HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
Unidentifiable mid-December, 2006
Draco was a tiny miniscule insignificant little bit tipsy. "Nothing that a brisk taxi to the nearest walk–oomph!"
"Shh," Harry said, overloud, and Draco found himself pulled past the velveteen rope blocking off the public area and into a murky arterial of the Lobby. Harry, whose idea it must have been to stay at Bellamy's past three, was also perhaps quite plastered, his cheeks flushing.
"Rosily," Draco said to himself, liking the sound.
"You are so very strange." Harry leaned back against the flocked wallpaper, balancing on his shoulderblades and heels. "Show me the Lords Chamber, go on."
A private tour? Draco ran his thumb over his chin, considering both the question and whether to pluck the piece of tinsel from where it nested in Harry's hair. "You show me yours first."
"Got something to hide? Or you just a bit embarrassed 'cos it's smaller?"
"Not at all." Draco grinned. "Can't have you feeling demoralised at how impressively... hung it is, though."
Harry snorted, unfolded himself from his slouch and led them down a narrow clerical corridor. He'd cast some sort of spell that illuminated the lights dimly, salutory brightening as they walked past. It was very charming, as was the view Draco had of Harry from behind. "Mine's got leather, you know." He looked back at Draco amusedly. "Are you–"
"Velvet," Draco countered, "A big squashy velvet cushion in the middle of the room."
"Toffs." Harry pushed open a door marked 'Ways And Means'. "Always have to go one better. Through here."
Draco peered into the doorway. It looked like a Vanishing Cabinet.
"Vanishing wotsit." Harry cheerfully brandished his wand. "In you go!"
Somehow Draco had envisioned his career ending in a slightly more dignified and definitely less cabinet-y way. This was a low blow. "Er," he started, but then Harry shoved him bodily in the cupboard and stepped in after him.
"Don't be daft, Malfoy, if I wanted to do you in I'd think of something vastly more creative." Harry's smirk disappeared into black as he clicked the door shut.
"I'd also make sure I could see you, if I were–" Harry continued, so close that Draco was certain his own swallow must be audible "–oh, where the bloody hell is it? Stay still." Draco did as he was told; it was dark, Draco was sleepy, and Harry's body warmth against his side was like a stupefying spell all of its own.
Harry rapped knuckles at the backboard behind Draco, shifting distractingly. "No closet jokes," he murmured.
Draco twitched. "Wouldn't dream of it." Sounds of rattling at a handle.
"Aha." The door popped open, and there in front of them were the green leather benches of the House of Commons.
"Clever," Draco conceded. Perhaps Harry had read more of that Magical Westminster book than he'd let on, although a certain disdain for locked doors was part of the Standard Potter Operating Procedure. Harry, who had yanked the handle off the door, gestured out to the Chamber and motioned Draco in front of him. Draco tripped out of what appeared to be a wall panel, loosening his collar against the atmosphere.
He was habituated to it in the Lords, this tangible concentration of the will to power. A manifest, impoverished magic, it was hungry for focus, for something or someone to wield it. In the Lords Draco recognised it as vibrant and companionable, but it was different in this room; stickier, more cloying, more restless.
Draco waggled his fingers and thought–inexplicably–about plums. A Black Doris smacked neatly into his palm. "Look at that," he nodded at Harry. "I wanted a plum and your House of Commons gave me an plum." It was tart and perfectly fleshy when he bit into it. "Bet that doesn't happen too often."
"What? Don't really like stonefruit. It's unnatural." Harry had shoved his hands in his pockets and was trying not to be obvious about watching Draco eat.
Draco sucked hard on the plum stone, then aimed it at one of the snuff-boxes by the door. Score. "Ten points to the landed gentry."
"Ha bloody ha." Harry picked up the silver mace resting on the Clerk's table and flung himself into what Draco supposed was the Speaker's chair. Draco wandered about a bit, testing the seats–the leather worn shiny-smooth by political bottoms–and peering under the benches, but it was bloody distracting with Harry watching him and running his fingers back and forth along the engraved silver stem of the mace.
Draco stopped at the Speaker's chair and kicked at the base of the carved throne. Of course, being solid oak, the chair didn't move. "Stop that."
Harry tipped his head back; his grin looked like a frown in his upside-down face. Draco looked at him closely, surprised to see a few strands of grey in Harry's dark hair. He didn't feel drunk anymore, just heady.
"Stop what, Draco?"
"Fondling that... nob."
Harry laughed, but he didn't blink, and he didn't stop his idle stroking. "Why?"
"You'll call up the unseemly ghosts of backbenchers past." Draco stepped back before he really did ruffle Harry's hair and broke his gaze away to glance at the centre space. The hotel restaurant carpet was divided by tatty yellow borders. "What are the lines on the floor?"
