Harry kept one eye on Dobby's enthusiastic movements with the sugar-roses while he set two piping tips to finish decorating the Granger cake. Hermione's parents were having their twenty-eighth wedding anniversary and Harry had offered to do the cakes and puddings. The Grangers had looked a little bemused when Harry had open his portfolio to show them the pastries he had done and Mr. Granger had offered him a small container of dental floss when they had finished choosing their sweets.
"Just to keep around," he had said brightly to Harry, who had pocketed it without laughing.
He checked his list, ticking off what had already been done; the tiny individual strawberry cheesecakes were in the large silver refrigerator, the bread-and-butter pudding would be made tomorrow, a few hours before the party, to be served hot with custard; the anniversary cake itself, three tiers tall and golden, was nearly done. All it needed was the cascade of roses that would be magically affixed to the topmost cake, flowing down in a sweep to the bottom of the arrangement.
He grinned; the sugar content alone would have the Grangers handing out toothbrushes tomorrow.
There was a soft sound of bells and Harry brushed his hands together, getting rid of the fine sugar had clung to them. Checking to see that his smock was fairly clean, he stepped from the large warm bakery into the front section of his tiny shop, the welcoming smile on his face growing tight as he saw who his prospective clients were.
The Malfoys; at least, Draco Malfoy and his children. Since his divorce from Lady Antonia Malfoy, Draco Malfoy's public presence had rivalled Harry's in levels of reclusive, emerging only to do his job of running the Potions testing department at the Ministry. No more extravagant parties that the Lady had been fond of throwing; no more grand soirees that were splashed on the front pages of The Prophet, Malfoy's face a calm mask as his wife (ex-wife now, Harry's mind amended) flitted from guest to guest, her long dark hair swinging from side to side.
Harry had disliked her immensely; she had once referred to his beloved shop as plebeian and, out of sheer malice, he had refused to cater a birthday party of hers, no matter how much of Malfoy's money she had the gall to offer. Harry had been inexplicably delighted when Parvati, on one of her weekly trips for meringue, had whispered that they were finally separating.
Now, he flushed as Malfoy gazed at him strangely, more than likely taking in how messy his hair still was, most likely decorated with a streak or two of flour. Each of Malfoy's hands were occupied; a little girl stood by his side, her small hand gripping his larger one as Malfoy shifted a tiny boy slung comfortably his other arm. Both children had the distinct Malfoy features, the wide grey eyes, and the sharp chin; the baby, however, had hair that was as black as Harry's, obviously taking that from his mother. There was a small house-elf standing behind them, a basket in its wrinkled hands. Harry was more than a little surprised that Malfoy was walking with his children, instead of having them trail behind with the house-elf. He looked very...paternal.
The little girl spoke up suddenly, brushing blond wispy hair out of her eyes.
"Good morning, Mr. Potter," she intoned politely. "My name is Iolanthe Malfoy and I would like a cake."
Merlin, what a name, Harry thought and smiled faintly down at her, opening his mouth to speak. The baby in Malfoy's arms pulled his thumb out of his mouth and addressed Harry as well.
"Ricky want cake!" the baby crowed and Malfoy rolled his eyes.
"Aelric, no shouting," he admonished and gave Harry a frosty smile. "Good morning, Potter. I had forgotten this was your establishment."
"Did you?" Harry said with an acidic smile. "I'm sure you've heard of me from your wife."
"I don't know if Daddy did," Iolanthe said sadly. "My mommy doesn't live with us anymore."
Malfoy used a few seconds to glare at Harry, who felt abashed. He summoned his portfolio and went around the counter, inclining his head in invitation to one of the round tables that were scattered throughout the space that he had tried to make into a eating area, since quite a few of his patrons simply could not wait to go home and sample their purchases. The tables were old, but clean, helping to lend to the shops its comfortable, rustic air.
Iolanthe insisted on climbing onto one of her father's knees, helped up by the house-elf, as the boy was placed on the other; his little hands reached instantly for the small bunch of wildflowers that had been placed in the centre of the table. Malfoy pushed it further away with the side of his hand, smiling a little as the self-named Ricky yelled in indignation.
"He'll tear it to pieces," Malfoy explained and nodded to his little girl. "Go on, Io. Tell him how you want your birthday cake to be."
