“So, that’s your news update for the hour; we’ll have another one at seven fifteen, in the meantime, if you have any comments, questions or corrections, firecall Lofty Lee on the reception desk, and we will get through as many of those as we can before the end of the show,” Draco recites into his omnivox device, working almost entirely on muscle memory as he feels around his desk for his coffee cup and stretches. “It’s Monday the fourth of April, it’s twenty two minutes past six, and you’re listening to the WWN breakfast show with Draco Malfoy and... well, just with Draco Malfoy. My esteemed co-host has yet to arrive, but I will be sure to keep you updated as the situation develops. Until then, here’s Melody Maelstrom with ‘You Bring Out the Veela in Me’.”
Clicking off the omnivox, Draco drops the needle onto the record and sits back in his chair. The coffee, as usual, is terrible, but someone with a death wish has stolen the last of what he thought was his secret supply of single estate Venezuelan ground, and he has had no choice but to fall back on the standard WWN supply for his early morning caffeine fix. He doubts he’ll ever quite get used to dragging himself out of bed at half past four in the morning, but he does it, even in the winter when the sky outside is black and his quilt feels like a soft, safe cocoon, and he hasn’t been late to work in the last five years. Which is more than he can say for Pansy.
Draco loves Pansy like the waspish, gossipy sister he never had, but it would be diplomatic, verging on ridiculous, to say that she is not a morning person. In fact, he has often suspected that the only reason she sees the early daylight hours at all is because she is still awake from whatever glittering social event she has attended the night before. Draco can’t remember the last time he found himself at a glittering social event, partly because he finds them dull and stressful and partly because he was dragged along to enough of them in his childhood to leave him thoroughly disinclined.
He can’t say he minds, though, when Pansy breezes into the studio in her beautiful evening clothes, earrings sparkling and lips painted blood red, bearing shiny little bags containing artisan chocolates or tiny bottles of champagne. He also tends to get first refusal of anything she determines to be a ‘gentleman’s item’, and as such, hasn’t paid for cologne or cufflinks in months.
“There you go, darling,” she’ll says, poking the little boxes at him across the desk, and he’ll accept them, waiting for the inevitable critique of his fashion choices.
When it arrives, he always gives back as good as he gets, even though he couldn’t care less about what Pansy thinks of his clothes. She knows that he works for his money these days and cannot really afford to keep everything up-to-the-minute like he had as a teenager, but what she doesn’t understand is why he doesn’t just write to his parents in France or Dubai or wherever they are this week and ask them to move a few thousand Galleons into his bank account. She probably never will, and that suits Draco just fine. His relationship with Pansy has never been based on similarity, and that can only be a good thing. The idea of having to spend several hours a day cooped up in a tiny studio with someone just like himself gives him the absolute horrors.
Shivering slightly, Draco glances at the progress of the record and takes a new one from the rack, ready to replace Melody Maelstrom as soon as she has ceased warbling. He doesn’t particularly care for the song, or the one replacing it, but that doesn’t stop him humming along with the last few bars. When the switch has been made, he turns on his swivelly chair and gazes out of the window. It’s a small window, but it allows enough light and air into the studio to make it bearable, and now, as Draco peers down over Diagon Alley from the tenth floor, he can see the glimmer of the sun just struggling above the horizon.
There is still no sign of Pansy, but that’s no real cause for concern. She’s certainly been more than half an hour late before, and the management at the Wizarding Wireless Network either haven’t noticed or just don’t care. Their breakfast show is the most popular thing on the airwaves, and no one seems keen to mess around with a winning formula, a fact for which Draco is grateful, because despite the fact that his younger self would have keeled over laughing at the idea of being a radio presenter, thirty-year-old Draco finds the whole thing rather satisfying.
At least most of the time. The listeners’ comments, he could quite happily do without, but according to the head of the network, ‘dialoguing’ is as essential to his show as the snappish banter between himself and Pansy, and the relentlessly upbeat music that seeps without his permission into every part of his consciousness. Far too often these days, he’ll find himself humming—or worse, singing—along to the record he’s playing, and Pansy has developed an infuriating habit of leaning over stealthily and clicking on his omnivox so that his contribution is broadcast across the network. On the last such occasion, he had wreaked revenge by casting a hex that had replaced her refined tones with a broad cockney accent, but she still reaches for the button when she thinks he’s not looking.
“That was Russell T Warlock with his latest single, ‘Angelic Companion’,” Draco says into the omnivox as he switches to the next record. “Russell with be with us on the breakfast show next week, so please keep your questions coming in. It’s six thirty-four, just twenty-six minutes until your Song for the Shower, which I will be choosing unless Pansy deigns to arrive before then—you have been warned. Here’s the Weird Sisters.”
As Draco clicks himself off air, the studio door opens.
“And what time do you call this?” he asks, scrutinising his list of records for a suitable Song for the Shower—or perhaps an unsuitable one.
“Can’t be sure on that, Draco, some little bugger’s had the clock from my desk,” comes the dry response, and Draco turns.
“I thought you were Pansy.”
“Well, it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of that,” Lee says, shuffling his wizened form into the studio and thrusting a sheaf of parchments into Draco’s hands.
“You think you’re funny, don’t you?” Draco sighs, mouth tugging into a reluctant smile as the old man grins, displaying both rows of crooked teeth.
“When you’ve been around as long as I have, you start to find humour in the strangest places,” Lee says solemnly, before his stubbled old face once again breaks into a wide smile.
“And how long is that, exactly?” Draco asks.
“Long enough to know there’s nothing new on this earth,” Lee says, shuffling back towards the door. “And that this is a bloody awful song.”
With that, the old man leaves the studio, allowing the heavy door to slam behind him. Draco watches him for a moment, breathing in the faint smell of butter mints that follows him wherever he goes and wondering, as he often does, just how long Lofty Lee has been on the payroll of the WWN. He has asked around more than once, and the consensus is that he has been here ‘forever’. All Draco really knows is that every now and then he turns up with a handful of parchments, and he puts on the longest song he can find in order to frown at them and attempt to decipher the listeners’ comments from Lee’s spider-scrawl handwriting.
He wouldn’t mind so much but the results are rarely worth the effort, usually consisting of complaints about Quidditch managers or hopeless rants about potion prices and the impending end of the world. And Harry Potter, of course. A disquieting proportion of the people who call in to the show have something to say about Potter—what he might or might not be doing, with whom he might be doing it, whether or not the reporters from the Daily Prophet properly understand him...
As far as Draco knows, Potter is an unremarkable mad person who is friends with just about everyone, works in a glorified pet shop and, if the gossip columns are to be believed, has had affairs with everyone from Ginevra Weasley to old Tom from the Leaky Cauldron. If Draco is completely honest, he has no idea why everyone is so obsessed with the man.
“That’s rich coming from you, darling,” Pansy had muttered the last time he had voiced this thought, and he had hexed the legs off her chair.
School was a very long time ago, and so was the war... and yet everyone is still following Potter’s every move. That being said, Draco thinks, leafing idly through Lee’s parchments, the Potter comments have been rather thin on the ground over recent weeks. He almost wonders if he should be worried.
Feeling disinclined to sift through the lot, he drops them on the desk and leans back in his chair, admiring the way the early sunlight lights up the pewter ribbons of his omnivox and makes the delicate stand gleam. It’s a beautiful piece of equipment and he is rather attached to it. At the other side of the desk, Pansy’s sits forlornly, covered in lipstick smears and smudges of icing sugar.
Draco sighs and picks up the pile of parchments.
At five minutes to seven, Pansy stalks into the studio, dressed immaculately in black with sapphires glittering at her throat and wrists. Without a word, she leans over and rescues her shower song from Draco’s hands, queuing up a record he knows to be optimistic, uptempo, and sure to be wedged into his brain until lunchtime.
He clicks on the omnivox as the current song draws to a close. “And she’s here,” he announces, making sure to inject a note of sardonic congratulation into his voice. “Good of you to join us, Pans.”
Pansy tosses her glossy black hair and flounces over to her seat.
“I can’t believe you’re still wearing those trousers, Draco,” she says, shrugging her coat over the back of her chair and crossing one leg over the other. “I don’t think they’ve been in fashion since Celestina Warbeck had her original nose.”
Draco shoots her a half-hearted glare and decides not to remind her that she has yet to activate her omnivox, and as such, only he can hear her scornful words. He looks down at his favourite trousers. He likes them. They’re black, nicely tailored. Close-fitting. Wool mix. They’re classic, and he thinks they rather suit him, which is why he has several pairs just like them in his wardrobe at home. There is nothing wrong with his trousers and there is nothing wrong with his faithful charcoal-grey overcoat, which is still pristine after several years thanks to a lot of care and his excellent fabric protection charms. There is nothing wrong with his boots or his plain fitted shirts or his waistcoats or his haircut, which, yes, he hasn’t changed in ten years, but this is just what his hair does, and it’s all very well for Pansy, who makes fun of all of it and spends several hours a week just making sure that she’s wearing the right shade of varnish on her nails.
To hell with it, he’s getting too old to be a slave to fashion. Then again, Pansy wouldn’t be Pansy if she could let this sort of thing lie. Draco leans towards the omnivox.
“Just in case you missed that, everyone, my wonderful colleague has arrived almost an hour late and is now insulting my clothing, so that’s our Monday morning progressing nicely.”
“Business as usual,” Pansy says, voice joining his on the airwaves and creating a fluctuating pattern of green light in the air in front of her. “Now, while I needle Draco for a few minutes, why don’t you enjoy today’s Song for the Shower. Turn it up loud and make sure to wash behind your ears.”
She clicks off air and skitters a paper bag across the desk towards him. Draco opens it and draws out an apricot Danish. It’s his favourite breakfast treat, and the only way Pansy knows how to apologise.
“Thank you,” he says, and she smiles at him across the desk.
As she heads to the kitchen for coffee, Draco eats the sticky pastry slowly and thinks. Being friends with Pansy is a lot like swimming with sharks. Little ones. Baby sharks, perhaps. It’s never boring, but every now and then one of them will grab you and lightly savage you, just for its own entertainment.
“So, where have you been?” he asks when she returns, mostly for the benefit of the listeners. “The Viper Pit? The Million Galleon Club? Madam Exclusive’s Exclusive Retreat for the Exclusive?”
Pansy sighs. “Draco, don’t think I don’t know that you are making those places up. You wouldn’t know a decent nightclub if it jumped up and bit you on the—”
“Daytime, Pans, it’s daytime now,” Draco interrupts, hoping to avoid a repeat of the flood of complaints that had resulted the last time Pansy had forgotten her audience and unleashed some rather indelicate words on the airwaves. Apart from anything else, Lofty Lee had given himself a wrist strain trying to keep up with the transcriptions, and they hadn’t heard the end of it for weeks.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Pansy says airily, though she shoots Draco a grateful smile. “So, when was the last time you went on a date, Draco? Or even went out for drinks with someone other than me? And no, your mother doesn’t count.”
“My mother is an excellent conversationalist,” Draco says, and he edges his wand under the table and hits Pansy with a mild Stinging Hex, making her yelp into her omnivox and then glare at him. “It’s fifteen minutes past seven, time for another news update. The Ministry has announced a new proposal in its fight against the recent spate of Muggle-baitings. Minister Shacklebolt will be outlining the plans at a conference on Friday...”
Draco continues to read out the news, watching Pansy as she sips her coffee, grimaces, and puts the cup back on the desk. He’s almost certain the coffee thief is one of the ‘late’ people. He and Pansy share their studio with the other ‘earlies’, Dave, who hosts the lunchtime show from twelve until five, and his weekend counterpart, Mad Annie, while the hosts of the evening and night-time programmes work out of the studio across the hall. The rivalry that exists between earlies and lates is mostly artificial and results in nothing more than pointless pranks, but Draco has no doubt that one of those hooligans is to blame for the sludge he and Pansy are now drinking.
Perhaps he should tell Pansy his suspicions and just send her into their studio. Wind her up and let her go, so to speak. He’s done it before, and the results are always entertaining.
Draco finishes the news just in time to see a folded copy of the Prophet whizzing across the desk towards him. He puts on another record and then picks it up. The cover story is the new Ministry proposal he has just broadcast. He frowns.
“Page ten, I think,” Pansy says.
Draco flips through the pages and then arches an eyebrow. “Really? ‘Hermit Potter— unsociable behaviour leads to worries of damaged mental health’?” he reads.
“It’s in Witch Weekly, too,” Pansy says, producing the glossy magazine and reading aloud from a two-page article. “‘Is Harry a shut-in? His friends claim they haven’t seen him for weeks’.”
“Really?” Draco asks, surprised. “He’s not seeing his friends?”
Pansy rolls her eyes. “You don’t think they actually managed to interview any of his real friends, do you? It’s all ‘a close friend of Harry told us...’ or ‘sources close to Potter reveal...’ It’s codswallop.”
“What is codswallop?” Draco asks, momentarily distracted.
Pansy shrugs. “How on earth should I know?”
“It hasn’t been weeks, that’s ridiculous,” Draco says, frowning and riffling around for the old copies of various publications that always seem to be lying around whenever he doesn’t want one. “I’m sure I saw an article about him the other day...”
“Perhaps you did,” Pansy says, smirking. “I’m not the one who keeps track.”
“I have to keep track, how else can I even attempt to deal with the ridiculous questions people are always sending in?” Draco snaps, ducking under the desk and grabbing a pile of papers. “Fucking sports section,” he mutters and drops them again.
“You know what makes me sad, Draco?” Pansy says, and he groans and flops back into his chair.
“No. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”
“You used to be such a convincing liar, and you’ve just let the ability... wither.”
“I don’t know what you think I’m lying about, Pansy, but you’re very much mistaken,” he says, a little more crossly than he means to.
Potter, bloody Potter, is infuriating. Draco thinks he should be happy now that he has an explanation for fewer than usual Potter-related-inquiries, but for some reason, he just feels agitated. Not because he suddenly cares about Potter’s mental health or, indeed, whether or not he really has decided to become a hermit, just... just for reasons. And, alright, if he’s honest, he doesn’t believe for a moment that Potter has suddenly become even less sociable than himself. He’s up to something, and Draco wonders... and then Draco hears himself wondering and stops, instead folding his arms across his chest and glaring at Pansy.
“Why do you do this?” he asks, just as she changes the record and clicks on her omnivox to announce it.
“Don’t worry, everyone, Draco is just having a little moment. I’m going to deal with it, and then I’ll be right back after this song with the Eye in the Sky.”
Draco glances instinctively at their battered old golden telescope, mounted on a swivel stand and pointing down over Diagon Alley, where the people below are beginning to hurry around, setting up stalls, buying breakfast and heading to work. Every morning, he and Pansy take turns to gaze down over wizarding London and present their own commentary on what they see.
“I am not having a moment, little or otherwise, but why must you always do this?”
“Do what?” she asks, nonchalantly fiddling with her sparkling necklace.
“The ridiculous gossip about Potter,” Draco says. “He’s seeing this person, he’s seeing that person, he’s going out too much, now he’s not going out enough... he’s losing his marbles...” he shrugs, unable to find satisfactory words to complete his sentiment.