"Observe!" Harry sprung up from the chair, mace in hand and playful, and leaned across the bench. He threw something to Draco, a cheap plastic pen emblazoned with the portcullis logo. "Make yourself a sword."
Draco snickered. "Anything in particular?"
"Oh I don't know," Harry shrugged airily, "Middle-class, me. The only sword I ever used was Godric Gryffindor's–"
Harry grinned, and leaned his weight on the mace like a jaunty umbrella. "You will notice, Lord Malfoy, that these lines are–come here, stand on that side–just more than two sword lengths apart."
Draco looked up from his newly-transfigured pen, which was now a silver rapier with a wire hilt. He swung it up, watching the metal embellish itself with engraving and tracery, and felt rather pleased with himself. The feel of the weapon in his hand wasn't quite as thrilling as aiming a wand at someone's heart, but it was a satisfying second.
Oh, they hadn't done this for years. He caught Harry's eye, and the look they shared felt momentous and childish all at once, an acerbic sort of delight in just how far they had–and hadn't–come.
Without looking away, Draco extended his arm, shifting but resolute when Harry engaged his sword with the business end of the mace.
"This is not exactly an equally matched competition," Draco said.
Harry nodded slowly. "That's very true."
Draco's Christmas-party-addled brain was not up to sorting out that one. He'd think on it later.
"So anyhow," Harry tilted his head at the floor, "the lines are meant to prevent rowdy duels in the chamber. Speak from in front of them and you've overstepped your mark." His arm wavered slightly. That mace had to be awkward, the embellished crown making it top-heavy. Draco nudged at it with the tip of his blade, forcing Harry to hold the weight up higher. The mace jittered with his effort. "Possibly your average MP used to be a bit smaller–ow." He glared at Draco and dropped his arm, rubbing at his shoulder.
"Put that bloody thing back where you found it," Draco laughed. "Thank you for the history lesson."
Harry looked sulky. "I think it's a good story."
"I was being genuine, you idiot." Draco swished the blade at his side thoughtfully. "Think I'll keep this as a souvenir."
"Tour's over," Harry said, "Get back in the closet."
THE EMBANKMENT, WC2
Tuesday 16th January, 2007 10:07 am
Arctic didn't begin to describe the breeze off the river. The icy wind hurt Draco's eyeballs. He squinted against the grey expanse of the Thames as a Zabini-shaped form exited from the base of the Needle. "I don't know how you can abide that bloody portkey malarkey."
Blaise slapped the haunch of the sphinx and it moved its paw to let him collect his briefcase. "Takes me twenty minutes to get to the Place de la Concorde this way, and nineteen of that is Customs–fuck, it's cold, what kind of crap warming charm is that?"
Draco had taken the Needle Network to New York once and spent most of his tour of the UN trying to keep the resultant nausea down. "I'll stick to the Eurostar, thanks."
They set off down the Embankment towards Whitehall. Blaise was jubilant underneath his mockery of the French publishing house who had contracted his book. "They'd read the precis piece I wrote for the Statesman and fixated on a throwaway line about the reality television model of public life."
Draco smirked but kept his comments about Blaise's avid Big Brother fixation to himself. "And?"
"So they're convinced this is the next Freakonomics and want the whole idea spun out. It's ludicrous."
"Of course you'll do it."
"We're none of us above exploiting common stupidity for fame and fortune. What shall I call it?"
"Britain's Next Top Prime Minister?"
"I thought maybe 'Political Idol'."
"Hmm." Draco decided to capitalise on Blaise's convivial mood and decided to pop the question straightaway. The reaction was unsurprisingly difficult.
"I find it hard to believe you are unable to find an aspirational young thing to open your mail and answer your phones."
Draco developed a keen interest in the new scaffolding around Nelson's Column. "I'm particular."
"Did you even interview anyone from that pile of resumes I left for you? There were plenty of capable–actually, plenty of capable and pretty–candidates there."
The truth was that Draco had desultorily flicked through the top of the pile before dumping them all in the rubbish bin and following the whole sordid lot up with a banishing charm. He didn't want an efficient piece of eye-candy pretending to run his office. He wanted someone who could match him for scotch, someone who disagreed with him about the Schilling, someone who still despised the Weasleys. He wanted Blaise back.
"You're bloody useless, you know that? For one thing, there's an unemployment crisis right now, and you should be impressing the powers that be with your willingness to hire some Ministry higher-ups over-educated offspring. For another thing, you needn't have hardly anything to do with them, because as I can recount from personal experience, you don't exactly have a diary full of commitments–"
"See, this is exactly why you must come back. I need to be bossed about."
