“And if you would stretch your arms over your head?” Draco nodded around the edge of his easel at his latest subject, a young wizard with a rather shocking crop of golden hair and pale skin that shone like a moonstone in the natural light of his studio. If it weren’t for the fact that no one could really compete with his own unaided looks, Draco might have suspected Ian Turning of trying to imitate him.
“Like this?” Ian leaned back on the wall like a Muggle who’d had too much to drink.
Draco concealed a tiny sigh. Ian didn’t have much in the way of brains. Then again, it wasn’t his mind Draco was painting. “No. Brace your wrists on the wall—just your wrists,” he added quickly, as Ian shifted his posture and nearly fell off the low couch on which he lay. “Then tilt your head back and close your eyes. Imagine that you’ve just heard a phoenix singing.”
Ian popped open one eye and stared at him. “How in the world am I supposed to know what that sounds like? I’ve never heard it!”
Draco didn’t put his hand over his face, mostly because he would never do something so undignified, but also because that would get paint in his hair. “Just try, if you would,” he said, and smiled at Ian. “You’re good at trying things.” The other man had made a rather determined effort to show Draco how good, until Draco made it clear that he was quite content with his current partner and wouldn’t be seeking an alternative anytime soon.
Abruptly, the door of the studio banged open. Draco jumped, and was only glad that he held his brush at a distance from both his face and the easel; as it was, his hand still twitched, sending a splotch of flesh-colored paint flying onto the floor.
“Did you hear that noise?” Harry demanded.
Draco twisted around to stare. Harry was gripping the sides of the doorway as though an earthquake would come along at any moment and collapse the building. His eyes were bloodshot and his body shook.
“No,” Draco said. He understood that Harry’s job as an Auror was stressful, but this was the first time Harry had ever imagined that a noise from one of his nightmares had manifested in the real world. “What did it sound like?”
“Er,” said Harry.
Draco frowned, and wondered if lack of imagination was something one could catch. He made a mental note to make sure that Harry hadn’t eaten from any dishes Ian touched. “Well?”
“Like a book being dropped,” Harry said at last. He pushed up his glasses. He was staring at Draco, as if that would make Ian cease to exist. “So, um, I came in to see if you were all right.”
“From a dropped book,” Draco repeated slowly. He raised one eyebrow slowly enough that Harry should have been able to grasp the full stupidity of his suggestion. Just because they were lovers now was no reason for Draco to start letting him get away with things.
“Yes,” Harry said. “And, obviously, you are. You both are.” He shot a sharp look at Ian, which Draco didn’t understand but attributed to lack of sleep. That had been Harry’s excuse for staying home today; he’d apparently been so useless on cases lately due to exhaustion that Shacklebolt had threatened to sack him if he showed up in the next week. “So. I’ll go now.” He turned around and shut the door behind him.
“What’s it like living with a war hero?” Ian asked dreamily.
“Chaotic,” Draco said, frowning at the splash of paint Harry had made him put on the floor. “Now. As I was saying. Just think of the sweetest sound you’ve ever heard, and then close your eyes.”
“Oh.” Ian obediently shut his eyes and tilted his head back, and yes, he could look rather detached and contemplative as long as he didn’t have his mouth open. Draco returned to his painting, slipping quickly into the cool, underwater state of mind where he made his choices unconsciously and the colors and images emerged from his brush as if they were living things. He rarely achieved that so early in the painting; he had only the couch and Ian’s head and arms on the canvas so far. Yes, if he could press a little further forwards and just add that tinge of shadow to the inside of the bent elbow, then—
Once again, the door flew open. This time, though, it caused Draco to completely spoil the line of Ian’s elbow. And it made Ian open his eyes, turn his head, and stare. Draco cursed under his breath. He knew that he would never get the idiot to recreate the exact same posture, and that meant he would have to alter some details of the face, which displeased him as wasted work, or recreate them from memory, which was always chancy.
Once again, Harry stood in the doorway. This time, he had stepped entirely through it and drawn his wand. His suspicious gaze darted around Ian, Draco, and the rest of the large, open room. Then he dropped to one knee to look under the couch on which Ian lay. Draco tightened his fingers around his brush and made himself expel his breath normally, instead of in the huff it wanted to come out as.