Pansy smiles. “I’m not writing it, darling, I’m just keeping you up to date.”
“Kindly go and fuck yourself,” Draco says, picking up his omnivox and scooting his chair over to the Eye.
“It’s not your turn,” Pansy complains.
Draco puts his eye to the telescope and smiles. “I don’t care.”
Following the articles in the Daily Prophet, Witch Weekly, and, for some reason, Quidditch Today, the piles of messages brought into the studio by Lofty Lee are once again full of questions, comments and suggestions about Harry Potter. Most of them read as concern, some express disappointment at their hero’s apparent lack of resilience, and a worrying few insist that only they are equipped to ‘fix’ Harry and that the WWN should provide them with his address post haste.
“I take it that his house is still unplottable?” Draco asks Pansy on Wednesday morning, staring at the message in front of him and shuddering.
“I believe so, why?”
Draco passes her the message and watches her nose wrinkle and her eyes grow wide. After a moment, she draws her wand and sets the piece of parchment on fire.
“I am going to need rather a lot of drinks to shift that image from my brain,” she says.
Draco smiles grimly. “Aren’t you glad you aren’t famous?”
“Don’t be silly, darling. I’m notorious.”
Draco snorts. She’s probably right. Pansy is the sort of character that, whether you adore her or cannot stand her, never goes unnoticed. She gleams and prickles and makes a hell of a noise. Potter, though... Draco supposes he’s a little bit interesting in his own way. Interesting because he works with animals instead of playing professional Quidditch or leading the Auror department. He’s had plenty of offers for both if Pansy and the media can be believed. He’s a bit of a puzzle, Draco supposes, but he isn’t the sort of person who prompts newspaper reports if he doesn’t go out for a little while. At least, he wouldn’t be if he wasn’t Harry Potter.
When the show ends for the day and Pansy slopes off home to bed, Draco heads out into the spring sunshine and wanders along Diagon Alley. With no real purpose in mind except a lack of desire to Apparate back to the Manor alone, he drifts in and out of shops, browses the stalls and carts and just enjoys the warmth, the breeze and the mingled savoury smells of bread and pies and hot soup. He walks slowly, threading in and out of the lunchtime crowds, conscious for the first time in a long time of his anonymity. Some people recognise him, of course—his pale Malfoy hair is a dead giveaway—but most of those who do merely nod or smile politely. It has, thankfully, been long enough since the regrettable decisions of the past that he is seen merely as another thirty-something with a slightly worried expression, or ‘that posh bloke on the wireless’.
His younger self would have given anything to be known as well as Harry Potter, but these days, the idea is horrifying. He feels a pang of sympathy for Potter that is quite unexpected, and when the application of coffee and a roast beef sandwich fails to make it disappear, he heads uncertainly in the direction of the Magical Menagerie.
He doubts Potter will be there, seeing as he’s apparently now a full-time hermit, but he steps into the shop anyway, squinting as his eyes adjust to the dim light after the brightness of the midday sunshine. The next thing that hits him is the smell, a musty, pungent mixture of fur, feathers, mud, sawdust and rotting fruit; the first inhalation makes him screw up his nose in distaste, but after a few slow breaths, the aroma softens and seems to settle around him in a warm fug. The place is much bigger than it looks from the outside, stretching right back from the street in a bulging pear shape, shelves and cages lining every inch of wall and climbing right up to the ceiling.
Somewhere above, a parrot screeches and a second tells Draco to ‘look around, watch your step!’ so he does, making his way carefully around the shop floor, peering into cages and tanks and watching with interest when most of the occupants peer right back at him. Halfway round, an enormous, heavy-bodied snake dangles from the rafters and he jumps, stepping back and steadying himself against a tank full of luminous purple frogs.
“Sorry, don’t mind him, he’s just curious. Is there anything I can help... oh. It’s you.”
Draco turns slowly to see Potter emerging from what appears to be a storeroom, wiping his hands on his jeans and regarding him defensively through black, rectangular-framed glasses.
“Is that how you greet all your customers?” Draco asks, pulling himself upright.
“Are you a customer?” Potter challenges.
“I can’t imagine why else I would be here,” Draco says, reaching for his most disdainful expression.
Potter rolls his eyes. “Well, you might be looking for material for your radio show. In which case, you can bugger right off.”
“I think I’d like to speak to your manager,” Draco says, and though he intends his tone to be light, Potter’s expression darkens.
“I am the manager, Malfoy. If you’d like to speak to Bill, the owner, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
“I didn’t expect you to be here,” Draco says, and immediately wants to hex himself in the face.
Potter laughs. “Why’s that?”
“The papers are saying you’re a shut-in.”
“Yeah, well, I’m at work,” Potter says, shrugging.
“I can see that,” Draco says, wondering why in the name of all that is logical he is having this conversation. He could just leave. He could just close his mouth and walk right out of this shop. Potter would think he’s an idiot, but Potter already thinks he’s an idiot and he has no idea why it matters anyway. “The thing is,” he says, because apparently he is still talking, “when someone is a shut-in, they’re usually just in one place. Shut in.”
“Right.” Potter scrubs at his hair and frowns. “So you just believe everything you read in the papers.”
“Clearly not. I thought I’d come and see for myself.”
Potter sighs. “Look, Malfoy, until five minutes ago, I doubt we’d said ten words to each other in the last ten years, why the fuck are you interested in me now?”
Draco doesn’t have an answer for that, and good grief, he’s glad Pansy isn’t here.
“I’m not... interested,” he says at last, adding grandly, “And I am leaving now.”
Horrified with himself, he nods to Potter and walks out into the sunshine. Five minutes later, he’s back at the Manor, sitting out on his favourite balcony with a decent cup of coffee and wondering exactly what possessed him to do... well, any of that. He should probably just blame Potter. There’s something about him that makes Draco forget to be cautious. There always has been. But that’s not important. What’s important is that he won’t be doing it again, and what’s even more important is that Pansy does not hear about it. Ever.
Fortunately, Draco has plenty of other things to discuss with Pansy, both during the hours of the show and on the occasions that she drags him out for drinks at one of a series of dark, noisy bars that all look and smell and sound exactly the same. He dislikes each of them equally, too, but he acquiesces to her needling at least once a week because it’s easier, and because Pansy is a very entertaining drunk, equal parts affectionate and acerbic, and wonderfully vulgar with it.
“Draco,” she’ll declare, curling into his side with her stiletto heels tucked up onto yet another velvet banquette, “you’ll never find anyone to fuck if you sit there looking like you’ve forgotten which drawer you keep your balls in.”
“Bugger off. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“I suppose,” Pansy will say grandly, as she always does. “I suppose I should be grateful that you deigned to join me when you could be at home shagging your ducks.”
Draco thinks she should have the sense to leave his ducks out of it, but then Pansy has never been the most sensible of creatures. There is something about his nicely-maintained pond and its raft of black and white Muscovies that she finds inexplicably hilarious, but it’s only when she’s consumed several glasses of champagne that she likes to bring sex into the equation.
“What is it about my ducks?” he asks as they leave the studio together on Friday afternoon.
Pansy lets out a snort of amusement. “I don’t know... I suppose it’s just that there’s something very odd about a man who keeps ducks. It’s not very sexy, is it?”
“I’m not trying to be sexy,” Draco says, puzzled. “We’ve always had ducks.”
Pansy sighs and kisses his cheek, leaving behind the slightly waxy sensation of her lipstick.
“I’m sure there’s a man out there for you somewhere, darling. Goodnight.”
Draco watches her step back from him and then Disapparate in a cloud of heavy perfume. Despite her frequent insinuations, he isn’t actually looking for a man. He’s quite content to be by himself, in fact, and when he actually desires some company, he has Pansy, he has firecalls with his parents, which are never dull. He has his colleagues at the WWN, some of whom are due a coffee-related act of revenge. He has a number of ways to spend his afternoons, too, he reminds himself firmly, when his eyes drift quite without his permission in the direction of the Magical Menagerie.
Disapparating on the spot before he has chance to do anything illogical, Draco returns home for the weekend. By the time he has changed his clothes, taken care of his duck pond, and eaten lunch, he has almost forgotten about Harry Potter and his intriguing behaviour. After a typically chaotic night out with Pansy on Saturday and a lazy Sunday spent in his sunroom, surrounded by succulents and scattered reading material on upcoming events that might be important for the show, he feels relaxed—at least, as relaxed as he ever feels—and ready for whatever the week may throw at him.
When he walks into the studio on Monday morning and Pansy is already there, he can’t decide if it is a good sign or just an unsettling one.
“Hello, Draco,” says Francis, the presenter of the late night show, bobbing out of his own studio and into the one shared by the earlies. “Hello, Pansy. Goodness, you’re early.”
“Isn’t this still your time?” Pansy asks, stifling a yawn as she glances at the clock above her head.
“Five more minutes,” Francis nods, looking rather perky for someone has essentially been talking to himself all night. “I’ve got that Neptunians record on. Seven and a half minutes long, it is. Good on them, it’s a brilliant coffee-breaker.”
Coffee, Draco thinks, smiling calmly at Francis, who is beaming and rubbing at his beard. Yes.
“Would you excuse me for a moment?” he murmurs.
“Brought you the leftover comments,” Francis is saying to Pansy as Draco stalks along the corridor to the tiny shared kitchen.
He hums to himself as he vanishes the remains of the studio’s coffee and refills the tin with the decaffeinated variety. That, he hopes, will teach the lates to pilfer his secret stash, and if it doesn’t, perhaps the switch to extra-caffeinated in a week or two will finish the job.
When he returns, Francis is packing up his things and Pansy is speaking into her omnivox.
“You’re listening to the breakfast show with Pansy Parkinson and... oh, here he is,” she says, looking up and eyeing him speculatively. “Draco has arrived at last...”
Draco balls up a piece of parchment and throws it at her before settling in his chair and clicking on his omnivox.
“Not a word of it, I have been here the entire time.”
“Lies,” Pansy sings, resting her chin in one hand and smirking at him. “Let’s have some facts, shall we? It’s two minutes past six on Monday the eleventh of April, the sun hasn’t quite risen and yet for some reason I am awake, conditions are cloudy with rain expected later and a high of eighteen degrees. We’ll have the news in just a few minutes, for now, enjoy this song from Camel Chaos.”
Pansy clicks off and drops the needle onto a frenetic, bouncy song with an infectious beat. Draco taps his fingers on the desk as he flips through the leftover listeners’ messages. Finding nothing of interest, he wheels over to the Eye in the Sky and looks up and down Diagon Alley. The street is still sleeping, lying peacefully under a blanket of soft, grey clouds. Without really thinking about it, Draco swings the telescope around to point at the Magical Menagerie. The shop is, unsurprisingly, closed, but he lingers, examining the bright exterior paintwork and the shadowy movements of the birds in the rafters, just visible through the tops of the windows.
“What are you doing?” Pansy asks, leaning over his shoulder, and he jumps.
“What are you doing, practising to be a cat burglar?” Draco demands crossly. He can always hear Pansy moving around; her shoes are like clattering, pointy instruments of torture and, despite her small stature, she has never been known to step lightly.
“It’s not my fault that you were in your own weird little world,” Pansy says, and when she walks back across the studio to take her seat, her footsteps strike against the floor as noisily as they always do.
Draco slides his chair back to the desk, face heating slightly when he realises that the current song has almost finished. He has, apparently, been staring down at the closed-up Magical Menagerie for several minutes, and whatever that means, it cannot be good.
With some effort, he throws himself into the show. He reads the news, argues comfortably with Pansy, and wades through piles of scrawled parchments provided by Lofty Lee. He chooses records to brighten up a cloudy morning, makes fun of Pansy’s Song for the Shower and eats two apple turnovers without getting a speck of sugar on his gleaming omnivox. When the Prophet is dumped next to Pansy’s elbow by a harassed-looking owl, he ignores it in favour of a glance through the Eye, which reveals a bustling Diagon Alley and what appears to be a spirited disagreement between two tiny old ladies in the marketplace.
“From what I can see, there seems to be some contention over who first laid eyes on...” Draco squints and adjusts the lenses on the Eye. “... I believe it’s a skull of some kind... possibly goat... definitely deceased. The stallholder looks positively thrilled to bits, a crowd is beginning to form, and the ladies in question are not quite ready to concede defeat. If you are in law enforcement or perhaps just want to have a look, this incident is taking place on the south side of the market, just outside Flourish and Blotts. I’ll stay with this on the Eye in the Sky, meanwhile, over to Pansy with the news at quarter past eight.”
“Since when were you an expert on animal skulls?” Pansy asks, and he shrugs, amused. She switches on her omnivox and begins to read the news, and Draco turns back to the window.
To his irritation, the two women seem to have shifted in their struggle and the action is now blocked from his view by the corner of a building. He returns to his desk to find that Pansy has left the Prophet there, open at page forty-two.
“Oh, the fashion pages,” he mumbles to no one in particular. “Another one of your brilliantly subtle hints, Pans?”
And then he frowns. Taking up the bottom half of the right hand page is a feature—for want of a better word—about Potter. There are several pictures, taken on what appears to be his daily walk to work, and in each one, some kind of unforgiveable fashion faux pas has been picked out and magnified and accompanied by a scathing little comment.
Draco ignores the comments and looks at the pictures. Potter has a button missing on his coat. Potter’s jeans have a hole in them at the knee. Potter’s hair looks just how Potter’s hair has always looked, like he’s been ruffling his fingers through it without even noticing. Potter wears the same outfit twice in one week. This, according to the creator of the article, is the worst ‘style sin’ of all, and Draco can’t help the twinge of sympathy and irritation that passes through him.
Second one of those in a week, too, he thinks, and he pushes the newspaper away crossly.
It’s not as though Potter will care. He’s never seemed to care much about what he looks like. Then again, he does look a lot more put together these days—simple, casual, but no longer quite so much like he’s been dragged through a hedge backwards, and his clothes seem to actually fit him properly. The thing Draco always notices about him when he sees him through the Eye or in the newspaper is the collection of scratches and burns on his arms and hands, no doubt the result of working with difficult or frightened animals. He could heal them easily, but it’s as though he forgets that he can use magic. Probably it’s a result of growing up with Muggles, but Draco tries not to overthink it.
He tries. Pansy is always telling him that he spends too much time thinking about Potter, but then she’s been saying that since they were both eleven years old. It’s just habit, that’s all.
“They’re getting desperate,” he says when she finishes the news, handing the folded paper back to her.
“Wonderful, isn’t it?” she says, glancing at the front page and then abandoning it altogether. “He’s always on Witch Weekly’s worst-dressed, but I can’t remember the Prophet having a pop at his fashion sense before.”
“What about that other thing?” Draco asks. “You know, the weird one...”
“Ah, yes. The Quibbler,” Draco says. He knows very well that it is called the Quibbler because he likes it and he reads it whenever he happens across a copy. He read it last month when he was waiting to have his eyes tested to check on the suitability of the reading glasses that he never wears. They make him look old.
“I don’t know,” Pansy says, examining her nails. “I’ve never read it. Apparently, it’s bonkers.”
Draco smiles slowly. “I’m saying nothing.”