"You don't take one single bit of notice of what I tell you!"
"Oh, Draco." They had stopped at the corner of Northumberland. Blaise gave him a look that was treacherously pitying. "You really are terribly sweet, but if you're lonely I can't fix that for you."
"I didn't say that," Draco snapped. "I just offered you an excellent, well-resourced office in which to write this book of yours." He sniffed and turned to keep walking. "I'm merely looking out for your well-being."
THE LORDS CHAMBER
HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
Thursday 8th February
Unstarred Questions. The standard back and forth played out on the floor with nothing more riveting than the Lord Brabazon of Tara assenting to a new clock for the Queen's Room. Draco had one ear to the chamber while he scowled at the parchment from Gringotts and his printout from Barclays.
Banking was a special branch of Dark Magic.
Not one that Draco particularly cared for, either; one had to deal with scuttling, gormless goblins and their endless bureaucratic gatekeeping, and the wizarding lot were no better.
No proper aristocrat examined the world of finance too closely. Draco was no different, but he had an extra level of distaste for the retro-colonialist acquisition methods of Gringotts. Curse-breakers? Please. One couldn't, however, kick up too much of a fuss about the spoils of Empire when one's own nest egg derived from the sale of property and objet d'art most definitely notacquired through entirely humanitarian channels, so Draco shut up while the Guardian classes tut-tutted about the Elgin Marbles.
Momentarily distracted by the Baroness Byford's question about gangmasters–which, it turned out, were not so much doyens of organised crime but people who employed students to pick their apples–Draco wondered if Boris had an accountant that he might borrow. Theodore's stepmother had been the Malfoy financial adviser, once upon a time. Theo had shared her bizarre fondness for sums, but that was of no use to dwell upon. It stung enough that the parchment had to be delivered by personal owl–Laertes was capricious and wary and his markings were like freckles, and Draco suspected Theo left him the Nott owl in the same sharp-edged manner of all his gifts.
Draco turned back to the lists of figures, scrutinising the amounts transferred between the accounts and jotting down anything remarkable that appeared as outgoings. How could anyone be expected to maintain a memory of personal expenditure four years after the fact? About the only thing that popped out immediately was the twenty thousand that made the difference between the Lexus and his DB7, and the only body that profitted from that was Aston Martin.
The press were calling it "cash for honours", as if one merely wrote a cheque and took one's seat in the House. An aide at Number 10 and Blair's tennis partner had been collared by the police; Draco had considered carefully with whom he'd strolled around the links at Brands Hatch, but thought he'd not lost a round to anyone of particular influence.
It wouldn't hurt to be careful. Draco folded the bank statements and returned his attention to the chamber, whereupon he was intrigued to find that, according to Her Majesty's Government, over nearly two thousand anti-social behaviour orders had been issued in the last six months, yet not a single one to John Prescott.
THE RAYMOND AND BEVERLY SACKLER GALLERIES
BRITISH MUSEUM, WC1
Thursday 15th March, 1:37 pm
For a weekday, the Museum was fairly quiet. Only one coach outside when Draco had greeted the lions, and very few school parties running amok around the Rosetta Stone. Not so many people that standing under the tessellated glass of the Great Court didn't feel like a small part of the sublime, but just enough human presence to keep the half-ghosts and dry old magics under control.
As always, the Near Eastern rooms were buzzing. Mummies, mummies. The muggles always went stupid over the mummies, as if the whole process of yanking out a brain through the nose and wrapping a body in old bandages was somehow the greatest achievement of Ancient Egypt. It put Draco in a petulant mood to see the crowds cooing around some rotting carcass when less vulgar treasures were all around them.
One young girl had her face pressed to the glass of a case full of seals and scarabs, resolutely ignoring the tugs and yells of her siblings. Draco thought she might have some promise, so he used a replica charm on a chalcedony barrel seal and let it drop into her pocket.
"Her parents'll probably think she nicked that." Harry shook his head. "More harm than good, you are."
"It'll be a formative experience," said Draco dismissively, annoyed at his slip. Harry had appeared out of nowhere from behind a statue of Nimrod.
"Uncharacteristically generous to a random muggle, though." They headed down the Mesopotamia corridor to where the gaggle was less goosey.
Draco brushed down the front of his jacket. "Excuse me, I just passed a board resolution to make even more of this great treasure-chest of an institution freely available to the daytrippers from Skegness, so there'll be no aspersions about Malfoy generosity, if you please–no, this way, the Sumerian rooms."
Harry frowned. "The committee meeting's at two. Where are we going?"