“Yes, Harry?” he said. His voice was not a snarl. His estimate of himself, always high, rose another notch.
“Didn’t you see the ghost horse?” Harry whirled around and stared at him. His glasses were askew, and his face was flushed, but that didn’t mean Draco was inclined to give his story credence. Harry could get flushed when Draco made some innocent remark that included the word “hard.”
“Ghost horse,” Draco said.
“Yes.” Harry waved one hand so hard he almost overbalanced and crashed to the floor. Draco was just as glad he didn’t. If he was going to fall over, he should do it closer to that splash of paint, so he could at least absorb some punishment for his interruptions. “Galloped right through the wall of the kitchen, reared on the table, kicked off, and came at me! I ducked out of the way just in time. Then it galloped in this direction, sooooo…” He looked expectantly at Draco, as if it were his fault that no phantasmal equine was currently rampaging up and down the studio.
“No horses,” Draco said. “Of any kind.”
“Oh. All right. Probably a nightmare,” Harry said, and shot that sharp look at Ian again, and shut the door.
Draco turned to look at his subject, a new idea forming in his mind. “You didn’t cast any spells when you came here today, did you?” he asked. He hadn’t thought so; since the time when Ian had sought to impress Draco by filling the kitchen cabinets with food for lunch and had managed to set them on fire instead, he had been strictly banned from using his wand anywhere in Harry and Draco’s flat.
“Me? Not since I Apparated.” Ian’s blue eyes—so dim, but oh so pretty; Draco hoped he was capturing the color correctly in the painting—widened dramatically. “Do you think that did something?”
“I’ve never heard of Apparition summoning ghosts,” Draco said. “Now, please, back in your position. No, stretch your left leg over the right. No, too far. Yes, at that angle.” That would give the right look of abandoned, restful tranquility with just a hint of ravished innocence. Any further and Ian would pull the very short trousers, the only clothing he wore, too tight. “Now hold that.” Ian obediently shut his eyes again, and Draco contemplated his painting.
No, I can’t recreate that exact shadow. But I can—perhaps if I alter the angle of the light falling through the window—
The door crashed open again. Harry ran in, looking as though he’d just got in a fight with a bag of flour and lost.
Draco turned his head as slowly as an owl’s. He would not yell, because he never yelled. “Some of us are trying to work here, you know,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Harry panted. “But, Draco, do you remember that it’s Hermione’s birthday tomorrow?”
Draco stared at him in silence, to convey that this fact was neither important nor a sufficient explanation for the third interruption in a row.
“It is,” Harry said. “And I was trying to make her a cake—“
Draco altered his stare a little, to convey that this was still not sufficient excuse for an interruption, but that he was glad Harry had been stopped in his attempts to poison one of his friends.
“But I yanked too hard on one of the bottom shelves, and I pulled down the ingredients on top of myself, and now the kitchen’s a disaster.” Harry paused and gave him a sheepish look. “And I know that Blaise is coming over for dinner in a few hours, and the common housekeeping charms from that book Ron gave me won’t gather up every single particle of what spilled, and—“
“What spilled?” Draco asked quietly.
“Everything.” Harry was at least flushing now.
Draco rose to his feet with a controlled version of the savage jerk he really wanted to give. He wouldn’t have left his studio and abandoned the painting under any normal circumstances, but Blaise was still a master of the subtle, cutting remarks that would remind Draco of what the rest of the world—well, the rest of the Slytherin world, which was really the only one that mattered—thought of him for taking up with Harry Potter. Any small fault would be taken up and worked until Draco felt as if he had needles digging into his soul. And yet, Draco couldn’t give Blaise up as a friend, since he was one of only two or three acquaintances who would condescend to visit at all. Therefore, the kitchen must be spotless before he arrived.
“Excuse me, Ian,” he said. “We’ll have to finish this tomorrow.”
Draco turned around in time to catch the narrow-eyed look Harry was giving Ian, a mixture of contempt and guilt and self-satisfaction. Draco paused. He had already known the interruptions were deliberate, but he had thought Harry was angry at him for some wrong-headed Gryffindor reason, such as Draco’s refusal to let one of the Weasley brats rub mud into his hair. He had not suspected Ian could be a fitting target of Harry’s enmity.