Over the next two hours, Draco makes frequent checks on the street below from the Eye in the Sky, keeping the listeners well abreast of the morning’s events. The fight over the skull is eventually broken up by two members of an MLE patrol, and the two old ladies are given a stern talking-to before being escorted home in opposite directions.
By ten-thirty, the marketplace is full of people. The stallholders yelling and flinging produce around, the young parents are gossiping as they push their small children in prams, and the elderly, stooping in brightly-coloured cloaks, seem to be everywhere, but no one is doing anything remotely out of the ordinary, so Draco swings the Eye back up the street, letting it linger on the Magical Menagerie, sipping his coffee and watching customers flow in and out, some leaving with cages or boxes or long, soft bags containing snakes.
“What are you doing?” he mutters to himself when Potter storms out of the shop and immediately storms back in.
“Talking to Lee,” Pansy says as the door swings shut behind the receptionist. “Plenty of comments about the old dears, apparently.”
“Not you... Potter,” Draco says, and he can practically hear her rolling her eyes.
Seconds later, Potter comes back out of the shop, hands balled into fists and shoulders tight with tension. The Eye’s powerful lenses give Draco a perfect view of his face, and he is clearly furious. This time, he stands still for several seconds, eyes closed and jaw clenched, and then he seems to let out a sound of frustration that Draco feels rather than hears, before stomping off up the street with some sort of unhinged purpose. Draco follows him with the Eye for as long as he can, but loses him near the top of the Alley.
Irritated, he drops back against his chair and releases the telescope. He wants to know where Potter is going, and even more than that, wants to know what has made him so angry. Draco hasn’t seen that expression of rage on his face since... well, since things were very different, and there is something unsettling about seeing it now. He picks up the Eye and trains it on the most distant part of Diagon Alley in his line of sight. There isn’t much up there of interest, only a few clothes shops, the Prophet offices, and, if he remembers correctly, a shop selling handmade furniture.
“Here’s a question,” he says, resting his omnivox against his chest. “What on earth is Harry Potter so furious about? Eye in the Sky has just spotted him raging up Diagon Alley from the Magical Menagerie—do you know what’s put a doxy in his drawers? If so, why not call Lofty Lee and let us know.”
The messages flood in, as Draco had known they would, and though they are extremely entertaining, they contain nothing at all that can come close to explaining Potter’s strange behaviour. Pansy is smug, sending him pointed little glances every few minutes, but she laughs when he reads aloud a message suggesting that Potter is unhappy because a house-elf has cursed off his genitals.
After what seems like a long time, Potter returns to the shop. Some of his fury has diminished, but the look on his face is now one of grim determination, and he is carrying a small, string-handled bag.
“What are you up to, Potter?” Draco mumbles, watching through the Eye as Potter disappears back into the shop.
He checks often, more often than he should, but Potter does not leave the Magical Menagerie again for the rest of the show. This time, when he leaves the WWN building and says goodbye to Pansy, he gets halfway to the shop before he forces himself to stop and Disapparate.
“Draco!” Pansy calls, her voice carrying easily from the studio to the kitchen, where Draco is making coffee with his replenished and more carefully hidden secret stash. “You will be so fucking sorry if you miss this!” she yells, louder now, and Draco picks up the cups and hurries along the corridor.
“What?” he demands, setting the hot cups down on the desk.
Pansy turns, fingers clamped around the Eye in the Sky. “Just look.”
Puzzled, Draco joins her at the window and drops into the seat she has just vacated. Carefully, he takes the telescope and squints into it. When the image comes into focus, he lets out a bark of surprised laughter.
“He’s gone mad,” Pansy says delightedly.
Draco just nods, continuing to stare at Potter, tracking him along the street as he makes his way towards the Magical Menagerie to open up for the day. His clothes are the same as ever: faded jeans, fitted t-shirt, practical lace-up canvas shoes, but his hair is... purple. Not just plum or aubergine or even violet, but a vivid, lurid, LOOK AT ME NOW sort of purple. The messy strands wave gently in the breeze as he walks, giving his head the appearance of being occupied by a large, exotic sea anemone. Potter’s eyebrows remain black, and are pulled down into an expression of defensiveness that completely belies his slow, nonchalant stride.
People are looking, and Draco can’t blame them. He thinks Potter is pretending not to notice, which just makes the whole thing even more bewildering.
“Have you ever dyed your hair purple because you were angry?” he asks Pansy without looking away from the telescope.
“No, but I once spelled the whole lot off because I was cross at my parents,” she says. “We were having professional portraits taken the next day and I refused to put it back until afterwards. We still have the pictures somewhere—my mother likes to get them out to embarrass me.”
Draco grins. When Potter disappears into the shop, he releases the Eye and looks at her.
“I think I remember that. What were you... thirteen? Fourteen?”
“Something like that,” Pansy says, putting on a new record and reclaiming her chair. “Potter hasn’t got any parents to infuriate, though, has he?”
Draco raises an eyebrow. “Pans.”
“Well, you know what I mean,” she says. “He’s a grown man. I doubt he’s doing it to annoy anyone. I think he’s just lost the plot finally.”
“Maybe,” Draco says, but he doubts that all the speculation in the world will help to solve the mystery that is Potter. Not that Draco finds him mysterious, he’s just... Draco sighs. “Oh, look at that. Time for the news.”
By the time Tuesday morning’s show is over, Draco is practically seething with intrigue. He knows he should just go home. He has never before had a problem filling his time; he visits people and places and learns new and interesting things. He takes care of the Manor and his ducks and attempts to take care of himself. He has plenty to do and none of it requires a visit to the Magical Menagerie, but it’s no good. As soon as Pansy has Apparated home to bed, Draco is making his way along the cobbled street, heart speeding even as he tries to slow his steps.
Once inside, he takes a moment to adjust to the darkness and the distinctive aroma and then looks around for Potter. He is easy to find, purple hair almost luminous in the dim light as he lifts a strange, pointed lizard from its tank and examines it carefully. Draco watches him in silence, surprised by the skilled, gentle way in which Potter handles the animal, letting it crawl over his hands and running a light finger along the ridge of its spine.
“Much better,” he murmurs, smiling when the lizard flicks out a long blue tongue.
The smile surprises Draco, and he realises that he doesn’t remember the last time he saw Potter smile, even in a photograph. It’s a good smile, broad and slightly lopsided, the sort of smile that makes a person want to smile back, even when they are trying not to. Draco scowls.
“I don’t suppose you want to talk about your hair,” he says, remembering just in time to drop the scowl and adjust his face into a neutral expression.
Potter sighs. He replaces the lizard in its tank and turns slowly. “Not really, no.”
“Are you sure? Because people are wondering... some of them even think you’ve gone mad.”
“Is that why you’re here?” Potter asks, walking past Draco and behind the counter. “You’ve come to tell me you think I’m mad? Join the queue, Draco. It’s that way.”
He points at the door and Draco curses himself for turning and looking.
“I saw you yesterday,” he says after a moment. “You were furious.”
Potter’s mouth flickers at one corner. He picks up a quill and begins to scribble. “I know. You saw me on your telescope.”
“How do you know about that?” Draco demands.
Potter looks up slowly, meeting his gaze. The violent new shade of his hair seems to make his eyes even greener, almost ridiculously so.
“I’ve listened to your show. I was listening yesterday.”
Draco’s stomach drops slightly. “Oh.”
“I know why you’re here. You’re just like all the others.”
“Excuse me?” Draco demands, instantly offended.
Potter laughs. “I’m not going to be your breakfast show exclusive, so unless you’re going to buy something, you need to bugger off.”
“Are you kicking me out, Potter? Seriously?”
Potter says nothing. He carries on writing as if Draco isn’t even there, pausing every now and then to flick bits of bright purple hair out of his eyes.
Draco watches him for a moment and then stalks out of the shop. That’s fine, he thinks. He doesn’t need to know anyway, and he absolutely, definitely won’t be coming back.
Over the next few days, he holds firm. He goes to the studio, he goes home, he goes along on Pansy’s diabolical social outings, during one of which he drinks a little more than usual and ends up alongside Pansy, grinning like a loon in one of the Prophet’s occasional ‘look who’s falling out of a nightclub’ photo-collages. He turns up early to work (even on the morning he has a raging headache and a shocking sleep deficit), he argues with Pansy, he plays the records, he reads out the comments and he notes with satisfaction the rumbles of weary dissatisfaction from the lates which tell him that the coffee switch is taking hold nicely.
He does not go to the Magical Menagerie. He does not even stray close to it; in fact, he opts to avoid Diagon Alley altogether with the exception of the vital, very essential monitoring of the Eye in the Sky. He continues to report, attempting to ignore the squirming discomfiture in the pit of his stomach that asserts itself every time he remembers that Potter might just be listening. Because Potter listens to the show; he listens to Draco on the radio, and however occasionally that might be, Draco is quietly horrified with the idea. Horrified and, more worryingly, embarrassed. It has never occurred to him that Potter might do such a thing, and every time he thinks about it, his head is full of all the things that Potter might have heard, and a shameful heat creeps up the back of his neck.
“Just don’t think about it,” Pansy advises breezily, and he scowls at her.
“Fine,” he says, imitating her careless tone. “And you won’t think about Nipple-Eye not owling you back.”
“Nikolai,” Pansy corrects, clearly trying not to smile. “He’s Russian. Alright, then. Deal.”
She leans across the desk and grips Draco’s hand in her perpetually cold fingers. They shake solemnly, even though Draco knows that Pansy has about as much chance of forgetting her handsome new Russian friend as he himself has of not worrying about bloody Potter.
These things are always worth a try, of course, and Draco quietly congratulates himself for his restraint when, on Thursday morning, Pansy calls him over to the Eye to see Potter doing ‘something weird’ and he calmly finishes lining up the next record before heading over to join her. He thinks he is doing rather well when he manages to Apparate straight home after witnessing Potter walking up and down the Alley in flowing, multicoloured robes, and when, the next day, he leaves a trail of Fizzing Whizzbees everywhere he goes like explosive breadcrumbs, Draco returns to the Manor after the show feeling positively smug.
The media are, of course, having an absolute field day, but Draco doesn’t break even when Witch Weekly runs a picture of Potter with his purple hair on the cover with the tagline: ‘When is too young for a midlife crisis?’
Thirty is too young, he thinks mutinously, stuffing the magazine into a drawer. Potter is obviously up to something, but Draco suspects his reasons are quite different to any so far suggested by the reporters. Strange reasons, he imagines. Strange like Potter. But he isn’t going to ask.
“That was your news update at eleven fifteen,” he says into his omnivox, turning around in his chair to look at Pansy, who is peering down at the street through the Eye in the Sky. “It’s Tuesday the nineteenth of April and there is no sign of a reprieve from the rain any time soon. Can you actually see anything out there, Pans?”
“I can indeed,” she says, lifting her voice above the rhythmic drumming of the water against the glass. “No April shower can stop the Eye in the Sky. Now, you’ve probably heard about the end-of-season sale at Madam Malkin’s—that started today—but if you think the rain is going to slow things down, you are sorely mistaken. We have streams of people in and out of there and the line at the till is staggering, so if you still want to snag yourself a bargain, I suggest... what the...?”
Pansy trails into silence for a moment and Draco hurries over to the window, carrying his omnivox with him.
“That was not a weather-related malfunction, everyone,” he murmurs, bending and attempting to poke her away from the telescope. “Pansy is actually lost for words, which is probably fortunate, as I doubt the ones she was looking for were suitable for broadcast.”
“He’s got a crocodile,” Pansy says vaguely, dropping back against her chair and allowing Draco to wheel her out of the way.
“A crocodile, of course,” he murmurs, fitting his eye to the telescope. “Rainy days and crocodiles, they’re just always... oh, good grief.”
“I told you,” Pansy says irritably.
“Well... alright... it seems that my colleague here was correct and there is, in fact, a crocodile in Diagon Alley. No need to panic, though, it seems to be well-restrained, and the person walking it, for want of a better description, is... Potter,” Draco sighs as the figure walking calmly behind the crocodile shakes off his hood and reveals a shock of bright purple hair.
“Just to confirm that, the Eye in the Sky has revealed what appears to be a crocodile, currently being taken down Diagon Alley for a walk in the rain by Harry Potter,” he says, attempting to sound professional but suspecting he doesn’t quite keep the very real bewilderment out of his voice.
“It’s day fifteen of what the Daily Prophet is calling Harry Potter’s ‘break from reality’,” Pansy says, shaking herself out of her surprise. “Why not let us know your thoughts on this latest development? Is Potter losing his grip... does he just like amphibians? Firecall Lofty Lee and have your say.”
“Reptiles,” Draco says absently, still peering through the Eye as Potter and his friend make their way along the rain-slicked cobbles. “Crocodiles are reptiles.”
Pansy sighs. “Poor Draco. Your head is so full of useless things.”
Draco grins, surprising himself. “I’m going to take that as a compliment.”
“You needn’t,” Pansy says, rising and clacking past him to select the next record.
Draco follows Potter’s progress for the last half hour of the show, watching through the Eye as he and the crocodile seem to trace a circular path around the Alley and then repeat it in slow, nonchalant, just taking my crocodile for a stroll sort of circuits. Apart from the crowds in and around Madam Malkin’s, the rain has made the street quieter than usual, and something about that makes the whole thing seem even odder. The people who are hurrying about on the cobbles are pausing to look, some even taking pictures, but Potter just doesn’t seem to care, and Draco’s curiosity just burns more brightly, forcing its way out of its little box and setting his nerves aflame.
When the afternoon show begins, he doesn’t even try to stop himself going after Potter. Pansy says nothing as he puts on his coat and takes off down the stairs; she doesn’t need to. The rain is cool and fresh on Draco’s face as he steps out of the WWN building, splashing against the cobbles and back against his trousers, pulling up the hopeful scents of spring and flinging them through the air. He walks quickly, turning up his collar when the raindrops trickle down his neck and make him shiver. It doesn’t take him long to find Potter, and he walks behind him for a hundred yards or so, watching the slow, lumbering progress of the crocodile and the loose, easy strides of its companion.
Finally, Potter stops, pulling up outside Gringotts and corralling the crocodile, which tugs at its harness and swipes its long tail slowly. When he turns, he doesn’t seem all that surprised to see Draco.
“Hello. Are you following me?”
“Of course not,” Draco says, though he doesn’t know why he’s bothering to lie.
Potter stares at him for what feels like a long time. His hair, turned almost indigo by the rain, drips into his eyes and plasters against his forehead. His soaked jeans cling to his thighs and his scratched fingers wrap tightly around the handle of the harness as the crocodile attempts to move on without him. Draco takes a deep breath, suddenly unsure if it is his turn to talk.
“I’m just taking little Brenda here for a walk,” Potter says at last.
Potter blinks. “She’s small for her species,” he says, looking back at the crocodile. “But I see what you mean.”
Draco says nothing. He just stares at Brenda, who may be small for her species but is still a good five feet long from snout to tail and is covered in an impressive light brown armour plating. She turns slowly and regards Draco with inscrutable dark eyes, opening her mouth casually as the rain starts to hammer down around them and displaying pointed yellow teeth.
“Is she dangerous?” he asks eventually, dragging his eyes back to Potter, who now looks completely bedraggled but merely blinks the raindrops from his eyelashes and shrugs.