"Public funding board is at two. I want to show you something brilliant." Draco steered Harry by the arm to a small case where a row of miniature clay tablets sat, nondescript among the four thousand year old mercantile weights and domestic bowls. He pointed to the smallest tablet, completely covered in an indecipherable, close-packed script. It sat next to a leather pouch, half-disintegrated; the description label indicated the pouch was worn to carry the tablet around the neck. "Look, the last one." He looked at Harry to see his reaction, but Harry was staring at him instead, his mouth open.
It wasn't a terribly flattering look, but it did have a singular appeal. Draco observed the shiny details until Harry spoke:
"You're on the donors board?"
Incredulity was fine, really. Draco hadn't been brought up to deal with outlandish displays of appreciation. "You don't think I joined the Museums Select Committee because I had a few spare afternoons, did you?"
"I–Yes! That's exactly what I thought. You know. You have tasteful Chinese vases in your office." Harry waved his hands about in the language of sheepishness. "And Boris. I thought he'd detailed you off on his Shadow Culture portfolio, you know–"
Draco laughed. "You thought Boris was outsourcing to me? That's kind of hilarious."
"It's just... surprising."
"I long to hear your motive for preserving the nation's treasures, then, given that altruism is a new one to you."
Apparently the reason was obvious, the way that Harry raised his eyebrows. "I like to keep an eye on what artefacts surface. Stupid Ministry decision to merge the collections here without proper monitoring."
Bless. Harry was still mucking in after all this time. Draco found that thought quite comforting. "You might just have the museum's acquisition reports sent to you every quarter instead."
"Hmm." Harry cut his glance to the side. "I really like the restaurant here?"
Draco pressed his lips together to stop a smile escaping. Seemed he wasn't the only one uncomfortable intersecting meaningfully with the charity sector. "Airy dismissal is my thing, Harry, it doesn't really work when you look earnest and determined."
"–uh, so, anyway, you were saying about this thing..." Adjusting his glasses with careful precision, Harry peered into the case in front of them, reading the label. "... water spell!"
"Deliquescere," said Draco, looking about as the glass dissolved. As always, the Abyssinian and Sumerian empires got no love: there was no-one else near their case. He reached down and pressed his fingers into the hollow in the middle of the tablet. Immediately, the incisions that made up the cuneiform script began to move, marshalling into a crude outline of the room, then into a facsimile of the museum itself with its round Reading Room in the middle; finally, they stilled into a sketch of the surrounding neighbourhood. A swirl of vee-shapes swung from the museum's position up to one corner of the tablet, a large square outline, and hovered about the centre.
Draco spelled the glass back and watched the script scurry back to its original position. "Russell Square fountain," he mused. "Last time it pointed to the ground floor mens toilets."
Harry glanced up at Draco, clearly taken. "I do love a clever map charm," he said, almost wistful. "Can't believe that it still works, after all this time."
"Probably took a year to construct," Draco said. "Not like what we do–a quick flick, disposable spells, nothing permanent."
Harry snickered, turning Draco's wrist to look at his watch. "We'd better go: it's nearly two. And it's progress, Draco. You'd be the first to complain if you had to build up a Lumos from light wavelengths and heat insulation and... whatever else you need."
"I have an appreciation for a well put-together bit of magic," Draco eyed Harry, "is that a new suit?"
HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT (LORDS)
Wednesday 25th April, 2:23 pm
"Hola?" Blaise was in Seville.
"Don't practise your Eurotrash on me." Draco pushed his fork into the soft peach of his hakuto and took a mouthful. The Japanese confectionery on Piccadilly was deadly. "Learn Japanese. Then you can come to Minamoto and order me these squishy sherbet things–"
"Chingate, baby," laughed Blaise. He became so mellow in the Costas; Draco thought it was the sangria. "Are you done yet?"
"Recess is still a number of weeks away. Although with all this dilly-dallying from Blair we could have a no-confidence vote tomorrow." The thought of the summer prorogation was making Draco feel strangely bereft, but the loans scandal was still nagging at him. He hadn't thwarted Potter's Private Bill to trip up on that. Two months of quiet research made him realise (a) how much he'd taken Boris's advice to heart ("Politics is now, boy, you can sort out documents when they send the bailiff") and (b) that Blaise considered Basque to be an acceptable basis for his filing system. ETA separatist Basque, at that.
Blaise was talking: "Can't chat now, but come down at the weekend? There's an intercontinental floo point at the Alhambra."
Draco wrinkled his nose and pushed his plate across the newspaper on his desk. "Too many Spaniards." Time to bite the bezoar. "Blaise, have–"
"There's more Spanish people in London in spring. Don't be morose. We'll take you to Gibraltar, they have an M&S, you'll feel right at home–"
"Shh. Have I given anyone large sums of money in the form of party donations?"