She shifted around so that she could place her arms on the surface of the table, settling into a serious look of debate. Harry met Malfoy's eyes over her head; his face was carefully blank, but the light eyes seemed to hold a sheen of amusement.
"Butterflies," Io declared and wrinkled her brow at Harry. "I want butterflies."
"Please," Malfoy murmured. Harry tried not to fall off his chair in shock.
"Please," Io repeated dutifully. Harry nodded, turning his attention to his portfolio, flipping the pages. He had done butterflies once...where was it...ah, there. He turned it around and stood the portfolio upright, knowing that the photograph, being a Wizarding one, would show the bright sugar wings waving delicately. Io's eyes lit up.
"Yes, like those!" She grasped both edges of the thick book and pulled it a little closer. "Oh, but not so large. May I have them smaller, Daddy?"
"I'm not the one making them, Io," Malfoy said in that low drawling voice that Harry had always despised. Yet, now that it held an indulgent tone, it was very attractive; Harry kept his eyes firmly on Io's face as he felt Malfoy eyes rest on him. "I'm sure Mr. Potter is capable of making them any size you like."
"Very capable," Harry said firmly. "And these are just plain colours. You can get them in polka-dots and stripes. Anything you like, Miss Malfoy."
"Io," the little girl said shyly, looking up at her father for permission. Malfoy nodded, bouncing her a little on his knee as a small smile flitted across the sharp features. "You can call me Io, Mr. Potter."
"Eye-ooohhh," The baby said in a soft, sleepy voice and grabbed after her long blond braid. They were all staring at Harry, even the baby, who was chewing contemplatively on the end of the braid. Malfoy noticed and pulled it out of his mouth, giving Harry time to collect his bearings. The weight of those grey gazes was heavy, especially Malfoy's. Harry could have sworn that Malfoy had glanced at his mouth, for a split second. He licked his lips; maybe he had some sugar on there. No, nothing like that at all. Strange, because now that he had done that, those grey eyes had flickered to his lips again.
"Alright, Io." Harry gave her a charming smile, resolving to ignore Malfoy; Io grinned back, looking more like the child she was instead of a little adult she was obviously trying to be. Harry wondered if this was how Malfoy had looked at this age. "You may call me Uncle Harry, if you want."
"Alright." She went on to explain how many butterflies she wanted (26); how many tiers to be on her cake (3); and the colours to be used (violet and pink). Harry took notes while fending off Ricky's sudden interest in his quill. Ricky complained in babbling baby-talk to his father, who reached in the basket and gave the child a slice of fruit, encouraging him gently as the baby made a face.
"Come on, now," he heard Malfoy croon as Ricky fussed. "How will you know you won't like it if you've never tried it? Ah, see? Isn't that good?"
"I've all the information I need," Harry said, feeling a little shaky at this display of loving father, wondering just who Malfoy had as an example. Malfoy's love for his children was apparent, the way he smiled as Ricky devoured the papaya, the manner in which he gently set his daughter on the ground as he rose to his feet. Malfoy's family was small yet close; Harry felt a sense of longing burn in his chest, the same way it did when he visited the Burrow or his other friends.
"Kindly send the bill to my office," he said now, the cool of his voice contrasting so sharply with the warm tone that he had used with Io. Harry nearly shivered. "Io, have you ordered any other treats?"
"Uncle Harry can make anything else he thinks of, I don't mind." Io took her father's hand and grinned up at Harry. "Won't you?"
"Of course." Harry smile was still on his face as he glanced back up at Malfoy, who gave him a long unreadable stare... and then smiled slowly in return. His smile was a lot more predatory than Io's had been, looking as if he would like nothing more than to snack on Harry.
Harry's overactive imagination supplied him with an image of Malfoy nibbling gently on his bare shoulder; Harry ruthlessly squashed down that enticing picture. Malfoy had been married, after all. It was very unlikely he would be interested in Harry. Even with his subversive actions in the war that had gotten necessary information for the Order to fight, they had conferred only a few times and spoken even less. It had been a war, Harry mused. He had been busy trying to live. Oh, now and again he would think about the straight fall of Malfoy's hair and if it felt as soft as it looked, but that was when he had been safely ensconced in his bed.