“Not really. She’s only a freshwater crocodile.”
“Doesn’t she mind the rain?” Draco asks, realising that this is the longest civil exchange of words between the two of them for a very long time. Potter hasn’t even told him to fuck off yet.
Potter smiles slowly. “Crocodiles like to swim.”
Draco sighs. “Potter, what are you doing?”
Potter indicates the crocodile. “I’m just—”
“You know what I mean,” Draco interrupts, wishing he’d through to cast an umbrella charm as rivulets of rainwater begin to run from the ends of his hair and into his mouth. He could cast one now, of course, but he doesn’t want to give Potter the satisfaction. “I’m fully aware of how ridiculous this sounds coming from me, but... are you alright?”
Potter laughs, and the sound of it startles Draco. On the end of her harness, Brenda closes her mouth and swishes her tail over the wet cobbles.
“Are you serious?” he asks, staring at Draco and blithely ignoring a large group of people as they shuffle past with Madam Malkin’s bags, darting glances and whispering amongst themselves.
“I don’t know,” Draco admits. “I think I might be.”
“Oh, Brenda,” Potter sighs dramatically, looking down at the crocodile. “I can’t believe it’s come to this.”
“Look, I just wanted to check whether or not you’re having some kind of nervous breakdown,” Draco snaps, feeling suddenly defensive. His boots are full of water, his fingers are ice cold and he has no idea why he’s even standing here. Apart from anything else, Potter is being fucking impossible.
“A nervous breakdown?” Potter asks, and his mouth twitches into an almost-smile.
“Yes, and if you are, where the bloody hell are your friends? What are Granger and the Weasel doing that’s so important they’ve missed you turning into a lunatic?”
Potter stares at him for a moment, and then: “If you must know, they’re busy. They have lives, Draco. Ron spends almost all of his time at the Ministry and Hermione is taking care of their child and trying to run her own business at the same time. Rose is driving them mad because she’s dying to start school and she doesn’t want to wait until September, she also has chicken pox, and for some reason, they are trying to have another baby.”
“That’s... more than I needed to know,” Draco says, wrinkling his nose as his brain forces him to imagine the logistics of such a thing, which leads inevitably to the vivid mental picture of a naked Ronald Weasley.
“Well, you asked, Malfoy!” Potter points out.
“Yes, I did,” Draco sighs.
“And I am not having a nervous breakdown, so you can stop pretending to be concerned,” Potter says, pulling gently on Brenda’s lead. “This has been interesting and everything, but I promised I’d have her back by one o’clock.”
Draco opens his mouth to protest—at what, he’s not quite sure—but Potter is already stomping back down the street with his small-not-small crocodile in tow. He watches them until they are out of sight but he doesn’t follow. Instead, he rubs at his wet face with cold, numb hands and sighs before Apparating back to the Manor in search of warm, dry clothes and a distraction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter what he tries, all he can think about is Potter and his stupid crocodile. He flops back onto his bed and stares at the ceiling, letting out all his breath in a messy rush. He knows when he’s beaten these days, and he’s more than that. He’s completely fucked.
“Nice dress, Potter,” he says as he steps into the Magical Menagerie the following afternoon.
He and Pansy have already seen the violently orange thing from the Eye in the Sky but close up, it really is a thing to behold. The colour is almost enough to induce a headache, and it clashes forcefully with Potter’s purple hair. The hem falls just above the knee, revealing wiry calves, bruised knees, and a sprinkling of dark hairs that had not been visible from the tenth floor window. Now that Draco looks more closely, he sees that the orange fabric contains a pattern of small flowers, and that the sleeves cling almost obscenely to Potter’s upper arms. For a moment, he wonders just where Potter might have obtained such a garment, but then he decides not to think about it.
“Have you come to buy something?” Potter asks, ignoring his comment and not bothering to look up from his task of cleaning out a Puffskein enclosure.
“I’m browsing,” Draco says calmly, picking up a nearby item at random and examining it.
Potter glances up, green eyes flickering with amusement. “You need a replacement filter cube for your tubeworm farm?” he asks, lifting an eyebrow.
Draco frowns and replaces the box. “Like I said. I’m browsing.”
“Fine,” Potter says, standing up and brushing sawdust from his dress. “You do that.”
Draco turns his back on Potter to hide his smile of triumph. He can’t be sure exactly what he has just achieved, but he definitely has the sense that he has gained ground somehow. It’s a start.
The next day, he heads straight to the Magical Menagerie at the end of the breakfast show. He finds Potter, no longer wearing a dress but now with his hair dyed a determined green, sweeping up woodchips and sawdust the Muggle way.
“You know, if you tell me what you’re up to, I’ll probably leave you alone,” Draco says when he finds himself in the way of Potter’s broom for the third time in as many minutes.
“I wasn’t born yesterday, Draco,” Potter mumbles, jabbing at Draco’s feet with spiky bristles until he steps backwards and almost right into the enormous snake. “I’m not giving you material for your show, and I don’t believe that you’ll suddenly stop annoying me if I do.”
“I’m not annoying you,” Draco says. “I’m browsing.”
Potter shakes his head and sweeps past him into the next aisle. “Right. Let me know if I can help you with something.”
Finding himself wondering whether Potter treats all of his customers this way, Draco pays close attention to the next person who comes into the shop. He lurks behind a display of Crup biscuits and watches as Harry smiles at the customer—an old lady with a tiny dog on a lead—asks her politely if she needs any help and then assists her with her purchase. Unconvinced, Draco continues to watch—after all, everyone is nice to little old ladies; it’s hardly a fair example of Potter’s customer service skills.
Several minutes later, a group of girls in Quality Quidditch Supplies robes wander into the shop, and Potter smiles like he’s thrilled to see them, even when they ask twenty-seven (Draco is counting) questions about invisible fish and do not buy a single thing. He smiles at the man who wants to return a whole bag full of small, fiddly items. He smiles at the little boy who comes in with his father and insists on paying for his guinea pig entirely in Knuts. His pleasant demeanour wobbles ever so slightly when a lady with a terrifying haircut storms in and yells at him for not stocking her preferred brand of flea potion, but he deals with her calmly and waits until the door has slammed behind her to groan and make a rude face at the counter.
“It’s just me, then,” Draco says eventually, emerging from his hiding place and crossing his arms.
“I didn’t even know you were still here!” Potter says, flushing slightly. “I was talking to myself.”
“I know,” Draco says, mouth tugging into an unhelpful smile.
“What do you mean, ‘it’s just me’?” Potter asks.
“You’re nice to everyone except me. Even the mean people.”
“That’s because they are customers, Draco. You are just a nuisance.”
Draco sighs. “I am a potential customer, with questions just like any other,” he says airily. “I’m going home now, but I’ll be back.”
“Next time, try bringing lunch,” Potter calls after him.
Draco thinks that sounds like a challenge.
At twelve-thirty on Friday afternoon, Draco strides into the Magical Menagerie, ducks the dangling snake and drops a paper bag onto the counter.
“What’s this?” Potter asks, frowning and then wincing as the deep scratch on his face pulls tight along with his expression.
Draco knows full well that he got the scratch while attempting to juggle pineapples on the steps of Gringotts first thing this morning, but he decides not to mention it. For now.
“Lunch,” he says instead, and Potter stares at him.
“I was joking,” he says, but his nostrils twitch with interest at the smell of the fresh hot sandwiches inside the bag.
“I never joke about food,” Draco informs him, and takes one of the sandwiches from the bag, leaving the other for Potter. “Why pineapples?”
Potter scowls lightly and runs his fingers over the scratch. “Oh, you know me... I like to make things difficult for myself.”
The glimmer of truth in his words is unexpected, and Draco finds himself smiling as he takes a bite of warm, crispy bread, thick, salty ham, melted cheese and sweet cherry tomatoes.
“Eat it while it’s hot,” he says as he wanders off into the aisles, and when he looks back, Potter is gnawing cautiously as his sandwich and looking thoroughly confused.
Feeling contented, Draco hangs his coat up on a rack of luminous cat collars and makes himself at home.
From that moment, a routine begins to fall into place. Draco finishes the show, having reported with Pansy on whatever bizarre new thing Potter happens to be up to, he walks to the deli or the pie shop or the market for lunch, and then he brings it to the Magical Menagerie, where Potter spends a varying amount of time looking at him as though he’s mad before giving in and eating whatever Draco has supplied. He serves customers and cleans out cages and frowns at his adding machine while Draco observes the animals, avoids the curious attentions of the enormous snake, and asks just about every question that pops into his head.
He asks, of course, about Potter’s campaign of madness—why he’s wearing a top hat, why he decided to walk all the way to work backwards, whether or not Brenda will be making a reappearance—but all too easily he finds himself making more prosaic inquiries about Potter’s plans for the evening, his family of Weasels, what kind of sandwich filling he actually likes best.
To Draco’s quiet astonishment, Potter seems to be getting used to him. He still tries to eject him from the shop at semi-regular intervals, but when the magic words ‘I’m browsing’ are uttered, he merely shrugs and returns to his work. Every now and then, Draco is granted a smile that is reluctant but genuine, and he is left with the growing impression that despite his better judgement, Potter is beginning to enjoy his company.
“It makes a change to have someone talk to me rather than about me,” he says when Draco asks for at least the fifth time why Potter hasn’t just hexed him yet. “Even if it is you,” he adds, flicking his wand to replenish the water in the parrots’ dishes, high up in the rafters.
“Charming,” Draco mutters, but Potter grins at him as he pushes past to check on the lizards.
He smells like wood shavings and tea and something that tugs at Draco’s stomach. Mildly alarmed, he ignores it and casts around for another question.
“You know, Potter, I’ve never seen the owner of this shop. Are you sure he exists?”
“He opens the shop at the weekends,” Potter says. “And I really wish you’d stop calling me ‘Potter’ all the time.”
Draco frowns and perches on a pile of sawdust sacks. “What do you want me to call you?”
Potter laughs and lifts a hand to scrub at his hair, now a vivid shade of turquoise.
“‘Harry’, maybe... or ‘Mr Potter’, if you like... that has a certain ring to it.”
“In your fucking dreams,” Draco mumbles, wondering if calling Potter by his first name will actually make him more forthcoming, and then wondering if he’s really still here for an explanation. Of course he is, and not just because the alternative is rather disconcerting. “In your fucking dreams, Harry,” he says, a little louder than he means to.
Potter-Harry smiles, holding onto a squirming lizard with strong, skilled hands. “Great. Now get off my sawdust.”
“I’m not doing any harm, thank you very...” Draco jumps as something flickers against his ear. When he whips around and sees the vast snake practically resting on his shoulder, he ducks sideways, loses his balance and crashes to the floor, scrabbling for purchase against the nearest rack and bringing several hundred small boxes of owl treats raining down on top of him.
He blinks up at Harry, who is now staring down at him in utter exasperation.
“Will you live?” he asks, one dark eyebrow flickering.
Draco shakes off most of the boxes and sits up. His knee is throbbing and his pride is severely damaged, but other than that, he thinks it could have been worse. “Yes,” he mutters.
“In that case, you won’t mind putting all of those boxes back in the right places. And then, if you like, you can bugger off, because I’ve got a stock take to do and you are very much under my feet,” Potter says, and then he steps over Draco and heads for the counter just as the bell above the door rings and two immaculately-dressed ladies step into the shop.
One of them notices Draco straight away and seconds later, both are staring at him and smirking. With a sigh, he gets to his feet and draws his wand, spelling the boxes into piles and then levitating them carefully back onto the correct shelves. He wonders if tomorrow morning Lee will bring him questions about exactly what the host of the breakfast show was doing, covered in owl treats on the floor of Harry Potter’s sodding pet shop.
The truth is, he has no idea.
When he returns the next day with soup and toasted sandwiches, Harry is still busy with his stock take. He accepts the bag and steaming cup from Draco with a mixture of exasperation and gratitude, and other than a soft ‘thank you’, says nothing as he sips his soup and strides purposefully around the shop with a clipboard.
The afternoon’s heavy rain means that customers are thin on the ground and Draco has plenty of time to hang around (not on the bags of sawdust) and talk to Harry. It doesn’t escape his notice that something about the stock take makes Harry irritable. His face is arranged in a perpetual frown, he scratches at his forehead with his quill, several times knocking his glasses askew and twice displacing them completely, displaying impressive reflexes in order to catch them before they hit the ground. His mood isn’t helped by the fact that one of the few customers he has seems more interested in flirting outrageously with Harry rather than actually buying anything.
Flirting, Draco is amused to note, makes Harry Potter incredibly uncomfortable.
“You’re not looking for a tall, dark and handsome man who almost played professional Quidditch, then?” he asks innocently, standing beside Harry and peering into a tank of iridescent beetles.
Potter flushes and he glares at Draco. “No. I’m really not.”
“For shame, Potter. Why not?”
He elbows Draco aside with surprising force and leans into the tank, mumbling under his breath as he counts the scuttling beetles.
“Do you really need to know exactly how many there are?” Draco asks. He just can’t help it.
Potter lets out a massive sigh and turns around. “Okay. Time for you to go.”
Draco smiles serenely. “I’m browsing.”
The green eyes flash behind the glasses. “Nope. You’re not browsing, you’re not buying anything, you’re just being a pain in the arse.”
Draco stares at him, mind racing. He doesn’t really know why he’s still here. All he knows is that he doesn’t want to leave. In the end, he just says the first thing that pops into his head.
“Fine. I’m looking for an ornamental duck.”
“Yes. It’s a type of water bird. Webbed feet. Makes a sort of ‘quacking’ sound.”
Harry closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. When he opens them, he is looking at Draco as though he wants nothing more than to step forward and strangle him.
“I know what a duck is, Draco.”
“Oh, good. Then you can help me find one,” Draco says, warming to the idea.
He hasn’t yet seen any ducks in the Magical Menagerie, which means that Potter will have to order one in. Such an undertaking will buy him some extra time in the shop, and one more duck in his collection won’t be any trouble at all. He doesn’t know why he hasn’t thought of it before.
“You’re serious,” Harry says uncertainly.
“Are you this suspicious of all your customers?”
Harry rolls his eyes. “Do you know how to take care of ducks?”
Draco bristles. “Of course I do. I’ve been keeping ducks since I was a child.”
For a long time, Harry says nothing. A slow smile spreads across his face. “Fine,” he says at last. “Let’s look at the catalogue and then I’ll order you one from our avian breeders.”
He turns away quickly to stride across the shop and Draco has the strangest feeling that he’s trying not to laugh. He wishes he knew what everyone found so funny about his ducks.
The next morning, Draco arrives at the studio feeling rather pleased with himself. Harry is starting to warm to him, which can only mean that he’s getting closer to the truth, he has had an excellent night’s sleep, and in two to three days he will be the proud owner of a large Muscovy drake from a highly reputable breeder. In an irritatingly excellent display of customer service, Harry had spent the best part of an hour walking Draco through the various catalogues and then submitting his order by owl. He had been polite and helpful throughout the process and had only once looked as though he was going to lose his composure, and he had had the good grace to nip into the back room to ‘look for something’.