"Draco, I was just about to go and fuck my wife. Can't this wait?"
"Fine." Draco hung up. It was only early afternoon, for pity's sake. The Mediterranean climate turned everyone into savages.
Thursday 3rd May, 12:07am
The ring of the telephone gave Draco such a start that he dropped Baroness James' last in the bath. He fished it out reluctantly: the mystery plot was lacking twistiness and a bit of water damage could only help. Getting up suddenly–and the sauna-like temperature–made his head spin, and he stared stupidly at the dark screen on his mobile until he realised it was the porterage calling on the hall phone.
"Yes?" Draco dripped on the floor as he juggled a towel and the telephone, wishing the damn thing would respond to a summons like any sensible piece of magical furniture.
Burrell, the porter, sniffed delicately. "There is a–" Draco could hear the reluctance to use the word "–gentleman calling, my Lord Malfoy."
Draco loved the Albany, he really did. As far as historic apartments in St James with permanent floo hookups and adequate plumbing went, there was none finer. It just got a bit tiresome feeling like he was in a Regency novel everytime someone came over for a drink.
"Who is it?" Draco looked at the clock; it was past twelve. He accioed his robe and slipped it on with a frown.
"A Mister Harry Potter for you, sir." A cough this time. "He is somewhat... indisposed."
Draco could make out bleats of protestation from Harry in the background. "Send him up, then. Is he capable of finding his way?"
"I believe the gentleman–" the porter's voice was cut off by Harry's slur. "Draaaaco. It's me."
"Of course it's you." Draco pressed the lift code and hung up.
Draco wrenched open the door, quite prepared to give Potter a bollocksing for turning up ratfaced on his doorstep on a Thursday night. The rain-soaked sight swaying damply in the hallway was utterly pathetic.
"Good lord, that's even a rented tuxedo, isn't it?" Draco winced. Harry wouldn't be getting his deposit back on that. At least he hadn't stooped to Ming Campbell's level and hired Robbie William's suit-maker for the street cred.
"Hi." Harry looked straight at him with the overly-focussed gaze of the alcoholically augmented. "Wanna come out?"
"No, you fucking idiot, I do not." Draco pulled him in; Harry's wet shoes squeaked on the hardwood. It was bucketing down outside, being London in the springtime. "Even if it weren't midnight, it's revolting outside and you hardly look like you're capable of standing upright, let alone being charming company."
"Hi," Harry said again, and wrapped his arms around Draco, hugging him with a little sigh.
Draco stood very still. Harry's hair was wet-spiky and cold against Draco's cheek.
"Alright," said Draco quietly.
Harry let go and stumbled past Draco and into the reception room, mumbling something that sounded like "everyone wants charming." Draco followed. Harry shrugged off the sodden jacket and tossed it onto Draco's club chair, flailing about in the middle of the room before shoving his hands in his pockets. "There weren't any. Um. Any cabs." His glasses were fogged, sliding further down his nose as he sat down on the couch. "Aaaand. Couldn't apparate."
Draco thought wistfully about his cooling bath. "Uh-huh. How much have you had to drink?"
"Anything else?" Draco had seen Harry snort coke right off Alex James's forearm; besides, even the Tory Leader admitted to a bit of recreational Class A use. If Boris's stories about the Bullingdon Club at Oxford were true, Cameron's entire future consisted of his scandalous Brideshead escapades being drip-fed to the public. Harry would do well to be more circumspect. At least when Draco indulged in pharmaceuticals he could blag them off as Dutch health supplements.
Harry's head thunked on the back of the couch. "Possibly."
Draco decided to press the point home. "Poor darling. You must be feeling dreadful."
A tiny little groan, which Draco supposed was one of assent. That first moment with your eyes closed, sitting down: that was the killer.
"Throw up on my rug and I'll extract your fingernails," Draco said, and went to put the kettle on.
"Where were you, then?" Draco was unaware of any parliamentary social events that'd been on that night, leastwise, not any dull enough to require the presence of an Opposition backbencher, and not any exciting enough that Harry wouldn't be noticed.
"Fabian's Boat Party," Harry said, appearing to concentrate very intensely on holding his teacup. Draco hoped he would manage at least a few mouthfuls; he'd splashed in Goodwyfes Clarity but you could never trust a store-bought potion.
"Fabian as in your mate Fabian with the silly name or Fabian as in–"
"Young Labour thingy. You have a stupid name." Harry dropped his cup into the saucer with a clatter. "There's charms in this tea, tastes funny."
Draco snickered. "What were you doing, infiltrating their ranks to suss out defectors?"