"Remember my bill, Uncle Harry," Malfoy called over his shoulder as they exited, jerking Harry out of his musings.
Harry spun the cake he was working on its dais and eyed the beaded line of white icing with a pleased eye. He liked doing this; it didn't take up too much of his concentration, yet he felt like he was sinking into a relaxing trance when doing it. He had always watched his aunt baking cakes while he did some menial task and while Petunia had not been the most motherly of figures, she was an excellent baker. He hadn't thought he'd do this after the war; He had retreated into his house, refusing to apply to the Auror training and one night, in a fit of boredom, had rifled through one of the Black family cookbooks (the only one that had not tried to tear out his jugular) and had whipped up a treacle tart cake, making it with sponge crumbs, following the directions carefully. It was like Potions and yet it wasn't, because he actually enjoyed the results.
Hermione had eaten three slices the next day before it had finally got through to her that Harry had made them himself.
"But this is excellent!" Her yell had been muffled by the bite of treacle tart in her mouth.
"Swallow, dear," Ron had said with a prim tone that he had certainly inherited from Hermione. "Harry, this is good. Maybe you can be like the twins? Start a shop or something."
"I can't believe how good these are." Hermione had peered at her half-eaten tart suspiciously, as if Harry had used some form of Dark Cake Magic on them. Harry simply pushed over a container of clotted cream and dreamed half-heartedly about opening a small bakery.
And now here he was. It had taken longer than he had thought it would have to set everything up the way he liked it, but he had made it. Hermione had found a course for him to do, to supplement the innate magic of his that made every cake turn out just as he imagined it should. His friends had been extremely supportive; the resurgence of marriages and celebrations had not been unwelcome either. He was kept busy and happy, doing something he liked; and it brought out a creative side in him that everyone, including himself, did not know existed.
He set aside the icing tube that he had been using to pipe a line of bulbs along the base of the cake and picked up a smaller one to insert tiny beads between each bulb. He could do this with his wand, of course, make everything go faster; but he really preferred doing it by hand; also, the cakes tended to taste different when magic was used. It could be just his imagination, but the flavour was slightly...flatter. He had no other way to describe it.
"That's very good," a voice spoke up from behind him, causing Harry to jump. He squeezed the tube a little too hard and a long unwanted line of icing oozed out onto his neat line. He made an annoyed gasp and turned to glare at whoever had dared invade the back of his bakery; he rolled his eyes at Malfoy, who stood staring at him from the open door.
"What are you doing here?" He turned back to inspect the cake and then sighed, reaching for his wand. With a twitch of his wrist, the messy white line melted away and the icing tube levitating to finish his task. Wiping his hands on the cloth that was tucked into the pocket of his tunic, he stepped expectantly towards Malfoy and tried to look accommodating. "Let's start over. How may I help you?"
"Much better," Malfoy said, the side of his mouth quirking up as he looked down at Harry. "I've bought you your cheque."
"Oh." Harry took the folded bit of parchment and opened it, noting Malfoy's elegant handwriting. He flicked his gaze up and blushed to find Malfoy staring at his face again. He brushed at his mouth experimentally and Malfoy's gaze took on a little of the warmth that was reserved for his children. "What? Is there something on my face?"
"Why would you ask that?" Malfoy tilted his head and blinked innocently at Harry, who gave an unwilling chuckle.
"It's just that...oh, never mind," he said, trying to sound a little cross as Malfoy grinned at him. Malfoy's teeth were even and white, causing Harry to bite his bottom lip, to hide that one of his teeth in the bottom row was slightly crooked. Mr. Granger was just about ready to drag him in to correct it, but Harry didn't mind it at all. At least, not until now, when he was faced with the dental perfection that was Malfoy. The Grangers would fall in love with him on sight.
Malfoy cleared his throat.
"Those tiny dessert samples you sent to my office were lovely," he said, looking as if he couldn't believe what he was saying. Harry could commiserate, really. "I think I'd like all of them with the cake. The chocolate éclair was particularly delightful."
"Thanks," Harry said, smiling slowly as Malfoy swept out, his face set in its usual harsh lines.
No-one could resist his éclairs.