Pansy is, of course, late, but Draco doesn’t care. The sun is rising and filling the studio with warm orange light, his coffee is hot and delicious, and Francis looks uncharacteristically bleary-eyed as he pops his head around the door to say goodbye. It must be time for that switch to what the Muggle salesgirl had called ‘rocket fuel’ coffee, he thinks, putting on a bright, summery record and settling in his chair.
At six-thirty, Pansy breezes in with pastries and a little promotional bottle of a new type of firewhisky, which she places on Draco’s desk along with an apricot Danish. At six thirty-five, Lofty Lee arrives with the first batch of parchments, and at six fifty, Draco picks up a message that reads:
I hear that Draco was seen rolling around on the floor of the Magical Menagerie yesterday—confirm or deny?
“It wasn’t yesterday and I wasn’t rolling,” he mutters to himself. Of course, it had only ever been a matter of time. When something strange happens, all one can do is wait.
At eight fifteen, just as Pansy is reading the news, the Prophet is dumped on Draco’s desk and he leafs through it, just in case there are any articles on Harry that he has missed. On page four, he is startled to find several pictures of himself outside the Magical Menagerie. The photographs, clearly taken from a distance with some sort of long-focus lens, show him entering the shop with bags of food and then leaving empty-handed. The pictures are time-stamped, showing a range of dates over almost a three week period.
Old enemies’ secret lunch-dates, he reads. Is early-morning humorist Draco Malfoy behind Potter’s break with reality?
“Oh, good grief,” he mutters. When Pansy finishes the news, he holds up the page to show her. “Can you believe this? I’m not a ‘humorist’, I’m a well-respected broadcaster. And if I was going to be funny, I would do it all the time, not just first thing in the morning.”
“Of course, darling,” Pansy says. “You’re on air, by the way.”
Draco glances at his omnivox to see that it is in fact turned on and that everyone listening to the WWN is sharing in his aggravation.
“Thank you for that,” he mutters, opting to leave it on. “Pansy, when this show is over, I’m going to have you stuffed and mounted.”
“I’m terrified,” she says, dropping the needle onto the next record and flicking off both omnivoxes. “Not really,” she adds, smirking. “Sounds like fun.”
“I don’t know what you’re so offended about,” Harry says that afternoon, perching on the counter and nibbling the edge of his Moroccan flatbread.
Having realised that what he likes most of all is to try new things, Draco has been visiting a different street vendor every day, bringing Harry everything from ostrich burgers to Mr Wong’s ‘danger noodles’. Now that he’s aware that someone from the Prophet is watching, he can almost sense their camera lenses trained on his back, but he doesn’t care. Being referred to as an ‘early morning humorist’, though, that still rankles.
“I’m offended because I dislike the idea of my purpose in life being reduced to ‘funny wireless man’,” he says irritably.
“Draco, it’s the Prophet. They aren’t interested in you as a person. They just want to boil you down to something that sounds snappy for people who are reading the paper before they’ve even had their first cup of coffee.”
“Hmm,” Draco mutters. He bites into his flatbread and chews thoughtfully.
“I’ve always thought you were funny,” Harry says after a moment.
Draco swallows and stares at him, mouth tingling with chilli and coriander. “Excuse me?”
Harry shrugs, mouth tugging into a smile that makes Draco feel a little bit breathless.
“I just... even when we really didn’t like each other, you were always...” Harry wrinkles his nose and stares hard at his lunch. “I don’t know how to explain it, but you were always so cross about everything, and a bit... sort of... theatrical. I think that’s why people like listening to you talk.”
“I see,” Draco says, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t see at all. He has no idea what to do with that information, and he has even less of an idea what to do about the churning sensation in his stomach that has nothing to do with the spicy food.
On Friday morning, Harry owls Draco to tell him that his duck has arrived safely. When Pansy asks him what is making him smile, he tells her to mind her own business. He already knows what she thinks about his ducks and he doesn’t want to hear what she has to say about Potter.
The new duck is rather impressive, with his beautiful black and white plumage and his strong, sturdy feet. He is friendly, too, wagging his fan-shaped tail with enthusiasm when Draco feeds him a treat and runs a careful finger over his breast. Impulsively, he asks Harry to provide a name for the bird.
“Everyone, this is Derek,” he says to the other ducks that night as they crowd around the newcomer. “Derek, this is... everyone. Please play nicely.”
“The duck you sold me has a very delicate constitution,” Draco says.
Harry chews slowly and raises an eyebrow. “Oh, really?” he mumbles, and then covers a yawn with his hand.
“Yes. I need those special pellets we saw in the catalogue.”
“I’ll order them,” Harry says, setting down his salad and yawning again.
“Why are you so tired?” Draco demands, opting to steer the subject away from the anatine digestive system before Harry can become suspicious. Derek seems to have a cast-iron stomach, just like all of his other ducks, but he has to buy something to be allowed to stay in the shop.
Harry looks up from the order form and frowns at him. “You know why.”
Harry stands up straight and folds his arms. His most recent scratches and burns are healing nicely, Draco notes to himself.
“You and Pansy talked about it just this morning. The Prophet reported that I was attempting to sleep rough in the park. Pansy suggested I was sunbathing at night. She was correct.”
“Ah, yes, that,” Draco says, wondering just how that bizarre piece of information has managed to fall out of his head during the last few hours. “And how did that go for you?”
Harry just smiles. “Does Derek need anything else?”
“I don’t think so,” Draco says, and though it isn’t actually a lie, it might as well be, because he is quite certain that Derek is going to ‘need’ all manner of things over the coming weeks. The plan is, however, to spread them out in order to buy himself as much time as possible in the shop.
As May rolls on, the weather becomes warmer, the mornings become lighter, and Draco becomes more and more creative with his duck-related requests. By the time the last of the spring flowers have burst into bloom in the Manor gardens, Draco is the proud owner of several expensive conditioning treatments, an elaborate wooden duck house, and five more handsome Muscovies.
While the Prophet seems to have lost interest in him and has refocused on Harry’s unusual behaviour, Witch Weekly has picked up the baton and opted to run ‘eligible bachelor’ style articles on Draco two weeks running.
“‘He’s my guilty pleasure crush!’” Pansy reads gleefully from one of Lofty Lee’s parchments, and Draco doesn’t even need to look up from the Eye in the Sky to know that she is broadcasting this comment over the entire network.
He doesn’t know quite how to feel about any of it, and as such, decides not to think about it at all.
Harry is sitting cross-legged on the floor when Draco turns up with tea-smoked chicken and rice from a brand new stall on the market.
“That smells brilliant,” he says, expertly catching a small rabbit and tipping a potion into its mouth.
He is covered in sawdust and doesn’t seem to care. His hair, now back to its usual black, waves this way and that and grazes his forehead as he leans down to stroke and reassure the rabbit. His jeans are ripped and frayed, revealing a swathe of pale kneecap, and the hem of his faded t-shirt doesn’t quite meet his waistband at the back. Draco stares, fingers tightening around the little paper bag in his left hand as his right comes up instinctively to touch the back of his neck.
Harry looks up and smiles at him. Draco’s mouth turns dry and the dull, tugging sensation in his stomach leaps up to his chest, making his heart race and his breath catch in a surge of aching, insistent longing.
“What’s the matter?” Harry asks, smile turning into a frown of genuine concern, and Draco suddenly can’t stand to look at him, because it’s happened and he’s done nothing to stop it.
Ignoring it hasn’t made it go away. Ignoring things never makes them go away; the best one can hope for is a little more time, and now that time is up.
“Nothing,” he lies, and his voice sounds scratchy and ridiculous.
“Okay,” Harry says carefully.
He doesn’t sound as though he believes Draco, and Draco doesn’t blame him, because ‘nothing is the matter’ is the biggest lie he has told in a long time. Something is very much the matter because he is pretty sure that somehow, he has fallen for Harry, and he has no idea what to do about it. It’s not his fault, he supposes; Harry is surprisingly easy to love. Startlingly easy, in fact. He is just as stubborn and unpredictable as Draco always knew, but he is also warm and funny and kind. He treats every strange creature in this strange place with equal respect and care, and Draco is certain that every last snake and beetle and rabbit and parrot adores him completely.
There’s a clank of metal as Harry releases the rabbit back into its cage and locks the door. He gets to his feet, brushes himself down and steps closer to Draco.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” he asks.
Draco nods, attempting to pull himself together. “Are you hungry?”
“Starving,” Harry says, gently tugging the bag out of Draco’s hands and rummaging through it. “This looks interesting, thanks.”
“How did you manage before I started bringing you lunch?” Draco says lightly.
Harry looks up in surprise. “I brought stuff from home. But this is much better.”
Draco nods, watching him dig his fork into the food for a moment before he remembers that he is due to make an order for the duck pond. It’s been several days and he can’t quite remember what it is that he needs or why he even needs it, but through the fog in his brain he knows that it is somehow very important, so he closes his eyes and dredges his memory.
“Ah,” he says at last, eyes snapping open. “I need to order some straw for the duck house. The stuff I ordered last time is too... erm, scratchy.”
Harry, who has been gazing at him calmly, just nods. “You know where the forms are.”
“I’ll just... fill one in, shall I?” Draco asks, puzzled.
“If you want to.”
Draco blinks. Harry lifts an eyebrow and then turns away, carrying his lunch over to the counter and leaning there with the air of someone who is completely unconcerned about whether or not someone else wants to order some slightly fancier straw.
He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care if Draco buys something or doesn’t buy something. In fact, now that Draco thinks about it, he hasn’t cared for quite some time. He can’t remember the last time Harry told him to make a purchase or bugger off, and he can’t remember the last time he pressed Harry for answers about his campaign of madness. It’s just been lunches and animals and the two of them, spending their afternoons together because that’s just what they feel like doing.
“You don’t look too well,” Harry says, and Draco looks at him, immediately wishing he hadn’t.
“Yes,” he says, frowning. “Perhaps I’ll go.”
“Okay, but...” Harry says, just as Draco hurries out into the street.
Feeling slightly sick, Draco Disapparates and spends the rest of his afternoon staring at his living room walls. Every time he thinks of going back to the Magical Menagerie, his heart gives a horrible lurch and an unsettling tingle runs down his spine. Pansy would say ‘there’s a surprise!’ and ‘get your arse back over there and deal with it’, but Pansy is not here. He’ll just give it a couple of days.
“It’s Monday the twenty-third of May, it’s fourteen minutes to eight, and that was ‘Explosive’ by the Red Swans,” Draco says, rolling backwards across the studio with his omnivox. “Let’s take a look through the Eye in the Sky.” Draco yawns, prompting a raised eyebrow from Pansy. He makes a face at her. “Sorry about that, everyone, I have a thrilling and glamorous life and it was rather a late one last night.”
“Up late with your ducks, were you?” Pansy asks, smirking.
“Did you all hear that? Pansy wants to talk about my ducks... well, let’s do that. My ducks are wonderful. They are well—thriving, in fact—and I’m hoping they decide to breed this year. Because then there will be more ducks. And, as we have established, I like ducks.”
“Are you feeling alright, darling?” Pansy asks lazily. “You seem a little feverish.”
“I am well, Pansy, just like my ducks,” Draco says, fitting his eye to the telescope.
She continues to talk to the listeners about his failing mental health but he isn’t paying attention. Despite a very sugary breakfast and several cups of the new rocket fuel coffee, Draco is exhausted. He has barely slept. Every maddening moment of reluctant consciousness has been occupied by Harry, and every snatched dream full of green eyes and strong hands and ridiculous hair in a rainbow of colours.
When he catches a gap in her flow of words, he jumps in.
“If you’re planning on visiting Diagon Alley this morning, take care, because there has been a spill of some sort outside the Apothecary’s shop. There are several official types standing around, but as yet nothing is happening, so do watch out if you need to walk that way. I’m looking at the back door of the Leaky right now, and it seems as though Tom is taking receipt of a barrel full of peas—those who know what I’m talking about might want to stay away for the next couple of days, those who don’t... well, perhaps you’re in the mood for soup.”
“I think it’s one of those things everyone has to experience at least once,” Pansy says.
“Indeed, and what an experience it is,” Draco murmurs, swinging the Eye slowly along the street and feeling his stomach clench as he catches sight of Harry.
Oddly, he doesn’t seem to be doing anything unusual at all. His hair and clothes are unremarkable, and there’s no evidence of any sort of bizarre activity. He is, however, making rapid progress along the cobbles, and when Draco focuses on his face, it is immediately obvious that he is livid.
“Harry Potter is very angry this morning,” Draco murmurs into his omnivox, just as the usual grumpy owl swoops into the room and drops the Daily Prophet onto Pansy’s desk.
Harry unlocks the door of the Magical Menagerie and slams inside. Draco gets up and puts on a record before dropping back into his chair. He’s not going to go over there, and not just because he’s in the middle of a show. Whatever Harry is upset about is not his problem. Except that it is, because his stomach is tight with concern and all he can think about is bursting into that shop and demanding to know who now needs to be hexed in the face. And that cannot be good. Apart from anything else, Draco is pretty certain that Harry Potter is capable of fighting his own battles.
“Well, fuck,” Pansy says flatly.
Draco looks up. “What?”
“Potter’s raging, is he?” she asks, and then she holds up the newspaper. “I think I know why.”
Puzzled, Draco gets up to take the proffered paper. It doesn’t make sense. Harry hasn’t seemed the slightest bit concerned with any of the idiotic things the Prophet has printed about him recently. It doesn’t follow that he would...
“Oh,” he mutters, heart sinking, because there, right on the front page, is a photograph of Hermione Granger under the headline: ‘Former War Hero Reveals Dark Side—violence and threats against innocent members of the public’.
“Can you believe it?” Pansy asks, nose wrinkling.
“No,” Draco says quietly.
He gazes down at the photograph and the Granger in the picture snarls at him, wand out and hair flying around her. The expression on her face is vicious, almost primal, but he still can’t quite swallow the idea that she would attack someone for no reason. She’s got a bit of rage in her, he’s almost certain of it; he can still feel that slap when he puts his mind to it, even after all these years. But he had deserved it. He had been childish and stupid and used words he can never take back. This is different, and though he doesn’t really know Granger these days, he thinks of Harry and feels thoroughly nauseated.
“I’m not going to talk about this,” he says, folding the paper and handing it back to Pansy.
She nods. “Alright. But if you don’t, I’ll have to.”
“Fine,” Draco says. It’s the best they can do and he knows it. He also knows that Pansy is sitting on so much curiosity that she will, at some point, explode, and she is doing it for him.
He gets up and goes to make her a cup of coffee. Perhaps if he lingers for long enough, the unpleasantness will be over by the time he gets back. One thing is for sure—there is no longer any option of staying away from the Magical Menagerie.
Despite managing to avoid almost all discussion of the Granger issue, Draco’s stress levels continue to shoot skywards, and by mid-morning, he has abandoned all pretences and practically glued himself to the Eye in the Sky, training it on the colourful shopfront and scanning for signs of movement. Pansy watches him silently as she sifts through parchments, reads out the news and plays record after record. It occurs to him that she is choosing the songs he likes best and he wants to thank her, but the words seem to be stuck in his throat and the basslines make his stomach ache.