"I was–never mind." Harry blinked at Draco before grinning, but it wasn't a smile that reached anywhere near his eyes. He looked down at the teacup then up at Draco. "I should, you know, go," Harry waved in the direction of the fireplace, "that works, right?"
"Floo?" Draco frowned. "No. I really don't think I fancy explaining why your head is in Bermondsey and your feet are in Piccadilly to anyone, starting with the Ministers For and Of and working down to the gutter press."
Harry scowled. "I. Am. Fine." He tripped on the rug as he stood up.
"Sit," Draco summoned a wand from the mantelpiece. "Just sit. Don't move. Could you please attempt to remember what you partook of this evening besides alcohol, so we can return your motor skills to passable and, and I can go to bed?"
"So bossy," Harry pouted.
Draco rolled his eyes and cast something generic and anti-narcotic, only to have it batted back at him with a swipe of Harry's hand. The spell sunk into his lungs like overactive air-conditioning and for a brief second Draco knew with absolute clarity what he'd got wrong on the last problem set in his final Arithmancy test.
"Don't touch me." Harry's voice was suddenly belligerent. "Said I was fine."
Whatever thrill Draco felt at Harry's swift display of magic was cut short by a surge of irritation. "You're drunk," Draco snapped, "and you're sulking a wet spot into my art deco upholstery–"
"Penelope dumped me," Harry said, picking at a thread on one of the cushions.
Draco sighed and picked up the teacups. "I'm sure Penelope was a lovely girl for all of the two weeks you've known her, but you just need to sleep–"
One of the saucers landed on Draco's bare foot. The ache was profound.
"She said I was moody and difficult." The decorative button popped off in Harry's attempt to unravel the cushion.
"You are," said Draco slowly. "I'm sorry, did you say months?"
"Yeah." Harry sat forward with his head in his hands, damp hair obscuring most of his face apart from that scar that never faded. "I dunno. It just. Hurts a bit."
"Good." Draco's wand trembled in his palm, and he didn't even have to think the stunning spell before Harry slid forward onto the floor, still as stone.
HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT (LORDS)
Friday May 4th, 9:27 am
It was a very busy morning.
That it was morning at all and the corridors were packed was singular; Lords kept ladies-hours as a general rule, and as a more specific rule Draco kept something he thought of as lunch-hours.
The end of session brought about the usual scurry to pass through public Bills that everyone was tired of nitpicking and couldn't be bothered to think about over summer. It also created a trading-floor atmosphere of deals and brokerage regarding the fate of smaller bits of private legislation. The Written Answers Session dissolved into politely hysterical laughter when the Earl of Sandwich, in all seriousness, read out a statement regarding the position of Very Tall People as a public transport interest group.
Right at this second Draco needed the folder on Azerbaijan which he had inconveniently left behind in his rush to leave that morning. More accurately, he'd left the folder in the flat, which he'd been in not so much a rush to leave as numbly furious at Harry fucking Potter and his five fucking month... Penelope.
And then furious at himself for being furious in the first place.
He'd apparated to his quiet, leafy, conspicuously-lacking-Potter Wimbledon home, had a cup of chamomile, chased it with a very large glass of Norwegian brandy, and fallen asleep. He woke up at half-four from a dream where Harry and Margaret Thatcher were redecorating his bathroom, cursed his subconscious, and decided that even if the incapacitating hex had worn off, Harry was so trolleyed he was probably just snoring on the carpet.
The point remained about the folder. Whether Harry remained also was a point whose accuracy Draco cared little about establishing in person, so he was sending Blaise.
GO 2 FLAT & PICK UP
GRN FOLDER ON DESK
AM IN SELCOM MTNG
NOTES TX D
"Malfoy, isn't it?"
Draco looked up from his mobile. "Sorry, what? Yes." It was the supermarket chap, Sainsbury. Draco had exchanged pleasantries with him a couple of times but found it awkward; he was a Waitrose man through and through on account of their Bakewell tarts. Baron Sainsbury was another who'd been questioned about his loan to the Labour Party. Draco hoped it didn't actually cost two million in donations to become a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.
Tilting his head, Sainsbury frowned at the door. "You don't happen to know if this is the room for Welsh Affairs?"
One imagined a strapping Pembrokeshire beauty named Morgan lurking the other side of the doorway. "No," Draco said blandly, "this is Human Rights. As such we don't deal with Wales."
Sainsbury gave him the long look of one unsure if there was an acceptable joke being shared. "Right. Cheers, then."
His phone beeped with Blaise's reply as Sainsbury strode off:
IF I HAD A
BE TUGGING IT
The knot in his stomach eased a little. Nerves were acceptable: this was a crucial meeting. Draco had asserted a useful position in the select committee and didn't intend to let a little personal disorganisation throw him off his game at this stage.
