefront, with its glass cases filled with cakes, to be bought whole or by the slice, biscuits which can be mixed and matched into tins which are already dented enough to make it appear that the biscuits have arrived by owl post from someone who loves you and may be returned and refilled at 10% off, at the selection of scones and savoury breads, custard tarts and pies, and, finally, in a special case marked "performance selection," just next to the cash register, neat stacks of cupcakes and truffles, all with sleek racing stripes in a variety of colors.
The sign outside says "House Elf Work."
At first, very few people even notice the store, and then there is a slight but perceptible uptick in foot traffic to the street. The bookstore is shocked to sell some books. The broommakers assign an intern the job of going across the street with everyone's orders to address the productivity problems that develop at 3pm sharp, and sometimes at 11am as well. Owl-order business is brisk enough that the store sets up a waiting-roost area, which usually has one or two owls perched on it, taking advantage of the complimentary owl snacks.
No articles appear in the newspapers or magazines about the store, but everyone knows about it anyhow.
What only a few people know about is the little packages dispatched on a regular basis to the Ministry with notes marked "Final test phase: extends alertness and mental acuity by 13 hours, peanut brickle filling" or "Infection Protection Confectionery Collection—I added caramel and butterscotch creams, as requested—please keep careful records as we are still completing studies on their efficacy. Copies of records may be directed to Gregory Goyle at the Research Institute. There seems to be some strong evidence that these provide the most direct benefits if taken within minutes of the initial wound, so do please advise agents to be prompt. Once studies are completed, these will be available through the main store, which should drop the cost considerably."
Yet fewer people take note of the fact that the windows of the building above the bakery are often alight long after closing time and that, at least once a month, a few wizards arrive, ring the bell, and disappear inside and, further, that these visits coincide with the introduction of new items in the bakery below. It is an odd, loose fellowship of Aurors and Institute Research Fellows, which in time swells to include two of the broom developers and a professional Quidditch player or two.
Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley have moved into Hermione Granger's London flat, because Hermione is being relentlessly pursued by Severus Snape and they need to protect her, and because Harry Potter dated a mermaid and got addicted to smoking gillyweed and they're mounting an intervention, and also because Ron Weasley has adopted a goblin baby and is planning to raise it to be the next all-England Keeper, so no one takes much notice of the fact that Neville Longbottom pops by the store, most nights. Maybe he does some homework, hunched over the desk Draco keeps clear for him in the corner, or Draco quizzes him while baking cakes in the row of ovens that run along the back wall or setting some infusions to brew overnight, before they portkey home and make dinner together. Maybe Neville is learning how to cook and Draco is preparing for his NEWTs and they end most days in bed, cramming in a little more reading before falling asleep. Perhaps things get a little hot and heavy, even when they're tired, but of course Draco only smiles when asked about his personal life, and Neville is too much of a gentleman to ever discuss it.