He continues to watch the shop door. Customers drift in and out, but Harry does not emerge. He watches the clock, drumming his fingers on the arms of his chair and willing the lagging hands to pick up speed. At one minute past twelve, he picks up his coat and walks out of the studio without looking back. He walks quickly through the midday sunshine and the crowds, stopping only to pick up coffee for himself and a good strong cup of tea for Harry from a cart on the side of the street. He doesn’t imagine that either of them will feel like eating lunch.
When he arrives, Harry is nowhere to be seen.
“Look around! Watch your step!” advises the parrot.
“Yes, thank you,” Draco mutters, checking for customers and then calling out: “Harry?”
“I’ll be with you in a moment!” he shouts, voice tinged with irritation, and Draco follows the sound behind the counter and into the back room, where he finds Harry crouching in front of a dilapidated old fireplace.
“I’m okay,” the person in the fire assures, and when Draco steps quietly to one side he sees that the voice belongs to Granger. “It doesn’t matter, Harry. I don’t care what they say.”
“If you say so, ’Mione,” Harry says, but he clearly doesn’t believe her any more than Draco does. “Listen, I have to go. I’ve got a customer. I’ll speak to you soon, I promise.”
“Alright. I’d better call Ron, he’s been at the office all night, trying to see if MLE can get at them through official channels,” she says. “I’m sure he’ll find something.”
When Harry ends the call, he sighs and gets to his feet. He turns and lets out a small sound of surprise when he sees Draco.
“It’s you,” he mumbles, staring at Draco for a moment and then walking past him onto the shop floor.
“I saw the Prophet,” Draco says. He follows Harry and sets the cups down on the counter.
Harry snorts. “Who didn’t?”
Harry runs his hand savagely over the top of the nearest cage, creating a rough scraping sound that makes Draco cringe. “What happened? You’re telling me you don’t believe that Hermione attacked a reporter and photographer for no reason?”
“Those people were from the Prophet?” Draco asks, stomach turning.
Harry turns, eyes bright with fury. “You said you read it.”
“I said I saw it,” Draco corrects. “I didn’t read the article. I knew it would be nonsense.”
“Well, then, maybe your judgement is better than I thought,” Harry snaps.
“Thank you,” Draco mutters, stung. “I think.”
Harry lets out a long, uneven sigh. He crosses his arms, uncrosses them again, rakes his fingers through his hair. He stalks from one end of the shop to the other and then stops, just feet away from Draco, mouth pressed into a hard line.
“Do you want to know what happened?” he demands, and then continues before Draco has chance to open his mouth. “Here’s what happened. In fact, let’s start right at the beginning of what happened, shall we? Let’s start with a child who was famous before he could walk. You’re familiar with that story, yes?”
“I’ve heard it once or twice,” Draco says carefully. He wants to step closer, to say ‘calm down, take a breath’, but Harry’s ire is written through every line of his body and all he can do is step back, lean against the counter, and listen.
“You’d think that maybe... once that story was played out, people like Rita fucking Skeeter might leave him alone. But no.” Harry lets out a humourless bark of laughter.
Draco frowns. “I thought Rita Skeeter left the Prophet years ago.”
“She did, but it didn’t matter. Someone like her disappears and five more spring up to take her place,” Harry says, and Draco stares at him as he paces, imagining reporters growing up out of the gap left by Skeeter like some sort of vile journalistic hydra.
“Alright,” he concedes. “I’m listening.”
Harry turns to look at him, green eyes almost glowing in the dim light.
“So, it’s years later, but it doesn’t matter because it never stopped. It doesn’t matter what he does, they spin it and squash it to make it look scandalous. Because it doesn’t really matter if he looks like a hero or a villain or a lunatic, as long as there’s something to write about. They’re not all like that—if they were, it would be easier—but enough of them are to follow him around everywhere and make every little thing into a story.”
“Just to clarify, we are talking about you?” Draco says before he can stop himself. “In the third person?”
Harry’s mouth pulls into a split-second smile. He bats the enormous snake away from his hair and then stomps over to lean on the counter beside Draco.
“When I actually let myself think that all this ridiculous stuff happens to me, I feel like I’m going mad,” he says, and for a moment, he’s so close that Draco can feel the heat from his skin. He swallows hard. Harry lets out a soft groan of frustration that sparks down Draco’s spine and then pushes off the counter, resuming his pacing around the shop. “Alright, then, let’s do it your way. So here’s the thing: there is nothing I can do about any of this. It doesn’t fucking matter what I do or say. I’ve tried asking politely for them to stop. I’ve tried being extra-careful about where I go and who I see. I’ve tried ignoring them. I’ve tried straight-out telling them to go and fuck themselves.”
“Really?” Draco asks, intrigued, but Harry isn’t listening. He has picked up his broom and is sweeping furiously at the floor as though trying to brush the pattern from the tiles.
“Anyone they see me with—anyone,” Harry continues, scowling, “They insinuate I’m having some sort of affair with them. Ginny, Luna, Neville... fucking Barry from the pub quiz team I used to belong to. He looks like Hagrid, for god’s sake... if I go out for a drink I’m ‘advocating a party lifestyle’,” he says, freeing one hand from his broom to sketch out vicious air quotes. “I’m ‘being a questionable role model’... if I don’t go out, I’m a shut-in, I’m losing my marbles. When they got wind that I was thinking about doing Auror training, they wrote a piece about how it was strange that I hadn’t had enough of dark magic. When I changed my mind, they wrote that I was a quitter.”
“I think we both know that’s not true,” Draco murmurs, and when Harry looks up and meets his eyes, there is no doubt remaining that he is well and truly sunk.
He supposes he’s had a good run. Thirty years without ever losing his mind over another person... it’s not bad. Pansy has always said that it would be Potter, and he really, really hates it when Pansy is right.
Harry smiles grimly. “I think my problem has always been not knowing when to give up. A few weeks ago I just sort of... snapped. I thought I could just... I thought I could just give them the finger, you know? Do things that didn’t make sense. Show them that I didn’t give a fuck, they could print what they wanted.”
“Like ‘Harry Potter walks down Diagon Alley with a crocodile?’” Draco asks.
“Yeah.” Harry leans on his broom, a slightly sheepish expression edging out the scowl.
“Did it work?”
“For a while. I’d started to think I’d distracted them enough that I... and then that happened,” Harry mutters, face darkening again as he summons a ragged copy of the Prophet and glares at it for a moment before dropping it to the tiles.
The screaming, struggling picture of Granger seems to rage up at Draco from the floor.
“Whatever happened, Harry... it’s not your fault,” he says.
For what seems like a long time, Harry says nothing, and then he releases the broom, allowing it to fall to the floor with a clatter, and he hoists himself up onto the counter. He picks up his paper cup of tea and eases the lid off, releasing the fragrant steam into the air. For a moment, it struggles against the warm, musty animal smell and then disappears.
“You know, I’ve lost count of the number of friends who’ve apologised to me about something they’ve accidentally said to some undercover shit of a reporter that has then ended up in the paper the next day. They want a quote about me. Something they can twist into a story. When I started doing all this weird stuff... the hair, the pineapples—”
“The crocodile,” Draco supplies.
“Yeah.” Harry nods and stares into his tea. The anger has drained out of him, and now he just seems sad and a little lost. “I thought they’d stop all that because I’d given them something to focus on. Turns out... I’m an idiot.”
Draco pulls himself up onto the counter beside him and nudges Harry’s knee with his own.
“I’m not going to tell you that you’re not an idiot because you won’t believe me. Just tell me what happened.”
Harry meets his eyes and chews on his lip for a moment. One of the parrots comes flapping down from the rafters and perches on his shoulder. He doesn’t seem to notice.
“Rose was playing in the garden,” he says, scratched fingers picking at his paper cup. “She’s creative, you know. She’s got these powders that turn the grass different colours. Anyway, Hermione hears her yell ‘stranger!’ and she comes running out and there were these two people bending over Rose and asking her questions. Questions about me and what I’ve been up to.”
“They were the reporters from the Prophet?” Draco asks, horrified.
“Yeah. Hermione went mad, as you can imagine. She says she can’t remember exactly what she said to them, but she had her wand out and she told them to get the fuck off her property... probably not in those exact words. They printed the picture and made her look like some kind of psychopath,” Harry says, and his voice is oddly calm, as though his anger has progressed far beyond blind rage.
“She was protecting her daughter,” Draco says. “Surely anyone can see that.”
“Rose isn’t even mentioned in the article. They’ve made it look like they were just passing by and she came out and attacked them. They’re probably trying to cover their arses... it was a stupid thing to do even by their standards. Rose is four years old, for fuck’s sake.”
Draco says nothing. He has no idea what he could possibly say to make this alright for Harry, and right now, that is all he can think about doing. The parrot takes off rather suddenly, startling Harry and making him lean against Draco. The heat of his body presses insistently against Draco’s side, and when his hand flies out to steady himself, his fingers wrap around Draco’s wrist.
“Sorry,” Harry mumbles, but he doesn’t let go straight away.
“No,” Draco replies nonsensically, and he has to wrap his free hand around the edge of the counter to prevent himself from reaching out and tracing the crinkle at the edge of Harry’s confused smile.
When he rights himself and draws his wand to spell away the spilt tea from his trousers, Draco takes a long, deep breath, willing oxygen to his brain and a plan along with it.
“Right,” he says after a minute or two of uncomfortably charged silence. “Let’s do something about this.”
Harry lifts a dark eyebrow. “Like what, exactly?”
“We can’t really stop them from printing rubbish about you, but we can at least get them to admit the truth about what happened with Granger,” Draco says, attempting to sound more confident than he feels.
Harry sighs. “Ron’s working on it. It’s probably going to take some time.”
Draco slides down from the counter and folds his arms. “Really?”
“Are you really going to sit here and just wait and see? I’ve watched you fight a dragon, Potter, I think you can handle the Daily fucking Prophet.”
“That was a very long time ago,” Harry says, but he is already jumping down from the counter, scribbling ‘back soon’ on a piece of parchment and sticking it to the door.
He gives Draco a determined nod and locks up.
“That’s more like it.”
Draco fights a smile, feeling strangely exhilarated as they walk along Diagon Alley, side by side with shoulders brushing. They do not exchange a word about their destination; they don’t need to.
The main entrance to the Daily Prophet building is grand and imposing, the tall double doors flanked by gleaming sculptures: to one side a golden quill, to the other, a silver scroll. Draco pauses to let a young man with a camera bag exit the building, regretting it instantly when he stops and stares.
“Harry Potter,” he says, reaching into his bag. “Have you got a moment to—?”
“Nope,” Harry says flatly, and he grabs Draco’s arm and pulls him inside.
Despite the flutter of interest whenever the two of them enter a room, Harry and Draco are shunted from office to office and floor to floor, each employee that they meet informing them that they are in the wrong department entirely and that they need to go to Complaints or Personnel or the Picture Desk. Eventually, they find themselves in a stuffy basement room with a woman who looks very much like Pansy will in fifty years’ time if she doesn’t start taking care of herself.
“Have you any proof of this... story?” she asks, steepling her hands under her baggy chin and gazing up at them without a hint of interest.
Harry and Draco exchange weary glances.
“Have you got any proof that it happened the way you say it did?” Harry demands.
“There was a child present who isn’t even mentioned in this article,” Draco adds, holding out the newspaper.
The woman ignores it. “Sorry,” she says, not sounding it one little bit. “The article stands.”
“You have no evidence,” she repeats, picking up her quill and scratching at a piece of parchment. “I have work to do. Please see yourselves out.”
Frustrated, Draco stalks out of the office. Harry hangs back at the door.
“What exactly do you mean by evidence?”
“Photographic, audio recording, Pensieve memory, impartial witness,” the woman recites without looking up from her work.
“Great, thanks,” Harry says, taking off down the corridor and pulling Draco into the lift. “We need to go and see Hermione.”
“We already thought of that, Harry,” Hermione says, picking up the teapot and pouring. “Ron checked it out. It has to be an independent memory, which means not mine or Rose’s.”
Draco nods when she proffers the milk jug. “Thank you.”
She takes her seat at the large, scrubbed pine table and picks up her cup. Every few seconds she turns and glances at Rose, who is playing in the corner, as though terrified that the Prophet reporters might swoop in through the open window and carry her away. Though pale and drawn, she seems pleased to see Harry and curiously unsurprised to see Draco. He can’t remember the last time they were even in the same room together, yet she has welcomed him into her home like an old friend. Shame and bewilderment curl in his stomach, mixing with fear and desire every time he chances a glance at Harry, and he barely notices when he burns his mouth on the hot tea.
“Memories can be altered,” Harry mumbles, and he and Hermione exchange a significant glance that he doesn’t quite understand.
“Yes,” she says, turning to check on Rose, “and as far as they’re concerned, I’m a mad person. Why wouldn’t I tamper with my own memory to make them look bad?”
She presses her lips together as though attempting to suppress a destructive thought, and Draco notices that her hands are shaking, so much so that the tea in her cup is threatening to slosh over the rim.
“Do you think anyone else might have seen what happened?” Draco asks in an attempt to distract her.
She turns to him, eyes large and dark. “I doubt it, it was the middle of the day... most people around here were at work. There’s only Mr Fortuna next door and he hardly ever comes outside. He’s an odd man... eccentric... I don’t think he even knows who we are.” She pauses, directing a tight, self-deprecating smile at the table. “It’s the opposite of a problem, really... he only comes out when he...”
Granger stops. Her pale face turns impossibly paler.
“What is it?” Harry asks.
“He likes to talk to Rosie over the hedge,” she murmurs, pushing back her chair and dropping to her knees in front of the little girl. She stares up at Harry and Draco, agonised. “I didn’t even think of it, we were so caught up in firecalling everyone and trying to...”
“Take a breath, Hermione,” Harry says, but his posture, suddenly rigid and upright, tells Draco that he is just as caught up in this new development as she is.
“Right.” She breathes in deeply, exhales slowly, and turns to the little girl. “Rose... yesterday, when you were playing in the garden, did you talk to Mr Fortuna?”
Rose nods, making her vivid red curls bounce up and down.
“Are you sure?” Hermione asks, taking her daughter’s hand. “Because it’s really important, okay?”
“I talked to him. We talked about colours and how to make a rainbow,” Rose says solemnly. She turns to regard Draco with interest. “Are you Uncle Harry’s husband?”
“Er... no,” Draco says, feeling his face heat and hoping it isn’t as visible as it feels.
“I have to go and talk to him,” Hermione says, getting to her feet and grabbing her wand from the sideboard. “I wasn’t thinking. How was I not thinking? Thinking is what I do!”
Draco watches as Harry rises and manoeuvres Granger back into her chair, resting careful hands on her shoulders and pressing a kiss to her cheek.
“I’m pretty sure we all stopped thinking for a while there,” he says with a grim smile. “You stay here and we’ll see if we can get this sorted.”
Granger protests but Harry and Draco are already halfway to the door. When they leave her, she is sitting on the floor with her arms around her daughter, mumbling words of praise into her hair.