"Here you are, m'lud."
"Took your time," Draco whispered, flipping through the folder Blaise had procured. "Your dawdling might have impeded the progress of enlightened capitalism in the former Soviet republics. And I had to let Colville give his naff presentation first, the little upstart."
Blaise gave him a half-smile, but he didn't mention Harry or indicate anything untoward. "You'll be fine. Let's have a drink later when your committee decides how to bring democracy to the marauding oil barons of Central Asia."
Baroness Trumpington–a former Naval Intelligence girl at Bletchley Park who told gleeful espionage tales and did the Telegraph's Sudoku at top speed–appeared at the doorway with a piece of shortbread and the very same MP for Stourbridge fawning at her elbow. "You just about ready then, Draco?"
"Absolutely, ma'am," Draco straightened his cuffs. "Thought-provoking piece there, Gerald. Hope I can follow on and do you justice."
THE ATHENAEUM CLUB
The braziers on the terrace gave off a comfortable heat, once the coals had stopped spitting sparks that endangered one's trousers. It wasn't yet summer; the humidity of the previous week had been dispelled by yesterday's rain and it was still cool in the evening.
Draco recounted the Select Committee point-scoring he'd managed with his report on trafficking in Central Asia, but two glasses of chablis and a decent langoustine dinner and Blaise still had yet to mention a word about his trip back to Draco's flat. Perhaps there was nothing amiss when he'd got the papers; no vandalism, no enraged Potter hexing every item of furniture so it bit off Draco's bollocks next time he sat down. Stranger things had happened, so Draco just counted himself lucky and steered the conversation back to Blaise's book.
"I thought I might have a chapter based on Wife Swap," Blaise stretched back in his chair as the waiter cleared their table and replaced the wine.
"What, have people swap parties?"
"Don't you think it's a marvellous idea?"
"Only for the clarity it would bring to the notion that there are no real differences between political manifestos." Draco stabbed a toothpick into the olive bowl and shifted his chair to face Blaise. "One only has to attend any cocktail function in SW1 to realise the only difference between Labour and Conservative is the amount spent on booze."
"You're cultivating the cynical soundbite, I see."
Draco snorted. It had been a very long day. "Says you."
"Perhaps I might quote you," Blaise smirked, "as an anonymous Crossbench Peer, reformed Tory, Green Party wannabe, with close ties to the Lib Dem backbench." He leaned forward. "Interesting case study. You'd not be so much a wife-swap as a swingers party all by yourself."
There was an edge to Blaise's tone that Draco really didn't care for, but he wasn't going to take the bait. "Whatever helps you sell copy." He refilled the glasses.
"Of course, what the rest of the world doesn't know is that you're not a political dilettante at all."
Draco looked about for eavesdroppers. "Blaise, what the fuck are you going on about?"
"Is there a civil liberties committee that you are not an active member of? Granted, your approach is eclectic, but if one looks for a theme–"
"I don't have a... theme!" Draco flicked an olive pip over the balcony rail emphatically.
Blaise raised his eyebrows. "I, contrary to both expectations and promises, find myself now doing significant administrative work on your behalf–"
"Yes, I think that's what you'll find a secretary's job description covers–"
"Shut up. And compared to last year, when you had just one meeting a fortnight, which I remember primarily because of the trauma involved in choosing a judiciously moderate colour for your tie, compared to then? You have become a positive workaholic."
"I'm a little busier," Draco conceded. "But you said yourself that the life of the idle rich loses its charm after the first decade."
"Don't get me wrong–cheesecake? Thanks, no–" Blaise waved away the waiter hovering with a dessert menu, "–I've no problem with your latent vocational passion. I'd just assumed you'd rather not lose your credibility as an aristocratic naif in the process."
It was always white wine that made Blaise enamoured of his own vocabulary. Draco poured the last of the bottle into his own glass and frowned.
"Disguise," Blaise explained. "Plausible deniability and all that."
"Oh, I fully intend to blame any scandal on my staff," Draco said, trying not to think about the discomforting situation of Lord Levy and the complete confusion he had about his own particulars. "Or perhaps follow Lord Lucan's example. Minus the homicide, of course."
Blaise's tone was light, which was warning enough in itself, as he didn't take jokes about exile particularly well. "You might not want to leave incriminating evidence of either your actual competence or your hypothetical scandals lying about where Potter can see them, then."
Fuck, here it was. Draco made a noncommittal noise and took a very large mouthful of his wine and started cataloguing to quell the panic. Gooseberry on the nose, almost a Sauvignon, chased immediately with a watery peach–
"You do know he was in your flat this morning, don't you?"