Ian? What could he be jealous of Ian about?
Draco forced himself to put the suspicions aside for the moment as he cast a preservation charm on the painting, herded Ian gently through the absorbing ritual of donning his robes, and recalled the strongest cleaning spells he knew. Blaise would probably be early, because the bastard was like that. But he and Harry would revisit this later.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying this, Draco, but that little announcement Zabini made as he was leaving us just brightened my day.”
Draco smiled, still rubbing the towel over his hair. He’d remembered to put the proper charms on the cloth, of course, so that it felt remarkably soft and warm. Harry hadn’t, as usual, and though they’d shared an enjoyable shower together, he’d flung himself out, dried with a coarse towel that was now sopping forlornly on the edge of the tub, and was lying on the bed, yelling loudly enough for Draco to hear him.
“I highly doubt Blaise meant to suit our convenience,” he answered, finally satisfied with the degree of dryness his hair exhibited. He hung his towel up carefully, and stepped into the bedroom. Harry lay on top of the covers, naked and grinning expectantly. “Blaise has always wanted to travel to Egypt. He probably came over here just to enjoy the build-up until he told us.”
“Oh, I know that,” Harry said, and rolled his head sideways to wink at Draco. “But still, he’s gone. They’re both gone.” A moment later, he flushed and clamped his mouth tightly shut.
“And so we come to the subject of our conversation a little earlier than I had anticipated,” Draco murmured, and settled onto the edge of the bed, ignoring the way Harry studiously avoided his eyes. “I want to know why you interrupted me today.”
“It was a day of disasters—“ Harry began chirpily.
Draco reached out and cupped a hand beneath Harry’s chin, turning the other man to face him. Harry fell silent, staring. When Draco reached out first, he knew matters were serious.
“What is it?” Draco said, making sure to keep his voice quiet but implacable, a trick he’d learned from Granger. It worked best for cracking Harry’s stubbornness. “Did you hear new gossip about how I’ve obviously enchanted and seduced you against your will with some highly advanced version of Imperius?”
“You have to ask?” Harry muttered. His face was now flushed enough that his skin felt warm against Draco’s hand.
“No muttering, please.” Draco arched his brows and waited.
“He was right there!” Harry burst out. “Practically naked! In front of you! And you had the door shut! And I know he fancies you!” He had pulled away by now and sat up, and Draco resisted the urge to duck his windmilling arms. “Why do you think I stayed home from work today? I had to make sure nothing—well, happened!”
Draco felt a small smile quiver across his lips in spite of himself. He put a hand on Harry’s arm, which quieted his outburst at once. “Listen to me,” he said. “Ian has a fine body, and that’s the reason I wanted to paint him. But he has almost nothing between his ears that’s not concerned with sex and food and sleep. I prefer something—more—in a partner. Something more difficult to paint.”
Harry swallowed. Then he muttered, “You still think I have something between my ears? Even though my excuses for interrupting today were really stupid?”
“Of course,” Draco said. “Ian never could have come up with the notion of a ghost horse, no matter how long he sat and thought about it.”
“I suppose I’m rather imaginative,” Harry said, brightening, and kissed Draco with enthusiasm.
“Yes, you are,” Draco replied, letting himself be pulled down on the bed. His warm skin slid along Harry’s, and he sighed softly, rolling into a position it would have taken Ian ten different instructions and five minutes to assume. “And it’s about time you put that imagination to use.”
Harry reached eagerly for him.
“Just remember,” Draco said, in a tone guaranteed to freeze any lover in mid-motion, “if you interrupt me again like that whilst I’m working with a brainless but pretty young thing, you’re going to wish I didn’t have such a good imagination.”
Harry shivered, but his eyes were brighter now. Draco considered briefly how lucky he’d been to find a partner who got turned on by his arrogance. “Understood,” Harry said, and kissed Draco’s shoulder, then his collarbone, then the expanse of torso between his nipples, and then further down.
Draco flung his head back, gasping. For a moment, he considered what colors he would use if he did want to paint Harry’s mind—
And then Harry did that unusual thing with his tongue and two fingers, and Draco’s thoughts went in other directions.