Oscar Fortuna is definitely a rather eccentric man. It takes them several minutes to persuade him to answer the door, and when he does, he brandishes his wand and refuses to let them take one step over the threshold. He is a large man, towering over Harry and Draco, and even dressed in what appears to be his bathrobe, he is a vast, intimidating presence. The moment Harry begins to talk about the reporters, however, he pockets his wand and nods along sternly.
“I saw the whole thing!” he booms, accent startlingly refined. “I don’t know what they want with that lovely family but they ought to be strung up! That poor little girl was terrified! Crying her eyes out! Her mother was furious, and who could blame her!”
Every word is bellowed as though Mr Fortuna is trying to wake the dead, and Draco finds himself taking a step backwards. Beside him, Harry is nodding and smiling and swaying slightly, as though he is being blown around by the force of the man’s voice.
“Why didn’t you say anything to them?” Harry asks. “They’d probably have run off straight away.”
Mr Fortuna lets out an enormous bark of laughter. “They didn’t need me! ‘STRANGER, MUMMY!’ the little girl shouted, and she was out in a flash! I certainly wouldn’t have trifled with her!”
“But when you saw the Prophet this morning...” Harry begins.
“I don’t read that rag, young man! Won’t have it in the house!” Mr Fortuna interrupts. “If you want my memory, though—” He rummages in a nearby cupboard and produces a small glass vial. “—you are entirely welcome to it!”
“Thank you,” Draco says, wondering if the ringing sound in his ears is a bad sign.
Mr Fortuna touches his wand to his temple, and with a grunt, extracts a silvery strand of memory. He traps it in the vial and passes it to Harry.
“Good luck!” he roars, and then throws his door closed with a clang and a crash.
“Am I talking loudly?” Harry shouts as they walk into the Prophet building a minute or so later. “I can’t tell any more.”
“I have no idea!” Draco admits. He steps into the lift and presses the button for the basement, tipping his head onto one side and then the other. He feels as though Mr Fortuna is still bellowing into his face, and it’s rather disconcerting.
The woman in the little office sighs heavily when she sees them, but when Harry shows her the little vial, there’s no mistaking the tiny flicker of interest in her eyes. She gets to her feet and drags a Pensieve out of a tall cupboard, then takes the vial from Harry and pours out the contents. For long seconds, Harry and Draco wait, breathing rough in the silence, and then she emerges.
She turns to them slowly, mouth pressed into a thin line.
“Top floor. Editor’s office. I’ll let him know you’re coming.”
They leave the room in silence. Not a word is spoken as they rise slowly through the building to the topmost floor. Draco’s heart hammers and he flicks secret glances at Harry, turning away when he glances back, feeling suddenly strung out and fearful. The editor, a tall, dark-skinned man in midnight blue robes, flings open the door of his office when they are only halfway along the corridor, and they scramble to reach him before he closes it again, and Draco thinks he might. He looks furious, and in a place like this, there’s no use trying to predict behaviour.
They sit, when directed, without a word, and wait as the editor views Mr Fortuna’s memory. When he has finished, he sits carefully on the edge of his vast desk and gazes evenly at each of them in turn.
“You are here on behalf of Ms Granger, gentleman,” he says, and though his tone is every bit as cultured as Mr Fortuna’s, his words are soft, almost sighed out into the enormous office.
“That’s right,” Harry says, and Draco can almost taste his defensiveness.
“From whom did you obtain this memory?”
“The next-door neighbour,” Harry says. “A Mr Fortuna.”
The editor inclines his head, laces his fingers together. “And you are hoping that I accept it as evidence that two of my employees have engaged in some sort of defamation of Ms Granger’s character?”
Harry bristles, but Draco holds eye contact with the man. He rests his fingertips on Harry’s forearm and nods. This is a test of nerve and he’s not about to fuck it up now.
“Yes,” he says simply.
“Good. Then we are in agreement. The Daily Prophet will run a full retraction of the article and all allegations contained therein. The employees concerned will have their contracts terminated immediately. We will make a copy of this memory for our records and the original will be returned to you.”
The editor stands and holds out a hand for Harry to shake. Harry doesn’t move.
“Is that it?” he asks, incredulous.
The editor frowns. He glances at Draco as though he will have the sense to grab Harry and drag him out of the office, but Draco stays exactly where he is. Now that they’re here, now that they’ve got what they came for, he doesn’t see why Harry shouldn’t ask a few questions of his own, or at least enjoy himself a little bit. They owe him that much.
“Is that it, Mr Potter?” the editor demands, dropping his hand to his side. “The Daily Prophet is not in the business of handing out retractions to every disgruntled reader who walks into this building. I concede that, given the evidence you have just supplied, the comments made about Ms Granger were incorrect, and –”
“And the fact that your reporters thought it was okay to approach a four-year-old girl in her own back garden?” Harry interrupts.
“That is regrettable,” the editor says, and just for a moment, his cool mask flickers and Draco can see the human being beneath, the man who feels betrayed and angered by the actions of those beneath him. Just as quickly, though, the cool expression is back in place.
Harry rubs at his face and exhales shortly. “Regrettable. Okay. And the ones who follow me around all the time, what about them? Are their actions regrettable, or am I fair game for some reason?”
The editor sighs. “Like it or not, Mr Potter, you are a celebrity. The people are interested in the things you do. They want to read about the things you do, and one of our many jobs is to collect and print the things they want to read. I can’t alter that any more that you can alter the rotation of the earth.”
Harry presses his palms to his thighs, closing his eyes for a moment and looking so world-weary that Draco aches to pull him to his feet, tug him out of this office and suggest that they run away together. Instead, he sits quietly and eases his breathing into a calmer rhythm.
“I don’t think you want to try,” Harry says at last, and though he smiles as he shakes the editor’s hand and thanks him for the retraction, there is an awful lot of steel behind it.
“The retraction will be in tomorrow’s edition,” the editor says.
Harry nods. “Good.”
As they walk out into the corridor, the editor calls out to them: “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but this business is what it is.”
Harry stops. Turns. “It is what it is? That’s your excuse?” He smiles slowly and shrugs. “Why don’t you go and fuck yourself?”
Apparently stunned, the editor stares after Harry as he stalks off down the corridor. Mouth twitching, Draco nods to him and runs to catch up. As they board the lift and begin to descend back to street level, they stare at each other. Harry’s eyes are bright and his skin is flushed. He bites his lip and grins at Draco. Draco grins back, feeling the amusement rising in his chest and letting it bubble over just as they stagger out into the atrium, laughing helplessly.
Draco walks out into the street, shading his eyes from the afternoon sun.
“Did you really just tell the editor-in-chief of the Daily Prophet to go and fuck himself?”
Harry snorts. “No, I think you must have imagined that.”
“My mother always said I had a vivid imagination,” Draco sighs, grinning and leaning against the sculpture of the silver scroll.
“Yeah, well, don’t get comfortable, I’m starving. Let’s go back to the shop and firecall Hermione and then get some lunch,” Harry says.
Draco pushes away from the sculpture and falls into step beside him, stomach grumbling fiercely as if woken from a long hibernation.
“Okay. I think we deserve a nice lunch to celebrate your first victory over the Daily Prophet,” he says, wondering if Harry is in the mood for something spicy and hoping it isn’t too late in the day for Mr Wong’s. He has no idea what time it is and he doesn’t think he has ever cared less. His mouth hurts from smiling and he is sparking with adrenaline, exhilarated by the rush of adventure.
“Well, I suppose it was a start,” Harry admits.
“Of course it was. Now, how do you plan on putting a stop to the speculation about your love life?”
Harry laughs, and Draco turns to smile at him, only to find him frowning and slowing almost to a stop.
Draco stops, too, almost banging into an elderly gentleman with an eye-patch. “Sorry,” he murmurs. “What’s the matter?”
Harry stares at him with such intensity that Draco’s insides begin to tie themselves in knots. All at once, he steps forward, threads his fingers into Draco’s hair and kisses him hard. Startled, Draco freezes, unable to do anything but stand there and be kissed. Harry’s mouth is warm and firm against his, he smells wonderful, he tastes of tea and mint and Draco wants this, he does, but something just doesn’t feel right.
His own words drift back to him as Harry pulls back and stares at him, eyebrows knitted.
Now, how do you plan on putting a stop to the speculation about your love life?
Draco’s stomach flips unpleasantly. He takes a step back from Harry.
“Don’t do that,” he says quietly. “It’s not fair.”
Harry blinks. “What...? I don’t understand. I thought...”
“You thought wrong,” Draco says, and his voice is raw because Harry is using him and he hurts. He hurts all over and there are people spilling in rivers all around him and he can barely see them.
“Draco, you said...” Harry looks hurt, too, though Draco doesn’t see how he has any right to be.
“I can understand how it looked like a great idea,” he says, hating how the words stick. “I made myself obvious, I can see that now, and there it was, the solution to your problem. Well, good luck with the rest of your rebellion. I don’t want to be a part of it.”
“What the fuck, Draco?” Harry tries, but Draco is already Disapparating.
He sits at the edge of his duck pond until the light has completely faded from the sky. His fingers turn cold and numb and he just tucks them underneath himself, ignoring his shivers and staring at the water. The ducks flock around him, curious at first, but eventually lose interest and retreat into clumps of rushes to settle for the night. They never really took to the fancy house he bought from Harry. It stands there, empty and overpriced and ridiculous in the moonlight and Draco scowls at it. It’s so clear now that all of this insanity has been an excuse to spend time with Harry, and he hates it.
“Not you,” he mutters when Derek flaps and wags his tail at the other side of the pond.
Harry’s ducks are faultless, healthy and beautiful and full of personality. No complaints there.
Draco shakes his head, all at once clobbered by the vivid sense memory of that kiss—the warmth of Harry’s mouth, the strong fingers in his hair, all of it just another attempt to misdirect the reporters and the photographers and the editors who care about nothing more than giving the people what they want, and for a moment he feels sorry for Harry. Just for a moment, though, because this whole thing is a game to him, and he’ll be fine. He always is.
Draco gets stiffly to his feet. He stares at the stupid duck house and then draws his wand, casting silently and barely flinching when the whole thing crumbles into a pile of splinters. The ducks flap and protest noisily for a few seconds and then settle, regarding Draco with sharp little eyes.
“Sorry,” he murmurs, and then turns and stalks across the lawn to the house.
It’s perhaps the disappointment that stings the most. It clings to him, pulling him earthwards as he makes himself coffee and attempts to hold on to his usual evening routine. It’s the thought that someone like Harry, who despite his madness and pigheadedness has always been a good person, a kind person, could be so fucking careless with someone else’s feelings. With their happiness. With... them.
Of course, what he needs to do is forget the whole thing. He needs to wipe it all away, forget about everything that has happened since the day he saw bright purple hair from the Eye in the Sky, and everything will go back to normal.
Except that it won’t, because being angry at Potter hasn’t taken away the heaviness in his chest, the swoop in his stomach, or the fact that he is in love with the idiot. His small, contained life has fallen open and the spaces he didn’t even know were there have been filled with surprises and challenges and a man who loves every life, no matter how small.
By the time he crawls into bed, his insides are twisted with confusion and he only hesitates for a moment before downing a potion that will help him sleep. He sets his alarm for half past four and turns up the volume as high as it will go. As he curls into a protective ball and drifts into sleep, the image of Harry’s face, puzzled and hurt, swims before him, and then everything is dark.
Draco arrives at the studio early the next morning. Feeling dull and irritable, he wanders around, tidying up stray bits of parchment and gathering up empty cups. He pauses outside the lates’ studio and notices that Francis, chattering into his omnivox and clutching his coffee mug, is clearly as high as a kite on the high-caf rocket fuel, and he just sighs.
When Pansy arrives, he steels himself for questions, but she merely drops a Danish on his desk and then stomps over to the shelves where the records are kept in search of today’s Song for the Shower. When he gives the date as the twenty-fourth of April instead of the twenty-fourth of May, she just corrects him calmly; when he plays the same record twice in a row, she tells the listeners that he’s getting old, and when he spills coffee on his white shirt, she spells it away without a word.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” he asks suspiciously.
“I don’t know,” she says, leaning back in her chair and crossing one leg over the other. She shrugs, letting one of her vicious-looking shoes dangle from her toes. “You look a bit pathetic this morning.”
Draco rolls his eyes and then stops because his head hurts. “I’m hurt.”
Pansy’s gaze sharpens. “Are you?”
“I’m fine.” Draco flicks on his omnivox. “It’s Tuesday the twenty-fourth of May, it’s eight-fifteen, and this is the news.”
Pansy shrugs, rising to pull open the window and let in the Prophet owl. Draco’s stomach drops and he almost falters over the story about the Harpies’ new Seeker that he has already broadcast twice, but he recovers himself. He keeps half an eye on Pansy as he finishes the report, and when he has finished, she is still staring at the front page with rapt interest.
Making sure his omnivox and hers are completely switched off, he forces himself to ask.
Pansy snorts and holds up the newspaper, and of course it’s a picture of Harry kissing Draco in the middle of Diagon Alley. Of course it is. And of course the accompanying headline is absolutely ridiculous.
“‘Potter and Malfoy’s Secret Love—was their rivalry just an act?’” Draco reads aloud, brow furrowing. “Give me strength.”
“He’s certainly giving you something, isn’t he, darling?” Pansy says, smirking.
“You know what? I really don’t want to talk about it,” Draco says, reaching over and snatching the paper from her.
“Well, I’m shocked. You’re always so open about your love life.”
Draco meets her sardonic look with one of his own and then turns his attention to the photograph. It’s fuzzy around the edges, as though it has been taken from quite some distance, perhaps by one of the Prophet employees who skulk around near the Magical Menagerie, always waiting for Harry to step outside and do something newsworthy. Irritated, he scans the article, and is just about to fling the paper aside when he sees a small box tucked into the bottom corner of the front page.
Correction: It has come to the attention of the Daily Prophet that certain facts relating to Ms Hermione Granger published in the edition dated 23rd May 2011 have been incorrectly reported. Ms Granger raised her wand when two employees of the Daily Prophet approached and questioned her four-year-old daughter on her own property. Ms Granger did not at any time hex or in any way physically harm or threaten these employees, who no longer work for the Daily Prophet. Our apologies for any inconvenience that may have been caused.
Draco sighs and reaches for his coffee cup. It seems ludicrous that only yesterday he and Harry were dashing around, collecting memories and confronting the editor of the Daily Prophet. In the wake of what had followed, he has managed to let the episode with Granger slip his mind completely, and now, seeing the retraction squashed into the corner of the front page by a stupid, reckless, ill-advised kiss, he feels a sort of quiet determination spread through him.
When the current song comes to an end, he switches on his omnivox.
“I suppose many of you will have read today’s Daily Prophet by now, or at least seen the front page,” he says, ignoring Pansy’s whisper of ‘what are you doing?’ “You’re probably expecting me to talk about the photograph, but I’m not. You can make up your own minds about that. What I want to draw your attention to is that very small article in the bottom right-hand corner. I want to make sure that everyone who listens to this show and everyone who reads the Daily Prophet sees that, because I’m not convinced they want you to see it. I’m pretty certain, in fact, that they don’t care whether you see it or not, despite the fact that they quite happily reported yesterday, as their top story, that Hermione Granger had threatened innocent members of the public. That she was violent.”