Draco let the glass clatter noisily on the table, splashing over his hand. "He what?"
Blaise's mouth twisted as he glanced at the mess, but he didn't remark on Draco's charade. He laced his hands together and settled them back behind his head. "Yes."
"I hope you threw him out?" Draco busied himself with an Extufare before the wine could drip onto his trousers.
"Eventually, yes." Blaise–the bastard–paused until Draco looked up at him.
"First I waited until he'd got himself off all over your sheets."
"My–" A blush of heat ripped through him and made Draco's skin hurt; he couldn't not imagine it, Harry laid out and breathless on his bed. Willing the image to linger, he closed his eyes for long seconds until he realised that Blaise had not just said that to titillate Draco's imagination. Draco swallowed, his mouth suddenly parched, and stared at Blaise. "What?"
"Technically, I suppose your sheets are unsullied." Blaise slouched back in his chair, legs spread, wine glass dangling recklessly from two fingers, and stretched his neck to the side with an air of listlessness. Now, Draco thought, was not the time for Blaise to be flirting with him. Really not. Especially not in a shirt with that many buttons undone. "I have no idea about the rest of your personal belongings, though. He may have gone through your–"
Leaning forward, Draco caught Blaise's wrist. The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself. "Tell me what he was doing."
"Come here." Blaise, speaking softly, let his hand fall open in Draco's grasp, and Draco's chair nudged at his knees, pushing him forward. "You want to know how he looked?"
Blaise's voice was all mischief and uncomplicated, and Draco could ignore that, he absolutely could, if it wasn't for the fact that this was about Harry, and Blaise knew it, had no compunction exploiting it and enjoying Draco's reaction.
"Let's see. He's tanned; his arms especially, they're tight with muscle. Must be all the–is it rowing that he does? I'm certain you've said." Blaise shook his hand free and stroked his thumb along Draco's forearm. "Just here."
Draco wrenched his arm away, breathing out hard. "Blaise–"
Blaise ignored him. "He was naked, too. This wasn't just some quick relief session. He was spending some quality time getting comfortable, I think, because your sheets were all rumpled."
He hadn't made the bed the day before. Draco wasn't sure if that was better or worse.
"He was. Sprawled," Blaise murmured, leaning forward, "on his back, with one heel on the footboard, and he was pressing his hand on the middle of his chest while he stroked himself."
Oh, fuck. Draco could hear himself taking sharp inhales of breath, had to wet his lips, his mouth was so dry. His blood surged, pooling in his cock. His cock. Harry's– "His–"
"You'll think it's perfect," Blaise brushed his fingers across Draco's mouth, sending furious shudders down his spine. "He likes to fuck his hand, too. Sharp little thrusts up into his fist, digging his fingers into his thigh. He was trying to hold back and make it last, biting down on his lip. I was standing in the doorway, and I could hear him making noises in his throat."
The picture was so vivid, so mind-breakingly hot that Draco was lost in his own mind, imagining Harry's slick skin damp against his dark sheets, how his back might flex as he worked himself. Draco's arousal flared when Blaise skated his palm across his cheek, but he barely registered the movement until Blaise was right in front of him, shaking his head as he leaned over Draco.
But–Draco was doing a good impression of a guppy, gasping and swallowing, trying to comprehend what was going on. "What?"
"You want him so very badly," Blaise's tone was flat, curt. "You disappoint me. Where's your sense of entitlement, Draco?"
Draco just blinked.
"I lied, you idiot." Blaise stood up and brushed at his jacket. "Potter was nothing more than fully dressed and puzzling over your photo album when I found him."
"Wait–" Draco heard the glasses rattle in a sympathetic echo of his own state of mind "–he was doing what?"
"He said you'd hexed him something wicked."
"He deserved it," Draco muttered, trying to shove the naked-Harry pictures out of his head and work out how to shove Blaise off the balcony without anyone noticing. His thoughts were still reeling; Blaise had strung him along so beautifully. "And you're a fucking wanker–"
"It adds credibility to your jealous boyfriend act if you actually are the jealous boyfriend, all right?"
Draco stood up, shaking with the remnants of arousal and his indignation. "For fuck's sake, Blaise, what do you care? You couldn't give a shit about Harry–"
Blaise hugged him, suddenly, hard. "No, you twit, I give a shit about you. And it fucking kills me to intercede on his behalf, but you are unbearable and need to get laid." He tightened his grip, but Draco could hear his smile. "Just not by me."
Draco sat on the terrace for some time after Blaise had left, aiming his wand absently at the moths that headed for the porch-lamp. They were in for a scorching death anyhow; the spell just hastened it along.