Draco pauses, remembering the warmth of Harry’s skin beneath his fingers when he’d offered a reassuring touch. The fury in his eyes as he’d paced the shop. Draco breathes.
“Those were lies. Those innocent members of the public were a reporter and photographer from the Daily Prophet, who walked into Hermione Granger’s garden and starting questioning her daughter. They wanted information about Harry Potter. About his activities. Hermione Granger’s daughter is four years old. When they wouldn’t leave, she drew her wand. She shouted at them. She tried to protect her daughter. The editor of the Daily Prophet has seen a memory that proves her innocence, but they don’t care about her reputation. They don’t care, so someone else is going to have to care for them. I don’t know about any of you, but I am going to be watching them. I’m going to make it my business to watch them, and I’m going to be here every morning, telling you what I’ve seen. And if anyone from the Prophet has a problem with that, I’m at the WWN building, tenth floor, studio two. I’m here from six until twelve noon, Monday to Friday, and I’ve had enough.”
Draco switches off his omnivox, throws on the new Celestina record and slumps back into his chair. His heart is racing and he feels hot, as though someone has sucked all the fresh air out of the room.
“Well,” Pansy says, and the surprise in her tone makes him look up.
“You sounded like some kind of mafia don,” Pansy says. “It was quite sexy.”
Draco wrinkles his nose. “Pans, that’s disgusting.”
“Oh, I know. Totally incestuous. But you never know, Potter might be listening.”
Draco’s chest aches and he sighs. “I do not want to talk about Harry Potter.”
Pansy’s expression turns shrewd. “You’ve fallen out, haven’t you? Some time between that—” She points at the newspaper, “—and this morning, you’ve managed to upset each other. For fuck’s sake, Draco, that must be some kind of record.”
“What makes you think that was the first time?” he asks for no good reason that he can see.
Pansy smirks. “I never said that it was, but honestly?” She retrieves the Prophet and holds it up. “This is a first kiss. It’s awkward. It’s stiff. You look terrified.”
Draco tries not to look at the photograph but he can’t help it. The sight of it pulls him tight with an odd mixture of sadness and longing and he barely restrains himself from drawing his wand and knocking it out of her hands. Harry’s eyes are closed, he’s reaching for Draco as though genuinely terrified of losing him, and in the midst of all the astonishment and blurred colours, there’s a tiny smile on his face, pressed against Draco’s lips, that tips the whole world sideways.
“Maybe,” Draco murmurs, and hope sparks deep in his chest. He has to talk to Harry.
Draco looks up. “What?”
“Just go,” Pansy repeats, and she points at the door. “Now.”
He stares at her, fingers gripping the arms of his chair. “Oh? And I’ll owe you what horrible favour, exactly?”
“Nothing. I’ve already won.” Her blood red lips curve into a triumphant smirk and he doesn’t know whether to hug her or hex her.
After a moment of indecision, he does neither. He dashes for the door, down the corridor, skids into reception and stops dead.
“No, no, you can’t... you can’t... they’re on air, and anyway, if that thing comes near Pansy, she’ll scream, and my ears can’t take it,” insists Lofty Lee, who is attempting to prevent the entrance of what looks very much like a man with a crocodile.
“I’ll leave her here, then—I can tie her up next to your desk,” Harry says, and Draco’s heart races at the sound of his voice.
“Absolutely not,” Lee says, hopping from one foot to the other with surprising energy. “I can’t... policies and procedures, you see... oh, you’ll have to bear with me, young man, I’m feeling a bit funny. It’s this coffee, I think... shame, there was some lovely stuff in the back of the cupboard a few weeks ago...”
“You drank my coffee!” Draco gasps, stepping into view and folding his arms.
“Oh, hello, Draco—you have a visitor,” Lee says, eyeing him guiltily and ducking back behind his desk.
Draco files the information away for later and turns to look at Harry.
He wraps Brenda’s lead more securely around his hand and gives Draco a tiny smile. “Can we talk?”
Draco nods. “Outside, I think,” he says, and he, Harry and Brenda take the lift down to the ground floor.
Diagon Alley is bustling with early morning shoppers but they manage to find an empty bench in a patch of warm sunshine. Draco sits, carefully not touching Harry, with his hands in his lap. Harry stares down at Brenda, who is attempting to wind her way around the bench. For a long time, neither of them says a word.
“Should I ask about the crocodile?” Draco says eventually.
Harry gives him a nervous smile. “She’s just here for moral support, really. I thought I’d feel like less of an idiot if you told me to shove it if I had her with me. Don’t worry, I’m not expecting it to make sense.”
“I wasn’t expecting it to make sense, either,” Draco says.
They lapse once more into silence. Draco casts around for the right words and comes up with nothing, so he watches the shoppers and the stallholders, trying not to think of the warmth and ease with which their conversation had come less than a day before.
Finally Harry sighs. “About what happened yesterday...”
“I didn’t mean to upset you. In fact, I couldn’t understand why you were upset until I went over to Ron and Hermione’s last night and we talked about it.”
“I’m not quite sure what to say to that,” Draco admits.
“Well, that’s fine, because I haven’t finished.” Harry scrubs at his hair with his free hand. “Look... let’s just say I was made to look at what happened from your perspective. You’d just asked me how I was going to stop the gossip about my love life and I... did that. I see now why it seemed... calculated and wrong and like I was taking advantage of your...”
“My what?” Draco asks, not quite ready to let his guard down again.
“Your feelings,” Harry says. “I didn’t even know that you had feelings until that... well, I knew you had feelings, but I didn’t know you felt that way, and then you said that, and it was like the whole thing just hit me in the side of the head.”
Draco meets his eyes. “Go on.”
“I just realised that we were... that something was happening between us and I wanted it to and maybe you wanted it to and then I sort of forgot all about what you’d said because it was sunny and you were smiling at me and I’d just told the editor of the Daily Prophet to screw himself—”
“‘Go and fuck yourself’, is, I believe, what you said to him,” Draco interrupts.
Harry laughs, and something inside Draco breaks open, flooding him with warmth.
“I didn’t even see it. Hermione was horrified. She just kept saying ‘oh, god, Harry’ over and over. Ron kept making me toast, because apparently that solves everything.”
Draco smiles. “So... you wanted to?”
“I really wanted to,” Harry says, and he grins at Draco, fingers slipping into his hair and tucking a few escaped strands behind his ear. “I’m sorry for being an idiot.”
“I forgive you for being an idiot,” Draco says, and then they are leaning close, lips brushing, and then Harry is jerked backwards and almost falls off the bench.
“Brenda, no!” Harry reproves, hauling the wayward crocodile away from an apparently fearless cat and pulling her back around to his side. She rests her snout on the edge of the bench and looks up at him adoringly.
“Bad crocodile,” Draco says, but he doesn’t care. Not now that Harry is pressed against him from shoulder to knee and his free hand has found Draco’s, fingers threading together and holding tight. He can wait for the rest.
“I heard you this morning,” Harry says. “You were very strident.”
Draco smiles. “I had a lot to be strident about. I still have no idea how I ended up with a soapbox, but I’ve got it and I might as well use it for something other than defending my outfits to Pansy.”
“What’s wrong with your outfits?” Harry asks, looking over Draco’s dark trousers, waistcoat and white shirt.
“The same thing that’s wrong with yours, probably.”
Harry snorts. He rests his head on Draco’s shoulder. “People are looking, you know.”
Draco glances around at the people of Diagon Alley. Harry’s right, of course, some of them are looking, but it’s hard to know exactly what about the little scene is capturing their interest. It could be them, of course, but it’s at least equally likely that people are looking at the crocodile.
“Well, let them look,” he says eventually. He rests his head against Harry’s, breathing in the warm scent of his hair. “What you have to realise is that these people are mad.”
“All of them?” Harry asks, sounding amused.
“No, not all of them. Just the ones who write the articles and the ones who call the station every day to tell us that they saw you buying a onion and that must mean you’ve been possessed by a demon.”
Harry sits up, eyebrows knitted. “People don’t really say things like that, do they?”
Draco’s mouth flickers at one corner. He digs into his trouser pockets and pulls out several crumpled pieces of parchment. He hands them to Harry.
“These are just from this morning. You’ll have to forgive the handwriting, it’s bad enough when he’s not being over-caffeinated.”
“I saw Harry Potter buy two bottles of wine yesterday,” Harry reads. “I did, but I split them with Ron and Hermione. If you ask me, his recent behaviour is a result of... something alcoholism.”
“Rampant,” Draco supplies, glancing over his shoulder. “Rampant alcoholism.”
Harry laughs and studies the next one. “It is quite clear to me that Harry Potter is a member of the Bembledacks...? A secret society hell-bent on destroying the wizarding world as we know it. Why is nothing being done about this?”
“Would it surprise you to know that this is not the first time I have heard about you and the Bembledacks?” Draco says.
“No, not really,” Harry sighs. “If Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy are going out together, the world may be about to end. This is not intended to be mean-spirited but merely refers to a prediction I made in nineteen eighty-six, which I will forward to you via owl post... why does everyone think the world is about to end?”
“Honestly, Harry, after all these years I have stopped asking.”
Harry grins. “I need to speak to the Minister about a poisoned... what?”
“Blueberry,” Draco says. “He’s a regular, too.”
“Poor Kingsley,” Harry says.
“Poor Kingsley, my arse. I have to follow these things up, you know, at least the first time. He doesn’t even like blueberries... and believe me, we had a very in-depth conversation about it several years ago.”
“Don’t people ever call to say anything normal, like ‘can you play my favourite song?’” Harry asks.
“Of course, but I only keep the weird ones.”
“You should write a book.”
Draco smiles and squeezes Harry’s fingers. “Alright. I’ll write a book, and you let go of this.”
“Brenda?” Harry asks, looking mildly alarmed.
“No, this,” Draco says, indicating Diagon Alley with a wave of his hand. “What people think. What people say. People who don’t matter. You need to... Pansy calls it ‘running out of fucks to give’.”
Harry laughs. “I do think I’m running quite low on fucks these days.”
Draco lifts an eyebrow. Harry kicks him in the ankle.
“I think I might miss doing all the weird stuff,” he admits. He tips his head back and stares at the bright blue sky. “Maybe just one more.”
“You’ve still got Brenda,” Draco points out.
“She’s not mine. She belongs to Bill, the guy who owns the shop. Still, I could probably borrow her for special occasions.”
“Probably,” Draco says, wondering what kind of special occasion necessitates a crocodile.
“Maybe just something nice for the conspiracy theorists to remember me by,” Harry mumbles, and then he takes out his wand and aims it into the air.
Moments later, the sky above Diagon Alley is filled with glittering, multicoloured lights as the most spectacular colours explode and merge and shoot overhead. Just like real fireworks, they hiss and crackle and squeal, and soon, everyone has stopped what they are doing to gaze up at the display.
The spectacle doesn’t stop when Harry puts his wand away and turns to Draco, nor when Draco leans close, certain this time, and kisses him, slipping his fingers into soft, chaotic hair and sighing his relief into the mouth that reaches for his. Harry’s fingertips brush against his neck, making him shiver, and they both smile into the kiss, sliding tongues together and slowing down to nothing but warmth and connection and the silent promise of everything.
As though from somewhere far away, Draco hears gasps and murmurs, perhaps for the shimmering colours, perhaps for them. Either way, he doesn’t care.
“Let’s go,” Harry murmurs against his lips, and his eyes snap open.
Around them, everyone is still watching the display, and Draco feels slightly disoriented, as though he hadn’t expected to open his eyes and find himself in daylight, much less in Diagon Alley.
Slowly, he gets to his feet and they slink away as surreptitiously as two men with a small crocodile can manage. Harry doesn’t let go of Draco’s hand until they reach the Magical Menagerie, at which point single file is necessary. He hands Brenda over to a man with a beard who must be Bill, and then pulls Draco into the back room.
“Where did you learn to do that?” Draco asks.
“The firework charm?” Harry laughs. “Where do you think? George Weasley.”
Draco smiles. “Do you want to come back to the Manor? Possibly the best duck pond in all of England? Or do you have to get back to work?”
“Bill’s covering today,” Harry says. “He was as furious about what happened to Hermione as I was... told me to take a couple of days off.”
“In that case, let’s go,” Draco says, pulling Harry close for the jump and utterly failing in his attempt to resist kissing him again. And again.
“Now, Draco, before I lose my self-control and get fired,” Harry insists, and Draco kisses him again.
“Okay, but before we go, there’s something I need to tell you about the duck house...”
“It’s Wednesday the twenty-fifth of May, it’s six fifteen, Draco is late, and here is your news update,” Pansy is telling her omnivox smugly when Draco walks into the studio the next morning.
When Harry walks in behind him, her eyes grow entertainingly wide, but to her credit, she continues reading the news without a hitch, including the story about the unexpected fireworks that had mysteriously appeared over Diagon Alley the previous morning.
“That was your news update for the hour, there will be more at seven fifteen. In the meantime, Draco has seen fit to join me, and he has brought a friend! More on that after the Minotaurs.”
Pansy drops the needle onto the record and stares at Draco and Harry in turn. She picks up her pastry and takes a bite, brushing icing sugar from her lips.
“You have wet hair,” she says at last. “Both of you. Did you have a nice shower?”
“Yes, thank you,” Draco says, conjuring a chair for Harry beside his own.
“Very... efficient,” Harry adds, and Draco smiles; he can’t help it.
The last thing this morning’s shower had been was efficient. In fact, it had been decidedly inefficient, given that the washing process itself led to the most energetic wake-up sex Draco has ever experienced, which led to the need to carry out the washing process a second time. And that, he has to admit, had been a close thing.
Pansy smirks but Draco doesn’t care. He is stiff and sensitive in all sorts of long-forgotten places, and his chest is aching in the most maddeningly wonderful way.
“What on earth are you wearing, Potter?” she asks suddenly, eyeing Harry’s t-shirt and jeans.
Draco turns to him. “She means ‘hello’.”
“Hello, Pansy,” Harry says. He leans back in his chair, apparently unconcerned, and grins at Draco.
Draco grins back. Pansy groans. “Is this what you’re going to be like now? I’m not sure I can take it.”
“Don’t be such a drama queen. Did you bring a pastry for me?”
“I brought two,” Pansy says, handing over the bag. “Call me psychic.”
“Thanks. Anything else?”
“Messages from the rest of yesterday’s show.” She flicks them across the desk at him in two piles, one small and one large. “Support for your campaign of doom on the Prophet, questions about you and Potter, many of them obscene.”
Harry eyes the large pile with mild alarm and then picks up the smaller one.
“Campaign of doom?”
“I was being strident, remember?” Draco says, wrinkling his nose. “I’m going to make coffee. Pansy, behave yourself.”
The door has barely closed behind him when he hears: “Hey, Potter... ever been on the radio?”
“Not yet,” Harry says, and Draco can hear the smile in his voice. “Shall I do the telescope?”
Draco sighs and lets them get on with it. He supposes he has spent enough time invading Harry’s place of work recently, and as for Pansy... he wonders if Bill might let them borrow Brenda one more time. He thinks he might have just discovered exactly what sort of occasion necessitates a crocodile.
Draco smiles to himself. Revenge is sweet.